| Text by Manol Z. Manolov
| Images by Manol Z. Manolov and Nikolay Bratovanov © 2017
Once more, we came to in a daze within the confines of the Dacia’s interior. Naturally, the first thing one does upon awakening in Iceland is to take note of the weather. Luckily for us, morning had brought with it what looked to be another fine day. Nikolay had once again proven to be the early bird, and had already ventured out to investigate the area around our parking lot and yes, check on the hotpot. For once, it stood empty and steaming in the clear and cold morning:We, however, were somewhat over the notion of attempting the bathing ritual at this point. Its time consuming nature, combined with the imminent threat of tourist invasion now that the day was well on its way, had dissuaded us from trying to make the hotpot dream a reality for a second time. This place didn’t look that enticing to begin with – we had gotten well-spoiled by the scenic hotpot we got to soak in the first time, gracefully surrounded and blissfully isolated by nature alone. The manmade pipe that spouted cool water into the pit also ruined the experience a bit and stood in contrast to the perfectly-regulated temperature of our previous location.
Plus, time, as always was winding down and closing in on our presumptious human endeavours. We had two days left and we still had not seen Reykjavik. It was time to gather camp and head back to the capital.
Giving the Duster its last taste of off-road, we lumbered back to the main road. After spending a few uneventful hours driving and admiringly gazing at the scenery, it was soon time to be robbed once again by the merciless Hvalfjörður Tunnel. Not long after emerging from the engineering wonder that shaves an entire 53 minutes off the commute around the fjord of the same name, the capital’s skyline appeared in our sights. We made our grand entrance into the bustling metropolis of 300,000 citizens, and were soon able to find a free parking spot in a residential street, not far from the city center:A quiet, peaceful atmosphere permeated the suburbs of the small big town, with vibrant fall colors adding to the already subdued mood: Immediately, we began to encounter interesting architecture, definitely Scandinavian, yet, we felt, with a Baltic or even Eastern European touch: We wouldn’t deprive the GoPro of its chance to see the capital:Walking down small streets in the general direction of what looked to be the downtown area, we encountered many interesting textures, buildings and all-around urban props: The nordic nature was spectacular in its colors, even in autumn time:It stood out magnificently against the vibrant backdrops of the olden-style houses:The absence of people did not fully surprise us, given the cold weather and the sparsely populated country we were in. We expected the photogenic natives to show soon, however, and they did not disappoint:Once we came out of the suburban maze, a larger street revealed the picturesque city center, fabulously framed by the ever-present nature:As we entered the downtown area, the buildings grew taller, more imposing, with stone replacing wood:Some picturesque churches and other traditional buildings still dotted the area:We made our may onward, passing by Park Arnarhóll and continuing right onto Laugavegur – the famous shopping street:And this is where the show really began. Old buildings once more combined their loud colors with interesting street props and a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants: The locals, hard at work at being photogenic for us, tourists:The ubiquitous European scourge of smoking was also fully present here:Those cute little sweaters are hand-made from Icelandic sheep wool (yes, from those guys) and will cost you upwards of $100 each (if you’re lucky)!:Now, at this point, we had already been in Iceland seven days. In that full week we had experienced two severe storms and 60km/h+ winds, slept outdoors in pouring rain and indoors in a small SUV, bathed in a hole in the ground filled with hot water and braved the masses of tourists gone wild. But nothing could prepare us for the shock we were about to experience, right in the center of Reykjavik, as our digestive tracts were beginning to feel the pangs of hunger.
We had been living off of our food bags, cooking dry food from scratch over our tiny gas stove and were looking forward to a real, hot meal.Minds and wills set upon experiencing local cuisine (a very reasonable expectation for any traveller), we decided that it was about time to approach some of the local restaurants to see what they had on offer. The sinking feeling that accompanied our first glances at the menu displays would not soon be forgotten. A tightening sensation in the area of the heart, shaky knees and mouth agape with wonder are the first symptoms, I am certain, that accompany any foreigner’s initial encounter with an Icelandic restaurant’s food list. Both of us have travelled the world and one of us has lived (and lives) in some of the most expensive places on Earth. Nevertheless, everything so far paled in comparison to the atrocious prices presented for our viewing pleasure. See for yourself – the below images are real, no Photoshop, no foolery. To convert price into US dollars, one has to divide the Icelandic kroner price by 10:Thine eyes do not deceive you! $30 for a starter, $39-$60 for a main course, $81 for a 4-course set menu without wine and $139 with wine included…per person! Madness, surely. Not believing our eyes initially, we walked around to a few other establishments to do a sanity check, but the result was the same. We were aware that Iceland is well, an island – it does not grow much in the way of edibles and many goods have to be imported – but this was just overkill. How much do Icelanders have to earn within a year to be able to survive on such lofty standards? Or maybe people just don’t eat out much… Regardless, this was not a ‘spoon fit for our mouths’ – we gathered ourselves and walked on.
A restaurant with a grand name – interesting enough for a picture, but we now knew better and gave the intimidating menu a wide berth:If we could not satisfy food hunger, we would at least satisfy our photographic cravings. The streets around were picturesque and interesting and colorful doors abounded: A hungry Bulgarian photographer in Reykjavik:Ad yet more beautiful, northern-European-styled buildings: Cigarette-wielding Scandinavian and/or Slavic-looking tourists wandered the street in search of the perfect smartphone shot:And the locals sat blissfully by, fully immersed in books and cigarettes of their own:At the end of the street, the Hallgrímskirkja suddenly appeared in all its phallic-shaped might:We ventured close, undeterred by the unusual shape and the socialist-era-reminiscent architecture, vaguely familiar to various buildings from our own country. Explorer Leif Eriksson watches over the hordes and the modernization that has grown around him since 1930. The statue was gifted to Iceland by the United States in said year:Immature jokes aside, the architecture of the building is truly impressive – its columns are purportedly modeled after the stick-like basalt rock columns we found at Reynisfjara beach: Because a memorial service was in progress, the church was closed to outside visitors for the day. We chose to wander off behind the building instead and found some cool graffiti:Further down the street a local-looking, multi-cultural family gorged themselves on fast food. Side note: we were also hoping to give this place our hard-earned money and receive a cheaper (still costing as much as a restaurant meal in Bulgaria!) lunch after the heart-condition-inducing shock of the restaurant prices downtown. However, their obvious advertisement, but actual lack of vegetarian options turned the tide against their favor. The proprietors did not seem the least bit concerned.A Reykjavik cat observed our sad predicament with barely-concealed humor:We continued down the small street, making our way toward the harbor area. When we finally drew near, the famous Sólfar (or Sun Voyager) sculpture appeared:The wind was bitterly cold and the area close to the water felt severely inhospitable. I, personally, was not impressed by the sculpture and instead of gawking or photographing, chose to use the time to inhale some of the dry-roasted edamame I still carried with me from the US. The day had already drawn long, and due to our unwillingness to support the local gastronomical economy by purchasing a $100+ lunch, we were quite famished. We decided to start heading back to the car and find a local supermarket where we could pick up some dinner items.
Romantic poems in French and more socialist-looking structures accompanied us on our way:It didn’t take long for us to traverse the small area of downtown Reykjavik and make our way back to suburbia. Our Duster was patiently waiting for us, content to have rested awhile, instead of braving the sky-high prices and inhospitable wind of autumn-hued Reykjavik. Beautiful it was, though, that we could not deny. So beautiful in fact, that we had already more-or-less made the decision to return and spend our last full day exploring the capital city a bit more. But for now, we were off to a nearby shopping area, where we were hoping a Bonus, Kronan or Netto might provide us with the meal we couldn’t afford at the local restaurants, for a fraction of the cost. Afterwards, it was off to our old haunt – the Grindavik Campground – to spend yet another evening at their fine establishment (best kitchen, bathroom and shower facilities along the south coast!). As always, we were hoping the following day will also be a nice one, allowing us to finish off in style what had already been an unforgettable stay in the land of Ice.