We had been allocated a nice silver car with hobnail tyres that made a strange crunching noise that made me think at first that I had got a flat but a quick check revealed that everything was in order and the journey to the city was straightforward and uneventful. In fact the tyres were studded with aluminium rivets designed for ice and snow and we hoped that this meant that someone at the hire desk knew that the sort of weather we were hoping for was on the way.
We found the Hotel Bjork with no difficulty at all and once we had checked in and found our room I emptied my bag and hung up my clothes and we went through the contents to share them out equitably between us and I gave up my spare hat and pair of gloves but the offer of baggy underpants was rejected. Kim was a bit irritable but a glass of wine cheered her up a little and when we left the hotel to walk into the city and the rain stopped and there was even a patch or two of blue sky puncturing the steely grey skies so things were beginning to look up.
It was only a short walk to the seafront and we found our way to the promenade and walked along to the Sólfar Suncraft, which is a stainless steel 1986 sculpture of a Viking long boat that occupies an impressive spot overlooking the bay and Mount Esja on the other side. Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the plumes of the steam that were coming from the nearby hot springs.
By now there were some promising pools of blue sky spreading overhead as we walked back from the sea and into the city centre and along the main shopping street of Laugavegur. We were quite hungry so stopped for refreshment at a small café selling lunchtime snacking food and we had a coffee and a sandwich and a cake to share and the bill came to a very unreasonable 1,600 krona, or about £13 in sterling, and we began to worry about the cost of evening dining arrangements. It occurred to me that the way they set prices in Iceland must be to think of a ridiculous figure, double it and then round it up to the nearest 100 krona!
Iceland is relatively expensive, but the standard of living is high because Iceland is now one of the most prosperous countries in the World and according to the latest United Nations index on human development has just overtaken Norway, who have been top for the last six years, as the World’s most desirable country in which to live. Australia, Canada and Ireland make up the top five, the UK is currently sixteenth and interestingly as many as sixteen European countries are in the top twenty. In 2006 a study of world happiness at Leicester University placed Iceland fourth behind Denmark, Switzerland and Austria and the UK was forty-first out of a hundred and seventy eight.
After the expensive snack we walked up a steep hill to the Hallgrimskirkja, which is the city’s Lutheran Cathedral and at seventy-three metres high dominates the skyline. Outside the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson who was an Icelander born about 970 and who explored the oceans and the lands west of Iceland, establishing colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland and who according to legend reached America long before Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucchi.
The statue was a gift from the American Government in 1930 to mark Iceland’s one thousandth anniversary and October 9th is commemorated as Leif Erikson day in the United States. The date is not associated with any particular event in Leif Erikson’s life, it was chosen because the ship Restauration sailing from Stavanger in Norway, arrived in New York Harbour on October 9th 1825 at the start of the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States.
There is no real evidence that Eiriksson discovered America but his statue faces to the west as though in expectation of belated recognition for his achievement. Today he looked out over Viking skies full of Nordic drama with mountainous clouds as big and as grey as a medieval cathedral.
Nearly a thousand years after Leif Erikson many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century. According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and Norwegian Americans currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.
At the hotel we made sure the desk staff knew that the missing bag would be arriving tomorrow and then we drank duty free wine and beer before we went to the restaurant around the corner for evening meal. Fish of course which was expensive but not completely extortionate and we had good food and a bottle of wine for about £60. When we went to bed the weather looked a little more promising and we looked forward to tomorrow and our planned drive around the Golden Circle.