Return to Iceland, Pt. 11

Eyjafjarðarsveit and a Flight to Reykjavik

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We ended up on the road ahead of schedule. Rain still dominated the landscape, so there wasn’t much to see. Our route took us west, past Goðafoss, and through the mountain pass to Akureyri. We arrived quite a bit earlier than I’d anticipated. I filled up the gas tank – in preparation for dropping off the rental car – and we revisited Eyjafjarðarsveit, which seemed to be clearing of clouds.

The first thing we noticed was that there was much more snow on the mountain tops. Otherwise, it still seemed like autumn. The sun went a long way to lifting our spirits – though our trip wasn’t quite over, we felt a little down that it was certainly drawing to a close. Once we returned the rental car, we wouldn’t have this level of freedom any longer. I stopped a few times to capture the snow, sunlight and fall colors.

mountains reflected in fjord
snowy mountain with autumn forest

We made it as far as Grund, where we checked out Grundarkirkja, built in 1905, which had a distinctive style setting it apart from the typical turn-of-the-century Icelandic church. Grundarkirkja is the largest church in Iceland to be commissioned by an individual farmer. Several artifacts from the church were moved to the National Museum. It’s quite likely we saw those artifacts when visiting the museum on our first trip.

grundarkirkja icelandic churchWe returned up the valley and stopped at the gas station for lunch. The hot dogs were Góði brand, which was the first time we’d seen that instead of Sláturfélag Suðurlands. We wondered how competitive the pylsur market was and whether there were devotees of each brand. Some internet searching seemed to suggest that SS was the more popular vendor, but maybe they just have a larger market share.

Finally it was time to part ways with our dependable car, which we named Hrafna-Floki after the discoverer of Iceland. We felt sad leaving him alone in the airport parking lot. At the same time, after so much driving, I was kind of happy to go to Reykjavík without it. The key went into a dropbox next to the flight check-in desk.

We’d showed up early just in case, but the airport was very quiet and very small. We checked all of our bags except our backpacks, which we would carry on. There were signs describing the security protocol – have coats off and electronic devices out, for example – with nobody there to enforce it.

road through autumn icelandic landscape

I passed the time reading further into Independent People. I had read enough to form the opinion that it’s well-written and well-translated. Halldor Laxness creates a beautiful and heartbreaking picture of how small the world seems from within the remote farming valleys of Iceland. The book is considered one of the first and best examples of social realism in Icelandic art.

Independent People – published in 1934 – contributed to Halldor Laxness becoming Iceland’s first Nobel Laureate in 1955.

A flight to Greenland had been cancelled during our wait, but it seemed our flight to Reykjavík would be unaffected. Finally the plane showed up – a Bombardier Q400 propeller craft with a mere 75 seats – and people began to line up to board. My window seat was right next to the portside propeller – it was cool watching it spin up as we taxied out onto the runway.

The takeoff direction pointed south into Eyjafjarðarsveit. We entered the low cloud ceiling, and upon breaking through, we saw the valley from a new perspective high above. The plane passed over Langjökull, the glacier we’d visited on our first trip. If only we’d been on the other side of the plane, we might have caught a glimpse of Snæfellsnes. Later, I was able to trace the path we’d taken around Hvalfjörður – at that point the plane was over the ocean, following the coastline to Reykjavík. Conditions were clear and calm for the landing. I was able to see the familiar shape of Hallgrímskirkja and it felt that we had finally come full circle with our 2015 visit.

Our bags were some of the last ones to appear on the carousel. I used the phone in the terminal to ask for a taxi. They didn’t ask for my name, so it was a little confusing when a taxi pulled up and seemed to be looking for someone, but drove past us. He was the only taxi waiting, we were the only people outside the terminal, and I recognized the name of the taxi company, so we approached the car and the driver helped us with our bags. Hopefully we didn’t steal somebody’s cab!

It took our driver a couple of laps to figure out how to access our AirBnB. It was on a narrow, one-way street called Bjarnarstígur, tucked away just a block or two from Hallgrímskirkja. He did get us there, though, and sheepishly mentioned he’d lived in Reykjavík since 1955 and had never been down this particular street. I told him I was glad we could give him the challenge!

The AirBnB was spacious and we had it all to ourselves. What luxury! This was where we learned – thanks to a friendly note from the host – that to avoid condensation and moderate the temperature, Icelanders tend to leave their windows cracked open rather than always be opening and shutting them and adjusting the radiators.

We were tired from our early start and from the anxiety of flying, and not quite up to walking around, so we decided to do laundry. There was no detergent so we took a short walk up to Krambúð, a small convenience store, and picked up milk and cereal as well.

After some confusion with the dryer settings, we finished up our laundry, then ventured out to Lebowski Bar for dinner and their famed trivia night. The topic that night was general movie trivia – relatively in our wheelhouse. We named our team “Papa’s Phone,” a reference to one of the connected devices that had been left added to our rental car’s bluetooth system.

We won second place! The emcee complimented my handwriting, saying it was possibly the neatest he’d ever seen (I credit my years of drafting courses). Our reward? 5 free beers, which there was no way we’d drink ourselves, so we offered to share with the table next to us.

They were two polish ladies, whose names I’ve forgotten, working in Iceland at a hotel. They wondered if we’d prepared in advance for the trivia (we hadn’t) – they’d visited several times for trivia night, including “Friends” trivia, which was apparently quite difficult and obscure.

Lebowski Bar draws its name and interior decoration from the movie The Big Lebowski.

We talked about our jobs and why they chose to come to Iceland. They said a lot of Polish citizens were leaving for other countries that have better working wages. We shared our experiences in the games industry – how competitive it is, how the wages are comparatively low, etc. They didn’t seem to mind working at the hotel too much, aside from the usual complaints about silly tourists. Apparently it was common for tourists to ask when the northern lights would “come on.” I joked that they should mess with them and give weird, convoluted instructions in order to summon the aurora. I showed them my animated GIF of the northern lights from Storu-Laugar, perhaps a bit too proud of it.

They felt Icelanders were quite reserved (“nice people, but awkward”) and that they seemed to get annoyed when employees can’t converse with them in Icelandic. Polish people, on the other hand, are straight to the point, and not so concerned about personal space and speaking loudly. Despite that, they said, “don’t be surprised if you visit Poland and everyone looks grumpy. There are nice people there but it’s just normal to look like you’re having a terrible day. Just ride a Polish bus and you’ll see!”

In further discussion about social norms, they confirmed that “How are you?” is a bit of a strange question for Europeans. “Like do you really want know all the details?” And if you don’t, why would you ask? I’d heard (and understood) this before, but on our trip, it didn’t stop me from being very guilty of asking almost everyone how they were doing. I wanted to be as polite as possible, and my American instincts thereof could not be overridden! Luckily, they seemed to be somewhat used to it.

They asked us a little bit about living in San Francisco. We talked about how beautiful the Bay Area is but also how expensive it is. It turned out that they were big fans of The Room, which they associate with San Francisco (well, that, and steep hills). We all agreed that we were looking forward to the upcoming release of The Disaster Artist, a movie about the making of The Room.

It was nice to connect with some people for once. Though everyone we’d come across on our trip was friendly, we never really sat down and had a conversation with anyone. We also preferred to be out in the beautiful landscape, or to get some rest, rather than go to bars or anything like that.

As for the rest of the evening, we simply finished off our complimentary beers and headed home.