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Reykjavik in a Day (Day 3, Multigen Iceland/Norway Vacation)

We are a walking family. Once upon a time in Copenhagen, we walked something like 22 miles in one day. (The two younger kids, who were something like 6 and 8 at the time, used scooters to keep up.) So normally, in a small city like Reykjavik, the plan would have been, “Walk around, all day long.”

This trip was different. Since my dad, a retired letter carrier, is still working on regaining his mobility after multiple back surgeries, walking more than a mile or two during the whole day was out of the question. So we decided that strategic use of a rental car would allow us all to see as much of Reykjavik as we wanted. This was a good plan, but our execution was … well. Sometimes when you’re in a new city, mistakes are made.

Breakfast: Braud & Co.

I slept pretty well, given the time change, and jumped out of bed around 7 a.m., ready to get going. But I had to wait for the rest of the family to get moving. I passed some time with a long, luxurious hot shower — since the hot water came straight from a geothermal source, there was no need to worry about using it all up. By around 9, Erik, Toth and I were dressed and ready, so we walked less than a mile to a neighborhood branch of the famous bakery Braud & Co., to get breakfast for the family.

On the way, we took in a lot of street art, noticed playgrounds with built-in trampolines and other fun features, met some cats, and passed Reykjavik residents getting started on their Wednesday.

The croissants, Danishes, and pastries we had no name for were all flaky and delicate and scrumptious. We enjoyed them with coffee (we brought the grounds from home to save money, and brewed them in the Airbnb’s espresso machine). Six pastries cost $32.

The Settlement Exhibition

Then we all piled into our rental car and Erik drove us half a mile to The Settlement Exhibition. Reykjavik has a number of museums that all sound interesting, but I chose this one because 1) it has an archaelogical excavation, which I always love and 2) it sounded like it would tell us the most about the Viking-era settlers from Norway who populated Iceland. (Fun fact: Iceland has no indigenous people.)

By then it was about 10:30 a.m., and the small parking lot near the museum was full. Since I had read you need the EasyPark app to park in Reykjavik, and I had downloaded it onto my phone, I volunteered to go park the car somewhere else while everyone else unloaded here. I’m not the best driver or parker, but this is a small, relatively easy city to drive in, and after bumbling around for about 10 minutes, I found a parking spot a few blocks away. I paid using the app and hurried back to the museum. There was a docent-led tour scheduled for 11 a.m., and I made it back in time for us all to get on it. I will write a separate review of The Settlement Exhibition, which cost us $38.95 for five people.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

By about 1 p.m., we were finished at the museum, which was perfect timing for our lunch reservation at Kaffi Loki, half a mile away. (This was the only dining reservation I made in advance for the whole two-week trip.) I dashed off to get the car. Various members of the family wanted to walk along with me, but I asked them to please stay put — because I knew I was going to need all my focus to use this unfamiliar app to guide me back to the car in an unfamiliar city.

There was just one problem. As I walked away and opened the app, I realized that I had no idea how to get it to tell me where my car was parked. Even worse, as I walked and toggled through the various screens of the app, I realized that maybe this app didn’t actually record my parking location. I walked faster, hoping to just find my way back via landmarks. I’m terrible at remembering which way I’ve walked, though. I’m the kind of person who steps out of the exam room at the doctor’s office and needs to be directed to the exit, every time.

Part of the problem was that all the text on the app was in Icelandic. In desperation, I showed the screen to several random Icelandic people walking by, who calmly told me that the words I’d hoped were a parking lot name and number indicated only that the car was parked in Zone 1, which meant all of downtown. The app helpfully informed me around then that my paid parking time had expired, and I was able to pay for more time using the app. Well that function was handy, at least!

I ended up calling Erik and asking him to get everyone walking toward the restaurant. I would pick them up on their way there, once I got to the car, I promised. Then in my wandering around I blundered back to the museum. I went in and found our tour guide, showed her the app, and begged for help. She confirmed that the app didn’t say anything about the parking location. I described the area where I had parked, and it didn’t ring a bell to her. Like everyone else we had met in Iceland, our guide was kind, patient and calm. She didn’t seem too worried about my predicament, so I tried not to be, either. But as the person who had planned our whole itinerary, I felt stressed about leaving my family and sending them on an unscheduled walk — and without my dad’s walker, which was in the car. I began to doubt my qualification to be family tour director. Maybe driving around the city had been a dumb idea.

Standing outside the museum, I took a deep breath and thought back to the moment I had dropped the family off, almost three hours earlier. I always think more clearly when I’m alone; socializing takes up a lot of bandwidth for me. Oh yeah! I had turned that way. Not the direction that I had initially walked. Once I started walking the right way, I came to the car in minutes. I checked in with the family via phone. They were almost to the restaurant, about 15 minutes late for our reservation. I promised to be with them soon, GPS’ed up directions, and drove in their direction, struggling a little as I navigated one-way streets, dead ends and my nemesis: roundabouts.

A few blocks from the restaurant, I saw an empty spot on the street and parked, this time making sure to photograph the nearest business so I’d be able to GPS my way back there. This time, I paid at one of those meters that spits out a white receipt to put on your dash. I had never really needed the EasyPark app to begin with, I realized. Meanwhile, Erik texted me that they had arrived at the cafe, the staff had kindly seated them without me, and they would go ahead and order. Since I had looked at the menu online in advance, I told Erik what to order for me, and literally ran the few block to the restaurant, stripping off my fleece as the cool weather suddenly felt not quite so brisk. Naturally, I saw an empty parking spot right outside the restaurant’s door. As far as I could see, there weren’t even meters on that street. Parking appeared to be free, which seemed odd, because it’s across the street from Hallgrimskirkja, the most famous sight in Reykjavik.

Lunch: Kaffi Loki

My family was seated upstairs, in a room with a huge picture window looking out on the iconic church. My dad reported that the walk had been uphill the whole way and had felt really long. This reinforced that I had been right to have us drive around town, despite my parking screwup. The adults were having beers, so I ordered one too, and we toasted our reunion: “Skaal!” Our food came, and we all relaxed. I’ll write a separate review of Cafe Loki, but for now I’ll say that it’s famous for traditional Icelandic food, which we all ordered and for the most part enjoyed. The staff was laid back and kind — notice a trend there? Lunch for five, with drinks, came to $160.

Hallgrimskirkja

Then we walked across the street to Hallgrimskirkja, looking like a stark concrete Lego creation against the gray sky.

We spent a few minutes admiring the no-frills Protestant interior, then took the elevator up the tower for a panoramic view of Reykjavik. Cost for the elevator: $31.19 (I think it was about $8 per adult and free for kids.)

Being on top of Hallgrimskirkja was fun. We walked around one room, peering out through the glass clockfaces, then walked up a flight of stairs to the top level and stuck our heads out the small windows, letting the wind blow back our hair. From the tower, we picked out the Sun Voyager statue, which we planned to see later, the Grandi neighborhood, where our Airbnb stood, and just took in the rest of the city and the waterfront. The photo at the top of this post was taken from up there.

Downtown Reykjavik

We had to wait awhile to get back on the elevator, which only takes eight people at a time. Next was the planned walking interval of the day. We stopped by the car to get Dad’s walker, and strolled through downtown, buying a few souvenirs. We happened upon the shop of the Handknitting Asociation of Iceland, which had tons of gorgeous traditional wool sweaters for sale. I’d read that this is a good place to get one, and after seeing it, I agree; these sweaters were much higher quality than the ones displayed in souvenir shops. Of course, they’re pricey; like $200 and up. I would have been willing to pay it, since they are so warm and beautiful. Unfotunately, I don’t tolerate wearing wool well, so I wasn’t too surprised that the ones I tried on were too itchy for me.

We took photos on the famous rainbow street. Dad was doing well walking, so we decided to continue walking to the waterfront to see the remaining two sights on our agenda: the Harpa Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager. Erik went to get the car and planned to pick us up at the Sun Voyager.

The Waterfront: Harpa and Sun Voyager

We made it to the concert hall, half a mile walk from the restaurant. We admired its beautiful multipaned glass exterior, then went inside to use the bathroom, which is at the bottom of the ecalators. It cost $1.50 per person, $3 total. (There’s also an art exhibit and a restaurant/bar in there, and if you buy a drink or something, you don’t have to pay to use the restroom.)

The walk along the waterfront to Sun Voyager from Harpa is only about a third of a mile, but the wind was really picking up, and there might have been a bit of light rain. After all the walking we’d done already, it was feeling long for my dad. So we were happy that Erik had brought the car to meet us. We admired the scultpure briefly. There was an empty parking lot right next to the sculpture. Not knowing this, Erik had parked about a block away, and the busy road that runs along the waterfront made it a little hard to figure out quite how to get the car to the Sun Voyager. So we all walked across the road instead.

It was almost 4 p.m. As we got in the car, my dad said, “Erik, I’ll give you $50 to take us back to the house.” He was done! We informed him that “home” was the next stop on our planned itinerary, anyway. No bribe required.

Iceland Phallological Museum

Erik and I weren’t done, though. After dropping off the parents and our kid (who was ready for some screen time) we headed back out on foot. We walked to the Iceland Phallological Museum, which I’ll review separately. This was an “if we have time” stop on the itinerary, and I’m so glad we had time! It was one of the most unusual museums I’ve ever visited, and very interesting. After spending an hour or two going through the exhibit, we shared a plate of phallic waffles in the cafe, checked out the gift shop, and left. Two tickets to the penis museum: $40.42. One waffle plate (2 waffles): $17.56.

Lebowski Bar

It was by now past 6 p.m. We had promised the family to come back around 7 to go out to dinner together, but we wanted to grab a drink first. In fact, we had a special bar in mind: Lebowski Bar, themed after, you guessed it, the movie “The Big Lebowski.” Erik and I are fans. On the way to the bar, we passed the Red Cross thrift store, which I had been hoping to check out. It’s listed as a bargain place to buy an Icelandic sweater. There were in fact a few sweaters there, just as itchy as the ones in the other store. I did find something to buy, though: a used Marmot ski hat for $7.50. Although it wasn’t getting dark out, the day wasn’t getting any warmer, and adding the hat helped.

Time was getting short, but by this time we were within a block of Lebowski Bar so I convinced Erik to go ahead. So what if we didn’t end up going to dinner until 8 p.m.? It would still be light out, and time has no meaning in a new time zone, anyway. Lebowski Bar was just as charming as I’d hoped, with multiple TVs constantly looping the film, a drink menu full of variations on the white Russians. The decor is all inspired by the movie. (Think: bowling shoes, a rug that really pulls the place together, etc.) We enjoyed two white Russians for $30.86.

Then we practically jogged back through downtown to our Airbnb, where we found the rest of the family well-rested. My dad, in fact, had been reading a free tourist magazine and had just learned that Lebowski Bar was a holdover from an era when almost all the Reykjavik bars had been themed. “Don’t bother,” the author of the article had warned. We laughed, glad we’d bothered.

Dinner: Grandi Food Hall

Back in the car to drive to Grandi Food Hall, aka Grandi Matholl, less than half a mile away. On the way, we stopped at the grocery store for bottled drinking water, because we’d realized that we coudln’t stand drinking the fart-smelling tap water, plus a couple bananas. (Total: $3.23)

The food hall was fun. It has long tables, many with views of the harbor, and is surrounded by food trucks, parked indoors, and stands. Erik, Toth and I picked a fish place. I enjoyed pan-fried trout, Erik got fish and chips and Toth got a fried fish sandwich. My mom got Korean chicken wings from a different restaurant, something she’d never tried before, and she loved it. My dad got a burger from yet another restaurant. Dinner for the five of us was about $160. Over dinner, we shared some of the fun facts we’d learned at the Phallological Museum. Did you know, for instance, that subordinate whitetail bucks wait until the alpha males are engaged in battle, then take advantage of the moment to mate with a bunch of the females in the herd? My dad started huting and observing whitetails more than 60 years ago, but he did not know that.

Reykjavik had been drizzling on and off all day, but right about when we finished eating, the sky opend up and poured. We were glad we’d driven the short distance.

Back at home, we played back some of the day’s photos on the house TV, and then went to bed. It had been a full day of sightseeing (and spending money).

Summary of the day’s expenses:

  • One of three nights in the 3-bedroom Airbnb house: $260
  • One of three days rental car: $101
  • Six pastries from Braud & Co: $32
  • About five hours parking in downtown Reykjavik: $18.68
  • Settlement Exhibit for five people: $38.95
  • Lunch for five at Cafe Loki: $153
  • Elevator for five up Hallgrimskirkja tower: $31.19
  • Bathroom for two at Harpa Concer Hall: $3
  • Phallological Museum entry for two: $40.42
  • Waffles at The Phallic Cafe: $17.56
  • Hat at the Red Cross Store: $7.35
  • Two white Russians at Lebowski Bar: $30.86
  • Water and 2 bananas at BONUS: $3.23
  • Dinner for five at Grandi Food Hall: about $160

Total for one fun day in Reykjavik: about $900!!!

And a post script about driving around Reykjavik: Although not necessary for walkers, totally doable. The itinerary our whole family did together covered about 3 miles, which would have been too much for my dad in addition to walking through the museum and church. If I were to drive this itinerary again, I would (obvously!) make note of where I parked. I might have also looked at Google Maps a little more to study the parking situation, because there was probably parking closer to the Settlement Exhibition. We could have also simply dropped people off at the Settlement Exhibition and parked the car back at our Airbnb. I would also try to park right outside both Cafe Loki and Sun Voyager, which would have made the day go a little more smoothly and reduced the cost of parking a bit.

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