ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 10-12b –Reykjavik – 5 sites

July 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

August 2015

ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 10-12b –Reykjavik – 5 sites

Day 10-12b – Reykjavik – Sites visited

28 Day 10-12b map28 Day 10-12b map


At the Southeast corner of the “tourist” or “downtown” area described in my last post, up on the top of a hill is a magnificent church.  It’s the Haligrimskirkja Church sitting on the Leifur Eriksson Plaza.  This is a Lutheran church (Church of Iceland) – as most churches in Iceland are - with a wonderful architectural design.   The tower (it’s more than a steeple) is 244 ft. (73 meters.) tall.  It is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure in the country after some telecommunications towers.  There is a free elevator that takes you to the top of the tower for some spectacular views (some shown on prior post) The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 to 1674), author of the Passion Hymns. 

State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson designed this building in 1937. He is said to have designed it to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape which seems to be a common theme for Icelandic architects and you’ll see it again later in this post.  It took 38 years - from 1945 to 1986 - to build and is now a prominent landmark on the Reykjavik skyline. 

In front of this church is Leifur Eriksson Plaza where there is a statue in his honor.  Leifur Eiríksson (c. 970 – c. 1020) was an Icelandic explorer.  Not withstanding all the hoopla about Columbus discovering America in 1492,  Leifur is known as the first Norse explorer to reach America, around the year 1000 – 492 years before that Columbus guy – but Columbus had a better PR department so got all the praise.  According to the Sagas of Icelanders, Leifur established a Norse settlement in Vinland, tentatively identified as the Norse L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada – which as far as I know, was then and still is part of North America.

Leifur Eriksson Plaza from top of church tower

Leifur Eriksson StatueLeifur Eriksson Statue


Leifur Eriksson Plaza & Haligrimskirkja Church

Leifur Eriksson Plaza, Haligrimskirkja ChurchLeifur Eriksson Plaza, Haligrimskirkja Church


Haligrimskirkja Church

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After seeing this magnificent church we high tailed it on foot all the way across town and down to the dock area on the Northwest side of the downtown area to meet our group for lunch (they had a lecture that morning that we choose to skip as I teach the same subject that the lecture was on).  Having had a nice lunch with a view of the harbor, and being down in the dock area, we decided to stroll over to the Maritime museum.   This museum is partly indoor and partly outdoor.

When we were there, one of the rooms inside was dedicated to women in the fishing industry, past and present.  This exhibit was in honor of the 100th anniversary of parliament extending to women the right to vote – 5 years before the US (however several US states and territories took the leap before the Fed’s were able to get the constitutional amendment passed in 1920).  An interesting note is that New Jersey gave women the right to vote in 1776 (does that year ring a bell?) but then changed their mind in 1807 and took it back – Good ol’ New Jersey. 

This exhibit was put together by anthropologist Dr. Margaret E. Willson and chronicles women in the fishing industry – some of whom were captains of fishing ships.  Dr. Willson´s findings are in stark contrast to the prevailing mindset that women had zero  participation at sea in Iceland.  When she published her findings it made quite a ruckus as yet another male stronghold was shown to be not all that strong.  Through extensive research it turns out that women have consistently worked at sea from the mid- 900’s (yes 900’s)  to the present day. This appears to be much higher percentage than any other country where it’s been studied. 

Ms. Willson was able to discover the names of over 250 female fishermen and actually interviewed 150 of them – obviously the more recent ones -- the ones from the 900’s didn’t respond to requests for interviews.  The exhibit has photos of many of these women and to be honest they are a rough looking bunch.  But, then again, fishing on the open sea in wooden dories before modern iron ships was not for the meek or weak.  This was serious and dangerous work.

The outdoor portion of the this museum has a few older ships but most are from the diesel power era – no sailing craft to speak of that I could see.  Most of them are hauled up on land and are awaiting restoration, however a few are in the water.  All in all, the inside portions of this museum are well done and worth looking at but there are only a few outdoor ships to look at.

Fishing boat awaiting restoration 1

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Fishing boat awaiting restoration 2

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Rusty Keel

Rusty KeelRusty Keel



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Want to try your hand at the North Atlantic in this?

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A more modern ship, the Cost Guard ship Odinn, is the main outdoor attraction.  I talked a bit about the “Cod Wars” in my Day 1 edition of this travel log and the Odinn is one of the main ships that fought on the Icelandic side in this war of skirmishes.  The Cod Wars lasted from 1972  to 1975.  During this time the Icelandic Coast Guard ships would cut the trawl lines of British and West German trawlers and engaged in confrontations with Royal Navy warships.  This was in order to enforce a disputed expansion of Icelandic fishing territory to 200 miles from the coast which the other countries with large fishing fleets took exception to.  During this ‘war’ the Odinn was rammed several times and was fired at by Royal Navy ships.  Several times the damage was severe enough to require it to limp back to port for repairs.  Of course, it inflicted similar damage on the opposition ships as well. 

Although somewhat old in terms of modern war craft, it stayed current in technology throughout the cold war and until it was decommissioned in 1975.  During that time it was retrofitted many times with new gear and technology, all of which is still operational today.  This includes the addition of a helicopter hanger and landing pad, radar, sonar, the latest in navigation technology and much more.

The word Odinn (Odin) refers to one of the strangest characters in Norse mythology.  Among other traits (per Wikipedia); he is the chief of a tribe of deities, yet he often ventures far from their kingdom on long solitary wanderings throughout the cosmos on purely self-interest quests. He is a relentless seeker after and giver of wisdom, but he has little regard for communal values such as justice, fairness, or respect for law and convention. He is the divine patron of rulers, and of outcasts. He is a war-god and a poetry-god.  What’s also quite interesting is that he has prominent transgender qualities that would bring unspeakable shame to any traditional Norse/Germanic warrior.

This is actually the 3rd Odinn in Iceland’s coast guard.  The first was the second Icelandic Coast Guard vessel and the first purposely built as a patrol ship. It was a steel ship with two 57mm canons built in Denmark in 1925 and arrived in Iceland in 1926.  As a result of severe financial mismanagement by the Icelandic Government it was sold cheaply to Sweden in 1936.  The second Odinn was built in 1938. She was only 85 tonnes and made of oak. When the current Odinn was commissioned number 2 was renamed Gautur (which is one of Óðinn's pseudonyms) and was later decommissioned in 1964.

According to Wikipedia, the Odinn was used as scenery in the film Flags of Our Fathers, when it was filmed in Iceland during the summer of 2005. She rescued one of the landing boats used in the film, as it was about to be thrown into a cliff.

Our guided tour of the Odinn was quite nice.  Virtually nothing was roped off.  We could sit the captains chair, and even though there was a “do not enter” chain across the ladder we were allowed to climb down into all 3 levels of the engine room and photograph as much as we wanted.


Coast Guard Ship Odinn (Photo from Wikipedia)

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Aux “outboard’ prop in case main engine or propeller is damaged

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Engine valve rocker arm

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One of the engines

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Fuel system

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On our journey in the outskirts of Reykjavik on another day we spent a morning at the Open Air Folk Museum.  This is a collection of buildings from older times that have been moved to a location in the suburbs of the city where they were restored and opened to the public.  The museum has costumed docents around to explain things and many of the buildings have been furnished with period pieces – much of which came with the building.  It is nowhere as sophisticated as Sturbridge (MA), Plimouth Plantation (MA), or Williamsberg (VA), but is interesting nonetheless.   

It was created in the mid 1950’s when, with the blessing of the city, a local historical society acquired the abandoned Arbaer farm on the outskirts of town (which had some old buildings of its own).  This farm was in poor condition with most of the buildings near falling down but in it’s prime had been a popular stopping place and inn for folks on their to and from Reykjavik.  During the heyday of replacing the old with the new in Reykjavik during the late 1950’s and 1960’s they were able to save many Reykjavik buildings before they were bulldozed into oblivion. 

The museum now has 20 to 30 buildings restored to the condition they were in when actively used. 

School house and Admin building

School & Admin bulds, Open Air Folk MuseumSchool & Admin bulds, Open Air Folk Museum


Laundry in one of the restored homes

Wringer and WhitesWringer and Whites


Typical sod construction

Sod roof in IcelandSod roof in Iceland


The church

Historic Iceland Church InteriorHistoric Iceland Church Interior


Jars in the window of the mercantile building

Water Color #1Water Color #1


Intricate door latch

Historic Spring LockHistoric Spring Lock

For those of you who are musically inclined.  We found something called a Lokkur.  This is a stringed instrument, a bit similar to a dulcimer but really an Icelandic Langspil, hooked up to a spinning wheel.  The Langspil is an “Icelandic Drone Zither sort of thing which is played by plucking, with a bow, or hammering.  The Lokkur version uses a spinning wheel in place of bowing .   We saw one here at the Reykjavik Open Air Folk Museum.  I can’t find much info about it other than it was a woman’s instrument as it hooked onto a spinning wheel which was woman’s domain.

A Lokkur – part Icelandic drone zither, part spinning wheel.




As we’ve talked about before,  Iceland pumps hot water from thermal hot springs to the more populated areas, such as Reykjavik, where it is directly used to heat homes and for other domestic and commercial purposes that need hot water.  In fact, the hot water is so plentiful and cheap (perhaps free, I didn’t ask) that in the dead of winter as you walk the streets of Reykjavik most of the windows of homes are wide open to cool them off.  Anyway, as you can imagine all this hot water requires a fair amount of infrastructure to get it from its source to where it is needed.  This includes piping, pumping stations, distribution lines, etc.  One such thing that is needed are storage tanks above the city to supply the needed water pressure and to hang onto extra hot water for those cold spells where demand exceeds the capacity of the pipes coming from the hot springs to the city. 

One such set of storage tanks is called The Perlan (the pearl).  These 5 tanks had been there for decades and are placed in a circular pattern on a hilltop overlooking the city.  In 1991 the tanks were updated.  At that time they enclosed the space between the tanks with glass walls and built a glass dome roof over the top.  Inside they created gallery space and under the dome on top of the tanks a cafeteria along with a high end restaurant.   As this structure is on top of a hill it offers stunning views of the entire city.   In addition to the views, art shows and concerts take place inside. 

Dome of The Perlan on top of silver water tanks

The PerlanThe Perlan


Art Gallery in the basement

Reflecting the art #1, The PerlanReflecting the art #1, The Perlan


Water feature inside with reflection of staircase and dome

Reflecting Pool at The PerlanReflecting Pool at The Perlan


Staircase to the top (there’s also an elevator)

Main Stairway going up, The PerlanMain Stairway going up, The Perlan


Spiral and it’s reflection

Spiral at The Perlan #2Spiral at The Perlan #2



Our last location for this edition is HARPA (many times shown as just HARP).  HARPA is the national concert hall for Iceland, built in 2011.  Like many concert halls (e.g. the one in Sydney Australia) this one is also built at the edge of the harbor. 

It was designed by a Danish firm in co-operation with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (sculpture). The structure exterior consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass “boxes” that are intended to resemble the similarly shaped basalt lava features we’ve seen in various places in Iceland.

Originally it was one piece of construction project consisting of a complex of buildings spanning several city blocks that was dubbed the “World Trade Center Reykjvaik”.  This complex was to house this concert hall, a 400 room hotel, luxury apartments, a shopping mall, restaurants and a large parking facility and was to be the new world headquarters of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki.  However during the world wide financial crises last decade (thank you Wall Street) - that hit Iceland particularly hard - this already started project was abandoned leaving mostly vacant lots with big holes in them.  In 2008 the government was able to fund the completion of the half built concert hall making it the only construction project in the country for several years.  Unfortunately the rest of the bigger project remains in limbo so this magnificent building overlooks those large vacant lots with big holes in them

But, it’s a beautiful building with those basalt column shaped boxes making up the outer skin of the building, some of which randomly use colored glass instead of clear.  At night, each of these geometric “columns” are illuminated by a strip of colored LED lights that are computer controlled to form ever changing patterns and designs of color which can be seen from several places in the city.

The shapes and geometry, both inside and outside this building are really incredible.

HARPA Exterior

HARPA Concert Hall #13HARPA Concert Hall #13

HARPA Exterior

HARPA Concert Hall #12HARPA Concert Hall #12


Detail of hexagonal boxes that make up outer walls

HARPA Concert Hall #04HARPA Concert Hall #04


Reflective ceiling and part of outer wall.

HARPA Concert Hall #05HARPA Concert Hall #05


Reflective ceiling

HARPA Concert Hall #06HARPA Concert Hall #06



HARPA Concert Hall #07HARPA Concert Hall #07


Lounge area

HARPA Concert Hall #08HARPA Concert Hall #08



And that brings us to the end of our Icelandic Adventure.  The only thing left to do is get home.  Of course getting home sometimes has issues as well.  In our case, fortunately unknown ahead of time, our departure day was also the day when much of Reykjavik is closed to vehicles due to a dozen foot races being conducted throughout the City.  So, instead of a bus coming to hotel, we were allowed to schlep our luggage several blocks up a hill to a church parking lot where we could board the bus.  But other than that all went as well as one can expect these days with air travel. 

Tail fins at the airport

Tail FinsTail Fins


Wetlands near west end of Dumbarton Bridge near home

SF Bay WetlandsSF Bay Wetlands

I hope you enjoyed reading our Icelandic Adventure and will read accounts of future trips.

- All images from Iceland (202):

- Favorite images from Iceland (37):

Thanks for reading -- Dan



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