Monday, February 5, 2018

Iceland Expedition: Reykjavik and the Golden Circle

An hour or two after I finished writing the last blog post, we were wheels down in Iceland! Unfortunately, with the time difference, it was 5:00 AM, and most of us had not slept on the plane. Nevertheless, we planned to push through and see what we could see in Reykjavik (and because we couldn’t check into our Airbnb until 3:00 PM).

After exchanging money, buying Siminn SIM cards, and picking up the rental car in Keflavik, we began the drive to Reykjavik. The rental is a small, diesel, manual crossover that “seats” seven people. As we were pulling out of town and Tanner was figuring out all of the controls, he chose this time to tell us that he’s gotten a ticket in every foreign country he’s ever driven in. This came as we were deciding whether it’s acceptable to right turn on red here (it’s not).

We arrived in Reykjavik around 7:00 AM, and, as we discovered, not a whole lot is open at that time in the morning. We drove around for a little while, getting our bearings, then eventually parked and started walking, hoping to find something to eat. We eventually found a cafe that was open for breakfast that also kindly accommodated a thirty minute (power) nap for a few of us.

Harpa Center
The first thing we decided to check out was the Harpa Center, a steel and glass performance hall, downtown near the docks. Adam, who works as an architect, loved this building, and probably would have stayed there all day, if we would have let him!

Katie enjoys watching the ocean
We wandered through the streets of downtown Reykjavik for a little while, stopping to check out a few of the small shops and museums. We then made our way up to Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, located at the center of the city. The sanctuary was a sizable acoustically reflective room, with a large pipe organ. It seemed like an amazing place to sing something like the Doxology, or as Adam suggested, Blest Be the Tie That Binds.

From that church building, we made our way to the church we had actually planned to worship with that morning. Honestly, this was one of the parts of the trip I was most looking forward to, after some of the research I had done beforehand. I started Googling for churches in Reykjavik and found this Gospel Coalition article, as well as an article from Christianity Today on the work this pastor and his congregation are doing in this country. I was excited for us to experience a small part of that, and, hopefully, be of some encouragement to this pastor in his work. I contacted him beforehand to make sure we wouldn’t be a distraction, and he welcomed us to come.

We weren’t two steps into the building when I was greeted loudly by an Icelandic man who thrust a small bag with what looked like dried bread chips in it towards me. Having zero idea of the context, I thought this might possibly be communion bread of some sort, picked a piece, and held onto it. A few minutes later we entered the sanctuary and I saw communion bread and juice set out in the front, so my previous assumption no longer held. Figuring it would be weird for me to stand there holding my piece of bread, I went ahead and popped it into my mouth. An incredibly strong fish oil flavor hit me immediately, and I tried not to grimace as I chewed. At that moment, I was also stuck with an empty water bottle. As politely as possible, I excused myself and ran off to find some liquid.

Tanner, meanwhile, had held onto his piece as well, but made the unfortunate choice to try it during the service. I was listening to the message when all of the sudden he taps me on the shoulder and whispers, “That’s nasty!” quite loudly. I quickly shushed him for fear one of the church members would overhear him. He told me later he had grabbed one of the biggest piece because he was hungry. He struggled through the mouthful he had and then gave the rest to Steven, who, of course, loved it. I’m still trying to figure out if this was a friendly gesture or an attempt to haze the Americans (or, perhaps, both).

The service itself was awesome. Meaningful hymns and solid, Biblical teaching. Most of the songs were in English, and they even had a translator who translated the teaching and speaking portions of the service from Icelandic to English for any English speakers, using a separate transmitter and receiver system.

At the end of the service we got the chance to speak with the pastor and pray for him. If you would, please pray for Gunnar and his work in Iceland, and particularly for two of his young children who are struggling with some pretty severe health problems. We have noticed the country of Iceland is a place that seems altogether hostile to the Gospel (addressed in this video by Gunnar and some of his ministry partners), and Gunnar’s congregation are doing their best to share the hope and joy that can be found only through Jesus with their fellow Icelanders.

Driving in Iceland
Next, we went on (what turned into a lengthy), shopping trip to the local Bonus grocery store to attempt to buy lunch supplies and ingredients for communal meals. Although most people here speak English, it’s still difficult sometimes to find exactly what you need if you can’t read Icelandic. Case in point, “Is this meat actually beef?”

After our grocery run was complete, we set off to find our Airbnb. Despite some less than stellar navigating on my part, we soon arrived. For this trip, we rented a large, second floor apartment that comfortably sleeps seven and (importantly) has two bathrooms. It’s very homelike and cozy, and it was wonderful to be able to come into a warm, welcoming environment, after travelling for almost two days straight. I stretched out on the large rug in the living room for a little while, perfectly content with life.

This morning, Steven and Tanner set out early in the morning to pick up Mike, who had gotten the bus to Reykjavik after his plane had landed. I didn’t think about it until they left, but they had no GPS, or even a way to communicate with Mike. The end result was, I ended up playing the middleman for communication between Mike and Steven, and acting as command and control for remote navigation. It was quite the process, but they were eventually successful in finding him. Steven credits this mainly to his ability to read paper maps (an underrated skill, apparently).

This morning we began our tour of the Golden Circle, a driving route through southwest Iceland, with quite a few amazing sights along the way. We woke up to find that it had snowed the night before, which could only help make this trip better! We planned to leave at 8:30 AM and left at 10:00 AM.

Golden hour all day long
Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet. We got to walk down in-between the rift and see the crystal clear water that flows through the valley before emptying into the adjoining lake. Many people swim or scuba dive in this water (one of the highest visibility dives in the world), but, unfortunately, that was not in the cards for our group today. We did, however, get to see a pair of Mallard ducks, much to Katy’s delight!
Stupid Americans standing on the wrong side of the rope
The next destination was the Geysir geothermal fields. There we got to stick our hands in the warm water flowing from one of the hot springs and watch the Strokkur geyser erupt several times!

Notice the rope
As we were exploring the geysers, at some point, Steven, Mike, and Tanner cut across a roped-off section. They made it about halfway across before getting yelled at by an official-looking guide in an orange jacket. Steven said, “As soon as he said something, I turned around because I knew we didn’t have any argument.” Tanner, though, tried to play dumb, “This isn’t the path?” The guide responded with a wide sweeping gesture to the rope in front of him. “Obviously!”

Rando, myself, Adam, Tanner, Laurel, Mike, Katy, and Steven
Third on the list was was Gullfoss, or “Golden Falls.” One of the most biggest, most well-known waterfalls in Iceland, it lived up to its reputation, although we agreed the comparison with Niagara Falls on one of the park signs was laughable. As we were getting ready to leave, what can most accurately be described as a blizzard rolled in (at least, it felt like it). We fought our way back to the car and continued on.

Icelandic Niagara?
Our last scheduled stop of the day was the Kerið volcanic crater. There was a small admission fee for this, and we paid it readily. However, before we got within sight of the crater, we met some of our friends from the flight over and asked them if it was worth it. One of the ladies replied, “Well, I’ve spent $4.00 on worse things in my life.”

That's us on the far side!
Despite that less than raving review, it was a pretty cool sight, although we all decided it would probably be significantly better during the summer, when you should be able to see more detail in the crater and swim in the lake at the bottom.

Mike eats it
All of us except for Tanner (who generously offered to stay and take our picture) decided to walk all the way around the crater. As it turned out, he may have had the better idea, since it ended up being slick going. At one point, Steven and Mike were in front of me. Steven called out that it was slick, and Mike wiped out, sliding the rest of the way down the small outcropping. Having just seen Mike eat it, and figuring I would learn from his mistake, I stepped forward carefully, but confidently... and promptly wiped out.

Lake "frozen solid"
We did walk down to the frozen lake (and, for a few of us, onto it). While there, Tanner struck up a conversation with a few young men from Israel. At the end of their conversation, he offered them his gloves (which I believe in Iceland is equivalent to the shirt off of your back), although they refused. When we got back to the parking lot, Tanner said he was thinking about giving them his Bible. After thinking about it for a few minutes, he did, and, after some urging from Tanner (they initially told him he would be wasting his Bible), they took it. Please pray for our two Israeli friends, that this seed would spring to fruition at some point in time, either directly through the Bible Tanner gave them, or through some other means.

Steven learns his first 100 Icelandic words
We made one final, unplanned stop at a roadside mall-type building on the way home. Inside we found a local library and a bunch of maps, both of which I particularly enjoyed. I really like experiencing things about a culture (the Airbnb apartment, church, library, etc.) that the people here do every day, rather than just see the tourist sites (although those are often good too).

Tanner and Mike, meanwhile, went into Bonus again to pick up some extra paper towels. When we met them on the way out, Tanner said, “They thought Mike and I were from Iceland, seriously! The cashier started going off in Icelandic! I had to tell him we were Americans, and he apologized and switched to English.” Mike said, “When he started in in Icelandic, I just stood there nodding. I was going to go with it. Then he switched to English, like, immediately. It was crazy!”

A map including all of our stops for the day
Despite another blinding snowstorm as we crossed the mountain pass back to Reykjavik, we made it safely back to our Airbnb for the night. After a day full of incredible experiences, we ate dinner (pancakes and eggs) and went on to bed (or stayed up for several more hours writing a blog post, as the case may be). Excited to see what tomorrow holds!

We didn't do a very good job with this


  1. Love the detailed blogging and thanks for sharing ways we can be praying for your trip! So awesome!