Climbing up a Lighthouse & Down to the HARPA

Photo of a bowl of eggs

It was difficult getting up at 8:30am after having gone to bed so late last night watching the Northern Lights, but we wanted to get ahead of the AirBnB guests. As the laundry, shower, and washroom were all in the same room, it felt like a dance to get in there. They had been doing laundry since they arrived last night, and were still doing laundry when we left.

Our host had provided fresh eggs for our breakfast. They looked very different than eggs back home! The shell was a creamy beige colour, the whites of the egg had a yellow tinge to them, and the yokes were bright orange! I did us up some scrambled eggs and was amazed at their bright colour even cooked! Matt said that was the sign of fresh eggs!

Photo of the Akranes lighthouse at sunrise

Visit to the Top of the Akranes Lighthouse

We stopped in the lighthouse on our way out of Akranes to take a couple pictures at sunrise. We saw Hilmar, the man we first met yesterday who runs the lighthouse and visitor centre. He was just opening up the centre, so we went over to say thank you for the Northern Lights tip yesterday. Seeing the lights at the Arkanes lighthouse was truly a highlight of our trip!

We chatted with Hilmar, walking with him as he went to unlock the lighthouse. Apparently the lighthouse is popular with musicians due to its natural reverb and one had been in here recording last night. It was also used as an art exhibition place!

Photo of the stairs and windows out of the Akranes Lighthouse

Hilmar took us up each level of the lighthouse. The first had tourist pamphlets, a guestbook, and photographs on display. The next had colourful illustrations young children had painted of the lighthouse. Further were empty walls waiting for art to be hung, and a sitting area with two wooden chairs and a table. With each level we became more and more impressed – I’d never been so high up in a lighthouse!

Much to our delight, Hilmar opened up a trapdoor and signaled for us to follow up a ladder. We climbed up and found ourselves at the very top of the lighthouse with the beacon turning around. We were ecstatic!

Photo from the lighthouse beacon, looking out on the ocean and moon

Hilmar pointed out a volcano and glacier in the distance and took our picture for the lighthouse’s Facebook page. He told us there were over 100 lighthouses in Iceland and this was the only one open to the public! Before working at the lighthouse, he had worked at an aluminum factory 12 hours a day – now he got to share moments like this with people from all over the world!

Hilmar left us to enjoy the lighthouse on our own. Matt and I savoured the view until two other tourists came up. We left to allow them to enjoy the view together as we had.

Hilmar had encouraged us to sign the guest book, so we made a stop on the way out of the lighthouse. Matt wrote a glowing review and I drew a little sketch of the lighthouse. Drawing from memory, it looked more like a spaceship than the lighthouse in the end.

Outside the lighthouse, we watched as sandpipers gathered on the rocks below. Flocks of birds flew across the water like a shimmer, flying right past our heads. Hearing all those wings flapping so close was very special.

Matt’s great-great-grandfather and two generations before had been lighthouse keepers in Cape Enrage, New Brunswick. On our drive out of town, Matt told me how he used to sing to the lighthouse keeper each time they went to visit when he was 6 years old. Matt was one of the last people to go inside the lighthouse when it was closed and set to automation out of St. John, New Brunswick in the early 1980’s.

Photo of a concrete awning with mountains in the distance

Drive to the Snæfellsnes Pennisula

Hilmar had recommended we drive to Snæfellsnes. So we set our GPS to a random place on the map in that area and set off. It was a beautiful drive with mountains, fields, and little farmsteads. The frost and snow glinted in the golden grass in the end-of-day sun.

We drove to what we thought was a village, but it turned out to be a guesthouse. We then went to Langaholt where a lighthouse was listed. The lighthouse was gated off and no town to be found – but there was another guest house!

Photo of a pair of blue, fish-themed wool socks

Breiðablik Information Centre

The nearest gas station was back the way we came, so we turned around and headed to the N1 gas station and information centre in Breiðablik. The washroom cost 100 ISK – fortunately I had some Icelandic change on me!

They had some handicrafts on display made by the local women. I was drawn to a child-sized pair of merino wool fish socks. They were so unique – little eyes on the toes and scales on the feet. I walked back to the car, still thinking about them. As Matt lay out our car picnic, I kept thinking the socks. I hadn’t bought a souvenir yet, they were reasonably priced for Iceland, so I went back and bought them. I will keep them as a keepsake for the future.

The Long Way Home

We ate cold hot dogs with flat bread in the car with water and licorice chocolate. It was a simple lunch, but sustaining. We then took the long way back to Reykjavik, driving around the bay to avoid the toll bridge between Akranes and Reykjavik.

The drive was through farm country. Nothing but fields, horses, and mountains – with the occasional cow. I had not seen a single sheep our whole trip! Occasionally we would past geothermal springs sending puffs of white steam into the rugged landscape.

Sadly, it turned out I had been navigating us around the wrong bay. We had meant to go around the Hvalfjödur bay. Instead, I took us around the Borgarfjördur bay. I couldn’t believe I could make such a dumb mistake!

With our 4pm AirBnB check-in and 7:30pm show at the Harpa, we ended up having to pay the toll tunnel we had been so determined to avoid. I felt awful and swore off maps forever (or at least for this trip). My poor navigating skills had cost us $12.15 and a much needed nap time.

This was the start of a slew of ‘comedy of errors’ – although it wasn’t very funny at the time. I flipped the numbers in the address of our AirBnB and ended up at the wrong house. It was the beginning…

Photo of houses in the foreground and mountains in the distance at dusk

Last night in Iceland

AirBnB in Reykjavik

Our host was a thin elderly woman who wore bright red lipstick. She seemed caught by surprise when we arrived at her listed check-in time which I had confirmed in September then again that day. She also was expecting only one person, although the AirBnB booking clearly showed it was for two people, showing Matt as a confirmed guest.

To worsen matters further, the kitchen was an absolute disaster the entire time we were there, the tv was blaring the whole time even after we asked her to turn it down at 11pm and she had no room in her fridge for our food. She seemed shocked I would ask for such a thing! Then the sheets and the towels were coarse – like they’d been washed too many times in a washer full of stones. Oy…

This host had gotten so many good reviews on AirBnB, I was doubly surprised by our experience. At least the place had a nice view of the mountains…

A Traditional Icelandic Meal at Cafe Loki

We drove downtown and parked for free at the big church. We walked across the road to Cafe Loki, which offered traditional Icelandic food at fair prices. The staff were very friendly and the food was great!

We each ordered an Icelandic plate. Between us, we had to share fermented shark with a shot of Icelandic liquor, sheep’s head jelly, smoked trout, rugbrauð rye bread, flat bread, bean salad, mashed fish, mashed turnip, dried cod with butter, and to finish – rye bread ice cream with rhubarb syrup!

Matt surprised both the server and I – he really liked the fermented shark! So much so, he wanted to go back after the symphony to have some more with a plate of pickled herring, but sadly they were closed by then. He also enjoyed the sheep head jelly, even as someone who is not a fan of lamb! We both agreed that dried cod was much better with butter, but neither of us thought we’d ever crave dried cod again.

We both enjoyed the rye bread ice cream. The little bits of bread have the ice cream a cherished texture. We both love the rugbrauð and flat bread. I’m going to try and make some at home – apparently you can make rugbrauð by steaming it in a slow cooker! I want to try that.

Photo of the interior of the harpa

Show at the Harpa

We walked down to the Harpa Concert Hall from Cafe Loki. We had pre-booked tickets to see the symphony play a selection of Viennese music. It felt like a variety show with ballet with a Eastern-European flare, a tenor, and a soprano. The singing we could understand being part of the show, but the ballet portion of the show felt tacked on. It felt like an after thought and took away from the experience rather than adding to it.

Icelanders have generally been friendly, helpful, and nice to us during our whole trip. However, the Harpa appeared to be the place Icelanders could let loose and be snobs to tourists – even though we were all sitting in the cheap seats together! People would butt in front of me in line, serve people behind me first, and cut me off constantly! Matt and I felt quite unwelcome at the Harpa.

To further matters, Icelandic ‘casual’ was different than Canadian ‘casual’ for the theatre. I had done research beforehand on dress code and everywhere said ‘casual’. However, all the men were wearing nice leather shoes and smart blazers, and all the women were in dresses or dress-pants with their furs and gold jewelry… and there we were in dark denim and wool sweaters and my puffy winter coat.

The interior of the theatre was a deep red with a black stage and black detailing. The lights never went fully off in the theatre. Christmas decorations appeared to have been left on stage – metallic green and soft pink flower arrangements which clashed with the bright red and costume design of the dancers. The costume design and set design really felt disjointed from each other and the highly stylized interior of the Harpa Concert Hall too, which was jarring to the designer in me.

During intermission, Matt and I ordered a glass of prosecco at the bar. We sipped it overlooking the harbour where shops draped in Christmas lights were moored in the darkness.

At the end of the show, they handed out metallic pink and green bouquets to each of the performers. They were short one flower for the young black dancer, so the tenor gave him his bouquet. That was an unfortunate oversight…

When it came time for the encore, the audience started clapping in unison. Matt and I had only heard this style of encore clapping at rock concerts – it was great to experience this in an orchestra context!

After the encore, all the orchestra members pulled fancy party hats from under their chairs, put them on their heads, and the conductor got the whole auditorium clapping together! They played a cheerful piece of music for the finale, ending with huge poofs of sparkly confetti and a video projection of fireworks! That was a fun ending to the evening.