At this point I’ve been driving non-stop for the last 11 days. 2347 miles to be exact—from one end of the UK to the other and back. I’ve gotten so accustomed to driving on the left side of the road that, as the shuttle bus rumbles down the 2-lane highway from the Keflavik airport, I can’t shake the unsettling feeling that we’re going to crash headlong into oncoming traffic. I’m sure it will pass by the time I get back behind the wheel stateside.
The landscape between Keflavik airport and the drop-off point in downtown Reykjavik looks like something from another planet. Steel blue water and snow-capped peaks to one side, endless fields of crumbled volcanic rock to the other. Colorful houses covered in corrugated iron crop up more and more frequently, getting gradually closer to one another until we reach the compact kaleidoscope that is the city.
I make my way three blocks over to KEX Hostel. Thing of beauty, truly. It’s abuzz with the energy of 20-something adventure types and wannabe world explorers, not unlike myself, I admit. I check in and climb the stairs to my 6-person bunk to find one of my roommates lounging on her bed. She introduces herself. She’s from Charlotte, NC, of all places. It figures, I would travel thousands of miles to run into someone who might as well be from my hometown. Though amiable enough, she starts in on how she loathes the American lifestyle, and is on a 3-month transcontinental journey to find a country and a politics more suitable to her. I’m suddenly aware of how unfathomably exhausted I am. No, I won’t lay down or I’ll miss it. We exchange pleasantries and I take my leave, determined to get out and walk off the fatigue.
If I only do one thing in this city, I must climb the Hallgrímskirkja; seems a reasonable task. The towering expressionist structure is only a few blocks away, in the very center of the city. The columns that flank the bell tower remind me of the basalt rocks on the western isles of Scotland. Leif Eriksson mans his post out front, staring off into the wild blue yonder.
I step through the vestibule into the light-filled nave of the church. Someone is deftly playing the massive pipe-organ directly above my head as I linger in the doorway.
The clean lines of the interior, uncluttered by ornament or decoration, sweep the eye endlessly up into the graceful arcs of the vaulted ceiling. If ever there were a man-made structure to inspire prayer and contemplation, this is it.
I almost reluctantly remove myself to get onto the elevator to the observation deck. From this vantage point, this city comes together in a mosaic of color and life, bound on every side by water, punctuated by jagged mountains.
After some time I wander down to the convenience store to pick up some toiletries, plucking some chocolate covered licorice from the shelf on my way to the register. Returning to KEX, I find my bunk room empty. Perfect time for a long, hot shower.
Fully rejuvenated, yet famished, I find myself in the restaurant/lounge on the main floor and taking up residence at one end of the horseshoe bar. The kind, kind man behind the counter brings out the Frelsis Hamborgari I ordered—a free-range Icelandic beef burger with Ísbúi cheese. With a viking-sized beer and burger at hand, I settle into ‘The Old Patagonian Express,’ wondering what Paul Theroux would have to say about Iceland.
I think to myself, There are certainly worse ways to spend a layover.