27 December 2019

Iceland: Day I - Reykjavík

Hallo! I hope the winter has been treating you warmly. Our family Christmas trip has come and gone and leading up to our departure I was all kinds of nervous and excited. It was my first time visiting Europe, and my mom planned our entire trip, so aside from a few key locations here and there I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be very cold though, so I did my best to pack accordingly!

It hasn't been long since my last trip, but Sea-Tac sure is changing! There's a lot of new restaurants that replaced old favorites, and we even have several new Starbucks locations. It makes me wonder how the airport will look in a few more years, especially with the extension of the light rail further north.

Our flight took about 7 hours from SEA to KEF, landing at 6 AM local time. Immediately we were greeted by Iceland's Christmas spirit - the Yule Lads! In Icelandic folklore, there lives a family of mountain creatures that come into town one by one for 13 days leading up to Christmas. The Yule Lads are sort of equivalent to 13 different Santas, with their own personality and preference for mischief. Each night they visit children who place one shoe on their windowsill and, if they are good, will leave candy and gifts! If they're bad, well... previously they were eaten, but now they just leave rotten potatoes in their shoes.
They also have a pet, the Yule Cat! A large and ferocious cat that will eat anyone who hasn't worn a new piece of clothing by Christmas Eve. Good thing I bought some new sweaters for this trip!
As soon as we picked up our rental car, we started driving to Reykjavík. It was pitch black outside, but faintly you could see Christmas lights decorating various homes and buildings. I love night drives around the holidays — seeing everyone's Christmas decorations have always made me very happy.
Our first stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish church known as the largest church in Iceland. It was designed by State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson and took 41 years to complete, beginning in 1945 and opening in 1986. 
Guðjón, one of Iceland's most influential Modernist architects, was heavily inspired by Icelandic landscapes, which can be seen in many of his designs. Hallgrímskirkja's design is said to resemble the trap rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland. The sun was still waking up, so my photos are a bit dark. 
Sadly, at the time of visiting the church was closed due to choir rehearsal for Christmas service, and the tower closed because of the wind.  It would've been incredible to see Reykjavík from the observation tower!
We stopped by to eat at Café Babalú, as it was one of the few open at the time. The interior was very quirky, but the Star Wars-themed bathroom really took the cake.
A mild chai latte for a cold morning.
Grilled cheese, tomato soup, and pumpkin soup! Much needed to warm up our bones. 
Once the sun finally came out (around 10AM, wow!) we started driving towards the Snaefellnes Peninsula. Since we drove in the dark, we had no idea how beautiful the snowy hills were until then.
One of the first things I realized about Icelandic winters are the pink hues of daylight. Most of the day the moon is still out, hanging low, while a pink haze gently glides over the sky and mountain tops. I don't know if I've ever seen something so beautiful.

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