I just wrapped up my first day in Iceland.
I can’t believe I just typed that.
My direct flight on Icelandair from Orlando was nice. I splurged for a seat in Saga Class, which is the equivalent of a domestic first class seat but MUCH cheaper. I didn’t get much sleep, but at least I was comfortable. Getting off the plane and through the ultra-modern Keflavik airport was a piece of cake. We didn’t park at a jetbridge, so all the passengers had to get off the plane using those rolling stairways. The guy who helped me get off the plane explained that Reykjavik has been getting such a huge flood of tourists lately that the airport can’t keep up. Currently, planes seriously outnumber gates by a large margin.
Anyway, after seriously breezing through immigration, I met my private driver in the arrivals area for the 45-minute drive to Reykjavik. Until we hit civilization, the landscape was very bleak. This is a volcanic island with geothermal springs everywhere, just like Yellowstone. The ground was charcoal-colored and very rocky, with low mountains in the distance. The terrain is totally covered in yellowish green lichens, and I didn’t see a single tree until we started getting into the suburbs. You could see some steamy spots in the distance where there were fumaroles or small hot springs. The weather is exactly as I anticipated–chilly mid-50s with a fine mist and strong winds. Not ideal, but it’s not disappointing when it’s what you expect and plan for.
I got to my hotel VERY early because my flight landed at 6:30am. I catnapped on a lobby couch until my room was ready at 11:30am. My room is spartan, but adequate. Lodging (and pretty much everything else here) is very expensive, but at least it’s clean and I can sleep. The bathroom is okay; as promised, I have a roll-in shower, but it’s a rainfall shower head that isn’t removable over a bath chair. Again, it’s doable with some practice. There are, however, no grab bars. Obviously there’s no ADA here in Iceland, but it would seem to make sense to put grab bars in a bathroom that is clearly meant for someone in a wheelchair. Whatever.
After taking a nap so I could actually function, I headed out to see the local shopping area and work my way towards Hallgrímskirkja, a huge Lutheran church that is the highest point in Reykjavik. My first goal, however, was to get some lunch. That turned out to be more problematic than I thought. While all of the major sights and museums here in Reykjavik are wheelchair accessible, local businesses and restaurants are decidedly not. Out of the dozens of storefronts I passed by on my way to the church, maybe ten were accessible for me in my scooter. More would be accessible if I were in a wheelchair with a travel companion because a lot of the steps were small and I could have been backed over them. But a lot of places also had stairs going down once you got through the doorway. To say I was disappointed to see this is an understatement, but there are some things you can’t plan for, and you just have to deal with it once you get there. There are places where I can eat and enough stores where I can get some souvenirs, so I’ll survive just fine.
I finally made my way through the wind and mist to Hallgrímskirkja. It’s very beautiful, and designed to resemble the lava flows in Iceland. It took 41 years to build, and the inside is pretty simple and minimalist compared to other European churches of this size. There’s also an elevator that takes you to an observation area on the 8th floor where you can see some awesome views of the city. But that wasn’t even the best part. I knew that my good friend/ex-boyfriend’s parents were going to be in Reykjavik because they left the US at the same time I did. Wouldn’t you believe we ran into each other inside the church!! It was just too crazy, and a real pleasure to chat with them for a little while.