The Incredibly Intrepid Icelandic Expedition: Day 1

Looking northeast from downtown Reykjavík

Looking northeast from downtown Reykjavík

Wednesday, 7:28 p.m. — After packing a few final items, I hop into the Jeep with the others. There are four of us: Ryan, Israel, Kelsey, and myself. For roughly the next two and a half hours, Israel and I will squeeze into the backseat with Roxy, a pit bull who doesn’t know what to do with herself.

9:41 p.m. — Detroit rises up around us. We are here to drop Roxy off at Ryan’s friend’s place; said friend has graciously offered to drop us off at the airport. Our flight is set to take off at 12:50 a.m. It is nearly 2 a.m. by the time we actually get in the air.

From time to time, I get some kicks out of looking up flight prices on the Google Flights machine. What if I went here? What if I went there? Is it cheaper to fly from Detroit? Chicago? Somewhere else nearby? These questions run through my head as I type in different destinations, and sometimes a place and a price are just too tempting to pass up. That was the case a few months ago when I stumbled upon cheap tickets to Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, and, coincidentally, a destination I had had my eye on for about four years.

I’m not sure if Iceland was as popular as it is today when I first set my sights on it a few years ago — they actually deal with a little bit of over-tourism these days — but it was a place I wanted to visit regardless if other people were going there or not. And so, finally, here I am, on the frosty frontiers of this large island nation that sits just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle.

Thursday, 11:06 a.m. (local time) — Following a five-and-a-half hour flight that saw us pass over a portion of Greenland as the sun rose, our plane lands at Keflavík International Airport. Airline personnel inform us it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside; it will feel quite a bit colder when we step outside the airport in search of the rental car.

1:21 p.m. — Duty-free beer and liquor in tow, we arrive in downtown Reykjavík. The street to our Airbnb blocked off, we decide to forge our own path through the maze of skinny, one-way streets. A woman taps on our window to not-so-kindly point out that we are going the wrong way down a single-lane road.

Hallgrimskirkja, one of the most well-known symbols of Reykjavík, is the tallest building in the city

Hallgrimskirkja, one of the most well-known symbols of Reykjavík, is the tallest building in the city

In honor of Anthony Bourdain — who was not a fan of itineraries — our plans upon arriving in Reykjavík were only half-baked, if that. The first day was mostly a walking-around-town kind of day just to check the place out. After scarfing down some Icelandic meat soup at The Downtown Cafe & Bar on Laugavegur and getting all settled in at the Airbnb just down the street, our helter-skelter, self-guided walking tour commenced. First up: Hallgrímskirkja, an Evangelical-Lutheran church that, as the city’s tallest building, is one of its most well-known landmarks.

Lots of tourists stop by this concrete behemoth (or so the Internets tell me), which sits just to the southeast of the city centre. Unfortunately, we showed up right as the building was closing its doors for the day, so all Kodak moments were held out-of-doors. If you stop by during regular hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., October through April; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., May through September) you can get into the church for free, though. The only thing that will cost you is heading up to the tower to take in the 360-degree view, but the 1,000 krona ($8.30) admission fee is tiddlywinks compared to the price of basically anything else in Iceland.

This country isn’t consistently rated as one of the top five most expensive places to visit for no reason, you know.

5:19 p.m. — The Icelandic wind chill is a constant companion as we make our way down to the waterfront to get a better view of the mountains over yonder. I decide a hot beverage is in order, so I break from the others to grab coffee at a nearby Olís gas station. I learn something new: Iceland really likes tiny coffee cups.

8:53 p.m. — Thirsty Thursday commences. We stroll down our street, Laugavegur, to the evening’s first destination: Kíkí Queer Bar, a two-story joint that calls itself the queerest club in Reykjavík. Adult beverages are consumed. Dance moves are busted. Joy and merriment abound.

Night comes quick in these parts at this time of year. The sun would set at 5:34 p.m. on our first day, leaving us only enough time to gobble down that soup at The Downtown Cafe & Bar and complete our brief walking tour of a portion of downtown before darkness descended upon the city. Later on, we ended up making appearances at the Lebowski Bar (yes, the Dude even abides in Iceland) and Mónakó Casino Club Bar, as well as the aforementioned Kíkí Queer Bar.

The night wound down relatively early — most likely because we went out so early. That was just fine, though, because Day 2 would end up being a very, very long one.