Walking around Reykjavik, especially on its main shopping street of Laugavegur, it’s impossible to miss the arresting white monolith that thrusts into the sky like a gleaming dagger. This is Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland.

Hallgrimskirkja front

In stark contrast to downtown Reykjavik, where most buildings are colorful, blocky and low to the ground, Hallgrimskirkja seizes attention with its modern starkness, expansive arms and defiant height. Designed in 1937, completed in 1986 and refurbished in 2009, it is timeless—something out of a fantasy or science fiction novel. It could be Tolkien’s Isengard, or maybe the church where a chubby little Kryptonian could have been christened Kal-el.

Leif Ericsson statue at Hallgrimskirkja

In front stands a statue of Leif Ericson, the Icelandic explorer who was the first European to land in North America. Leif’s father, Erik the Red, was a Viking outlaw who was exiled from both Norway and Iceland, and eventually discovered Greenland.

Hallgrimskirkja up close

Behind its imposing facade, Hallgrimskirkja is all serenity and simplicity.

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Reykjavik: Color me charmed

Iceland is a small island with a small population: exactly 320,044 people as of June 30, 2012, in fact.

Icelandic population

A running count of the population at the Hamburger Factory in Reykjavik

So it makes sense that Reykjavik, its biggest city, is a capital with a charming, small-town feel—kind of like Amsterdam (pop. 800,000). Although two-thirds of the Icelandic population lives in and around Reykjavik, many head to the countryside during the summer to work in tourism. (One such Reykjavik resident was our Zodiac boat captain, whom you met in a previous post.)

Still, Reykjavik felt far from empty during our visit. That’s because this city is packed—with style, creativity, and color. Just check out these houses in downtown Reykjavik!

Neon house Reykjavik

Neon. Love!

One striking similarity I found between Reykjavik and Manila: the use of corrugated iron (a.k.a. GI or galvanized iron) sheets as a building material.

Turquoise and green Reykjavik

In Reykjavik, the choice is dictated by the harsh weather; back home it’s simply a matter of economics… which makes our GI homes look totally third world quite different. How I wish Manila could pull off this look!

Bright blue house Reykjavik

That similarity aside, the pristine white trim, clean lines and enamel house numbers give Reykjavik homes that distinct Scandinavian vibe.

House and numbers

In addition to the houses, much of the color in downtown Reykjavik comes from street art, which is everywhere.

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Hot pot, Iceland style

I’m back! Sorry to have left everyone waiting for so long. Iceland, Kleine Fabriek and a Madonna concert sandwiched in between left me far more exhausted than I expected. I took the week to unplug and rest, and it was just what my body needed. Now I’m back with lots of Iceland stories and good things to share. Your patience will be rewarded!

Before I left for Iceland, the weather forecast for Reykjavik seriously freaked me out: 8℃ to 16℃ (colder than already-chilly Amsterdam) and raining all week. I was so not in the mood for cold and rain that I dragged Marlon into a long discussion of the pros and cons of canceling our trip and booking a last-minute escape to sunny Croatia.

We decided to go anyway, and I calmed myself by (over)packing for crappy weather. Among the contents of my suitcase: an umbrella, Timberland combat boots (my only “sensible” quasi-outdoor shoes), Uniqlo Heattech tops, two wool sweaters, several pairs of wool socks, two wool scarves, a knit headband, fleece leggings, a raincoat and a wool peacoat. So, which of these many garments did I actually end up using within hours of my arrival in Reykjavik?

None of the above. The answer is… my bathing suit!

With an evening arrival in Reykjavik, Marlon and I had just about enough time and energy to check into our apartment, have dinner, and do one other thing. When we found out that Laugardalslaug, Iceland’s largest geothermal swimming pool, was a 10-minute walk from our apartment, it became clear what that “one other thing” would be.

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