Day 5 – December 31st.
The alarm went off, and I had a decision to make. Would I go run six miles in the rain and wind, or would I have a day of exploring a city I only briefly touched on my first visit?
My weather app made the decision for me. Rain and wind. All I wanted to do was cuddle cats, anyway.
I wasn’t a fan of Reykjavík on my first visit. I mean, I thought it was an okay city, but I’m not into cities. And after eighteen days of camping and exploring Iceland’s nature, I just wasn’t having it on my first trip. Plus I spent all night with the toilet with food poisoning. But now I felt like this trip would give Reykjavík a fair chance. I needed my mental batteries refilled, and I looked forward to doing some kooky things like hunting down Baktus the Cat.
But it wouldn’t be an Iceland trip without a weird shower experience, so first I needed to get that drama out of the way. The shower in my AirBnB was TINY and had one of those rainfall shower heads so I was drowning in water, unable to really move, let alone wash my hair properly. Then when I went to open the glass door, it came off the tracks and landed on my foot, slicing it open. Sigh.
I ate breakfast and packed up, and wandered out into the rainy streets of Akranes to begin the short journey to Reykjavík. Though it was dark, I decided to swing by Brautarholtskirkja off of Road 458. This is a beautiful black church that gets none of the attention as Búðakirkja. Thanks to the darkness and sideways rain, I just grabbed a couple of quick photos before sprinting back to the car. But I swear it’s quite stunning in the daylight with the mountains behind it!
The highways into the Reykjavík are filled with roundabouts, and my GPS did a good job of giving me a mocking “In 200 meters, at the roundabout” every few seconds it felt like. I have no idea why roundabouts in Iceland terrify me, but… they terrify me. American roundabouts make no sense and are often quite lawless (because nobody knows how they work), so I had it stuck in my brain that I would offend an Icelander with my horrible roundabout skills. Let’s just say I breathed a massive sigh of relief when the rounabouts faded out to normal stoplight intersections as I got more into the city. (I went through nine of them, which was nine too many.)
I decided to park at my AirBnB off of Baldursgata in the heart of Reykjavík. Though I couldn’t check in until 3pm, this was convenient and parking was free… win! I ended up being able to park right outside the door, which was an awesome score. Whew, another stressor alleviated. I donned my rain pants and my big jacket and scarf, and headed out onto the streets.
My first stop was naturally Kattakaffihúsið, Reykjavík’s very own cat cafe. I need some cat hair and cuddles in my life badly! I ordered up a latte and the most delicious avocado toast I have had my life, and enjoyed all the feline company as the rain fell outside.
Rejuvenated by an hour or so of the cats, I ran back to my car to drop off the hoodie I purchased at Kattakaffihúsið, and then set out for some other adventures. I was loving Reykjavík this time around, remembering familiar streets and finding it all very easy to wander around. I headed for the Heart of Reykjavík shop, where a bengal loves to hang out. Sadly the bengal was at the “kitty hotel,” but I chatted up the owner, showing him photos of my own bengal, Sammie, and explaining how I knew about the cat that visited his shop (summed up as… I stalk all of Iceland’s cats on Instagram). Such a lovely man, it was great to share a piece of my life with a stranger thousands of miles away, all because of our love for cats.
Continuing on with the cat theme, I decided it was only logical to now seek out Baktus, one of Iceland’s most famous cats that has a great social media presence – he’s even been kidnapped before! I hustled down Laugarvegur, stopping quickly for a photo with the Jólakötturinn statue at Lækjartorg.
Baktus lives in Gyllti Kötturinn, a vintage boutique off of Austurstræti, but I decided to try the Icewear store he hangs out in across the street first… no Baktus. So I went into Gyllti Kötturinn, and just as I walked he made his exit. Cue crazy cat lady moment as I’m stalking this chonky black and white cat down the street going “psht psht psht Baktusssss.” Other tourists stopped and asked if he was my cat. No, I’m just crazy, don’t mind me!
Once Baktus and I were out of the misty rain inside Icewear, I could finally pet him, overjoyed that I was actually meeting him! (Seriously, crazy cat lady here.) A couple from Maine came up, and we offered to take turns taking photos holding him, so I scooped up Baktus and gave him a bit ol’ kiss and cuddles. My life was complete! To look a little less weird, I purchased a downjacket that was on sale to break up the cat stalking, and then finally dragged myself away from Baktus. Til next time, Baktus!
I still had time to kill before checking into my room, so I headed to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the super famous hot dog stand that even Bill Clinton has eaten at. The line was around the block, but I joined in the twenty minute long queue. I had eaten hot dogs purchased from Bonus during my first trip that I cooked myself, but up to this point I had not had a famous Icelandic hot dog. I opted for one with everything except the ketchup, and bit in eagerly… and hated it. It tasted horribly gamey/lamby to me. I was disappointed (but not too disappointed, because it’s just about the cheapest thing you can find to eat in Reykjavík at just a couple of bucks). I ate half of it, and then slipped the hot dog out of the bun, and finished off the bun, which was good with the grilled and crispy onions. Still overall a cool experience, but it wasn’t for me.
I then headed up to Harpa, and walked along the shores of Flaxifloi, taking in all the drenched and cold looking runners that had finished up the race I was suppose to run. Yep, I think I totally made the right decision skipping running six miles for stalking all the cats instead! As I wandered towards the Sun Voyager my host messaged me about checking in, so I hustled the fifteen minutes back to Baldursgata.
Juste, my host, was a lovely girl and showed me around the house and my room. The room was super large, with a queen size bed. There was also a big bathroom with a large shower (with no toe murdering glass door), and small kitchen facilities. I settled in with the Wifi password, as it was after 3pm and the sun would be setting soon. I scrolled through social media and chatted with friends back home, buying time until it would be time to wander out for all of the New Year’s Eve festivities.
I thought I’d nap, but managed to make the time passed. I opted to just make a sandwich for dinner as my final meal of 2019, and just laid around reading. Finally a little after 7pm I got ready, changing into a thick dress and thermal tights in an attempt to look a bit classy – as classy as you can get with dirty hiking boots as your footwear.
New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík is a crazy affair. The country legalizes fireworks during this time, and the search and rescue organization sells them as their annual fundraiser. While there are no commercial/professional displays, there are hundreds of normal people lighting off huge fireworks everywhere (and they seem to do it without blowing themselves up!). As darkness fell, the fireworks increased. First up on the list of festivities was attending an Áramótabrennur, or bonfire. It is tradition to light huge bonfires on New Year’s Eve, which some say stems from a belief of burning the old before heading into a new year. I headed towards the large one at Ægisíða, which is on the shores of Skerjafjörður on the west side of town. It was about a twenty-five minute walk from my room. The rain held off, and it was a beautiful walk that passed alongside Tjörnin, the large pond in Reykjavik. I felt stupidly safe walking as a solo woman after dark, as I texted my friend back home about all hot Viking guy sightings.
The rain came like crazy once I arrived at the bonfire, and it took quite the effort for the firefighters to get it lit due to the rain and moisture (which was sketchy as they used buckets full of gas and blowtorches and seemed to be a little too close to each other at times). I stood in the crowd, feeling a bit lonely, and getting shoved and jostled around (I can’t do the shoving of Icelandic culture very well). I figured I’d just hang out a few more minutes before heading back to my room to rest up for the fireworks at midnight when I heard any American accent. I decided to say something back, and that is how I made my New Year’s Eve friends – Paul from Boston, and Baruk and Kate (from Turkey/Czech Republic). Yessssss, friends!!!
From here on out, the night was a blast! Paul was also traveling solo, so it was fun trading stories, and laughing about US politics with Baruk, and referring to ourselves with the translations of our last times – Chestnut Tree Farmer and Lightning Village. Kate offered up vodka shots, which ended up with the entire bottle getting consumed (not unusual in eastern European culture- gotta finish that bottle). As the bonfire wore on, and the Icelanders were preparing to head to a TV to watch the annual comedy show that something like 95% of the population watches, we set out for Arnarhóll, which is where Paul was told to watch the fireworks from. My tongue loosened up from vodka, I delighted my new friends by regarding the plaque in Icelandic at the statute of Ingólfur Arnarson – ha!
Baruk and Kate then headed to Hallgrímskirkja, and I took Paul to the Chuck Norris restaurant for photos and we explored a bit of Laugarvegur before also heading to the Hallgrímskirkja, which is where I was set on watching the fireworks.
Though there’s no huge official countdown, it was easy to tell when midnight struck and 2020 started as the fireworks intensified. I sent texts back to my parents and coworkers (some of who were still at work thanks to the seven hour time different), and took video and photos. Such a cool experience!
I had initially expected to be in bed by 12:30am, Paul and I wandered around, in a futile search for food and headed back to Arnarhóll for a view over the city of the fireworks (and we watched an adorable group lighting off the small, novelty type of fireworks with such glee and excitement). After more futile attempts at food finding (aside from the famous hot dogs), I called it about 1:30am, as I had a busy day planned for the first day of 2020, and needed some sleep. But hey, I can’t deny that I’m proud of myself for staying up until 2am, as there’s been many New Year’s Eves in the past few years where I was sleeping before midnight.
What an awesome, fun, happy way to ring in 2020! And Reykjavík, I freaking LOVE YOU!!!