The early light of being way far north finally lulled us out of bed around 8 this morning, which was perfect because the viewing deck at Hallgrímskirkja
(the church right across from our hotel) opened at 9am. Once again we enjoyed our free breakfast at the hotel, said good-bye to the Hótel Leifur Eiríksson
and ventured out for our last day in Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja is the highest building in Reykjavik, so the viewing deck of the church offer the best views of the city. We got there a little after 9am and found a little sign that basically said, "If we haven't gotten here yet to receive money, please just leave about 900KR each and go on up." I love Iceland. The trust... the simplicity... the baffled crowd gathered around the sign wondering if it can really be that easy. On top of the church it was not only beautiful, but someone, even more windy (which was hard to believe possible). We read the signs, admired the views from all sides, and returned to the lower levels before we froze to death!
The only other item on our to-do list for the day was shopping. Neither of us are big shoppers, but we had avoided picking up things for the kids, family or ourselves until we'd seen what different place had to offer. Now it was time. We took a few hours to stroll down the main shopping streets like we had the first day, but the reality is that most shops have exactly the same things for sale. And nothing was jumping out at us. On the advice of a few websites, we decided to try a different approach and headed to Kringlan
, the largest shopping mall in Reykjavik. And we discovered where the locals go! The mall included some standard shops (Subway, The Body Shop, etc.), but Flying Tiger
was our favorite. We probably spent an hour there! Of course it's also fun to just see the locals in action and window shop a bit, so this last minute decision turned out to be a really interesting addition to the trip.
Shopping done we returned to Reykjavik for some fish and chips! After strolling around a bit we finally settled on Icelandic Fish and Chips, located near the bay. Everything was a la carte, so we ordered two different types of fish, sides and sauces for our final Icelandic meal. Super-yummy!! And a bit bitter-sweet. It was time to head for the airport.
45 minutes later we were returning our car to the rental place - doors in tact. (Thank, goodness!)
The owner of the company was the only person around, so he offered to drive us back to the airport. It took about 15 minutes and along the way we got him started chatting about tourism in Iceland and the overall economy. Apparently, 3-4 years ago they had around 400k tourists visit. This year they are
anticipating 2.5M! By comparison the entire population of Iceland is
330,000 (about twice the size of Salem). There are a lot of
conversations going on about how to manage the numbers, but essentially the economy of Iceland tanked around 2007 and tourism is what brought it back. So it needs to be managed, but also continued. (I'm not sure if that means we were part of a growing problem, or part of a solution!?) I do know that basically EVERY attraction we visited had construction going on to accommodate the crowds anticipated this summer. We also read blogs with detailed descriptions of how to find trails and sights that were "unmarked" only to find parking areas and marked trails there when we arrived. So not only are they recognizing some of the issues, they are taking steps towards resolution at a much faster pace than we would likely be able to take in the states. It will be interesting to watch Iceland in the coming years to see what other adjustments they make in order to balance livability and local culture with the throngs of tourists who want to catch a glimpse of this intriguing little island.