It was my husband’s birthday last week and to celebrate I took him on a quick tour of Reykjanes peninsula where Keflavík International Airport is located.
On the capital’s doorstep, this area is often overlooked, both by locals and tourists, even if the drive from Keflavík to Reykjavík usually leaves first-time visitors in awe.
Moss-covered lava as far as the eye can see and in the distance, steam is emitted from the ground; it feels as if you’ve landed on a different planet.
If there were a theme park called Lavaland, Reykjanes would be a prime candidate. I recall a discussion some years ago about opening a volcano park on Reykjanes with walking paths leading through the lava to both relatively unknown geothermal areas and hot springs on the peninsula and frequented reserves such as Seltún in Krýsuvík.
I’ve been to Krýsuvík and was fascinated by the colorful ground, bubbling mud pools and steaming hot springs, as well as by the placidness of Lake Kleifarvatn and the turquoise Grænavatn nearby. A volcano park on Reykjanes would be a fantastic idea.
This time, instead of driving straight from Reykjavík to Krýsuvík, I opted for the longer drive from Keflavík to Hafnir and onwards along the southern coast of Reykjanes, where a new highway, Suðurstrandavegur, opened a few years back.
We were in a bit of a hurry to get to Eyrarbakki east of Reykjanes, where we had dinner reservations at the cozy restaurant Rauða Húsið, so we only made one stop along the way, vowing to take our time later on to explore the region in more detail.
I had joked that I would take my husband on a trip abroad, initially driving to the airport to tease him. He couldn’t be fooled, though… or so he said.
Instead I took him to another popular tourist destination, the Bridge Between Two Continents. The bridge lies across a depression in the ground, which marks one of the places where the European and American tectonic plates are pulling apart.
Walking across the bridge from east to west, we ended up in America, although, as my husband pointed out, since both Reykjavík and Keflavík lie west of the plate boundaries, we were actually in America all along.
Stopping at the bridge was fun but not as impressive as I had imagined. The depression is no Almannagjá canyon; at Þingvellir National Park one can see the plate boundaries much clearer.
But apparently some people find the place romantic. Judging by the locks fastened to the middle of the bridge where couples have inscribed their names, quite a few have tied the knot there or at least gotten engaged.
In my opinion, the most romantic aspect of the place was the view of Eldey Island, a rectangular volcanic rock rising out of the ocean in the distance, where the last geirfugl, great auk, was killed in the late 19th century.
As a bus packed with tourists approached the parking lot by the bridge, we moved on. Darkness was falling and there was something eerie about the desolate landscape and the waves crashing against the shore to our right.
Nearing Þorlákshöfn we noticed a bright dome on the horizon and wondered what it could be. Was it a greenhouse? But greenhouses aren’t really shaped like that and as we came closer we realized the phenomenon couldn’t be a building.
Gradually the object rose higher in the sky and we understood what it was. The moon: giant, full and golden. I’d never seen it like that before.
People were stopping by the side of the road to take pictures but I knew my camera wasn’t good enough to capture the magic of the moment. I took a mental image instead.
It was the perfect romantic night, complete by a delicious three-course meal at Rauða Húsið. On our way back to the Hotel Keflavík, where we were staying, driving along the new Suðurstrandavegur in absolute darkness, I thought about bridges.
Just a few decades ago, there were no bridges across many of Iceland’s glacial rivers, making commuting hazardous. The bridges, which we now take for granted, have made the country more accessible and brought people closer together.
When a glacial outburst flood destroyed the bridge across Múlakvísl in South Iceland in July 2011, at the height of the tourist season, people were left stranded and given a taster of what the situation used to be like in this country of extremes.
There are also mental bridges. For an article in the next issue of Iceland Review I interviewed several Muslims in Iceland, who are pleased that finally, after ten years of lobbying, a mosque will be built in Reykjavík—the country’s first constructed as such.
Inevitably, this milestone provoked protest of the worst kind. However, my interviewees, pointed out that the mosque is not just for Muslims but all Icelanders and everyone interested to learn more about Islam, which is the only way to counteract prejudice.
They hope it can become a bridge between cultures. I would like that.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – email@example.com