Throwback Travel: Things to do in an Icelandic Winter (Reykjav√≠k Style)

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The pond in the city center

Sorry for my delay in posting. I’ve had this post in draft for quite a while. I finally decided to go through my photos and try to finish it. ūüôā Above is a photo of¬†Tj√∂rnin, which is the small lake in the city center. While we strolled around the city, we spent some time by the lake, admiring the sparkling lights and the birds along the shore. I wasn’t crazy¬†enough to walk on the frozen parts of the lake, but there were plenty of brave souls who did! Fortunately¬†I didn’t see anyone fall through the ice.

By the way, how pretty is the twilight?!

Onto the things we did to escape the winter cold… ūüôā indoor Reykjavik activities!

Icelandic Phallological Museum

Find it at: Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland

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Inappropriate toys at the Philological Museum Рafter several seconds, this doll opens his robe and flashes you. Joyous.

I might be twisted, but¬†The Icelandic Phallological Museum¬†had been on my “I absolutely must do this!” list for Reykjavik. I had several friends visit and tell me about the absurdity of this museum, so I knew that I had to visit!

The Phallological¬†Museum was right off of Reykjavik’s main strip, Laugavegur, so it wasn’t out-of-the-way. The museum is pretty small (and pricey – I recall it being around 10-15 euros per person);¬†you can get through it pretty quickly unless you really¬†study the museum’s¬†goods. I didn’t necessarily catalog everything, but there were definitely more collective penises… peni?… there than any other place I’ve been (which makes sense, since it advertises itself as the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts). I particularly liked the collection of household decorations and goods that apparently numerous companies not only thought were a good idea to design, but manufacture and sell. A penis shaped landline phone – you bet! And oh, of course lighting fixtures.

If penis shaped household goods aren’t your style, you can also admire large whale penises (which were larger than me), various animal penises stored in¬†mason jars with¬†formaldehyde, and global artwork in suggestive shapes! Something for everyone!

If penile parts of the past aren’t enough, don’t worry! Previous visitors of the museum have helped to adorn the walls with photos¬†of their members around the world, usually in front of sites of interest. If any men were arrested in their endeavor to flash their goods while taking a photo, I would also appreciate those stories in the display. I didn’t see any, but I imagine some of those photos had to be taken quickly, stealthily, and outside of police presence.

Hallgrimskirkja (Church of Iceland)

Find it at: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

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View from the Hallgrimskirkja viewing platform.

Hallgr√≠mskirkja is a Lutheran Church and the largest Church in Iceland. It is also one of the tallest buildings in the entire country. You can see the church from most vantage points in the city, so it helps as a guide if you manage to get turned around in Reykjavik. The church was nice on the inside, but if you’re used to the highly ornate¬†European churches in other capital cities, this one will be a bit underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong,¬†the interior is nice, but it’s very clean and minimalist. There is also a massive organ,¬†which is nice if you visit while music plays.

My favorite part, though, was the observation tower. You can buy a ticket to take an elevator up to a viewing deck. The views of the city are really cool! You can admire the colorful buildings, the water, mountains, and for us during our winter travels – the snowy landscape. Highly recommended.

Afterward, we strolled down¬†Sk√≥lav√∂r√įust√≠gur, which was a cute shopping street with a lot of boutiques and food joints; there were a ton of jewelers, clothing shops, art galleries, and mom-and-pop boutiques on this road. It eventually intersects with¬†Laugavegur.

National Museum of Iceland

Find it at:¬†Su√įurgata 41, 101 Reykjav√≠k, Iceland

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National artifacts on an airport conveyor belt.

To continue the trend of finding indoor attractions to save¬†us from the cold, we spent an afternoon at the National Museum of Iceland. It’s a bit out-of-the-way if you’re staying downtown. Still,¬†we managed to walk and enjoy the stroll to the other side of Tj√∂rnin,¬†through neighborhoods with colorful houses and twinkling¬†lights.

The museum was really nice and a lot larger than I expected. You could easily spend 2¬†to¬†3 hours here. The museum has English signs throughout, which was much appreciated. The museum¬†illustrates the life of Iceland’s first inhabitants and explained the changes in power dynamics throughout the centuries. I thought the museum was generally pretty logically¬†laid out and the signs were easy to follow. I also liked the “airport conveyor” belt exhibit at the end that had more artifacts of modern Icelandic history and pop culture. Don’t worry – of course it had a Bjork album. I would have liked to have seen more about modern Icelandic contributions to larger Western¬†pop culture. Overall, it was a nice place to spend an afternoon. If you’re like me and into museum gift shops, I should add that the gift shop and cafe are nice. ūüôā

Overall, Iceland was a great destination in December. I am excited to return in the summer, when we can venture beyond the capital and the Golden Circle. Still, if you’re looking for a winter trip and want to admire the moonscape – I highly recommend Iceland. It’s a short flight from the U.S. East Coast, it’s not crowded, and nothing screams holiday spirit as¬†sipping hot chocolate while walking through the winter scenary¬†and admiring Christmas lights on¬†snow covered, brightly colored houses. Did I also mention there were folks selling roasted almonds? Warm, toasty, sugar-covered almonds! Isn’t that reason enough?

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Tirana, Albania

Traveling within the Balkans is a very interesting, and sometimes stressful, experience. For the majority of our trip, we enjoyed traveling by rental car. It was awesome and highly recommended, because it allowed us to set our own pace, dictate where to go, and enjoy the scenic road travel.

One of our hurdles was figuring out how to travel from Podgorica to Tirana. Due to, as we were told, the lack of reciprocal insurance agreements and possibly high amount of car theft in Albania, it was impossible to travel with our rental car from Podgorica to Tirana.

When we were researching various solutions, we did not come across information about reliable train links between the two cities (we saw on forums that the train was slow, but had a hard time coming across any information about the train – I don’t even know if the train exists). We thought that perhaps a regional bus would be the best method of travel, however we were warned that the bus stops were not consistent, and sometimes you would be dropped off in locations outside of the city or would be expected to transfer between buses. A stressful situation for someone who wants to outline exact travel plans before departure.

We finally settled on traveling between the countries by taxi service, something that had not initially occurred to us. A little over 3 hours in a comfortable car, with no crowds, no mystery bus stops, and a schedule we dictate? Sign me up! The going rate was only around 90 euros, and we made sure to tip our driver well since he had to travel roundtrip.

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As soon as we crossed over into Albania, three cows immediately walked into the street and we had to circle around them. What a welcome wagon. ūüôā The drive included fields with mountain views behind, fortress atop hills, and a lot of bicyclists. We also drove through a few towns along the way, able to catch small glimpses of everyday life.

We ended up staying at the Plaza Hotel, which was absolutely gorgeous and arguably one of the best hotels that I’ve stayed in. It opened this year and was pristine. The staff was hospitable, the room was clear and modern, and best of all? All guests had access to the spa.¬†The location and price were¬†also great, and we were able to walk across the street to the Albanian National Historical Museum and Skanderbeg Square.

The National Historical Museum did not allow photos, so I have nothing cool to show. The museum was pretty nice. A lot of the early archeological exhibits had English signage, but it become increasingly rare further into the chronology. I would have loved to read more about the Albanian Communist era, but by then the English signs were practically non-existent. Guess I’ll have to find a book on the topic instead.

albania_nationalmuseum.jpgSkanderbeg Square was undergoing a lot of construction to make way for a large pedestrian area. I’m sure it will be nice when it’s completed. ūüôā

We spent less than 24 hours in Tirana, but are excited to go back to Albania and see more, especially the coastal areas. Tirana was a good departure point for our next stop: Athens, Greece!