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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/566

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

A TRIP AROUND ICELAND.
By L. P. GRATACAP

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

III

REYKJAVIK was reached; the capital of Iceland, that first old landfall for the anxious vikings, who found that when they threw over their Lares and Penates those undiscerning deities floated ashore upon this inauspicious coast. The choice has a certain pictorial value, but for commercial purposes those old gods should have exercised more discretion, and commercial interests are beginning to weigh overpoweringly in this arctic metropolis. To the immediate north the snow-crowned Esja shines, to the southeast the sturdy eminences of the Lönguhlitharfiall swim upward over the horizon; and still farther south the volcanic peaks of Krisuvik, where the sulphur quarries are. Then to the northwest like a titanic gleaming gem Snaefells with its ice mantle draws to its overmastering beauty every eye. But this in clear weather, and clear weather is not a very plentiful article in Iceland. In bad weather, which is a trifle more common, the steamers may keep their imprisoned passengers for four days before they can land. The harbor is called so by a pleasant boreal fiction, which is not creditable to Icelandic hospitality. It is expected that next year an appropriation of some $400,000 will be granted permitting Mr. Smith, the official harbor surveyor of Norway, to execute his accepted plans for improving these inclement conditions.

The town of Reykjavik contains about ten thousand inhabitants. It has doubled its size in five years. Stores have developed, and the caravans from the interior can return home laden with the furnishings of a modern household, not omitting wall paintings and bath-tubs. It is scattered over a hilly surface with its more pretentious buildings displayed near the water front and around the square where the statue of Thorwaldsen faces the Althing (Parliament) house. The buildings are of wood (all brought from Denmark, Norway or Scotland), frequently sheathed with corrugated iron, with foundations, in many cases, of concrete blocks. Coals from Scotland are shipped here in great quantities, and the houses are thus provided with comfortable heating equipments. Some of the houses are also stuccoed. At times there is an architectural elaboration noted, but the houses are usually plain and serviceable. Two bank buildings of concrete blocks (the manufacture of these blocks is carried on in Reykjavik) gave its business street a very substantial expression, and two hotels continued