We knew from research that the best way to see Iceland is by renting a car, with the public transport sparse and the tours outrageously expensive. However, without a valid drivers license between us, my friend and I optimistically reassured each other that we were staying in a big hostel and surely somebody would want to team up and split the cost of a car rental. Our first few days in Reykjavík, therefore, had us putting on our most amiable faces and initiating conversation with any unfortunate souls that crossed our path. After two days we had seen much of the city, but had failed to procure a group to rent a car with, just salt on the wound in the form of numerous stories of the magnificence that lay just out of reach beyond the city limits.
Despite wanting to explore beyond Reykjavík, it's nonetheless a stunning city. Wandering down the main streets, a vista of mountains across the water catches your eye—and breath—as you pass every crossing road. The architectural highlight is Hallgrímskirkja, a church with an iconic external form that resembles an abstract lava flow due to vertical pillars that curve down from the zenith in sweeping arcs. Street art hides around every corner and the cosy cafes have a classy, nordic sensibility and exquisite coffee.
If you're feeling adventurous, a local 'delicacy' is Hákarl, or fermented shark. This dish is as tasty as it sounds, and at Cafe Loki it comes as a thankfully limited number of chunks along with a shot of Brennivín, an Icelandic schnapps that, in this context, is used to expunge the taste of shark flesh.
To paint a gustatory picture, the first bite has a predictably fishy taste, which is fine, agreeable even, but as you continue to chew, a haze of salty, vaguely rotten pungency comes and goes in waves and once you've forced it down your throat and scrambled to sip the merciful liquor, you're left feeling like a wave of briny water just smacked you in the face and went straight up your nose. It's title on the menu isn't Icelandic Braveheart for nothing.
Having been informed that some decent hiking trails reachable by bus existed, on the third day we scurried up a nearby mountain that offered breathtaking views of the city. After a final, half-hearted, fruitless attempt to rustle up some companions we accepted the inevitable: we weren't getting a car. We instead decided to spend our last days doing more of the nearby hikes and eventually return to Iceland for a proper trip.
At this point the universe once again revealed it's wisdom of 'go with the flow'; barely hours had passed since we had abandoned hope when we met a girl in our room who off-handedly announced "I was thinking of renting a car tomorrow, but I'm on my own. Do you two want to join me?". My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief and enthusiastically agreed.