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Estonia, Finland, and Iceland: Summer 2017

Estonia, Finland, and Iceland: Summer 2017

Aug 20th, 2017, 12:06 PM
  #1  
Amy
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Estonia, Finland, and Iceland: Summer 2017

Tallinn is brilliant under summer sunshine and blue skies, the modern glitz of new buildings encircling the medieval splendor of the Old Town with its towers and churches and red roofs. Even through the welter of cruise shippers and day trippers it’s impressive, and at night the winding streets of Toompea Hill are empty and slightly melancholy under the late setting sun.

I arrived in Tallinn on the Viking ferry FSTR: a quick and comfortable trip of 1 hour 45 minutes from Helsinki. Icelandair now flies directly from Philadelphia, so I flew PHL to Keflavik and KEF to Helsinki. From Helsinki airport the train into the city is easy and cheap (5 euro) and then the number 4 tram takes you to the Viking ferry terminal on the same ticket. I allowed myself four hours from landing, which was more than enough for me to get the 6PM ferry and a rather dreadful sandwich at the ferry terminal. Round-trip ferry ticket was 60E, at that point about $70USD. A taxi to my apartment was only 7E.

My apartment was, in fact, MyApartments on Sakala Street, a quiet street just a few blocks outside of the Old City. It was a great location, with a shopping center including supermarket three blocks away in one direction and Old City about five blocks the other way. Very clean, modern, and useful—there’s even a little washing machine in the kitchen, as well as a stovetop—and reasonably priced. Most of the time that I was going in and out there was no one at the reception desk, but when they were there they were helpful and friendly. http://myapartments-tallinn.bedspro.com/en/

My first full day in Tallinn (the evening before was spent mostly at the supermarket) was a Friday, the 21st of July. I found my way to the Visitor Center and joined the marvelous Henri (and about 75 assorted other people) for the Tallinn Free Tour http://www.traveller.ee/tour/tallinn-free-tour This was a great way to get oriented in the Old Town area even in the midst of some fairly massive crowds. I can’t believe how he kept everyone together! I used the same company, Traveller Tours, for my trip the next day to Lahemaa, meeting in the same place.

Some of the highlights included the Russian Orthodox cathedral (there are about 25% ethnic Russians in Estonia), Kiek en de Koch tower, and the viewing platform where “hipsters get their Instagram” in front of the “The times we had” phrase in English on the wall. The afternoon found me out again wandering the Old Town and taking in more of the market square with its various artisans, plus indulging in some delicious smelling spicy/sugary almonds. In the evening I found my way to the Sony store for a charger (missing one for my Kindle) and, in order to see more of the city, found my way to the Lush store. (Yes, of course it’s English—it’s just a minor hobby to visit one wherever I can. And the products with the language labels are fun memories.) After dinner in my apartment I went back out to Old City/Toompea Hill for the 10:30 sunset. It was very quiet up on the Hill and lovely and cool. The Freedom monument square had its share of skateboarders, though, and the restaurants seemed quite busy.

Saturday found me in a minibus for a tour of Lahemaa National Park. http://www.traveller.ee/tour/lahemaa...-park-day-trip It was another insanely gorgeous day, sunny and 65F. The varied group of 8 was ably guided by Katlin to sites in the park: first, the “tallest waterfall in Estonia”—a whole eight meters—and then a once-abandoned manor house, still beautifully decaying and reminiscent but being slowly restored, an abandoned Soviet submarine demagnetizing station, a sea museum complete with lunch, a wooden village, and yet another manor house where a wedding was going on, and finally a bog walk which has to be seen to be appreciated.

The submarine station was very interesting if a bit tricky underfoot, and the grafitti created quite a gallery. The bog walk was ultimately my favorite part, but all of the trip was interesting and lunch (an additional 13E over the 55E tour price) was served family style by the unique proprietor of the Sea Museum and was delicious: according to him, the second-best salmon in Estonia. It surely might have been, and if it was only second, I’d like to try the first!

On Sunday I met with a lovely lady lawyer who had been on the Lahemaa Tour for a tour of the Bastion Tunnels…and the two English ladies who had been on the tour showed up too! It’s a small world, Tallinn. The tour was okay, going from their most recent use as a place for the homeless through to the bomb shelters of WWII, but seemed a bit choppy and the alarm bell went off for quite some time without anyone seeming to know what to do about it, but the Kiek in de Kok tower museum that went along with it was more interesting to me (Black Death, city walls done in kids’ blocks, great views.)

In the afternoon I went to Hotel Viru https://www.sokoshotels.fi/en/tallinn/sokos-hotel-viru for my reserved tour of the KGB museum on its 23rd floor (“There is no 23rd floor”) which was small but fascinating. There were many stories about the wireless microphones in plates, the red phone line to headquarters, camera with the peek-in lens…Hotel Viru was primarily for foreigners, and the Soviets wanted to make sure they heard everything that happened. During Soviet times the hotel had 1,000 employees for a maximum of 993 guests. There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about some guests complaining to each other in their room that their was no toilet paper, and a hall lady showing up with some in minutes.

Later afternoon I went back to Old Town for the Guild Hall Estonian History Museum—quite interesting with the best toilets ever, in the atmospheric sense—and then some time in the ca. 1360 Church of the Holy Spirit. I went back at night for the sunset lookout, but unfortunately there was what I can only assume was an Estonian pop trio playing what I can only assume was supposed to be music. I was wondering if I could pay them to stop. I’d been enchanted by various musicians throughout the town at other times, but these guys were super grating. Sooo, not exactly the sunset experience I was hoping for, but interesting nonetheless.
Amy is offline  
Aug 20th, 2017, 12:35 PM
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Amy
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Photo link for Estonia whilst I write up the rest!

https://missalg.smugmug.com/Estonia-July-2017/
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Aug 20th, 2017, 01:38 PM
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Thanks, Amy. Your trip reports are always worth reading, and your photos are great.
elberko is online now  
Aug 20th, 2017, 02:06 PM
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Nice, Amy! I see some familiar views in your photos. I was in Helsinki and Tallinn last spring. I traveled in the opposite direction (unless you flew home out of Helsinki too). I started in Vilnius, ended up in Helsinki and took the train to the airport and flew out.

I spent a few nights in Tallinn and did a day trip to Haapaslu. I took the Tallink ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki - cheaper but less scenic than the Viking, I think, and comes in to Helsinki at the west terminal, which isn't walking distance from the city center. I had only half a day in Helsinki but took the ferry out to Suomenlinna so got the same view you got, more or less, from the Viking ferry.

I really loved Tallinn for what it was: cute old town. My half day in Helsinki was about enough for me - pleasant place but not particularly charming.
Andrew is online now  
Aug 20th, 2017, 03:42 PM
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Amy
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Thanks, elberko, that's very kind! Andrew, I started in Tallinn as that was the furthest away, and made my way to Iceland for the direct flight home. I found that Helsinki kind of grew on me after a while!



The Viking XPRS ferry took 2 ½ hours for the trip back, and there aren’t actually just seats: there are restaurant seats and karaoke seats and casinos and the like, but no, well, just seats. It was an easy walk from the ferry terminal to Hotel Katajanokka, a former prison converted beautifully and retaining many touches of its past. http://www.hotelkatajanokka.fi/en/ My room was oddly extremely warm, but one of the lovely ladies at reception came and opened the extremely high window for me and it soon became comfortable. It was about a ten minute walk into the harbor area, or one could take the #4 tram right outside the door.

I arrived too early to check in, so I left my luggage and went into town, stopping outside the Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral for some photo ops, then past boats and the big ferris wheel (with a hot tub compartment for you and 20 friends!) into the market area at the harbor: part flea market, part food, quite busy. I went in to the beautiful Old Market Hall, an enclosed market with a rather higher level of comestibles than the stands outside. (The bakery on the side of the toilets has a blueberry crumb cake that is TDF.) Lunch this time, however, was from Pizzeria Via Tribunali on one of the narrow streets leading up to the shining white cathedral. Gorgonzola pizza was thin-crusted and quite good, the stocky pierced waiter was cheeky, and the wait was, well, a lot longer than I usually wait for pizza. But it was fun to watch all the parents with tiny kids casually pushing their prams through the pizzeria, and I was in a pizza frame of mind, so I didn’t really mind. 16.50E for a pizza. http://www.viatribunali.fi/

Tuesday July 25th involved a fair amount of walking: I got to the Green Cap walking tour easily, meeting at the center of the base of the steps in front of the Cathedral, and our earnest guide Tuomo (a history major) gave us a good overview of the city and Finland’s history. He also helpfully walked me to where I needed to be in order to walk to my next destination, Temppeliaukio, the Rock Church. One of the more interesting things that he mentioned was that Finns are very comfortable with silence, which was particularly appealing as one of the tour group members…wasn’t. Silence was obviously an enemy she was out to defeat. I quite like silence myself.

I walked to Temppeliaukio and, just as I got there, it started to spit rain a bit. It was a good time to be inside listening to the lovely piano concert and appreciating the church that has been literally carved out of the rock. It cleared up pretty quickly and I continued on to the Sibelius monument, a colossal and slightly over the top piece constructed of myriad silver pipes. The construction on the way made the walk a touch hazardous, and I was pretty tired by that point, so I got a tram back with help from some ladies. People are so kind, usually; she had me sit in the seat near her just so she could be sure I got off at the right place. Back at the harbor I got on a ferry to go to Suomenlinna, but ended up getting off at the wrong island, Lonna, so I walked around there a while and then just headed back. (I could have gone on, but I was really tired and it had gotten cold and overcast again.)

I was due to get my overnight train to Rovaniemi in Lapland on Wednesday evening, but that meant I had a day to use after I checked out of the hotel. The train station has lockers of various sizes that you can rent for the day, so I stashed my luggage and went to the lower lower (not a misprint) level to get the bus for Porvoo that I had reserved the night before on Onnibus, 8.50E for the round trip. Before the train station I made a stop in the striking but simple Chapel of Silence, which looks somewhat like a large orange Noah’s Ark on the outside and is quite plain on the inside, but very tranquil and helpful.

I had a lovely sunny day to explore the town of Porvoo with its simple Cathedral, lovely river, and quaint shops. I went into the cool but kitschy Café Helmi for some rooibos and a Runeberg cake, a Porvoo specialty named for the poet Johan Runeberg, who supposedly had one for breakfast every morning. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was good and Café Helmi’s “rooms” were fun and vintage. http://www.teehelmi.fi/en/tea-and-coffeeroom-helmi/

I was back in Helsinki by 4:30, enough time before the train left to find the Lush there and have an open-face shrimp sandwich at a “Fresh Café”; the tap water was available from a little tap and there were cut-glass tumblers for it, a nice touch as I think bottled water is an abomination but like to drink water with my meals.

The train to Rovaniemi left at about 7PM and didn’t arrive until about 7AM, so I had a long time to watch the lakes and trees, talk to the Finnish businessman in the same sitting compartment, and scrunch around a lot to find a comfortable position for sleeping. Usually I sleep like the proverbial log on trains, but these seats weren’t the comfiest. Still, at $38.50 serving for both hotel and transportation, it really couldn’t be beaten.
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Aug 21st, 2017, 05:11 AM
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Woohoo! Just spotted this report and will read when more time available and check out the photos right now
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Aug 21st, 2017, 01:42 PM
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Thanks for sharing. Tagging along as well.
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Aug 21st, 2017, 04:36 PM
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Amy
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Thank you! It's nice to know somebody is reading!


The (definitely the, not a, in this case; it was the same driver every time I got the bus) SkiBus left the train station in Rovaniemi for Luosto, my home for the next three days. I saw my first reindeer wandering the road before we even got to Luosto; they continued to wander around like cows in India for the whole time that I was there. (They seem to have a rep for being really, really stupid, but hey! They’re reindeer, they can be whatever they want.) I got to the Santa Aurora hotel http://www.santashotels.fi/en/hotelaurora and had no problem with early check in, as the lady there blithely informed me that she was off on holiday that afternoon and that, well, nobody would actually be there! The total of four guests had keys for their hall doors as well as their rooms, so that was that. Very funny, and not a problem; somebody showed up to make the breakfast buffet each day, and made the best to-go breakfast for me for Sunday morning (The Bus left at 6:30AM) that I have ever, ever seen. I got three meals out of it, to be honest. The room was natural-lodge like in décor, of course with a sauna and with a big window from which to watch the reindeer go by. I had left my carry-on on the SkiBus and he dropped it off on the hotel patio on the way back (the holiday lady called him) and it was just fine, untouched by either humans or reindeer. In essence, I was in a lovely small town that is at its smallest during the summer. (Population 73 summer, 250 winter; ski town and Northern Lights.)

I walked down the road to the amethyst mine gift shop that is there, in hopes of arranging a tour for the afternoon. However, their official car was in for repair and a taxi couldn’t be there for two hours, so the sweet girl who was running the shop closed it up and took me to the mine instead! ☺ We had a great chat and she stayed at the mine (about 3 miles away, I believe) until the tour and digging up of amethysts was over. It was 33E for the whole thing, including two amethysts to take with me. It’s not a long tour, and it’s mostly sitting and hearing about the various types of stone and then digging through piles of rock to get down to the amethysts, but it was interesting and the views were terrific. I went to the small grocery store after and then just picnicked for dinner, with a trip back out later for the sunset…and the mosquitoes. They weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been, but they were definitely out and about in the evening.

Friday, 28th July I got the SkiBus to the Pyha-Luosto National Park main area (Luosto is actually on its edge) and went to the Visitors’ Center, took a chairlift to the top and had a lovely waffle with cream and cloudberry jam for lunch, and then a hike to Iroku Gorge (and a few other places, as I got a bit…misplaced.) The chairlift rather interestingly had its restraining bar lift whilst I was in mid-trip on the way down, so that was rather interesting. On the hike I met a lovely young Finnish boy, maybe 10 years old, with his dad (or perhaps granddad) and we had a great conversation; he likes Chames Bond, and thinks that Roger Moore is the best one.

That night I went to the “Red Fox” restaurant for dinner out on the patio. It’s part of the strip of stores that includes the amethyst gift shop, and was just as friendly in service, plus the food was great: Arctic char, potatoes, morel sauce, and candied carrots for 22E. It felt like a full day, even if somewhat leisurely what with the chairlift and waffle stop!

(And here I need to break in to some personal stuff. I debated putting this in, but it was very much a part of my trip and colored some of my choices, I believe. In short, an old friend of mine whom we’ll call Peter Pan with good reason was diagnosed in March with lung and kidney cancer. By early July he was in a nursing home, but still texting with his usual cheerful wild optimism about everything from traveling to Norway with me some time to wanting pics of the reindeer to what he’d had for lunch. When I was in Tallinn the texts stopped, and his sister messaged me that he’d had a relapse, but was doing some better. Let’s just say I love the Chapel of Silence for reasons.)

Saturday morning I was awakened by the little *ping* of Messenger. My dear buddy had passed an hour before, Friday night still in the place where he was. I have to admit that I cried, a lot, but then I went out and hiked around the lake which was reflecting the beautiful blue sky and which had various spots to stop and be myself. In some ways, it was the best place I could have been, completely alone in nature with lovely little spots for just perching and feeling the wind blow. The taiga/boreal forest of Luosto has tall thin trees and lots of wetlands, and it truly is balm for the soul.

Needing to wear myself out a bit, I climbed to the lookout that is 2.4km from the hotel, mostly up over a pile of stones on a wooden stairway. (How they built that stairway, I have no idea—it must have been strenuous, to say the least.) The rain finally came in, rolling very visibly through the sky toward me, so I made a bit of haste on the way back. Dinner was at the Red Fox again, reindeer burger this time with fries and lingonberry mayo (which I would love to have access to on a regular basis) but fortunately the reindeer weren’t looking in the window reproachfully, as the bison do in Cody, WY when one is having bison burger. But then, the bison may be smarter.


On Sunday morning I wasn’t really ready to leave peaceful, beautiful Luosto, but The Bus was leaving so I had to go. I got to the Santa Village Resort (outside of Rovaniemi) by 8AM, and left my luggage there while I went to explore first the village and then into town to visit the Arctikum museum, Angry Birds playground, and the lovely river walk. The Village itself had the Arctic Circle line, permanent Santa, and a degree of kitsch that isn’t unexpected, while the cottages were of good size but a wee bit tired. https://www.santaclausholidayvillage.fi/en/home/ And I have to say the breakfast was not inspiring. But it was a decent stay for one night and I’m glad I got to see Rovaniemi on such a beautiful day. After I returned from town I visited the Husky Park in Santa Claus Village, lovely dogs but no puppies to cuddle, which is kind of what I needed. There was a morning shuttle to the airport (which is closer to the Village than to Rovaniemi proper) and I easily checked in for my $38 Norwegian Air flight back to Helsinki. I love the airport entry area, which has what might be Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling, but is actually rather tastefully done, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
Amy is offline  
Aug 21st, 2017, 04:59 PM
  #9  
Amy
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Oh, it's probably time for the Finland photos, even though there is still a Helsinki day left: https://missalg.smugmug.com/Finland-2017/
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Aug 21st, 2017, 09:21 PM
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Wow love your photos! Estonia looks stunning. So sorry about your friend.

Can't wait to read the rest. The only bit I've been to is Iceland and I'm curious to know what it's like in summer.
marvelousmouse is online now  
Aug 22nd, 2017, 02:54 AM
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I've thought about visiting Helsinki and Tallinn, but have to admit that I never really considered Lapland. Sounds like a very good place to get away from it all.

Very sorry about your loss.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2017, 12:13 PM
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Very interested in your Finland exploration. I've only been to Helsinki and wasn't terribly impressed but going far north does appeal. Solitude and nature, plus all those reindeer! I love it. Looking forward to more Helsinki & Iceland (I was there in Sept and again in January, so eager to hear where you went.)
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Aug 22nd, 2017, 04:14 PM
  #13  
Amy
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Thanks, all!

My nieces joined me for the Iceland part (27 and 18) and we had a great time. They stayed longer than I did, as they were only in Iceland on this trip.



The flight to Helsinki arrived in time for me to check in to the Hilton Airport Vantaa Hotel: rather grim walk to it (albeit covered) but a fine hotel with nice big clean generic-Scandic rooms and a very good breakfast buffet. http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/fin...IHI/index.html I made a brief stop at the surprisingly inexpensive (relatively) mini market in the airport: they carry fresh mozzarella, so there’s that! (My late lunch.) I took the airport train out to Central Station and walked to the harbor; Helsinki felt so familiar! Dinner was salmon and veggies from one of the harbor market stands (outside); quite good and filled in the time while I was waiting for the ferry to Suomenlinna Islands. The sunlight was very mellow and golden in the early evening (after a cloudburst while I was in the hotel) and the fortress was bathed in its light. I wandered the island and across some bridges, finding birds and the first cat of my whole visit: lots of dogs, but no cats. This was a fluffy feline, pouncing around in the golden twilight. There was a wedding couple being photographed on the bridge, and altogether it was a peaceful and picturesque end to my time in Finland.


My flight to Reykjavik the next morning, Tuesday August 01, took 3 hours and 10 minutes, but I arrived at 9:10AM as there is a three hour time difference between Finland and Iceland. My nieces had flown Wow Air out of Pittsburgh and arrived earlier, but we managed to meet up in the insanely crowded airport and have brunch at Joe’s Juice—pretty much our only option other than Dunkin Donuts.

This was my fourth time in Iceland: the first was 1996 and most recent 2001, so there were definitely some startling changes. Thanks to some great marketing and Wow Air, Iceland is a hot destination for both Europe and the US, and there is a lot of construction going on along with a lot of people in a lot of places.

The airport was a portent, but the Blue Lagoon was really an eye-opener. When I visited there in ’96 it was one pool, few people, and a lovely experience altogether. (The Blue Lagoon is basically geothermal wastewater, but it’s great for your skin and aqua and calm and warm.) I knew that when I could only get a 1:00 opening for three of us that it would be crowded, but the Disney-like lines blew my mind. We were able to check our luggage—it’s not far from the airport, and is often a stop on the way in or out—and use the showers and get conditioner in our hair (highly recommended, as you don’t want to try to comb hair that hasn’t had conditioner in after being in that water) and then spend a couple of hours in the huge “lagoon”. The entrance ticket for the basic package is about 50E; they’re practically minting their own there I’m thinking. Would I do it again? Probably, but I’d rather find a time machine…

We got back on our bus which took us to the main bus station and another one then took us on to “Bus Stop 8”, Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrim’s Church), a landmark soaring tower with a Leif Eriksson statue in front. From there we Google-mapped our way (pretty easily) to our Air BnB apartment on Frakkastigur Street. This was my first Air BnB, so I wasn’t too sure, but it was a great little place with an induction stove-top, large bathroom, and overall nice coziness. It was a bit thin walled and you could hear people in the other rooms if they did much more than breathing, but it worked out fine for us.

We went out to a “10-11” market and stocked up: shrimp fettuccine alfredo for dinner (homemade, of course) with spinach, plus stuff for breakfast and lunches. The groceries were about 6,000ISK (Icelandic Krona) which is about $60, or, in other words, about the price of an entrée at your average Icelandic restaurant. We were very close to the main shopping street, Laugavegur, and it was easy to get around, but we didn’t stay out too late that night as everyone was pretty exhausted!

I made good use of the Laundromat Café (a great concept) http://www.thelaundromatcafe.com/en/about the next morning, as I hadn’t had a washing machine since Tallinn, and for 3,000ISK got all my wash done whilst eating a quite good croissant and some decaf iced coffee. (Finland is possibly #1 in world coffee consumption, but decaf was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it’s considered heretical.)

Our main activity for the gloriously sunny Wednesday was the Reykjavik Food Tour, four hours of walking and sightseeing and eating the marvelous parts of Iceland’s cuisine (no fermented sharks or ram bits) and being coddled and entertained by young Bara, our effervescent tour guide. We had lamb soup and a deli stop (oh, that goose with strawberry champagne sauce!) and Café Loki’s rye bread ice cream amazingness and of course a harbor hot dog and my favorite rock crab soup and more—definitely a full lunch for us, and dinner was quite late! Our final stop was Apotek restaurant (former apothecary) for a gorgeous rose shaped chocolate mousse and berry sorbet. Really an awesome food tour and a great introduction to Reykjavik. ($135USD; a similar tour in Cartagena, Colombia, for instance, was $30, but hey, at least airfare to Reyk is cheap. Hee hee.)
Amy is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2017, 07:38 PM
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That food tour sounds fantastic! Wow, I can believe the BL lines- I got there at opening and it was blissful silence until 10- left around noon and it was more circus like. Did you see their cafe prices? They are definitely "minting their own"!


I love the laundromat link, will have to add that to my list for next time would you happen to remember the name of the deli with the goose? Because that sounds yummy!
marvelousmouse is online now  
Aug 23rd, 2017, 12:43 AM
  #15  
Amy
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I'm pretty sure it was http://ostabudin.is/. I didn't realize that there was a restaurant next door that is part of it, but I do know I could have very happily spent a lot of time and money in the deli part! The food tour really was great; I should probably link that too: http://www.thereykjavikfoodwalk.com/

The Laundromat Cafe really does fulfill a good purpose. There are only four each of the washers and dryers, though, but I got there right as it opened and had my choice.

And yeah, cafe prices at the Blue Lagoon made me thankful for Joe's Juice at the airport!
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Aug 29th, 2017, 05:18 PM
  #16  
Amy
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Sorry for the delay; school is in session, so...

Continuing in Iceland!
Thursday was grayer and cooler. We went out early in the morning to the guesthouse down the road, the site where we were told we’d be picked up for a tour of Landmannalaugar, which I had not been to on any of my previous trips. Well, as it happened, I wasn’t destined to go this time either. As it turns out, in July Reykjavik instituted a series of bus stops for places in the city center, and the buses no longer pick up at hotels or guesthouses. Unfortunately for us, not only did we not know this at the time, we had been given very specific instructions as to where we were to be for pickup “some time between 7:30 and 8:00.” We got there early and waited and waited, until finally about 8:15 we called the tour company. “Oh, that tour leaves the bus station at 8AM. They’re gone.” Oooookay, so what can you do about this? Well, turns out the only option that they had available was bus tickets to Landmannalaugar at 1:15 that afternoon: it’s a three hour trip each way, and this would have been just the bus ticket. No chance of catching us up to the tour, and when she went to offer other tours, it turned out that a) they had either already left or b) oops, they weren’t going out that day. So back we went to the apartment to try to fix the remaining time: the girls were planning to go riding on Sunday, but they were able to switch their riding to Thursday afternoon and book Landmannalaugar for Sunday. (I was leaving on Saturday, and we already had Friday booked for the classic “Golden Circle.”) In some ways I probably was better off for that day of enforced rest, but I do have to say that I wasn’t too happy with the companies involved.

The riding was right outside the city at IsHestar https://www.ishestar.is/en/ The staff there was lovely and friendly, and I rode out in the provided transport for just a few euros cost to watch and photograph the girls on the Viking horses. Niece J is an experienced rider, and likes to ride wherever she can in various places, while L is a novice, but the Viking horses are known for their smoothness over the lava fields. I’m not a fan of riding, so I waited in the big lodge until they were done. Overall, Thursday wasn’t the most exciting day…but we did get up to Hallgrim’s Church tower for a look out at the city!
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Sep 1st, 2017, 03:35 PM
  #17  
Amy
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We also did a walk down to the harbor area for late sunset and for the girls to get more hot dogs! They really love those lamb dogs with all the fixin’s (crunchy onions, remoulade, mustard, and who knows what.) There’s a lot of construction around there right now but the harbor hot dog stand is doing a mighty steady business.

Friday we got the bus as we were meant. (Yay!) We were with a smallish group tour with a good guide, doing the iconic Golden Circle route that has the three big stars of Geysir (okay, the late Geysir; it’s Stokkur that erupts now); Gullfoss (falls); and Thingvellir (where the tectonic plates come apart and the Viking parliament met. First, though, we went to a geothermal power plant, which was really quite interesting and new to me. We also stopped at a volcanic crater lake, but not long enough to do a full circumnavigation. We did get to walk a bit, though; about a twenty minute stop. It was quite beautiful, as calderas tend to be, as well as a bit rocky (likewise) and we stopped at a smallish waterfall as well. Lunch was at the overcrowded Geysir/Stokkur rest stop, and then we saw the geyser eruptions (about every five minutes, so take that, Old Faithful!) and some lovely other boiling stuff. Following this we went to Gullfoss, which had a continuous stream of people trying to find the best vantage point: it’s a really tough waterfall to photograph well, as you’re standing at strange angles. Again the difference in 21 years really struck me here: at that time, we were pretty much the only ones there, and now the whole area has been added to and built up and, well, really really crowded. Still beautiful, though!

On the way from Gullfoss to Thingvellir (it’s really that pregnant P letter that is Icelandic, but I happen not to have an Icelandic keyboard, so Th is closest to the sound) we stopped at a dairy farm that is making, no word of a lie, Italian gelato. It’s pretty good, and there were plenty of people who were there on the 55 degree day, so again: someone is doing a marvelous job of marketing.

Thingvellir is a huge park, with a stunning lake and visual evidence of the movement of the tectonic plates. We did a hiking route through a part of it, including another waterfall and some tricky bits underfoot, but nothing too major. It was a day of very changeable weather as is typical in Iceland, but we had no rain for the times that we were outside…and even had some sunshine!

The girls left on Saturday morning for their South Shore tour and a changeover to their other apartment, the one they would stay in for Saturday and Sunday nights. I, alas, had to leave on Saturday, so I got the Grayline bus to the airport, had an open-face shrimp sandwich, and watched in astonishment as the cubicle-size lounge for the flight to Philadelphia filled and overflowed with a full plane’s worth of people. Growing pains at Keflavik, I think. But the flight was fine and only six hours or so, direct to Philadelphia. (Which is, I don’t have to say, A Good Thing.) I still love Iceland, but it’s definitely changed a tad in the last 15 years.


Pictures for Iceland are here, and this time there are some people (my dear nieces.) https://missalg.smugmug.com/Iceland-2017/
Amy is offline  
Sep 1st, 2017, 05:06 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 5,024
Very interesting trip report. I went to Iceland in 1966. It must have changed tremendously.
Saraho is online now  
Sep 2nd, 2017, 06:24 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,064
Enjoyed your trip report! Thanks for sharing. I flew Icelandair in 1984, and on the way back (Luxembourg to Chicago) we stopped in Rejkavik (for refueling, I assume) and they let us off the plane to shop in their duty free for about 30 minutes. Am still using the gorgeous wool blanket.

It's amazing what marketing has done over the last years, and it sounds like their tourist infrastructure has been improving.
travlsolo2 is online now  
Sep 2nd, 2017, 06:27 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,064
So sorry about the loss of your friend.
travlsolo2 is online now  

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