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Iceland: The Land of Unpronounceable Names

Iceland: The Land of Unpronounceable Names

Old Jun 12th, 2023, 08:25 AM
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Iceland: The Land of Unpronounceable Names


Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss

PART 1 OF 11
Just returned from a 10 day trip to Iceland and now posting my report with all the details. The beginning details may be painful to wade through so you might want to skip to Day 2.

This trip was our last pandemic make-up trip as initially my husband and I and our trusty traveling partners, my BIL and SIL, were supposed to go to Russia – Moscow and St. Petersburg for the culture and then on to Iceland for the nature and outdoors. Original trip date? May 2020. So clearly that didn’t happen and now that we are traveling again, Russia was off the table. So we used our Icelandair travel credit to book new flights and extended our original 5 day plan to 10 days.

We chose to rent a car and self-drive with the following itinerary:
DAY 1 – Seattle (SEA) to Keflavik (KEF)

DAY 2 – Tour Reykjavik, Sky Lagoon, overnight Reykjavik

DAY 2 – Golden Circle, overnight Hvolsvöllur

DAY 3 – Superjeep Tour of Thorsmork, Seljalandsfoss, overnight Hvolsvöllur

DAY 4 – Driving South Coast with stops at Skogafoss, Dyrhólaey, overnight Vik

DAY 5 - Continue South Coast drive: Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, Jokulsarlon, overnight Hofn

DAY 6 – Glacier lagoon kayaking, overnight Vik

DAY 7 – Reynisfjara Beach, “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes” at Harpa Concert Hall, Dinner at Dill, overnight Reykjavik

DAY 8 – drive to Snaefellsnes Peninsula – Viking Sushi Boat tour, Blue Lagoon, overnight Reykjavik

DAY 9 – Perlan, golfing at Brautarholt Golf Club, overnight Reykjavik

DAY 10 – Keflavik (KEF) to Portland (PDX)

DAY 1
While packing for this trip, my husband and I became super anxious about just how much to pack. Watching the May weather reports in the week prior to our departure, we noticed the temperatures were ranging from 30 to 60 deg F with mostly rain, some snow and occasionally hail (I’m not even going to mention the wind). We typically travel business class and try to pack a carry-on suitcase and a backpack so that we don’t have to check any luggage. We knew we would need layers but just how many jackets would we even need? I pulled out all of my raincoats, my fleece jackets, my vests and my snow gear and then painfully weeded it down to 5 outer layers. My husband realized he needed to make an REI run (fortunately they were having a big sale) to get a new waterproof Gortex jacket (which ended up being an essential piece of clothing). We each wore a couple of layers onboard, including winter jackets, onto the plane so we could meet the carry-on requirements. I’m sure we looked ridiculous on our Southwest flight from our home airport to Seattle where we were connecting to our Icelandair flight to KEF in Iceland.

Once we got to Seattle we were able to use The Club SEA Lounge since we were flying SAGA class. I have mixed feelings about Icelandair’s SAGA class. This “business” class option really equates to domestic first class. Since the flight is about 7 ½ hr it was worth it for the upgrade to somewhat more comfortable seats, but just barely. I know I shouldn’t complain. A word of warning, even though Icelandair allows you to check in online 24 hr prior to departure and lets you print out a boarding pass, you still have to present yourself to the gate agent to have your passport checked prior to boarding. This was a huge source of confusion as about 50 min before boarding was to start the area was amass with tons of passengers milling around trying to figure out if they needed to get into line for the gate agent at the service desk or the line for boarding. As it turned out, even those passengers who had booked a codeshare flight – initial flight on Alaska or American Airlines from their home airport to Seattle and now connecting to Icelandair had to get in line for the service agent BEFORE lining up for actual boarding to show their passport to get a red CONFIRMED stamp on their boarding pass. The gate agents were also using this as an opportunity to take away what looked like even legal carry-on luggage to gate check. The gate agent took one look at my carry on bag and was about to take it away and then she looked at my boarding pass and realizing I had SAGA class she allowed me to carry-on. The same thing happened on the way home.

One thing I have to say about the Icelandair agents is that throughout what appeared to be mass crowd confusion and anxiety, they remained quite calm and unruffled. They also seemed to move in slow motion, yet they managed to herd us all onto the plane and we departed relatively on time and actually arrived early into Iceland. This was our first clue that this is just how Icelanders roll. They don’t get excited, they don’t hurry and it can be maddening to us hyper-intense Americans, but they get the job done.

Icelandair humor

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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 08:47 AM
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DAY 2 (Part 2 of 11)

With our SEA to KEF flight departing at 7PM PDST and the time difference with Iceland being 7 hours ahead, and a 7 ½ hr flight time (hmmm…there seems to be a recurring theme of 7’s here) we arrived early into KEF a little after 9AM. We cleared customs quickly, withdrew some Icelandic Krona (ISK) at the ATM and also stopped at the duty free store to buy a few bottles of wine as we knew it would be more economical and more convenient to buy at the airport. Next stop: the car rental counter. Initially we just couldn’t find it. We needed to find Dollar but all we could see were desks for Avis, Hertz, etc. After wandering around for a few minutes we realized that the unmanned Information counter had a small laminated sign unobtrusively taped to the desk informing customers for Dollar (and a few of the other smaller rental companies) to go outside and pick up the shuttle. My SIL was already out there as she had asked an airport employee who had, not very helpfully, vaguely waved his hand toward the doors and told her that she had to “go out there”. She thought he was just being lazy and didn’t want to exert himself to be more specific but later we found out that this was actually fairly typical behavior for Icelanders. (More info on this later. at the end of the trip.)

We found our shuttle; thank goodness we only had to bring our carry-on luggage and were driven to a nearby lot where the Dollar hut (literally a tiny little metal hut) was located. The rental agents – 2 young guys, were super friendly and kept encouraging us to come inside to wait as they finished the paperwork with one then running off to get the car. However, I didn’t think there would be enough room for all of us to fit inside the hut. Coming into Iceland I saw lots of clouds surrounding the airport so I wasn’t surprised by the gloomy weather but I was grateful for my winter coat as the wind barreled down on us. My BIL had rented a mid-size 4X4 (Skoda) which ended up being perfect for comfortably fitting us and our luggage. The car rental agent gave us 3 rules: 1) No F4 roads and don’t even think about trying to ford any rivers with this vehicle, 2) watch out for the wind when opening your car door as it can blow it off and 3) don’t forget to use diesel. I had told my BIL to make sure to opt for the gravel protection as I had read about this over and over again. It was definitely worth it as we traveled over many freshly graveled roads. Thankfully we didn’t run into any mishaps but that was more luck than anything else.

Even though my BIL had a hotspot I had read that cellular access could be spotty so we had downloaded all of the Google maps that we would need for offline access. We programmed for our hotel Eyja Guldsmeden in Reykjavik and off we went. With the volcanic terrain, cloudy skies and gusting winds I felt as if we were entering Mordor. Once we arrived at our hotel we used the hotel’s free parking, dropped off our luggage (too early to check in) and then walked over to eat lunch. My in-laws had friends who happened to arrive into Reykjavik a few days before and they recommended Sandholt in downtown Reykjavik. While lunch was fine - my husband and BIL and SIL ordered fish burgers and I ordered a mushroom sandwich, we were salivating over the pastries display. We made plans to come back the next morning to pick up breakfast from Sandholt.

We then walked over to meet our guide for the CityWalk Free Walking Tour. Our guide was a young man who had grown up in the Faroe Islands and then immigrated to Iceland. As we stood shivering in the wind, with the occasional light rain falling he pointed out to us that “we were lucky” that we had such relatively decent weather! I guess the skies usually clear up in May but this year they had had 2 weeks of rain and wind. The amount we were getting on the tour was nothing compared to what they had been enduring. I was happy to have my winter coat on. The tour was…kind of interesting? Our guide would walk a couple of blocks and then stand for a few seconds in front of the next site as if he was trying to think of interesting things to tell us. I always like to sign up for a free city walking tour to get some exercise to help with jet lag and loosen up after a long flight, to get oriented to how the city is laid out and to ask the tour guide questions (since they are usually young and would otherwise be unwilling to hang out with our generation) and of course because it’s free! It was interesting to learn that Icelanders usually keep their lights and heat on without having to worry about wasting energy given that they have all the power and heat they need through their geothermal plants. In fact, if they are too hot, they just open their windows to cool the house down. We could see multiple buildings with their windows open even though they surely had the heat on given the windy and cold day. It just seemed so weird to us given how much we have to think about efficient energy use in the US. Our guide pointed out the usual sites: House of Parliament, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Harpa Concert Hall, the original Bæjarins beztu hot dog stand, the Prime Minister’s Office, Reykjavik City Hall – which has a cool to scale model of Iceland that you can walk around to understand how Iceland’s geography is shaped by the meeting of the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates.

But despite the fact that Iceland was initially settled by the Vikings, with I am sure many a bloody battle, Iceland’s history is not that exciting. The most interesting events seemed to be their bankruptcy in 2008-2009 followed by their emergence when tourism was boosted after the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption. And here we start with the unpronounceable names. You will notice that I didn’t mention our guide’s name. That’s because no matter how many times he said it I still couldn’t figure out what his name actually was and I was too embarrassed to ask him to spell it out. In fact, almost every single historical figure that he pointed out had a long, and to us, unintelligible Icelandic name.

Our CityWalk tour guide


After our tour, we walked back to officially check-in to our hotel. Since we were only staying one night, my husband and I unpacked our toiletries, our PJs and our swim suits. We took a power nap and then rejoined my BIL and SIL with our swimsuits to drive to Sky Lagoon. We were early so we ate a light dinner at the Sky Lagoon café. Then at the appointed time (we had made reservations a couple of weeks earlier) we checked in, changed, showered and entered the Lagoon! Ahhh…it was very, very relaxing. We had gone back and forth while planning the trip. Which geothermal spa to visit: Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon – which would be better? In the end, we bookended our trip with a visit to Sky Lagoon at the beginning and to Blue Lagoon at the end of our trip. Sky Lagoon had a more mysterious and sophisticated vibe with the infinity edge pool looking out to the ocean. It should also be noted that children under 12 yr aren’t permitted to enter. We selected the Pure Pass which includes a “7 step ritual.” The ritual is a bit overhyped since Step 1 is actually entering the Sky Lagoon with Step 2, stepping into a cold plunge pool. I would still highly recommend choosing this option if just to have time for Step 3 to sit in their beautiful glassed in sauna which also looks out on the ocean. Look at the photo on the website and you will see what I mean. While my husband and I loved finding the hottest areas in the lagoon, we also found the time in the sauna to be incredibly soothing. We had selected a 7:30 PM slot trying to avoid the crowds. We wondered if we should go with the last available slots at 8:30PM, but the 7:30 slot actually worked out as our time at the lagoon was fairly tranquil without a huge crowd of people. However, when we emerged from the 7th Step of the Ritual there was a line of people waiting to step into the cold plunge pool! I think this was the 8:30 PM (last available time slot) crowd. Thankfully, we were ready to leave at that point. We drove back to our hotel and conked out. A quick tip – use the hair conditioner provided in the showers and leave it in your hair before entering the pool. Try not to get your hair wet in the lagoon and use more conditioner when you shower at the end to prevent the silica in the water from turning your hair into straw!

Sky Lagoon with view to the ocean

Sky Lagoon
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 09:28 AM
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DAY 3 (Part 3 of 11)

Admittedly it was hard to sleep as our diurnal clocks weren’t reset yet. Plus, all of the hotels have blackout curtains because even with sunset at 11PM and sunrise at 3:30AM, it never really gets dark at this time of the year. I was surprised at the number of people who asked me after I got back, “Did you see the Northern Lights?” I would point out that the darkest it would get would be twilight so not dark enough to see them. So we hauled ourselves up at what was about midnight back home, checked out and drove over to Sandholt to pick up a delicious breakfast – chocolate croissants, fruit Danish, and bread for snacking later. Then we headed out for the Golden Circle. The weather was the typical for Iceland – windy, cloudy, with intermittent rain. We left Reykjavik around 8AM because I wanted to get out in front of the buses. By the time we arrived to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, we practically had the place to ourselves. We only did the short “hike” walking along the boardwalk between those very same tectonic plates I mentioned earlier. There were some interesting interpretative signs along the way which pointed out the geological features as well as the importance of the site of Iceland’s first parliament. My SIL and I were kind of horrified by the information discussing how thievery was considered a capital offense with accompanying drawings illustrating how executions were carried out at this site by restraining and then throwing the convicted felon into the river until they drowned. We started from the upper parking lot and encountered two relatively small (by Iceland standards) but still impressive waterfalls. As we turned around to start back to our car I looked up and saw a huge train of people starting the walk towards us and was grateful that we had managed to enjoy our time before the tour buses started to arrive with day trippers from Reykjavik. Additionally, the rain started to become heavier as the morning progressed so we were happy to get back into the car. (As a side note, don’t bother with an umbrella as the wind gusts not only will quickly destroy the umbrella but will also blow the rain sideways anyway.)

Walkway at Thingvellir National Park

"small" waterfall at Thingvellir


We moved on to Laugarvatn Fontana Bakery for the geothermal bakery tour. With a freshwater lakefront location on a geothermal hotspot (admittedly practically all of Iceland is a hotspot), there is a public swimming pool fed by hot springs. When we arrived the pools were full of British school kids – probably early teens on a field trip. Since the pool is free to use, you still get the fun of a hot spring without the high price of a Sky Lagoon. I was glad that we hadn’t planned to try the pool. We waited for the tour which essentially consists of walking outside to the muddy areas where they literally bury their baking pots full of rye dough. First they dig up yesterday’s batch since it takes 24 hr to cook, then they dig the hole a little more deeply until it starts bubbling and then they bury the next batch, cover it, mark it with a rock so they can find it the next day! Then we went inside to get out of the rain. Our guide then opened up the container and voila! freshly “baked” rye bread. Technically it is actually rye cake since baking powder and not yeast is used. Either way, it smells heavenly. They cut it up into slices, slather it with butter and then added slices of locally smoked trout and served it to us. Delicious! One thing to mention, our guide remained absolutely impassive as he explained that Hekla, the volcano behind him, was one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland and that it was long overdue for an eruption. Hekla erupted in 1947, 1970, 1980, 1981, 1991 and 2000 and it sounds as if they expect it to erupt any day now. Another example of how the Icelandic people just don’t get that excited.


Geothermal heating for this natural "oven"




After helping ourselves to several slices, we moved on to Friðheimar which is a farm that uses commercial size greenhouses to grow tomatoes. They have a restaurant on site inside the greenhouses, surrounding the tomato plants. The entire enterprise is fascinating to learn about and the lunch we ate – with tomatoes playing a starring role, was fresh, inspired and delectable. The contrast of coming out of the dark and stormy weather and walking into this greenhouse with huge bright lights to simulate sunshine gave the restaurant an almost magical ambiance. Our waitress not only took our order, but also explained how the tomatoes were farmed. The process is truly organic and is another example of how Icelanders efficiently harness their geothermal energy.



Friðheimar - lunch amongst the tomato plants

Friðheimar - greenhouse

Friðheimar - tomato ice cream!

After hauling our now slightly overstuffed but happy stomachs out to the car, we drove to Gullfoss. Iceland has countless waterfalls – literally everywhere you look. My husband picked Gullfoss as his favorite.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss


By this point, my BIL was freezing to death as he did NOT have waterproof pants and between the rain and the waterfall spray was completely soaked. Fortunately, there was a 66⁰ North store in the parking lot. Unfortunately, he paid $400 to buy a set of waterproof pants. Everything is expensive in Iceland. We made jokes that he would have to wear this pair of pants every day for the rest of his life to get his money’s worth. We then drove on to Geysir. By this time it was a good thing that my BIL had his waterproof pants. We made the mistake of not really paying attention to what we were going to see. The big geyser – “Geysir” actually has a sign that states that it rarely erupts. We didn’t realize this and started hiking around the different paths in the pouring rain and gusting winds, trying to figure out where we should be standing to see the eruption. By the time we finally figured out that the only geyser that was erupting every 8-10 minutes (Stokkur) was located in a different direction, we were cold and tired. We waited to see it and out came…a burp of water. It was over in less than 10 sec and was not impressive at all. Oh well. Back to the car where we opted to skip Kerid Crater and just get checked in to Hotel Selja which was nominally located in Hvolsvöllur.

Hotel Selja became one in a line of hotels that we booked along the south Iceland coast road trip that we made over the next few days. The similarities I would note are:
a) Despite each hotel having an address that seemed to be in town, they weren’t actually located in town. They would be out a few miles away so it wasn’t as if you could easily skip over to the local market to grab snacks or a meal.
b) They always had nice, spacious breakfast rooms and encouraged guests to use these rooms as a common room – even if you had your own snacks.
c) The rooms had wall unit heaters and I found these great for hanging clothes to dry quickly from one day to the next, including my shoes.
d) Coffee and hot water was usually available almost around the clock in the breakfast room which was such a relief to my caffeine addicted husband.

Hotel Selja was actually located very close to Seljalandsfoss – more on that on Day 4. We ate dinner at Hygge. The meal was decent, but my husband realized in retrospect that this was a missed opportunity to try a more authentic Icelandic meal as they served puffin heart, whale steak and fermented shark. However, we all stuck to more traditional choices – I chose Atlantic cod while the rest ate lamb chops.

Last edited by IBkatherine; Jun 13th, 2023 at 03:02 PM.
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 01:19 PM
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61luv2travel, please keep this coming. We are thinking about visiting Iceland next year.
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 04:35 PM
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Thanks for sharing. Iceland is on my list to visit as I really want to see puffins. Sounds like you were able to beat the crowds by starting early, which is good to know; crowds is one reason we haven’t made it to Iceland yet.
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 04:41 PM
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Iceland is my favorite place to go! We have been 4 times so far and our 5th trip is next month. Sounds like you are off to a good start, and I look forward to reading more. Yes, the chaos at the gate in Seattle is normal, unfortunately. A tiny clarification though, there is no silica in the water at Sky Lagoon so no worries on your hair there. That is for Blue Lagoon and Myvatn. We have done the Citywalk tour on two of our trips and really enjoyed it. Another really good one is the food tour, in case you get back there at some point. Anyway, thank you for sharing!
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 09:13 PM
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DAY 4 (Part 4 of 11)

We were more leisurely in waking up and eating the included breakfast since our tour with FG Private Tours wouldn’t start until our 10AM pick up. FG, short for Freysteinn Gunnarsson, told us to just call him “Fred.” Traveling in his huge 4X4 up through Thorsmork we drove along unpaved roads and crossed those rivers that the rental car company had warned us not to try with our own rental car. We did notice a few rental cars which had braved a few of the shallower streams. Fred said that every year there were always a few people who would attempt to drive where they shouldn’t and would become stranded. In the past, the locals would stop to help but nowadays would not get involved as they risked being held liable for any and all damages to the rental car.

Today we were extremely fortunate to have bright sunshine, blue skies and only mild wind gusts - such a contrast to the day before. Thorsmork or the “Valley of Thor” lies between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Tindfjallajökull and is designated a natural reserve. To truly see the valley would take a multi-day hike but we were happy to have at least this one beautiful day to hike and explore this awe inspiring part of Iceland. Not only was the weather such a contrast but the terrain had also changed with sweeping vistas, moss covered valleys surrounded by towering cliffs and the ever present glaciers which looked almost as if they were fake painted backdrops.

While hiking into canyons, approaching nearby glaciers, entering concealed caves and coming upon hidden waterfalls, we were able to ask Fred lots of questions about living in Iceland. He was very forthcoming and even mentioned that he enjoyed our barrage of questions. He had been a farmer for many years and admitted that most of his previous conversations took place with his cows which hadn’t really prepared him for giving the typical tour guide patter.

On the way to our first hike, we stopped at one of the nature reserve interpretive signs which provided information about the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Because the eruption occurred from underneath the glacier, the sudden melting of massive amounts of ice significantly altered parts of Thorsmork in an ultra-short period of time – basically super-fast forward geologic changes. There is a photograph showing the plume emerging from the eruption with a little, tiny farmhouse at the foot of the volcano. Fred very matter of factly stated that this used to be his farm (he subsequently sold it). He described how they had to bring all of the animals indoors to protect them from the ash. They couldn’t open their doors or windows for weeks which made their homes unbearably hot. Even months later strong winds would stir up ash from the ground and put it back up into the air. It really sounded miserable.

We also asked about Icelandic politics, education, customs, and social life. Icelanders have a rich folklore – filled with elves, fairies and trolls and It was fun to find out that they have not 1 but 13 Santa Clauses. It was horrifying to hear how the mother of all of these Santa Clauses will cook and eat children if she is in a bad mood. Fred said that he was traumatized for the longest time when as a young boy his mother told him that she knew he had eaten all of the chocolate in the pantry because the elf in the pantry ceiling had told her so. He wouldn’t go into the pantry for years after that.

He also noted that having met tourists from many locations he identified most with people from Texas! He said that Icelandic people do not like to be told what to do – probably a trait handed down from the Vikings.

Shortly before we left for Iceland, Fred had emailed to confirm arrangements as well as to ask if we wanted him to provide lunch. That was a good decision as it was one less thing we had to worry about given that a market was not close to where we were staying. At the midpoint of our outing, he set up a portable grill to cook hamburgers which we were happy to inhale as spending the day outdoors made us hungry. After another hike, Fred delivered us back to our hotel and we said our good-byes.



Hiking in Thorsmork

We took a short nap but as we made preparations to go to dinner at Valhalla we realized that we should probably go and visit Seljalandsfoss first. We really became diligent about checking the weather report. Yes, the weather changes every 15 minutes, but there are definitely some trends. We had thought maybe we should catch Seljalandsfoss on our way out the next morning. However, we realized that a) it was supposed to start raining again tomorrow and b) most of the day trippers from Reykjavik would be gone by now, and c) this is the waterfall that you can walk behind and since it faces west the best time to see the sun shining through is in the evening at sunset. Despite the fact that it was already 7PM the sun was perfectly situated so it was now or never.

We jumped into our waterproof gear and headed out. We drove less than 10 minutes and the photos speak for themselves. This was my favorite waterfall. I loved that you could stand behind it.

Seljalandsfoss

Standing in the cave behind Seljalandsfoss

Afterward we had a very mediocre meal at Valhalla. The one saving grace was that you could try your hand at ax throwing. After we ordered our food we requested the ax and walked over to the very basic and makeshift stall to try our luck. Both my BIL and SIL were able to successfully get the ax into the wall. My husband almost took off his foot when he threw it so violently at the backboard that it bounced almost all the back to the throw line. While fun, this activity highlighted something I noted over and over again. In Iceland, they just don’t worry or seem to get excited about what could go wrong. For all the different activities that we did we never signed any release of liability forms. The people at the bar just handed over the ax and pointed in the general direction where we could throw it and then we just handed it back to them when we were done. Our BBQ dinner was kind of a disappointment after the ax throwing excitement. We ate quickly and returned to the hotel and again conked out.

My SIL about to successfully complete her ax throw
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 09:26 PM
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DAY 5 (Part 5 of 11)
As promised by the weather forecast we woke up to fog, wind and rain. I was so thankful we had had our Thorsmork tour the day before. In fact, Fred even said he felt sorry for the clients that he would be taking out the next day and now I felt sorry for them too. We ate our hotel provided breakfast and hit the road again. As we drove Route 1 – the Ring Road, we could see the wind blowing Seljalandsfoss up and to the side. Again I was really thankful that we had had the opportunity to see it in good weather.

Pretty much the only stops for the day that we made today were to see Skogafoss and Dyrhólaey. Some comments about driving in Iceland…you do have to be careful about speeding as there are some speed cameras – though as my BIL (kudos to him as the driver for the entire trip) pointed out that the locations of these speed cameras are officially posted (an EU regulation) and showed up on his Google maps so he always knew where they were. There are electronic signs primarily set up around the towns which not only flash your speed as you approach but also flash either a green happy face or a red sad face. My BIL found them kind of effective as he admitted that he did feel more of a compulsion to slow down to achieve the green happy face – LOL.

The driving can take hours. The Ring Road is essentially a 2 lane highway but it was for the most part well maintained. We didn’t run into any sheep in the road (though that can happen) but we did come upon stupid tourist drivers who would all of a sudden slow down or even completely stop in the middle of the road to look at a cute lamb but not paying any attention to traffic behind them. We ended up passing a lot as some motorists were really taking their time but this is pretty safe as there are long stretches of road where you could clearly see if there was oncoming traffic.

Pretty much everywhere you look you see waterfalls. Many of them looked like tiny trickles but you realized that they were actually bigger than they looked from the road. Iceland has done a great job of providing car turnouts with mini parking lots for the more impressive sights.

Finally, Fred pointed out to us that it was helpful to figure out which way the wind was blowing and then to park your car facing into the wind to help prevent getting your door blown off. The wind was no joke. One of the days of our itinerary I had made the decision to base ourselves in Hofn (past Vik) the night before our kayak outing so that we wouldn’t have to drive at the crack of dawn – which would have been 4AM to make the start point. This ended up being a fortuitous decision as the day of our kayak tour, anyone who was planning on making the trip from Vik was unable to travel. The authorities had closed Route 1 because the wind gusts were too strong, making it dangerous to travel. The concern was especially acute for those in a camper van as one guide put it they were like a top heavy tin can just perfect for being toppled by winds at 20-40mph or even higher!

As we set off from Hvolsvöllur, there was a steady drizzle and the ever present wind gusts. Our first stop at Skogafoss was easily accessible as you can see it from the road. Somehow it looks taller than Seljalandsfoss but apparently they are the same height. I think the massive width of the waterfall gives the optical illusion that it is larger. I made my husband walk up the 370 iron steps which switchback you to the top of the falls. Maybe on a clear day it would have been worth it for the views of the coast, but with the clouds and rain obscuring everything it was not that impressive of a view from the top. If you have ever stood next to Niagara Falls (on the US side) you will know what I mean about impressive water flow. At least we got some exercise going up and then down. I counted the stairs on my way down as a way of concentrating so that I wouldn’t slip and I thought I did it accurately but somehow I only counted 361 stairs. I think that walking closer to the base of the falls was much more exciting though again it was like taking a shower with all of the spray coming up.

Skogafoss

After that refreshing interlude we returned to our car and drove to Dyrhólaey which stands for “the hill island with a door hole.” We drove to the upper parking lot for the lighthouse and walked around, again in the cold, wind and rain. We could barely see the arch through the fog which did give it a mysterious appearance. We then drove down to the lower parking lot where there are walkways for more views and also the chance to try to see puffins. My SIL and BIL were extremely lucky and were able to snap an up close and personal photo of a pretty large puffin. My BIL said that it was weirdly mechanical in how it would move its head. My SIL said that the bird acted as if it were posing for her which allowed her to take such a great photo. Anyway, other than that it was still pretty miserable and we opted to head into Vik to grab lunch at The Soup Company. The place was packed but given the fairly limited menu of a variety of soups, the service was relatively efficient and fast, especially by Iceland standards. The soup was delicious and a perfect way to warm up after being chilled by the time spent outside. Of interest, The Soup Company is located within the same building as The Lava Show. I had seen this online and we had thought that maybe we should go see: “The Only Lava Show in the World Where You Can Experience Flowing Lava. The show recreates a volcano eruption…” It sounded kind of cheesy despite its “glowing” reviews online. We decided to wait and maybe buy tickets later but by the time we got there for lunch all of the tickets were sold out for the day. Oh well – we didn’t really feel cheated. Instead we finished lunch, gassed up, stopped at the market in Vik and then headed over for an early check-in at the Volcano Hotel. Again, even though the address was in Vik we were over 5 miles away.

After divesting ourselves of our wet clothes and taking some time to both rest and warm up, we decided to meet up in the large dining area which had a nice cozy corner surrounded by a couch and armchairs grouped around a large coffee table. We had some wine and just relaxed. Eventually after running through our options we decided to drive over to Black Crust Pizzeria for dinner. I think the black crust derives its color from using rye flour and also gives a nod to the nearby black sand beach, Reynisfjara. The food was decent and the hard working young staff worked efficiently. There are just not that many places to eat in Vik. We did have the option to order dinner at our hotel but the prices were just too expensive for what I suspect would have been a mediocre meal.

Puffin - up close and personal (photo courtesy of my SIL)
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Old Jun 12th, 2023, 09:42 PM
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DAY 6 (Part 6 of 11)

After eating breakfast we checked out and started with what initially looked to be a foggy and gloomy day. However, as we continued our drive along the Ring Road (Route 1) with an eventual destination of Hofn, the clouds lifted and we were happy to see blue skies and sunshine. Of course the wind was still gusting but that’s the price you pay to get the clouds to clear. Our first stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Do not ask me how to pronounce this. In the Land of Unpronounceable Names, trip planning was definitely a challenge. As my husband and I did some web surfing during the planning stages, we would excitedly say to each other, “Hey, what do you think about visiting Frgofurrrlr?” or some horribly mangled version of the name of a cool place in Iceland. This would invariably be met with the response, “What place are you talking about? Do you mean Throgofurrfr?” We would have to painfully spell out the name for the other person to look it up for themselves. This was also an issue when setting a GPS destination - many times I would spell out the name of the destination to make sure we were all on the same page as to where we were going next.

We were so happy for the sunny skies and as we approached Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon we waited to see if it was in fact open. The funny thing is that when you search it on Google it is listed as temporarily closed. However, when I looked on AllTrails there were up to date postings about the beautiful and easy trail. Sure enough, the trail was open and the views running along the top of the canyon were spectacular.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

After easily walking the clearly marked trail out and back we returned to the car to drive onwards to Jokulsarlon – a glacier lagoon with an outlet into the ocean. Along the way we had views of the ocean on one side and tongues (probably incorrect terminology) of the various glaciers coming down towards us on the other side. Always there were multiple waterfalls falling down the basalt cliffs. It was almost to the point where you started to take the spectacular scenery for granted as it was just constantly there for hours as you drive the South Coast. We did stop at one roadside waterfall (I can’t find the name) which had a small turnout.

Waterfall located right next to the Ring Road - could not find the name
Arriving at Jokulsarlon, we pulled into the adjacent parking lot from which we could immediately see the lagoon filled with numerous “small” icebergs produced by Vatnajökull glacier – Europe’s largest ice-cap. These icebergs had that beautiful jewel blue color and all kinds of fantastical shapes and were just floating down the lagoon from their origin point from the edge of the glacier on their way to the ocean. We were starved by this point and after using the public (and clean) portable restroom facilities, we headed over to the food trucks, specifically, Nailed It Fish & Chips. OMG, I am not even a fish and chips fan, but these fish and chips were THE best - fresh Atlantic cod with a light flaky batter coating. We had to wait a bit after placing our order because it was time for them to change their oil out. The owner is meticulous in how he fries the fish. It was perfect and super delicious and in fact I ate it again the next day for lunch when we were on our way back through on the return to Reykjavik. After eating lunch we took a few more photos of the lagoon.

Icebergs floating out to sea in Jokulsarlon.

We then set off for the remaining 2 hr trip to Hofn. We did have a brief stop along the way to have a look at the Dverghamrar cliffs or dwarf basalt columns. This rock formation has the hexagonal basalt columns. My husband and BIL decided they wanted to take a look but my SIL and I elected to rest in the car out of the wind. Eventually I did get out as I wanted to grab a video of the Foss at Síða waterfall which is located just across the road. I watched in fascination as the wind gusts blew it this way and that way and at times even had the appearance of suspending the flow for a few seconds by the sheer strength of the gusts. We eventually arrived in Hofn, checked in and asked the receptionist whether Otto, the restaurant we had found online took reservations. He told us that they did not and he also recommended that we get there before 7PM if we didn’t want to wait. His advice was spot on and we arrived at 6:30PM and were immediately seated in the small restaurant before a line of customers started to form. Dinner was delicious with lobster bisque, smoked cod, salmon and prawns. We drove 5 minutes back to The Milk Factory, our hotel in Hofn.

Dverghamrar cliffs

Last edited by 61luv2travel; Jun 12th, 2023 at 10:00 PM.
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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 05:49 AM
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Still sounds like a wonderful time! We are headed to Thorsmark for 3 days on our upcoming trip. That is one area we have missed on prior trips. You day there sounds really nice! You are so right in that Iceland doesn't to coddle you with warnings, signing wavers, etc. Wee stayed at the Volcano Hotel this past October and did have dinner there. It was very good! They only had 2 or 3 options, so very limited, but one of us had the lamb and the other had the cod and both meals were excellent. Yes, bit pricey, but we had just finished an ice cave tour and didn't feel like heading into Vik.
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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 11:45 AM
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DAY 7

Ate our hotel provided breakfast, checked out and drove to Flatey Farms to join up for our glacier lagoon kayak trip on Heinabergslón. Again we were lucky with the weather as it was a very bright sunny day with blue skies. Initially there was a lot of wind and as I mentioned previously it was fortunate that we were driving east to west to our meeting point as anyone trying to come from Vik had to cancel because Route 1 was closed for high winds. One issue was that even though we were given GPS coordinates to the meeting point, somehow we missed the small turn into the parking lot and instead drove past it (by only 50 yards at most) to the nearby hotel parking lot. We initially saw a large group of tourists waiting and we thought they were all there to check-in for various tours. Instead we realized that this was NOT the check-in. Inquiries to various hotel personnel resulted in the typical Icelandic gesture of the hand accompanied by a vague “It’s over there.” Again we thought they just couldn’t be bothered and were being rude but realized later that this was typical Icelandic behavior.

We finally found the check-in point on the other side of the hotel in separate little portable buildings. We were fitted up in dry suits, rubber booties, and grabbed our cell phones securely tucked into their waterproof cases. I had made this reservation 6 months prior to coming to Iceland as they are the only company that has a license for this glacier lagoon. There were just 9 of us and 2 guides. After transferring us by van over a very bumpy, unpaved road we arrived lakeside and were given instructions on how to get in and out of the 2 person kayaks, how to properly paddle and safety tips. Our guides helped ensure that we were safely launched and then off we went. The lagoon appeared deceptively small until you paddled past the first set of icebergs when you could then appreciate that the lagoon extended much further back towards the glacier. Fed from the Vatnajökull glacier (the same enormous glacier that fed Jokulsarlon) the icebergs didn’t really seem that big until you remembered that only 10% is above the surface and the remaining 90% is below the surface of the water where you can’t see it.


Kayaks lined up for our excursion on Heinabergslón


The weather remained perfect – sunny with almost no wind, which kept the water smooth and made for safe paddling. We stopped at one of the larger icebergs, put on mini-crampons over our rubber booties and walked around a bit on the iceberg, peering into small caves and tunnels. When we got back into the kayaks we paddled over to another iceberg which had a tiny opening in which if you bent over at the waist allowed all of us access into a small cave within that iceberg. It was beautifully blue inside and reminded me of the Blue Cave in Croatia, but with ice instead of stone. We were able to enter one more cave, though this one was even smaller than the one before and only one kayak could go in at a time and then would have to back out for the next kayak. Our guides noted that we were the first group to enter these iceberg caves as they hadn’t been there 2 days ago. They said it was always fascinating for them because every time they came it was ever changing and different and they never knew what they would find. We did watch a relatively small piece of ice fall off an iceberg and splash into the water which was slightly unnerving. A brief gust of wind sprang up for about 2 minutes max just as we started back to shore and then disappeared. We arrived back safely, disembarked, rode the van back to the check-in hut and gratefully stripped out of the dry suits which had definitely kept us dry but were slightly claustrophobic. I imagine they are just a small taste of what it must feel like to be in an astronaut suit.

First time explorers into this iceberg cave!

Only one kayak at a time could enter this tiny iceberg cave.


We took off for our long drive back to Vik but made sure to stop off at Jokulsarlon for round #2 at Nailed It Fish & Chips for lunch. We explored Jokulsarlon a bit more as we had not previously walked back behind the hill to see the full view of the lagoon. I did observe the tightly packed tourists with their life jackets sitting on the amphibious bus/boat for tours on the water. The tours had cancelled all of their morning trips but the wind had settled down enough to allow tourists from Vik to now drive Route 1 and to allow for boat trips on the lagoon. My SIL and I walked to “Diamond Beach”, the black sand beach next to Jokulsarlon. I guess the glittering shards of ice can mimic the look of diamonds scattered against the black sand, but my SIL and I just saw a black sand beach with a few pieces of melting ice.


Jokusarlon in the sunlight.

The remainder of our drive to Vik was tiring but uneventful. We stopped at the market to buy some snacks and checked in again at the Volcano Hotel. We then returned to that cozy corner in the dining area where we had previously relaxed with some wine. This time we broke out our wine, bread and cheese, charcuterie items and fruit and spent a nice relaxing late afternoon just catching up and relaxing indoors. By the time we finished we were too full and too tired to go back into Vik to eat.
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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 12:09 PM
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DAY 8 (Part 8 of 11)

We ate the hotel breakfast, checked out and then headed over to Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks. Because of the foggy weather, we had postponed visiting when we came through to see Dyrhólaey three days earlier even though it is right there in Vik. Today however, was bright and sunny and of course very windy. The beach and the stone formations out along the coast were dramatically beautiful. We witnessed at least two bridal photo shoots taking place. You had to feel a bit sorry for the brides. As my BIL quoted, “beauty is pain” (an old French saying according to Google). And it certainly looked painful with the huge wind gusts coming off the ocean and blowing sand in your face. I had read that there is no land mass to act as a barrier between Antarctica and this section of the Icelandic coast so sneaker waves can occasionally be enormous with deaths occurring every year when an unsuspecting tourist turns their back and gets pulled out into the frigid waters. We enjoyed the cool hexagonal basalt columns, the black sand beach and the super interesting rock formations dotting the shore, including a much sharper defined view of Dyrhólaey.


Reynisjfara Beach

Returning to the car, we drove straight through to Reykjavik. I had contacted Judith, manager (and maybe owner?) of Baldursbra Apartments Langaveur to ask if we could check in early. Judith was remarkably accommodating and also would respond almost immediately to any messages via the Booking.com app. Located in downtown Reykjavik with accompanying free parking, it was perfectly located. Our apartments were really spacious with individual washer/dryers, full kitchen, living room and dining area and bedroom. Since this was our final check-in for the next three nights it was nice to not feel like a vagabond for once.

After dropping our luggage, we walked over to Loki Café to have lunch. My husband and BIL ordered the “Loki” which included a few cubes of Iceland’s famous fermented shark. The waiter managed to convince my husband to order the accompanying Brennivin to help wash it down. My SIL gave the fermented shark a try but I just refused. My husband said the Brennivin (also called "Black Death") was worse than the fermented shark as it is essentially pure grain alcohol. I ended up ordering the lamb stew and it was quite delicious and filling. After our authentic Icelandic meal we walked over to Hallgrimskirkja. With an iconic exterior, this Evangelical –Lutheran church has a very striking appearance. I also liked the clean interior lines. Afterward we went back to unpack and relax.


Interior of Hallgrimskirkja - decided not to post a photo of the exterior because it's been done so many times already.

Forgot to mention the wild "wall poetry" that you can see all around downtown Reykjavik.


Later that evening we walked over to the Harpa Concert Hall to watch a show titled: “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”. Billed as a comedy show, it is a one man show devoted to the “rules” of how to assimilate into Icelandic culture. Even though we didn’t laugh non-stop, it was both fun and interesting. Primarily it helped us to confirm some of the things we had observed during our trip to Iceland. For example, remember our frustration with getting only vague answers when asking for directions? Well the comedian, Bjarni Haukur Thorsson, specifically mentioned this weird quirk that Icelanders have for not wanting to reveal where anything is. Fred, our Thorsmork guide, had actually said the same thing. Even with his own brothers, he never wanted to tell them about any “secret” fun places he had found while out exploring and vice versa. The comedian even acted out an example and did exactly the same vague hand waving with the words, “It’s over there.” We started laughing as we couldn’t believe it. One other characteristic was the fact that Icelanders “talk as if they are dead,” i.e. without any emotion or facial expression. Again, this is so true. They just don’t seem to get animated about anything. Finally, he gave us a short lesson on how to pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull.” He even showed a video montage of newscasters trying to pronounce the name when it had erupted and shut down European flights. Underscores my point that Iceland truly is the “Land of Unpronounceable Names.” We enjoyed the show and it was cool to walk around inside Harpa – I loved the design of this concert hall.


Harpa Concert Hall

Cool interior of Harpa


And last but not least we then went to dinner at Dill. We had initially wanted to eat dinner at Moss which is located at the Blue Lagoon, but we just couldn’t get a reservation. I think you have to be willing to fork out tons of money to stay at the Blue Lagoon Hotel to even have a chance at a restaurant reservation. So I managed to get a 9PM reservation at Dill and only afterwards did I realize it had been awarded a Michelin star. We have some ambivalence to Michelin rated restaurants. They are usually so expensive and typically we find them over-rated. This meal was interesting and creative and tasty with the use of many unique Icelandic products. But it was also long and slow. We were pretty tired by the end of the meal and we were thankful that we only had to walk about 2 blocks to get back to our apartment.


Dill - Appetizer: Lumpfish roe, angelica

Dill - even though I have the menu with me I cannot for the life of me remember what this is!

Dill - Pork belly, Nordic wasabi, whey

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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 12:28 PM
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DAY 9 (Part 9 of 11)

We woke early and returned to our beloved Sandholt for our favorite to go morning pastries. Then it was off to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to catch our Viking sushi boat tour. The weather had reverted back to cloudy and windy with occasional bursts of rain. Fortunately, by the time we arrived in Stykkisholmur to board the boat, the rain had stopped. It was interesting to cruise around in Breiðafjörður Fjord (I had to copy and paste the name from the website as again there was no way for me to pronounce this, let alone remember how it is spelled). The captain was able to bring the boat practically right up against some of the tiny islands where we were standing practically eyeball to eyeball with various nesting seabirds. While interesting it was a little nerve wracking as we knew that one of the birds, the fulmar, will basically vomit a particularly horrendous smelling liquid on you if it feels threatened. Fred had also told us about these birds as he had a dog that loved to agitate these birds to make them puke and then would roll around in the vomit because he somehow loved the smell of it. Ewww! So we didn’t want to get too close to these birds. We also saw puffins which are the most comical birds. They seem so ungainly when they take off from the water as they can only do low level flying.


Puffins just seem so ungainly when they fly.

I think this is the fulmar or the "puking bird".

Another up close and personal visit to this seabird.

The highlight of this cruise is when they throw down a net to dredge the bottom of the fjord. They haul it back up and dump it on a large wooden work table. The dredge brought up crabs, starfish, sea slugs, sea urchins and tons of scallops. The crew would shuck the shells, clean it up and then serve you the live sea scallop on the shell. They placed some soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger nearby for you to add to your shell to slurp down the fresh scallops - so cold, fresh and briny. They were very good at doling out the scallops equitably and we all ate quite a lot of them.


The initial haul of the Viking sushi boat.

A freshly caught scallop on offer.

After we returned to shore we bought some fish and chips at the dock to supplement our lunch but they were nowhere near the quality of Nailed It Fish & Chips. But it served its purpose and we then drove over to Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) to see the nearby waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss. By this time, the winds had pushed the clouds away to give us sunny blue skies. We were treated to another beautiful mountain and waterfall photo op with the ocean in the background. While we could have pushed on further into the Snaefellsnes Peninsula we decided to head back to Reykjavik.


What a vista - Kirkjufell


Once back in the city, we napped, then ran out to finally try the famous original Bæjarins beztu hot dog. While it was certainly tasty I think this was an example of something that had been so over-hyped in our minds that the reality was never going to live up to the expectations. We then packed up our bathing suits and then made the drive out to the Blue Lagoon for our 2nd hot springs adventure. I think that on the way this is when we stopped at Costco to gas up. We only stopped at the gas station and did not go inside Costco itself. The fuel prices at Costco were definitely the lowest of any we encountered in Iceland.


An almost empty Blue Lagoon


The Blue Lagoon is the iconic lagoon that everyone associates with Iceland. We were a bit leery as we had also seen comments about the crowds and congestion and the almost Disney-like nature of the experience. We picked the latest possible time and this probably made all the difference. While it never gets dark at this time of the year, it was really twilight. The fog was starting to return and it was very quiet with few guests. The experience was magical with the glacial blue color of the lagoon and steam rising up from the soothing hot water. We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Afterward we returned to Reykjavik with arms and legs that felt like jelly. However, we wanted some ramen to eat as a late night snack and managed to find some large instant noodle bowls in a nearby convenience store. Came back, made the instant ramen, slurped it down and went to bed.
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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 12:33 PM
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DAY 10 (Part 10 of 11)

Our final full day in Iceland was again partly to mostly cloudy. However, luckily it didn’t rain. We took our time eating up various leftover foods that we had picked up along the way – eggs, skyr, fruit and pastries. Once we got ourselves in gear we drove over to Perlan. I was not that enthusiastic about visiting as I felt that for the most part we had seen the real thing in Iceland. However, my husband really wanted to see the planetarium show to see the “Northern Lights.” Since I was tired it was a relatively easy low key activity. We also went into the man-made ice cave. It was freezing in there and again we had already been in a real ice cave while kayaking. My opinion is that if you are pressed for time then Perlan would be a good opportunity to get an idea of what Iceland is like.

We went to dinner in the early evening at Sushi Social. This was a decent restaurant though the sushi quality was not top level. We finished dinner, made sure to pick up some more ramen packs to cook later that night and then drove about 30 min outside of Reykjavik to Brautarholt Golf Club. I had heard about “midnight golf” in Iceland on a podcast. Since my husband and I are avid golfers this seemed like a fun thing to try. However, since I play with Ladies left hand clubs I was concerned about renting usable clubs. They only had men’s left handed clubs but that worked for me. Instead of using golf shoes we used our hiking shoes. Surprisingly this worked out just fine as the course, while beautiful, was in somewhat rough shape and the hiking shoes gave us enough traction. We saw many red outdoor “roombas” trundling around mowing the course. They were slightly creepy with their quietly mechanized movement and flashing LED lights. I accidentally hit one with my golf ball and I was half expecting it to rise up on metal folding legs and start shooting me with lasers, Transformer style. Brautarholt only has 12 holes which we finished up shortly before midnight. After driving back to our apartment, we had a midnight snack of ramen and then it was off to bed.

Teeing off at Brautarholt

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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 01:05 PM
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DAY 11 (Part 11 of 11) - FINAL

My husband was feeling pretty under the weather. (He did not get COVID thankfully.) So it was nice that we could really take our time getting ready to leave for the airport. I ran over to Sandholt for one last round of breakfast pastries. My BIL and SIL were flying home earlier so they took the rental car back for drop-off. I had asked for and gotten permission for a later check-out at noon. We left slightly before that to walk over to the BSI bus terminal. I had purchased transfers via FlyBus to Keflavik airport. The whole process was super easy to walk over from our downtown apartment to catch the bus at the terminal which then dropped us off on time at the airport. I used a kiosk to print out the boarding passes even though I had them electronically stored on my cell phone. We went through security and then made our way to the Icelandair SAGA lounge which was nice and roomy with a decent selection of food and beverages. About 50 minutes prior to departure our gate was announced, we went downstairs and used our passports to go through the turnstiles. While the boarding process was a little less zoo like it was still painful. Once you had shown your boarding pass, you proceeded down a flight of stairs to board a shuttle bus and then driven to your plane on the tarmac. Then you had to schlep yourself up a flight of stairs before you could actually get on the plane. The flight back itself seemed more comfortable. I am not sure why – maybe because it wasn’t a red-eye. Icelandair did hand out these delicious little chocolates and also a tiny box of macarons. We arrived into the airport in Portland, OR (PDX) pretty much on time.


Icelandair's tasty chocolates

I thought they tasted as good as they looked.


So closing thoughts on this trip:

While we enjoyed ourselves ad did a lot of fun and interesting activities, we were not completely wowed by Iceland. Maybe it was because we didn’t get to balance it with the cultural half of the trip we had originally planned. Maybe it was because at times the weather could be so atrocious. Maybe it was because the food was expensive and not consistently that good or fresh. Maybe our expectations for this pandemic make-up trip were too high. Iceland is an amazingly beautiful country and is relatively easy to get to and I would not want to discourage anyone from checking it out for themselves. We picked this time of year because we had expiring credit on Icelandair and also were trying to maximize chances for better weather and fewer crowds.

Make sure you take a lot of layers of clothing and make sure that at least one of the upper and one of the lower layers is waterproof. There is nothing worse than getting soaked to the skin and then being subjected to heavy wind gusts. Buying clothing in Iceland is really expensive. We probably could have done without our winter jackets but definitely wore a variety of all of the other layers depending on what the weather was doing at any given moment. We also brought extra towels but you only really need them for a) if you are going to check out a public pool or b) they come in handy to wipe yourself down if you get caught out in heavy rain.

Stay aware of the weather as roads can be closed and activities cancelled. Fortunately, we were able to participate in everything but it never occurred to me that they could and would close the roads at times. Also, despite what seems like relatively short distances on the map can translate to longer driving times than you would think. Plus there are always many places to stop to admire the scenery. I worked really hard in the planning stages to give ourselves enough time to do at least the short hikes and to appreciate the beauty on display. I also wanted to be realistic to give us some down time to just rest and relax. Yes, you can race around the entire island but I don’t think it would be very enjoyable.

Things we didn’t do – well as I mentioned before NO NORTHERN LIGHTS. I would hope that most people planning a trip to Iceland realize that they have to go when there are actually dark skies which means going in the wintertime. Other things we didn’t do: try a public swimming pool, visit OmNom Chocolate, visit the Phallological Museum, go snowmobiling or trekking on a glacier, visit Stuðlagil or see the waterfalls in northern Iceland – Dettifoss or Godafoss.

For fans of the Game of Thrones TV series (which I am not), there are numerous Icelandic sites that acted as the backdrop for various scenes. Similar to Lord of the Rings sites in New Zealand, you could organize your trip around finding these sites.

If you have enough time, I highly recommend that you take the opportunity to do at least a day trip out of Reykjavik if you really want to see Iceland. While it can be expensive to rent a car especially once you tack on all of the insurance, but it does give you the freedom to set your own schedule and to stop whenever and wherever you want.

Blue Lagoon vs Sky Lagoon – I don’t think you can go wrong with either. Our preference was Sky Lagoon but just barely. We loved visiting both of them.

Think carefully about whether you really want to bring a camera or if you will just your cell phone. While my husband is an avid photographer, there were many times when the weather or activity was not conducive to bringing out the camera. I would highly recommend buying a waterproof case for your cell phone. We definitely used them - for instance when we visited Sky and Blue Lagoons and for the glacier lagoon kayaking trip.

And a few more photos to entice you as I finish this trip report:

"Just another glacier" that you can see from Route 1.

Dyrhólaey seen in the distance on a clear day.

Basalt columns along Reynisfjara beach

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Old Jun 13th, 2023, 01:15 PM
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DAY 11 (Part 11 of 11) - FINAL

My husband was feeling pretty under the weather. (He did not get COVID thankfully.) So it was nice that we could really take our time getting ready to leave for the airport. I ran over to Sandholt for one last round of breakfast pastries. My BIL and SIL were flying home earlier so they took the rental car back for drop-off. I had asked for and gotten permission for a later check-out at noon. We left slightly before that to walk over to the BSI bus terminal. I had purchased transfers via FlyBus to Keflavik airport. The whole process was super easy to walk over from our downtown apartment to catch the bus at the terminal which then dropped us off on time at the airport. I used a kiosk to print out the boarding passes even though I had them electronically stored on my cell phone. We went through security and then made our way to the Icelandair SAGA lounge which was nice and roomy with a decent selection of food and beverages. About 50 minutes prior to departure our gate was announced, we went downstairs and used our passports to go through the turnstiles. While the boarding process was a little less zoo like it was still painful. Once you had shown your boarding pass, you proceeded down a flight of stairs to board a shuttle bus and then driven to your plane on the tarmac. Then you had to schlep yourself up a flight of stairs before you could actually get on the plane. The flight back itself seemed more comfortable. I am not sure why – maybe because it wasn’t a red-eye. Icelandair did hand out these delicious little chocolates and also a tiny box of macarons. We arrived into the airport in Portland, OR (PDX) pretty much on time.


Icelandair's tasty chocolates

I thought they tasted as good as they looked.


So closing thoughts on this trip:

While we enjoyed ourselves ad did a lot of fun and interesting activities, we were not completely wowed by Iceland. Maybe it was because we didn’t get to balance it with the cultural half of the trip we had originally planned. Maybe it was because at times the weather could be so atrocious. Maybe it was because the food was expensive and not consistently that good or fresh. Maybe our expectations for this pandemic make-up trip were too high. Iceland is an amazingly beautiful country and is relatively easy to get to and I would not want to discourage anyone from checking it out for themselves. We picked this time of year because we had expiring credit on Icelandair and also were trying to maximize chances for better weather and fewer crowds.

Make sure you take a lot of layers of clothing and make sure that at least one of the upper and one of the lower layers is waterproof. There is nothing worse than getting soaked to the skin and then being subjected to heavy wind gusts. Buying clothing in Iceland is really expensive. We probably could have done without our winter jackets but definitely wore a variety of all of the other layers depending on what the weather was doing at any given moment. We also brought extra towels but you only really need them for a) if you are going to check out a public pool or b) they come in handy to wipe yourself down if you get caught out in heavy rain.

Stay aware of the weather as roads can be closed and activities cancelled. Fortunately, we were able to participate in everything but it never occurred to me that they could and would close the roads at times. Also, despite what seems like relatively short distances on the map can translate to longer driving times than you would think. Plus there are always many places to stop to admire the scenery. I worked really hard in the planning stages to give ourselves enough time to do at least the short hikes and to appreciate the beauty on display. I also wanted to be realistic to give us some down time to just rest and relax. Yes, you can race around the entire island but I don’t think it would be very enjoyable.

Things we didn’t do – well as I mentioned before NO NORTHERN LIGHTS. I would hope that most people planning a trip to Iceland realize that they have to go when there are actually dark skies which means going in the wintertime. Other things we didn’t do: try a public swimming pool, visit OmNom Chocolate, visit the Phallological Museum, go snowmobiling or trekking on a glacier, visit Stuðlagil or see the waterfalls in northern Iceland – Dettifoss or Godafoss.

For fans of the Game of Thrones TV series (which I am not), there are numerous Icelandic sites that acted as the backdrop for various scenes. Similar to Lord of the Rings sites in New Zealand, you could organize your trip around finding these sites.

If you have enough time, I highly recommend that you take the opportunity to do at least a day trip out of Reykjavik if you really want to see Iceland. While it can be expensive to rent a car especially once you tack on all of the insurance, but it does give you the freedom to set your own schedule and to stop whenever and wherever you want.

Blue Lagoon vs Sky Lagoon – I don’t think you can go wrong with either. Our preference was Sky Lagoon but just barely. We loved visiting both of them.

Think carefully about whether you really want to bring a camera or if you will just your cell phone. While my husband is an avid photographer, there were many times when the weather or activity was not conducive to bringing out the camera. I would highly recommend buying a waterproof case for your cell phone. We definitely used them - for instance when we visited Sky and Blue Lagoons and for the glacier lagoon kayaking trip.

And a few more photos to entice you as I finish this trip report:

"Just another glacier" that you can see from Route 1.

Dyrhólaey seen in the distance on a clear day.

Basalt columns along Reynisfjara beach


61luv2travel is offline  
Old Jun 13th, 2023, 08:15 PM
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Your photos are stunning. The landscape looks so incredible that I very much want to book my trip. Thank you again for sharing your experience with us.
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Old Jun 14th, 2023, 10:05 AM
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Thanks for this trip report. You photos are terrific, and you have provided a lot of helpful detail.
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Old Jun 14th, 2023, 10:12 AM
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To any Fodorites reading this trip report - sorry about the duplicate posting of the final thoughts.

Thanks for the various supportive comments. I love to write about the trips and hope that the (sometimes agonizing) detail can help others with their plans. I noticed that there haven't been that many recent trip reports on Iceland so thought it might be of some use. After all, I have also benefited from the trip reports of others - whether they are posted on Fodors or other sites.
Finally, I should acknowledge my husband's contribution as he is the amazing photographer. It works out so well that he loves to take the pictures as I am a terrible photographer and I also am the type who would rather just sit and look at where I am. I get the best of both worlds - enjoyment in the moment and fantastic photos to enjoy afterward.

Next trip will be East Africa in late August - so completely different part of the world! I guess I am still in the revenge travel mode.
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Old Jun 14th, 2023, 04:48 PM
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61luv2travel, I have no travel interest in Iceland but clicked on your report this morning. And went right down the travel rabbit hole. This is a great trip report, so much detail, so well written and such wonderful photos. While I will never use this great information I want to thank you for taking me to Iceland.
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