An Iceland Travelogue
I visited Iceland several times in the late 90s as Iceland Air often offered the best prices for Boston-Paris flights. You could choose to add a 24- or 36-hour layover free of charge. I enjoyed these layovers, exploring parts of the Iceland not too far from Reykjavik. But I have yet to do a full island tour.
My good friend Cindy just came back from a week in Iceland. As always, she sent around the most detailed and entertaining travelogue of her journey. I asked her if I could share it with you, as it’s just that good! The photos in this post–including some amazing panoramic shots–are also hers.
Thank you, Cindy!
Our trip started with a flight in Wow Airlines – the European equivalent of Spirit or Frontier Airlines…with seating resembling JetBlue. Basically, Wow’s fares are inexpensive, but ratchet up with the most basic of services, including fees for a small carry-on, fees for a large carry-on, fees for picking out a seat before check-in, etc, etc. But the flight was about 6 hours leaving at 5:30pm Sat afternoon and arriving in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, around 4:30am with the time change. Immigration control was super quick and we were on a bus en route to the city which is about a 45 minute ride. We were staying at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica which is about a 20-30 minute walk from downtown but seeing as we had day trips and one overnight which would all pick us up from the hotel, we figured it’d be fine to just cab into downtown for a day or two. Jeff and I were hoping for an early check-in but at 6am, no one had checked out (shocking!), so we headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was our chance to try 3 different kinds of herring (too vinegary for my taste), smoked lamb (decent), and Icelandic cheeses (our favorite by far). The buffet also had regular American breakfast regulars like 4 different types of eggs, bacon, sausage, smoked salmon, and oatmeal. After stuffing ourselves intermittently between naps at the breakfast table, the Hilton had a room for us by 9am which we were supremely grateful for. I had already scheduled massages for Jeff and me at the hotel spa which is always my way of getting over jet lag when traveling east to west, and a bonus is that the spa also had a steam room and sauna…heavenly post massage.
DAY 1 After recuperating from our flight in style, Jeff and I headed downtown to take in a free “donations-only” walking tour by citywalk.is. Our tour guide was Martin, a native Icelander and despite walking outside for 2 hours in -4 degree Celsius weather, his witty humor helped the time pass quickly. We learned that Iceland runs entirely on renewable energy – wind, solar, water and geothermal. Iceland sits on top of a geothermal hot spot – hence, all the amazing lagoons we were planning on visiting, and also why every indoor place is blessedly warm and heated. In fact, the geothermal waters need to be cooled down before entering into the pipes to warm up people’s homes! For that reason, you see what is a common phenomenon in NYC where people open their windows in the dead cold of winter because indoors is so warm! Also, Iceland’s tap water is some of the purest in the world so we just kept refilling our water bottles – a good thing when bottled water can cost up to $5-6 USD each! Geothermal heating also means you can take long hot showers and baths here and the hot water never runs out. It is one of the best things about Iceland.
After our tour and some window shopping, we went to dinner at Kopar, a restaurant in the harbor that was recommended by our food tour guide we were meeting with on Monday. If April’s willingness to recommend restaurants and call to make reservations for us before ever even having met is a sign of how friendly Icelanders are, I’ll take it. We had cod tongue which was fried like fish n’ chips – and surprisingly soft, not chewy like I expected. I had the most amazing langoustine tails and Jeff had a delicious cod dish. But an indication of how expensive Iceland is – our dinner with 2 appetizers and 2 entrees came out to $160+!! Yikes! And a taxi starts out at a base rate of nearly $6.50!
I had heard Iceland was one of the safest countries in the world, which made sense when you realize everyone is out and about and in the capital, there is virtually no security present in front of the prime minister’s hall, parliament, etc, nor did I see a single cop in an entire day of wandering Reykjavik’s streets…and yet, there was no reason to feel anything but entirely safe. Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital, but it feels like a small town with super cute Main Streets. I also thought it’d be a country that had like total darkness in the winter, but turns out Reyjkavik’s climate is pretty similar to NYC. The sun doesn’t rise till around 9 or 10am though and sets around 5pm, so slightly fewer hours of sunlight.