16 March 2011

Iceland Travelogue

This is long and picture-heavy, but it only begins to touch on everything we saw and did on our too-short visit. I hope you enjoy it, and people who want to see more photos can go to my Flickr photo set here.

Day One

Our flight from Boston was a 4.5 hour redeye that landed us in Reykjavík at 6:40AM GMT, which means that to us it was still 1:40AM. On top of that, Iceland is at the far western edge of the GMT zone, so sunrise wasn't until about 8AM. This is what it looked like when we got on the shuttle bus to the hotel.


We planned ahead for this, though, and decided to spend our first day at the Blue Lagoon spa. We stayed at Icelandair's Hotel Loftleiðir, which is a bit out of the way by the municipal airport. This was the view from our window when we checked in:


We didn't have to wait too long to catch the bus out to the Blue Lagoon, though, where this was the view:


Despite the snow and temperatures around 24F/4.4C, the water was blissfully warm. There's a geothermal power plant next to the spa, and it's water from there that's piped in to keep the lagoon at a constant temperature. Then there are the steam baths and the sauna and the waterfall. Ah, the waterfall! Hot water crashing down as a sort of natural (well, semi-natural) neck and shoulder massage.

After we were properly wrung out and relaxed, we headed back to the hotel, then into the city for a bit of a wander and to find some dinner. The hotel put on an excellent breakfast buffet, so we generally filled up on that in the morning, which helped keep our meal expenses down. That evening, we went to Grænn Kostur, which is a small vegetarian restaurant tucked away off one of the main shopping streets. Very tasty and not too bad for Reykjavík pricewise.

Day Two

Even though we booked a "build your own" package, Icelandair included a horse ride on the lava fields. David's allergic and has always recoiled in horror at the thought of getting on a horse, but he said this time that he wouldn't pass it up if it was already included. I hadn't been on a horse in over 20 years myself, but I got a nice older gelding named Hrafn (Raven).


Hrafn new his job well, so I could pretty much give him his head and let him do his thing. David's horse, Raggi, on the other hand, was the laggard of the bunch, so I got behind them after we stopped for a brief break to help make sure they kept up. The ride was beautiful, but the wind was biting as all hell, so I was glad to have my new mittens and my qiviuk cowl.


After we got back to the hotel, we headed downtown to one of the municipal pools, which are all geothermal with hottur peittur (hot "pots", or tubs) and steam baths, to freshen up a bit before going to the inaugural open house for Knitting Iceland. If you have even the slightest interest in visiting Iceland, I highly recommend checking out Ragga's tours. More about that later, but she's phenomenal.

Afterward, we grabbed a bit of food at a local supermarket (Did I mention how expensive stuff is?) and headed back to the hotel to eat a quick bite and get changed. I had told David I planned a surprise for that evening and had managed to keep him from figuring out until we got there that I'd gotten us tickets to that evening's symphony performance. It was nice to see the mix of ages attending, plus lots of people in gorgeous lopapeysa, and the performance was just perfect - a very nice cap to a great day.

Day Three

While David slept in, I found Ragga on Facebook. We had talked a bit the day before about doing a half-day knitting tour with her. In practically no time at all, she threw us together a really nice afternoon outing. I'll save details for the next post, but I can't say enough about what a nice day she made of it.

At the end of the afternoon, she dropped us off in town at Nuðluskálin (Noodle Bowl), which we'd seen looking for Grænn Kostur a couple days earlier and which happens to belong to friends of hers. Again, it was a really good meal at a relatively cheap price, though this was where I got my first hint that Icelanders don't really do spicy food.

Day Four

Saturday was the day we signed for an all-day Golden Circle tour, which makes a loop through some important areas in Icelandic history, as well as to some of the major natural features within ready driving distance of Reykjavík. The sun had just come up as we left the city, and Esja looked lovely.


We also got to see a good bit of the Icelandic countryside.



And we eventually worked our way out to Gullfoss.


Before backtracking a bit to Haukadalur to see the geysers. Geysir himself, the one all the others are named for, is currently a steaming hillock, but Strokkur still erupts every few minutes, and I was able to get this shot of the steam bubble just before it erupted.


From there it was on to Þingvellir, where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are slowly pulling away from one another and where the Icelandic parliament, the Alþingi, used to convene. Along the way, we passed by the first first permanent school building in the country, built alongside the small basin lake Laugarvatn.


Þingvellir is at the edge of a large lake, Þingvallavatn.


If you look at the far side of the lake in that photo, you can see a black band where the valley is literally sinking as the two tectonic plates pull apart. The only other place on earth where this can be seen is in the Rift Valley in Africa. This is what the rift looks like at Þingvellir:


Way down below this huge crack in the earth, at the site where the Alþingi used to convene, is the Icelandic president's summer cottage, along with a small chapel and cemetery.




That I could walk right up to it and not be locked up and shipped off somewhere to be tortured speaks volumes.

Day Five

Our penultimate day was on Sunday, so most shops were closed. The weather was warming up, but we decided to venture out into the rain showers and do a bit of wandering to see some parts of the city we hadn't really explored. We started by climbing Öskjuhlið, which was right across the street from our hotel, to see Perlan up close.


As the highest point in the city proper, it was a good vantage point to get views of the entire city, including Hallgrímskirkja, which towers over the downtown area.


Then we hopped on the bus to downtown and wandered over to the Kirkjugarður, or old cemetery, to take some photos, because I love the look of grave markers in the snow. I took this photo just because it was a beautiful stone and looked nice with the snow mounded on top. Turns out Teitur Finnbogason was Iceland's first ever veterinarian (dýralæknir)!


After that we walked over to Hallgrímskirkja and headed up to take some photos from the top of the bell tower, after I talked with the woman in the church gift shop about the baby blanket she was crocheting. This shot is of the area we'd just come from. The patch of trees in the upper left is Kirkjugarður. The clear spot just below that is Tjörnin, at the right side of which is the Raðhús, or City Hall.


From there, we headed back to the bus station and caught a bus out into the eastern suburbs. I mentioned before that our hotel gave us free passes on request to visit local geothermal swimming pool complexes (sundlaugar), since their own pool area is under renovation at the moment. We took advantage of them and tried out a few different pools. Our Sunday choice was Árbæjarlaug. The water slide was closed and it was anything but sunny, but sitting in an outdoor hot tub while snow squalls blew through was nothing short of heavenly.

After we were sufficiently blissed out, and as the pool was nearing closing time, we hopped the bus back to downtown and had dinner at a Nepalese restaurant, Kitchen-Eldhús, which was phenomenal. As I often do at Indian restaurants, though, I asked for some chili sauce on the side and they didn't have any. This prompted a conversation with the owner about Icelandic palates and the difficulties he went through when they first opened in understanding that when an Icelander said "hot", they really meant slightly hotter than mild.

They did scare up some lime-chili pickle mix for me, though, and David and I practically had to roll ourselves out the door, we were so stuffed. They were one of the pricier places we ate, but importing foods common to the Indian subcontinent is not cheap, and for the area they were pretty reasonable. They were also very much worth it, and I'd absolutely recommend them for a nice evening out.

Day Six

For our final day, we decided once again to head to the Blue Lagoon. Unlike the first day, the winds had shifted around and it was blowing a proper gale. Half the time we were there, the pounding waterfall was actually blowing backward. Still, the steam rooms were nice and hot and the lagoon itself still warm, and we made the most of it. Of course, after days of snow and biting cold, Iceland all of a sudden looked like this:



I didn't feel cheated, though, because I decided long before then that I was definitely going to go back. And if I ever win the lottery, moving there (or at least buying a nice pièd-a-terre in Reykjavík) is high on my list of things to do now. So steamed out one final time, we hopped the bus back to the airport and, reluctantly, headed home.



JelliDonut said...

OMG! Now I really want to see Iceland even if my S-E-X means what you thought--Stash Enhancing Experience. That completely cracked me up.

LOVE that photo with the green roofs. Beautiful!

WonderMike said...

Really incredible recap of your trip, Mel. It makes me want to go so badly!!!

Thanks for sharing your lovely photographs.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Your excellent travelogue niggles at me to go ‘somewhere'

Mel said...

Lynda: You should!

Also, I meant to bring up Gerri's fear about having difficulties with the language. As a hardcore language nerd, even I didn't try to tackle this one before going. I basically learned two phrases before going and the only one that got any use was "Ég tala ekki íslensku" - I don't speak Icelandic. Most Icelanders speak English, albeit with varying degrees of proficiency, and language presented zero problems.

Yarndude said...

Wow, it looks like you had an incredible trip! I love the picture of the bubbling geyser.

Luuworld said...

thanks for sharing these pictures! i'm really fascinated by iceland. would love to go someday. the scenery looks amazing. looks like you had a wonderful time there.

if you're into knitting, you should visit norway. there's a long tradition of knitting over here. can't say i know very much about it, but i grew up wearing knitted sweaters, and almost all adults own at least one knitted sweater with some kind of traditional pattern. :)

Michelle M. said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful time! I love the photos - the steam bubble, the horses, the steam baths... gorgeous. I love the photo of the Hallgrims cityscape with the reds, blues and yellows. Thanks for sharing your adventures : ).