Iceland: Let the Honeymoon Begin!

Last night we boarded our plane in Boston, headed to Reykjavik to start our honeymoon.  It started off a bit crappy since: 1) Logan Airport blows and we almost missed our flight because we had to sprint from one terminal to another, stand in line to check-in for our next flight and go back through security, and 2) the entire plane was crammed full so we couldn’t even sit next to one another.  But this morning, things started looking up as we opened our eyes to find the plane starting its descent into Keflavik Airport in Iceland.  I was giddy as I waited impatiently to file off the plane.  Let the honeymoon begin (FINALLY)!!

First thing, of course, we found out our checked bag had been lost.  (Eff you, Logan Airport.)  Thankfully, we had a carry on and we’d decided last minute to each pack a few things in each of the bags rather than having a “mine” and “yours” suitcase.  Otherwise, one of us would have been without clean skivvies.  By the time we checked with the lost baggage desk, they already knew our bag was still in Boston and scheduled to arrive on the next flight in.  Sometime tomorrow morning.  Super.

We had arranged for a rental car from the airport, so as we came through “Customs” (I use the word lightly as we barely had our passports looked over, and never had anyone so much as even glance at our luggage on the way out), we found a very blond, blue-eyed man (just as I’d pictured) with our names on a sign.  He dropped us at our rental car on the Atak* lot several blocks away and the adventure began!

*We chose Atak because we got a discount by booking them through our hotel.  If you’re traveling to Iceland, be sure to check with your hotel to see what kind of deals they might offer.  And don’t be afraid to negotiate.  We did and got 20% off our rental cost.  While Atak isn’t one of the big names we’re used to, we found that it was much cheaper than bigger names, and we were just as happy with the rental.

We had a tiny little Ford Fiesta – manual, of course – so lucky K got to drive while I relaxed, looked around and took pictures.  This car was so tiny, every time a gust of wind came through, I thought we might fly right off the road and tumble around.  And in Iceland, we found, it’s really quite windy.

AtakRental

As we left from Keflavik and started toward Reykjavik, it looked as if we might be driving on the moon.  The Keflavik area is the most recent addition to the island (several thousand years ago), and you can tell by the abundant presence of lava.  Pretty much all of the landscape was black lava rock covered in neon-ish green moss.  It was such a strange sight – very barren and dark looking – but really neat.  It was slightly reminiscent of Juneau, AK, with all the moss, yet nothing like it at all with the underlying lava.  I have to say, even with the recent volcanic activity, this is nothing like what I expected Iceland to look like.

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VolcanicMoss1

The Blue Lagoon:

Since we weren’t able to check into the hotel until 3:00 – and it was only 8:15 – we decided to head to the Blue Lagoon on the way in.  As we approached the lagoon, we started to see signs of the geothermal pool – steam rising up off of the landscape and blue, silica-filled water creeping up toward the road.

SilicaWater

We pulled in around 8:30, and while we waited for the doors to open at 9:00, we snoozed a bit in the car.  The smell of sulfur and the gusts of wind rattling the car made it difficult to sleep, but we managed a few winks.  At 9:00, we headed up to the doors to find – starting September 1 – the doors don’t open ’til 10:00.  (Eff.)  So back to the car we went for a few more zees.  Around 10:45, I woke with a start when I heard car doors slamming, to find the parking lot had completely filled in around us, and in we went.

To me, the Blue Lagoon was nothing but a huge tourist trap.  I kind of knew this going in, but felt like it was advertised as such an “Iceland staple” that we had to go see what it was all about.  We paid €38 each for the experience – €28 for entry, €5 for a towel and €5 for a robe (since it was frickin’ freezing and windy as hell outside).  Not really worth it for the short amount of time we spent here.

BlueLagoon

Even in the warm water (98-102F) with the chill in the air and the whipping wind, I couldn’t stay warm in the pool.  As we moved around from place to place the temperature of the water shifted and I couldn’t shake the chills.  We did grab some of the silica mud that they had stashed in large boxes around the lagoon and slathered it on our faces.  I’m not sure that it did much of anything to help, but hey, it didn’t hurt either and it’s part of the experience.  What I reeeaaaallllly wish I hadn’t done was put my head under the water to rinse the silica off my face.  The silica in the water wreaked total havoc on my hair – to the point where I drenched my hair in conditioner before and after the bath and still couldn’t get a comb through my hair!

My spa experience lasted maybe an hour at best before I had to get out – which was a whole different kind of fun.  We jumped out of the water and sprinted – well, more like waddle-ran to avoid busting our asses on the wet cement – to get our robes and get wrapped up and warm before we turned to popsicles.  It was actually pretty funny, once we were inside all warm and cozy eating our lunches, to sit and watch others do the same.

We got dressed and went to the lobby for lunch.  We wanted to try the buffet with Icelandic dishes – minke whale, puffin and lamb – but they weren’t open yet.  So we settled for some overpriced sandwiches, chips and sodas at the “cafe” which reminded me of a convenience store stashed in the middle of the spa.  I bought some candies that I thought were chocolate, popped three or four in my mouth and was surprised to find they were actually black licorice.  Ugh.  Turns out I’m not great at reading Icelandic.

TopasCandies

We sat along the window, watching everyone in the lagoon as we ate, considered going back in and decided against it.  Aside from getting a massage or drinking at the bar – both of which would have cost and arm and a leg – we didn’t see much else to entertain ourselves.  So after no more than 2 hours at the Blue Lagoon, we were off and headed to Reykjavik.

Half way there, we realized – uhhh…in the wedding madness, I forgot to write down the address of the apartment in our travel docs!  I had our confirmation printout, but no address.  After our experience in Alaska last summer – when I drove us to where I thought Wrangell-St. Elias National Park would be, but it turned out not to be because I was using a cartoon map and then we had to drive an extra 2 hours to get to the entrance – K was less than ecstatic with me when I told him I had no address.

And then I tried to rationalize my lack of preparedness the same way I rationalized using a cartoon map in AK… “It’s Reykjavik, Iceland.  It can’t be that big of a city.  How hard could it possibly be to find our hotel?!”  Heh.  Turns out it was more difficult than we – well, I – thought.  (In my defense – to be fair – when we asked the guy at the rental car place if he had a map to help us get around Reykjavik, he laughed and told us we didn’t need one.  So, hah!)

We drove around for a bit with K cursing and me laughing at the whole situation before we finally pulled into a parking lot and asked for directions.  Turns out, we’d driven past the front of the hotel several times, but it looked like a store front on the main shopping street, so we’d missed it.

RoomWithAView

At this point, we tried to pay for the parking meter in the lot we’d pulled into so that we could go check in at the hotel.  But we couldn’t get the meter to accept our credit card, we didn’t have any kronur, and as I mentioned before, I’m apparently not great at reading Icelandic, so I really didn’t know what the crap the meter was saying to me.  We had 2 hours before the lot was free, so we decided to just leave, drive around and explore and come back to check in later.

We chose to drive Route 1 north out of Reykjavik since our other tours will be taking us south.  When we got to the town of Akranes, we headed east around Hvalfjörður, which we didn’t realize until later is the whale fjord where they “process” the whales (ie: make them into food).  And from there, we rounded back to Reykjavik.

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As we started north out of Reykjavik, the scenery quickly changed from city to remote openness, with sea on one side and large, grassy green mountains on the other.  The feet of the mountains were dotted with small farm houses and grazing wild sheep and horses.

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IcelandDrive3

IcelandDrive2

At one point I asked K to turn off on a dirt road so that I could get pictures of the sheep.  As we pulled onto the road, there were the sheep – just loose and roaming around eating grass and meandering up the middle of the road like nothing.

SheepRoad

There were dozens of beautiful, wild Icelandic horses lazing in open pastures with rocky mountains and perfect blue-and-white skies for backdrops.

WIldHorses

We drove through a very natural, excavated, dirt-looking tunnel – not like the concrete monstrosities we drive through in the US – that was very close quarters and very looooong. We found out later that this tunnel went underneath the inlet of Hvalfjörður, which made me even more squeamish to know that we’d been driving under water!  We also found out once we got to the other side of the tunnel that there was a toll to go through it.  And we had no kronur on us, still.  Luckily, we were able to use our credit card to pay for it since there were no signs at all warning of a toll on the other side of tunnel.

We made a quick loop through the town of Akranes, decided there wasn’t really anything to see there, and turned off on Route 47 to head around the fjord.  Ohmygosh – driving around the fjord was so remote, peaceful, relaxing, and just flawlessly, naturally beautiful.  It reminded me to some degree of our drive around Kluane Lake last summer, yet still so different and so…Icelandic.  As we drove, we didn’t pass much other than sheep and horses, with the occasional farmhouse thrown in the mix.  Every once in a while, we came around a curve in the road and had to slam on the brakes to avoid a head-on collision with a sheep.  We wound around and along the fjord as the sun began to sink, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery and each other’s company.

Fjord2

Fjord1

These are my favorite moments in life – when it’s just K and me with no distractions; just simple nature and us.  It’s peaceful and calming.  And it reminds me that this is truly all I need in life – my best friend, a sense of adventure and the world in front of us.  In these moments, I have no stress and life is truly and simply perfect.

RKFjord

At one point, we pulled onto a little road where a couple of horses were grazing so that I could get out and pet them.  I’d heard Icelandic horses are super friendly, and that certainly seems to be true.  They weren’t the least bit scared as I approached them – more curious than anything.  As I stood petting them, they were sniffing, licking and nuzzling me, each seeming to fight the other for more of my attention.  It was really cool.

IcelandicHorses

They looked so sad when we pulled away and left.  (Then again, maybe that was just me projecting my feelings onto them.)  And there, in the middle of Iceland, at 28 years old, I finally had my stereotypical girl-wanting-a-pony moment.  “But I don’t want to leave.  I want to take one home!  Pleeeaaaassssee?!”  Turns out, K is pretty good at saying no.  So here I sit with no horse.  What a load of crap!

We finished our drive back in Reykjavik, dropped our car back in the parking lot, and headed off to check into our hotel.

Room With a View:

I found this place online after a lot of research and recommendations and we weren’t disappointed.  We stayed in Apartment 411 with a sea view.  The room was very modern European with the furnishings.  We had a pretty good sized bathroom (by European standards, of course) with a large jacuzzi tub that doubled as our shower.  We had a kitchen area – minus a stove – fully furnished with dishes, silverware, etc. that was tucked away neatly into a small closet.  We also had a TV with – to K’s delight – multiple English channels, DVD player, large sofa, coffee table, large closet and bed.

The bed was comfy, but strange.  There was a small down-filled sleeping bag-like thing in the middle of the bed, barely big enough for the two of us to fit into, but that was the only blanket of substance on the bed.  The only other blanket was a very thin bedspread.  With me being as big of a blanket hog as I am, I think K will spend a lot of his time fighting for his share of the warmth.

The hotel was in a fantastic location – right smack dab in the center of the Reykjavik shopping and restaurant center.  We had great shopping right outside our door, several good pubs within steps from our door and great restaurants within a couple of blocks.  They city center with Parliament, etc. was only blocks away, as was the large, iconic Reykjavik church, Hallgrimskirkja.  There was also a 24-hour supermarket within a couple of blocks.  And we had fantastic views of sunrise from the room window.

Potturinn og Pannan:

For dinner tonight, we decided to try Potturinn og Pannan at the recommendation of the guy working at the hotel desk.  We told him we wanted authentic Icelandic and he told us this was the place for lamb.  It was a nice walk from the apartment to the restaurant – just a few blocks down toward Parliament (about 5 minutes).  The restaurant looks like a small house, and it blends in so well as a house that we actually walked past the front a few times before finding the place.

PotturinnogPannan

Inside, the seating was in the “living room” area.  The ambiance was very nice with small, quiet tables quite far from one another.  We were one of only two couples in the restaurant at 9pm on a Tuesday.  We walked in with no reservations – though they’re recommended – and got a great table by the window.  The feel was romantic with candlelight and white Christmas lights supplementing the dim bulbs along the walls and fading twilight outside the window next to us.

RKPotturinn

We both ordered grilled lamb with bearnaise sauce, baked potato and grilled veggies.  I had a salad and K had lobster bisque.  We tried for a bottle of wine, but there are no local wineries (shocking, I know), so we went for beer instead.  I had a Viking and K had a Thule (Too-lah) – both Icelandic brews.

IcelandicBrews

PotturinnFood

The food was delicious.  The lamb was tender and tasty, the baked potato was perfectly cooked and covered with sour cream only – no butter, and the veggies were perfectly grilled.  The salad was, well…salad.  The ingredients were fresh.  The lobster bisque was delicious, creamy and had a good amount of large, tender lobster chunks in it.  As for the beer – both the Viking and Thule were light beers, fairly similar in taste, though the Thule has a bit of a bitter bite to it.  We both agreed that Viking was the winner here.

The service was wonderful.  The girl who was waiting on us was helpful and attentive without being intrusive at all.  In Iceland, food and drink are quite expensive, so we expected an outrageous bill.  For the quality of the meal, atmosphere and service that we were provided, we were happy with the €118 price tag (not including tip).

After dinner, we wandered around the city for a bit exploring, and burning off some of our dinner.  Reykjavik is a very small, quaint, easy-to-walk city.  We really loved the feel.  We found a 24-hour supermarket and bought toothpaste and hair conditioner since our toiletries were in our suitcase stuck in Boston.  We wandered a little more in the cold and mist before we found ourselves back at Room With a View.  We’re turning in early since we know we have a big day of exploring Þórsmörk ahead of us tomorrow.

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