Flying To Reykjavik
Ok. So I got your attention! More about our adventures later in this post. First, we had to get there. Icelandic Air was the airline that flew us from Chicago to Reykjavik nonstop. A couple of things about the airline. They always run late! Everyone we met who has flown this airline claims their flights are all late. The three hour international recommendation means that you are actually there about 4 hours ahead, and you don’t want to sit in their lounge that long. Trust me! It was right out of a third world country type of lounge.
We pre-boarded into business class. The seats are fairly firm, and don’t recline enough to have more than a cat nap since the tailwinds got us to Iceland in about 5. hours! Also, if you tend to get hungry while traveling its best to eat something before boarding Icelandic Air!
Our First Impressions Of Iceland
We landed not too far off schedule despite the delay at O’Hare, and were greeting by Joi (pronounced Joey) our tour guide. He would be with us for the first two days of our ten day stay in Iceland. He had been recommended by our neighbors, and did not disappoint. A cheerful native of Iceland, Joi knew exactly how much to talk, when to let us just be, and when too interject a joke!
Our very first impression of Iceland as we left the airport in Reykjavik, was the feeling we had landed on the moon! The lava dotting the landscape with its ridges and pointedness was surreal. It looks hard and is hard. Not surprising, Joi informed us that Neil Armstrong had come to Ireland to train for going into space and beyond!
The Blue Lagoon Experience
The first stop we had planned was the famous Blue Lagoon. Its close to the airport and makes perfect sense to visit after a long flight. Unknown to us when we booked it six months earlier was that a 5 star resort called Retreat was opening in April along with a spa. Due to our flight being delayed we got upgraded to the spa package. We had signed up for the premium package which includes a 30 minute massage in the lagoon. (I highly recommend choosing that package since our traveling friends opted for the medium package, and found having to disrobe and shower in public to be uncomfortable)
The Blue Lagoon is one of 20 Man Made Wonders of The World. The Lagoon was developed in 1975, and is a hot water spring the color of Tiffany Blue. The temperature in the water is 104 degrees which is a good thing since it was hovering around 45-48 degrees outside,. The feeling of going into the lagoon is amazing. Its filled with silica that makes your skin amazingly silky. My husband, Charlie( a dermatologist ) tells me Its been known to be used for psoriasis patients! The Spa was very Nordic in design and extremely relaxing with all sorts of skin rituals which included algae, and various exfoliating salts and creams. Showers galore and the massage in the water was sheer bliss. My husband and I both agree it was a once in lifetime experience. You float on a thin raft with a blanket over you. The moment you felt any discomfort from the chill, the masseuse proceeds to dunk your body back into the warmth of the lagoon.
This experience is a must for post flight tiredness, and the end result – skin that is silkiness supreme! A word of caution. This is an extremely popular tourist destination so you have to book at least 6 months ahead. A Joi factoid: Beyonce’ rented the entire Blue Lagoon one afternoon after hours for JZ’s birthday in January!
The Golden Circle
Before telling you about the next wonder of this country I have to describe where we stayed in Reykjavik, We discovered an amazing apartment hotel that was scrupulously clean, well appointed and spacious. Its called The Black Pearl and houses only ten rooms. Its conveniently located, and priced a bit more reasonably than hotels that receive referrals from travel agents or cruise lines. It’s great location in Reykjavik, quietness, great bed, shower, and superb service make it a star destination! The next morning after sleeping like a log Joi picked us up promptly for our eight hour tour of the famous Golden Circle. I’m never enthused about this long of a tour, but have to tell you it was beyond amazing!. Joi pointed out the summer homes that dotted the landscape as we drove through the mountains. Many people leave Reykjavik for these homes so they can be near a Lake.
We could see from our car the pipe that runs from the hot river into the city and supplies Reykjavik with its water supply. Water seems to be the operative word here. The water running from the glaciers took 35 years to run into the Lake. The biggest lake is here and contains glacial water that has been cleaned. We made several stops on the Golden Circle that involved the marvels of water. Hot water streams, clear water where you could see to the bottom, geysers, fissures, bread making from the water, and glorious waterfalls ensconced in geological caverns. The water is so pure you can see money thrown in at the bottom!
We stopped for an Icelandic lunch at at tomato farm that began with greenhouse farming in 1946. Tomatoes are grown year round in 5,000 square meters of electrically lit greenhouses using Icelands natural resources. They supply only to companies in Iceland. Joi explained that their natural resources which help them include hot and cold water, electricity, CO2 and pumice!
Joi, Charlie and I were escorted to a table set for us with fresh basil plants and water infused with small tomatoes! The big draw here for lunch is the fresh tomato soup and their delicious breads. We were overwhelmed by the taste. Also, since it was raining and 45 degrees out what could be better than hot tomato soup! Another factoid: currently 600 bumblebees are imported from Poland and the Netherlands to help the process of tomatoi-ing., Not sure thats a word! We took a small tour of the greenhouse and saw all the bumblebees. This was after lunch!
More Interesting Icelandic Facts & Stories
Now for some fun facts about Iceland and some recommendations:
— Reykjavik means Smoky Bay
— The country is the size of Texas
— The distance form NYC to Iceland is the same distance from LA to NYC!
— The country is called Iceland. because of the Gulf Stream. The biggest glacier in Europe.
— Beer is a major export but they were not allowed to sell it in stores until 1996 due to a ban on selling beer!
— The largest industries are tourism, fishing, aluminum and horse exporting.
— There is a school that teaches young people how to be an Icelandic housewife! There were 17 girls and 1 guy enrolled in. 2017. Yikes!
Restaurants & Food In Iceland
First, the water is incredibly delicious and lives up to its reputation. Also, I discovered Skyr yogurt and actually loved it. I am a yogurt resister so that is really quite the recommendation., I notice since coming home they sell it at Whole Foods here in the States. The lamb is great and so is the fish! My husband & I had the good luck to stumble on to a trendy restaurant in hipster Reykjavik that was most unusual.
The food presentation was different because they served smaller portions than we are used to coming from Chicago, and we noticed how satisfied we were as we experimented by eating some totally new things!
First, we were served bread in small cut up pieces in a bowl resembling an urn. It was served with Icelandic butter and a small bowl of what looked to be muesli to put on top of the butter. It was really great! Eventually, we probably indulged in what may amount to 2 slices of bread in the US, but on vacay we turn to moderation — including moderation!
We continued to be served smallish plates of food which included our first time eating things like whale and puffin! I have to tell you they tasted like meat and chicken! Very flavorful and interesting. Also, we were told that the lamb served here is organic. Icelanders only part unfertilized food and can boast to having the best meat in the world. I do have to admit that when we asked what some of the small meat selections and were told one would be horsemeat we opted for a fish substitution. This was after my husband blurted out “horse meat?” with most of the other diners turning, and staring at us! Our waitress assured us the horse meat was only from the hip!
Another interesting dish was raw trout tartare served with burnt rhubarb and sesame crackers! Over the top in presentation and flavor!
Restaurants Not To Miss In Reykjavik include:
Sandholtz for breakfast and lunch, The Fish Company and The Fish Grill for lunch or dinner.
Akureyr & Horgarsvelt
We boarded our ship after three wonderful days exploring Reykjavik for a Broadway themed cruise around Iceland. There is enough to tell you about the entertainm on board that could fill another post and will at a later time!
Our second excursion was a horseback riding expedition with ten other cruisers. For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. The weather was perfect and riding an Icelandic horse over the countryside was an unparalleled experience for me. The horses and the people who worked at the horse farm are amazing in their warmth and ability to add little extras to the trip. This included video taping me doing the ‘tolt” gait on my horse which is unique to Icelandic horses. The gait was so smooth and peaceful I could have ridden for hours. The scenery was over and beyond with green mountains capped with snow on one side, and running water on the other. A little dog shepherded our group as he trotted beside us!
The ride was followed by an Icelandic lunch and a hot tub outside with the group while we all gave advice on life to a young college graduate traveling in our group.
This wonderful day ended with the news that we would be passing an iceberg around 2 am! The ability to be able to stay up after being outside most of the day was surprising. Our efforts were rewarded by the beauty of the iceberg. It looked like a museum worthy sculpture. It was pearly white in color with interesting edges and ridges.
If you can pronounce where we were you are as amazing as the island! We took a 30 minute boat ride over to Vigor Island. Much easier to pronounce, too! Vigor means spear, and refers to the shape of the island. The island is only about a 1 mile long and is inhabited by only one farmer and his wife! We were told they finally got electricity on the island in 1984!
We climbed out of the boat and looked around us to discover there were about 80,000 Puffins on the island! They weren’t alone. We saw all kinds of birds; brown birds with red legs, white and grey birds and we knew immediately we were outnumbered!
The island birds are nesting and very protective of their eggs. Our guide instructed us to pick up a stick from the barrel to arm ourselves from being attacked as we walked the Island! Somehow it felt like we were channeling Alfred Hitchcock in his movie, ‘The Birds”. It was scary at first but our sicks kept us safe! My husband was busy taking pictures and forgot to hold his stick overhead which resulted in him being the only one nicked in the head by an angry bird! Luckily, he was wearing a thick hat!
The island houses a windmill brought over from Denmark that was used to grind corn in 1880 and a barn where we were shown how they process left over feathers from nests to make the down for goose filled coats, hats and blankets! It was amazing how soft the feathers are after being disinfected, heated and made ready for sale.
The farmers wife invited us into their hime were she served us marriage cake, coffee and rhubarb jam form her garden!
It was another wonderful day in Iceland.
A Few Last Tips For A Visit to Iceland!
Be prepared for cold weather. We travelled in the first part of July, but don’t let the word – summertime- fool you! The temps hovered between 45-55 degrees with plenty of rain!
I highly recommend going to an Merino Icebreaker store or something similar, and purchasing a thin wool shirt that is really indispensable. It breathes and provides much body warmth. Wear it under everything!
Layer, layer and layer!
Bring a warm scarp or a snarf which can be pulled over your face!
Wear a warm vest and a waterproof jacket.
My waterproof ankle boots and comfortable walking shoes made the hiking and cold weather less of a distraction!
Don’t forget gloves and a hat! Hoods don’t keep you that warm!
Hire Joi(Joey) our Icelandic Tour Guide for a few hours or a few days! He is punctual, drives a clean, comfortable car, and has plenty of good Icelandic stories to share!
He can be reached by emailing him at: Stinajoi@sisnet.is
Here is a Joi joke or two:
Q. What do you do when you get lost in the forest in Iceland?
A: Stand up!
Q. What do they call solar protection in Reykjavik?
A: Rain- Nex!
One last observation about the country is that its shaped(at least to me) like a heart with ventricles! It was apparent to us that the shape is symbolic of the people that live there, too. You won’t be disappointed if your travels take you there!!
I loved seeing the steps from a waterfall where the salmon jump up prior to getting caught! The tallest waterfall is called The Golden Waterfall because someone years ago grew gold in it! The Fontana Spa where the bread is made from the ground daily is a wonder. The hot water process involves bubbly water in the ground and the bread process occurs at 10:30am and 2;30m daily. It takes 24 hours to make the bread which is served at the Spa and a nearby restaurant.
We were also driven to a fissure in the landscape that shows the land divide between Europe and Iceland. Apparently, according to Joi the plates move 2 CM every year!
Our tour of The Golden Circle continued with a tour of an old Parliament where they shot the “Game of Thrones”. Gorgeous. Geysers and waterfalls here are world renown.
Personally, I felt like I was walking on marshmallows. The ground in the Golden Circle is so soft!