A Long Weekend in Iceland
Iceland is h-o-t, people. A Jane reader asked us the other day about whether we had written anything on it as her friend was planning a trip there soon. (If you are like us, it seems like every other day you hear about someone you know visiting the land of ice and fire.) Well, yes, as a matter of fact, C wrote a terrific guest post a while back about the trip she and her family took to Iceland. But before C’s clan descended on the island, C, B, and I spent a long weekend in Iceland getting a taste for Reykjavik and its surroundings. Here is what we saw and did during our short sample of this delicious country.
Long Weekend in Iceland Itinerary
Friday, October 31
We purchased a package deal from Iceland Air that covered our flight, hotel and some excursions. We flew to Seattle and then on to Reykjavik, landing on the morning of the November 1. The flight wasn’t bad at all–around seven hours so we were able get some sleep.
Saturday, November 1
First up on our itinerary was a stop at the famous Blue Lagoon. This was a must see for B, as she does enjoy herself some geothermal activity. Part of our package was the Spa Comfort Experience, which meant we got admission to the lagoon, some algae for a facial, and a fancy drink. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Blue Lagoon is essentially a giant swimming pool full of hot water pumped from a nearby geothermal plant. It is full of rich minerals which give it a lovely milky blueish color. This was especially striking against the black lava fields that the lagoon is set smack dab in the middle of.
We did some research about visiting hot pots (hot pools) in Iceland and learned that it is quite the traditional experience and you should follow the rules, like washing completely before you enter. (I wussed out and kept the swimmer on in the communal shower.) None of us decided to get a massage on the floating table, but we very much enjoyed the soothing warm water which helped us ease out the kinks from the flight. It was a great way to begin our vacation. After a nice, relaxing soak, we were ready to take on Reykjavik.
Our hotel was on the edge of town, but luckily that didn’t mean much as Reykjavik is quite compact. We were able to check in and walk to the downtown area, which saved the expense of taking a cab back and forth. The word ‘Iceland’ is about the only thing that we could distinguish in the Icelandic language. It is a seriously foreign language and our rudimentary understanding of the romance languages was of no use to us. Fortunately, most people speak fluent English. It was quite striking to me that their English was so good; it was difficult to tell if people were native Icelanders as their accent was so minimal.
We had picked out a few destinations for the downtown area and spent the rest of the day checking some of them off.
This country has a few characteristics that result in beautiful hand-knit sweaters. 1. It is freezing most of the time, thus necessitating proper attire. 2. It can be dark a large part of the winter, so there is plenty of time to knit. 3. Icelandic sheep are the fluffiest and furriest sheep I’ve ever seen, hence an abundant supply of raw materials.
With all of these things going for it, we knew we were going to be purchasing a LOT of wool products and wanted to deposit most of our change in a store where adorable little old ladies hand knit sweaters, scarves and mittens. (I didn’t actually see an adorable little old lady knitting, but in my mind that’s what happens.) The prices at this store are also much more reasonable than other stores around town and I picked up my souvenir from the trip here, a beautiful long cardigan lopapeysa (sweater).
Next on the list of things to see was the KronKron store. B had found some KronKron shoes on the interwebs a few years before and really wanted to see them live and in person. This store sells a variety of clothes, but we were there to check out the shoes. If you visit their website and are remotely shoe-oriented, you will see why. These things are seriously works of art with unique designs and materials. Sadly, they were as expensive as works of art so we left empty handed.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
Next we visited the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yep, it is just what is sounds like. Perhaps not the most obvious place for a group of ladies to visit, but it was interesting, if a little small. (Pause for jokes about how size really does matter.)
At this point in the day, we were getting a little jet lagged so we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, November 2
Our next day was spent again exploring downtown Reykjavik. Highlights included the following:
Kolportid Flea Market
This market was a rabbit warren of stalls selling all sorts of weird stuff. We ended up purchasing some black lava earrings, but if we were in need of old records, vintage suits, crappy plastic toys or any assortment of knitted items, this is the place to go.
The Harpa is a conference hall right on the edge of the water in downtown Reykjavik. You can’t miss it, it is a cube building made of glass that looks purple and blue. It is really quite pretty. You can spend a lot of money and get all dressed up and go to a fancy pants performance, but since we are cheap and not particularly cultured we opted for a light show. This light show sounded cooler than it actually was–we went into a square shaped room and they displayed scenes from Iceland on all of the walls and ceiling. There was one little bench in the middle of the room so we figured people just stand around and watch, but we opted to lay on the floor and take it easy.
That’s not a typo. That’s the name of the Icelandic Lutheran Cathedral that is the tallest structure in Iceland. It is a white, pointed building and has lovely views of the city and harbor if you climb to the top. I like Lutheran Cathedrals; they have such clean lines and are simple without feeling austere. The Hallgrímskirkja did not disappoint on this front. There is a giant statue out front dedicated to Leif Erikson, the first European to land in America, which, as Americans, we appreciated.
Northern Lights Tour
The second excursion included in our package was a tour to see the Northern Lights. This was supposed to be on a boat on the water, but it was crazy windy and the powers that be replaced a water experience with a bus. We weren’t complaining. Our bus picked us up and near as we can figure, took us to the middle of nowhere to remove all light pollution and give us the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights…that is, if the Northern Lights were active. They weren’t. After a few cups of hot chocolate and nothing but cloudy skies, we headed back to our hotel. Wohn, wohn, wohn.
Monday, November 3
The main activity for this day was our final excursion, the Golden Circle tour, a chartered bus ride that took us to several interesting spots away from the city.
Our first stop was a giant greenhouse where a very industrious family grows tomatoes (year round) for pretty much the whole island. We walked around the greenhouse and sampled some tomato soup. B was fascinated by the geothermal element, which provides both heat and light to the greenhouse. Iceland really knows how to harness its renewable energy.
Next we visited a gorgeous waterfall called Gulfoss. The Hvita river goes down a few little drops and then plunges twice, deep into a canyon below. The wind was ferocious at this stop and even though we were in our winter gear, it was still bone chilling.
This is the place where all other geysers get their name. It was a bit like Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful; every so often a big plume of steam would get released from the Strokkur geyser and hot water gurgled out of smaller geysers all around the area.
The Pingvellir National Park is the place in Iceland where the two tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. It is a remarkably pretty area with dark lava, green moss and blue rivers. A few weeks ago, I was watching a documentary on the Vikings and learned that Leif’s dad, Erik, was kicked out of Iceland after the governmental gathering at Pingvellir. Cool.
After we returned to the city, our last stop of the day was the Perlan. This large structure on the outskirts of the city used to be hot water storage tanks for the city, but was converted into a meeting space/restaurant/shopping center/performance hall. Walking up to it, I was struck by how much it reminded me of R2-D2. You can go out on the observation level and see pretty much 360 degrees. The view was very nice, which made up for the lackluster food we had at the restaurant.
Tuesday, November 4
The next day, we packed up and got ready to head home. This meant stopping at a grocery store for one last container of Skyr, a yogurt that puts all other yogurt to shame, and buying many skeins of Icelandic wool, just to get rid of our extra Kronurs. Then we headed to the airport for our flight back to the U.S. and work the next morning.
During this quick trip to Iceland, we were able to get a good feel for Reykjavik, see some of the natural wonders that make this country so spectacular, and briefly experience the everyday happenings of the Icelanders. Iceland isn’t a cheap country. In fact, it is one of the most expensive we’ve been to, but our package tour helped a great deal. Flights from Seattle, lodging and the three adventures cost us about $1,000 each. Not cheap, but really not that bad for a fun getaway to a new country.
Iceland is an amazing country. Just look at C–less than a year after our long weekend, she had convinced her family to go visit for a much longer vacation. It is well worth the trip, even if it is just a quick weekend like what we did. A word of warning though: the secret is out. Tourism in the country has grown exponentially in the last few years. So much so that Iceland has decided to increase a tourist tax in an effort to get the industry back in hand. When you go, you should expect to see lots of other tourists. That being said, where there’s steam there is usually a geyser, so the tourism is justified.