Trip to Iceland
Mike and Judy Henderson
July 3 to July 14, 2016
One place neither Judy or I had ever been was Iceland, so when we were considering where to go, Iceland appealed to us. There are many ways to see Iceland. There are land tours where you travel by bus, or you can rent a car and drive around the island, or you can take a cruise that also includes land segments. We decided to take a cruise, and we chose the Tauck cruise line. They only operate in the month of July, and we take the ship on July 6. We're going a few days in advance to give us time to see Reykjavik.
The cruise is shown in the following picture. We depart from and return to Reykjavik but we don't go completely around the island. We do go above the Artic Circle for a short time, however.
7/3/2016 to 7/4/2016 Today's the day we leave for Iceland! Here we are in our driveway ready for the airport limo. Our flight was at 8:30am but I was concerned that there might be TSA delays due to the Fourth of July holiday travel so we were picked up at 5:30am. We didn't get a lot of sleep last night and have a long day of travel ahead.
There aren't a lot of flights to Reykjavik so we had some difficulty putting together a good flight itinerary. The best flight to Reykjavik was out of Minneapolis (MSP) so we had to work back from that. We chose a Delta flight out of LAX that gave us a comfortable cushion between connections in case of delay. As a result, we had a 5-hour layover in Minneapolis. Reykjavik's Keflavik airport (KEF) is the international airport. There's an airport (RKV) very close to Reykjavik but it doesn't serve international passengers.
The flight to MSP was uneventful - Delta did a good job.
Baggage couldn't be checked through, so we had to retrieve our bags and check in with Icelandair. MSP now has two terminals. We landed at Terminal 1 and Icelandair was in Terminal 2. It's quite an adventure to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 at MSP. You take a tram to the end of Terminal 1 and then catch a light rail train to Terminal 2. In the process you change levels in Terminal 1 several times - all of which makes for a confusing transition. But we had a long layover so it was not a problem for us.
After waiting several hours, the time for our flight arrived - but the plane didn't! Eventually it did, a 757, and we departed about two hours late.
In our old age, we appreciate lie-flat seats in business class. Unfortunately, Icelandair does not have lie-flat seats - just partially reclining seats, similar to what you would find in first class on US domestic flights. I suppose this limits the appeal of Icelandair's business class - there were only 6 passengers in business class, including the two of us. Icelandair has a "Premium Economy" that has the same seats as business class but perhaps doesn't provide quite the same service.
Due mostly to the uncomfortable seats, I suppose, we didn't get much sleep. But that turned out to be a good thing because we were able to observe the partial sunset which occurs in the northern hemisphere this time of year, and the snow pack of Greenland as we flew over.
Here's a view of the sunset. This is about as far as the sun goes down at this time of year, and it doesn't stay down for very long - maybe a couple of hours. You can see the sunset colors through the clouds, and the sky is not very dark.
And here's the sun beginning to rise again - just poking its head through the clouds.
The view of Greenland from the plane was amazing. It's completely covered with snow, but there are many features to the snow pack. We saw circles and canyons, odd formations, and I don't know what else. This picture doesn't do it justice because you can see some mountains in the picture. We didn't take a picture of the area where there was nothing but snow pack.
Soon we arrived at KEF and our driver was waiting for us when we left the "arrivals" area. BTW, KEF was originally built by the US during WWII so that planes could help escort cargo ships to England, and could hunt the German U-boats. Planes didn't have the range to cover the North Atlantic from either the US or England so there was a "dead zone" in the North Atlantic prior to building the Iceland air base.
KEF is about 50 km from Reykjavik so we had time to talk with the driver and get some information about Iceland, Reykjavik and local customs (such as whether we should tip and how much). One thing he mentioned is that there are Subway sandwich shops, KFC, and Dunkin' Donuts, but no McDonalds or Starbucks in Iceland.
We arrived at the Skuggi hotel too early to check in, but the staff was very nice and allowed us to store our bags. We took off to explore some of the city.
Reykjavik is not a big city (about 130,000 people) and is typically Scandinavian in its architecture. Very clean and orderly.
The desk clerk suggested a breakfast restaurant in the harbor area and we headed that way.
We had scrambled eggs with bread, cheese, ham and coffee.
While it was quite good, it was expensive - about $35 for the two of us for breakfast. Iceland is an expensive country. Much of their food has to be shipped in, which adds to the cost. But other things were expensive, also. We looked at some rain proof jackets in stores and the jackets were very expensive - about $200 to $400 for a jacket that would be quite a bit less in the US.
We walked down a major shopping street, and we also took a look at this Catholic church. This is not the famous Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church, which we plan to visit tomorrow.
And the inside.
We visited the Saga Museum, which is about the Vikings, and walked along the waterfront until we came upon the Harpa Opera House. It's a multi-use facility.
Shortly after checking into our room, about 1:30pm, we immediately fell asleep and slept until about 4:30. Then we unpacked and took showers. It was like a new start on the day.
About 7:30, we decided to go out for a bit of dinner. The hotel recommended a restaurant nearby, the Old Iceland Restaurant.
The had a dinner special of red snapper. Delicious.
When we were waiting to be seated, there was a woman waiting for a table. The restaurant was crowded and there was a table for four available, so we asked her to share our table. She's from Cologne, Germany and was very interesting to talk with.
At this time of year Reykjavik never really gets dark, as you can see from the map below, so we started walking through the town. The shopping street was crowded with pedestrians and the restaurants and coffee shops were crowded.
We went to the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church. This photo was taken about 9:30 at night. The shadows are long but there's lots of light.
It's a poured concrete structure so it's fairly modern. It was completed in 1986. Here's the inside.
And the organ pipes. We'll see it in detail tomorrow with our guide, learn its history, and go to the top of the spire for the great view of the city.
Then we headed back to the hotel to try to sleep. With the light outside and our jet lag, we'll probably be up very early.
P.S. Iceland was playing France in soccer today and the country was going crazy. You can see a story about it here.
Our trip continues here.