Traveling to Iceland? These Tips Are For You

Well, full disclosure–these tips are MAINLY for OAT travelers who will be taking the Untamed Iceland trip, BUT some of the information just might be useful to everyone, even those of you who decide to “do it yourself”.

Arrival
If you opt to arrive early, or you purchase airfare on your own, you will not be met at the airport by an OAT representative.  Not a problem.  It is relatively easy to get from the airport to downtown Reykjavik and to the Hilton Nordica. 

IMG_5579

One of the many corrugated iron buildings in Reykjavik

Although you COULD take a taxi, that is an expensive option, especially given that Airport Express (the Gray Line) and Flybus offer convenient and cost effective alternatives. More importantly, you don’t really save a lot of time taking a taxi.  

We chose the Gray Line, which has buses leaving on the hour and the half hour.  Click here for their web site, if you want to purchase your ticket on line.  You can also buy your ticket when you arrive, but why add one more thing to do when you are jet lagged?  If you happen to be delayed and miss your time slot, it is not a problem.  You just get on the next bus.

When you clear customs and enter the arrival hall, look to the far left.  The Gray Line representative will be standing there, wearing a bright orange jacket.  He checks you in, asks where you are staying and directs you to the bus.  (You go out the door, follow the covered walkway ALL the way to the end, where it veers to the left.)  If you miss him, that’s not a problem either–just walk to the bus and you will get checked in there.  When you arrive at the bus terminal in Reykjavik, smaller vans are waiting for you.  The staff moves your luggage to the correct van, and off you go, directly to your lodging.  Our cost was $26 per person and the van dropped us at our hotel within minutes. 

What to Pack
Layers, layers, layers.  Even in the summer, it is cold (and wet) in Iceland.  

Many of the activities (ATV, horseback riding, whale watching) provide “outfits” for you to use.  The blue “jumpsuits” we wore during our ATV ride made us look like we were either auditioning for a Ghostbusters movie, or preparing for a lunar landing.  The best part is they were fleece lined.  

Still, you need to bring along warm clothes that can be layered.  Wool socks are wonderful for keeping your feet warm. 

Walking sticks are a matter of preference. I used mine on a walk behind a waterfall,

Can you see the people walking alongside the falls? Look for  dots.  They are actually colored jackets.

through a volcanic crater, and to the glacier. 

Isn’t this glacier incredible?!

They are especially helpful when you are walking through mud or on slippery surfaces.  (What isn’t obvious from the waterfall shot above is how slippery and uneven the rocks were getting to and from it, but we all did just fine and were glad to have had the experience.)
If I hadn’t brought the walking stick,  I would have been okay.  (If I pack it, then damn it, I’m USING it!)

Comfortable, waterproof hiking boots are critical.  You don’t need the real heavy duty ones.  I was happy with my Merrill boots that are slightly higher than a pair of sneakers.  I wore them every day.

At one time, OAT forum posters had recommended bringing water shoes and towels to the Blue Lagoon.  Both are no longer necessary.  What you DO need is shampoo, unless you are content using the gel that Icelanders use for hair, body, and whatever else you want to wash.  That and conditioner are the only hair products the Blue Lagoon supplies in the locker room.  

blue lagoon

No close ups. I want my friends to STAY my friends. Our hair is gooped up with conditioner and we all have the magic facial going for us.

You should also bring your credit card and leave it in your locker, because you can buy drinks while you are in the water.  You get an wrist bracelet that acts as a key to your locker, your “cash” while in the lagoon, and your way to exit…after making good on any purchases, that is, which is why you need that credit card. I LOVED the Blue Lagoon.  Fun fact: our guide told us the name was inspired by the old Brooke Shield movie.

bus

Debby and Laurence, enjoying Icelandic beer

It is a good idea to keep your rain pants, buff, gloves, and binoculars in a zip lock bag that you either take with you every day, or leave on the bus.  The bus is big enough for everyone to have their own seat, which makes travel very pleasant and comfy, and there is plenty of room for your “stuff”. 

We enjoyed a “beer tasting” on the bus.  Surprisingly, given the composition of our group, no one started singing “ninety nine bottles of beer” on the bus.

A bug head net is useful.  I wore mine over a baseball cap, which kept the net off my face, and the net kept the bugs out of my eyes and mouth.  I wish I’d kept the net with me, in my pocket, because those bugs had a way of showing up unexpectedly, sometimes when I’d left the net on the bus.

There is something you DON’T need to bring.  All of the hotels have hair dryers.  Normally, I bring my own because I hate dryers attached to the wall (and all except the Hilton had the wall-attached dryers).  Given the weather in Iceland, it is a mistake to be concerned about hair.  Between the rain and the wind, your hair is going to go wild anyway.

Food
Yes, it is expensive.  Take a look at what $58.80 will get you: two cups of soup, two baguettes, no drinks.  (It is very wise to carry a refillable water bottle).

As you can tell from the cutlery and the tray, this was not a chi-chi restaurant.  Nope.  This was purchased at a gas station/rest area/gift shop/snack bar.

I must admit, though, the soup was absolutely delicious, and I’m a picky eater.  No fermented shark for ME.

We were on our own for dinner the second night of our stay in Stykkisholmur.  Because we’re a group of friends traveling together, we all chose the same restaurant, Narfeyrarstofa, for the variety on the menu–not just fish entrees, they also had hamburgers.  The food was excellent.  Check out the way the scallops were presented — on a board!

Mike and I chose the same thing: lamb, which was absolutely delicious, and a glass of red wine.  Our total (just got our credit card bill) was $105, which I thought was reasonable for what we got.  But then, I’m used to New York/New Jersey food prices.

We had another “on our own” night in Akureyri and once again, found an excellent restaurant.  Strykid is on the 4th floor of a building, facing the water, so the view is every bit as wonderful as the food.   For about $74 per person, we got a three course dinner–delicious cauliflower soup, chicken breast and chocolate cake.  No food photos.  We were too busy laughing and talking to pull out our cameras, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Odds and Ends
My iPhone 7 took great photos when the light was tricky or when it was rainy or misty.  Unlike my Panasonic Lumix, it didn’t fog up or get raindrops on the lens. The top two photos were taken on a rainy day with my iPhone; the bottom one with my Lumix.  Of course, the iPhone doesn’t have a powerful zoom, and photos get pixilated when you enlarge them too much.  Still, I was glad I had it with me.  

It was raining during ALL of the above photos.

Hold on to your coins.  Many of the rest rooms charge 200 kroner (about $2.00). You need to insert the coins into a turnstile to access the rest room, so you can’t do what we did when we were poor college students in Boston–hold the door open for your friends.  There ARE machines where you can insert your credit card to get change at most places, but if you buy anything using Icelandic kroners, you are probably going to end up with change, and this is a good way to use it.

Trolls welcome you to the center of Akureyri

The hotel in Akureyri is at the top of a hill, but the hill is walkable if you are in reasonably good shape.  You just take your time, maybe stop off to check out the botanical garden before continuing up.  The other options are a taxi, which will cost about $26 for the .6 mile between the hotel and the center of town ( according to my fitbit) OR a free bus – number 6- which runs every hour and only travels in one direction.  For the trip back to the hotel, the bus takes the scenic route.  I missed that experience, choosing to walk up and down, but others rode the bus, and reported that it takes about 20 minutes to get back to the Icelandair Hotel.  

Horseback riding was a fantastic optional event.  We were picked up at the hotel and transported to the horse farm, which is located in a very scenic area.  The cost for transportation, an hour’s ride, and the necessary gear (Helmets, gloves, and if desired, snazzy orange or green jackets) was $90.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos while we were riding, but the views were breathtaking.  The horses were very used to inexperienced riders, so there were no mishaps AND the horses are closer to the ground, which helps with mounting and dismounting.

For the flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik you might want to keep your good camera handy. Mine was packed away, so I used my iPhone to take this shot of the scenery.   My Lumix would have been a better choice.   It is a short flight, and is a great way to see the interesting topography of the countryside.

Be sure to check out Air Iceland Connect’s seat pocket.  They put a little journal in each row so travelers can add comments.  I particularly enjoyed this one.

On our departure day, most of us had flights leaving around 5 PM, so we had time to spend in Reykjavik.  What a difference it makes when you aren’t jet lagged.  We all went off in different directions.  Some took in a concert at the Harpa, others enjoyed an art museum.  Four of us took a cab to the Volcano House (2600 kroners each way) where we saw two films that chronicled Iceland’s last two big eruptions.  The films last about an hour and are very well done.

After that we walked around the town, successfully completing our quest for a Christmas store.  To me, these cute ornaments are the perfect gift–unique, representative of the country, small enough to pack and something that I know the recipients will use.  Now I’m wishing that I bought more.

For those that want to stay close to the hotel, there is a sculpture garden within two blocks, and the botanical garden is only slightly further away.  The night before, after our farewell dinner, four of us took advantage of good weather and long daylight to walk to both places.  We were still out after 10 PM, hoping to catch a sunset.  (I gave up).

Overall, this was a very interesting trip, with fascinating landscapes, and lots of memorable experiences.  The best part, for me, however, was being with an incredible group of fun people.

If you would like a day to day account of the OAT Iceland trip, including great photos,  I suggest you check out this blog by my friend, Nancy.  

Happy travels!

The Roads to Stykkishólmur and Akureyri

Growing up, I remember watching  an old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie entitled “The Road to Morocco”.  It may have been the first “buddy” road trip movie ever made.  It was a comedy that got its laughs from the strange costumes and mishaps that the two “buddies”encountered during their travel.

You’re probably thinking “yeah, so what’s the point?  Well, unlike my usual digressions, there actually IS a point, that point being that at times I FEEL like I’m in a buddy movie.  Perhaps that’s what happens when you travel with 14 of your friends.

3136B4DA-FEAD-44E7-87A2-906B8B397A0B

We haven’t had as many mishaps as Bing and Bob, but we HAVE had our share of comedic moments.

Those of us who didn’t feast on fermented shark were greatly entertained by the facial expressions of Sam and Nancy.   Believe me, they definitely weren’t acting.

SOME of us hiked to a nature reserve in a volcanic crater, on the coast.  The hard part was SUPPOSED to be the climb down to the “flat”area, except the FLAT area was actually a bed of mud with rocks poking up haphazardly.

8569B9BA-76D7-42BE-A476-958DFAB97BE1

At times, it felt like elves were hiding below the surface, trying to suck the boots off our feet.

We, however, were undaunted.  A bit muddy, a bit wet, but definitely undaunted.

CEDF9846-B957-4082-B50A-04AF47687DF8

Look, we are still smiling .  Helen is using Sam as a wind shield.  It is difficult to get a good group photo while standing in mud, being buffeted by wind.

Odd  costumes? Yep, we had a few of those.

45D513C6-C8FC-4D4A-8831-374313FA8C3E

The Galapagos have blue footed Boobies; WE have blue footed buddies.

If YOU had been experiencing misty, windy weather, would you want to get on a boat to go chasing after whales?  Neither did 10 of us.  Instead, we elected to have a leisurely breakfast, a stroll through the botanical garden, and lunch in town.  No mishaps and no funny costumes for us.

BEDBEED1-CD31-48C8-B791-279EB80168EA

 

The whale watchers, on the other hand, had both.  Sorry.  No photos of them in their bright blue jump suits.  All we got were very vivid descriptions of the experience from our participants.  Sharmon reported sighting “two whales and nineteen puking passengers”.  Fortunately none of our five were in her head count.  Even more fortunate, the sea sick whale watchers had the foresight to come equipped with plastic bags.  That presents another question.  If you thought you were going to need them, would YOU get on the boat?

In the afternoon, eleven of us (including four from the morning adventure) decided to try our luck riding Icelandic horses.  I’m happy to say that there was not a single incidence of motion sickness.  We DID manage to model some pretty funky outfits.

D2886E63-FBFD-4AFF-9E21-0CC8ED617957

Karen, Diane, Sam, Kathy, Carol, John, Helen, Sue, me.  (Sharmon and Luis were still getting suited up). 

Is it my imagination, or do some of us look like we are on our way to fight a fire?

Our ride took us through magnificent scenery.  The air was clear and fresh smelling, unless you happened to be riding behind Diane.  HER horse was desperately in need of the equine version of bean-o, emitting noises that would have had most third graders in hysterics.  (Okay, so WE laughed too. )

F1FCCC78-6A54-4411-B6E1-D8C7FA8F1787

But he looks so innocent!

Because we took so long getting fitted with helmets, choosing our trusty steeds, mounting and dismounting, we were running late for our dinner reservation.  Modern technology came to the rescue.  A google search for the restaurant phone number and a quick call via cell phone, and voila, problem solved.

We ended our “buddy movie” on a high note, having a great dinner at Strikiò Restaurant.

001896FC-8623-4DDD-B417-395304ED1EFE

Does this look like a rowdy group?  

 

 

 

Three Wish Mountain

We were on a mission, leaving rainy Reykjavík in search of sunshine.  Would we need to squander one of our three wishes on a request for some respite from the rain?  Read on, if you want to find out.

First up on our way to Stykkishólmur was a stop at a wool studio.  CBAC040C-4A7C-4401-8DCE-BC4E43710BA3

When I had initially learned that the itinerary would exchange a visit to a waterfall for a wool demonstration, I was a bit distressed.  Was I ever wrong!  The presentation was quite wonderful.  The explanation of  the chemistry involved in dyeing wool was fascinating.  In the OLD days, cow’s urine was a key ingredient; it has since been replaced with ammonia, and not just because of the smell, although that alone was a good enough reason for me.  The problem is today it is too difficult to collect.  The cows are allowed to roam free and don’t take too kindly to someone following them around with a bucket.   The urine of old women also had characteristics that produced a particular color.  I don’t remember the color or the age requirement, I DO remember several of us volunteered to donate.

Our next stop was at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes, where we were treated to a very interesting Norse history,  including an opportunity to stand on the bow of a moving Viking ship.

Lunch in the second floor restaurant was delicious: a choice of tomato or lamb soup and a salad bar chock full of my favorite items.  A nice surprise was that this lunch was now included, where at one time it wasn’t.  Given the high price of food in Iceland, this was a welcome change.

Today’s drive was a long one, blessedly broken up by several stops.  Here we are viewing vertical lava flows.  Our guide explained the geology behind this particular effect.  I promptly forgot it.

396BE91C-D9AF-4906-A865-58AB18F96F5A

Luis is posing for all of the photography enthusiasts.  By now, I can identify everyone from the back. From left: Karen, Kathy and Nancy ( and the fuscia arm in the far left corner is either Helen or Debby)

Finally, we arrived at Mount Helgafell, where, if you climb to the top without speaking and don’t look back, you can face the east and make three wishes.  They have to be of positive intent, and you can’t tell anyone what they are.

6A3880C0-A91C-4DEE-BD32-FFCC9CDB83F3

I’m facing the east, have made my wishes, and am now allowed to look behind me.

Being a generous soul, I gave one of my wishes for the good of our entire planet, (excluding Russia), one for Mike and me and one for a family member in need of a wish.   We’ll see if the Viking version of prayer works.  (At least none of us got turned into a pillar of salt!)

Mt Helgafell deserves a few more photos, so here goes:

The ascent was rather easy, because the path was well maintained, and the view was worth every step.  Although we hadn’t really found the sun, at least it wasn’t raining, and there were some patches of blue in the sky.

49E3DE40-C69F-42EC-98D5-68A69852CF44

The two Canadians: My blogging buddy Nancy (in red) and my newest friend, Sue.

Our second day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula was also quite full, starting with a visit to a waterfall.  This short video, done by Mike, captures the beauty of the waterfall better than any of my photos, but if you don’t want to hop over to YouTube, this is for you.

 

F33D1211-FA1F-49D3-9611-448DE3BD1DA8

There’s one in every crowd. OURS is called Luis.

Kathy expressed an interest in bird life, so Hlynur took her for a little walk in a nesting area.  Wonder what happened?   Mike managed to get this action shot of Kathy being dive bombed by an angry mama bird.

It looked like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. You know which one.

To be continued…