Iceland   

In December 2016 I went to Iceland for 9 days. I had been there before, also in December, but that was just for a long weekend and was combined with a couple days in Scotland. This was a more dedicated trip to see parts of Iceland I hadn't seen before. Also, it had been a long time since I was here, so it was time for another visit.

When I arrived at Keflavik Airport in Iceland, it was very early in the morning and still very dark outside (after all, it is winter in Iceland). By 06:30 a.m. (Iceland time) I was on the bus for the 50 kilometres (30 miles), 45-minute, bus ride to my hotel located in the heart of the capital, Reykjavík. It was a small hotel, so it didn't have a 24-hour desk clerk, but they had arranged for me to get access to the hotel and my room was vacant the night before. This allowed me to check-in and relax a little. My hotel didn't have breakfast, so I asked ahead of time, and they gave me the name of a place just around the corner that had a good hot breakfast. Reykjavík (thank goodness for auto fill) was decked out for the Christmas holidays as I spent the remainder of the first day walking around the city. It was a long day, I took a nap in the afternoon, then called it an early night.

The next day I spent the whole day in Reykjavík, but still managed to take a nap in the afternoon. I went a little beyond the city centre and made it to The Perlan (Pearl). It sits atop Öskjuhlíđ Hill and is a fantastic dome–shaped building supported by 6 massive geothermal water tanks each with a capacity of 4 million liters (1 million gallons) each. The Pearl gives a great panoramic view around the whole area including a nice view of the city. It also has an exhibition centre, gift shop, and revolving restaurant (2 hours, if you were wondering). I looked up the weather and found it was 9.5°C (15°F) colder in Chicago than here, Reykjavík made it to a balmy 8.3°C (47°F).

I took a day tour along the southern coast of Iceland. This included several waterfalls, a glacier, as well as a couple nice small towns. The highlight was probably when we hit the black sand Reynisfjara Beach along the Atlantic Ocean. It was near the town of Vik (pronounced Veek), which happens to be the southernmost town in Iceland and also where we had lunch with a view of the ocean (I had lamb goulash, yummy). I know, as you read this, you're probably thinking to yourself ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, waterfalls, black sand beaches, and quaint villages on the Atlantic Ocean, now show me something I don't see all the time on your travels'. TADA! Just as you thought this tour started to get boring came the clouds over Eyjafjallajökull. That's the 800,000-year-old volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down the air traffic between Europe and North America, cancelling 95,000 flights over 7 days. How cool is that!

Celebrity alert! I saw the President of Iceland, Guđni Thorlacius Jóhannesson! I was talking to the hotel clerk in the morning before I went out and about. He mentioned they were having some sort of political conference in the Alţingishúsiđ (Parliament Building), which just happened to be around the corner from the hotel. I was outside the Parliament Building waiting, and he got in the car, license plate '1'. It was a good thing they had crowd control, the 3 of us waiting to see him were getting pretty rowdy. So that's a former Prime Minister of Estonia, the Queen of Denmark, and now the President of Iceland. After all that excitement, I then used that jubilant energy spending the day in Reykjavík. This included going to the tallest building in Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja, towering over the city at 74.5 metres (244 feet). Hallgrímskirkja is actually a church in the centre of Reykjavík high on a hill. It's probably Iceland's most famous man-made landmark. From the top, you can see the entire surrounding area and it was a perfect day to go to the top.

Another day tour I took is referred to as The Gullni Hringurinn (Golden Circle) Tour. Most tourists do this tour, and I was no exception. Last time I was in Iceland I also took this tour since it covers many highlights of Iceland in about 9 hours. They picked me up at the hotel about 08:30 a.m. and transported me to a bus central station where the tour buses depart. The tour included a stop at Thingvellir National Park located directly between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, several waterfalls including the spectacular and scenic Gullfoss (Golden Falls) on the Hvítá (White River), and the Strokkur geyser which shoots water up to 30 metres (98 feet) high every 5 to 10 minutes.

Another required tourist destination is a day trip to the Bláa lóniđ (Blue Lagoon). Because of the location and backdrop, it isn't like anything else you've seen or experienced before (unless you have had the good fortune of going there more than once, like me). It's a geothermal spa with a rather large amazingly structured pool that goes on and on to represent a natural lava flow environment. The water is about 40°C (104°F), and there is a steady steam that rises above the top of the water. Because of the steam, you don't realize how large it is and how many people are around, it's almost like floating in your own world.

I spent another day sightseeing in Reykjavík, and this time it was 6.6°C (20°F) colder in Chicago, but still pleasant in Reykjavík. I went to the Ţjóđminjasafn Íslands (National Museum of Iceland) which houses a permanent as well as a rotating exhibit of Iceland's history. Eventually I went to Reykjavík's largest shopping mall, Kringlan. The 2nd largest mall is just a short 15 minutes from the Reykjavík city centre. Speaking of shopping, it is crazy expensive in Iceland. Here's a price comparison for 1 donut (yes, a donut, a delicious treat) in Icelandic Króna, U.S. dollars, and British Pounds (in case you can't do the math, it's 3 times more expensive in Iceland than Chicago and 2 times more expensive than the UK):

in Reykjavik: 350 ISK = $3.13 = Ł2.50
in Chicago: 110 ISK = $0.99 = Ł0.78
in the UK: 156 ISK = $1.50 = Ł1.19

The last tour I planned was for a long 12-hour day tour to the north and west of Reykjavík, known as the Snćfellsnes Peninsula. Another incredible weather day (still 6.6°C (20°F) colder in Chicago than Iceland), beautiful sun, and also great scenery. The guide said she had not seen weather like this in December in a long time. Oddly, this is how it was 16 years ago when I was here in December. The Snćfellsnes Peninsula has amazing scenery including Snćfellsjökull glacier, the splendid beauty of Snćfellsjökull National Park, the Djúpalónssandur black sand beaches, the fishing villages, Kirkjufell mountain, and the unlimited views of the spectacular coast line around the peninsula.

On my last day, I had enough time to walk around the town centre one last time. When I scheduled my hotel pick-up to the airport, they wanted to pick me up at 01:30 p.m., but I requested a pick-up for 01:00 p.m. so I would be less rushed. That really worked out well, since that gave me the chance to change my seat at check-in. I was able to get a row of 3 seats all to myself on the plane to stretch out. Comfy!

Now that you made it to the end of my story, I'll give you the easy pronunciation guide for Reykjavík (so you can re-read the story again): 'REY' + 'kja' + 'veek'




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Reykjavik, Iceland - Laugavegu is the main shopping street.

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Tjörnin (The Pond) is a nice quiet place to walk, with city hall over on the left side of the picture.

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Ađalstrćti (Main Street) is the oldest street in town.

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Sólfariđ (Sun Voyager) was unveiled in 1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik.

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Perlan (The Pearl) six water tanks, has a capacity to hold 24 million litres (6 million gallons) of geothermal hot water. It's also a great viewing point above the city.

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Iceland - The Eyjafjallajökull (Island Mountain Glacier) Volcano eruption in April 2010 caused major flight disruptions from and to Europe. Can you say ei-ya-fyat-LA-yer-kitle?

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Skógar, Iceland - The 60 metre (200 foot) Skógafoss (Skoga Waterfall) is just one of many in the Icelandic countryside.

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Reynishverfisvegur, Iceland - The Reynisfjara Black sand beach also has basalt columns similar to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

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Vik í Mýrdal, Iceland - The southernmost town in Iceland, so of course it's the warmest place in Iceland with an annual mean temperature of 5°C (41°F). It's a vacation hot spot!

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Vik í Mýrdal, Iceland - The Mýrdalsjökull Glacier covers Katla, one of the largest active volcanoes in Iceland.

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Skógar, Iceland - Musée de Skógar (Skógar Museum) has lots of artifacts, several historical buildings, and actually 3 museums in one.

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Hallgrímskirkja (Church of Hallgrímur) is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674).

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Reykjavik, Iceland - A view of the city from the top of Hallgrímskirkja, which stands at 74.5 metres (244 feet).

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Alţingishúsiđ (The Parliament House) from 1881, today much of the government is no longer in this building. But, rumor has it...

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Surprise! The President of Iceland, Guđni Thorlacius Jóhannesson (on the right), newly elected in August 2016 graced me with his presence.

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Selfoss, Iceland - The 3,000 year old Keriđ volcanic crater lake is 55 metres (180 feet) deep, 170 metres (560 feet) wide, and 270 metres (890 feet) across.

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Biskupstungnabraut, Iceland - Vatnsleysufoss (Faxi Waterfall), on the Tungufljót river, is a popular stop.

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Bláskógabyggđ, Iceland - Gullfoss (Golden Falls), on the Hvítá river, is by far the most famous Icelandic waterfall (well, for those who know Iceland anyway).

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Haukadalur, Iceland - Strokkur geyser erupts every 6 to 10 minutes.

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Ţingvellir National Park, Iceland - Here you can see the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. They are being pulled apart 2 centimetres (.78 inches) per year.

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Reykjavik, Iceland - Holiday decorations in the Kringlan Mall. If you didn't get a Christmas card from me - consider this it...

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Reykjavik, Iceland - The Ţjóđminjasafn Íslands (National Museum of Iceland) has objects from Iceland's settlement to modern day.

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Ytri Tunga, Iceland - Snćfellsjökull (Snow Fell Glacier) is Iceland's highest mountain at 1,446 metres (4,744 feet).

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Ytri Tunga, Iceland - Seal watching just on the coast.

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Arnarstapi, Iceland - Incredible scenery on the western coast of Iceland.

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Arnarstapi, Iceland - It just kept getting better.

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Arnarstapi, Iceland - Bárđur Snćfellsás is a character from the Icelandic Sagas who had Troll blood and was magical.

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Snćfellsjökull National Park, Iceland - Sunset at Djúpalónssandur (Black Lava Pearl Beach). This photo should be in the next Iceland tourism brochure.

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Snćfellsjökull National Park, Iceland - So if you were wondering what I was looking at, the other part of Djúpalónssandur.

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Snćfellsjökull National Park, Iceland - Saxholl Crater. Yes, it's a hole in the ground, but it's a hole in the ground - in Iceland...

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Grundarfjörđur, Iceland - Kirkjufell (Church mountain) rises 463 metres (1,519 feet) out of the sea.

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Grundarfjörđur, Iceland - Beautiful sunset made it look like the mountains were on fire in this land of volcanoes.

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Grindavík, Iceland - The Bláa lóniđ (Blue Lagoon) is a definite hot spot to go to in Iceland.

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Grindavík, Iceland - Blue Lagoon water temperature, 40°C (104°F). Air temperature, 7°C (44°F). Being there, very c°°l.

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