A Travellerspoint blog

Reykjavik, Iceland - Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Blue Lagoon

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This morning we had a much later start which was a blessing after our very late night last night.

The bus picked us up at 10.30 am and we proceeded to the depot to collect our boarding passes and then took the 50 minute bus ride to the Blue Lagoon. As soon as we entered the countryside outside Reykjavik, the scenery changed to lava fields everywhere, covered in snow. The black lava rocks are poking through the snow and it looks like ice cream with chocolate cake sprinkled on top. It is raining and windy but not too cold.

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We arrived at the Blue Lagoon and hopped on the queue which moved very slowly, sometimes not at all. The attendant kept making announcements apologizing for the slowness of entry today but everyone seemed to be staying in the pool longer than usual. Two hours is the recommended time, because of all the minerals in the water. Don't wear silver jewellery or it will turn black. Gold jewellery is fine - in fact the minerals in the water clean it and it comes out shiney. We were given water and Iceland Christmas cookies to eat while we were waiting in line.

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Finally we made it to the top of the queue and decided to upgrade our standard ticket for a premium one (60 euros more) but that gave us a towel, a gown, a pair of thongs, a free drink in the pool, a pack of body products and a reservation in the restaurant. There is such a rigermorale to go through. We are given wrist bands that open and lock your lockers. Finally, we were in our swimmers and heading for the pool. It is about 38 degrees and just lovely. It is freezing cold outside so it was quite easy to stay low in the water. It rained on us while we were in there. We spent a short while in the sauna but I can't breathe very well in there so we didn't stay long.

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We had hung our towels, robes and thongs together on a hook, along with millions of others and of course, when we came back to get them, they were missing. I had actually tied our thongs to the robe belt so we'd be able to identify ours among the hundreds of others but some people don't bother paying the extra for towels and robes and just use anyones. Phil found a towel that was a bit wet and we grabbed two robes that were our size and proceeded to the change rooms.

Our upgraded ticket gave us a reservation at the a la carte restaurant and we had a lovely two course lunch in there.

Phil had lobster and rib eye fillet and I had achar raw fish and rack of lamb. Yummy.

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What we found very odd was that some people were in this lovely restaurant in their swimmers and robes! Of course the longer they stayed in their robes, the longer their lockers were in use and the longer the wait in the queue.

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By 4.00 pm, we were back on the bus for the 50 minute ride back to Reykjavik. A quick shower and phone call with Enoka about where to meet and where to have dinner together, on our last night in Reykjavik.

We met Enoka at her hotel in the middle of the main street (great location) and walked down to the wharf where we had a seafood dinner at the Fish and Chip Restaurant. Phil and Enoka had Red Fish and I had Lobster Tails. The waitress looked at us cross eyed when we asked was the fish fresh!! Of course it is. This is Iceland and no seafood is imported here.

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After dinner we walked back to the bus station through streets lit with lovely Christmas lights. The rain has moderated the temperature and it feels like a cool Autumn night, but anything would seem warm after our -25 degrees wind chill day!

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We said goodbye to Enoka and caught the bus for the 2 minute ride back to the Hilton. The ground is treacherous - slippery ice everywhere and yes, you guessed it, just as we were almost at the front door of the Hilton, Phil fell over. He hit the ground with a huge bang and I thought he had broken his back. Luckily some nice Asian boys helped him up. He is in a lot of pain, but we both feel it is muscular as nothing seems to be broken. A pain killer and into bed for him and we'll see how things are in the morning.

Posted by gaddingabout 01:45 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Reykjavik, Iceland - Friday, 25 December 2015

Golden Circle and Northern Lights Mystery

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Merry Christmas!

First fact of the day - Reykjavik is the only European capital that had snow this Christmas! How Phil pulled off that one, I'll never know! Nor will he!

Early rise today at 6.00 am as we were being picked up at 7.45 am (in the dark) for our Golden Circle Tour. Because it is Christmas Day, the dining room isn't opening until 7.00 am, so we will have a rushed quick breakfast, to be ready in the hotel foyer by 7.45 am. Our shuttle picked us up and we were transported to the Grayline Bus Terminal where we boarded our bus for the day tour to the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Geyser hot spring and Pingvellir, where the North Atlantic Rift, which separates the North American and European continents, is very prominent.

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It is dark and cold - today is expected to be very cold -14 degrees and as we take off in the bus, the people in the back of the bus are complaining that the heating isn't working and they are freezing to death. It took several goes to fix the heating but eventually they did - thank goodness. It really is cold. It is -14 degrees and there is a fierce wind blowing and the wind chill factor is -25 degrees!! It is unbearably cold. I don't know how people live here. I could never get used to this. However, we are mad. We are out in the elements - ALL DAY!! The locals, who have a lot more sense than us are at home with a new book they received for Christmas and eating chocolate. Apparently, every Icelander gets a new book and some chocolate for Christmas and on Christmas Day, they read their book and eat chocolate. Sounds good to me!

Anyway, back to us. I must say it is quite lovely driving through the snow (in a warm bus) watching day break. Our first port of call was a church.

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Next was Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is a two tiered waterfall. The great white glacial cascade drops 32 metres into a 70 metre deep canyon. It is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island. The wind is blowing a gale and it is biting. Walking to the viewing point, one minute Phil is beside me, next minute he is lying on the ground. He slipped on the ice and went for a huge slide. Thank goodness he didn't hurt himself which was very lucky. We took a few photos and then raced inside to the warm and a bowl of very welcome soup for lunch. The good thing about the awful weather is that I am not taking my usual hundreds of photos because it's too bloody cold!

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We had asparagus and lamb and vegetable soup. We finally caught up with Enouka, Cleo and Roberta here but Tim was nowhere to be seen.

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Me and Enouka.
Back on the bus and off to the geothermal area of Haukadalur to witness the Great Geysir, the original "Geyser" hot spring. It is still freezing and the wind is blowing, and the minute we take off our gloves to take a photo, our fingers freeze solid. It is an awful feeling. Strokkur erupts roughly every eight minutes, so we saw two eruptions and then hurried back to the warmth of the cafe where we had a most welcome hot chocolate.

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Back on the bus and this time we stopped at Pingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic Parliament, the Alpingi, was established in 930, making it the world's oldest functioning legislative body. There are no ruins here for tourists to look at because the original settlers just pitched their tents and used nature as their Parliament. Pingvellir is also where the North Atlantic Rift, which separates the North American and European continents, is very prominent. It is quite a stunning thing to see and if there hadn't been such a heavy snow fall, we could have seen the split in the mountain. It is still cold but the wind has dropped considerably and at least our fingers aren't freezing when we take our gloves off.

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Back on the bus and we have the good news that the Northern Lights tour will go ahead this evening. If it is too cloudy, this tour is cancelled as there is no point trying to view the Northern Lights through heavy cloud.

We had about an hour and a half in our room before we joined the Northern Lights. It was dark and cold and sometimes snowing, but unfortunately, no northern lights to be found. Our tour took five hours and we drove into the countryside outside Reykjavik and had three stops but no lights. Of course it is a natural phenomena and nothing can be guaranteed. The Gray Line Company who conducted the tour, have given us all a credit and we have two years to use it.

This is a photo of the northern lights taken from a post card. It's the next best thing to seeing them.

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We slept all the way back to Reykjavik on the bus and finally got into bed at 1.30 am. What a freezing cold exhausting day we've had today but saw some amazing things. It is one Christmas Day I'll never forget. Minus 25 degrees wind chill. Yipes!

I get the prize for the dill of the day! In my suitcase I have several hand warmer things that you put in your pocket to keep your hands warm and I forgot to take them with me! Duh! If ever we needed them, it was yesterday. As soon as I took off my gloves to take a photo, my fingers immediatey froze. It was awful.

Posted by gaddingabout 13:44 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Reykjavik, Iceland - Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas City Walk and Christmas Eve Festivities

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Up early this morning as we have a 9.00 am start for our Christmas City Walk tour. 9.00 am mightn't sound very early however, we have to meet down at the old wharf by 8.45 am which means we have to get a taxi from the hotel at about 8.30 am and it is pitch black at that time, and today it is FREEZING. The temp today will range from -11 degrees to -3 degrees and there is a strong, cold wind blowing.

Another present was left hanging on our door this morning. This is the last gift from the Yule Lads as Christmas Eve is celebrated in Iceland as it's most holy day. We received a candle and a pack of playing cards. Kertasnikir (Candle Beggar) comes on Christmas Eve. In olden times, candlelight was the brightest light available. Candles were so rare and precious that it was a treat for children to be given a candle at Christmas and poor Candle Beggar wanted one too.

Our taxi drove us down to the old wharf where we met up with about 30 others in the freezing dark windy morning and started our walking tour of the city. It was a thoroughly enjoyable tour as we kept stopping and having traditional Iceland drinks and snacks. One wonders why we had to start the tour in the dark as it lasted about three hours, so we could have started at 11 am and finished at 2 pm.

Our first stop was a restaurant where we had a shot of Schnaaps, followed by a very small piece (thank heavens) of fermented shark! This particular species of shark doesn't have any kidneys so it is not edible by humans, but the ever resourceful Icelanders press it until all the amonia has left its body and then they bury it or hang it for four to five months and then it is ready for human consumption!!! I don't think so. It is disgusting. It tastes like very rotten cheese but we only had a very tiny cube each which is probably all we could stand. However, it is supposed to be very good for the digestive system.

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Phil doesn't look very excited, does he?

As we walked through the deserted streets, our guide told us many Icelandic myths and stories about the Yule Lads and Icelandic ghosts. Icelanders are great believers in ghosts. When we knock on a door, we always knock three times. This is to let the people inside know that we are not ghosts. Three knocks represent the Holy Trinity.

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It is still dark and freezing and we came to a stop where our guide gave us a drink of the special Christmas drink I had at dinner on our first night in Reykjavik - the malt citrus drink, that once was a tiny bit alcoholic, but not any more.

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Shopping opportunity here but I don't think anyone bought anything. Everything in Iceland is SO expensive. About three times as expensive as everywhere else. However, this is the oldest building in Reykjavik.

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At another stop, under the oldest tree in Reykjavik, 200 hundred years old, we ate seaweed. Crunchy and salty would best describe it. We were standing in the snow on cement pavers and she told us that we were standing on top of a very old cemetery, so old in fact that there were no names or dates on the headstones and because it was full, the parliament decided to cover it over and make it a public place.

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Icelanders don't like being the very first person to be buried in a new cemetery because if you are, then you become the caretaker of that cemetery and you can never rest - you must always be on watch. However, two new cemeteries are planned for Iceland and two people have actually volunteered to be the first buried there. I guess they have to die first!

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We finished our tour in the Borg Hotel, the oldest hotel in Iceland, constructed in the 30s. We had a glass of wine and a piece of rye bread with mustard sauce and gravelex salmon. Very nice.

The water in Iceland, straight from the tap is superb. It is sweet and pure. It comes from a lava bed deep inside the earth which filters all the impurities from it. Several years ago, samples were sent to New York for testing but they asked for more samples because the first lot contained no impurities. That's because the water is totally pure.

We met some nice Americans and Pommies on this tour and a Sri Lankan girl from Brisbane who is working in London and came to Iceland for Christmas. They will be at our Christmas Eve dinner this evening.

We walked back through the main street, heading for the bus to take us back to the hotel. Most of the shops are now closed, in preparation for tonight. At 6pm, all the bells will chime announcing the beginning of Christmas.

We were lucky to find a restaurant open for lunch and had a huge bowl of lamb soup for lunch. It was very warming and comforting. Lara and Greg, two Americans from our walking tour were having lunch there too so we had a nice chat to them.

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The streets are almost empty and it is quiet and the landscape is covered in snow. It is beautiful. Quite different from the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve in Australia.

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Had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner in our hotel's dining room this evening. We mistakenly thought there would be a large table with our group all together but we were scattered all over the place. Cleo and Roberta were sitting alone and Tim was on his own in the corner. Inaku walked in with us so we sat together and then got Tim moved to sit with us and we had a lovely evening. The conversation just flowed with these two very talented young people. Tim lives in Sydney and works for "Standards" and Enoka is a gastroenterologist, working in London for a year. She originally comes from Brisbane.
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Our Christmas Eve dinner was: Scallops (lemon marinated scallops, roe, fennel, sea buckthorn berries); Pork (smoked pork belly, apples, celeriac, mustard); Lamb (fillet of lamb, sunchokes, licorice root, braised cabbage); Fromage (sherry fromage, berries, chocolate)
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Merry Christmas from us to you!

Posted by gaddingabout 13:54 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Reykjavik, Iceland - Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Porláksmessa (St Porlákur's Mass) - A Night of Celebration

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Went to bed reasonably early and started to read my new book "Last Train to Istanbul" by Ayse Kulin.  It's quite interesting.  It's about Turks and Jews in World War Two.  I like to read books about the country I'm visiting before I get there and a few months ago read "Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent, which was based on a true story about Agnes Magnusdottir who was accused of the murder of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson in1828 and was the last person to be executed in Iceland.  It was a great read.

I then started on "Independent People" by Halldor Laxness but only got a third of the way through.  It was tough going.  It was about a crofter sheep farmer in the mountains but I just could not get into it, try as I might.  So I have given up.

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel and then spent a couple of hours in our room, waiting for it to become light.  We didn't think there was much point going on a sight seeing tour in the dark!

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View from our window at 9.30 am. View from our window at 10.30 am.

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View from our window at 11.00 am. Our hotel, the Hilton Nordica
For 13 nights before Christmas, one of the Yule Lads comes down from the mountains and leaves a gift in the children's shoes. Of course, if you have been naughty, a potato is left. This morning there was a gift hanging on our door - a postcard of the northern lights, plus a stamp and the story of the 13 Yule Lads.

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The hotel gave us a free bus pass for the duration of our time in Iceland which was nice.  They are so helpful with information about catching the bus and what to see and do.

We put on all the clothes we had and proceeded to the bus stop for the two minute ride to the city centre.  We no sooner arrived at the bus stop across the road from the hotel, than the bus was there and off we went.  It's cold but not unbearably so.

We walked all the way from the town down to the old town and then down to the wharf.  It was freezing down af the wharf; the first time I have really felt cold.

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Once we got back into the streets of the town, we warmed up a bit.

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We had lunch at a lovely warm soup shop where the soup is served in a cob loaf.  Two flavours on sale today - mushroom and reindeer!  Of course, we had mushroom.  Can't eat Rudolph so close to Christmas!

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Reykjavik Parliament House
We spied this church from lots of parts of the town.  It is a very unusual design.

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At about 3.30 pm we caught the bus back to the hotel to warm up and recuperate.  We walked miles today.

At 6.00 pm this afternoon, it started snowing!!  Yippee!

Posted by gaddingabout 06:46 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Amsterdam to Reykjavik, Iceland - Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Iceland here we come!

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Had a good night's sleep. Enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and did a final pack on preparation for our flight to Reykjavik at 1.35 am. It is overcast, raining and very windy in Amsterdam this morning.

Walked to the airport and had checked in by 10.30 am and wandered through the duty free shops and bought a bottle of scotch and Bombay Sapphire for Reykjavik. The shop assistant told us that we could take 10 litres of alcohol into Iceland. What! How could you carry it all?

Found the Bubbles shop that my friend Jeanette said was her favourite place in Schiphol Airport!

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Boarded the plane on time and took off for the 2 hour 50 minute flight to Reykjavik. Once we attained cruising altitude, we were up above the rain clouds and the sun was beaming in the window. I thought the flight would be pretty rough after the dreadfully windy weather in Amsterdam but it was a very smooth and pleasant flight. It was a bit like a Virgin flight where you can purchase food. We just had the freebee water and Pepsi and later on the hostie gave us all a chocolate chip biscuit.

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Sunset as we were coming in to land.

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Our driver Robin, an ex Icelandic pilot, made contact with us and took us to his Mercedes for the 50 minute drive into town. It is zero degrees, fresh and cool but not very cold. No wind at the moment. The wind is the killer.

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Arrived at the Hilton Hotel. Checked in with the help of a lovely girl. Everyone in Amsterdam spoke beautiful English. So far, same here. It is great.

Our room is spacious and we are on the seventh floor with a view of the harbour. We should have a great view, if daylight ever comes. Daylight at 11.20 am (!!) and sunset at about 3.30 pm.

Had dinner in the hotel dining room this evening. We both had fish and chips. The fish was plaice and was fresh and tasty. Phil had a beer and I had a special Iceland Christmas drink which was cider and malt. It was really nice and tasted like a sweet beer.

On the menu was Puffin, Reindeer and Horse. I will definitely NOT be eating any of those during our stay in Iceland!

There is a GST of 11% on food and 24% on everything else. Jacobs Creek wine was $90 a bottle.

On arrival at the airport today, our driver gave us a couple of bags of goodies. One had our itinerary and maps etc and the other had protective glasses and sparklers for New Year's Eve and a candle and a pack of cards. This is an Icelandic Yuletide Tradition.

The tradition of Christmas gift-giving in Iceland dates back to the early 1800s when children received handmade sheep tallow candles to help brighten the home during long, dark December nights. Later, in the early 1900s, it became popular to give a deck of playing cards with the candles, as card games were and still are, a favourite activity at Icelandic family Christmas parties.

Another uniquely Icelandic christmas tradition is Iceland's thirteen Yule Lads. There is no Santa Claus here. Though you'll often see them decked out in red suits, the Yule Lads are the mischievous sons of mountain-dwelling trolls, not relatives of Santa Claus. Each is named for his unique behaviour - like Door Slammer, Window Peeper and Spoon Licker, among others and take turns coming down from the mountains in the 13 nights leading to Christmas, leaving little gifts in the shoes of children who have been well behaved ... naughty children will find a potato.

Posted by gaddingabout 12:25 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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