A Travellerspoint blog

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STARTING FOR HOME VIA ICELAND

Today was a travel day. We're finally heading back west toward home. Flying on IcelandicAir, we have to stop in Kelfavik airport regardless of our destination, so we staying over two nights to see a little bit of this very northern nation.

Breakfast was at the hotel and the drive to the airport was only about 20 minutes. We arrived, found the Hertz car rental return, and turned in the car undamaged. This is always something to celebrate, as John's success ratio for returning rental cars without damage is about 50%.

We had quite a trek across the Frankfurt airport to find our terminal and gate. With plenty of time before our flight (we love having plenty of time before our flight...), we had a piece of German pizza and our last beer on German soil.

We boarded without incident and headed for Iceland on the three and a half hour flight. During the flight we got back a little time—turning our watches back two hours.

It was late afternoon when we landed. The airport is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, the capital and biggest city. A bus trip for three was the same price as a taxi ride for three, so we found a cab. It's worthwhile to note that everything in Iceland is expensive. Everything. Expensive. And despite the devastating bank crisis that had caused severe hardship for nearly everyone in this country, everything...is...expensive. Adding to the sense that everything is expensive is the fact that one U.S. dollar is equal to about 120 Icelandic kroners.

So our taxi ride was 12,000 kroners. That one is easy to calculate: $100.

On the way, our taxi driver shared a few interesting bits of trivia about Iceland. Iceland has about 320,000 people and about a third of them live in and around Reykjavik. About 98% of their heat (and I believe he said electricity) is produced by natural geothermal energy; because of all
the volcanic activity, geysers, and natural steam vents there is plenty of heat and steam coming out of the ground. Fishing is the biggest industry. Among other industries, there are four aluminum refineries on the island. The speed limit nationally maxes out around 55 to help save fuel.
Other tidbits about Iceland that we learned during the rest of our stay include the facts that Iceland has the oldest continuous parliament in the world (making laws since 942 A.D.); there are over 88,000 horses in Iceland (and they are a distinct breed of horse unique to this country); some of the horses are raised specifically for eating—yes, horse steak is a regular Icelandic dish, along with whale burgers, and puffin (a cute little sea bird); and Icelanders all speak there own language (which uses a variation of our alphabet...with a, w, 6, and 0) yet they all speak very good English as well.
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Once at the hotel, we checked in and then got directions to a comedy play about the history of Iceland. It was held in the upstairs of a historic old building in downtown Reykjavik. Two young women played multiple parts and took us from 332 B.C. to 2009 in about an hour. After that, we walked across the street to a quaint restaurant for dinner (no horse or whale, although a whale burger was on the menu) and then taxied to the hotel to turn in.

Posted by jeburns55 10:44 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

STILL TOURING ICELAND

We packed a lot into today, so I'll just get started with the first of our two bus tours:
The city tour.
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We began with a stop at the most well-known landmark in Reykjavik: the Lutheran church. This is the tallest structure in the city and was built within the last 50 years. Outside is a statue of Leif Erickson, the famous Viking explorer; inside is a pipe organ with over 5200 pipes! We were lucky enough to hear an organist playing while we were there.

Our next stop was a little way out of town where we visited the president's home. In front of the house is a small church that we were able to tour. (The president of Iceland is not the actual head of government; the prime minister holds those duties.)

We visited "The Dome" next, which is a state-sponsored museum. We had time to look in briefly. From the upper ledge, you can get a dramatic view of the city. Then we stopped at a swimming pool. All Icelanders are required to learn to swim; they have lessons each year from ages 6 to 16. Throughout the city (and the country) are 100 pools that have wonderful facilities and best of all the pool water is naturally heated water so people swim outdoors all year round.

On out way around town, we drove through a modern neighborhood where the residents have built on one of the many lava beds that are part of the geography of the country. Their backyards incorporate the hills and ravines of black lava covered with a soft blanket of green moss.
Just before noon, we were returned to our starting point with one hour to eat lunch before catching the afternoon tour out into the countryside. We had time for a bowl of meatball soup at the Café Paris (where they played American music and served fish beer on tap!?).
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The afternoon tour brought us first to a horse farm where we picked up a few more folks who had spent the morning riding. We got a good look at the Icelandic horses. They are small, almost pony-sized but very thick and muscular. We were told that this is a distinct breed and to keep it that way, no other horses are allowed to be brought into Iceland... and any Icelandic horses taken out of the country cannot return.
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Our next destination for the afternoon was Gullfoss Falls, one of Iceland's most distinctive natural formations. To get there we had to cross the continental plates divide. This is where the North American continent meets the European/Asian continent. The two mega land masses are actually moving apart... about two centimeters per year. The actual area of division is a wide, low, flat area that contains a lake. We drove over one edge and down the North American continent, across the low area between, and then up and onto the Euro-Asian continent. From there it was a bit of a drive to the falls. Throughout the afternoon, it rained most of the time, so the five minute walk to the falls was enough to get quite wet. They allowed enough time to dry off and warm up with coffee and snacks and then we went on to our last stop: the geysirs. Steam and hot water bubble out of the ground all over the place, but the spot we stopped has several geysers and hot pools. Still raining, we took a fairly quick look and then headed for the bus.
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At that point we were still two hours from home, quite a long bus ride past many farms and little "vacation" homes in the country used by city people for weekend getaways. The farms had lots of big round bales of hay wrapped in white plastic, and we saw many horses and quite a few sheep. There were few cows where we drove, but we were told that there are dairy farms in Iceland; and the farmers keep the cows indoors for the winter... seven months at a time.
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Finally home, we ate dinner in the hotel and prepared for the fight home tomorrow. It was a big day.

Posted by jeburns55 10:44 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

FROM THE BLUE LAGOON TO HOME

We are on our way home.

It's been a good trip with lots of fun and interesting things to see...but two weeks away from home is quite a while, so we are ready to return.
Nonetheless on the way to the airport, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon. This is a fantastic place that is billed as a "must see" in Iceland. Actually, it's a "must do."

The lagoon is a huge man-made pond that is filled with natural warm mineral-rich water. The depth of the water is 3-4 feet deep throughout. And fortunately it is only 15 minutes from the airport. What a great way to unwind before a five hour flight.
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We arrived at 10 a.m. and spent about 45 minutes in the water. You can give yourself a free mudpack, get a massaging shower under a waterfall, or just sit on an underwater bench and mellow out in the warm mineral water.

A coffee and a snack while we waited for the bus to the airport...it was perfect.

Arrival at the airport at 12:30 meant a long wait for the flight, but we were relaxed and ready to just sit down and recount the many, many memories from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg; from Hamburg to Berlin to Reykjavik.

It's been a great time.

Posted by jeburns55 10:44 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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