The Great Iceland Adventure

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Europe » Iceland
August 11th 2016
Published: August 16th 2016
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Two weeks ago, Jason and I left for Iceland. After we got off the red eye from Minneapolis, we were greeted by our car rental agent, who then drove us a short 5 minutes to pick up our junky little Subaru. I was compact and rusty, the brakes made noises when we left the parking lot, and with the only luxury being automatic windows, it was still perfect. Luckily, our agent encouraged us to get the GPS (which was a lifesaver) and only asked that I pay $20 USD upon return.

Since we had about 4 hours to kill before we could check in to our apartment/hotel, we went to downtown Reykjavík, wandered around in a daze for a little while, and after we’d thoroughly gawked at the Hallgrímskirkja church, we grabbed lunch at Glo. I will admit that on our drive into the city from Keflavík, I was a little nervous about this “beautiful” country I’d heard so much about. It was rugged and desolate as far as you could see, filled only with lava rock and mountains quite a distance away. At that point, I wasn’t sure I’d actually ever see them up close. There was no plant life whatsoever, and it made sense to me then why I’d read that the only animals which lived there were birds (and a few arctic fox way up north). Thankfully, I realized the beauty of the country in short time.

We stayed at the Blue Mountain Apartments, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone visiting Reykjavík and who has a rental car. About 15-20 minutes away from the city center in Kópavogur, the views were spectacular, the location was great, being right off a main road and across the street from a grocery store, plus, the hostess Johanna was perfect. Very personable and friendly, with a no-nonsense attitude. She was also very helpful with everything we needed. Our room came with a French press coffee maker, oven, cooktop, and mini-fridge with just about every kitchen item you’d need (except a darn can opener) and the entire place was either very new or very recently upgraded. Two things we found a little odd coming from the States were that the queen sized bed didn’t have a top sheet, and instead had two twin sized comforters – one for each of us (which we ended up kind of liking and even joked about changing our bedding at home to match), and the other was that the shower didn’t have a door or curtain on it. It was a walk-in style, but not even separated from the rest of the bathroom, and it was just wide open and out there.

After a short nap, we ventured back out and had dinner at Íslenska Flatbakan, a pizza place about 15 minutes from our apartment. We built our own vegan pizza and it was so amazing that I tweeted them later asking what kind of cheese they used. (It’s Violife and unfortunately not available in the States.)

This time of year in Iceland, the sun sets around 10:30 pm and rises again at about 4:00am, so I’m sure glad I saved my little eye mask from the plane ride. It never actually gets dark at night, it just stays dusky for the few hours in between, and because of that, we missed the Northern Lights – which are rumored to be quite amazing there.

We had a few days during the week where we just relaxed at the apartment, sleeping off the jet lag and binge watching Animal Planet and the History Channel – two of the main English speaking channels we could find consistently. If I never see another commercial for Treehouse Masters, I will die happy.

Our best day, in my opinion, was our second full day, when we drove the Golden Circle. Our first stop was in Þingvellir, where the North American and European tectonic plates meet and also where some 17th and 18th century parliaments took place. From there, we drove through those mountains I’d been so sure I wasn’t going to see up close and on to Geysir, home of the original geyser and which all others are named. We hiked around for a bit and even saw a few eruptions. After that, we made our way to Gullfoss, the most famous waterfall in Iceland. It’s a double cascade, and Jason even said afterward that it was the most amazing and beautiful thing he’d ever seen. We’d heard stories about bad/rainy weather in Iceland, but were glad to have only had to use our raincoats at the waterfall due to the strong sprays from the first cascade. The last stop in this day trip was Kerið – home of a 6,500-year-old crater with a lake in the bottom. Everything was so extraordinary, there was no way we could top it during this visit.

We didn’t venture much farther during our week, but other notables from this trip include:

• A whale-watching tour out of Reykjavík – lessons learned: wear the overalls, get a seat at the front of the boat, and take your Dramamine early
• Lunch at Iceland’s first microbrewery Bryggjan Brugghús– it was fancier than I expected, but the food was delicious (we each had the vegan club), and both Jason’s beer and my espresso were exactly what we needed
• A few meals at Iceland’s only all-vegan restaurant Kaffi Vínyl – the food was mouth-watering and amazing; we went back a few days later. Interesting place though – see my review on Happy Cow(Jessb6484)
Whales of Iceland - awesome museum in Reykjavík with life-sized foam replicas of whales, a neat app you can download to listen and guide you through the exhibits, and a small cafe with complimentary coffee
The Settlement Museum in Reykjavík (871 ±2)– aptly named for the date of the artifacts which can be carbon dated back to 871 AD give or take 2 years
The Settlement Center in Borgarnes– Pro: headphones tell you the story as you go and one of the exhibits told the story of one famous Viking; Con: the stops along the exhibit are very close together and people are just let in whenever without considering spacing between parties
The Blue Lagoon – Yes, it’s exactly as great as everyone says. It may be a tourist only destination, but it was so worth it – relaxing and energizing at the same time – it was perfect and I wish we’d gone multiple times

All in all, we had a pretty memorable week, with just the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. Unfortunately, our trip home was horrific. For those who didn’t follow the fiasco as it played out on my Facebook page, here is the recap of our 3-day nightmare:

Our flight home was cancelled after being delayed 4+ hours due to Delta’s “power outage.” Total time waiting in the check-in line and for the bus – about 6 hours. We were sent to a hotel with a promise of more information regarding rebooked flights and transportation back to the airport in the morning once we were at dinner. The Delta app showed us on a flight from Boston to Minneapolis, but we didn’t know how to get to Boston.

No word came, we (and everyone else from our cancelled flight) missed the shuttle, and we never got word on our flight (turns out it was on Iceland Air). We took a bus to the airport, and after waiting in line another 5 hours with Delta and going back and forth to Iceland Air, we missed the flight to Boston and consequently the Delta one to MSP, but we received a printed itinerary of our flights for the next day (Reykjavík to Toronto, 2 hours, then Toronto to Minneapolis) and we also got vouchers for our inconvenience – though they were the same value given to other passengers who had volunteered to give up their seats. Back to a hotel for the night with another broken promise of info at dinner.

Because this was no longer our first rodeo, we took another bus back to the airport and left for Toronto with no issues. We landed on time and went through Customs fairly seamlessly, but our bags weren’t transferred to our final destination and were excruciatingly late to the carousel. I was on the verge of tears as I paced between the normal bag-drop and the one for oversized-baggage. After we had gone through Customs, found our bags, took the train to the other terminal, and made it to the Air Canada line, we were too late. They wouldn’t let us check in. I cried. Even if our bags had arrived on time, we still would have had to go back through security and US Customs pre-screening and we wouldn’t have made it on that plane. We waited in line for another hour or so for Delta, who then put us on a flight later that afternoon to Montreal with 70 minutes to spare before a flight to Minneapolis. Our flight to Montreal left 45 minutes late and once we landed, there was an issue at the departure gate and they didn’t let us off for another 15 minutes or so. I collapsed in my seat and wept for the second time that day. I knew we were stranded in Canada. Even if we’d been able to get off right away, we couldn’t have made it over to the Delta gate and on that plane on time. The Delta desk was closed in Montreal, so we waited in line at Air Canada since their late departure was the reason we missed our connection. My Delta app updated with a flight for the next morning to Minneapolis, and the Air Canada agent confirmed she could also see that on our itinerary. They put us up in a hotel, fed us dinner, and we had no issues with the complimentary shuttle. Our bags made it to Minneapolis somehow (on another flight) and we were without them for the night - that was a first during this event.

We arrived at the airport 3 hours before our scheduled flight to Minneapolis. So early that the security checkpoint wasn’t even open yet. We didn’t care about only getting 2 ½ hours of sleep – we were getting on that damn plane. Finally, that flight went as planned and we made it home later that morning. After a nap and some lunch, I wrote an email to the Delta employee I’d spoken with back in Reykjavík to forward my complaint about the hotel transportation company and also a page and a half complaint letter to Delta requesting compensation for our bus fare, a full refund of our original tickets, and additional vouchers (since we got the same as those who volunteered). After I sent it, I got an auto-generated reply saying they’d respond to me within 30 days. We’ll see what we get I guess.


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