A March 2004 trip
to Reykjavik by MikeInTown
Quote: The activities and recreation organization at work was offering a trip to Iceland. We saw the natural wonders of Southwestern Iceland on the Golden Circle tour. Additionally, we did some sightseeing in Reykjavík, had incredible meals, relaxed in the Blue Lagoon, and experienced weird weather. It was an enjoyable trip.
The people of Iceland speak Icelandic. It was the language of the Vikings that settled on the island over 1,000 years ago. Because Iceland remained isolated from the rest of the world for so many centuries, the language has changed very little since the first settlers landed there. There are 32 letters in the Icelandic alphabet and their words are sometimes very long. I remember being amazed at how many words I saw that contained more than 20 letters.
I was surprised to find out that many Icelanders speak fluent English. English is one of the languages they are required to study in school. Many of the signs in the tourist areas are in Icelandic and English. We had no problems communicating during our stay.
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). At the time we were there, one U.S. dollar was approximately equal to 80 ISK. The exchange rates varied depending on where we exchanged money. I exchanged petty cash for riding the public buses at our hotel (Hótel Loftleiir) at 73 ISK/. For other purchases, I used my credit card.
Hotel | "Hotel Loftleidir"
It was a relief to finally check into our hotel room. Because we had an overnight flight, this was the first opportunity we
had to shower and change since the day before. Speaking of showers, one thing we had to get used to in Iceland was the sulfur
smell (smells like rotten eggs) in the water from the faucets. Iceland is geologically a very young island and has a lot of
geothermal and volcanic activity not far beneath its surface. This allows the island to enjoy an abundance of natural hot
water. It is used for things like electricity generation, heat, and plain hot water. A side effect of this natural hot water
is the sulfur odor. Fortunately, we did not smell it when mixed with soap. After a day or two, I barely noticed the smell when
I turned on the shower.
Our tour package included the Hótel Loftleiir Scandinavian breakfast buffet each morning. This consisted of a hot and cold bar. The cold bar
had cold cuts, vegetables, fruit, cereal, bread, and skyr, an Icelandic yogurt. There was also fish. I'm not sure if it was
steamed or raw, but it was on the cold bar so I was not trying to taste it.
The hot bar was a disappointment. It had boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, baked beans, and what looked and tasted
like miniature hot dogs. With the exception of the hot dogs, the rest of the food at this station was a
disappointment because it was always cold. Therefore, I ended up skipping the hot bar each morning and eating the skyr and
cereal instead. My wife, Traci, enjoyed toast, oranges, and skyr for breakfast.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 10, 2004
Icelandair Hotel Loftleidir
Restaurant | "Cafe Opera"
I missed out on a nice photo opportunity while at Cafe Ópera. Before bringing me my Icelandic lamb dish, the waiter told me that they normally bring out a hot rock on which the customer seasons and cooks the lamb. I have no cooking skills whatsoever. I had visions of me burning up my $40 lamb meal. I declined and had the chef cook it in the kitchen. The chef did an outstanding job. I regret that I didn't give it a try. I saw others in the restaurant who ordered the lamb. The wait staff came out and put an apron and a chef's hat on them and then brought them the sizzling rock.
Paying for the meal was a little awkward. The cost of living in Iceland is high. This meal was no exception. The appetizers, entrées, and desserts for the two of us came to a total of 9750 ISK ($122). Traci and I do not drink alcohol but I'm sure the bill would have shot up exponentially if we did. However, the price was not the awkward part because it was expected. What was not expected was that the waiter brought me my credit card slip that had a line for tip amount on it. I was sure I had read that tipping for meals is not a custom in Iceland. The waiter was standing there waiting for me to sign, so I asked him was the tip included. He told me no and that I could enter the tip amount in the space provided. He was a decent waiter so I tipped him. After consulting my guide books again and other group members, I found out that indeed tipping is not a custom in Iceland; although, a tip will not be refused if you give one. Oh well, he was a good waiter.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 10, 2004
As mentioned earlier, The Pearl sits high on a hill on top of six water towers. There is a museum on the first few floors
and an upscale restaurant on the fifth floor. There are all types of awards and pictures on display as you enter the dining
area. The restaurant revolves and provides a panoramic view of the city below. Unfortunately, by the time Traci and I were
seated, it had started to rain heavily and all we saw were blurry lights through streaks of water on the window.
The food and service was outstanding. The portions were small but the presentation was great. For the entrees, Traci
ordered flounder and I ordered lamb. The food was even better than the food we had at Cafe Opera the night before.
In between courses, the waiters would bring out small samplers to try. I'm not sure what they were exactly, but I gave
them a try. The first one was cold and smelled like ammonia. To me it tasted bad, but Traci liked it. The second one looked
like broth. Our waitress said it was chicken something. We never did make out what she was saying but she said it was not
chicken broth. I tried it and it definitely tasted like something from a chicken and it tasted okay. Traci didn't like it. It
had a reddish color so Traci and I joked it was a cup of boiled chicken blood - I hope it was a joke.
Our waitress was very nice. She talked to us for a while and told us about living in Reykjavík. Like us, she enjoyed
travelling. She had been to several countries in Europe, but she was hoping to save up money to visit the U.S.. I thought to
myself, if she can afford the high cost of living in Iceland, she'll feel like royalty when she comes to America.
We paid the bill which was even higher than the one at Cafe Ópera and then headed back to the hotel. We thought the walk
back would be easier since it was all downhill; however Mother Nature had other plans. That strong Iceland wind along with a
driving rain was there to greet us as we stepped out of the restaurant. It only seemed to intensify as we hurried down the
path. By the time, we got to the hotel my umbrella was a twisted mess.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 11, 2004
Our city tour took us by the parliament building, several museums, the university, a large outdoor heated swimming pool, the harbor, and several other landmarks. We made several stops along the way. This was good because jet lag really had a grip on us. However, whenever we stepped off the bus into the arctic windblasts, we woke up right away. We did not have the opportunity to visit the National Museum that contains artifacts from the Viking days because it was closed for renovation.
One of the highlights of this tour was the Hallgrímskrikja Church. This huge Lutheran church (around 90% of Icelanders are Lutheran) is the largest building in Reykjavík and can be seen from just about anywhere in the city. Apparently, there was some controversy when its construction was completed in 1974 because people complained it looked like a lava flow. To me, it looks like a chapel with a gigantic rocket attached to it. Outside of the church is a statue of Leif Ericsson, which was given to Iceland by the U.S.. Leif Ericsson was born in Iceland and is credited for being the first European to set foot in North America in 1000 A.D.. We were allowed to enter the church and look at its 5000-piped organ. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to hear it. Ordinarily, this tour allows visitors to go to the top of the bell tower and get a lovely panoramic view of the city. For some reason, our tour guide informed us that we were not going to be doing that on this tour. Instead, she said we would be making a stop at Perlan (The Pearl) to get our panoramic view of Reykjavík.
Perlan is an upscale restaurant and museum that sits high on a hill and atop six water towers. It has an observation balcony on the fourth floor. We went to the balcony and got some nice views of Reykjavík, but we didn't stay out there very long. That arctic wind was vicious!!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 10, 2004
Attraction | "The Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lóni)"
The Blue Lagoon is a manmade lagoon in the middle of a lava field. The water comes from a natural hot spring a mile below
the surface. The water is used to generate electricity and to heat fresh water before being pumped out over the lava field.
Because the water comes from a natural hot spring, it has a slight sulfur smell to it. Additionally, the minerals in the
water give it its blue color.
We took a dip in the Blue Lagoon and it felt wonderful. It was like taking a warm bath. The air temperature was in the mid
30's but the water temperature was around 100. Some spots were hotter than that. You are required to take a shower before
getting into the lagoon. This serves two purposes. One, it helps keep the water clean and two, it warms your body to reduce
the shock of stepping out into 30 degree weather in your bathing suit. You can also enter the lagoon from a wading area
inside the building and then wade through a door that leads to the outside area. Traci and I wimped out and waded from the
inside instead of entering the lagoon from the outside.
We relaxed in the Blue Lagoon for about a half hour. Each of us took turns getting out, running to grab the camera to take
pictures, and getting back in before the cold wind got us.
After getting out of the lagoon, we got dressed, checked out the souvenir shop, and used our discount coupon at the
restaurant (the fish was excellent --almond-crusted haddock for Traci and curry trout for me). The waters of the Blue Lagoon
are supposed to be good for the skin, so naturally the souvenir shop was selling all types of cosmetic and skin care products
made from the water and minerals of the lagoon.
We took some time to take pictures from the overlook area of the Blue Lagoon. While we were up there, we saw a man in nothing
but his swimming trunks taking pictures of the lagoon and the surrounding lava field. Traci and I were dressed and had on our
winter jackets, but still got a little chilly when the wind blew. We could not believe this man was standing out in this cold
weather for so long. There he stood for at least 15 minutes taking pictures, without even a shiver. Unbelievable!
Blue Lagoon (Geothermal Spa)
Grindavik lava field, Reykjanes Peninsula
South-western End Of Iceland
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 30, 2006
I also read that early settlers named the country Iceland because they wanted to keep this new lush green land they found to themselves. They gave Greenland, which is an extremely cold and snow-covered place, its name because they wanted to encourage people to go there. I found out from our tour guide that this story is only half true. The part about Greenland is valid; however, Iceland actually got its name from an explorer who saw icebergs floating in a fjord.
The highlight of the flight was when we flew over Greenland. It was a clear day and the scenery was breathtaking. The whole
place seemed to be covered in snow. The snow was as high as some of the mountains. There were glaciers, fjords, and icebergs.
It is hard to believe people actually live there.
We eventually, left the airspace over Greenland and headed out over the North Atlantic towards Canada. As we approached the
coast of northern Canada, we were treated to more dramatic scenery. Below us were miles and miles of drift ice. It looked
like broken porcelan floating on the water.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. We landed in Baltimore to 60 degree weather and boarded the motorcoach back to
Pennsylvania. I never in my life thought I would travel to Iceland; however, I'm glad I did. We had a great time.