Ready. Set. Go.
After arriving at the Keflavík International Airport around 6am, we took a bus into Reykjavik and ended up at our hotel, Icelandair Hotel Natura , around 7am. We were pleasantly surprised when they checked us into our room.
Despite being exhausted, we opted to explore the city instead of crashing. While waiting to take a free bus into town, we discovered it ran sometime around noon. So, we bundled up, wrapping our scarfs around our necks and ears and set off toward the heart of it all. The first half of our walk into town confirmed our assumption that the ground would be slick, so we treaded with care. Thankfully, neither of us munched it.
Our first notable experience in Reykjavik was gazing upon the outside of the Hallgrimskirkja church.
Thankfully, the wide open door invited us inside from the cold.
A simplistic, serene, yet extremely thought-provoking décor met us inside the church. Hallmarks of a church existed, but not in a conventional way. We had a bit of good fortune when the organist played to an audience of four… us and one other couple.
On The Streets of Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik is a sleepy town during the winter. Most places opened between noon and 2pm, if at all.
(If you want to see any of the photos larger, just click on them.)
A few shops were open, and The Little Christmas Shop @Laugavegi 8, 101 Reykjavik earned some dollars from us. There we learned about the thirteen Yule Lads of Christmas. Our favorite is the Spoon Licker. What attracts us to these 13 Santa-types is (a) the inherent Icelandic folklore, (b) the Yule Lads put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children in window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve, (c) gifts or rotting potatoes might be left depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year, and (d) the ever-so-adorable fact that Yule Lads are trolls.
One of our favorite aspects of Iceland is the Icelandic sweater pattern. Good news: there is no shortage of this print in Reykjavik. If it weren’t for the fact that everything in this pattern involved being made out of wool, my least favorite textile, I would have added a piece to my wardrobe.
Architecture in Reykjavik
Buildings in Reykjavik oozed simplistic and colorful palettes of architecture.
(If you’d like to see them enlarged, simply click on them.)
Along The Shore of Reykjavik
One side of the shore sports typical industrial landscapes such as shipyards, but the other side delivers the promise of nature with heaps of snow embracing mountaintops.
After enjoying a full day exploring Reykjavik, we grabbed some food from the local grocer and headed to our hotel. (We often make our own meals on the road.) The crunchy onions were to die for…yum.
In the middle of the night, I started to feel funky. By 2am I knew why. Let’s just say that the toilet became my best friend for the next several hours. When I have the displeasure of barfing my guts out, the blood vessels near my eyes burst and after a while it looks pretty scary. Around 5am I cringed because (1) we had an 11:30am domestic fight scheduled from Reykjavik to Akureyri and I didn’t know if I physically was up to flying, (2) the blood vessels in my face were a dark reddish purple as if someone had smeared pomegranate juice around my eyes, and (3) I forgot to pack my foundation…uh oh.
While I shivered and moaned in bed, praying for my relationship with the porcelain God to end, John had to go to breakfast alone. Thankfully, my relationship with the porcelain God ended about one hour before we flew. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay because nausea remained.
John stayed by my side. When it was time to go to the airport, I wore my sunglasses hoping that the clerk at the check-in counter wouldn’t have too many questions. Turns out that Iceland domestic travel is definitely NOT like the USA – they didn’t even ask for photo identification at the check-in counter. Oh, and no security screening took place either, and, thank goodness, no questions were asked about me wearing sunglasses the entire time.
A 45-minutes flight to Akureyri proved to be exhausting, but I made it. Stepping away from the plane, I almost fainted from the sheer beauty of Iceland.
A shuttle bus took us to our hotel, the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. I continued to be incredibly weak, but I didn’t want to miss the northern lights tour scheduled at 10pm, so I told John to enjoy the city while I slept. He stayed by my side as I slept the remainder of the day.
At 9:30PM, I rose from the dead. Thirty minutes later, we climbed aboard the northern lights tour bus and set out in search for aurora borealis.
Sadly, no northern lights were seen. John and I had already resolved that if we didn’t see them, we’d try again when in Reykjavik…just call us the Northern Lights hunters. 🙂 But, then the tour guide made an announcement that if we were going be in town the next evening, we could try again for free. Seriously? Saga Travel equals coolest company ever!
Still feeling incredibly weak, yet feeling the need for some food, we walked into town. We bought some pastries for dinner, but enjoyed RUB 23 – a fish/sushi restaurant – for lunch. Serious yum! Akureyri is a town worth exploring, but since I had little energy to take on more activities, we simply walked the entire town.
On the Streets of Akureyri
No need for a refrigerator in the room. Outside our hotel room window, we shoved our Pepsi Max into the snow.
Once again, the northern lights tour bus picked us up at 10pm, and we headed out on our quest to find aurora borealis. This time we had a storm rolling in, which left the visibility of the sky spotty, and the possibility of seeing the lights a meek one. The spotty sky opened up and for a short time showed us aurora borealis. At first, I didn’t see anything…and then the sky began to move – a green swirl shifted in the sky. I gasped with joy.
Having never photographed the northern lights before, I hoped for the best. However, before departing for Iceland, I studied manual mode settings for photographing these lights, and here’s how I captured a few of them: (1) Tripod (not negotiable) – and it was somewhat amusing watching others in the group trying to capture these lights with no tripod and a flash, (2) ISO 800/f2.8 for 30 seconds – turn noises reduction & white balance to auto, and (3) ISO 1600/f1.4 for 30 seconds. I passed the test.
After 15 minutes, maybe 20, in the cold dark night, I couldn’t take the weather. I began to feel faint, so I headed inside with Icelandic hot cocoa in hand. John, in his element, remained outside until the allotted time was up. The tour guide came aboard the bus and chatted it up with other wimps like me. When the guide came closer to my section of the bus, he asked me if I captured the northern lights. I said “Yes.” As he continued walking closer to my seat, he began to share a story of a time long ago when he saw the lights for the first time. Eventually, he grew close enough to see me in the light. When I came into view with my non-repairable purple face patches, he stumbled backward and his train of thought broke. Trying sooooo hard to not make me uncomfortable, he picked up his story stammering as he remembered where he broke off and acted as if I looked normal. He was a good man to not scream and go running the other way.
We headed back to Reykjavik. The plane ride back felt normal, so I knew I was on the mend.
Once back at the city centre, we checked out the Volcano House and found some lunch. The lunch stop turned out to be cooler than the Volcano House. However, the hot dog stand is a local legend.
Bill Clinton enjoyed a dog at this little gem. The dog is known for being the best hot dog in town, hell, even in Europe.
Above, John’s about to place our order. You can see the same woman who served Clinton about serve us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat more than two bites, but John had my back.
Time to leave Iceland. With an appetite, a long flight ahead of us, and a bunch of Icelandic Krona in our pocket, we ate a hearty lunch. The packed airport shocked us – seeing that it was Thanksgiving Day. For such a busy airport, our plane turned out to be a bit empty, which meant we were able to stretch our legs. Love when that happens.
1. We seriously, seriously, seriously, considered taking a horseback riding tour in the cold weather. We love to take horses out on our travels and the sheer thought of taking Iceland’s purebred out for a jaunt made us giddy. But after I became ill, it was off the table.
2. Everyone we heard talking, that is, every tourist, talked about their AMAZING Blue Lagoon experience. We considered it, but opted out. Maybe next time we’re in Iceland.
3. Bucket list item #62 – see the northern lights. Check.