How to Reykjavik

Days: 441-442 (9 September 2015 – 10 September 2015)

Total distance travelled: 115,824.9 kilometres (71,940.91 miles)

At least on a map, it looked to us like we were headed to possibly the farthest country on earth from home.

Finally departing Boston’s Logan International Airport after a delay thanks to high winds, we were set for the relatively short flight (although thanks to changing time zones it would be early morning that we’d arrive) to Keflavik, Iceland’s international airport.

We were all set for another road trip, as it seemed the most time efficient way to get around the island, and other than the spectacular landscapes, we obviously were hopeful we’d catch a glimpse of the incredible Aurora Borealis, the so called Northern Lights!

Give me the option of a window seat on any flight (be it a short night flight such as this, or a long haul Australia to Europe affair), and I’ll take it every time.

For me nothing beats the wonders of being able to see the world from above, even if it happens to be dark out!

For this flight, I happened to get one, and it proved fortunate for the three of us (Sarah, her mum Julie and myself) that I had.

As much of the plane slumbered, I sat there occasionally glancing out the window as I do, at first thinking nothing of the light reflecting back at me from the clouds… only it wasn’t a reflection from the clouds… there was no Moon.

Peering out the window a little more intently I realised the colour I was seeing had a green tinge to it… and it was swirling and dancing.

There, right out of our aeroplane window, and before we’d even reached Iceland, was the Northern Lights!

Ticking off an Icelandic bucket list item, before we even touch down!

Ticking off an Icelandic bucket list item, before we even touch down!

I pondered for a few moments do I wake my sleeping companions, but only for a few seconds before rousing Sarah, and she in turn waking her mum so we could all get a peek at the show beyond the port side wing.

We eventually landed in Iceland, where the winds seemed to have subsided, but the grey clouds and rains had not.

With our check-in not for several hours, we felt it best to linger at the airport in the warmth, rather than immediately get on a bus for the hour or so trip from Keflavik into the city (we had pre-booked bus tickets we could use when we pleased).

Eventually we felt we’d chewed enough time, so boarded a bus and travelled the miserable (it was grey and wet) distance into Reykjavik and its main bus station.

Even then, we weren’t certain if we’d be able to check-in so early, so leaving Julie at the bus station to mind the bags, we went for a bit of a walk to firstly find our lodgings, and secondly to see if we’d be allowed to leave our bags there.

Pretty quickly this plan of an early arrival was scuppered, our place not actually having a reception, and only opening for expected arrivals.

Back at the bus station, we squeezed all of our baggage into one large locker, and instead went for a wander into town.

Dodging, and occasionally getting caught in the odd shower, we were even treated to snippets of blue sky, before the grey would roll back in.

Things were pretty quiet in downtown Reykjavik, possibly a legacy of the high tourist season having ended, so we set about finding ourselves a lunch option.

It proved not only our first taste of Icelandic pizza (for that is what we ate), but also how expensive this country truly is.

We’d read that this was indeed the case, but I think we had little true comprehension in our heads… probably the most expensive place we’d ever been.

Homage to a glorious past (left) & Colour on a drab Reykjavik day (right)

Homage to a glorious past (left) & Colour on a drab Reykjavik day (right)

So after eating our pizza that may as well have been covered in Icelandic Kroner, after visiting the waterfront (where we sadly learned that the Puffins had already left the island) and a small photographic exhibit above the library (where we sheltered from the rain), we headed for higher ground and probably the city’s most recognisable landmark.

Like a series of basalt columns, this modern concrete structure soars into the sky.

It is Hallgrimskirkja, the ultra modern looking cathedral of Reykjavik.

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik's modern cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja, the modern cathedral of Reykjavik

It also housed some of the more interesting religious art you’re likely to see in its entrance foyer…

Our first two days were spent in Iceland’s capital, and the weather was as two faced as any Jekyll and Hyde character you could imagine.

Heavy rains, broken by patches of sunshine and even blue skies!

To our frustration we discovered that our hotel didn’t have a kitchen we could use as we’d first believed, and we also discovered the the supermarkets here (as self catering here is the only way to eat anything remotely cheap) seem to operate on permanent Sunday trading hours, often closed by 7pm, and usually not ready to open their doors before 10am!

Why settle for one rainbow on this dark day, when you can have two!

Why settle for one rainbow on this dark day, when you can have two!

We splurged again on lunch the following day, indulging in some admittedly delicious Fish and Chips on the waterfront, and spent plenty of time wandering its cute streets with colourful corrugated steel facades.

After a small period of umming and ahhing (how many of the big decisions are made), Julie decided to splurge a little, and booked us all aboard an afternoon Whale Watching excursion.

Tasty? Yes, but possibly the most expensive Fish & Chips we will ever devour (left) & The capital turning on the charm at night (right)

Tasty? Yes, but possibly the most expensive Fish & Chips we will ever devour (left) & The capital turning on the charm at night (right)

The previous days excursions had been cancelled due to the inclement weather, so we wouldn’t really know if this would be going ahead until we checked back in later in the day.

Thankfully, all was good to go, although we would be sailing from another, more protected harbour (which we were whisked to by bus).

Another thing for which we were grateful, was the fact that cold weather gear was provided as well, so once we’d all donned our bulky suits, I was in fact starting to feel pretty hot!

Keeping a not so sharp eye out for Minke whales off the coast of Iceland...

Keeping a not so sharp eye out for Minke whales off the coast of Iceland

The Sun gives us a glimpse of not so distant rains...

The Sun gives us a glimpse of not so distant rains…

It was Minke whales that were on the menu, which contrary to popular belief are not an Icelandic staple (tourists consume the majority of whale meat sold in Iceland), and there was a boat load of eager eyes on the look out for them.

The afternoon sun made the task a little more difficult, however it wasn’t long before people were running from side to side as the odd part of a Minke was sighting not too far from the ship.

Unfortunately I managed to catch none of this with either photo or film, although I had marginal amount more luck when a pod of Dolphins crossed paths with us as we began to make ready to return to port.

At least the excursion wasn’t a total fizzer!



* Our flights from Boston to Reykjavik was with WOWair (Iceland’s budget carrier) and cost us $839.40 US ($1,085.34 AU) for the three of us.

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11 Responses to How to Reykjavik

  1. LaVagabonde says:

    Too bad about the puffins. I would have been so disappointed. But at least you saw the aurora from the plane.

  2. NOOOOOO WAY you saw the northern lights on the plane! Planning right at the moment to go to Finland, hopefully to go somewhere we can see them. Puffins are a must – I hope you get back eventually for it!

  3. Sounds like a fun time in Iceland. Seeing the northern lights is quite special. Looks like the weather was good, expected to see lots of snow and, well, ice.

  4. Sounds like quite an adventure! I am so glad you got to see northern lights, as a Canadian we are fortunate to see them, and they never get old, always spectacular. Now you’ll have to go back to see the puffins and capture the whales on camera!

  5. OMG, how lucky were you: the Northern Lights, a rainbow, and whales all on the same trip! So jealous, I had to cancel my Iceland trip but hoping to go next year.

  6. Neha says:

    You were so lucky to see the northern lights right from your plane. And then on top of that, you also had double rainbows!! Wonderful trip indeed

  7. Mar Pages says:

    Last time I was there we only managed to catch Minke whats and some dolphins too! But so lucky you were able to see aurora borealis from the plane!

  8. Adam, Bite of Iceland says:

    Cool story 🙂 Reykjavík is such a charming city! I hope that you would see puffins next time 😉

  9. Ami Bhat says:

    Awesome that the first sight you see is northern lights. Really lucky. I am kind of jealous you know :D. And then to top it all rainbows and whales. What a trip

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