Saturday, January 25: Reykjavik
This is our last, partial day in Iceland. Amy and I liked the breakfast, although Michael was not too thrilled. It turns out that the orange juice here (which was the most similar to US OJ that we had) was the exception rather than the rule. Just about everywhere else had the “watery” OJ (except for the cheap place in Geysir, where it tasted canned and cooked). At first, I thought it was the other hotels being cheap, but perhaps it is the style that Icelanders are used to (perhaps because oranges are expensive, rare, or hard to transport?).
We only have a few hours to kill before we head to the airport. We had been planning to go to the zoo and botanical garden, but it looks like it is raining again (but not storming like the previous morning), so we’re not sure what to do. As a compromise, we’re hanging out in the hotel room an extra half hour or hour before heading out. So that is when I am typing this up.
The rain seemed to stop, so we finished packing up, checked out of the hotel, and loaded up the car. Our plan today was to visit the nearby zoo and botanical garden.
When we got to the parking lot (next to what we think might have been a skating rink), we were aghast to find that it was covered irregularly with a thick layer (several inches thick) of ice, full of potholes and other irregularities. Even worse, the walkways were covered with a thinner, smoother, and more slippery layer of ice.
We took a quick look at the map of the combined area, then paid and went in to the zoo. We saw what we thought was an artic fox and some weasels or ermine or mink. The zoo was one of the few places in Iceland where most of the signs and descriptions were in Icelandic, without an English translation. That made it hard in some cases to identify what we were looking at, although in some cases, the Icelandic names and the English names were remarkable similar, e.g. “Hreindyr” or “Falkinn”.
Shortly after we entered, it started raining again, so we took refuge in some buildings. After a while it tapered off, and we could spend more time outside.
We thought that as it was winter and the weather wasn’t the best, that we would pretty much have the zoo to ourselves, but there were a surprising number of presumably locals also wandering through. It was nowhere as crowded as it probably is on a good day in the summer.
Most or all of the animals seemed to be native or at least regional, with about half actually being domesticated animals such as pigs, horses, goats, and cows.
By far the hardest part was getting around. We didn’t need the spikes at Gullfoss, but I really wished that we had them at the zoo. I would say that about 3/4 of the walkways were covered in ice, and about 1/3 in a particularly smooth, slippery ice. That is not something that you would find in the US.
I don’t know whether they didn’t usually get ice, and so they couldn’t effectively deal with it, or whether they got ice so much that they had learned to live with it.
Amy was wearing her crocs, which I’m guessing have a soft rubber sole that seemed to get some grip on the ice. I was wearing my hiking boots, which have a harder rubber sole designed for dirt and rocks in the summer. I think down at freezing, it got particularly inflexible and gave me very little traction.
I quickly learned to appreciate the irregular or snowy ice, where I had traction, and to try to avoid the smooth stuff which was a killer. It looked like they had spread some lava gravel over the ice for traction, but for the most part it had either melted into the ice or been covered with more ice. In effect, it was there to taunt you--you could see it, but it provided no traction.
We found a small glassed-in cafe, so we stopped for some hotdogs for lunch. Interestingly, just outside they had a small Christmas tree, complete with lights and a star on the top. That was something we had noticed for the whole week--lots of places still had Christmas lights up and even a number of menorahs. Our guess was that perhaps because it was so dark there during the winter, maybe they wanted to keep the festive lights up much longer.
After lunch, we went over a pedestrian bridge into another part of the zoo. This looked more like a carnival or play ground, but just about everything was closed. The only thing that was being used was a children’s play area (in the shape of a square-rigged ship) that had slides and ladders and such.
We retraced our steps until we were essentially at the entrance again. Amy wanted to look at the botanical garden. I wasn’t particularly interested in that, so Amy and Mike went on, while I took a side trip to see the reindeer, which we hadn’t yet seen. This proved to be the most difficult trek yet, as the walkway ran uphill, and it was covered in smooth, slippery ice. At one point, I had to resort to holding the chain-link fence with both hands, and sort of going hand-over-hand up the slope, trying to just keep my feet under me.
Afterwards, going down was much easier, although I still used two hands on the fence for stability. It probably looked silly, but I never fell.
I left the zoo, wondering if I was going to have trouble finding Amy. No problem--she hadn’t gotten very far. We wandered through there for a bit, and visited their greenhouse (which had a koi pond there, and some areas to sit at). Amy was fascinated by the plants (at least what plants were poking up through the snow and ice), and Michael and myself were bored out of our skulls (:-).
Then it was time to head to the airport.
Friday evening, Amy had turned in the cell phone and charger. Saturday morning, when we were packing everything up, she found the ear-piece. So after we left the zoo (by this point, it was much easier navigating by memory or by the map rather than with the GPS), we drove to the previous hotel again. This time, we didn’t park in our “normal space”, but rather Amy drove through some tiny streets to the front of the hotel. She dropped me off, and I ran in and gave them the ear-piece. When I came out, I found that Amy had “parked” a short distance down in a handicapped space. I jumped in, and we left Reykjavik for Keflavik.
If we had more time, we were thinking of getting a tour at the geothermal plant next to Blue Lagoon, but we didn’t have time.
At Keflavik (next to the airport), we drove around more than we should have before we found a gas station. Then I tried using the GPS to get us to the airport, but it tried putting us into a restricted area. We made a U-turn, turned off the GPS, drove back to the highway, and just followed the signs.
Interestingly, the rental car return area is slightly further away from the airport than where you rent them in the first place. That is, to get the car you walk out of the terminal, but after returning the car, you get a (short) shuttle bus ride back.
In the airport, I did some quick repacking, for example, I put my rain hat, knit hat, and gloves into my checked suitcase, and put my camera into my carry-on. I wasn’t sure if I was going to succeed in carrying it on, but I was going to try.
It didn’t work. I guess they have a weight limit for carry-on bags, and at the bag check, she asked me to weigh it. It was too much. So I grabbed my headphones and gum out of it, and checked it. Afterwards, I was figuratively banging myself on my head, because I should have done it a bit differently. Rather than thinking “what do I need on the flight?” I should have also grabbed out of it some high-value/fragile items like the camera and laptop. But I didn’t think of that until it was too late.
We stopped at the same cafe where Michael had had breakfast when we first arrived, and we had a second “lunch”. We went upstairs and through passport control. That left us in the duty-free shop, where Amy got some candy and other assorted tidbits. After leaving that, we found ourselves in the main “shopping area” of the airport. I checked out the Icelandic Stuff store, and then hit the bathroom. We were right on schedule, but no earlier.
Some place along the line, I stopped and got a refund for the VAT that we had to pay on a few items.
We went through security and got to our gate as they started boarding. We got in line and then spent a few minutes talking to the guy behind us. He was from the UK and was flying to Boston where he went to Harvard. Apparently it was cheaper for him to fly from the UK to Boston via Reykjavik rather than direct. So much for my thought that no one connects through Reykjavik.
Suddenly Amy realized that she didn’t have her jacket with her! Apparently at some point, she had put it down, and then when she had left, she had forgotten to take it with her. We got out of line and checked with some staff people. One of them went back to look where Amy had waiting for me while I was in the bathroom, but it was only about 15 minutes before the flight was to leave, so we didn’t have much time.
We got back in line (pretty much at the end of it). After Amy and Mike had gotten on, and as I was about to, one of the people we had talked with said that her companion had not found it outside the stores. She gave me a card which had their lost-and-found phone number on it. Amy will have to call them on Monday and see if it was found.
We don’t know if she left it there, and someone had turned it in before that person went looking for it, or whether she had left it somewhere else.
The timing of the flight was interesting. We took off just as the sun was setting. Then due to our course and speed, we experienced the longest sunset ever (or at least I would have experienced it if I had the window seat). The sun probably took about 4 hours to finish setting!
We got free sodas on the flight, but we ended up paying to get some warm sandwiches (which were our “dinner”). Amy got through three movies, whereas I only got through about 2 1/4. It appears that with Icelandair, either you bring your own headphones, or you have a silent flight. They didn’t seem to provide them in any form, although there was a wide choice of movies.
Michael was pretty tired by the time we landed. It was 5:40 Boston time, but it was 10:40 Iceland time, which was about an hour or two after his normal bedtime.
We hit the bathroom and then passport control. I was really nervous waiting for our bags to come out, for fear that either the laptop would be broken or stolen. Fortunately, when my “carry-on” bag appeared, everything looked intact.
We got our bags and went through customs, which was easy as we didn’t have anything to declare. Then we got outside to wait for the bus to economy parking. They had a sign there giving the estimated wait time (11 minutes when we first arrived). It was too bad that they didn’t have a similar sign at the economy lot itself.
We found that it was snowing slightly. When we got to the lot, loaded up our car, and headed home, the car’s thermometer read about 33, but then it dropped to about 31 or so by the time we got home. So the temperature was just about like in Reykjavik.
When we got home, we found that it had snowed a couple of inches while we were gone. I didn’t shovel it until the next morning, where I found the temp had dropped to about 10, and a fair amount of the snow that had been driven on or stepped on was now fairly hard ice.
It didn’t seem fair that Northborough should be both colder and snowier than Iceland!