Iceland: Reykjavik & Golden Circle

I was supposed to go to Prague, Czech Republic last week, but was forced to cancel the trip on the morning I should’ve left because of leg problems. This was kind of infuriating, because that trip was something I had waited for a while, and I rarely have been forced to cancel my solo trips.

So of course I had to get a new trip to replace the cancelled one, and in the lottery inside my head the winner was Reykjavik, Iceland. It had been a dream of mine to some day be able to go there, and since I found cheap flights, I was ready to fulfill this dream.

The journey started on saturday January 19th 2019 with an Icelandair flight from Helsinki Airport (HEL / EFHK) to Keflavik International (KEF / BIKF) — the airport which was originally built by the US military during World War II.

The looks of TF-ISZ did not give away it’s age

The plane was a Boeing 757-200 (TF-ISZ), an individual which actually was pretty old, about 28 years. Despite the age it had been well kept, the overall quality of the cabin being in par with the good service given to us by the cabin crew.

Approaching Keflavik

As we approached Keflavik, the views seen from the window were just spectacular, with a mix of sun, water, reflection, ice and vulcanic mountains with some snow toppings. Something my eyes would’ve been happy to stare for a longer time easily.

The B737 MAX, TF-ICE, is currently (Aug 2019) grounded

After a smooth landing and spotting one of the currently (August 2019) grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8s while we rolled to the terminal, I was outside the building pretty quickly and on a Flybus shuttle to Reykjavik.

From the BSÍ Bus Terminal, which doubles as the main base for Reykjavik Excursions tour coaches, I walked the rest of the way to my hotel. The Metropolitan Hotel is situated roughly one kilometer from the main shopping streets.

For the dark evening, I ended up just to make a quick stop at the nearest grocery store and enjoying a pint at the pub opposite of it. Well, that actually turned into a few pints, and in the end I was in the next pub, The American Bar, and found myself chatting with a few different sets of americans.

A nice night out, and back to the hotel in the little hours.

My legs didn’t like this long but gentle ascent

Day 2: The Language

Tired from the first day and the night out, I slept very long and got myself up from the bed in the evening when it was once again dark, a mix of water and snow coming down the Icelandic sky. Headed back to the same area around the grocery store from yesterday, and basically had another little night out by myself.

Since it was Sunday, there weren’t crowds of people on the move, and that suited me well. While I do enjoy the company of people, I also need my own time on daily basis, and that can be executed in public places too (simple, just don’t talk to anyone e.g. in a pub).

Listening to the few locals present, I found their native language somehow very interesting. Kind of funny at first hear, but after you get used to it, you start to understand at least a bit of it and it’s flow.

Also the written language has some cool things in it. Yes, there are the accents in characters many other languages have too, but you won’t find ð (Ð) or þ (Þ) from many languages outside Iceland, the latter being a runic letter.

As a full language, it would probably be too complicated for me to learn because of my concentration problems, but then again Finnish is also classified often as one of the not-so-easily adaptable languages and that’s my native language.

Well, after this second night out I was ready for bed quite early. Headed back to the hotel, passing through a town square which had this Hlöllabátar grill kiosk(?) at the side of it. Almost every day of the trip I wanted to go and try it, but did not. I think they would’ve fed me with something with lots of fat. Maybe next time!

Day 3: Walking

Monday 21st of January was the first day I was determined to do some serious walking around Reykjavik, and so I did.

I started by walking towards the harbour, where I saw a cool Landhelgisgæslan (Coast Guard) vessel, parked and ready for some action if there would be an emergency situation or other duties to follow.

Even though it wasn’t a particularly cold weather in actual degrees, it sure felt incredibly cold, me losing the sense of my fingers while photographing without gloves. Maybe it was the wind coming basically from the direction of Greenland which did it.

Harpa

After some more steps, I stumbled on a massive building near the sea. Called Harpa, this very glassy building with a honeycomb pattern is a concert hall, but works also as a conference center and is the home to the national opera and symphony. Did not go inside, but what a building architecturally!

Next stop: a shopping street! Away from the cold wind, I walked to Laugavegur shopping street and some other streets around it. The area was packed with little stores and restaurants, with all kinds of things to sell — needless to say, much of it souvenirs and handcrafted goods.

Because of my budget, I didn’t hoard much souvenirs, but I will be going back to Reykjavik some day to buy a genuine Icelandic sweater. They looked cool, and I’ve already drooled those earlier by just spotting them in some Icelandic TV series.

Finally from a crossing I headed up towards Hallgrímskirkja, the church located at the top of the Reykjavik city hill.

Once again, architecturally, a divine building with an impressive shape. It was packed with tourists, but I managed to fit in, snapping a few pics from the inside, too.

From there, it was a downhill race back to the direction of the hotel, though not without visiting another grocery store to fill my carbs & drinks supplies. This store was actually much cheaper than the one near my hotel, so I’ll recommend Super1 for your grocery needs in Reykjavik.

After that I was physically done for the day, so it was time to get some rest and prepare for the next day’s activity, which was the main thing I was in Iceland for the first place.

Day 4: The Tour

The Big Day. The day I’m going to go to a tour for the Golden Circle to see the almost magical sights of the Icelandic nature. This was something I had been waiting from the second I booked the whole trip.

But it wasn’t easy. My legs had lost their stamina in the days before, and this morning was absolutely the worst one considering their strength.

It took an enormous amount of determination to get myself moving, first of all out from the hotel and after that towards the bus terminal. The walk was a couple of kilometers in length, and the sudden snowing didn’t help my speed at all.

I was slow, soooo slow

Did almost give up in about halfway, but held a few breaks and forced the legs to go further a couple of steps a time. This was also one of those moments I was wondering that what is it what makes my legs like this despite the physical therapy and all. There must be something wrong.

But enough of that speculation — I finally made my way to the bus terminal, and after still wondering whether to cancel or not, I did not, and instead rose up and walked in to the bus. A decision which I’ve been afterwards so very, very happy I made it!

One of the first pics from the tour — sunrise & snow

The tour started by the Reykjavik Excursions bus heading towards the Thingvellir national park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Plates which move further apart from each other at a 2,5 centimeter a year speed.

More of the sunrise. Lovely!

When we arrived there, the sun was rising as we reached the viewing spot on the edge of the valley. Others went another route to the bottom of the valley, but that was not an option for me, of course.

From the viewing edge

The valley is filled with dried lava and/or magma, and has some water going through it, too, in the form of rivers, ponds and lakes. An absolutely fabulous first stop which I enjoyed a lot.

You could also go down there

After a while it was time to continue our journey with our lovely guide who spoke good English with a funny Icelandic accent. She had the right amount of humor to get some of the passengers laughing at times (me too), and she did tell us a lot of interesting different historical stories during the trip.

Our tour buses
On our way to the Geysir

On our way to the next stop, the Geysir, we were spoiled with some of the most astonishing views I’ve ever seen in my life, with all the ice, snow, water, trees, mountains, lava fields and else.

There were quite a few smaller geothermal powerplants on the route
Constantly something to look at…

The sulfur smell around the Geysir was something that was instantly noticeable when we arrived there. From the parking spot, it was a few hunder meters of walking to the Geysir itself.

Outside the Geysir area

There was several streams of water around the area, steaming hot, with warnings placed everywhere for not to step over the security line.

Walking in the Geysir pathway

It felt like I was walking in a dream or something, with all of the steam around us, and the contrast between the cold air and hot water flowing through the cracks of the ground. Happy to be here.

The Geysir

And when I finally saw the Geysir active (video above), man it was some great looking action! The gap between the “outbursts” vary, but approximately 5 minutes was the time span which was told to us.

It was beautiful even in the edge of our parking space

After getting my dose of the sulfur smell inhaled, we had a little break inside the visitor centre, with the possibility to get some food, use the restrooms and of course buy more souvenirs.

Gullfoss waterfall

Next and last actual stop for us was going to be Gullfoss, a massive waterfall which is a part of Ölfusá river. Before ending to the Atlantic Ocean, Ölfusá flows for a whopping distance of 25 kilometres.

Gullfoss waterfall

Once again it was a marvelous sight, although the wind in Gullfoss area was so incredibly cold, that I couldn’t hang around the viewing spot for too long.

Freezing at the Gullfoss viewing spot

So off to the buses again, and slowly but steadily we started to head back to Reykjavik through some gorgeous mountain views. We actually drove over some mountain, can’t remember it’s name though.

Back at Reykjavik, it was hotel time since I had an early morning wakeup & start to the airport.

Day 5: Back to Finland through Sweden

Very early in the morning I was already outside the hotel, getting a taxi from the nearby town square to get to the BSÍ Bus Terminal. From there, a Flybus to Keflavik for a 07:35 morning flight to Arlanda, Sweden.

TF-ISZ it is

The plane which I boarded was actually the same I came to Keflavik with, the TF-ISZ (a Boeing 757-200).

It was particularly nice, because I learned afterwards that the plane in question was put finally off service about a week after our return flight.

Onboard TF-ISZ

Well, it was 28 years old and the next service would’ve cost a fortune, so it was a logical step for Icelandair to do. Nonetheless, thanks for the two rides, TF-ISZ!

Landed at Arlanda. Farewell for good, TF-ISZ!

From Arlanda the last stint of the trip was to fly with a Scandinavian Airlines CRJ-900 (EI-FPU) back to Helsinki Airport, Finland.

SAS CRJ-900 (EI-FPU)

I hadn’t been in a CRJ-900 actually earlier, so this was once again something I finally got to mark done on my todo-list.

The wing of the CRJ-900 in-flight

It was a short and basic flight with a good plane and good service from the cabin crew — I would fly that plane (and SAS) again.

Roundup

Oh, I just loved everything about the trip. The part of me which loves nature, the part which loves beautiful views, the aviation geek in me, and the having-some-fun part of me — we all were satisfied totally.

Remember to participate in any of the guides Golden Circle tours if you’re going to Reykjavik!

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