Iceland 2015 Day Five – Puffins ahoy!

We woke up with a clear purpose… We were going to hunt down some of these adorable puffins and then shoot them. With our cameras, of course. (Come on, do you think I would actually shoot these adorable little things?)

Chris and I booked seats on the Puffin Express tour provided by Special Tours for only 5,000 ISK per person. When we showed up at their booth in the Old Reykjavik Harbor, we were greeted by a friendly clerk – I showed her our confirmation email and we were given the tickets and waited for our turn to get on the boat.

14:30 came by and the tour guide called us over to the boat, affectionately name Skúlaskeið, or “Old Skuli”, built in 1959. She’s a tough old boat with a shallow hull, allowing for much closer approach to the islands we would be visiting.

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On the way to our first stop, Engey Island, the guide regaled us with stories about the puffins. They are apparently Iceland’s national treasures, and are protected as such. They avoid any mammals, so they tend to nest on remote, uninhabited islands or along the coast. Engey Island is a very new colony, less than five years old. We didn’t spot any there, so we moved on to another nearby island with a older, well-established colony – Akurey Island.

At first we saw only one swimming in the water…

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And then we saw more!

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I spotted one sitting on the rocks and zoomed in on my DSLR camera. Their cuteness is unfathomable and should be illegal.

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This was about as good a shot as I could get – the best telephoto lens I had could only go to 135mm. Drat! But watching them fly around was absolutely incredible. I absolutely recommend doing it if you’re ever in Reykjavik.

Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to Austurvöllur, Reykjavik’s downtown public square. We were greeted by a surprise. That is, a masked naked man on a bicycle.

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Not sure what his schtick was, but it happened. We shrugged it off and went in search of a restaurant where we could get a decent meal. Soon, we ended up at Hressó Hressingarskálinn on Austurstræti. It’s a modern type of bar with very excellent pub food. And I finally got to try one of the local beers – Viking.

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Great stuff! It came down smooth and not so hoppy. For a starter, we ordered the nachos which was quite delicious. In fact, we inhaled the whole thing. 8/10, would eat again.

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While eating the nachos, we noticed that the older couple at the table next to us got up and walked away after eating their appetizers without paying. Their dinner arrived and just sat there for fifteen minutes. I had half a mind to just take the glass of Viking on that table…

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(One of the waiters gave it to me on the house, since it was going to be poured down the drain anyway…) Then my pulled pork and beef burger arrived!

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Tres delish. We paid our bill and then walked around. Stopped at a bookstore nearby to check out the souvenirs and noticed that their music section was full of Björk CDs. Go figure!

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And now, we walk home for the evening.

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Day Four – Ayyyy, Babalú!

Today we woke up at around 10am and I made us breakfast – the usual scrambled eggs and toast. It felt good to not spend so much money on food, seeing as a meal is around 1,500 ISK, give or take. We had an appointment at 12:30, but first… I wanted to check something out. So out we went to Smaralind Shopping Centre in the nearby town of Kópavogur. I wanted to see what Gamestö∂in (their version of Gamestop) was like.

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It’s a pretty nice mall, actually. I couldn’t find the 220-volt charger for my Nintendo 3DS, however – the US one only accepted 120v and I didn’t want to fry it. So I got myself a consolation prize – a caffe latte. While on line I noticed something adorable. Aww, Olaf…

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It was yummy. But it was time to head out to Ishestar in Hafnarfjörður for our 13:00 ride with some stout Icelandic horses!

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They greeted us warmly and asked us to sign the standard release of liability in the event of injury, then we went through a brief orientation in which we learned how to mount a horse, how to handle the reins and “communicate” with them. And then we were introduced to our hoses (for the next hour away) and then we were off!

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I personally enjoyed the ride, although my horse was such a diva that she refused to heed half of my commands. 🙂 At one point she stopped mid-trot to munch on some grass and wouldn’t keep going. I had to have someone help me pull her away from the patch of grass. Guess she was hungry…! Chris didn’t fare so well, though – he complained of his hips hurting. Amateur…

We went home, took a shower and then went to Hallgrímskirkja, a Reykjavik landmark. Hallgrímskirkja is a large, tall Lutheran church on top of a hill in the center of the city. We gleefully paid 800 ISK ($6) to go up to the top of the tower and check out the scenery (which you can see in the album I will post soon!)

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The interior was decidedly plain, which honestly doesn’t surprise me as Nordics aren’t big on aesthetics as they are about functionality. However, the organ deserved a second look.

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Afterwards we walked to Cafe Babalú, which was founded by Glenn Barkan, a fellow New Yorker, and his husband Þórhallur Vilhjalmsson. I had the ham panini with cheese and iced coffee – by god, it was delicious. For what you could get, it was very much affordable unlike the other restaurants in the area (2,000 – 3,000 ISK a plate).

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And that concludes our day. We don’t have anything planned for the rest of our trip, so we’ll be “playing it by ear”. I’m hoping to have some adorable orange-beaked birds in our near future. And on that bombshell, have a good night!

Day Three – The Search for Björk

Hi all! Not much happened today, since we were still recovering from an overly active day in Grindavik. We got up late, then went out in search for food. A quick google search of “Cheap eats in Reykjavik” took us to Potturinn og Pannan on Höfuðborgarsvæði in the Hlemmur neighborhood of Reykjavik.

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However, once we saw the menu, we quickly determined that it was a bold-faced lie as each meal was in the 2,000 – 3,000 ISK range. (That’s about $15-25 a plate!) Not wanting to give up that much money for lunch, we ended up at a nearby pita restaurant, Pitan. There, a sandwich with fries and soda was a modest 1,450 ISK, give or take. And by god, it was delicious.

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We talked it out over lunch and agreed that due to the weather being cold, bitter and windy…

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…that we would stay in today. I proposed going grocery shopping at a store we hadn’t been to – one called Bónus, and we would then prepare dinner at home. So off we went…

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I was pleasantly surprised at how much more affordable it was over Vi∂ur, a store that was much closer to where we’re staying. I also found it interesting that the boxes of Ritz crackers were also much smaller here than in the US.

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And a word of caution: frozen pizzas for 350 ISK is not worth it, though attractive as the price may be. Like I said, nothing terribly exciting, but we needed a day off! I promise things will get much more exciting tomorrow!

 

 

Day Two – A day of extremes

Good morning, Reykjavik!

Today’s adventure brings us to the incredible folks at 4×4 Adventures Iceland in Grindavik who took us on a mind-blowing two hour ATV tour…

                      

…followed by spelunking in a lava tube. Eep! My anxiety went through the roof here as we’ve had to crawl in very tight spaces in pitch blackness, but it was exhilarating!

      

And now, after spending three hours on an ATV and climbing through dark holes, it’s time to pamper ourselves. Therefore, we ended up going to the nearby Blue Lagoon, an Iceland landmark.  It’s a large geothermal pool with a spa built around it. Exactly what the doctor ordered!

The fact that it was 42F/6C outside did not deter anyone from jumping into their swimsuits and lounging around the pools! The water was so warm and soothing – if it weren’t for the risk of drowning, I would’ve fallen asleep in there! I also experienced a true Nordic sauna (the one where you pour water over rocks), a steam bath and a silica mud facial. The Blue Lagoon was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it for anyone that goes to Iceland!

      

We were in a state of complete zen, oblivious to the fact that it was still pretty cold and windy out, waltzing to our rental car wearing just a T-shirt and shorts, our jackets hanging on our arms. I think at that point I realized how exhausted we were, and dreaded the 45km drive back to Reykjavik. I made it safe and sound! We then got some dinner at a burger joint called “The Burger Joint”. Yep..

The last pictures were taken at 9pm. I don’t think I could ever get used to the “midnight sun”!

Good night, Iceland!

Day One, continued…

On my last post, we at the main town square in Reykjavik. We walked around a bit and Chris exchanged $100 into krona and we went next door to a local restaurant that serves breakfast. They seem to have an odd fascination with laundromats – in fact they have pictures of various laundromats in Brooklyn all over the walls. It was especially weird for Chris because there was, on the wall, a picture of the very laundromat on his street. “I spent so much money to get away from New York City, and I’m finding it here in Iceland!” to paraphrase him.

What sealed it for him was a bar next door called “Brooklyn Bar”. Sigh!

Afterwards we went for a walk along the northern shore and then headed to the BnB to nap a little bit. After we awoke, we went grocery shopping which was an exercise in culture shock. Bacon was $20 and ground beef was about $25 – such ridiculous prices because they have to be imported from mainland Europe. But I did come across a familiar sight, Heinz Baked Bean(s/z) at 154 ISK a can!

After buying groceries, we had lunch at Sea Baron, a famous local place. I regret to say that we made a mistake here and ordered whale steak (very small pieces) for 350 ISK. While they were delicious, I regret making that choice. Especially when we went next door and saw a pamphlet with facts on whaling in Iceland. It was appalling to say the least… I will never eat whale meat again.

On our way back to the hotel, I happened upon this church in my area.

After that we got back to the house to rest at around 8pm. We woke up at midnight and was greeted by a well-lit scene. Hello, midnight sun!

Our stomachs started rumbling so we went online in search of food. Unlike New York City, everything in Reykjavik basically closes around 10pm. Our research quickly took us to Nonnabiri in the downtown area, which serves sandwiches, burgers and subs. Our food came out to $23 including two cans of Pepsi and a slice of carrot cake. Not bad…


Here is what I’ve learned about Iceland so far:

  1. The Icelanders are very warm and hospitable. Also, they all speak perfect English, even the older ones.
  2. Converting the Krona into US dollars take some getting used to, and my guesstimates are so far off the mark by a few dollars in either direction. I guess in due time, I will get it!
  3. Get used to showers that smell like rotten eggs. Icelanders take their water from volcanic sources, which means that the water is naturally hot and full of sulfur. I have no problems showering in it, but I keep a bottle of water on the sink so that I can brush my teeth without tasting the sulfur.
  4. Iceland barely has any traffic. Even the ring highway is two lanes at some points.
  5. There is nothing on TV here.
  6.  Eating whale is delicious, but a very bad thing to do. 🙁

And now, as it is past 2am here in Reykjavik, it’s time for me to try and sleep! The next blog post will be about Day #2 – Keflavik area and the Blue Lagoon!

Iceland – Day One (Reykjavik) Photos

Here are the pictures from today thus far… I will add comments to them in the morning. 🙂 But for now, I am too sleepy to continue here. Enjoy! 🙂

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Touchdown in Keflavik!

After a five hour flight (which was 50 minutes early to its destination, thanks to IcelandAir!) we finally touched down in Reykjavik at 6am local time. We were both very tired due to not sleeping very much on the plane, but we passed the time watching “Some Like It Hot” on my laptop. Good ol’ Marilyn Monroe… but I digress!

At around 5am GMT, the sun was shining and we were well above the clouds and I had such an incredible view here.

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It wasn’t long before the clouds parted enough for us to finally see land.

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Because we were so exhausted, we made a mad rush through border control, customs, the ATM to get 10,000 ISK and then picked up our bags and grabbed our rental car, which is a brand new Suzuki Swift.

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We drove straight to our AirBnB in Vesturbær, right by the water in western Reykjavik – the drive was absolutely scenic, about 40km and took us about 30 minutes. We rented an entire house from this incredibly friendly gentleman named Tor right on Hringbraut, one of the major roadways in Reykjavik. With two bedrooms, a full kitchen and a living room, we’re all set for vacation!

 
Not long after we checked in, we both showered and learned something interesting about Iceland that I will mention in another post that will be put up tomorrow morning (as I am too tired to continue for much longer!) We headed out to Austurvöllur, the main town square in Reykjavik flanked by foreign (to them) restaurants with generic names such as “American Bar” and “English Pub”…?

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To be continued…

And we’re on the plane!

T minus thirty minutes. Chris and I are on the plane now, absolutely excited about our trip to Iceland! First we headed for the airport thanks to Chris’s mother’s boyfriend giving us a ride to Newark. 

  

Have passport, will travel  

 

Chris looking pretty at one of the saddest airport restaurants I’ve had the misfortune of eating at. 

 

Our plane! 

 

And here we are in our seats! Catch you all when we land in Reykjavik!