ICELAND, 2009

Globus RN

I originally booked an Iceland/Scandinavia double with Insight, but they cancelled due to lack of reservations.

Day 1, Saturday July 4 Depart for Iceland via JFK Airport
Late Horror! The flight is now at an hour earlier time! I have to take the StuporShuttle at 4:05AM which actually comes at 3:50 (I'm in a stupor since I had to be up by 3 AM which is early, even for me), and we take a long winding route through Houston picking up 6 more people before they get us to Hobby Airport since I'm not flying out of IAH. At least I did an early check-in via the 'net and got my boarding pass - which is good since JetBlue (Very)SlowBlue has extremely slow check-in (and later, gate checks).

1Jet Blue B6 620Houston - JFK7:00 AM - 11:47 AM3:47(8:28)
2Icelandia FI 0614JFK - Reykjavik8:15 PM - 6:00 AM5:4518:00

The flight is nice, but I have a miserable over 8-hour layover in JFK airport waiting for the Icelandair check-in to open (no access to food, etc.) then a visit to the junk-food courts for a delayed lunch/supper combo before a late overnight flight to Reykjavik - it's that east-bound timing again. However at least I'm finally able to get something to eat here at JFK - Icelandair charges LOTS for all food on board board and in fact doesn't even offer anything - just gives us a soft drink and that's it. Fortunately neither flight is particularly long. The total flight time (9:32) is only one hour longer than the JFK layover (8:28)! I take extra books to read. I could have taken a later JetBlue flight scheduled for JFK arrival at 7:30 PM but it would have been impossible to get my luggage, switch terminals, and check in with enough time to make my connection. After taxiing and then holding for a total of almost 45 minutes, we're finally off ... on a screaming kid (yes, SCREAMING almost constantly) one row in front of me - flight through noise-Hell.

Day 2, Sunday July 5 Arrival in Reykjavik, Iceland
From JFK to here is a 4-hour time change (5 hour difference to Houston). It's a very early morning arrival, but that's what Globus booked for the flight. On arrival (Weather: 52-59 showers and it is indeed cool, heavy overcast and light rain), I will have been up for "only" 22 hours so maybe I can keep going. There is plenty of time to start exploring Iceland's capital - hours and hours of time. We do now have a (very brief) Reykjavik city tour included which will take some of the time - added at the last minute to possibly partially (NOT) make up for missed stops later in the trip. We spent over an hour sitting on the bus at the airport waiting for other early morning flights (18 people of the 26 total). Since there's lots more time, I had thought to do that optional excursion after all but with the solid overcast and drizzle, I decide that that's a "loser" so skip it. The hotel room is nice but very warm, almost hot! Finally at 6 pm, we are deceptively promised that we meet our traveling companions for a Welcome Deception ("Deception" since it's never even mentioned) and finally at 7:30, dinner (Yea! First food since last night other than a small package of "munchies" I brought along!) at our hotel. Basically a "nothing" day. (D) Hotel: Grand Hotel Reykjavik (F) (the only 1-night stay on the trip) Distance: 50 miles.

OPTIONAL: Whale Watching (The only option on the trip.) After a short introduction on whale's life at the WHALE CENTER, board the catamaran Hafsulan for a 2½ hour cruise. See curious and playful Minke whales, majestic humpback whales and jolly dolphins (nice, but I've seen these many times in Alaska.) €51=$75



Note: This scenic circular tour has beautiful travelling days, frequent stops for viewing and fantastic photo opportunities. The average temperature in Iceland is 15ºC (59ºF) during the summer; all visits are weather permitting. The standard of accommodation available outside Reykjavik is not First Class - it is similar to Tourist Class, however, the rooms are always clean and with private facilities. Due to the weather conditions, it is important to bring warm clothing and good walking shoes. Icelandic road conditions mean that coaches are considerably more robust (rough riding?) than in the rest of Europe. The terrain is rugged and this destination is quite different from any other in Europe. Hooray! That's why I'm here!!! Now if I could only pronounce the place names.

Day 3, Monday July 6 Reykjavik - Pingvellir - Borgarfjörõur Country - Snaefellsnes
Weather: 50-56 showers but turns out a bit warmer and no rain. After seeing almost nothing of Reykjavik yesterday on our very brief city tour (no stops and couldn't see much due to the rain), we start our vacation with visits to the mandatory shopping stop at a woolen mill outlet, the old PARLIAMENT SITE (nothing to see as far as buildings) at PingvellirNational Park (Parliament Fields), founded in 930 AD and also where we can see the effects of the earth's crustal plate movement - the separation of the North American plate and the EuroAsian plate. While here we see a nice little hotel near the bottom of the cliff. A few days later we find out that two days after we saw it, it burned to the ground. Next is REYKHOLT (the Smokey Hill), a tiny village and former farm site of the 13th-century writer/scholar and Chieftain Snorri Sturluson (nice museum tour); then Hraunfossar, the LAVA WATERFALLS, where crystal-clear water seems to drop out of a 1,000-year-old lava field and in Borgarfjörõur country, the DEILDATUNGUHVER, one of the world's most powerful hot springs (springs, not a geyser). We also make a couple of other waterfall stops. Along the way, lunch was a bowl of soup and a couple of rolls. Then we head to Snæfellsnes (which is the name of this part of the country; the town is Stykkishólmur), where we stay for the next two nights. We also manage to find out that our Tour Director, Sigrun (she never introduced our bus driver that I heard but I think his name is Gunnar?), has been a Reykjavik city tour guide, but this is the first full country tour she has ever done. She is nice, but she obviously has LOTS to learn. The hotel was once a primary-school and still shows many of those characteristics. Nice dinner and some of us take an hour-long hike around town after that. Nice location for this hotel with a couple of beautiful views from the windows, and close to town for walking. (I like the fact that most of the hotel stops are for 2 nights!) (B,D) Hotel: Stykkisholmur (F) Distance: 235 miles.

Here's another Iceland map with cities shown where they actually are:



Day 4, Tuesday July 7 Snaefellsnes. Full-day Excursion and Boat Cruise
Weather: 50-56. The day started out quite gloomy and overcast - definitely cooler - but it cleared up later though we had a fairly strong wind most of the day. Our first visit this morning is to the BJARNARHÖFN FARM (Bear's Harbor), where the farmer, Hildibrandur, explains how to prepare shark meat, and we can sample this traditional Icelandic specialty (no thanks!). Then continue our journey around the peninsula and stop in the small village of Hellissandur. Visit the MARITIME MUSEUM and learn about the traditions and lives of the former fishermen. Late update: The museum is closed. GRITCH! So instead, we just drive back to Stykkishólmur and enjoy a leisurely CRUISE around the islands of Breiõafjörõur (the Wide Fjord). We saw quite a bit of bird life (Fulmurs, Kittywakes, Cormorants, White Tailed Eagles) along the way. We could buy lunch on board if we wished. End the cruise with "fishing," where a net is thrown out to unveil the wonders of the sea. The most interesting stop, despite an extremely steep, tricky trail down the cliff with no warning from Sigrun, was a visit to a black-beach area at Djúpárlónssandur with quite a bit of lava on the top of the cliffs, and some very interesting rock formations down the cliff face and on shore. Our last stop Arnastapi, a small village where, during a walk along the coast, we enjoyed the scenery and the sea birds, kittiwakes, and the (vicious) arctic (attack) terns screaming the loudest and dive-bombing anyone who gets close to their nesting area. Sigrun didn't know the way, so we wandered around for quite a while trying various paths until someone finally saw the bus and we made it back. Basic mini-buffet breakfast but another very nice dinner at the hotel. Despite a couple of disappointments it was a nice day overall. (B,D) Distance: 158 miles.

Day 5, Wednesday July 8 Snaefellsnes - Laxárdalsheiõi - Akureyri
Weather: 49-65 30% - but although the temps are right, it's a beautiful day with no rain or clouds at all. It's a long driving day today - we leave an hour earlier than usual and head north and visit Eiriksstadir, the replica FARMHOUSE OF ERIK THE RED. Its the best stop of the trip - at least so far. Learn about his amazing saga from a fantastic local interpreter (whom we can actually understand, unlike our Tour Director whose speech and English skills are such that we miss at least 50% of the (incomplete) information she is giving us ... when she even knows the answer to questions.). Have lunch (2 hot-dogs) before continuing further north to the Glaumbaer Farm and Museum. This is an 18th - 19th century farm house complex, almost totally sod-buried, but very interesting with the interconnected building. The last stop of the day is Skagafjörõur, known as the "Valley of Horses," and enjoy a HORSE SHOW. The "star" of the show is 6-year-old Julia, the youngest daughter of the owners. Finally arrive in Akureyri, the biggest town in North Iceland and stay at "the best hotel in town" for the next two nights. Nice mini-buffet breakfast. The hotel room is nice enough, just somewhat cramped and extremely hot - the maids didn't open the windows for any ventilation. However I was able to get a fan from the main desk personnel so as to cool it off a bit until the night cooling almost did the rest. (B only) Hotel: Kea (F=T) (2 nights) Distance: 253 miles.

Day 6, Thursday July 9 Akureyri. Excursion to Goõafoss and the Mývatn Area
Weather: 44-62 Sunny. Make that a low of about 55. Otherwise, it looks like a nice warm day. In the morning after virtually no sleep due to the heat in the room and excessive traffic noise from outside the room (I think I went to sleep around 2:30 or 3:00) it's another mini-mini-buffet (once they finally open the breakfast room and despite the hotel being totally crammed full) we're off early again. As we leave the town, we see a large (2000 pax?) ship in port. First we visit the GOÕAFOSS (Waterfall of the Gods) which is nice, but no Niagara Falls. We stop to see a fairly large geyser which is also tapped for geothermal energy and some hot springs around LAKE MÝVATN (Mosquito Lake). We make one last stop before lunch at a large caldera of an extinct volcano - now a lake and a favorite swimming area because of the geo-heat. Lunch is minimal - not much choice today at this stop. After lunch we take a nice walk through the Dimmuborgir (Dark Cities) with the amazing / incredible lava rock formations from an eruption about 2300 years ago. It's definitely the highlight stop of the day. Last is a visit to the numerous pseudo-craters (lava "burps") in the colorful hill at Námaskarõ. We return to our hotel over an hour earlier than planned - about 3 PM. Tomorrow we will be traveling "cross-country" through the "highlands" with almost no facilities along the way so we are told to go shopping for lunch munchies - fruit, breads, and drinks. Luckily there is a nice little "convenience store" diagonally across from the hotel. (B only) Distance: 154 miles.

Day 7, Friday July 10 Akureyri - Hveravellir - Geysir Area - Hvolsvöllur
After another hot miserable night, and another mini-buffet breakfast, we're eventually (one traveler is very sick and can't go today - he and his wife will catch up with us tomorrow night) off at 8 again and travel across the highlands highlands with very good weather again (from a map I've printed off, this is something of a cross-country drive on rough washboard gravel back-roads - be sure not to forget the "munchies" we bought yesterday afternoon) and stop at the geothermal zone of Hveravellir (Field of Hot Springs) and see how steam comes up naturally and also have our (picnic) lunch. Leave this oasis and continue south through more deserted landscapes/moonscapes with nothing but rock, gravel and dust dust and distant views of what they call "glaciers" but to me are more like large snow-caps (icefields) on the small mountains with small "rivers of ice" in a few places. There's NO vegetation. Eventually arrive at Gullfoss (Golden Waterfalls). which although again not Niagara Falls, are very nice and there is also a beautiful rainbow. Then drive to the Geysir area and enjoy a walk at the hot springs (with lots of that awful sulphur smell). The geyser is no "Old Faithful" but it does spew out quite a bit of hot water - every 5-8 minutes. Overnight in Hvolsvöllur at the very nicest hotel of the entire trip! It's very nice and a good countryside and river in sight also. Unfortunately we lose our good driver: he has to take the bus back to Reykjavik for repairs since the front windshield is loose and about to fall out which is why he was having to drive so slowly on that washboard road today. We have a different bus and driver (he and his bus arrived in time for dinner so tomorrow is "safe" but since the original host company didn't have another bus available, they had to subcontract with a second company for a 2nd rate bus and 3rd rate driver - Iceland is still developing its tourism infrastructure) for the next two days. Dinner tonight is "edible" (poorest dinner so far) and the service is NOT good; not at all what I would have expected from a 4-star rated hotel. (B,D) Hotel: Ranga (F) (2 nights) Distance: 245 miles.

Day 8, Saturday July 11 Hvolsvöllur. Full-day Excursion
Weather: 49-54 mostly cloudy and very windy. I had the first good sleep I've had and a very nice breakfast (except having to fight the flies for the food) but it doesn't make up for last night's dinner fiasco. Horrible. Today is a long day with many stops. The first two are the Skogar Falls and the Skogar Folk Museum (my favorite stop of the day) with both a normal museum and a collection of old houses much in the same vein as the Maihaugen Open Air museum in Norway. The museum was started and still run by a gentlemen (now 82) who is still very active in running it and who took us around to the various houses. Then we stop at the Halsanefs Hellir area and walk down to the beach and look back at the large caves that wind and waves have carved into the cliffs. With the tide and high wind, there are quite large waves breaking on the beach - stay clear of them. There's also a ledge sticking out into the sea that has a large hole bored through it by various natural forces. We stop for lunch (so-so) at Kirkjubaearklaustor (try saying that one!) then it's on to today's (not-so) highlight: the National Park of Skaftafell. After a very brief 5-10 minutes stop at what would have been an interesting Visitor Center, drive on down to the tongue of Skaftafellsjökull and enjoy a nice walk up to the biggest European glacier (not so big: Think the Antarctic ice field, then 30% of that is Greenland size, then 1-2% of that is this thing. The most interesting thing here was the wide range of small flowering plants in the area. Stop at Nupsstadur farm for a visit of the old tiny TURF CHAPEL next to the farmhouse. (deleted). On the way back, drive through the moss-covered lava fields of Eldhraun (fire lava). Then finally get to see the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss before returning to our hotel arriving finally at 7:30. The stop which is deleted is supposedly due to this being a long driving day. (More gritching!) Tonight, enjoy(?) a late, delayed, farewell dinner with more miserably poor / slow service at the hotel. (B,D) Distance: 110 miles.

Day 9, Sunday July 12 Hvolsvöllur - Eyrarbakki - Blue Lagoon - Keflavik Airport
Weather: 49-58 clear. Another nice night. In the morning, again fight the flies for a good breakfast. We leave at 8:30 and in Eyrarbakki, we visit one of the OLDEST HOUSES in Iceland. Then continue to the BLUE LAGOON, a natural geothermal pool in the middle of a large and dramatic lava field (and an over commercialized large swimming pool!). There is time to swim before going to the Airport. It's an early afternoon arrival back at Keflavik (about 2:15), but the homebound flight is late in the day. Notes say no flights before 4:30 PM. Icelandair flights were booked by Globus. (B) Distance: 110 miles.
5Icelandia FI 0615Reykjavik - JFK5:00 PM - 6:55 PM5:5516:05

As expected, Icelandair gives us only about 2-3 ounces of soda and no snacks as onboard refreshments. Cheapskates! It's a lousy arrival time at JFK for connections to Houston but it's the only return non-stop by IcelandAir. Other flight times have multiple stops. Other than a JetBlue flight to Houston tonight at 8:15 there are no other flights out of JFK (non-stop or otherwise and, late note, the 8:15 flight is no longer offered!) after 7PM, but with only about 1:15 "layover" there would have been nowhere near enough time to get luggage, get through Immigration and Customs, then switch terminals and check-in for the next flight (which of course no longer exists). Therefore I'm "stuck!" I have a 16 hour layover in JFK and will stay in a Holiday Inn Express airport hotel. At least I'm getting out of the Ramada #9 Pig-Pen (listed as the 9th dirtiest hotel/motel in the US) when I changed from Insight to Globus and changed my reservation. There's a complimentary shuttle both ways and a "Conti-mini-nental Breakfast." Surprise! From plane to Hotel took only 55 minutes! With the 9 hours going out, and the 16 hours layover here, that makes 25 hours stuck in the JFK airport area. I wish we were flying through Newark.

Iceland impressions. 1) NO trees except what has been planted lately. 2) Very clean everywhere except tourist areas which have been littered by inconsiderate touristas. 3) 4 different terrains: south and west, lots of rolling land between high ranges of hills covered by lush fields for hay, barley, and grazing; north is more rocky with less growth / greenery but still with some scattered fields; southeast usually quite rocky and lots of volcanic areas with limited growth - much of it useless due to the results of volcanic activity; central highlands = moonscapes with nothing but rock, gravel, and dust and is almost uninhabited. 4) limited tourist facilities (though improving). 5) nice people who are a bit reserved (not used to tourists?) but very considerate. Very nice trip overall except for the poor Tour Director, the hotel Kea, and the miserable dinner service the last two nights. I had also expected for greenery/vegetation. Due to its geological history, it's really all either old or new volcanic rock. Houses are either reinforced concrete or sheet-metal siding construction. Roofs are aluminum or tile. There's virtually no wood buildings in Iceland. Virtually no pets seen - 3 dogs, 2 of which work the sheep, but NO cats to be seen. MeYOWL!

Although McDonalds and Burger King aren't here, KFC, Taco Bell and Subway have a strong presence. Gasoline is 185.8/L or about $5.50/gallon.

Our Tour Director: Her first ever long tour (previously just short day trips around Reykjavik) who doesn't yet know the Globus procedures, how to keep people informed, poor planning and changes things without warning, English ok but non-standard grammar and pronunciation when mixed with the Icelandic names making it very hard to understand even 50% of what she is saying, lack of knowledge except what is in her little guide book, gets mixed up on left and right (sides of the bus when pointing out things), .... She's a very nice person but has LOTS to learn. Globus should have taken her on a training tour first with an experienced tour director.

Day 10, Monday, July 13 Finally arrive home
With an 11AM departure, there's no big rush to have to get out of the hotel and to the airport terminal. I even have a conti-mini-nental breakfast included in the hotel. The shuttle to the airport runs on the hour, so I have to catch the 8AM bus but that still leaves time for breakfast since service starts at 6AM. The hotel was decent but not fance - it needs some refurbishing.

6Jet Blue B6 625JFK - Houston11:00 AM - 1:40 PM3:4025:40

As on the outbound trip, SlowBlue gives us a full 12 ounce can of soda and as many packages of snacks as we want. The legroom is better than Icelandair, and the seats much more comfortable (the Icelandair ones are very uncomfortable). Return flight time total 9:35; Layover time 16:00 which is only 2 hours less than the total time on the east-bound trip. Awful! But the StuporShuttle is on time, and I'm home by 3:15 (in 102F temps again) with plenty of time to pick up my mail.


Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

Skatafalls NPHot SpringsLuthern Church
Akuriyri
Modern Viking ship
Birds on Fjord CruiseScenery
SceneryErick Red houseJulia at Horse ShowGooafoss Falls
Geothermal PowerDark Cities LavaHot springs at lunchGullfoss
Geysir areaSkogar FallsSkogar Folk MuseumNational Park



REYKJAVIK/ICELAND WEATHER for JULY: Avg. Low: 47 Avg. High: 55 Month Rain: 2". Based on pre-trip weather info (see individual days for the weather Guess-cast), I'll need a good jacket and rain-gear!

AIR SCHEDULE
1Jet Blue B6 620Houston - JFK7:00 AM - 11:47 AM3:47(8:28)
2Icelandia FI 0614JFK - Reykjavik8:15 PM - 6:00 AM5:4518:00
3Icelandia FI 0615Reykjavik - JFK5:00 PM - 6:55 PM5:55(16:05)
4Jet Blue B6 625JFK - Houston11:00 AM - 1:40 PM3:4025:40

HOTELS / Meals: IcelandAir has meals … if you have lots of money to spend!
Day 1 - - -In flight-
Day 2 - - DReykjavikGrand Hotel Reykjavik (F)
Day 3B - DSnaefellsnesStykkisholmur (F)
Day 4B - D--
Day 5B - - AkureyriKea (F)
Day 6B - ---
Day 7B - DHvolsvöllurRanga (F)
Day 8B - D--
Day 9 B - - JFKairport hotel
Day 10- - - Home-

ICELAND CURRENCY: Although the option is priced in Euros, it's not the currency.
1 US Dollar = 128.205 Iceland Krona
1 Iceland Krona (ISK) = 0.007800 US Dollar (USD)
Globus says that the smallest bill is 1000ISK = $7.80 US Dollars (wrong - the smallest is a 500 ISK bill)