This spring my wife and I took a three week vacation to Iceland. The goal was to drive the Ring Road with a side trip to the Western Fiords. As I have a chance to process my photos and look over my notes I will be posting blogs about the trip interspersed with my blogs about life in the Midwest.
Our trip started when we caught the early afternoon shuttle from Duluth, Minnesota arriving at Minneapolis airport around 4:30 pm. We had plenty of time since our Icelandic Air flight didn’t leave until 7:30 pm.
My wife always wants a window seat so she can look at the scenery. The irony was that just after leaving Minneapolis we few over the Apostle Islands just down the road from Duluth. Most of the trip was cloudy but she did catch a glimpse of Greenland.
Icelandic Air seems to be a no frills airline. It was a full flight and the service was slow. We purchased a hot sandwich to eat which was good. I fell asleep and missed out on a round of drinks. In the morning they started serving orange juice but apparently ran out of time before landing and didn’t make it to our seats.
We arrived in Keflavik International Airport at 6:30 in the morning on May 18th. We deplaned outside. Fortunately it was not raining or too cold. As we walked through the terminal I noticed that there seemed to be a lack of seating in the waiting areas at the gates. We were greeted with this sign as we walked through the arrival terminal.
My wife read that it is best to purchase alcohol at the duty free shop so she stopped to get some beer. Alcohol is very expensive in Iceland. I was more interested in the Icelandic chocolate. After a brief visit to the duty free shop we headed out to catch our ride to Blue Car Rental. We arranged for them to pick us up because we had quite a bit of luggage. I had my camera gear in a large carry on backpack. In addition, we each carried a day pack and a large suite case. Given that it was the shoulder season we were not sure what to expect in terms of weather so we has lots of clothing options with us.
A nice young man met us as we exited the arrival terminal. When we arrived at Blue Car Rental it was chaotic. Apparently quite a few flights had come in and everyone wanted a car. We had requested a Toyota Rav4 automatic 4X4 drive and that’s what we ended up with. It was new and only had about 4 thousand Kilometers on it. My wife is a former insurance agent so she made sure she took a lot of photos showing the condition of the car when we picked it up.
As we signed the paperwork were given a lecture on driving in Iceland. This label was affixed to the dashboard and covered some of the major things to be concerned about. When they tell you not to let the car door blow off or let the sand blast the paint off the car we were more than a little concerned. By the time we finished with the lecture we weren’t sure we wanted to leave the airport. We did receive a card for one of the gas station chains which would give us a discount on gas and free coffee.
Our destination was Hveragerdi where we had signed up for an Airbnb for three nights. We thought staying in one place would give us time to recover plus there were quite a few things to see in the area before we started our trip around the Ring Road. We thought we could drive the back roads to Hveragerdi but were told that we would need to drive through Reykjavik. Turns out that wasn’t true but what did we know?
As we were heading out we realized we couldn’t find the gas card so we returned to Blue Car Rental. In that short time we almost had two accidents. Between people like us who are just getting underway and the rental car drivers that were delivering cars and driving like mad men it was a harrowing few minutes.
We were glad to get back on the road. It was a straight shot to Reykjavik so that wasn’t a problem. There was a Garmin included with the car but when we turned it on it didn’t seem to be working so we decided to use our phone which we normally use anyway. We managed to make it through Reykjavik with only one wrong turn. Once on the Ring Road it was a straight shot to Hveragerdi.
When we arrived in Hveragerdi we notice a small shopping center with a bakery and Bonus Store, one of the main grocery stores in Iceland. We decided to stop at the Almar Bakari and get some coffee and a bite to eat. I have to say that the Almar Bakari has the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. It was definitely worth the stop. The bakery products weren’t bad either with a huge selection.
After getting a bite to eat we walked over to the Bonus Store to see what shopping would be like for the rest of the trip. They are supposed to be the budget grocery store in Iceland. The selection for each item seemed to be a bit limited from what we are used to in the states. What really struck us as strange are the hours that grocery stores are open. This store didn’t open until 11 in the morning and closed at 6 in the evening. It turns out this is common in Iceland.
The shopping center also provided our first encounter with pay toilets in Iceland. It is fairly common to have to pay to use a toilet provided you can find one. As I’ll point out later the lack of toilets along the Ring Road is a major issue.
The shopping center also has a an earthquake center exhibit which documents the 2008 Hveragerdi earthquake. It wasn’t that extensive but it was free and very interesting.
We drove around looking for our Airbnb and finally found it. It was behind a fence and behind another house. It was too early to check in so we drove around town. We stopped at the Hveragerdi Geothermal Park which required a small admission fee. Unfortunately there is almost nothing to see at the park. Apparently at one time there were beautiful thermal pools in the park but after the earthquake they dried up. I would not waste my time visiting the Geothermal Park. I was tempted to ask for my money back.
We had a few hours to kill so we drove out to the edge of town and decided to hike the Hot Spring River Trail. The trail leads from town to a geothermal river where you can bathe in warm water. This is apparently one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland. Probably because it is relatively close to Reykjavik. We didn’t make it all the way to the hot springs. It had already been a long day so we headed back to check in to our Airbnb and rest up for the following day. These are a couple of the photos from the hike.
On the way to the Airbnb we stopped at Bonus Store and picked up a few groceries for the following day. We had a early dinner and turned in for the night. We soon realized there was not going to be a night. Every time I looked outside it was light out. Our Airbnb had plenty of windows. Fortunately it was equipped with darkening shades so it was a little bit dark. We both took along sleep masks in case we had trouble sleeping in the light. I don’t know why I bought them because I love taking a nap in the afternoon sun.
More photos and a complete listing of my Icelandic blogs can be found on my website.