Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Iceland - Day 1: Denver to Reykjavik

This blog entry was started on Tuesday evening.  However an unexpected computer crash prevented me from finishing it.  It is only Wednesday evening that I am getting back to it to finish.

The sun is finally beginning to set upon our first day in Iceland!  It is 10:50PM local time in Reykjavik and the sky is starting to ever so slowly darken.  Darkness when it finally does come will only last for about 3 hours before the sun will once again pop above the eastern horizon.

Even despite the late hour to which the sun has stayed in the sky, this day has been exceedingly long.  For me the day started around 4:00AM on Monday morning in Denver when I had to rise for early morning calls for work.  Monday seemed to be a blur of activity until it finally came time to leave for the Denver airport around 2:30PM.  We were very fortunate to have Lisa take us to the airport.  This saved us a considerable amount of time in the fact we did not have to park and then walk or take a shuttle from one of the remote lots.  A big thank you Lisa for helping us out!

Ticketing and check in on Icelandair was relatively simple.  The line long wasn’t too long and everything was in order with our reservation so things went very smoothly for us.  Given our arrival time at the airport we did have a little bit of time to kill so we spent the time reading (in my case) or playing video games (in Zack’s case).  The boarding period was very short and surprisingly everything went smoothly and the airplane pushed back away from the gate within 4 minutes of the planned time.

All-in-all the flight was good.  There was very little turbulence and the entertainment system on the Icelandair flight was good.  The accommodations on board were average as Icelandair’s largest airplanes that they fly are 757’s.  Each airplane has a name and ours was Hekla – named after one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes.  The only detraction from the entire flight was the fact that all food on board must be purchased.  In my experience this is unusual for international flights of any kind of duration.  What made the experience worse was the fact that because each meal had to be purchased it took the flight attendants several hours to distribute food and drinks to everyone on board.  Given our seating position in row 25 it was about 2 hours after takeoff until we got the chance to eat.  I always prefer to take my sleeping pill on an overnight flight until I have eaten.  As a result this prevented us from taking our sleeping pills for a considerable period of time.  Oh well – far worse things have happened on my flights before.

We arrived to a sunny and beautiful morning in Reykjavik.  Our flight arrived at 6:20AM which was about 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.  Clearing immigration and getting our luggage was quick and simple.  No paperwork to fill out, just present our passports and have them stamped.  There weren’t even any questions about our purpose of the trip or anything.  It couldn’t have been easier!  As for customs – unless you have something to declare, you get your luggage and walk out of the airport.

We found our way to the Hertz counter and were quickly directed to our car in the parking lot.  I took a short amount of time to familiarize myself with the car, hook up the GPS system we had from Hertz, punch in directions to Reykjavik and we were off.

As soon as we left the grounds of the airport it became readily apparent that Iceland is a volcanic island.  Evidence of the volcanic eruptions was all around us.  Much of the 45 kilometer drive from the airport to Reykjavik was through lava fields that were only sparsely covered in vegetation.  Regardless of that fact, the surrounds were beautiful and every time we glimpsed the ocean it was alive with color and waves.

Another unique point about driving in Iceland is how well the roads are maintained.  Though most of the roads are simple 2 lane roads they are in excellent condition.  Literally I only hit one pothole the entire drive into Reykjavik.

Reykjavik gradual comes into being as you head to the east.  The first you realize you are coming to Iceland’s capital is the number of homes around the main road begin to increase.  Eventually the round becomes a four-lane road and the amount of traffic increases.

Finding ourselves in Reykjavik we were quickly able to find our hotel.  Given the early hour of the day – around 8AM, it made no sense for us to go there and attempt to check in.  Instead we decided to explore Reykjavik and find some place for breakfast.  After driving around for a while we came to what is considered the main street of the commercial district.  Because of the early hour most shops were still closed, however we were able to find one small café open for business.  Breakfast for us consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches washed down with a coke.  There doesn’t seem to be any specific kind of “Icelandic” breakfast as most of the food items offered have been either American or European.  

After breakfast we concluded we might as well get about doing something so we headed out to find Thingvellir National Park.  This Park is known for two very important places in Iceland history.  First it is known in Icelandic geological history as the place where the North American and European continental tetonic plates are splitting apart.  As such there is a giant rift between the place that the two continental plates come together.  The second reason for Thingvellir’s significance is of human history.  The unique rock formations that make the rift between the two continents became known as the Law Rock in early Icelandic history.  It was at this place that the oldest parliament in the world was found in 930AD.  Early Icelanders saw this place as special and decided it was where they should meet to establish the laws by which they would rule themselves.  It was also here in 1944 that the Icelandic political leaders met to declare their independence.  

In addition to all this, Thingvellir is also an area of tremendous natural beauty.  The largest lake in Iceland is also located within the boundaries of this park.  It is a beautiful place with a lot of symbolism to the people of Iceland.  The park is located a little over 1 hour outside of Reykjavik.  Zack and I went and explored a large amount of the park.  On our way there we stopped at every point we saw that we thought was fit for a photograph.

After spending 2 or 3 hours at the park we took a different way and journeyed back to Reykjavik.  Zack promptly feel asleep in the car on the way back.  Unfortunately for me, despite my lack of sleep on the airplane, there was to be no sleep for me as I had to drive.

Once we arrived back in Reykjavik however, we made a beeline for our hotel – Hotel Floki.  Though it was only 2:20PM, we were allowed to check in and as soon as we got to our room, we threw our stuff down and settled in for a much needed nap.

(Zack near the lake in the center of Reykjavik.)

(Lake in the center of Reykjavik filled with birds.)

(Looking out to the north from the beach to the west of Reykjavik)

 (Near Thingvellir National Park)

(Zack on the beach near Reykjavik)

(The rift between the North American and European tectonic plates.)

(Waterfall in Thingvellir National Park.)

 (Looking out toward the lake in Thingvellir National Park.)
Our nap lasted almost 5 hours before I final woke and decided it was time to get Zack up and find some dinner as I was starving.  The hotel was exactly as I expected it – very basic and bare bones.  It was very similar to other inexpensive hotels in which I have stayed in Europe.  The rooms and beds are small and there are very few extracts in the room.  In this case there was no TV.  For the rest room we needed to share the common toilet that served all 4 rooms on our floor.  It was neat, tidy and clean – all that we needed.

For dinner we asked the person at the front desk and she directed us to several restaurants in downtown.  In the ended we went with a pizza joint that made pizza that was uniquely Icelandic.  There was very little sauce applied to the pizza and it was heavily laden with all kinds of different spices that you normal don’t find on pizza.  All-in-all it was very good and served to top off our day.

After dinner we spent another hour or so exploring the local environment including the world famous lake in the city center in which large numbers of birds hang out and wait to be fed by kind people.  We also drove as far to the west as we could on the piece of land on which Reykjavik is located.  At the end we found a wonderful open space in which the views of the sky and ocean dominated all other senses.  It was absolutely beautiful and took away my breath for yet another time that day.

After that we were both exhausted so we headed back to our hotel.  I attempted to spend some time writing but when my computer crashed the whole exercise became an effort in futility as I was utterly spent and unable to mental process anything at that point.

That is a brief recap of our first day in Iceland.  Tomorrow I will catch up and write about today and hopeful tomorrow – provided I don’t have any computer crashes.

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

1 comment:

Sunna Reyr said...

Welcome to Iceland, I hope the rest of your stay will be as satisfying for you as this first day was.

When you come to the West fjords you are most welcome to visit our little farm in Bolungarvik.