My Trip to Iceland by Ashley Wolbeck

My Trip to Iceland - September 24 to October 1, 2014

I was recently given the opportunity to travel to Iceland with my mom on a trip I won through work with Iceland Travel.  This truly is a unique destination that offers untouched nature, breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture.  

We flew economy with Iceland Air on an overnight flight, direct out of Edmonton.  They were a great airline.  Upon entering the plane, everyone was given a bottle of natural Iceland water and pillows and blankets were waiting on our seats.  The airline provided free WIFI, although I could not get it to work.  They also had a wide selection of free entertainment to choose from - movies and TV shows.  Free drinks were served - pop and juice - and they served food for purchase.   Our flight was delayed leaving Edmonton by about an hour.  Upon arrival in Keflavik, all passengers who had connecting flights were rushed through security and escorted to catch their waiting flights.  I found the airport staff to be very helpful ensuring the passengers made their flights.   

After making our way through security and collecting our luggage we made our way over to the transfer desk where we exchanged our vouchers and were directed to the shuttle that would take us to our hotel in Reykjavik.  We stayed at Hotel Skjaldbreid which is located on the most popular shopping street in Reykjavik, Laugavegur.  We were a couple of blocks away from the Gray Line Tours terminal which is where all of tours and transfers departed from.  Although the location provided great shopping, restaurants and souvenirs, at night it was quite loud in the street below until about 5 am - people partying and yelling and once they all left the street cleaners would start.  The hotel included breakfast every morning on the third floor in their sun room.  The room we stayed in was small with 2 twin beds.  Free WIFI was available throughout the hotel.           

Iceland is 6 hours ahead of us here in Alberta so on our first day we were quite exhausted.  We checked into our room and had a nap to try and catch up on some sleep.  We woke up, walked up and down Laugavegur a couple of times and went for dinner at delicious Scandinavian restaurant.  You will quickly notice there is a lot of seafood and lamb entrees served throughout Iceland.  Many restaurants boast the best fish and chips in Reykjavik, a feat which we had to try at least twice.  Both were very good.  

On our second day, we were picked up at our hotel and taken to the Gray Line terminal where we exchanged our vouchers and were directed to our tour bus that would take us on a city tour of Reykjavik.  This process would become our daily routine for our tours.  On the city tour we were taken to city hall and past the many embassies.  We went to the President's house, where we were able to walk on the grounds and take pictures.  Our guide said the President is very similar to our Governor General, more of a figure head and they also have a Prime Minister.  We went past the University of Iceland, which is also home to the world's largest genetics research center.  We went to the Viking Village which is a hotel and restaurant set up to look like a Viking Village - hence the name.  While touring the city, we learned that a large number of the population believes in little people such as trolls and elves.  Many have little houses set up in their yards for them and you couldn't go into a souvenir shop without seeing the statues of them everywhere.  We then stopped at The Pearl which is a large silver dome up on the hill overlooking the city.  We had a strong cup of coffee here and walked around the outside observatory deck.  A great place to take pictures of the city.  Our final stop was at Hallgrimskirkja.  This Lutheran church may be the most recognizable icon of Reykjavik.  For only 600 Iceland Kronas you could take the elevator to the top of the church and take more pictures of the city.  Inside the church was the biggest organ I have ever seen with over 5000 pipes!!  We were then given the choice to take the bus back to the terminal or walk to our hotel.  Since we were already so close, we chose to walk back and do some more shopping on the way.  Later in the evening we were picked up at hotel for our tour to the Blue Lagoon - the milky blue geothermal hot springs.  The springs are located approximately 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik and would make a great stop upon arriving or departing Iceland.  We were only able to stay at the Lagoon for about an hour but I would definitely recommend staying longer.  There is a spa and a restaurant located on the site as well.  All around the lagoon are boxes filled with mud that you can rub on your face for free.  There is also a bar in the lagoon serving alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages.  No need to bring money into the water, as they charge them to your wristband and you pay your tab at the front desk when you are leaving.  We returned to our shuttle and we were dropped off near our hotel.   

On our third day we were again picked at our hotel and taken down to the terminal for our Golden Circle Tour.  This tour took us to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss which means 2 waterfalls, Geysir and a tour of the Hellisheidi Power Plant.  At Thingvellir National Park we walked through park and our guide showed us the lines where the tectonic plates were separating Eurasia from North America.  He said they moved about 2 cm every year.  There is also a lake here where people can go diving between all of the crevices from the plates separating.  We then moved onto Gullfoss, the 2 waterfalls.  We stayed here a couple of hours, walked around the falls and had lunch at the restaurant located on site.  We then moved onto Geysir, the most active geyser in the world, erupting every 5 to 8 minutes.  As you walked across the field there were bubbling pools of water and steam everywhere.  This was one of my favorite parts of the tour.  It was truly amazing.  Our final stop was at the Hellisheidi Power Plant where we were shown a brief video of how the plant works.  We were then able to tour around for a short time.  We were then dropped off near our hotel.  

On our fourth day we didn’t have any tours pre-booked so we decided to do a whale watching tour.  Upon arriving at the docks we were taken onto a docked boat that contained a small museum inside.  We were then taken onto the boat we would be using to do the whale watching.  Here we were told we could use the coveralls provided and it was highly recommended to put them on.  They were a huge help and kept us relatively warm.  On the tour we seen some white beaked dolphins and some minke whales.  Our guide told us that whaling was still legal in Iceland and one way we could help to stop it was to not eat at restaurants that didn’t have a whale friendly symbol in the door.  After the tour we made our way back to our hotel to wait to do a northern lights tour.  This tour took us about an hour and a half outside of Reykjavik to a restaurant in a small town where the tour company had a deal.  They would shut off all of the lights in the town for a couple of hours while we waited for the northern lights to appear.  On our drive out there, our guide told us that if we didn’t see any lights, our ticket would be valid for two years until we seen the lights and we could go as many times as we wanted until we seen the lights.  Unfortunately we did not see any lights while were in the small town but on the way back to Reykjavik, we did spot a faint streak.  We pulled over the bus for about half an hour and watched them.  This proved to be quite a long tour.  We didn’t arrive back at our hotel until 2 am.   

On our fifth day, we did a tour inside the volcano.  We probably picked the worst day to climb a volcano as it was raining and incredibly windy.  Once we got out to Thrihnukagigur Volcano, the wind had died down a little and the rain had stopped.  We were provided with rain suits and started our hike.  It was 3 kms there and 3 kms back across a rough lava field.  The scenery was beautiful.  Once we got to base camp, we were split into groups of six, given harnesses and helmets and proceeded to the top of the volcano.  The trail to the top was a little scary with a rope on one side and straight drop on the other side.  The high winds didn’t help.  Once at the top we were harnessed onto a little bridge over the volcano where we then go onto the lift.  The lift took us 120 m to the bottom of the chamber where we spent a half an hour exploring and taking pictures.  It was truly an amazing, one of a kind experience.  After being lifted out of the volcano, we walked back to base camp for soup while we waited for the rest of the groups to finish their tour.  We then hiked back to the shuttle and returned back to Reykjavik.   

On our sixth day, we explored the city a little on our own.  We finished our shopping and walked over to the HARPA building, another iconic building in Reykjavik.  It`s a beautiful building where they put on shows and also have many conference rooms for meetings.   

One thing you cannot leave Iceland without is some sort of wool souvenir.  For me, it was a scarf.  It wasn`t too itchy and it was in my price range.  They had beautiful clothes - wraps, ponchos, sweaters and dresses made of wool.   

On our final day, we caught our transfer back to Keflavik airport and caught our late afternoon flight back to Edmonton.  We were once again greeted with a bottle of water and a pillow on our seats.   

It was an amazing trip, a place I will absolutely be visiting again in the future as we only touched a small corner of the island.  There is so much more to see and do, a week just wasn`t long enough.