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Arriving in Reykjavik: Day 2, Multigenerational Iceland/Norway Vacation

If you’re anything like me, the first day of your vacation is planned and imagined down to the minute. For the next few days after that, you have a rough idea of what you’ll be doing. And the last few days? You’re like, um, we can do whatever. Free time.

So I had an exact plan for how our very first day in Iceland would go down: Land at 9:30 a.m., waltz through Reykjavik airport quickly, grab our rental car, and stroll through the entrance to the Blue Lagoon between 11 a.m. and 11:59 a.m. We’d spend a couple blissful hours soaking in hot baths, working out the kinks from sleeping upright in uncomfortable chairs, then check into our Airbnb early, hit the nearby grocery store, and eat in before hitting the hay, again, early.

The surprising thing is, It went down almost exactly like that.

Planning the trip, we’d all been worried that we might be too tired to enjoy the Blue Lagoon after our scheduled 6-hour flight from O’Hare. Even if we slept well on the flight, it seemed unrealistic to hope for more than five hours of shut-eye on board. In reality, the flight took off late and landed about on time, so it was more like a 5-hour flight. Erik and I were lucky enough to have an empty seat between us. I think we all got some sleep. A few hours, probably, with many interruptions.

But that didn’t matter. As usually happens, once the morning sun started streaming in the plane windows as we approached Iceland, we perked up.

Keflavik Airport

We exited the plane by a stairway to the tarmac, and by the time we boarded the bus to the immigration area, we felt basically fine. Excited for our adventure.

As expected, the line for immigration was short and the process was smooth. Before our bags came out, I stopped at the Duty Free Iceland shop and bought a bottle of Floki Icelandic whiskey. I had never heard of this shop and was skeptical that it would be a good deal, since it wasn’t actually inside the airport terminal, but according to the internet, it is. The whiskey cost $87.87. I think that’s more than I would have had to pay, except that I ended up accidentally choosing to pay in dollars on the credit card machine. I knew better, but maybe my finger slipped.

Renting Our Car

Our bags came out in a timely manner, and then we came to a line of people all holding up signs to meet passengers. Our guy was a tall young blond dude from Golden Circle Car Rental. He put us and our luggage in his van, and five minutes later we were pulling into a big empty parking lot next to their small, anonymous-looking corrugated metal building. Then we had the most personal and chill car rental process of our entire lives. For one thing, we were the only customers there. For another, instead of standing at a counter, we sat down in the office, learning about the disasters not covered by the insurance included in our rental price:

  • Hitting a sheep
  • Driving over a lava boulder
  • The wind blowing the doors off (Yes. That’s how windy Iceland can be.)

We had reserved an automatic Suzuki Grand Vitara, a car that looked big enough in the web site photo for five people plus baggage. IRL, though? The hatchback trunk was on the small side, and our four roll-aboard bags and one full-size suitcase wouldn’t fit. And my dad’s walker? Forget about it.

Fortunately, our friend upgraded us to a slighty bigger car at no extra charge. It was still a squeeze, but we got it all in. The cost for three days’ rental was $286, including tax and collision damage waiver, and we paid an extra $19.77 to add a second driver.

The Blue Lagoon

I wrote a detailed review of The Blue Lagoon already, so this is just a quick summary of getting there and leaving.

We had downloaded the Google Map of the area in advance, so even if the e-sims we’d downloaded from Airolo hadn’t worked (they did), we would have had no problem getting GPS directions to the Blue Lagoon. It was about a 25-minute drive through a lunar landscape of volcanic rock, dotted with lichen and shrubs. We could see the ocean for the first 10 minutes or so. The sky was gray and festooned with billowy clouds, the traffic was thin, and the roundabouts were annoyingly frequent. Erik had to focus hard on getting through them, because they have slightly different right-of-way rules than we are used to.

But before long, we saw a plume of steam and a small sign that indicated we were about to enter the Blue Lagoon parking lot.

One nice thing we noticed on the drive was the lack of billboards on the road. If we were in America, approaching an attraction as famous as The Blue Lagoon, you know there’d be a million signs.

There were a few large buses in the lot, and some cars, but it wasn’t difficult at all to find a good parking spot. We had been smart enough to put our bathing suits, robes, and other Blue Lagoon kit into our carry-ons, so we didn’t have to unpack the luggage, just grab our backpacks and hop out.

After spending several hours relaxing at the Blue Lagoon, we squeezed ourselves back into our little car to drive into Reykjavik. Entry to the Blue Lagoon cost $424 ($106 per adult and free for Toth). Coffee at the Blue Lagoon Cafe cost $16.33 for four or five drinks.

The AirBnB

We’d kind of forgotten that we were in for nearly an hourlong drive from the Blue Lagoon to Reykjavik. Fortunately, relaxing in mineral water hadn’t made Erik too sleepy to drive. Once again, the traffic was light. The only challenging part was getting onto the tiny road our Airbnb sat on, because we mistook it for an alley the first time past.

We arrived at around 4 p.m., parked and easily got into the house we were renting. I’ll write a full review of the property later, but for now I’ll say we were happy with it, and it had three bedrooms and a comfy couch. The house cost $780.57 for three nights. As soon as our bags were unloaded and everyone knew what room they were staying in, Toth and I walked to the Bonus grocery store, just down the street. Since I knew we’d all be tired, I figured it would be easier to cook than go out to a restaurant.

On our way there, we stopped in at the Saga Museum to pick up a flyer. There was a local mom with some kids there, and it looked like a fun place. As always, it’s a little challenging to shop in a foreign grocery store, but Toth and I had fun, using my phone to look up translations. We found a caramel cake for Erik’s birthday, some soda and sparkling water, milk, chicken and broccoli and potatoe for dinner, some Icelandic skyrr (their version of yogurt), some blueberries imported from Portugal, cheese and crackers, some cookies, and a few other things. The total — including two souvenir shopping bags with Bonus’ iconic pink piggy — was over $99. It rained lightly as we walked back, but nothing our raincoats coudln’t handle.

Back at the house, my mom made everyone a cheese and crackers plate while I started dinner. James started sneezing a lot. Great! He was coming down with a cold. I soon wished I’d done a more thorough kitchen inventory, because I realized there was no butter or oil. I ended up poaching the chicken, which worked well enough. And of course we had birthday cake and sang for Erik!

Evening Walk

Once dinner was cleaned up, everyone else was about ready for bed, even though the sky was still light. It was only about 8 p.m. though, so I decided to head out on a solo walk to check out our surroundings. Our house was on a narrow street very close to the harbor, in the Grandi neighborhood. Large murals adorned the backs of the walls facing us. The first thing I came upon, just steps outside our door, was a little wooden chapel, with Cyrillic writing. It reminded me of the sailor’s chapel near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Proceeding along the waterfront toward downtown, I passed some promising-looking restaurants and bars, like Reykjavik Fish Restaurant and Le Kock. It was a Tuesday night, and the city was bustling although not crowded.

It rained some more, but not hard. I passed through a nice brick-paved downtown square with a number of bars, some souvenir shops and the famous Baejarins hot dog stand (with one lonely customer). Then I happened upon the Iceland Phallological Museum, which Erik and I had originally thought we might visit today after checking into the Airbnb. It had closed at 7 p.m., though.

I enjoyed my little walk. The city seemed quaint and cheerful, despite the gloomy weather. I didn’t see McDonald’s, Starbucks or any other international chains (although we would later spot a Subway or two and even a Taco Bell). It also seemed creative and a little quirky, with lots of public art.

On the way back, I saw mist rising up from grates in the street, I assume from the geothermal system that heats the whole city (and the country). The used steam was cool to the touch. And yes, Icelandic homes and buildings still need heat in late June. The radiators in the house were running when I let myself back in at around 9:30.

Finally, after 10, I closed the curtains, which didn’t do much against the still-light sky, put on my eye mask, and went to sleep. It was after all 3:15 a.m. by then, Pacific Time.

Summary of Expenses, Day 2

  • One of three nights in the 3-bedroom Airbnb house: $260
  • One of three days rental car: $101
  • Entry for four adults (and one free child) to The Blue Lagoon: $424
  • Coffee and other beverages at The Blue Lagoon Cafe: $16.33
  • Groceries for five (one dinner, some light breakfasts, beverages and snacks): $99
  • One bottle Icelandic whiskey: $87.87

Total: $988.20

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