Day 6: Homeward Bound

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The day we return home is always bittersweet – we’re excited to get home to the pups and our own bed…the ability to use more than one electrical outlet that doesn’t have an adapter in it – but we also see the things we loved about the place we’re leaving.

Great restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops…amazing views, people, and conversations – all things that propel us forward to talk about our next destination on the plane.

This is usually me planning our next trip before our current one is even over – I’m working on it, I swear. #beinthemoment

So, on our last day in Iceland we had great intentions for breakfast, the top of Hallgrimskirkja, and the art gallery near our AirBnB that we hadn’t gotten to – in reality, we checked off two of those three: (1) the view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja, and (2) breakfast at a cafe we discovered the day before, named Kaffibrennslan. Lucky for us, we ended up walking into the church right as the doors were opening so there were only 10 or so people in line for tickets ahead of us. 1000 krona per person to ride the elevator to the top and take in the view from what is the highest point in the city. Even on a gray morning the city and surrounding landscape were amazing. The houses and buildings that cascade down the streets from the church with their different colored roofs – the coast weaving in and out- bits of new construction illustrated by cranes and new, taller and taller structures.

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After taking in as much of the view as we could, we rode the elevator back down with a few other early morning tourists and decided to stop in the church itself. There is something very simple, but very beautiful about Hallgrimskirkja – the way it calls on the Icelandic environment for inspiration – the ends of each pew resembling basalt pillars.

Afterwards, we made our way down the hill towards food and caffeine at Kaffibrennslan – two Americanos and two sandwiches later we sat in that pre-flight, quiet reflection. This may have had a little to do with being out late at Kiki the night before – but let’s go with pre-flight reflection. This really has been a great adventure that I’m considering a scouting mission – we’ll be back for sure – hopefully with friends and family so we can share what we’ve done, and explore new places! Since it was winter and the weather was a bit uncooperative (it never is here) we were restricted a bit – the upside being that the entire area was a bit quieter than in summer/high tourist season. Hopefully next time we can get farther out and see some of the amazing environment that lays beyond.

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From here it was a whole lot of travel – back to the AirBnB to grab our bags, the mile walk to the BSI bus terminal, the 45-minute bus ride to the airport, and so on.

The Keflavik Airport was once again easy to navigate and move through – jumping off the bus we printed fresh copies of our boarding passes, cleared security and border control, and entered our terminal for some food and duty-free shopping. Icelandic security is a bit different in that Brendan and I seemed to have different experiences – him having to take off belt, boots, etc. – whereas I didn’t, but every bracelet and ring had to be taken off in my case. Still no explanation on that one.

Icelandair however – a dream to board and fly state-side, was a bit of nightmare to board on the Iceland-side. No zones, no calling by rows…just droves of economy passengers lining up at random and cattle calling their way past the desk agents, onto the plane and jockeying for position to stow their bags, before grabbing their assigned seats. All very Icelandic in what we have determined is a very “it’ll all work itself out” mentality the country’s people seems to have. If you’re expecting a tight and organized boarding procedure on the way back – don’t – just go with the flow and know that you’ll eventually be in your assigned seat. The in-flight entertainment system alone is worth the stress boarding provides.

The flight itself was uneventful – thankfully. Landing a little late (I blame the boarding process), we power walked to Customs, as we were told that multiple international flights had landed all at once and we’d be in line for a while. Thankfully I had downloaded and used Mobile Passport. Completely free to use, it let us submit all of our customs paperwork electronically and cut 200+ people in line. We ended up leaving Customs faster than the Global Entry people who pay for their expedited service. I’m inclined to not even share this detail, mostly because I don’t want to wait in line as people catch onto it, but at the same time I don’t want the service to shut down from lack of use!

From here it was a hop, skip, and brief bus ride over to the parking lot and off to scoop up the pups. We’re home.

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Day 5: Wrapping up in Reykjavik

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Our final full day! Since our glacier hike was canceled on Monday we decided to rebook and do the lava caves that I talked about in an earlier post, but we were staying in contact with Pink Iceland in case the option to go out Wednesday presented itself. Unfortunately, we got the call letting us know that due to the storm coming into the region all the trips out were canceled again. We were incredibly grateful we took them up on their offer Monday instead of just rescheduling and hoping for the best.

So, with a full day in the city ahead of us, we decided Wednesday would be our wrap-up day – we planned to do a few things we hadn’t gotten to yet, and a few things that we had enjoyed again!

The list included:

The Reykjavik Art Museum Hafnarhúsið

A contemporary art museum housed in Reykjavik’s old custom’s house – the great part about their museums is that several of them are part of the same system, so when you purchase a ticket you receive admission to all of them for 24 hours.

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Bren taking in the Fact of the Matter exhibit

Ida Zimsen – our LGBT coffee house from the Pink Tour

Because who doesn’t need more coffee in their life when you’re still adjusting to the time zone a little bit – or using the timezone as an excuse to drink excessive amounts of Americano.

The Harpa – again! 

I wanted to go back and photograph more of the Harpa without being on tour. They also have a pretty amazing collection of gift shops and restaurants – we managed to find a few items to take home with us and they were actually pretty reasonable given what we purchased.

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Harpa by night – photographer’s delight

The Sun Voyager

With a view of Mount Esja in the distance, the Sun Voyager sculpture is pretty phenomenal to see in person.

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Tip of the Sun Voyager and Most. Esja in the distance

Skuli Craft Bar

The beer and the bartender were both awesome last time, so as we enjoyed the last of our Icelandic beer we wanted to do it in a place we didn’t mind giving our money to.

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The National Theater of Iceland 

Purely for a couple of quick photos. The history is also interesting. During WWII England occupied the unfinished building as part of their military operations – focusing on preventing Germany from invading Iceland and using it as an outpost.

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A dusky National Theatre

The Canopy Hotel

This was more of a quick bit of research for future stays – it’s beautiful inside and is right in the center of the city. I think we’ll have to come back with folks and give it a test drive.

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Inside the amazing Canopy Hotel

Dinner at Krost

Krost was kind enough to like one of my Instagram photos earlier in the week, which sparked my interest. After a little research, we decided to give them a try – they’re basically a nice restaurant located in the Hlemmur Food Hall, not far from our AirBnB. If we only had known this place existed! It was a small collection of coffee shops and restaurants under one roof – like a food court…but classier.

Drinks at Kiki Queer Bar

Because how else do you close out your vacation than we a few final drinks at the local gay bar? Kiki was great – the evening started off with “quiz night” and wrapped up by turning into a full-on dance party.

Fun Fact – Kiki Queer Bar is pretty much the only “exclusively” LGBT bar in the city (Bravo is also known for being queer-friendly, but isn’t strictly a gay bar) and just celebrated its 5th birthday. 

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Inside Kiki Queer Bar – love these guys no the way to the WC

 

And that was our day! We managed to hit up all of our favorites and do a few new things before we ultimately went back and packed up for our flight out on Thursday afternoon. We did squeeze in one more touristy thing on Thursday morning, so more on that soon.

 

 

 

Day 4: The Blue Lagoon!

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Interior walkway

We made the determination early in the planning stages of this trip that we’d do the Blue Lagoon for an entire day. You’ll have the option to book your Lagoon experience as a pre- or post-flight pitstop, but we both wanted to make sure we didn’t feel rushed or like we had to run off to check into the AirBnB or the flight. Next time we’re here it would be a great way to handle the jet lag or say goodbye to Iceland, but for the first time, I highly recommend putting it on a full day so you can take your time and relax.

Brendan and I vacation in different ways sometimes – since I am normally off to the next item on our list as soon as I’ve seen the last, whereas Brendan is great at enjoying something, relaxing and lingering in the moment. All about balance – which is a little bit of what the Blue Lagoon did I think – restored some balance to the vacation and life in general as we prepare to close out this trip.

Getting there – super easy! We walked back to the BSI bus terminal, which is about 1 mile from the AirBnB and swapped our voucher out for our actual tickets.

Tip 1 – when you book your ride back and forth from the Lagoon with FlyBus you get a voucher with all of your information and a QR code. When you get to BSI the day of you have to turn that in at the counter to get the actual ticket(s) to board the bus, otherwise you are left standing there with the bus driver telling you to run back inside. No one wants to be the person who makes everyone else late for their spa day.

Once on the bus, we left about 15 minutes after our departure time, which seems to be about normal since it’s a 45-minute ride to get there for “on-the-hour” reservations with Blue Lagoon. In our case, we had a 9am bus ticket (with an open-ended return time for the same day) that left at 9:15am and got us there at exactly 10am for our 10am reservation with the Lagoon. Once there we walked up the lava stone walkway that leads you up to a beautiful building, surrounded by a beautiful lava formation and blue-blue water – with steam gently rising off the surface. A literal postcard.

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Front of the Blue Lagoon

Checking in was painless – we had booked a “Premium” package which was slightly more expensive (9990 krona v. 6990 krona), but came with a few extra perks and a much shorter check-in line upon arrival.

All checked in with our magic wristbands strapped on, we headed for the locker rooms and showers to get ready for a day of total relaxation and floating! The wristbands have a waterproof chip in them that grants you admittance to the next part of the building, locks and unlocks your locker, and allows you to use your perks – like the drinks and two masks that our package came with (the first is silica, which everyone receives – the second is algae, which only comes with the higher-tier packages). After that, you can use the bands to charge additional items to your account, and on your way out you pay your tab, tap the band at the exit gate, and drop it into the receptacle that opens up. Insanely high-tech in my opinion. Here is the video they send you the day before your trip so you can get excited and learn how to navigate the place without looking like a complete lost puppy.

Two quick items about showering: (1) prepare to do it naked, (2) if you have hair, leave the conditioner they provide you in so not to come out looking like Bride-of-Frankenstein-esk after exiting the lagoon. The silica, while great for your skin, will give your hair a brittle quality afterward if you don’t. And don’t worry, they actually tell you to do this with their conditioner. Don’t be doing this with some cheap-ass Herbal Essences, mucking up the place for the rest of us.

General comment about “mucking it up for the rest of us” – don’t be that person that leaves a mess behind, whether it’s in the lagoon, the streets of the city, or in the lava fields. We came across an increasing amount of trash and discarded stuff over the course of the week. Be an adult and pick up after yourself. Also, stop yelling in churches – I’m looking at your Yankees fan from earlier today, as I write this. 

Tip 2: There are two ways to enter the lagoon as you exit the locker rooms – one that is a ramp that slowly drops down into the water while you’re still inside the main building – the other is completely outdoors, so you exit the building, walk onto a raised patio, then descend into the lagoon. We opted for the indoor entrance every time so to avoid as much of the cold as possible.

Tip 3: The lagoon is not “temperature controlled” i.e. there will be hot and cool spots as you move throughout the different parts of it. If you want to find the warmest possible zones (around 104 degrees F) navigate towards the enclosed boxes – these are the areas where the lagoon is replenishing itself from, therefore the water is really warm.

See! Aim towards these bad boys. Plus, this is a great place to rest your drink, sunglasses, cellphone, etc. That brings us to….

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Tip 4: If you’re going to take pictures either pre-purchase a waterproof cellphone bag (Example) or just pay the premium at the Lagoon store and have it ready to go. You don’t want to be stranded internationally with a  wet phone, frantically looking for a bag of rice while doing the soggy phone prayer dance.

So – our package came with a “free” 1st drink for each of us from the outdoor bar, and reservations at Lava with a “free” glass of Prosecco if we decided to make the reservation and dine with them. We took them up on both drink offers. Beer and wine outside (you can do a smoothie if you want that healthy spa feeling) and then a 2pm reservation at Lava, with a glass of Prosecco each.

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The food at Lava was amazing – the bread and Icelandic butter alone were worth the reservation. Brendan went with a vegetarian two-course, while I went with a fish three-course meal (when in Iceland, have the fish).

See the drool-worthy menu here.

Overall the meal was delicious – rich, but delicious. It wrapped up with americanos and creme brûlée, topped with lemon sorbet. I mean, I’m going to need the Icelandic butter to grease the plane seat so I can get in and out of it on the way home.

Satiated, we headed back upstairs, showered again (we follow the rules), purchased one of those waterproof cell phone cases (learn from our mistakes…paid the premium), and dove back into the water (via the indoor option!). I also bought a couple of pairs of cheap sunglasses since the occasional sunlight was reflecting off the lagoon with some intensity. For the next hour, we floated around, took some photos and enjoyed the ever-changing weather. Those sunglasses I just bought..useless…as soon as we got in the water and put them on we tempted the Norse Gods and brought about a 20 minutes snow squall…which. was. awesome.

Watch a bit of it below:

Having had our fill of salty water and relaxation, we timed it so we could exit the lagoon, rinse and dress, then poke around the gift shop before catching our bus back to Reykjavik. As promised there was a bus ready to rock-and-roll at quarter past the hour. We boarded and dozed off for the 45-minute ride back to the city – the unexpected bonus with this bus was that it dropped off at several locations around the city, not just the BSI terminal. Armed with Google Maps, we jumped off a little ahead of schedule for a more favorable stop within closer walking distance to the AirBnB.

Tip 5: If you do not plan on having a full data plan while in the country and will be relying strictly on wifi  – first – don’t – it’s terrible. Second…if you still decide to reply on cafe and bar wifi, download the map of your region before departing. If you go into Google Maps you can download offline versions of their map for a specific selection/area, which comes in really handy when you can’t just jump on LTE. Learn more about that from the Time article here.

After having navigated our way back we crashed hard for a bit – just long enough to regain some energy and head out for a late night bite at Glo again. This was followed by dessert and wine/coffee at Le Bistro, around the corner. Glo was just as great the second time, and Le Bistro did not disappoint with their tapas-style dessert option where you got a little bit of coffee, chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and creme brûlée (because who wouldn’t have that twice in one day?).

And that concluded our evening – relaxed and FULL we headed back.

More soon!

Day 3: The City Walk Tour & Shopping

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So – late start to the morning…

Knowing that we had a tour planned for the early afternoon provided a built-in excuse to sleep in a bit later and make breakfast at the AirBnB, instead of running right out into the city like we normally would have. We also got a call from Pink Iceland  (the city’s LGBT-friendly tour company) that they wanted to start a bit earlier, which was perfect for us.  Instead of 2pm, we were going to start around 1/1:30pm – so we finished up and headed across the city to get to their main office. Once there we were greeted and offered fresh coffee (yes, please). Shortly afterward one of the co-owners (Hannes) came out and gave us a private tour! The bonus of being here in February, not quite as many tourists, so if you can deal with the colder and ever-changing weather I highly recommend it. So far this week both of our tours turned into private excursions – I think this is what they call #winning.

Over the course of about 2 hours, Hannes walked us from the Pink Iceland office along a ton of culturally and societily-relevant sites and locations, including:

  1. The location of the first openly gay bar (co-owned by him “back in the day”)
  2. The National Theatre of Iceland
  3. The Icelandic Supreme Court
  4. The Central Bank
  5. The Harpa
  6. The Reykjavík Art Museum Hafnarhús (which used to be the Custom’s House)

I’m not including much detail on the actual tour itself because if you’re in Iceland highly recommend booking the tour, or another excision, through Pink Iceland – they were awesome to us all week. The tour stopped at IDA Bookshop & Cafe, which I suspect that we’ll be back before we fly out for more americano and book shopping. While we were there we sat and talked about our common love of dogs, being married, and the short, but powerful LGBT history of Iceland.

Afterwards, Hassen walked us through some of the downtown area (as I refer to it as) and closed the tour at the statue of Jón Sigurðsson, who is known as the Father of Iceland. From this park we were able to see the country’s (Reykjavik) Cathedral and parliamentary building.

Fun Fact – approximately half of the newly elected representatives go to the blessing at the Cathedral and half go to a similar, secular ceremony with the Humanist Association (These are rough tour numbers, don’t hold me to it strictly).

From here, Hassen directed us to Glo, where we had a quick, but awesome late lunch – great if you need veggie-friendly options for folks in your group (raises hand). A little bit of everything, but focuses on fresh, local, etc. – all the trendy and healthy stuff we typically look for today. So – refusing to give up just yet, we walked around a bit afterward to window shop…this, of course, turned into real shopping at some of the co-op artist studios that seem to line the more popular streets of Reykjavik. And this obviously turned into a recommendation for a bar from a local artist.

Her initial recommendation was Kaldi (or the bar across the way, depending on our taste in drinks). Kaldi would have typically been our speed – local, lots of wood, warm lighting, local beer…but the place was packed with what we assume was a wedding party out celebrating. Still refusing to give up on our afternoon just yet, we headed across the way from Kaldi to recommendation #2 named Vedur. Good bar – GREAT happy hour prices. This is where I learned about the happy hour app in Iceland. Since everything is so expensive the happy hours are a great way to have a few drinks without spending the equivalent of a white tablecloth dinner.

Fully satiated, we agreed to hit up a local grocery store for some bites to bring back to the AirBnB – the plan being to relax, blog, upload some photos, nap (in Bren’s case), and then head back out for a beer or two at Kiki. Unfortunately, my googling failed us a bit and Kiki was closed when we headed back out, but we did end up going next door to Bravo, which was equally great and probably a bit more relaxing. I’ll be able to update you on that assumption later, as we currently plan to end Wednesday night at Kiki – we’re thinking a few drinks at a gay bar will soften the blow packing for him will deal later that night.

More soon!

Day 2: A Lava Cave, a Glacier, and Whales

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Helgafell – The Holy Mountain

Shortly after waking and meeting our guide around the corner from our AirBnB we were driven out to Helgafell – The Holy Mountain, 45 minutes west of Reykjavik, where we would be going underground into one of the many lava caves that pepper the country. The entire way out there the only thing I could think of was the roads in Ireland and how we would hold our breath as if that could make us and the car skinnier – the roads were mostly covered in inches of unplowed snow, but our guide was awesome (an obviously skilled at powering through the stuff). The only time I was a bit nervous was upon first entering the access road as she chuckled at the sign that said “Impassible!” in English and Icelandic.

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Lava Cave Entrance – Holy Mountain

But we made it though! Upon getting out to the site the sun was just starting to rise – this was about 9:15 am at this point – the wind was intense to the point that our guide helped another guide by holding his van’s door in place so it didn’t blow back and break off the hinges. We strapped on our boots, crampons, and helmets, and followed her out to the cave site where the other company’s guide was already at work digging the entrance out. It’s apparently been snowing here more than usual, so between the additional snow and high winds, the way in was completely stopped up with snow. About 15 minutes later we shimmied our way into the cave – claustrophobes beware.

Inside the lava cave
Inside the lava cave
Cave Entrance
In we go

Once inside the space opened up immediately to the point where we could stand at our full height (most of the time). Over the course of the next 90 minutes we walked through two major channels within the cave and explored the hardened lava that seemed to form drips and waves on the ceiling and walls – completely alien landscape. This experience hands down was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had while traveling. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking down below.

After exploring the lava cave we jumped back into the van and headed down the snow-covered roads to continue our tour at the Perlan Museum (the “Pearl”), which is where most of the city’s hot water is stored – but was semi-recently turned into a museum. Inside you can walk through an indoor ice cave that was created from part of a glacier they have now moved and self-contained within the museum. Once inside we were able to see an awesome photography exhibit, spend time inside the ice cave, and then walk out onto the Perlan’s 360 observation deck for some awesome views of the city and surrounding countryside. This was a really inexpensive way to spend a few hours and learn a lot about the area.

Afterwards, our tour guide was kind enough to drop us off at the whale museum (Whales of Iceland), which was something that was definitely on Brendan’s to do list. The museum was pretty cool in that it was a self-guided and self-paced audio tour through one of the big buildings along the harbor. Inside they had massive models of different whales suspended from the ceiling, as well as an interactive touchscreen (and a coffee shop, because I was fading quickly).

Tour and museum’d out we headed for what turned out to be a 3-hour awesome experience at a local bar we stumbled upon named Skuli Craft Bar. The bartender, originally from Stockholm, was beyond engaging and talked with us for almost two hours before we then both were pulled into two different conversations with other travelers. Environment and vibe alone I’d recommend this place in a heartbeat if you need to sit and take in some great Icelandic beer and conversation.

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Skuli Craft Bar

Since it was pushing 6pm at this point we decided on a late dinner reservation at Essensia, which was featured and raved about during one of the in-flight promos. Sad to say the food was average at best, so we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must-do – not a bad meal though. We just should have stayed at Skuli instead! Lesson learned though, 4.5-star reviews aren’t always as they appear!

Thoroughly fed and “hydrated” we trudged back to the AirBnB in the Icelandic rain and wind – onto the next adventure tomorrow.

 

 

 

Day 1: Planes, Buses & Reykjavik

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Hallgrímskirkja – Reykjavik

We made it! After a harrowing adventure into Boston – Logan Airport, during the beginning of New England’s February school break, we cleared security and made our way towards Terminal E. We decided to scope out the Icelandair gate, before grabbing some eats. Afterwards, we popped into the Air France Lounge with my Priority Pass – if you don’t have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card….get it. The Priority Pass access along was pretty damn cool. Before and after dinner we were able to pop into the Lounge and relax, charge our phones, grab an espresso and extra glass of wine…but I digress.

The flight out on Icelandair was solid – kind staff, organized boarding process, plenty of room for an economy seat and decent entertainment for the 5-hour flight. The seats in economy only come with a single USB port for charging, so plan accordingly if Icelandair is in your future.

 

The Keflavik Airport was a dream – we landed and deplaned on the tarmac (from the back of the plane, because thank god they deplane from both ends) onto a warm bus – and were shuttled to the airport, just as short distances away. Once inside we quickly got through Passport Control (a whole 2 people in line ahead of us) and made our way to the bus terminal outside. We reserved two open-ended seats on the FlyBus earlier in the week, so as we walked outside we were greeted, had our bags stowed away, and we walked onto the bus. Forty-five minutes later we were at the BSI bus terminal throwing on our hats, gloves, and jackets, since we decided to walk to our AirBnB versus take a connecting bus. It had just snowed right before we landed, so the sidewalks had a good 3-4 inches of fresh powder on them. While a mile in the snow carrying our carry-ons may sound terrible, it was actually a welcome walk after having sat for 5 hours on the plane and almost another hour on the bus.

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Peaking out the garden window from our AirBnB

Our AirBnB hostess was gracious enough to let us check in a whole 7 hours early so we could drop our bags and crash for a brief nap. Usually, I’m a firm believer in just powering through to get on the timezone, but in the end, the 3-hour nap was well worth it, since neither of us slept on the plane.

Rested, sulfur-showered (because yes, that’s a thing (the water smells lightly of sulfur because of its geothermal origins), instant-coffeed, and changed, we headed out into the city to start exploring a bit – the itinerary for the day was as follows:

  • Hallgrimskirja Church (outside, we’ve yet to go up for the aerial city view just yet)
  • Brunch at Rok for a fantastic americano, omelet and avocado toast
  • Walking on the Tjornin (the frozen lake) as kids threw bread at ducks and geese
  • Shopping (window and otherwise) up and down Skolavordustigur and Laugavegur
  • A beer at MicroBar
  • Dinner at Bryggjan Brugghs – a beer flight, veggies burger, fish and chips, and the most amazing chocolate cake we’ve ever had…something between a pistachio encrusted-Snickers bar, toffee, and cake – all wrapped up in a thin, dense bar
  • A great deal of snowy-city walking (10+ miles today)!

We did also receive a call mid-day from Pink Tours in Reykjavik letting us know that our glacier hike was canceled due to weather predictions, but we’ll be going on a volcanic cave tour instead – headlamps and all. Rolling with it!

Just a couple of photos from today down below – more soon!

 

Let’s do it again!

 

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So over the course of the Irish honeymoon last year I documented the entire trip as part of a blog on our wedding site. It was great to be able to share so much of the trip almost instantly I figured why not do it again, but a little more official this time. One week and counting and we’ll be heading to Boston to fly out to Iceland for a week – stay tuned!