Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Icelandic Babymoon - Part 1

We got back from our Iceland and while everything is fresh in my mind, unlike Italy, I'm going to share it with you.

We talked about doing a birthday/babymoon trip and debated back and forth on how much time to take off and what our budget was. It came down to either a trip to southern California (with time split between San Francisco and redwood forest) or Iceland.

My friend Breanne introduced my to travel hacking (this is a great post by her about credit cards; she and her husband quite their jobs and traveled the world for seven months!). Even though we went to Hawaii last year on credit card points, we had enough points racked up to get our flights and three nights hotel for Iceland for free!

It was a quick trip, Sunday to Saturday, five and a half days and five nights, but the perfect amount of time to feel like we got a good experience of Iceland (and so nice to have a day off before going back to work tomorrow). Here's what we did!

Day 1 - Reykjavik
We landed around 6:30am on Monday, May 1 after a seven hour direct flight from Denver via Iceland Air (side note: Iceland Air does not serve a complimentary meal, so plan ahead). After reading many reviews, it's recommended to go to Blue Lagoon (the tourist hot spot for blue thermal fed waters) landing in Iceland or leaving Iceland; since it's near the airport (the airport is about 45 minutes or so from Reykjavik). I followed a coworkers advice and prebooked us a reservation at 8:00am.

Leaving the airport, we picked up our rental car (booked with Auto Car Rental via Guide to Iceland. Note: most rental places have both gas and diesel cars. I opted for diesel as it's typically more fuel efficient and cheaper) and were on our way.

I had put my swimsuit and a change of clothes in my carry on bag, but I forgot about flip-flips and ended up having those in my suitcase so we bought flip-flops (at $14 a pair), which really were not needed. If you go, I'd recommend to remember to bring your own or forego using them.
Being there at 8:00am (opening hour), turned out to be a brilliant idea; there was barely anyone there! Once in the lagoon, for the first forty minutes, it felt like we barely saw anyone and had the place to ourselves. (Note, make sure you put the provided conditioner in your hair when you pre-shower. The waters are supposed to be great for your skin, but will dry out your hair).
21 week, 4 day bump
After being at the lagoon for two or three hours, we decided to head into Reykjavik. We arrived starving and went directly to a brewery (surprise, surprise), Bryggjan Brugghus, for lunch. Mr. HaHa said the beer wasn't really memorable ($18 for 3 tasters), but the fish and chips were good (although heavily fried).  From there we ventured "downtown" to the main square and grabbed lattes at Stofan Cafe (I had bookmarked this spot but after checking out other cafes, I would say this was our least favorite latte; although the location and coziness are perfect).
Next up we checked into our hotel, Reykjavik Residence Hotel.  I'd put a lot of time into researching hotels and in the end I decided on Residence for the reviews as one of the top hotels in the city.  Although it didn't include parking or daily breakfast, our room was surprisingly spacious (a one bedroom apartment), extremely clean and fashionable, and a superb location.  Parking ending up not being as big of an issue as I feared.  The hotel has three parking spots, which are first come, first serve.  The Monday we arrived, May 1st, turned out to be Labor Day, so parking around the city was free.  We also learned from the hotel that paid parking was free 6pm-9am.  As a last resort, there is a parking garage across the street. We were given one voucher for free 24-hour parking. The hotel also has an associated restaurant, Port 9, which we were given a voucher for one free meal, which was delicious!

For the first time in our foreign travels, we took a nap on our first day there. Usually we try to power through jet lag, but we're usually also drinking, which helps :)  We took a two hour nap and then debated on dinner.  Iceland is relatively affordable to fly to and for accommodations; but food and drink is expensive!  Our fish and chips at lunch were $25 a plate. We weren't quite ready to spring into more fish for dinner and ended up at an Italian restaurant, Italia Veitingahus, for dinner. Both of our meals were delicious, contrary to reviews our service was quick and good, and the $30 spent on each entree seemed well worth it.
As we walked around after dinner, we began to realize how small the city is and how walkable it is.  We walked to Kex Hostel, which is known for it's trendy bar. It looks out over the bay and offered gorgeous views of the setting sun. Given the time of year, the sun doesn't start setting until 9:30p or so; it really throws off your internal clock, but it much appreciated for site seeing.  We also found the beer list to be long and more affordable; most beers were $10-$12USD.
Day 2
We went to Sandholt bakery and had breakfast consisting of pastries and lattes ($27 USD) then with clear skies (it was extremely foggy our first day) we continued up the street to visit Hallgrimskirkja, a church with a tower that offers views of the city and bay.

There was no wait so we paid our $9 admission and hopped on the elevator ride going up eight stories. It was extremely windy, but beautiful! The colors used for buildings in other countries always cease to amaze me and Reykjavik is no exception. We lucked out that the fog had cleared from the bay and we were able to get a glimpse of the water and mountains beyond.
One of the must-do's on our list was a whale tour and puffin tour. We prebooked tour tickets with Special Tours. I chose them based on reviews and the fact that if whales are not sighted during a tour, you're given a free ticket to come back and try again.  Unfortunately, the weather Tuesday morning was incredibly windy and foggy that we received an email that the tours for the day were cancelled; we had the option of postponing or receiving a full refund.

From the church, we walked down to the bay, stopping in Harpa, the concert hall and conference center to take in the views, explore some shopping, use wifi and public restrooms, before walking to the harbor to request our tour refund. Because of the wind and the rain, it was pretty cold so we stopped in Cafe Haiti to relax over a cup of coffee and warm up before walking to Svarta Kaffid for lunch.

This spot was one of our favorite traditional Icelandic meals. They offer two daily soup options, meat and vegetation, served up in a bread bowl for 1850Kr.  Perhaps it was the cold or the rain, but the meal and ambiance hit the spot!
Having most of the afternoon to kill, we decided to do some shopping. I bought an Icelandic wool sweater from Nordic Store as well as an art print for the nursery before we stopped into Eldur and Is for a crepe (fyi; google maps operating hours are not accurate, we sadly found out our first night that they are not open until 11pm).
We explored more of downtown, walking to park/lake downtown and City Hall, before stopping in Skuli Craft Bar; you guessed it, a craft beer bar.  The bartender, Viking, was extremely friendly and we had a great conversation.  As mentioned previously, food and drink are expensive in Iceland since the majority of it is imported. We noticed several bottles of beer from some of our Colorado favorites, like Crooked Stave sours. They were selling the bottles for 5000kr ($50USD) and higher! Viking explained to us that by the time they pay 18% import tax and 24% liquor tax; what is a $20 bottle in the US, quickly becomes a $50 there to make some profit. We were surprised (and happy) to learn that they offer a daily happy hour with three rotating beers; which takes the price down to $5-7USD from $12-14.
We had dinner reservations at Ostabudin, so we left Skuli and made a quick stop at another craft beer bar, Micro Bar before heading to dinner. Micro Bar was in a basement with a cool vibe, but certainly a different personality bartender. One nice feature is that they offered half pours of beer.

With food being so expensive, we tried to strategically select our meals and their pricing. Having had a more traditional lunch, we opted for cheese plates for dinner. You guys! These could likely be the best cheese plates we've ever had. We shared two: small cheese plate (three Icelandic cheeses; bleu, Gouda and a soft brie-like) and prima donna plate (salami, serrano ham and an aged cheddar); they were fantastic! And better yet, "affordable" at 5400Kr ($54 USD). Highly, highly recommend!
After dinner we went back to Sandholt bakery to grab some pastries to have for our Golden Circle drive the next day. Sandholt also had affordable craft beer on tap; 4 taps for 8000Kr ($8 USD); including one of our favs, Brewdog's Punk IPA (sold at other bars there for $14+).  Last stop of the night was to check out Mikeller and Friends, an outpost of the Denmark brewery. Another cozy spot and nice bartender to chat with; but watch out for the prices. Most beers were $18 USD a pint!
Next up; Day 3 - Golden Circle (with some added stops worth making!)

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