#theAdventure; Reykjavik, Iceland

I am about to embark on another adventure in a couple days and should have finished this post two weeks ago, but here I am just posting today. I should also probably write about my trips in chronological order, but I enjoy being unpredictable and procrastinator doesn’t even begin to describe most of my personal life, so there’s that. I decided on the previous post of my trip to Seattle to warm me up to writing about my travels. I enjoy writing, but I since I don’t do it so often these days, I feel I’m a bit rusty and could use a little practice. This time I thought I’d dive right into a recent international trip…

Look at me, I’m fabulous; Crew E. Noel & D. Gambuto – June 2016 – Photo credit Brian Flynn
Crew E. Layton & me – September 2016 – Photo credit Elizabeth Layton

My job took me to Reykjavik, Iceland twice in 2016; one day middle of June and a week end of September. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know too much about Iceland before this trip, other than it is the birthplace of Bjork (see, everything comes back to music) but I was incredibly excited to go to a country that was so different from any other place I had visited to-date.

One our way to Blue Lagoon – September 2016

Traveling for work is a bit different than traveling for pleasure. For the most part 14 hours of each day is accounted for straight away. I do my best to make time to see things on my own time regardless of how tired I am because I have no idea if I will ever get back to this place again. (I still regret not going to the Penis Museum…for so many obvious reasons)

June 2016

I’m lucky in that the type of show I work on there is a fair bit of touristy type activities included in the work part of the day; so two birds, one stone. On this particular trip, we were going to get a full day off before work, so we did have a chance to plan a fun activity out of the city to see a bit of the countryside.

September 2016

Iceland is an absolutely beautiful, underdeveloped country. What I mean by that is, in the city there are no skyscrapers, no Starbucks or McDonalds and no malls. Most of the commerce you’ll come across are Mom + Pop shops, stores and restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, there is the equivalent of Seven 11 (1011), North Face (66 North) and Anthropologie (Geysir), but the difference is the three equivalent examples I provided are all Icelandic companies. It isn’t that they don’t want outside influences, it’s just that they’d rather stick to their own. And I don’t blame them. They’re pretty fantastic.

Crew photo – September 2016

A few things to know off the bat; Icelanders are a bit like Europeans in that they are not a hugely emotive bunch. Likely the person you are talking to is interested in your conversation, however he or she will not exactly exude excitement. To be fair, I have been told as an American I am far too expressive, but I own that shit. I am not just an American, I am also a New Yorker, so you never know what you’ll get out of me. Icelanders are a helpful, genuinely nice, very polite, but tell-it-like-it-is people. They speak English, but as a culture so determined to hold on to who they are, throwing a ‘takk’ into your conversation (which means thanks) will make them smile and appreciate your presence. Which I imagine they cannot say for all who visit. Give their language a try; if you learn nothing else but please and thank you it will go a long way. The time difference is not too terrible for those of us on the East Coast as they are only four hours ahead, for the Brits they are only one hour behind. Situated north of the UK, Iceland is a great place to schedule a stopover, which I will get to later, if you’re on your way to Europe. The currency is the Icelandic Kroner. The conversion can be a little tricky because $1 USD = approximately 109 ISK, so when you pay 870 ISK for coffee and a muffin, it seems like you’re paying a fortune! But it’s actually only $8 USD. Which still might seem like a fortune, so be prepared, everything is a little more expensive in Iceland. Download an app like xe.com for a general idea of your daily conversion. If you have a credit card with chip, some retailers can actually charge you in USD which saves on the conversion but of course some do not, so be prepared for conversion fees if your credit card or bank does not give you free international spending. And of course there is a currency exchange counter at the airport should you want to spend cash.

September 2016

I felt the weather and seasons deserved their own paragraph, because…damn. It’s pretty cold just about every month of the year but June, July, August. I was there for one day in June and it was delightful in the sun, around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius), which was shining at it’s fullest all day until about 5 – 6 PM and then on that particular day it became overcast, the sun went away and the temp dropped. Iceland is pretty far North, so during the summer they get loads of sun and during the winter they don’t. During the month of June, the sun actually never fully sets, but sort of dips for a minute (or what seemed like a minute) and then pops right back up. On the other hand, in January the sun may shine for only three to four hours before it sets. When I went back in September the weather was cold. Each morning started at about 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius), warmed up to maybe 40 degrees (4.4 C) in the afternoon and then back down in the evening. Daylight hours were more in line with what I was used to, so it was no different than September in New York.

That is a general overview of Iceland / Reykjavik, giving you a good idea of what to expect from the locals, the time difference, currency and weather / seasons. Let’s get on to the nuts and bolts, the logistics…

Crew; N. Thompson, P. Mash – September 2016 – Photo credit: Jon Bertholon
June 2016

FLIGHT. I found Icelandair to be relatively inexpensive; seats and one bag were included for each economy ticket. It’s a quick flight of about five hours from the East Coast. As mentioned earlier, they have an amazing option called the stopover. If you were traveling to say London, you could book your flight through Icelandair, with a stopover in Iceland for up to seven days without additional airfare cost. Since all flights on Icelandair layover in Reykjavik regardless of final destination, why not stay a bit and explore Iceland? Brilliant idea.

Keflavik Airport is an absolute delight. Clean, well organized and easy to navigate. Loads of shops and typical airport style food vendors. Border patrol is very easy and everyone is friendly and speaks English. Come prepared with your passport, which should have at least 90 days before expiry (which is typical for Europe), as well as your hotel information.

  • Notes: Icelandair tends to nickel and dime passengers with food/snacks as the only thing they provide for free is water. They accept cards and I believe they accepted USD / ISK / EURO cash, but double check before purchase. They also do not provide blankets for overnight passengers in economy, so I would suggest bringing layers to be sure you are warm enough. Or you can do what I did, bring a blanket from a previous Aer Lingus flight. Take that, Icelandair!
June 2016

HOTEL. We arrived to our hotel around 1 AM. Reykjavik Lights Hotel staff was incredibly helpful and pleasant even at such a late hour. The rooms were slightly smaller than I had anticipated, however for one person I thought it was fine. Comfortable bed, comfortable linens, spacious bathroom, work station and loads of windows. Lovely breakfast included in cost. Small bar in the lobby was nice however the front desk clerk acted as bartender as well as tending to guests that came to the front desk so that was a bit annoying at times. As a bit of an Anglophile, I loved that the television in Iceland was primarily British TV, with an occasional Icelandic channel thrown in for good measure. Can’t understand a word, but it became a game to see if I could figure out what was happening without reading subtitles. The warm water sometimes smelled a bit like rotten eggs, but I pretended I was at a hot spring spa and just dealt with it.

  • Notes: When I was there end of September, having all the windows was lovely. One night the Northern Lights were so vivid, I sat in my room with the lights and TV off just so I could watch them. When I was there in June, I found my experience to be completely different. As mentioned, the sun doesn’t really set, so when sleeping “normal” hours from say 11 PM to 8 AM, the sun might be out the whole time. Felt a bit weird to be walking back to the hotel at 1 AM after a few beers with the crew and the sun was still out. Be sure your hotel has blackout curtains. They may not completely block the sun but it will definitely help. 
September 2016

TRANSPORTATION. Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, etc are all available at the airport. Icelanders drive on the same side of the car and the same side of the road as we do in America. Also, taxis are available and can usually be ordered by the front desk at your hotel. Uber is not available.

  • Notes: When out in Reykjavik, look for taxi stand stations. Not common to hail a taxi from the street just anywhere, so keep an eye out for stands so you know where to get a cab. 

Logistics were relatively painless. As mentioned, though, everything is just a little more expensive in Iceland / Reykjavik, so might want to budget a bit more for this type of vacation.

Crew P. Mash  & Hallgrimskirkja – September 2016

SITES / ACTIVITIES. Obviously there are loads of things to do in and out of the city, so here are a few things I experienced when I was there…

Blue Lagoon. My crew mates and I decided to spend our only day off at Blue Lagoon. As you may already know, Iceland is loaded with geothermal energy. Pools of water, HOT salty water, loaded with minerals and such that have medicinal and healing powers. Sounds a little nuts, but I promise you, my skin never felt or looked so amazing than it did after the day we spent in that water. Book your treatment in advance to avoid the line. They have stations with different kinds of muds to spread here, there and everywhere. Restaurant with incredible (healthy) cuisine. Complimentary robes and slippers (you get to keep the slippers). Staff walking about the water so you can try different products (that are for sale in the shop). It was incredibly relaxing and just what we needed to get us ready for work the next day. You will find transportation to Blue Lagoon very easy. When booking your spa package you can arrange for a shuttle to pick you up from your hotel. You are taken to a bus station where you print your ticket and get on a bus to the spa. Easy peasy.

  • Notes: Drink lots of water. Beer sounded like a great idea until I started to feel a little light headed and basically crashed on a lounge chair in the Sun Room like a cat. The water has healing powers but can also dehydrate you if you’re not careful. Anyone with long hair, like myself, be sure you tie it up. You do NOT want that super salty water touching your hair or it will feel very dry. They provide bottles of conditioner in the locker room that they suggest you put on your hair and leave in, so your hair does not suffer damage. Also, wear sunscreen. When the sun is shining and you are in the water, you will get burned (or at least I did). It’s one of those tricky situations because having your body above the water in the cool air feels good because the water is so hot, but you forget sun is sun no matter where you are and will burn if you don’t protect yourself.

Hallgrímskirkja. Pronounced Hall-grims-kirk-ya. This iconic building is breathtaking. When you’re in downtown Reykjavik it’s impossible to miss. And who would want to, it’s such an interesting building, which is actually a church. You’ll find it at the end of Skólavörðustígur, which is a street with loads of shops and cafes. You’ll find Leifur Eiríksson (statue) standing in front of the building. He was an Icelandic explorer and the first known European to have discovered North America, before Christopher Columbus (source; Wikipedia). He just looks badass. You can go inside the church which is not quite as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. I suppose that isn’t fair to say as the inside is just…simple / minimalist.

Leifur Eiriksson – September 2016

Esjan. Icelandic volcanic mountain range. I don’t think I need to say more than that…

September 2016 – Photo credit Noel Thompson

Icelandic Ponies. You will want to put one in your pocket and take it home with you. They are just about the cutest ponies I have ever seen. With the most enviable thick, straight hair. It’s beautiful! They have a bit of a skittish temperament, and the strangest gait but lovely animals. Loads of farms to visit just outside the city so you’re not driving too far, though the scenery along the way is just bonkers. Here is one to get you started Islenski Hesturinn.

Northern Lights. Aurora Borealis. Iceland is hugely famous for nature’s light show. Not visible during the summer (because of constant daylight), the true spectacle comes out during the winter. I was lucky enough to experience the lights as soon as we got out of the airport. BAM. There it was, like someone took a paintbrush and painted the sky green with one brilliant stroke. It was breathtaking. My director and I actually had a moment and cried! The Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for a long time and getting to actually see them was just incredible. Took a couple photos with my iPhone and unfortunately it’s not super visible, but hopefully you can see it just a little. There is an app, like a weather app, that tracks the likelihood of the lights on any given day. But again, if you’re going to Iceland specifically for the lights, you’ll be planning a trip in Winter as they’re not as visible in the Summer because of constant daylight.

Leaving Keflavik Airport and seeing the Northern Lights for the first time – September 2016
If I added a filter so the lights were more visible, but sadly the color isn’t as vivid – September 2016

FOOD / DRINK. Iceland is an island (obviously), so surrounded by water means fish, seafood and loads of it. Enjoy it all, because it is delicious. On our last day of filming we had lunch at a place called 101 Harbor. I had the Pasta di Mare and it was the most amazing seafood dish I had ever had in my life. I’m actually not a huge fan of clams, mussels or scallops, but ate every piece and all but licked the damn bowl. So. GOOD! Also, the restaurant is right on the water, so there is a clear view of Esjan. We ate at another place called Frederiksen Ale House that was crazy good. They had curly fries! We came back and had dinner and beers here as well one night. Really good food, great pub vibe, just good times and in the heart of downtown. Speaking of beers, Íslenski Barinn was a great place to throw back a beer or two. I am generally a wine drinker however, all wine is imported on Iceland, so it’s hella expensive if you’re into having more than one or two glasses. I’m kind of the worst when it comes to taking pics of my food / drink, it’s usually gone before I think to snap a pic, so sadly there are no photos for this post. I will get better about this so I can offer more insight on food stuffs for future posts.

Me (E. Fegely) – September 2016 – Photo Credit Phil Mash

After spending six days in this beautiful place I look forward to going back some day. I barely scratched the surface of what Iceland has to offer, but what I did experience was like nothing I had ever seen. Food, people, language, Northern Lights, PONIES?! It was a jam-packed trip that will result in an amazing episode of our show and an experience I will never forget.

Season of visit: Summer (June) & Autumn (September)
Airline: Icelandair
Hotel: Reykjavik Lights Hotel
Duration: 6 days
Purpose: work

September 2016

Each post of #TheAdventuresofPennyLane will strike a balance between how I perceive traveling from a work standpoint and how I perceive traveling from a tourist standpoint. Being a production coordinator for an international television show has helped me be a better tourist because I know more. My goal for this blog is to pass on a bit of the info I have collected along the way, so if you have questions or want more info about a specific trip please email me;  erica {at} breakingheadsproductions {dot} com.

All photos taken by me, unless otherwise credited.