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A Trip to Iceland in the Middle of Winter - A warm review of FI E / E+ and more

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Old Feb 22, 17, 6:14 pm
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A Trip to Iceland in the Middle of Winter - A warm review of FI E / E+ and more

Flyertalk, I am attempting to give back to the community I enjoy with a report of my recent trip to Iceland (2/15 to 2/20). A quick summary of the trip as follows:

Day 1: Icelandair economy: ORD to KEF
Day 2: Zombie mode around Reykavik + Hilton Canopy... lets avoid those tour groups.
Day 3: Secret Lagoon, drivings highway 1 to Hofn.
Day 4: Glacier Cave Tour and screwing around the ring road.
Day 5: The Golden Circle + a crappy experience at Hilton Nordica + spa day with some awkward nudity (no photos you perverts).
Day 6: Screwing around Reykavik + Iceland Air Economy + with Saga seating: ORD to KEF

This trip was planned in November when Icelandair was having a flash sale, and I score round trip tickets for $407. The following weeks I watched the sites for black friday deals, scoring a car from Sixt for $198 for 4 days, the Hilton Canopy for around 199, and the Hilton Nordica for around $120.

And to get you in the mood, here is me in an ice cave:

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Old Feb 22, 17, 7:21 pm
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Our trip started last Wendesday on 2/15. My wife was meeting me at ORD terminal 5, and because I am cheap (and about to be broke from iceland) I took the dreaded L up to O'hare. Since I live on the northside I first had to take the Red Line downtown to Jackson, get off, and hustle to the blue line for the 45 minute trek up to O'Hare airport. The good news is I got to the airport at the cost of $2.25 (taxi from my house is about $40), the bad news is I was still at terminal one, and had to take the painfully slow O'Hare transit train all the way to terminal 5.

Once I arrived at terminal 5 around 5 oclock it was.... peaceful! The only other time I use terminal 5 is flying Ethihad or LOT, or Turkish, and for those flights there are always YUUUUUGE groups of people taking TREMENDOUS amounts of stuff with them, you know, TV's, Microwaves, and about 20 bags a piece.

Icelandair was quickly located and check in took about 2 minutes, and security was empty. A few minutes later we were through security, and a greasy burger later we were ready for our flight.

Boarding was done by saga / comfort class followed by starting in the rear and working your way to the front, it was pretty quick, and there was even space in the overhead, and soon we were off:

Flights: FI-852 ORD - KEF, Economy Class Departs 6:52 pm Arrives 6:47 AM, total length : 6:01, 2998 miles, 757-200.... ex American Airlines Jet.


Not much to say about the flight. If you want food, you pay. One drink service, and the seat was your basic economy seat. They did give you a blanket and pillow for the overnight flight and had a soothing Aurora lighting pattern which helped me not fall asleep. Instead I watched some pretty good onboard entertainment such as Family Guy, Dumb and Dumber, and lots of shows highlighting the attractions of Iceland. After about 6 hours we had a smooth landing in Keflavik.


This is the closest I came to seeing the Aurora on this trip.

After arriving to Keflavik the airport was a madhouse since all the flights to Europe were about to leave. This also meant everyone who had a connecting flight had to get through customs, and get on their flight. I was actually surprised by the amount of people connecting to Europe to places like Munich and Paris. Not sure why they didn't take the direct. It looks like connections to Europe were tough, but connections to the UK looked pretty easy since they didn't have to clear customs. After pushing through the mob, we got through customs in no time and our bag was waiting. We prebooked a flybus to take us to the Hilton Canopy. Make sure you prebook since the line was about 40 people deep.... it was also pitch black out. After an hour driving into the darkness we arrived to the bus station, then the Hilton. I also realized I really haven't slept for about 28 hours!
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Old Feb 22, 17, 8:14 pm
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Very interested in this trip; any details on IcelandAir in particular you care to pass on? I am dragging the family with me on a Northern European cruise, and we also took advantage of the Flash Sale to get to CPH.

Thanks in advance!
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Old Feb 22, 17, 8:52 pm
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The Flybus stopped in the middle of the road and the Driver yelled out "CANOPY".... it was time to head to the hotel finally. Right now it was around 8 am in Iceland, and 2 am in Chicago and I realized I was not he night owl I once was. I suddenly realized about 12 other people on my bus were also heading to the Canopy, so I made like Tom Issa at an angry town hall meeting and quickly jumped off the bus before anyone else could. I grabbed my bag and my wife, and were quickly directed to the hotel, which was not obvouis.

This is the first Hilton Canopy hotel. After finding the entrance the pleasant girl working the desk alerted us that we were getting the only room ready this early in the morning, but there were no gold upgrades available since they are fully booked. Since it was still early in the morning (and pitch black out still at 9 am) she gave us vouchers for breakfast and we were ready to hit Reykjavik like a bunch of 30 something zombies. The Hilton Canopy sort of reminded me of a retirement home for Austin Powers. Lots of cool art, and not really any rhyme or reason, but still full of a bunch of old geezers acting like they were on a cruise. Overall though I would stay here again.

The welcome gift... delicious Icelandic chocolate made in Madagascar.

Cool art

Standard room, which is basically a bed... no place to do yoga or hold an orgy

Cool art on the "canopy"

This is the canopy (hence the name). When the northern lights are visible they apparently alert everyone and throw a party up here to celebrate, and during the summer they make this a hang out spot. The good news is there are still great views of Reykjavik.

nice view



cool room art

the room is a bed and a TV

the breakfast was pretty good... as in delicious. The highlight was the Icelandic Avocado. The place was a madhouse!

After breakfast we sat around like a bunch of stoners, then went to do one of the Free Reykavik tours. We used "Free Reykavik Waling Tours" and they were awesome. You need to book online a few days ahead of it.

swans

star of the show

a tribute to the bureaucrat

domestic flights buzzing low on their way to Reykjavik city airport

some cool graffiti



a giant puffin....

oh .... I pissed off this bear... trip report over !
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Old Feb 22, 17, 9:31 pm
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Originally Posted by LadyShiva View Post
Very interested in this trip; any details on IcelandAir in particular you care to pass on? I am dragging the family with me on a Northern European cruise, and we also took advantage of the Flash Sale to get to CPH.

Thanks in advance!
I flew SEA-KEF (4 day stopover) then KEF-CPH in Saga class.
I was impressed with Icelandair. Crews were friendly, the food was good and the seat was comfortable. Nothing glamorous about it when compared to some of the great international business and first class seats.

On the KEF-CPH flight I had one of the better meals I ever had on a plane. It was leg of duck confit.

We got to see the Northern Lights for a few hours on the SEA-KEF segment.
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Old Feb 23, 17, 7:21 am
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Thank you, apodo77. A followup question, if I may: did you have any issues with carry on weigh ins? We will be doing DEN-BOS on JetBlue, and then BOS-KEF. We will stop over at KEF and jaunt to Blue Lagoon, so I fell like I need to plan our carryon baggage very carefully.

steveo, I am enjoying the trip report--you made me wish I had booked a hotel to wander the town. We will be there in June, so the dark pictures give a bizarre feel to being there in "early morning"!
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Old Feb 23, 17, 7:58 am
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Originally Posted by LadyShiva View Post
Thank you, apodo77. A followup question, if I may: did you have any issues with carry on weigh ins? We will be doing DEN-BOS on JetBlue, and then BOS-KEF. We will stop over at KEF and jaunt to Blue Lagoon, so I fell like I need to plan our carryon baggage very carefully.

steveo, I am enjoying the trip report--you made me wish I had booked a hotel to wander the town. We will be there in June, so the dark pictures give a bizarre feel to being there in "early morning"!
No issues with carry on. Never weighed nor put it in a sizer on either of the segments I flew.

Blue Lagoon is amazing. Enjoy
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Old Feb 23, 17, 8:22 am
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In 1972 I had a summer job at the Icelandic reservations office. But I still have not been there. Your report makes me want to go one day.
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Old Feb 23, 17, 5:34 pm
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After barely escaping the polar bear... The second day we had to drive to Hofn to do our blue glacier cave tour of doom. So the order of the day was picking up a rental car from Sixt. Sixt at Reykavik city airport will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the pickup place, a great deal, and we got the car for half off on Sixt's black friday deal. I got a red Opal SUV, and after arguing about insurance we ended up with a GPS since google maps really sucks in Iceland.

We started the day by heading to the Secret Lagoon, which is a cooler, cheaper, and slightly sexier version of the Blue Lagoon. We arrived at 11 am and the place was pretty empty. Note the shower inspectors weren't working, and there were some people from a certain south asian nation who weren't doing a full nude shower... shame on them. We'll let the pictures do the talkin:

A troll along the way!

The wife is really liking it



the main heat source... yea for onsite geyser

Lets hope this lagoon remains secret!

relax!

cool hot pool



This is a hot river where a bunch of the excess heat goes

some greenhouses being fed by the heat... there were some also some horses hanging out

getting crowded time to flea

Next we did the long drive to Hofn... but with a view like this the 5 hours went by fast



The landscape was full of these mini waterfalls... this is one of the big ones.

cool lake


nice weather... haha

We then ran into a big parking lot and started following a trail for 45 minutes to find this...


And empty black sand....



after some more driving it started to get dark





lukcily we soon arrived to our lovely bed and breakfast the House and the Hill



HOFN is a small delicious town, pronunced HOFF like the base in Star Wars the Empire Strikes back





a well deserved beer and lobster

the highlight of dinner at Z-Bistro is Z-Waffle, I like them .....

And now time for some sleep, because I get to ride this tomorrow:

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Old Feb 25, 17, 5:05 pm
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Shiva: In July it it supposed to be very sunny in Iceland. It was weird in February since it would not get light until 10 am, and before that it was pitch black, something I never see in Chicago! Iceland air didn't seem to care about carryon bag. I was pretty impressed by the checkin and boarding being pretty efficient, the only thing i didn't like is it sounds like if one of your flights gets delayed you are pretty screwed and will probably be stuck in iceland for an extra day.
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Old Feb 25, 17, 5:28 pm
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On the third day we got up in Hofn, and had to go to Jökulsárlón, which is a glacier lake, and as you will see in a moment completely frozen over. In the summer you can take boat rides, but can't now for obvious reasons. There we got to pick up our tour to go ice caving, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Iceland. A tour is required since this is very dangerous to do on your own. We chose "Blue Iceland". They had no online reviews, and a great website, and were great tourguides. We were running late, and called up our guide / owner of the company, "no problem the whole group is late".

We arrived around 10 minutes late, and had time to grab a 4 dollar instant coffee, hit the overcrowded toilets and explore a little before boarding this monster truck thing to ride to the glaciers. The truck appeared to be a school bus welded to a garbage truck, it was a feat of engineering. After a hour on a very bumpy off road ride we arrived at the glaciers.

They provided krampons, and we were ready to explore. Basically there were markings on the ice to led us to the various "caves" which change year to year, and are cracks / water ways in the glacier. But you better hurry up since they are melting pretty fast.

We screwed around the caves for around 3 hours and it was an unbeliviable experience , I'll let the photos do the talking. It was also the sunniest day in Iceland, and actually got a little sun-burn. At the end of the journey we did a northern lights dance, which did us no good since it was cloudy for the rest of the trip:

Jokurlanson Lake:





The first cave we visited, this one was dark with ash and had a river running through it


Inside the cave:



The cave had this giant vertical shaft in it, probably 25 feet in diameter:



Back to the surface


The black soil was glacier just a few years ago. Lets stop denying climate change:


Another cave we couldn't access:



Top entrance to a cave:



A fissure to the center of the earth:



This cave was the highlight of the trip, as you can see we also had a selfie tour, but we actually went in. There were two big rooms, then a small tunnel with no exit, and finally a little hole you squirm your way through and eventually exit through the top.



inside the cave after crawling through ah ole:



the sun through the top hole - seeing the sun on this trip was very uncommon



the caves had this deep blue ice:



end of the road;



climbing through a hole to the exit:





finally on the way out, away from the center of the earth and the morlocks...



another cave



climbing on top of an ice ledge:




obviously can't acces this cave:



vortex of doom!




Overall this one a very good experience. Our guide said the plan was to leave us "tired, dirty, and hungry" and that was the case. The only problem was it took about 90 minutes to find a place to eat..... now back to Reykavik.
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Old Feb 26, 17, 3:48 pm
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Before talking about the drive back from Hofn to Reykaviv, I figure I would give my review of the Hilton Nordica. The Hilton Nordica is one of the two hilton properties in Iceland. The other one is the Canopy which I stayed at earlier.... and is much nicer. However the Nordica had parking, and was much cheaper so I gave it a show.

We arrived at the Nordica after a long day of hiking, caving, and driving. First thing was the amount of bus tours here... there were a LOT, and the lobby was full of tired looking chinese tourists sitting on the floor with their bags. Ugh sucks to be them.

I go to the Honors desk to check in, when the manager sees I have a guest with me. He says something to me like "THIS IS NOT A HILTON IN THE USA, IF YOU ARE BRINGING A GUEST WE NEED TO KNOW AND WE CANNOT ACCOMMODATE YOU". My wife starts screaming at the guy, he then relents and says "give me 40 minutes and we'll get you a room".....

First off, I've stayed at many hiltons outside the USA and have never had a room that can hold only one person. The second thing is that if the rooms are that.... small, then contact us before hand or say it on your website. I did complain and they apologized but no swag

After a quick dinner to a nearby mexican place we get our room. It was small, but big enough for two people who like each other, so I don't know what the big deal was. IF anything they should be embarrassed by the huge pillar going through the room:



Artists rendition of the front desk guy:



We got lounge access as Gold Members. Overall it was pretty good, had lots of chocolate and other snacks, and a pretty good spread of booze:



It would be nice if they had some good local beers (they had icelandic beer, but not good icelandic beer) like Einstok:



The view would have been good if it wasn't so cloudy...

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Old Feb 26, 17, 3:59 pm
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The drive from Hofn to Reykjavik was magnificent, and if you can I highly recommend doing a self drive when in Iceland, here are some views along the way:

Mossy hills dotted the landscape:

This is a monument to a guy who got his farm destroyed by a volcano. For good luck you need to find some stones and put them on this monument:



Endless fields of rocks:



We decided to go offroad to catch these horses:



And saw this magnificent waterfall called Sko'gafosh.... we were too tired at this point but there is a trail to the top:



These are the famous sea cliffs at Vik:



Another view:



The sand be black:



The views like this made the trip easy:





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Old Feb 26, 17, 8:51 pm
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The plan for my last day in Iceland was to hit up the "Golden Circle", hitting up the sites of Ŝingvellir National Park, the Fontana Hot Spring, Gullfoss Waterfall, and finally Geyser. Since the sun doesn't come up until 11 am in these parts we slept in, in our tiny bed at the Hilton Nordica, and headed into town to see the Koloportid Flea market. I was hoping to score some cool stuff but it was a big disappointment. It reminded me of one of those crappy flea markets in the subway of Shanghai, selling ...... T-shirts, overpriced wool, CD's, and books in Icelandic. After wasting 15 minutes of my life doing that it was time to get some coffee and hit the road!

I'm the one in red parked like an idiot


The first stop was Ŝingvellir National Park, which is the site of the first parliment of iceland, and has a giant siesmic rift in the ground. Upon arrival you have to buy a parking pass, but someone leaving gave me theres.... the site is undergoing a massive expansion and they're building the facilities to handle the bus tour crowds According to my guidebook "Top 10 Iceland", this is the number one attraction in Iceland, and the views are gorgeous:











Back in the day criminals were thrown into these rapids...



Next we drove about 40 minutes north towards Laugarvatn Fontana, which is a spa near to Geyser. This was a pretty cool steam seap where they generate electricity, power some greenhouses, and have a pretty cool spa complex.

The views made the drive easy:


The Fontana Spa is a money factory for Mr.Fontana. We decides to do a bread tour, buffet lunch, and entrance to the spa, costing up about 75 bucks a piece. I know this sounds like alot but is pretty average for iceland. We pigged out on the badly needed food, and drank about 15 cups of coffee:



Next was the bread tour. Basically they make bread by placing it into a geothermal seep for 24 hours, and it comes out piping hot and delicious. Our Bread today was a sweet rye. The bread was quickly raided by a chinese tour group who were chased off by the staff. We got lucky in that there were 8 people on the tour, but it was supposed to be 80!

Digging out the bread:

The star of the show, to make it edible we basted it in butter:

Now its soak time. Note here in iceland they want you to shower nude before going in, and they take it pretty seriously. I'm doing my thing when two drunk british girls showed up in the shower and started to undress before noticing they were in a room full of naked men. After a few laughs they fled, but should really look into putting in a door or something. Now here is the great hot spring:



soaking away



they even have a cold pool to jump into after being in the sauna. I chose to do this, and had the feeling of death and burning as I got in, but now my skin is silky smooth and I picked up a lot of credit from the drunk brits:



Next we went to Gulfoss, which is the big waterfall. Easy drive, park your car and walk up to the falls:






These pictures do not do this waterfall credit, its actually two tiered, and was nearly dammed but luckily people successfully protested it back in the 1920's.


Finally we drove about 15 minutes to Geyser... where you can see.... Geysers!

The main one goes off every 5 minutes while the rest go off less, but there were some pretty small ones going off across this steamy, sulfury landscape:



going off!


geyser field:


Finally time to head home, taking about 90 minutes to get back to Reykjavik from geyser, making it back before it got pitch black

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Old Feb 26, 17, 8:59 pm
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Finally it is my last day in Iceland. We had the morning to goof around so we went to the church for great views of Reykavik, and got a the famous hot dog, and walked around the town a little bit:

Here is the church, you buy a ticket and take an elevator up to the top. There were lots of cranky people here and line cutters, hopefully they'll go to hell


But the views were fantastic:





We then took a walk all on the harbor, but we got caught in a flash hail storm, and had to run for shelter in the concert hall:




Black clouds = nasty hail


The concert hall, I would love to see a show here next trip



Finally the famous Icelandic hotdog. These have onion straws / raw onion in the bun, followed by the hot dog and topped with a mushroom sauce, mustard and ketchup. I won't tell the people of chicago about the ketchup or a posse of Mike Ditka, Barak Obama, and Vince Vaughn will come over and open a can of whoop ...:

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