We knew all this going into planning our trip and decided there was no time like now to get our feet wet and jump in to see what Iceland has to offer. We put together a group and off we went.
Once our flight landed and we were on the bus for the transfer to our hotel, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. The land was flat with landscaping that could best be described as the closest thing to being on the moon. Black and rocky as far as the eye could see.
Our large bus took us to the main bus station where we had to transfer to a smaller bus to be dropped in the Reykjavik city area. In July, a new law went into effect in the city that stopped buses from dropping off tourists at their hotel. Instead, there are bus stops throughout the city where you can get off and walk to your hotel.
We were staying at the CentreHotel Skalbreid which was right around the corner of the #7 bus stop. We trudged up a small hill and took a left and our little hotel was on the right hand side. This is NOT a hotel for anyone with mobility issues. There were three large steps to go up to get into the hotel (with no railing) and once inside, five more steps to get to the elevator - again, not easy to navigate.
Our rooms weren't ready when we arrived at 12:30 so the hotel clerk held our bags and our group went out to explore. The hotel couldn't have been in a more central location - you could walk almost anywhere in the city from it. We made a left and walked downtown to the water front area. There were plenty of restaurants and a couple of museums - a volcano museum and Northern Lights Museum. You could do a whale watching or puffin boat excursion right from town or add on an excursion and be picked up by bus to various places such as Thingviller Park, the Blue Lagoon, an Ice Cave or even a tour of the city.
We explored the city on foot and then returned to check in. The hotel is certainly not modern and the rooms are extremely small but it was clean. There was a free breakfast and you could ask for a wake up call for the Northern Lights. However, the price was right and the location could be better - right in the middle of the city where you could find plenty of restaurants within walking distance. The only issue we had was noise at night. Apparently, Reykjavik is party central at night and because the rooms were very warm at night (there is no air conditioning in the hotel), we would have to open the windows to cool the room off. And the bar noise was terrible - people screaming and yelling in the streets at all hours. We had ear plugs and used them.
Day two we had two things planned - a tour of Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. The bus tour of the city was interesting - it took us to the majestic church that is an icon in the city, Hallgrimskirkja Church. Construction of the church began in 1945 and it wasn't consecrated until 1986. As majestic as the outside of the church is, the interior is quite sparse - until you see the organ, which has 5,275 pipes!
Another place we visited was the Hofdi House, which was the place that President Ronald Regan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev met in 1986 to try to reach a bi-lateral agreement on nuclear arms reduction. A year after Reykjavik the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), for the first time eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed a few years later during President H.W Bush’s term.
After showering before getting into the lagoon (everyone had to shower before getting in to the water). We were instructed to make sure we did not get our hair wet as the silica in the water was extremely drying. Women were advised to take hair conditioner and spread it onto your hair and leave it in when going into the water.
The weather was beautiful for Iceland standards - a balmy 50 degrees yet my concern was how I was going to get out of my robe and quickly into the water before I froze. No reason for concern, as you can enter the water from inside the building and it wasn't necessary to walk outside in the cold in a bathing suit at all.
Ah, the relaxation! The water was therapeutically warm. Once you are in the water, you are instructed to walk to the left to an open air hut that housed silica to make a mud mask. You could put it on your face only or your entire body. We opted for the facial mud and it really extracted impurities from your pores! To the right was a huge open air bar where you could get a drink while relaxing in the water. We were there for about two hours and totally enjoyed the experience. One caution - food is very expensive in Iceland and even more so in the Blue Lagoon. Wait until you get back to Reykjavik for a meal.