The trip began with one of those random acts of kindness that makes a profound impression upon a jaded traveler like me. I arrived at the airport feeling very proud of myself that for once, I’d packed my belongings for the 4-day trip to Iceland into just one piece of checked luggage (standard operating procedure for me is two checked pieces and sometimes three, regardless of the duration of the trip).
Imagine my chagrin when I was told that the bag weighed 57 pounds. The JetBlue ticket agent, Ted Baker, and I hemmed and hawed. He was desperate not to charge me the $125 overweight fee and yet we had to get 7 pounds out of there. I began stuffing shoes and jeans into my carryon, but to no avail. We could not get to the magical 50 pounds. The Station Manager, Steve Baldwin, overheard our plaintive exchange and he volunteered one of the “stock bags” into which I could pack the extra 7 pounds and check the second piece on a complimentary basis. He personally ran downstairs to the Baggage Claim level and brought me up a small black suitcase into which I stashed my extra stuff, all of this free of charge.
Needless to say, I’ve written to the Customer Service team at JetBlue and am now totally endeared to this airline. When was the last time an airline rep went out of their way to help?
It is surprising to many people that Iceland is just a 5-hour flight from most east coast gateways and IcelandAir has expanded their routes to now include convenient access from several hub cities in the U.S. and a great network throughout Western Europe. Boston and New York offer twice daily non-stop flights and I prefer the day flight option versus the short overnight one. Fortunately today, economy class is lightly booked and I was able to snag an entire row of three and stretch out for a good rest en route.
In spite of the late hour of our arrival, the airport was a hub of activity. We were met by Thomas, one of our affable hosts from Private Travel Iceland, our favorite on-site supplier. He drove us across the dark lava fields into the city of Reykjavik. I am traveling with two of my U.S. colleagues, Leigh and Anne, and we met up with Henrietta from our U.K. office, so we are a quartet of ladies.
We arrived at the Reykjavik Residence Hotel well after midnight in a cold drizzle and were shown to our 2nd floor walk-up, two-bedroom apartment which would be home for the next two nights. A good client tipped us off to this little gem located in the heart of old town Reykjavik (the area is known by its postal code, “101”) and it offers a collection of cozy studios, one and two bedroom apartments, contemporary in décor but with fully equipped kitchens, spacious bathrooms, sky lights and WiFi. This is ideal for a family or for a longer stay; probably ill-advised for anyone with mobility issues as there are no elevators and no porters! Snuggling under duvets, sleep came easily after a long day of travel.
We awoke to more cold rain, put up umbrellas and walked the few blocks to the main shopping street of Laugarvegur and to the Sandholt Bakery, supposedly one of the best in the city. The intoxicating smell of freshly brewed coffee and baguettes just out of the oven tantalized our senses as we made our way into the crowded café and were fortunate in finding a table. Soup sized bowls of latte arrived with smoked salmon breakfast sandwiches and it would have been easy to just tuck in here for the morning, reading papers and lamenting about the weather… but alas, we had a heady agenda of EIGHT hotel visits (which we call “site inspections” in “travel-speak”) which PTI had organized so we set out on foot.
Our first stop was The Black Pearl, another apartment-style property with 16 units, newly opened in July 2013. If you were a rock star, this is where you’d want to stay. Ultra-contemporary and stylish, with loads of natural light and great views over the harbor, we saw the standard (750 sq ft!), deluxe and 2-bedroom penthouse (1700 sq ft!). They have an indoor parking garage (so clean you could eat off the floor). At the moment, there is no gym (although I think that will change) and no restaurant – although you can order sushi from a next door restaurant and they deliver a bountiful breakfast tray each morning. My favorite was a deluxe corner suite #410 – full of light.
We progressed to the Radisson 1919 housed in a historic building that was headquarters for a shipping company. With 88 rooms, this is a favorite amongst Frontiers clients, and rooms feature hard wood floors, large windows and spacious interiors. We liked the Junior suites – over 450 sq ft and high ceilings – the best. An insider tip: request a room facing the back which is quieter… the front of the hotel faces one of the liveliest streets in the city, where the infamous nightlife/bar scene takes place. Next was a new hotel called Kvosin, also situated in a historic building over 100 years old (although you wouldn’t know it as the building exterior is covered in corrugated tin). It was one of the first buildings in Reykjavik to have central heating and was once home to the Public Reading Society (Iceland has 99.9% literacy rate) and the hotel’s wine bar now replaces the site where the Icelandic Templar community held their meetings. The room categories here are aptly named: tiny, normal, bigger, biggest and larger than life! I’d avoid the ground level rooms which are dark, but can highly recommend the upper level bigger and biggest rooms and #401, the largest suite, has two huge outdoor terraces. The sun came out for about 40 seconds in time for us to snap a photo from the terrace. Bathrooms have showers only – no tubs – and most rooms have a kitchenette. This is attractively priced and right on the main square.
After a lot of walking, we’d worked up an appetite and found one of my favorite restaurants in Reykjavik, Humarhusid, which means “lobster house.” It is situated in an old house in the center of town and has an inviting atmosphere and as the name implies some of the top seafood in town. Iceland is famous for its “lobster dainties” which are tiny tails, sweet and succulent, and I was thrilled to be back here. They were just as good as I remembered and my friends ordered the char which was cooked to perfection. It turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip.
Our hotel tour continued to the Hotel 101 – uber- contemporary with studio style rooms (note: no twin bed options offered here – all beds are fixed queens or kings) and then to the art-deco inspired Hotel Borg. In spite of its great location and famous restaurant, I found it a bit dated with brown walls, plus art deco is never my favorite. But the Borg is nearly doubling the size of the hotel with a 43-room addition planned to open for the 2015 summer season – so one to watch for sure! We stopped at the Holt Hotel, a perennial Frontiers favorite and their restaurant especially was very attractive. We re-traced our steps to the international airport to see the simple no-frills option right on the airport property as well as some options in the nearby town of Keflavik, either of which would be considerations for the early morning bank of flights that head for Europe.
We met a dear friend of mine, Johanna, for dinner at Fiskmarkadurinn (aka “Fish Market”) and had a fabulous meal. The theme here is “farm-to-table” local ingredients but with a fusion cuisine twist. After a full first day, we fell into our beds!
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