Our Iceland Vacation!
We flew into KEF, rented a car, and headed out on our Ring Road journey. Follow along using the links below.
I'm writing this blog while we are obeying our 14 day quarantine or self-isolation. Since we returned home Sunday evening (10 days ago), we haven't gone anywhere, except outside to walk or bike and I did drive my car around the block once since it hadn't been driven in over 2 weeks. It smelled like new again!
Every day gets a little harder - harder to spend 24/7 at our house and with just the 3 of us, harder to watch the numbers grow, harder to think about those most at risk, harder to think nice thoughts about those who are part of the problem.
The numbers are staggering.
We walk our girl, Marly, a couple times a day and play games on our driveway in the evening, and sometimes neighbors stop by to say HEY! which we are grateful for the company. We never could have imagined just a few weeks ago that social distancing would be a part of nearly everyone's vocabulary, not to mention our daily lives.
Before we came home, a couple of friends stocked our refrigerator and pantry with necessities - again, we are so grateful. We usually have plenty of food on hand including frozen seafood and meat anyways, and always a supply of TP, so we won't go hungry or smelly.
We were so excited to take this awesome trip. We had never really considered Iceland as a vacation destination until we met a couple at the airport 2 years ago who were heading there for the 10th time. I'm not sure how we began talking. It could have been their oddly unique carry-on bags. They were somewhat flat yet circular. As it turned out, they were fold-up bikes. Yes! You read that correctly.
They told us all about their travels, not only in Iceland but around the world. What a fascinating couple to spend time with. While we were in Iceland, we thought about that chance meeting with them all those months ago and imagined them biking around this amazing island.
As our travel date got closer and closer, the coronavirus was just ramping up in the US. Many of us couldn't figure out why it was such a big deal. It seemed like a new strain of the flu but without a vaccine. Talk was all over the news but life went on as usual - businesses were operating, schools were in session, travelers were traveling.... Just the night before our early morning flight, our daughter had a track meet with hundreds of kids and spectators. Life was just normal.
We did not consider skipping this trip. Iceland had reported just 1 case at the end of February, so we weren't worried. By the time we left, I believe they were up to 12. I know. It was quite a jump but still, just 12 people in a country the size of the state of Ohio.
Both the Tampa and Boston airports were eerily empty. We've never experienced anything like that. On the other hand, the Iceland airport was hopping - probably as usual.
Our 10 day plan was to spend the first 4 days traveling east on the south Ring Road from the airport in the west and then head back west for days 5 and 6 and then head to the northwest for a couple of days and then end our adventure by spending a couple of days in Reyjkavik, Iceland's capital, before flying home. Take a breathe. That was a long run-on sentence. I think bloggers take a lot more liberties with grammar, spelling, punctuation..... My html app, Dreamweaver, does not have an automatic spell checker. It reminds me daily how my spelling has deteriorated over the years.
Now that we have the crucial information, we're ready to go.
This map shows the general area we traveled but we also covered more of the Golden Circle and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. There is so much more of Iceland to see but we didn't want to chance traveling in the northern areas - it is still very much winter there in March.
Within the first few days, the world really started getting serious about the coronavirus. It was no longer a China problem. We were listening and paying attention to what was going on not only in the US but in Europe and locally too. School was on hold until at least the middle of April. Iceland was banning group get togethers and taking great measures to make sure people were safe. Restaurants were removing half of their tables allowing more isolation for those customers who relied on dining out - like us. They had hand sanitizer at the entrance and required everyone entering to use some.
In some of the small villages, business owners placed signs on the front windows saying visitors/travelers not welcome. We understood.
It was about this time that Al received an article that really does a great job explaining COVID-19 in easy to understand language. It says that it came from Johns Hopkins, but I'm really not sure. It is not written in medical or scientific terminology and I could not find a link to it from Iceland. Some of our US sites, including news sources were blocked from us while we traveled. Apparently they don't have the same freedoms we have. Nevertheless, I put a link to the article at the bottom of this page. It made me think and feel differently about the virus and the spread and/or containment of it. Maybe others will read it and start becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
We did most everything that we planned. An ice cave tour on day 2 was canceled due to heavy snow that created an avalanche threat in the Langjokull glacier area. Toward the end of our trip, another ice cave tour in that same area was also canceled due to weather - not sure if it was the same avalanche threat or something else. When we learned that trip was canceled, we canceled our lava cave tour that was just 20 minutes from the ice cave.
It was at that point that we really considered coming home early. That was early Thursday morning which was day 8 for us. Both Friday tours were canceled and we had a remote cabin reserved for that evening. After driving in some pretty scary weather the day before, we didn't want to risk doing that again, so we canceled that cabin and decided to head closer to the airport.
We've been hearing about all the airlines that are offering free cancellation and changes for their travelers so we started calling Iceland Air and JetBlue. Surprisingly we were able to talk to people within a reasonable wait time. Neither could or would help us. Our flights were booked through JustFly. We were able to get several phone numbers for them, but each resulted in the same response. A short recorded message that ended with.....We are unable to help you. CLICK
We tried calling several times throughout the day but it was always the same. It was not looking too promising that we would be able to get on an earlier flight. Flights to Boston and JFK were still leaving Iceland daily so that was promising. All other flights to different states were canceled.
We did some of our sightseeing on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula as we were making our way back to civilization. We drove until almost dark and then found a guest-house to crash in for the night. It was right along the Ring Road so we felt confident that if the bad weather did come through overnight, the road would probably be open pretty early for travel. We did get snow all night and lots of wind, but the road was in good shape for our morning drive to KEF airport, about 2 hours south.
Friday and Saturday were going to be our Reyjkavik exploring days, but we thought we would be safer skipping the city, where the majority of Iceland's population lives, so we drove through and went on to the airport. Could Iceland Air really deny letting us on that evening flight if we were standing right in front of them? The answer is YES! They told us to call JetBlue. JetBlue told us to call Iceland Air. Neither would help and both refused to talk to the other on our behalf. Iceland Air did offer to sell us new seats to Boston for just $3000! We decided to take our chances and wait for our original flight about 30 hours from that point.
There was almost no one at the airport.
We stayed at the Airport Hotel - not even sure if it has a real name - that's what the building says. We were scheduled for the Blue Lagoon dip in the geothermal heated water, but we canceled due to the virus and the proximity of people to each other, and the possibility of going home early. We are still waiting to learn if any of our money will be refunded, so far it's not looking too promising.
We saw the Level 4 Travel Advisory on Thursday or Friday and I even sent it to those business where we canceled asking for sympathy, but most said they were sticking to their policy of no refund and one (Lava Cave) has still not responded and I've emailed them 3 times. No worries, I will review each on TripAdvisor and Hotels.com.
Update on the refunds.....Blue Lagoon emailed that they would refund 50% then another email that they would refund 90%. We received 50% a day later. I received another email stating that the other 40% will be refunded this week! Lava Cave apologized for not taking care of this sooner and promised a 100% refund. No word regarding the two ice cave tours that were canceled by the company. Also, nothing promising from the two rooms that I canceled.
We spent our last night at the airport hotel and hung out there for part of the next day. Even though they had very few guests, they would not give us a late check out of 2 hours. I cannot say that Icelandics are sympathetic to US citizens who choose to spend their vacation money in their country or to the pandemic situation. I'm not bitter, but don't believe everything you hear about the sympathetic and helpful individuals and businesses during this time of crisis.
Crazy times we're living in!
But, we're Going Home Finally!
Click the links below to follow our journey day by day. Enjoy!
I'm not sure where this article came from, even though it says Johns Hopkins, but it is easy to understand and definitely makes sense, so I thought I would share.