Author Topic: Iceland, London, and Paris July 2019  (Read 2258 times)

Offline NoIdea

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Iceland, London, and Paris July 2019
« on: July 30, 2019, 03:01:45 PM »
Day 1- Monday

Landed about 7am at KEF (Icelandair) and picked up a rental car from Blue Car rental. We went straight out to begin the Golden Circle.
Now one thing I have to say, I know Something Fishy says always add 30% to Googles drive time but I found the times accurate unless of course you are hunting for that perfect photo and intend on pulling over constantly (which I imagine SF did after seeing his stunning pictures).

Golden Circle included the following:
Thingvellir- walked up to oxararfoss ( being the first waterfall on our trip it was nice. Had it been the last it would’ve been boring), walking in the Almannagja canyon and down what they call the “walk of death”. This is where people who were sentenced to death used to walk to be executed. I think I heard someone say that there was a Game of Thrones scene filmed there. Not that it matters.

Geysir- was funny to see hundreds of people lined up with cameras to catch the moment. We stayed about 15 minutes and saw it erupt about 5 times. I thought it was cool. As you drive there, do not park in the large lot on the right where everyone else is turning in. That’s a tourist center, gift shop, restaurant. Keep driving another 300 feet or so on the left side is a small lot with no real signage. This is the closest parking spot to the geyser.

Gulfoss- This is very nice and large but it isn’t Niagara. Here also, I avoided the larger lot where there was a lot more traffic and took a right at the fork to the lower lot about 3 minutes before the regular parking lot at the top of the falls.

Faxi waterfall- Its nice and to think it’s off the side of the highway is cool but not worth the stop/ parking fee of 700 kronas. I wouldn’t make this stop seeing as there are so many cooler waterfalls in Iceland.
Kerid- Parking/entrance fee is 400 kronas. Not worth the stop unless you are bored and need a stop. I don’t remember there being a bathroom there. Should’ve listened to SomethingFishy AKA Iceland’s Minister of Tourism.

Overall, Golden Circle is something to do if you have extra time to do it or if you don’t have much time to get further from Reykjavik. Not the highlight of the trip. It worked out well for us because we were tired from our flight and wanted to be back in Reykjavik by 5ish. Would have loved to do the rafting but it was a no go because the Mrs. is very pregnant.
We then headed to Reykjavik and hung out there a few hours. We walked to the Harpa Concert Hall which is really cool architecturally and walked the city down and around Laugavegur street. We went to Bonus and found some kosher food with hechsherim- granola, crackers, cereal, chips, Alpro and packaged lox. I didn’t consider dairy foods though. We brought our own food but this was helpful. Stayed at Centerhotel Midgardur- good location but that’s about it. Meh.

Inside harpa:

Here's one way to get up close with puffins:

Day 2- Tuesday

Headed out to Seljalandfoss. (The scenery along the drive in southern Iceland really is beautiful.) You need to pay for parking here as they constantly check if you have paid and will ticket. I didn’t see the pay station and asked an attendant (some guy with a yellow vest) how much parking is. He tells me its 700 kronas but if I have coins-500. I pull out a heap of coins and tell him I only have 300. He says fine, pockets the cash and inserts his card into the machine and hands me a ticket to display in the car. Classic. Seljalandfoss is awesome and you get pretty wet from the mist. I had the waterproof shell pants and coat but if it’s a sunny day (which is was not) you don’t need it as you’ll dry off quickly.

We then walked the 10 or so minutes to Gljufrabui. This is amazing, a must do. Here you get very wet. We had bought cheap waterproof shoes with a rubber sole so we can freely walk into the cave and not worry about slipping. It could be done with flip flops/crocs but be careful as the rocks can be slippery.

After being at Seljalandfoss/Gljufrabui for almost 90 minutes we drove out to Skogafoss about 25 minutes east. No parking fee as far as I know. The waterfall is large and the hike up the steps takes about 8 minutes at a slow pace. But if you have time, go hiking along the Skoga river up top. We walked about 45 minutes out and saw the path just continues forever. I imagine I would still be hiking if I hadn’t just turned around for the 45 minute walk back. Really idyllic.

We then drove about 30 minutes to Dyrholaey viewpoint. Everyone talks about the wind in this area of the Black Beaches and it’s all true. They say winter is much worse. The car rental agency warns you about the wind taking your car door off and if you’ve read @yehuda’s TR you know what can happen. I was paranoid and careful to park with room between my car and the next. We go to the viewpoint and when I get back to the car….there’s a large dent in the car door. The car next to me came after I had parked, and the passenger got out and the wind knocked the door into my car. I was livid. I waived insurance and relied on CSR but was not interested in the hassle. The car next to me was also Blue Car rental so I call them and ask what to do. Dadi is the rep who was super helpful. He tells me to fill out the accident report with the other driver who is fully covered. Only problem is its in Icelandic. By now the other driver comes back and says he didn’t realize what happened but isn’t arguing seeing as we are both Blue Car and he is fully insured.  We exchange info and pics and fill out the report as instructed. I see him unlock his phone and in Hebrew ask him where he’s from…the look on his face!!!! His phone had Hebrew text on the home screen so I knew he was Israeli. BH! I ended up bumping into him and his group 2 more times on the trip. Small world. My point is- when by the black beaches area it’s not just important to open your doors carefully. It’s best to park on the further end of the lot where there are few/no cars to park near you and bash your car.

We then went to Kirkjujara beach to see the black beach, basalt columns, cool caves, and puffins way overhead on the cliffs. After dropping our stuff at the Black Beach suites (great place!) we went to Vik to do some grocery shopping at Kronan and drive around a bit(same sort of kosher goods, but  a bit less). They have some sort of lava center in Vik but it was closed by the time we got there. We then went to the beach looking out to Reynisdrangar ( google reynisdrangar view). This is the other side of Kirkjujara beach and there was nobody there except a few intrepid photographers. It was serene with the blasting wind and crashing waves and almost no people. By now it was late and time to settle in.

Day 3- Wednesday

Headed up to Svartifoss. I went to pay for parking in the visitor center and asked the guy behind the desk if I parked in the right area. I didn’t, but he said not to worry because nobody checks…. So why did I pay for parking??? Dunno. It was raining but the hike up is beautiful and once you get closer to the waterfall you have to walk over and through very (slippery and..) rocky terrain. Saw a couple people trip. Most people took photos from a short distance but I decided to be the American who ruins everyone’s photo by crossing the stream and getting right next to the waterfall.

After the hike back, we drove to Jokulsarlon Lagoon for the zodiac boat ride we had reserved. Guess what? They strongly don’t recommend it while very pregnant. They would allow it but did a fairly good job scaring us about the bouncing of the boat. So we did the amphibian boat. It was good but I imagine the zodiac is much better.
This is what I got but take a look at SF's pics as this doesnt do it justice:

We headed over to diamond beach which was very cool. Now, it was windy and cold but there was a (soon to be??) newlywed couple taking wedding pics. Anything for the gram.

Bathroom at Jokulsarlon. All this time....whoops.

Next stop was Fjadrarguljulfur Canyon. There are 2 parking lots- upper lot is only a few minutes to a platform overlooking the falls. Google will take you to a lower lot which is where we went. You then walk up along the canyon for around 20 minutes to the falls. I enjoyed the walk and canyon. View is stunning. HT to @yehuda.

Then headed to The Garage guesthouses in Varmahlid for the night. This place is rustic but a fun experience. They have their own water source from the private waterfall and they have a dog (and cat but who cares) that is wicked smart. This dog, Felix, brought me his frisbee to play and then literally led us on the path to hike to the waterfall. It was late and a steep climb so we went less than halfway and turned back. Felix was disappointed so I played some soccer with him and then we were cool.

One more thing, 5 minutes down the road is a fence with…. ‘undergarments’ hanging. If you’re driving down Road 1 and do a double take and wonder “were those…??” the answer is yes. Apparently, they have one in New Zealand as well so if you want to add these to your bucket list, enjoy.

Day 4- Thursday

20 minute drive to Solheimjokull Glacier for the Glacier hike which lasts a total of 3 hrs (with getting the gear on and explanations etc). There were only 2 others in our group which was awesome. This was a great experience. They couldn’t believe my wife did this at 7 months. We were done at 1pm.

My big splurge on this trip was to stay at the Silica hotel by the blue lagoon. This is the cheaper option when compared to The Retreat at Blue Lagoon but still pricey. It’s supposed to be very relaxed and have a private lagoon but I wouldn’t know….because I got an email the day before that we were getting upgraded to The Retreat. Amazing!
I had considered doing the lava tunnel after the glacier, but I really wanted to mximize our access at The Retreat Spa. This place is legendary. Just an fyi- the Retreat lagoon (as opposed to Blue lagoon) empties out at around 5-7ish pm.  Had it all to ourselves. The Spa also was virtually empty as most guests are either out of the hotel or at the hotel restaurants. The vibe is incredible. We met a Jewish couple (how’d they know we … oh yeah, shvimkleid) and schmoozed a while. Great people, very entertaining. Found out later this guy is a billionaire. You wouldn’t have guessed being that he’s in a bathrobe and flip flops.

Day 5- Friday

Early wakeup for 730am flight and returned car to Blue Car. Had to tell them the whole story about my new friend, Menachem, hitting my car but Chris was great and the process went smoothly. The airport in KEF was crazy but if you use the kiosk to check-in and print bag tags you can get on a much shorter line to drop bags. Next stop, London.

Arrived about noon and headed to Hendon where we stayed at the Pillar. Had some lunch (after 5 days salad never tasted so good), did some grocery shopping, and settled in. Ate amazing Shabbos meals out and walked through Golders Green/Hendon over Shabbos.

Day 7- Sunday

Checked out from the Pillar and dropped bags at London Marriot Park Lane. beautiful place with a great location under 5 minutes from Marble arch shul. Walked down Oxford Street to British Museum (30+ min). After being in Iceland where you don’t see any real crowds, London was quite a shock. The streets, museums, stores are all packed this time of year. I had prepared what I wanted to see at the British museum (found the itinerary of the jewish tour online). Spent about 90 mins there but it was really hot and stuffy in the museum so we were ready to move on.

Walked down toward Churchill Rooms via Trafalgar Square. The cricket world cup of England Vs New Zealand was taking place and they were showing the game on a big screen while many hundreds watched. Tight security to get in and after watching a couple minutes and hearing the cheers and boos I decided to move on because I had no idea what was going on. I think we had been there toward the end but before the hundred or so overtime/tie breakers that occurred. They say it was a good game and England won.

Churchill Rooms were great. Lines could be very long if you don’t have timed entry. We were on London Pass so we had to wait in a long line which would have been about 40 minutes…but after my wife asked if she can go in to use the restrooms they said we can go with timed entry because my wife is pregnant. You can spend over 2 hours there if you go through everything slowly. If you don’t enjoy history much you can do it in 30 mins. We were there a while and then decided to head to Harrods.
Harrods was having a sale, it was a Sunday with only one hour before closing, in tourist season. Needless to say it was packed. DW went her way and I went to see the watches and jewelry. They have CRAZY merch there. They closed at 6 and we walked the area a few minutes before heading to Tish in Belsize Park. This place was great and we were comped a bottle of wine because apparently the Jewish couple we met at the Retreat in Iceland frequents Tish often and called ahead (they had asked where in London we were eating). Great people. After dinner, we went to the Shard for the view. It’s a beautiful view in all directions from the 72nd floor. Watched sunset and they closed up at 10.

Back to marble arch to walk a bit and finally see our room. Had to get a mini fridge for some perishables as the mini bar won’t keep food cold enough.

Day 8- Monday

Went to Piccadily Circus to meet Matt for the Changing of the Guard tour. He takes you to a prime location to see the old guard get ready and be escorted with the marching band to Buckingham.

You march along (we also saw the horse guards riding past) and at Buckingham he positions you to see the new guard marching to meet the old guard. The whole tour is 2 hours as he gives history and description as you walk to get into position etc. Crazy crowds at Buckingham:

We hung out in St James park for lunch and people watching then walked  over the bridge 25 mins to Waterloo station for a train to Windsor Castle. We passed Big Ben (or Big Scaffold) and Parliament. It is bumper to bumper people in this area.

Windsor was really nice and there’s an audio guide included. You get a nice history lesson and see the royal state rooms which are stunning. The furniture, art, and clocks are non-stop gorgeous. The town around that area is nice but there were so many tourists it detracted from the authenticity. From there we went out to One Ashbourne for dinner. Let’s just say I really enjoyed Tish and should’ve gone back there. We headed back and walked up and down New Bond Street. Definitely not as crowded on a weeknight as it had been Sunday night but still very happening.

Day 9- Tuesday

Got to Tower of London at about 10am (open at 9). No line to enter the premises. Bought the audio guide and went straight to see crown jewels as the lines could be crazy. The line begins outdoors and once you enter through the doors the line continues with historical information and items displayed along the way. Audio guide keeps you distracted a bit. At this point we were on line for about 20 minutes until you finally see the cool things such as serving pieces, dishes, clothing etc that are all hundreds of years old. Then comes the Crown jewels and regalia. There’s a moving walkway to keep the crowds moving but also a platform where you can stand and view the items. We went past 3 times as the crowd wasn’t too great. After that portion we did the rest of the grounds pretty thoroughly. I would suggest that if you want to see the crown jewels you try to be on that line by 10ish. By 1130/noon the line was much much longer (over an hour for sure). After the Tower of London we went to Tower Bridge a few minutes away.

Saw the engine room (boring) and made our way up the elevator for the view and glass bottom. It’s a nice view and they give more information about the bridge and its history than I thought was even possible. I wouldn’t make a trip just to see it but if you are right there anyway it may be worth going up (was part of London Pass so I don’t know the cost).

Took the Thames boat all the way to Westminster stop while a very funny guide gave the tour. We walked around a little and took a Hop On Hop Off bus to Kensington. Walked through Kensington park to Kensington Palace. I hadn’t intended on going inside as it was getting late and I heard its not too interesting but I realized entrance was included in London Pass so how can’t we go inside. An employee in front said to go through everything will take 2 hours. We gave ourselves 20 minutes. The state rooms are not very impressive, a handful of Princess Diana’s outfits as well as other royals from centuries back were meh. But they had some royal jewelry here which was, once again, wow. Took 23 minutes. For dinner we went to Kaifeng as it had been recommended by many locals. We loved this place as well, amazing food. Back to our hotel to pack up for an early departure.

Day 10- Wednesday

7am Eurostar to Paris. Very fast and easy process. Arrived in Paris and went to our hotel- Marriot Hotel de Berri a block off ChampsElysees. The room was ready just after we arrived (1130am), so we settled in, had the much needed coffee and walked Champs Elysees to Arc de Triomphe.

Very cool and lines to go to the top were long (around noon). Snapped some photos and walked down to Eiffel Tower (30 min).

This place was crazy busy but they did a god job with crowd control. We were thinking of going up but after a 15 minute bathroom line for DW I figured we’ll try later. Siene hop on hop off boat to Louvre where we had a 2:30 tour scheduled. I only did the tour because the lines to get in are notorious and the tour can enter through a different entrance. I had planned on starting with the tour and breaking off to do my own thing. The first hour was pretty boring but the guide was an art historian so I learned a bunch of things which made me appreciate what I was seeing. If you opt for a tour make sure you are on time as once 2:30 hit, the coordinator leaves and you’re out of luck. All in all, the museum was crazy crowded. I won’t bore you with the Mona Lisa saga but here are the general points:

They moved the Mona Lisa to a new room that morning for the first time in 15 years so the staff was not ready for what happened.
The line to get to see the Mona Lisa (from when we got inline at 5pm) was disorganized with no clear line- just a mosh pit of people pushing and cutting in etc.
Line would have taken 2+ hours for sure. I saw what was happening and after 15 minutes told DW I wanted to leave. After another 20 minutes and not much progress we were ready.
Went down 2 flights of stairs to exit and saw the elevator for people with disabilities. I told them we waited 40 mins and t was so hot my wife nearly fainted and we can’t wait cuz she’s 7 months pregnant and we need to get in cuz Tom Hanks gave us a mission and our last name is Da Vinci. Basically, they looked at my wife and said we can go in so we got to cut the line and get right in front of the Mona Lisa….meh.

I assume by now they might have their act together but at that time, you could’ve cut into the line at a couple points by coming up the exit staircases or even getting into the disabilities elevator as some random people got on with us despite being told they can’t. You just need chutzpah. Should you? That’s not up to me.
Knowing what I know now, I would have done Musee d’ Orsay- more paintings as opposed to sculptures.

After this we took the boat back to Eiffel Tower. Got to cut the ticket line (PREGNANT LADY COMING THROUGH!!) and the line for the elevator to go to the 2nd floor. They wouldn’t let us go to the top because they said if we are “handicapped” enough to need to cut the line then They cannot allow us all the way up. Beautiful view and although I originally had no intention of spending $ to go up, I am happy we did and recommend it. Spent about 20 minutes and walked down the stairs. Took the boat and got off at Musee d’ Orsay stop. Walked along the lock bridge. Surprised only one guy there was selling locks.

Walked about 20 minutes to Linte Café for dinner. Food was pretty good. Then walked back along Champs Elysees to Arc de Triomphe. Was hoping to go up top but for some reason it was closed. Headed back to hotel eventually.

Day 11- Thursday

Had a 2pm flight back via KEF so we walked to Le XXV to pick up some food. We tried lots of their pastries which were okay and some salad/sushi/poke for the trip. These were very good. Got to CDG 2 hours before flight and the lines for Icelandair were crazy long. Just had to ask where the bathroom is and poof!.... we get put in the line with premium and first class. Quick check in and very smooth flight and connection.
An amazing trip that was truly 2 separate vacations as Iceland and London/Paris are very different experiences. And just like last summer after our Spain trip which was also non-stop moving and very little laying back and relaxing, I say the next trip will be more laid back…. but I doubt it.

Offline NoIdea

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Re: Iceland, London, and Paris July 2019
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2019, 10:22:58 AM »
One more thing. Outside the Louvre by the Arc d'triomphe du carousel, there's a clown who goes around trying to get pics with tourists for $. He's not very good about boundries... hes straight up Kreepy the Klown. I was looking at my phone and out of the corner of my eye I see a gloved hand reach out to rub my pregnant wifes stomach. I swatted his hand away and he looked pretty shocked. He tries it again later and I told him to get lost. I kept an eye on this guy and he's definitely Kreepy. He puts his hands on everyone- even small kids , and not in an appropriate way. But Americans are too nice (read: stupid) to say anything. "Hes not a perv, just a clown!". Basically, look out for him and be firm in sending him away.

Offline @Yehuda

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Re: Iceland, London, and Paris July 2019
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2019, 10:28:08 AM »
Awesome report - brings back so many memories! Thanks for taking the time to upload.

Online LoLo

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Re: Iceland, London, and Paris July 2019
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2019, 06:36:12 PM »
Great report, thanks for writing it up.

Offline eandd

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Re: Iceland, London, and Paris July 2019
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2019, 09:36:14 PM »
Amazing report and pictures! So many similarities to our trip - 7 months pregnant, cutting lines, London and then Iceland....
Yes the wind at the black sand beach is INSANE in the winter time!