02 April 2018

2018 ICELAND Reykjavik 3 - First Impressions

There was a little wait to reclaim our baggage. Too keep busy, we checked the pre-exit duty free shop, but still no Myers rum.

Laur and I went to the ATM for some Icelandic money. Here is a 500 kronur note (one is a krona). Its value in USD is five dollars. Whatever a price tag says, you just knock off the last two digits to easily convert to USD. So 100 ISK closely converts to 1 USD, or 1,800 ISK is 18 USD. Ignore the comma. Some folks said you can use Euros here as well, but I would check it out first.

We caught our first puffin sighting as he "dove into the baggage claim area" and he was huge. At least six feet from neck to nose. How cute!
Once we claimed our luggage, it was smooth sailing. Only a few minutes at the passport check. Nothing to declare, so bypassed customs. Next stop, Hertz rent-a-car.

At Hertz, Cecily (or something like Sasassja in Icelandic) was our agent. We had lined up a Czech 4-wheel drive Škoda, but she upgraded us to a KIA Sportage. It even had heated seats.

Because our AAA insurance does not cover anywhere out of the US, we opted to take all the insurances. That included two new ones for us--windshield protection and sand / ash protection (for volcano mishaps!). That was about $118 US per day, but took away all our worries. Even though the vehicle had an internal GPS, she gave us a Garmin at no cost. She said it was easier to operate.

We had to wait a bit as the car was being cleaned. In the meantime, Cecily offered tips on driving--she emphasized only use the black pump at gas stations as the car runs on diesel, no right on red, and take your time. She said for gas, it was easiest to use our debit cards and opt for ISKs (instead of USDs) to save money.

She asked where we were visiting and we ticked off our basic itinerary. She said we were hitting all the hot spots. We had lots of questions about the sights and she cheerfully answered them all. It was obvious she was very proud of her country.

Cecily set up the GPS for our first stop at the Grand Hotel Reykjavik. She advised there was plenty of parking there (our first worry, as it was in the city). At that point the car was ready. It was still dark, so we had a bit of a time finding our vehicle.
But when we found it, we were surprised. This was the license plate. How did they know this was a "Debby" birthday trip and I was born in 1948?!? After that we had no problem spotting our car amongst all the white 4-wheel drive rentals.
Driving was on the "normal" side of the road for us, but I was still nervous starting off. It was dark, I was tired, roads were wet, I did not know the route, and I was in an unfamiliar car. But after a few mechanical adjustments (seats, mirrors, cruise control), off we went.

It was 29 miles (and about 40 minutes) to our hotel. Roads were narrower than we are used to. There were no traffic lights until we got into the city. Instead there were round-a-bouts and a lot of them. Thank goodness there was good signage and good directions from Mr. Garmin.

Closer to town traffic got heavier. It was morning rush hour in Reykjavik. We watched the skies turn from black to blue as we approached the hotel at about 09:00.

Of course, it was too early to check in, but why not ask, just in case. There were no rooms available at the moment, but the desk clerk implied at least one would be available soon. We asked about the option to take the Hop-On-Hop-Off city bus tour, but pick-up was not until 11:00 (a 2-hour wait).

We had chosen this hotel for our first night as it appeared to be near the bay. So we considered walking around the area, but after looking outside we could not see water or much else nearby. We decided to go for coffee to consider what to do.

At the hotel restaurant, it would cost 35,000 ISK (or 35 USD) per person to eat breakfast. We weren't hungry in the least; we just wanted coffee to keep us going until our rooms was ready. The hostess heard our situation and invited us in.

We drank coffees for about an hour-and-a-half and waited for our bill. No one came. My sis finally inquired of the hostess. She smiled and put her hand over her eyes and said, "I see nothing." We left. The coffee was on the house.

By then it was nearly 11:00 and bus tour time, but at that point we were ornery and aching and hopeful. We opted not to go. We sat in this lobby area, inquiring every now and then about rooms.

To pass the time, my sis read aloud interesting facts from the travel brochures. We check out the spa. We purchased sandwiches from the coffee bar (vegan and BLT). We took cat naps. It seemed others checking in after us got rooms. We felt we were getting the run around to some extent. It would have been nice if the receptionist had come update us to reassure us we were not forgotten.

Finally at 14:00 (yes, 2pm) we checked with the desk one more time. The gal said I've been trying to get two room together. We were astounded. No earlier choices offered, no sorry, no compassion, no customer service. We are experienced travelers, so we knew better not to make a big fuss, but I'm sure the look on our faces showed big disappointment.

We advised we did not need rooms together or even on the same floor. She looked and found two rooms within minutes. She also had "good news." She was upgrading us from an interior to an exterior view room. The bad news was our room overlooked the parking lot with just the tiniest sliver of a water view (far right middle).
When we got to the room, we collapsed.

An aside: It is my understanding that all the flights from the US get into Iceland at a very early hour. Next time I would just book the extra night to have a room available for an early arrival. The waiting and wondering plan we chose just did not work.

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