Iceland 3/9/2019 - 3/17/2019

Sunday, March 17, 2019 - Departure

On our way down to breakfast this morning, we realized that we had never even laid eyes on the hotel pool. Instead of getting off at the lobby level, we took the elevator to the basement floor. It was a lovely space with abundant changing rooms and rest rooms, a spa, and a geothermal hot pool.

We enjoyed our last breakfast at the Konsulat Hotel before heading out on the town to make some last minute stops before heading to the airport.

It was a beautiful morning; the sun was shining and the sky was blue. We walked to Kattakaffihúsið (the Cat Cafe), as soon as it opened, at 10 a.m. We had really enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, and we wanted to see how 6 month old kitten Rós has been adjusting since we saw her at the beginning of the week.

Rós sure has come a long way! When we arrived, she came out to greet us and play. All of the other cats were active and social as well, and we had cappuccinos and played with the cats while chatting with the co-owner for a little over an hour. She told us that in the year that the cafe has been open, 27 cats have been placed in forever homes after living at the cafe. Such a lovely story! We highly recommend the cafe to any cat lovers visiting Reykjavik.

We returned to the hotel to check out, and we stored our bags with them while we spent the remainder of the morning browsing at the indoor weekend Kolaportið flea market. This was just a short walk from the hotel, along the waterfront. It was the type of place where you could spend as much time as you had available to you.

We perused the stalls selling handicrafts, antiques, records, concert shirts, books, DVD's, jewelry, stamps, local food, smoke supplies, and more. There were interesting things everywhere we looked. I bought some hand-made lava rock and glass jewelry (evoking the northern lights) by Hidda Jewelry. One woman was selling square crystals, the type which are thought to have been used by Vikings for navigation (Viking sunstones). I looked at them and pointed them out to Craig, but I didn't buy one. I slightly regret this decision. Oh well, maybe next time.

We had time for one last hot dog stop at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur before leaving Reykjavik. The line was quite long today, as there were several large groups getting lunch there. We got two dogs with everything, then picked up our bags at the hotel and headed to Bus Stop #3. A FlyBus van picked us up and took us to the BSI terminal, where we transferred to a larger bus. The bus left Reykjavik at 2 p.m. and got us to the airport by 2:45.

Our first stop was the VAT tax refund counter. We don't normally bother with trying to get VAT refunds. There are usually a lot of rules associated with it, and the amount we would get back is usually not worth the effort. Here in Iceland, you can't simply total up the total amount of VAT we spent across all purchases and request a refund. If your total purchaseds in a single store exceed the threshold, then the store gives you special paperwork that you can submit for the refund. Because everything is so expensive here, our purchases at two stores qualified. Since VAT rates vary between 11 and 24%, the amount is nothing to sneeze at. I submitted my receipts along with my credit card number, and lo and behold, the next month we received the refund on our credit card. We definitely feel it was worth a few extra minutes at the airport.

We checked in via an automated kiosk. At first it was difficult to find Icelandair because of the huge WOW Airlines presence. Craig noted that there were little pieces of down floating through the air. We laughed, since we had noticed the ubiquity of Canada Goose down jackets. We had even browsed in a store in Reykjavik and seen these jackets for sale for over $1000 USD. But we soon realized that this down was actually escaping from my jacket, which had somehow ripped apart at a seam. Down was flying everywhere. The coat was only a year old, so I was disappointed that it was ruined. But it had served me well in Iceland; we were lucky that this had happened at the very end of the trip. Plus I had gotten some ink stains on the light pink fabric when writing in my journal on the Snæfellsnes trip, so the coat had two strikes against it.

The airport forces you to walk through a huge duty free store. We hadn't planned on buying anything else, but we couldn't resist when we saw that they had six packs of Craig's favorite local beer (Einstok Icelandic Toasted Porter). Even I like the taste of that beer. We picked up a bottle of Brennivin while we were at it, too. We bought a cloth shopping bag which fit the booze nicely, and Craig used it as a carry-on.

As we passed some other shops, we realized that we hadn't bought a fridge magnet on this trip. Our fidge is covered with travel magnets, and Iceland needed representation, so we ran into another shop and chose a map-shaped magnet.

We went through immigration and security. There was some beautiful stained glass art by Leifur Breidfjord in the security area. One man was acting very unruly as he passed through security. He was yelling at the security workers, and they had to call a large imposing guard to handle him. If he acted that way in a U.S. airport, he would probably be arrested on the spot.

The airport is a bit of a madhouse, as there are no gate lounges. Everyone congregates in a central hallway, where there is not adequate seating. Again, I can only imagine what this is like during the high tourist season. There were no seats available when we arrived, but a very kind couple offered us their seats when they saw Craig's cane. The woman explained that her husband had used a cane in the past, and they knew how difficult it could be. We were very grateful.

We find the seats on Icelandair to be rather cramped (especially since our seats didn't recline far, being right in front of the lavatory, and the fact that the guy in front of me reclined his seat with great gusto), but at least the seat configuration meant that we were just two seats together. The flight was largely uneventful. I thumbed through the inflight manazine and was surprised and delighted to see Palli the Knifemaker's face smiling up at me in an ad for his studio. We had Appelsin orange to drink, followed by a cup of coffee. We listened to Bob Dylan on the iPod, and I read an Icelandic noir novel (see the Epilogue for more info).

Once we arrived in Boston, we took a taxi home. We had a wonderful driver named Pema from Tibet. We talked about Buddhism and Bhutan on the ride home, and it was a nice way to ease back into post-vacation life.


Icelandic Noir

I had wanted to pick up some Icelandic noir fiction to bring with me, in case we had some downtime in Reykjavik. We hadn't planned much in advance for the first couple of days, in case jet lag got the better of us and we needed to take it easy. Icelandic noir in and of itself is kind of an interesting concept, given the fact that there is so little crime in Iceland. Their murder rate is, on average, fewer than 2 homicides per year. But there was that 16th century serial killer...

As Icelandic crime novelist Yrsa Sigurðardóttor writes on
"There is one anomaly when it comes to Icelandic murders, however, namely the fact that more women are murdered here than men. ...So this leaves us here with murders that are not crime related. Murders that are committed out of rage, hate, jealousy, stupidity or by accident...Unluckily for Icelandic women, they are more likely to bear the brunt of these murderous impulses. Luckily for the Icelandic police, most commonly the murderer and the victim know each other. A murder case is usually solved as soon as the police arrive on the scene, since the murderer will most likely be standing over the body, knife in hand and a facial expression of: “Oh God what have I done?”

Unluckily for Icelandic crime writers, there is no seeking inspiration from actual events... The thing is that a crime novel is fiction. It does not need to mirror actual events. It just needs to convince the reader that although this has not happened, it could happen—given the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and under the worst possible circumstances. This is achieved by making sure the characters, the setting, the landscape and the social setting are described in a realistic and credible manner.

Crime novels set here provide the opportunity to explore how the Icelandic state uses its resources to advocate for victims as well as attempting to rehabilitate even the most hardened of criminals. Due to the low crime rate, Iceland can afford to focus much more on respecting victims and creating safe spaces for their treatment and testimony than countries where crime is high. Every attempt is made to lessen the blow for all involved and this has long since proven its merits.

Lastly, Icelandic sentencing is very different from that in the United States. Most murderers get a sentence of 16 years and a 20 year prison term is the highest sentence ever handed out for murder in modern times. Prisoners incarcerated for murder get paroled after serving 2/3’s of the sentence and prior to that there is a period of a few years where the prisoner is aided in various ways in getting ready to enter society again. This may sound odd to those living in a state where lifetime prison sentences are common, not to mention those living where executions are allowed. However, it works here in our small, relatively peaceful country."

There were many Icelandic noir authors to choose from, but when I saw that Ragnar Jónasson had cut his detective fiction teeth by translating 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, I suspected that he would be right up my alley. I purchased Snowblind, the first book in the Dark Iceland Series, and brought it with us. As we perused some bookstores in Reykjavik, I saw entire display tables fully stocked with Jonasson's work. I felt that was a good sign.

We managed to keep ourselves quite busy during the trip, and I didn't pick up the book until the flight home, but I was immediately hooked, and I have been binge reading the series ever since. The books are atmospheric page turners. I haven't enjoyed detective fiction so much since my adolescent obsession with Agatha Christie. Caveat: The series order is different in the US. If you like to read books in their correct chronological order, look up their original publication order in Iceland. Although the mysteries are self-contained, reading it out of order did spoil some of the character arcs over the course of the series.


Cute kitten Rós has already been adopted after living at the cat cafe for just over a month. We have been following the cafe on social media and they have a couple new adorable residents waiting for forever homes.

WOW Airlines

Just 11 days after we flew home, WOW Airlines went bankrupt, canceling all flights and stranding many passengers in Iceland. Thirty percent of Iceland's tourists in 2018 traveled on WOW, and the airline moved 3.5 million passengers among all of its destinations in 2018.

Seeing how full our Icelandair flights were, we can imagine that it will take a while to find availability for stranded passengers. And Iceland isn't a place where you can lay low cheaply for a few days until you find a flight out. We feel sorry for anyone who is in this situation.
Rós at Kattakaffihúsið

Rós at Kattakaffihúsið, acting like she owns the place

Craig pets Rós at Kattakaffihúsið

Craig pets Rós at Kattakaffihúsið



Kolaportið flea market

Kolaportið flea market

Quite a crowd for hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Quite a crowd for hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Yearning for Flight by Leifur Breidfjord 1987, Keflavik International Airport

Yearning for Flight by Leifur Breidfjord 1987, Keflavik International Airport

See all photos from March 17

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