Iceland Day 0: Arrival

We’re in Iceland now (July 2021) for our first family trip in some time, with the planned itinerary here in the last post. We’ll largely write about the experience in future posts, but we thought we’d write a short post about arrival with it fresh in our minds, particularly given how fast everything is changing mid-2021.

Since we were flying from Boston, the actual flight was relatively short – 5 hours scheduled, but perhaps more like 4.5 hours in the air. The [summer] time change from Eastern time was also a fairly reasonable 4 hours. Most US flights to Iceland are night-time flights, leaving evening and arriving early morning, but we discovered that Icelandair runs daytime flights from Boston several days a week (effectively noon to 9pm), so we opted for that – since it’s hard to arrive with any rest on a 4.5 hour red-eye.

Flight and arrival experience

Besides mask-wearing for the flights/airports, the main extra steps for us seemed to be

  1. An Iceland-specific online registration at https://visit.covid.is/ which gives you a bar-code to use for the health check in Reykjavik. Since this is new, they had an announcement to do it on your phone if you’d forgotten to in advance.
  2. Vaccine card check when we checked in to get our boarding passes in Boston.
  3. At Reykjavik, the vaccine card check after baggage claim/customs.

The flight itself was fairly uneventful, though the in-flight movie system was broken for the trip (they compensated by making wifi free). We arrived at 9pm local time to a fairly empty arrival area.

Lines in passport control were nearly empty after we landed – we weren’t sure what to think. Similarly, our baggage was on the carousel by the time we got through the passport control.

Health Check

We thought we were all done by the time we were wheeling our luggage our the door, but there was a queue for the health check after baggage claim. They were first checking the pre-registration bar-codes, and then checking vaccine cards. (It is possible for non-vaccinated folks to enter too, but the travel restrictions are a bit more stringent with a 5 day quarantine and follow-up test). We happened to arrive on July 1, the first day for which no airport testing was required for vaccinated individuals. Hurray! Sometime your travel plans change for the better!

We did get a text to our pre-registered number shortly after getting through health check confirming that we weren’t subject to quarantine:

Rental Car

Picking up the car that we were planning to use for our road trip around the Ring Road was a bit more confusing that we anticipated, since our agency was outside the terminal. There were signs to a pickup shuttle, but it wasn’t clear if it was running. Several other folks seemed to be in similar states of confusion.

We finally realized on Google Maps that the rental place was really only about a 5 minute walk across the street from the other side of the terminal, so we eventually just did that. The whole airport isn’t super big – after all, the entire country has a smaller population than Vermont.

We did get a small SUV, since it was recommended due to occasional gravel roads in places. It was a perfectly serviceable (Romanian?) Dacia Duster. We ended up seeing rental Dacia Dusters the next day all over the “Golden Circle” tourist route, perhaps a go-to small SUV for Icelandic rental car fleets. We opted for the manual transmission (2021 car rental prices were pricey enough, and manuals were cheaper; I drove manual transmission cars for about a decade, and didn’t mind either way). It was slightly spartan, but it’s been getting us around the island.

We then started on the 45 minute route to our hotel in Reykjavik, admiring the otherworldly, volcanic landscape. All of the sudden, we saw the new Geldingadelir volcano eruption from the distance – this is the new eruption that started earlier in 2021:

We were quite happy to get a glimpse of it from the distance.

After we checked into our Reykjavik hotel, we were not at all tired, even as it was 11pm. Compounding that was that mid-summer sunset wasn’t until 11:50pm or so, and even then, it never really got dark. So, we ended up walking around Reykjavik for about an hour and a half, taking the opportunity to walk by the famous Hallgrimskirkja and the downtown core.

We also picked up some chocolate and water bottles, as well as a small amount of local currency (our plan was to use credit for most transactions, but thought it would be useful to still have some).

One other thing we noticed very quickly – in early July, 2021 nobody wears masks in Iceland. (While people have been shedding masks at home as well, it’s not nearly as universal everywhere as we’ve observed in Iceland). It really feels like a trip back in time to 2019, except without big tourist crowds.

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