L’Austral Iceland Cruise Day 1: The Golden Circle Tour – Great Geysir

Although The Great Geysir or Stori-Geysir is also included in the famous “Golden Circle Tour,” it has been dormant since 1916 when it stopped spouting. It is thought that it first came to life around the end of the Thirteenth Century when a series of earthquakes and eruption of Mt. Hekla hit the geothermal valley where Geysir is located. It then spouted every third hour or so, blasting a jet of water and steam as high as 60-80 meters/196-262 feet high. It is said that park authorities occasionally dump tons of carbolic soap powder into its mouth in an attempt to wake up Great Geysir.

 

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L’Austral Iceland Cruise: Embarking on L’Austral in Hafnarfjorour

Hafnarfjorour (pop: 25,000) is a port town on the Southwest coast of Iceland, about 10 kilometers/6.2 miles south of Reykjavík and where Iceland cruises sail from. It is the third most populous city in Iceland and Hafnarfjorour’s name (spelled many different ways which always drives me crazy) means “harbor fjord.” The excellent natural harbor has continuously traded since the 1300s.

Compagnie du Ponant owns and sails what they refer to as, “Luxury small yacht cruises” around the world. This particular Iceland cruise is on L’Austral and our Tauck Tour has approximately 160 guests on board out of the maximum 264 guests carried. The ship has 132 staterooms and suites with private baths on six decks, and 136 crew members. Each stateroom and suite has: two twin beds, one king or one queen bed, safe, flat-screen TV, video on demand, minibar, radio, telephone, individual air conditioning, ocean views and 95% have private balconies. Our deluxe Cabin 326 does have an outside balcony and is located on the third level, near Reception and main lounge.

 

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L’Austral Iceland Cruise Day 1: Golden Circle Tour – Thingvellir National Park

Although today was officially Day 2 of the Tauck Tours aboard L’Austral Iceland cruise ship, the ship wouldn’t sail until tonight. Tauck guests would spend today on the popular Golden Circle Tour that all visitors to Iceland take. Both restaurants on L’Austral begin buffet-style breakfast at 6:30a and offer eggs cooked to order.

Off the ship by 8:40a with audio devices handed out by Tauck and to be used for the entire week, it was on the “Lisa” bus to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and our first stop. Tauck Tours divided their guests into four buses, each with its own tour guide, and each bus left at a different time so as not to inundate a spot with 160 people at one time. The ride to Thingvellir takes approximately one hour from Reykjavik.

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A L’Austral Iceland Cruise Begins at the Perlan Restaurant, Reykjavik

Now officially on the Tauck Tour “Land of Fire & Ice” Cruise, some touring took place before embarkation on L’Austral with lunch at the Pearl or Perlan first. This domed landmark building was built on top of Reykjavik’s six gigantic hot water storage tanks; each contains about 4 million liters of geothermal heated water which provides the city with power and heat.

The domed building has a cafeteria and small cafe with an observation platform in addition to the flagship, revolving restaurant on the top level. Behind the cafeteria is the Pearls Souvenir Shop with a good collection of souvenirs. Tourists come for panoramic views of the city and surroundings. An impressive water feature seen on the main floor erupts from the basement into the spacious atrium where various exhibitions and other events are held.

 

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The Deluxe Grand Hotel, Reykjavik

Tauck Tours uses both the Grand Hotel Reykjavik and Hilton Reykjavik Nordica for their pre- and post-cruise stays but Marine Steve and I stayed at the 4th Floor Hotel, half the price, and closer to the action on Laugavegur Street. All tour members were scheduled to meet on embarkation day at 12:30p, at the hotel designated in final trip documents.

Both hotels are exactly 1.4 kilometers/.8 miles (a 15-18 minute walk) from the 4th Floor Hotel (discovered on an early walk over to the Grand Hotel to look it over), are across the street from each other and have rates around $400 USD per night.

 

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The Very Interesting National Museum in Reykjavik

The National Museum has fascinating exhibitions and a permanent display illustrating Iceland’s past, from Viking settlements in medieval days to contemporary culture. The main exhibition has over 2,000 artifacts discovered in various parts of the country. We had a short visit with Tauck Tours the day of embarkation and sped through this museum which deserves more than 45 minutes. There is an admission fee of 1,500 ISK.

An exhibition on various silver items made in Iceland was on exhibit to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the National Museum of Iceland with priceless treasures. Two floors are divided into: Time periods 800-1000, The Dawn of Icelandic Society; 1000-1200, Reign of Christian Chieftains; 1200-1400 Under Norwegian Rule; 1400-1600, Under Danish Rule; and so on.

 

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A Fast Tour of Cultural Reykjavik, Iceland

One more “fun” or “cultural” sight is the indoor Kolaportid Flea Market held on weekends. Located in a huge industrial building in the Old Harbor area, it is a primary for locals market; lots of secondhand clothes, old toys, DVDs, dried fish and fermented shark (sellers are happy to offer a taste of fermented shark). An underwhelming sight compared to other flea markets visited.

Hallgrímskirkja Church can be seen all over Reykjavik. Its iconic tower stands 74.5 meters/242 feet high at the peak and offers panoramic views across the whole of the city. Entry to the tower is 600 ISK and obviously, don’t bother during fog or rain. Designer Guojon Samuel was inspired by shapes and forms of basalt rock and it was built in 1937. The church is known for its gigantic pipe organ driven by four manuals and a pedal, 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5,275 pipes, all designed to fill the huge and holy space with a range of tones. The church was closed because an organ concert was taking place in Hallgrimskirkja when Marine Steve and I first visited but was open when we revisited with Tauck Tours.

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A Fast Tour of Fun Reykjavik, Iceland

Laugavegur Street leads through central Reykjavik and is chock-a-block on both sides with shops, souvenirs, restaurants, bars, and Tourist Information. I usually suggest tourists to immediately head to the main tourist information office but it will take a long time to get there. Why? See if you can manage to pass up 6-8 blocks of the above without popping into shops while still more shopping streets filled with boutiques and more restaurants branch off Laugavegur.

Eventually you’ll cross a square and there is the Official Tourist Information Center on Adalstraeti 2 filled with brochures and maps that cover whatever a person could ever want to know about Iceland and every activity. There are always long lines of people waiting to make reservations for excursions, hotels, guesthouses, apartments and it moves extremely s-l-o-w as patient employees spend much time assisting each person. We waited in line to buy stamps because the Post office is closed on Saturday.

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Iceland Information and Trivia

Iceland may be small but it is unique! As the Official Iceland Tourist Bureau says, “Iceland is an Adventure, not a destination.”

– What would a trip above or below the Arctic Circle be without the Midnight Sun? It is possible to experience the midnight sun in Iceland although the country lies south of the Arctic Circle due to refraction. It is called the “Midnight Sun” because given fair weather, the sun is visible for 24 continuous hours. Yes, that means the sun is still out at midnight. Bet your bottom dollar, the sun will come out tomorrow? Not on a cloudy or rainy day which in Iceland is more often than not. (During our visit, guides said it had rained for the past two months!)

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The 4th Floor Hotel (Really!) in Reykjavik

We arrived in Reykjavik two days before a scheduled one-week cruise and booked  through Booking. com (on the sidebar of this page) at 4th Floor Hotel  – really, the 4th Floor Hotel, only a few steps away from where the main shopping street Laugavegur begins.

This “Budget Hotel” ($180 a night is considered budget in Reykjavik) occupies the 1st, 2nd and 4th floors of a building. The hotel has a total of 31 modern rooms for all budgets, some with shared facilities. All rooms with private facilities have: blackout curtains (needed with 24-hour sunshine in endless summer), luxury beds, flat screen televisions, refrigerator, coffee/tea making facilities, daily housekeeping and free Wi-Fi. Toilets and showers for a shared room is located down the corridors

 

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