Live Blog – Day 1 – Manchester to Keflavik – Explore Reykjavik

Welcome to one of our first Live-Blogs in a few years. We love reporting live from our trips letting our readers know exactly what we are up to and how the trips are going and we know people love trip reports as they provide inspiration and detail on what to expect from a trip to any given destination. This Hiatus has been deeply frustrating for us, mainly as it has been totally out of our control.

Manchester to Keflavik - Explore Reykjavik

A Quick Update on our Lives!

Our last trip to the States was in May 2019, and since then we have not been able to set foot in the country we love and our business has been built around! After our Epic May trip, our next travel adventure was to Australia. At the time we didn’t blog about this as we had so many more recent USA adventures lined up, as well as the fact this was more of a family trip as we had very close friends in Australia and this trip would not really be a typical tourist trip.

IT was truly amazing and a great last outing, as we explored the East Coast, from Cairns to Sydney, and even a little jolly out into the remotest part of the Great Barrier Reef to dive the outlining islands in the coral sea. We saw Whales, Koalas, and Kangaroos and all of the countries best tourist highlights. But it was not a USA trip, and we had a lot lined up for 2020!

Our first trip was to be an epic Orlando adventure, where we would launch out Disney World Content, followed by an epic east coast 4th July road-trip, then back to our second home, Hawaii with a final jaunt to New York on New Year’s Eve. All in all the best year of our lives was o the horizon. We probably don’t need to tell you what went wrong.

The Pandemic wiped out all of our plans and left us pretty much stranded unable to do the one thing we truly love, travel. 2020 was a complete disaster Travel-wise, we did manage to get away once, but only to visit family in Cyprus, 2021, started worse than 2020, with further waves and new varients wiping out the hopes the vaccine had brought. Again by summer restrictions were slightly lifted and we got out of the country again to Mallorca one of Spain’s Balearic Islands. This was purely a break, a way to get out of the country and see the sun we did relatively little but sit by a pool. It was needed but not blog material.

With the US borders still closed the hope of getting back to the states was looking slim, so we looked elsewhere for our travel kicks, and one location stood out as a real bucket-list destination, one where we could have a real adventure and properly get back to what we love. I have yearned to explore Iceland for nearly my entire life, and the fact I had still not made it, despite it being only a 2.5 hr flight away was pretty disappointing. I had planned several trips here and one thing or another had always popped up to thwart the plans. But this time things seemed to be going full steam ahead.

A final spanner in the works was the final lifting of restrictions at the US borders. These did not come in time for this trip but we briefly considered canceling and using the time and money to get back to the states instead of in early 2022, but we quickly dismissed this, we have a trip planned for Feb, and possibly November 2021 too so we decided to go ahead and fulfill a big bucket list destination. This was to be no long weekend either, we were going hard with a full 14 day Ring Road Adventure, more on this later in the blog.

Manchester to Keflavik on Review

For some reason, every flight we have taken during the pandemic has been on Jet2, there has been no specific reason for this, other than each trip, the price and schedule seemed to be the most appealing. Their Flights just seemed to leave at better times and the prices were often the cheapest. Again this was the case for Iceland so we booked our third Jet2 Flight in a row.

Jet2 is a Budget Carrier and is definitely a no-frills airline, but they are cheap, regularly on time and we prefer them over most of the other budget carriers on offer. There really isn’t much to review about a flight as short as this. The food menu is limited and quite expensive, alcohol is pricey (£8.50 for two beers!) and overall is a pretty basic service, but we are only on the plane two and a half hours so it’s just a case of accepting the budget limitations and seeing it as a big old bus in the sky, and for this Jet2 is fine. We had a big breakfast and were not drinking as we needed to drive so just relaxed with some pre-downloaded tv on our Tablet.

We left out of T2 at manchester which is the Airports brand new terminal. It was all very shiny and modern and is a great place to fly out of. The Terminal was very quiet, and we slipped through Check-in and security in around 40 mins.

There is a whole new raft of hoops to jump through to board a flight now and while Iceland was one of the easier destinations to visit at present it’s still a palaver. First up to avoid quarantine you need to be vaccinated with two doses of a Covid-19 Vaccine, this is no problem as we had our jabs as soon as they were available to us. However, you need to prove this, which is easily done via the NHS app.

You also need to have a Covid-19 test 72 hours before your departure time. We used the Onside Randox testing center the day before, and were quickly given our Negative results, there is always that worry they come back positive, even though we had been super careful the last two weeks, almost quarantining to avoid picking it up and ruining the trip. Iceland accepts the rapid Lateral Flow Tests so booked these at a cost of £35.

Finally, you need to fill in the Icelandic Passenger Locator Form, again this is no problem but it’s a hassle that you just did not need to do before. At the airport, all these documents are checked before you are allowed to board. As we had bags to check these were all checked at check-in/bag drop, but for those heading straight to security they were checked at the gate, and a few people had not followed the procedures and were denied boarding, at least while they sorted things out.

There is still a requirement to wear masks at the airport and on the plane. Something we naturally dislike but is just a necessary evil now. We did notice Social Distancing seems to be largely ignored now, both by the travelers and authorities at the airport, We kind of like our own space regardless of Covid so having people standing back on top of us was pretty uncomfortable.

The Flight departed late, but this was no issue for us as we were (for once) in no rush at the other end. Regardless the piolets dropped the hammer and got us over the water in a super-fast time due to some strong tailwinds meaning we actually landed early. As we approached Keflavick there was very little cloud over the south of the island and we got a glorious view over the southern coastline, the Katla Glacier, Vik, and the new Volcano that is erupting on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Iceland Volcano

getting through Keflavik Airport was a quick and simple process with the most time-consuming activity is selecting our Duty-Free. This is a must-do for anyone planning on having a few drinks during their stay as prices are much cheaper than elsewhere in Iceland and you can only pick up alcohol at the state-run Vinbudin shops, not at supermarkets, so it pays to stock up. A few bottles of wine a couple of crates of Einstock and a bottle of Black Death (Brennivin) meant we were fully loaded for the trip.

Once everything had been check and we picked up our bags we were out the airport doors in well under an hour and off to Blue Car Rental to pick up our steed. A Dacia Duster 4wd Crossover SUV. Rental Prices have gone a bit silly over the last year or so worldwide as rental companies have liquidated stock and not replaces as demand had waxed and waned. Iceland is no exception and the price for even a low-end Duster was a bitter pill to swallow. 106.777ISK / £620 / $830 for the 2 weeks.

Insurance coverage is pretty good at Blue, but there are some gaps and the upgraded policy is outrageous, so we took out an Excess policy for around £40 to cover the gaps.

There was no Queue at Blue and we were off on the road in no time. Headed to Reykjavik.

Arrival in Reykjavik

It’s a short 45 min drive from the airport into the City, and as we approached the center our initial reaction was is this it! Not in a bad way, just as far as a City goes Reykjavik is pretty un-built-up! We are used to arriving into New York, L.A even Manchester and London England, and for a capital city, it has a very large-town feel as opposed to a City…but that’s a good thing right!

We checked into the Center Hotels Plaza Reykjavik which was to be our home for the next two nights and then hit out to see the City. After a long day, it felt like it was getting late but in reality, the time was still only 1 pm so we had a full day of exploring.

We checked out the sights, the Sun Voyager, the stunning view over the bay with the snowcapped mountains in the distance. We hiked up to the stunning Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral and checked out the many shops, bars, and restaurants in the area. Including the pretty touristy Ice-Bar which is a real tourist trap but quite fun really.

After some of the best fish and chips we have ever eaten, and we are English so have had a lot of experience in this matter, from the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant (next door to Street food 101 which just seemed a little too busy and crowded for our liking), we headed back to the hotel to recharge for our evening adventures!

We had planned to take things easy tonight as we had a BIG day tomorrow, but the weather forecast and the Geomagnetic forecast had both conspired to give us an arrival greeting we could not miss. A 5-6 on the KPI index and clear skies over the City meant we had to get out of town to do a touch of Aurora spotting! So we relaxed and watched a little TV while we waited for darkness.

Aurora Spotting – Attempt 1

Reykjavik is the worst spot on the island for the northern lights due to its light pollution, but when the lights are bright and strong then they can easily be sen from the darker portions so we head out to the Grotto to see if we could get a nice tactic welcome to Iceland.

Unfortunately, the solar storm forecast never really materialized, and thousands of other tourists did. Many of which are completely oblivious to the fact you need as much darkness as possible to see the lights when they are faint. I was picking up the light on my camera but the endless car headlights, head torches, and even interior lights of the car next to us as they ate Pizza meant our night vision never really got going and there was just too much light to see anything. If the lights had gone off as predicted then they would have been visible even in this light soup, but as there were only mild displays on the distance it was no good. We headed away from the melee to find a little more darkness

We headed out to the Seltjarnarnes Golfcourse. Here there was much less light pollution, people, and a great view of the northern horizon. Still the lights were just not playing ball tonight. There were faint displays on the horizon but nothing to really get excited about (but it didn’t stop us from getting excited!). We had many more opportunities planned for the lights so were not too disappointed, we never really expected to see them on the first night but the storm forecast had got us revved up to get the trip off to the best start. Oh well.

Northern Lights Reykjavik

It was getting very late, and very cold with the wind really picking up and temps dropping down to 1-2 °C (34 °F) and the lights were just not playing ball so we head back to finally hit the sack after a long and tiring day. At least tomorrow would be more restful…maybe not!

Note – Spaceship Spotting

While going through our photo’s we spotted something we completely forgot about. While looking for the lights a strange light appeared in the sky. Now I spend a lot of time looking skyward, stargazing, astrophotography, and even just planespotting. But I have never seen an object moving through the sky like this!

I am also a bit of a UFO Geek, and while I am not 100% convinced we have been visited, it’s a curiosity I have retained from childhood. Really we never know and it’s is not beyond the realms of impossibility. However, I have never really seen anything in the sky I can’t explain…and I have looked! But this was pretty out there!

It looked like a comet. But was moving pretty fast, not fast enough to be an airplane, but pretty steady through the sky. Comets don’t move, at least not visually, and besides, it was moving in the exact opposite direction, tail first! It was completely crazy and the best I could come up with was a plane with very strong lights and some kind of bizarre atmospheric condition causing the light to refract! Really it is that or some kind of space vehicle! For a while this was definitely for me a UFO…it was an object that was flying and was unidentified! Take a look!

UFO over Reykjavik
The object was moving through the sky TAIL first!!!

Of course, like most things a sensible explanation came to light with a bit of googling, however, it turns out it actually was a spaceship! Only it was a Spaceship made by humans! It turns out what we were seeing was parts of an Atlas 5 Rocketship launched from California reentering the atmosphere! The Launch is part of the Lansat9 satellite program and the lights were from a deceleration burn to slow down for re-entry.

To be honest this was pretty much as exciting as finding out it was an alien craft! An incredible sight to see knowing the rocket had come all the way from California. It’s amazing what you can see when you just look up!

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