Iceland Part 2… the details

This trip was planned on a whim, just 2.5 weeks in advance. I booked my flight on Wow Air, as it was the only cheap-ish flight at the time. They are a budget airline that offers no frills and cheap fares, but charges extra for everything– from water to a carry-on over 5 kg (11 lbs). I did the backwards thing and booked my non-refundable ticket prior to reading reviews of the airline I’d never heard of. Many reviews were terrible, but I had no problems. On top of a fare deal, they seem to have a nice sense of humor–a much appreciated feature. Oh, the planes are a stylish fuchsia.

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Due to the snow potential and time constraints, we stuck with the southern part of Iceland for our exploration. After landing at 5:30 am, we got our rental car, and headed to the blue lagoon, with a breakfast stop along the way. The lagoon is only about 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, so it’s convenient to go on your way in or out of the country. I highly recommend getting your tickets online in advance here. Yes, the lagoon is a tourist trap and, yes, it is worth visiting. Arriving when they open will cut down on the amount of people there ever so slightly. Be sure to put the lagoon mud (located in pots around the edge) on your face–meant to soften skin and contain anti-aging properties. Don’t get your hair wet! The high silica levels in the water render hair completely unmanageable.

Vik and beyond

I chose Vik as our first spot. It’s a very small town on the southern coast, about 3 hours from the airport and 2.5 hours from our farthest destination of Jökulsárlón.

Airbnb has several listings in Vik, but none of the available ones were quite what I wanted, so opted for the Icelandair Hotel. It was quaint, reasonably priced, and clean. As someone who lives for her next meal, the restaurant being good was an added bonus. After only 2 hours of sleep on the plane and driving most of the day, staying in for dinner was a welcomed option.

Vik has black sand beaches, birds, ponies, and picturesque views such as this:

Church on a hill in Vik

Church on a hill in Vik

It is not uncommon to see the picnic site sign while driving around Iceland. Such a sweet country.

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The first night in Vik, we could barely muster the energy to go to the restaurant in the lobby (which was fantastic, by the way) and almost had Jameson on the rocks for dinner. Our second night, however, we did some research and set out for Haldórskaffi, a small, warm restaurant in town. I can’t say it’s a locals place, but it’s hard to tell if any Icelandic haunt is really for locals or not. The population in the entire country is just over 300,000, so a large group of tourists can easily take over an establishment on a given night. Haldórskaffi was packed, so we sidled up to the bar for our wait…go figure. The food is pretty good, but not great. For some reason I didn’t get the burger, but had read that it’s fabulous. 

While eating, we missed a brief Northern Lights appearance, but set out in search of them. Plenty of Jameson, and hours later, we gave up and went to bed. The quest for Aurora led to a hungover late start on the third day. The drive from Vik to Reykjavik is easy and, of course, stunning. Even if retracing your steps in Iceland, the scenery looks different in the other direction. 

On to Reykjavik

Perusing AirBnB listings in Iceland will teach you 2 important things: 1) Icelanders love to use the word “cozy” when describing apartments–something they must think tourists are seeking when visiting a place with “ice” in the name. 2) All listings will tell you the proximity to a pool. The natives LOVE their heated pools and even frequent them after work to socialize.

There are SO MANY great AirBnB options in Reykjavik, so I picked one that was centrally located and adorable, with a really comfortable bed to boot. Most of the island has geothermically-heated water… which means it smells like sulfur (or rotten eggs). Get used to it and embrace the natural resource.

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The owners have a few other rental apartments, as well as a hotel, which I did not see, called OK Hotel. A perk of staying at any of Kathy’s properties is the 15% discount at her really yummy K-Bar–a Korean restaurant infused with a little Icelandic flair. DEFINITELY try the cauliflower and the dumplings (both pork and tofu were delicious).

The warm decor at K-bar

The warm decor at K-bar

Whether you’re in Reykjavik for just a day, or longer, you have time to explore the Golden Circle–see my other Iceland post for pictures–and knock out a few top tourist attractions. It’s easy to do this on your own, but there are plenty of tours to take as well. If on your own, be sure to stop in Laugarvatn and eat at Lindin. IT IS DELICIOUS! And, sadly (kind of), so is the reindeer burger… like, really good. I ate Rudolph.

In addition to all of that, here’s the view:

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So, my 4 full days in Iceland definitely weren’t enough and I WILL be returning. The country is not only stunning, but easy to navigate on your own. At least a week is needed to drive the Ring Road, which is as it sounds and circles the whole country. I’m not sure how passable the road would be during the winter, so it will be a summer trip for me.

Tips:

  • Food and alcohol are expensive–pick up some booze at duty free, preferably in the US, where it’s cheaper, though it’s possible to stock up when you arrive at Keflavik airport. The second duty free you encounter is for incoming passengers.
  • Note that it almost never gets dark during the summer and there is very limited daylight in the dead of winter.
  • The Aurora Borealis is more elusive than you might expect. The lights start showing up in October, but are the strongest on cold, clear nights, and best seen away from the light pollution of cities. If you happen to see anything like the famous photos, consider yourself lucky. They don’t always show up as colors and those photos are often the work of a DSLR camera on a slow shutter speed.
  • Airwaves is a music festival that occurs at the beginning of November every year. Next year, I think I’ll go. My cousin and his wife DID go last year and loved it. If you’d like to know more about Reykjavik’s coffee and music scene, go here.
  • Learning to pronounce the name of that volcano that shut down Europe for a bit–Eyafjallajökull–is a fun activity.

**I get nothing for recommending these places, but would be happily accept freebies**

If the Question is Iceland, Your Answer Should be Yes!

My childhood was full of magic. I grew up in an environment where gnomes, fairies, and elves were very real–a beautiful thing for the imagination. Fast forward 30 years, and Iceland is a dream country. Its craggy, moss-covered landscape lends itself to a mystical world. Icelandic culture is rich with mythological creatures, such as huldufólk (hidden people), that many believe exist. If that isn’t endearing, I don’t know what is.

Iceland’s popularity has increased in recent years, partly due to the fact that Wow and Iceland Air offer relatively cheap flights to Europe. Frequently, it does not increase the fare to layover in Iceland for a few days. Even with a stopover of a few hours, it’s possible to visit the Blue Lagoon, one of the 25 wonders of the world and quite a refreshing experience after a flight.

I had 4 full days to explore and needed to pick a region on which to focus. Our tiny rental clown car wouldn’t have stood a chance in the event of snowfall, so we settled on the southern part of the island. 2 nights in Vik and 2 nights in Reykjavik would allow us to venture out from there.

Now, on to the pictures! My next post will contain all the planning details, accommodation info, and restaurants, but this one is to introduce my thousands 5 readers to the beauty and wonder that is Iceland.

click images to enlarge

the blue lagoon

the blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

After a luxurious soak and indulging in our complimentary drinks, we loaded into the car and set out for the seaside town of Vik, about 3 hours from the airport. Driving pretty much anywhere in Iceland is beautiful. Despite extreme exhaustion from the flight and no sleep, everything looked like a postcard.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

Waterfalls galore

Waterfalls galore

On day 2 we went east from Vik in pursuit of Jökulsárlón, a stunning glacial lagoon that served as a site for James Bond’s Die Another Day. For the movie, they blocked the flow of seawater into the lagoon, which allows it to freeze and enable these shots.

Jökulsárlón-- glacial lagoon

Jökulsárlón– glacial lagoon

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The boat ride on the lagoon is worth the, approximately, $36 for the vantage point and photo ops.

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The glacier! It's hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

The glacier! It’s hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with the Icelandic weather, fret not! Just wait 5 minutes and it will change.

Fickle Icelandic weather

Fickle Icelandic weather

Another site on the road back to Vik

Another site on the road back to Vik

Driving around Iceland is never boring… nor ugly. On the drive to Reykjavik we encountered more stunning sights. Whether or not we saw the Aurora Borealis is debatable, but screw those northern lights! Check out the rainbows! All three of these photos are from the same day.

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There *may* be more sheep than people in Iceland. I called them. They turned. Just call me the sheep whisperer.

Reykjavik is a quaint town city–the northernmost capital in the world–and we finally reached it on day 3.

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Iceland’s pride week is a huge event and, this year, they painted the street. The mayor said, “This is one way to make our city livelier, more human and simply a better place by great collaboration and beautiful thinking.” Seriously, Iceland is a magnificent place!

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TROLLS! In Reykjavik

TROLLS! In Reykjavik

We didn’t make it to this museum, but there’s a documentary about it called The Final Member.

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From a stay in the capital, or even a day long layover, it’s easy to tour what’s known as the Golden Circle. First stop is the site of the Viking parliament, or Þingvellir.

a view from Þingvellir

a view from Þingvellir

After Þingvellir, it’s off to Geysir– the now relatively dormant geyser after which all others are named. Strokkur is there as well and erupts every few minutes.

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

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The Icelandic horses! Perhaps the highlight of my Golden Circle drive. From sheep whisperer to horse whisperer.

From Geysir, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is about 10 minutes up the road, named as such because the water appears gold when the sun hits.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Have I convinced you to go to Iceland yet? If so, stay tuned for my next post with all my trip-planning details.

*all images are the property of Caroline Shea, unless otherwise noted. reproduction without permission is prohibited*