Monday, August 29, 2011

Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice

Quite literally the most amazing vacation of a lifetime. I hope everyone has an opportunity to visit this wonderful place one day. Below is a recap of most of the activities Ryan and I partook in. We started all of our days in the country's capital, Reykjavik. Most sights/attractions are within 3-4 hours so it's definitely doable to keep house there for your entire stay. We talked to other travelers who moved around, but we weren't into the hustle.  [Click for Some of my Photos] (more of Ryan's to follow)
As a side note, we went from August 6-13th, affording us about 17 hours of sunlight everyday. This gave us a lot of flexibility on travel and site seeing, because we could do things till around 10pm.

Guesthouse Odinn: highly recommended. Great price for the week, super-clean, great space and a balcony with a view of the church, Hallgrimskirkja [see below]! Plus, free breakfast! Oli is the owner and such a darling man.

**Tip** Figure out where your hotel/guesthouse is with respect to the church. Streets are angular and confusing with ridiculous names, so being able to triangulate with the tallest building in the city is a plus.

Day 1: Maybe it's Sunday, Maybe it's Iceland
Just wandered around town this day. Took pictures, oriented ourselves. Got into conversation with some natives. The Icelandic people are just so darned happy. A shout out to Tomas and Marin where ever you may be. What a friendly couple.
 [Marin and Tomas]

Day 2: Yummy Reykjavik!
We bought a two-day pass for the Hop on Hop off bus. Not really worth it but it did take us to Perlan (The Pearl).There were great views of the city and some Norse 'Saga' museum which we didn't have any interest in viewing.
Lots more Reykjavik wandering occurred after lunch. We hit up a tiny hole in the wall hotdog place called Drekinn. Delicious sandwiches (try the chicken pita and the tomato mix french fries dip).Watch out for the bees.
 [Hello! from Drekinn]

Also, Loki Cafe across from the church is really cute and has great coffee and desserts :)

 [Loveball and coffee at Loki Cafe]

For dinner, we went to Gata bar/grill. BEST food of my life. We'd recommend the lobster ravioli and the lamb steak. They're both out of control delicious. Their house red is also pretty great (Criollo). We went back (breaking our new restaurants only rule b/c it was THAT good)
[Happy Gata fans]

We went to Hafnarfjörður for a half day visit at some point early in the week. It's supposedly a town filled with elf-loving citizens. We saw few elf gardens though :( We didn't have any real plans there except to walk around the city for a couple hours and take glorious pictures. Everything in this country is so picture-worthy! We ended up at a geothermal swimming pool. It's a little nutty to see people "sun-bathing" when it's 55 degrees out.  The actual pool wasn't too warm so that people could do laps and such. But they had four hot tubs that went up in 5 degree Celsius increments. I got only my feet into the last one before I was scalded.

Day 3: Bright and early!
We took a bus to ferries sailing to Heimaey islands. Puffins (?!?!?!) were the draw here.
At Heimaey, we walked down the main road, made a right and continued inland until we reached the golf course and a playground to the right. Hiked up a random mountain next to the playgrounds. This was one of the best and serendipitous experiences. We were feet from sheep running wild and the best views of puffins and eventually the ocean on the other side of the peak. It's steep and dangerous and made us feel like real adventurers! Don't go if you're afraid of heights like Ryan ;)
There are also volcanoes and lava fields to hike through on the island.

[The playground at the base of the mountain we climbed]

[Ryan, petrified]
 [Sheep everywhere!]
 [Hi, puffins!]

For dinner, we headed back to Reykjavik and right to a "traditional" Icelandic restaurant, Fru Berglaug. I got a whale steak. Not at all how I envisioned the meat, but it was still deliciously sauced with a mushroom gravy (as we noticed many Icelandic restaurants to favor).
[Me, with the proper tools to dig into some whale meat]

Day 4: On to real adventure!
[Our sweet ride]
We rented a car from Budget so we could take some road trips (Much cheaper than taking bus tours everywhere. Plus, we could go at our own pace. If you have a photographer in the pack, this is a good idea). We drove to Skaftafell National Park and saw beautiful water falls there and along the way. ALWAYs stop at small towns if you're hungry or have to go to the bathroom. The restaurants are always decent despite the seemingly desolate town setting. 
 [Look at that natural formation at Svartifoss!]
There was also a glacier that was an easy walk to view. Kind of boring and sooty but worth the short walk. The waterfall was ridiculous. it wasn't big but the rock formation around it is unreal. It looks fake.
[Hi, glacier. If you can't tell, it's that sooty wrinkly pile behind me]

Day 5:
Drove to Pingvellir National Park. It was once a national parliamentary meeting ground b/c of it's large valley and lush landscape. It was formed by the separation of tectonic plates which it sits on. You'll see it immediately and that's pretty cool. Even cooler is the waterfall and the valley that formed as a result as well. Makes one feel so small and helpless.
Stop by the geyser on your way to the falls. Cute but tiny and short-lived spout. 
 [Clearest water ever at Pingvellir]

 [little spouting geyser]
 [Enormous double-cascade waterfall]

Stopped in at Hvergaderdi on our way home. Very quaint and small town known for it's flower greenhouses and tons of geothermal activity. You can smell the town from miles away as a result. You start to (try to) get used to the wafting sulfur smells that will randomly come up. Try to find the hot rivers where you can just hop in and bathe. Always pack a bathing suit. The country is just so full of surprises and geothermal pools!
We went to a restaurant that advertised "earth cooking" which we later came to find meant smoking. I'll assume they use the sulfur laden steam b/c the earth-cooked meal I ordered was terrible. Ryan's Icelandic fish was delish.
[Our meal looks pretty, but mine was not so much]
[Stinky bubbling crater!]
Day 6:
We drove to Hafnarfjörður (again) and went to Is Hestar horse farm where we took a 2 hour horseback riding tour. So fun! The horses (or rather ponies) are so short and stout. This allows them to manage the rough terrain.Take the "fast" group if you go on the two-hour lava fields tour (even if you're a horseback-riding novice like Ryan ;)
 [My horse, Bon Jovi]
 [I'm ready! Put me on the horse already!]
[Ryan, not so fond of this energetic little stallion]

Afterwards, it was a short drive to the Blue Lagoon. Arguably the most popular tourist site in Iceland. It's essentially a lagoon filled with creamy baby blue geothermal heated water. They don't advertise this but it's actually brought in by the power plant next door. However, it is heated naturally by the lava flows beneath. Super-relaxing and beautiful. You just can't help but think it's fake. There are also steam rooms and saunas and all the regular spa services you can even get while IN the lagoon (think massages on floating wooden planks half-submerged in the warm lagoon!). They also have wooden pails filled with white silica mud that is naturally forming along the lagoon. You can put it all over your face and body as a mask and wash off in the water after. Very funny seeing men and women walking around with mud faces. Oh and there's a walk-up bar :)

 [Look at that water!]

It was a bittersweet end to a wonderfully adventurous, romantic, eye-opening trip through one of the most raw yet absolutely lovely landscapes of my life. 
  [Our last Icelandic beverage before heading home]
[Sun setting at 10pm]


  1. These pictures are amazing. I personally like the pic of Ryan laying down hillside, petrified. The sunset is absolutely beautiful. How warm was the Blue Lagoon? Did you try out the mud masks?

  2. Omg! These pictures are so cute. Sounds like an amazing trip! It almost blows my mind that the sun there sets at 10pm during summertime. That's perfect for a vacation!

  3. Zapp- For such a tall man, Ryan is quite cute in fetal position. The Blue Lagoon was probably about 90 degrees. It got hotter and colder depending on where you were standing. And of course I mudded myself... and Ryan :)
    Raj- Iceland is the coolest place I've ever been. 17 hour days are sick. It really was magical.