From September 17th to the 24th Chris and I traveled to Iceland! Why Iceland, you ask? Two reasons. The first was I had chosen a tropical vacation to Hawaii last year, so this was Chris’s year to pick. The second, and real, reason is being Iceland has amazing geological features, beautiful landscapes, and a quirky culture. Chris had been super pumped about this vacation all year. Prior to our trip he had bought 3 books and even tried to learn some Icelandic… which, as I found out in the Seattle airport, sounds similar to German. Our itinerary was as follows:
– – – Day 1: Reykjavík – – –
Land in Keflavik at 6:45 in the morning, take a bus to Reykjavík and check into our apartment.
Turns out fast forwarding time and not sleeping isn’t the best idea for the body. We had big plans for our first day… but we ended up getting into the apartment and passing out until 14:00. When we awoke we realized the apartment was super cute. (I’ve had these two unpractical dream apartments in my head since I was little and we stayed at both of them while in Iceland.) My favorite feature of the Luna Apartments was the two twin size comforters on the full size bed, my least favorite (which grew on me) was the smell of eggs. All of Reykjavik is heated by geothermal water… so your apartment, shower, and tap water smell like farty eggs. Oy! Fortunately you get used to it pretty quickly.
The man who runs Luna Apartments is extremely friendly. When we signed in he gave us a map of the city and circled all the best places to go. We ended up using that map every time we went out. The first place he told us to go was Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – the infamous hot dog stand.
These hot dogs are phenomenal. Instead of mustard they put this brown sauce on it… anyone know what it is?
Hallgrímskirkja is the famous church in the middle of Reykjavik.
– – – Day 2: The Golden Circle – – –
The second day we rented a car with GPS. I had printed out a bunch of maps before leaving, but when we arrived I quickly discovered I was unable to pronounce the street names. Instead of testing our relationship, we opted for the GPS and it was the smartest purchase of the trip. The Golden Circle is a famous tour route close to Reykjavik. The route includes:
A giant three-tiered waterfall.
Haukadalur Valley is home to Geysir, Strokkur, more than 40 other little hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. The biggest geysers of Haukadalur are Strokkur and Geysir itself, which gave others their name. Strokkur, shown in my video, is very dependable and erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, whereas the bigger Geysir only erupts 4 to 5 times a day.
Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which you can see in the above photo. Parliament was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1789. Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 to protect the remains of the parliament site and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area. Although Þingvellir was pretty, it was crawling with old tourists.*
– – – Day 3: Akureyri – – –
On our third day we flew to Akureyri from the Reykjavík Domestic Airport. The whole experience blew my mind. First we got there way too early – you only need to be at the airport half an hour before your flight. Then, there was no security! You just get on the plane and go – like a bus! It made traveling by plane in the US seem like a huge pain in the ass. Is this what flying is suppose to be like?
I absolutely loved Akureyri. It is gorgeous. There’s not much of a downtown (think Topsfield), but the views are just stunning.
Our one night in Akureyri we stayed in possibly the nicest hostel in the world. It was Ikea-esk: cheap and well-designed. Everyone was super friendly, it was beyond clean, and you got a free drink from 20:00-22:00. Chris had his first sandal showering experience! Pretty fun.
That night our tour guide, and long distance friend, Hordur picked us and two others from Akureyri Backpackers for the Saga Northern Lights tour. It was a perfect night – not a cloud in the sky. He took our small tour group of about 10 out into the wilderness where no “city” lights could ruin our experience. I have never seen northern lights before. – it was amazing! They dance so quickly across the sky changing brightness, sharpness, and color.
Hordur, our tour guide, is a friend of Marssy’s who used to work at Flickr with Chris. Marssy had put us in contact with him before our trip, so we were super happy to finally meet. He agreed to meet us for coffee the next morning after our tour was over.
– – – Day 4: Mývatn & Dettifoss – – –
Day four was by far my favorite day. Hordur met us at Akureyri Backpackers and, over coffee, drew all over a map of northern Iceland. He pointed out everywhere we needed to go and told us how long it would take to get there. There were a ton of stops and we had no idea if we’d be able to make it to all of them, but we were totally pumped to have a local telling us where to go. He even pulled some strings at the car rental place and got us a car with GPS for free. We really can’t thank Hordur enough.
Goðafoss was my favorite waterfall and we kind of found it by accident. Chris had pulled over to a gas station to get some water and it was just there – next to the gas station, in the middle of nowhere. Turns out in the year 999 or 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After his conversion it is said that upon returning from the parliament, Þorgeir threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall.
I hated Námaskarð. Although pretty awesome that it looked like Mars, the smell was the most horrendous thing I’ve ever whiffed in my life. Imagine rotten eggs and fettucini alfredo farts concentrated. As if the smell wasn’t bad enough, the temperature in the valley was well below freezing with high winds. Now imagine the concentrated rotten eggs and fettucini alfredo farts weaponized by the wind, blowing smoke directly in your face. It really is the gateway to hell.
Dettifoss was Chris’s favorite waterfall of the trip. It is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and featured in the opening scene of Prometheus. We had to hike for half an hour over an ice covered lava field to get to it, but it was worth it. Pro tip: “foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic.
An explosion crater.
Jarðböðin, also known as the Myvatn Nature Baths, is the local’s version of the Blue Lagoon. The water temperature averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). Iceland has a strict code of hygiene and guests are required to shower without clothing in the communal shower area before and after bathing. Woo – getting naked with lots of people!
Dimmuborgir is a large area of unusually shaped lava fields. The area is composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations. It is also home to the Icelandic Yule Lads (and their troll parents).
After finishing a small hike around Dimmuborgir, we headed back to the Akureyri Domestic Airport. We made it to all of the places Hordur recommended! A jam packed day full of success!
– – – Day 5: Reykjavík – – –
Our last two days in Reykjavík were pretty relaxing. We went to a lot of museums and checked out the local landmarks.
No. I did not get a picture of Bjork. I know, I know, major fail, but she was with her daughter and the cafe was extremely small. All of the Icelanders acted as if her being there was totally normal, so I really didn’t want to be that asshole American who can’t make out real words, ruining her mother daughter Sunday brunch asking for an autograph and a picture. This is how it went down: We went into the cafe to get some breakfast. There was a woman who was wearing an apron and, from the back, I just assumed that she worked there. Then she sat down at an obviously taken table and her face was unmistakably Bjork’s. My face went red and I quickly looked away. Chris confirmed my suspicions once at our outside table… and then freaked out repeatedly due to a bee much to an indoor child’s amusement.
This guy reminded me of Sam Brenner’s and Michael Wang’s illustrations. Thought you would like him.
Chris and I had seen this building while we were walking to the Reykjavík Domestic Airport. Not knowing what it was, we were intrigued and made a mental note to visit it later. Perlan is 6 hot water storage tanks with a hemispherical structure placed on top. On the top glass domed part of Perlan there is a revolving restaurant and cocktail bar. Unbeknownst to Chris and I, one of the water tanks at Perlan had recently been cleared out in order to hold the Saga Museum. It tells you about the Icelandic sagas, how Icelanders used to live, and how they live now. We just went up to the viewing deck on the fourth floor.
– – – Day 6: Reykjavík – – –
On our last full day in Reykjavík we hung out with two more friends of Marssy’s – Runar & Hrönn. They are extremely nice photographers who live just outside of the city. We met for brunch and then they showed us around Harpa, the new opera house, and Tjörnin, the lake near city hall where you can feed the ducks and swans.
Later that night Chris and I went to the Lebowski Bar. They had 20 kinds of white russians, Wii bowling, the serving bar was draped with an oriental rug (that really pulled the room together), and there was a bowling alley on the wall. It was pretty great.
– – – Day 7: Reykjavík – – –
Our last day we had a long brunch, checked out and got on a bus back to Keflavik.
– – – • • • – – –
Needless to say Iceland is amazing! On a two hour drive you see rolling green hills, snow covered mountains, iced over lava fields, waterfalls, geysers, explosion craters, and other worldly sulfer vents. There are sheep everywhere. You can try some really funky cuisine like rye bread ice cream, whale, puffin, and shark. Icelanders are super nice, a little sarcastic, love candy eggs (still don’t understand that one), and actually wear those Icelandic sweaters you see all over the tourist books. Not to mention – the Northern Lights!!! We had a blast.
Interested in traveling to Iceland, but need more pictures to decide? Check out Chris’s Reykjavik 2012, Akureyri 2012, and Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss 2012 flickr sets and my Iceland 2012 flickr set. There you will find all the photos from the post and many more!
*Chris and I were the youngest tourists there. Most people visiting were between the ages of 50-80. I’ve always believed that old people know how to enjoy life, but man they’re slow on a sidewalk.