Greetings from the other side of the snow storm! I hope all of you on the east coast weathered the storm well, although I still hold that I’m from Chicago and it wasn’t THAT bad. (Okay, okay, I think it was record setting or something, but oh well.) I had to work all weekend, so I didn’t get to play in the snow like everyone else seemed to do…or go to yoga like others. (State of emergency? Really? If people can go to yoga, it’s not an emergency, okay? Also, while I’m ranting – can people stop referring to Saturday as a “snow day,” please? It was a day that snowed. A Saturday. You weren’t working anyway. Moving on.) Anyway, being surrounded by snow reminded me of Iceland and how I should think of happier times – like the rest of our trip!
Let’s pick up where we left off. If you missed the first part of the trip, check here for our New Years Eve/New Years Day fun!
Saturday, January 2 – Glacier Hike Day!
Iceland is a great place to go on excursions, and that is what we did! There are a bunch of different options to choose from, and you better like being outdoors if you plan to head to Iceland. Eric was really excited about a couple ones, so we booked those. First up was a glacier hike! Or I suppose a “glacier walk,” as the tour company called it. The title of the tour was “Take a Walk on the Ice Side”….hahhaha. This was an all day tour and had us up bright and early. (Except it’s Iceland so it’s not exactly bright when it’s early. Work with me here.) We loaded up on the hotel breakfast, got picked up at our hotel, and made it to the bus to drive us out to the Solheimajokull Glacier, about two hours from Reykjavik – good time for napping!
Scenes from an Iceland drive…
We drove along and enjoyed the scenery before making a quick stop for the bathroom and to get some snacks. Pringles and Skyr (yogurt in Iceland which puts Chobani/insert your favorite Greek yogurt) to shame. Maybe not the best meal for hiking a glacier, but at least we had a good breakfast! We continued on our way to the glacier and eventually made it. (It really seemed like we drove for forever.) We drove right by Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano that erupted in 2010 and disrupted air travel for weeks…I don’t remember this happening, but the tour guides seemed really excited that it put Iceland on the map, haha.
Once we made it to the glacier, it was time to gear up! It seemed like a few different tour groups were there, and it was very busy. Luckily the guides were very helpful in getting our equipment on and ready for the hike. One guide apparently moved from Australia to Iceland…that’s quite the change! Everyone wore a harness and crampons (which I’d never heard of before and had to remember how to pronounce by saying “tampon” in my head before saying “crampon” out loud) and received an ice pic. We really only needed the crampons – the rest were for if you fell and needed help – reassuring!
We’re ready to hike!
Ice hiking gear.
Groups started leaving to head to the glacier, and Eric and I were itching to get moving. We joined a guide with a group of about twelve people. We walked along and enjoyed the views right up to the glacier, where our guide gave us some instructions for walking on the glacier. Mainly, don’t leave the path! Easy enough. We started heading up onto the glacier, and it was then we realized that we had some people who weren’t quite ready for the physical activity. One person in our group kept saying she gets winded going uphill – ahh! Our guide took a lot of breaks to accommodate the group, and he gave us lots of information about the glacier and Iceland. The glaciers are slowly melting, although they’re not supposed to disappear in my lifetime, they might be gone eventually. Kinda crazy. They’re pretty and awesome when you think about it
The walk over to the glacier.
Looking back to where we came from.
Crevice + hiking path.
Annnnnd looking the other way.
Following our fearless guide!
Hiking with Eric!
We learned a lot about how the glacier changes shape over time and how it makes different formations, which was cool. It was fun to hear our guide say things like, “It wasn’t like this two weeks ago!” We saw many crevices that we definitely made sure to stay away from since some of them were crazy deep and I didn’t really want to make use of my harness. Our guide led us to a tunnel (which was pretty new!) and that was awesome to see.
Eric and a cave.
Don’t fall in!
Quite the view.
I think we were on the glacier for a couple hours – not really sure exactly how long! It was SO quiet up there and just pretty and white in all directions. We got so lucky that the weather stayed amazing the entire time – none of the sudden snow-pellets-to-the-face we’d experience the past couple days. We eventually needed to make our way back to the buses and turned in our gear. So long, glacier. On the way back to Reykjavik, we were racing the sunset in order to see two waterfalls – Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. We ended up being able to see Skogafoss in the daylight and Seljalandsfoss once the sun went down – they put lights on the falls, so you can still see them. Skogafoss had a stairway to the top, but we were short on time and people looked like they were having super slippery time coming down, so we stayed away. I’d love to see what these waterfalls look like when it’s green and not snowing!
We then headed back to Reykjavik, which made Eric and I nervous. The tour was running quite late, and we had booked a Northern Lights tour for the evening. We definitely missed the tour, so we headed to the tour office (conveniently right near our hotel) to see if they had a later tour. Since this was the only night we really had the option of going, we decided to go ahead and get on a later tour. We got right on a bus and headed out. We drove for a bit and then stopped at a super gas station for food. This was convenient because we were hungry, but not the finest cuisine! After, we headed out again to look for the Northern Lights. The sky was clear, so we had high hopes. The bus stopped in one location and we hung out there for about 30 minutes. No activity was spotted there – and it was really cold standing outside, so we eventually just waited on the bus. At some point the bus started moving again, but I honestly don’t remember much because both Eric and I fell asleep. It was late and we had a busy day! Luckily we didn’t miss much because no one saw the Northern Lights…we got back to our hotel quite late and were so excited to go to bed.
Hooray! More time on a bus!
My official analysis on the Northern Lights is that you should try and see if them you really, really want to see them, but I thought it wasn’t worth it. This is most likely because we didn’t see them, but we basically just drove around for five hours for no good reason. We definitely could have done better things with our time! That is all. (But go on a glacier hike, that was totally worth it!)
Sunday, January 3 – Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure
I will call today’s activities one of those things that sounded great when we were sitting on our couch in NYC in 60 degree weather. That’s the only way I think Eric convinced me that this was a good idea. Anyway. On Sunday, our excursion for the day was a snorkeling trip in the Silfra Fissure, which is the separation between the North American and European tectonic plates and is filled with water from Langjokull, the second largest ice cap in Iceland. This means the water is about four degrees Celsius, aka REALLY REALLY COLD. Oh dear.
We had a little bit of a later start to the day, as we weren’t picked up from our hotel until about 10:30am. I convinced Eric to walk into the town to go to Sandholt Bakery, where we picked up donuts for later. Everything behind their display case looked amazing, and we probably should have gotten one of each. Maybe next time.
Reykjavik by morning.
It is pretty.
The way it works for all these tours is that a smaller bus picks you up at your hotel, and then you transfer to a normal sized bus at the main bus terminal. Eric and I were waiting at the bus terminal when we learned that we were the only people getting picked up – everyone else had driven and would meet us there. We also learned that the tour was running a couple hours late, so we had time to kill. (This mainly made us nervous because we had another tour booked in the evening – yikes!) However, it was kind of nice that we got a little private tour by the guide – and he had the radio on, and I am happy to report that Iceland has Taylor Swift, so that was a plus. The semi-downside was that the Silfra Fissure is located in Thingvellir National Park, which is where we were on New Years Day, so we’d seen it all before. Ah, well.
Eric enjoying the view.
We found it! A forest in Iceland!
Our guide stopped along the way so we could hop out and take some pictures of Pingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Of course, we’d seen it before, but this day was much more clear and just goes to show how different a place can look given the weather! We still had more time to wander around, so our guide took us to where we would get our snorkeling gear and gave us these giant puffy snowsuits, which they referred to as “teddies.” I want one for life, they were so warm. He then drove us up to another spot so we could walk through Thingvellir National Park, which was the same place we had gone on New Years Day (again), but it looked quite different. And this time we were so warm! So, fine. Not the greatest delay, but it was nice that they gave us something to do while we waited.
Back to Parliament – looks so different on a clear day!
Finally it was time to get this snorkel business on the road! While we were waiting, we watched people who had come out of the water, and they seemed quite chilly. For the record, I really, really don’t like the cold – more so, I really don’t like being cold, and I get cold really easily. I think anything less than 70 degrees is cold, soooo there’s that. We waited around for the group to gather before we started getting our equipment, and I started getting nervous about the cold…but everyone else had just done it, so it was fine, right? Okay…
It was quite the process to get everything on. Luckily we still had the teddy on. The next step was to put on a dry suit, which serves the obvious purpose of keeping you dry! It’s a one piece suit that includes boots, so you step into it and then most likely need help pulling it up. The guides then checked our wrist and neck seals because you definitely don’t want water getting in! After that, we picked up Neoprene gloves and head covers. The explanation of these made me a little nervous – I’ve never done scuba diving, but the idea is that the water gets into the gear, then your body warms it up, then you’re warm! Freezing water on my hands??? My hands are never warm. Maybe this was a poor plan. But it was time to get this show on the road…after an explanation of the landscape of the Silfra fissure, we grabbed our snorkel, mask, and fins and walked to the entry point.
Dry suits on! We look like we’re going to space.
Doesn’t this look like great snorkeling weather??
Fins on, everyone!
I have never been more attractive in my entire life.
Fins on, time to enter the water. I started getting even more nervous, but honestly was freezing and thought it might be warmer in the water. Or at least it would be distracting to look around. I don’t always do well with snorkels since I gag pretty easy (also one of many reasons why I hate going to the dentist), but this will be fun! Woohoo! Two by two we climbed into the water, which really wasn’t as bad as four degree (Celsius!) water should feel. Once you get in, the guides release the rest of the air in your suit, and away you go.
Climbing down into the water.
And in the water!
I don’t do much snorkeling/diving (unless it’s in the hyperbaric chamber, and even that I can only count on one hand), but this water was amazing(ly cold). Okay, just amazing. It’s so, so clear. At some points, you can touch the bottom, and at other points it’s 100 meters to the bottom, and you can see as far as the light will let you! Rocks and rocks everywhere – no wildlife though. Fish are in the lake that the fissure leads into, but they tend to stay out of the fissure. (Not sure if that’s natural or because of all the people snorkeling, hm.) There’s a little current in the first half-ish of the fissure, so you really don’t even have to swim much – just coast along. I tried to keep my hands out of the water for awhile because I was scared to fill them with water, but eventually I did have to submerge them. It was cold, I’m not going to lie. Eric says his hands warmed up after a minute or two, but mine never got warm, so I finally swam with them on top of my head (that was a tip from one of the guides) and only put them in the water to help move around. I won’t say it made them toasty, but it certainly helped.
Look! We’re snorkeling!
As it tends to be under water, it was super quiet and still. We had 20-ish people in our group, and I really only saw other people when I flipped over on my back for a break. Otherwise, I basically looked straight down since trying to look too far ahead in the water or turning my head was difficult because of the suit – even when I did, sometimes water would get in and I’d get a shock of cold. Oops. But we floated along and marveled at the rocks (and the cold). The plates are moving apart at about 2cm per year, so not very far. At one point, you can touch both plates, which I guess is cool.
We are under the water!
Creepy picture with Eric in the shallow area.
Deep! I promise it was really clear in real life.
Just swimming along.
You can’t tell, but I’m doing the Whip and Nae Nae.
The time in the water went pretty quick – we were floating with the current for about thirty minutes, then we took a left turn into a larger area. (If you keep going straight, you end up in the lake – not a good idea!) In this larger area, we could swim around and look around. Some areas were so shallow you could touch the bottom while others were super deep. It was kinda crazy. Eric had his GoPro, so we filmed some videos and I tried dancing under water, which probably looked better than when I’m dancing on land. (Not hard to do, haha.) After a little while more of floating around, people started to get out to head back to the gear area, and we figured we’d had enough experience with the cold so we got out as well.
I can’t feel my face when I’m with you…but seriously.
It was a little bit of a walk back to where the gear was. My hands were a bit chilly, but my toes had warmed up over time, so I consider that to be a plus. Your cheeks and lips are directly exposed to the cold, so talking was a little strange and stiff. Eric took a video while we were walking back and he thanked me for going on this adventure with him, to which I said something like, “No problem, Eric, you promised me a puppy!” Still no puppy, sad.
The face when I said he promised me a puppy…hahhaha.
We took all our gear off, which involved the guides pulling our gloves off because everyone was pretty cold. I guess the guides get used to being out in the cold without gloves on, but my hands were freezing. I was so sad to take that super warm teddy off and considered asking how much it would be to buy it off of them, ha. Our personal guide was at the ready to take us back to Reykjavik, so we climbed back in the van and were on the way. We warmed up quickly – the heater for the van was right at my feet, so I put my toes right over it! Excellent. (We also ate the donuts we bought earlier – a nice treat!) Quite the experience, and once we got in the water I wasn’t nearly as cold as when we were gearing up and waiting around. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in Iceland!
The Brewery Tour
The delay in the snorkeling tour had us worried because we had a brewery tour booked for the evening. We were supposed to have a two hour buffer between getting back from snorkeling and heading for the brewery tour, but that quickly went out the window. (It was also going to be a great time to take a hot shower…) We had our guide drop us off at the main bus terminal instead of taking us back to our hotel, and we made it just in time to head to the brewery. I suppose I’ll trade beer for a warm shower…
We took the bus to Olgeroin brewery, which was mostly closed because it was Sunday, but we were met by our tour guides and taken to their tasting room. They like to say that they’re a little different – instead of taking a tour and then sampling some drinks, they get you started drinking right away and then give you a tour, then drink some more! The guides were great – Iceland has quite the history with alcohol, so they told us a lot about that and about the traditions that Iceland has regarding Christmas and the New Year, since that’s when we were there. Iceland entered prohibition in 1915, and ended for wine, spirits, and “strong beer” (beer with alcohol content greater than 2.25%) in 1935. (Our guide said it was because they were trading fish with Spain in return for red wine, and they didn’t want to lose the business with Spain. Once they legalized Spanish red wine, lots of people started making “Spanish red wine” at home, haha.) Fast forward to the World War II era, Iceland was a potential target for the Nazis to use as a port (sounds like a poor choice given their weather), so American and British soldiers were stationed there just in case. Upon arrival, they were surprised to be sent to a cold country with no beer, so they started making fake beer (I forget what they called it) by taking the light beer (less than 2.25% alcohol) and mixing it with vodka. Our guides let us try it, although they added in an extra Icelandic spirit, and I thought it was terrible. (Side note: I don’t necessarily like liquor.) Apparently without the Icelandic spirit, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t beer. I’m skeptical. Anyway, the ban on everything was lifted in 1989, and apparently Icelanders celebrate “beer day,” which I suppose is fair.
Looks like Gatsby is having trouble staying upright…
In Iceland, Santa drinks beer!
We tasted quite a bit of beer while we were there – the lager was really good! And I appreciated that they had tortilla chips on the table for everyone to enjoy. It went well with the beer and we were hungry after snorkeling! I definitely recommend this tour if you’re in Iceland – it’s something a little different and who doesn’t like beer? On the way back to our hotels, everyone was just a tad bit more chatty than on the way over. A bunch of people had dinner plans, so we made plans to meet up with the group at a bar after dinner. Making friends on the last night, check!
We headed back to the hotel and I got that shower I’d been waiting all day for. Eric and I then headed out to dinner – we had reservations at Grillmarkadurrin (“Grill Market”), which came highly recommended by just about everyone who has ever gone to Reykjavik. Some people even said it was the best meal they ever had, and I have to agree! I’d heard great things about their tasting menu, and I was leaning toward doing that…but at least two people have to do it, and Eric doesn’t like fish, so that was out. Luckily, they had a fish gourmet (aka a fish sampler), so I ordered that while Eric got a steak. The food that arrived to all the people sitting around us looking amaaaaazing and I was really excited!
One word: DELICIOUS.
Our food arrived and it looked delicious – so obviously we dug right in. My fish included cod, salmon, and some fish that I don’t remember – it was supposed to come with redfish, but they were out. They mystery fish was actually my favorite, so I’m sad I don’t remember it! It came with a side of garlic potatoes and vegetables – I don’t tend to love potatoes (unless they’re in French fry/tator tot form…), but these were amazing. Eric said his steak was amazing as well. I ate until I was stuff and wanted to eat even more! This is especially sad since I told Eric I really wanted to get dessert, but we were both way too full to get anything. (I blame this on the beer we drank at the tour, but definitely no regrets.) I do think this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and that’s not the alcohol speaking! Please go here if you go to Reykjavik, all the good reviews are for good reason!
After dinner, we headed out to the Lebowski Bar to meet up with our brewery friends. The bar was decorated in décor from the Big Lebowski, so I guess that would be cool if you’d seen the movie (I have not because I don’t watch movies unless it’s Pitch Perfect, in which case I’ve seen it seventeen times). We hung out with our friends and got free beer! Iceland has these wheels you can pay to spin, and then sometimes you win something – one girl in the group won some free beer, so we benefited from that, hooray! Otherwise, we just hung out for awhile. One couple was from Baltimore and the guy looked familiar, and he said I looked familiar, but neither of us could figure out why. It will forever be a mystery. We stayed for a couple hours before heading back to our hotel – our last night in Iceland was definitely a success!
Random picture from the walk: mail a letter and get one from the 13 Iceland elves – they really believe in them!
Monday, January 4 – Blue Lagoon
Yes, a lagoon that is blue.
Most people recommended heading to the Blue Lagoon on the way to or from the airport, since it’s on the way and not necessarily the closest to Reykjavik, although you can certainly do a day trip. I like efficiency, so that’s great. I’ll admit that booking this was a bit of a mess – you need tickets in advance, so we book through a tour company just find out two days before we left that they sold out of tickets. I was really upset because how do you go to Iceland and NOT go to the Blue Lagoon?? Cue panic and Eric telling me we’ll have a good time without the Blue Lagoon. Luckily the next day, Eric called and they had openings on our last day – so it all worked out and I panicked for no reason, per usual. Anyway. We got back on a bus to head to the Blue Lagoon to get there right when it opened – 9am, I think. We bought an upgraded package that included a robe and flip flops, which were definitely a good choice! After heading to our respective locker rooms (and showering – you must shower before entering…naked! Luckily I got a private shower, but people are also quite free), we met up to get into the water. (Another side note: The water in the lagoon is great for your skin, but will temporarily turn your hair to straw, so I soaked my hair in conditioner and tied it up in a bun. It was still pretty dry, but by the next day it was fine…after a bunch more conditioner.) We hung up our robes and towels and hoped no one would take them, then ran into the water. It was quite chilly outside – right around freezing – so I was definitely ready for the water. It was so warm! Ah, heaven. Since we were there so early, it wasn’t too busy, which was great for us. We floated around in the water, checking out the different areas. We found a waterfall that had the warmest water in the lagoon, so naturally it became my favorite spot! Going under the waterfall was like getting a mini massage, so that was great. (Side note: You can get a massage in the water while you’re there, but Eric and I couldn’t go at the same time, so we passed.)
The waterfall in the dark – this is my “this is really hot” face.
Hello, sun! And crane.
The sun didn’t come up until 11-ish, so it was kinda cool to see the sun rise while we were in the water! We also did a couple rounds of the silica mud mask, which I’m pretty sure work because at least two coworkers said I looked like I was glowing when I got back, haha. There was a woman walking around in the water with the second step to the mask (a moisturizer of sorts), and I would like to know how I get that job. The Blue Lagoon is basically a gigantic hot tub, and I’d like to be a part of that. Lifeguards dressed in snowsuits were walking around, which I think is hilarious. The lagoon became more crowded as time went on, so we wandered around to find more open spaces. Our ticket also included a free drink…neither of us really wanted alcohol at 10am, so we got fruit smoothies which was nice and refreshing. Our ticket also included a lunch reservation (but not the cost of lunch), and we decided for what they were charging at the restaurant, we’d just eat at the café right outside. The food was terrible and that was sad, so we headed back into the lagoon after lunch for a final round of warmth. We tried the sauna and steam room, neither of which I could stand for very long. I think the heat in the room makes me nervous about breathing, so I didn’t stay very long. We headed back into the water to float around a little more. I should note that the Blue Lagoon is undergoing construction (they’re building a luxury hotel), so the construction vehicles took away from the totally peaceful experience, but we survived. It just reminded us of home! I can’t complain about being in a giant hot tub though, so that was great. It continued to get more and more crowded, so I’m glad we arrived early. Eventually we headed back inside – running from the hot lagoon out into the cold to grab our towels/robes and then get inside was a necessary misery, ha. We showered and got on our bus to head to the airport, so long Iceland!
The Blue Lagoon is definitely a tourist trap, but I think it’s definitely worth it. And definitely warmer than other activities you could be doing in Iceland, ha. We had a great time hanging out in the water – I love to be warm, so it was amazing for me! Eric had the GoPro, and the pictures got kinda messed up because of the steam (haha, what a problem to have!), but oh well. Lots of people were taking glamour shots in the water, which was hilarious. Plenty of Instagram husbands, hahahah.
And that was that! We took the bus to the airport and got through security pretty quick. A stop for some food (one last super experience meal…) and onto the plane. Our flight was at 5:30pm-ish, and we landed at 6:30pm-ish, so that’s a solid deal. Then it was back to real life…
Chasing the sun on the way home.
So in summary…
Go to Iceland! It’s a great trip and quick to get to…much like going coast to coast in the US. I will warn that it’s not a cheap trip. Iceland is an island with a small population, so that makes everything a little more expensive. (Funny side story: The beer guides told us that Iceland really wants a Starbucks, but you have to have a million people [or something], and they’re not anywhere close to that, so no Starbucks for them. They do have a Dunkin Donuts. An H&M-esque store came to Iceland, and they sold out of everything within a day and didn’t have a shipment to restock for another week!) Coming from New York, the sticker shock wasn’t too bad, but it was still kind of expensive by New York terms. Otherwise, we also picked an expensive time to go, as flights and hotels definitely cost more during the holidays, but that’s true with almost anywhere you’ll travel at that time. You can get better deals at other times of the year. But we really had a great time – lots of adventures to go on if you like doing that, and it’s such a beautiful country with really nice people (who mostly speak English, so that’s a plus). It’s become a hot spot for travel, and I can easily see why!
To answer couple questions I got on my last post:
– Did I buy/bring special winter gear? I’m not really a winter sports person, outside of running the cold, so I don’t necessarily own the best winter gear. Eric bought himself a pair of Sorel boots for the trip (and for life in walking around NYC in the snow/slush…), and I swore I didn’t need special boots. I happen to hate buying things to only wear them for a specific cause, so I didn’t want to buy any. Eric is (sometimes) the smarter of the two of us, so he got me a pair for Christmas. The boots were LIFESAVERS. I have no idea what I thought I was going to wear on my feet, but these boots kept my feet warm and dry, which is definitely key for cold weather adventures. Otherwise, I packed some of my cold weather running gear – tights, fleece pants, long sleeve dry fit tops – and that was good for clothing. You’re not impressing people in Iceland, so just stay warm! I pondered buying a new winter coat since half the buttons have fallen off of mine, and I keep the top closed with a safety pin (is that embarrassing? Not sure…), but it was fine. A scarf, a hat which you will never take off, and warm gloves – good to go!
– Did I use my phone for pictures or did I have a separate camera? Eric and I both took our iPhones to use as cameras (and for life, let’s be honest). I still have a point and shoot camera somewhere, but I think the last time I used it was when we went to Germany and Poland in 2013. Eric used his phone for a camera on that trip, and it took much better pictures than my supposed-to-be-good-for-not-a-ton-of-money point and shoot. I’ve used my phone ever since, especially since getting a phone with much bigger storage. (The last thing you want while out on an adventure is to figure out which photos you can delete to make more room!) Iceland is beautiful and you’ll definitely take a ton of pictures there, but for my needs, phone pictures are fine. The chances of me actually printing them are slim, and they look good on a computer. I’m sure a fancy camera would take much better pictures, and sometimes I eyed people with them with a little bit of envy, but I don’t think I would have wanted to carry it around. Doing all the activities doesn’t exactly make it easy to carry a camera around, but I sometimes wish I had one for city adventures. (I also don’t think I’d use one for all the options it has, so I’ll stick with my phone.) Annnnd those are my thoughts.
That is all! Hope you enjoyed the Iceland recap – let me know if you have any other questions or if you need any tips for traveling to Iceland!