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Travel to Iceland
Reykjavik & the Blue Lagoon
"The mind alone knows what is near the heart, Each his own judge: The worst sickness for a wise man Is to crave what he cannot enjoy." - Havamal
For anyone who may be considering a trip to Iceland, here are some facts that I learned that can help you out. If you were not thinking of going to Iceland, I bet you will after reading this. I was blown away. First, Iceland is tiny. Everything about it is hilariously small. I honestly don't know how the vikings fit! Even the horses along the side of the road are smaller than ponies. Watching them run with their little legs was so great. Another fun fact is that the hot water smells like sulfur. I recall being in the tiny bathroom of my Reykjavik AirBnB trying to brush my teeth with a hangover and gagging over the pungent smell of eggs coming out of the sink and into my mouth. If you stay at a hostel or hotel, it won’t be as bad. The stinky water is due to the geothermal origins of the hot water, making it excellent for your skin while bathing, but not drinking.
Everything is really expensive compared to the US. We are talking $3 for small bag of chips. It adds up quickly, so, if you are on a tight budget here is an easy currency converting tip: 110 ISK is close to 1 USD. So, if something costs 1.500,00 ISK you can do some quick math that it will be just under $15.00. Yes, you may have noticed that the commas and decimals are switched, which will also mess with your head. The last quick tip before I get into it; buy your booze at the duty free. Stock up like a real alcoholic, because the stores are pretty much never open in the winter. They just close down when the sun goes down at 15:30 and you will be in the middle or at the end of exploring and miss it. If you are lucky enough to find an open grocery store... the beer there is only 2.25 (2,25)... which is just gross.
Summing up some quick tips:
- Iceland is small in all ways
- Hot water is stinky - but if you run the cold water for a minute it is okay, but I wouldn't drink it.
- Everything is expensive, but if you think of currency as 110:1 you can keep track of your dollars.
- Grocery store beer is 2.25% - stock up at duty free and liquor stores during daylight.
So, I went with 7 friends on a road trip around southern Iceland in the beginning of December 2016. Iceland is jam packed with some of the coolest shit you will ever see and we didn’t even go that far. By this, I mean that in one day, on a road trip, we saw a canyon dividing two continents, a geyser exploding, and a GIANT waterfall. The country is absolutely beautiful. I’ll recap what we did day by day and maybe you’ll want to go on a journey there, too.
Day 1: Reykjavik – Expensive as hell. We are talking $4 for a bottle of water throughout the country. Considering the egg water option, you’re more than happy to pay it. We flew in and got our rental SUVs and went for some breakfast on our way to the Blue Lagoon. Place was called Bryggjan and was seriously lovely. The guy that made our food was a proud Icelandic man named Christian (some debate that his name was Kristen or somehow became Christine before we knew it). He was more than happy to share his infinite wisdom about the country’s history to a bunch of degenerates from the USA that looked like they all punched each other in the face prior entering the establishment. Regardless of jet-lag and 0 hours of sleep, we were all wide eyed and happy to learn it all from Chistianna and he would be happy to tell you everything you need to know about Leif Erikson. Which reminds me, this country is the only one I know of that has names like Ragnar and Thor... real life Ragnars and Thors. I was really hoping a Ragnar would whisk me off my feet, over his shoulder, place me on his viking ship and take me out to sea. Although, I was equally hoping that I would meet a skinny little nerd with glasses and suspenders named Ragnar for a good laugh. Our car rental guy's name was Thor - pretty average dude, actually.
The Blue lagoon is really cool. You can wade around with your friends and drink beer. I brought a GoPro and picked up some of our weird conversations while wearing mud masks and running off very little sleep. Cost about $40 for standard ticket, but you can spend more money and get some more fancy treatment, if you want. After that we went to our AirBnB, got some sleep, and hit the town. All the bars are pretty close to each other and that makes for some fun bar hopping. I googled all of the best bars and don’t know which ones I even went to, so, you really just have to go for it. There will be live music and many tourists in Reykjavik.
Exploring Iceland and the Northern Lights
Day 2: Glossed over this above, but here are the details of day two. The Golden Circle will blow your mind. If it doesn’t, ya difficult. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is where you can find Almannagjá - a canyon formed between two tectonic plates, a visual representation of continental drift. It is also where you can go diving in Silfra, which is a rift formed in the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates. I mean, if you want to be a bad-ass. After checking that out, we went and saw a Geyser and I squealed like a little girl every single time. It was really cool. Watching a geyser go off is similar to my dating life. It's a lot more waiting and looking than it is actual excitement, but it's still pretty sick when it does happen.
My friend, Chris, and I agree that the highlight of watching the geysers was when this lady tripped right in front of us and dropped all of her shit - and I caught it on the GoPro. The other highlight was when my friend, also Chris, took a ridiculously awesome 7 second video. Said video is perfectly timing the eruption of this geyser that goes off every 15 minutes or so. Then, immediately afterwards, he accidentally deleted it along with all of his other photos from that day. Both equally perfect timing for me. Finally, to cap off our 5 hours of twilight, the waterfall we saw that day was called Gulfoss and it was massive and beautiful. An absolute must see. From there, we checked into our next AirBnB in the middle of nowhere. We got some groceries and each had a bottle of booze from the duty free (I would suggest getting 2 each) and we ripped it right up. Chilled in the hot tub, drank whiskey and had great time. At about 2 or 3 in the morning, my buddy Chris ran in to tell us all that the Northern Lights were up in the sky! Sure enough, it was glorious. We captured it as best we could, but it was something you just have to see for yourself. It just dances across the sky until it’s gone. Stunning.
Chasing Waterfalls & Snowmobiling on Glaciers
Day 3: On day three we went on a snowmobiling tour on a nearby glacier called Langjokull. This was such a unique and amazing experience. Anyone can do it (it was my first time driving a snowmobile and it was fine). If you want to go faster than the crowd, you have to wait behind the rest of the crew and then gun it to catch up. We hit 70 km/h and it was a great time. Cost about $250 through Mountaineers. Since we only had 5 hours of daylight and the tour was 3 hours (1 hour of actual snowmobiling), that was the only thing we did that day. It was crazy cool and I would definitely suggest spending the money to do it. They also have a tour that you snowmobile over to an ice cave and you can run around in the ice cave for a bit. Tour place was called Mountaineers – one of two snowmobiling tours, so you can’t miss it in your research.
Day 4: The following day, we were smart and traveled to the southernmost tip of the country while it was still dark (prior to 11:00). That way, as the sunlight came up, we were arriving at the black sand beaches of Vik. Gorgeous. On our road trip back to our AirBnB, we saw Skogafoss first. I screamed into it. Like, I don’t know what else to tell you. You walk right up to a raging waterfall and you just don’t know that what you'll be compelled to do. It felt pretty amazing. After that, we went to a glacier called, Mýrdalsjökull. I don’t even try to pronounce these things. This place was really cool because you can walk up and onto the glacier. It was raining that day, so we hiked at far as we could, but you would need crampons to go any further. If you are spending some time here, definitely look up some glacier hiking tours and you can go all around with the right equipment. We were limited to how far we could go without death, but still loved the experience. There was a spot that was a sheet of ice, going straight down to a pointed piece of ice at the bottom. Chris and I just stood there for too long and talked about the death we were looking at, since we were so close to it. Just like here we are.. and there is death. Just taking a peak at death.
The next place we went to was Seljalandsfoss. This one is kind of a double waterfall and is one that you can actually walk behind. So cool. Do not miss this one! At this point, we were running out of daylight again, so we went to go get some beer. Turns out, that on Sunday the beer stores are closed and you can only buy 2.25% alcohol beer at the grocery stores. Gross. That night we rationed beers and shots like days of the fucking pioneers. We each got like two shots and six 2.25% beers, which is basically three beers.
Day 5: We woke up and headed back to Reykjavik for my friends to catch their flight. Stopped along the way to check out a few things that I don’t even care enough about to mention. I was staying an extra night, so they dropped me at my hostel. I pulled my typical hostel move. Got ready, went down to the bar and waited for interesting people to come along to talk to. I stayed in Kex hostel, which was really cool. Was about $35 for a night and had really nice showers. I stayed in a 16 bed dorm for the first time and you NEED earplugs. An alarm went off every half hour starting at like 06:00. It was a Monday night, so there was no real craic, but there were other travelers and I made friends with Julien. A fellow blogger and a beer aficionado that was just going with the flow on his travels and generally going wherever he wanted. Last I heard, he was in Lisbon drinking craft beers and riding a motorcycle around the country.
So, he and I hit the bars of Reykjavik together, met other ridiculous people and saw a band rocking out to Metallica in the best way. It was a blast. We then made our way to a grocery store and bought 1.500,00 ISK (15.00 USD) worth of snacks on our way back to the hostel. There we mowed down all the goods and laughed about the fact that I asked a hot dog vendor if he had chicken face. You see, I read somewhere that they sell goat face at this one place that happened to look just like this hot dog stand… in my head. I then continued to confuse goat with chicken and yeah. The hot dog stand guy was like, “You would like the face off a chicken?” Hahaha! Yes, sir. His name was probably something like Ragnar and he probably went home to his wife, Ugla, later that night and was like, “these freakin' Americans say the weirdest things!”
I always stay in a hostel with a bar. That way you don’t have to go too far to find fun people to run around the city with. The next morning I met up with Julien again to have some breakfast and laugh really hard about the carnage we got into the night before. My transportation to Keflavík International Airport - 45 minutes away - was a bus company called Gray Line for $25. They picked me up from my hostel and brought me to the airport, which made it really easy.
To sum it up: Go to Iceland to see a bunch of tiny things on a little island, but then scream into some giant waterfalls. It is about $300 round trip from Boston on WOW Air and it is a 5 hour flight. You will not regret it when you see some of the coolest things that you have ever seen. I would plan for about $100 per day spending money including a hostel / AirBnB. Go with friends or go alone and make friends, like Julien. I hope this helps you out plan your journey.