One of our friends is Icelandic. One night over dinner with him and his wife earlier this year, Snaevar shared some of his favorite things about his country. It was enough to set Espen’s wanderlust ablaze. A week later, he called out from his desk, “So. Iceland. Would you really want to go?” I said yes, of course. The next day, the trip was booked.
We departed at 8:45 p.m. on a Friday and returned that Tuesday. A quick trip, sure, but we made the most of our time there:
We arrived at 6:45 a.m. Iceland time. Our internal clocks were still four hours behind, though, so it was a hard start. That didn’t keep us from enjoying the morning and the otherworldly beauty of the landscape on our way to Reykjavík. The sky was still figuring out what kind of day it wanted to have, so there was this combination of gloom and glimmer that made for a fantastic vista.
The infamous Blue Lagoon was on our way to the hotel, so we stopped in the hopes of relaxing in the notoriously steamy water after our long flight. We should’ve known from the number of cars and tour buses in the lot that there was little to no chance that we’d get in. Turns out that the lagoon has become such a destination that you have to book a reservation — and a spa package! — at least three days in advance. They won’t even let you in the door without a reservation. Oh well. So much for that idea.
Though I wished it with all my heart, the hotel did not yet have a room ready. With nothing left to do, we hit the city center to find a bite to eat. By the time we finished, shops were starting to open, so we spent the rest of our morning and the early part of the afternoon checking out the main pedestrian mall and surrounding sights. We dragged our sorry butts back to the hotel around 2 p.m., and thankfully they had our room ready. We collapsed into the bed for a much-needed nap.
Finally refreshed, we returned to the city center in search of dinner. First things first, though. We had to try Iceland’s famous fermented shark meat. (I use the term “had to” loosely here.) Café Loki serves a tasting of four chunks for those willing to brave it without the commitment of a larger serving. Espen ordered our tasting plus two shots of Brennivin to chase it down. Let me just say this: You need the chaser.
You would think the shark would’ve diminished our appetite for dinner. You would be wrong. We had come across Lækjarbrekka during our walk earlier in the day and, unable to resist its charming building (built in 1834!), we decided to try its tasting menu of some traditional Icelandic fare. I can’t say we loved everything, but we had a good meal and a great time.
If you ever google “what to do in Iceland,” one of the top things will be the Golden Circle, consisting of Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park; the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur; and Gullfoss, a magnificent waterfall. Taking in all three made for a full day, counting the drive to and fro, but wow! What a day! If I had to pick among the three, I have to go with the geyser. Sure, standing between two continents at Thingvellir is cool, but it’s more the idea of standing between two continents that’s cool than Thingvellir itself. Sure, the history of the place is fascinating (it’s also the location of what’s considered the world’s first parliament, in 930 A.D.), but the place itself isn’t exciting visually.
The geyser, however … Whoa. Strokkur erupts about every eight to twelve minutes, with varying degrees of explosiveness. We were there for three eruptions. The first and last ones were mediocre, but that middle one? I squealed so loud I’m sure I’m heard on every video within five meters! And it wasn’t just the power of its burst that was so fascinating, but how the water surface begins to change beforehand. Don’t believe me? Check out this video. You’ll have to peer through the mists, but hopefully you’ll see what I mean. (If you want to get to the actual eruption, fast-forward to the 1:55 mark.) You can hear us at the end.
We still had the final part of the Golden Circle to check out, so we made our way northwest to Gullfoss. It’s a beautiful waterfall. It is so powerful, according to one of the signs, that the flow could fill 60 transportation containers in one second. And yes, you read that correctly.
I’ve had to break Espen of the habit of driving all the time. While he’s quick to pass me the keys when he gets sleepy, he tends to drive a lot more than I do, and I like being able to do my part. So I was thrilled when he finally let me get behind the wheel and reacquaint myself with the six-speed. It’s been years since I owned a manual, but I’ve still got it. One could argue that I might be a little too good: During one of my zippy crossings around a lake, one of the feedback signs gave me a sad/angry face because I was going over the preferred speed limit. (There’s a reason my great Aunt Rebecca nicknamed me Rough Rider. Hah!)
Espen’s chosen route back took us down a more southern pass. In the description he found, the writer said of Route 435 something along the lines of “During the winter … you know what? Just don’t do it in the winter.” It’s a beautiful winding road through some mountains, and yes, you can bet that I was an extraordinarily slow and careful driver then — and not just because I wanted to also enjoy the scenery. There’s a reason one shouldn’t attempt those passes in winter.
Intrigued by Route 435, we decided to explore more before heading farther south. This time, Espen drove the winding mountain roads, allowing me to (1) relax and (2) fully take in the beauty. As I mentioned before, the landscape is otherworldly — so much so, in fact, that seeing a unicorn grazing or a family of elves hanging out would not have been that shocking.
We were still disappointed about missing out on our Blue Lagoon experience, but Espen found an alternative: The Secret Lagoon. (One can argue how secret it is when it has a website and signs leading to it, but I digress.) It was fantastic! There weren’t more than 20 people there, so we could really relax and take in the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Considering that just one of the average tour buses at the Blue Lagoon easily had twice that number of people, it’s safe to say that our experience at the Secret Lagoon was much more peaceful and enjoyable.
Our drive south also took us to Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri, two very small villages along the coast of lava beaches. With populations of about 570 and 445, respectively, it’s safe to say that there’s not much going on. We did get to see a cool fishing hut in honor of a famous Icelandic fisherwoman, though. It made us both grateful to have been born elsewhere and in a more advanced time.
After a quick cruise pass the appropriately named Smoking Fields, we headed back to our hotel to unwind before our dinner reservations at Perlan (The Pearl). The restaurant sits atop several hot water tanks that themselves are situated on a hill overlooking Reykjavík. Basically, the place affords sweeping views of the city and over the water. And because the restaurant rotates, every seat is a good seat. The tasting menu at Perlan is so similar to the one we’d had a few nights before that we each opted for the vegan tasting menu, instead. The biggest surprise of the evening was the cucumber sorbet, which was so good that we literally begged for more. The view of the sunset over the water wasn’t too shabby, either.
My husband believes in maximizing all our available time, so even though we were scheduled to return our rental car by noon, he proposed a drive to Akranes to see what was on the other side of the mountain that had been in the distance. The weather was once again glorious, and it was a beautiful way to end the trip. We made it to the rental car place with 30 minutes to spare.
And then we remembered that we’d forgotten to fill the gas tank. Thus ensued the great Gas Station Hunt of 2016. When towns are spread rather far apart and if you lack GPS guidance, well … let’s just say that things can get exciting pretty fast. After feeling pretty pleased with ourselves and our careful planning, we felt pretty stupid. Still, we managed to find a place and make it back with two minutes to spare. Whew!
It was a great trip. The only thing that could’ve possibly made it better was to see the Northern Lights, but it wasn’t meant to be. Oh well. Someday.
More photos …
I took tons of photos, several of which called for their own groupings. Enjoy!