Iceland aka Rainbow Paradise
On a whim the husband and I decided to give Iceland a try. WowAir lines was new to Baltimore and as a welcome to the area they were offering $99 dollar one way flights- so going by the phrase of 2015’s YOLO, off we went. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We’ve all seen the bucketlist photos of the Blue Lagoon, Gulfoss & Glacier lagoon, but let me tell you… Nothing prepares you for the pure natural beauty that Iceland has to offer. NOTHING. Ok, maybe childbirth, but still it’s just as inspiring.
WowAirlines Legroom really is pretty awesome when you’re in an exit row.
We stepped off the plane at 4am Iceland time into a dreary yet magical world. Daylight was just starting to break as we picked up our tiny little manual rental car. A shiny red Chevy Spark that was appropriate for maybe someone of my height (5’3) but not my husband’s 6’2 self. We managed to pack ourselves & gear in the little beast for our 5-day adventure!
I think next time we’ll upgrade our car too, but this little baby managed to do the trick for our few days.
Car tip: Something we take for granted in the US is the use of our debit cards for any purchase from a few cents to as much as you can spend in your bank account. European counties have had the chip and pin long before it was rolled out here. We didn’t realize this before our trip. Enter in the exhausting ritual of buying a preloaded gas station ‘gift card’ for the amount of gas we may need to purchase in our rental. Another car tip: Stop for gas when you’re below a half tank, just in case.
Our first stop was of course the Blue Lagoon, what better way to kick off a vacation than a spa day. I had done a little research on what to expect at the bathhouse. I knew I had to shower naked making careful care to wash my hair of any products. What I did not do is share this knowledge with my husband. (oops!)
Sightseeing tip: I would say that lounging in the Blue Lagoon is a one and done experience. It’s warm and milky blue. That was most of the appeal, especially to a former farm girl from rural Pennsylvania. For me, it was a bit over priced (99 Euro/per person in the shoulder season) for only spending about 30 minutes in the water and a total of about 70 at the location. You are welcome to spend the whole day with your entrance ticket, but I think maybe 2 hours total is more than enough to allot for your visit.
Blue Lagoon. It seemed like a place out of a dream!
Milky blue waters all around the soaking lagoon.
I get a huge rush of adrenaline when I’m traveling. I could probably go for 48 hours straight until I have the need for sleep. My husband is not that kind of traveler. He hits the wall about 20 hours in. As he was the driver for this trip, I needed to keep him happy. Before we made our way to our hotel in Reykjavik, we did a drive along the southwestern coast where I got my first taste of the amazing countryside.
Hotel tip: If you are looking for a hotel with free parking, a great starting location for sightseeing tours and within walking distance to ALL of Reykjavik – Radisson Blu is it. I paid $300 total US Dollars for 5 days with free wifi and late check out. The bar in the lobby is also pretty well stocked with Icelandic beers.
Hekla @ Radisson Blu (If you see Hekla tip her well, she’s an awesome chick!)
Food tip: It was a vacation so we didn’t think to set an alarm to wake up at a certain time after a nap, and we ended up sleeping through dinnertime. If you think Reykjavik would be one of those cities that doesn’t follow the traditional opening and closing times, you would be as wrong –as I was. ☹ Hangry Niks is not a good travel partner. It was close to 9pm as we stumbled upon our salvation. An Icelandic Pho shop called Noodle Station was the only place still open – It’ll have to do. And do it did – It still ranks high up on my Pho experiences. They had a tasty broth with the traditional mix-ins. It really hit the spot after rainy night’s walk through the city.
So, what about the food? Yes, we had the fermented shark and the shot of Black Death as tourists are told to do. We had the hotdog, not great. With being in the Artic, I knew I had to find good fish and chips while I was there, but I also wanted to try the Icelandic versions of some American favorites. While we were out exploring the countryside we didn’t come across too choices. We came across an “American” Burger joint the first day while about an hour outside of Reykjavik. The burger was slightly strange with a slight taste of onions without any onions actually being on the burger. They served it with french fries and ketchup. Something else I forgot since it had been so long since I was in Europe, was how much paprika is in their version of ketchup. It was an off-putting eating experience, but I was determined to not let this ruin my growing love for Iceland. The pizza I had later in the week more than made up for how they interpret American food.
American Pepperoni Pizza. I’m pretty sure it was not really pepperoni, but it was still tasty.
I Found my fish and chips at Icelandic Fish & Chips! Just caught that morning in the sea.
The absolute best thing I ate in Iceland was in the City Center of Reykjavik in front of Hallgrimskirkja – A Belgian waffle with a light Nutella spread. Warm, fresh & delicious!
Warming up with a fresh waffle on a cold rainy day
Joe & the Juice, right in the airport before you leave, grab one – you won’t be sorry! I never knew a blueberry cheesecake muffin could be so pink!
Sightseeing Tip: Iceland is a small island and you will feel like you’re in the middle of the Amazing Race if you’re traveling without a tour group. There is essentially one route around the island that will take you to all of the places you want to see. Ring Road or Route 1 is it. We spent the next few days day tripping to all of the sights in the pictures below. Words don’t do them justice. I lost count after the 20-something waterfall and 30-something rainbow I saw. You may be competing for space on the roadway with tour buses or camper vans, or you may be the only car on the road for miles.
Our Iceland Photo Tour
Small list of some of the places we went:
- Golden Circle
- Kerid Crater
- Pingvellir National Park
- Jökulsárlón – glacier lagoon
- Snæfellsjökull National Park
- City Center of Reykjavik
Kreid is pretty awesome!
The hike to the top was pretty intense. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it.
Khalid & I took a selfie. Traveling to Iceland really ages you. ☺
No, sorry Richard isn’t here…
This sucker was really on tight.
Oh and the BEER… The sweet finding of a Mikkeller & Friends on the third story of a brownstone building on our last night in Reykjavik was just the right nightcap to our trip. Just remember, alcohol in Iceland is expensive compared to what you may be used to in the states. As a craft & sour beer drinker, I didn’t find it too extravagantly priced. For example, a 4 oz. pour from Mikkeller set me back about $9, but it was also a beer that I may never find back home.
We had a few more hard to find brews and then made our way to the newest place in town for a local favorite – Micro Bar.
We paid our bar tab damage and started to wander back to our hotel. That’s when it happened… THE SKY STARTED DANCING!
I should mention here that we were in Iceland for the very beginning of Northern Light /Aurora Borealis viewing season. The weather had been so finicky our entire trip with a glimpse of sun in-between rain showers and snow squalls that we had given up hope of any dancing light shows.
But there she was dancing in the sky above us. It was just another beautiful and breathtaking moment in a country chocked full of them. I may have let all of Iceland know we were watching them too. Imagine the story of Paul Revere and his midnight ride, except it was 2 very tipsy American fools cooing about the light show above us. I may have tripped over a curb or two as my head was completely focused on the sky for our quarter of a mile walk. I wanted to watch every second of it!
It doesn’t photograph well in the city light pollution but it was a few brilliant shades of green and purple. I verified our sighting the next morning with every person at breakfast. I may have made a few others jealous as they said they had been there for about 2 weeks and are still waiting for the show.
It was the perfect ending to a great vacation in the Artic.
Oh, wait. I almost forgot. What would a wandering lush trip be without a stop at a brewery?
I picked up an interesting beer a few weeks before our trip to Iceland by ÖLVISHOLT BRUGGHÚS. It was their amazing Lava, a Smoked Imperial Stout clocking in at 9.4% ABV. I wanted to know more about them and their brewing process in Iceland. I began corresponding with them through email asking about coming to do a brewery tour and I also wanted to bring them some of my favorites from the states. I am all about sharing the beer love, especially when it comes to sours.
We put the address in our GPS and headed off with our 2 bottles of PizzaBoy to share with our new brewer friends. We traveled the ring road until the paved road turned to gravel and the gravel turned into a path to a farm. Surely, I had the wrong place. This couldn’t be where these professionally labeled bottles and delicious beer had come from.
I walked around the farm looking for a door to knock on or a bell to ring. Nothing to be found and just as we were about to call it a hoax, I got a whiff of the sweet smell of beer being made. I must have looked like a bloodhound on a mission as I followed the scent around back.
Turns out I had been emailing directly with the brewer, Elvar. This old dairy farm turned brewery in the countryside of Iceland is just a 2 man operation with the help of a third person when it’s bottling day. I was very impressed with the way they had repurposed an old barn and turned it into a stainless steel heaven for brewing.
After a bit of Englishlandic conversation, he told us they were brewing Mori. The story behind the Mori Beer is a bit haunting. It’s said to be a tribute to a lost soul. 200 years ago a great volcanic eruption occurred in central Iceland. After the volcano erupted, a poisonous mist killed 75 percent of livestock and 20 percent of the population. At this time a young boy who had escaped the eruption came to a farm near Ölvisholt and requested the farmer to stay for the night as it was in the middle of winter and nowhere to go. The farmer said no and shut the door, the boy died that night of cold and starvation. The boy started haunting the farmer and all his descendants to this very day.
He gave us a few pours of their signature Lava straight from a bottle they had labled not more than a week before. Maybe it’s mind trick but I think it tasted fresher than the bottle I had in the states. After sampling a few more including:
All of the bottles they have brewed sit above their hop cabinets.
Caught a selfie with the bottles and my Pizzaboy gifts to them.
Elvar graciously sent us on our way with 2 bottles of brewery fresh Lava & Skadi (which can’t be found outside of Iceland or Norway)
What a beautiful spot for a brewery. The active volcano Hekla is visible from the brew house door and occasionally, eruptions are visible from the Ölvisholt farm. Elvar said the bottle label on Lava resembles the view from the brew house door when an eruption occurs. I bet that would be a sight to see.
With our time almost up in Iceland, It was time to make our way back to the airport. I can’t wait until we can return to the land of Fire and Ice. Until then… Skal!