And then we were off
In April of last year (2016), I went on a graduation trip to Iceland with a good friend from college. We bought a Groupon that included the flights and three nights stay in Reykjavik. The catch? The flights were out of Boston.
But nbd. We just tacked on a few more days in Boston and made a trip out of it.
DAY ONE: Exploring Reykjavik
Our flight from Boston was in the evening, and we ended up landing in Keflavik airport bright and early in the morning. The airport is pretty small and was quiet in the morning, so it was a breeze getting through. From there, we took a bus to our hotel.
Can I just say that Iceland is the most tourist friendly place ever? It’s like Disneyland. Everything is perfectly organized so that it’ll always be super convenient for even the most clueless tourists to get around.
Example A is the bus from the airport. In most cities you would have to take a cab or do several public transportation transfers in order to be where you need to be. Not here! Here, we simply boarded one of the buses headed to Reykjavik, told the bus driver which hotel we’re staying at, and were dropped off right at the door. Amazing! Such a blessing for two tired travelers.
We checked in at the hotel and were told that we could grab breakfast in the lobby dining area. Another pleasant surprise. So we dropped off our stuff in our room and returned to the dining area for food. Throughout our stay, we got used to being really full from these breakfasts!
We stayed at Reykjavik Lights Hotel, a Nordic style concept design hotel. The theme of the hotel is the ever changing sunlight over Iceland throughout a year. Each room is decorated with a color according to the ancient Icelandic calendar. I was low key obsessed with the interior design of the hotel.
Like everything else designed in Scandinavia, the room was simple, clean and comfortable. The windows made for plenty of natural light, and there was a small desk area and seating area (both of which got taken over by our clothes and other stuff as soon as we unpacked…).
After breakfast, we showered and took a nap before bundling up and heading out to explore the city.
The city center was about a 20 minute walk away. We decided we would start at the top: checking out the view from Hallgrimskirkja. The elegantly modern Expressionist church rises above the colorful roofs in the quaint city. In front of the church is a statue of Leif Erikson, the Icelandic explorer who “discovered” America long before Columbus.
From the top, you can see the whole city: from the nearby ocean on one side to the distant mountains on the other.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the town and appreciating the iconic aesthetic. We stopped by Reykjavik Roasters to warm up with some coffee. It was a pricey but worth it. The café feels really homey, with a big coffee roaster on one side, a record player on another, and mismatched chairs and sofas filled with people working or reading or chatting.
After grabbing dinner at a somewhat questionable “Noodle Station” (they served a Thai noodle soup that I have never encountered before…tasted sweet and herbal), we stopped by a grocery store to pick up snacks.
It’s always fun to grocery shop when traveling, especially when you can’t read the language. It’s a guessing game looking at pictures and touching things, trying to figure out what things are and hoping that it's what you think it is. For example, I thought I was buying a pack of chocolate candy when in fact I bought caramel licorice (not the best surprise for someone who hates licorice!).
DAY TWO: Golden Circle
The next day, we booked a Golden Circle tour. The concierge at the hotel helped us call the tour company and schedule a pick up. Again - SO TOURIST FRIENDLY. A small van came in the morning to pick us (and a few other tourists) up from the hotel and drive us over to the central bus station. There, we boarded a bigger tour bus for the actual tour.
This was basically a full day trip, with several stops around the Golden Circle. Our tour guide was an older Icelandic man with an accent that made me feel like I was in How To Train Your Dragon.
Our first stop was Þingvellir and Snorrabud, the place where the European and North American tectonic plates meet, and the site of the first Viking parliament. The park is most known for the geology of the volcanic rocks. But my favorite was the view of the lake and the perfect reflection of the snowy mountains in the distance. And the picture-perfect row of white houses in the middle of the landscape.
Next, we saw Gullfoss waterfall, of Instagram fame (kidding, but not really). Our tour guide warned us that the weather in Iceland changes by the hour. While we were in Þingvellir, it didn’t feel very cold. But as soon as we reached Gullfoss, it was freezing and super windy (read: hurt to breathe).
Nevertheless, we braved our way down the snowy path to the waterfall. Unlike other famous waterfalls like Niagra Falls, you can’t really see Gullfoss from a distance. You hear it. And then you see the rushing water. But it’s not until you’re practically on the edge that you see where it plunges.
It’s beautiful in all its snowy glory, but I’d definitely want to come back during the summer and see how it looks in green.
Our next stop was Haukadalur. This area is known for the geysers and geothermal features. I’ll admit the warm steam looked tempting...
Finally, we made a quick stop at Skálholt Church, and then finished off the tour at the Icelandic Horse Park Fákasel where we got to meet some horses. They’re smaller than typical horses, and surprisingly calm and friendly considering all the tourists petting them.
Our tour bus dropped us off at our respective hotels at the end of the tour. We were pretty tired, so we decided to grab dinner at a very questionable Vietnamese restaurant that was next to our hotel rather than walk to the city center. Not sure why we bothered with more questionable Asian food but I guess laziness trumps all.
To be continued...
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