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48 Hours In Iceland

It wasn’t on my bucket list. It wasn’t a lifelong dream of mine to visit this place. I just knew I wanted to go somewhere. After all, with my 30th birthday fast approaching (next July–mark your calendars), I still had a few more countries to knock off to reach my goal of #30by30, so now was not the time to be missing any opportunities. I had been booked to attend a client conference in London, and with so many countries to explore nearby, it was really just a matter of selecting one. I had never considered Iceland at all, but as we compared flight routings, costs, and all those details, it seemed as though we would end up flying through the Keflavik airport either way, so, we figured, why not save ourselves any extra legs and just stay there.

Once we made it public that we were going to Iceland, we were shocked and amazed as comments rolled in at how many people we knew had already been. And here we thought we were so original. The good news was, however, that they ALL had good things to say. Literally everyone. That had to be a good sign. My only concern was the cold. I have been trying to escape the cold… moving away from the hurts-to-breathe, hair-freezing winters of Edmonton, to the chinooks of Calgary and now finally, to Vancouver, where it only snows two days a year. I spend excessive amounts of time in Mexico in the winter, and squeeze in sunny layovers whenever possible. So I found myself questioning my own judgement as I packed a tuque and pair of boots into my suitcase. Iceland? Even just the name of it gave me shivers.

Once we made it public that we were going to Iceland, we were shocked and amazed as comments rolled in at how many people we knew had already been. And here we thought we were so original. The good news was, however, that they ALL had good things to say. Literally everyone. That had to be a good sign. My only concern was the cold. I have been trying to escape the cold… moving away from the hurts-to-breathe, hair-freezing winters of Edmonton, to the chinooks of Calgary and now finally, to Vancouver, where it only snows two days a year. I spend excessive amounts of time in Mexico in the winter, and squeeze in sunny layovers whenever possible. So I found myself questioning my own judgement as I packed a tuque and pair of boots into my suitcase. Iceland? Even just the name of it gave me shivers.

But let me just spoil the ending for you right now and tell you, it was so worth it. Iceland was mesmerizing. It sort of reminds you of Canada. Sort of reminds you of the Netherlands. But it’s neither. It’s totally unique. And besides, my new tuque looked rather cute (if I do say so myself).

Thursday morning, we arrived into KEF around 0700. The flight was about seven hours long and despite our best set intentions to get some rest, we instead drank wine and watched movies the entire flight over. Fail. That meant that upon our arrival, our first order of business was to sleep. Which was actually okay because even as it approached 0800, as we drove up to our hotel in our little rental car, the sun was still nowhere to be found–so who wants to explore in the dark anyway?!

With only 48 hours there, we didn’t want to be wasteful with our time, so we cut our nap short at around noon. It was time to check this place out. Excited, and thirsty for inspiration, we pushed back the curtains of our hotel room window. The hotel was called Room With A View, but alas, all we saw was a back alley and building construction. The room itself was comfortable enough, and the staff were friendly (and I will be forever grateful to them for letting us check in early) but don’t be fooled by the misleading hotel name… there was no view to be found.

We had set aside our first day (or half day now I suppose) to just explore freely. We researched tour after tour and noted all the major attractions and points of interest they all seemed to hit, but we’re not really tour people (mostly because we’re way too efficient/impatient to spend hours looking at a single monument that doesn’t move or change, while making small talk with strangers and taking 800 pictures with our iPads, cases flapping in the wind… and also, we prefer our own music) so we opted for a self-guided version. We found a very helpful blog from a fellow traveler who did the same to help direct us.

First stop (after the nearest koffe shop of course, where I had my first of three Swiss Moka’s of the short trip… new fave) was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced thing-vellir). It was too cold to stare at for too long, but the view was outstanding. The ground was really just a bed of lava formed into rocks, with just a thin layer of vegetation growing on top of it, and the air smelled of sulphur. We were in volcano country.


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We popped into the gift shop (the first of probably 7 we had the opportunity of visiting during our short stay there), mostly to warm up, and politely browsed around. The postcards were stunning, the wooly items were cozy and expensive but it was the music playing that really caught our attention. Iceland is very famous for it’s musicians. Sigur Ros and Bjork are both well-known names that came from Iceland. The album that was playing in the store was on sale, and we were tempted to buy it but the $35 price tag and that fact that neither of us even have CD drives in our computers anymore, deterred us.

Here’s the musician we heard. I recommend you play it in the background while you finish reading so you really feel like you were there. Get down with the ambiance, people.


Fun fact (courtesy of the inflight entertainment on Icelandair): In 2014, Icelandic bands played about 1200 gigs abroad. That’s about 3.2 Icelandic gigs per day.

Now, about the money. The conversion is actually pretty easy, but be sure you’ve got it right. Do NOT confuse 5000 Icelandic $ for 5$ or you’ll realize too late you’ve just bought your entire family handmade wool slippers and spent hundreds of dollars to do so. Remove two zeros. Not three. Big difference. Write that down. And always double check your math before handing over your credit card.

Our next two stops were about another 45 minutes away by car and very close together. The Geyser was first, which is basically a series of holes in the ground where the water pools and gets so hot that it explodes straight up into the air in one impressive show. We strolled through the area, with absolutely no knowledge of how often these explosions happen or what to expect, taking selfies, pressed into each other, in an attempt to stay warm and of course, capture the beautiful fall colours all around us. On our 7th-ish selfie attempt… BAM! We saw the water shoot up about 30 feet right in front of us. Scrambling to get a snap of the impressive but fading stream of hot water, we didn’t notice in time that the camera was still flipped, and so we captured the most incredible and hilarious candid of ourselves with our most excitable expressions on. Oh, the hilarity.

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(No blush required when visiting Iceland. Rosy cheeks are free here.)

The Gullfoss (Golden Falls) was next up. It’s actually one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, and it was super cool to see. It was, however, absolutely freezing by that time (well to me, anyway, because I don’t own a parka anymore, so I dressed like a Vancouverite prepared for a fall-ish day). We stood, shivering at the top of the lookout, debating if we wanted to go down to the edge to get closer. “It’s sort of once and a lifetime… getting that close.” “It’s so fucking cold, and I might die.” After some deliberation, we decided we would run down and back. This ingenious idea would ensure we were efficient and back to the car relatively quickly while getting in some exercise and raising our heart rates, and in turn, our body temperatures.

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I am pleased to announce, we didn’t die. Our brilliant plan did in fact keep our body temperatures at a survivable rate and we made it back to the car with no incident or injury other than bright red noses.

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It was about 1630 at this point in the day and the drive back was and hour and a half, so we decided this was as far as we would make it today. About half way home, enjoying the crap out of our seat warmers, we passed a sign that we took to mean “swimming pool”. We had heard of the geothermal spas that littered the countryside and with heat on the brain, we took a hard left down the road towards the pool. For 35$ each, we had access to four pools of different temperatures, saunas and steam rooms and a bar (which served oaken Chardonnay, thank you very much) all of which sat right on the edge of a quiet lake. Be warned: Do not cannonball into this lake. Even if you’re like James, and feel like rules are made to be broken (there is a warning sign that says “no jumping in”), the water will NOT be cold and refreshing. Thankfully, my rebellious boyfriend did take a moment to dip a cautious toe into the water to realize it was at nearly boiling temperature. I cannot help but giggle when I imagine what would have happened if he had of just gone for it. I realize that makes me a bad person… but come on. Ouch.

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On the plane ride over, we had made fast friends with the flight attendant (she served the wine… so naturally, we really like her) and she had kindly taken some time to scribble down some personal recommendations for us to check out during our visit. She insisted that we must visit her favourite restaurant to eat the puffin and the whale. It sounded exotic, and we were inclined to take the word of a local, so we walked over that way once we were back in town from our day of touring around. The place was quiet and very quaint and about half-filled with local couples over the age of 65. Perrrrfect. We ordered the over-priced smoked puffin and whale steak to share, as recommended and sipped on some wine in silence (there wasn’t even any music playing). The food was… okay. I’m certainly not in a rush to get my puffin on again anytime soon, but it was fine. But for 130$… eeesh.

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Disclaimer: We did get a brief lecture from an American girl the next evening about how locals don’t eat whale or puffin and are very against it. To be honest, I didn’t look into this beforehand or after, so might be worth finding out more about if you are interested in trying these meats when visiting. 

The rest of the evening we spilled in and out of the cocktail bars we could find down the main road until finally, it was closing time and we had to head back to the hotel (with no view). It was probably wise the bars didn’t stay open much past midnight on Thursdays, because we had to get up early-ish to make our spa reservations at Blue Lagoon. Perfect example of the universe setting us up for success. But then, we opened a bottle of wine at home and called my sister on FaceTime for a long-winded chat.

Facepalm.

Day 2 was slightly tainted by our accrued exhaustion and mild hangovers, but it was still ridiculously awesome. We got to Blue Lagoon Spa around 0930–it was about a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik. We had opted for the premier package, for 65 euro a piece, because life without robes is just a life not worth living. That place is a well oiled machine. Make sure you book massages ahead of time–they book up fast. Contacting them a week out, we could only be squeezed in for 30-minute in-water massages (I know, poor us). There is a tonne of information on the Blue Lagoon Spa, so I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that it’s fabulous and hilarious all at the same time. Tourists from far and wide (locals don’t hang out here) float their days away, with their faces coated in rejuvenating white clay, sipping $15 cocktails from the swim-up bar. The in-water massages are SO WEIRD, but amazing. The broad-shouldered, Icelandic woman (called Elsa… no joke) has you shimmy onto a yoga mat with a pillow, and lay back half-submerged in water, draped in a warm wet towel while they reach under you, massaging you and floating you around the pool. It’s super strange and yet wildly relaxing.

On our last night, we decided to be responsible, and keep it relatively low key. We found a basement wine bar that had live music on nightly. Heaven. Two seats at the bar top and two glasses of Italian red and we were set. The bar was full to the brim with local patrons, including a real live Viking. The Viking was dressed in wool clothing, head to toe, heavy knit sweaters with tassels and laced up, worn down boots. His curly hair was pulled back in a messy attempt at/excuse for a man bun and he sat, drinking cup after cup of plain water, headphones in, listening to his own music, alone at a table of four, except for his bag full of apples (two of which had been already consumed to their core). The wine was average, but the music and the Viking set the scene. We enjoyed a few glasses before turning in early in an effort to ensure we were well rested prior to arriving into England the next day.

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(Jet lag had other plans for me and kept me up, staring at the ceiling for six straight hours before the alarm went off to head for our flight. FML.)

Our 48 hours in Iceland was short and sweet and a little chilly… but it gave us an oh so memorable taste of what the country has to offer. Next time, we’re spending at least week and hitting the glaciers! (Must remember to buy a parka prior to this trip.)

Country #26: Complete.

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