Welcome to Iceland
Today I begin by re-writing a post a made yesterday. I had written a lengthy post including every detail of what had happened during our first and second day. I had Katie read it in the car and while she said it was good, which I would expect her to say being my best friend and the nicest person on the planet, a comment she made me stop and think. She said it’s funny you only got through our flights and how expensive the alcohol is here. And she was right. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I were reading this, I would not really be interested in every detail of every day. I would want to know what we did, any tips or lessons learned we may have, and any funny stories or memorable anecdotes from along the way. I would also have days where I would likely skip to just looking at the pictures, since visuals always tell the story better anyways. Additionally, as the writer, I realized it took me a two-hour car ride to compose my post for those first two days, and being way more interested in actually living this adventure than writing about it, I thought changing my format might be good for both of us. So here we go……
What We Did
Day 1 and 2 (7/24/16 – 7/25/16): First we flew from Cincinnati to Baltimore, where we met up with my aunt Kathy and tasted wine at the Black Ankle Winery and devoured our last American meals, consisting of soup, hamburgers, and philly cheesesteaks. Then we flew from Baltimore to Reykjavik, Iceland. Once we arrived and collected our bags, we explored the Blue Lagoon. Once we were sufficiently relaxed, we took a bus and found our apartment and rental car, bought supplies for the road trip, and got a drink at the Big Lebowski Bar in downtown Reykjavik.
Day 3 (7/26/16): We drove from Reykjavik to Selfoss and snorkeled in 36-degree water in between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Then we drove to Seljalandsfoss waterfall and explored the three waterfalls there. Next, we drove to the Skogafoss waterfall, climbed to the top, and laid on the hillside. From there, we traveled to Vik and saw the black sand beaches and awesome rock formations in the ocean. Finally, we back-tracked to a farmhouse Airbnb by the first waterfall and pet Icelandic horses.
Day 4 (7/27/16): Today we drove to Skaftafell National Park and hiked on the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, as part of a tour with Icelandic Glacier Guides. Next, we drove to glacier lagoon and did a boat ride amongst the icebergs that had separated from the glacier tongue, before we drove to Jokulsarlon and walked along the beach playing with the icebergs that had washed up on shore. To round out the day, we drove the windy cliff laden roads through the fjords to Stodvarfjordur to stay for the night. That evening, we walked the entire length of town and back in fifteen minutes.
Things We Learned
- The silicon mud masks at the Blue Lagoon burn if they get in your eyes. Be aware…
- Buy ALL your alcohol at the duty free shop at the airport. Iceland has a 100% tax on all alcohol bought in the country. Let me say that again…there is a 100% tax on alcohol. That means you will pay twice as much as the retail price at the store. We, unfortunately, were unaware of this literally sobering fact and ended up spending $42 on a bottle of vodka that was the equivalent of Popov.
- Bring a credit or debit card with chip and pin. This is the only type of card we could use at the gas station. It took us several tries to figure out how to get gas the first time. This is at least true for paying at the pump. If you go inside, when there is an inside, you may be able to use a different type of card, like a regular chip and signature. Keep in mind though that you will need to be able to pay at the pump at night.
- Wear layers. Lots of them. I was shocked at the number of times I went back and forth between wearing just a t-shirt to wearing several jackets and a ear cover in the same day. The sun can be warm and you are constantly walking around and climbing things, but the wind is also extremely cold and can be super intense.
- Venmo is clutch! When traveling with friends, Venmo makes it super convenient to share expenses like gas, groceries, and lodging, when it is difficult to do so. Seriously, look into it.
- Both our tours were incredible and I would recommend them both. However, if you are going to do one, go with the glacier tour by Icelandic Mountain guides. Every part of that tour was incredible, even though we could have done a more intense hike on the glacier. Ours was more of a pleasant stroll. Do not try and count all the waterfalls you see on the ring road. There are WAY too many.
- When visiting the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the main tourist draw isn’t the big one you can walk behind. And, while it is a definite must-do while there, it was pretty crowded. We took the time to walk further down the path away from the main waterfall and stumbled upon a third waterfall that required you to walk on river rocks back into a cave to get to. At one point we found ourselves standing in the cave with this beautiful waterfall completely alone. I could not have imagined seeing something so amazing and not having to wait in line for it. Maybe that’s just the American in me, but it was truly special moment.
- While staying at the farmhouse, we got to pet some of the local Icelandic horses. The group we saw included a very friendly chestnut, his skittish black bestie, and two bays who wandered over to make sure the others weren’t gaining access to any treats that they themselves might enjoy. They were sorely disappointed at the grass we were offering considering they were standing in a field of the same stuff and eventually decided we were not worth their time. Katie did, however make some headway with the black one when she took a selfie with it, and he finally allowed her to pet him. I guess he craved fame above all.
- During our tour of the glacier lagoon, we were all sitting on the edges on a Zodiak RIB (rigid inflatable boat – see pics). First, I have to tell you they informed us that we may get splashed a little on the tour, so we opted to wear these enormous, puffy, full body red suits meant to protect you from the wind and water and cold that were offered to us. Anyways, while sitting on the edge of the boat on the way back from looking at the glacier tongue, we hit some rougher water because of the wind. Not one but at least three times, water washed over the side of the boat that Katie and I were sitting on and completely soaked us. Specifically, it soaked our butts. There was so much water in fact it soaked right through our big puffy suits. So, Katie and I were forced to spend some time squatting in the middle of the boat, followed by a hike back to the car looking like we had completely peed our pants. Which was unfortunately documented by Adam. Sexy…