Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Discovering the Land of Fire & Ice: My trip to Iceland


What do you do when your girlfriend says, “We should go visit Iceland”? You go visit Iceland of course! And that’s exactly what we did.


After finding a fantastic deal on a trip to Iceland through Fleetway Travel, we purchased some warm socks, our electric converter, packed our bags, grabbed our passports, left our husbands at home and headed off to the Land of Fire & Ice.



My travel buddy and I jumped in our car and drove to Los Angeles for the first leg of our journey. We left Los Angeles at 9:50pm and after a quick nine hours thanks to our introduction to an Icelandic birch liqueur called BJÖRK we arrived in Reykjavik at 1:30 in the afternoon.

Not wanting to miss a minute of adventure, we checked in to our hotel and then hopped in a taxi to the Bryggjan Brugghús for a Beer and food tasting. We had so much fun meeting fellow tourists from the U.S. and Canada. We enjoyed the crafted local beer, the seafood and other delicacies while listening to fellow travelers share their experiences of Iceland. Even the taxi ride proved to be helpful as we asked our driver for his suggestions on what to see and do in Iceland. Most Icelanders speak English, especially in Reykjavik.


The next morning we were picked up at our hotel for the Southern Coasts and Waterfalls tour. It was a long 10-hour tour, but driving through the gorgeous Iceland scenery from a comfortable motor coach was not too much of a hardship. It was a bright sunny day and our first stop was the stunning Skogafoss waterfall. With the sun out we were treated to the most beautiful rainbow from the waterfall’s mist.


From there we headed through some picturesque pasture lands dotted with the iconic Icelandic horses until we arrived at the southern coastal town of Vik. Although we came too late to see them, the southern beaches are home to a great number of puffins, but most head south by the end of August so our only puffin sightings were the fuzzy stuffed variety found in the gift shops.


After grabbing a bite to eat in Vik we headed over to Reynisfjara black beach. The black sand was a beautiful backdrop to the tall basalt columns known as the ‘organ pipes’ that rose high into the air.



Out in the water stood the Reynisdrangar rock formations. Our tour guide shared the Icelandic story of how the rocks formed when trolls attempted to drag three ships onto the shore.


Back on the bus, our next stop was a visit to the Sólheimajökull glacier. After a short hike we arrived at the glacier, while other tours with ice hiking equipment ventured further onto the glacier. The stunning blue ice peered out of the bottom, and it was easy to see why the producers from “Game of Thrones” chose this as one of their filming locations.


Back on the bus again, we stopped for a quick view of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, whose 2010 eruption shut down air traffic over Europe for several days. Our guide explained that the picturesque field and farmhouse we were looking at had been completely rebuilt after the eruption. 


Eruptions and Earthquakes are normal events to Icelanders; it is all part of living on a geologically active island.

We ended our day with a visit to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and another spectacular rainbow. This famous waterfall is over 200 feet tall and if you don’t mind getting a bit wet you can hike all the way behind the falls for an incredible view.

As the tour bus headed back to Reykjavik, we drove past stunning lava fields and watched as steam poured out of natural vents, reminding us all of the power just beneath the surface. Our first full day in Iceland and it was very clear why this fabulous country is know as the land of fire and ice – volcanos, glaciers, waterfall and so much more.


On Day 2 we decided on the highly popular Golden Circle tour. Getting back on the bus for a full day ride, but heading east toward the center of the island this time. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, which is home to the ancient Icelandic parliament known as Althing. Our guide explained how this was the oldest and longest continuing parliament in the world, dating back to the tenth century. The park is also home to a natural rift valley caused by the separation of two tectonic plates.


Back on the bus, we headed to Gullfoss Waterfall. This spectacular 2-tiered waterfall was stunning to look at. The Icelandic weather gods were with us once again, and on a bright sunny day we were treated to even more stunning rainbows created by the mist and spray from the waterfalls. With viewpoints above and right next to the falls, it is easy to see why these iconic falls are such a popular destination with tourists. My travel buddy and I decided to grab a bite to eat at the gift shop/restaurant and we treated ourselves to some Icelandic lamb soup that was delicious. During the ride up to Gullfoss our tour guide shared some of the stories of the Icelandic troll traditions. The gift shop was full of fabulous items include real Icelandic wool sweaters and I splurged on a gorgeous handmade troll doll for my grandson.


The third and final stop of the Golden Circle was a visit to the Geysir Strokkur geothermal area.


Strokkur is one of Iceland's most famous geysers, erupting once every 6–10 minutes, and it is surrounded by dozens of smaller geysers that bubble and shoot out steam, creating an other worldly landscape.


After arriving back at our hotel we had only a few short hours to eat and then get back on another tour bus to go in search of the infamous ‘Northern Lights’. On everyone’s bucket list, Iceland is a great place to see Northern Lights and we were hopeful that we could add this to our list of accomplishments. After taking a tour bus about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik to get away from any city lights we literally stood in an open field staring up at the sky waiting and hoping. When I got too cold to continue, we visited a small snack bar area set up in a local farmhouse and enjoyed some hot chocolate to warm up. After two hours our guides gave the signal to get back on the bus, with the hope of finding success elsewhere. Seeing Northern Lights can be elusive. Driving back toward Reykjavik our tour guide asked the bus to pull over and by that time only some of the brave souls decided to get off the bus. Looking up in the sky I could see a swirl of white-gray that looked somewhat like a cloud. Others on the tour who had sophisticated cameras took photos that revealed a light green tint to the swirl, but to the naked eye the green was difficult, if not impossible to discern.

Speaking with the tour guides they assured us that the lights do come out, and are quite vivid at times, but apparently the lights were not going to cooperate for us that night. Because we were unable to get a good view of the lights, the tour company offered us a credit to come back another night free of charge, although sadly it rained the next night so we were not able to see the lights. Offering an addition tour for those who don't get to see the lights the first time is a standard practice in Iceland, and it shows how thoughtful the Icelanders are to their tourist visitors.


The next day I took a leisurely morning to rest while my travel buddy fulfilled one of her bucket list items; horseback riding with Icelandic horses. She woke early and headed out for a two-hour ride. Icelandic horses are very special, there isn’t any cross breeding so they retain several unique traits, including their small size and having a special gate called a Tölt, which is similar to the running walk of a Tennessee Walking Horse. These beautiful horses are known for their sure-footedness across rough terrain. She returned to the hotel positively glowing from her ride.


That afternoon we visited the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. Located in a lava field in Grindavík just east of Reykjavik. This stunning facility is one of the most visited places in Iceland. With average water temperatures of 100 degrees F (38 C) the natural silica gives the water a stunning blue color that is breathtaking. After changing and a required shower before getting into the water, we braved the cold for the few short moments before entering the water. Once in the water you can swim up to the bar for a drink or swim over to the area where they are giving out silica masks. For me, the Blue Lagoon was my favorite activity of the whole trip. We spent hours luxuriating in the warm water and meeting fellow tourist from all over Europe. We spent some time chatting with a lovely young woman from Norway and then some hilarious twenty-year olds from the U.K. who had popped over to Iceland for a quick get-a-way. When we had stayed long enough we finally dragged ourselves out of the water, dressed and then dined in the spectacular Lava Restaurant where we splurged on a sumptuous meal. It was a bit on the pricey side, but I can honestly say I have never had better Lobster Bisque in my whole life.


One small hiccup in our plans came when we went to leave and realized we had missed our last available tour bus; they are scheduled hourly through the day so travelers can enjoy flexibility while at the Lagoon. Fortunately we were able to avoid a very pricey cab ride because a different tour company was willing to bring us back to the city, once again showing how thoughtful the Icelanders are to the tourists .


On our final day of the tour I spent the morning on a local tour of the sights around Reykjavik in a small van. The weather was cold, rainy and windy which I was told is typical for that time of year. We circled the city stopping at so many of the incredible sights. We visited the Perlan Museum with fabulous views of the whole city from its upper observation deck.


In the middle of town we visited the Alpingishusio, the Icelandic Parliament building built in the 18th Century.


Across from Parliament is the Statue of ingibjörg Bjarnason, the first woman to become a member of the Icelandic Parliament.


Next we travelled along the shoreline to view the iconic Sun Voyager Statue sculpted by Jón Gunnar Árnason.


We stopped briefly at the Harpa Concert hall, a beautiful new building with a stunning glass façade. The tour guide explained that the design of the hall was based on the basalt landscape of Iceland.


No tour of Reykjavik would be complete with a stop at the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church. This massive concrete structure at over 244 feet high is the tallest building in Iceland. In front of the Church is a statue of Leif Eriksson (or Leifur Eiríksson as Icelanders would say) to honor the first European who discovered America.


We were unable to go inside the church because there were funeral services being held that day, but for an admission fee visitors can climb up to the top of the tower for a spectacular view.


Although our guide told us all about it, I did NOT make a visit to the Iceland Phallological Museum. Reykjavik is home to world’s largest display of penises and penile parts. Even our tour guide seemed a bit embarrassed about the museum but shared that it is very popular with many of the tourists.

That evening we made our way to the airport for our long flight back to Los Angeles. It was a great deal to pack into just a few days, but it was so worth it. Iceland is a unique country, with friendly people and incredible scenery. If you ever have the opportunity to go visit, do it – I promise you will be glad you did.
I still have friends who ask, “Why Iceland?” and my answer is always “because it’s ICELAND!” I mean who wouldn’t want to visit Iceland.

For more information about Iceland check out this great blog post 

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for making me want to visit Iceland. Great post!

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    1. You should go visit - its amazing! Thanks for stopping by my blog

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  2. Great pictures, Laurie! I can see that I need to visit Iceland too.

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    1. Thanks - you should visit, I think you would love it.

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  3. You nailed it, and you are the best travel buddy anyone could have!! I'm so thrilled we went, and I learned so much from reading your blog. You were listening to our guides all the time I was taking bad photos, lol. Cheers!!!

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    1. You are the best travel buddy ever and a few of these are your photos :) I can't wait until our next adventure.

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  4. I'm taking my wife for a 9-day trip to Iceland in mid-March, cannot wait! I sure hope the weather will cooperate, as I have many things planned... thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    1. How exciting - have fun on your trip, rain or shine Iceland is amazing!

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