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Adventures In Iceland

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since my last post, and I've been busy running around the world in the mean time. Even as we speak, I really should be packing for my four week trip that I leave for in a few days, but I was so determined to get at least one post in before I left.

Back in November, I headed to Reykjavik, Iceland for a five day trip with one of my sisters. We had found the trip on TravelZoo.com which sent us to Iceland Air to book the trip directly. We ended up spending $675 a person, which included round-trip airfare from Newark, hotel accommodations with daily breakfast, and a Hot Springs, Cool Lights tour.

From Newark, it only took us about four and a half hours to fly into Reykjavik. I booked us on a FlyBus to take us to the hotel as it was the cheapest option. It was super easy-you can't miss the buses as you exit the terminal. You'll see Flybus everywhere-I think they do a majority of the tours in the country. One thing that was annoying but inescapable-you may be picked up in one vehicle, and then transferred to their bus depot to get onto a second and final bus. We had to do this more times than I could count during our trip, and it's just part of life.

Since we landed so early, we ended up grabbing breakfast at the hotel, and then waiting a few hours for a room to open up for us. We stayed at the Raddison Blu Saga Hotel, which was in a great location, and walking distance to everything that we wanted to see in town.

The first night, we had signed up for the Taste of Saga Brewery Tour at Olgerdin Brewery, which happens to be the oldest brewery in Iceland. It probably wasn't my brightest move-I was already jet lagged, and sleep deprived. This "brewery tour" is 98% drinking, 2% actual brewery tour.

  As you can see, we drank. A lot. And it wasn't just beer-we also had some kind of Icelandic homemade moonshine, along with shots of Brennivin which is the official drink of Iceland (side note-it's terrible shit). We did get a quick, 2-3 minute tour of the actual brewery before going back to the bar and drinking some more.

Day 2 brought a very, very hung over Larissa. I can't remember the last time I was that hung over. After sleeping in and forcing down some food, we decided to go exploring since it was really the only other free time that we had during our time there. We ended up walking around town in the rain and sometimes snow, hitting the main attractions.

Of course, I found an old cemetery that I had to wander into that dated back to 1838. When I die, someone bury me here please and thank you.

No trip to Reykjavik is complete without a stop at the world's most famous hot dog stand. Get it with the works, which includes crunchy onions under the hotdog, topped with "mustard", though it's more of a remoulade and not the traditional mustard that you're used to in the states. It was SO good.

The most famous church in Reykjavik-and one of the more unusual looking churches that I've seen: Hallgrimskirkja. The inside was surprisingly sparse, with simple chairs and a massive organ. For a few dollars, you can take an elevator up to the very top for some amazing views of the city.

Photo by Sara Tkaczyk-shot from all four sides of the top of Hallgrimskirkja.
  After doing some shopping, it was a long walk back to the hotel, where it was time to get ready for the included Hot Springs and Cool Lights tour.

This tour takes place at night. The first stop is Laugarvatn Fontana Spa. It was probably a good hour and a half drive after everyone has been picked up and swapped onto the right bus. Upon arrival, we were given a complimentary buffet, and then it was time to hit the hot springs. Fair warning-you need to shower before entering the hot springs, and there's no privacy.

The hot springs were amazing. They have multiple springs with different temperatures which varied from a hot tub to much hotter. For the brave, you can also do an Icelandic polar plunge off of their pier. As you can imagine, it's cold as shit. The hot springs are dotted with volcanic rocks with scattered candles, and it was a really neat experience. Great if you have a horrific back like I do.

After that, we reboarded the bus to go look for Northern Lights. We never found any because of the heavy clouds and that was a huge disappointment since that was a big part of the reason that we went in the first place. We spent hours driving around looking for them (even taking the 55 passenger bus off-road) with no luck. 

Later that night after we went to sleep, Sara happened to wake up, looked out our window, and behold-we had Northern Lights over the city of Reykjavik (which is a rare sight, as you need clear skies and no noise or air pollution to see them, and this is a major city). We snapped a pic from our room, threw our coats and boots on over our pajamas, and ran outside at 3am to see if we could get better pictures. By the time we got downstairs, they were gone. But we still got to see them, and they were very cool.

Day 3 was the day that we were splitting up to do different excursions, with Sara choosing to ride an Icelandic horse around lava fields while I decided to snorkel between the European and North American continents at the Silfra Fissure. 

I've been snorkeling many times, but never like this. For starters, they tell you to wear thermals, which you keep on-no bathing suits for this plunge. After that, you suit up into a "dry" wetsuit.

Drysuit layer

But wait-there's more! After the dry wetsuit layer, then it's a super thick head-to-toe traditional wetsuit. The end result is something out of A Christmas Story-you can't put your arms down, and don't even think about trying to sit because you won't be able to get up.

I have crappy GoPro footage which I haven't pulled yet. The water is absolutely crystal clear. It's so clean that they tell you that if you get water in your snorkel to just drink it. It was amazing-I've never been in such clear water before and it's supposed to be the clearest in the entire world. You can clearly see where the tectonic plate divides, and you go right down the middle of it. The entire thing lasts about 20 minutes. Another downside to the crazy layers that you're wearing is how buoyant it makes you. You can't put your legs down for starters, and you're essentially floating face down the entire time, but without completely submerging your head. Because of this, my head was constantly bobbing in and out of the water, and the footage that I got isn't the greatest. I do need to pull some stills from it and update it at a later time because it was incredible.

That night, I had booked us for dinner downtown at a restaurant called Tapas Barinn, which was recommended by Janine from TravelRunLive.com after her trip. They have a very....unusual tasting menu called the Icelandic Gourmet Feast which we did.

The tasting menu started with Blueberry Brennivin Puffin (yes-puffin!), and also included Icelandic Garlic Lobster Tails, Minke Whale, Icelandic Sea Trout, Grilled Icelandic Lamb, and Blue Ling. I added on Icelandic Foal (horse!). In case you're wondering, the horse tasted like the most tender piece of filet mignon with a hint of a peppery taste. It was really good. Sara abstained from this course since she had just finished riding one.

 Day 4-time to hit the famous Golden Circle! This was an all day adventure that took us all around the country to see the famous landmarks.

Stop one was the Kerio Crater, which we got to just as the sun was coming up. Apparently in the summer, they hold concerts at the bottom of it.


  After that, it was time to see some waterfalls. The first one that we stopped at was the Faxi Waterfall, which was gorgeous.

The next stop was the more famous waterfall-Gullfoss. You can take photos from two locations here-up at the top, and down lower. We split up for this to get pics at both. It was crazy slippery and icy here. I almost ate it more than once.

After that, it was time to head over to Geysir. Fun fact-Iceland gave us "geysers", named after their Geysir. We were able to see them go off a few times which was very cool. There were a bunch of them scattered around the area, with warnings to stay back since the water is scalding hot when it blows.

The last stop of the day was back at Thingvellir National Park-home of the Silfra Fissure where I had gone snorkeling. There, you have the opportunity to take a walk between the two tectonic plates. At the top are some gorgeous photo ops.

For our last day, we checked out of the hotel early to head over to the famous Blue Lagoon, which is a huge, volcanic heated geothermal springs with unusual blue looking water. For this, I booked it directly through their website, and used the optional transportation from the hotel to the lagoon, and then the lagoon to the airport. Upon arrival there's a place to store your luggage for a few dollars. We checked our bags and headed inside. You're each given an electronic wristband, which does everything from lock and unlock your lockers to paying for your drinks. (There is a swim up bar at the lagoon!). You can rent towels and robes for a few dollars, which we did so that it was less to worry about packing and unpacking. After taking a (private!) shower, you can head over to the lagoon!

It was a unique experience. The air temperature was bitter cold (my hair actually froze!), and the water is amazingly hot. You can head over to an area that doles out complimentary silica mud masks which are included in your admission. For additional fees, you can get fancier volcanic masks (which I managed to get for free). The property is gorgeous, and is undergoing an expansion to open a hotel on the property which will be neat when complete. It was raining and very windy since it's wide open, and I lasted for about a half hour before I called it quits after getting water in my eyes with contacts. While Sara stayed out there, I showered and changed and grabbed a bite to eat in their cafeteria. There's also shopping where you can buy a ton of different products (which you can also buy at the airport for slightly cheaper).

If you're taking the bus transportation, budget your time to shower and change and get your luggage back. The bus departs on the exact minute according to the schedule, and doesn't wait for anyone.

If there's anything that you forgot to buy, don't worry-you can quite literally get anything at the airport. The duty free shopping was amazing, and I'm guilty of doing a decent amount more of it.

I'll note one thing about Iceland. It's super cheap to fly there and stay there. Once you're there, be prepared to drop some serious cash. Everything, especially the food, is crazy expensive. Fair warning!

I'll leave you with a few other random pics from the trip. Iceland is a gorgeous country that should be on everyone's bucket list.

Check back soon-I have to finish up South Africa, and recap my Christmas trip to the Bahamas, but all after I get back from my four week epic trip through Asia and Australia!


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