The Greatest Adventure: A Trip to Iceland
Updated: Jan 12
The Trip of a Lifetime
Welcome to the second week of Nordic Month! If you missed last week's post go check it out to see what Nordic Month is all about. This week I'll be telling about the time my friend Miriah and I travelled to Iceland.
In late months of 2018, Miriah and I came to the conclusion we needed to go on an international trip together. It'd been four years since we had seen each other and neither of us had travelled across seas before. After some back and forth on where to travel (New Zealand as our first choice), we ended up both choosing a destination. Miriah with Iceland and I with Ireland. See what shenanigans we got up to while in Ireland!
Over six months of planning, saving, and patiently waiting we finally got to go on a trip of a lifetime!
Like I mentioned, I'd never travelled internationally before, but after weeks and weeks of preparation I managed to fit everything I needed for a 2 week vacation in my backpack. Vaccuum seal bags are life savers!
After a very short plane ride to Seattle and an even shorter overlay (literally had to sprint to my next gate which of course was across the airport because they were doing final calls) I hunkered down for the 7 hour flight to Iceland. I planned to sleep most of the way but of course didn't sleep a wink.
Upon arrival, I managed to meet up with my friend, Miriah, who happened to be on a plane 20 minutes behind me, where we then jumped on a bus to Reykjavík to find our Airbnb.
Of course, the Airbnb wasn’t as amazing has the pictures lead on, but it would do for the week we were in Iceland. We took a quick cat nap, (by this I mean a 3 hour deep sleep) and decided to hit the town! First stop, Hallgrímskirkja, a beautifully designed church where you could see the entire city at the top. Like the North Star, the church was how we managed to find our way back home.
We wandered the streets stopping at small shops and taking in the smells of the cafes and bakeries along the way. You could tell puffins, wool, and ravens were a big hit since they were found at almost every store. Graffiti and painted murals lined most building walls which no one seemed to care about as they strolled nonchalantly down the roads.
We eventually found ourselves at the Sea Voyager, an art installation designed after the first Viking boats, giving homage to the first people who colonized Iceland. It would be apparent over the next week of how important the Viking heritage was to the Icelandic people through folk stories being told.
After a short stop at the local grocery store (I wouldn’t call it that since all shops were limited in their selection of food), we were ready for the upcoming week.
Our days in Iceland always had an early start (not the best for someone who is a night owl) which consisted of us waiting at the bus stop located outside the church.
Our first excursion took us to the Golden Circle. Along the way, Gina, our guide, spoke about the island, how they were trying to preserve the land, and how the first Vikings spent their days. She would point out landmarks we passed describing in great detail the importance.
Right before arriving to our first destination, we were told we had limited time at each point. So, it was crucial for us to make the time allotted count. We arrived at our first stop and quickly found ourselves walking between two tectonic plates. The American plate on the left and the Eurasian plate on the right. Slowly the island was being pulled apart 2 cm each year by these plates. Other fissures could be found across the entirety of the island making it dangerous to walk the mossy grounds. One minute you could be there and the next gone with a snap of your fingers falling 100’s of feet below. So, stay on the path folks!
Our next destination was Geysir. Very similar to those who have seen Old Faithful. Gina explained it would go off every 5 minutes. Sometimes twice in a row, 3 if you were lucky, and only once has someone seen it go off 4 times. Apparently, we were lucky and witnessed it go off 3 times showering us with the sulfuric water.
At this point, the weather had been lovely. In the low 40’s, a high for Iceland. The locals couldn’t believe it. But our next stop showed us what Iceland was really about.
Climbing down 172 steps greeted us with Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall). It took my breath away (figuratively and literally because it was so majestic but also so windy). Trying to hold my phone to take a photo seemed impossible as the winds nearly ripped it out of my hands. Even though we were perched high above, the mist from the falls drenched the group head to toe giving us a true meaning of how cold Iceland could really be.
But... our next destination would help with this problem. Bathing in the thermal hot springs at Fontana warmed us (until you had to get out and meet the cold winds again as you sprinted for the locker rooms). The Icelandic people take hygiene very seriously which meant showering naked with your fellow comrades while making sure you were washed and prepped for the thermal waters. (Side note: Blue Lagoon does not require this of people, but it is a manmade thermal pool with a power plant beside it. Instagram photos are a lie so if you ever decide to go to Iceland go to Fontana where you will be greeted by a lovely lake and mountains.)
At Fontana, we were also shown how the locals bake bread. By simply putting the dough in a metal pan, covering it with Saran Wrap, and burying it about 6 inches below the surface where the thermal heat would bake it within 24 hours. We were able to try some rye bread just pulled from the ground at the beach. It was delicious!
Riding back to Reykjavík, I slowly drifted to sleep (something I NEVER do- a curse for us light sleepers) as Gina told bedtime stories of trolls and Vikings.
Just when you think we were done for the day, we ate dinner and joined our next guide, Kobe, who would be taking us to witness the Northern Lights. We were in the last week of the season for spotting them, but we were lucky, and the skies were clear (something that also hadn’t happened in a while with the weather being so bad leading up to the trip).
Let me tell you, I knew the expectations of the Northern Lights beforehand, but for those who don’t know...what you see in pictures is somewhat of a lie. The colors aren’t as vibrant, but the movement of the lights (whitish clouds with hints of color) is amazing.
We joined up with a girl from Chicago who had a high-quality camera. We made jokes about the show Balto and tried to figure out the best settings on her camera to take amazing photos. With each click we would all awww in excitement with how gorgeous they were.
But Iceland is flat and windy meaning there was nothing shielding us from the icy cold winds (it's the third windiest place on earth). We were out there for hours, and I'd lost all feeling in my hands and feet. My legs felt like sharp pins were stabbing them anytime I would hardly move (moving around was impossible because you couldn’t see where you were plus the rocky moss made it dangerous) I knew it was time to head back to the bus when the winds started to turn warm. Hypothermia was not on the list this vacation.
Getting back to the house, the thermals heated the floor (how houses are heated in Iceland) which warmed our feet. It had been an awesome day and we couldn’t wait for the next!
Compared to the day before this was a much slower relaxed day. We set off in search of the Reykjavík Flea Market, but instead, got lost.
Wandering around without internet to use google maps (I don’t know how people did it back in the day) I finally pointed out a bus which I knew had free WiFi to find our way around. By this time, we had to head to the harbor to board the Andrea for whale watching! This was a bucket list item of mine so I was pretty excited.
We set off searching the sea for any signs of a whale. After an hour of not seeing anything, a smaller boat radioed saying they had spotted something. Quickly the captain was able to turn the boat around. Blasting winds made most people go inside for shelter but I stayed on the top deck. Eventually we caught up with the smaller boat where a humpback whale had surfaced. But after a few minutes it submerged (they can stay under water for up to 40 minutes) and it was back to searching for more whales.
We spotted a few more humpbacks before our time on the boat was up and we headed for shore. Sadly, my phone camera couldn’t pick them up in the water so I didn’t get any great photos of them. They were awesome to see though even if it was for short periods of time.
On the walk back home, we stumbled upon the flea market we had been in search of earlier in the day, but by that time it was sadly closed.
This day was extremely long, but my favorite of the entire trip. It’s the day I like to call, "Waterfalls, Glaciers, and Waves, Oh My!"
Once again, an early start had us at our first waterfall of the day. We climbed wooden stairs soaked from mist leading us behind the waterfall. We were instantly drenched but it didn’t stop us from taking photos. Now the hard part was getting down.
The stairs on the other side were closer to the falls and shade meaning the mist had turned into ice. Very slippery ice. This wouldn’t have been an issue except there were no railings to support yourself on. Somehow, I was elected to go first so instead of taking the stairs I slowly descended on the snowy rock formations. Halfway down I slipped and gracefully, as I was told, fell but quickly bounced back up. Poor Miriah didn’t have the same success and fell not only once, but twice. By this time, the stairs were out of the shade and made the last few meters of the journey down a little bit easier.
Back on the bus, we yet again made our way to another waterfall, Skogafoss. It was beautiful with a perfect rainbow located just beside it. It's one of the bigger waterfalls in Iceland standing almost 200 feet tall. I decided to take the stairs leading to the very top but boy was it windy the further I climbed. There were points when I would have to stop to hold the rail in hopes the wind wouldn’t knock me down. Once to the top, a quaint hiking trail snaked its way back throughout the mountains where you could see the top of the falls.
After Skogafoss, you can probably guess... we went to another waterfall! This particular fall was less known or a “secret waterfall”. A good mile hike in with blasting winds brought us to a whole new realm. It was like a scene from Lord of the Rings. You could also walk right beside it to view the gorgeous scenery surrounding it.
Eventually we had to leave and get prepared for the best part of the day (in my eyes) a glacier hike. Coming from Montana where the elevation is quite high compared to sea level made this hike a breeze. I felt like a whole new person once we reached the plateau. The landscape was outstanding, but it was sad to learn this glacier, due to global warming, was melting at a very fast pace. In under two months, the glacier had lost six feet in height and over 20 years lost two football size fields in length. Within the next 10 years the glacier will be gone.
After the 6 mile hike, I was pretty happy thinking that was a great way to end the day. But no, it wasn’t over to my surprise!
The Black Sand Beach was our last stop of the day. Huge crashing waves, the black sand, and cloudy sky gave off a gloomy peaceful feeling. I ran the entire beach with my leg muscles almost giving out from all the activity from the day. Overall, the day had been amazing and one I'll always remember.
Another long day was ahead of us as we set off toward the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The entirety of the peninsula was formed from lava spewed from the volcanos on the island (there are 30, two of which are being monitored for activity at this point).
The closer we found ourselves to the peninsula the more the terrain changed from flat barren land to rocky fields covered in moss with large craters jutting from the surface.
The first stop had us at a beautiful beach where one of the many volcanos could be spotted in the distance. Seals snoozed off the rocks meters from shore.
Further down the road, we encountered an old volcanic crater where, overtime, had been slowly pushed towards the sea from lava flow. The remaining structure had been used by the Vikings as a place of ceremonial gatherings. It was an amazing sight to see with it standing so close to the cliff's edge while overlooking the ocean.
We didn't stay long as a coastal walk had us experience even more cliffs along with the sea birds echoing in the distance.
We stopped at another beach. This time with huge lava formations you could walk through to get to the shore. At the bottom were four boulders varying in size. Fishermen, back in the day, would determine their shares by how strong they were. The stronger one was the better fisherman they were. They would go in order starting with the smallest and work their way up. It was considered a success if the rock was at least waist high and placed on a table.
A group of men were trying this when we got there... let’s just say it was a pretty funny encounter as one friend tried with all his might to lift the third rock for several minutes when his friend pushed him out of the way lifted the boulder plus the remaining boulder with ease while the friends pointed and laughed at the man. Now, of course I had to try... let me know in the comments how many you think I was able to pick up.
Our next destination was an old volcanic crater. Stairs spirally upwards led us to the top of the crater to look into the empty belly. Strong winds almost had myself blown in with a foot misplacement. After this, I backed away from the edge not wanting to be known as the stupid tourist who fell in.
The Kirkjufellsfoss was our last stop in the peninsula. It was an elegant waterfall compared to the others we had seen with surrounding mountains nearby. Snowy ground kept us from getting the iconic photo angle it is known for, but the surrounding areas made up for it.
Sadly, on the way home from the peninsula I dozed off on the bus while we drove through a tunnel created through one of the volcanos. Stupid jetlag!
We couldn’t believe it was our last day in Iceland. We went around town one more time checking out some local stores.
For lunch, we hit up the Icelandic Bar. We had to get the classic fish and chips before leaving. Restaurants in Iceland are only allowed to serve fish caught the morning of making its fresh and to our luck it had just arrived!
Straight after, we set off for our last activity, ATVing! You could tell it was going to be a fun one when the guide pulled up blaring classic rock with beer cans spilling out of the door from the group before.
At the location, we found out we were getting extra time on the bikes because one of the guides didn’t show(yay!). We ended up with two gentlemen from Norway who you could tell had done this before. I was a little weary because I'd been the only person in the group who hadn’t ever ridden one.
With a quick ride through the mini course, we set off. At one point we were going 65 mph which we later were told was about twice as fast as they normally go. So apparently, I could keep up with the big guns.
We blazed through the different terrains of lava fields, beaches, and mountains. At the end my arms and hands were sore from the ride, but somehow it had fixed my back which had been hurting for a few weeks.
We had an early night in and packed for our flight to Ireland in the morning. We had tons of fun in Iceland and couldn’t wait to see what adventures we got up to next!
What do you think about the Iceland trip? Would you want to go and experience this yourself?
I know after writing this post and reliving all the fun adventures entices me to want to get out there and travel again.
If you are liking Nordic Month so far let me know if the comments below along with which post you are most excited for! See you next week for another Nordic post!