My mom mentioned that she was traveling to Europe and back via Reykjavik, it immediately perked me up. I’d always heard about Iceland and it’s majestic gnome land. Since Denver became a hub for Iceland Air recently and flights were 6 hours to Reykjavik, I jumped on it. What better way to have girls trip than a place that neither of us had been too. Both my mom and I had been pressuring my brother really hard to come since we hadn’t done a family trip since our road trip back east. Heck, who knows with all of our schedules if it would be ever possible again? Then Tate bought a house and the peer pressure was off. My mom didn’t want to guilt him, but secretly Tate had already bought a ticket.
So, Tate and I took off a Tuesday afternoon. Mom had no idea that he was on the flight since I was meeting her there from her trip back from Luzern. I tried to keep my mom from booking as many excursions and hotels as possible because I know adding a 3rd at a later time would be a bit more of an issue.
Iceland Air was a breeze. The food was expensive, a precursor to what we knew we would be experiencing when we get there, but it was quick and painless. The flight left at 5pm in Denver and would land in Reykjavik at 6am. It was so nice to not spend the money on another hotel but I knew I was going to drag a bit the first day. Iceland, known for it’s northern lights, even had them on the ceiling of plane in flight. Ahhh the details.
We land in Reykjavik and Tate and I immediately separate. He puts on his hoodie, and I head out into customs. I grab my bag and head to passenger pickup where my mom was eagerly awaiting. I, quite nervous flubbed my words to not giveaway the surprise but my mom likely thought it was just jetlag. So, we headed to an ATM so I could get some Krona when the surprise began to unravel. A gentleman who spoke mainly Icelandic came up to my mom and asked if she could take a photo of him and his ‘friend’. Odd as it sounds to ask a stranger to take a photo at the ATM in an airport, my mom agreed and began taking a photo of this stranger and his ‘friend’…zooming in and out, trying to get the perfect angle and STILL not knowing that this ‘friend’ was my brother. Finally, as awkward as the Icelander must have felt, we were beginning to think my mom was never going to guess it was Tate. So Tate started laughing, as was I and took off his hood. My mom was in SHOCK! Total shock. So much so, that she was speechless. Takes a lot for that to happen. Tate and I were imagining the scene and both of us thought she would shriek say something like ‘TATTEEEEEEEEEEE, how could you?’ But we’ll take her being speechless, that doesn’t happen…ever.
After the shock wore off, we quickly went to our rented car- mind you the one that was rented for two. We crammed our bags (well moms several bags from her month long trip back in Switzerland, my suitcase and Tate’s tiny backpack and headed on the road. What I love about our travels, as a trio is that we don’t have plans when we get started. We figure it out as we go. We knew how close the Blue Lagoon was to the airport so that was the only trip that I booked in advance and had three tickets. With mom and her new hot springs, I knew that we wanted allow a day for that, so I’m glad we did. We got there first thing, changed into our robes and dipped into the 104-degree temperature thermal springs. The water, a milky blue smelled of sulfur but it kind of reminded me of home. The cold stone and FREEZING temperatures were just like the days when we would get off the ski hill and go straight to the hot springs. It was the perfect balance to our day. Tate and I were both very jet lagged and mom was in heaven, doing reconisenze every corner of that place. She took photos of the towels, changing room, everything. And every step she took in that place she became more and more inspired. It was really cool to watch.
We went to Iceland during their shoulder season. The daylight was very similar to Colorado but it was around 32 degrees day and night the entire time we were there. The reason it’s the shoulder season is because the Northern Lights normally don’t start until October when it gets dark much earlier. The summer also brings a lot warmer temperatures but longer days. I’m really glad we went when we did because we had a good balance…except for the Northern Lights.
We left the blue lagoon and started our road trip. We knew that we wanted to head up the southern coast so my mom made a reservation at a hotel that was on trip advisor. The Hotel Ranga sat along the lush green coast and was notorious for viewing Northern Lights. They had wood loungers specifically viewing and they had a call service that would call us in the middle of the night if they had any indication of the arrival of the lights. As we drove along the coast, we would stop at all of the landmark places and take photos. Everything was so lush and green. The island had an interesting contrast of inhabitable places and very lush green spaces. It was like being on Mars. Because of the constant wind, trees wouldn’t grow very high. The only vegetation seemed like it was due to human interaction. Trees were planted in rows and rows and seemed very manufactured but beautiful at the same time. We would drive past these towns that seemed like absolute ghost towns. Not a person in sight, no vegetation and no decoration on the exterior of the house. Nothing could withstand the wind. It was really eerie at first. It seemed like a scene out of an apocalypse movie. I had seen the Secret Life of Walter Mitty where he goes to Iceland and there is no one in sight. He later learns that there was a Volcano eruption and everyone had evacuated. That’s exactly how Southern Iceland fealt to us. While beautiful, it was desolate. Green for miles and miles. Rolling hills and jagged mountains that were black, very black. Volcanic erruptions overtime had caused everything to turn black. It wasn’t a porous rock like what I had seen in Hawaii, it was more sandy then anything.
Our first night we stopped a little bit earlier since we were all tired. The howling wind and our relaxation at the Blue Lagoon made for sleepy travelers. We got to our room, changed and grabbed a drink. That’s when I realized just how expensive this place was. As an island, I can imagine that most things are imported. They do try to grow as much as they can with greenhouses warmed and watered by the natural hot water. But most of the brand name things had to be imported. Also, all of the hot water on the island is from the ground hot springs. There aren’t hot water coolers, just straight from the hot springs. It’s very efficient and free for Islanders, but holy cow it smells. I never felt like I was clean the entire time. I smelled like rotten eggs when I got out of the shower. Forget about drinking it and brushing my teeth. It definitely is an acquired taste and takes time to get comfortable with that.
So, I ordered 3 Bailey’s and coffee for $65. I bout spit out my coffee, but then would have lost about $4 worth of goods. We drank, chatted and then head to dinner at our hotel. The restaurant had a quaint crowd. Only the people staying there really ate there and it was all authentic Icelandic food; reindeer, salmon and puffin….PUFFIN? And to top it off, they translated the names of everything with photos on the menu. Let’s just say the puffin was tasty, but could have done without the visual.
The next day we got up got the hotel breakfast of bread, lunchmeats and cheeses all with a side of cod liver oil. Tate took the bullet on that one. I could tell by the look on his face – that wasn’t a gamble I was willing to take.
Then we were off on the road. We had heard from several people to hit up the Golden Circle, which I researched and mapped out on the way. We found a local map, so mom would navigate, Tate would drive, and I would….sleep. I think the combination of the colder weather; overcast and howling wind it kept me sedated the entire trip. I would get in the car and the first 5 minutes, I would be asleep for a catnap. Thankfully I didn’t miss much scenery, but I could stay awake! That day, we drove further up north on the southern coast to see a wool factory, take a walk on the beach of Vik and see most of the golden circle: the waterfall Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. When I first started researching the trip, a few people had advised to stay in Reykjavik and take the bus tours of all the places we wanted to visit. That we would get the history and no hassle of driving, but I’m glad we choose the inverse. For one, we got some time as a family and we were agile. We could run in and out of specific places and not wait for all 50 people to pass the gift shop.
We stayed the night in the Geyser town in a cabin of a quaint hotel. Just like the night before, the hotel had the only food source in the town. Icelanders must not go out to dinner much. This time I opted for fish and definitely wasn’t disappointed. Nightlife isn’t much in these remote towns, so we grabbed the bottle of wine that we bought at the store the day before and just chatted in our cabin while watching the BBC.
The next day we woke up and finished out the rest of the Golden Circle, visiting the beautiful national park Þingvellir, and headed back to Iceland. We tried to take a detour, which was a decision we’ll always remember. This road went right over a glacier and was snow packed the entire way with not a single sight of another driver the entire way. Our little KIA was pushed to the limit. But we made it back to our final town of the trip Reykjavik for the evening.
We were still on the quest to see the northern lights that day so once we checked into our hotel, we all bundled up and headed out for dinner and drinks looking outside constantly to see a glimpse of the greens and purples of the lights. Unfortunately, the night passed away and no sign of the lights. We later found out that there were pockets outside of the city that were seen, but it was too cloudy by Reykjavik. There is also an app that can predict where they are seen that night. My suggestion for next trip is to follow that and stay out of the city. Reykjavik is a great town. It has some history to it, but it’s very much a young and social city. As a family, we weren’t entirely interested in the nightlife, which is boasted as the best in all of Europe. If we were to go back, I likely wouldn’t stay again in Reykjavik. It’s a city, like all others. It has typical fast food, restaurants, clubs, and shopping. I got my fill of the shops in a few short hours after seeing the pricing. But, I thoroughly enjoyed the people watching:)
Our last morning we woke up, gorged ourselves on an Icelandic breakfast of Skyr yogurt with granola and breads and headed out towards the airport, stopping and seeing the sights along the way. We quickly got to the airport and bid farewell to an amazing trip with memories to last a lifetime. Now, on to the next trip!