LOCATION: Reykjavik, Iceland
I’m notorious for finding a cheap flight and just going on a whim on my own vacation, so I was surprised that when I suggested the cheap flight from DC to Iceland that 8 of my close girlfriends jumped on board within days. The main goal: to see the Northern Lights. The ending result: Creating a huge bond, great memories, lots of laughs while sharing in the extremely unpredictable city of Reykjavik.
Iceland seems like an odd place to have a vacation at, but that is the best part. In a country that is 11% glacier and 30% lava rock, it really is described as a country of fire and ice. This trip would truly be like nothing we have seen before. Vikings represent a vast majority of the culture and they even believe in elves, or huldufolk as they call them. They believe that the huldufolk are represented by stacked lava rock formations and have even gone so far as to route roads around the formations so they do not disturb them and cause any bad omens to form. Three times on this trip, some of the girls had problems with their cameras. We totally blamed the huldufolk on this!
Our adventure began after a long overnight plane ride from DC arriving in Iceland early Wednesday morning. Tired and drained, we decided to tour around the city of Reykjavik and make use of a day of shopping. March is usually a good time to go to Iceland and there isn’t much snow, however we were greeted with snow the moment we stepped foot on to Viking territory. Sadly, the snow would also not end the entire stay there as well. The city of Reykjavik was very peaceful and quiet early in the Wednesday mornings. We figured people would be headed to work but not many were out. Iceland is known for their late night partying, so maybe the town sleeps the days away.
Our first landmark was the Hallgrimskirkja church. This was a church that was finalized in 1986 after 38 years of construction and is the 6th tallest structure in the country. The structure is built to represent basalt lava flows, since the country has a lot of volcanic activity. Inside, it housed a 25 ton organ that was magnificent.
We were able to go to the top of the church and see through a lookout. The 360 views of the city were impressive to say the least. Colorful houses and buildings really set the backdrop for the city with mountains in the background. Typically, skyscraper views show off larger cities with high buildings, so it was interesting to see a small city for a change.
After the church, we made our way up Laugavegur street, which is a main shopping street in town. Today was Ash Wednesday and Icelandic children participate in an interesting ritual on this day that we were able to experience.
All the kids dress up, almost like Halloween and go to all the shops and restaurants in town. They sing a song, and in return get candy. The holiday is called öskudagur. Kids dress up in homemade costumes and travel in groups of 4-6 kids so they can distribute the candy evenly. Each song is different as they tailor it to the type of business they go to.
Can you imagine if we did all this work for Halloween!? Another interesting sight along these streets was the strollers, or prams, that were left outside. Icelanders don’t allow babies inside shops, so they leave the children in the strollers outside…in the snow. Very odd.
Afterwards, we made our way to Baejarins Beztu, a hotdog stand in the city known for having the world’s best hotdogs. Word of advice, it’s not. The hotdog tasted funny and it came with a slab of mayo and some weird brown sauce on top. Under the dog, were a mixture of onions and some tangy relish of some sorts. It was bad…very very bad.
We then made it to the Sun Voyager sculpture that is heavily photographed in the city. A lot of people think it is a Viking ship, but it is actually a dream boat. It is a skeleton now, but once you fill it with your dreams it becomes whole and then you can go embark on your journey. The structure was huge. I never thought it was going to be so big. While there, a storm rolled in within minutes and completely changed the weather for the evening. Which also meant, no northern light viewing, something we would encounter every day while we were there. Stupid clouds.
March 6th: Today was our grand Golden Circle tour around Iceland, which was greeted by yet another snowy day. We had about an hour drive out to the sites and it was impressive how well the bus drivers did in such snowy conditions. Not something typical of Virginia one bit, that is for sure. The first stop was a geothermal greenhouse.
The greenhouse had tomatoes growing and fed us with some homemade tomato soup, one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. We learned about Iceland’s geothermal power there and how it is generated from the hotsprings. This makes Iceland the most greenest country in the world, which is probably why “Greenland is ice and Iceland is green.” After the greenhouse, we headed over to the Geysir, which is the only one in all of Europe. The Geysirs here reach 212 degrees in temperature and erupt every 5-7 minutes.
There wasn’t much of a warning when they blew up, but you could see some slight bubbling form just before. It was cool to see the large bubble form just as it erupted. After the Geysir, we made our way to the Gullfoss waterfall.
The pictures online looked more impressive since it was taken in greenery, but with snow, it still looked pretty cool. Our last stop of the day was a fissure hike. Our hike was about 30 minutes and not steep at all, but it sent us up and through a fissure where one side was the tectonic plates of Europe and the other side was North America. It was really pretty and showed off impressive views of the vast amounts of untouched land in Iceland. A tour well worth experiencing.
March 7th: Today was the day I got to scuba dive Silfra. It was a complete disaster though, and you can read about that dive HERE. The night definitely made up for the horrible morning. We found out that the next day’s tour of glacier hiking was canceled due to high winds and bad weather, so instead, we decided to see what Reykjavik was like for a Friday night. We started our night wanting to try a traditional Icelandic meal, so we headed to the Geysir Bistro, which looked like a typical local place to go. They had meals like lobster, braised lamb, whale meat and whale burgers. I had the braised lamb which was fantastic, but some others had the whale burgers and I can’t say that they liked it. We also ordered an appetizer of fermented shark, something quite common in the country and I’m not sure why, it was disgusting to smell and taste.
Why is this a thing? Around 9pm, we made our way to the first bar, Micro Bar. This is a very popular bar in town with local brews. At 9pm, it wasn’t too happening, which I guess is normal since Icelanders don’t get started on their night till midnight. After Micro Bar we went to the English Pub and ended up staying there the rest of the night. The bar was packed by midnight and stayed that way or worse till we left at 3am. It was crazy to see how many places still had lines and lines of people waiting to get into bars while we walked back to the hotel. I’ve been to Vegas, and even this was more packed on the streets. The stories of Reykjavik’s nightlife holds up to be very true indeed.
March 8th: Today we were supposed to go on our glacier hike and ice climb, but due to weather we were forced to come up with our own day of activities. Lina suggested the Phallological museum in town. Yes, you read correct…a penis museum.
In fact, it is the largest amount of penis in the world, housed right here in a small little store. More species than you can imagine had its stuff up for display and yes, it was a little disturbing to look around.
They had a human specimen at one point, but it was destroyed, so they are awaiting their next donor. We then made our way to Aurora Reykjavik, a Northern Light museum in town. Our main goal of this trip was to see the lights, and that didn’t work out, so a trip to see them in a museum would have to be the next best thing.
Sadly, while there, we learned that the week before, the city had some of the best light displays they’ve seen in a long time, and the whole month of February had a light display every night. So, either we came out a bad time, or just had really bad luck, who knows. The lights are definitely going to be a challenge to see some day.
While in town, we had heard of this place called the Viking Village which had typical food and singing and dancing like a German beer hall would do. They let you drink beer from a Viking horn and we all really wanted to do that.
Sadly, they weren’t available while we were there, go figure, so instead we decided to do our own Viking beer drink. We bought a couple of Viking hats and went to a local pub and decided to get our Viking on there. It seemed like the most appropriate way to end our last night in Iceland. Very barbaric, I know.
March 9th: Our grand finale in Iceland was the Blue Lagoon. It was amazing and you can read about that experience HERE.
*Thanks Lina, Laura, Lori, Pam, Brandi, Amanda, Katie and Shiran for accompanying me on this awesome adventure.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? ABSOLUTELY. What a great country!!
HOW TO DO THIS: Flights were cheap from DC. Look for apartments for rent in the city. Rey Apartments were very nice and cheap.
Rey Apartments in downtown Reykjavik with easy walking to the major attractions: www.rey.is
Hallgrimskirkja church: entry fee 700 krona
Golden Circle tour: 9100 krona, http://www.re.is/day-tours/the-golden-circle