Let me first explain that Iceland was a wild ride, not because it is a crazy place, but because I am fairly certain I didn’t sleep at all when I was there.
The plane landed at 6am in a surprisingly busy Keflavik airport and I had barely slept on the flight. I am really good at sleeping on short flights, but long flights I tend to stay awake the entire time. The airport itself is about a 45 minute drive to Reykjavik, so you have a small opportunity to see the country before actually getting a tour. The buses left the rather flat peninsula where the airport was and as soon as you start heading toward Reykjavik, you can see the mountains off to the right and the ocean to the left. I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes at first sight, but this view was pretty spectacular.
The city of Reykjavik itself is situated on a bay and as you drive in, you can see the bay and the mountains across it. The buildings are not the skyscrapers you would find in an American city, but they are brightly colored and add a character to the city that silver skyscrapers can’t replicate. Arriving at the hostel I was staying at was seamless as most of the coaches from the airport will take you directly to your accommodation. I got there around 8:30am and wasn’t able to get into the room I was satying in until 2pm so I dropped my bags and made my way into the city.
First, I started strolling down Laugavegur, which is the shopping street in Reykjavik. I was expecting some kind of hustle and bustle here, but hardly any of the shops were open and there are no people. I know the population of Iceland is small, but I thought there would be at least one person on the street. Next I ventured up to Hallgrímskirkja. This is the big church you often see if you were looking up Reykjavik or things to do in Reykjavik. The church stands atop a small hill in Rekyjavik giving it a vantage point that is unbeatable. It costs about $9 to get up to the top and I’ll let you determine if you think that’s worth it or not, but it was incredible from the top.
While hanging out in the church and seeing the city from the top was fun, it only lasted a short time. I needed to fill a lot of time. It was now about 10am and I had another four hours so I walked down into the business section of Reykjavik and grabbed myself a coffee to warm up with and use some free wifi to finds something to do. I stumbled upon CityWalks tours with their offer of a free tour of Rekjavik. I think this was one of the best city tours I have ever been on. You have to pre-book so they make sure their groups aren’t too large, but trust me when I tell you its more than worth that little bit of effort.
I met the guide, Eric, outside the Parliament building and gathered with a group of people from all over the world as he told us about some of the history of Reykjavik and Iceland. I highly recommend these tours! Eric was fantastic and funny and really knows his stuff!
By the time to two hour tour was done, I wandered back to the hostel and attempted to check in again. Once I was able to get into my room, I crashed. The lack of sleep from the night before and busy morning caught up with me and I desperately needed sleep. I was prepared to sleep in until the next day, but when I woke up in the idle of the night, I thought it was morning. In Iceland in the summer, it doesn’t really ever get dark. I was also there just days after the summer solstice so the days were still very long, and when the sun did set, it was more like dusk for a couple hours before the sun rose again. I drifted in and out of sleep the rest of the night continuously confused by the light coming in through the window.
The next day was one I had been looking forward to for a while. I booked this tour back in March and I was so excited to finally be going on it. Since the hotel pick up wasn’t scheduled until 10am, I wandered around my neighborhood of Reykjavik. The harbor was at the end of my strret so I took a short walk there and had my first breathless moment of the trip. The water was completely flat and across the bay, the mountains shot up into the clouds. It was one of those moments where you just stand there in silence and take it in as much as you can.
The tour started from the Harpa Concert Hall that is a staple in the cityscape of Reykjavik and we started the 45 minute journey out to a national park where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The geology/geography nerd in me was thrilled with this! I wasn’t really sure what to expect. My initial thought was that it would be a giant crack in the earth where it went down for miles, kind of like a cartoon version of it, but in reality it was like a giant valley. We started on the North American side and looked across the 2km wide valley to the Eurasian side.
We clambered back onto the bus and drove off to the Eurasian side (yes, you can across drive across this rift even though it is constantly moving and quaking) to go to Geysir where they have hot springs similar to the ones you see out in Yellowstone in the United States. There is also a geyser here that erupts pretty much every 5-10 minutes. We were there for about half an hour so I got lots of chances to see this eruption. It is important to note, if you’re ever thinking about traveling to Iceland, which I highly recommend, there is a smell of sulfur whenever you take a hot shower or go visit the geysers and hot springs. Why? Well, Iceland relies on geothermic resources and the hot water comes from the hot springs that are found all over Iceland. Pretty cool, right?
From Geysir, we traveled to one of the most famous tourist spots in Iceland, Gullfoss. This waterfall is petty spectacular, but it was raining really hard, even for Iceland. So once our group got their pictures and walked up to the waterfall itself, we found ourselves completely soaked. Lucky for us, we were going to the Secret Lagoon next! The most famous lagoon is of course, the Blue Lagoon, but the Secret Lagoon was beautiful. They try really hard to keep these clean, because they are natural and they want to keep them as long as possible. You have to take a shower with soap and everything before you get in, and you have to do it completely naked. Literally everyone does it, so you shouldn’t feel nervous or self conscious. You then put your suit on then head into the waters. It’s pretty cold before you get in but it makes the descent into the pool that much better. They also have a bar where you can get Icelandic beers and other beverages, but like everything in Iceland, they were pretty pricey.
After about an hour in the Secret Lagoon, we boarded the bus for the 90 minute journey back to Reykjavik. Since we were all pretty relaxed, a fair few of us took a nap on the way back. I grabbed a quick sandwich from a grocery store and made my way back to the hostel. Since I was getting up fairly early to make my way to Edinburgh, Scotland the next day, I passed out and drifted in and out of sleep until my alarm went off at 4am to get the bus to the airport.
I know I’m a bit behind in posting this since I left Iceland on Thursday and it is now Monday, but the weekend was filled with a very joyous celebration so I didn’t take the time to post anything. Bear with me! I’ll post something about Scotland soon!!