When my friend invited me to go to Iceland in January, I was leery. It’s the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter! But she said it was the best time to see the Northern Lights, and another friend wanted to go also, so I acquiesced. Although I always thought Iceland would be interesting, it wasn’t on the top of my list of countries to visit in the middle of winter – but I’m glad I did! it was fantastic. [Spoiler alert: We never did see the Northern Lights because it was cloudy the weekend we were there. Good thing I’ve seen them before from Northern Minnesota.]
As the trip got closer and we started to do research and book tours, I got more excited. We utilized tour companies to make the most of our 3 days there, and we wouldn’t have wanted to drive on any of those icy roads anyway.
One of the things my friend Natalie wanted to do most was a free dive between the two continental plates. I thought she was insane; Iceland in January is one thing but then to go in the water?? So I asked Marie, what do you want to do instead the day Natalie does the free dive? Imagine my surprise when she thought the dive sounded cool… so I went along. Again, I didn’t regret it.
Friday, 13 Jan 2017
The flight left at 6 am, earlier than the trains run in Stuttgart, so I stayed overnight at Marie’s house the night prior. I know you want to hear about Iceland, so I’ll skip the whole part about Marie losing her phone when we got out of the car at the airport. (OK, I’ll tell you how it ends – after continually calling her phone, finally someone called back – they had it at the Lufthansa desk.) We made it to the flight and met Natalie there, who ironically had left her phone in the car of the person who gave her a ride to the airport. Finally, I wasn’t the one who lost something! None of this decreased our excitement about Iceland, and when we had a layover in Copenhagen we bought supplies (mostly wine and Fireball, plus Natalie bought a GoPro to capture the dive and take pictures, since she didn’t have her camera phone). When we arrived in Reykjavik we had a quick turn to get to the first tour, so we’d pre-arranged for a car to pick us up. Although we’d agreed to check all our bags so we didn’t have to wait for baggage, they made Natalie check hers so we were a little delayed.
For the record, this is the backpack Nat thought was small enough to be a carry on.
When we landed, it seemed like it was almost sunset at 1:30 pm, although the sun didn’t actually set for almost 3 hours after that – it’s more like it was early twilight for a long time. Fortunately we made it to the bus terminal in plenty of time to catch our tour bus. Day 1 was the easiest day, basically riding on a bus, seeing the sites and freezing our a$$es off when we went outside. We booked the tour through I Heart Reykjavik, The Golden Circle Express Tour. This was an afternoon trip that covered the three main attractions on the Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area. As you can see by the pictures, at the first stop, Þingvellir, I wasn’t even wearing my hat, but by the end I was trying to keep every inch of my body covered. I even unlocked my phone so I could take pictures easier without needing to take my gloves off for 2 seconds.
Bus Trip and Þingvellir National Park
Geysir geothermal area
Saturday, 14 Jan 2017
The tour Natalie had booked was full by the time Marie and I tried to book it, so we ended up on a different adventure. We chose “Sensational Iceland” by Extreme Iceland along the southern coast. Although it included visits to waterfalls and a black sand beach, the main event of this tour was hiking a glacier – so yes, it was extreme!
Glacier Hike on Solheimajokull
Before hiking we got our equipment: helmets, crampons (ice cleats to strap to the bottom of hiking boots), ice picks and harnesses. We asked what the harness was for and were told it was to lift us off the glacier by helicopter if needed. Um, what?
We had to hike a ways on black volcanic rock before getting to the start of the glacier, and we were told the glacier used to go much farther into the valley. The rock was hard to navigate in the crampons intended for ice. In our group were a few boys who had just graduated from high school in Australia, and they took off out front with the tour guide. The rest of us worked hard to keep up. At one point, a young woman of about 20 said in exasperation, “This is MODERATE?” (referring to the fact that the website referred to the hike as being of moderate difficulty). At one point Marie fell and was sliding so I blocked her with my body and probably saved her life, but that’s not important right now. The glacier had a very eerie beauty and although the hike was difficult, it was very unique and interesting.
The black sand beach of Reynisfjara
It was quite windy on this part of the island (more so than on the glacier) and we were warned not to get too close to the water because people occasionally get swept away. No worries from me! At this stop we got something to eat on our own. It was supposed to be a short stop so we could try to get to the next waterfall before dark, but of course we ended up waiting on the bus for a couple of the other guests.
Although we didn’t make it to the next waterfall before it got dark (after all, it was dark around 4 p.m.), we could see it due to the spotlights and it was still very impressive. The pictures with my phone aren’t that great due to the low light and don’t show how pretty it was. We also didn’t get to walk behind it due to the dark plus the icy conditions.
Although it seemed really late due to the darkness, we got back from the tour before dinner time. Marie and I walked down to the marina for some seafood. On the way we saw the Hallgrímskirkja church. Because we went on tours every day, we never really got a chance to see the sights of Reyjkavik during the day.
Sunday, 15 Jan 2017
This was the day we were doing free driving between the two tectonic plates. We went to the pick up location and soon spotted a tour van; we were goofing around about who would sit up front with the bearded driver and I said, “Natalie you should, you like beards.” That’s when Marie noticed his windows were open and said, “You guys, he can hear you!” But that wasn’t embarrassing enough – it turns out he wasn’t even from our tour company. When we did get picked up, it was by the tour owner in his own car; it turns out we were the only 3 lunatics who had booked the tour that date. We continued our mayhem in the car and the guide was a very good sport.
When we arrived we learned there was no indoor changing area, so we hid behind a screen and tried not to scream too badly when we put on our wetsuits. We got warm blankets to wear while we waited to get in, and it was at this point I waddled up to my friends like a penguin and invented my new pick up line, “Did you know penguins mate for life?” Once in the water, the only thing that was really cold was my face (since everything else was covered.) The water stays a constant 32*F year round. We followed the current through the crevice, and it was really cool (although there really wasn’t any fish to see). Finally we got to a pool area where we could swim around, but I needed to get out when my toes got too numb.
We purposely planned our spa visit for the same day we returned from the frigid water, but first we had some time to relax back at the AirBnB apartment we rented (a couple pictures of that are included here).
We got a bus to the famous Blue Lagoon spa area and although it was crowded and more of a tourist location, it was still fun and relaxing. We got a couple face masks (one free, one we paid extra for) and some drinks for the large warm pool. We have a lot of pictures because Natalie brought her waterproof GoPro.
Although that seems like a lot for one day, we had a cat nap on the bus back home and still walked to dinner and around town a little bit that evening.
Monday, 16 Jan 2017 and Wrap Up
All great trips must come to an end, and we didn’t really do anything on Monday other than get to the airport and have one last meal including hot dogs and wine. I didn’t mention the hot dogs earlier, but apparently once of Iceland’s specialties is hot dogs wrapped in bacon and served with french-fried onions. (I had one the night we went out looking for the Northern Lights – I didn’t post pictures because we didn’t actually find the Northern Lights, but I did find a delicious hot dog!
I also really liked the sign that was painted on the side of a building near our apartment.
Wow, this was a really long post, and in retrospect I could have made a separate post for each day or drastically cut down on the pictures. In my defense, this isn’t even close to all of the pictures we took, and remember that this also serves as my online scrapbook. If anyone is still reading at this point (which I highly doubt), below are related videos from the trip. (They take up too much space to insert them in the middle of the blog).