After our first day in Iceland, things did pick up and 2/3 of us really enjoyed the country. The other third was feeling under the weather and that may have clouded his opinion. Instead of a daily recap, we will cover our favorite parts and our not so much favorite parts.
But before we get to that, we should explain what we did over the last 2.5 days. We arrived on Monday, Tuesday was puffin/rest day. Wednesday was in the car to tour the ‘Golden Circle.’1 Thursday was whale watching in the morning and hiking in the afternoon. And Friday was spent exploring Reykjavík in the morning and then after lunch, heading to the airport to get back to the United States and home.
In the list below, if something was on the Golden Circle, we will highlight with (GC) next to the name.
Iceland is a winner. We were dragging when we arrived but were won over by the gorgeous landscape.
Golden circle. It is a drive in the country side, but what an interesting countryside! We went through (old) lava fields, farm fields, over (small) mountains into big valleys. Sometimes it seemed we were on a different planet. Other times we were yelling “Sheep” or (alternatively) “Baa” when we saw some of the fluffy animals. It was a good way to spend a day. We did bring our own lunch, I shudder to think how much we would have laid down if we didn’t. We left at 10am and were back by 5:30 and that was about perfect.
Geyser (GC). It was a geyser. It went off about every 7 minutes. You pulled off into a (big) parking lot, walked 100meters through a bunch of bubbling pools of water and there it is.
Gullfos (GC): Big, huge waterfall. With a rain bow. And you can get really close to it. Like right next to it if you want to. It is the farthest point east on the Golden circle but you can always keep going. In the distance you can see one of the large glaciers and if we had to do it again, I’d probably leave a bit earlier and go to the glacier.
Puffin tour. Excellent hour. You arrive, change into sexy red suit, hop aboard a RIB, zoom out to a close island, bob in the water while puffin swim and fly around, look at them on land, zoom to another island and head back to shore. Without really going into the big bay.
Whale watching tour: Also excellent. This is a three hour tour and there were a couple of us on the boat humming/singing the “Gilligan’s Island” intro song as we got underway. This was in a larger boat (not a RIB) and thank goodness. The day we went out the winds were honking 20knots from the North and there were some white caps that we banged into on the way out. It was a bit cold, so we took advantage of the sexy red suits again. Saw a whale, a bunch of basking sharks that were right next to the boat and dolphins. Three hours was enough; we were smoked from the wind/wave/sun combo.
Apartment: Found our apartment on one of the many websites out there and it was the best place we stayed in on the trip. Two bedrooms, good kitchen, right on the main street in Reykjavík and walk to just about anything. And in general we have a big thumbs up for all our airbnbs/apartments that we used during the trip. Much, much better than the hotels.
Þingvellir National Park (GC): First place you will probably arrive at on the GC. It is a UNESCO site and where the old Icelandic chiefs met annually to change laws (if necessary) and resolve issues. Plus it is a pretty awesome place to walk around and is where two continental plates meet.
Downtown Reykjavík. We spent a couple of hours walking through the downtown of the capital city and pronounce it ‘very nice.’ This is not a huge city so it definitely has a more ‘small town’ feel. Went on top of the bell tower of the church (easily seen from all across town) to get a good view and also check out the statue of Lief Erikson, who was an Icelander before he was a Norwegianer and who discovered America before that other dude from down southern Europe way.
Not so much
Red hole in the ground (GC): It was a stop towards the end of our day and it is exactly what it sounds like, a red hole in the ground. Which is supposed to be great for photos. Whatever. It would have probably been OK, except you had to PAY to see the hole in the ground. No where else did we have to pay (other than parking at the national park). And this was vastly underwhelming.
Hiking. I’m not poopooing hiking. I just didn’t think through the timing of the hike. Or the conditions. I found a free thermal baths that were a 3.5km hike. Unfortunately it was 3.5 kms up a mountain. And I planned it for later in the afternoon. And, to add insult to injury, we would pass through a set of vents from which steam emanated and coated the trail in sulfurous gas. Which smelled like a fart. Like ‘ate my mom’s potato and egg salad at the picnic about 10 minutes after it made a turn for the worse and now am paying the piper’ fart. Putting an epic climb on the last afternoon on the last day of seven weeks of travel was probably not my best and brightest move.
Cost. Iceland is expensive but cleverly disguises the cost by putting it in jujubes. Or Kroner. Or Skittles. Or whatever. It ain’t dollars and the exchange rate is like 85 skittles to 1 dollar. So it isn’t so easy to convert. I realize that it is an island and so you have to import everything. But dang. Doesn’t mean we won’t be back. We will just make sure we hit the duty free before we leave the airport (and I never, ever thought I would type those words).
1 The golden circle is a driving day trip that takes you east out of Reykjavík on a loop of 4-8 hours, depending on the number of stops and the amount of time you spend at each stop. You can book a bus tour or, alternatively (and probably cheaper than the cost of the bus tour) rent a car and do it yourself. And it is SUPER easy to do it yourself.