I have not been out of the United States for over a year now, so I was getting anxious for some international travel, so we started looking into possible trips. Andy and I had been itching to go to Iceland for a couple years now. We had found a deal a while back, but after looking into rental car prices, we decided to wait. We then found a deal through Icelandair in January with a direct flight to Iceland from Seattle with hotel and tour included. We decided to book it for an opportunity to see the aurora borealis and Iceland in the winter with hopes we can still someday visit in the summer months as well.
Since the trip would be in the off-season for many tourists, we decided to extend the vacation package for an extra two days to explore Skaftafell National Park. We booked our flights and waited for out the two months until our departure.
Our flight departed Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 in the evening. It was a “red-eye” to Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik
We arrived around 6:30 am GMT. We were now facing our largest time change of seven hours from any of our prior trips and have learned that jet-lag is always worst eastward than westward. We tried to adjust as quickly as possible.
Prior to our departure from the states, we booked a FlyBus from the Keflavik International Airport to the Bláa lónið (Blue Lagoon) to Reykjavik. The cost included admission into the Blue Lagoon, a famous geothermal pool, and our transportation to our hotel, which was a pretty penny. We could not skip the Blue Lagoon despite the expense because it was the typical tourist thing to see.
The surrounding area had lava rocks and landscape that were covered by moss, which was different than anything I had seen before. We pulled into the Blue Lagoon area and saw steam rising from the ground with lots of power plant looking buildings (much smaller in size than the ones in the US). This is Reykjavik’s energy source. However, once you get to the spa and lagoon, you see the milky aqua water in the lava rock ground, which contrasts a variety of colors. The weather was decently cold, so I was excited of taking a nice warm dip. We changed and spent about 2 hours in the pool before the crowds started pouring in. We then decided to catch the bus to our hotel to unpack.
We were both pretty tired with little sleep in the last 30 hours that we got to the hotel and decided to take a nap before exploring the city. We stayed at the Hilton Nordica, which was extremely fancy compared to our usual accommodations. We then started to explore around 4 pm. We walked to Hallgrímskirkja, which is a famous church. It is taller than most buildings in the city center area. Unfortunately, it was overcast for the pictures. We then decided to walk down the main shopping district road, stopping in a few outdoors stores. We compared prices to back home, where a pair of hiking boots were roughly $500 USD. We then went to Te & Kaffi, which is a chain like Starbucks in the States for a little pick up before dinner. We researched places to eat dinner. Andy found a Fish and Chips restaurant, but we noticed many people were at restaurants drinking and not eating.
We headed to Tjörnin Lake and the nearby park. We watched a little boy torment some swans and ducks by feeding them bread and then running after them. He was brave enough to push some back into the water. I took a few pictures of the buildings around as the setting sun lit them up. We then ran into a couple guys that we met at the airport that were also on our flight. They missed their FlyBus and wanted to know if we wanted to split a cab with them to the city. We told them about our plans on visiting the Blue Lagoon earlier and wished them luck. We talked to them and introduced ourselves. Rob and Neil also live in Seattle and booked the same package as us that included the tour. They were staying at a different hotel, but we figured we would see them tomorrow.
Boy Feeding Birds
Andy and I then headed to the Icelandic Bar for drinks trying to waste some more time before dinner. We had two micro brews from Iceland breweries, which were good and some bread before heading to the Fish and Chips restaurant. I had red fish with rosemary potatoes. After dinner, we both were battling the jet-lag so we walked the 30 minutes back to the hotel and went to bed around 10 pm.
Super Jeep Tour: Volcano and Glacier Walk
We woke up and had breakfast at the hotel before meeting our guide in the lobby around 8 am. Christian picked us up for the Super Jeep Tour: Volcano and Glacier Walk. We rode in a Toyota that had a high lift and big tires to traverse some rocky, uneven terrain. There was snow in the city today, which was how I thought Iceland’s climate would be in March. We drove Ring Road to Selfoss to pick up the other tour members in our group. On the other side of the pass out of Reykjavik, there was little snow except out in the mountains. We got down to roughly sea level and followed the coastline to the southeast. The other tourists were French and spoke little English. They used an iPad to take photos and video, which at times was quite comical. We then had one more stop at a gas station to meet up with another group that we would be with for the rest of the day. This vehicle included Rob and Neil, along with Wesley and Eric (also from Seattle).
We then headed down a road and passed Seljalandsfoss to Þórsmörk to Stakkholts River Canyon. We came to a sign on the road that said Impassable, where Christian pulled off the road to deflate air from his tires before continuing on. We drove through braided rivers and glacier runoff from Eyjafjallajökull, which was bumpy at times because this area was washed out when the volcano erupted. It was raining, so I did not attempt to take out my DSLR camera. I did capture a few pictures with my video camera though. We were only here for a few minutes and then headed back to the vehicles.
Glacier and Snow
We then stopped at Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall with a path to walk behind it. I took a couple of pictures here, but it was still raining making the lighting dull. We had about 15 minutes here before heading to Hotel Anna for lunch. The lunch was included in our tour. We stopped here to have some Icelandic lamb soup, which was delicious. They also provided a vegetarian option, which I did not try. After a nice long lunch of getting to know our group, we continued onto our tour.
Next stop: the glacier walk on Mýrdalsjökull on the Katla volcano. We drove a little further down the road to the parking lot. There were some other groups already on the glacier learning to ice climb, but were finishing up when we started our tour. We got set up and met three more members of the tour that joined us for lunch and the glacier walk. We got fitted for crampons and then started walking out towards the glacier from the parking lot. The landscape had a frozen lake at the end of it with the glacier jetting up to a snow field. It was snowing heavily during some parts of the tour, but I preferred it to the rain we were having earlier.
Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Walk
Once at the foot of the glacier, we all were instructed on how to put on crampons and use ice axes. Margaret was now the tour leader for this part, but Christian and the other driver walked with us to make sure everyone stayed together. I took pictures along the way. It was slow hiking in our group of 14 with little stops along the way for some fun facts of the history of Iceland, glaciers, and this particular glacier. We had the option to walk through a formation of a tunnel that went through the glacier and would probably change in the next few months to no longer exist. Andy and I did not go through because we did not care for the pictures. We came to a Moulin, which is where water enters the glacier from its surface down through the glacier. This was the turnaround point of the tour, so we took pictures and headed back down.
Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Walk
We took off our crampons once we were off the glacier and carried them with our ice axes back to the parking lot. We then left the glacier and headed to Skógafoss, which was a larger waterfall than the one prior. We did not stay here long either because we only had a little time to drive on the black sand beach across the road from the waterfall. Christian got creative on the way out and was having fun trying to get up a small sand dune. We now had a few hours’ drive back to Reykjavik with planned stops at the gas station for coffee in Hvolsvollur and to drop off the others in Selfoss. We got back to Reykjavik around 7:30 or 8 pm, which made the tour last roughly 11 hours.
We then headed to Þrír Frakkar for an authentic Icelandic meal of unique menu items, which Christian recommended. We had puffin as an appetizer. I had Icelandic fish hash with a hollandaise sauce for my entre. Andy had minke whale, which are the most populous whales. The whale looked like steak and tasted very similar to our surprise. Also, puffin was smoked and reminded me of salmon. After dinner, we decided to walk back for the night because we were driving to Skaftafell with the rental car in the morning.
Gratineraður Plokkfiskur með rúgbrauði – Smoked Puffin with mustard sauce
Gratineraður Plokkfiskur með rúgbrauði – Hashed fish with black bread “Icelandic specialty”
Where was your favorite tour when traveling?
More in this series:
- Iceland – Skaftafell National Park & Jökulsárlón
- Iceland – Golden Circle Route and Reykjavík
- What Happens When a Country Does Not Have Enemies
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