ICELAND: Land of Fire and Ice- PART ONE
PART ONE: The first half
This has taken me a little longer than I had hoped to document my week long adventure in the most epic country (throws metal hands), however, since my Iceland trip I have traveled again and well, here we are. I still remember it all like I just got back and I miss it incredibly every day. If you ever get a chance to go, go. Here's my journey with all of the info you might need to help you get a jump start on your own trip.
On February 21st around 4am, I left my home in Brooklyn more excited than nervous to start my very long journey to Iceland. Full Disclosure: The trip there was really long because of my own planning, not because it takes a long time to get there, so don't be scared. In fact, the flight is only about 5hrs 20min from the East Coast. The flights I originally booked overlapped with a shoot I had so I switched my flights around and the only options I had made my travel day about 24hrs. OOOOPS. (PRO TIP: ALWAYS TRIPLE CHECK YOUR SCHEDULE BEFORE BOOKING FLIGHTS). To get there I flew with WOW Air because it was MUCH cheaper than any other flight, and if there's one thing to know about me, it is that I like to spend as little money as possible. The catch: the closest spot to me they fly out of in the U.S. is from Boston which is totally cool in my book. I spent about less than half the amount as I would with any other airline: about $480 in total including my JetBlue flight to Boston. So, I left my house in the freezing cold early morning to catch my flight to Boston, then hung out in the airport for over 12hrs eating free cookies that I scored and drinking too much coffee, then I got on my red-eye flight to Keflavik and I landed in Iceland in the freezing cold early morning the next day.
When I landed it was pitch black, the darkest I had ever seen. There were a few lights off in the distance but not enough to light up the sky or any of the landscape. The island would remain a mystery to me until the sun came up around 8:30-9am, which was about 4hrs after landing. I decided to rent a car from the airport as a last minute decision and it turned out to be the best part of my trip. (PRO TIPS: Rent a car. Seriously. There is a flybus you can take from the airport to Reykjavik, but having the ability to drive everywhere I did was priceless. The car was only about $200 for the entire week and you can rent the car from the WOW Air website with your tickets. Gas, however, is expensive at about $70 to fill the tank, which I did twice. Also, be mindful when renting the car, as most of the cars are manual just in case you only know how to drive automatic). Before I left the airport I was already amazed by things, though, I do get excited easily. But, the bathroom sink! GUYS, IT WASHES AND DRIES YOUR HANDS! So, after I stopped geeking out over the bathroom technology, I picked up my car, scrapped all of the ice off of the windows, found out the car had HEATED SEATS AND A HEATED STEERING WHEEL OMG YES, and took off for the hour drive to Reykjavik.
The drive was as dark as you would imagine with the minimal amount of street lights as possible, if any, and me going about 20mph under the speed limit due to not knowing the road signs and afraid I was going to slip on ice and die. But, after about 15min of driving that slow and having every car behind me pass me, I started to understand the speed limit signs and realized the roads were actually not bad at all, so I stopped being a weenie. On the drive to my airbnb I could tell I was passing something beautiful. I could feel the presence of the mountains looming over me and I had this gut feeling that what I was going to witness when the sun came up would be nothing short of magical and I was not wrong. Around 7am I got to my SUPER CUTE room (where my host, Solveig, was an endless supply of Icelandic knowledge with a heart of gold) right outside the downtown part of Reykjavik and had to talk myself into sleeping until the sun came up, which was hard to do because I was so excited and I just wanted to adventure!
I managed to sleep a few hours and when I woke up the first thing I did was look out of the skylight window to see the mountains across the bay. This would be the first mountains I saw and my favorite ones. They became almost comforting to me. A few days later, while having a drink at the metal bar, Dillon Whiskey Bar, a man would tell me and my two friends, "everything is changing here in Rekjavik. But as long as I look across the way and see the mountain, I know everything is still OK." I completely understood what he meant by the end of my trip. The 'two friends' were my BFF from High School and her sister who were in Reykjavik for the first two days of my trip. After I soaked in the sights from my room I met up with them and we explored in the downtown area.
We decided to have a pretty chill day and spent most of it in the best way: eating food and drinking drinks. (PRO TIP: you MUST have the Skyr. Also if you plan on drinking, which I suggest because their beers are DELICIOUS, pad your budget. The drinks are expensive, more so than NYC). We grabbed some coffee and traditional Icelandic food from Cafe Loki, which is directly across from the giant Hallgrímskirkja church. Afterwards I got some Icelandic money, Krona, out of the ATM because another fun fact: I really like foreign currency and collect. You don't HAVE to get their money, practically everywhere takes cards and the service fee for my Visa was minimal. BUT THE MONEY WAS SO COOL! It took a bit of getting used to hearing that my meals were 1,300kr and remembering I was not spending over a grand on a meal. We walked around some more and made friends with a big, fat Reykjavik street cat, and ended up in their Hostel relaxing at the bar on the 4th floor with an adult beverage (and a coffee for me, obviously) had dinner at Cafe Babalú (YOU MUST EAT THE NUTELLA CHEESECAKE) before ending up and finishing the night at the coolest bar in Reykjavik: The Lebowski Bar. You are correct, a bar themed after the film The Big Lebowski. Burgers (seriously the best veggie burger that is a fried avocado patty!), pages of White Russians, Seinfeld playing on a projector screen, a bowling alley on the wall, and The Rug along the bottom of the bar that really tied the room together.
The second day, after the three of us got the best soup I have ever had in my life (SERVED IN A BREAD BOWL!) from Svarta Kaffið, and some damn near perfect coffee from Reykjavik Roasters, we decided to get in my sweet rented ride and go on a mini-road trip. The winter days in Iceland do not last as long as we are used to in the U.S. Like I said before, the sun rises late and sets completely between 6-7pm. We opted on a road trip that would not leave us hours away after the sun had set, seeing how it was the first road trip. We drove west all the way to the very tip. The drive was under two hours and gorgeous. Most of the landscape looked like parts of the scenery in Lord of the Rings. The Earth would open and crackle with water streaming around the bits. You could see where areas were warmer than the rest due to the geothermal activity because the snow was melted and birds were huddled and perched around the water. The entire way we drove alongside the sea to our right and mountains to our left. We drove until the land ended and we were at the Garðskagi light houses. We went out onto the rocks by the water and acted like we were mermaids. It was so cold and the water is dangerous so we admired from the shoreline. It was so serene. We stayed until the sun was setting and headed back. Iceland's landscape has this magic about it that no two times does it ever look the same. Once back we got an AMAZING vegetarian dinner at Gló where I ate too much to the point of wanting to crawl under a rock and die because it was so good, then went to Dillon Whiskey Bar, had a few drinks, talked to some locals, and then called it a night.
Day #3: The friends who were there were catching their flight home so I told them I would drive them to the airport, because what's the point of having a car if you can't do anyone any favors? We got some coffee and walked around a little in downtown Reykjavik one more time before heading to Keflavik. The drive is so beautiful, I really could drive around Iceland for the rest of my life and be content. Of course, because of who I am as a person, I got us a little lost on the way but we made it with plenty of time. (PRO TIP: you CAN use your GPS on your phone for free while in Iceland. I kept my phone on 'airplane mode' the entire time there but I would get directions while using wifi at a coffee shop. Once on the road, the phone would connect to the GPS still. However, you can not get new directions once off wifi but it was not a problem. The roads are really easy to navigate and you could still see your 'blue dot' on route). The airport road trip took a big chunk of the day so I decided to go back to Reykjavik and explore parts of that were not in the heart. I found myself on a street art treasure hunt looking at some of the most creative pieces I have seen right inside the port all the while making more four legged furry friends, as I do. Once the sun was almost gone I went to a little cove at the end of the road I was staying on to sit and watch the sky to see if the mystical Aurora would show her face. I did this almost every night and never got to see it. So, next time.
NEXT: PART TWO