Flying into Reykjavik was so exciting. It was 10pm, but it was still light out. A beautiful formation of clouds blanketed the city, and drops of rain began to fall. We didn’t get in to our Airbnb until late around 12:30am, but it was still light out. What a trick on the body clock that is! By the next day, the sun had come out! It was still a little cold though. The weather reminded me of fall in the Pacific Northwest. We walked to a nearby bakery and had some of the best croissants we’ve ever had! Then we walked to a park that had a botanical garden AND an ice skating rink in it! I couldn’t wait to skate, even if it meant wearing rental skates. We walked up to the rink, but, wait a sec, it’s closed. Nooooo!!!!! It was completely shut down for another month for maintenance. I was absolutely crushed.
I released my disappointment while wandering through the botanical garden. It was gorgeously landscaped and shared a wide variety of perennials, wildflowers, evergreens, wild roses, streams, ponds, ducks, etc. Andre and I enjoyed the diverse and delightful array of blooming plants and flowers.
Then we made our way to a bus stop to head into downtown Reykjavik. There’s a famous church called Hallgrimskirkja. It was a stunning structure with an impressive organ inside to complete the experience. After spending a little time in there our tummies started rumbling. There’s one thing you should know about Iceland, it’s very expensive. A hamburger typically runs anywhere from $20-30. Our budget didn’t have much slack in it, so finding affordable restaurants was a challenge. Thanks to Trip Advisor, (again) we found a quirky little cafe nearby called Cafe Babalu. It was decorated with money from all over the world, silk Gerbera daises in vases, bright colors, and a Star Wars themed bathroom complete with the soundtrack playing as you pee. I ordered the veggie chili, Andre ordered tomato soup and a grilled cheese. It was all deliciously homemade, and hit the spot hard!
Next we walked down to the Harpa Concert Hall - one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever seen. The window panes on the outside resembled fish scales, some of them glowing with a rainbow iridescence. If only we had had the time to catch a concert here. We walked along the water stopping at an iconic sculpture called the Sun Voyager. A favorite among tourists and locals.
It was soon dinner time and we went back on the hunt for some “cheap eats.” We found an affordable place with good reviews, but it was kind of far, so we decided to wander back through downtown, read menus, and settle on something close by. Most dinner mains were at least $30-40 each. Ouch! We went back to the drawing board and chose to just suck up the long walk and go to the original place we had chosen.
What a delightful decision! The walk initially took us through a neighborhood where local kitty cats were wandering around. They were friendly, affectionate and soft, and filled up my lacking kitty lovings account. Then the walk took us through the University campus which was as exquisitely landscaped and beautiful as the botanical gardens! Fountains, geese, flowering trees, and bronze statues graced the campus. Andre and I daydreamed about moving there. Turned out that this restaurant we discovered online was in the college. It was a called Studentakjallarin which translates to “student basement.” The food was awesome and our plates only ran about $16 each.
Our last stop of the day was a grocery store to stock up on food for the road because the next day we’d be embarking on a 9 day road trip around the perimeter of Iceland, commonly known as “The Ring Road.”
In the morning we got picked up, along with a lovely family from Toronto, by Happy Campers, our camper van company. We’d heard from friends that renting a camper van was the best way to travel the ring road. It’s a rental car, place to stay, and eat, all in one. We arrived at the branch about 40 minutes outside the city, near the airport, to pick up our van, but Andre accidentally left his driver’s license back at our Airbnb in the city. It was a whole big drama. We were trying to figure out if we could use my license, but the van was a stick shift and I’m not adept with a stick. Our options were bleak and we were facing an extra charge of $50 to add me as a driver. Ingenuity and luck prevailed though, as we were able to get our Airbnb host to locate Andre’s license, take a photo of it, and send it to us. Woohoo! Crisis averted!
On a side note, Andre has T-Mobile, and I, Verizon. He has had free service and data in every country we’ve visited so far, and my phone has been in airplane mode the entire time. We are so grateful for T-Mobile’s international coverage. It has saved us in so many pinches!
The manager accepted the photo of Andre’s license and we were finally getting on our way! We drove back to our Airbnb, picked up our things and hopped on the road.
The big question facing us in the beginning was whether to go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the island. Our original plan was to start with “The Golden Circle” and drive counter-clockwise, hitting all the southern hot spots first before making our way around. The Golden Circle consists of 3 major attractions, Thingvellir, the old parliament grounds and the line where the North Atlantic and European tectonic plates meet which have formed a giant crevasse in the earth; Geysir, an area full of active and dormant geothermal geysers bubbling and exploding out of the ground; and then Gulfoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls because of it’s massive size and power.
The weather all day was gray, cold, and rainy. When we checked the island’s forecast, it said sun in the Northwest, and rain in the South - which is where we were heading. At around midnight after a day of exploring the Golden Circle, we pondered the idea of reversing course and driving the ring road clockwise. We decided to just go for it! So we backtracked about 2 hours and pulled into a little town to sleep for the night. Within minutes the back of our van converted into a bed, we closed the curtains, and knocked out.
The next morning greeted us with bright rays of sun! Yes! We definitely made the right decision. After finding a place to cook some breakfast, we took a detour off the ring road and drove around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It was gorgeous! Every few miles, we said to one another, “Ooo look at that waterfall!” “Look at that mountain!” “Look at those horses!” “Look at that! Look at this!” Basically our whole trip was just constant views of marvel! The star of the peninsula was Kirkjufellsfoss. Foss means waterfall, so anytime you see “foss” in a name, that’s what it is. We spent over an hour taking photos and taking in the immense beauty that surrounded us.
Each and every day on the road gifted us with the most epic of views left and right. There is literally too much to describe, and if I haven’t sold it by now, then keep reading.
Whale watching is a popular attraction and activity to do here in Iceland. Sadly, whaling is also a thing. People are definitely divided on this archaic tradition. We’d been told that if you’re going to push your personal anti-whaling views on the locals, be prepared to argue. Well since we’re on the celebrate the whales side, we decided to treat ourselves to an all electric eco-friendly whale watching tour. Husavik is one of the best areas to see the whales and is also one of the areas they’ve banned whaling, yay! Being out on the water in the Northern Atlantic was a thrill. The tour didn’t seem to last very long. We saw about 7 Humpback surfacings, but unfortunately no breaches. Actually, whale watching off the coast of Malibu in California was better, but we can overlook that because we’re still in ICELAND and that’s AWESOME!
The scenery along the drive was ever changing. One minute we’d feel like we were on a deserted volcanic planet, the next we were surrounded by lush valleys and hills. The mountains were leaking with massive, gushing waterfalls just about everywhere. The best part about the camper van experience was the freedom to go where we want, when we want, and stop wherever just to pull over and take some photos or fly the drone, which received his official name in Iceland, Stormur.
That night we found a campground to park in, and decided to catch the sunrise at Detifoss, the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Our alarm was set for 3:15. Andre popped up and drove us to the Detifoss parking lot while I’ll stayed horizontal in the back of the van. The sky was just starting to glow peach and purple on the edges of brilliant cloud patterns across the sky. It was a little hike from the parking lot to the waterfall, but once you see this powerful expression of nature, as Andre put it, you’re forever changed. Since it was so early, we had this magnificent place all to ourselves. We sat in silence as we took in the power and beauty. We had a ceremony for Kiki here and sprinkled some of her ashes into the falls. As we waited for the sun to make it’s daily debut, clouds rolled in and won the battle. After a couple hours of sitting in the cold outside, we decided to head back to the van and sleep for a bit, and see if the weather changes. We woke back up around 8am, but the weather was even worse and there was no sun to be seen.
That afternoon, we ended up offering a ride to two girls who were hitchhiking. Sveta and Sveta were friends visiting from Belarus. They had just completed a 12 day trek through the middle of Iceland across the glacial fields; land virtually untouchable by car. #hardcore They joined us all the way to Hofn which was about a 5 or 6 hour journey, but also one of the most lush and picturesque stretches we’d seen so far. The weather was quite grey, rainy, and windy for most all of the drive, but just before arriving in Hofn, as we crossed up and over a foggy hill, we came out the other side greeted by one of the most spectacular, colorful sunsets ever! We spotted a couple of horses hanging out near the road, so we pulled over to feed them some carrots and photograph them against the magical colors in the sky. Sveta and Sveta joined us and we all had a blast befriending and photographing these beauties. The day finally came to a close and we bid farewell to our new friends around 10pm at the Hofn campsite. What a day!
The next day would prove to be our favorite day in the journey. We drove for quite a distance passing by blue colored glacier tongues oozing in between massive rock cliffs. Finally we landed at Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon. This lagoon has formed only within the past 10 years. Just a decade ago, this part of the Vatnajokull glacier was totally intact right up to the coast. However, global warming has caused it’s recession creating a giant lagoon. I read someone’s description of it as the place “where glaciers go to die.”
The calved chunks of ice float into the lagoon. As weather shapes and molds the ice, it takes form into unique sculptures. They continue to melt slowly, diminishing little by little with each sun rotation. Eventually they float on out to sea where the lapping waves polish the ice against a black sand beach, appropriately named Diamond Beach. The sculpted and polished pieces of ice resemble diamonds sprinkled about down the length of the beach. It’s so fun, so magical, we ended up doing a photoshoot modeling my friend’s yoga clothing line, Paper Rani.
After the photoshoot, we quickly ran back over across the street to the glacier lagoon to catch the sunset. Wow. It was phenomenal. Like Mother Nature just painted the most exquisite watercolor.
Once the sun was down, which was around 11pm, we went back over to Diamond Beach. I made dinner in the van, like all nights. Dinner was typically around 11pm thanks to the endless daylight. After dinner Andre said, “I have a crazy idea.”
I said, “You want to go back down to the beach?”
“Me too!” So we bundled up and went back out there. Not a soul was in sight. The large crashing waves from the day had turned into tiny little laps on the shore at night. There was still enough ambient light to see the chunks of ice and photograph them. Andre had the idea to put a light behind the pieces of ice. We experimented with that and took a photo. It was captivating. We continued to play around with the lights and came up with another idea involving lights and ice, but it’s kind of a secret surprise that we’ll release when the time is right.
Perhaps, or not, you’re wondering how we showered on the road. Well Iceland is quite known for their hot springs and public pools. We only got to go to a real natural hot spring once, but we went to the public pools a few times. The public pools have complete shower facilities, they’re ultra clean, geothermally heated, and usually have multiple pools and hot tubs to choose from. One pool we went to even had a couple multi-story high waterslides, and a cold water plunging bath! Icelanders love their pools.
One of the wildest things that happened to us in Iceland was not only witnessing incredible natural phenomena, but we also ran into a friend of mine from Los Angeles! Ines, a florist I occasionally freelance for was visiting Iceland with her mom. We happened to be in the same area one evening and she invited us over to her cabin for some drinks. It was such a fun happenstance to see a familiar face in Iceland of all places!
The following day we made the rounds on some of the most popular sights like Reynisfjara famous for it’s basalt columns; Dyrholaey known for the nesting puffins and a stunning arched rock formation. We had a picnic lunch here overlooking the sea. At one point Andre turned to me and said, “That woman looks like Ines.” I said, “That is Ines!” We had run into each other again in an entirely different part of the island. Greater forces were definitely at work here. We said hello, and then goodbye, again. We were rounding out the tail end of our trip, and she and her mom were heading to Germany next.
Our last stop of the day was at Solheimasandur Beach where a U.S. Navy DC-3 plane crashed and has remained ever since. Luckily, everyone survived the crash. It was a good 45 minute walk to get to the plane, but well worth the hike. I advise getting there around 8pm (in summer) as that’s when the crowds really die down. We hung around for 2 hours waiting to get a photograph of the site without any people in sight. Oy.
The rest of our trip was more sight seeing and hiking to beautiful waterfalls, rivers, canyons, cliffs, and more. Over the course of our time there, I watched as a new side of Andre’s spirit came alive. There was a youthfulness and vibrance that emerged from his being, and mine too! I meditated on the fact that it must have something to do with the energy of Iceland. This place is full of extremely powerful nature - living volcanos, massive glaciers, active geysers, gushing waterfalls, ancient canyons. It’s bursting with energy that’s millennia old. I dubbed Iceland ‘the fountain of youth’ because that’s exactly how it made us feel; like kids in the playground of Great Spirit.
After spending 9 days on the road completely immersed in Mother Nature’s glory, driving back into the city was a real shock to the senses. It felt foreign to be around these massive buildings and complexes. To see this sudden monstrous evidence of man after so much vast wildlife hurt my spirit. The energy shift was quite noticeable and it reaffirmed how deeply important it is for us to protect Mother Nature. Shifting back to city life happened rather quickly, but the impression that Iceland left on us is something we will never forget, nor take for granted.
We wandered around Reykjavik for a day, this time with new eyes. Eyes missing the divine sights, eyes filled with new perspective and appreciations