Iceland: The Island of Firsts

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

Standing in the Keflavik airport, I could already feel my body vibrating with a mixture of exhaustion and excitement.


We’re in Iceland, we actually did it.


It took 3 years but we had finally arrived at our first destination on our year-long adventure. Little did we know we were in for a jam-packed magical 4 days of hiking, sightseeing and ham sandwiches.


Of course, we decided it would be a great idea to take an overnight flight, so our first day was a wonderful blur of renting our car and driving to the country’s capital Reykjavik to explore.


In addition to walking around to enjoy the little shops and cafes, there was a couple of key things we were encouraged to see while we were there:

  • The Icelandic Phallological Museum (the penis museum)- Quite interesting! I’m convinced now though that everything I’ve looked at since is shaped like a penis...

  • Hallgrímskirkja (Lutheran Church of Iceland)- Architecturally beautiful. For a donation, you can also take the elevator to the top and get a great view of the city

View of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja

It was in this city we ate the most expensive breakfast of our lives… people are not exaggerating when they say that Iceland is expensive! For two bottles of water and two plates of eggs, toast, and bacon was 4400 ISK (Iceland Krone)- that’s $50.94 CDN! After that meal, we basically only bought groceries…


Once we were done wondering around the capital half-asleep (special mention goes to the person on our flight who started to RAP EMINEM LYRICS AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS at 1:30 AM and kept everyone awake. I guess when you feel the music, you feel it…) we drove to our first ever Airbnb experience.


Arriving exhausted and 30 minutes early, we parked outside of the house and fell asleep, until our host knocked on our windshield to invite us inside.


Now, we don’t have any prior Airbnb experiences to compare this to, but this place was pretty wonderful. It was the perfect balance between providing private and social spaces, which gave it a hostel-like feel. Did I mention it also had a natural hot tub out front?

That night our hosts encouraged us to take a 10 minute drive to a lighthouse in Gardur to try to catch a glimpse of the Northern lights.


Defeated by the other people parked with their car lights on trying to see the lights, we started to drive back. At that moment, Greg looked over his shoulder and saw a beautiful green shimmer dance across the sky. We were actually able to safely pull over and marvel at the Aurora Borealis (no photos this time folks, cell phones don’t quite capture it)!


Iceland is known for a few things including it’s fermented shark (Kæstur hákarl) I had been warned but also encouraged to try it. Our Airbnb hosts Karen and Johann happened to have some in their freezer, so lucky us, we got to try some for ourselves. You can watch the video on our Facebook page and you can decide if I liked it or not…


The second day we learned that driving for 11 hours is a bad idea.

Duh Krystal, of course it is.


Well, we wanted to go somewhere far so we did it anyway, and while it was worth it, we are never doing that again.


Let me explain. We were only staying in one spot for four days but we wanted to see most of the southern coast. This included:

  • The breathtaking drive along the Ring Road (Route 1)

  • The town of Vik (for it’s black sand beaches)

  • The Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón)

A total of 416.2 KM. One direction.


So, we woke up early, packed our lunches and started one of the most beautiful/frustrating road trips we had ever been on together.

Driving along ring road

The pictures don’t accurately capture the extent to how breathtaking the views of this drive were! The landscape in Iceland is very diverse, and while there are not many trees, it makes up for it with vibrant green hills, sharp peaks and windy roads.


Vik was our first stop along the way to stretch our legs and eat lunch. The sand is actually black and quite heavy (which I found fascinating).

Me taking a "nice" picture

100+ photos later (sorry Greg), we were ready to continue on our way, but then we hit our first snag: Greg’s credit cards stopped working.


You might be thinking that we could have just used mine. Nope. I forgot my wallet at the Air BnB.


Excellent.


With only a half a tank of gas left and 200 KM to go, we were on the verge of deciding whether or not we had to just turn back.


Luckily, Greg found a cash machine that he was able to withdraw from to fill up our car, but there was concern about whether or not his cards had been frozen.


We kept driving.


The landscape started to completely change on the second half of our drive to the Glacier Lagoon. Incredible mountains started to reveal themselves, waterfalls emerged around bends and the ground was sprinkled with lava rocks.

We stopped first at place called Diamond Beach, where chunks of ice had washed up on shore and, you guessed it, sparkled like oversized diamonds against the black sand.


Across the street was the glacier lagoon. I couldn’t believe it! The ice was actually blue.


The air was crisp and fresh, and we saw seals playing in the water around the floating hunks of glacier.


I remember thinking: "Is this real life?"

We could have stayed there for hours. It was so interesting to look at and explore, but we had to start making the 400+ KM trek back if we didn’t want to drive in the dark the whole time.


I won’t bore you too much with the details but the drive back was stressful. The roads in Iceland are not marked how we’re used to in Canada, and that night it poured rain, and the winds were relentless. Greg did an awesome job of keeping our little car from falling over any giant cliffs, and we were thankful to sit in the hot tub to relax our muscles when we got back.


Greg walking in Þingvellir

The third day was a trip to the Golden Circle, a much shorter drive from Keflavik, to explore:

  • Þingvellir National Park- one of the most beautiful parks that I have ever seen. The drive in is also amazing

  • Geysir geothermal area- you go there to to see water shoot out of the ground approx. every 10 minutes (unless you want to take a video, then it just does it whenever the hell it wants…)

  • Gullfoss (waterfall)- means “Golden Waterfall”. Amazing views and if the weather is good, you can walk pretty close to it

The fourth and final day in Iceland we drove a short distance from Keflavik to hike the Hveragerdi hot spring river trail. The hike starts with a steep incline but then evens out as you follow the river to see waterfalls, small bubbling geysers, steam and rolling hills.


We brought our bathing suits with us but had not decided if we actually wanted to swim in the hot spring.


As we walked over the last hill and saw fellow hikers relaxing in the heat of the water, we looked at each other and decided we’re doing this.


It was weird initially to change into my bathing suit in 8°C weather near strangers, but thankfully there were semi private changing areas to hide behind.


The water felt amazing.


I wouldn’t change a thing about that day.

Walking towards the hot spring (you can see the "change room" in the middle towards the right)

Okay, now let's recap:

Lessons Learned
  • Always have a waterproof jacket with you at all times (we chose to layer our jackets). The weather in Iceland changes very quickly!

  • Driving at night in Iceland is challenging. It’s better to leave earlier in the morning. Also it’s worth it to have more than one person insured on the rental vehicle to share the driving if possible

  • Iceland is VISA friendly, but not all VISAs/credit cards work in all shops. Carry a bit of Iceland Krona on you!

Recommendations
  • Aim to stay at least 5 days. We were there for 4 and felt like we ran out of time

  • Rent a car! There is so much to see and explore, but things are not close together. Cars are cheaper than the “Happy Campers” (especially because the laws have changed and you have to rent a campsite to sleep in one)

  • If you want to stay in Keflavik (it’s near the airport), check out our Airbnb! Johann and Karen are AMAZING and taught us so much about Iceland

  • Depending on where you are staying, break up the trip to The Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón) into two days and stop somewhere along the way. We didn’t want to because of the expense of booking in the south, but it would have been worth the cost

  • Bring collapsible containers to bring sandwiches on your hikes and be prepared to do groceries to save money. We shopped at Bonus (which Greg fondly referred to as the “Piggly Wiggly”)

Cost Breakdown for four full days in Iceland (in CDN):
  • Flight for 2 via Iceland Air (no return, final destination Dublin): $954.56

  • Rental Car: $328

  • Gas: $175

  • Accommodations for 2: $408.78 (91.14/night for 2 people)

  • Food: $181= 86 (groceries), 20 (Subway dinner), 53 (breakfast for 2 in Reykjavik), 22 (coffee/snacks while driving)

  • Attractions (Penis Museum + Church): $47

TOTAL MONEY SPENT: $2094.34 CDN

Country one: complete!


Takk fyrir lestur! (Thanks for reading!)

-Krystal


P.S. Greg’s credit cards are okay! Someone in Iceland just tried to be him for a day ;)


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