Travel: Off to Iceland

Alright, I finally got this up! I had a slight set back when my post got deleted after I finished about 80% of it, but, here we are!

As part of my official duties as maid of honor in my cousin’s wedding, last August I began planning her bachelorette weekend. While a few options were thrown out as I mentioned, we settled on Reykjavik, Iceland. Not shocking to those who have been there – it did NOT disappoint!

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bedroom view of Hafnarfjordur

Day 1: Relax.

We stayed at an Airbnb about 15 minutes outside of Reykjavik in Hafnarfjordur. I was lucky enough to have booked an Airbnb with a host who also provided transit, so when we arrived at 5a, he was there to pick all of us up and take us to the house.

Planning for transit was probably the most difficult part of this trip before we found out our host was able to transport all of us. This saved me so much time and money in the end. If you’re not staying downtown and/or are staying in an Airbnb, I definitely recommend contacting your host before and asking whether they have any connections or recommendations. If they are anything like the the people we met, they will be more than willing to help you find something!

After sleeping off some jet lag, we went downtown Reykjavik to grab lunch at The Laundromat Cafe. One issue we commonly experienced was that since we had 16 people, a restaurant either couldn’t accommodate our size or said we had to choose from a preset menu. Here, this was also the case, and since we didn’t have reservations they were a bit caught off guard, however they were able to accommodate us by seating between three separate tables. Only reason I mention this is that this can be a deal breaker for many people, but it really didn’t inconvenience us, they were still pretty quick and the food was really good!

Blue Lagoon: Next was a big bucket list item I am sure you have all seen on Instagram, The Blue Lagoon. Many travelers recommend going on your way to/from the airport since it is pretty close by.

The drive out there really helped set the scene for me later that day and got me really excited for the full geothermal spa experience. The lagoon is just as magical as it looks in pictures. The color of the water and general ambiance are incredible … and catching the sunset our first day with a glass of champagne in hand confirmed what a great idea this trip was.

FYI – tickets at Blue Lagoon are like airline tickets. As soon as you know you want to get them – buy them, or the closer it gets, the higher up in price they go based on demand. When we first looked, they were $40 but by the time I went to purchase a month prior, they were $80. It is cheaper to buy ahead of time either way and it was definitely still worth it! You have an hour time window to arrive in order to get in with your ticket or they cannot guarantee your spot, which I thought was a pretty generous allowance. There a few different packages you can get, depending on what you want to do there, but all come with entrance and a mud mask. My skin felt amazing after the mask, too.

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Once I got all of the activities planned and reservations made, I started looking at what kind of food I should buy for the house. Once again, Costco saved the day. Our dear host had a membership and he ran around the store with me while I grabbed items Black Friday style. He was telling us how much Costco has changed their country, something I never really thought about since we have access to every kind of food in America. Before Costco, getting fresh produce imported to their local stores was very expensive. Since Costco is able to import so many exotic and unique fresh products they haven’t had access to in abundance, it has greatly impacted how they cook and what they cook with. At least according to Jon …

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We had dinner that night in downtown Reykjavik at Kol Restaurant. It was difficult to decide on a restaurant since so many great ones were recommended, but like I mentioned above, the preset menu quickly narrowed that list. I am still dreaming of the sautéed scallops and shallots, the beef tenderloin and that chocolate mousse brownie!

Day 2: Adventure.

When looking at things to do in Iceland, the winter activities list is pretty impressive, but what caught our eyes was the option of snowmobiling around a glacier. At first we really weren’t sure how feasible it was to coordinate for a group, but it ended up being pretty reasonable given the transit and the experience. This would be the number one thing I would recommend doing in the winter with a group any size and age! It was incredible.

After talking with and eventually booking through a company called Wake Up Reykjavik they were able to help me work out a deal for a full adventure day for our group. Wake Up Reykjavik is a great, young company that has tons of deals on different tours throughout the country. They were really helpful and quick with their response to my inquires and I’d definitely use them again if I had the chance. For our trip, they worked with Arctic Adventures to coordinate the snowmobiling and ice cave excursion. This company was one of the first I came across on my search and was the main one recommended by bloggers I connected with. When Arctic Adventures arrived to pick us up, I was happy to see they were the real deal.

Note, definitely bring food and dramamine. It is a longgg day! We left the house at 12:00p and returned roughly 10 hrs later. The roads can get a little rocky. 

After two hours of travel, our first transit vehicle dropped us at Gullfoss Falls to transfer to our Super Jeep. There is a tourism store, quick-mart and also restrooms on site. One interesting thing I hadn’t experienced is that using a public restroom will cost you two dollars. I wondered how that would translate in America and whether my Crohn’s card would work. I luckily didn’t have to find out.

Our Super Jeep finally arrived and once again I was relieved that it was up to par with expectations, since unbeknownst to us, we would be riding in it for another hour up to the snowmobiles. This could have been due to weather or could be custom, but I also noticed that every time someone would quote me a time, such as 1-2 hours of transit to snowmobiling, you double that and there’s the real time. Since we didn’t know what to expect and were having a good time, it didn’t matter.

After another hour of driving, getting stuck in the snow and a few motion sickness episodes, and we arrived at a location in the middle of a glacier, lined with snowmobiles. After meeting our guides and having some good luck, we all hopped on our own snowmobiles. 16 girls riding off into the sunset in bright neon orange and yellow snowsuits is just as hilarious and awesome as I thought it would be.

We snowmobiled for about 30 minutes before reaching a stopping point. We then got off the snowmobiles to explore the inside of an ice cave. To be honest, I was so caught up with how awesome snowmobiling was and also making sure everyone was accounted for that I didn’t really listen to the history behind the cave, but it was definitely quite the experience.

We hopped back on the snowmobiles and began the trek back to the main site. It was pretty exhilarating and also a pinch terrifying when the wind picked up and snow blew across the horizon and suddenly I didn’t see the lights that I was following. I took the opportunity to go rogue for a minute and make a path through some fresh powder. Definitely worth it. There are three guides on the trip so one quickly guided me back to the group. 🙂

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Fast forward through a three hour ride home, dinner, gifts, games, and a night out downtown that started at Austur and ended with a burrito and sharing a coat with my cousin, we collectively agreed it was one of the best days of our lives.

Day 3: Derailed.

The first two days had gone perfectly! Everything was on schedule, until Saturday morning. We planned to go to Friedlhmar for lunch (the cutest little restaurant inside of a greenhouse), we were informed that our plans had to change because of the weather. We instead went to Bryggjian Brugghus for lunch, which was actually a better fit for our current mood. It is a brewery and bistro that sits next to the port. The food and drinks were exactly what we needed. (pictured above).

As the weather continued to get more and more intense, we had to cancel our Northern Lights Tour for that evening. While this was a bummer, we still had a great day wandering through downtown Reykjavik!

Note: Opal, their local spirit, has a very … unique flavor, which reminded me of Robotossin and licorice. It is definitely something special!

With the night now open, we instead went to The Lobster House for dinner. Surprisingly, they let us all order separately instead of requiring a preset menu, which was nice!

Unfortunately, I was not feeling very well. As the jet lag caught up with me, combined with the previous nights festivities and the impending storm on my mind, my stomach quickly reacted to all the excitement. I regret not trying whale or any of the other foods unique to the region, however, all the food I had was excellent.

Day 4: Cancelled.

We had intended to go downtown and shop for the day until our flight, however, we got notice that weather was getting increasingly worse. So we tried to quickly get to the airport before the storm got too intense, however, we had to transfer to a larger vehicle since ours couldn’t go down the roads to the airport any longer due to the speed of the wind. This isn’t something I have ever experienced in America, but worked out okay in the end. We got to the airport around 1p and, due to delays, didn’t take off until 4:30a the following day.

I have to give the entire group big props because it could have gotten pretty ugly. While it wasn’t the perfect end to such an incredible trip, we made the best of it … by drinking 15 bottles of wine, playing cards on the ground, going live on Instagram and getting yelled at a very grumpy man trying to sleep at the airport. Fast forward through a few flight delays, Chicago Monday morning traffic, and I couldn’t have been happier to see Whole Foods and then my bed.

Iceland, I cannot wait to visit again!

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Tips:

  • Alcohol – Buy alcohol at Duty Free if you remember. You can’t buy alcohol at the grocery either, you have to go their designated beer and liquor stores to get it and those generally closed at 6p.
  • Reservations – I think it is prudent to make reservations before visiting, especially if you have a bigger group. Reykjavik opened something like 30 new restaurants downtown last year, so you know they are busy!
  • Cabs – Uber does not exist, and cabs can be quite expensive.
  • WIFI – is almost everywhere, I didn’t use my international plan at all.
  • Tipping isn’t customary, as it is in the US.
  • Krona – is their currency, however, I used my card which has a 0% foreign transaction fee, and never had an issue.
  • Crime – is relatively nonexistent. The crime rate is so low, it’s incredible. We all felt very safe while visiting.
  • Iceland time – double what you are quoted.

 

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