Viking Tombs and Blue Lagoons – Iceland Part 3

Here we arrive at part 3, the final contribution to my Iceland saga! If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, check them out!

On the 7th day of our trip, we woke up in our favourite campsite, Kirkjubæjarklaustur to the sounds of sheep bleeting and children yelling to their parents about how high up they’ve climbed the mountain behind us. And the craziest thing happened. I listened for rain and I didn’t hear it. I felt for the howling wind pushing our van around and I didn’t feel it. For the first morning since we arrived, I opened the van door to shining sun! This made for a good morning as we ate our Skyr and granola and set out to find our free coffee at the gas station down to the road.

We were heading west this morning, on our way to The Blue Lagoon which we would be visiting later in the afternoon. We planned to stop at a few places on the way back, the first of which was Hjörleifshöfði, a supposedly haunted hill just east of Vik. The legend goes that the hill’s namesake, Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson was a Nordic viking who settled on the hill, building a farm, during the winter of 874 with his Irish slaves. Within a year, the slaves had killed the Viking. His brother, Ingólfur Arnarson, (who because of Hróðmarsson’s death became known as the first Nordic settler in Iceland), sought revenge on the slaves and killed them one by one. Ever since, this hill is said to be haunted, the tomb of Hjörleifur sitting at the very top, overlooking the Ocean.

After climbing the hill, visiting the tomb, signing the guestbook (weird…), and walking through some farm ruins (not the original farm…a more recent farm), we got in the van and drove towards Vik to fill up on gas and chocolate.

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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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So much time was spent in this van…
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This happened all the time…
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Starting the trek up the haunted hill.
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At the top of Hjörleifshöfði.
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The Viking tomb and guestbook.
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Hjörleifshöfði

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These are the graves of a family who built a farm on this hill a very long time ago.
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Together at the top.
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Overlooking the black sand beaches.
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On our way down.
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The remains of the stone farmhouse.
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nestled between hills.
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Hjörleifshöfði
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At the bottom of Hjörleifshöfði
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Jamie in the flowers

After surviving the insanity of a rare gas station on a lonely road on a Sunday afternoon, we drove to Reynisfjara Beach to check out the basalt columns (the black rock that looks like cubes stacked on top of each other), the big cave and of course, the black sand. This is the most famous of Iceland’s black sand beaches, and it’s got the tourists to prove it.This was a beautiful spot and the islands jutting out of the ocean are cool to see in person. If we had more time, I would have liked to hang out more here, but we had a plan! There’s a restaurant called Black Beach restaurant which we considered eating at, but instead decided we would hit up the Fish and Chips truck we saw earlier in the trip at Skogafoss.

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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach basalt columns
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Reynisfjara Beach basalt columns
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Cute church at Reynisfjara Beach
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Fish and Chips truck at Skogafoss
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Fish and Chips truck at Skogafoss

So back we drove to the Fish and Chips truck. Let me tell you, on a long, mostly desolate road, seeing this bright red, adorable Fish and Chips shack seems like a gift from the heavens. But in all honesty, although the owners were lovely and there was nothing really wrong with our meals, I was hoping to get a bit more out of this. Back home, chip trucks are where you get the most delicious, fresh french fries. These fries were very clearly frozen McCain or similar. The battered fish was yummy and filled us up. But for both of our baskets which each contained 1 small piece of fish and a handful of fries, the $40 didn’t seem worth it. I would recommend trying out the Skogafoss restaurant or the Black Beach restaurant instead.

Then it was my turn in the driver’s seat, taking us the rest of the way to The Blue Lagoon. This was by far the most recommended experience in Iceland – everyone asked if we were going, everyone wanted to make sure we had booked in advance (we booked a spot in the pool a week in advance but were too late to book massages – some people book 6 months in advance for this). I had a perception of this place before we went that it would be a very serene, spa like experience. And to a certain extent it was – there were luxurious change rooms to get into your bathing suits (with futuristic lockers that were hard to figure out), then you go through a door to the indoor co-ed hot tub entrance. Once you decide it’s time to venture outside, theres a half-underwater door that takes you through an “informational cave” that has a recording of the facts about the Blue Lagoon (it’s man made lagoon that’s full of natural mineral-rich water that comes from underground – the minerals in the water are said to have many health benefits). And then you just float around in the warm water! You’re also encouraged to get a free mud mask, so when you look around it’s just a sea of people with white goo on their faces. There’s a nice section that has a dry sauna, a wet sauna and a steam room like other spas I’ve been to. But unlike other spas I’ve been to, this one also had large groups of tourist children on school trips. Because although this is spa-like it’s also a very popular tour destination. So while I might have expected a quiet, float around the pool, I didn’t expect there to be several 15 year old Scottish boys on a field trip doing pull-up competitions on the wooden archs. I also didn’t expect there to be a swim up bar either, but that was more of a happy surprise. All in all, it was gorgeous and I loved it. Floating in warm water can do no wrong.

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At The Blue Lagoon…In the information cave
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At The Blue Lagoon…In the information cave
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Out in the foggy mist at The Blue Lagoon
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Jamie also thinks this is a romantic place.
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The hoards lining up for free face mud masks
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mud masks acquired.
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Mud monster in the mist…

That night, we had our one and only restaurant dinner in Iceland at Snaps Bistro. I had mussels and frites and a pistachio, goat cheese, honey concoction for dessert. It was delicious. Slightly better than hot dogs and Sidekicks, I will admit. The next morning was our last in Iceland and we spent it roaming around Reykjavik looking for souvenirs and taking in the city. It was so charming and there were so many lovely shops with lots of unique stuff.

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Delicious…and yes the French Onion Soup is 2.300 Icelandic Krona. Or $23 Canadian dollars… This is why we only ate out once.
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cheeyaws!
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Americans at the bar drinking $25 Long Island Iced Teas.
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Reykjavik
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Rooster in Reykjavik
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The Always Christmas store!
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Such nostalgia for childhood here
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Fancy stores selling fancy designer stuff
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lots of yummy smelling things
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Just the kind of random cute shops I love
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Love all the paintings on the wall
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The famous Hallgrímskirkja Church
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HOT BUNS
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Pretty red door
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Reykjavik street art
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More Reykjavik street art

We had breakfast at one of the most delightful cafes I’ve ever seen, called Stofan Cafe. If you’re in Iceland looking for Hipsters, go here. They’re all here drinking coffee out of adorable tea cups and eating pastries on varying, eclectic antique chairs. Jamie had a healthy granola and berries while I dampened my sadness at this being our last day by eating a piece of chocolate cake. We strolled around until we caught our bus to Kaflavik to catch our flight home.

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Stofan Cafe – best for Icelandic hipsters
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Love the eclectic feel of this place
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In love with the retro antiques
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Healthy breakfast for Jamie
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Chocolate Cake for me.

Ugly: In Iceland, we could only afford dinner at one restaurant, the Fish and Chips truck was too expensive, and I found myself craving hot dogs and sidekicks for months afterwards. I did this to myself.

Awesome: I loved that for the last couple days of our trip, the sun came out to put a positive spin on everything we did. It’s crazy how much the sun/ weather colours our memories in a certain way. I loved walking around the city with our coffee in the sun, the fresh breeze feeling like fall. I love that it’s my last memory of Iceland.

Well, that concludes the Iceland saga! I hope I’ve provided some info for those making the trek seeing as EVERYONE I KNOW seems to be travelling there. And I couldn’t be happier – if you have the opportunity, don’t miss it. And tell me all about it when you get back.

 

 

 

 

Where the Trolls are – Iceland Part 1

Hi friends!!

So many people I know are going to Iceland. Back in November when Jamie and I booked this trip for my 30th birthday, I though we were cool, hip adventurers going where no hipster had gone before. Turns out everyone and their spray tan technician are going to Iceland, so I thought I should post a bit about it for people who are planning a trip!

First thing: Jamie and I went at the end of May. Which can be a blessing and a curse. It’s between seasons so there are a bunch of tours that don’t run because Winter is over but the Summer season tours haven’t begun yet. There are also a few roads you can’t access because the thawing snow and ice make the roads too muddy. So while you may be limited in your activity options somewhat, it’s also much less busy during this time of year than the summer and a little bit cheaper too. Speaking of which, you know how they say Iceland is Greener than Greenland? That’s because there’s SO MUCH CASH MONEY COMING INTO THIS PLACE. Iceland is the most expensive place I’ve ever visited. It’s worth it and I loved it, but be prepared to spend some money, even doing it the cheap way like we did.

So because I took 1 thousand pictures, I’ve split this post into parts. This is part 1. How many parts will there be? I have no idea. Also, sorry for all the landscapes but this is my post, not yours so just deal with it.

As Jamie and I were flying above Reykjavik, we watched the sun shining over the clouds at 4am. It was exciting to see we might get some sun on our first day! However, as the plane started its decent, we broke through a thick shelf of clouds and all of a sudden the sun was gone. We wouldn’t see it again for another 3 days. Iceland!

Our first morning we landed in Keflavik, took a shuttle to the downtown Reykjavik bus station, took a cab to get breakfast at the only hotel that had breakfast that early then went to pick up our camper van. We used CampEasy and while there were a few hiccups at the start (did you know it’s not legally necessary to have a rearview mirror in Iceland?), ultimately they were great and even came to us to replace to our tiny fridge later on the trip when it conked out. Note: Standard vehicles in Iceland are always cheaper and more easily available. If you can’t drive a stick like us, make sure to book well in advance and be prepared to pay a little more.

Then we went to the Bonus supermarket to pick up groceries for our trip. This is where we discovered Iceland’s answer to the greek yogurt craze “Skyr”. Looks like President’s choice has recently released a “Skyr – style yogurt” of their own, but honestly it’s not like the real thing. It’s just yummy. And it’s everywhere in Iceland. And we ate it for breakfast every day.

So, by the time we started to head out of the city towards Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we were pretty tired as we had been up for 30 something hours, so at one point we pulled over to the side of the road on a cliff face and had a nap in our van. Waking up and looking out your window at the Icelandic scenery never got old. Every 10 minutes you’re driving through a completely different type of landscape that varies from “looks like the moon” to “looks like a a giant moss monster lay down on everything”. We drove a couple of hours through super windy mountainous roads and legit creepy fog to reach our first campsite, Olafsvik.

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Driving to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Driving to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Driving to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Stopping for a break in our Camper Van
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Our first campsite: Ólafsvík

The campsite was lovely – it had nice heated washrooms and showers and a kitchen room that everyone could share. We met some cool people from around the world and ended up chatting through dinner and getting some ideas for the rest of trip.

The next day, we woke up to pouring rain and howling wind (that day would end up being a high of 10° and a low of 4°) and started driving west along the northern edge of the peninsula to Skorosvik. There’s a place you can park your car to lookout over a beautiful beach. We thought it would be a nice place for our first hike of the trip, so we started walking along the cliffs towards the Ondveroarnes lighthouse. This hike was super windy and a little rainy but it really felt like we were walking along the edge of the Earth. There was no one else hiking there so we had it all to ourselves. We walked for about an hour and a half to the lighthouse, had some snacks and walked back to the car.

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Waking up the next morning
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Ondveroarnes lighthouse
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Cool Truck

Then we drove about 20 minutes along the coast to Dritvik where there was a beautiful black sand beach with crazy gigantic waves. We only stayed there for a short time because the rain was starting to come down harder, so we drove to Hellnar for lunch at Primus Cafe . Sitting in the cafe eating lamb stew watching the rain on the Ocean from the floor to ceiling windows I remember it being half cozy and gorgeous, half dreary and desolate. Iceland for me fits this description a lot of the time. Eerily beautiful minimalism can also sometimes feel like bleak isolation. It’s so gorgeous and it’s not Mexico. Remember that.

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Dritvik
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Dritvik
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Dritvik
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Dritvik
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Lamb stew at Primus Cafe in Hellnar

We kept driving to our next campsite, which turned out to be the cutest working sheep farm where they also let travellers set up tents and campervans on their front lawn. They had a little cafe for food, warm washrooms and a food prep area for visitors. We met a couple from Ontario who were touring Iceland, sleeping in their tent…brave souls. That night was just as rainy and windy as all the rest of our nights had been and it caused us to sleep in a little later the next day.  The Bjarteyjarsandur Family Farm also gives school tours. So imagine our surprise when we woke up the next morning and walked out of our van in our PJs to a group of 30 adorable Icelandic kindergarten students staring at us while eating their morning snack. Góðan daginn!

While we were packing up to head out, a couple of the resident goats broke the rules and made their way into the cafe, standing on the tables and chairs, causing quite the ruckus. They were super cute and everyone wanted to take them home with them.

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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Arrived at Hvalfjörður Bay
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm Piano
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm Taxidermy
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm Sweaters
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In our camper van, writing in my Journal at Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm goats on the tables!
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm chair goat
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm blanket goat

We stopped at a gas station for our free coffee (pro tip: all the gas stations have a sketchy pot of coffee that is free for anyone who wants it. Don’t ask questions…just take the coffee. It’s allowed) and started driving towards Glymur, my favourite of all the waterfalls we saw in Iceland (and there were a lot). This was my favourite day in Iceland. The sun was shining a little bit off and on, and while the Glymur hike is not for everyone (the beginning is easy but the higher you get, the harder the hike and people afraid of heights may not enjoy it so much), I loved it. The views from the top of our hike were amazing and the challenge is so worth it when you get to the top. You can actually hike much farther than we did, going around to the other side of the falls, but we did about a 4 hour hike up one side to the top and back down.

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Driving to Glymur
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Glymur warnings!
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur – crossing the river
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Hiking up Glymur – crossing the river
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur – whoa blue skies!!
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Crossing the river again!

Then it was time for the Golden Circle. In my opinion, this Golden Circle is the most overrated, over-publicized part of Iceland. Or maybe we didn’t do it right? I dunno, but in comparison to the other things we saw and did, it makes me think this part of Iceland is so popular because it provides a few different types of things to see (a couple geysers, a waterfall, some National Park land), it’s relatively close to Reykjavik and you can do the whole thing in a few hours. This is the perfect tour for a 82 year old who is very into turbines, tourist families and waterfalls covered in safety warnings. Skip it.

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Gulfoss in the Golden Circle
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I think I look like the elf grandma from The Neverending Story here.
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Gulfoss in the Golden Circle

 

Ugly: As I’m remembering these days, I think of them so fondly but I also remember how dark and dreary these days were. I know during other seasons, the weather is a bit sunnier and warmer but I would caution anyone thinking of going: It can get a little depressing. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to experience it, but I think I learned how much I appreciate the sun on this trip and how much a lack of sun affects my personality. Sun worshipers beware.

Awesome: I will always remember our camper van with love. It was such a cozy retreat from the wind and rain and Jamie and I got into such a comfortable routine every morning and night. To find out if you really love someone: Spend 8 days together cooking, changing and sleeping in a 17 ft by 7 ft van. Also these first few days really felt like we were exploring new terrain. Every hour seeing new landscapes that I had never known about let alone seen before made the long drives seem more like discoveries.

And thus concludes part 1 of the Iceland series! Come back next time for harrowing tales of black sand beach surfing, $40 fish and chips and what happens when you get in a hot spring with a thousand British children!

P.S. If you liked this, check out Part 2 and Part 3!