Lifestyle

Our Long Weekend in Iceland

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Hello readers!  I’m sorry I’ve been MIA for several months…this past spring the blog felt like a chore instead of a fun outlet, so I took some time away from it.  However, I’m back and ready to share my travels, fashion tips and home decor stylings!

My husband, Ryan and I just got back from an amazing trip to Iceland.  We were only there for 3 days, but it was a great way to introduce us to this beautiful country.  We spent two days exploring Reykjavik and one day seeing the Golden Circle.  We are already talking about the next time we visit, and seeing more of Iceland’s natural wonders.  Below I’ll detail our 3 days exploring, along with some tips if you decide to travel to Iceland.


ACS_1713Immediately upon arriving in Iceland Saturday morning, we went to the airport store to purchase a SIM card for one of our phones.  Compared to other trips, where it took hours at a phone store downtown to get a SIM card, this was an absolute breeze and took mere minutes.

Travel Tip:  If you don’t want to pay for an international phone plan, but you still need internet and texting access (we use our phones to navigate especially), consider “unlocking” your phone and purchasing a SIM card in the country you are visiting.  For more info on unlocking your phone, click here.

We then took the Flybus for our 45 minute drive into Reykjavik.  Already on the drive in, you could see the strange beauty of Iceland.  Being an island formed by volcanic eruptions, it’s rocky, black landscape peaking through the grass and moss, is foreign to a girl used to rolling hills and trees.

Travel tip: If you aren’t renting a car or van, and you are staying in Reykjavik, I highly recommend using Flybus.  You can book online in advance, based on your flight arrival and departure, and just show up to the bus with your confirmation.

Because our Airbnb wasn’t ready when we arrived into Reykjavik, we stopped for breakfast at Early In The Morning.  Chicly decorated in dark woods and velvet, this little breakfast spot was a great start to our day.  It was pricey, but included a lot.  There was a self service bar with juice, water, tea and coffee, of which I had two coffees and juice.  A warm bread basket with butter and jam was brought to your table, along with a little jar of Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.  Ryan chose a very European dish of sausage links, fried eggs and beans, while I had scrumptious little pancakes with Nutella and fruit.  Our bellies filled and our luggage dropped off, we set out to explore.

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ACS_1654 2.JPGMeandering through the streets, we took in the colorfully painted houses and shops, enjoying the cooler weather (a big departure from the muggy heat back home).  Though much of Reykjavik is filled with concrete buildings and modern architecture, it’s also dotted with cute chalet style homes painted in cheerful colors.  The abundance of planters filled with flowers and the colorful homes make the grey skies seem less bleak, and more soulful.

ACS_1658.JPGAt the top of the hill in Reykjavik, we came upon the famous Hallgrimskirkja Church.  It’s ultra  modern concrete exterior is unlike any other church I’ve seen.  It’s shape reminiscent of the fantastical organ inside, which contains over 5,000 pipes.  We sat down quietly in the church while the organist practiced for the upcoming morning mass, the music traditional in some ways, while also reminding me of background music from a sci-fi film.

As we made our way back down the hill and towards the coast line, we made note of art galleries and shops we wanted to peruse once they opened (the hours being a bit later than I’m used to at home).  Though fog hung low across the water, the view of the hills and water were still beautiful.  There is little pollution that plagues Iceland, so the water is clear and the air feels fresh.  Walking along the broad sidewalk hugging the water, we made our way towards the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, a magnificent modern building that mimics the metallic rainbow scales of a fish.  If anyone is an admirer of modern architecture, I recommend a look inside.

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ACS_1670Once our Airbnb was ready, we made our way back for a much needed nap.  We picked a location right by our Flybus and city bus stop, that was also close to plenty of restaurants.  Luckily, Reykjavik is a small enough city that almost anywhere you choose is within walking distance of restaurants and shops.  Dinner that night was at the famous Lebowski Bar, a quirky bar and restaurant with delicious burgers and alcoholic milkshakes.

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ACS_1714The next day we set out on our bus excursion of the Golden Circle.  Since we weren’t renting a car, but wanted to see some of the natural sights, booking a day tour was the way to go.

Travel Tip: Consider both options when exploring a new city, rental car vs bus passes/excursions.  Depending on the car rental cost, the cost of the excursion, the availability of public transport/walk-ability, and the amount of time spent there, either one could be more economical based on your situation.  We’ve rented cars in some cities that we explored for weeks, and other short trips we booked bus tours.  We never regretted either choice.

ACS_1707Our Golden Circle tour started with a visit to Þingvellir National Park.  Set amongst the largest lake in Iceland, this stunning vista was a sight to behold.  The water was so clear there were scuba divers nearby, ready to jump in and see the lake life.  The rugged cliffs, where the walking path started, were actually on the edge of the North American and European tectonic plates.  Our tour guide joked that we had never really left America until now.  We walked the area and enjoyed the serene water, mossy hills and vast countryside surrounding us.  It’s presence only subdued by the sad history of drownings and political dealings from the original Icelandic parliament.

 

ACS_1699Next on our tour was the Gullfoss Waterfall.  The ever-present rain during our trip becoming stronger as we got nearer to the site.  I’ve seen my fair share of waterfalls, and the only one that compares to its magnificence and magnitude (from my travel experience) is Niagara Falls.  We got sprayed with mist from the falls crashing into the cliffs, but it was well worth it for the views.  To dry off a bit and drink something warm, I got a delicious Swiss mocha  at the cafe, and found a beautiful ornament for our travel tree in the shop.

Our last stop of the tour was the Geysir, where all geysers get their name.   As we walked the path towards it, little craters of steam and bubbling water covered the ground, ensuring you that you were indeed on active volcanic ground.  As we approached, the Geysir shot up, but we only got a peek from the crowded sidewalk.  We got a better viewing area and waited a few more minutes, cradling our phones on video to capture the moment.  As evidence on my video, you could see how powerful the Geysir was when I shook the phone (and I jumped out of my skin).  It’s a brief moment, but fun to experience.

Before we took the bus back to Reykjavik, we had lunch at one of the cafes at the Geysir.  Supposedly there is a great, traditional lamb stew on the menu, but we went for a fast meal of pizza, so we wouldn’t be late.  After the hour and half drive back, and a nap at the Airbnb, we made our way down to the Old Harbour for dinner.  I always enjoy having fish when I visit coastal towns, but Ryan doesn’t like seafood.  To compromise, we found a restaurant that served a little of everything. Bryggjan Brugghús is a tasty microbrewery with a rotating beer selection, fresh seafood, pubfare, and live jazz on Sunday nights.  We started with a beer and cider, to drink alongside our basket of warm bread and black lava salted butter.  Our meals of fish and chips, and burger were big portions and we could barely finish.  The dinner was only soured by a confusing snafu with getting our bill…which I’ll say involved a snarky employee trying to make us look foolish, trying to figure out the check-out process.  No matter, the majority of Icelandic people during our trip were wonderful, we wouldn’t let this man bring us down.

IMG_2344On our walk back to the Airbnb, we stopped at the popular Valdís for dessert.  They have a great selection of ice cream, but we opted for sorbets.  Wandering the streets, enjoying the longer route back, we enjoyed our dessert in the hazy light peaking through the clouds.  It didn’t even feel like late at night, since the summer months have almost 20 hours of daylight here.

 

 

 


On our last day in Iceland, we started our day with some baked goods at the scrumptious Brauð & Co.  Its more well known location is near the cathedral in a brightly painted building, but the location we chose was in this little food hall.  It looked like a great place for breakfast and lunch, with a variety of vendors, so everyone can pick what they want.

ACS_1723After breakfast, we took advantage of the free ferry fare provided through our City Card.  The short ferry ride takes you to the secluded Viðey Island, a cute spot for some easy walking along a black sand beach and grassy hills.

Travel Tip:  Consider purchasing a City Card while in Reykjavik (there are 1, 2 and 3 day passes).  It includes bus transportation, and free fare for most of the museums, thermal pools and other activities like the ferry ride.  Only consider it though, if you need breaks from walking (families with little kids, elderly, or just get fatigued easy) and you are going to take advantage of the free fares offered.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to walk around Reykjavik, and personally for us we didn’t use our monies-worth for the price of the card.

I loved walking along the black sand and pebbles, so different from the beaches back home.  Even though Reykjavik isn’t all that crowded compared to other popular cities, it was still a nice break from the city.  We dipped our hands in the water, and it was no surprise how chilly the water felt.  It was the perfect day for a walk, sunny and in the mid-60s…it showed the nature and city skyline in a whole new vibrant light.

 

After our ferry ride, we stopped for lunch at the Old Harbour at the Grandi Mathöll.  It’s another great food hall, with permanent food trucks and stalls selling a variety of different cuisines.  We opted for spicy chicken sandwiches, which you could tell were freshly breaded and fried.

We decided after our meal to do some art gallery hunting and window shopping.  There were a few nice Keramik (ceramic) galleries that Ryan enjoyed perusing and speaking with the artists.  The last gallery we visited, in which Ryan found a great mug to buy, gave me a chuckle.  Since Iceland is usually chilly, air conditioning is not a common commodity in these shops.  Since it was an unusually warm day, and I was wearing a cute but hot sweater dress, the stores were quite hot.  I stepped outside while Ryan chatted with the artist, and he later said the artist was amused that the wife was outside waiting, while the husband was the one shopping.  Life with an inquisitive ceramic artist has always been this way for me….I let him chat up a storm, and I go find a bench. 😉

IMG_2478.JPGAfter another break at the Airbnb, listening to music on the record player and packing our things, we opted for an easy and cheaper dinner at the Noodle Station.  It was recommended by a friend and it was one of the best Asian meals I’ve had.  You choose between chicken, beef or vegetables in your noodle soup.  The broth is made from a secret family recipe and the dish is topped with green onion, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts. Perfect dish for the chillier weather that is standard in Iceland.

Travel Tip:  Be prepared to spend a lot on food and other items in Iceland.  It’s expensive.  We tried to pick more reasonable priced restaurants, but still spent around $60-70 a check for us as a couple.  Budget well, because Iceland is worth the expense.

Our  time in Iceland was brief, but we saw so much beauty in three days…I can’t wait to go back and explore more!

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