Thursday, November 7, 2019

Iceland: The Spectacular Land Of Fire And Ice...

After returning from my trip to Iceland, and talking to people about it, the first thing I am usually asked is “I've heard nothing but great things, and I have always wanted to go. Should I?” My response is always, "I would recommend this country to anyone and everyone. It was the most naturally-beautiful location I have ever been to." The best way to describe it is “other-worldly." From the landscapes that change every 30 minutes as you are driving, to the gorgeous, smaller towns, to the black sand beaches, glaciers, ice caves, volcanoes, lava tubes, spectacular waterfalls, and majestic mountains, you know you are somewhere pretty special. Pair it with the fact that the people of Iceland are the most authentically wholesome people I have been around, and you have what is perfection.

We took a flight that left on a Thursday night and, with the time change, arrived on a Friday morning. We flew into Reykjavic, which is on the Western part of the country. As soon as we got out of the plane, jet lagged and all because we hadn’t slept due to excitement, we went straight to pick up our rental car. We used Sixt, which is the rental company I always use if they have one in the area. As always they were responsive and very helpful with our questions or concerns. Once we picked up our car, we left for our 8-hour drive to the Northernmost town of Akureyri. You can tell a place is beautiful when the last thing on your mind is the jet lag, followed by an 8-hour drive, because you are consumed with mind-blowing landscapes throughout the entire drive. The town of Akureyri was beautiful and perfect as a stopover town as we were on our way around. It was easily explored in the few hours of night we had and few hours of morning before we got back on the road (Our game plan was to drive all the way around the country on Ring Road in 5 days).

The next day we were on our way to the Southeastern area where most of our sightseeing was going to be taking place. If you had the time like we did and are a Game of Thrones fan, I highly recommend stopping at Grjtogja Cave on the way as some of it was filmed there. After over a 100-hour drive, we made it to the town of Hof where we would be staying for two nights at the Fooshotel Glacier Lagoon. 10/10 recommendation for this hotel as it was not only gorgeous with a fantastic staff who were very helpful, but it was also ideally situated to see all of the main attractions that the south of Iceland has to offer (Glacier Lagoon, Svartifoss, Skaftafell, and Black Sand Beach, just to name a few).

My personal favorite was the Glacier Lagoon and the Vatnajokull Ice Caves. We woke up early the next day and took a quick easy fifteen-minute drive (even though I wish it was longer because in my opinion this area has the most unbelievable landscapes I've ever seen. When we arrived, we were in awe of an enormous lagoon full of multicolored glaciers. They were blue, white, black, and all shades in between. Behind this lagoon were snow covered mountains. The pictures, as beautiful as they are, do little justice to how truly impressive this was, which says a lot. After taking this in for a half hour we met up with our tour guide from Arctic Adventures. After explaining to us what we were about to go into, he brought us to the monster truck that would be driving us to the Vatnajokull Ice Caves. This made sense once we saw the terrain we would be driving through. Without this truck it would have been simply impossible to get there and it ended up being an awesome adventure in itself. Once we pulled up to the caves, our tour guide gave us our crampons (metal spikes to put on our boots so we could actually walk on the ice without slipping), our helmet, our headlamp, and we were on our way. Once inside the cave they gave us around an hour to explore which was plenty. As we did this our guide gave us facts about the caves that left us in awe. He was exceptionally knowledgable. So much so that I had assumed he had lived in Iceland his whole life, but he actually was a tourist just like us back in the day, and loved it so much that he never left. The same thought had run through my mind once or twice. Once the hour was up and everyone had climbed on everything they wanted to climb we hopped back in the monster truck and made our way back. This left us with the rest of the day to go on and see a few more of the waterfalls and such things.

As the next morning arrived we packed back up and headed to the Southernmost town of Vik. A very short drive compared to the two we had behind us. In Vik we decided to stay in a place that really screamed Iceland to us and that happened to be one of the Mid Hvoll Cottages. It was a little log cabin, where all you had around you were mountains, the ocean, and the rolling green hills. The log cabin was big enough, with a kitchen, a living room and a large bedroom to make it comfortable, but small enough where you truly felt close to nature. We dropped our things off and left to go explore the area visiting the black sand beaches, the Dyrholaey Arch, and a few more waterfalls. A nice relaxing day which is what we needed after hitting the ground running for the first few days. We spent the night having a drink on the porch watching for the Northern Lights until eventually we were so tired that we called it a night to get our rest for the next day.

Waking up, we packed our stuff to move one last time and headed back to Reykjavic, officially having traveled the entire country of Iceland with the amazing memories of ever-changing landscapes engrained in our heads. You can see these in a video compilation below that will show exactly what I am talking about. Once we made it to Reykjavic we put our luggage in our hotel and headed over the famous Blue Lagoon! On our way there we talked about how we were a little skeptical as it would probably be crowded with tourists, and could not look as amazing as it did in pictures, in person. When we arrived we were happily surprised to see that the lagoon was so much larger in person than it looked in pictures, and nowhere near crowded. We had plenty of space to wander around carefree. On top of this it was EXACTLY the way it looked in pictures (we bought our ticket to allow us to be there when sunset was occurring, which is an absolute must). We grabbed our robes, put them on the rack, and went into the lagoon. I'd say the temperature hovered around 98-100 degrees which was perfect considering that on the walk in you were almost turned into an icicle it was so cold. Once in the lagoon we headed over to the in lagoon bar, grabbed a couple of Iceland beers, and took an hour to just relax and enjoy the environment. I can confidently say that they proved me wrong about this being a tourist trap that did not live up to its reputation. It did live up to it and more. After this we got cleaned up and headed to the last attraction we would see in Iceland, the Vidgelmir Lava Caves.

We headed on our 3-hour drive to the lava caves excited to see exactly why Iceland was called the land of fire and ice. We had seen all of the ice and now it was time for the fire. When we got to the camp base we met up with our guide. He was wonderful and he and the other guides we met and talked to as we waited for the rest of the group were very knowledgable. During our talk we actually found out that our guide had been backpacking across the world and ended up staying in Iceland to be a tour guide for this very attraction. That’s how much of an impact Iceland can truly have on a person as there were a few other people we met on our journey through the land who had similar stories. Anyway, when the rest of our group finally arrived we went off on our hike to the caves. The hike itself was enjoyable with fantastic views of snow-covered land that never seemed to end. We eventually made it to the entrance of the cave. As we descended he led, making sure we avoided all the spots too covered in ice to pass safely. We went through looking at some of the most amazing stalagmite formations I had ever seen. Once deep enough the walls turn to an amazing spectrum of purple, orange, red, and all the mixture of the colors. Absolutely beautiful. We continued down while listening to all of the fascinating stories of how this cave had began along with intermittent stories of Iceland itself. We eventually neared the largest part of the cave which he explained was deep enough to actually have no light available except for those we were carrying. He asked us to turn off our lights to truly experience the absence of any light presence whatsoever and, as simple as it was, it was amazing. He explained that our eyes are very adaptable and can normally find some sort of minor light source allowing us to adjust and have some kinesthetic awareness, but in this cave the eyes would never be able to regardless of if you were here for a day or 1000. It was almost as if you could barely sense where your own body was. After one of the other tourists scared his daughter, pretending he was a boogeyman, who began to cry, we turned our lights and made for the cave entrance to leave. As we drove home we talked about the interesting facts we learned from our guide, enjoying the fact that we now knew exactly why this wonderful place was called the land of fire and ice.

Once we got back to the apartment we changed and went to grab dinner at
blank for our last night in Iceland. We walked through the streets of downtown looking at some of the cool little stores, and fascinating little shops. We arrived at the The Steakhouse, an elegant and stylish Reykjavik Restaurant. They had the best food and beverages. It's one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik Iceland. There were a few items that looked interesting, and as we kept scanning we saw a menu sampler that allowed multiple courses including all the interesting ones we saw so we gave no more thought and ordered that. It was one of the best decisions we made while we were in Iceland (which can be said for about every decision actually). Everything, the whale and reindeer in particular, were unbelievable. I wish I could have the reindeer again, but I was banned from eating it once I was back home and told a friend that I ate reindeer. His daughter heard and said she would never talk to me again if I ate anymore of Santa's Reindeer. Leaving the restaurant full and content, we headed on our way back to get some rest for our flight the next day.

Leaving this amazing place was extremely tough. The amount of time was enough to get a taste of the culture, but left us wishing we had a minimum of two more weeks to meet more people and spend more time exploring this out-of-this-world place and all of its glorious landsacapes. As I write this review I am actually missing Iceland and planning in my head the chance to go back.  For anyone lucky enough to enjoy this wonderful place, feel free to reach out to me and I can delve into my exact itinerary and all the suggestions that go along with it!