A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland is cool (figuratively and literally)

After our whale watching tours were cancelled on Monday, we rescheduled for the Tuesday morning tour. We went on the 9 am Elding whale watching tour which lasted 3 long, cold, slightly miserable hours. It turns out we aren't the patient whale watching people. We only saw one whale for one second. Elding offered us free tickets for the next tour which we quickly declined. After sitting on the top deck for 1.5 hours, we were cold and went inside. The interior of the boat was freezing cold too, and we were beyond relieved when we pulled back into Reykjavik's old harbor and got off the boat.

We immediately hauled it to the little food truck called Walk the Plank. The owner cooked us crab cake sliders and potatoes. Not only was he the chef, he was also the fisherman. He caught the crab at 3 that morning. The sliders were scrumptious and a redeeming part of the whale watching debacle.


On our way to the Reykjanes peninsula which is where Keflavik airport and the Blue Lagoon are located, we stopped at Kringlan Mall. Kringlan is the largest mall in Iceland. Most of our souvenir purchases offered a tax refund if we took the time to deal with the hassle of getting the refund. We filled out the paperwork and got our tax refunds which gave us money for dinner.

We checked into our guesthouse Megan found on Airbnb. It was located on a farm by the coast right next to a lighthouse. It was a serene setting. We walked around the farm for a minute, and Erin managed to step into a giant puddle.


We headed to the famous Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is filled with mineral water, rich in silica and sulphur, that is geothermal lay heated. The lagoon is a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant. The water is constantly 37-40 Celsius. The Blue Lagoon offers spa treatments, has a fancy restaurant, and is the most relaxing place I have ever been to.

We splurged for he 65 euro comfort package which includes a trial pack of skin lotion, a towel, a robe, a drink, and a mud mask. It was well worth every dollar. Geothermal pools are a big deal in Iceland. Icelanders love them. Since the water isn't treated with chemicals, you must shower (without a swimsuit) before entering the pool. They have posters showing you where you must wash before entering the lagoon. They are comical. Also, the lagoon water will dry out your hair, so it is suggested you use a lot of conditioner and leave it in. Our hair still feels like straw after very intense conditioning.

We showered, changed, and entered the lagoon for the most relaxing 3 hours of our lives. Around the lagoon, they have free silica masks that we put on for ten minutes. Then we got our drinks ( a strawberry skyr smoothie for me) and put on our mud masks.

Around this time, we saw Abby and Liz (Liz's GoPro made it easy to sight them in the steam cloud above the pool). The last two days, Abby and Liz did a speedy road-trip through the south after they had picked our brains about where to go. It was fun to catch up with them, and once again, it made it seem like a small world.

An employee at the Blue Lagoon passed out samples of lip balm and algae face mask. We talked to the employee whose name was Erla (in Icelandic, it is not pronounced how it looks). Erla studied abroad at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches. We talked about her experience in Texas and how much she loved living in east Texas. Nacogdoches seems like a undesirable location to us, but Erla loved it because it was so different from Iceland.

Liz and Abby headed back to Reykjavik, and Megan, Erin, and I headed to the one restaurant in the nearby town of Vogar. We ordered pizza, and originally wanted to order the 9 inch pizza. The waitress told us Icelandic children usually order the 9 inch pizza, and since we were Americans, we would want to order a larger size. Basically, she said we were fat Americans, so we lived up to her stereotype and ordered the 12 inch pizzas. We didn't want to crush the waitress's belief of American's eating habits, so we ate our pizzas and followed them up with ice cream. The restaurant owner was a cute old man who traveled a lot. He chatted with us for a while, and we learned his favorite place in America was Alaska. He also shut his restaurant down every December and January and traveled to warmer weather. Isn't that the life?

Our Icelandic adventure unfortunately had to come to an end. We woke up early on Wednesday and cooked some eggs that the owner gathered from the chickens who live on the farm. We went back to the Ikea-inspired Keflavik airport, but first, we parted ways with our beloved Skoda Octavia rent car. She did well with our 2,000 kilometers of driving. At the Hertz, we ran into the couple from Weatherford, Texas whom we saw at Thingvellir Park days earlier. After checking our bags, we set out to spend our remaining krona, and we met up with Abby and Liz who were flying out at the same time as we were.

We all headed to our separate flights, and all made it home to our respective locations. All good things, including 12 day trips to Iceland, have to end. Our Icelandic adventure was a once-in-a-lifetime trip on which we made memories to last a lifetime. If you are able bodied and into pretty scenery, I suggest you pack your hiking boots & rain coat and head to Iceland for an adventure you won't forget!


Below are just a few of our memories and accolades we awarded for this trip:

Best meal - Tryggvaskali in Selfoss
Best Icelandic food - NOT SHARK, Smoked trout & mashed fish
Best tour guide - Not creepy Lolli from the walking tour. MIKE from the glacier hiking wins.
Best activity - glacier hiking
Best car sleeper - Erin & Laura
Best Icelandic landscape - lava fields, glacial lagoon, and rolling green hills between Vik & Skogar
Best sightseeing - accidental Glymur hike
Best swimming - Seljavallaug & Silfra
Best mishap - Hertz debacle on day 1, Falling water bottle on the glacier that was rescued by the Spaniards, ram intrusion on our picnic, Erin's attire day 1 (shorts & chacos), Sloppy Skogar (wifi in parking lot, walk to museum before deciding to drive, hostel check in in the restaurant we just ate in, Charlie Mansion, secret waterfalls we never found, shower doors that wouldn't shut, drying out of travelers checks, uncomfortable metal spring bed, my refusal to use a comforter, Erin crawling under the bed to find outlets, expensive laundry that required two rounds of drying, hike to top of Skogafoss that nearly killed us, walk back after swimming, & furnace drying)
Best waterfall - Gljufrabui
Best quote -
Erin: "To whom did you speak to about the wifi?"
Megan: "The wifi master?"

Laura: "Where are we [on the map]?"
Gas station employee: "Iceland"


Best Icelandic stereotype that turned out to be true - Icelanders give general directions (evidence: Hertz fiasco on day 1)
Best Icelandic beer - Vatnajökull & Viking stout,
Best road trip song - "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift o
Best bar - Kex Hostel & Kaldi
Best Megan vocabulary word - promenade & switchback
Best Iceland animal - Erin's choice-puffin, Megan's -sheep, Laura's-horse
Best Iceland word we can pronounce (or at least give it a good effort)- Erin's-Eyjafjallajökull, Laura's- snyrting, Megan's- kaffi
Best little village - Hofn & Selfoss
Best beach - Dyrhólaey & Reynijsfara
Favorite character - Russ (Scottish kid at hostel) & Jane Wei with her puffin hat
Favorite picture - Megan's-sheep selfie, Erin's-scuba sign at Silfra, Laura's- late night wifi in Skogar parking lot
Best awkward moment - Erin's choice- Laura's handshake with Louis/Ross stripping twice, Megan's- saying "hiiiii" to waitress in creepy voice when waiting for her lamb Bernaise at coffee shop on day 1 & Lolli asking us if 18, Laura's- Megan mistakenly poking British girl's butt instead of Erin's during Silfra snorkeling
Best wifi- Hjardarból Hostel
(We were able to flawlessly stream the A&M game from our beds.)
Best bed - Puffin Hostel in Vik & Hafnarnes in Hofn
Best shower - Hjardarból Hostel & Grundarfjörður Hostel
Best toilet - Hafnarnes Hostel
Best overall - Narfokut house
Best water - Grundarfjörður

Posted by lsto90 20:57 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Oh whale...

When you think of Iceland, you automatically think of snorkeling and scuba diving, right? Okay, probably not. However, snorkeling is an activity you can do in Iceland. Most people don't sign up for this adventure, so of course, we signed up.

Silfra fissure is a crack between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Silfra is the only place where one can dive or snorkel directly in the crack between two continental plates.

It is around 36 degrees year round. The water is pure mineral water from the Langjökull glacier and this water is filtered through porous underground lava for 30-100 years until it reaches the north end of Thingvellir lake, seeping out from underground wells. The water is nutrient free, so there are no fish in the fissure.

Fun fact: all the underwater scenes in Noah starring our girl Emma Watson were filmed in Silfra.

Louis from Dive outfitters picked us up from our hostel at 8:30. When he arrived, he went in for a handshake, and my hands were full, resulting in an awkward handshake at which Erin and Megan have had fun laughing. We drove an hour to Silfra fissure in Thingvellir National Park. En route, we signed our first waiver in Iceland accepting the risks of snorkeling in 36 degree water.

Once we arrived, we had an instructional course for the first time since we have been in Iceland. We spent 1.5 hours putting on dry suits. Holy cow. It was such a process. We put a thermal onesie over our long underwear and two pairs of wool socks. Then, the struggle began. We pulled dry suits over the thermal suits. It was like I was being vacuum sealed in a Space Bag on an infomercial. The dry suits have tight seals around the arms and neck.


I thought I was set to go, but then Louis checked the seal around our necks. Louis said the seal around my neck was not tight enough. Excuse me, King Louis? I could barely breath with the dry suit strangling me as it was, so I was not happy with Louis's solution to put a plastic collar around our necks to seal the suit. He strapped plastic collars on us, and I felt like an abused dog on a Sarah McLachlan save-the-animals commercial. Someone cue "In the Arms of an Angel."

The fun was not over yet. We then put on super elastic head coverings and lobster-like gloves, and we plodded down to the fissure where we put our flippers on and snorkeling masks with the help of Louis. FINALLY, we entered the fissure. At this point, I was no longer concerned with the cold water. I was just hoping I wouldn't die of asphyxia from the dog collar.

The dry suit did its job. My body was not cold. The only parts that get wet are your hands, face, and head. Therefore, the only cold parts of your body are the hands, face, and head. Fun fact: the dry suits are buoyant, so you float right to the top.

Of course, my mask was not sealed tight enough, so the first few times I went under water, my mask filled with water nearly drowning me. Once, Louis gave me a new mask, it was smooth swimming besides the guy from San Francisco who could not swim in a straight line to save his life and kept bulldozing right into us.

The water was crystal clear, and it tasted absolutely delicious. We were in the water for 35 minutes which was plenty of time. We then jumped off a 12 foot cliff into the water.


Next came the disrobing process which was even more unpleasant than the robing process. Getting the dry suits off took a lot of teamwork. I was especially helpless which provided a comical Go Pro video entitled "Stoma Struggles: the Dry Suit Struggle." If it weren't for Erin, I would still be stuck in my dry suit.

We finished the trip with some hot chocolate and cookies on our drive back to Reykjavik. We were supposed to go whale watching, but the weather has been rainy and very windy. Thus, our tour was cancelled.

We napped for a bit. Side note: Hlemmur Square is the only hostel I have stayed in that doesn't number the beds in the dorms. It causes mass confusion when new guests check in. Get it together, Hlemmur Square.

We chatted with our roommate whom we have deemed as our favorite character. We learned that he was fired from his job as a camp counselor, and we decided to not ask any more questions. Since it was still rainy, the later whale watching tour was cancelled too. Oh whale, we will go on the morning tour.

We decided to duck into Bunk Bar for delicious calamari kimchi tacos. Yes, we ate tacos outside of the American Southwest, and we liked them. Bunk Bar is yet another hipster bar with random antique decorations and an excellent playlist similar to our favorite Pandora stations.


We walked around the harbor and headed back to Bunk Bar for dinner. The week of nonstop activities has finally gotten to us, and we are walking zombies. We plan to head to sleep soon, so we can enjoy our last day in Iceland tomorrow.

Posted by lsto90 12:09 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Rotten shark for brunch, anyone?

Kolaportid flea market is an indoor market opened every weekend. There are various stalls selling a variety of junk that no one needs. However, Icelanders informed us it was the cheapest place to buy hákarl, so we ventured to the market. We bought a little plastic container of about 8 bites of hákarl.

What is hákarl? Hákarl is rotten shark. Yep, you read that correctly. Rotten shark. The Greenland shark is toxic, and the only way to rid the meat of the toxins is by letting it ferment for five months. It has rich ammonia, fishy smell. Anthony Bourdain said, "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten.

The traditional way to eat hákarl is to chase it with a shot of Brennivín. Brennivín is the local schnapps and similar to vodka. It is made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, angelica, and other botanical ingredients. Locals told us brennivín is disgusting and to have water on standby.

The separate reviews of hákarl and brennivín made us weary about combining the two, but when in Iceland, put on your Icelandic wool sweater, eat some hákarl, and chase it with brennivín. After buying hákarl for 150 kroner (about $1.28) at the market, we went to nearby Cafe Paris to order brennivín shots, coffee, and brunch to offset the awfulness we were about to ingest.

I was first to bat. I ate it quickly and downed my shot. I had no desire to take my time and savor either component of the Icelandic delicacy. It wasn't awful like I was expecting. Hákarl has a weird texture, smells fishy and tastes fishy, but in all honesty, I have eaten worse foods before. I definitely did not have seconds though (unlike Liz who did have seconds... What a champ). The brennivín was worse than the hákarl in my opinion. It burned. Luckily, our brunch came out right after the hákarl experience, so I was able to get the rotten shark taste out of my mouth.


After brunch, Megan, Erin and I walked a few blocks to Lake Tjörnin which is a pond with colorful Icelandic houses on one side and city hall on the other. City hall has a giant 3-D map of the country that you can quickly peruse if in the area.

We did some souvenir shopping to get out of the rainy, windy weather. The sun eventually came out, and we went to the Sun Voyager statue (how appropriate). It is a steel sculpture along the harbor and resembles a Viking boat. Supposedly, it signifies a dream of undiscovered territory and an ode to the sun.


We spent our afternoon hanging out and using the wifi at Kex. Kex is a hostel in an old biscuit factory. In the lobby, there is a bar/coffee shop/restaurant that is the most hipster place I have ever been. That doesn't mean too much considering I don't live in a hipster city like Austin or Portland. It is furnished with antiques, including repurposed sewing tables, lockers, maps, book cases filled with random knickknacks. Kex receives our accolade for the best bar in Iceland.


We headed down the street to the Höfdi House. The Höfdi House is called "the most beautiful house in Iceland." It is not spectacular. The Icelandic style of architecture is rather austere and plain. The Höfdi House is the site of the Gorbachev and Reagan meeting that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.


Megan, Erin and I ate at Cafe Loki for dinner again. This time I tried the smoked trout on rye bread which is now my favorite Icelandic meal. We headed to Tiu Dropar which means Ten Drops. It is one of the oldest cafes in Reykjavik and located in the basement of a building. It is cozy and looks like a grandmother's living room. At night, it converts to a wine bar called Le Chateau des Dix Gouttes (the Chateau of Ten Drops). We settled in and had cappuccinos while going through a list of accolades (e.g. Best bed, best tour guide, best meal, etc) for this trip.

Posted by lsto90 13:26 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Lost in Iceland... Again

Saturday was a lazy day. We drove around the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west, stopping to take a picture at Kirkjufell. Kirkjufell is one of the most famous mountains in Iceland due to its shape. Kirkjufell means church mountain since it's shape reflects a church steeple. In my opinion, it looks like a witch's hat.


We then headed to Hraunfosser and Barnafoss. If you have read any of these blogs, perhaps you have picked up that "foss" means waterfall. So yes, we visited two more waterfalls that are right next to each other. Hraunfosser is made up of countless streams that flow through lava tubes. Barnafoss means Children's Fall. The name comes from a legend that two kids stayed home from Christmas mass and fell off the arch that used to be by the waterfall and died. What a morbid backstory for a waterfall.


We headed to Glymur which is yet another waterfall. It is the highest waterfall in Iceland at 198 meters. Glymur is aptly named since it means to boom or rumble. For most waterfalls, we have parked, grabbed our backpacks with our water bottles, cameras, and sunscreen, and ended up only walking two minutes to see the waterfall. At Glymur, we assumed it would be the same case, so we decided to leave everything in the car. We started walking and saw all these old people with hiking poles and backpacks. We justified their gear to the fact that they were old and needed help on simple walks. At the same time, I wondered if they knew something we didn't know.

10 minutes into our walk on a rocky trail, we asked some hikers who looked like amateurs how far the walk was to the waterfall. This moment is when we realized the one time we didn't bring our backpacks was probably the one time we could have used them. It turns out the total round .trip hike to the falls was 5.5 km and took hikers around 2-3 hours. We were committed and continued on the hike. We crossed a river via shuffling across a log and climbed a couple of steep cliffs by clinging to the rope someone had kindly set up. We made it to the top, and it was well worth it.


The hard part was over, and we headed back down the mountain. We somehow strayed from the path and ended up lost in a moss covered lava field. After a few seconds of panic, we found the path and made it back to our car. Crisis averted.

We are now staying at Hlemmur Square in Reykjavik for three nights. Two of my friends from college whom I haven't seen in years had told me via Instagram that they were going to be in Reykjavik this weekend too. We had tentatively set plans to hang out, and low and behold, we are in the same room at the hostel. It's a small world after all!

Abby and Liz joined us at dinner at Cafe Loki which serves traditional Icelandic meals. I had the red herring and eggs on rye bread and fish mash on rye bread. Fish mash sounds disgusting, but it is absolutely delicious. It was fish mashed with quartered potatoes and a sauce made of onion, butter, flour and milk. For dessert, I had rye ice cream which from what I could tell, is ice cream with rye bread mixed into it. These people love their rye bread. Cafe Loki was an affordable, traditional and scrumptious dining option.


Apparently, British people expect to go to casual cafes that are packed with people and have a quiet atmosphere. We were too loud for the British people next to us, and they told us to be quiet and complained to the waitress.

So, we peaced out of there quickly and started rúntur early. Rúntur is the Friday and Saturday night informal pub crawl where Icelanders go out late and stay out until 4 or 5 in the morning. Be the sensible Americans we are, we knew we wouldn't be staying out until that ungodly hour, so we got a jump start. We started at Bravo which had a musician performing. The moment we walked in, we were told to be quiet so the crowd could enjoy the folksy singer songwriter. I have never been to a silent concert, and we knew that five girls who just got in trouble for being too loud at a restaurant while drinking water and eating fish mash should not be at a silent concert in a bar.

We went across the street to Kaldi which made the list of the 11 best bars in Reykjavik. Kaldi has their own beer on draft, and like every cafe, bar and restaurant in this city, it is cutely decorated with an eclectic hipster vibe.


From Kaldi, we went to Kaffibarrin--another bar on the list of 11. Note to everyone at Kaffibarrin, you cannot take pictures. You will get scolded--not that I am speaking from experience or anything. We headed to Orange Crush which was a very American-like bar. We met a German exchange student who said New Yorkers were the nicest people she had ever met. We laughed and said she needed to go to the South where she would be really overwhelmed by hospitality. We followed Orange Crush with another bar where we learned there is a lot of Icelandic pop music we have never heard of.

We returned to the hostel where a guy in our room said we were home really early. We explained 2 am is the end of an evening in America, and we were sticking to it.

Posted by lsto90 09:22 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

According to the always handy Wikipedia, "The Icelandic horse is a breed of horse from Iceland." Thank you, Captain Obvious. The Icelandic horse is a small one. In fact, it looks like a pony, but don't you dare tell an Icelander their horse looks like a pony. Apparently, they get offended easily. The Icelandic horse develops a second coat in the winter to stay warm and looks like a mini wooly mammoth (Google images of lIcelandic Horse winter." It will be the cutest thing you have ever seen). Also, it has a calmer temperament because it has no natural threats to it in Iceland. The main differentiation between the Icelandic breed and others is it is the only breed with 5 natural gaits. It can walk, trot, and gallop/canter. However, it can also tölt and pace. The pace is similar in speed to a gallop. The hooves on the same side touch the ground together, unlike a gallop.

The tölt is similar to a fast trot, but it is much smoother. Thus, posting is not necessary. Therefore, I was a very happy camper on our morning trail ride with Sòlhestar because posting is a pain.

Our guide was a Danish student who had an easy semester studying law and decided to come to Iceland to lead trail rides while taking her classes here. Ah yes, the good ole days of college and free time. We rode for about 3 hours and practiced the tölt a lot. I had a horse with some unpronounceable name who refused to follow the horse in front of her.


After our ride, we blindly trusted our Garmin's directions to Kerid crater lake. Garmin wanted to take us directly to the lake, not the visitors parking area. Thus, we embarked 600 meters down a one lane direct path in the middle of nowhere before looking at a map. We realized the visitor parking could be reached from the main road, and we quickly did a 10-point turn on the tiny rocky road to get back to civilization.

Kerid was created 6,500 years ago. Water does not flow in or out of it. It is the same level as the water table which is one of the many lessons I slept through in my Geology 101 course freshman year of college.


Today, we drove 3 hours northwest to Grundarfjörður which is a small coastal town which is at least 6 hours from the volcano that started exploding last night. Bardarbunga's eruption isn't ruining our fun. It is not a concern of ours considering we are on the opposite side of the country. Even if we were by Bardarbunga, I wouldn't be concerned because it would make an excellent blog entry.

In Grundarfjörður, we are staying at Grundarfjörður hostel in a four person room, so we have extra room to spread out. We had a wide variety of dining options here in Grundarfjörður. From our three options, we chose to eat at Hotel Framnes where I ate the catch of the day which was cod caught in the ocean right outside. Loving all this fresh fish.

Other Icelandic facts we think are interesting:
-For glacier hiking and horseback riding, we didn't have to sign a waiver or anything. In America, that glacier hiking adventure would require ten waivers and an safety lesson before leaving the outfitter's property.
-There are a lot of gravel roads here. Also there are a lot of roads here that run right along a very steep cliff and don't have guardrails. Frightening.
-You must always have your headlights on.
-There is a Quiznos in every town. At least it seems that way.
-You get free water with meals. Note to the rest of Europe: please implement this courtesy in your country.
-There are a lot of milk chocolate manufacturers in Iceland. I am on a mission to try all of them.
-Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" has made it to Iceland. I heard it on the radio today and was delighted.
-An Icelandic delicacy is lamb testicles that are put in a bucket with sour milk and buried in the ground for a couple of months. I refuse.
-The water from the tap smells like rotten eggs. Perhaps filtering sulphur from water hasn't made it here yet.

Posted by lsto90 13:17 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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