We’ve been in Iceland for a little over 12 hours now, and it feels like a misty dream sequence. We arrived around 6:30am this (Monday) morning after a 5.5 hour flight that left Chicago at 8:15pm the evening prior (so, we’re now 5 hours ahead of Central time. I had hoped to sleep deeply on the plane but in no way did that happen. I probably accumulated less than 2 hours of actual sleep, but even still, when we landed we were so pumped that sleep was not missed.
It’s pretty mild still, weather wise, so we were greeted with a breezy 45 degree morning. Amazingly, we have a friend here (or do now) that Rob has known through car forums for a few years. In a huge showcase of friendship and genuine hospitality, our friend Bjarki offered to greet us at the airport, and lend us one of his vehicles so that we could easily get around during our stay. To put it mildly, Rob and I were deeply touched at his act of kindness. He’s a super nice guy, and tonight, he and his wife are taking us out to personally escort us in an attempt to capture the Northern Lights! They are best seen between 10-12pm so I’m hoping to finish this blog post before he arrives to pick us up!
After we left the airport, Rob and I headed toward what I had been most looking forward to since we booked this trip. Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is considered one of the 25 wonders of the world and is one of the most visited places in Iceland. A little information: “The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.”
You MUST pre-book this place in advance but in my opinion is completely worth whatever time and money it costs you to do it. Our arrival was for 9am and we arrived right on time, checked in, and then entered this incredible experience. It was exactly how I had pictured it to be, and had hoped for. It was very overcast and chilly, and the steam that rolls off of the water into the air creates the most relaxing haze. It really does feel like you’re in a warm and murky dream and was the absolutely best way to start the day considering we were going on 24 hours with little sleep. If you want a way to nip your jetlag in the bud, come here first from the airport.
When we checked in, we upgraded our package to include a reservation at their fine dining restaurant, Lava, and our table was set for 11:30. When we first entered the water, it was 9:15, so we literally did nothing but float around in this warm gorgeous bath water until it was time for lunch. Well, I take that back, we got out about 45 minutes prior to drink some water (stay hydrated, kids!) and then we both fell asleep rocked back in lounge chairs in the indoor “resting area”. The power nap really helped though, and soon it was lunch time.
The great thing about this place is that nearly everyone is milling around in white bath robes with flip flops and wet hair. So we were in totally good company at this 5 start restaurant sitting at the table wearing damp robes! If you don’t want to spend this much money on lunch (put us out around 90 bucks to eat here) then there is a simpler cafe option available as well with lots of different lighter fares to choose from. Also, our upgraded package that offered the lunch reservation also came with a free glass of Champagne! We’re basically royalty.
Rob ordered Beef tenderloin and I had Icelandic Catfish. Rob joked that we came all this way from Alabama, and the first fish we experience in a country who makes almost all of its commerce from the fish industry, is a catfish! We plan to try and eat lots of fish while we are here because it is all sourced from the nearby waters. Dani’s travel tip Number 2: If anyone in Iceland ever asks if you would like a cup of coffee, say yes. Just say yes, it’s outstanding every time. Rich and bold without acidity, needs nothing in it. Just drink and enjoy and feel thankful for magic coffee beans.
After lunch, we went back into the water for about an hour or so, and finally decided to leave around 2pm. One great service this spa offers are complimentary pictures of you taken in the lagoon from the staff with ipads. This didn’t start until a little later in the morning/afternoon but they do not charge you for this! They simply take your picture, and email it to you right there on the spot which takes away the anxiety of wanting to capture your memories there, but not have to deal with your phone in the water. Also worth noting about this experience, there is a swim up bar in the water (we each got a free first drink and ordered fruit smoothies) as well as buckets of silica mud for masking your face and then algae mask too. It’s a little funny actually, to see all of these bathers wading around with white mud masks and holding up their drinks out of the water in a permanent “Cheers!” gesture. Luckily, everyone looks like total goofballs together and we go on minding our own business. It was really phenomenal to be in this place for two reasons. The first, is the visceral, tactile experiences that totally engulfs your senses. Like I said, it was very dream like, and I left in such a total state of relaxation and drowsiness. So it’s wonderful medicine for the spirit and soul, the two main victim’s of stress in our society. The second, was how incredible it was to be surrounded by so many different languages and cultures. This is a prime place for tourists, so never have I been anywhere before where every way you turn your ears are picking up other languages and dialects. It was literally a geothermal melting pot of the world, and I felt just so unbelievably blessed to be in the middle of it. This experience will stay with me always.
After we left, we headed back toward Reykjavik, which takes about 45 minutes to get to. The drive is beautiful though, with sprawling “fields” of volcanic rock, mountains, and then the shoreline on the opposite side. The towns between there and Reykjavik (which is the capital if Iceland) are total post card worthy.
The place we are staying is a a guest house called “Captain Reykjavik Guesthouse” and it a B&B that offers a couple of different stay options. We had originally booked a double room with a shared bathroom, but when we arrived, we surprised to lean that they had moved our reservation into a totally private apartment! We unloaded, unpacked a little and then promptly crashed and took about a 3 hour nap! When we woke up, it was coming upon 7pm and it was twilight outside. We decided to get dressed and walk down to the corner grocery store (which is most like a convenience store) to poke around. We bought some coffee and yogurt (buying things in a different language is fun and mysterious) to take back, and while we were there we waked the girl at the counter what place she recommended us go for dinner. She said that a nearby place called Tapas Barrii was celebrating their birthday and was throwing a huge party and offering really good deals on food and drinks! It was only two blocks away so off we set!
One really great thing about visiting Iceland is that you do not have to really deal with the language barrier issue. When talking to Bjarki, he says that in school here, everyone is taught both Icelandic and English the same and expected to learn and use both effectively. Because of this, everyone here can switch between Icelandic and English instantaneously which is helpful to Americans who are helpless to communicate any other way. I am really grateful for this, because it would be frustrating and intimidating to really try and experience a place while struggling with a language barrier. This helped us to feel adventurous and somewhat confident when heading toward this local Tapas bar for dinner.
I am so glad this place was recommended because it was really fun experience! It was located in the town center and it took us probably 6 minutes to walk there. They were in fact throwing a huge party for themselves, and the places was crowded with 20-30 something locals. I really wish I could have taken a lot of pictures, but the lighting was very dim. Picture Red Bar on the Gulf Coast, only much more European. The entire menu was in Icelandic, but our waitresses were super kind and helpful and didn’t mind at all translating and also making recommendations. (Also worth mentioning, there’s no tipping in Iceland! Waitstaff makes a normal wage, and tipping is not expected or even easy to do.) Again, they are happy to speak to you in English and smile cheerfully while doing it. We ordered 5 tapas plates consisting of: Spanish omelette, Bacon Wrapped scallops and dates, Beef bourguignon, and Chicken Kabob. They also served really delicious table bread and tapenade and hummus. They brought us Chocolate Torte on the house (birthday celebration perk!) and offered coffee (again, say yes!) so we really hit the jackpot on dinner tonight! I’m really bummed I couldn’t adequately take pictures of everything because it was all lovely and really delicious, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.In just a moment, we’ll be heading out to get lost in the middle of nowhere in hopes of catching the Aurora Borealis. Our first day in Iceland has been incredible, absolutely incredible. Tomorrow will be a busy day, so see you then!