Monday, June 9, 2014

Iceland Part I: Reykjavik and the start of the Ring Road

Thursday May 1
Up early today!! We finished packing, cleaned, and were off to the train station.

We took the convenient, but confusing RER train to the airport. I swear without help…we would never have reached our destination. We had NO idea which train to board.

Luckily, we arrived at the airport and I actually got stuck in the train door!! Haha!! Our bags are TOO big!! The doors closed on me and my huge backpack and Preston had to pull me out!! Terrifying.

We dragged everything to the terminal only to find out that it was the wrong one!! I asked information at the train station, but she said she ‘didn’t know’. Awesome.

FINALLY…we found where we needed to be and were STILL over two hours early (thank you Preston). 

Turns out, this mattered not…because the line to check in for our flight was about two hours long. We could have left central Paris hours later and STILL been in the same place in line. I started to get realllly nervous, but somehow we made it to the gate before the plane had even started to board!!

We touched down in Iceland and took a shuttle bus that I’d booked online to Reykjavik. There are NO trees here and most of the buildings are made of corrugated tin.

Excellent shot taken from the bus window...on my phone :P
I heard a funny joke about trees and Iceland: If you are lost in the forest in Iceland…stand up :P

Reykjavik is more like a small town than a city, but it’s adorable!! We checked into our B&B…I LOVE the house. I want to live in a house just like this one someday, but preferably in a warmer climate. We had a room with a slanted roof. It was warm and comfortable.

Somehow I took a million pictures of the house, but none of the town??
It’s chilly here, but not freezing. I’d put the temps somewhere in the upper 30s/lower 40s Fahrenheit.

We walked just up the street to where my Aunt Anna and Uncle Kirk were staying.

Back story:
A number of people talked about meeting Preston and I out in the world, but for different reasons…no one was able to do it. Kirk and Anna had expressed interest before we left and made it happen!! It’s incredibly cool that they did this and we got to spend some time with them :) 

My Uncle Kirk and I have traveled together quite a bit and we ALWAYS have a great time, so I was really looking forward to our continued adventures together in Iceland.

About two weeks ago, when Preston and I were still in Italy…Kirk and Anna contacted us about what the plan was for Iceland!! Understandably, they were a bit concerned that NOTHING had been scheduled!! I felt terrible, because like NORMAL people…they’d expect to have an International trip somewhat planned a week before departure, but Preston and I have been on the go so much that this notion was not always possible!!

My always helpful and organized Aunt had found a travel agent that would set up our trip for us…including an itinerary, booking hotels, and renting a car...NOT including gas, food, or any of the actual DOING of anything. She forwarded me the email and I was SHOCKED at the price. This travel agent was offering what I do nearly every single day, but for an exorbitant price!! I mean, no real service was included here…except the convenience of avoiding the hassle of trip planning!! It really got me thinking: is this a thing? Should I reconsider my career path and just get to work planning people’s vacations for them?

I set to work rectifying my neglectful ways and planned and organized our Iceland trip in a few hours…for less than HALF the cost of what this travel agent had wanted. Crazy!!

ANYWAY…we met up with them at their hotel. I was so excited to see them :D

We chatted a while and walked out into Reykjavik for dinner. Kirk and Anna treated us to a really delicious dinner with wine. The bread was especially good, but all the food was awesome. We didn’t have anything too Iceland-y (I had chicken), but it was delicious all the same.

Steam coming from the ground!!

Typical Iceland dishes are mostly fish (duh). They serve whale here, but it's mostly for tourists. I've seen enough about the atrocities of the whaling industry to skip out on this!!

We showed them our cute little hotel and then we got a drink at a nearby bar. I’d read that drinking is the national pastime in Reykjavik, but it didn’t seem too rowdy.


We made our way to another bar with a Laundromat inside!! What a great idea!! The whole place was very cool and hipster-ish.

By midnight, the sun had set, but the sky remained somewhat light. It was like dusk. The horizon stayed bright as if the sun had just set. It was so interesting. We pulled the shades and headed to bed.

Friday 2 May
We got up and had an incredibly awkward and silent breakfast with the other guests of the B&B-who weren’t all that friendly or outspoken. I kept trying to start a conversation, but Preston would shoot me a weird look!! Haha!!

We met up with Kirk and Anna and received our rental car, which was dropped off at their hotel.

While Kirk and Anna finished getting their stuff together (they had a much longer flight and time change than we had), Preston and I hit the store for snacks and the tourist center for information.

Kirk and Anna picked us up and we hit the open road!! Our plan was do the Ring Road…or route 1. This is THE main road in Iceland and circles the entire country. We had five days to do this route, which is about 800 miles.

There is A LOT to see along the route, so we were certainly rushing it a bit, but we figured it was better than the alternative of only doing day trips from Reykjavik.

The drive out of Reykjavik was breathtaking. We traveled along the coast with dramatic mountains before sweeping inland across a plain. It’s very rocky here and we did see some pathetic looking trees. The whole landscape is very volcanic. Many of the volcanic rocks are covered with a green lichen sort of material.


We were in the land of FIRE and ICE!! No truer words could describe Iceland!! In some places, we actually saw steam coming out of the snow. 

We drove for some time across the rocky plain, going over streams with snowy mountains off in the distance.

Initially, we had thought to head out onto the Snaefellsnes Peninsula (try saying ANYTHING in Icelandic!!) north of Reykjavik, but we got a later start than we intended. Lacking time, we decided to skip driving out on the peninsula and back and instead just stuck to the ring road.

We headed for a town known for seals and a cute café.

Unfortunately, when we arrived…there were no seals and the café was closed!! Whomp wa. Since we are traveling in the shoulder season, it wasn’t all that unexpected. We got sandwich stuff at the meager grocery store in town and drove north to loop a small peninsula.

The road was gravel. We traveled across rocky farmland. There are TONS of shaggy horses here. They are Icelandic horses, which are known to have 5 gaits instead of the four of a ‘normal’ horse. I’d guess that fifth gait helps navigate over all those rocks ;) We saw soooooo many of these horses that we can only assume they are being raised for meat? I looked online, but it was a bit elusive. Seems that Iceland sells some horse meat to Japan, but I couldn’t get a super definitive answer. Hmm. Either way…there were hardly any cows, but all the restaurants offered burgers. Hrmmm.

Our whip ;)

Enjoying our car-made sandwiches

These are the west fjordlands, but we didn't have time to go there either

Sorry for ya!! :-/

The road wound around the point…following the water before joining the main road again. According to the guide book, there was some famous seal beach…but we never found it. It took us a few days to learn the indication (a small clover sign) for these tourist attractions.

I had rented a cabin for the night and we found the check in office easily enough (thank you GPS!!). It was funny, because we had been hoping to get some wine for the evening (since we are winos now…thanks Europe!!), but when we asked the woman she was really weird about it. We had passed no liquor stores all day. In fact, we’d passed almost no civilization all day :P

Preston hilariously interrupted her explanation of the cabin to ask, so I guess it did seem like we were OVERLY concerned with finding wine. Hehe. But, she was kind of evasive about it.

She continued telling us about the cabin and sent us on our way, but we pushed again for the location of the liquor store. You have to buy all liquor here from a government-approved store and they are generally open for like 2 hours a day.

Eventually, she did help us, but it was funny that she seemed a tad judgmental and we seemed a tad like alcoholics. Hey, this is vacation!!

Amazingly, we were in the two hour window for the store to be open (It’s Friday!!), but it was 25km away. We hauled our bums over there and bought TWO boxes of wine (who knows when we’ll see wine again?!), which ALSO got us some weird looks. This supposed national pastime of drinking…seems false.

We arrived at the cabin, which was just perfect. The owners had thought of everything…blankets, robes, a full kitchen, crocs to wear to the hot pot. What is a hot pot, you ask? Why, it’s a natural hot-spring pool that was in the center of the ring of cabins. It was terrific!!

Kirk and I got groceries at the local gas station/grocery store. We had a fun time guessing what we were buying. We risked it and got some meat that we were told was beef (uh huh). We made pasta with meat sauce for dinner and enjoyed some of our coveted wine before venturing out into the hot pot.

If you have matching robes/crocs...this is the ONLY thing you really can do :P

Something kind of cool about Iceland is that most of the hot water comes from the ground!! I bet that saves a TON on heating bills. The downside of this is that your shower smells a bit like rotten eggs. Mmmm, sulfur.

Funnily enough, there were other Americans staying in one of the 6 or so cabins on the property. We joined them in the hot pot and had a great time trading travel stories and Iceland advice. They were nearing the end of their trip and had done the Ring Road in reverse of us.

We returned to the cabin close to midnight (the sky is still light!!) and Anna introduced us to “Sherlock” on Netflix. It was good, but we all fell asleep watching it :D When I crawled up to bed about 3am…the sun was still there sitting on the horizon. Fascinating!! 


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