Day by Day

This time around, we felt a little better equipped for our trip and prepared to drive the Westfjords. We’d learned a great deal from our last trip, but as you’ll see, apparently not enough to anticipate snow in June. Here’s an account of our day to day plans, successes, and mistakes.

Day 1 (Sunday, May 31, 2015)

  • We arrived early in he morning to to Keflavik Airport, where we promptly stopped for nourishment at a place called Joe & the Juice (I had a strawberry, elderflower, banana juice. It was amazing.) to settle our confused stomachs after the red-eye flight
  • After not too long a wait, we were picked up by the SADcars airport shuttle to get to our rental car. Having used SADcars previously we knew what we were in for, but to provide some background SADcars is the cheapest rental service in Iceland, its cars are quirky and an average of ten years old, its staff is primarily composed of kids in there teens and twenties, and as a result the process of picking up a car in the early am isn’t especially speedy
  • As we weren’t in any rush, waiting at SADcars was fine, and we ended up being upgraded to a Subaru with four-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive turned out to be hugely helpful in the Westfiords
  • Next we headed to the Blue Lagoon… I can’t think of a better way to relax after a red-eye, or a better cure for jet lag than the Blue Lagoon (note: I recommend the comfort package at least, because although slightly more expensive than the most basic option, it includes a towel rental and a smoothie or wine from the water bar)
  • The water in the Blue Lagoon is supposed to be great for skin, but if you have long hair, beware! Keep it up or add leave-in conditioner beforehand, otherwise your hair will dry crispy
  • Drove from the Blue Lagoon to our hotel, 22 Hill in Reykjavík, where we checked in and slept for four hours
  • We took a brief walk down the street for Italian food at a place called Rossopomodoro (small dishes, but yummy Italian food nonetheless), before turning right back around and sleeping again. Just as well, because so much is closed in Reykjavík on Sundays
  • 22 Hill: Friendly staff, plenty of parking available, clean, quiet, nice shower, five-ten minute walk from the busiest section of downtown Reykjavík, excellent continental breakfast included in the attached restaurant (note: featuring waffles!)
Keflavík Airport Gem

Keflavík Airport Gem

Day 2 (Monday, June 1, 2015)

  • Followed an amazing breakfast at 22 Hill with a three hour drive on Ring Road north towards Hólmavík
  • Stopped at the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, which was nicely laid out and very interesting (note: the exhibit included a pair of pants made of human skin that had been used for one particular spell. I am not sure where a photo of these pants belongs on this blog)
  • Hólmavík is a nice stop on the drive towards Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, and a good place to grab groceries and gas before hitting some of the more challenging roads required in the drive
  • Encountered unexpected snow on the mountainous stretch, the Steingrímsfjor∂ur hei∂i, which would have been very dangerous had it not been for four-wheel drive. We later learned road conditions are posted at www.vegagerdin.is
  • Ísafjörður is a beautiful, active fishing village, and we spent some time here wandering and exploring before stopping for pizza and ice cream (an Icelandic favorite)
  • Ended the day with a twenty minute drive to the neighboring village, Suðureyri, where we stayed for the night at the quaint Fisherman Hótel
  • Fisherman Hótel: Extremely friendly staff person (we should have gotten his name, so nice), granted upgrade to room without shared bath, clean room, dark enough despite twenty-four hour sunlight, hot shower, comfortable common area to hang out equipped with bar (located across the street from the guesthouse itself), good continental breakfast
Near Ísafjörður

Near Ísafjörður

Day 3 (Tuesday, June 2, 2015)

  • Before leaving to repeat the same scary drive we’d done the day before in the opposite direction, we asked a few people working at the hotel if they were familiar with the place we’d hit trouble the day before, and if they’d caution against it. Although they exchanged knowing glances, they said we’d probably be fine to, and just advised that we drive slowly and do another weather check
  • My observation has been that the people of Iceland seem to complain less about poor road conditions than people in New England, likely because they’re inevitable year-round
  • Scary trip back over the Steingrímsfjor∂ur hei∂i, but once we made it through, the trip was a piece of cake
  • Made a stop at Hvítserkur, or the Stone Rhino, north once out of the Westfjords
  • The drive to Hvítserkur involves dirt roads and poor signage, so it’s good to have a clear idea of where you are going in your search to find it. The Stone Rhino was amazing, but I would also recommend bringing hiking boots (which I didn’t) to climb down to the beach and get close to the rock formation instead of seeing it from a distance
  • Long drive from Hvítserkur to Hveragerði, broken up with a stop in a small town Borgarnes for an excellent dinner at The Settlement Center (note: this was the only place in Iceland in which I ordered a seafood, and I wasn’t disappointed. I had pasta tagliatelle with spinach and smoked trout, and the delicious flavor of the dish seemed to overpower the fish taste, which I strive to avoid)
  • When we made it to Frost and Fire hotel in Hveragerði, we instantly loved the place and wanted to say forever
  • Frost and Fire: Friendly staff, stylish and cozy, romantic setting on a river, rooms set up like small cottages apart from one and other, close together but still private, very clean, rooms and common area decorated with work by a local felt artist, one heated pool and one hot tub in service, another being constructed right along the water, best and most decadent breakfast of the trip (actually tried to cancel another hotel booking for Friday to stay here again, but were unable to do so)
Hvítserkur

Hvítserkur

Day 4 (Wednesday, June 3, 2015)

  • Began the day with an excellent breakfast followed by a refreshing dip in the hot tub before moving along
  • Stumbled upon Seljalandsfoss waterfall on our drive east on Ring Road, where you can actually walk along a path behind the waterfall and feel like you’re inside of it
  • After some exploring some waterfalls that neighbored Seljalandsfoss, we visited the Seljalandsfoss gift store, where a local recommended we drive further down a dirt road to do the Nanthusagil hike. This was beautiful hike, and not especially challenging, but rain boots would have improved the experience as some light wading would have been easier than hopping from rock to rock
  • Met a couple on the hike that had rented a fabulous little van out of which to live during their drive around the country… something to do next time
  • Dinner at Halldorskaffi restaurant in Vik (great Icelandic and American options, excellent service)
  • Bit of a drive to Fosshotel Núpar, a hotel we’d loved during our last trip, and very convenient in its proximity to Jökulsárlón
  • Before turning in for the night, we went to the hotel’s restaurant for quick drinks before bed. My boyfriend got an espresso, and I got a gin and tonic garnished with cucumber and pepper – delicious
  • Fosshotel Núpar: Returned because we’d had such a great experience last time, and enjoyed it just as much this time around, welcoming staff, very clean, modern aesthetic, strange shower (in that it’s not separated from the rest of the bathroom floor), but hot water, great breakfast, located in Iceland’s mossy lava fields
Hotel Frost and Fire

Hotel Frost and Fire

Day 5 (Thursday, June 4, 2015)

  • Nice breakfast, lazy morning
  • Mid-morning drive to the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón. We’d been during our last visit, but this time made a point of seeing the fragments that had washed up along the shore outside of the lagoon. Jökulsárlón has an incredible, otherworldly beauty, and is an amazing spot for photographs
  • The second half of the day involved a drive back along the south coast, a brief hike to Svartifoss waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park, and a trip to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a river canyon off Ring Road a ways down yet another dirt road
  • I can’t explain the scarcity of signage for Fjaðrárgljúfur, because it turned out to be the most exceptional landscape we encountered on our trip
  • It is worth noting that to get the best perspective, a visit to Fjaðrárgljúfur requires a short, hilly hike, but the walk is worth it if you’re able
  • Much to my boyfriend’s chagrin, I’m not at all afraid of heights and enjoyed getting as close to the edge as possible to look down into the river. If you find heights exciting, this is an especially thrilling destination
  • We arrived long after check-in to the Minniborgir Cottages, and fortunately someone was still at the reception cottage to give us keys. We’d called to say we’d be late, and I’m afraid they actually had to keep the reception desk open for us… We felt terrible!
  • Minniborgir Cottages: Very accommodating staff, nice to stay in our own little cottage and to have multiple rooms, however small. This would have been a great place to stay for a longer stretch, as it was equipped with a mini kitchen, small living area, and  sleeping area that effectively blocked out the constant sunlight, unfortunately breakfast was not included in the price
Lounging at Fjaðrárgljúfur

Lounging at Fjaðrárgljúfur

Day 6 (Friday, June 5, 2015)

  • Breakfast in Selfoss at Kaffi Krús, a funky cafe/restaurant with filling options from pastries to pasta
  • Self-guided return to the major spots around the Golden Circle (which we’d toured in a more focused manner on our last visit) before returning to Reykjavik for the weekend in the city
  • Note: It was nice to visit Gullfoss in June this time as opposed to March, because the trail that brings you closest to the most impressive part of the waterfall is only open in the summer when it is less cold and therefore less icy
  • Brief drive to Reykjavík to check-in at Guesthouse Sunna and park the car before heading downtown for dinner
  • Thai noodle soup for dinner at Noodle Station, naturally followed by ice cream at our old favorite, Eldur, and then a little walk before heading to sleep
  • Guesthouse Sunna: Although I had a great experience during my last visit and returned because I’d liked it so much, my experience wasn’t so great this time around. I had booked this hotel for Friday and Saturday nights, but according to the terms of my reservation I should have been able to make a free cancellation before midnight on 06/03 (Wednesday). I attempted to cancel our Friday night at Guesthouse Sunna so we could have a little extra time in the country, but although I both called (and was initially given an inconclusive answer) and emailed to cancel within the appropriate time frame, I was told on Thursday that I would not be permitted to do so because I would have had to cancel through Expedia and not the hotel itself. I was disappointed as a returning customer that my needs weren’t met, but our actual stay at Guesthouse Sunna turned out to be fine nonetheless
Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Day 7 (Saturday, June 6, 2015)

  • Ashamed to admit that this was a day predominantly spent shopping. Reykjavík has amazing shopping, whether you are looking for gifts, clothing, art, furniture, kitchenware, whatever
  • Late morning breakfast at Café Babalú (delicious crepes and tea) on the way down to Laugavegur, Iceland’s main road for shopping
  • As a ceramic artist myself, I loved returning to the Kaolin Gallery on Skólavörðustígur, which exclusively represents female ceramic artists. Here, I had a nice interaction with the woman running the store, whose work was actually featured throughout the gallery, and I found the perfect vase for my mom by a Reykjavík ceramist named Inga Elín
  • Myconceptstore is another of my favorites. It has a dimly lit atmosphere with urban chic clothing, unique jewelry, and various oddities including styled globes, magnifying glasses, and hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling. Here, I treated myself to a little gold ring with a black stone that I immediately fell in love with, and thought it was funny to learn from the person who’d been helping me that many of the products they carry are American. Go figure
  • The Geysir clothing brand is fabulous, and I believe Geysir clothing stores only exist in Iceland. Great nordic-inspired clothing with a contemporary flair, for both women and men. Be prepared to visit Geysir and leave wanting to fill your closet with sweaters
  • Iceland has lots of stores with exciting kitchenware, and would be a great place to visit as a serious cook. Scandinavian design is ubiquitous in Reykjavík, and makes for excellent shopping for cooks and those with a passion for interior decorating. Check out Hrím Eldhús, Kokka, and Þorsteinn Bergmann
  • Note: Great book stores, toy stores, and stores for souvenirs
  • Dinner at Italia, a favorite from our last trip, and then a brief stop to the Lebowski Bar for some Reykjavík-style American fun (forgot to order a White Russian!)
  • Late night visit back to Café Babalú on the way back up to our hotel (great hot chocolate)
  • Guesthouse Sunna: Second night here. Nice room, sheets had been changed during the day, and although the bathrooms were shared, they were very clean. Still just slightly bitter from disappointing experience earlier in week
Breakfast at Café Babalú

Breakfast at Café Babalú

Day 8 (Sunday, June 7, 2015)

  • Waking up too late for breakfast at our hotel (a second day in a row), we went to a French Restaurant on Laugavegur, Le Bistro, for a hearty brunch
  • Finally, after two unsuccessful attempts the last time I visited (due to location changes and outdated maps), I made it to the Saga Museum. It was a fifteen to twenty minute walk from Reykjavík’s main shopping strip to get there, but it was worth going a little bit off the beaten track
  • I enjoyed the museum and its layout (audio tour through famous parts of Iceland’s history modeled by figurines), but thought it seemed more like a history museum than an exhibit focused on sagas and legends
  • Said our goodbyes to Reykjavík, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Keflavík for a rainy, early night before a final trip to the Blue Lagoon the next day
  • Checked in sometime in the late afternoon to A10 Deluxe Bed and Breakfast, which far exceeded our expectations
  • A10 Deluxe is a family owned business that seems to run like a well oiled machine, with friendly staff, stylish, modern accommodations, and surprisingly reasonable prices
  • Though Keflavík is a small town compared to Reykjavík, there was much more open on a gloomy Sunday night than we expected, and we had a yummy, filling dinner at Fernando’s down the street from our hotel
  • Followed dinner with a nice hot tub visit at out hotel, and then sleep
  • A10 Deluxe: Exceptionally friendly, personable staff, clean, sizable room and upgrade upon arrival, fun decor, comfortable common area, hot tub, decent continental breakfast, and not a far drive to the Blue Lagoon or the airport
Children's Drawings lining Reykjavik Streets

Children’s Drawings lining Reykjavik Streets

Day 9 (Monday, June 8, 2014)

  • After a small breakfast, we took a quick, easy drive for one final stop to the Blue Lagoon
  • It’s easy enough to take for granted while you’re there, but I’ve noticed how often I find myself thinking a lot about the Blue Lagoon in retrospect. It’s worth visiting even if only because it’s really unlike any other place on the planet
  • Dropped off our SADcar, which had seen better days after our dirt road adventures, and then took a shuttle to the airport
  • While the end of a vacation always feels like a cruel joke, at least it means I can start planning for the next! And in the back of my mind, I’ll always be planning for my next trip to Iceland
The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

If ever you visit,

Don’d Forget:

  • Shoes with which to hike
  • Bathing suits
  • Rain gear
  • Sweaters (even in the summer)
  • Plastic bags (to separate clothes)
  • A map (if you have a tablet or smart phone, good idea to take zoomed in screen shots of zoomed in street views or location on a map of where you’re going)
  • Printed reservation details (hotels, Blue Lagoon tickets, etc.)
  • Sunglasses
  • Snacks for a roadtrip
  • Water bottle
  • A power adapter

Leave Behind:

  • Sandals (even in the summer, unless it’s supposed to be especially warm)
  • Shorts
  • Tank tops, maybe even short sleeves
  • Too much tech (don’t rely on internet to be available wherever you’re going)

One thought on “Day by Day

  1. Jen says:

    What a different place this seems from what I am used to. There is nothing remotely rejuvenating near the airports around SF! Only the madness that goes along with throngs of people. Iceland, here I come!

    Liked by 1 person

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