See the World: Reykjavik and Surrounds

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It’s time to write, people. It’s time to write. For the past weeks I’ve been lucky enough to have my friends covering for me while I was out and about on vacation, and for also giving me time to recover the week I got back. So a big thanks to Biscuit, Zucchini, Kettle Corn, Tomato and Yam.  Hugs to all!

Especially because the inevitable post-vacation cold came in with a vengeance and without mercy.   I always fail to give myself a “rest” day upon my return, going straight from the airport one day back to my desk the next. As a result, I end up with a cold of some sort, and this trip was no different. Anyone else do this? Just me?  

So while I recover from my stupidity, my friends let me stay out of the kitchen and lazy on the couch for just a little longer.  The upside?  I’ve discovered Sleepy Hollow.

But now that I’ve got my head on straight, I’m back and ready to tell you all about my #IceLondon adventures: what I saw, what I ate, and tips and tricks should you ever visit the lands from whence I have returned and the food stops I strongly encourage you to make.

First, Iceland.  Iceland seems to be one of the new “it” places to go lately, and it’s been on our list for a while, passed over time and again until the stars aligned last week.  Lettuce and I really didn’t know much about Iceland except that there were waterfalls and volcanos, that it rained and was probably cold, and supposedly beautiful.

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Well, we were right about all of the above, and learned a little bit more.  Here’s a quick and dirty history of this tiny nation in the way, way up north.

The first permanent settler was a Norwegian who supposedly threw two large logs into the sea and vowed to settle wherever they landed, and that spot is where Reykjavik now sits.   The symbol of the water and two logs can be seen throughout the city. 


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After being long ruled by Norway and Denmark, a lawyer named John the President started the movement for independence in the mid-1800s by shaking his fist at the Danish king and said, “No more!”  The non-violent resistance continued almost another 100 years until finally in 1944 Iceland voted to cede from Denmark completely.  Rather than pull a King George and start a revolution, Christian X sent the new government a letter of congratulations and wished the new republic well.

To this day, this country of approximately 320,000 people has no military at all, and the police spend much of their time on social media (their Facebook page has over 72,000 likes), saving cats from trees and taking pictures with and of dogs and babies*.  Apparently a few years ago they had to shoot a guy and it was a whole lotta DRAMA.

*Information about Reykjavik police came from our tour guide, Martinn.  His opinions, not mine.

Tourism is a relatively new thing and really started becoming a big thing in Iceland thanks to the big recession of 2009.  Since then, the Icelandic Kronor has dropped 2/3 in value against the U.S. dollar, making it much more affordable and appealing vacation destination to us across the pound.   Martinn stated that while the influx of tourists hasn’t been roses, it’s been key in helping the economy recover from the crash.

So, there’s a bit of history about this lovely country.  Thinking about heading there? Here are some lessons and suggestions learned from our trip.  Because this will be long enough, food talk will be coming in a future note- lots of food things to say.   

Lesson Day OneOMG Iceland is cold and the Blue Lagoon is in fact quite blue.

Ok, so perhaps it’s obvious, but Iceland is cold.  And rainy. And windy. The trifecta of crappy weather.  At least it was for us.  Therefore, pack layers; the rain layer, the wind layer, the cold layer.  Thick socks. Waterproof boots.  I’m talking hiking gear- you’ll use it all.  The wind broke the umbrella that has survived many a Chicago breeze.  It’s serious, man.

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If heading to the Blue Lagoon, it’s quite essential to pre-book.  We went straight from the airport around 9 am and it was great, but as we were leaving around noon, the bus loads of people were walking in and it was getting really crowded, so I suggest the earlier the better if you decide to go.  It’s about 15 minutes from the airport by car.  Is it a tourist trap? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. There’s something super cool about being in a naturally hot bath as its cold/rainy/windy outside.  Plus, it’s so blue! But not toxic.

Lesson Day TwoEveryone wants to take the free city tour. Best to pre-book.

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There is a free, two-hour walking tour of Reykjavik that leaves 2-3 times a day from the town square. It’s very popular, and we tried to squeeze into two tours on day 2 before getting the boot for max capacity.  We ended up going the next day.  Avoid the assumption that you’ll be able to get it by just showing up, and sign up at any of the tourist information offices.  It’s totally worth going- it’s how I got all that sweet information about the Reykjavik police.  And other useful facts.

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The upside of the non-touring is that wi-fi is everywhere. As are bars.  

Lesson Day ThreeDo not vomit into the wind, especially if on a boat.

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We did sign up for a whale watching and northern lights tour before we arrived, but you can probably just go to the Old Harbor and sign up day-of.  It may be better to not to pre-book and play it by ear with the weather. We saw no whales on our tour, and the weather was too bad for the northern lights portion (got cancelled three times).  

If you do happen to go whale watching, take the sea sickness pills the offer you! Our entire boat was throwing up, myself included from those rocky waters.**

**Side note/now-funny story:  Not heeding the aforementioned warning about sea sickness pills, I was sitting across from Lettuce on the top deck of the boat while I just needed to lay down. Hunched over on the bench with my eyes closed, I could feel the sickness rising until suddenly I sat up, thrust my camera at Lettuce and ran to the side of the boat and threw up. Into the wind. It did not go into the ocean.  After getting my bearings, I went back to get my camera and realized that I had not, in fact, given my camera to Lettuce, but to some poor stranger who was then left watching over my things. Thank you, kind stranger. **

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All smiles, pre-vomit.

As for the Northern Lights, our guide informed us that Iceland was not, in fact, the best place to view them since the weather is unpredictable (as we learned).  Want to see them?  Go to Greenland, Norway or Russia instead.

Lesson Day FourThe Golden Circle is offers nothing with a golden hue, but is stunning nonetheless.

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in southern Iceland, and hits a lot of cool sights.  

Thingvellir.

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Gulfoss.

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Geysir.

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We did our Golden Circle tour in conjunction with this snorkeling adventure.  Yes, the water was cold, but frostbite-free.  In total we were in the water about 40 minutes, which is about how long it took all of us to get dressed in our dry suits.  Still, a beautiful sight, and how cool is it to say that I swam between two tectonic plates?!?!

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This tour was great- we essentially had a private driver for the day, for the two of us plus two other ladies.

And we spontaneously stopped to see a crater.

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Lesson Day FiveNo, you did not miss the waterfall. Keep driving. 

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Unlike the U.S. where signs for Wall Drug start appearing 500 miles away from wall drug, and every 5 miles thereafter, popular attractions are not well signed.  We missed the Blue Lagoon on first pass. And Glymer hiking trail.  It’s about an hours’ drive outside of the city, and the landscapes are breathtaking.  Again, wear the layers.  

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Other tips and tricks:

Credits cards are accepted almost everywhere. If you have the new chip card, you should be good to go. I withdrew minimal cash, which was good for saving on those pesky ATM fees.  You know.

Lettuce and I didn’t find Iceland as exorbitantly expensive as everyone claimed, but perhaps our view is skewed because we live in not-cheap places back home. In any case, the market Bonus is your best friend.

The brand labeled “Icelandic Chocolate” is gross. Don’t eat it. Reach for the Cadbury instead.  Seriously.  This is important. Again, you know.

Finally, the shower water smells like sulfur (i.e. rotten eggs).  Just a warning.

At the end of the day, I say Iceland has potential. The crappy weather did damper it for me since much of what we had planned was outside or weather dependent, but I realize this is unfairly biases my judgment. I mean, come visit Chicago in February and you’ll want to kill yourself, and come on a day like today and you’ll never want to leave.  Also, we stuck to the city and its immediate surrounds, which was perfect for the five days we were there.  If you have more time, I’d say rent a car and take Ring Road around the whole country- some people we met in the aforementioned bars were doing just that.

Would I go back?  Yes.  Yes.  And though I’m finding I can’t elaborate on why, I think the mere fact that I want to go back says enough to hopefully convince you that it’s worth it as well.

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So, until next time, Iceland.  

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2 Comments

  1. such shitty weather and yet, such lovely photos!

    my best travel tip is to fly home on Thursday (if possible) and take Friday off. You have 3 days to get over jetlag, sleep in, be lazy, do laundry, go grocery shopping, and be somewhat prepped for real life by the time Monday rolls around.

    • Yeah, that would be ideal, but usually i only try to take off 5 work days and use both weekends to my advantage, so going back on a Thursday is usually more time off than I can spend on one trip 🙁

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