Endless Summer Daze

ICELAND

Overview

Second time in this beautiful country and once again a quick trip. Last time we were in Iceland it was November of 2018 and we spent a total of 58 hours on the ground. Now it is summer, so automatically our time here is extended- daylight is endless, so if you sacrifice sleep, you can see and do so much more 🙂 ! I am kidding (sort of), we did not stay up the whole time. We had a busy, but super fun 3.5 days and definitely took advantage of the fact that the sun does not go down until midnight.

Iceland just recently opened back up to tourists, with certain restrictions. From July 1st, 2021 all vaccinated travelers and those that can prove that they have recovered from COVID-19 are welcome into the country without having to show or do a COVID- 19 test. There is no need to quarantine and masks are not required anywhere, except airport and maybe a few other indoor places. Everyone is required to fill out an online pre-registration form no earlier than 72 hours before the trip. Once completed, you receive a bar code that will need to be shown at the airport in Iceland.

It is a very easy process and we had absolutely no issues with the USA vaccine cards upon arrival. Make sure to check the latest requirements before traveling and remember that coming back to the USA a negative COVID-19 test is required. It has to be taken no more than 3 calendar days prior to departure. We witnessed several people being denied boarding because they did not have a recent valid negative test. There are two places you can easily register for testing- one of them in Reykjavik, the other close to the airport. In fact, we did the test the day of arrival. We landed on Friday at 6am, picked up our rental car and went straight to the testing site. The test taken on Friday is valid for departure on Monday, so we didn’t need to worry about running around and planning a test for the rest of our stay.

Now that we have our car and a negative test, let’s explore Iceland!

Blue Lagoon

About 20 min drive from the airport, Blue Lagoon is a convenient place to start (or end) your trip. We could not check into the hotel until 2pm, but wanted to relax and shower after the overnight flight, so this was a perfect way to spend the morning. It opens at 9am, so we had time to stop at a local grocery store, grab some croissants and Icelandic yogurts (if you have not tried Skyr, you really should) and still made it to the Lagoon before the opening.

Just like 3 years ago we reserved it in advance and got a Premier package- it comes with a robe and slippers, which were nice to have especially since we also booked lunch at their Lava restaurant. You can go there dressed with your clothes, but robes are welcome and it was a lot more fun and comfortable.

The food is a bit pricey here, but it was DELICIOUS. If you have no other plans, definitely check out this restaurant.

As far as the Blue Lagoon itself, the experience on a balmy July morning was far more enjoyable than in cold and windy November. It is recommended to put conditioner into the hair so that it does not dry out while in the water and the fact that the head was not freezing was a major improvement 🙂 . We had our complimentary drinks, face masks, soaked in the water and the sun and even took a short nap on the side bench.

And of course took a bunch of photos! That milky blue water is very photogenic 🙂 .

Reykjavik

We’ve explored the capital of Iceland for a bit on our first visit, but then we stayed outside of the city and it was not as convenient to get to it. We chose Midgardur by Centre Hotel based on the excellent location, reasonable price and the fact that it had a spa. We only used the spa once, but being able to walk to all of the restaurants in town was very useful.

Colorful streets, lively restaurants and shops-Reykjavik is a fun place to spend at least a few hours. We’ve been inside the famous Hallgrimskirkja church (amazing city view from up top), so we did not go in this time. Still walked by it, simply because it’s at the end of a rainbow painted street that was impossible to miss.

If you want to do a little shopping, explore Laugavegur street- lots of cute shops line each side of it.

While you are walking around the city, don’t miss Harpa– concert hall that is a real architectural masterpiece, which won the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. Right near Reykjavik’s harbor this building is massive, you will have no trouble finding it.

What we remembered from the previous trip was how amazing the food was in the few restaurants that we visited. We were curious if pandemic has changed that, but I am happy to report that the quality has not diminished. Every place we ate at was delicious.

Svarta Kaffid was recommended to me by a friend and was perfect for a late lunch/pre-dinner snack. Their soups in the bread bowl were so good that we ate part of the bowls 🙂 . Great with a local beer too!

We had three evenings in Iceland, which resulted in three wonderful dinners. First one was Mat Bar– we realized once we arrived that we have been here before! We ended up booking a reservation at the restaurant that we loved back in 2018 and I am so glad they survived the pandemic and are still thriving.

On the second night we went literally across the street from our hotel and were lucky to get a table at Reykjavik Kitchen. The staff was super accommodating to us coming without a reservation and we had a fantastic dinner.

For our last dinner on this short trip we chose Forrettabarinn – another excellent restaurant. It had option for a four course dinner, but we were glad we did not go with that. The meals were quite large and just with three apps and two main courses (plus dessert of course) we were super full.

We certainly did not lose any weight while in Iceland and now you know why 🙂 .

The Golden Circle

This is a popular tourist route and we did part of it on our previous trip. This time we went back to see what we’ve missed and to experience the incredible nature in summer. Just the views from the car window along the way were breathtaking.

We did not see anything like this in November- it was dark, rainy and gloomy, so even driving the same road we could not recognize anything familiar.

One of the first stops was at the geothermal area in Haukadalur, where the geysers Geyser and Strokkur are located. Geyser has been dormant for many years, but Strokkur is erupting regularly every 5-10 minutes. Have your camera ready, because when it erupts, it’s a quick show.

The whole area is picturesque, it reminded me a bit of the Yellowstone National Park in the USA and Rotorua in New Zealand. The same landscape and the same sulfur smell all around. Nobody would know if you farted 🙂 .

Looks a bit like the views from another planet.

Short drive away is another Golden Circle gem- Gullfoss Falls. You can walk up right to the waterfall and get a little wet, or just admire from afar.

If you are hungry (I know we were), stop at a the Fridheimar– a restaurant inside a greenhouse, where the focus on the menu is tomatoes. Tomato beer, soup, ice cream- tomato everything! Besides being delicious, it’s also a fun experience. Each table even has a fresh basil plant with scissors- in case you need to add some extra favor to your dish!

Last stop was Kerid Crater. We’ve seen this volcanic crater lake before, but during extreme rain and wind, so it was not one bit enjoyable. I wanted to experience it in summer, so even though there is a small fee to visit, we decided to stop by again. It was still windy, though not nearly as much and definitely beautiful. We even saw a bridal party that had just finished a wedding ceremony with this spectacular view!

Nature is simply magical.

Fegradalsfjall volcano

We knew this volcano is active and that we were going to see it during this trip. What we did not plan was that we’d be doing so at MIDNIGHT! After the Golden Circle drive we checked the weather and the forecast seemed to be best for the evening compared to the next two days. We also heard that there are a lot less people and the lava is visible way more than during the sunny day. So we had dinner, met a fun couple from California, told them we’re hiking volcano tonight and convinced them to do the same 🙂 . They had just arrived that morning, so we were very surprised to see them on the top of the mountain at 1am. We chatted the whole way down and it made the hike so much more enjoyable!

But before we get to the volcano, we made a pit stop – we saw beautiful Icelandic horses close to the road, so we HAD to pull over to pet them.

We reached the parking area for the volcano hike a few minutes after midnight. There were quite a few cars, but for sure no crowds. The hike up where you could clearly see the lava took just over an hour. It’s not a hard hike, just need to have shoes with some grip, so that you don’t slide on the gravel.

The most amazing thing (besides the active volcano of course) was the daylight- it never got dark. Sunset around midnight and sunrise around 3am never brought darkness. The advice that we got to go at this time of the night was right- the red lava was bright and clearly visible during dusk. I don’t think we would’ve seen such amazing views if we went during the day. We met another friendly couple along the way and they shared their drone videos with us- SUPER amazing. The drone got very close, but then ran out of batteries and never made it back. Ooops, well at least there is an awesome footage and we are very grateful for it.

We could hear the lava swishing, it was such an incredible experience!

Ishestar Horse Riding Centre

Sean’s first horseback riding experience was on the Icelandic horse during our previous visit and he wanted to repeat it again. My memories of that time were cold and rain, freezing hands and feet. What a pleasant change this was! Warm sunny day, flowers all around us, no wind or rain- it could not have been any better. Well, unless you count the fact that we were riding on four hours of sleep 🙂 .

We finished volcano hike and got home around 4am and had to be be up before 9am in order to make it to the horse farm on time. Luckily it was about 20 mins away from the hotel, so if you are staying in Reykjavik, this is an easy excursion to make. We did a tour that lasted about 3 hours total. I loved my horse- she was super friendly and fun, I feel like we had a great connection 🙂 .

By the way, in Iceland working horses go on a six month vacation (I wish we could do that!). They rest, eat, enjoy the fields for half a year, so that they are not overworked and tired. The ones we saw on the way to volcano on the side of the road were doing exactly that- enjoying their time off. Since they are used to people, they are social and friendly.

Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck

This is one of the stops we didn’t get to make on our first Icelandic adventure and I was still interested in visiting it. It’s not the most convenient of places to get to to be honest. Sean was not as keen on driving to see it, but we had the time after the horseback riding, and I felt like sitting at the hotel and resting would be a waste of our time, so off we went 🙂 .

It’s 2 hour drive from Reykjavik, then another 45 min walk straight through the field. At least the drive is super scenic. There are several waterfalls along the way, but we’ve seen them before, so did not stop this time. Instead of walking, we jogged all the way to the plane. It sounds crazy, but it actually felt good after two hours in the car. It took us 25 min to reach the site.

Even though it’s a straight walk, it’s not recommended going there in a bad weather conditions. Iceland winds can be very strong and this is an open field, so could be very dangerous. Luckily we only had a slight drizzle and no wind at all.

The cause of this 1973 crash is somewhat still unclear- there may have been a combination of human error, mechanical failure, running out of fuel during a storm where a pilot switched to a wrong fuel tank. The key is that everyone survived. We would not be visiting the site and taking funny photos if there were casualties here even 50 years ago.

Sean still does not think it was worth 4 hours drive, I think it was time well spent.

I’d say it would be a good stop for those doing the southern Iceland trip and staying a bit closer to it/camping nearby.

Sky Lagoon

We started the trip at the Blue Lagoon, ended at Sky Lagoon- either one is great for before/after the flight. This place is brand new, had just opened a few months ago and was quite different than the famous Blue Lagoon experience. It’s still thermal water, but it’s not the signature blue color.

There are other features as well, such as a seven step experience- cold pool, sauna, cold mist, salt scrub, steam room, shower and of course the beautiful lagoon pool itself, surrounded by rock formations and overlooking the ocean. The Experience cost a bit more than just access to the main pool, but if you’re already there, I think it’s worth it. It reminded us of Nordic spas in Quebec, where you switch from hot to cold, saunas and cold baths.

Food at their restaurant is a lot less gourmet than at Lava restaurant at the Blue Lagoon, but it was perfect before our flight home. Overall it was a great experience and I am grateful our volcano climbing friends told us about it!

Conclusion

Incredible, magical, wonderful- those are the words that come to mind thinking about this Icelandic adventure. It’s hard to believe we accomplished all this in a span of three days! Time really does expand when you are active, there is no other explanation to it. Erupting volcano, geyser shooting water into the sky, horses, delicious food- this country has it all. It may not be a warm beach destination, but it holds a special place in our hearts. As they say, there is no two without a three and we are already talking about our third trip here. The one that hopefully involves the northern lights. Fingers crossed!

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