Iceland Part II: Another Day in Reykjavik & Off to the Golden Circle

(Editorial note that this is the part II blog of our trip. Part I is linked here and a preamble with links to our full itinerary is here.)

At some point in the middle of the night (which actually looked like daytime), our final 3 friends arrive from their delayed Air Canada flight. I groggily wake up from my sofa bed, greet them and fall right back to sleep.

Then, what feels like only minutes later but is actually hours later, the crew emerges into the living room ready to head out. They’d just gotten in only 4 hours ago, but they have an 8 am surfing date that was scheduled in advance. Woah. If I learned anything from the day before, the key is to just just keep yourself awake. It’s the best way to keep jet lag at bay.

So, we are up and the first rule of business is coffee. Knowing that most of the trip will be camping and instant Starbucks Via packs, James and I head out for some real brew. Upon emerging from our AirBnB, it really does sink in just how in-the-thick of Rekjavik we are located and it doesn’t take long for us to stumble upon Joe & The Juice, a super cute coffee and juice bar (which I think is actually Danish, but oh well…)

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After coffee and juice, we head to our place and the surfer gang is already back. Apparently the surf date was cancelled due to weather. So, instead we wander around the city and do some exploring. Also, signing up for a vintage bike tour of the city seems like a good idea.

The Hallgrimskirkja Church is probably one of Reykjavik’s most recognized landmarks. It’s also serves as an amazing directional indicator as you make your way through the city. What I found most charming about the church experience is realizing that the music we could hear upon entering was actually being played live on the massive pipe organ. It was really a cool experience.

 

After the church, we stumble upon a small bakery, Brauð & Co, where I have maybe the best soft pretzel I’ve ever eaten in my life. James also gets what he calls a biscuit but he’s quickly and assertively corrected that it “IS A SCONE!” No matter the name, it was pretty damn delicious. We also take this opportunity to pick up a couple of loaves of bread for our travels figuring this yeasty goodness would make for some great sandwiches on the road.

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Our next stop is the Sun Voyager, the very popular Reykjavik sculpture which is conveniently on a public path along the water and leads towards the Orchestra House which was probably my favorite building in the city. I find the amazing glass windows memorizing. They create such a beautiful affect on the water with the boats.

Lunch that day is around the corner from our apartment where I score a pretty decent vegan burger at Priked. This is also when I start to realize that pretty much every restaurant and tourist site we visit has wifi which makes it pretty nice to keep connected.

After lunch, we head out for our bike tour. And when signing up for the vintage bike tour, I think I take for granted my assumption on how easy riding a Dutch cruiser would be. Turns out, I am pretty incorrect. For one, I totally pass on the bike with the basket in front because of the weight and torque it puts on the front wheel. But I end up on a bike that has way too high handlebars. We are talking armpit-level high. And between that and the fact that I’ve not ridden a bike with a foot brake for, um, 30+ years, I’m a little bit of a hot mess getting started and stopping. All that said, I probably don’t have much to complain about considering James ends up not just on a vintage bike, but a vintage Penny Farther, one of those antique bikes with the giant front wheel and a mini back wheel. I don’t take many pictures because his riding this thing scares the crap out of me. I have this sense of dread that he will fall and injure himself at the very start of our vacation.

It all ends well. Our tour guide is lovely and I have only one near miss with a pedestrian. Biking is a great way to see the city and we end up adding on a jaunt out to the lighthouse at the edge of the city. This also includes the benefit of finding our first hotpot where the whole crew gets ankle deep in the warm water.

After our ride, we head to Slipparinn for a cocktail (as recommended by our bike guide) which is a fun break. All of the cocktails have character, but Dan’s probably takes the top award with the hobo bag and straw.

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Eventually, we make our way back to apartment. We also begin to realize how challenging it can be for 8 people to get seated for dinner. We are a big crew. We finally find a place downstairs, Ostabudin, from our pad with a 30 minute wait and do a little pre-dinner cocktailing.

Dinner is pretty good. I stick to trout and salmon, but some more adventurous members of our crew try the Minke Whale which looks a lot like beef.

After dinner, part of the crew heads back for bed, but a few of aren’t quite ready to call it a night and we discover there is a bar in Rekjavik themed after The Big Lebowski. I have no idea why and I don’t do any investigation why, but the place is adorable and there is an entire menu dedicated to White Russians.

However, at $22-24/drink, we can’t stay too long and we have a big day ahead since the next morning is the start of our camper adventure. Still, it was a super pleasant way to end our first stint in the capital.

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The next morning is all business, We have a schedule to stick to, campers to pick up and driving to do. A couple of the guys head out early to get the campers since we figure it would be easier to have them pick us back up at the AirBnB versus us all lugging our bags to the rental place. That said, parking 5-person camper vans in the city is not a super easy feat and it’s a little bit of a mad panic as we block a grocery store parking lot to stash our bags.

Add to that a mishap with how to shift into reverse… well, let’s just say it was a relief when we were finally on the road and headed out. We were a crew of 8 with two vans. The Grand Rapids, Michigan crew got the most amazing orange conversion van which made it super easy to spot on the road. Our friend from Nashville rode with them. In our less fancy, “regular’ white van, our Richmond, VA friends, Julie & Keith joined James and myself. And since James was the only one to actually register as a driver, well, we secured his fate there unfortunately.

Our first task on the road was gasoline which was acquired but some assistance figuring out the pumps and the credit card machine was needed. TRAVEL TIP: it behooves you to know your credit card PIN numbers if you travel to this country because a lot of the gas stations require that input and you can swipe as credit.

I supposed at this point it might be good to bring up my 40 page PPT again that I’d spent months crafting in an attempt to plot out a route for our 9-day road trip. It’s finally my time to shine so armed with my trip itinerary, Julie and I spread out our Icelandic road map across the table in the back of the van and assume the role of navigators — at least for the moment.

The destination for the day is Seljalandfoss where we are scheduled to take an evening (all-terrain) bus to the Básar Hut to spend the night before we hike the Fimmvörðuháls trail back to Skogar. But it’s still morning, our bus ride isn’t until 6:40 pm. We have time to explore.

The good news is since we are driving in the direction of southern Iceland, it’s not that far out of our way to hit up some of the Golden Circle sites that are so popular with the Reykjavik daytrippers. Our first stop is Kerið Crater which isn’t even on the itinerary, but is along the way and truly becomes one of our first “holy cow” outdoorsy moments. It’s a grey, rainy day, but the epic tree-less landscape with this deep turquoise pool is undeniably beautiful. According to my travel guide, Bjork once did a concert here floating in the middle of the waters but the acoustics were terrible. We wander around, take selfies and pinch ourselves. We are in Iceland and this is JUST the start.

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After Kerið, we head to the Gesir geothermal field. It’s now that we really start to deal with a larger number of tourists. It’s no joke that Iceland has become a huge destination and the visitor center is packed and crowded and just making our way to the bathrooms is a little stress inducing. For a group who came on vacation to escape to nature, this is the EXACT opposite.

We don’t see Gesir erupt (travel documentation lists it as pretty dormant) but Strokkur erupts every 5-9 minutes so we get a few passes of this magnificent display. The steaming environment harkens to Yellowstone, minus the trees. And the colors and steam are mesmerizing. The crowds, however, are not. And we head on.

Our next stop is Gullfoss, one of the most popular destinations in Iceland. It’s an awe-inspiring waterfall that is the ultimate introduction to this country. You want waterfalls? We’ve got waterfalls.

We hike to various vantage points. More photo opps. So many tourists. We get both sun and run. And then it’s finally time to move on. We have a bus to catch. Our adventure is only just beginning.

[Want to keep going? I’ve finally published part III here]

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