Growing up, I was a fan of the Mighty Ducks movie series. I remember the scene in D2 where Gordon Bombay (Cake-Eater) is having ice cream with the Iceland assistant coach where she tells him that “Iceland is very nice…”
This may be true sometimes, but this is false in the winter. My friend Russell and I discovered this, first-hand.
When I first got back to the States from my time in Latin America I was somewhat exhausted. I remember I had a conversation with Russell about traveling in 2017, and everything I was saying was far off in the year. Then we hung up, and I started to think about it… I was already getting homesick for the road. I truly missed that curiosity and wonder that can only be stimulated by more travel. I called Russell back and told him we should take a birthday trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. We picked the weekend and booked flights.
Once this step was finished, my next trip was ready for planning. I polled my friends about Iceland and chose to go with Extreme Iceland for our main tour company. We opted to get in early Friday, stay in Reykjavik the first night, stay in the highlands the second night, and stay back in Reykjavik the last night. I quickly booked snowmobiles, quads, Lights tours, the Blue Lagoon and a tattoo, even. We chose WOW Airlines, because those advertised rates are so tempting. $99 each way, they say… Turns out, my ticket, all in, ended up costing $849, once I had picked my seat, added luggage, and all the other extras. I should have just flown a real partner airline. At least then I would have gotten the points. Oh well. Fool me once, right? This just goes to show, if the price seems too good to be true, it is. But then again, I had been told by many people that Iceland is expensive. No one gave me any number specific details, though.
I guess my whole negative outlook towards WOW Airlines stems from the fact that I am a giant human being. These airplanes are great if you are small or even normal-sized. But without the opportunity to pay more for Business Class, it puts you in a tough situation when there is someone in the middle seat. I lucked out and had an awesome guy next to me. We ended up talking the entire flight about life and travel and Iceland (he had lived there prior).
We arrived at the KEF Airport, and were instantly confused. Signs are misleading, the airport is under construction, and the order of things seems convoluted. I finally found Russell, and we agreed we were hungry, so we popped into a line with a drink and a menu. After waiting for 20 minutes, we were told that this was a departures only restaurant. What a waste of time. We headed outside and were greeted with an arctic blast of wind. Okay… it was officially freezing outside. The bus had already departed, so we hopped in a cab. MISTAKE! This ended up costing us around $140. But at this point with all the time we lost in the airport, we had to hustle to the hotel to be able to make it on time to the bus back down to the Blue Lagoon.
As we walked outside, it was still dark. The sky had its glow about it. Turns out the Northern Lights were going on. My camera was packed and phone drained. Russell was barely awake. But there it was: Natural Wonder of the World. I told myself, we would definitely see it again, with better circumstances. MISTAKE! If you see the Lights, get a picture. Admire it. We ended up not seeing it the rest of the trip.
Day One: Reykjavik
We arrived at the hotel and met a pleasant man at our hotel who reminded me of The Night Manager. We chose to stay at the 101 Hotel in downtown Reykjavik mainly for the location… and the Starwood name. This is like the Autograph Collection of Marriott, and now that Starwood is Marriott I figured I would give it a try. While it was a nice hotel, and that staff member was great, other staff members and the ridiculously high room rate ultimately led to a less-than-great experience. If you like wasting money, and you have to stay in an SPG property, this isn’t a terrible place to do it. But if you have other options (the Hilton down the street), you should take those.
We stored our bags and grabbed out ride to the bus which took us back down south to the Lagoon. Now, if you have searched Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is consistently a Top Experience in everyone’s blogs. We booked the middle ticket, but it turns out, just get the cheapest ticket. The differences aren’t worth it. We were the first in line, so we got in quickly, and headed to the locker rooms. This is where things get weird. The logistics are disjointed, but I guess it is good to get everyone showered and such. But they don’t give any extra towels. You ended up with a disgusting soaked rag by the end. PRO TIPS: bring cheap flip flops, sunglasses, bags for wet clothes, something to wipe off your phone afterwards, and your own lotion/soap if you have sensitive skin.
We got in the water finally, and it was quite nice. The temperature is beautiful. After wandering around and getting some good Instagram shots, we watched as busloads of tourists began to pour into the water. The crowd was getting lamer and lamer by the minute. It was time to leave. Luckily, we just caught the bus to head back to the city, and we were able to check in and change. I had preordered an Icelandic sweater, lopapeysa, from the handknitting store, so I picked it up. It was a little long, but amazingly, it fit everywhere else. We then enjoyed some super expensive Icelandic food for lunch. Turns out, people were not lying: $18 for a beer, $19 for some soup. Iceland has turned tourism into a money grinding machine. There are no other real options unless you know someone. At this point, we were there and might as well enjoy what we can.
Not to continue to critique the hotel, but the bathroom situation was weird to say the least. The toilet was in the shower and there was no real door closing it off from the room. There was a transparent curtain. Okay. I have stayed in some weird places in some unique countries. But this was almost like they were trying to mess with tourists. Russell lay down and napped, while I headed to Sweet Hell for my tattoo.
After getting inked, I met back up with Kelly and Michael at Ananas, then Russell met us at the Lebowski Bar. It was St Patrick’s day, so we ordered up some Guinness and kept the party rolling. After hanging with some UK folks, we decided to grab dinner at Islenskibarinn across from the hotel. We were able to try some fermented shark and Brennivin. After dinner, we headed out to one of the Irish Pubs for one last Guinness, and we actually found that they were only $5 this weekend. What a steal!
Day Two: Golden Circle and Kerlingarfjoll
.We were picked up in one of the Super Jeeps (Ford Econoline with tricked out electronics, a lift kit, and 46″ Mickey Thompson tires by our guide, Ole. The ride was rough at first, but once they adjust and let me ride up front, everything got better. Our first stop was the continental split. We walked between the Euro-Asia Plate and the North American Plate. Then we headed to Gullfoss, and it was outstanding. Even with the tourists, nature was able to shine through and be beautiful.
The weather wasn’t ideal, so we decided to hit Strokkur on the return. We pushed forward past the IMPASSABLE road sign into the full white out to make our way to the highlands. Farther and farther into the white, Ole kept popping out to lower the PSI on the tires for more traction. Iceland was shaped by Volcanic activity. These large fields were lava fields that are covered in snow and ice. We could hardly see 5 feet in front of us.
We arrive around dinner time, and loaded our stuff into the cabins. It was simple, but I loved it. What a great way to spend my birthday: one of my best friends, a bottle of Jameson, a remote cabin in God’s nature… Love it. After dinner of some well-prepared fish, we got in the hot tub with some $12 beers. We heard stories of China and travel. We talked until the water got cold. Then it was time to head to bed.
Day Three: Strokkur and Reykjavik
Breakfast was simple and we had time to play in the snow. Russell and I hopped on the snowmobiles (scooters as they called them) and played. Others put on snowshoes and went hiking. The alpine rescue team was training their dogs to find buried humans in the avalanches. It was a really great morning.
We packed our stuff and piled back in the Econoline to head back through the tundra.
The views were amazing on the way home. We even found a glacial waterfall.
We were able to stop at the Geysir national park and see Strokkur erupt several times. There must have been thousands of people there and it smelled like sulphur. Sadly, we were informed that the weather would not work for the Northern Lights hunt that night. So Russell and I planned a night on the town. We hit up several bars and even a brewery. We met some locals and enjoyed some beers.
Day Four: Quads and Return
We were picked up for our last activity and met some cool sisters, Gabby and Isa, who were also riding quads that day. We shared stories of travel. I was told that nobody has ever been too big for this place’s wind coveralls. Turns out, they have never met me. Luckily I had windproof pants, windproof gloves, wind and waterproof jacket, and my new sweater. Otherwise, I would have had to skip the quads. It only bothers me because I told them ahead of time how big I was, and they guaranteed I would fit.
I am glad I got to participate. The views were breathtaking, and the freedom of being on the quad is second-to-none. I do wish they had a normal group and a slow group. Some people should not be driving those things. The views from the top of the mountain were outstanding.
We then realized what time it was. We were close to missing our flight. so we boogied back to the main camp and hustled to pick up our luggage. We made the bus and made it back to the airport. It was a wonderful morning. Then we came across the WOW Airlines line. Oh dear Lord… It was HORRIBLE. And without status or business class, we had to wait in it. This is another reason, I won’t fly with them again. Side Note: The staff and flight crew are very nice and appealing to the eyes. But this is about the only nice thing I can say about WOW Airlines. Their colour scheme is purple (my favourite colour), and I could barely stand it by the end. We got our bags loaded and said our goodbyes. Then we struggled through the windy and confusing airport, back to the States.
Iceland has done a great job of commercializing natural tourist spots. It wasn’t as crowded and annoying as Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, but it was crowded and expensive. They will wring every penny possible from you. I am glad I went when I did, because with all the developments, it will only get worse. If you go, make sure you leave Reykjavik. Go north. Go East. just Go. I am sad that I didn’t get a picture of the Northern Lights, but I am happy I saw them. I will try again for the picture, but probably to a different country. Iceland was beautiful. The food was delicious. The nature was perfect. The people were friendly. I just felt like I was a cow in a tourist farm while I was in Reykjavik. If you plan on visiting Iceland, do your research. If the cheap flight entices you, be wary about all the other expenses.