Iceland | Floating in the Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

I can’t think of a better way to while away a lazy day than soaking in the famed Blue Lagoon. And so that’s what we did for our final day in Iceland.

After a few crazy long work weeks and two busy days exploring Iceland, we were looking forward to some serious relaxation. We caught an early shuttle from our hotel to the Iceland airport, checked in our bags, and then grabbed the shuttle from the airport to the Blue Lagoon.

The day was cold, overcast, and rainy, but that just provided a nice contrast to the warm, milky blue lagoon. We hurriedly hung up our robes, and slipped into the water.

 Oh man. Heaven.

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If I asked you what color the water is, I expect you’d say blue. And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. The sun reflects off the silica in the water and the water appears blue; however, the water is actually a milky white color. There is more than 6 million liters of water in the lagoon. And don’t worry about sharing that same bath water with thousands of other folks – the water renews itself every 40 hours.

 In all, we spent about three hours in the lagoon. We grabbed some drinks, did some face masks, explored the perimeter, and sought out the warmest spots.

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With our departure time fast approaching, we finally forced ourselves to exit the lagoon. [My pruned fingers and toes took hours to recover.] After a quick rinse off, we had a few moments to spare so we went up to get a better look at the lagoon:

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I wish we had more time to explore the grounds and take a tour of the premises. I guess it’s an excuse to go back again in the future. Ah, shucks…

A few tips for enjoying the Blue Lagoon:

  • Purchase your entry online in advance, especially if you are planning to be there during the peak times. When we were leaving to go, the lagoon was at capacity so anyone trying to get in had to wait until someone departed. If you book online, you are guaranteed priority access. You can also add in a shuttle to and from the airport. It’s one-stop service.
  • Purchase the Comfort package (or Premium if you are feeling a little extra fancy). You may be tempted to save a few bucks and go for the Standard package, but splurge a little and you won’t have to worry about tacking on any additional add-ons (towels, slippers, robes, etc.).
  • If you’re looking for the warmest water, plant yourself right by the wooden boxes around the perimeter of the lagoon. This is where the hot water gets pumped in and it’s where I spent a good portion of my time.
  • For all the ladies – if you have long hair I highly recommend giving your hair a good coat of conditioner before heading into the lagoon and keeping your hair out of the water as much as possible. It took a couple of weeks of deep conditioning treatments to make my hair feel anything like normal.

And with that, we were off again and on our way to Boston. The stopover was an absolute success, and we are already talking about when we will be able to do it again.

One more Iceland fact for you. Iceland is expecting 1,000,000 tourists in 2015. Are you going to be one of them? We sure hope to be!

Iceland | The Golden Circle

DSC05456-118Our second day found us on the Golden Circle tour which hits three of Iceland’s biggest natural attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfalls, and Geysir. A bit of a highlight tour if you will. We did the slightly shortened afternoon tour, but I’d recommend doing the full day tour to ensure you have adequate time to walk around at each of the sights.

First stop: Þingvellir National ParkÞingvellir National Park

Þingvellir means “Parliament Plains” and that is the most accurate description of the importance of this location. Þingvellir is where the Icelandic parliament was created in 930 and where it continued to hold its assemblies until 1798. In 1930, the national park was created in order to protect this important historical site, and in 2004 it was deemed a UNESCO world heritage site.Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park

What’s even cooler? It’s also the rift of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the Eurasian and North American Plates. The plates have been shifting about 2.5 cm per year, so there is a very clear gap between the two tectonic plates. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can actually go diving here. It is supposed to be home to some of the clearest water in the world, and at some of the more narrow points  you can actually touch both the plates at the same time. We didn’t get a chance to do the dive this go around, but I would love to do this in the future.

Given that we only had limited time here, we didn’t get a chance to actually walk down to the actual parliament site. We definitely would have loved to explore the area more and hence the recommendation for the slightly longer tour.

Second stop: Gullfoss waterfalls

Gullfoss means “Golden Falls” and it is said that on a sunny day the water takes on a golden hue.Gullfoss waterfalls Gullfoss waterfalls Gullfoss waterfalls

Apparently at one point some foreign investors had plans to rent Gullfoss and build a hydroelectric powerplant, which would have obviously destroyed the falls. The story goes that Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who was the daughter of Gullfoss’s owner loved the falls so much that she threatened to throw herself into the falls in protest against the plan. To show that her threat was in earnest, she walked barefoot from Gullfoss to Reykjavík (about 120 km). She was successful in her bid, and we have her to thanks for preserving the beauty of the falls for the enjoyment of all future generations.

If you’re lucky enough, the sun will catch the mist from the falls just perfectly to create a nice little rainbow. We had plenty of mist although not much sun, but we were able to get a little glimpse of a rainbow (squint and you can see it).Gullfoss waterfalls

Third and final stop: GeysirGeysir - Iceland

It was interesting to learn that the English word geyser derives from Geysir, which itself comes from the Icelandic word geysa (to gush). Geysir is said to have been active for 10,000 years and in the mid-1800’s the eruption was said to have reached a height of 170 meters. It’s currently inactive and in a dormant state, so do not expect to see any eruptions from this geyser.

Don’t fret though. Just a short walk away is Strokkur Geysir. Although not as impressive as Geysir, this one erupts about every 5-10 minutes, and the eruptions reaching a height of up to 30 meters. Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - IcelandGeysir - Iceland

Some adventurous souls decide to stand downwind from Strokkur and are rewarded with a blast of warm sulphuric steam/rain when the geyser erupts. Although the brief moment of warm water was tempting, in our older age we are smart enough to know that the warmth is fleeting and all you are left with is damp clothes in the cold air. And so naturally, we positioned ourselves upwind and played the waiting game.Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland

And thar she blows!

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Packed back into the bus, we settled in to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes as we began the drive back to Reykjavík. Did you know that Iceland has more than 600 types of moss? Or that the white substance on the rocks is actually lichen (essentially the pre-moss phase) and not bird poop? Me neither. All the random tidbits of information are what I love most about doing tours, and our tour guide was excellent.

If you’re visiting Iceland and have only limited time to view the sites, I would definitely recommend doing one of the Golden Circle tours as it is the easiest way to see some of Iceland’s most popular spots. Having tackled these, next time we plan to rent a car and head to some of the spots a little more off the beaten (tourist) path.

Iceland | The Land of Fire and Ice

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We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
Led Zeppelin

Iceland is hands down one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. After our brief stopover in July, it rocketed up the list of our favorite places.

Quick aside: Have you heard of Iceland Air’s free stopover? En route either to or from Europe you can stopover in Reykjavík for up to 7 days at no extra charge. With flight prices just a tad higher than those of the other airlines, it was an obvious decision for us. Friends and family – sounds like the perfect thing to do on your way to visit us.

From our walking tour of Reykjavík to our guided tour of the Golden circle, I feel like we learned all sorts of fascinating tidbits about Iceland. Wanna hear?

  • Iceland is nicknamed the land of fire and ice, and it couldn’t be more appropriate. 11% of the island is covered in volcanoes and 11% is covered in glaciers. The remaining is covered in lava rocks, hot springs, and about 600 varieties of the greenest moss.
  • There are about 325,000 people living in Iceland. 150,000 of those live in Reykjavík and that jumps up to 220,000 if you include Reykjavík’s suburbs. That means 2/3 of the entire population of Iceland lives in Reykjavík and its suburbs.
  • Icelanders begin learning English at age 6. As if two languages weren’t enough, they will also start learning Danish at 7 and then will usually pick up a fourth language before or in college. Every single Icelander we met spoke perfect English, and often with only the slightest hint of an accent. It was impressive.
  • The hot water comes from all the hot springs on the island, and provides super cheap heating for all the Icelanders. Word of warning, the water retains that super awesome sulphuric smell. So don’t be shocked when your shower smells slightly of rotten eggs. Don’t worry though, the smell goes away almost immediately once the water is turned off and you won’t be sporting any lingering effects either.
  • The tap water is some of the cleanest in the world. It doesn’t have any special taste, and that’s the beauty behind it. It’s just perfectly natural, clean tasting water. It’s delicious – drink lots while you are in town.
  • As you would expect with an island that has to import almost everything, alcohol can be quite expensive. Because the alcohol is so expensive, the locals like to drink at home before meeting up at the bars. Plus toss in the fact that Icelanders like to party late, and it means that you will be (a) the only person in the bar at 10PM, or (b) one of a group of tourists in a bar at 10PM. The streets were almost empty at 11:30PM, but were hopping when we were heading home at 3AM. The flip side of these late nights? Almost nothing seemed open until at least 10AM, so enjoy a late night out and then sleep in.
  • More than half the population believes in elves. Supposedly there is a law that requires companies filing a building application to include a letter from an elf medium confirming that the building would not disturb any elves living in the area. This is a magical land, so whose to say they don’t exist. Given how beautiful the Icelandic population is, if they do exist I’ll bet they all look like Legolas.

Shortly after arriving in Brussels last year, I stumbled on Kaelene’s blog, and then proceeded to silently stalk it for months.  A few months further down the road a trip was booked, and instead of stalking it became “researching”. I’m pretty sure Jared got sick of the constant links I sent him with “let’d do this!” or “oh my gosh, we have to go here”. And yet, despite that all that, due to our crazy work schedules, we landed in Iceland with ideas but nary a plan.

That first morning, we grabbed a table at Café Paris and planned out our three days. A day in Reykjavík – check. A tour of the Golden Circle – check. Some relaxing at the Blue Lagoon – big check. With the agenda settled, we headed out to explore Reykjavík.

Despite being late July, the weather in Reykjavík was a bit schizophrenic as the sun dipped in and out of the cloud banks. One moment we would be shivering, wishing that we’d packed warmer clothes, and then the next we would be pulling off our sweaters as fast as we could.

We strolled up Skólavörðustígur towards Hallgrímskirkja.

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Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. It’s a plain church – a far cry from the super ornate churches you typically find in Europe – but that simplicity is quite beautiful. Inside the church is one of the most unique organs I have seen to date.

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After checking that out, we jumped in line for what is most definitely the biggest draw of this church: the best view in Reykjavík.

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Isn’t it gorgeous? The brightly colored roofs and buildings are so stinking cute – it’s almost too much to handle.

Back safely on the ground, we made our way down to the harbor.

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The glass structure above is the Harpa, a concert hall  and conference center which opened in 2011. When the financial crisis hit, Harpa was only partially constructed and the money to finish the building was gone. And so, the government stepped in and funded the remaining portion and a few years later it was completed. The plan was to develop the whole area and add a luxury hotel and shopping, but right now it’s just cleared land.

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I’m convinced that Iceland has the most sculptures per square foot than anywhere else in the world – they are seriously all over the city.

Eventually we turned back inland, and headed up to the cemetery. Our tour guide told us that it is tradition to plant a tree when someone dies. Add in the dampness of the air, and what has resulted is these eerily beautiful cemeteries where moss-covered graves are canopied by hundreds of trees. I quite like this tradition.

DSC05230-34 DSC05236-35 DSC05237-36 DSC05240-37 DSC05242-38After a long day of walking and a brief visit to a food festival, we decided to kick up our feet and spend the rest of our day enjoying some of Iceland’s local brews.

2014-07-27 19.16.38-1192014-07-029-32With day one in the books, we eagerly looked forward to day two’s agenda: Golden Circle.