This is part 1 in a series of posts recapping our trip to Iceland in October 2014.
I’m finally getting around to posting the recaps of our Iceland trip! I’ll be posting each day as a separate post to make them easily searchable for others planning a trip to Iceland –I found similar posts on other blogs very helpful – so if you’re not interested in reading vacation posts (I completely understand), check back in a week for our normally scheduled programming. Without further ado, day 1!
Day 1: Reykjavik
We landed in Reykjavik early Sunday morning after a red-eye that left Saturday night. I was a little nervous that we would be too tired to do anything that first day, but the cold air that greeted us when we walked outside woke us right up – temperatures during our mid-October visit hovered around 30-35 degrees (Fahrenheit). We picked up our car at the airport and drove the 45 minutes to Reykjavik, discussing the conversion between kilometers and miles/ hour along the way (I have to say, I’ve gotten a lot better at this since becoming a runner since many race distances are in km).
Upon our arrival in Reykjavik, we met Olafur, the wonderful manager of Ambassade Apartments, who helped us check into our room and gave us a brief orientation to the city. The apartment was extremely clean, comfortable and spacious, and conveniently located near downtown Reykjavik. Reykjavik is a very walkable city – small size, attractions located close together – so we parked the car and didn’t move it till we left for Vik.
After dropping off our luggage and changing into some warmer clothes, we set out for breakfast at the Grai Kotturinn (Gray Cat Café), one of the few places open at 8 AM. Our first lesson in Iceland: everything opens late here, particularly in winter! Most of the cafes and coffeehouses didn’t open till 9 or 10. Breakfast at the Gray Cat was tasty and filling but expensive – about $20 for a plate of bacon, toast and eggs (to save money on food, see tips 17, 18 and 20 on my list of tips for traveling in Iceland!).
After breakfast, we went back to the room and took a nap before our Golden Circle Tour with Reykjavik Excursions. The Golden Circle is a very popular tour offered by multiple companies and it encompasses visits to three locations not far from Reykjavik: the Gullfoss waterfall, the Strokkur geysir area, and Þingvellir National Park, site of the world’s first parliament. While many of these tours are formatted as a full day, we opted for an afternoon tour (so that we could rest in the morning) and felt that we still had plenty of time to enjoy each location.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the fascinating geographical history of Iceland and explained interesting features of the landscape during the drive. Iceland is a fairly young country (formed about 20 million years ago) and its landscape is defined by frequent volcanic activity and the movement and melting of glaciers on the island. It also lies at the intersection of the North American and Eurasian plates, and our guide pointed out the valleys created by the two plates moving apart (at the rate of 2.5 cm a year).
Our first stop was the Strokkur geothermal area, where we walked to the biggest geyser and waited until it erupted, as it does every 5-7 minutes. The eruption was very impressive, and at 98 feet, it comes close to the height of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. I was surprised at how close we were able to stand to the eruption area – we were able to watch the water bubbling and heaving before it erupted. We used the rest of our time at this stop to eat some lamb soup and bread at the visitor center for lunch (about $10 a bowl and very good).
Our next stop was the beautiful Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall nearby. Just the first of many waterfalls we would see on our trip!
Our final stop was Þingvellir National Park – to our surprise, this was our favorite part of the trip. The National Park is absolutely beautiful, and we got out of the bus to walk along the trail, passing the site where the world’s first parliament was held. As the population of Iceland grew in the late 9th century, the chieftains decided there was a need for an annual assembly, and Þingvellir was picked for its accessibility from all parts of the country. Capital punishments were carried out here in the form of decapitation for men and drowning for women (that’s me standing next to the drowning pool below, hence the sad face).
We got back to our room around 6 PM and were ready for dinner after all the walking during the tour. I had seen Noodle Station on the lists of Reykjavik’s top cheap eats so we walked the few blocks to the restaurant, eager for some hot food. We knew it was going to be good when we saw the line inside! And at about $10 for a big bowl of noodles, meat and broth, it was the cheapest dinner we ate on the trip.
Back in our room, we enjoyed a little Icelandic chocolate (NOT the ubiquitious chocolate with licorice – what’s up with that, Iceland?) and whiskey bought from the duty-free shop at the airport before calling it a night.