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Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

So here goes the second half of our week in Iceland. I forgot to mention in the first post one of the distinguishing characteristics of travelling to Iceland in the summertime—lack of sleep. I mean that in the sense that if you’re one of those people that need even mild darkness to sleep, you might have trouble here. While we were there, the sun set at around midnight and rose at 3 or 4 AM. I personally didn’t have much trouble but my family did. Consequently, they took frequent naps throughout the day, and I joined them most of the time to be a team player. In July, the sun never sets…so keep that in mind if you plan on travelling here durin the summer months (which should probably be the only time you should consider travelling here). The other thing that has become synonymous with Iceland is the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. I was pretty bummed that we never got to see this because there were always so many clouds out, but I’ll just keep that on my bucket list for another trip.
Day 4:
We left the lovely Snæfellsnes and headed back south towards Reykjavik, to the “Golden Circle.” Now, I have a lot of resentment towards this supposedly “golden” ring of sights that all the tour books cite as a “MUST SEE.” I mean, I guess in the end a lot of the stuff was cool-ish, but it was a lot more geared towards tourists and consequently we were surrounded by more people (which, let me remind you once again, is still not very many people, but we were spoiled at this point). This included field trip groups of preteens from what looked to be Icelandic middle and high schools. Mer. It just all felt a lot more developed. Take that as you may.

Most notably, the road we took into the south had much more barren and frankly, quite boring views than the road north. There were no more mountains or caves or rocks to look at along the way—it just looked a lot like Joshua Tree, but without the trees…

So we weren’t that pumped for our first stop—Þingvellir. This is the place where the meeting of the North American and European plates is most visible. Sounds cool, right? WRONG! It looked like the park I used to play soccer at back in the day, Ladera Linda. Hence, you can imagine that it wasn’t that spectacular at all, just a narrow, shallow canyon full of rocks. Not even cool lava rocks. Boring, bland rocks. And yet, still there were tourists galore! I don’t know what they were so enthralled by, but apparently I missed something.

We headed off to Geysir quickly in hopes of seeing something a bit more exciting. My brother kept grimly saying that this place was going to be a disappointment too, but it ended up being alright. The second largest geyser, Strokkur, erupted once every five to 10 minutes and was pretty spectacular. Supposedly there was another geyser around that erupted just twice a day, but we didn’t stick around for that.

Strokkur, waiting to erupt

Our final stop of the day was Gulfoss waterfall. It looked a bit like a mini Niagra falls. We went right up to the edge of the falls, even prepared ourselves by changing into rain clothing, ponchos, boots, and camera covers, only to find out it was super dry over there. Who woulda thought? Got some cool pictures of the rainbows that formed in the mist of the falls.

Finally, we went to find our next hotel, which was, again, a change from our original plans. Grimsborgir Luxury Apartments actually ended up being a small neighborhood of actual homes rented out to tourists. We got really lucky here because these places are normally SUPER expensive but the travel agent was scrambling to book a place for us I guess and could only come up with this place. We had 4 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, living, family, and dining rooms, a beautiful kitchen, and the piece de resistance—our own personal barbecue and jacuzzi. Fab.

The hospitality was the best we had all trip; we think it’s owned by a family, or maybe 2, and the food here was definitely the best value of the trip. We had fresh grilled/baked fish and our first taste of Polar Beer (I thought this was SO clever when I first heard it). I even had my own queen sized bed at this place. Sometimes it pays to be sick & quarantined.

Day 5:
Headed back out to the not-so-golden-circle and checked out two more waterfalls–Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. The former was cool because you could walk behind it, the latter because you could climb up a gigantic flight of stairs and stand at the top.

It was raining lightly when we were at these falls, which made the climbs both up and behind pretty scary. To get behind Skógafoss we had to scale some slippery, muddy, mossy rocks and this was probably the moment when I was the happiest I had just bought new hiking boots. Seljalandsfoss was tiring to climb, to say the least, and once we got to the top, Brendan, Jocelyn & I discovered the path overlooking the falls was made of mud and sloped precariously and directly into the falls. If you made one wrong move, BAM! death by Seljalandsfoss. Needless to say I moved very, VERY slowly around here so as to preserve my life a little bit longer.

being careful not to fall in and die

After all this, my dad, grumpy because we had seen too many waterfalls, wanted to go back to the hotel, or house rather, and relax, but we vetoed him and attempted to see one of the supposed top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world in Vik. Along the drive, the rain progressively got harder and steadier until it was pouring and foggy and you can probably extrapolate that we couldn’t even see the beach. At all, really. But I saw some nice black sand around.

Headed back and ate at the hotel again.

Day 6:
After eating breakfast and checking out of Grimsborgir, we started driving towards Eyrarbakki, a small “historic” fishing village. We realized here that all the places deemed “historic” were really pretty boring and small. But what can you expect from a country with a population of 300,000 trying to stimulate their tourism?

And despite the fact that we had just eaten, we heard that we needed to go to Fjöruborðið–another lobster restaurant. When we pulled up, there were 2 or 3 huge charter buses in front with a crowd of loud Icelandic men. The Polar Beer delivery truck drove up and loud cheers rang out amongst them. We were super confused. My dad went in to ask what was going on and the workers at the restaurant told him that the guys were on a special lunch break provided by the power plant they worked at, and that while the restaurant was normally opened only for dinner (woops, missed THAT memo), they would serve us because of the special circumstances. We also ran into a honeymooning couple from Santa Rosa here. Small world?

This was hands down the best meal of the trip. I somehow (seriously, I don’t know how) got my sense of taste back just for the 2 hours or so surrounding the meal. It really was a gastronomic miracle! My parents ordered the lobster soup while my siblings and I ordered lobster by the gram. They heaped it all together in one pot and we had a lobster feast to end all lobster feasts. Keep in mind we weren’t hungry at all. Welcome to the Lo family.

On the way to our final destination, Iceland’s most famous attraction—The Blue Lagoon—we stopped at a sulfur-stenched cluster of small hot springs. These weren’t the kind that you could swim in, not that you’d want to jump into a bubbling pool of what smelled like rotten eggs, but the land was full of spectacular colors due to the heavy mineral deposits.

Then there was Blue Lagoon. Like everything else in Iceland, the entrance fee was EXPENSIVE. The locker rooms were crazy crowded, but also well maintained and beautiful in keeping with the spa theme. They required that you shower before you could enter the pool. It felt really great at first: perfectly hot water, white silica mud masks (like the ones I was surprised to see in a Citi commercial yesterday) and relaxation!

After an hour or so, we were all really exhausted and pruney though, and even the ice cream bars and slushies we got from the in-lagoon bar with our magical admission wristbands couldn’t satiate us. We stayed in for another half hour or so and then got out and headed back to Reykjavik, to our original hotel, the Reykjavik Hotel Centrum.

That night, burnt out on all the seafood, we ate at a cheap kebab/burger/pizza joint, complete with jalapeño poppers.

Day 7:
Our final day. My parents returned the rental car early in the morning and B, J, and I headed to the lobby for a late-ish breakfast. We were greeted by hoards (serious, a BUNCH) of what appeared to be twenty-something Icelanders preparing for or finishing up a trip. As they started filing out, we noticed 4 or 5 GIGANTIC monster trucks waiting outside to pick them up and take them to their destination, wherever that may have been. Maybe I’ll check that out next time I’m in Iceland. Ha.

We couldn’t do much because we didn’t have a car, so we just spent the rest of the day shopping for souvenirs and walking around the city. My sibs and I went back to the beautiful and brand new opera house while my parents took a stroll to the cathedral, which my dad missed on the first day because he pretty much slept through it.

Headed back to the airport after hearing that it was open (woo!) and the rest, they say, is history.

The conclusion of this trip? Iceland is pretty awesome. I would recommend it to anyone feeling adventurous or burnt out from the claustrophobia of everyday, civilized life. But it’s definitely not for the faint of heart; pretty much 3/4 of the locals I saw there had a pair of hiking boots strapped on.  And while we were fortunate to have sunny skies 5.5/7 of the days we were there, don’t underestimate the country’s close proximity to the arctic circle.

The people of Iceland were kind of a confusing bunch. They were friendly for the most part but the service people (waiters, cashiers, etc) always seemed pretty grumpy…altogether just pretty DGAF and service was often slow. You don’t have to tip in Iceland, though, so maybe that has something to do with the attitudes we saw.

Also, it’s a great place because the crime rate is so low.  So low, that we noticed a trend that would be disturbing to most Americans—Icelandic mothers leave their babies in their strollers OUTSIDE of restaurants.  Keep in mind that I just discussed how windy/cold it can get, but yet this seemed to be a common enough occurrence.  Strollers just parked outside restaurants (often away from windows, so it’s not like the moms were watching from inside or anything) sometimes with crying babies in them. Weird and awesome.

Sigh, so passes another summer vacation. I feel so supremely lucky to have been given the gift of travel by my parents from an early age. I’ve been to a lot of places most people will not only never go to, but never THINK of going to (although  maybe I’m wrong about that because when we got to the Blue Lagoon and the airport, I was shocked and weirded out that there were 3 or 4 middle-high school student groups from NY and the UK visiting). It’s pretty miraculous to experience other cultures and be able to realize just how differently most of the world lives than you. Often, it’s just humbling. So I’m in this weird transition state that I always go through where I want to go back to where I just came from and not accept that I have responsibilities waiting for me back at school at the end of the week. And I’m still sick. Bummer.

Now, I’m just holding my breath (which is funny because I can’t breathe currently) for summer school and crossing my fingers for a trip to Costa Rica with my friends at the end of the summer. Kinda optimistic, but I can dream right?


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