Tour of the North

May 2, 2019

 

This time a year ago we had finished finalizing plans, were double checking our packed bags/checklists and counting down the minutes until our trip. We were about to embark on a ten day trip in the Arctic Circle. We were headed to Iceland and Stockholm, Sweden. Almost a year of planning went into this, and it was well worth it. We planned our trip towards the summer months, which unfortunately puts us a month behind the Northern lights. We chose this time frame for a reason though. We wanted to have more day light over the night skies. Purpose, to cram everything we could into the week we were there. The 20 hours of daylight made these {insane} dreams a possibility. 

 

Our trip itinerary:
Tuesday: leave U.S. soil
Wednesday-Saturday: Iceland
Sunday - Wednesday: Sweden
Thursday-Saturday:Iceland
Sunday/Monday: U.S.A

 

First stop, once we got into Iceland, was coffee, asap. However, Iceland threw a wrench in our plan on this one for a bit... Our flight arrived on time, and we were out of the airport with our car at 7:30 a.m. (Pretty sure that is the most efficient we have ever been, probably a record.) Yet the stores and coffee shops in Iceland don't open until after 9! To kill some time we walked around, rearranged our suitcases, repacked our carry-ons for our adventure that day, which killed 20 minutes. Then we sat outside the coffee shop waiting for it to open. The barista opened the door at 9:05; we barged in as if it was the black Friday tickle me Elmo came out. We may have scared the barista with how eager we were, and quickly we drank our four espressos. They were delicious though and were made very fancy. 

 

 

Now with caffeine on our side, we were off for our day.

First stop: Ikea...

Because we didn't even think about needing towels for the springs or waterfalls. Now, with towels, on to the real fun waterfalls, a deserted airplane, and black sand beach. Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss were our first waterfall visits. It is roughly two hours from the airport, but from Ikea and the coffee shop, it was a quick hour. You cannot miss this Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It is massive and visible from ring road. Due to this being one of the first stops for a lot of people leaving the airport, they tactfully have put in a food stand, gift shop, and bathrooms. Which we graciously welcomed the bathroom after a few hours in the car. Seljalandsfoss was beautiful, but the real beauty was once you stood behind it. You couldn't hear the person next to you with how much force the water was dumping. The climb behind the waterfall is a bit steep and wet. Proper shoes are highly advised for this trip — ones with lots of traction and ones that you don't mind getting soaked. While Seljalandsfoss is forceful, it was not our favorite. Just a walk around the bend is Gljúfrafoss. This gem is tucked inside the cliffs. It is not massive like a lot of other waterfalls throughout Iceland, but it is magical. As you walk through the stream to get to it, the air swirling around you, midst from the waterfalls and small caves throughout you feel as if you have been taken to a scene from the Hobbit. With a large rock in the heart of the pocket, it is encouraging all to come to stand and view the full glory of mother nature from below. 

 

Back to the car like the wet dogs we were, pouring out the water from our shoes, ringing out our clothes and blasting the heat to dry off the best we could. We were off for our next stop the abandoned plane, which is just a quick drive down the road. If we did not have the WiFi in the car, we would have missed this as well as a few other locations on our trip. What we quickly learned though, if you saw a bunch of cars pulled over at what appeared to be at nothing and if you saw a sign that looked to resemble a four leaf clover or an on and off ramp, it was probably something worth stopping for. However, this stop isn't just off the side of the road like the majority of the sites in Iceland. It is a good hour long, very windy walk - each way. In all honesty - this was the least of our favorite stops. The images from social media sell tourist this stop. The photos you see on social media make this look extra spooky and gives you a feeling of historical awestruck. In reality, it was just meh. The plane is stripped bare, has graffiti all over it and sharp edges. I mean the last part should have been common sense, but for some reason, it caught me off guard. We did it but will skip this next visit. We made the windy walk back and jetted over to Black Sand beach. 

 

Like the waterfalls, Reynisfjara a.k.a black sand beach was another more considerable tourist attraction. We decided this would be an excellent place to eat lunch. So we sat inside the little cafeteria they had on site and enjoyed the views from the inside without category four hurricane winds for a moment. Black Sand Beach is beautiful, yet not sure why it is called Black Sand Beach, the beach itself has no sand. It is made up of large and tiny black rocks/pebbles. Like the pebbles, you hope to find at a side of a creek to use as skipping rocks. Definitely, the best place to find these, only catch one has to go to Iceland to get them. The mountainside facing this side of the beach is again something out of a Star Wars movie. The rocks are little columns neatly pressed together. The waves here are powerful and dump vigorously on the shore. There are signs here warning visitors about the water, but you need to know Icelandic of Japanese - did not know either but the pictures were understandable, water=danger. We walked around and noticed a sharp bend towards the east and walked on the other side where no tourist was and amazingly NO WIND. We could hear each other and talk about how beautiful this place was. It was amazing that the wind did not bend around this side of the cliff; it was quiet and peaceful.

We successfully hit everything on our first-day list, and we were ready to call it a day. We headed to our first Airbnb in Vik, which was a farm and almost three hours away. Once again we were so thankful to have our WiFi as our Airbnb was not an easy find. Thankfully we found it after an additional hour of driving around. We were hoping to get to a grocery store this day, but Iceland grocery stores close early and open late. So we were forced to find somewhere to eat. I will skip the details, but Iceland is not known for gourmet food. (Sorry Iceland.) Once back to our Airbnb, I think it took us a solid 15 seconds to fall asleep. We had our eye masks on, but with only four hours of darkness we still woke up pretty early, which was okay as our day two was our long drive. We had to make it to the opposite end of the island. That morning we showered and jetted off on our almost six-hour journey. Although it sounds like it is a lot of driving, it is. It was the most breathtaking drive I have personally ever done. The weather and landscape quickly change, and the sky is evolving so rapidly that you never see the same sky twice. We went through all four seasons on our drive. The drive around the ring road is not dull, but make sure you are on the lookout as sheep run rampant. For the most part, we lucked out with the weather on this trip, not a lot of rain and majority sun. With this being the longest drive of the trip, it was planned to be our leisure drive, allowing as many stops as we desired. But first goal was to find the first grocery store and create a reserve of snacks. 

 

This drive we stumbled on more beautiful waterfalls, streams, and even pulled over to do a decent hike. The view from the top of Iceland is just as beautiful as it is from the bottom. This drive was one of my favorites as we ventured to my two favorite parts in Iceland, Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. I will say although my love, the reality is that the beauty of these stops is quite depressing. Really puts global warming into perspective as Diamond Beach would not be a thing without the earth heating up. Anyways you didn't come here to hear me gripe about the environment. This stop is genuinely the most overwhelming experience. With the water in the lagoon being breathtaking in itself, visually all the life below was bar none. The seals playing and their dolphins frolicking below and around the glaciers. On the other side of Glacier Lagoon is Diamond Beach, where the glaciers melt off and drift out to sea. On the beach are massive blocks of ice, so bright it is obvious why it received the name of Diamond Beach. Worth paying the extra for the four-wheel drive for this site alone.That was a wrap for day two. Long but leisurely. We laid our heads in Hofn that night. Which is a quaint fishing village, and the food place we picked was pretty tasty- pricey, but delicious nonetheless. (Don't remember the name of it but it has a lobster as its symbol. Highly recommend this one though - super friendly service and spoke English.) Our host was super friendly, and unlike our previous Airbnb, we rented a room and met some other tourists, a few Americans and a lot of Canadians. We received some tips and tricks for our venture back the next day. Once our heads hit the pillow, lights out.

 

We did another early morning and hit an enjoyable breakfast spot called Hafnarbúdin. If it weren't for the other tourist that were there to explore Hofn a few days, we would not have known about this spot. It's a wooden shed, seriously, something you would find in someones back yard that stores tools. We enjoyed our breakfast and endless amounts of coffee that they offered; to top it off they were playing Trey's favorite music, Grateful Dead. Now we set back to Reykjavik. We took into consideration the recommendations as our trip back had zero planned stops. We went to a natural hot spring that was made by an old farmer and is mostly used by locals. The scenery was beautiful and again needed four-wheel drive to get close enough to make the walk to it. We soaked it up, literally and figuratively for a few hours then ventured on. We tried to find a few of the others they recommended but felt uncomfortable driving through peoples properties, even though we were told it was okay. We stopped and said hello to some sheep and cows, and also ventured into what was a home that was built into the mountainside. We decided to brave the wind one more time and stopped at Krýsuvíkurbjarg, which is an insane cliff that is visible from Black Sand Beach. It is known for being very windy and dangerous, so why not. Please note YOU MUST HAVE a four wheel drive vehicle to go up to this landmark. Without it, may as well have your will written up prior. We made it up with Trey almost in tears and my sister in the back holding on to her seat belt for dear life. It, in fact, was windy. My biggest fear was the wind was going to rip off our car door, and I would have to pay for a whole new car. We parked against the wind and slowly got out. It was rather scary, to be honest. The wind was so brutal it was throwing you around as you would walk, we did not dare get close to the edge where the puffins were residing. The view was rather beautiful though, very moody, and what I pictured Iceland to be before our trip. Safe to say we did not stay at that point of interest very long and made it into town to lay our heads as we had an early flight to our next stop, Stockholm.

  It could not have been better weather for us here. We joked as if we brought the sunshine over. It was a warm week for them as it was still early on in Spring. First thing though was a good shower with lots of conditioner, pretty sure I earned 6 dreads in Iceland. Our first day was rather slow as we spent the day with family and waited on arrival of another family member to join in on our adventures. We walked around a palace garden, explored what is left of some palace ruins and had a really nice home cooked meal. The next day was spent exploring the city. Stockholm is so lively and the Swedes love being outside. By the way everyone in Sweden is very nice and also insanely attractive. So not only was everyone out enjoying the weather, everyone was out to be seen. We tried to fit in as best as we could, but somewhere we had a large sticker on us that said Americans. While the city is bustling and lively, it is CLEAN. We ventured in all the nooks and crannies and everywhere was pristine, minus the random graffiti. Since Swedes enjoy being outside, rooftop bars even cliff bars are really popular. An added bonus is Sweden is the PLACE for best non alcoholic drinks. So if you are looking for a super rad craft N/A beer or beverage this is your place. Trey is still on the hunt for a couple of the beers he had over there. We ate delicious food and went to probably the coolest bars we have ever been to, including the original Ice Plant. Which was really nice, freezing but I felt like the Princess from Frozen while we were in there. The ice is decorated with old history and fables of Sweden, alongside with tasty drinks. Stockholm was lovely with flowers in blooming and people enjoying themselves everywhere. Wherever you turned you either heard music, saw some sort of art and some sort of marathon happening. It was the perfect break from Iceland. It was also an added bonus that we were able to reconnect with family during this trip. A lot of Stockholm was spent over drinks and conversation, things adults like to do. Or as Kasen tells us "the boring stuff". As we ended our trip and Stockholm we prepared ourselves for the last half of our Iceland trip.  

Back to Iceland. The return trip was not as smooth as our arrival airport experience. We used a different car company this time, and it took FOREVER. Fortunately, we weren't pressed for time. After two hours we picked up our rental and headed off to the capital to explore. We walked around and ventured in and out of shops to see what Iceland shopping was about — then headed back to our Airbnb for the night. The next day we set off for the Golden Circle. We first ventured to see the geysers, Geysir and Strokkur. Who would have thought watching thousands of gallons rush out of the earth was interesting. You could feel the ground rumble underneath your feet, and it is a guaranteed show as Strokkur blows roughly every 15 minutes. We walked through Þingvellir national park and ended our day with our last waterfall trip in Iceland, Gullfoss. This is an easy adventure for our last full day in Iceland and made for a beautiful finish before we left the following day. That night we packed our bags and finished our snack pantry, then binge watched some Netflix until we finally went to sleep. The next day was an early one and a long one. We had reservations at Blue Lagoon at 8 am and our return flight home. I will say before the trip, and during planning, I was trying to convince everyone we should opt out of Blue Lagoon, as I felt it was a tourist trap. Although it most definitely was/is a tourist trap, it was AMAZING. Doing this right at the opening was prime, nobody was there, and we had the lagoon to ourselves for a solid hour and a half. I do not regret dropping the fee to experience the man-made lagoon. It was the last "ahh vacation" of the trip. We left feeling refreshed and ready to get back home. I recommend doing this towards the end rather the beginning. Being relaxed while waiting almost two hours to check in your car was a much better feeling than the other customers who were all slightly annoyed.  

 

We can promise we will be back to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. Probably with kids in tow next round. Next time we will opt for a camper van as AirBnb's are expensive and in Iceland, you can sleep just about anywhere off the road. Also, in our future, we hope that IcelandAir is still offering the stopover deal. This allowed us to break up our stay and it was the same cost as if we were going direct to Stockholm. Maybe next time we will do a whole week verse the break up so we can conquer all of the ring road.

All in all, this was a great trip. If you are considering doing this, go. It is an easy and fun trip. Only suggestions I have, don't pay for a tour guide everything is easy to access, but do pay for the WiFi in the car, for the 4x4 vehicle and PAY for the extra car insurance. Iceland loves to "thoroughly" check their vehicles. If you can swing this as a stopover do it, there is so much to see in the world. Get out and explore. 

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