It’s been a minute since my last post, but life has been crazy. Since I returned from Denver, I’ve turned 26, taken another international trip, and dealt with some tough times.
I didn’t end up going to Nashville like I mentioned at the end of my last post. About a week ago, my Dad was admitted to the ER and had surgery to put in a stent to open up one of his arteries. He is doing better now, but the plans for Nashville were for us to go see Ben Folds at the Ryman Auditorium but the concert was also the day of his surgery. Needless to say, that trip was canceled, but I am beyond thankful to have my Dad back to good health. Once it was deemed that my Dad was going to be okay, he assured me I was safe to leave for Iceland. This was only two days later, so I was a bit uneasy, but he is doing great!
I am writing most of this from the plane on the way home, and doing my best to remember every detail that I didn’t already take note of. This trip was INCREDIBLE and Iceland is such a popular tourist destination right now, I want to be sure to cover it all.
Travel Day: Friday, 11/3
[Indy > Chicago via Megabus — > Megabus to ORD via Lyft –> ORD to Reykjavík, Iceland via WOWair]
The journey was certainly an adventure. We found our flight on WOWair, which is a budget airline. Budget airlines are fantastic for people like me who just want to get there and don’t need/want frills, but once you’re traveling they definitely find ways to make you feel like it wasn’t a budget price after all – read the fine print! I frequently fly Allegiant for domestic flights, so I’m used to some of the challenges such as baggage fees, smaller seats, and little to no amenities, but I had never flown a budget airline internationally and there are definitely different things to consider when doing so.
Our flight was so cheap for a few reasons:
- Iceland is less popular of a destination in the winter months since, you guessed it, it gets way colder!
- Our flight price literally guaranteed us only that. The flight. We had to pay extra for our seats if we wanted things like extra leg room, to be seated in an emergency exit row, etc. (we opted not to do this)
- We flew out of Chicago, not Indy. Bigger airports = cheaper flights.
- $70 to check a bag each way. $40 to carry on a bag each way. Enough Said. You get one free, small personal item, and that’s it. Oh, and those are the prices if you pay when you’re buying your ticket. If you wait til you get to the airport, they’re even higher.
- You get zero complimentary food and beverage. Read: you do not even get free water. A bit extreme, I think, but hey, hydration is a privilege…?
We spent probably $20 each way getting food at the airport to take onto the plane which was annoying, but again the flight was SO cheap and airline food sucks anyway so that’s kind of for the best.
Getting from Indy to Chicago should have been super easy – however – our Megabus left 20 min prior to its scheduled departure time…without us. Great start to the day, right?! Thankfully, I had booked us on a 9am bus even though our flight wasn’t until 6pm, just in case something went wrong, so after a very long conversation with a customer service manager, she rebooked us for free on the noon bus, and refunded us for the bus that was missed. Hello, hospitality!
Once we were coffee-d up and on the noon bus, we relaxed and got re-excited. From the bus stop, we got a Lyft to the airport. There was insane traffic (always, in Chicago) so it took forever to get to the airport, but we got there safe and sound.
The international terminal at ORD is surprisingly small, but nevertheless we grabbed dinner, snacks and Dream Water for the plane (this stuff is AMAZING, LINK), and then enjoyed some beer while we waited for our two. hour. delayed. flight. Normally I’d be super annoyed, but it was actually a blessing in disguise that our flight was delayed because the crazy traffic would’ve made us cut it very close to making it on time to the airport. Also, our scheduled arrival time in Iceland was supposed to be 5am, so it’s not like we were missing much. What does one even do at 5am? I very rarely see it occur. Once in the air, our flight was smooth, I assume — I drank the dream water and slept the ENTIRE flight, which has never before happened in my life. I woke up when the flight attendant announced we were 20 minutes from landing, at about 6:15am local time.
Day 1: Saturday, 11/4
The Iceland airport is very modern, like much of the country. Lots of duty-free shopping, a boujie chain sandwich shop called Joe and the Juice (love!) and NO ONE in the customs lines but us. Hell yes!!! We bought tickets for a FlyBus into Reykjavík, which was about a 45 minute drive to the BSI (bus terminal), where all of the passengers divided and switched onto smaller buses to go downtown. Apparently, Reykjavík just outlawed large buses coming into downtown. Not a big deal at all, especially since the bus had free WiFi and was relatively comfortable.
After our smaller bus dropped off everyone else, our driver turned the corner and said “this is as far as I can take you!” And let us off at what we came to know as “bus stop four”. He gave us some interesting directions, but we eventually found our hostel and dropped off our bags. The front desk girl recommended we go to the Laundromat Cafe for breakfast. We thought that seemed weird, but we took her advice. As it turns out, this cafe is an awesome hipster diner-vibe, with delicious food and free coffee refills (does NOT happen in Europe?!) we felt right at home .
After splitting a huge breakfast that neither of us could’ve finished ourselves over the course of several days, we began to explore. The sun was rising (about 9:30am at this point – seriously!) We checked out a few shops, and quickly realized that everything in Iceland is soooooo so so so expensive. I’m talking Saks prices on everyday items. Not the best realization, but we were already there so what could we do at this point? #research
Once we gave up on shopping, we continued to walk the streets of downtown Reykjavík, noticing random things such as – there are a LOT of hot dog stands. Like, a weird amount. I did some research, and found this: https://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-08-21/the-one-dish-to-eat-in-iceland. Apparently hot dogs are the country’s “unofficial” dish, and are nothing like American hot dogs. We never got one, but I wish we had, now!
Something unpleasant we discovered via a menu outside of one of the restaurants – apparently a local “delicacy” is sheep head. Yes – a literal sheep head on a plate. You know how you can get some fish that still has faces? Well, this is that but a sheep. Oh and yes, there was an example photo, which I️ chose not to take my own photo of — y’all are welcome. If you must see, Google it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Other specials include whale and puffin…we tried neither.
We turned a corner and saw a body of water and mountains. Naturally, we ran towards it. This was such a gorgeous spot! We took photos of each other and met some nice people who offered to take a photo of us together. We immediately liked this country.
Right by this site was a music and event venue that we decided to check out. When we walked in, we saw a sign that read “Pickup Mumford & Sons tickets here!” So obviously we asked how to get tickets. Unfortunately they were sold out, but we discovered that we had come to Iceland on one of the coolest weekends of the year: Icelandic Airwaves Music Festival! This is the best festival of the year, according to Icelanders. Instead of a traditional festival that occurs all in one venue, artists play all over downtown Reykjavík at various bars, cafes, etc., so a lot of the music can be seen for free, which we discovered that night!
After a quick nap to refresh, we went out for dinner and drinks. We found a speakeasy-vibe sushi restaurant that was in our price range, and got a charcuterie board (mine and Jess’s favorite), sushi, and some local beer. We strolled the city and checked out a few bars. One was called Boston, where we listened to our first Airwaves artist, who was so good! He even sang an acoustic, almost depressed version of “This I Swear” by the Spice Girls. Another bar called Cafebarrin had scary killer music when we walked in, so that was short lived. The English Pub was where we ended our night – there was another fabulous musical duo, and a great crowd to cheer them on.
Day 2: Sunday, 11/5
Waking up and knowing you’re about to go see something you’ve wanted to see for basically half of your life is a pretty surreal feeling. Excited as ever, we ventured to Bus Stop 4, and caught a FlyBus to the Blue Lagoon. If you don’t know what the Blue Lagoon is — it is one of the largest geothermal “pools”, which means the water is warm like a hot tub, but it is all natural! A spa has been built around the lagoon, making this one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions. Upon arriving, we were given towels, wrist bands to open our lockers and to show the staff which tier of admission we had purchased (we did the Comfort package). We got changed, showered, and stood at the door contemplating how fast we were going to have to run from the warmth of inside, to the lagoon, in order not to freeze. The twelve foot journey felt more like 12 miles. It was a particularly cold day, and then sun had not come up yet, which actually was the best decision I could’ve made to book our spot so early in the morning, because we got to see the sunrise!
Unreal. This was one of those moments that even though I was so cold, I couldn’t help but smile and be so grateful for this experience.
There are several little coves and pockets within the lagoon that the water temperature varies within, so if you’re too hot or too cold, you can swim into those. Part of the comfort package included a face mask, which you get at a little hut within the lagoon. The mask felt amazing on my skin and I would highly recommend upgrading to this package just for that! There are also several saunas/steam rooms right outside of the lagoon that you can go in before, during, or after your swim. These felt amaaaazing!
Before catching a bus back downtown, we ate lunch at the cafe and looked around the gift shop. We attempted to go back outside to take more photos of the lagoon, but the wind was so strong we could barely stand up! We got lucky going when we did – there was actually a weather warning because of the wind and rain, the entire day and night. People were advised to stay inside — we did not abide by this rule.
Some places we checked out later that day:
-Cafe Paris ❤️
-Kex Hostel (great beer!)
Day 3: Monday, 11/6
Today we did the Golden Circle tour, which was phenomenal. We took a Grayline bus tour, and our guide, Yulia, educated us all about Iceland for the next six hours. The first stop on the tour was Þingvellir National Park, where we saw beautiful scenery, and got to stand in two places at once: the American tectonic plate, and no man’s land. The plates have been shifting for a long time, and the European plate is actually 7km away from the American one at this location. Jess and I were very surprised to hear we were not technically in Europe!
The next stop was at a Geysir! We were able to get up close to an erupting hot spring or Geysir in this geothermal area, which was so cool! Our guide explained to us that this one used to erupt between 60-80 feet in the air, but now only erupts to about 20 feet. Once we were done being startled every time the geysir erupted, we ate lunch and marveled at the snow falling as we got back on the bus.
Now – I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, but Icelanders swear that Gullfoss Waterfall, our next stop, is even more amazing. I have to take their word for it (for now ;)), but I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than this site. We froze our asses off standing out there to take in its beauty and take a million photos, but it was 100% worth it.
Our last stop was at a volcanic crater, which was beyond neat to see. We headed back to our hostel feeling full of knowledge and happiness about all that we had seen. It was pretty cold when we got off the bus, so we headed right to dinner at our favorite sushi spot. We called it an early night and went back to the hostel – but first we stopped at the grocery store and bought some Icelandic chocolate — YUM!
Day 4: Tuesday, 11/7
Today was our only true “free” day while in Iceland. We had nothing planned until later that evening. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the hostel, grabbed our coats, and left to explore and find the nearby Zara! Much to our demise, Zara is either closed for renovations in the Reykjavík mall, or is permanently closed. We were bummed, but in the grand scheme of things, this was a small blip in our trip. There is a free shuttle that runs from downtown to the mall, which we took to head back home. Although it was early for dinner, we had been wanting to have a “treat yo self” night where we got the seafood rissoto and lobster bisque we had been eyeing all week. The restaurant we went to was called Caruso, and it did NOT disappoint!
The last thing we really wanted to do during our trip (that was feasible given the weather), was search for the Northern Lights. The detectors online had said all week that the lights would be of low visibility because of the clouds, but tonight was rated a 7 out of 9 chance to see them! Booking the tour through Grayline was easy, and at 7:30pm we got on the bus to go out and search for the lights. The first stop was in the middle of a road…literally. We couldn’t find the lights, so we got back on the bus and headed further out of the city. It’s just like looking for stars: the darker and more clear it is, the easier it is to see them. The second stop was in another hot spring area, and within a few minutes of being outside, we saw the lights! The photos I have do not do it justice – the dancing lights are an unreal phenomenon that I cannot believe I was lucky enough to see! They are only visible certain months of the year, and are hard to find under certain conditions. Whenever I return to Iceland, I will DEFINITELY go looking for the lights again!
Day 5: Wednesday, 11/8
Today was our final day in Iceland – these trips always go by way too fast! We ate quickly, did a bit of souvenir shopping, and headed to the airport. Our flight was smooth, albeit delayed, and by some miracle we still made our bus from Chicago to Indy.
Jess and I refer to this trip as our “adventure trip” as it was nothing like the vacations we usually take. It didn’t feel like a vacation – but an adventure. Our plan is to take one international vacation trip and one international adventure trip every year, plus domestic trips as we can. Iceland was always somewhere I thought looked cool, but never a place I thought I would actually go. Now that I’ve been, I cannot wait to go back!