Mitch, on phone to Caitlin who’s at work as a stressed out and insanely busy ICU nurse: (Breathlessly) “Caitlin. $229. Iceland. London. Booking. Must”
Caitlin: English please.
Mitch: (Repeats above)
Caitlin: We just did Iceland a month ago. Isn’t it going to be cold and miserable in Europe in November?
Mitch: I’m going. With or without you. (Begins to sing U2 song). You in or out?
Caitlin: (Sigh). I’m in, book it.
ICELAND IS MY HAPPY PLACE AND I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR THAT
I love Iceland. People ask me why and I can’t fully put my finger on the exact reasons. The waterfalls rule, the landscape is bizarre and amazing, the people are so chill (and tall), the hikes are life-changing, the hot springs are paradise. Still, I never do it justice. It’s funny, I’m such a diva about warm weather. My dream is to never see snow again. I live for the sunshine. And gloomy, windy, cold Iceland is my favorite place in the world. Don’t judge me, judge Judy, OK? I love it and I will never stop loving it.
However, all that being said, I’ve written about the north of Iceland and the south of Iceland. I can’t add too much more, so I will let those posts do most of the talking for this trip. And now on to the goodness:
THE FLIGHT: ICELANDAIR IS SO GOOD
I’ve noted how our flights on Wow Air have been, and honestly, I’m OK with it. For $200 or whatever for nonstop from LA to Iceland I’m fine with anything up to and including a catapult. So Caitlin and I were expecting the same, meaning we hoarded heaps of snacks and candy for the flight, downloaded hours of Netflix…only to discover Icelandair is infinitely better than Wow. In-flight entertainment? Check. Drinks and food? Yes. Comfortable seats? Eh, not any better or worse than any other airline. We were in a row of 3 which is never fun, but whatever…ICELAND!
PS…GET A WINDOW SEAT FOR THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
We didn’t have that life-changing Northern Lights moment in Iceland, at least not yet. But on the plane, where we were stuck in the middle 3 seats, suddenly someone yelled, “the Northern Lights!” and suddenly the whole plane lined up on one side to take turns looking out the windows. Luckily, people with window seats were super cool and let us all have a look. It wasn’t the coolest thing I’ve ever seen because it wasn’t the most dramatic like I hoped it would be. Still, there was this strip of lit up sky in the middle of the pitch black night. It was definitely cool and a unique experience to see it from the sky, so get a window seat if possible.
DAY 1: THE BLUE LAGOON AND THAT’S IT
Let me clarify: This trip was always going to be somewhere other than Iceland and London. We love those places, but I booked 8 days and it was winter in Utah…fill in the details. We first discussed a UK tour (Wales, back to Scotland, maybe see some of England other than London) but then we decided we like seeing the sun and since Utah winters are awful, we figured we’d go tropical. So I literally Googled, “Warmest Europe cities in winter,” and Malaga was listed. Even better, there was a super cheap direct flight from London. Just like that, it was done.
But alas, back to Iceland. On the way there, we only had 10 hours in the country. See, Icelandair allows layovers for free, probably so people can see how hard Iceland rules. So we had 10 hours there, and then a week later, we had something like 30 hours. I’m going to combine both days into one post, but suffice it to say…we made the most of our 40 hours in paradise.
RENT A BLOODY CAR BECAUSE THE AIRPORT TRANSFERS ARE EVIL
Tell me if this makes sense… a bus transfer from Keflavik airport to the Blue Lagoon is something like $80 round trip…per person. Renting a car is $49 for the day. You do the math.
Since the Blue Lagoon was our only plan for the first leg in Iceland, all we had to do was figure out how to get there and back, and paying $49 for a one-day car rental made a lot more sense than $160 for a bus that runs on a fixed schedule. So to the rental we went. I booked the car through Rentalcars.com and it was perfect. It was through Europcar which reminds me…
BOOK A CAR WITH ONSITE AIRPORT PICKUP BECAUSE THE SHUTTLE SUCKS
I didn’t even know that Europcar was onsite but my goodness it makes a huge difference. The shuttle, which we’ve taken several times, comes randomly and takes ages to get to each stop and is usually so bloody crowded and miserable. We had our car and were zooming into the black morning before the people from our flight had even caught the shuttle. It is so so so worth it to book onsite, just trust me. By the way, the Blue Lagoon was so close that we didn’t even need to gas up before returning the car. So good.
KRAMBÚÐ FOR 24/7 GROCERIES
Another thing about the Blue Lagoon (and everywhere else in Iceland) is it’s crazy expensive. We arrived at 6am and had the car but we were hungry and thirsty and I had no idea if any place in Iceland would be open that early. Enter Krambúð, located at 55, 230, Hringbraut, Keflavík, Iceland. It’s the only 24 hour thing I’ve seen outside of Reykjavik, and it’s no more than 5 minutes from the airport. In the words of Dr. Steve Brule…Jackprot! It’s no more or less expensive than anywhere else, but HEAPS cheaper than buying food and drink at the Blue Lagoon. So we loaded up on Coke Zero, Red Bull, and my favorite thing on earth, NOCCO drinks plus chocolate and sandwiches. Just like that, we were fueled up and speeding towards the Blue Lagoon.
I WILL NOT STAND FOR BLUE LAGOON SLANDER
My feelings on the Blue Lagoon are well known. Well, know this: It’s even better the second time, especially if you haven’t slept for like 20 hours and it’s gloomy and rainy and foggy and misty and perfect for a hot tub. The drive from Krambúð to the Blue Lagoon was about 20 minutes, and it was still pitch dark when we arrived. Since I had booked for 8am, I had no idea if we could even get in since it was still 7 something. And it was surprisingly busy for being that early, but we got right in with no problems at all. As usual, we had to shower sans clothing (and yes, they once again had a dude in the locker room ensuring everyone was fully naked). We stashed our towels under a shelf outside and entered the waters of heaven.
I don’t need to rehash the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it’s overpriced. Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s something the locals scoff at. But yes, it’s incredible. Yes, it’s 20 minutes from the airport. Yes, it’s worth doing. Yes yes yes. So good. And I’m not sure if this had changed from the last time we were there or if we were just dumb, but both entry prices included a drink, so we were drinking a strawberry smoothie and Pepsi Zero in paradise. As if things could get any better.
Now, since we booked at the time it opened (it gets cheaper the shorter your stay is), yeah it was crazy expensive. It was $90 each, and I’m not proud to say that. But it was life-changing. So life changing. The only bad thing is I snuck a NOCCO out of my locker and tried to drink it in the water. Somehow I was caught within 8 seconds. Oh well, it led me to discover there’s this lounge area with these super comfortable chairs where you can just relax and watch the swimmers. It was so warm and relaxing I almost fell asleep, but Caitlin was out there so I knew I couldn’t be gone too long. I dare say the Blue Lagoon was better the second time. The gloomy and stormy weather made it even more perfect and it was pretty much the most relaxing few hours of my life…and that was pretty much it for day 1. We had a super quick car return experience, a perfect flight to London, and everything was turning up Milhouse Mitch!
LOTUS CAR RENTAL…MEH
Now, fast forward a week. On our way back through Reykjavik, we had something like 30 hours, and naturally I was stoked because Iceland is my happy place in case you hadn’t heard.
Our car rental this time was just listed as “Booking Group Limited,” which was fine, except the airport sign showed it and then the actual shuttle didn’t. So we waited for AGES in the brutal icy wind and rain for the shuttle (did I not say book an onsite rental car? I did, but it was too late to realize what a mistake I’d made). We finally get on the way way way overcrowded shuttle only to have the driver baffled because he has no idea which stop we are. Luckily, the driver was super cool and made a phone call to find out that whatever our booking said, the rental was through Lotus. The funny thing is it delayed the shuttle several minutes, and people were griping. Oh well, right? Anyways, the renal with Lotus was fine, it was a decent SUV they gave us and the price was good ($6.38 at booking and €33 at the airport) so whatever. The annoying thing is THE GAS GAUGE DIDN’T WORK AND THEY DIDN’T TELL US THIS MINOR DETAIL.
The last time we’d been in Iceland, we had about $15 left on a gas card (you can’t pay at the pump unless you have a debit, otherwise you have to go purchase a gas card) and brought it home knowing we’d be back in a month. I had it all planned out. We wouldn’t have to gas up day 1 because the Blue Lagoon was so close to the airport, and that went just as planned. Then, on the way back, we’d use the last $15 from the gas card and not have to buy another…which WOULD HAVE WORKED IF THEY HAD TOLD US THE GAUGE WASN’T WORKING…
In the words of Adam Sandler, “things that could’ve been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!” We stopped to gas up the car on the way back to the airport, me grinning at how smart I was to not forget this stupid Icelandic gas card at home in America which I almost did. I put the gas in…no movement of the needle. I begrudgingly go inside and buy more gas and put it in…nothing. I buy even more, thinking to myself that maybe this SUV was a major gas hog…nothing. So we go to a different station, me thinking maybe the gas pump was wonky, and I fill it up and up and up until it starts to overflow…no movement of the needle. A smarter man may have figured out that the needle wasn’t working before I did, but I just didn’t want to be charged some crazy fee, and I feel like using the whole, “I swear I filled it up but it just doesn’t look like I did” excuse might not fly. So I’m super frustrated the whole way back to the rental place thinking of how I’m going to prove that I really did fill up the car with like $50 extra dollars (it wasn’t even 100% full to begin with) and I start to tell the guy there’s a problem and his colleague from the back says, “Oh, the blue SUV? Yep, we know, it’s all good.” Seriously, this would have been nice to know. Oh well, I gave the gas card to some greasy French guy in the rental place so at least someone benefited from my stupidity.
COMMUNITY POOLS WITH COOL OLD ICELANDERS PART 1: LAUGARDALSLAUG
BY THE WAY, THESE COMMUNITY POOLS BAN CELL PHONES SO WE COULDN’T TAKE ANY PHOTOS SADLY Since we had already done the Blue Lagoon on the way in, plus pretty much everything else I’d wanted to do in Iceland, we decided this 30 hour end of trip stopover would be the most chill and relaxing part of our vacation and probably our lives. And oh how it was!
See, Iceland is small but big. Meaning, it’s not a huge place but it takes ages to get anywhere. When we did the Glacier Lagoon, it was 8+ hours of driving, and that was from our flat near Vik. It certainly can be done from Reykjavik, and we heard people saying they were doing it from the airport and back in a day. If that’s all the time you had, it would be totally worth doing. But we had seen what we wanted and now it was time to do some maximum relaxing in the most Icelandic way possible…outdoor hot springs, starting with Laugardalslaug.
We’d had an exhausting but awesome 7 or 8 days, so all we wanted to do on our way back through Iceland was chill hard, and there’s no better place to do that than Laugardalslaug. It’s basically a sweet community pool, and at $16 total (just under $8 each) it’s an absolute steal. In fact, it was one of my favorite things we did in Iceland. It seems to be mostly locals, and since I love just listening to Icelandic being spoken, that was rad. There’s a couple heated pools and what feels like a million different hot tubs which vary in temperature. Even better, there’s a sweet waterslide that is actually pretty intense. Sure, the climb up on the slippery and rickety stairs is dangerous, and yeah we had to wait for about 10 little kids to go and get off the slide. But after all that, Caitlin and I each went about 5 times and we actually got going pretty fast. The sky was gloomy so we didn’t see any Northern Lights or stars, but it was so incredibly relaxing to just sit in hot water and enjoy life. The contrast of the cold weather and the hot water was awesome, and it was a perfect beginning to our day in Iceland and end of our trip in Europe. 10/10 would visit Laugardalslaug again and again. By the way, for some reason there’s an ice tub too and we were not crazy enough to try it but there was a surprising amount of people in it.
THE FLAT WAS PERFECT
Last time we stayed in Reykjavik, I was amazed how close everything in the city seemed. It felt like we were just a few minutes from everything, so this time we chose a cheap flat with good reviews because we knew wherever we wanted to go would be accessible. The place we got was perfect. For one, it had a driveway so we didn’t have to park the rental car on the street. Secondly, it was just nice and warm and beautiful inside and provided some cereal and milk for breakfast. It was in a nice neighborhood and was super quiet. We slept well and loved the place. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see many of the animals we had read about on the reviews, although the following day we saw (and pet, of course) 2 of the most insanely fluffy and friendly cats, which was cool. But before we slept…
TRYING TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ATTEMPT 2,478: GROTTA LIGHTHOUSE
Spoiler: Eh. Caitlin was ready to sleep and I was still wired, so I drove out to Grotta Lighthouse, supposedly one of the best places in Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights. It was absolutely pitch black out there (20 minute drive from the heart of the city, if that) and was actually a bit creepy standing on the black rocks and the beach. I was amazed how many people were out there, and we were all hoping for the same thing. It was actually very peaceful and nice just walking along the beach, hoping for some lights, but after about 45 minutes I realized our chances weren’t great. There had actually been quite a few breaks in the cloud cover, but nothing shined through. After about an hour, it looked like a faint green (I’m colorblind so who knows what color it was) glow in the sky. A bunch of people got all excited and started filming and taking photos, so I guess it was something, but not much. It stayed for a bit and I kept hoping to get a better view, but alas, ‘twas not to be. I drove back to the flat and Reykjavik Cathedral was all light up with Christmas lights as I drove by from afar which was a really cool sight.
DAY 2: VESTURBAEJARLAUG
I know you want to see more Blue Lagoon picsSince our flight was supposed to leave at 5pm (spoiler: it didn’t), we stayed in the flat until checkout and then decided to head to our second community pool, Vesturbaejarlaug. Much like Laugardalslaug, it’s just a cool place for locals, this time even more so than Laugardalslaug. There’s a heated pool and about 4 hot tubs of different temperatures. While we were there, a bunch of schoolkids came through for swimming lessons, and I don’t know why but it was super cool to see. In one of the hot tubs, we ended up hanging out with an old Icelandic lady (I think she said she was 87 or something) named Erica (probably spelled some cool way and she pronounced it very coolly). It was so amazing listening to her English and hearing stories about old Iceland, her family, her grandchildren, her late husband, and the travels they had back in the day to mainland Europe. To me, she just represented all the cool Icelandic people we’ve met over our time there. She was friendly, funny, and welcoming. Caitlin and I both really enjoyed her company, and even though we were ready to get out of the hot tub, we wanted to stay and keep talking, which we did until she went home. What a cool woman.
RETURNING THE CAR WAS OK, THE CAR SUCKED
I already mentioned it, but we ended up wasting at least $40 on gas because the car rental guy neglected to tell us the gas gauge didn’t work. What can ya do. I was super bummed driving back to Keflavik because not only was a killer trip over, but after 3 times in Iceland, it’s hard to know when (or if) we will go back again, and that really makes me sad. Iceland is my Disneyland.
DELAYED FLIGHTS SUCK VERY VERY MUCH
We’ve been pretty lucky in avoiding delays. Once, on our way back from NYC, when we were travel amateurs, we simply misread our boarding passes and had to spend the night in Dallas. Totally our fault. And we’ve had a few hours here or there, but we are usually able to find a Priority Pass Lounge (yes, that’s a humblebrag) to hang out, eat, drink Coke Zero, and not be too stressed about delays. Unfortunately, Reykjavik airport (actually it’s Keflavik), despite being beautiful and cool, doesn’t have a lounge and is crazy expensive (like, even way more than Iceland itself) and is pretty boring. So it’s not an ideal place to have a delay. And yet the weather in Keflavik is notoriously crazy, and while we were driving from the city to the airport, it felt like the strongest non-New Zealand winds I’ve ever experienced. Still, I didn’t realize it would cause a delay.
Icelandair didn’t announce the delay for quite a while, which was annoying. We simply sat and waited to board for 10, 20, 30, 60 minutes past our departure time before they announced the wind was going to keep us grounded for “an indefinite time period.” It’s cool because I’m glad we are and were safe, but it was weird because a bunch of other airlines kept taking off and arriving. Maybe Icelandair is just extra safe. But the delay stretched into 2 and 3 hours, which was a bummer because we had a flight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to catch. And even more of a bummer is the fact that we only had about an hour to catch that flight…and that’s if we had been on time. Needless to say we had to stay in San Francisco and luckily got a flight to Salt Lake the day after we were supposed to. Not idea, but not the worst. The only thing I thought was lame is Iceland didn’t really keep anyone updated. People had to keep going up and asking the status, and they would only announce it sporadically. But, they did give everyone some chocolates and water, which was cool. The flight back wasn’t as turbulent as I expected, and although it was tedious like every other flight, it was no issue at all. Sadly, that was the end of our Icelandic adventures…hopefully not forever.