Iceland Vacation

Musings of my vacation in Iceland.

Departure

My vacation started on the morning of with a trip to the Austin airport in preparation for noon-ish flight. This happened to be my first time using my new TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry access, so after checking my bag with Delta, went through security and went straight for a breakfast burrito at Salt Lick. Georgie, Clare, and I sat around and waited for our connecting flight to JFK in New York.

After an hour, we boarded the plane. The great thing about flights these days is that most airlines have great in-flight entertainment, so I watched a few movies on the flight including Edge of Tomorrow, which I had been wanting to re-watch for a while.

Eventually we landed in New York, and met up with our friends at the terminal. We were all pretty hungry at this point and sought out some food. I ended up getting a bento box, which was alright but nothing to write home about. Georgie, Clare, and I went to the Air India lounge to chill out for a bit, where I got some curry and Corona beers.

Later that evening we boarded the next flight. Unfortunately, I never sleep well on airplanes, mostly due to my height. The head rests never go up high enough, and my knees are almost always in the back of the seat in front of me. Like the last flight, I ended up watching movies for the duration of the 5-6 hour flight.

At around local time in Keflavik, Iceland, we deplaned, went through the customs and immigration dance, and picked up our 9-person rental van. Once situated in the van, we set off for our first day in Iceland!

First Impressions

Reykjavik happens to be about 40ish minutes from Keflavik. We headed straight for our hotel to drop off our luggage. After settling in, we headed to lunch where I had fish and chips for the first time and walked about this portion of the city that included coffee shops and stores. On this first day in Iceland, we had a reservation at the Blue Lagoon, so after our time in the city, we went over to have our first experience in the heated sulfurous lagoon.

The first thing that hits you when you arrive is definitely the smell. It is unmistakably sulfur. The location is fairly good looking, a large pool essentially surrounded by volcanic rock. The water is a milky blue. It is naturally heated seawater pumped from underneath the ground. I ended up having my first Icelandic beer, a Gull. I had no complaints about it, and felt that it was on-par with other popular beers from the US.

After 2ish hours of enjoyment, we returned to our hotel to get changed in order to head to dinner at Snaps. At dinner, I got a fish dish, which very much became a theme of this trip for me.

Although dinner was great, the night-life in Reykjavik was something we definitely wanted to try out. We hit a couple of bars, where I got to try a few more beers. The first bar was just across the street from the restaurant called Bodega. It is a little cocktail and wine bar, and by far the best memory I will have of this portion of the night was jamming out as The Weeknd played throughout the bar. One of the bars we went to played “house music,” and I have to say it is the worst music anyone could play in a bar, ever. It is entirely too generic, and I don’t even feel like it is something you can dance to unless you’re wasted. Prior to the last bar of the night, I ended up meeting these two fellows from Hull, United Kingdom, which I understood to be near Manchester. Their names were Fred and Gregorio. I enjoyed shooting the shit with them and getting to know them. With our desire for night-life satiated, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

The next day was unfortunately not what we planned it to be due to a storm in the Reykjavik area, so we couldn’t safely proceed to our next location. This day consisted of more exploration in Reykjavik. We got to walk quite a bit more of the city, including walking to what seemed to be the concert hall/convention center.

Environment

Iceland is an extremely beautiful country. There was quite a bit of varied terrain: mountains, plains, valleys, volcanic rock formations, icebergs, and beaches. As you travel around the island, you would be hard-pressed to not see a magnificent waterfall. We must’ve stopped at close to 20 waterfalls during the course of our trip. Coming from Texas which is generally very flat, waterfalls of the magnitudes witnessed just don’t exist. I think the worst thing about the the environment while we were in Iceland was the strength of some of the wind. I have been in a few hurricanes, and I can honestly say I had never felt anything quite like that. Although we were in the country at the start of rainy season, there was only one or two days where I would said rain really put a damper on our plans, which really wasn’t bad at all considering what it could have been.

Communicating

This was essentially my third time in a foreign country which I stayed in for extended periods of time. I was extremely impressed at how I was able to communicate in English for the most part. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was very convenient. Even most menus and signage had an English equivalent to read. The only place I actually needed to bust out a translator was the grocery store! It felt like people in Iceland knew we were tourists because I don’t think we ever got greeted in Icelandic during the course of the trip.

Lodging

Hostels were a new experience for me. Previously, I had only been accustomed to hotels, motels, and short term rentals. I didn’t mind the experience at all. In totality, I really had no problems with any of the places we stayed at during the course of the trip. I am biased, but I thought that The Writer’s Nest in Grundarfjörður, which was the city that I was assigned, was the best place we stayed at. It consisted of 2-2 bedroom apartments.

Food and Drink

The food in Iceland was incredible for the most part. A ton of what I ate was fish, unsurprisingly, but I also had an opportunity to sample horse.

In my opinion, the best restaurant we went to was in Grundarfjörður, called Bjargarsteinn Mathús. Our waiter was incredible. He was joking with us like he’d been our friend for a while, was extremely knowledgeable on the menu, and provided quite a bit of perspective on Iceland. For dinner, I had a seafood soup, which was the best meal of the trip I think. The soup was filled to the brim with seafood. It was hard to get a spoonful of soup without some fish in it. After a cold and partially rainy day, it was just what I needed.

Another great restaurant that we ate at that was unexpectedly good was a farm house whose meats were sourced from a local farm and lake. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, but this place was definitely a gem.

On our journey from Grundarfjörður back to Reykjavik the day before our flight, we stopped in this little town that had a food truck that was offering fish and chips. During the first day in Iceland, I had also had fish and chips, but the what I got from the food truck blew my original order out of the water. I cannot stress enough how crispy the and flavorful the fish was. I would go so far as to say that that was the best fried fish I have had in my life up to this point.

I think we were all in agreement on the worst food we had in Iceland however. In one of the cities that we stopped in was an American Diner. We stopped at it just to see what it was like, and boy was it disappointing. However, the ice cream sundae that I had was incredible, so at least there was that.

When we weren’t drinking wine at the end of the nights back at wherever we were staying, I was pretty much having Icelandic beer whenever possible. Just like America seems to have its usual suspects like Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc., Iceland also seemed to have beers you could find just about anywhere. I got the sense that Iceland didn’t really have many craft breweries. I think I maybe saw one during our entire trip. But as far as what was available to me, I thought the usual suspects in Iceland tasted a bit better than their American counterparts.

Concluding Thoughts

It took me a while to finally write this. It has been over a month since I left for my trip. Forgive the extreme detail at the beginning leading to more general thoughts toward the end.

The only thing I thought was different than what I had read going into my trip was the cost of living. Every resource online seemed to say that prices of things like food in Iceland were much higher than those in the United States. I would actually beg to differ. After accounting for tax and tip (Icelandic prices already included tax from what I could tell), prices seemed just about even to me. Beers cost about the same, which was a lot of what I cared about!

If I have an opportunity to go back to Iceland, I would definitely take it. The vacation would be structured a bit differently however, especially in terms of what areas I explore. Spending more time in Reykjavik is a must. Overall this vacation was a great. There are so many great things I can and have said about it. I had a wonderful time with my friends, which is saying something since I spent hours upon hours in a 9 person van with them.

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