Finding Serenity in Iceland: A Travel Diary

April 1st, 2016

By the time I stepped off of the plane, it felt like 1:30am to me. I barely slept on the plane journey, due to both my excitement and the cramped seats in economy, and I knew there wouldn’t be many opportunities to to catch up on my sleep because my day was only beginning. But once I stepped into the airport and the reality of where I was finally hit me, my lack of sleep was no longer an issue. I was in Iceland.

I had taken a separate flight from my mom and brother, so I made my way to baggage claim to meet up with them. Once I saw them, we did the whole “oh my god, I can’t believe we’re finally here!” thing, and then proceeded to talk about how little sleep each of us got. But, our travel for the day was not over. We may have made it into the country, but now we had to drive seven hours north to meet up with my stepdad who was already here.

My stepdad was in Iceland for work, so our plan was to spend a couple of days up north in Reykjahlíð with him, and then drive back down to Reykjavik during our last couple of days to see the sites there.

It was raining when we got out of the airport and got our rental car, which was not the weather we were hoping for to start our drive. But, we were in Iceland, so we felt like we couldn’t really complain that much.

As we started our drive, I noticed that there was something very Martian-like about the terrain near the airport. There were almost no trees or vegetation, and the ground was covered in red lava rock. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

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As we drove past Reykjavik, mountains started to appear. They were still covered with snow since it was only the first of April, and they were glorious. There were rolling mountains, mountains that were almost perfect pyramids, and there were even mountains that looked more like plateaus due to their flat tops.

Our first stop on our trip was to a small town called Borgarnes. We had stopped at a gas station to fill up our tank, and we decided to go into town and see what it was like. There wasn’t much happening in town, since at that point it was around 8 o’clock on a Friday morning, but it was nice to see traditional Icelandic homes, shops, a school, and a church. After walking around town for a little while, we hopped back into the car.

About two hours into our drive, we found a waterfall on the side of the road that conveniently had a pull off area. We pulled off, got out to stretch our legs, and got a closer look at the waterfall. Because it was still relatively cold, part of the waterfall was still frozen. But, there was a stream of water that was making its way down. After we took a few photos of the waterfall, we got back into the car and figured this would be a perfect area to take a power nap. It was the perfect area. And twenty minutes later, we woke up, and we were on the road again.

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It was at this point that there was really no civilization around. The closest town was Borgarnes, and we had passed through there a while ago. We were glad we got gas when we did because all we passed were mountains and fields. There were some houses dotted along the landscape here and there, but they were few and far between. We were also the only car on the road for what seemed like an hour. If we had any car trouble, it would probably take a little while before anyone would have been able to get to us. But, being in a part of the world that was so void of people was actually pretty cool. It was definitely a change from what I was used to.

As we drove further north towards Akureyri, the rain had turned to snow, and not just snow flurries, but an actual snow storm. We were driving through mountains and it had gotten to a point where it was getting difficult to see the road. Luckily, our rental car was prepared for this and we ended up getting through the storm with no problem (even if I did have to close my eyes at some points). Once we had driven through the mountains, we could see Akureyri. We were getting close to our destination.

After, yet again, another power nap at a gas station, we prepared ourselves for the final hour of our trip. Once we left the city of Akureyri, it seemed that the snow storm that we had driven through earlier had left its mark on this area as well. There weren’t too many snow plows to be seen, so we drove through the unplowed road for a good thirty to forty-five minutes (cue me closing my eyes again).

After nine hours, we finally made it.

Since most of the day was spent in a car, we didn’t have time to do much exploring in Reykjahlíð during the first day. We spent the rest of the day watching my stepdad hard at work, getting dinner at a nearby restaurant, and hanging out in the hotel.

 

April 2nd, 2016

When we had gotten to Reykjahlíð, there wasn’t a set itinerary. We had a list of things we wanted to see while in the area, but we hadn’t decided in what order to see them. We had agreed on going to Akureyri and walking around the city. My stepdad mentioned that there was also a large waterfall on the way there that we should stop at and see. There is only one main road in Iceland during the winter, so how we didn’t see this waterfall while driving up the day before, I wasn’t sure. But, I was excited to see it.

After we all had eaten breakfast and gotten ready for the day, we hopped into the car once again and started on our journey. About half way to Akureyri, we could see the waterfall from the road. It looked massive.

Once we got to the waterfall, we learned that it was called Goðafoss. It looked big from the road, but once you got closer to it, you could see just how massive it was. There were many separate falls, and each one was a couple of stories tall. We stayed there for a little while to walk around and take photos. There was one other couple there at the time, but they were so far from where we were that it was like having the falls to ourselves. I wouldn’t have minded staying there for a whole afternoon, taking in the vastness of the waterfall.

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After about thirty minutes, we got back into the car and made our way to Akureyri. As we got closer to the city, the snow that had hit the area the day before had begun to melt. I could now see the small, white houses that were dotted along the hills next to the bay.

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We arrived at Akureyri around lunchtime. We had a quick lunch and walked around their main shopping street. We went into homeware shops, clothing shops, souvenir shops, anything and everything that looked interesting. It was a cute little street with different colored buildings. The street wasn’t any longer than about a block or so, but it was a nice area to spend an afternoon.

I had read online that there was a year round Christmas shop that was nearby. My family loves Christmas, so we put it into our GPS and it was only a twenty minute drive away.

The shop was located inside of a red log cabin that had different large candies attached to the roof. By the front door, there was a sign with the countdown to Christmas in Icelandic. And out back, there was a clothesline with Santa’s pants and coat hung up. It was pretty cute.

Inside there were Christmas decorations that covered two whole floors; it was almost overwhelming. But, it was definitely fun to stop in.

By the time we had returned to our hotel, it was already dinner time. We found a nearby pizza place to eat, and then we hung out the rest of the night.

 

April 3rd, 2016

This was by far one of my favorite days. It was our last full day in Reykjahlíð, so we had a packed itinerary. Luckily, my stepdad was able to get the day off in order to spend some time with us as well. Two of the things on my to-do list in Reykjahlíð were to visit Dimmuborgir, which is a lava field, and to climb up Hverfjall, which is a volcano.

The first thing on our agenda for the morning was to visit an area where you could see both the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate. They were separated by about ten feet, and the crevice between them was about twenty feet deep from what I could tell from the snow cover. It was really awesome to see something like that, especially since they are most often seen underwater.

Right next to this area was a natural hot spring inside of a cave. It was difficult to climb into since the rocks were wet from the moisture, but it felt like a sauna once you were in the cave. I put my hand in the water and it was hot, much hotter than any bath I’ve ever taken.

After we had climbed out of the cave, we decided to take the short drive to Dimmuborgir. My parents thought I was crazy for being so excited over something like this, but they humored me and walked throughout the lava fields. Just like the waterfall we saw the day before, the lava was massive. The larger structures, if you will, were multiple stories high.

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After we were finished in Dimmuborgir, we headed over to the volcano, which we could actually see from the lava fields. From the snow, the road to get up to the volcano was impassable, so we walked the almost two miles to get to the base.

From the road, the volcano didn’t look that difficult to climb. When I was researching before our trip, I had read that it would only take twenty minutes to get to the top. But, that wasn’t accounting for a foot of snow. Since we were already at the volcano, there wasn’t any way we were turning back at that point. We started our ascent.

I’m not sure how long it ended up taking us. I just know that we took a lot of breaks and I was afraid that if I leaned back too far, I would roll right down the volcano. No matter how long it took, the view from the top was worth it.

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We were blessed with a clear day for once, and we could see for miles. We could see nearby mountains and all of Lake Mývatn. We were so high up that it was even difficult to find where our car was. We walked around the rim for a little while before we decided it was time to somehow make our way back down the volcano.

Our method of descent was discussed pretty thoroughly. Since the volcano was snow covered, the railings and chains that were usually there to assist people were now covered. The volcano was so steep that walking down it would be almost impossible. The only way to get down the volcano was to do a mixture of walking and sliding. After a while, we finally made it back down, only to realize that we still had the almost two mile walk back to the car.

Once we made it back to the car, we were greeted by three Icelandic horses that were across the street. The light brown one was especially friendly. I like to think that they were congratulating us on our trek.

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It was hard to believe, but it was only lunchtime. We stopped at a local convenience store to pick up some food, before driving east to visit another waterfall.

I had thought that we had driven through desolate areas before on our first day, but I was wrong. Driving to this waterfall, Dettifoss, had us driving through areas where all you could see was snow for miles. Nothing else. It was pretty surreal.

Once we got to Dettifoss, there were multiple trails based on what part of the falls we wanted to see. Except, the snow was so deep here, that we could only see the very top of the trail markers. Luckily, there were paths made by the other visitors that we were able to follow to get to the viewing platforms.

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Remember how I said that Goðafoss was a massive waterfall? Well, Dettifoss made Goðafoss look small. The height of it was at least four times higher, and this waterfall was extremely powerful. It was almost difficult to hear the person next to you because it was so loud. But, it was also incredibly beautiful. After we walked around for a while, we headed back towards Reykjahlíð.

On our way back, we made a pitstop at Hverir to see the bubbling mud pools and the natural steam vents from the underground hot springs. Once we all realized just how hungry we were from a day of hiking, we went to get dinner to finish up the day.

 

April 4th, 2016

It was time to leave Reykjahlíð, and drive back down to Reykjavik. We left just after breakfast, and we were happy when we learned that there was no snow in the forecast this time.

Our ride back was pretty uneventful this time. We stopped at the same places to take a break, but this time without any power naps.

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We arrived in Reykjavik around 4 o’clock. We checked into our hotel, dropped our things off, and immediately went exploring. We only had a day and a half to explore Reykjavik before we had to leave, so we wanted to make the most of it. Our hotel was on the main shopping street of Laugavegur, so it was easy for us to see everything in a short amount of time.

Once we dropped off our things, we walked outside and decided to visit a lot of the shops that were on the street. I had yet to buy souvenirs for friends and family back home, so I knew that was something that I definitely wanted to do.

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I really loved this area of Reykjavik. There were interesting shops, cool cafes and eateries, everything seemed very hip and modern.

Later in the evening after we had walked around for a while, we decided to grab take out, eat in our room, watch a movie, and call it a night.

 

April 5th, 2016

The day had come. It was our last full day in Iceland. We had to be at the airport by noon the following day, so this was it. We only had two things left on our itinerary– seeing Hallgrimskirkja and going to the National Museum of Iceland.

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After breakfast, we walked over to Hallgrimskirkja. Being the architecture and design geek that I am, I had been wanting to visit this church for years. And it was even better than in the photos I had seen. But unfortunately, we were there at such a time when the sun wasn’t quite at the best angle for me to get a perfect photo of the church in all of its glory. We went inside, looked around the church, and then bought tickets to be taken up to the tower.

Within the tower, we saw 360 degree views of Reykjavik. All of the homes in Reykjavik were different colors, making it an very interesting sight to see from above.

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Once we were back down on the ground, we walked over to the National Museum of Iceland. It seemed a little backwards to do this on our last day there, but it was still nice to learn about the country’s history and how it became the place it is today.

We spent a couple of hours there, and after eating lunch at their cafe, we decided to use the rest of the day to leisurely walk around the city.

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Even though Reykjavik is the capital and largest city of Iceland, it still had a small town feel to it. While we were walking around, there wasn’t any traffic noise, there weren’t a lot of pedestrians, and you could easily walk from one side of the city to the other.

It almost pained me that I had to fly home to Philadelphia the following day. After spending almost a week in nothing but serenity, I didn’t think I was ready to be put back into the hustle and bustle of city life. But, I was excited to share my stories with my friends and coworkers, and I knew that if I ever needed a little more serenity in my life, Iceland would be there.

 

48 Comments

    1. It was wonderful there! I actually didn’t get to experience much (or any) of the traditional foods since everyone in my family is either picky or has diet restrictions. If I did experience their food, I totally would write a post on it!

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  1. You managed to pack so much into those days! I’ve never seen that kind of terrain that you saw on the way from the airport. Interesting!
    I love visiting new and welcoming places too, especially meeting the folk who live there and also seeing how they live. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It was a lot to do in five days, but it was really nice. I always love driving through non-tourist areas to see how real life for people is, other than in the larger cities.

      Like

  2. These photos are breathtaking! I can’t believe you climbed a volcano! That is so badass! I am so glad you had an awesome time! I definitely want to go there someday!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your post and it’s expression. It’s been around 20 days since I left Iceland and the holiday hangover continues … Iceland is magically beautiful 🙂
    Do visit my site and check out my latest blog in on Iceland too 🙂 will be happy to hear from you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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