Solo Adventures Presents… Iceland
Trip Dates: Saturday, March 24th, 2018 – Friday, March 30th, 2018
First and foremost, full disclaimer: I am sitting in the backseat of a campervan while driving through the picturesque South Island of New
Zealand and feeling particularly inspired to write this post that I’ve actually been putting off for quite a while. The inspiration stems from the beauty of New Zealand and how much it reminds me of Iceland, but, it’s significantly better because the sky is actually blue and the grass is surprisingly green – even though yes, it is winter in New Zealand.
Anyways, a little background on my trip to Iceland. I had this friend I went to undergrad with who, coincidentally, I was supposed to meet up in Seattle. As we know from this post, that did not happen and the “friendship” gets better. Insert sarcasm here. Back in September of 2017, I got an email about a pretty great deal on Groupon of all places to Iceland which included airfare and accommodations AND just so happened to coincide with my Spring Break. This ‘friend’ was all in, even Venmo-ing me for his share of the deal, before completely ghosting. If anyone ever wants to spend $800 just to back out, please skip the reservation and deposit the money directly into my back account… Thanks! And that, my friends, is how I ended up going to Iceland by myself. Quite frankly, I’m not so sure I would’ve had it any other way. When life hands me a trip, I’ll make an epic itinerary. That was supposed to be a play on “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” but I agree, it fell a little flat.
I flew out of Chicago and had a pretty eventful time using my Southwest points to fly to Midway and then taking the train to O’Hare because I refused to pay for a $60 Uber ride when I could spend $5 for the train (and I had the extra time). Also, I had just bought an Away suitcase and fell in love with the simplicity of rolling it all around Chicago. I finally boarded the flight to Iceland on Iceland Air and sat for a quite a while as the paramedics were called in for a flight attendant who had fallen ill. After some time, essentially all of the people who would be going on to other European cities (excluding Iceland) were informed they would not be able to stay aboard this flight as they would not have enough flight attendants to continue past Iceland. I said my thanks to sweet baby Jesus and proceeded to sprawl out on my now empty row. When I woke up, I was Iceland!!! And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for...
The Top Five Highlights of Iceland in March 2018:
1. Sleep in a Bubble with Bubbles Iceland
This was literally an unforgettable experience. Naturally, I was on the fence about the price tag that accompanies this once in a lifetime opportunity but when I learned they could accommodate me, a solo traveler, I was all in. Bubbles Iceland allows you the opportunity to tour the Golden Circle like an American President. Seriously, you are picked up at your accommodations in Reykjavik in a Chevrolet Suburban and it’s just a total of six people (plus the driver) going from destination to destination. Incredible! But, naturally, that’s not all: after spending time at Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs, and Gullfoss Waterfall, we stopped for dinner at Mika Restaurant before relaxing at one of Iceland’s best kept secrets – “The Secret Lagoon.” And then, the moment I had been waiting months for: the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights dancing in the sky while I slept in a transparent bubble in a secluded part of Iceland. The Bubble experience was definitely one of the top highlights of my trip and our group decided to skip breakfast in favor of a stop at a volcanic crater, so awesome of our driver to give us this opportunity. Remember: don’t let the price tag scare you; this experience is truly once in a lifetime!
2. South Shore Adventure with Reykjavik Excursions
The South Shore Adventure tour visits the amazing southern coast of Iceland which is famous for its black sand coastline and stunning scenery. The first stop was the site of the infamous volcano that delivered a black cloud over Europe for days and cancelling hundreds of flights, Eyjafjallajökull. We then made our way to Skógafoss waterfall who’s thundering falls plummet nearly 200 feet over a cliff to the valley floor. We even stopped at Sólheimajökull glacier and were able to walk pretty close to it. The bus then took us to the town of Vik, which I had really been looking forward to, for lunch and a glimpse of the black sand beaches and the impressive Reynisdrangar rock formations. One of the highlights of this tour was our last stop – Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the waterfall you can actually walk behind! This tour featured many of the locations the ultra-popular show Game of Thrones is filmed at.
3. The Blue Lagoon
Some may argue that The Blue Lagoon is nothing more than a tourist trap, and I may agree with that. However, as a first timer in Iceland, I couldn’t resist the enchanting blue waters of the hot lagoon, particularly at the tail-end of winter in Iceland. One thing you know if you’ve ever been to Iceland or one thing you’ll find out if you’re planning a trip to Iceland is that the weather is so incredibly unpredictable. One minute it’s beautiful blue skies and the next it’s gray, windy, and rainy. Unfortunately for me, my blue lagoon experience started with crystal blue skies and then it soon rained on my parade. It rained and it rained, and it rained some more. Not only was the rain extremely cold but the wind picked up and created waves in the lagoon which naturally went over my head. What started as a relaxing time at the spa ended as a frigid nightmare. Although I wasn’t going to let it totally rain on my parade, especially because I had a lunch reservation at the restaurant that overlooks the lagoon, LAVA. It was definitely a treat yo’self-day as I ordered the prix fixe lunch option – langoustine soup (garlic marinated langoustine, dulse), lamb fillet and shoulder of lamb (sunchokes, carrots, pickled red onion, thyme), and the “astarpungar” and caramel (caramel chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, salted caramel), with plenty of wine and even more amazing views. If you’re spending the money to hang at the Blue Lagoon, make sure you have reservations for LAVA as well. And, if you're looking to splurge even more, a Blue Lagoon hotel recently opened.
4. FREE(!) Walking Tour with citywalk.is
My visit to Cuba introduced me to walking tours and I quickly learned these [often free] walking tours are the best way to see and experiencea city. So, naturally, I stepped off the flight around 8am, got dropped off at my hotel, and walked oh so quickly to the Parliament Building (31-minute walk) to ensure I made it for the 10am departure. The tour guide was awesome, an Iceland native who was super informative and knowledgeable. She is a history teacher who does these walking tours on the weekends. She took us to all kinds of sites: Parliament Building, The Concert Hall Harpa, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Lake Tjornin, and City Hall, just to name a few. After the tour I walked back to Hallgrimskirkja to take the elevator up to the top with some coffee I picked up at Cafe Babalu and took in the views. I then took the [free!] shuttle to Perlan and explored a bit more before ultimately walking back to my hotel. All in all, an educational and active day!
5. Attempt to see the infamous Aurora Borealis, the North Lights I booked the Northern Lights Mystery Tour through Grayline.is for my first night in Iceland. Remember when I said the weather is unpredictable? Well, the Northern Lights and the weather might be in a competition for which is more unpredictable. So, so, so many different factors have to align in order for the Aurora Borealis to put on a show. I mean, just take this information from Wikipedia: “Auroras are produced when the magnetosphere is sufficiently disturbed by the solar wind that the trajectories of charged particles in both solar wind and magnetospheric plasma, mainly in the form of electrons and protons, precipitate them into the upper atmosphere (thermosphere/exosphere) due to Earth's magnetic field, where their energy is lost. The resulting ionization and excitation of atmospheric constituents emits light of varying color and complexity…” I think I need to be some kind of rocket scientist to understand all of this. Needless to say, the stars did not align throughout my five days in Iceland – the first night my tour was cancelled due to bad weather. The second two times we actually went out to look for the lights but the lights did not make themselves visible to us. Sigh. It was still a great experience and gives me every excuse to visit Norway or Finland in hopes of seeing this scientific phenomenon!
So, You Want to Visit Iceland: Tips, Tricks, and Overall Recommendations
-Bring Your Own Food: I don’t understand how or why the food in Iceland is so expensive. While food was imported in the past, there is
significant evidence that almost all of the food is now grown on the island. Even so, a bowl of soup will run you about $20. I wish I was kidding. The meals I ate out for cost me upwards of $60. I knew this going to Iceland and I packed granola bars, crackers, bottles of wine, and plenty of other snacks. Look for hotels that offer complimentary breakfasts. If you must eat out, be sure to try the hot dogs from Bæjarins Beztu
Pylsur. The Icelandic hot dogs are served on a warm, steamed bun topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. Honestly, some of the best hot dogs I've ever tasted!
-The Weather is Sporadic: Did you read my experience at The Blue Lagoon? Sunny, calm, and beautiful one minute and gusts of wind blowing roofs off the next. Be prepared by bringing a rain jacket and protection for your day pack. You don’t want your camera and cell phone getting wet!
-Do Your Research: While the Blue Lagoon is nice, there are plenty of other cheaper and less populated hot springs and lagoons to explore not far from Reykjavik. I’d recommend the Secret Lagoon for a more relaxing experience.
-Drive the Ring Road: Since I was traveling by myself at the tail-end of winter, I decided against trying to drive the Ring Road in its entirety in only five days. This is yet another excuse for me to revisit this Nordic country, hopefully in the summer months! Be mindful – gas is going to cost you!
And there you have it, folks, the highlights of my five-day solo Icelandic journey in a nutshell. After I made it back to Chicago, my friend Carissa picked me up at the airport and we had the most delicious deep-dish Chicago pizza at Lou Malnati’s before she dropped me off at the Amtrak Station. I traveled through the night to surprise my parents for Easter in Buffalo. Easily the best decision I’ve ever made. Nothing like maximizing Spring Break. And yes, I am already planning Spring Break 2019 :-)