Wander Well: Adventures in Iceland
It's been two months since we left for Iceland and there's not a day that goes by where this place doesn't cross my mind. I love to travel. My bucket list is mostly a compilation of all the places around the world I hope to visit. And it is an extensive list. Traveling piques curiosity, satisfies the desire to explore, and opens us up to new people and experiences. Plus, research shows that spending money on experiences, rather than things, can bring more happiness and fulfillment into our lives, since the experiences are actually a part of us.
Leading up to the trip, quite a few people asked, "Why Iceland?" Personally, I can be a bit of a "been there, seen that" kind of person. I love beaches, but I've seen the insanely blue Caribbean water before. Hawaii is incredible, but I've already experienced surfing on its beautiful golden sand beaches (an experience that ended with a few stitches, I should add). What I hadn't seen were 200 ft. waterfalls, eerie black sand beaches, ice blue glaciers, or fields full of lupine flowers and horses. I hadn't stepped foot in a European coffee shop before, and I was craving something different. To complement all of Iceland's incredibly beautiful scenery, there was also a First We Eat photography workshop being held there. I began learning a little about photography as a hobby a couple of years ago. I was in the midst of an annoying bout of burnout following a period of time of overcommitment. I needed something to learn and enjoy that had nothing to do with my job, and it didn't take long for me to fall in love with it! Once I started my blog, I realized how fun it would be to mesh my hobby with my passion. So, I began photographing my own food posts. I follow quite a few extremely talented food photographers as part of my ongoing photography education, and many of them attend the First We Eat workshops. I couldn't help but think, "How amazing would it be to attend one?!" So when they opened up their Iceland workshop registration, it was within minutes that I had already reserved my non-refundable spot. Ready or not, Iceland here I come.
We had over a year to plan and anticipate this trip, and I dreamed about it all 365+ days leading up to it. While expectations can be dangerous things to overly inflate, Iceland exceeded every single one of mine! It was incredible. My husband, Eric, and I, along with our friends, Thomas and Joanna, decided to head there about a week earlier and do some independent exploring before the workshop began.
Fortunately, my Aunt Janis is a travel agent, and she made planning this trip simple, affordable, and stress free! She was able to get us incredible deals on our flights and hotel rooms (insert all the praise hands!)! If you're looking to book a trip in the near future, I would highly recommend working with her!
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The day we arrived we were greeted by clear blue skies, a brightly shining sun, and a slight breeze in the air. It felt like a perfectly crisp fall day, a wonderful relief from the intense heat of summer in Nashville. I was so elated that I barely noticed the jet lag. We stopped by our hotel, dropped off our luggage, grabbed a much needed coffee (or two), and headed out to explore Reykjavik. Standing at 244ft high, the Hallgrimskirkja Church was the first of many touch-the-sky landmarks that we encountered. It is beautiful, both inside and out. After a little exploring and chatting with other visitors, we then stopped at a cute restaurant named ROK for our first Icelandic meal. We had heard mixed reviews on the food in Iceland , so we were pleasantly surprised by how delicious the food was here! I loved everything about this place. The tables were inviting and cozy, the menu was tapas style, and there were beautiful, industrious wooden beams and iron details covering the place. If you know me, then you know I'd probably decorate a house in a similar fashion.
After refueling, we headed back to the hotel for a shower, and some rest before heading out for dinner. I won't lie, our first dinner was a pretty serious let down. I ordered what I thought sounded like a hearty turkey sandwich, but turned out to be 3 pieces of turkey deli meat, a couple slices of tomato, on a huge stale roll of bread with french fries for a whopping $27. I'd say I've definitely been happier. Luckily, my husband very reluctantly shared some of his food with me. It didn't take me long to get over that once we caught a beautiful sunset around 10:35pm. It was a gorgeous ending to our first day!
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On our second day we packed ourselves into our SUV, appropriately plugged in our Walter Mitty playlist, and began our drive around the highly recommended Golden Circle. We explored Thingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir, and ended the day at the Secret Lagoon (I'm now of the opinion that every day should end with a dip in a hot spring). At Thingvellir, we saw gorgeous views of the lake, mountains in the distance, and found purple flowers growing on every surface. Gulfoss is an incredibly massive waterfall. I wish I'd broken the rules a little and gone past the roped off part, because these pictures barely capture how amazing it was. I'd never seen a geyser before, and luckily this one went off every 5 minutes, so it was really cool to get to witness multiple times. Iceland is pretty well known for their hot springs, and by the end of the day, they were just what we needed to soothe our still jet-lagged, road-trip stiff bodies.
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This day was my favorite. I love the water, and we were heading to two of the places I'd been dreaming about the most: Skogafoss and Vik. We explored Selfoss first, which is a really beautiful waterfall. It has a walking path that loops behind the fall, and a little shop by the entrance where we enjoyed some hot chocolate and donuts!
Skogafoss was my favorite place of the entire trip. This waterfall is incredible. Being 80 feet wide and 200 feet high, it makes its presence known with quite an incredible roar. I got as close as I could and stood in awe for a few brief moments, trying my best to be fully present and take in every sensation possible. Water has a way of bringing me back to my purpose, reminding me of what's most important. I feel most connected to God when I'm in nature, especially around water, and this experience was a special one. We climbed and played all around this place for a solid hour, and I couldn't think of anywhere else in this world I'd rather have been. If we hadn't been heading to Vik from there, (my second favorite place of the trip), it would've been almost impossible to leave this fall!
The black sand beach of Vik did not disappoint. This place was eerily beautiful. We drove to Dyrholaey and climbed onto some of the cliffs to relax and watch the waves crash against them. There was a perfect ocean breeze in the air, and the temperatures couldn't have been more comfortable. Each one of us calmly took in the sights and smells, and one by one reflected on our favorite part of the trip up to that point. We were all aware that days like these are rare and meant to be savored.
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This day proved to be the longest journey of the entire trip. Since we decided to spend every night in Reykjavik, we spent quite a bit of time on the road. Luckily, most of the places we wanted to go were only an hour or two away from where we stayed. The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, however, was quite a different story. With a five hour drive each way, we almost skipped it altogether. But when in the land of Fire and Ice, you have to see some ice! The trip was broken up by a few roadside stops to take in the crazy weird scenery. There is lava rock everywhere, and in quite a few places that rock is covered by thick, spongey moss. It was completely other worldly and unlike anything I had ever seen! We hopped around the rocks for a bit, surprised by each step, and constantly asking if we were still on planet Earth. It was a really fun experience!
Honestly, glaciers were never really high on my "must-see" list, which is crazy to think now that I've seen them in real life. When we finally arrived to the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, we were all captivated by how beautiful it was! Instantly, we knew each and every second of the 10 hour car ride was worth seeing the beauty that this place held.
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The last day Eric and Thomas were there, we decided to drive around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We went to a cute little coastal town, explored a beautiful golden sand beach amongst black lava rock, and went horseback riding along the coast.
I love animals and was really looking forward to the horseback riding. I had taken lessons when I was younger and have ridden occasionally over the years, but it had been at least 9 years since my last ride. Despite the rain and stinky clothing, almost all of us had a blast! The horse they chose for Eric had been nicknamed "The Lazy One," so he spent the majority of his time roughly 50 yards behind the rest of the group, doing all he could to get his horse to move.
We ended our day and the first half of our trip with an evening at the Blue Lagoon. I'm disappointed I didn't get any photos of the blue lagoon with my real camera. By that point in the day (and on the trip), we were all exhausted. It was also freezing, and the idea of running from the locker room to the lagoon multiple times with my camera was not overly appealing. So these sad little photos are all I have to show. I'd heard quite a few people say it was too touristy, but we absolutely loved it, and felt it was a perfectly relaxing way to end the week! If you go, I would highly recommend spending an evening here! Oh, and make sure you book ahead of time!
M Y R E C O M E N D A T I O N S
1) First and foremost, find a great travel agent and book a trip to Iceland! I promise you will not be sorry!
2) Rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. We had no issues whatsoever, successfully drove where we wanted, when we wanted, and were extremely relieved after hearing stories of people who hadn't done this. It's not cheap, but it's definitely worth it!
3) Bring layers. We were super fortunate to have great weather all but one of the days we were there. However, it can get pretty chilly at night, the waterfalls are obviously wet, and if it does rain a lot, you'll want to make sure you're comfortable so you can thoroughly enjoy all of your explorations!
4) I highly recommend Sperry's Saltwater Quilted Duck Boots.. I wore them the entire time and not only did they keep my feet warm and dry, but they were extremely comfortable when wearing them all day. They were surprisingly lightweight and I was able to walk on pretty much any terrain with no trouble!
5) The Misty Rain Jacket from Athleta is also another must. It's incredibly comfortable, and easy to fit layers underneath. Plus it has a really beautiful fit and super cute details. After all, you'll be taking an endless amount of pictures, so you might as well look good too!
6) Grab some appetizers at ROK, try the Chai latte at Stofan Cafe, order the salmon at Restaurant Tryggvaskali (this was our best meal of the entire trip!), and make sure you stop in for some fish and chips at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant.
7) Bring a lot of snacks! I repeat: bring a lot of snacks!
8) Bring a water bottle and drink the tap water! It's some of the best water I've ever had and it's free!
9) Bring a bathing suit and end your trip with an evening at the Blue Lagoon. It really was the perfect way to end the 5 day trip!
10) Bring a journal and record your favorite moments from the trip. It'll be a great way to reminisce on all of your experiences once you return!
What has been your favorite travel destination so far?