Iceland: Absolutely magical (and it wasn’t just the haze of sleep deprivation)
I had decided to do a daylong stopover in Iceland on my way to France. I’d agonized about it for weeks and then finally bought my ticket…only to have to start worrying about the fact that a volcano might erupt!
I decided to do one of the Golden Circle tours and planned to spend the evening in Reykjavik (and hopefully get to hear some music!), but didn’t end up booking anything ahead of time just in case.
As we were landing, the pilot announced that it was pretty cold and rainy out, and I realized that I hadn’t even thought about what the weather would be like in Iceland. I figured I’d be fine with my hoodie but after some frantic searching realized that-of course-I must have lost it somewhere in JFK.
By the time we landed, it was early morning. Just outside the airport, there were kiosks selling tickets from the airport to Reykjavik, so I bought a round-trip ticket and got on the bus. I watched as the gray, dreary landscape passed by and wondered if this trip was going to end up being worth it. It took about 50 minutes to get to the Reykjavik bus terminal, which was smaller than I’d expected and completely empty. I bought myself a ticket for the Golden Circle tour and hung around for a couple of hours until the bus came.
We started driving and the view outside the window was hauntingly beautiful.
I loved how the colors popped and how the clouds made the entire landscape even more eerie and mysterious. We drove past lava fields where the ground was wavy with bright green moss growing all over it and I started having my “Holy crap, I’m on an island in the middle of the ocean with a volcano erupting somewhere on it!” moments.
Our first stop was a greenhouse powered by geothermal energy where tomatoes were grown. The manager of the greenhouse showed us the bees that were responsible for pollination and showed us the system for how the tomatoes were grown and harvested. It was also my first chance to see just how expensive food could be in Iceland ($7-8 for a bowl of soup, which was probably the lowest I saw all day!).
After the tomato farm, we went to Geysir, where we had an hour and a half to wander around. I stood with a couple who lived near Yellowstone and watched something geyser-like bubble for a while, before realizing that it was never actually going to explode and that the real geyser was much further down. We all stood behind some rope around the geyser and watched as it would gurgle, eventually rising in a bubble and finally exploding.
The first time, we were kind of startled, but it would go off every few minutes and after a couple of times, it was apparent that the water and steam from the geyser miraculously never crossed the rope in front of us. It was kind of mesmerizing and was pretty funny to hear all the “oohhs” and “aahhs” from everyone watching the geyser no matter how many times we saw it erupt.
After wandering around some of the nearby geothermal pools for a bit and trying out skyr (a type of Icelandic yogurt), we got back on the bus and had a fairly short drive to the Gullfoss waterfall. The guide said to take a raincoat because the spray from the waterfall could be really strong, and he commented on how woefully underdressed I was. The view of the waterfall was stunning from the top, and I braced myself to get absolutely soaked as I walked all the way down to be right next to waterfall (totally worth it). We had about an hour there, but I ended up losing track of time and had to rush back up to catch the bus.
After Guilfoss, I was struggling to stay awake. I woke up when we were close to Thingvellir National Park, as the guide announced that we’d have to do a 20 minute hike uphill! I kind of just wanted to sleep, but we started walking and the view was breath-taking. He explained to me that the land in front of us was a “no-man’s land” between the North American plate and the European one, and that if you wanted to straddle both plates, you’d need to have legs that could stretch 4 miles wide. I had really been looking forward to seeing this spot since I’m pretty sentimental and the whole idea of standing on the edge of the North American plate, looking out to the European one seemed like such a perfect metaphor for the move I was about to make.
After Thingvellir, I got back on the bus, only to realize that my bag with all my important documents wasn’t in my seat. I also noticed that there were a lot more people on this bus than there were before, and finally realized that I’d managed to get on the wrong bus. I ran off and luckily the other bus was still waiting. We started driving back towards Reykjavik.
I only saw a couple of people as we were driving around all day, but I did see tons of horses and sheep:
We arrived back in Reyjkavik and I got off close to downtown.
I started hunting around for something to eat and was starting to feel tired enough to consider just going back to the bus station cafe when out of nowhere, I saw a sign for a vegetarian restaurant.
I followed it to this little cafe with a very friendly barista and tons of vegetarian food. I ordered a veggie cheese loaf that ended up being pretty filling and was ready to wander some more. I walked to the church that loomed over the city and along some of the smaller side streets before deciding I was tired enough to start heading back towards the bus station and would have to save the live music for another visit.
This time as we were driving along, I noticed these giant stone figures looming over the landscape:
When booking my ticket, I’d figured that be able to sleep overnight on the flights to and out of Iceland, but I hadn’t accounted for the fact that the time difference made the nights look a lot longer than they were. By the time I got to the airport, it was starting to get scary just how tired I was, and I counted down the minutes to when I could get on the flight and pass out. Even though I’d wanted to be awake for the flight out of Iceland just in case it would be possible to see the northern lights or the eruption, I was out cold the entire trip to Paris.
I’m so glad that I ended up going through with visiting Iceland and would love to go back and explore more of the country and spend more time in Reykjavik. It was the perfect stopover and while I tend to prefer spending more time in a place, it worked really well for a solo daytrip!