After exploring some of the south coast of Iceland, Jeremy and I wanted to go north from our cabin to see a geyser and another waterfall we heard about. The lady we were renting the house from also gave us directions to the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, and we were determined to go, even though it was in the opposite direction.
Driving in Iceland was really fun for me, mainly because our 4×4 was awesome, there weren’t many people on the roads, and the scenery changed dramatically with each turn we made. What we didn’t realize about driving in Iceland was the price of diesel. Every time we passed a gas station and saw the prices we thought, no that can’t be right, we must not be understanding it. When we finally had to fill up, we ended up getting a half a tank for over $100. It was painful.
The Great Geysir
After recovering from filling up the tank, we made our way to the Great Geysir (Jeremy and I called it the OG, “original geyser,” since it’s where geyser got the name), where there was a beautiful restaurant and shop. Even though we didn’t eat anything due to the high prices, all the food looked and smelled delicious.
We didn’t realize that it was going to cost money to get into the area to see Geysir, so we stayed near the road and waited for what we thought was going to be a smaller geyser… We really thought we tricked the system and were going to see something cool, but after 30 minutes of standing there watching the ground smoke and water bubble, we finally asked someone if it was going to off. He told us that it wasn’t a geyser and nothing more was going to happen. We ducked our heads in embarrassment and ran back to the car. We ended up seeing the actual Geysir go off as we were driving by (but sadly didn’t get a picture), so it all worked out.
The drive to Gullfoss from Geysir only took about 10 minutes, and we didn’t know what to expect since we hadn’t seen pictures beforehand. Gullfoss (“golden waterfall”) is Iceland’s most famous, and we could see why. Along with everything else we saw in the land of fire and ice, it was difficult to believe that what our eyes were seeing was real.
Weather in Iceland is very unpredictable and changes quickly, just like the scenery. We got lucky and had pretty much clear skies the entire time we were there, but the day before we arrived was extremely stormy, we heard. As we were driving back from the Golden Circle, where Gulfoss and Geysir were located, we saw dark clouds and rainstorms near the coast, which is where we were heading to get in the geothermal pool. Jeremy and I went back and forth on deciding if we should make the drive to the location (it was an hour out of the way), but ultimately decided to risk it. For me, this was the best decision of the trip. I’m not a huge risk-taker in life (except when it comes to dropping everything and buying a one-way ticket to Europe, apparently), and normally I would play it safe. We didn’t know exactly where the pool was, we knew it required about 20 minutes of hiking, and we had no idea what to expect when we got there, or if we would even find it. The weather cooperated and stayed beautiful, we found the parking area, and headed out on foot with our bathing suits.
The hike did require a lot of jumping on rocks and climbing up hills, but it was easier to find than we were expecting. When we finally arrived, I was so, so happy that we decided to make the journey. There were a few other people there, and there was a structure where you could change (which apparently was just a sheep shed). The experience in the pool is one of the best things I’ve ever done, for sure.
When we first got in, it wasn’t quite as warm as we thought it would be, but enjoyed it anyway. One of the other people in the pool came over and introduced himself and let us know that the reason everyone was in the opposite corner of the pool was because that’s where the pipe that the hot water was coming out of was located. We joined the others, and were relieved to feel the VERY hot water pouring in. The people we met were so nice, and all traveling. Only one guy was from Iceland, and he was hitchhiking around the country because he had a few days off from work. It was so fun to be around other travelers and to talk about what we were doing and where we were going, and to hear their stories. They even shared their vodka with us.
The Northern Lights
Jeremy and I reluctantly got out of the warm geothermal pool and trekked back to the car to make the drive back to our house. We went the same road as we went the first day, when we saw all the horses. Luckily they were still there, and we got out to take more pictures of them.
When we got home, we made our dinner of a pizza we picked up at the grocery store (turns out we didn’t have an oven so we put it on a pan on the stove and it worked out really well surprisingly), some Icelandic beer for Jeremy, and some red wine for me. Some of the vegetables at the grocery store were really reasonably-priced, but then all of a sudden there would be four tomatoes for $25, or three peppers for $20. Since everything was listed in Icelandic Krona, we were really careful about what we were getting, and probably spent an hour just figuring everything out. We made some great choices though, and only spent about $40 on food for the entire time we were there, not including the alcohol we picked up at the duty-free shop at the airport (which was recommended to us).
I figured our day couldn’t possibly get any better, but as we were going to bed, Jeremy looked out the window above our bed and noticed the Northern Lights had appeared. I was giving up hope that we would see them, but as soon as he said that, I jumped up, went down the ladder, threw as many layers on as I could, and grabbed my camera and tripod. We ended up staying outside for almost an hour, after discovering how fast the lights were changing. We were SO cold, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to go back inside because every few minutes there was a new scene. It was kind of difficult to figure out how to photograph them since I’m still learning about my camera, but I was able to get a few good ones with some long exposures.
It was very hard to say goodbye to our little perfect cabin, but alas, it was time to return to civilization. As a side note, Icelandic folklore is so incredibly interesting, and we found a tiny elf house outside our cottage, which is very common in the country. People put these little houses outside for elves to live in, and Jeremy and I read that sometimes you even see tiny churches meant to convert the elves to Christianity. We saw many elf houses on our travels, and loved every one of them.
We decided to head to Reykjavik before getting to our Airbnb in Keflavik near the airport, since we hadn’t spent any time there yet. The city was really nice, clean, and beautiful. We walked around a bit on the main shopping street, and started our quest to find the famous hot dog stand we’d read so much about. We finally found it after asking three different people for directions (Icelanders give interesting directions, we discovered: “take a right and then go a bit, and then take a left and then another right,” with no street names or any more details). The hot dog was made of lamb and had crispy onions and honey mustard on it, along with other spreads we couldn’t identify. It was delicious.
Reykjavik has a lot of Norwegian design stores, and beautiful street art.
We stayed at a tiny, tiny cottage in the back of someone’s house near the airport, and had to be up at 4am the next morning to return our car and catch our flight to London. We were so sad to leave Iceland, and hope to go back to that magical place someday in the future.
*Another side note: It’s probably obvious, but I’m not running the Cork Marathon on June 2 anymore… With my knee issues derailing my training early on and not being able to run as much as I was expecting the past month, AND the fact that my parents told me they can’t make it to Ireland that week anymore, I’ve decided not to do it. I downgraded to the half just in case, but it is looking like Jeremy and I will be in Honfleur, France with my parents that week, and getting to Ireland is too difficult. I can’t wait until I run a full marathon, and I know that there will be a better time in the future where I can “respect the distance” instead of rushing it.