Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Break ICELAND

Whenever I told people about my plans for the second week of travel break, usually the response my answer elicited was "What?  Iceland?  Why?  What are you going to do there?"

Admittedly, I didn't know much about Iceland apart from the inside of the Keflavik airport and my experiences with Icelandair, which were always delightful; however, I had always heard good things, and I've been curious to see for myself.  My housemate Rita shared by curiosity about the mysterious land of Iceland, so we got to be travel buddies and explore together.

The first day was a bit rough, as I arrived at our hostel at 7am after an overnight flight on which the man behind me coughed incessantly the entire way and I got no sleep.  Unfortunately, check in at the hostel didn't start until 2pm, leaving me to sit in the lobby, eyelids heavy, almost falling asleep multiple times.  In a fortuitous turn of events, I was able to check in early and immediately took the world's best nap until it was time for Rita to get in!  We took it easy that night, going out for a nice dinner before getting some sleep to prepare for our busy week.

Speaking of which, my questions of "what is there to do in Iceland?" were entirely answered as soon as I arrived at the hostel.  I probably read every informational pamphlet available about all the different bus tours/adventures that were offered by companies in the city.  They made it super easy to see all the major sights during the day, and they even picked us up right at our hostel!

The Golden Circle:  Basically the tour that everyone does while in Iceland.  You're able to see a lot of the natural beauty of the island, including lava fields, waterfalls, geysers, etc.  Sidenote- it was insanely windy that day, and every time we got off the bus I thought we were going to blow away.  I'm sorry to say that neither words nor pictures will do the absolute perfection of this place justice, but these should give you an idea.

Hot spring


So windy.
Northern Lights:  Although the weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable and it can go from being cloudy to clear in a matter of minutes.  In any case, we knew we had to at least attempt to see the Northern Lights- it's such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it's been on my bucket list forever.  Lots of the tour companies run tours to go attempt to see them, but the tourist has to be aware that spending close to $50 and not seeing anything might happen.  The day we went, the weather had been off and on all day.  As we drove out away from the city lights, we stopped the van a few times so our guide could monitor the "energy" in the sky- a precursor to the aurora.  It was windy and cloud, and as we huddled in the bus, I was having serious doubts about our luck.  Finally, after what seemed like forever, our guide called us out of the van, and we could finally see the soft green light forming in the sky.  As the night went on, it only got better and better.  A man on our tour had a great camera, so he offered to email his photos to us.  They turned out great, but talk about pictures not doing it justice.

Horseback riding: Icelandic horses are super unique.  They're smaller than normal horses, and their winter coats are really fuzzy.  Since Rita and I both love horses, we signed up for a trail ride through the lava fields.  The woman leading the tour was so passionate about the horses, and you could tell how much she loved sharing her passion with others.  The best part was that since it's so cold, you can borrow basically a big snowsuit to keep warm.  I was hesitant at first, but finally Rita convinced me, reminding me of all the times we've been jealous of the small Danish children who walk around all winter wearing similar outfits.  Although the ride started out a little rough- my horse decided to sit down while I was riding her- I upgraded to a speedy little horse and the rest of the ride went smoothly.


My horse- not the one who sat on me.

After the ride, they like to roll around.  Funniest thing ever.
Iceland horses also have a funny gait unique to them called "tolting."  As they're doing it, they only have one out of four feet on the ground- check it out!  It's so smooth and comfortable.

Blue Lagoon:  The Blue Lagoon is a huge geothermic bath near the airport, and it is a must-see in Iceland.  Rita and I had been looking forward to the Blue Lagoon all week, and nothing- not even a blizzard, was going to stop us from enjoying the hot springs.  One highlight of the afternoon was definitely having the workers take pity on us and give us bathrobes (which were otherwise $9 to rent) for free, and also locating the special silica mud outside in the pool to smear all over our faces.  Besides being pelted by hail in the violent horizontal winds, and even though it smelled like sulfur, it makes for a good story.

Can't even begin to describe how cold it was..

After the Blue Lagoon, we met up with Paula and her friends for dinner.  By the way, Iceland has the best fish and chips.

Red ling with crispy potatoes and basil/garlic dip 

Hej, roommate!
Thursday morning, Rita got up bright and early to catch her flight to Ireland to meet up with our roommate Meaghan, and I began the next phase of the Iceland adventures- solo traveling!

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