I can't think about Chris Hemsworth without thinking about hanky panky. Now I can't think about Iceland without thinking about snowmobiling.
What? It's totally the same thing.
I confess, I've been editing my Iceland snapshots for weeks and I'm still not done. I'm posting what's ready though because I know some of you have Iceland on your bucket list, and making you wait will delay your plans. Yep, your actual plans, because thanks to discount airline Wow Air, you can fly one-way to Reykjavik for as little as $150 CAd and $150 USd – sometimes for even less depending on the time of year and whatever special deals the airline decides to feature.
More about Wow Air (excellent leg room, btw) later on; let's, as my sis would say, go blind from looking at all the photos.
iceland: apotek hotel, reykjavik
I stayed in Reykjavik, at the four-star Apotek Hotel. My single room was the tiniest hotel room I've ever seen, with a single bed and the barest amount of storage for clothing or space even to turn around. But I slept really well, the nice shower had excellent pressure, and there was absolutely no trace of sulphur smell in the water. (On my first visit to Iceland, the water in the hotel I stayed in had a faint sulphur scent... erk.)
Good breakfast buffet, too, and the nicest staff. (I wish I'd got the name of the young lady who was on overnight duty at the front desk. She was just lovely, friendly and so helpful with directions, pronunciation lessons and taxis.)
Big bonus: the Apotek Hotel is right around the corner from a 24-hour, 7-day grocery that sells a variety of Icelandic salt (great as gifts) and Icelandic chocolate (great as gifts) and food, drinks and snacks if you don't feel like shelling out for room service or dining out.
Aside from sandwiches, water, black lava salt, chocolate and skyr (an Icelandic version of greek yogurt), I picked up a Wella Wellaflex Curls & Waves hairstyling mousse there and now wish I'd bought every can they had. It gives me soft, shiny waves and curls, and sadly doesn't seem to be available in Canada, or the US for that matter. *moue*
iceland: activity and adventure tours
Wow Air makes planning your Icelandic itinerary in advance easy. Choosing is not quite as easy, though. If Wow's PR team hadn't chosen for me, I'd probably still be trying to decide. I certainly wouldn't have selected the first tour I took, and it would have been a big mistake.
My first tour on this visit to Iceland was the all-day Mountaineers of Iceland Hot Spring and Cool Glacier adventure.
If you've never been snowmobiling before, book this! If you have been snowmobiling before, book this! Don't argue; just do it.
Our jeep stopped first in an area called Þingvellir (the first letter is pronounced like "th"), a national park and home to Iceland's first parliament, established in 930AD.
After that, we headed to the Geysir hot springs (above) in the Golden Circle for some bubbling-mud and erupting-geyser action. This one called Strokkur (no, no, it means "the churn") goes every eight to 12 minutes or so.
Next was a quick visit to Gulfoss, a massive waterfall that looks like an immense crack in the earth... which I suppose it is. I do wish we'd had a bit of sunlight to brighten photos and iPhone videos while we were there. Is wanting to snap photos in better light a good reason to return? (I say yes.)
From Gulfoss we hit the Langjökull glacier for a full hour of snowmobiling. Lovelies, I re-live this frequently and with such happiness.
I don't drive and the world is a safer place for it. But managing a powerful snowmobile and tearing gleefully across an immense, snow-blanketed glacier... indescribable but for the word joy.
I want to do it again, partly so I can snap a better shot of the peaks in the distance (we went so much closer than the photo above, but didn't stop), and partly because joy. I had perma-grin the entire ride.
Obviously, I need to snowmobile in Canada this winter. Just as obviously, snowmobiling in Iceland is way cooler.
That Time I Went to Iceland and Had Damn Good Pizza
After the glacier run, we headed down for lunch at a cosy, casual restaurant called Skjól (see above), part of a hostel and camping grounds set-up.
This is going to sound odd because Iceland, but we had pizza – and it was amazing. My favourite was some kind of steak, onions, mushrooms and bearnaise creation. Insanely tasty.
The Hot Spring and Cool Glacier tour finished up with a lovely visit to the Secret Lagoon (above), one of Iceland's oldest hot-spring swimming pools. Note: you might think it odd that you have to shower in the nude pre-pool, but a sign in the change-room is very clear about washing all your bits because otherwise, ewww.
Also note: you can enjoy a beer or glass of wine while in the Secret Lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon isn't the only hot spring in that location. You don't want to dip a toe into the little one shown in the video above – it's a fraction away from a rolling boil. (Many of Iceland's geothermal pools clock in at temperatures higher than boiling, and are marked with signs warning tourists not to do anything stupid.)
iceland: bus excursions
If you're planning to explore Iceland's otherworldly landscape and take a gajillion photographs, you might like to rent a car and drive around with a map – or book a private tour – so you don't have to stick to specific stops or a schedule. Waiting for other tourists to get the heck out of your shot is tricky business when you're on someone else's clock.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the Reykjavik Excursions South Shore Adventure Tour. The large tour bus meanders its way from Reykjavik down along the southern coast of Iceland – it's not really that adventurous, but you do get to see some fascinating scenery.
I want to go back to some specific spots to get some better photos. Our tour bus drove right past the airplane wreck featured in a Justin Bieber-scampers over-Iceland video. Not surprisingly, the wreckage is a big attraction.
One of the South Shore Adventure stops is in Vik, Iceland's southernmost village. Although it abuts the black-sand beach, Vik's main industry is wool.
Posted in front of these menacing black rocks (above) are warnings against climbing them. According to newspaper clippings in a nearby restaurant, photographers have died trying to get a snap during less-than-ideal conditions here. While I was (safely) snapping a few photos with my phone and shooting the above little clip, two reckless tourists were clambering over the wet rocks. Don't you do that!
A couple of driving minutes away is Reynisfjall, and Hàlsanefshellir cavern, known for the striking basalt formations at its entrance and beyond.
Fun fact: puffins treat this part of Iceland like a Motel 6 – they fly in for their mating season and leave when it's over.
An about-face at Hàlsanefshellir – no, I can't pronounce it either – puts another tourist draw in your sightline. That's Dyrhòlaey on the horizon in the above photo. Sadly for me, more thorough exploration and the opportunity to photograph more closely weren't part of this tour. (See? Yet another reason for a return trip.)
We did get a wonderful little Icelandic history show-and-tell on this excursion, though, with a stop at the nearby Skogar Folk Museum. Aside from a wealth of artifacts on display in the museum itself, a little row of historic Icelandic sod-roof houses invites a closer look. Photos below. #twothumbmittens
Iceland: Skogar Folk Museum
My favourite part of the Reykjavik Excursions South Shore Adventure is everyone's favourite: the waterfalls.
No, wait – not just waterfalls, but waterfalls with rainbows.
A few minutes from Skogarfoss is another waterfall-and-rainbows stop, the last on this Reykjavik Excursions South Shore Adventure bus tour.
At Seljalandsfoss, you can go behind the waterfall – see that shadowed space between the rock and the green behind the water? That's an amazing spot to snap photos. I stayed this side of the falls, though; I was worried I'd be late back to the bus again. (So many reasons to book myself on a third trip. I need an extensive photo tour of Iceland!)
iceland: blue lagoon
If you know nothing else of Iceland, you must at least have heard of its Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. In 2012, National Geographic included it in its list of 25 Wonders of the World.
Someone very clever has made adding a Blue Lagoon visit to your trip the simplest thing in the world. It's called a "Reykjavik – Blue Lagoon Transfer," and it goes like this:
On your last morning in Iceland, check out of your hotel. With your luggage, board a Reykjavik Excursions bus bound for the Blue Lagoon. Upon arrival, store your luggage at a secure facility onsite at the spa.
Enjoy a leisurely, relaxing soak in the warm, milky silica- and mineral-rich water. Try a skin-softening algae mask, why doncha?
Have a green smoothie or maybe a glass of wine from the swim-up bar. If you don't have one, purchase a waterproof cel-phone case for 2,900 ISK ($29) because you're going to want to take selfies.
Oh, did you forget sunscreen? No worries; Stefan has you covered.
After you've showered and changed, luggage retrieval is a snap before another Reykjavik Excursions bus picks you up from the Blue Lagoon to take you to Keflavik airport.
How genius is that??
iceland: good eats
Aside from Skjól restaurant and its delish pizza, there are a couple of other places you might like to try.
Von mathús & bar is just outside Reykjavik in a port town called Hafnarfjörður. Part of its charm is that it isn't frequented by tourists (I believe we dined there on the recommendation of lovely Icelandic writer and blogger Margrét Gustavs.)
The other part of its charm is the good, fresh food. I enjoyed it enough that despite their swiping my Insta-food snap, cropping out my watermark and posting it on their Instagram feed sans credit, I still say you should eat here.
In downtown Reykjavik, consider Kol Restaurant. I had the most delicious appetizer: langoustine and foie gras with apple and bacon marmalade on French toast. So good.
If you order the Beef x 2, though, remember to specify how you'd like it done. I prefer rare, but forgot to say; it came well done.
iceland: gifts for folks at home
Pop into the local shops for a look (and feel) of Icelandic wool – there's some handsome stuff to be appreciated. But I lean toward small food items for Iceland-specific items to buy as tokens of your trip.
Beautifully packaged Omnom chocolate comes in a variety of flavour profiles, such as dark milk and burned sugar, and liquorice and sea salt ( liquorice in chocolate is a thing in Iceland; if you're not into "lakkrís," read the label carefully before you buy ). Omnom bars are on the pricey side at about $10 per, but so gift-worthy. They're most easily acquired at the airport.
The above brand of Icelandic chocolate comes in different flavours too (this one is fruit and nut; try the salted caramel as well). Icelandic Black Lava Salt comes in a larger jar on its own or in a mini pot packaged with three or four other flavours such as Arctic Herb, Kelp Garlic, and Raspberry. Tip: black lava salt is amazing sprinkled on butter on crusty French bread.
On this last trip, I spotted birch leaf syrup and crow berry syrup in little easy-to-pack bottles. I don't know from crow berry, but I do think Icelandic birch is a country-specific thing (I should have asked Margret for souvenir advice!). So far I've tried the birch leaf syrup in plain yogurt; it's light and nicely sweet).
Dried fish is a Big Deal/major export for Iceland. If you have friends or family who'd be into trying some, it's easy to find. (You might want to slip the packages into zip-lock bags before putting them in your luggage, though.) I bought one for myself; it's still sealed and sitting on my kitchen counter, taunting me for being a total wuss.
If you don't have time to run around Iceland to find gifts, the Keflavik Airport gift shop is amazing. Stock includes Icelandic skincare (I'll have more on that stuff in a later post), all kinds of chocolate (including Omnom), and alcohol, including Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk's Liqueur from Icelandic Birch.
Props to whoever designed the airport layout so that as they leave, visitors have to pass through the gift shop twice to get to the departure gates. Clever.
iceland: the wow air experience
When you think "discount airline," I bet you get a mental image similar to mine: rows of passengers packed in so tightly that their noses touch the back of the seat in front of them. But that is not what you'll see on a Wow Air flight.
According to Svana Fridriksdottir, Wow's VP of communications, the seat pitch on Wow aircrafts range from 30 to 35 inches. (Wikipedia suggests standard on low-cost airlines is about 29.) Seats in the first few rows have the most leg room; I believe there's a slight price difference for those.
Although it's an Icelandic company, Wow Air flies to Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Bristol and more. The airline has flights from Toronto and Montreal five days a week, as well as departures from Baltimore, Boston, LA, San Francisco and now Newark.
Remember I said you could fly for less than $150 CAd or USd? No joke, Wow Air has regular promotional fares that go as low as $99 (before taxes, one way) to Iceland. You'll have additional fees for luggage; I paid about $40 CAd for my return luggage because it was about 4 KG over the 20 KG Wow's PR team had included in my ticket. Note: there was also a 12 KG weight restriction on my purse aka cabin baggage.
Note: Stock up on nibbles and drinks before you fly. If you don't, though, Wow Air does offer a range of snacks, sandwiches and beverages, including tea, coffee and bottled water, for on-board purchase via credit card.
iceland: you can't visit just once
One more thing: you can't visit Iceland just once. In the winter, the landscape is out of this world, and you have a chance to see the Northern Lights. In the summer, you'll have 24-hour daylight, an incredible experience for anyone who is sun-starved for six-months of the year.
In fact, below is a slideshow of shots I posted on Instagram when I first visited Iceland. It was the beginning of February, and while Toronto was suffering at -17ºC, we enjoyed temperatures that hovered around -4ºC in Reykjavik. It was colder further north, but not as unbearable as Canada.
Iceland in Winter
See? It's a different landscape with snow.
If you're now compelled to book a trip to Iceland, these next couple of links will help you figure out how much to budget, how to dine without blowing up your wallet, and where to find affordable accommodations:
And here's something fun I found on Instagram: this account called @everysinglewordinicelandic is devoted to teaching its followers everyday Icelandic words and how to pronounce them!
You have to go. Will you?? Summer or winter??