Blue Lagoon and Best Bread Bowl Soup in Iceland

One thing Iceland is known for is crazy Bjork and cute edible horses is its geothermal activity and hot springs!  The most famous one is the Blue Lagoon.  While it is a by product of the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, there is nothing but luxury there. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 40 °C (104 °F) and was amazing even in the dead of winter freezing temps.

Blue Lagoon 2After a day of hiking a glacier, a spa was exactly what I craved.  What I couldn’t wrap my mind around was that this magical spa was outside in 20 F degree weather.  Now let me start with, I hate the cold and I hate being wet.  I didn’t grow up swimming or near beaches and lakes.  In fact my swimming skills are a step away from a pathetic doggy paddle. While Blue Lagoon is highly recommended, I didn’t think I could really enjoy being wet in the cold.

Blue Lagoon 1

The hardest part was stepping in.  It’s a short sprint from inside the warm room, to a cold wooden deck and into the hot water.  We later learned that there’s a side entry way that allows you to get into the water inside and then exit through a hole into the outside pool.  Tony and I happened to arrive at a perfect time.  A few tour buses were leaving and we had the pool almost to ourselves.

Blue Lagoon 3

Things to do at the Blue Lagoon

  • We watched the sunset as the pool of thermal water went from a low blue glow to a bright blue glow in the dark.
  • We covered our faces in silica (a microorganism face-mask that gives the water its blue hue) in hopes of taking 5 years off our aging faces.
  • We enjoyed the blue lagoon waterfall!  There’s only one waterfall but since we had the whole place to ourselves until the 6PM tour buses arrived we took our time.
  • We went from the sauna to the pool and repeated with a waterfall soak
  • We took a 20 minute break and rested inside before going back to the pool

In total I think we spent 3 hours there.  Entrance was about 35 Euro per person and does not include towels or anything else but entrance.  Instead we brought our own towels.  We skipped out on getting a massage or buying any of the lotions.  Personally they seemed too pricey and it was way too cold for me to enjoy a massage.  I wanted to constantly be submerged in the steaming calming water.

After the Blue Lagoon we found ourselves once again hungry and exhausted.  Relaxing in a hot spring is hard work.  We got dinner at Svarta Kaffi in Reykjavik, a placed known for their fabulous bread bowl soups!

Iceland Soup Bowl

We got the vegetable soup and yes, the bread was consumed to the last crumb.

Iceland Soup Bowl 2

Have you ever been to a natural hot spring?  I’ve been to some while I was in Peru but none compared to how nice the Blue Lagoon was.  Although the Peru ones were a hell lot cheaper!

Glacier Hiking In Iceland

Over 11% of Iceland is covered in glaciers. What exactly is a glacier?  “A slowly moving mass or river of ice formed by the accumulation and compaction of snow on mountains or near the poles.” So basically it has to be moving, otherwise it’s just an ice field which I heard are more prevalent in Canada.

Another fun fact… Iceland has no mountains, just valleys carved out by glaciers and volcanoes.  The biggest glacier is Vatnajökull; however, that was on the other side of the country so we didn’t get to see it.  =(.  However, only two hours from Reykjavík you find the Eyjafjallajökull massif (6th largest glacier), and just a little further east the Sólheimajökull glacier, a tongue extends down from its mother glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland’s fourth largest.  This is also the same area that caused all traffic control disruptions and chaos due to volcanic ash.  The icecap of Mýrdalsjökull is an active cranky volcano called Katla that tends to erupt whenever nearby siblings erupt.  Volcanologists are continuing to monitor Katla, aware that any eruption from Katla following an eruption from Eyjafjallajökull has historically occurred within months of the latter and she is way overdue.  How scary!

What I think we hiked was the Sólheimajökull glacier and the dark dirt you use is actually volcanic ash.  However, our guide told us that due to recent rainstorms what we were seeing is the cleanest this glacier has been in decades.

Iceland Glacier Hike

We started by learning how to put on crampons and getting an ice axe.  We learned how to walk with crampons, like a cowboy of course.  And as you can tell in the photo I am literally wearing everything I brought with me because I heard these hikes are cold and windy and cold.  
Iceland Glacier Hike 2

We started by hiking up the glacier, where I started to get terribly over heated.  Of course with my luck the one day I was dressed in preparation it was relatively warm and sunny!

Iceland Glacier Hike 3

Our hike group was relatively huge with over 20 people so there was a lot of waiting and chilling involved.

Iceland Glacier Hike 4

We learned to avoid walking on any snow because what lies beneath might be….

Iceland Glacier Hike 5

well deep deep hole.

Iceland Glacier Hike 6In some places where the snow melted, you could see what fate could await you.

Iceland Glacier Hike 7

Iceland Glacier Hike 8

Then we did some more walking with our overly large group.

Iceland Glacier Hike 9

Glacier water is some of the freshest and tastiest you could drink.  Tony and I both took a taste, although I think he’s also secretly practicing his downward dog.

Iceland Glacier Hike 10

Then there was more waiting and slow slow walking so I amused myself with some modeling

Iceland Glacier Hike 11

Then the more interesting part of the hike started up.  We walked into one of the glacier’s crevices   I have a short attention span of an adrenaline junky so just standing was making me impatient.

Iceland Glacier Hike 12

Which was followed by a crawl into a glacier cave

Iceland Glacier Hike 13

Good thing Tony and I are small because that cave had a lot of small and tight places we crawled through.

Iceland Glacier Hike 14

I looked pretty happy in this photo right?  Yea that was before Tony pushed me into the puddle in front of me.  As I mentioned before we had a large group and I had 5 people in front and like 10 people behind me blocking my exit which suddenly made me claustrophobic and I had to get out

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One of the many beautiful views I had in the glacier.  The blue tint of the ice is more visible in the winter than summer I think due to the cold.

Iceland Glacier Hike 15

Me looking slightly less excited after taking a swim in the ice cave pool.  Also walking like a cowboy isn’t pleasant when you’ve been wanting to pee for the past 4 hours.  If only us ladies had it as easy as men.

Our hike was with Iceland Mountain Guides and I’m not sure if I would recommend them.  The guides were wonderful but what our hike lacked was actual hiking.  I would have liked if our 4 hours included some more walking around instead of standing.  I’m not sure if it was because our group was so huge (20 people of various age and fitness level is a lot) or the short hours of sunlight but I feel like I could have handled something more challenging.  To be fair, the hike was marked as easy and I’m not sure if anything more challenging is available during the winter and within proximity to Reykjavik.

None the less when asked what my favorite part of Iceland was,  I would say the glacier hike.  Despite the lack of a challenge, there is something beautiful and amazing about being on a glacier covered in volcanic ash surrounded by valleys and snow-capped volcanoes.

Iceland Golden Circle – Thingvellir National Park, Haukadalur Valley and Gullfoss

Our second day in Iceland was cold of course but worse of all wet and winds at over 30 MPH at the less windy areas.  Needless to say a glacier hike was out of the question.  Instead we opted to drive around the “Golden Circle” a popular loop from Reykjavik of at least 300 KM.  A good amount of driving, especially on potentially icy roads

Pretty and Icy as we went up and down the mountains.  It pretty much snowed until the white cloud turned suddenly into pitch dark.  I squirmed a little as my limited knowledge of weather made me think we were in some kinda eye of a storm. Surely Iceland would warn us if a tornado was coming…

Our first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir in English) National park.  I mentioned how the Iceland people were the first to have a parliament in the world in 930 before it was all trendy and such.  Vikings held annual parliament meetings around a rock formation to amend laws and create new ones as the valley made for some great acoustics

Þingvellir is one of only TWO places in the entire world where you can see two of the earth’s tectonic plates meeting above the earth’s surface (the other is in Africa). The North American and Eurasian plates jut up out of the ground here in Þingvellir, moving apart roughly 2 cm per year. Although I’m not too sure at which point this rift was at as we didn’t hike for very long and reading the posts were extra seconds in the wind I wanted to avoid.  It was freezing rain  with various patches of black ice on the trail at that point so we didn’t hike too long around the trail.  If I ever get a chance to come back to Iceland is less severe weather I would do a few longer trails Þingvellir national park.  Even in crappy weather it was really beautiful.

Just because Iceland had a parliament doesn’t mean it was all peace on earth and goodwill towards all… You can guess what happened if you were naughty.  Thieves were flogged, guilty men were beheaded or hanged, sinful women were executed by drowning in the waterfall above, outlaws were banished, religious appointments were made, marriages were arranged, contracts were negotiated, old feuds were settled, matters of honour were decided by duels, and distant news were exchanged.  Society as we know it was being introduced.

The next stop many kilometers away (or so it felt as we took our time driving in our crappy 2WD) was Haukadalur Valley and the geysers! Interesting Wikifact, the word geyser comes from Geysir, the name of an erupting spring at Haukadalur,Iceland, which is where we were. That name, in turn, comes from the Icelandic verb geysa, “to gush.”

The wind and rain seemed to calm down so I had time to read some of the fun facts tables.  Guess where the biggest geyser is?  USA!  USA!

Strokkur is actually the highlight of the valley with explosions every 5-10 minutes.  I had trouble getting a photo so we tried to take a video.  Fast forward to 1;25 or so for the actually eruption.


Weird face much?

Next we stopped by Geyser which is the biggest one in the valley.  It’s been chilling, and taking a break since 2000.  It has a habit of mostly erupting after earthquakes but I still felt a littler nervous that it was going to erupt in my face.

An earthquake in 2000 revived the geyser and it reached 122 meters for two days.  thus becoming one of the highest known geysers in history. Initially eruptions were taking place on average eight times a day. By July 2003 this activity had again decreased to around three times per day. Currently, it’s been inactive for a while but I was still a little nervous.

The next stop was Iceland’s most famous waterfall Gullfoss!  Trying to get a peek or a photo of this site was a workout of its own.

I don’t know how strong the winds were to be exact but I know they were strong enough to shake our car as we were trying to park.  

After almost being blown off a cliff, I needed some chocolate therapy.  Luckily the shop selling crazy expensive furs and sheep hats also had a cafe for some hot chocolate.  

As we drove back in darkness we tried to look for some northern lights but all we saw were the eerie yellow glow of nearby towns.

We decided to take a break from the horse and whales for dinner and go with something familiar when we got back to Reykjavik.  Hot dogs!
Bæjarins beztu pylsur has been in business since 1937 and the name literally translates to the Best Hotdogs in Town!  A combination of beef, pork and lamb and a regular part of what seemed to be the Icelandic diet.  Every convenience store, kiosk, gas station, roadside stop, and eatery of any kind carries them.
We ordered two hot dogs “eina með öllu.”  A hot dog cost us a little over $2 and included ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. There is an option to order one “Clinton style” with just spicy mustard.

Reykjavik, Iceland – A night in the day

Walking around Reykjavik

As much as I hate being cold and dark, and cold, it’s really hard not to love Reykjavik or any other part of Iceland.  The people are just so calm and friendly.  They established a parliamentary democracy over a millennium ago, and today write, publish, and read more books per capita than any other people on earth. The country is still one of the world’s best to live in,based on life expectancy, education levels, medical care, income, and
other U.N. criteria. And even with barely 4 hours of sunshine a day, you couldn’t help but love the city.

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The view from our hostel allowed us to see the nearby snow capped mountains in the vicinity   Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a cheap place to visit.  A single room at a hostel, not even a motel but a hostel, cost me and Tony about 8,000 ISK (about 35 USD) and a bowl of soup that isn’t even that meaty was about 1,300 ISK (about 11 USD).  But every place we ate at had a certain warmth and coziness that I haven’t felt a lot while traveling.

Compared to the rest of Europe there’s isn’t much old architecture to drool over. It lacks grand buildings and the picturesque old quarters. Instead it has come to resemble American cities with their sprawling suburbs and big motorways, as was recommended by the urban planners of the post-World War 2 era. Essentially a concrete jungle that I normally despise and want to vomit over. However Reykjavík has a charm of its own, quite unique, “shaped by the dualistic nature of this place which still doesn’t seem to have made up its mind on whether it’s a small town or a big city.”

The city is also filled with a lot of really cool street art.  This is one of the bigger areas, I think it’s a kids’ playground.

The Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church is the 6th tallest building in  Iceland and an interesting look compared to the usual grand cathedrals I have seen.   I was however surprised that it was more lit up at night.  There was some lights but nothing too exciting to gravitate towards.

You can take an elevator to the top for a small fee and get an awesome (but very windy) look of the city and the colorful rooftops.

 I highly recommend stopping by for some coffee and Kleina (Icelandic donut) to warm up before more darkness to walk around in.

The pond in the city center was half frozen with ice and filled with ducks.

We walked around the refreshingly crisp cold dusk before returning to walking around Laugavegur, the commerce street with all the cool sheep clothing.

Have you ever been to Iceland or anywhere else that only has four hours of daylight?  What did you do?

Fine Dining in Reykjavik, Iceland

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Saturday was rough for Tony and I, we had a redeye flight from Boston and besides the fact that we got no sleep on the flight and somehow lost 5 hours in the space time continuum that is time zones, we also did not get fed on Iceland Airlines.  I didn’t know international flights came without food and endless supply booze, I thought that was the one trade-off for large baggage fees and little room.  On the bright side, upon boarding you get a nice bottle of Iceland Water.. yum… now where can I get my Jameson?

Aside from the hunger confusion, the flight arrived on time and went perfect.  I say a fair trade-off if it means I leave and arrive on time.  Upon getting to Iceland, we went to pick up our rental from SAD Cars… yes, why would I assume anything but a sad car would come from something called SAD Cars.  Anyways we get into our sad little two wheel drive car only to learn it is manual!  And there are no automatic ignition cars anywhere in the dealership.  Luckily, Tony was a fast learner and we made it to Reykjavik.

After a rough morning in complete pitch darkness, I decided we earned a nice meal for dinner.  Did I mention it was still pitch dark at 10AM?  We know because we couldn’t check in til noon into our Hostel when the sun finally decided to peak a boo a hello.

This was taken at 10:45 AM overexposed on my dinky IPhone.

Anyways, Reykjavik is a super cool city and I’ll post some photos later but my family is dying to know what I ate so I’m starting with that.

What to eat in Iceland?

Honestly, I wanted to skip the entrees and try every appetizer on the menu; however, I decided I was too hungry for that so we only got one, smoked puffin.  I thought the cute national bird would taste like chicken but instead it tasted more like smoked salmon with a tougher texture.  It was yummy, but I couldn’t get the image that I was eating something so adorable out of my head, yet I kept eating.

For my entrée I got the whale steak.  Iceland is famous for its whale meat, and is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to eat Minke whale.  I know, I know, there’s a lot of controversy about ethics of hunting them (it’s cruel), but I was in Iceland and I decided it was worth a try.  The chicken that you got your chicken breast from isn’t exactly killed too kindly either.  Ironically, the whale tasted more like steak than fish with a more gamey taste, maybe if a veal mated with a tuna and I seared it up for dinner?  It was worth a try but I don’t think I would eat it again.

The other entrée we got was a horse steak! This was probably my favorite dish.  It was tender and each little piece had a ton of flavor.  Yes, the horses are cute too and I tried my best to stop picturing the cute animals I see all along the highway frolicking around may end up in my stomach.

Both entries came with those amazing little potatoes and when we got half our food to go (horse and whale steaks are heavy!) they added a bunch more of those potatoes to our to go boxes!

The place we ate was called 3 Frakkar.  It was a super cozy little place on a side street with three small rooms with about 6 tables each.  The staff were super friendly and nice in explaining everything to us.

If you’re ever in Iceland and want a nice dinner, I highly recommend the place.  The prices are not cheap, but not ridiculous either.