Travel Journal Archives: Iceland and Beyond: Day 2

Sunday, April 30th, 2017: Reykjavik (Rake-ya-vick):

I’m not really the best sleeper–not that I don’t love sleep, because I thoroughly enjoy it, when I get it–but a deep, restful sleep doesn’t always come easy to me unless the conditions are perfect. Not too warm, no noise, no light, no movement…

Gosh, I sound like a diva. Whatever, you get it.

Anyway, all that to say I actually did get a bit of quality shut-eye on this overnight flight–probably a total of two hours. You might scoff, but that’s good for me!

First glimpse of Iceland

As long as I can be at a window seat, I really do enjoy flying.

Even if there isn’t much to see, knowing I have control over something as small as the window shade somehow makes me less restless while having to remain seated for hours.

When the sunlight started to seep in around the window screen that morning I couldn’t help but curiously peek outside a couple of times.

At one point we were gliding above Greenland, according to the screen on the seat in front of me, and I admit I’ve never been so intrigued by such a barren, blinding white landscape before.

I thought I was simply looking at clouds at first until I saw the shadows of glacial peaks; it all looked so untouched, like a hidden trove of glistening treasure.

Who knows, you might find me in a place like that one of these days, I’m learning to never rule anything out!

Soon enough we were just above the western peninsula of Iceland, and I shoved that window shade wide open, continually snapping pictures and feeling my excited heart pump louder every few hundred feet we descended.

The airport in Reykjavik (the capital city) is fairly small and allows for easy navigation. I was quite impressed with how quickly the inbound customs line moved.

Unable to hide my dopey grin, I handed my passport to the Icelandic representative. She asked me some brief questions about my stay and handed it back to me with a very courteous “Takk!” which I remembered then meant “Thanks!”

Then I also remembered that by this time (11 AM), I had already missed the bus departure I’d reserved, as well as the check-in hour for the Blue Lagoon experience I’d paid for months prior.

The young gentleman at the service desk kindly allowed me to use the phone to call the latter, and I probably sighed audibly when the woman on the other end told me she completely understood the flight delay was out of my control and that I should still try to arrive as soon as I could and they would take care of me.

These are the moments I pat myself on the back for choosing, as usual, to only pack a carry-on.

I zoomed right by the baggage claim zombies and out into the main lobby where I could figure out a mode of transportation.
I found another lady (Jessica?) in the same predicament as me, also headed to the Blue Lagoon. Neither of us wanted to wait another hour for the next shuttle bus departure, so we decided to split the cost of a taxi.
Every travel site had warned me, but nothing could really prepare me for the shock of the prices in Iceland. If this country has any flaw, whatsoever, I’m thinking that would be it.
Although the lagoon is only a 15 minute drive from the airport, I paid $35 for my half of the ride.

At least our driver was nice, though. He told us about the landscape, the history of the lagoon, and the overall environmental-conscientiousness of his country.

He was proud, but not arrogant, and as the week went on I would find this to be a common trait among other Icelanders.

freezing and trying not to show it
Silica Mud Mask from the in-water station

The Lord must have known I really needed this experience, because when I arrived there wasn’t a wait at all. I gave the lady my confirmation, she kindly handed me a bracelet and towel and pointed me in the direction of the women’s changing rooms.
I had pre-booked the Comfort package, which includes entrance, towel, silica mud mask, algae mud mask, and one drink (I ordered a latte). When I’d reserved this ticket, I’d also paid for the shuttle bus from the airport and then into town at my hostel later on.
All combined I think the price came to about $120. Really not bad, considering there isn’t a time limit.
Here’s what you need to know about the Blue Lagoon (or you can just click that link and check it out yourself).
Everything about it is natural; it was created as a result of the nearby geothermal power plant in the late seventies.
so glad I arm-knitted that scarf before leaving…

People on this island already love their natural hot springs, and when the weather is bitingly cold, who could blame them?

So they began bathing in the warm turquoise seawater and discovered amazing results when they applied the silica paste to their skin, especially those with psoriasis or eczema.

Today, besides being one of the 25 wonders of the world, it is basically a luxury spa. They even have their own skincare products.

As you will read on every other article about the lagoon, everyone is required to shower without clothes prior to entering, and while there are open showers in the ladies’ room, there are stalls, as well.

So, relax. Seriously, it would be really hard not to.

The air was a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the sky was a dreamy overcast, and the steam rose up to blend in with it. Needless to say, the hot turquoise water was evermore inviting.
There were quite a few people there, from all over the world, and I imagine there always is. However, it was also pretty easy to stay secluded and find a few nice hot spots all to myself.
Don’t worry, if you can’t swim, you don’t have to. Most of the lagoon is shallow–I mean I’m only 5’3″ and I was doing a strange, hunched crab walk in a couple areas to keep the water above my shoulders.
Oh, and you probably don’t want to get your hair wet, if you’ve got a lot of it like me. They had said the silica in the water can be a pain to wash out completely.
Function over fashion, that’s how I roll.
At first, I didn’t realize this so I’ll save you the trouble in case you go sometime: the silica mud and algae plaster are located at a little monitored station actually in the water. Quite convenient. And rad.
I had brought my phone out in a waterproof pouch around my neck to get a few pictures, but after doing so decided I was happy to be without technology for a while and put it back up in my locker.
Speaking of, if you come with a large pack like mine, or even one of those roller carry-on suitcases, you can totally fit it in a tall locker once you’re inside the lagoon changing room. Do not waste your time or money on storing your luggage at the front entrance.

So, that’s my Blue Lagoon advertisement in a nutshell.

I know there are other hot springs on the island that are totally free, but it’s just one of those unique experiences I think you gotta do at least once, and I’m glad I did.

I floated around and soaked in (pun totally intended) the experience to its fullest. After sleeping awkwardly on a plane in a strange position, it was nice to stretch out and loosen up my muscles.

My hands were starting to look like prunes after a couple hours and I figured I should head back in to try to get at least some exploring in for the day.

On the way, I took a picture for a couple of Americans, who realized at once that I spoke American English as well. Before I knew it we’d grown into a small gang; it’s funny, any time you bump into travelers from your own country you can’t help but feel a mutual bond, immediately. I guess it’s a comfort thing.

home for a night

We chatted for a bit, definitely the loudest people out there and not really caring too much because, again, the mutual-bonding-comfort thing.

I finally caught the shuttle around 3 PM, checked into my hostel, and then set off on foot for a 40 minute walk to Reykjavik’s center.

I could have gotten a room closer, for a decent chunk of cash more, but I really didn’t mind the walking.

Sometimes wandering a town is the best way to introduce yourself to it, and get acquainted with its streets.

I knew I didn’t have much time to see all the sites I had hoped to cross off my list that afternoon. But I didn’t want to stress about it.

I happily meandered the quirky streets downtown, in all of their colorful splendor and hipster art.

On one particular neighborhood I came across an olive-skinned young man talking to the second story window of a quaint yellow house.

I walked by with a polite smile and was just a few feet past him when he called out in a thick accent, almost apologetically, “I’m speaking to a window!”

“Single Gloves speed dating”

“Yes,” I turned. “I noticed!”

Of course, this ensued in me having to be introduced to his two friends behind the glass.

They were all Greek, from “the best part of the Mediterranean” the one on the ground assured me.

They were impressed that I was traveling alone, but still tried to persuade me to hang out with their group later on for dinner and clubbing.

I declined, saying that I was actually too hungry to wait until later, and also, I don’t party, so I’d be a terrible tag-along.

Laugavegur street art

The faces behind the window were ready to debate otherwise when the guy next to me stopped them.

“She’s not a party girl, okay? So that’s okay, we will not make her go with us.”

We exchanged pleasantries and they wished me a good walk, then I turned in the direction of Hallgrimskirkja church.

I know. I gave up pronouncing it, and many other Icelandic words, as well. This is only the beginning, people.

Oddly enough, I don’t think the church is actually used much for actual services, nor do I think it is associated to any particular religion.

I had the awful luck of missing it being opened to the public both of the days I was in the city, since I believe the doors close around 5 PM, but apparently the view from those top spire windows is incredible.

This isn’t the only reason I’d need to return someday, though.

I was browsing Laugavegur street next, which is the happening place for all things fun and food, when I had to stop and snort out loud.

In large orange letters, the Chuck Norris Grill sat proudly, squeezed in among the rest of the bustling restaurants.

As awesome as I’m sure it is, and as much as I loved the Chuck Norris jokes posted on the windows, I wasn’t really up for a burger.

I wanted something more authentic, and I was willing to let my stomach growl at me a while longer until I found it.

I followed my nose and memory back a few streets until I found a sign for soup: a big ole bowl of lamb and vegetable stew, to be precise.


I ate at the blue-roofed Babalu’s, on the right
Reykjavik church steeple


By this point my fingers were stiff from the wind chill and incapable of really using my phone properly, so it was time to sit down and thaw out.

Babalu’s quirky interior

I ate alone, obviously, which wasn’t as lonely as it sounds.

I mean, I do it at home most of the time anyway (with the exception of Samson’s hopeful puppy eyes right next to me).

Like the rest of the culture and decor in Reykjavik, this little restaurant was the perfect blend of cozy and quirky.

Also, it had free, fast Wi-Fi–another trend, and a very positive, convenient one at that, I was to notice that week.

As much as I would have felt alright staying out after dark, I didn’t quite trust my sense of direction after only being in town for a few hours.

$15 meal

Looking back, I was probably more mentally exhausted than I was willing to admit to myself.

I don’t require a lot of sleep in order to function properly. But jet lag can do strange things to your mind.

Of course, it started to rain harder the minute I walked out onto the basically empty sidewalk to head south.

I tucked the now damp and smudged city map into my pocket, zipped tight my purse and rain jacket, and sped walked as steadily as I could against the wind.

Within minutes my light denim skirt was a shade darker, drenched on almost all sides by kamikaze rain pellets.

After a while I stopped a friendly-looking local man–for whatever reason wearing only a nice business suit and acting like he didn’t even know it was raining–who reassured me with an amused smile and friendly pat to my shoulder that I was still on the right track toward the hostel.

People are so nice here, I thought then and continued to think it that week.

Not overly, insincerely so, with cheesy smiles and an expression that’s trying to sell you a product or something, but genuinely pleasant and helpful.

Just before I reached my hostel, I noticed a cemetery across the road. Since the rain had let up a bit, I was feeling adventurous enough to creak open the gate and stroll through a few rows.

I’m not into horror or creepy stuff, generally, but there’s something about cemeteries that can be kind of beautiful, with their moss-covered headstones and the histories and mysteries behind each of the names.

I couldn’t help but take a picture of this one, with the conjoined headstones and the two trees in front of them that were probably planted together and now grew side-by-side so close they almost looked like one trunk.

I don’t think you need me to interpret that.

When I finally changed into warm, dry clothes and shimmied under the covers that night, it was probably around 22:00, or 10 PM, and not entirely dark yet.

I’d set my phone’s clock to the 24 hour format a couple weeks before the trip and by now I was fairly-adjusted to it.

I had enough energy to write out the below list of moments before a wave of slumber abruptly overtook me, and I woke up a half hour later to the lamp still on and my journal resting on my chin.

Highlights from the day:

  • Being welcomed right into the Blue Lagoon immediately on arrival even though I was delayed by 3 hours
  • lounging in the lagoon–the perfect way to unwind and recharge after the overnight flight
  • realizing my room at the Capital-Inn hostel came with a double bed, and it was all mine to throw my bag into and lay all my wet clothes out to dry before and after I went exploring
  • warm bowl of lamb stew from Babalu’s–my first real meal in over 24 hours
  • even though my day was shortened, I at least got to see Laugavegur street and Hallgrimskirkja Church in daylight, before the rain started coming down harder
  • taking a stroll through the very old and beautiful, cemetery just up the street from the hostel
Yeah, you could say my first day on Icelandic soil was a success.
Even if it wasn’t jam-packed and eventful, it’s quality over quantity that counts, right?