Last Sunday Chris and I were attempting to wake ourselves up at a reasonable time, after having partied until the wee wee (way past our bedtime) hours the night before. Luckily for us, the hotel stopped serving breakfast at 10 a.m., a perfect excuse to make sure we got our butts out of bed in time for that.
We were lazy that morning after breakfast (Chris sleeping a bit more, me checking out this truly amazing record store that was on our street — if you love music and you’re in Iceland you must go here … ), but in the afternoon we had booked the Gulfoss and Geysir Express Tour , and I was dying to get out and see more of the Icelandic countryside.
I would explain to you a bit about the tour, but the explanation from the company site is pretty helpful:
“Take an afternoon tour from Reykjavik to experience geysers, waterfalls and some of the most exciting natural phenomena Iceland has to offer. In just six hours you’ll visit the country’s best known historical sites and natural wonders perfect if your time in Iceland is limited.
You will visit Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament Alpingi was established in 930. It is here in this geologically unique place that the slowly diverging tectonic plates of America and Europe meet. In 2004 Thingvellir was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The tour also takes you to the famous Gullfoss waterfall, the spouting hot spring of Geysir and Strokkur. Continuing your journey to Hveragerdi, a small but beautiful horticultural town, you will see how geothermal energy has been harnessed for the unique greenhouse cultivation of all kinds of vegetables, exotic fruit and flowers.”
Here’s a bit of what we saw on that trip …
^^ Shifting tectonic plates — how cool is that?! Directly across the water from us was the U.K.
And at one point driving on this tour you are on the North American continent,
then you literally drive over the line into Europe. I love stuff like that.
^^ Short, fat horses are everywhere in Iceland! Driving through the countryside
on this tour was absolutely breathtaking. One thing we learned about the horses, though —
if they don’t perform up to Icelandic standards, or aren’t of the right temperament, they get eaten.
Our tour guide would say: “Well, if the horse is mean or can’t get along with the other
horses, we have a solution for that …” Oh and also, riding horses is a perfectly
acceptable way to get around town in these smaller towns. So if you go to a bar,
you may see a line of horses parked outside because, as our guide says, they
have strict laws in Iceland about driving cars when you’re drunk … but not so much for horses.
^^ How beautiful is the Gulfoss waterfall? It was at the restaurant here that
Chris had traditional Icelandic Meat Soup with lamb and vegetables.
Our tour guide said this is something people from Icelandic typically eat every week.
I should mention here a few things about Iceland that I haven’t yet. For starters, the water that comes out of their tap is natural spring water — some of the best water in the world. There is no need for bottled water or filters here. (Which is why when I tried to buy a bottle at the grocery store the night before, the clerk told me to put it back. “This is the same as what comes out of your faucets. A waste of money to buy this,” he said. Thanks for the tip, Mr!) The hot water is also natural, geothermally heated water, and it has that sulfer, rotten egg smell? You know the one I’m talking about? At first it’s a bit off-putting, but after a while you tend to get used to it and barely even notice.
It was on this tour that the guide talked to us about the economy in Iceland. Since the government went bankrupt a few years back, everything in the country had become astronomically expensive for the locals (which we can attest to), but much, much cheaper for travelers. For example — the dinner we ordered later Sunday night would have cost us $170 Krona, but we paid for it on credit card, and it only came out to $106. There is no minimum wage in Iceland, they pay 40% of their wages to taxes, and there are very few “good” jobs, with most of those jobs located in Reykjavik. This means many people can’t afford to actually live in Reykjavik, because it’s too expensive, but they have to work there to make even a decent wage — and they end up commuting hours every day, and working up to 10 hours a day, just to make ends meet. People are fleeing the country in droves, our guide said — to include important professionals, like doctors. To make matters worse, there is really no rental market in Iceland, meaning people are forced to buy their homes, even when they can’t necessarily afford to.
Oftentimes people who work in one place and live in another hitch rides with the tour buses for free if there is extra room. We ended up giving a young girl a ride from her job at the geysirs to the town where she lived about 25 minutes away. It was all very interesting.
Back in Reykjavik we decided to head out for our last night on the town. We made our way back to Bunk (which, if you’ll recall, we had tried the night before but it was closing), and really loved it. It had a very low-key, laid back vibe, and was the perfect place to relax before heading out to dinner.
^^ Andddddd, we tried Brennivin — aka Black Death — Iceland’s signature distilled Schnapps liquor.
It was …. strong! And gross. But when in Iceland …
We headed to Snaps for dinner around 9 p.m., and the place was finally starting to slow down. We had a perfectly lovely (if somewhat forgetful!) French waitress, who said hello to us in three languages (since in Iceland you never really know where people are from). Throughout the night (which was a really long one, since we’re pretty sure she never thought we wanted to order dinner and it took us about an hour of being there before we finally tracked her down to tell her we did, in fact, want to eat), we discovered that she has a Norwegian Forest cat, just like we do, that she was from France, she was engaged, and that she wasn’t really a waitress by trade — she normally gives hiking tours of volcanos … how cool! — but that she had a friend who worked at Snaps and she was just helping out. We ordered wine and this to-die-for zucchini and cream cheese appetizer, and I ordered mussels and frittes (you have never seen a plate of mussels like this before!), and Chris got the lamb steak with bearnaise sauce, which he says was delicious as well.
All in all I we give Snaps a 5-star rating. Tasty. Fun. Great place to people watch. If in Iceland, you must go here.
Of course our filling meal didn’t stop us from stopping back at the hot dog stand on the way home. I ordered the hot dog bun with the works, sans hot dog (which the man who made it for me promised was not a weird order) — and it was everything I had hoped it would be.
We took our one and only cab ride home that night, and ended up with a Russian driver who told us he used to be a professional hand ball player, and that he had family back home in Russia he was trying to support, but basically backed up everything our tour guide had mentioned earlier about how hard it is to make a living wage in Iceland. Poor Russian cab driver — we really do wish you the best.
And that was Sunday, my friends. The next day, our last day, was spent at this amazing little place called The Blue Lagoon — ahhhhhh the Blue Lagoon! But more on that later …
Bis bald, friends!