Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 3

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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 …

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Photo 4^^ 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.

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Photo 7^^ 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.

Photo 8^^ 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.

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Photo 12^^ And the geysirs … the amazing, awesome geysirs.

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Photo 13^^ They had little signs next to each one telling you how hot they were.
This one was around 80 degrees. Hot!

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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.

Very sad.

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.

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Photo 24^^ Andddddd, we tried Brennivin — aka Black Death — Iceland’s signature distilled Schnapps liquor.
It was …. strong! And gross. But when in Iceland …

Photo 25^^ We passed this little sign of loveliness on our way to dinner. Oh Iceland — you’re simply the best.

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.

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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!

Remember When It Was Day 2 in Iceland …

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Last Saturday night Chris and I boarded a bus with Icelandic Excursions and set out in search of the Northern Lights.

Here’s something that I’ll say about chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland. In February. No matter how rugged up you think you are — you are not. If you think you have too many pairs of socks on … you do not. Do whatever you can to stay as warm as you can while you’re out there, because you could be out there for a very, very long time.

Icelandic Excursions was a great company to ride with. They only take their tour groups to spots where there’s an area to grab a coffee or hot chocolate or beer and go to the bathroom, and they’re willing to stay out pretty much for however long it takes to find you those dang Northern Lights.

(P.S. I’m no scientist, but this is a pretty great explanation of how the Northern Lights come to be … you should definitely check it out. Nature is amazing.)

Back to Saturday. So we traveled about an hour outside of Reykjavik to this huge field where we all disembarked and waited. And waited. And waited. We were here for about an hour or so before my feet started to feel like they were going to fall off and I needed a hot chocolate and a bathroom break.

The lights here were …. well … pretty fantastic friends.

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Photo 18But they were about to get even more fantastic. Our amazing tour guide had told us on the ride to the first spot that if they got word of a better siting of the lights elsewhere, we would all hop on the bus at a moment’s notice and speed off to said second site — and that’s exactly what we did. Chris and I were warming up on the bus for a second (so nice they keep the heat on!) when everyone else started piling on. For a second we thought we were done, but it turns out we were just moving to our second place.

We actually started to see the lights pretty brightly from on the bus as we were driving, so the driver did the quickest parking job he could and we all raced off the bus and into the field and started snapping away ….

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Just magnificent, people. The light Gods were with us that night, and it was an experience we’ll absolutely never forget.

We arrived back in the city around 12:30 that night — just about the perfect time to get ready to head out for the night! You guys, I’m not ashamed to say that on a normal night, by 12:30 I’d be well into my slumber. We’re talking deep REM sleep, friends. So it turned out that it was a good thing we waited until Saturday to go out, because coming off our Northern Lights tour I was still revved and excited and raring to go — much different from the night before when we had had maybe four hours of sleep.

So we drank some of the wine and beer we had purchased the night before and ate some of the cheese, uploaded some photos of the Northern Lights to Facebook and Instagram (I’m only human), and headed back out into the night around 1 a.m.

And it. Was. Bumpin’! These Icelanders are serious about their partying, and they do not mess around! Our waitress from Mar earlier in the day had recommended that we start off at a place called Bunk, but when we went in a little after 1 it was getting ready to close. Lame. (Don’t worry, we made it back there the following night.)

So onto the bar next door — Boston. I’d say we were here for a little over an hour, and it had a really nice atmosphere. It wasn’t crazy crowded, and everyone seemed happy and friendly and a bunch of the girls were dancing around. It was dark and homey, and there were two floors, one with oversized comfy couches and chairs and the other more of a party area. We liked it here. Boston was definitely a good find.

Then, friends, we made our way over to Prikid. By now it must have been around 3 a.m., and the line was starting to grow at this particular bar. We didn’t have to wait long — although the bouncers did card every single person who entered before us, stopped and looked us up and down, and then let us right in sans being carded.

Ouch. Guess we’re old looking.

I should preface our Prikid experience by saying that we had stumbled upon this bar guide of Reykjavik before our trip, which is amazing. You may notice that under the explanation for Prikid they say that the atmosphere is “Homey; low key,” and:

“Primary reason to go there To
find a mate; to chat with friends; to
bolster an image; to pretend to work
on your book of poetry; to toke on a
doobie.”

Photo 24^^ I took this photo of Prikid much earlier in the night the Friday before, simply because I
thought the place looked cool. It’s pretty low-key around 9 p.m. Not so much around 2:30 a.m.

And while I guess I could sort of see how the doobie part is accurate, the last thing I would call Prikid is “homey”, nor did I consider it a good place to “pretend to work on my book of poetry.”

Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun. We met a really young looking kid wearing two hats and a sweatshirt who told us his name was Massimo and that he was a professional some-sport-or-other that was just shy of being an Olympics-approved sport. He was from Boston, but he had lived in Iceland for three years, and he absolutely loved it there. He owned three snowmobiles and he showed us pictures of him riding them.

These are the things you talk about at 3 a.m. at a bar in Iceland to a random stranger when you are slightly intoxicated.

He was with a girl who seemed really annoyed the entire time we were with them. When I asked her if Massimo was her boyfriend, she scoffed and said no, they were just friends. Please, lady. I can smell a crush from a mile away.

Downstairs the bar was pumping the rap and R&B music, it was crowded and dark and the bar tenders kept swinging these low-hanging lamps that were all around the bar so that there was this constant feeling of movement right above your head.

It was …. really fun! At one point a very drunk boy at the bar came up to Chris and asked him for money for a drink (we did not oblige), and while I was waiting in line to use the bathroom a very nice young woman who looked to be about 19 or 20 started talking to me for no reason. Just because we were standing there. And she was nice. And that’s what Icelanders do.

Oh Iceland, how I love thee.

After Prikid we headed over to Baejarins beztu pylsur.

Did you get all that?

Anyway, it’s the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland (some say it’s even the best restaurant there), and Chris got a hot dog with the works.

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The thing about my husband, you see, is that he doesn’t even really like hot dogs. However, this hot dog, he says, was the best hot dog he’d ever had in his life. I guess for a person who doesn’t like hot dogs that isn’t really saying much? He seemed happy about it though, and the line was long to get one, so they must be something special. (Don’t worry, I tried one the following night, sans actual hot dog, and at least I can attest to the fact that “the works” part of the hot dog was pretty great!)

And that was about it friends. Our Saturday in a nutshell. The Northern Lights, bar hopping and hot dogs. We headed home around 5 in the morning (but not before stopping at the grocery store to pick up cup of noodles and some caramel chocolate to eat when we got home … geez I must have been drunk!), feeling happy, buzzed and alive.

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Bis bald, friends! Tomorrow it’s on to Day 3.