Friday, March 21, 2014

ICELAND ((Day 3))

If you read any of my Italy recaps from the summer of 2012, you'll remember that I planned out our days from about 7 am to 7 pm because I didn't want to miss anything. This time around, not so much.  Reading the Lonely Planet Iceland book, I knew that this trip would have a much different pace. Truth be told, I actually forgot to plan one of the days so I told myself we would just take it easy and have an extra day to explore the city.  Let's just say Jake didn't argue. I would suspect that he enjoyed not having every day planned out from breakfast to nightcap.  We actually put together a quick list the night before of things we might want to do. Jake wanted to check out the University of Iceland since he is in professor mode. I wanted to walk around a frozen lake that we had driven by the day before. We wanted to go up to the top of the church and take in the magnificent view of Reykjavik. etc etc.... So we were able to come up with a bunch of ideas. 

We ended up checking out the University of Iceland in the morning which was kind of fun. It's amazing how colleges can be so different yet the same not matter where you are in the world. Then we stopped by the frozen lake in the city - it's called Tjornin. I have no idea how to pronounce it, but I like it. We saw some folks playing soccer on the frozen lake but we were too terrified to even step one foot on the ice. 

We randomly wandered into a random building with no english signs.

We had heard about a certain hotdog stand so we headed there around lunchtime and stood in line with several other tourists.  It's called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur and it was amazing. We decided that the secret is the sauces and the onions underneath the hotdog! Genius! 

I need to figure out what the sauce is made of. So good!

After our delicious lunch, we headed to the mall! Did we think that we were back in 'merica --  North Carolina? Haha.... We walked around the mall and mingled with the locals and even tried a juice bar called Joe & the Juice. Nothing too crazy... I bought a scarf that was apparently made in India. Oh well. I liked the print. Apparently Iceland has a pretty cool fashion scene - its the Scandinavian influences, I think. 

We headed back to our hotel and we decided that we needed to unwind so we took a trip to the spa. We got to wear special hotel robes and slippers and we tried the turkish bath but it was so humid and then we tried the sauna, which I didn't like either. So we just relaxed in the jacuzzi for a bit. 

After the spa, we walked to Hallgrimskirkja church but it was closed. So we just enjoyed the view from outside and planned to go back on Friday.

I made reservation a few weeks prior at a couple of restaurants we found on Trip Advisor.  That night we had reservations at a restaurant called Fredrik V (which is currently the #1 restaurant on TripAdvisor) -- and the menu is either a 3 or 5 course surprise meal, all dishes chosen by the chef. We decided on the 5 course complete with wine pairings! Every ingredient came from the island and our server carefully explained each dish, sometimes going into gory detail {for example, creme brûlée  that was made from the cow's colostrum that has to be frozen for over a month for humans to be able to eat it. Kind of cool but also kind of weird and scary.... but it was delicious so I guess I can't complain. There was a map of the island at our table where she pointed out where each item came from. There are also pictures of all the farmers and fishermen in the restaurant. We both really enjoyed the 3+ hour experience and that was our main event for the night. 

A few of our favorites: 

2nd course - duck egg & catfish (caught fresh that morning)

in between 3rd & 4th course: below is a creamy soup boiled in lobster shells for 25 hours. It was one of the most delicious things we tried!! 

A couple more shots of the city:

I swear. Those mountains never get old.  Tomorrow (Day 4) we head out on our 2 day road trip to the Southern Coast! Stay Tuned! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

ICELAND'S Golden Circle ((Day 2))

Monday was our first real day of sightseeing outside of Reykjavik. We had plans to meet up with our friends to DIY drive the Golden Circle Tour.  Iceland's Golden Circle is made up of 3 popular tourist destinations - Thingvellier National Park, Geysir and Gulfoss.   

But, first thing was first. We had to grab breakfast. We had yummy pastries from a bakery on Luagavegar Street. Turns out that Monday in Iceland is "Bolludagur" aka Cream Puff Day. The Sunday day before, kids are supposed to wake up, go into their parents room and "spank" them repeatedly with a special "wand".  For every blow received before the parents get out of bed, parents owe their children a cream puff with jam and chocolate.   I could not make this stuff up. But, this does explain why we saw trays and trays of cream puff treats that morning at the bakery. Too funny, right?

En Route: 

Our breakfast pastries/cream puffs on bottom (middle)

We left the city after breakfast and started the 45 minute drive to Thingvellier National Park. But first, we had to pull over to take photos at an overlook. It was just too beautiful to pass up.  Then, we arrived at the National Park, which is thought to be where the first parliament was held.  Kind of a big deal. 

We loved our rental car - SKODA! It was perfect. Never once did we slide or did Jake feel like he wasn't in control. Just wait for a few more days and you'll see the snowy road conditions.

We checked out the views from the bathroom at the park:

We spent quite a bit of time wandering and exploring the park. Next, we stopped at Lindin Restaurant for lunch on our way to the Geysir. We tried.... drumroll..... reindeer burgers! And they were pretty delicious and juicy. Sorry santa. 

Then we headed to the Geysir.  We saw it erupt about 5 times. We got a few videos and tons of photos. The coolest part is right before it erupts, there is this huge bubble.  We read in our guidebook that this is the original Geysir, the one which all other Geysirs are named after. Pretty cool!  

After the Geysir, we headed to Gulfoss which is an incredible two-tiered waterfall. After a short walk from the car, the waterfall materializes right in front of your eyes. And it is breathtaking! It was so windy and cold that we only could bear the cold for a few minutes. But the waterfall itself is magnificent. One of the coolest things we saw in Iceland. It's hard to capture the scale of this thing. There is only one way - to see it in person!

We had a very tasty 3 2 course dinner {including fresh grilled lobster} at Seafood Grill but had to hurry to catch our Northern Lights boat tour. I guess if you don't see the lights on your first try on the boat, they invite you to come back the next night. So we hurried through dinner and even skipped dessert, only to find that the boat tour was cancelled due to unfavorable weather conditions. We got a nightcap at the hotel bar and called it a successful first real day of sightseeing in the breathtaking country that is ICELAND!

Signing off,

Monday, March 10, 2014

ICELAND ((Day 1))

Why hello there, internet! I can honestly say that I missed blogging while we were traveling. But we're back now - and I am ready to share my daily recaps with you. Guys, this trip was absolutely insane - Jake and I both agreed that Iceland exceeded all of our expectations. The people, the food,  and the raw beauty were all just incredible. I never know where to start with these recaps, but I like doing them by day so we can look back and remember what we did each day and then you guys can feel like you were on the trip along with us! Maybe? Well, just pretend that you were there. And if you haven't been to Iceland - put it on your travel list! Like, now! I cannot say enough about this amazing country. If you are planning a trip there, feel free to ask me any questions. It's an up-and -coming destination and sometimes we found it a little challenging to find and exact answer to our specific question. As far as planning goes, we used the Iceland Lonely Planet book which we found very helpful, Tripadvisor (including forums), the Northern Lights forecast website and a couple other resources. Again, don't hesitate to ask me any questions! I would be happy to share. 

We flew there via Iceland Air. It's kind of like flying Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii - you almost feel like you are there while you are on the plane. They also had USB ports to charge my cell phone and the seats just felt roomier and cushiony {compared to the domestic flights we have been on lately}. We didn't do this because we had a Travelzoo deal, but another cool thing about flying Iceland Air is that you can do up to a 7 day layover in Iceland at no additional charge. They fly to a lot of European destinations so just something to consider if you want to tack it onto a European adventure.

We arrived at KEF in the wee hours of Sunday morning, March 2nd... well not that early, 6:00 am. Then we caught a 45 min ride bus ride to Reykjavik and checked into our hotel, Center Hotels Arnarhvoll. Here are a few photos of our view - not too shabby, right?

We finally got to our room, napped for a bit, then headed out to explore the city.  We loved the Scandinavian flavor of Reykjavik and the touches of modern architecture we saw. We shopped a bit at  a store called Geysir {and a few others} but didn't end up getting anything.  The city is pricey but had a lot of really good shopping and restaurants... as you will learn, one of the highlights of our trip was the food.  The main street, Luagavegur, was just a few blocks away from our hotel.

It was pretty cold when the wind blew! Definitely, colder than I expected - I think it was in the mid to upper 30's but with wind chill it was in the low 20's. Eeek. Thank goodness we packed our hats and gloves and warmest coats.

A couple more snaps:

We went on a 3 hour Northern Lights boat tour as part of our package, but alas, the Northern Lights did not show up for us that night. Or any night. But I don't want to focus on what we didn't see, I want to focus on what we did see!

Don't worry... the next day we did the Golden Circle Tour so you will see a lot more nature photos on the next recap. Goodnight!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

On Vacation

The day has finally arrived! Jake and I are busy packing for Iceland...we're headed to the airport in a couple hours.  Needless to say, I won't be blogging until we get back. So - hang in there while I'm gone ;) and when I get back I hope to have some incredible photos, stories and experiences to share.

Can you believe it's March 1st?!?!?!