Thursday, April 24, 2014

ICELAND ((Day 6))

Day 6 brought more of what we had come to love about Iceland. Amazing scenery, delicious local food, and a fun roadtrip back to the city. The drive was supposed to be about an hour {based on google maps} but it took us nearly two hours to get down from the top of Thingvellir back to Reykjavik. There are these signs that say "blind hill" and it's literally a road that goes like this /   \ where two cars could be coming from each side and then hit at the top of the hill. Those "blind hill" signs made me super nervous but we managed to drive down to the mountain in super steep snow without any incidents.  We did see another car in a ditch but someone was already helping them and no one looked hurt. Thank goodness. For all the crazy snow, I was surprised that we didn't see more people in ditches or that had run off the road.
I had to stop and take a pic of this sign! So fun, right?

I also made Jake pull over so I could get some photos of the horses up close. They came a little too close. So, I was done with that photo shoot pretty quick.
I believe this is called the "Voyager" and it was really close to our hotel but we hadn't taken the time to check it out. We actually pulled up really close to it and I took this photo from the car on our way back to the hotel! Hah... funny, but true!
We had a delicious lunch at this place {we got lost trying to find it} -- it's very highly rated on Trip Advisor {the name is Grillmarkadurrin or Grill Market and it deserved its amazing rating. It's not everyday that I have an alcoholic drink, a delicious burger and fries and spend $80 on lunch but when I do, I'm in Iceland!  We loved the décor!
We both got the same thing! That rarely happens -we usually order two different things and share. And that fry sauce was the bomb!!!!!
And finally, we made our way to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja Church- we had to ride in a tiny super slow elevator, but it was totally worth it for this 360 degree view of Reykjavik. As you can see, it had snowed quite a bit in the city and I think it was even snowing where I took these photos.

Stick around for our last Iceland blog post tomorrow! Hint: think Blue Lagoon....

Monday, April 21, 2014

ICELAND ((Day 5))

We woke up on Day 5 in our cozy cabin in Reynisfjara to the sound of a rain/snow mix falling on our tin roof.  I never told you about our crazy night before. Well, it wasn't that crazy - it's just that we were trying to get to the cabin before it got too dark because we didn't know what the roads would be like and we had to get over this huge mountain pass. We didn't know if there would be any restaurants in Reynisfjara since its so tiny, but we had to get over that mountain pass or we might have gotten stuck on the other side. So we decided to head directly to the cabin and forego dinner. We did have some pastries and a sandwich in the car from breakfast so we ended up eating pastries and candy for dinner. In an ironic twist, this was literally the night after we had our grand five course meal. These are the little unglamorous things that can happen when you don't plan your trip out in it's entirety - so there is some value in being spontaneous but sometimes it doesn't always pan out.

So, where was I... oh, yes, waking up in the cabin the next morning... since it looked like it snowed all night, we decided to leave the cabin earlier than planned without exploring the town because we didn't want to get stuck there. Are you sensing a pattern here? We had actually planned to meet up with our friends who were also in Iceland this morning at 10 am for breakfast in Vik but it was snowing and hailing and there was thunder and lightning so we decided to head back to the city. We stopped at a diner about 45 minutes into our drive so Jake could get his morning coffee fix and I could message our friends that we were safe but just didn't realize that our hotel was on the other side of Vik. So, it all ended well. I'm sad we didn't get to meet up with our friends one last time, but we'll just have to plan another trip, right C & J?    

On our drive, we spontaneously made a stop at a waterfall called Skogafoss in the tiny town of Skogar. We spent a few minutes there just taking in the beauty. What a sight! We just took a breath, closed our eyes and tried to memorize this exact feeling. I tried to do this so many times during our trip because this might sound corny but sometimes the natural, raw beauty was just overwhelming. It didn't seem real!

Our plan was to get a head start on the drive to Thingvellier National Park where we had a room booked at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel.  This was the hotel I was most excited to stay at! I had first read about it in Travel + Leisure magazine but looked it up on Tripadvisor and it was a little pricey and didn't have great reviews. It's a relatively new property and I think they are still working out the kinks - plus, it's in the middle of freakin' nowhere. We even didn't plan on staying there until a week before our trip when I spontaneously booked a night. I'm actually really glad we took a chance on it! It was such an adventure to just get there!  Case in point....

The hotel is so new that it's not in the GPS yet.
The main road to get there is closed for the winter {but there is a back road}.
Our cell phones were on airplane mode so we didn't incur charges and we just signed onto whatever Wifi we could find so we couldn't really use Google maps while we were driving there.

We ended up eating lunch at a random gas station {Jake had a hot dog and I had a burger and they were actually quite delicious} and we planned out our route and took photos of each part of the journey. Bad news for us is there wasn't really much hotel signage but the good news was that eventually, after miles and miles of winding roads and super deep snow, we found it! Hooray! We were a little early for check-in and our room wasn't quite ready so we grabbed a glass or 2 of wine and hung out in the Northern Lights bar which would have been amazing to see the Northern Lights in. We didn't get that pleasure this time. Maybe next time.

This hotel was previously an abandoned geothermal plant that was restored and since it opened in February 2013, it has won several design and architecture awards which made me even more curious about it.  The water in the hotel flows down directly from a hot spring and it untreated {and smells a little like sulphur but that's fine by me}... the furniture was made from reclaimed wood. Very cool, very cool!

We checked out the room, took a nap, and then headed to dinner at the restaurant. We couldn't decide on what to order so we ordered 3 things! Lamb, scallops and salmon to share! The food was great, as usual.

After dinner, we walked around the hotel and explored a bit more. A few things to note: the hotel is very remote, so there is literally nothing else to do unless you are doing some kind of pre-planned outdoor adventure. Like I mentioned earlier, the service wasn't spectacular - there were a few frustrating times where we had to wait for service, but all in all, I would stay here again. I'm sure they will get all the kinks worked out in time. We checked out the outdoor thermal pool, but decided it was too cold to use. Imagine my surprise a few days later while we swam in the Blue Lagoon while it snowed on us! You know the saying... When in Reykjavik...         

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An ICELAND Road Trip ((Day 4))

We woke up very early the next morning and grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel before venturing out on our very first {and only} road trip! We didn't know what to expect but we were prepared with our Skoda, GPS and a plan. We headed from Reykjavik to our first destination: Jökulsárlón. We left around 9 am knowing that we wouldnt be back for a couple of days since we had planned to stay 1 night in Reynisfjara and one night at Ion Hotel in Thingvellier National Park. The drive was supposed to take about 4 hours but took closer to 5 1/2 due to the weather conditions. Then, the plan was to head back in the same direction we came for 2 more hours so that the next day we didn't have to do a crazy long drive again. We wanted to drive in the daylight because driving at night in unknown conditions scared the crap out of us.
Bottom line: The drive down the Southern Coast was breathtakingly beautiful. I heard another tourist describe it like this: It looks like someone just unrolled a backdrop and placed it there, it doesn't look or seem real. But it is. Trust me.

We saw a lot of roundabouts:

 Just your usual waterfall on the side of the road.

We encountered some snowy, blizzard like conditions but nothing our SKODA couldn't handle. We drove over mountain passes which felt like sheets of ice and we didn't slide once. Doesn't mean I wasn't nervous though.

Driving over the mountain pass into Vik was an adventure to say the least.

The saying in Iceland is, if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes. And it's very true.

Jökulsárlón was one of the highlights for me. It's where glaciers head out to the ocean and it's sometimes a very slow process, we got to see a few glaciers move and break off into the ocean. Very cool!

Then, we proceeded to drive back for about 2 hours in the same direction that we had just come from. This is the most remote part of Iceland we had ever seen. Very desolate. We could drive for about 20-30 minutes without even seeing another car. Below is our little cabin, right on the "beach" - if you can call it that. It's under a huge blanket of snow. Needless to say, we didn't get to explore the beach like we had hoped, but we did enjoy our cozy cabin in Reynisfjara.

View from said cozy cabin in the southernmost point of Iceland:

At one point Jake said, "I feel like we are going to drive off the end of the world." It was true, we just drove and drove and drove but it was such beautiful scenery we could have driven forever.