1st Day- So Many Things to Do in Iceland

View outside of Northern Lights Inn

The Exhausting Voyage – Overnight Flight to Iceland

    After seeing online photos of the stark colors and surreal landscapes of Iceland, I became obsessed. I read guide books and websites and pored over maps for weeks. I finally got my passport and booked my trip.

     I’m not a fan of flying and was traveling overseas for the 1st time with my cousin Lesa. In order to avoid the extra take offs and landings that go with a layover, I opted for us to take an 8 hour bus ride to Minneapolis, then the 6 and a half hour flight to Reykjavik. It was a long, sleepless day and night, and we were arriving at 10:00 a.m. Iceland time.(about 3 a.m. inside our bodies) 

     By the time we landed, my eyes were unfocused and my head seemed stuffed with cotton. After being awake around 23 hours, we made our way to the airport duty free shop to stock up on beer, as I had read liquor stores were scarce around the country and we would be traveling 10 days and over 800 miles around Ring Road. We also needed local SIM cards for our phones.

A Little Nap at the Northern Lights Inn

     We rented a car at the airport, declining the extra fees for wi fi and gps, figuring we have our phones, why pay more?  We headed across lava fields and landscape that seemed ‘not from Earth’, towards Grindavik where our hotel was located. Blinking to shake the brain fog, I focused on the road ahead, awe-struck at the endless lava rock around us. Lesa had the Northern Lights Inn coordinates plugged into her phone. 

    We arrived at the inn around noon and the desk clerk took pity on our raggedy selves, now awake over 24 hours and let us check in early. We made our way to our rooms, expecting to drop everything off and go see everything on my day 1 agenda. 

     Once in the room, I struggled to comprehend the most basic tasks due to the heavy wet curtain draped over my brain from lack of sleep. I opted for an hour and a half nap.

A Little Adventure out in the World-First Stop…Nesjavellir Iceland

    When I woke, too excited to waste the day, I was ready to head out. Lesa wanted to nap more and instructed me to go without her. We had reservations at the Blue Lagoon that evening so I wouldn’t go too far.

     Driving on the roads near Grindavik was a thrill. The sky somehow seemed different, the ground covered in mossy lava rock and lack of trees. The road was a 2 lane, with no shoulder and a bit of a drop off on the sides. 

     I wound through the moon-rock looking landscape passing a red geothermal pipeline. The Nesjavellir pipeline is a 27 kilometer long steel pipeline that provides power to Reykjavik from the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant.

Iceland’s Geothermal Nesjavellir Pipeline

Kirkjugardar Sea-Side Cemetery 

 I was heading towards Kirkjugardar cemetery and then Krysuvik geothermal field in the area. There was a certain thrill to be riding through the barren lava rocks with no other people in sight, on a gravel pitted road alone. Feeling small but somehow empowered, I excitedly found the cemetery. 

     Kirkjugardar was old with an iron gate. The grass under me was surprisingly spongy and squishy with a lot of give. There were plots with heavy iron chains around them and the whole site overlooked the cerulean sea. The ruins of a fishing village in the distance. I snapped a few photos and breathed the cool air. 

Wait a minute…The GPS worked in the Hotel Parking Lot

     Ready to move on, I plugged in the next location into my gps and found I had no wi fi and my mapping was useless. My stomach dropped and I briefly wondered if I could find the geothermal Gunnuhver or even my way back to the hotel. I reasoned…I didn’t come here to nap or go back without seeing things.

     I took out my paper map which I had spent the last 3 months studying and planning. I got my bearings and located Gunnuhver, then headed further out, excited but nervous, determined to see what I came here to see. 

     As I wove through winding narrow roads, I began seeing the steam rising in the far distance and flashes of turquoise water. Well before I reached the geothermal area, I saw a seemingly carved wooden cross with a sign for another item on my list, Brimketill, (about 10 km away Grindavik) and I turned off. 

Brimketill-A Soaking Pool for Giants

     Brimketill is a natural pool that sits at the bottom of a seaside cliff in the south end of the Reykjanes peninsula. It was one of the things I was super excited to see. I parked and began to navigate my way across the hardened lava rocks. It was easy at first, the rocks relatively flat and close together. As I got closer to the water, some of the rifts between rocks grew wider and seemingly bottomless. There was nothing to grab for stability so I focused my concentration on my feet and not tripping. Step, step step…stop and take a picture…step, step step. As I looked back from where I had come, the random thought came, what if I couldn’t make it back?

     Taking a deep breath and shaking away those thoughts, I step-stepped my way, in my flippies to the side of the cliff. Looking down, I could see the contrast of the lava rock against the sea. It looked like nature’s hot tub for a giant. Happy to have gotten to the edge, I took a moment to just enjoy it.

     After navigating my way back across the jagged rocks, I located Gunnuhver on my map and headed in, what I hoped was the right direction.

Mudpots and Steamvents…Gunnuhver, Now We’re Talking…

     Back on the road, I followed the map and the steam and found my way. Gunnuhver has wood plank trails over the geothermal mud pots and steam vents. The steam carried a strong sulfur smell. In the distance, a neon turquoise body of water shone against the rust streaked ground. Patches of yellow and cinnamon minerals marbled along the landscape, and sections of mud were streaming and boiling.

     After hiking the paths, I mapped my way back in the direction of the Northern Light Inn, driving in places that I wasn’t sure was really a road. Feeling pretty proud to actually make it back with only a paper map and limited road signs.

    Lesa was still resting when I got there, but it was almost time for our Blue Lagoon reservation so we got ready quickly and headed out.

Dining at the Blue Lagoon Grindavik Iceland

     According to the Blue Lagoon website, they can sell out weeks in advance. We wanted to guarantee our soak, so I had our tickets secured for months. The lagoon was only a few minutes from the inn and as we got closer, small shocks of unearthly blue water began to appear in streams and ponds between the black rock. Excitement bubbled inside me…it didn’t seem real.

     We hadn’t eaten since the plane and decided to have a quick sandwich in the Blue Lagoon food area. It was cafeteria-like, with plastic trays to slide along and grab what you want to eat. Lesa and I were not 100% confident in prepackaged sandwiches but we each grabbed a tomato and cheese, being vegetarians, and hoped for the best. 

     The sandwich was surprisingly good, a soft Italian loaf with slices of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato with a pesto sauce. From the seating area, you could see the soakers in the lagoon and outside, the walking paths that led through many of the geothermal areas.

The Soak of Our Dreams at the Famous Iceland Blue Lagoon

     It was finally time, the soak we had been waiting for. The girl behind the counter explained the rules. A naked shower is required before putting on your swimsuit. She referenced the cartoon poster that highlighted the essential anatomy areas that needed special soap attention. No shoes allowed. If we wanted drinks we could purchase wristbands. We had 3 hours.

     We suited up and appropriately scrubbed in the locker room and made our way out to the lagoon. I couldn’t stop smiling when we stepped into the cool air, electric blue water steaming in front of us.

     It was 47°outside, we stepped into the hot sulphery water, warmth engulfing us as we submerged ourselves. We lurked at the edge as instructed and soon, an employee came by, checked our wristbands and brought us beer.

    We happily made our way through the azure liquid, tension melting, towards the mineral mud mask area. There is a walk up stand set up in the water where they give soakers a scoop of mineral and seaweed paste.

     “Rub it over your face, neck and arms.” We were instructed. “Let it dry, then rinse it off and come back for the next step.”

     We did as we were told and walked, paste-faced through the accessible sections of the lagoon. There were extremely warm areas and somewhat cool areas. We top-ranked through chin deep water, beers held high, under bridges and through grotto areas, the blue green water almost glowing around us. After our rinse and follow up coat of mineral/seaweed paste, we headed to a walk up bar in the water and showed our bracelets for a refill. 

Drifting Off in the Land of Midnight Sun

     After our 3 hours, we were warm and exhausted from the long day. It was 11 pm and the late June sun was just setting. We walked the paths around the lagoon and then headed back to the hotel. After changing, we were knocked out within minutes. There was a full agenda the next day and we definitely needed to rest up.


Click here to read what happens when we hit the road on Day 2 Iceland

Click here to join me on a monkey business adventure in Gibraltar

Click here for lava fields and and Iceland canyon adventure


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