Tuesday, November 22, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 1

Iceland was beyond what I had imagined it would be. Clearly, I did an embarrassing amount of research prior to going because I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible, so I had seen photo after photo, I had watched dozens of videos, and none of it had prepared me for the beauty of Iceland. I made a pretty intensive itinerary before we left, taking into account the sunrise and sunset times, taking advantage of twilight, and trying to schedule our days efficiently so that we could see all that we wanted to see. And even though we didn't get to everything, we saw all the priority sites on our list so I'm calling this trip a success.

It was difficult to take a bad photo there because it was so beautiful. But, the photos I'm sharing won't do the landscapes justice. This blabbery preface is just to say that you need to go. You will love it. I really want to go back, except the next time I go, I want to visit during the summer so I can see puffins and the midnight sun. But I also want to go back during northern lights season.
We flew in on Sunday night, got picked up by the rental car company, got settled in with our vehicle, and then headed straight to our hotel.
LAGOON CAR RENTAL
I had an okay experience with Lagoon Car Rental. The car itself was in great shape and they comped me a portable wifi device for late response to my emails when I was initially booking the car, so that was great. However, no one was actually waiting for us at the airport, as promised, and instead I had to call them so they got points off for that.
Also, one of our tires got punctured on a gravel road (didn't blow out, just air hissing from a leak in the tire) and we used the spare and were charged to replace it completely ($200). Not the biggest deal in the world, but I expect that they're going to just repair the puncture and that money will be pocketed. Why do I think that? Well, they said if I'd just gotten the puncture patched, they wouldn't have charged me. And a little credit to me and my honesty: they wouldn't have even known about the puncture except that I pointed it out after our car passed the inspection upon return. I wanted to be a good person and not ruin someone else's trip if they ended up with that car with a faulty spare. Plus I was sympathetic because Lagoon is supposedly a family-owned operation.

It should be noted though, I emailed them when we initially had the tire troubles and didn't receive a response at all to my inquiries and since they didn't know about it when we got there, they obviously hadn't checked their emails. And I find this insane because this wasn't even peak season so I'm pretty certain their responsiveness is probably horrible in the summer. I have mixed feelings about them; they're a decent company to work with but their customer service is seriously lacking. Take from my experience what you will.

BERGAS GUESTHOUSE
Because we landed so late, I chose a hotel nearby in Keflavik. It was clean, comfortable, and convenient; the three C's I always look for in every hotel. We stayed in a triple room with a private bath and it even had a little kitchenette area.
We arrived quite late, after reception had closed, so we were given instructions via email how to enter and get our keys and get settled in. We were also given instructions on how to check out if we were to leave prior to reception opening. I found all of this extremely helpful and gave this place two checks for hospitality and service, despite not interacting face-to-face with any staff at all.

ÞINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
Our first day in Iceland really began on Monday morning. We got up bright and early before the sun and started our drive towards some of the sights of the Golden Circle. It rained really hard that day, which kind of sucked, but we sort of felt like we were just paying our dues and we ended up with decent weather the rest of the time so we were thankful for that.
After a short hike, we ended up turning around and leaving. We didn't spend too much time here because the rain was too annoying and also, we had a strict schedule to follow. Because we had such limited daylight (between 7 to 8 hours, plus an hour of twilight on either end) we had to adhere to our schedule if we wanted to see everything on our list.
STROKKUR GEYSIR
Our second stop of the day was at the well-known Strokkur geyser (strokkur means "churn" in Icelandic), which erupts every 6 to 10 minutes. We arrived just as it was erupting; the stream shot up 15 feet in the air. It erupted two more times while we were there, but they were much smaller flares.
There's a second geyser, simply known as Geysir, but its eruptions are erratic and infrequent so unless you're really lucky, you'll only see it at rest. We stood here for a good five minutes before someone much more knowledgable let us know the last time it erupted was several years ago.
GULLFOSS
Our third and final site in the Golden Circle was Gullfoss. By the time we got there, it was lunchtime so we hit up the cafe before we went to the falls. I hadn't realized that they offer free refills so I ended up spending way more than necessary. But in the end, I didn't really mind; all of these natural sites are free to visit so I figured this was my way of contributing a little cash to the cause. Anyway, the lamb stew was super hearty and delicious. We also tried the mushroom soup and it was fantastic as well; it was rich and creamy and totally hit the spot. It was the perfect meal for a rainy day.
The falls were really majestic, but I feel like there wasn't a really good viewing point to get up close and personal. There was a path that looks like it's probably open in the summer but it was closed for us.
SELJALANDSFOSS
Our second waterfall of the day was Seljalandsfoss. It's one of the more iconic falls and I wish I could've gotten a shot with some gorgeous sunshine behind it, but I just did the best I did with what I was given. We had zero qualms about walking behind the falls because we were already soaked from the rain anyway and honestly, it was loads of fun.
SKÓGAFOSS
Our third (and final) waterfall of the day, not counting the dozens we saw while we were driving, was the huge Skógafoss. It was really huge and beautiful, but a little underwhelming after the fun we had at Seljalandsfoss. There is a stairway to the right of the falls that allows you to climb to the top, but I couldn't see the benefit in viewing the falls from that angle.
DYRHÓLAEY
The last stop on our itinerary was Dyrhólaey. We were supposed to be able to see a really cool rock with an arched hole in it but it was so insanely foggy, it looked like the we were just looking out into a blank abyss. Luckily, we got to enjoy the cute lighthouse and on our way back, we stopped in the shallows that made it look like we could walk on water.
KJARVAL
After a full day of sites and rain, we headed into Vik, where we were spending the night. Before going to our hotel, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some road trip snacks. The stores have some odd hours (10AM to 7PM) so we had to get there before it closed.
ICELANDAIR HOTEL VIK
I found that there were only a handful of hotels to choose from in each location and I always ended up just picking the one with the best reviews, as price-wise, they were all quite similar. Icelandair Hotel Vik had great reviews and rightly so. The room was comfortable, clean, cozy, and it was in a convenient location. After we checked in, we promptly made reservations at the adjoining restaurant and then booked it to our room to peel off our wet clothing.
BERG RESTAURANT
The restaurant was much fancier than we expected, but it was great. To begin, we were given an antipasto amuse bouche (a mixture of hams and salami tossed in a light vinaigrette) and some vanilla butter to go with a few slices of fresh bread.

For our appetizers, we shared the langoustine soup and the seared scallop and langoustine. If langoustine is available while you're in Iceland, go for it. It's unbelievably delicious. If you've never had langoustine, it has really delicate, sweet meat and it's kind of like lobster but it's also kind of like shrimp, but better than both.
For my entree, I got the seared arctic char with clam risotto. There were some smears of squid ink on the plate, which added a nice, briny flavor to each bite. The risotto was well-made, super flavorful and delicious. And the fish was fantastic. I'm not usually a fan of pink fishes, like char and salmon, but this was so fresh and delicate.
M got the Icelandic bouillabaisse for her main. It was really hearty and full of a variety of seafood. The broth was so delicious and it was best enjoyed by soaking it up with chunks of buttered bread.
Dad got the redfish with potato. The fish was really lovely and prepared really well. Again, there was no fishiness at all; it just tasted super fresh and awesome.
For dessert, we got the beetroot chocolate cake with the beetroot mousse. It was actually really good. The sweetness and earthiness of the beets complemented the chocolate nicely. And honestly, it just hit the spot to have a really full-on meal after a long day of hanging out in the rain.
After dinner, we tucked into bed and had a well-deserved sleep.

Here's my travel map:

Here's my video diary:

xoxo.

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