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When we got married 20 years ago, I told my husband that for our 10th anniversary, I wanted to go to Europe and we did. For 20 years, I wanted to go to Fiji. We didn't, but that was my doing because we only had a week for vacation and I didn't want to spend days traveling.


So, where to? Well, for years, I have wanted to go to Iceland. He didn't. He didn't think there was anything to do; it was too rainy, and there were earthquakes and volcanos. Then, we watched the Netflix Show "Down to Earth" with Zac Efron. Guess where Zac went - yup, Iceland. And guess who wanted to go after watching the show - yup, my husband. 

Who knew there were so many direct flights from the US to Iceland? Icelandair has direct flights from 16 US cities, including Orlando, the city closest to us. It is a 7-hour flight going to Reykjavik (which, by the way, I can know spell) and 8 hours coming home. An interesting fact is that Icelandair has what's called a stopover. When you fly transatlantic with Icelandair, you can add a 1 to 7-day stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare. 



Day One - Reykjavik

We checked in 3 hours early at the Orlando airport for our 6:30 pm flight and sailed through security. We lounged in the Plaza Premium Lounge, which wasn't worth it. There was food, but it wasn't free and the lounge was more crowded than the airport gate waiting area. 


Icelandair has three classes - Saga, Economy Standard and Economy Light. Saga class is the equivalent of first-class, including two checked bags and one carry-on, food and drink. The only difference between Economy Standard and Lights is that Standard allows for one checked bag. We selected Economy Standard but upgraded to the seats in the front that had more legroom (The fee was $90 per seat to upgrade). We lucked out and had an empty seat between us, but it was a packed flight back home. The seats were roomy and I recommend paying for the more legroom seats.

The wind must have shorted our flight because we arrived at Keflavik Airport an hour early. We arranged for a car pick up at the airport through VIP Travel and our cute, elderly Icelandic driver met us with a smile, water and a 45-minute car ride to Reykjavik filled with Icelandic knowledge. There is also a bus called The FlyBus that goes to Reykjavik but we didn't want to chance it not running because we arrived so early.


When we arrived at our hotel, we were again greeted with a smile despite the early hours. We stayed at the Ion City Hotel (Marriott Design Collection) located in the heart of Reykjavik on Laugavegur Street, which is known as the "shopping street" and is filled with a variety of shops, hotels, restaurants and bakeries. Our room was not ready (we didn't expect it to be), so we freshened up in the hotel bathroom, changed into warmer clothes and headed out to Sandholt, a breakfast spot that received rave reviews. It did not disappoint. As the sun rose, we walked around, stopped at another cafe for coffee (at this point, we were up for 24 hours) and then visited the Icelandic Phallic Museum. Yes, there is a whole museum dedicated to the male sex organ. Visiting a penis museum when you have been up for 24 hours and punchy makes for a good time.


We met our food walking tour at 12:30. The tour was through Wake Up Reykjavik and my husband purchased it through work for free through an employee rewards program. We embarked on a 3-hour that took us to Messinn for Plokkfiskur (fish stew) and Artic Char, Islenski Barinn for fermented shark, Kjötsúpa (lamb soup) and black death (Brennivin, an Icelandic spirit), Cafe Loki for rye bread ice cream, Sjávargrillið for lobster tacos and Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (The City's Best Hotdog) for a lamb hot dog. The tour guide, Tanya, was terrific and provided fun facts about Iceland and its interesting food. We also met travelers from around the world who were in our group. We had doctors from Australia with Irish accents, a British couple who had just gotten married, a family from Pennsylvania, a couple from California and another from Chicago. I love hearing their stories!


We arrived back at the hotel and fell into bed. We were up for 31 hours and desperately needed sleep because we had an 11-hour tour the next day! The hotel was a boutique hotel with only 18 rooms. There was a lobby, but the hotel offered no amenities like a lounge or cafe. We stayed in a Junior Suite with a king bed and balcony with sauna. The bathroom had no door and the shower wall faced the bed. It was an odd layout, but it was big, clean and had a comfortable bed. 


Day Two - South Coast

The day started very early with a croissant and cappuccino from Bon. Bon is located in the Hotel Von on Laugavegur Street. After fueling up on carbs and caffeine, we walked to Bus stop 14 to wait for our tour bus to pick us up. The streets in the heart of Reykjavik are very narrow and most tours do not pick up directly at the hotel. Bus stop 14 was our go-to stop throughout the trip and a short walk from the hotel. 


Today was the South Coast Adventure Small Group tour with Nice Travel. The number of travelers is limited to 19 in the small group, allowing more time to spend at each location and feeling less like herded cattle. Christine was our tour guide, and she was amazing. The weather was not amazing, but it was true Icelandic weather - wet and windy. It rained all day and the wind was almost hurricane-force. We were prepared with our waterproof boots, jackets, hats and gloves. I have never been so drenched in my life, but the beauty of the sights made you forget about the weather. 


The van picked us up at 8:30 am and after a few hotel pick-ups, we were on our way to the South Coast via Ring Road. The road loops around the island and is the main route to travel between the larger towns. The first stop was ‎⁨Urridafoss. Foss means waterfall and there are 10,000 in Iceland. The waterfall is on the Þjórsá River, which is the longest river in Iceland and the waterfall is the most voluminous in the country. It's a popular spot for salmon fishing in the summer. The log book shows the type and number of fish fishermen have caught. 


The next stop was unplanned, but the driver wanted to avoid traffic (yes, Iceland has traffic, especially on Ring Road). The waterfall's name is Íráfoss and the water is from the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down air space in Europe. The wind was so strong that none of us could walk. We had to stand behind the van to block the wind. The vans are all equipped with crosswind assistance, so they don't tip over while driving - they need it! 


After safely returning to the van, we headed to Solheimajokull, an outlet glacier of the icecap Mýrdalsjökull. Most of the glaciers are melting and it's estimated that in 200 years, all the glaciers in Iceland will be gone. We didn't hike the glacier but just did a photo op. 


We got back on Ring Road and headed to ‎⁨Reynisfjara Beach⁩. The beach is one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland because of sneaker waves. Sneaker waves are huge coastal waves that can suddenly appear in a train of smaller waves. The waves drag you in and the sand and gravel weigh you down. The beach has zones and your tour guide will drill it into your head to obey them. The beach has beautiful black sand from the cooled lava and is also home to Reynisdrangar, three impressive basalt sea stacks formed when the lava cooled. During the summer months, the beach and cliffs are home to puffins. 


No one in our group was swept away and we made it to the town of Vik for our next stop. It's the southernmost town in Iceland and home to only 300 residents, but it is a popular tourist attraction. We stopped for lunch at the famous Black Crust Pizza and it was delicious.


Dyrhólaey⁩ Peninsula was the next stop and is famous for its staggering views of the South Icelandic Coast. ‎⁨The Dyrhólaey⁩ Arch is a massive rock arch. I kept looking for Kylo Ren, Rey, Luke and Yoda to appear because the location had a very Star Wars feel. The ‎⁨Dyrhólaey⁩ Lighthouse is still active and the lights can be seen every 10 seconds. 


At this point, we were so wet that we quickly lost our steam but carried on like true Icelanders. ‎⁨Skógafoss⁩, ⁨Gljufrabui and Seljalandsfoss were the last waterfalls. Game of Thrones fans might recognize Skógafoss⁩. It is one of the biggest waterfalls and it's overwhelming to stand next to it - you will get soaked, it's loud and you can feel its power. Gljufrabui is a hidden waterfall in a cave and you have to go through a small stream to climb inside, but it's well worth it. The last stop was Seljalandsfoss and I was all set to climb behind the waterfall when a massive gust of wind came along and the spray was like a wall of water hitting me. At this point, I learned that waterproof shoes are only waterproof when you step in the water, not when water pours in through the top. I hate to admit it, but at that point, I was done. We took some pictures but didn't climb behind it. I did get a cute pair of puffin socks from the gift store because I was soaked. I also had to put baggies on my feet when I put my feet back in my boots to walk back to the hotel. 


The ride back was about 2 hours and once we got back to the hotel, we dried off and put our boots on the radiator to dry. This is when Vinny discovered that his boots were falling apart and had to take a taxi to the 24-hour Iceland "Walmart" to buy new hiking boots. Once he got back, we ate at Sumac, a Lebanese restaurant with an Icelandic flair. The meal was delicious and we were exhausted, but it was a fantastic day. 


Day Three - Golden Circle

The day started early again with carbs and coffee (are you sensing a theme)? We again ate at Bon and then headed to Bus Stop 14. Today's tour was the Golden Circle with Nice Travel. 


The van picked us up at 8:30 am and we headed to the first stop - Þingvellir National Park (the funny-looking P is pronounced Th). This stunning park was only about 40 minutes from Reykjavik, but wow! The park is a UNESCO site and home to Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, established in 930 and continuing to meet at the site until 1798. It is also home to the best view of the edge of the North American tectonic plate. Many Game of Thrones fans should recognize the giant wall of stone. It is also home to the Drowning Pool, where Parliament punished women for adultery, incest and infanticide. We then took a short drive to stand on the Eurasian tectonic plate. Fun fact - Lake Þingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland and is located within the park. You can snorkel in the lake and touch both tectonic plates at the same time! We were not that adventurous. 


The next stop was the Geysir & Haukadalur Geothermal Area. At this location, hot water shoots out of the earth frequently and randomly. We saw Strokkur erupt and got wet as the water rained down on us. It's important to check the wind direction when standing around the geyser - we stood by our tour guide, who thought it was funny to stand on the side where we would all get wet. The water is hot when it comes out but cools instantly. We walked around and had a leisurely lunch (and bought me a new hat because I got soaked), then got back in the van to the next stop of Gullfoss.


Gullfoss is one of Iceland's most famous natural wonders. Gullfoss is a double-drop waterfall with a cascade of more than 30 meters, generating lots of spray as millions of gallons of water crash into a narrow ravine. The power of the waterfall is breathtaking. On sunny days, there is a rainbow spanning the falls. 


Our final stop was the Kerid Volcano Crater, but we first stopped to take pictures with the famous Icelandic horses. They are short, stout and cute, prompting many to call them ponies, but they are not. Icelanders get offended when their horses are called ponies. Their coat grows out in the winter and is very different from the sleek and shiny coats of other horses. 


The Kerid Crater was once a cone-shaped volcano. When it erupted, the volcano depleted its magma reserve, causing the foundation to collapse and eventually collect water. It is about 3,000 years old and is considered a "young" volcano, so the soil surrounding it is red and not black. 


It was a short ride back to Reykjavik and we were starving. We had dinner at Kol, one of Iceland's top-rated restaurants. My husband was brave and had the reindeer, but I stuck to steak. The food was delicious. I was pleasantly surprised by the food. I thought it would be a lot of bland fish, but it was anything but. 


We did not have a tour for the next day as all the tours were canceled because Iceland was going to be under a yellow wind warning, which is the equivalent of the winds of a tropical storm. After several nonstop days, it was nice not to set the alarm! 

Day Four - Reykjavik


The day did not start early but it did start with carbs and coffee. We went back to Sandholt because it was just so good! The tours of the Geothermal Park and the Northern Lights were canceled due to weather. It's common for tours to be canceled because of weather, especially in the winter, but all the tours provide refunds or offer another date. Unfortunately, the Geothermal Park tour is only offered once a week, so that we couldn't reschedule. We didn't reschedule the Northern Lights tour because the tour was only left out of Reykjavik, and we were going to be on the south side of the island for the last two days. 


We decided to do the Hop On Hop Off bus and ride around Reykjavik in a heated bus, sheltered from the wind. The wind is no joke. Sometimes, you couldn't just had to brace yourself against the wind and wait for the gust to pass. We took the bus to Perlan, Iceland's nature museum. The museum sits on six water tanks that were once used to store the city's geothermal water. We spent about 2 hours in the museum exploring the planetarium ice cave and walked (or tried to walk through the wind) on the observation deck. We were supposed to get back on the Hop On Hop Off bus, but after waiting 30 minutes for the bus to return, we decided to get a tax instead. It was way too windy to stand outside any longer!


We returned to Messinn for lunch because we both wanted a warm bowl of soup and fish stew. One thing I loved about the restaurants is that they gave water in decorative bottles. I started taking pictures of all the different bottles, but then I got distracted and stopped. After warming up and feeding our bellies, we walked around Reykjavik's government district. The Alþingishúsið, or Parliament House, was built in 1880 and has Iceland's oldest public garden. We also saw the first church built in Iceland, and the organist played while we were there. We did some (ok, a lot) of souvenir shopping and then returned to the hotel for a nap. For those who know me, it's shocking that this is the first day I have taken a nap. It was much needed! After the nap, we headed out to Rosso Pomodoro - Vinny's choice. It was my least favorite meal, but my husband wanted to try the pizza. We sat in the sauna and looked for the Northern Lights, but it was way too cloudy.