Iceland – Part I

Azim and I were fortunate enough to visit Iceland this past August. We were there to celebrate one of my favourite people in the world getting married to the love of her life 🙂 It was an incredible trip – one of the most memorable that Azim and I have taken together.
Below are emails and photos that I sent to my family while we were away. I guess I can’t stop writing –  even if I’m not blogging I still love to record my memories. Never stop doing what you love!

Day 1 – Reykjavík

 

We arrived at around 6:30AM at Keflavik airport and went straight to retrieve our luggage and find our rental car. Keflavik was absolutely packed with people – Iceland has truly become a hot destination with a 20+% increase in tourists every year for the past five years. The airport was a little disorganized, so we made a note to leave earlier than we were planning to for our return flight home.
After getting into our cute little rental car, we blasted some tunes and hit the road. We drove for 45 minutes through beautiful greenery and rocky fields until we reached Reykjavik and our incredible hotel (ION city hotel). Azim parallel parked on the street, and we brought our luggage in for storage so we could explore the city a little bit.
We walked down Laugavegur street (main shopping street) where our hotel was located, and went to see Hallgrímskirkja church. It’s very geometric and simple looking from the outside, and the inside is designed similarly. White, bright, with lots of clean lines. We wandered in and were lucky enough to catch the organ player practicing! It was like stumbling upon a free concert J I felt very peaceful sitting in one of the pews, admiring the utilitarian architecture, and listening to the powerful organ filling the space.
Afterwards, we found a bakery to try some delicious baked goods, and then headed back to the hotel for a rest. We did the opposite of what my dad advised us to do in order to overcome jetlag – we crashed for 5 hours and woke up around 4PM! No regrets though, since the hotel was nice and luxe and the bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. We woke up just in time for our dinner reservation.
Azim did his research ahead of time and booked us a table at Kol. People say eating out in Iceland is outrageously expensive…and they’re right (my cocktail was ~$30), but it was some of the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten in my life. I opted to go all out and had the tasting menu – Icelandic scallops, beef two ways, and white chocolate cheesecake. Everything was prepared and presented perfectly. It was fine dining for sure. A highlight for me was the meltingly good beef tenderloin, and the tender beef brisket which was rolled into some type of paper thin crepe. Azim’s perch and langoustine (shrimp) were also to die for. I’ll add this as a “must do” for anyone visiting Reykjavík!
Everything closes very early in Iceland, so we weren’t able to do any shopping. Instead, we walked down to the Old Harbour and visited the Harpa concert hall. This is one of the most famous buildings in Iceland. It’s made of steel and coloured glass, and is inspired by the basalt columns found on Iceland’s coastlines. It’s a beautiful space, and reminded me of our Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.
After our long day, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. The sun set around 10:30PM, and the sky wasn’t completely dark until much later, so we used the blackout blinds in the hotel. We had another long day ahead of us!

Day 2 – Golden Circle

 

We started with Öxarárfoss, in Þingvellir National Park. Öxarárfoss was a highlight of the day for me because we trekked down through a little valley between tectonic plates to reach it. How cool! Words cannot describe how incredible this was. Picture this: the waterfall pours into a shallow pool, and then runs into a little stream between the tectonic plates with lots of jagged rocks sticking out, and flowers on the grassy banks. I felt like I was in Middle Earth.
For GoT fans – One scene in season 4 shows Arya and the Hound ending their journey to find Arya’s Aunt Lysa in the Vale, only to discover at the Bloody Gate (the entrance to her kingdom) that she has died. The trail to Öxarárfoss is the Bloody Gate.
From Öxarárfoss we drove deeper into Þingvellir National Park. The history behind this UNESCO World Heritage site is pretty amazing. It was here that the Vikings established the the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alþing in 930 AD. The meetings were conducted outdoors, and this site was used until 1271 when it was stripped of its legislative powers. However, it still functioned as a courtroom until 1798!! Eventually, it was moved to Reykjavik.
The park is absolutely stunning, with fissures, chasms, and cliffs galore. We wandered around, trying not to take pictures of every single thing J It took us at least an hour and a half to explore and I still don’t think we spent enough time at every stop. If we had more time, I think I would have opted to snorkel in the water between the tectonic plates. Apparently it’s very clear, and although it doesn’t boast colourful wildlife, the rock formations are incredible. Also for GoT fans – the pass to the inpregnable Eyrie is actually found in the Park.
After Þingvellir we made our way to a farm for lunch. I stopped along the way to take some pictures of friendly horses – they came right up to me! Azim also stopped to take some pictures of fluffy sheep…they were not as friendly.
We ate at Efstidalur II, a working dairy farm with a restaurant and icecream shop attached. It was literally farm-to-table dining; eating out in Iceland isn’t cheap, but I really feel like it’s worth it. The restaurant was rustic but beautiful, and had windows looking into the barn where the cows ate. I have to admit, it was a little strange to be biting into my deliciously juicy burger while watching the cows…but man, was it a good burger (sorry, vegetarian friends). We stopped for an icecream too, and ate it while walking around the farm. It was a lot of fun, and definitely another stop I’d recommend for food. After that it was back in the car to continue along the Golden Circle.
We made it to Geysir, and realized it smelled like farts. Azim pointed out that I could fart and blame it on the thermal water, and no one would know J I did not do that, of course.
Great Geysir was not active, but Strokkur (a smaller geyser nearby) was spouting water 30m into the air! It was so cool. We only spent about 30 minutes here. There were many tourists, and it was starting to get chilly. Definitely worth seeing, but I’m glad we spent more time in Þingvellir than at Geysir.  
From there we went to our last stop on the Circle – Gullfoss. This majestic waterfall has a double cascade and flows into a river. When we visited, the sky was starting to turn stormy and the wind was very strong so we were completely soaked before we even got close to the falls. We snapped a few pictures and ventured as far as we could get before having to turn back. On a sunnier day I think we could have trekked to the top, but it was getting slippery and very cold! From where we stood, it was still an incredible sight.
After Gullfoss, we drove to our hotel in Hveragerði called the Frost and Fire Guesthouse. This was one of the highlights of the trip for SURE.
Our room had floor to ceiling windows on two sides, with a view of the rolling hills with geothermal spouts and constant steam rising out of them. Next to that, and directly in front of our room we could see the river Varma. A warm and shallow body of water that we could hear with our windows open. It was stunning.
Even better was the hot tub located right on the river bank. We soaked and watched the sun set slowly over the hills. I’ll never forget that moment.
Up next, Azim’s favourite part of the trip – chasing waterfalls! Thanks for reading 🙂 xoxo

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