Where the Hot Springs Flow
This summer, a few of our friends were talking about taking advantage of some low fares on WOW airlines and heading to Iceland. They invited us along and a couple of months later, on one of the hottest days of the year we were at the airport with our winter coats boarding a very purple plane.
Both WOW and Iceland air offer free layovers on flights from the US to Europe which has created a niche in their tourism industry for quick trips such as ours. We planned a two night stay, leaving Boston on a Friday evening, arriving in Iceland early the following morning and going back home Monday afternoon. We found a lovely Airbnb right in downtown Reykjavik, near old town and the main drag Laugavegur. The international airport in Iceland, KEF, is located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik and while taxis, group transfers and busses are readily available, they are expensive, so we decided to rent a van and get around on our own.We arrived at the modern, clean and very quiet KEF around 4am, and headed over to the rental car shuttle and piled into our clown car for the weekend.
Having a group of 10 people, we had several must-see’s and one of them was a soak in the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is just 20 minutes from the airport and it’s common to make that a first or last stop of an Iceland adventure. We decided to start there since we’d be going right when it opened and before it got crowded. But we had a few hours before the 8am opening so we decided explore the KEF area. The villages nearby are sleepy and small, but we found a guest house that was open and offered breakfast. We grabbed some coffee and tea and headed to the continental divide right around sunrise. This was such a great introduction to Iceland! It is barren, dramatic and majestic. Iceland is full of volcanos, so the terrain is very moon-like. Similar to Big Island in Hawaii but … greener. The continental divide is an area where the Eurasian and North American continental plates meet. It is not grand like the tectonic plates that created the Appalachian/Rockies/etc., but it was spectacular nonetheless. There’s a little bridge that “connects” the continents and beautiful sand and rock formations all around. We explored, played and then headed towards the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is spectacular. Iceland is full of geothermal activity and it is this activity that fuels the hot mineral-rich pools of the lagoon. The water is a milky ice-blue color and roughly 100*F. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland so it’s best to book in advance. We booked a week in advance and, while our preferred time was available, peak times in the day had already sold out!
We opted for the “comfort” package which included a towel and one drink. There is a Premium package that includes a bath robe, slippers, etc. but those did not seem necessary. When you arrive at the Lagoon, you’re checked in, given a wrist band that serves as your digital locker key and form of payment. Having a shower before entering the lagoon is a requirement, so we headed to the lockers rooms, dropped off our stuff, showered and changed into bathing suits. (An important note: the minerals in the water are great for you but will make your hair stiff, can damage prescription sunglasses and irritate contact lenses, I wore my contacts and did not have any trouble. As far as hair was concerned, I glopped on a bunch of conditioner, which is provided in the showers, before and after my soak. My hair was still kind of crunchy after, but my curls loved it… It was like an intense texture spray… thickness, definition just not super touchable).
Once you’re rinsed and ready, you can enter the lagoon from one of the decks outside or from an indoor transition area. It was pretty chilly outside, so we used the indoor entrance. Once outside, we finally were able to soak in the experience. The lagoon is large with a very organic shape so you can walk/swim around to the bars, nooks and mud mask area. Entry to the lagoon includes a mineral mask that you put on your face for 5-10 minutes. It tingles a bit and feels so good. There is also a complementary moisturizing algae mask that was very soothing, especially after a long week, a red-eye flight and an early morning road trip. We chose to start at one of the bars for our free drink (prosecco, wine, beer, cider and soft drinks are all available), then descended onto the mud mask hut like the walking dead. We slathered each other with mud then popped over to a blue lagoon employee for a complementary group photo. One more group slither/swim back to the bar (who says happy hour can’t start at 8am?), an aloe mask and an exploratory swim to check out the far reaches of the lagoon and we were cooked. Relaxed and pruned, we showered, checked out and headed for Reykjavik.
Reykjavik is a storybook city. It is perfectly Scandinavian in style and atmosphere. The houses and buildings are primarily made from corrugated steel and stone, a mixture of historic and modern but not much in between. The Airbnb we stayed in is actually one of the oldest houses in Reykjavik and the stone used in its basement is the same that was used to build the parliament in town. We parked the van, met the property’s caretaker and headed out to find lunch in old town.
We came across a small gastro-pub called Saeta Svinid. After the first round of drinks (mine was the most delicious mojito I’ve ever had, made with passion fruit and mint) we decided to be adventurous and try a local delicacy: puffin. Iceland offers dishes that may seem taboo to some such as puffin, horse, whale and sheep balls. I swing between being adventurous and feeling guilty about eating Bambi so the puffin was a mixed experience. It was served cold in some type of herbal berry sauce. To me, it looked like very smooth, thinly sliced liver. I couldn’t figure out the taste, but the texture was very smooth and slimy, sort of like octopus but much more tender. Final verdict: I didn’t like it and felt bad about eating a cute little puffin. Perhaps if it was tastier I wouldn’t have felt as guilty. But it definitely put me off experimenting with the horse or whale meat this time around. We did learn, though, that horse meat is similar in taste to other red meats such as beef and bison, and very tender. Perhaps next time? The rest of our meal got rave reviews from the group. I had a flavorful roasted cauliflower soup and the Mann has one of the best burgers of all time.
With the energy of the trip’s first meal, we hit the streets of Reykjavik. We spent the afternoon mainly on Laugavegur checking out the shops, bars and street art.
Our first stop was a little bar called Olstofan then onto Lebowski Bar. Lebowski Bar is named after the movie and decorated with old Playboy magazine covers, Big Lebowski memorabilia and traditional pin ups. They serve the broadest selection of White Russians I’ve ever seen.
Our final stop was Boston, where we hung out on a rooftop patio and listened to a band playing a party downstairs.
The Mann and I peeled off for a while to spend more time exploring the side streets and alleys which are covered in murals and graffiti.
Our final stop of the night was at an Italian restaurant around the corner from our house, Primo. We were seated in their private Mafia room (most restaurants in town are quite small, and finding a place to accommodate all of us without reservations was a bit tricky). It had started to rain and got pretty chilly and raw, so traditional Italian food was especially comforting. We started with a few different bruschetta, cheeses and many bottles of wine. Eating, drinking and chatting with our friends was the perfect ending to a super-sized day.
Stay tuned for day 2! Waterfalls, black sand beaches, northern lights and so much more!
Keywords: Adventure, Bars, Blue Lagoon, Bowling, Burgers, Europe, Graffiti, Iceland, Lebowski Bar, Murals, Pin-ups, Reykjavik, Road Trip, Sunrise, Wow Airlines, airbnb, weekend
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