We Closed Our Eyes and Threw a Dart at The World Map and Hit Iceland, well…not exactly
The title came to me when I remembered a quote from a movie about randomly choosing the next destination for travel. Maybe it was from the film: ‘Up in the Air.’
Maybe the idea of random travel is not all that uncommon in film. The romantic notion of just following one’s heart and living passionately is practically cliche in film.
But a trip to a country that we knew nothing about seemed as random as blindly throwing a dart at a board.
I never thought that I’d ever set foot in the land that the early viking settlers called ‘smokey bay,’ which is due to the steam rising from the hot springs and what is now known as Reykjavik, the capital city.
Reykjavik literally means ‘smokey bay,’ and was aptly named by its most famous first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson in the year 871, give or take a year or two.
I’m no history scholar of Iceland. I obtained my information from the Reykjavik City Guide, a free tour guide that I plucked from downtown.
But I’m very happy (as was my family) that we spent a week on this Nordic island.
Iceland has a unique beauty in the summertime: lots of sunshine and perfect sweater weather. It hovered right around mid-fifties all week.
It never really got hot, even with more than 100 active volcanoes, and some of the greatest geysers in the world it remained comfortably cool.
We spent one week in the south and southwest parts of Iceland, where traveling via rental car, was mostly without incident. I almost hit a lamb that impulsively darted out in front of me on a beautiful stretch of highway.
But I managed to swerve around it.
Other then that the only surprise was that it cost an eye-popping $810 for the rental car for six days and $100 dollars to fill the tank!
If we had reserved the rental car just a couple of days in advance, instead of doing so upon arrival, it would have cost considerably less, almost $150 less.
I feel obligated to issue another warning: if you do not know how to drive a stick-shift find a friend who does and learn fast.
Automatic transmission vehicles are in short supply in Iceland. I previously drove a stick for nearly a decade. But it’s not advisable to try to learn on a rental car in another country.
But why rent a car when you can take guided tours from locals?
Well, that depends on how adventurous you are.
In this writer’s somewhat biased opinion, it’s more adventurous to strike out on your own. Secondly, you get to form your own perspective on where and what you visit.
If you visit during the summer months-like we did-the weather is more predictable.
If you visit Iceland between September and mid-April, when you’re more likely to glimpse the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), due to the full dark skies, there are myriad outdoor options to pursue.
A local I had spoken with had said: ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes’. Apparently that’s a common joke among Icelanders. The weather warnings were regular, and bordering on frequent, upon arrival at the Keflavik International Airport.
The weather can be as fickle as a five-year-old at a smorgasbord-changing frequently and often without warning-from pleasant and sunny to windy and rainy within a few minutes.
Many people think that Iceland is constantly freezing cold but that is not the case.
Iceland actually enjoys a much milder climate than its name suggests. This is partly due to the Gulf Stream that flows along the west and south of Iceland, bringing warmth all the way from the Caribbean.
Unfortunately though, the mild Atlantic air mixes with the cold Arctic air coming from the north, which causes sudden and frequent changes in the weather. It also means that there’s a lot of wind and storm in Iceland and that the south part of the country gets more rainfall than the north.
Another notable fact is that Iceland is situated right on top of one of the earth’s hotspots. Iceland is a country of incredible geothermal activity and has many hot springs, mud pools, geysers, volcanoes and occasional earthquakes.
It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates meet on the earth’s surface.
Iceland sits at the boundary of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, known as the mid-Atlantic ridge. The country is divided into two by the two plates. The divide runs through the middle of the country and is quite visible at Pingvellir National Park.
At some point between 16 and 18 million years ago, two great tectonic plates began to move apart, allowing magma to rise and solidify, creating the island known as Iceland.
You can go diving or snorkeling (here), between the two continents. Snorkeling or diving at Silfra, in the fissure between the tectonic plates is a really special experience.
Silfra is consistently rated as a world top 10 diving and snorkeling destination, as there is literally nowhere else in the world where you can dive in between tectonic plates.
Scientists say that in a few billion years, Iceland will be split in two. So you’d better hurry!
Iceland’s Iconic Blue Lagoon…
Not surprisingly, the country’s most iconic destination is pricey. Tickets to the geothermal spa range from $55 (standard package), which basically gets you in-the-door, to a $530 (luxury package), which grants access to the exclusive lounge among a couple of other perks.
We opted for the $95 per person (premium package). This package includes a robe, slippers, a towel and also one free drink: alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks included. Plan ahead and forget the price.
Don’t be. It’s more than worth the price of admission.
It’s open every day of the year, but pre-book your tickets at least three days in advance. The spa is located between Reykjavik and Keflavik International Airport. Getting there is easy.
There are bus transfers to and from the lagoon, Reykjavik and Keflavik International. It was a relatively short and enjoyable 45 minute car ride from just outside Reykjavik. The short jaunt from the parking lot to the entrance was simply breathtaking.
After waiting in line for maybe 10 minutes, we scanned our wristbands, which serve as locker keys/in-water credit cards, to be used for drinks and refreshments at the swim-up bar.
Next, we headed to the locker rooms where all spa visitors are required to take a naked, full-body shower. That’s common practice at all Icelandic pools.
After showering, we were met by stunning views of the geothermal paradise, just prior to immersion in soothing temperatures ranging from 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. We quickly realized that the outside temperatures were a non-factor.
We enjoyed nearly three hours of soothing bliss replete with drinks, silica mud masks and no timetable for departure. Spa visitors can stay for as long as they desire. The silica mud masks are applied to the face and body, for at least five minutes, before washing it off with the lagoon water.
If you want a break from the pool, there’s a sauna and steam area to relax in, as well as an indoor lounge area. We took a break after nearly three hours for a light lunch at their cafe.
Looking back on our trip to the Blue Lagoon I cannot help but to think of it as the perfect way to relax after a long flight or just before returning home. You, too, should make the trip to this geothermal paradise.
Our first European family vacation will certainly not be our last. In fact, we will likely return in the winter so that we may enjoy a snow-covered perspective, and of course, a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of the Northern Lights.
If you haven’t already, avail yourself to this often-overlooked land of unrelenting beauty. You can thank me later for the recommendation!