31st, Mar 2013 @ 11:03 pm
I had a surprisingly amazing time in Iceland. I don't really have a bucket list, but if I did have one, seeing the aurora would be high on it. Ever since I first saw a picture of it, I knew it was something I had to see with my own eyes. I always love things that glow, and the thought that something can glow so brilliantly across the sky just amazed me.
I went on this trip trying not to get my hopes up. Trying to see the aurora was basically the only reason we decided to visit Iceland in the winter, but I also knew a lot of luck was involved. I figured the more times I try, the better chance I will have of seeing it, so this was attempt number one.
Day 1 - Thursday
When we got off the plane, the weather was exactly like what we expected—cold, windy and rainy. Since our flight got in at 7am and checkin at our hotel wasn't until 2pm, our first stop was the Blue Lagoon. Maybe we just had really bad weather that day, but we thought the whole thing was completely overrated. The water was definitely not warm enough and you quickly learned to huddle where everyone else was standing because those were the spots that were pumping out warm water. It didn't seem particularly enjoyable or natural. We stayed in the water for like 20 minutes before quickly deciding that we had enough—been there, done that, moving on.
When we got to Reykjavik, we got lunch at the Sea Baron. I had read good things about it online, but it was pretty underwhelming. The seafood was fresh, but it tasted pretty bland. The lobster in the lobster soup was soft and delicious, but the soup itself was not seasoned well. With this and the Blue Lagoon as our introduction to Iceland, it was not exactly a great start to the trip.
Things changed completely, however, with dinner. We ate at the Fish Market and it was simply amazing. Amazing. Food in Iceland isn't cheap, but their tasting menus are such a great deal. For $75 per person (and their prices INCLUDE tip and taxes), we had a delicious nine course meal that not only allowed us to try a variety of food, but was also extremely filling. They give you an unbelievable amount of food. We tried whale for the first time and it was quite delicious. Tastes like really tender steak. Unfortunately both my mom and I are not fans of lamb, which is huge in Iceland, so that always went to waste. The dessert PLATTER was amazing though, and since I have such a sweet tooth, a good dessert is really important to me. The chocolate molten cake was one of the best I've had. Extremely rich but not overly sweet. I couldn't stop eating it even though I had already started challenging the capacity of my stomach a few courses earlier. I was beyond delighted with this meal and walked back to our hotel a few pounds heavier but with a huge smile on my face. My love for good food is undeniable.
Given the weather we had that day, we were not surprised to find out that it was too cloudy for the Northern Lights.
Day 2 - Friday
We woke up, put on layers on clothing, and packed our bags in preparation for our two-day tour to Jokulsarlon. We sat with anticipation in the lobby as we waited for pickup, only to have the guide come tell us that the TOUR WAS CANCELED due to strong winds in the South =( That's the Icelandic weather for ya. Luckily, the hotel was accommodating and let us stay an extra night at the same price, and I quickly adjusted our itinerary. We were supposed to have an easy day on Monday, the day before we leave, where we would go horseback riding for a few hours and then just spend the rest of the time walking around the city. I called the horseback riding company to see if we could switch the dates and luckily the timing was perfect because they were already out picking up people and was able to swing by and pick us up as well.
Icelandic horses are extremely adorable since they are smaller. I want one. My mom was scared at first and asked if she could not ride it when she first got on, but she luckily stuck with it and I think enjoyed herself =) We got to experience tolting, which is a special gait for Icelandic horses that is smoother and thus kinder for your butt. It was really fun when the horses started to move fast. Overall, a really enjoyable experience.
After we got back, we went to the tour companies to try to book activities for the other two days that we now have free. Luckily managed to find something for both days. The weather was much better today so we explored Reykjavik for a bit before heading back to shower and prepare for dinner.
Had dinner at Tapas Barrin, which was just okay. Got to tried puffin, which was really salty. Not sure if it's naturally that way or just the result of the chef using too much seasoning. Either way, not that enjoyable. Also had a shot of Brennivín, Iceland's signature liquor. I thought it tasted like licorice but since I can't find any support for that online, I guess it was just me. The best dish was the langoustine, but everything else was not memorable.
Also too cloudy that night for the Northern Lights.
Day 3 - Saturday
We signed up for the West Iceland tour since we needed something to fill the day. It was a good tour to start with because even though the scenery was nice, it definitely wasn't as beautiful as the ones from the next two days. Overall, it was relaxing but nothing spectacular.
The Northern Lights tour was on for that night though! Had a quick dinner at a Thai restaurant and then was off on our tour. While we were waiting in the lobby, some other tourist made fun of us for overdressing since we were all bundled up, but we were actually very properly dressed since it got extremely cold just standing there for two hours waiting for the light to appear. So to that tourist, we would like to say HA, suck it.
While we got to see a very faint glow, it looked much better on camera than in person. It was kind of disappointing, to be honest. The second location was slightly better, but it still didn't live up to our expectations. We were happy to see something, but in the end, it wasn't mind blowing or anything.
Day 4 - Sunday
Golden Circle and Snowmobile tour. No wonder the golden circle is so famous. It truly is beautiful. The Gullfoss waterfall was stunning, Seeing the geyser Strokkur shoot up into the sky was pretty cool. Driving a snowmobile was also fun, but the views were truly amazing. Being on the Langjökul glacier, looking out into the endless white, it was amazingly calming and beautiful. The sunny weather gave us some great views.
We decided to give the Northern Lights another try. Best. Decision. Ever. When we got to the viewing location, the glow in the sky was already more prevalent than the previous night. Got some great pictures. But what was truly, truly amazing was when the green grew stronger and it actually started moving across the sky. Everyone started screaming and just watching the lights move was breathtaking. It was so mysterious, so beautiful, beyond words. It truly was "dancing" across the skies. This happened twice and while it didn't last very long, it was much more than we expected, especially after what we saw on the first night. It's an extremely humbling experience to see nature produce something so beautiful, so magnificent. Even when we got back to the city, we could still see some glow in the sky. We were so lucky to see such great activity that night. Second time on this trip where I couldn't stop smiling, except this lasted the whole night. I even had to reassure myself when I woke up that I did indeed see it, and it wasn't just a dream.
Even though I hate the cold, I am seriously considering living somewhere in the arctic region for one whole winter just so I can see this again. Truly one of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. My mom was saying how before the lights came dancing across the skies, she thought to herself that this was going to be it. She probably will not have another chance to see the Northern Lights in her life so the faint glow was all she was going to get. I'm so glad she got to see much more than that =)
Day 5 - Monday
I was originally just thinking of doing a glacier hike, but since my mom was interested in visiting a natural hot spring that you can actually go in, we decided to do the "Fire and Ice" tour, which included both a trip to the hot springs and a glacier hike by a volcano. I'm glad we decided to do the hot spring. Getting there was actually a hike in itself, but it was so cool laying there in the river during winter, with snow on the mountains behind us. Extremely relaxing. It was warmer than I had expected in that area, so getting in the water wasn't an issue. What was an issue, however, was hiking back. My poor mom had such difficulty making back up the mountain, but I'm proud of her for doing it. Afterwards, we went to some waterfalls that were quite stunning. Did the glacier hike which was rather uneventful, but overall, a good day.
Had another sumptuous 8-course meal at Grill Market. Not as good as the Fish Market, but still delicious...especially the dessert. Was a great ending for our trip. To my surprise, this turned out to be one of the best trips I've had =)