Country #58 - Iceland Day 1

The Early Arrival

Day one of Iceland is in the books and boy what a rollercoaster of amazing emotions. I started the morning off with a 7:00am flight from Dallas to DC. I slept most of the flight and when I arrived in DC I took the metro to meet up with one of my best friends, Sydney, and her boyfriend Trevor. I’ve known Sydney since high school and we have travelled pretty much all over together, and I’m so excited that she will be visiting Iceland with me!

We had a great brunch in DC followed by a visit to the Renwick Gallery. The coolest part was definitely the special exhibition “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” which was a collection of basically tiny doll house replicas of murder scenes created by Frances Glessner Lee, a really cool lady basically known as the “mother of forensic science.” We attempted (likely unsuccessfully) to solve them all before visiting the rest of the museum. Renwick Gallery is small, free, and definitely worth a visit.

After the Renwick Sydney and I drove for an hour to Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) for our flight to Reykjavik on WOW Airlines. I had heard a lot about WOW before and I was really interested to fly them for the first time. Our terminal felt really new but unfortunately had very few food choices even though we had to eat before the flight. The one thing that I didn’t like about WOW was having to pay extra for any bag other than a personal item (make sure you do this beforehand!). We boarded easily and even though we had separate seats on the plane it ended up okay because we both had window seats to possibly help with sleeping.

It didn’t end up helping me too much, though, as it was such a bumpy flight! For probably the last four hours of a six hour flight it was pretty consistently turbulent. There were few large drops but just small bumps throughout, making it very hard to sleep window or not. Luckily I probably got an hour or two before struggling to sleep the rest of the flight. We arrived in Iceland at about 5:00am and went through immigration and customs with ease. The airport has a really interesting set up which I think is because WOW has so many connecting flights, but I had never really seen the configuration of Keflavík (KEF) Airport’s terminals before.

After waiting less than five minutes we found the rental car guy we were meeting to pick up our car. The unfortunate thing about Iceland is that you 100% need to rent a car to visit. It was definitely a hassle to find a company who would rent to my age (23) and had a good reputation. After lots of searching I finally decided to go with Route 1, a local rental agency. My only qualm is that they don’t allow drivers under 23 which means I have to drive the entire trip. However, they have the best reviews by leaps and bounds! Picking up our car was very easy - we just signed a contact at the pick up point (always read these very carefully when renting a car), were given helpful instructions about the roads in Iceland, and were then on our way!

It was a forty-five minute drive in to Reykjavik and was still pitch black outside as we learned it would be until about 8:30am. When we got into town we found a place to park and decided to nap in the car because nothing was open and our accommodations for the trip, Old Charm Apartments, were not yet ready. Also, we were both so tired. I fell asleep instantly in the backseat of the car and we ended up sleeping for about an hour and a half. When we got up I felt a thousand times better and ready to take on our first full day in Iceland ! We grabbed a quick breakfast and hot chocolate, planned out our day, and then set off on quite literally an adventure.

The Other Planet

Today’s drive was 100% the most incredibly beautiful drive of my entire life. Every thirty minutes the landscape seemed to change entirely. From the sprawling moss covered rocks to the ocean views and mountainous fields it is impossible to describe (so I’ll add some pictures). There were also lots of sheep, rams, and horses everywhere you looked. Today we decided to drive up the coast towards the town of Vik. Our first stop, about thirty minutes out, was a horse farm but it was unfortunately closed. After another thirty minutes of driving (and an intense debate on Taylor Swift’s feminism) we arrived at our first stop of the day, Seljalandsfoss.

As we quickly came to learn, foss means waterfall. The bar is set pretty high for me on waterfalls ever since visiting Iguazu Falls, but Seljalandsfoss was something completely different. You could walk all the way around Seljalandsfoss! It was freezing to do so as mist from the falls was everywhere but it was so cool. It was of course beautiful just like the land around it. There was a second waterfall down a path about a ten minute walk away and it was definitely worth seeing - it was hidden back in a cave! After only an hour drive and stop number one in Iceland I was completely and totally blown away.

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The next leg of the drive was another hour. We drove to Dyrhólaey and were amazed when the landscape changed from the mossy rocks to radiant fields filled with plateaus. We attempted to play a game where you go down the alphabet and name things in a specific category and I was both very bad at understanding the rules and subsequently bad at playing the game. But that didn’t really matter because the drive was just so beautiful. I think the best way to describe Iceland would be to say that it either looks like something straight out of a movie (many movies film here including Star Wars) or that it looks like another planet (or multiple other planets in my opinion).

Dyrhólaey was so cool. I know that I am going to use way too many adjectives in this post, and likely the same ones over and over again, but it would be impossible not to. Iceland is just repeatedly indescribable. Dyrhólaey was basically a plateau that you drive straight up the side of. It was a one lane road and needless to say I was a bit panicked when having to pass a bus while hoping that it didn’t fall off the side of a cliff. One thing Iceland could use is a few more guard rails. We decided to call my driving in stressful situations (like the side of a cliff) as really good but lacking grace. Which is appropriate because I was, indeed, slightly freaking out. It was so worth it though. The views from the top were just amazing. On one side was the water, where there was the black beach and incredible rock formations.

The black beach was really interesting to see from above (we would see it up close later) because the water was basically white, so the lines that the tide formed on the shore were such a cool contrast. We walked over towards the edge overlooking the ocean where there was a cool lighthouse. Looking out at the water were two different rock formations. One was close by and was a huge formation with a hole in the middle. I can’t do the description justice so see the pictures below. Off in the distance was a second formation which, from afar, looked like the rocks from Harry Potter when they go to the cave in the Half Blood Prince to get the horcrux. We later discovered that this was filmed in Ireland but it looked so similar! Honestly, Iceland looks a lot like Ireland at times and also looks a lot like what I imagine New Zealand will look like.

The last view was looking back inland at what we had just driven through and it was, once again, just stunning. The drive back down was much less perilous (there were no busses thank God) and we decided to drive over to the Harry Potter looking rock formation. We missed our turn but right past where we should have turned we found about seven wild horses! People were pulled over to pet them and they were so sweet. They were obviously very used to people and posed perfectly for pictures. It was definitely a good turn to miss to be able to see the horses!

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We then made our way back to the Harry Potter rocks which we discovered were called Reynisfjara Beach. It doesn’t get discussed as much on things to do in Iceland lists as things like the Golden Circle (which I continually accidentally referred to as the Ring of Fire) or the Blue Lagoon, but it was both of ours’ favorite stop of the trip, and one of the coolest things I have ever seen. First there was the black beach, which was cool enough in itself and is actually made of lava. Then there were the rocks out in the water that looked like Harry Potter rocks. Then there was the absolute coolest rock formation I’ve ever seen on the shore. They were like stacked rectangularly would be the only way I know how to describe them but they are actually basalt columns (see pictures for sure). Then there were the circular rocks between the beach and the land that helped add to the other planet mystique. Then you could see where we just were, Dyrhólaey, off in the distance. And finally, there were the waves.

They were the largest waves I have ever seen by at least ten times. They were ten, maybe twenty feet, when they broke into the land. They were amazing and terrifying at the same time. I was actually, unfortunately, attacked by a wave which was less than ideal. It only soaked my shoes (which were waterproof but apparently not enough) and the bottom of my jeans, but it was freezing. It was the only wave to hit where I was standing the entire time we were there and there was no way to out run it. Sydney was off to the side and it didn’t come in as far where she was. My shoes were filled with sand and I was so cold but luckily our luggage was still in the car so I was able to change into clean (and more importantly dry) clothes! I was very lucky not to have dropped anything (I was carrying my phone, GoPro, and camera at the time) and to only have to deal with getting sand out of my shoes and camera.

Even after being hit by the wave Reynisfjara Beach gets five star, A+ reviews. If you can do one thing in Iceland, in my opinion it would be Reynisfjara Beach. It completely embodies the feeling of what it would be like to be on another planet and is so beyond cool that it did not feel or look real. After changing clothes we started driving back towards Reykjavik as the sun was starting to set. We had one last stop, though, at Skógafoss (another waterfall). It was long and skinny and beautiful but by this point I was still frozen from the water and actually bordering on exhaustion so it was not a super long stop.

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The drive back was painful because it was two hours and I was jetlagged while running on maybe three hours of sleep. We attempted to play the naming game again and I was getting worse and worse as the sleep deprivation (and now hunger) wore on. We finally arrived back in Reykjavik where we met Steinnum at Old Charm Apartments. I cannot thank Old Charm Apartments enough for sponsoring our stay in Reykjavik! She showed us to our super cute apartment (it could fit seven people!) that was right in the center of town. The rooms were adorable and, most importantly, warm.

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Before we left for dinner I worked to clean sand out of a few things. We headed to a restaurant that only served soup and I wasn’t a fan of either choice (picky eater problems) but it was a really cute spot. It was super late (about 10pm) so I just ate a snack when we got back to tide me over until tomorrow, which wasn’t a problem considering how tired I was. I washed my socks, scooped handfuls of sand out of my shoes, and rinsed the sand off of my jeans. The only problem with the entire day (besides exhaustion) was for some reason the alarm in our apartment went off at 1:00am. I wasn’t asleep yet (Sydney was) but it definitely startled me!

It was pretty funny honestly attempting to figure out how to turn it off while someone came to help us. Sydney ended up holding a bucket with a towel inside of it over the alarm - it felt like the episode of Friends where Phoebe tries to silence her alarm! We eventually got it resolved thanks to Steinnum’s husband and afterwards I had no problem whatsoever falling asleep after such an incredible day! I’m in love with Iceland already (can you tell?) and can’t wait to see so much more tomorrow when we take on the Golden Circle route.

58 countries down, 139 to go.

Read about my second day in Iceland here.

To learn more about Old Charm Reykjavik Apartments click here.