Iceland In Seven Days Part IV: The North, The West, and THE SILVER STREAK

Let's get a couple of introductions out of the way before we get going, if you've read another Iceland Post, these are all the same,so feel free to skip down to the next picture, if you haven't, then check out Part 1 right HERE, Part II HERE, and Part III HERE:

  • This is going to be a Multi-Post EPIC JOURNEY THROUGH ICELAND, so you can read them in order, or skip around, or don't read any of them, I'm not your mother, I'm just glad you clicked.
  • If you like the pictures, there are A LOT more on our Facebook page, go like us and look at them! Again, or don't. I'm not your mother.
  • There's going to be a lot of Iceland Inside Jokes throughout this, so you can go back and read them again later and you'll enjoy them on another level. This will be the Memento of blog posts.
  • It's my hope that people planning a trip to Iceland can use these posts as a loose guide to getting around the Ring Road, or just cherry pick some ideas from it. At the very least, you can click from here to this Expert Vagabond post, which was extremely helpful for our first couple of days.
  • We traveled to Iceland during the shoulder season (late April/Early May), which was fantastic, as the weather cooperated for most of our stay there, and it wasn't too crowded at any tourist attraction. There were many times when we didn't see another person/car for almost an hour. 
  • There's A LOT of driving. You're driving almost 900 miles if you simply rock the Ring Road and don't deviate, and you will deviate, because Iceland is insanely beautiful and you're there to see things and do stuff. Be ready. It's a lot of driving.
  • Iceland is incredibly easy to navigate once you get out of the city (mostly because there's just not that much outside of Reykjavik), road signs are a-plenty, but we used Google Maps for a fair amount of our travels while we were in Reykjavik or on the south side of the island. How did we use Google Maps, you ask? CHECK THAT NEXT BULLET POINT, SON.
  • As soon as you arrive in Iceland, go into the Duty Free store and buy the following: However much booze you'll drink for your entire stay, and a SIM Card for your phone. The 1000kr and 1GB Data card which cost 1990 krona lasted us the entire week and we used it a fair amount. Why buy booze? It's incredibly expensive and hard to find outside the airport, and we know you like to drink. DON'T LEAVE THE AIRPORT WITHOUT BOOZE, YOU WILL REGRET IT.
  • If you're here for a bunch of praise for the hot dogs in Iceland, you're going to be sorely disappointed. SPOILER ALERT: THE HOT DOGS IN ICELAND ARE JUST HOT DOGS. HOT DOGS ARE PRETTY GOOD EVERYWHERE, STOP BLOWING SMOKE UP ICELAND'S HOT DOG'S BUTTS JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE SOLD IN A LOT OF PLACES.  HOT DOGS BE HOT DOGS.
  • If you see this symbol on a road sign, something incredible and otherworldly is coming up, pull your car over and get your camera ready. Let's go to Iceland.

Day 4

We're alive! Yes! Now that we've survived #snowmageddon2016 AKA "A Small Sprinkling Of Snow If You're An Icelander" we are ready to get across the north half of the country in order to see them Aurora Borealises! There's going to be another big hunk of driving today, so crank that 1989 and let's roll to our first stop, The Lake Myvatn Nature Baths

A lot of people will tell you about The Blue Lagoon as the stop to make in Iceland, and The Blue Lagoon is great if you are only in Iceland for a few days, and anytime you can spend time in a pool heated by natural gas which comes from the liquid hot magma at the center of the Earth (all facts approximate) that is the vivid color of laundry detergent, you absolutely should. BUT. If you are doing the Ring Road, save yourself a little bit of cash (Hey, you're sleeping in your car for goodness sakes, obviously you care about fiduciary concerns) and hit the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths instead. The baths are about an hour east of Akureyri, the second largest city on the island, and they are just as spectacular, just as refreshing, and just as much of a treat to your senses and your aching bones as The Blue Lagoon. 

They have two large pools, one is kept at about 85 degrees, and the other is a "cold" pool kept at about 60, plus a hot tub and a steam room, all heated by GEOTHERMAL NATURAL STEAM FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (all facts approximate). It set us back $71 for the both of us, and that included two beers. The same experience at the Blue Lagoon costs almost TWICE AS MUCH, and Myatn doesn't include awkwardly brushing legs with a Serbian guy in the hot tub like you'll invariably do at the largest tourist attraction in Iceland. Here's the Blue Lagoon:

Here's Lake Myvatn:

I'm aware I cherry picked my pictures, but I'm trying to make a point here. And that point is, Myvatn is a less crowded, less expensive, just-as-awesome version of Blue Lagoon. And now, a fun segment we call "Lake Myvatn Nature Baths Dos And Don'ts"

Lake Myvatn Nature Baths Dos And Don'ts

 

  • DO Take your time in the shower before and afterwards. You may not get to shower for a few more days
  • DON'T forget to buy beers when you arrive. There is nothing as satisfying as sipping a delicious ice cold brewski in a hot tub HEATED BY THE GODS (all facts approximate)
  • DO try to get out of there by 3 PM, as the front desk agent told us that is the time when most tour groups arrive
  • DON'T eat at Myvatn. It's overpriced (like most Icelandic restaurants), and you're spending most of your daily budget on the experience
  • DO linger. Take your time. This is super cool, and you will most likely only get to do something like this once in your whole life.
  • DON'T ask the lifeguards to take your picture. They don't particularly like it, and you'll end up with a picture like this on your phone. 

Icelandic Lifeguard's Sense Of Humor. In case you're wondering, he definitely took some great pictures of us as well. If you're interested in seeing them, I suggest you check out the Getting In The Map Facebook Page, where literally hours of picture-seeing pleasure awaits you.

Now that we've sufficiently soaked (we spend about 3 hours in the baths), let's ease on down ease on down ease on down the road to Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland. Not only is this picturesque town perched on a fjord and surrounded by mountains, it's got anything you might need if you're looking for supplies, a nice dinner, or even a fun night out. They have hostels there (we had a coffee at Backpackers Hostel and the lobby was hopping), so if you're not chasing the Northern Lights like we were, it is a great place to shack up for the night. We're also getting close to Reykjavik (Akureyri is only about four hours away), so you can start to take your time enjoy the city and the beautiful views. This goes without saying, but the route from Myvatn to Akureyri is absolutely stunning, and should not be driven without multiple stops. 

One of those stops should be at the incredible Godafoss Waterfall, which is directly off the Ring Road (You can see it from the highway, look for the spectacular once-in-a-lifetime view of a waterfall) and is not to be missed. You may see amateur photographers hanging off the bridge a couple of football fields away trying to get an inventive angle, but the real money shots are from the parking area, where you can walk as close as you dare to the falls. There are no railings, so Instagram At Your Own Risk!

After Akureyri, you have a few choices:

  • You can head into the WestFjords, which are spectacular, offer unbelievable views, and are almost exclusively potholed gravel roads.
  • You can hoof it back to Reykjavik for some nights of legendary clubbing and sleeping off the hard drugs.
  • You can take your sweet time, driving along the fjords and checking out every small town.
  • You can drive to a weird small town on the western side of the island which calls itself "The Home Of The Seals" and stay in an abandoned campground waiting for the Northern Lights, which will never come because even though there is no cloud cover, the lights are active, and the sun sets at 10:30 PM, IT NEVER GETS DARK so you can end up staying awake until 3 AM Rob Thomas Style watching episodes of SyFy Channel's "12 Monkeys" that you have downloaded on your iPhone because the entire town has been completely closed since 7 PM including the gas station and all the restaurants; but don't worry, every two hours or so a ridiculously jacked up Ford Explorer with super bright lights on the roof will come speeding by at forty five miles per hour so you can never truly fall asleep anyway because you're afraid that the truck is driven by a ghost and you realize that you haven't actually seen anyone alive in Hvammstangi at all and maybe it's the Home Of The Seals because THERE ARE NOT PEOPLE HERE.

Your call.

Day 5

So we wake up in Hvammstangi not having seen the Northern Lights late in the morning, and we head to the Public Pools. 

Every town (at least it seemed this way) has a public pool, and if you're sleeping in your car like we are, they are a great way to get a hot shower, not to mention being pools, which are awesome. They each have nominal costs (Hvammstangi cost about $3 per person), and almost all of them have geothermal hot tubs HEATED BY THE BREATH OF THE GODS (all facts approximate) and SLIDES. Nothing is more fun than going down a slide into a completely empty pool in forty degree weather. I highly recommend it. 

And if you do choose to stay in Hvammstangi and go to the pool, grab my bathing suit while you're there, I left it in the locker room. SAD FACE.

Today's your day to go and check out the westfjords, but honestly, we didn't. If you want to, I salute you, but after driving halfheartedly on a gravel road for ninety minutes in a search for puffins, we had had enough of being behind the wheel. Even Ryan Adams' hot take on Bad Blood couldn't get us motivated. 

So we were lazy today, making our way slowly to the small town where we planned to camp, Borgarnes, less than an hour north of Reykjavik, and we discovered the local campground to be closed. Usually this wouldn’t phase us, as most of the campgrounds we found didn’t open until May 1, but there was a frickin’ gate in the way! DAMMIT. So what do we do? What any self-respecting backpacker would do. We went to the Settlement Center Restaurant and Museum and had Traditional Icelandic Lamb Stew. 

 

One word review: Meh. The food in Iceland is not why you’re on the island, and this lamb stew is another example. It’s the hot dogs of the stew world, because we’d heard so much over the past five days about how terrific the lamb stew was, and guess what? It was fine. It’s more of a lamb soup than a stew, but that may have been a choice of the Settlement Center Restaurant & Museum. Was it the best stew I’d ever had? No. But it was good, because guess what? LAMB STEW IS GOOD. 

Because the campground was closed, we grabbed a map and looked for somewhere beautiful to camp, which turned out to be BJAKSKFJLAKSJLKJER (all names approximate just kidding it’s actually Bjarteyjarsandur), a beautiful open plain overlooking a lake with what appeared to be the remnants of a WHALE'S BACKBONE on it! That's probably not what it was, but whatever it was, it had definitely been alive recently, as there was gross decaying matter on it. Here’s Renee getting a closer look.

It was gross and awesome and interesting (also how you could describe my body type), and an example of the kind of thing you can find incredibly close to Reykjavik. 

Again I’d like to reiterate that this day doesn’t really make sense for a seven day Iceland itinerary, had you not driven ten hours on Day 3, you would probably still be exploring the Northwest, perhaps the haunted town of Hvammstangi, perhaps puttering around the western farming territories of Iceland taking spectacular pictures like this:

But we had driven ten hours a couple of days ago and stayed up half the night not seeing the Northern Lights the night before, so we called it early. Well, Renee did. I stayed up ten minutes later than she did and took a picture. Do you notice how light it is? It’s 10 PM


DAY 6

Because we hadn’t explored Reykjavik that much and we had a few extra hours, we headed back into the city to spend the morning and early afternoon hitting a couple of highlights we missed. I’ll give you some highlights in my absolute favorite form of blogging. BULLET POINTS:

  • Icelandic Phallogical Museum - GUH. Why does this exist? And why does it have so many positive reviews on TripAdvisor? This cost $10 and might not even be worth the time it takes to roll your eyes. It's about six hundred square feet and took us about fifteen minutes to get through, and that was reading every stupid plaque. Terrible.

 

  • The Pearl/Perlan - This giant glass dome is a great place to actually visit on your first day, which is why I wanted to mention it (also why I waited until Day 6 to mention it? Maybe I should edit these better). It’s a great way to get a lay of the land and look out over Reykjavik, and if the weather is clear, you can end up with one of the most spectacular selifes you’ll ever take. Plus, did I mention it’s free? 
  • There’s also these weird statues outside the building, and maybe it was just because we had just been at the Phallogical Museum, but they looked suspiciously dirty. Judge for yourself. 

If you’re just reading the Iceland Series, you probably didn’t read THIS POST about credit cards which outlines how we collected a ton of points in order to get free stays at awesome hotels throughout our world journey. The hotel which sold Renee on this idea (she’s pretty anti-credit card in general) was the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, a beautiful boutique hotel tucked away in the Pingvellir National Park. I’d give you a full review, but this is not a hotel review blog. Let’s just say that it was the best twenty thousand Starwood points I’ve ever spent (Note: These are the only points I’ve spent thus far, and we had been sleeping in our car). So we left Reykjavik and headed back into the Golden Circle at about noon, and ALL OF THE DESTINATIONS WE COVERED ON DAY ONE WERE PACKED. 

DO THE GOLDEN CIRCLE AS EARLY IN THE MORNING AS YOU CAN TO AVOID THE CROWDS.

We stopped to hike around Pingvellir for a few more minutes because it was so beautiful a few days ago, and headed to the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel. If you are looking to treat yourself, it certainly fits the bill. They have a spectacular four star restaurant where I had the biggest mussels I've ever seen, let alone eaten; a geothermal hot tub HEATED BY THE FINGERS OF THE GODS THEMSELVES (all facts approximate), and the most comfortable bed you’ll ever sleep in. Especially if you’ve been sleeping in your car for five nights. 

DAY 7

Did you book your flight for this evening? I hope so, because we’ve still got some of the most unbelievable natural sites you’ve seen (since yesterday probably) to check out. And conveniently, it’s on the way to Keflavik Airport! Why these natural wonders aren’t as popular as the rest of the island is a mystery, but Renee and I were discussing that maybe it just needs a catchy name to get people out there, like The Golden Circle. So, without further adieu:

THE SILVER STREAK

Did you enjoy Pingvellir National Park? Were you enamored with the ability to stand where two tectonic plates have split apart? Well, what if I told you that there was a bridge twenty kilometers off the road from Reykjavik to Keflavik (just turn left on Route 44) where you can cross from the North American tectonic plate to the Eurasian tectonic plate? Would that be something that you’re interested in? Well, you’d be the only one, because if your experience is like ours, you’ll not only be the only people there, you’ll be the only people on the road leading to it. 


The next stop on the Silver Streak (is this catching on yet?) is truly breathtaking. It’s the largest mudpot in Iceland, and it rivals Strokkur (We’re continuing the Golden Circle parallels) in it’s scope of natural wonder. This high temperature area is constantly spewing so much steam it can be legitimately hard to see at times, but you can stay in the eggy cloud for as long as you like; don’t forget to check out the collapsed bridge next to the mudpot which is HEATED BY THE GODS COOKING SOUP (all facts approximate).  Gunnuhver is named after a ghost who was killed over four hundred years ago and buried in this spot, and she was NOT HAPPY about being put down.  The majesty of this beauty begs you to stay and gape at what Mother Nature can do.

As you’re driving along the SILVER STREAK don’t forget to look out into the sea to see the rock formation of Heimaey, if the weather is clear, you should be able to see the giant poking his head out of the water, I like to imagine it as the top of a volcano waiting to erupt and create another Iceland. It’s not, but I welcome you to tell your travel partner that it is, and if they call you on it, tell them you read it on a blog about Iceland, that’ll be all the proof they should need.

The next stop on THE SILVER STREAK is The Blue Lagoon, which we’ve already covered at the top of this post. If you only have a few days in Iceland and simply have the time for The Golden Circle and THE SILVER STREAK, I won’t blame you for hitting The Blue Lagoon. You want to spend any time in POOLS HEATED BY THE FINGERS OF JAFAR AFTER HE BECAME AN ALL POWERFUL GENIE (all facts approximate) you possibly can. 

We absolutely loved our time in this mysterious and beautiful place called Iceland, and we are already making plans to come back to explore the country in either the summer or the winter, as all of the sites which took our breath away will look completely different in another season. I encourage you to read as much information as you possibly can about the sites of Iceland before you travel, but don’t stick to closely to your itinerary. This country defies expectations and will not allow you to stick to your schedule, whether be it a flash snowstorm causing you to change your driving plans, or simply sending a herd of reindeer or Icelandic horses into your field of vision and causing you to pull off to feed them apples or simply to gaze. 

Iceland will fill your hearts and imaginations, and seven days will truly not be enough to drink it all in. We missed a lot, but I hope you’re able to take some ideas from our experiences and use them on your own trip to Iceland. Of the many places we’ve been, Iceland may be the most memorable, we loved our time there, and we hope you do too!

Until next time, Iceland......