Iceland 2019

I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and in 2019 for our February birthday week, we made it happen (alongside a stop in Edinburgh, Scotland which will be a 2nd post). Here’s a trip down memory lane for our amazing winter experience close to the arctic!

One thing about traveling in Iceland that I didn’t expect was how much you had to plan everything you wanted to do weeks and months prior. Every excursion, car or bus transfer, even seeing the Blue Lagoon was timed via a ticket by the hour that sold out in advance, so we had to carefully plan each and every days worth of activities, which I normally don’t like to do. (Hello spontaneity!)

We had a non-stop flight from SFO directly to Reykjavik, which arrived early in the morning, and the first thing we did was head straight to the Blue Lagoon. Because of the proximity to the airport, it’s easiest to experience this national treasure either after arriving or before departing. Our arrival was so early and we couldn’t check into our Airbnb for hours, so we opted to do this first and really soak up (no pun intended) the Icelandic experience. We booked this service to take us to the Blue Lagoon from the airport, which also included a drop-off in the city after we were done.

The Blue Lagoon is incredibly accommodating for tourists. There is an area where you can store your luggage (since most folks come before/after the airport) and easily explore the hot springs. These phone case lanyards were very handy keeping our phones dry so that we could still take photos without worry. Our tickets came with a mask and a cocktail (but you could purchase more if you wanted) and the masks are AMAZING! My skin felt so nice I opted for another treatment. I researched beforehand and found that many people experienced very dry and brittle hair for days after getting it wet in the lagoon, so I pulled it up in a bun the entire time which I highly suggest (especially if your hair is colored).

After about 3-4 hours at the Blue Lagoon, we transferred to Reykjavik and enjoyed a very local lunch (including a smoked meat + fish flatbread) before checking into our Airbnb for a tiny nap. It’s hard to acclimate to the time change so we eased our way in by napping, exploring the city a bit and having a beer, followed by getting groceries to cook for a cozy night in and early bedtime. It snowed pretty heavily at this point and carrying our bags across the town square was quite comical.

Tip: eating out in Iceland can be pretty pricey due to the fact that it IS a remote island close to the arctic <lol> – I highly suggest renting an Airbnb purely for the ability to cook some of your meals. The grocery store isn’t actually that expensive, so getting things for breakfast and a dinner was what worked for us. Plus, Airbnbs are actually a lot cheaper than hotels in certain neighborhoods so this makes it a double win. (Here is where we stayed and loved it! This part of downtown was the perfect spot, it was a few blocks away from the bus stops, the church, and included walking distance to good bars and restaurants.)

This is the Hallgrimskirkja, the most famous church in all of Iceland and also the tallest building in the city (and one of the tallest in the country). We paid $6 to take the elevator to the top to take in panoramic views and snap these pics. I highly suggest doing this if you can!

Check out those icicles!

Reykjavik is so quaint and beautiful. I adored the colorful homes and buildings and how they popped against the white snow canvas.

One of the most fun things we were able to experience was the Lava Tunnel, about 41 KM southeast of Reykjavik. Once again, tickets included roundtrip bus fair from downtown and was easily my favorite part of the trip. We saw the most wonderful sunrise with amazing pastel colors, it felt like a dream. Because we were so far north and in early February we had limited daylight. Sunrise actually happened at 10am and sunset around 3:30. For this very reason, and because of the unpredictable weather patterns (not to mention neither John or I are experienced winter drivers) we didn’t rent a car. Most all excursions include transportation from Reykjavik, so we were perfectly happy with this decision. Though we do want to go back in the summer time where we there will be more daylight so that we can rent a car and explore the rest of the countryside.

Upon arrival they gave us crampons for extra grip into the tunnel. We heard excellent folklore tales about the underground trolls and also the history of geology in the region. It was fascinating!

The next day for John’s 30th birthday we had PLANNED a full day at the Golden Circle, complete with 3 waterfall stops and ending with a soak in the Secret Lagoon. However, life had other things in store for us. The weather in Iceland is very unpredictable, especially in the winter, and we faced winds upward of 125 MPH. All excursions were cancelled and all roads outside of town were closed. We even tried looking into renting a car so we could go on our own but, NOPE. There was nothing we could do, and we couldn’t push this to the next day because we were flying to Scotland. I was understandably heartbroken. I think I cried for about 20 minutes and then pulled it together because, hey, we were still in Iceland and there were tons of other amazing things to explore inside town! (Again, why I hate having to plan an itinerary for this very reason! But it is the way it is in Iceland.)

It was John’s birthday afterall and the coldest and windiest day of our whole trip! So how did we start our day? By visiting the Big Lebowski Bar for some White Russians! Yes. There are about a dozen Lebowski bars in the world and one was just down the street. What a great way to turn around the energy!

We then went to the Perlan, Iceland’s natural science and geology museum, and got to explore an ice cave! There are so many geological wonders in Iceland, being able to take in the history was pretty awesome (I took a ton of geology in college and am a bit of a rock nerd). Plus the cafe inside has EPIC views!

It was FREEZING! Have you ever tried walking around in 125 MPH winds?! We found a brewery and restaurant by the water that sounded good for lunch and took the (yes, FREE) bus across town. The local fish fare is delish and you can’t go wrong with any local beers.

While we had lunch we looked up what was around us and saw that the Aurora Reyjkavik (the Northern Lights museum) was within walking distance. We weren’t lucky enough to actually see the real lights during our stay (again, hard to plan seeing the Northern Lights as there are many variables involved), so exploring the history and science behind them was the next best thing!

This is a big surprise, but for dinner we had the best thai food at Krua Thai (honestly the best food we had the whole trip – I know it’s weird because “good Thai food in Iceland?” – YES!!), visited Mikkeller & Friends Brewery, and then ended the night with a famous hotdog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It ended up being the most fun day! Sometimes where life takes you is better than what you plan for ❤ .

This was the end of the first part of our 2019 European journey. The next morning we had delish pastries from Braud, a bakery down the street from us, and flew to Edinburgh for the second portion of our trip. Here are a few takeaways from our time in Iceland:

  1. In order to ensure that you experience most things, you MUST plan in advance.
  2. The caveat is, the weather might turn on you and your plans may change – if you are able to leave a bit of wiggle room in-case this happens, the better.
  3. Also, because of this, try pushing most of your “plans” into the first part of your trip so that if anything happens you can use your extra “non-plan” days as backup.
  4. Most excursions include roundtrip transit, so you don’t NEED a car if you stay in Reykjavik.
  5. Winter weather is unpredictable and you *probably* won’t see the Northern Lights.
  6. It’s a very small country, population wise, and most people tend to stick to themselves. Folks are nice if you ask questions or need directions, but don’t expect to strike it up with strangers in a bar.
  7. Go knowing that you likely won’t be able to do sand see everything you want, but it’s such an incredible place that anything you end up doing will be amazing!
  8. Iceland is AWESOME and I can’t wait to go back!! You will want to go back.

Stay tuned for part two of our 2019 adventure into Edinburgh!

British Columbia Hiking Adventures – September 2018

I would never call myself an “outdoorsy person” until a few years ago. And even then, it’s not natural for me, but more like I’ve grown into not being “an indoors-only person.” Sort of like an indoor-outdoor cat. While living in California and being with John for many years, I became more comfortable with hiking, camping, and wilderness adventures that would have definitely intimated me 15 years ago. But adventure has always called me, especially when it’s outside of my comfort zone! So when my sister Krista asked us if we wanted to join her on an REI guided hiking trip in British Columbia, we didn’t hesitate.

It was 3 days of hiking ranging anywhere from 7 to 10 miles per day, upward of 3,000 elevation gain in a single hike. Labeled as moderate it was no joke, and to train John and I did more advantageous hikes (2-3 a month, from 5-8 miles each) for 10-12 weeks prior to leaving. This meant I had to acclimate quickly, get boots that were easy to break in (hello Danner boots which I LOVE), and build my endurance. While I have always been a workout fiend completing multiple half marathons and ongoing weekly circuit training sessions, serious hiking is a totally different skill set, and despite that I was in shape – I felt very unprepared for what I was about to get into! I will post the hikes we did for training with a whole separate piece on my favorite hikes in California, but just know many miles went into preparing for this experience throughout summer of 2018.

The REI portion of the trip was 4 days / 3 nights at the Whistler Lodge with about 12 other guests plus 2 guides. It was nice being able to hike throughout the day and stay in a comfortable room and hot tub after (as opposed to backpacking) but I’m pretty sure anything you do in this area would be considered amazing due to the sheer beauty of everything. John and I met my sister in Vancouver and rode up to Whistler together, and we sandwiched some Vancouver fun on both ends of the hiking portion (which I’ll cover in a different post).

We hiked in our group of other like-minded individuals from all over, though John and I tended to stick with Krista the majority of the time in the back, as it was challenging for all of us at different times. Plus I enjoy taking my time and hiking slower than others (maybe because I’m short with short legs? I don’t feel the need to rush and walk fast and lead the way, I’d rather be the tail end so that when or if danger appears I am likely more safe 😉 ha!).

Day One was spent hiking all of the Joffre Lakes trail, from the first to the second lake, and the hardest portion of getting to the third lake with the glacier at the very top. This was one of the most BEAUTIFUL places I’ve ever seen in my life. It is the picturesque vision you imagine being enthralled in when you think of hiking in Canada.

On our way up we made a stop at the second lake and John had an incredible nature experience – check out this bird that landed on his hand as if he was a character in a Disney movie!

Going up was steep but I did it without using any poles. Once we were up at the top lake we were able to view the glacier and enjoy a nice picnic. However it started to rain and coming down was super challenging without poles so one of the guides lent me theirs and I was able to make it down the large slippery boulders. This was the scariest moment for me as I felt very anxious being the last one in the group, moving slowly to ensure that I didn’t fall in the pouring rain – but in the end I made it out only 15 minutes behind everyone else and was able to take my time, so I call that a win.

Day Two we made our way up Skywalk Trail on Rainbow Mountain in a beautiful old growth forest. It felt as if we were hiking in Lord of the Rings or some fantasy flick and was one of the coolest settings I’ve ever been in!

I used the poles for the entire journey on this day because this hike was super steep (upwards of 3,100 elevation gain), and because we were slow pokes we broke the bigger group of 12 into two, with the fast walkers leading and our group casually took our time. This was nice to not feel rushed and enjoy the amazing scenery, but also because this was a very long hike and if you had any goal to make it to the top you had to book it (even that group didn’t get all the way up after hiking 9 hours).

Krista also experienced a freak accident! Somehow a yellow jacket nest ended up on the ground and after many people walked over it, they buzzed out piping mad and stung her 4 times on her legs! It was so crazy and she ended up getting steroid shots from her legs ballooning up. We laughed about it later but in the moment was so bizarre.

This was John’s favorite hike and a special moment for us to share together!

After hiking we went out to dinner with our group and got to know everyone a little bit more; there as a newlywed couple from Ohio, an older couple from Houston, someone who came alone from Maryland who also went on an REI adventure in Iceland, a newly divorced older woman from South Carolina – so many unique folks!

We had one more excursion on Whistler + Blackcomb Mountain (where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held) to close out our REI adventure.

The weather turned extremely cold unexpectedly and the area had the first snowfall of the season over Labor Day Weekend! This changed our plans because none of us were prepared for hiking in the snow, and we had to do a less intense trail on the middle of the mountain (as opposed to the top). While riding the ski lift up to the top before we changed direction, I completely freaked out and felt so ill-prepared for the snow, (all while Krista laughed at me 😉 ) so I felt great about changing plans. Though John did try to go as far as he could into the unknown abyss…

It was nice closing out the intense few days of hiking with something a bit easier and relaxing, as that is my kind of hiking! But I know we definitely want to go back and explore. I think British Columbia Canada is one of (if not THEE) most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

The next area in Canada we want to hike is in Banff National Park, and hopefully after the nightmare of Covid we can make that happen! I had an incredible time with REI on this guided trip and would totally book something similar again. Having a guide allowed us to experience places we never would have found on our own and we felt safe and relaxed not having to worry about how we would get from point A to point B. And we loved our group too!

I’m also glad I got to experience something life-changing with not only my amazing partner John, but with my sister Krista as well. We loved our trip and frequently bring up those memories. ❤

Krista didn’t miss traveling together in that crazy white van though…that will not be missed LOL.

Feel free to ask me any questions about this REI trip or specific trails mentioned!