Iceland: Where to Go and What to Do

IMG_8461We chose to stay in an airbnb about 40 minutes from Reykjavik and 20 minutes from the Blue Lagoon. I was immediately drawn to this airbnb in the listing because of its cozy cabin charm and rustic Icelandic decor. Our host met us on the first day to show us where everything was and explain how to use the hot water etc. He was truly such a nice man and he even stocked the fridge with some bread, cheese and tomatoes so we had something to eat before we were able to go food shopping. The house was a cozy two bedroom with a kitchen, bathroom and the living room had a flat screen tv with netflix and hulu for us to watch. It was nice to live in the more rural area of Iceland rather than in a hotel in town. I would definitely recommend looking into an airbnb somewhere along the beach like we did.IMG_8473IMG_8470

On our first day, we wanted to stay close to home and chose to explore what our local town had to offer. We drove to a supermarket and picked up some essentials (bread, bananas and nutella) among other things.. Then we took our map and explored southern Iceland where we found two amazing light houses, a beautiful cliff over looking the water and a small geyser. The geyser ended up being one of my highlights of the trip because of the multiple rainbows I saw. I even saw a rainbow form a complete circle. One of the craziest and most beautiful sites I ever witnessed. All through our trip, I can honestly say I saw at least two rainbows every single day and from the picture below, you can get a sense of how vivid they all were.

IMG_8459IMG_8458IMG_8467(1)Besides the many many rainbows I saw, the animals were maybe my favorite part. I love farm animals, always have. It may stem from my farming culture back in Poland, but every time I saw sheep or horses, I nearly lost my mind. The animals were all very friendly and for the most part did not run away. One time though, we did spot sheep that seemed a bit confrontational but they were only protecting their young. We came at a great time because we got to see so many babies! Sheep, horses, cows, you name it. Safe to say I had more than one photo shoot on the side of the road with various animals. Here is one of my favorite shots. IMG_8457On our second day, we went to the Blue Lagoon. I had my reservations about the lagoon because it seemed to be the number one tourist attraction and from my experience, the more touristy, the worse. But to my surprise, the lagoon was just the opposite. The lagoon was not crowded and the facility was very well kept and clean. Some of the staff could be a bit nicer but when working with tourists, I understand it can get frustrating. We ended up staying at the lagoon for 3 hours which flew by! The comfort package (the cheapest package) comes with admission, a drink in the lagoon and a silica mask. I heard one of the employees telling another tourist to put conditioner in their hair before entering the pool but I chose not to do so. BIG MISTAKE. My hair turned hard as a rock and drier than hay. I had terrible hair for majority of our trip no matter how many times I washed it and how many bottles of conditioner I used. So, my advice, drown your hair in conditioner before going into the lagoon. Your hair will thank you.

IMG_8468IMG_8472The next day we planned an all day trip to three more widely popular attractions; Skogafoss, the airplane and the Black Sand Beach. The drive down to these locations was about three hours but once we got there, all three were within a half hour drive of each other. Skogafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland and is widely photographed on the internet. The waterfall is surrounded by beautiful grassy mountains with hundreds of sheep frolicking in flower fields. Our of our six day stay, this day was without a doubt the sunniest and warmest. Not the best day to wear my thick nordic sweater. To get to the top you have to climb about 300 steps. In that heat, my back was drenched. If I learned anything from our trip to Skogafoss, it was to always layer. IMG_8455IMG_8466(1)Our second stop was the famous plain wreckage. From pictures online, it looked as if the plane was just off the shore but boy were we wrong. To get to the plane its a two hour round-trip walk on a harsh gravel path. We managed to walk to the trail in only two hours but the sign at the beginning says it’s four hours round trip. If you have long legs like us, you can definitely cut the time down but do be careful because the trail is extremely rocky. That being said, the plane itself was very cool and totally worth the walk. Because it takes a while for people to get to the plane, there were very few people there at a time which made it easy to take pictures. IMG_8465(1)IMG_8464(1)Our last stop of the day was the Black Sand Beach. The name is slightly deceiving because there was no sand. The “sand” was more like tiny black pebbles mixed in with bigger smooth looking stones. By this time, the wind had picked up making the beach weather a bit harsh. Definitely not bikini appropriate but then again, I don’t think anyone expects to wear a bikini there. The beach also has these amazing rock formations that you can climb, perfect for a photo-opp. Overall, the beach was very serene and almost romantic if it weren’t for all the screaming children running around. IMG_8454My third favorite part about Iceland were the flower fields. Everywhere you went, you could see these purple and sometimes blue flowers. They grew in fields and in small bunches on the side of the road and even on rocky mountain tops like this one. One afternoon we went for a hike not expecting anything to find the most beautiful field of flowers growing at the very top. There must have been miles and miles of these flowers. IMG_8460Now here is a little secret I want to share with you. All across Iceland you can find “secret” hot springs that mainly locals know about but somehow word of a few of them has gotten out. We took a swim in this one nestled between two volcanoes. In order to get to it, you have to drive to hidden valley and hike 20 minutes. The water was filled with moss and the bottom of the pool was so slimey you could barely walk but the temperature was nice and the surroundings simply took your breath away. The little building featured has rooms where you can change in and out of your baithing suit but I recommend keeping your belongings somewhere you can keep an eye on them rather than in the rooms. If you want more information on how to get to this secret hot spring, let me know!IMG_8463(1)IMG_8462(1)Finally, I will leave you with my thoughts on our visit to Reykjavik. Let me preface that I have been to European cities many times so I am familiar with this kind of city feel. We chose to spend one day in the city for that reason. And while the city had its charm, any more than a day seemed like a waste. The restaurants were extremely expensive and the alcohol cost even more. We did however, want to try some traditional Iceland food so we chose to splurge on a meal and stopped into the Icelandic Barrin for some meat soup. The smell was a little off putting but the overall taste was good. Keep in mind the meat in the stew is lamb. A few other places we visited were Braud & Co which is known for their cinnamon rolls. We bought two and I am still day dreaming about them. We also visited the Whale museum and stopped into the Chuck Norris Cafe to see what it was. We saw the famous church and the whale statue and of course, browsed all the gift shops. Overall, we had fun in Reykjavik but we preferred seeing the natural beauty of the island rather than spending time shopping. IMG_8471IMG_8469My takeaways from our Icelandic adventure were that no material objects can make you feel the way a mountain can. While we are not “outdorsey” people, there is something about standing in a valley looking up at a beautiful sunset that makes you want to be. If you are thinking about traveling to Iceland but are on the fence because of price, I think you should really go. I have memories to last a lifetime.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Airbnb for Your Vacation

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Know What You Want

It’s important to have a general idea of what you’re looking for. What is the purpose of your stay? Are you looking for the cheapest option or are you interested in a unique getaway? I like to look for places that are very different than my own home with unique features. The great thing about staying at an Airbnb is immersing yourself in the culture of that area and staying in a place that reflects just that. Hotel rooms are pretty cookie cutter but with Airbnb, you can stay at some really cool places you may never have the opportunity to see. Make a check list and find a place that ticks off all your boxes; air conditioning, on-site parking, bath tub, skylight etc. You can get as creative as you want because the options are limitless.

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Plan Ahead of Time

I recommend traveling with a plan. Do a few quick searches online and scope out the sites and restaurants you’re interested in. Make sure your Airbnb is in the general area of the places you want to visit or is at least a good midway point between them. This will really help narrow down your options. If you’re headed on a road trip and will be bringing a car, make sure to check the listing or ask your host if there is on-site parking. And if you don’t plan on having a car, look for other means of transportation in the area such as buses, trolleys or city bikes.

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Pay Attention to Photos

The quality of photos can tell you a lot about the space. Blurry photos with poor lighting can often mean the host is trying hide something. If there are a lot of close-up photos of random plants, pillows etc. it’s a sure sign something is up. Of course, this can also mean the host is simply a bad photographer but take that with a grain of salt. IPhones can take great photos even in low light so there really shouldn’t be an excuse for bad pictures especially when you’re paying someone for their space. You want to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into and you expect to get what you see in those pictures. Try to find listings that show all the rooms. If the bathroom isn’t shown, odds are it’s small or in poor shape. Small details like this can really help guide you in your search.

IMG_5572Read the Reviews

If a listing has less than five reviews, it’s either new to the market or it’s not a wanted space. Find out. What are people writing about? You can easily find out about the cleanliness and condition of the space from reviews. Most people don’t hold back if they had a bad experience. Reviews are very helpful for small details you won’t get from the listing. For example, if you have a bad back you may want to see if anyone writes about the firmness of the mattress. Another comment I love seeing is about the shower water pressure. There’s nothing I can’t stand more than a half assed shower. Other things to look out for are any complaints of pet odor or any small children living above or below if the listing is in an apartment building. Traveling can be stressful enough, you don’t need a crying baby keeping you from a good nights rest.

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Netflix and Chill

I always like to keep my eyes out for listings with added perks! Some hosts like to go above and beyond to make their guests feel more than welcome. A fully stocked kitchen with snacks and drinks or access to a guest Netflix account are just a few cool add-ons you can find. You can find out about these perks by reading reviews or even asking the host.

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Get to Know Your Host

Some of the best experiences stem from an awesome host. I know many of us prefer not to interact with strangers but there are definite benefits to sending a simple message to say hello. If your host is cool, they can recommend restaurants and bars tourists may not know about. Airbnb also has an “experience” option. If your host offers an experience, it might be worth looking into. You can learn about the culture of the area your in or just make a friend in another city!