Weekend Getaway: Reykjavík, Iceland
To be completely factual, this trip didn’t actually occur on a weekend, but it was for the length of a weekend so I find this to be a fitting category nonetheless.
Jos and the boys dropped my mom and I off at Schiphol (luckily since all of Amsterdam’s electricity went out and the trains weren’t running). After checking my (oversized) luggage, we grabbed some coffee at Starbucks and hung out for a bit before having to say our goodbyes.[PHOTO OF BOYS BUYING THEIR OWN DRINKS]
We boarded our plane and we were off to Iceland! It was my first time flying with WOW air (my mom flew with them on her way to Europe) and I wasn’t expecting it to be a much different experience than flying RyanAir or easyJet, but, oh, was I wrong.
Since it was a budget airline, it was necessary to purchase all of the extras you would with other budget airlines (i.e. seat reservations, $12.99, extra- leg room seats, larger carry-ons, $42.99, multiple carry-ons, checked luggage, $82.99 each, drinks and food on board). But everything purchased on-board was relatively reasonably priced, (compared to airport prices and other budget airline prices), and the overall experience was exceptional for the price: the seats were spacious enough for me and my mom to sit comfortably, with extra room (we’re short); the flight attendants were really nice and helpful; and the pilots were great and kept the crew and passengers well- informed about any delays or turbulence (not that there was much). We flew from Amsterdam to Reykjavik, Iceland to LAX; I don’t recall the exact amount but it was around $350 total (including flights, seat reservations, and checked luggage). Unless you’re really interested in getting points through certain airlines, I would definitely recommend this airline to anyone looking to travel to Europe on the cheap (BONUS: you can get a free stopover in Reykjavik!). (The only fault was that when we arrived in LAX, we had to wait about 30 minutes before our luggage was assigned to a baggage claim carousel.)
So, we arrived at our hotel around 16.00 with help from our FlyBus transfer, ran out for a bite to eat, and then fell fast asleep. The next morning we took our time waking up, getting coffee, and deciding what to do with our day. We decided to rent a car through Reykjavik Excursions for a full day (and unlimited mileage!). From there our plan was to drive the upper section of the Golden Circle and eventually make it to Fontana Wellness to take a dip in the famous steam baths (included in our car rental package). My mom also jumped into the freezing cold lake next door!
Þingvellir National Park:
Geysir geothermal area:
Now, time to head out for the most anticipated excursion of the trip! We booked the Northern Lights tour with Reykjavik Excursions for later that night. It was quite different than what I was expecting/ hoping, and mom was more than a bit disappointed. But we still faintly saw the lights so the tour can be classified as a success, albeit bittersweet.
(*Unfortunately, I am not skilled enough to take photos of the aurora borealis, so I have none.)
We loaded onto a charter bus along with about 100 other people and headed out to meet up with about 15 other charter buses (I kid you not) at a cafe/ bar nearby to the city. So, it was incredibly crowded and the light pollution from Reykjavik, the nearby towns, and the bar we were next to made it a bit difficult to see the lights in the capacity we wanted to. We saw a blur of green light coming from the north; we were also able to see it slightly “dancing” through the sky.
The experience as a whole was a bit too touristy for my taste (I would have preferred to take a van with an intimate number of people to the countryside), but when you’re in Iceland for just a short period of time and staying in Reykjavik for a majority of the time, it’s worth doing (it’s a bit less than $60 per person). I still want to see the lights in the middle of the nowhere; I feel as if that’s the only way you can truly experience the magic of the aurora borealis. So, while I can technically mark it off my bucketlist, I’ll continue to wait until I get my ideal experience.
But I have some photos of an Icelandic horse! They’re the only breed of horse on the large island. Fun fact: if an Icelandic horse ever leaves Iceland, they can never re-enter!
We ended up getting home well past 03.00 that night (ha!) and had to be up at 06.00 to make it to our 07.00 bus to the Blue Lagoon on time. The fact that we were going to be relaxing all day in a luxurious spa made sleeping only 3ish hours worth it.
The Blue Lagoon is in the best location for quick stopovers in Iceland or for a stop before heading into the city for holiday. It’s about 25minutes from the airport and 45minutes from Reykjavik, with FlyBuses available to take you to and from either location- and if you come from Reykjavik but want to go straight to the airport after, you can easily book that, or vice versa. There’s a location in front the Blue Lagoon center to store your luggage for a couple euros for the day. Normally, because of the accessibility to the airport, people will stop here after arriving in Iceland or right before their flight to leave. However, mom and I didn’t book our tickets in time to do this, and it actually worked out better for us. We were able to spend however long we wanted to without being stressed about leaving at a certain time to make our flight or not having enough time to relax and being rushed out when they closed.
(*It is very important you book your tickets in advanced. We went to Iceland during low-season- aka winter- and still weren’t able to get in at our desired time, thus had to schedule coming in at the ungodly early hour of 08.00.)
After driving there, getting in line to enter, pre-showering (so you can be clean when going into the lagoon; it’s mandatory), changing, and building the courage to exit the warm building and go into the water, it was almost 09.00 and still pitch black out. We had a cup of coffee, floated around and woke ourselves up before exploring the massage waterfall and saunas.
We watched the sun rise behind heavy cloud coverage (unfortunately no pretty sunrise for us) and watched as the lagoon filled with more and more spa- goers. We got a couple of drinks and relaxed in the cozy 30C water with mud masks on our face for the remainder of the day. (We really got our money’s worth! We were there from 08.30 until 15.30.)
*It is also very important that you put so much conditioner in your hair. Blue Lagoon offers free conditioner and soap in their showers, so please take advantage of this (especially since their products are really good quality; you can actually buy these from there store for a hefty price). Blue Lagoon has plenty of silica which, while it does not harm your hair, it is notorious for drying it out and making it a huge mess if you don’t put enough conditioner in, but with several applications of huge amounts, I didn’t have any problem with it. My hair might have even been softer. However, I think it really depends on what kind of conditions your hair is used to and the strength of it.
We made it back to Reykjavik in time to explore a bit of the city before calling it a day. We fell asleep around 20.00 that night. Or at least I did. I must’ve just been so relaxed from spending the day at the spa (and exhausted for waking up so early to get there). But luckily, we woke up early enough to explore even more of the city before leaving to catch our flight home.
Before we realized it, we were on our way back to the airport to hop on a flight heading to California. It was a strange feeling to actually be heading back home after so long of being abroad. Of course I was glad to be back home and be in the sunshine, but I would also miss being able to hop on a last minute flight or train and be in an entirely different country within 2hours. And all the friends I had made in the Netherlands of course (especially Theijn and Julien!).