Iceland

Icelandic Adventure: Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights, & The Golden Circle

Traveling is in my blood. My dad was a world traveler and lived in several countries. While in Japan, he brought me back a pink and white kimono! As a child, my Pop-Pop would take me on his travels. I remember being super excited to be on an Amtrak train with my Pop-Pop, there was something fascinating about leaving my home and traveling to a different area in Philadelphia or just outside of Philadelphia. For years, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I love to travel. It was something magical to me. When it comes to traveling, I’m like James Stewart’s character George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, the enthusiasm to experience culture in a foreign land is intoxicating! Read more to discover my tips on traveling to Iceland and see what I experienced.

Visiting Iceland was definitely on my places to go list. So, how could I pass up a 5-day vacay in Reykjavik?! I know I consciously went to a very cold place. Yes, I’m a Summer/early Autumn gal and the cold makes me want to cry sometimes. But, this is different! I’m going with a group of friends to have some awesome life experiences!

Also, Iceland is rich in Norse methodology! Umm hello, Freyja, Thor, and Odin! Love it!

 

THE TRAVEL PROCESS & PREP

Unlike my process for going to Accra, Ghana, I didn’t need a visa or certain vaccines to go to Reykjavik, Iceland. Naturally, I triple-checked that I had my passport in my pocketbook. I didn’t want to be that person at the airport who is frantically searching for her passport only to discover that I left it at home. So, I put my passport in my pocketbook a couple of days before departure.

I usually spend a week slowly packing for a trip. This is my process for not leaving anything behind. The LAST thing I want to do is making a pitstop to buy deodorant or eye contact solution. The slow packing process also allows me to think of little things I can get to accentuate my outfits or just something that would be cool to bring like my oracle cards.

The travel process for me included:

・ Going on google.com, typing Iceland Króna to USD (US dollar) to ascertain if the USD is stronger than the Króna, which it is.

・Understanding the buying power in Iceland. Just because the USD is stronger than the Króna doesn’t mean I’m completely in the clear to make it rain. I basically need to know how far the USD stretches. A simple lunch could cost $15- $25 even though 1 Króna converts to less than 1 USD.

The travel prep for me included:

・ The usual clothing prep for yours truly. I prepare daytime, nighttime, and backup clothes. This time, my daytime clothes will be unique since during the winter months there are roughly 5 hours of actual daylight in Iceland. It’s really me trying to be stylish while layering up during our daytime excursions and nighttime wear for going to dinner.

・ I brought my super comfy and warm Uggs boots. They have traction and the interior is so warm that sometimes I don’t wear socks. They are heavy duty boots! The laces feel like they are pieces of rope!

・ I packed my VERY FIRST BATHING SUIT in the Blue Lagoon! Yes, I’m totally shouting. You can see my bathing suit in the Blue Lagoon section of this post. I explained why this is a big deal at age 32 to wear a bathing suit for the first time in my newsletter. Here’s what I wrote in the newsletter:

Spiritual Trailblazer!! This will be my FIRST time in a bathing suit. Seriously, at age 32, my first bathing suit. I never wore a bikini or a one-piece because I matured fast when I was a teenager and my mom wasn’t having me in a two-piece. I was very shapely and I started with a c-cup bra size. She and my grandmother were constantly telling older men that I was 14 (and other ages) and to stay in their place. When I became older, I wore capri tights and a loose blouse.

 

Hallgrímskirkja, Lutheran Church in Reykjavík.

 

FOOD I ATE

The food was phenomenal! And, this is coming from someone who takes food to heart. Seriously, if you ever meet any of my closes friends they will tell you how a disappointing meal hurts my soul. It’s tragic. When I visit different countries, I’m open-minded about the food. For example, while in Mexico City, I almost ate crickets. Almost. Cooked crickets reminded me too much of a cockroach and since I wasn’t getting well paid to eat a cricket or it wasn’t going to advance neither my spiritual, mental, or physical growth I saw no need to eat it. HA.

Cafe Loki

The first day we arrived in Reykjavik, we went to a cafe called Cafe Loki. Yes, it’s named after the Nordic god of mischief, Loki. I felt adventurous and had the Icelandic plate III, that consisted of two rye bread slices, one with mashed fish and the other with egg and herring and Loki’s unique Rye bread ice cream. I didn’t like the herring with the egg. I didn’t like the texture, but I liked the mashed fish. The Loki ice cream tasted like cookies and cream ice cream.

 

 

Mandi

We consistently went to a Mediterranean restaurant called Mandi. Again, another great spot to get food and it was located across the street from our hotel. I would get chicken and rice for lunch or dinner almost every day! The chicken is favorable but not overpowering and the rice is on point. I’m missing that place right now.

 

 

Tommi’s Burger Joint

Tommi’s Burger joint is a classic in every sense of the word. It’s cozy, top 80 tunes are playing, and no one is rushing you. Another plus is that the waiters and waitress don’t have to work for tips. I had a burger, a coke, and sweet potato fries.

 

 

Kaffivagninn

Do not leave Reykjavik without going to this place! My friends and I went here with our new found Philly friends (We were meeting people from Philly left and right! So we invited one couple to dine with us!). I was nervous at first to go because I didn’t see a fish on the menu that I liked or recognized for that matter! So, I did some research on Google and saw that the arctic char is a cold-water fish in the family Salmonidae. Okay. I thought to myself the word salmon is in there so it must be close to my fave fish the salmon so it must be good, right? It was out of this world! And, the staff was lovely.

I had the arctic char that was fried in butter with potatoes, shrimp, almonds, and parsley. I washed that down with an Icelandic IPA. Afterwards, I had an Americano with a slick of chocolate cake that I ended up sharing with my friend who is a cake fiend. Ha Seriously, don’t leave your cake unattended around him.

 

 

Eldur og Is (Fire and Ice) creperie

I love crepes. So when one of my friends suggested going to a crepe, it was a no-brainer. On our last day, we made the trek to this creperie and it was worth it. I had the savory crepe with eggs, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and a savory sauce. I paired that with a cappuccino.

 

Hot dog and a Cola

Per our tour guide, the Icelandic hot dog and a Coca-Cola is a staple of Iceland. I must say that was good as well!

 

 

Special shout out to the breakfast buffet at our hotel, Plaza Center Hotel, in the heart of downtown Reykjavik. That was A1.

 

THE BLUE LAGOON

 

 

My favorite part of the trip, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while at the Blue Lagoon. Many people asked me if the water was hot and if it was really cold prior to getting in the water. Well, the answers are no and yes. The best way I can describe the water is that it feels like bath water when you get the temperature just right, it’s very warm but not too hot. It is cold when you leave the building from where you change into your bathing suit to the actual Lagoon, but it’s less than a minute walk.  BRING YOUR FLIP FLOPS! Go to Old Navy and get those 2 for $5 pair of sandals. Your feet will thank you for it. PS. Head over to my IG at Tia_Johnson_ to view a video of the Blue Lagoon under the Iceland tab.

 

 

You’re able to walk around in the Lagoon. In many pictures you see the water come up to people’s necks. That’s because they are bending down as if they are doing squats. The water isn’t deep at all. I’m 5’6 and I would say that the water came to just above my breasts.

With your Blue Lagoon ticket (Which was not included in our Groupon ticket), you get a towel. My towel got wet fast and I believe it was due to the moisture in the air. So, I rented a bathrobe. Some people didn’t want to rent a bathrobe because it’s about $15 USD but I was cold when I stepped out of the Lagoon to get a drink. You may have to bite the bullet here.

You have to rinse off BEFORE you put on your bathing suit. The showers are small but you will be in a changing room/shower room with all women. You also have to rinse off afterward. A reason for this is because it’s a hot spring, no chlorine is used, and the management wants to keep it clean as possible.

 

 

The white facial masks you see people wear is the silica. You get it from the walls of the Blue Lagoon and it’s supposed to help your face too look refreshed and remove dead skin. I didn’t do it but my friends did.

There is a bar in the Blue Lagoon, a place to get a smoothie and lounge. Not much in the food department. So make sure you eat beforehand.

 

Going to the Blue Lagoon was a big deal for me for so many reasons. Besides the fact that I love to lounge in hot water, especially if it’s in a whirlpool, I wore a bathing suit for the first time. I was super nervous. I almost didn’t post the picture of me in full length on Instagram because I was being super critical of myself. I eventually told myself to calm the hell down. I also received a sign from the universe via someone else’s post that stated: I think you should just go for it. Classic. And so I posted the picture below. Here’s what I wrote:

At first I wasn’t going to post this picture because I thought I looked weird, the pose could’ve been done better, and my bathing suit is not supporting my breasts the way I would have liked them too. But SCREW IT. I’m constantly telling people not to be overly critical of themselves and here I am going over and beyond because this is the first time I’m wearing a bathing suit AND this was me after two hours of being in and out of the Lagoon. The main point is that I had crazy fun with my peeps and made new friends who are from Philly! Here’s to not being critical of yourself. We aren’t going to look A++ all of the time anyways.

 

 

NORTHERN LIGHTS

There was a lot of anticipation in visiting the Northern Lights aka Aurora Borealis. The first night we went to see it, we were only able to capture a faint strip of the Northern Lights. The second night, we saw something trying to appear through the clouds but the tour guide called it and we returned back to our hotels. So, I didn’t get to see Aurora Borealis in all of her glory but the journey was still exciting. Our tour guide told really good ghost stories and stories about elves and trolls. There’s also an elves tour. I would like to try that one day. Apparently, there’s a scholar who has a special relationship with the elves of Iceland and he leads the tours!

 

THE GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR

If you will be going to Iceland for the first time I suggest that you purchase the Golden Circle Tour,  which is roughly $100. You will be part of a group but you are given plenty of time to wander around once you get to the destinations. Actually, the only time you’re with the group and the tour guide is on the bus. Here are the places we visited:

Gullfoss waterfalls

 

Orka Náttúrunnar (ON) power company that producer and supplier of electric energy in Iceland and harness the geothermal energy.

 

 

Thoroughbred Icelandic horses They are isolated from all other horses. They are not vaccinated. If a horse leaves the country, such as to compete in a competition, it cannot return. Icelandic horses are the only horses that have a 4 or 5 gait. The Vikings realized their horse’s uniqueness and made it a law ages ago about the horses not being able to return. BTW, this horse really loved me. Walked right up to me and we bonded. You can catch video of one of the horses in action at Tia_Johnson_ under the Iceland tab.

 

 

Geysir hot spring that explodes every 5 mins

 

 

Sprunga Opnast aka one of the Game of Thrones scenes We were at the location where they filmed the scene where the Night King had the White Walkers pull the dragon he killed from the river. It was an epic scene that raised a lot of debate, such as where did they get the chains to pull the dragon?

 

 

 

FACTS AND FIGURES

 

Remember that it’s all about the buying power when you travel, not just the exchange rate. The dollar is also stronger against the Mexican Peso but you can buy more with the dollar there than you can in Iceland, even though the dollar is stronger than the Krona. I spent roughly $500 over the 5 day (Which was really 3 full days as the flights were overnight), that included lunch, dinner, souvenir purchases, and parking at the airport.

 

We purchased the deal via Groupon. That deal included the 5-day vacation, flight, hotel, roundtrip shuttle service ($30) from the airport to the hotel, breakfast, and the Northern Lights excursion. The Groupon ticket price was $699 and it’s based on a two-person occupancy like with cruise cabins. Since I didn’t have a roomie I paid extra.

・ The Golden Circle Tour was $105 and the Blue Lagoon trip was $130

・ I didn’t get the travel protection.

・ You’re allowed to check in one bag complimentary.

・ The total for the trip for me was under $2,000.

 

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

・ Pinterest pictures. To see more pictures, such as parts of the museum dedicated to Ghana’s first Minister and President, go to my Pinterest page here. Where you’ll find Tia’s Travel: Travel Tips, Inspiration, Photography: Iceland.

・ Instagram behind the scenes story. On my IG page, Tia_Johnson_, I have a section labeled Iceland where you can check out some videos and other behind the scenes goodies.

・ Traveling doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. My friend found a deal to go to Reykjavik on Groupon. As a result, a group of us decided to go! It was a sweet offer with the flight, trip to the Northern Lights, and roundtrip taxi service to the airport from the hotel included. We purchased the tickets in November. So, if I wanted to, I could’ve saved money each paycheck for the Iceland trip.

・Fast food places do not survive in Iceland. For example, McDonald’s went out of business. Starbucks also is non-existent in Iceland. To their defense, the coffee in Iceland is really good. There are only three chain restaurants in Iceland and it’s only one of each. They are Subway, KFC, and Dominos.

・ Invest in clampers. They are the mini spikes you attached to the bottom of your boots. Iceland has an underground heating system for downtown Reykjavik only where the pipes melt the snow on the surface. Other places do not have that. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is to twist your ankle or worst.

・Buy LED flashlights. It helps you to see your path better when walking to see the Northern Lights. I bought a 3-in-1 pack from Ross. They were small flashlights that fit in my pocket. Small but powerful.

・ The USD did not go far Iceland. Be conscious of the amount you are spending. Remember it’s all about the buying power, not just the exchange rate. So, there weren’t any “tourist traps”. The prices are pretty much the same where ever you go.

・ Bring snacks and bottled water! Especially if you choose to do the Golden Circle tour. There are no Wawa or Sheetz pitstops. I had animal crackers and my friends had various multigrain snacks.

・ The crime rate is extremely low at 1.7% a year. It’s one of the safest places to visit, but still be conscious of your surroundings.

 

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8 thoughts on “Icelandic Adventure: Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights, & The Golden Circle

  1. Rachel-Jean Firchau

    Such a thorough post – you did so much while you were there! Love that you did this through Groupon. I didn’t and my trip was muuuuch more pricey 🙁 But it looks like you had the best time! Super jealous that you got to get up close and personal with some ponies. My closest encounter was stopping on the side of the road to pet one quickly before my boyfriend made me get back in the car!

    Reply

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