It’s been a while since the last Iceland post. But I finally got the chance to finish off our summer adventure!
After driving all the way from the Westfjords the day before, we had a light day of driving the next day. We packed up and headed out of the Varmaland campground after an easy breakfast of cereal. We stopped at the nearby gas station to buy a coffee and we were back on the Ring Road, heading to Reykjavik. Bob was the driver today. I had come a long way in terms of driving a standard but I was not going to risk a needless fender bender driving in a city on our very last full day in Iceland.
We were less than an hour outside of Reykjavik so the traffic was becoming heavier, the roads wider, turning into multi-lanes and the roundabouts more frequent. The plan for the day was to stop in Reykjavik for a couple more souvenirs, grab a bite to eat and then head south to Grindavík, where we would set up camp for our last night in Iceland. At 6 pm, we were booked to go to the Blue Lagoon and a 9 pm, reservations at the restaurant Lava, at the Blue Lagoon. Then to the airport the next day.
There is something to be said for retracing your steps. While we had originally planned on driving the entirety of the Ring Road – and this is something many people do in order to see something different every day – there is a comfort in seeing things again, in remembering a landscape or a place and having another chance to visit it. It adds a feeling of familiarity with a location. When we found that little café again, on our way back from the Westfjords, that we had first stopped at on our way into the Westfjords, we felt that somehow we were more than just tourists. When we were recognized by the woman who first gave us directions, it was a great feeling to have in a foreign country that you were actually somebody. When travelling, even in a country as “easy” as Iceland, there is always a certain level of stress because everything is new. But when it becomes not quite so new, you are able to notice things you didn’t see the first time, to form a bigger picture in your mind about the place you are visiting and to feel like you might one day become part of the place, instead of just skimming the surface.
Because we had already stayed in Reykjavik, we had the maps, we had a basic idea of which road to take in which direction to get to where we wanted to go. We had an idea of what we wanted as souvenirs, where to get them and even where to park in order to be fairly closeby to walk to them. We parked near the Sun Voyager sculpture and walked up to Laugavegur Street and spent about an hour looking through the shops and checking souvenirs off our list. Then we went back to the gluten-free deli for a sandwich and walked back to the car.
With melancholy in our hearts, it was time to say goodbye to Reykjavik and move on to our final destination.
As we drove south towards Grindavík, we were struck by how flat and desolate the landscape had become compared to the lush greens and looming fjords of where we had come from. Seemingly endless rocky lava fields covered in the soft gray-green moss with steam rising in the distance from underground geothermal sources added to the barren, post-apocalyptic terrain. The lava fields are everywhere in Iceland but we were used to seeing mountains beyond them.
It didn’t take us long (maybe 40 min?) to get to the small coastal town of Grindavík. We found the campsite the same way we seemed to find all the rest. Look for the blue tourist sign pointing in the direction of it and then look for tents and trailers. The campground was fairly empty but we knew it would eventually fill up as the evening drew closer. This is quite a popular one because of its proximity to the Blue Lagoon and to Reykjavik. We chose a corner space, against a grassy knoll in hopes of blocking some of the chilly wind.
The wind. We had forgotten about the cold, strong wind along the open coast. Having spent the last week nestled in the Westfjords, the wind was blocked by mountains on three sides and we were able to enjoy temperatures in the high teens without worrying about the wind chill. Now, we were unpacking those extra layers we brought.
Grindavík itself is a small village that is very true to its culture. It’s one of the main fishing locations for the south of Iceland and has decidedly few tourist attractions. After we had set up camp, we decided to go for a drive around the Reykjanes Peninsula. It was early afternoon and our tickets for the Blue Lagoon weren’t until 6 pm. Looking on the map, it looked like the Reykjanes peninsula would be an interesting drive that wouldn’t take too long.
The road was winding and the landscape still incredibly flat and barren, dotted with the occasional farm. After about 20 minutes, we saw in the distance a lighthouse and steam billowing from the ground. We saw a tourist sign pointing down a gravel road and some other vehicles the same size as ours driving down it so we figured we could make it. We took another, smaller, rougher road past geothermal energy stations (hence the billowing steam) and found ourselves at the coast (hence the lighthouse).
It was a cloudy day and the wind was strong and it seemed to echo the melancholy in our hearts. We enjoyed every moment of our time in Iceland but we could easily have spent the entire summer here. So many incredible things to see and do. We wandered up the hills, watched the terns and just enjoyed the stark beauty of the rolling ocean.
After a while, instead of continuing around the loop, we just headed back the way we had come, along the southern coast. Fortune was with us! I had yet to get a close-up shot of the beautiful Icelandic horses! There were some out in a field as we passed and there was a convenient place to pull over. One fellow was actually outside of the fence so he came right over looking to see if we had a carrot or an apple for him.
Happy to have finally gotten my adorable Icelandic horse photos, we headed back to the campsite for a quick rest before our evening at the Blue Lagoon.
You really need to purchase tickets for the Blue Lagoon well in advance. They ask you as you leave the parking lot, heading towards the entrance whether you have tickets or not. The Blue Lagoon limits the number of people they allow in each hour in order to preserve the experience. When you purchase a ticket online, you are asked whether you would like to reserve a table at the restaurant Lava. I will say right now that the restaurant, while in a tourist-heavy location, is no more expensive than any other restaurant in Iceland. If you aren’t aware of just how expensive it is to eat out in Iceland, then you might refrain from a reservation based solely on the prices listed online. If you were planning on eating out anyway, you may want to reserve a table at Lava since you can always go back into the water after dinner as well. Also, when you book your tickets to the spa, it will ask you which package you would like to purchase. We purchased the Comfort package and when we arrived at the spa, we were asked if we would be interested in upgrading so I don’t think it really matters if you choose the least expensive and then upgrade when you are there if you change your mind.
If you wish to visit the Blue Lagoon upon arrival or departure and are staying in Reykjavik, you can buy shuttle tickets to or from the airport to the Blue Lagoon and then to or from your accommodation. If you are driving, it’s a bit south of the airport. The road signs are clear once you are in the general vicinity. Let’s face it, there just aren’t that many roads in Iceland. Chances are, you are not going to get lost. If you are driving to Grindavík from the airport either clockwise or counter-clockwise around the Reykjanes Peninsula, you will pass a road leading to it. You will also see the massive cranes in the distance since they are constructing a new wing which will open in 2017. You might want to remember that Blue Lagoon in Icelandic is Bláa lónið.
We arrived at the same time as two tour buses. Needless to say, it was extremely busy and crowded. This is the part that makes me cringe; you can’t help but notice the clientele is made up entirely of tourists. Which makes the changing rooms crowded. Which creates a lineup for the private shower stalls. (So if you’re shy, don’t worry, you will not be subjected to a communal shower. But after ten days in Iceland, going to non-tourist showers and pools, I actually found myself wishing for a communal one so I wouldn’t have to wait.) Then you walk out onto the main deck. There are crowds of people here too because they are all taking photos. I do not have any photos. I did not want to worry about my phone. I was at here to relax. But feel free to google photos of it. It really is that beautiful.
No doubt about it, the Blue Lagoon is for the tourists. But it is glorious. It is in a completely natural setting and the decks and platforms are made of natural materials – wood panels, waterfalls made from rock, surrounded by the lava fields. Because they only sell a certain amount of tickets for every hour, there aren’t as many people as you would expect. There are quite a few different sections to the spa as well so after people are finished oohing and ahhing and taking photos at the main entrance to the water, the crowds die down farther into the water as everyone seems to find their own space. The tour bus crowds left after about an hour and the lagoon started to feel quite spacious. The total area of it is quite large. There is a steam bath, a sauna, a swim-up bar, lots of smaller pools off of the main pool, a waterfall, a cave pool and some other features.
Because our dinner reservations weren’t until 9 pm, we had almost three hours to lounge. And lounge we did. We got one beverage with our package and it felt decadent to sit in the warm lagoon waters sipping chilled white wine.
Speaking of packages. You can buy the drinks at the swim-up bar and they have fairly decent appetizers or snacks at their café (for the standard outrageous Icelandic price) if you don’t want to buy dinner and want to book the least expensive package. We got the Comfort package (which is one step up from the basic one) which included one drink, the use of a towel and an algae mask in addition to the silica mask that everyone gets. The algae mask wasn’t anything spectacular so I’m not sure it’s a deal to get the Comfort package. You can also bring your own towel if you don’t want to pay the extra to use theirs. The towel becomes wet and cold anyway so again, I’m not sure it was worth the extra money. That being said, I’m not complaining about the money we spent. It was just as expensive (or not, depending on how you look at it) as a Nordic spa in Canada so I feel that it was a good price for the experience.
Wait, I lied. I found two photos.
Shortly before 9 pm, we reluctantly dragged ourselves from the warm, cloudy waters, showered and dressed for dinner. At this point, we both could’ve gone to sleep we were so relaxed.
I ordered the cod and Bob had the rack of lamb (surprise, surprise). It was delicious and so filling that I didn’t feel too sick when I got the bill at the end of the meal (a feeling that became familiar after eating out in Iceland on a regular basis). The staff were typically friendly and accommodating to our allergies and we didn’t feel rushed at all. It was a lovely experience and not as elite as I had feared. A big percentage of their clientele is going to or coming from the airport so everyone is dressed fairly casually.
We had the option of going back out into the lagoon and staying until closing at midnight if we felt up to it. As lovely as that would have been, we were now full as well as completely relaxed. We’d be lucky if I could get us home without falling asleep at the wheel.
The sky was still light as we pulled into our campsite around 10:30 pm. We had a glass of wine or two and reminisced about our time in Iceland while we waited for the nearby campers to head to bed as well.
The next morning, we struck camp and packed our bags one last time and headed off to the airport.
Goodbye Iceland. Thanks for the crazy roads, the hot springs, the catch of the day, the blown tire, all the sheep, horses and birds along the way, the waterfalls, the lava fields, the endless fjords, the silence, the untouched wilderness, and the welcoming and easy-going attitude of your people. We will miss you.
Until next time.