Iceland in Spring: Reykjavik and Reykjadalur

A kooky/brilliant/wonderful friend and I drove all around Iceland in late May, sleeping in hostels and abandoned churches and our car, and I meant to post about it forever ago, but the journal I kept while we were there got lost in my most recent move. I was so sad about that, I never posted.

I’m trying to stiff-upper-lip it and post now, although details are going to be a bit murkier without the journal. First off, absolutely go to Iceland in May. It’s cool but not cold, damp but not rainy, most touristy stuff is already opened, crowds are nothing like they will be during the summer and hotels and rental cars are (slightly) cheaper. Bonus — it stays light till about midnight, which means you get extra time for sightseeing.

We found a great deal on tickets (just over $200, round trip) on WOW airlines (beware the added baggage costs), but they only fly out of a few cities. So our road trip through Iceland started with a road trip up the United States east coast.

We began in Little Rock, and visited my oldest three friends (my sister, my high school bff and my junior high bff) in Nashville, Chapel Hill and Boston, respectively. And we ate dinner in Asheville, NC and found this great teahouse called Dobra that’s open-air in the front and secret and shadowy in the back.

All of their tea is sourced from Asia and served in an intentional way. The front tables are a perfect place to watch windy twilight descend, while flipping through the zines you just picked up at Downtown Books and News, and the back is sit-on-carpets-and-cushions lounge-y.

 We flew out of Boston around 3 p.m. and arrived at Reykjavik at 4:30 a.m., which felt like midnight to us. We picked up our rental and parked downtown, slept in the car for about an hour, and then wandered the city, dodging staggering heading-home-from-clubbing people.

We visited Hallgrimskirkja, the iconic church designed to look like basalt lava-formations, lifted to the top and enjoyed the stellar city view and howling wind; found a delightful little bakery for coffee and yummies; photographed street art, visited a few thrift stores and capped our morning with a visit to the creepy penis museum.

 

Jamie and I are both huge fans of the public, geo-thermal pools in every city and village. We visited our first one, Nautholsvik, a few hours after arriving.

Frequented by locals more than tourists, this is a free bathhouse with showers and a steaming pool, overlooking a beach, with a little section of sea that I think is supposed to be walled in and heated. (I think that part is a myth. That water felt like it was a few degrees ahead of ice.)

 We had the pool almost to ourselves, and it was fun to dash across the sand in 40-degree weather, plunge in the ocean, swim a few strokes and slink back to the pool, every follicle prickled and burning.

We stocked up at a supermarket, since Icelandic restaurants are expensive and anyhow, Jamie’s vegan (she compromised and ate skyr out of necessity).

Most of our trip, we sustained ourselves with licorice (Icelandic licorice is NOTHING like the rubbery, medicinal-tasting stuff you get in the States), apples, skyr, trail mix and raw carrots dipped into jars of peanut butter or icky hummus.

In late afternoon, we drove about an hour on Ring Road to Hjardarbol Guesthouse, which was clean and comfortable and best of all, had it’s own geo-thermal tub. We drank tea and read and floated for hours, and I took a walk and met some Icelandic horses with dreamy hair.

The next morning, we went to Reykjadalur, also known as Steam Valley. (Directions: drive through the town of Hveragerdi till you reach a gravel road. At the end of the road, you’ll see a small cafe and parking lot.)

It’s an easy, 3km hike through green hills billowing with sulfuric-scented steam from underground streams and lots of boiling hot pots along the way.

Eventually you reach an above ground stream, warm enough to bathe in. It gets hotter as you go up the mountain, so if you want a cool dip, stop near where you first see the boardwalk.

There are a few not-so-private barriers to change behind and a few boiling vents in the river, so watch where you step. (We saw a girl blister-burn her foot.)

Iceland is primal and extreme. You can see the seams of this fire-breathing planet, gulp the mineral stench, understand the literal belief in hell.

It’s almost like visible evolution in real time, but it’s also like you’ve been transported back in time tens of thousands of years, glimpsing what this place was like before it could sustain human life or maybe, any life.

It’s a terrifying, humbling, magical place, a microcosm of the world with seemingly every landscape anywhere, gathered in this tiny area of 40,000 square miles (much of which we never saw, since the interior was still too icy for travel).

If you’re traveling to Iceland and have questions, feel free to comment or message me. You can see more of my Iceland pictures here. More Iceland posts are here.

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