Sloane Applebaum

Travel: Iceland

Hello everyone! I know it's been a while since I've posted, and the truth is I just haven't had much going on! I've been in Cincinnati for about 6 months now (crazy how quickly time passes!) and I am *finally* starting to feel adjusted to this whole "adulting" lifestyle (going to work, having responsibilities, paying bills, etc.) It's glamorous, I know. I took a break from the "real world" last week to travel to Iceland with my parents. This was my second time visiting Iceland (I was there two years ago with friends). Last time, I went in January, but surprisingly, it was much snowier & colder this time around!

The start to our trip was a little rocky, and if you follow the news, you've probably already heard that Wow Air, a budget airline based in Iceland, went bankrupt last week. We actually chose to book a trip to Iceland because the airfares on Wow Air were so inexpensive, which probably should have been a red flag, but we flew out on Tuesday evening and by Thursday morning, Wow Air had ceased to exist. The whole ordeal was handled pretty poorly by the airline; we learned that it went out of business via Facebook & never actually received any communication from Wow that our home flight was cancelled. Fortunately, we were able to act quickly & get tickets to New York on Iceland Air for the same day we originally planned to fly home. The tickets were stupid expensive, but we didn't have much of a choice. We were just lucky to get flights period... by mid-day Thursday, most flights were totally booked, and thousands of travelers were forced to extend their time in Iceland while waiting for later flight dates (ok I know it doesn't sound that bad, like of all the countries to be "stranded" in, Iceland is pretty nice. But just imagine you're in my shoes, not knowing if you'll ever make it home, thinking about having to start a new life in Reykjavik... it was tense). Obviously it was rough that Wow Air disrupted our vacation, but TBH I'm thankful they took till Thursday to shut down because if they'd gone out of business on Monday or Tuesday we wouldn't have been able to take our otherwise amazing vacation. So...thanks Wow Air!

Okay now to the fun stuff. Iceland is an amazing country, especially if you love the cold & love adventure. Visually, it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Just driving down the highways, you'll see massive snowy mountains next to serene blue lakes. It's like an icy version of Lake Tahoe. The weather is unlike anything I've experienced elsewhere. One minute, it's sunny and bright. Then, grey clouds move in, and suddenly it's hailing. The snow/hailstorms usually last about 20 minutes, and then the sun comes back! You always have to have an umbrella and sunglasses on you because you never really know what kind of weather you're going to get.

Reykjavik, the nation's capital city, has an excellent food & bar scene. One of my favorite places for a quick bite is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a famous hotdog stand. This place only has one thing on the menu, hot dogs, but they're known as the greatest hot dogs in the world! They are made mostly of lamb at topped with raw onions, crispy onions, ketchup, and sweet mustard. Sandholt is another popular stop in Reykjavik for breakfast. We enjoyed shakshuka, lox, yogurt, and pancakes there on our first morning in Reykjavik. They also serve the most beautiful cakes and pastries!

The Golden Circle is a must for any visitor to the icy island. This driving route is a 300 kilometer loop that starts and ends in Reykjavik and features landmarks including a national park, geysers, and a magnificent waterfall. There are plenty of groups that usher tourists around the Circle, but I think renting a car and going at your own pace is the best way to experience it. My parents and I dedicated a whole day to the Golden Circle because we wanted to spend time at each stop. Traveling around the Circle is an adventure on its own because the roads are so narrow and when it snows, the visibility is awful. There were times when my father was driving at 10 mph because we could barely see ahead of us! Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced "thing-vel-lir"). This is a great spot for hiking, and if you’re really adventurous (which we were not) you can swim in Silfra, an icy cold fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Next, we stopped at Geysir, which interestingly was the first geyser park discovered by humans (the first documented human encounter with these geysers was in 1294 A.C., but it's believed that they've been erupting for more than 10,000 years). The main geyser erupted every 10 minutes while we were there, but it is pretty unpredictable and in the past, it has stopped erupting completely for years at a time.

The final stop we saw on the Golden Circle was Gulfoss, a massive waterfall. There's one additional stop on the Golden Circle, a crater, but we wanted to get to Selfoss (where we were staying the night) before it got dark and the crater was a bit out of the way. Gulfoss was like a beautiful wintry wonderland! And the visitors shop there had GORGEOUS hot chocolate (much needed after a full day in freezing cold temperatures!

Another highlight of our trip was hiking glacial caves near the beaches of Vik. We did this excursion while staying in Selfoss (it’s a bit far for a day trip from Reykjavík.) This southern region of Iceland was previously covered entirely by glaciers, but they’ve been melting over the past few years, so it’s unclear much longer the glaciers will dominate Iceland’s landscapes. The melting causes the glaciers to constantly change shape, so caves form and disappear quickly. Our guide told us the caves we toured would be gone by the time summer arrives in Iceland.

Nearby the caves of Vik was Skógafoss, a waterfall so serene and beautiful it's hard to believe it's real! You can view this waterfall from the bottom and from the top (you'll have to climb 500 exhausting steps, but the view is totally worth it). This waterfall makes an amazing backdrop for photos!

We visited another nearby waterfall, Seljalandsfoss!

We stayed at two different hotels during our trip. In Reykjavik, we stayed at the Canopy by Hilton. This hotel is located right off of Laugavegur, the main street of the downtown Reykjavik district. The hotel itself was super nice, and being within walking distance from all the main attractions in Reykjavik was a huge bonus! It's also a quick 10 minute walk to Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church famous for its grand architecture.

The view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja.

Our second hotel, 360 Hotel, was PHENOMENAL. It's located 10 minute outside of downtown Selfoss, which makes it just far enough from "civilization" to feel remote but still close enough to not feel deserted. The hotel is owned by Anna and Olaf, a lovely Icelandic couple who pretty much run the whole operation. The entire facility has only 13 rooms, meaning even during peak travel season it feels personal and comfortable. I'd describe it as an extremely luxurious version of a bed & breakfast. What I loved most about our stay there is the role Anna and Olaf played in the experience. They go out of their way to get to know each guest personally and to introduce guests into their culture. We had breakfast and dinner at 360 Hotel for the nights we were in Selfoss, and the food was so delicious. The dining area consists of massive glass windows that allow you to enjoy the scenery surrounding the hotel as you eat. It's such a beautiful & peaceful experience! But the best part of staying at 360 Hotel was seeing the Northern Lights! Since the hotel's location is so far from a major city, there's no light pollution, so if you stay on a clear night especially in the winter months, you might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Olaf actually stayed up all night waiting for the Lights, and when they finally came out, he knocked on our hotel door to wake us and brought us to see them! That's pretty amazing customer service if you ask me.

Our faces right after seeing the Northern Lights a 1AM!

Another amazing vacation is in the books! I had so much fun exploring this gorgeous country with my parents, but I'm already counting down the days till my next adventure this May! Next stop, Israel!



#travel #europe

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