8 Days Of Cooking, Drinking From Waterfalls, And Family - Nicole's Summer Iceland TripAug 30, 2018
There's nothing more satisfying than a job well done...except a vacation from a job well done!
In 8 days we drove 1,363 miles through Iceland in a campervan. I cooked ♨️ more these days than I have in the entire last year 😳. We drank🚰 from waterfalls and bathed in geothermal pools. We met people from all over the world 🌎 and picked up hitchhikers 👍🏻. And most importantly, we spent uninterrupted time together as a family 👪 .
And as you know, at the Family & Aging Law Center - family is at the center of all we do.
A Trip of A Lifetime
At the end of July, I was lucky enough to go on a trip with my husband Marcus and son Marek to the beautiful island nation of Iceland. While I've been there before, my husband had not ... and either way, it is a trip well worth making more than once.
We decided to do things a little differently this time, and chose to make a campervan trip around the entire island instead of staying in hotels. The result? An incredible, epic trip that will stay with us for a lifetime.
More Beautiful Than I Could Imagine
If you don't know already, I have traveled a lot in my lifetime. In fact, I used to be a flight attendant for Continental Airlines, and in those years went all over the world! And, like I said, I had been to Iceland before.
I knew it was beautiful. And yet...
Even my experienced eye was continuously shocked by the amazing, natural beauty that surrounded me. When you go outside the most populated/tourist areas (Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, etc.) you find a country largely unspoiled, safe, and incredibly beautiful.
The map below shows our route:
Before we left:
I knew that Iceland was going to be a different story for summer weather than I am used to, and the fact that we were going to be camping put an extra layer of complication on it all. We would normally count on doing at least one load of laundry on a trip of this length, but because we would be on the road I didn't want to rely on that. So packing was a little daunting!
Things we took that you might not expect:
- sleeping bags (nights were expected to be between 30-40 degrees, and I didn't want to rent a sleeping bag)
- rain gear, including rain coats, waterproof pants and waterproof boots
- a coffee/french press (cannot live without our coffee!)
- multiple bathing suits - Iceland has the BEST pools and hot springs!
Some general things to know:
- The sun basically doesn't set at all during this time of the year, or for very short periods of time. For us, this made the trip a lot better because we often were sightseeing and/or driving as late as 9 or 10 p.m. without any worries that we wouldn't be able to see anything. It also helped us avoid crowds.
- That being said, we didn't have a hard time getting to sleep - we just put towels over the windows, and we were out like lights! In fact, I personally got some of the best sleep ever on this trip.
- You really do not need to buy water in Iceland. The streams and especially the waterfalls are so pure, the water so delicious, that you just fill up your bottles and drink away! In fact, I have it on good authority that the Icelanders will mock you for buying water. 😀
- We made it around the entire island, including a short venture into the Westfjords, with a 7 night/8 day trip. This was totally do-able, but for those that want to get out and explore more it would be a little too ambitious. If, like us, you just wanted to see as much as possible, it's perfect! That being said, I really wish we had at least 10 days, preferably 14. Ah well, duty calls!
- While getting to Iceland is cheap (WOW Air has direct flights from Detroit at a very low cost), Iceland itself is a very expensive country. For example, although I cooked every meal except two the entire trip, one of the meals we had was at a GAS STATION and cost SEVENTY DOLLARS (two adults and a child)! (That is not a typo! - But our meal was delicious and it came on beautiful ceramic plates, yes, even in a gas station, so it was fine.) It makes sense, though - it is a Nordic country, an island, so shipping everything is necessary and there are a lot of tourists willing to spend the money. My point is just not to get sucked in thinking it will be a cheap trip, just because of the airfare.
- Geothermal energy is prime here - which means that there is plentiful heat inside of places and in the many pools and hot tubs around the entire county. I urge you to make liberal use of these, if you ever travel there. The pools are centers of socialization for people of all ages, where they come together and enjoy a resource as a community...I must say, I found it incredibly inspiring, and wished we had more things like that in the US!
- There are sheep everywhere - and it is one of the most charming things about the island. You have to think that these are the happiest creatures on earth!
- Iceland is almost 90% privately owned - which, when you travel around and see how much of it is uninhabited (except for the sheep, and some of the Icelandic horses) - is completely amazing.
DAY 1 - Landed and got on the road
The first day, we landed at the Keflavik airport and got picked up by the campervan company (we chose Kuku Campers). Once we got on the road, we went immediately to Costco (yes, can you believe it!?) to stock up and provision for the trip. Even the land around Costco is beautiful, as you can see from the picture above!
Pro tip: the Costco there has the BEST gelato in their foodcourt.
We then got on the road to head to our first campground, which I chose because it was on the way to the Westfjords, which we wanted to visit, and because it had a "hot pot" - a natural hot tub! So we chose to stay at the Laugar Campsite. In the evening, we went to the lovely hot pot Guðrúnarlaug, and finally to bed.
DAY 2 - HEADING TO THE WESTFJORDS
In a camper van, there are no bathrooms or showers, and there wasn't a shower at this particular campsite, either. But good news - public pools are everywhere in Iceland, and just so lucky for us, there was one literally steps from our camp.
Public pools in Iceland are nothing like we have in the United States. They are heated, quite nicely - which is great because the average high temperature outside is around 50 degrees in the summer! Yet all the pools are outside, and geothermally heated. There are also numerous hot tubs. Each pool has a locker room for each gender, where you are required by law to thoroughly clean your entire body - head to toe - before entering the pools.
Needless to say, you're as clean as clean can be by the time you leave! We had a ball, and we were clean.
But then, back on the road, where we immediately came across two young women from Spain that were hitchhiking across Iceland! (Before you gasp in horror, be aware that travel in Iceland is extremely safe, even for young women!) We picked them up for a while and when we told them our next stop was the Westfjords, they quickly recommended a campsite they said was beautiful.
So, we took their recommendation and completely changed our trip! We ended up in this amazing location: the Melanes campsite.
This was probably the most surprising location to me. The beach was endless...the skies were incredible, and we were nestled in a valley with a waterfall at our backs. I could not have loved it more.
The only drawback was the small black flies which were pesky, but not unexpected - we were camping, after all!
DAY 3 - NORTHERN ICELAND - and a terrifying drive
Reluctantly, we left the Melanes campsite and headed back on the road.
Now, the main road that gets to the Melanes site is a "detour" kind of road - and lies along the crest of a mountain. To be honest, to me, it was terrifying! Apparently, I'm not the only one that feels this way - In fact, at the campsite, one of the number one questions people ask is, "is this the only road you can use to get here?"
Obviously, we survived the road (both ways) and even though we wanted to explore more of the Westfjords, in order to make our goal of circling the entire island we had to cut this part of the trip short (I would definitely go back on another trip!)
So now, we wanted to go to another "hot pot" so we took a small detour on our way out of the Westfjords to a natural spot called Reykjafjarðarlaug. We spent an hour or so and then went on our way, to our next location - once again, a recommendation from a hitchhiker we picked up, a young woman from the Czech Republic.
We landed at our campsite in Hofsós that evening, and then to bed.
DAY 4 - THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH
Another highlight of our trip was the Hofsós pool. Built into the side of a cliff, it appears to drop off into the ocean. My son also met a friend there, an Icelandic boy that had taught himself how to speak English by watching YouTube videos! (Kids are so amazing!)
He was having so much fun we decided to spend a majority of our day there, and in the town, so the boys could play.
Then, back into the camper van, with a small detour around the northern tip of the peninsula, which was an incredible collection of lovely fishing villages. I would definitely want to go back and explore more in that region!
We kept moving, and got to pull off and visit the incredible Goðafoss Waterfall:
By that night, we made it to the Lífsmótun campground in Laugar.
DAY 5 - FUMAROLES, THE EASTERN FJORDS, & RHUBARB PIE
We woke up at our campground to find a lovely farmland...so we went and visited with the horses and ducks before hitting the road!
The terrain started to become even more otherworldly, as we discovered the Mars-like formations at Námafjall. There, we saw a number of fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots that all seem to be boiling with relentless energy - and were, to be honest, really stinky! But it was all so amazing, the smell was really not an issue.
No day could go without a good swim, so we then headed off to the pool in the eastern town of Egilsstaðir. All clean and played out, we got back on the road and headed to the southeast side of the island, where we discovered the delightful campground at Berunes.
This campground was not only beautifully nestled between the mountains and the sea, it also had a lovely hostel attached, which had the best rhubarb pie I've ever eaten. In fact, it was so good, my husband ate TWO pieces (and he normally has better willpower than anyone!)
So, we definitely recommend that if you ever make it to Iceland, and particularly the Eastern region, you make it a point to have a slice of this incredibly delicious treat!
The hospitality at this location was the best we experienced in the entire time we were there.
DAY 6 - SOUTHERN ICELAND (and a massive windstorm!)
Again reluctant to leave, we had to get on the road. To soothe our sadness, we made it a point to visit another hot pot, this time at the foot of the outlet glacier Hoffellsjökull. After a great soak and swim, we spent a little time at the glacier before heading out yet again.
One of the things I really wanted to make sure I visited was the Jökulsárlón lagoon, which is famous for it's icebergs year-round. So of course, we made it there, and saw seals playing in and around the blue-black-white icebergs.
It was unreal, as everything in Iceland seemed to be...but I was reminded we were headed back to "civilization" because this was the first location that we experienced a press of tourists. To be honest, this made me really sad - although Iceland has had a surge of tourism over the last decade, we really hadn't seen very many to that point.
That night, we went to rest at the Svinafell Campground. This one was nice, because it had a large community building where we could cook our meal and talk to other travelers. My son got to go outside and play soccer with boys from Spain and France - even though they didn't speak the same language, playing is universal!
Unfortunately, that night we also had one of our biggest "adventures" so far...
A storm came up and we had 78 mph winds! While my son slept like a baby, my husband and I laughed nervously the entire night. We were almost sure we would blow over! Even worse, we worried about all the campers outside that were in tents - with children - but did not dare to open the doors.
It wasn't a restful night, to say the least...but of course we survived.
DAY 7 - ELVES? - AND OUR LAST NIGHT
When we woke the next morning, the sun was again shining brightly. As we peeked out, we saw a mostly empty campground, but on talking to some neighbors, we discovered that all the families had taken cover in the large community room the campground had.
We were relieved, but soon discovered that the region we were in expected even worse winds that night...so we knew we had to get on the road. Plus, this would be our last night in Iceland, we had a 8 a.m. reservation at the Blue Lagoon the next day, and we had to get close.
In the camper van we went!
Of course, on the way we had to stop at Drangurinn, which legend says is the home of the elves. Personally, I was hoping to spot a hobbit!
That night, we stopped at a campsite in the town of Grindavík, on the far southeast corner of the island. This town is the closest we could get to the famed Blue Lagoon, where we had a reservation for early the following morning!
DAY 8 - BLUE LAGOON, Reykjavík & HOME
Waking up on our last morning in Iceland, I must admit I was very sad that this incredible family trip was coming to an end. I didn't have time to dwell on it, though, because we had to get to the Blue Lagoon, where we had an 8 a.m. reservation!
Fun fact: the last time I was in Iceland, I was swimming in at the Blue Lagoon right next to Kevin Costner, who was there filming a fishing show.
This is a VERY touristy spot and to be honest, although it's pretty cool, was NOT my favorite thing to do while there. In fact, I'd honestly advise saving your money and skipping it altogether - you can go to so many other cool spots and miss the crowds. Also, the silica in the water makes your hair stiff as a board!
Of course, though, we made the most of our time there, but then it was time to get showered up. We headed, finally, into Reykjavík, which is the country's capital and largest city. My son is obsessed with churches, so we simply had to visit Hallgrímskirkja cathedral...and it did not disappoint.
What is sort of amazing about this cathedral is that it was completed in 1986 - to me, I always think of structures like this being something from a time long forgotten! That being said, it feels in many ways quite "modern" in it's lines, even though things like the stained glass windows and massive pipe organ are very traditional.
After that, a quick meal and back to the airport...and home again!