Last Day in Iceland and First Day in AMERICA

Today was my last day in Iceland. I had a blast. Nicole and I got up and had some coffee at a little shop down the road. Supposedly it’s the best coffee in Iceland, and it was pretty delicious, but I honestly preferred the place we went on our first day. We packed our bags and set them by the door. We bought a few knickknacks for family members at a shop up the road and we went to a $40 volcano documentary.

$40 Volcano Movie?!

Why did we spend so much? A simple conversion error. When I bought our tickets at the downtown…..volcano store? I thought we were getting a heck of a deal, especially by Icelandic standards, two movies for $4? What a steal. It wasn’t until we sat down in the small 15 person theater that I realized we’d spent $40 on a 45 minute movie about volcanoes.

Touching all the rocks at the volcano museum
Touching all the rocks at the volcano museum

The volcano documentary wasn’t even that great. It was basically 3 different volcano videos edited together one after the other. I made a note to myself to one day retire and open a volcano documentary theater. After the documentary, Nicole and I walked around the small display cases of volcanic rocks and touched all of them, that’s right, all the rocks. By god, we were going to get our $40 worth. I also sent several photos of the museum to my sister, further enhancing the volcano experience for myself.

Lunch

After our volcanic mismanagement of vacation funds we got some delicious fish and chips, as we are wont to do. It was much less than the volcano movie and it came with a delicious IPA. The little fish and chips shop is right next to the volcano museum and located a mere block from the harbor. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Icelandic Fish and Chips
Icelandic Fish and Chips

The breading was light and flaky while the fish was fresh and flavorful. If you find yourself in Reykjavik and you’re hankering for some fish and chips, I highly recommend Icelandic Fish and Chips.

Coming to America…TODAY

Welcome to America
Welcome to America

Our three weeks of adventures through Iceland, Germany, and India were finally coming to an end. We’d had a blast, but we were ready to return to America and see our families. Nicole and I returned to our AirBnB and loaded our bags onto the shuttle bus to the airport. The flight was that evening and because of the time change we arrived in Boston, our first city in America, around the same time we left Iceland. My friend Adam picked Nicole and I up from the airport and we met up with his girlfriend for some delicious giant pizza in Somerville, MA.

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First meal in America, a giant pizza
First meal in America, a giant pizza

Second Day in Iceland – Caves and Volcanoes

Our second day in Iceland we had less of a structure to our day. We knew we wanted to see caves and volcanoes so we hopped in our rental car for the last day we had it and set a course for the nearest caves we could find, which turned out to be quite good. The caves were about a 30 minute drive away from out Airbnb, but first we needed to stock up for the day and that required snacks. Iceland was quickly becoming one of my favorite places and the supermarket was yet another reason why. The supermarket we stopped at was excellently stocked with a variety of health foods, protein, and various juices. It was so fantastic I didn’t even mind the arm and the leg I was charged for it.

Icelandic Caves

From the supermarket we drove through a series of random back roads thanks to our GPS and eventually found our way to a neat group of caves on the side of the road. If our GPS hadn’t told us about the caves, we might have driven past. The caves were submerged into the ground so on a drive past, they didn’t look like anything at all.

Volcanoes

After our cave exploring adventures Nicole and I went in search of volcanoes. We found one on our GPS in the middle of nowhere, and only a 30 minute drive from where we were caving because unless you’re in Reykjavik, you’re in the middle of nowhere. The drive leading up to the volcanoes was completely devoid of any sort of vegetation aside from this thick green moss that seemed to cover every exposed surface in all directions for miles. The view was incredible. It felt like being on an alien planet. Just mountains, volcanoes, and this green moss. We made it to the volcanic craters just before a massive storm started pouring on us so we didn’t stay for too long.

Failed adventures in Thermal Spas

Nicole and I had big thermal spring spa plans for today. We found some neat hot springs in a valley high up between two mountains. They looked fantastic and according to the blog that recommended them, they were only a 45 minute hike away. We parked at the base of the mountain and packed a little bag with snacks and bathing suits and towels and started our hike up the mountain. As we hiked the mountain, we slowly began to realize we were incredibly under prepared for the hike at hand. People were regularly passing us on their way down with jackets, hiking boots, hiking poles, and some people even had horses. We had none of those things, just a plastic bag full of bathing suits and our determination to make it to the hot springs. The hike was beautiful though and the views were breath taking. We could see some hot springs and waterfalls along the hike but the ones we came across were only 1 or two feet deep and literally boiling.

After maybe an hour or so of hiking we could see that there were no hot springs in sight. The blog we found could very well be right about the location, but their time estimate was way off and the storm we just drove away from near the volcanoes was approaching our mythical hot springs. We decided to call the hike off and return to the car since we were going to the Blue Lagoon hot springs tomorrow anyways.

Returning the Rental Car

After our hike we drove back into town to return our rental car. We shared so many memories with that little silver car.  We took it to hell and back driving over really bumpy gravel roads and through deep potholes. It held up the whole time and we would miss it, but like the rest of Iceland, the rental car cost a small fortune and we had plans in Reykjavik for the next day.

We dropped our rental car off near the Reyjkavik airport and got a free ride back to our AirBnB thanks to the good people at Hertz Iceland.

First Day in Iceland – The Golden Circle

We woke about four hours after we fell asleep from the night before. As expected, the sun was out and shining brightly. While we were in Iceland, the sun set around 11pm and rose again around 3am. Because the sun set so late and rose so early, there were only a few hours of darkness and it never truly got dark. There were several hours of dusk and that was about it.

Expensive Breakfast

So back to my main point, we woke up, it was bright. We walked down the quaint little streets of downtown Reykjavik. Across the street we stopped in to a little bakery and got some pastries and coffee for breakfast. The meal was absurdly expensive, like $30 for two croissants and two coffees. Everything in Iceland was expensive as we soon learned. However, the taste almost justified the cost. The cup of coffee was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. The pastries were light and fluffy and delicious. I certainly got the value of a $10 pastry, although I would have been happy with the value and flavor of a $5 pastry instead.

Getting Lost and GPS

After breakfast we hopped in our rental car and began our drive along the Golden Circle. Not ten minutes into our trip though, we got lost, horribly lost. I stopped and asked for directions to the nearest phone store and bought a SIM card. It was the greatest investment I made while in Iceland. We used the GPS to navigate all over country, starting with Þingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle

A field of Cairns
A field of Cairns

The Golden Circle is a famous route through southern Iceland that passes by some of Iceland’s most famous natural wonders including Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall, and Þingvellir. [divider_flat]

Þingvellir

Þingvellir is the oldest parliament in the world. It was founded in 930AD and originally it was just a rock in the middle of nowhere, literally. There was a Lögberg, or law rock, where the lawspeaker presided over during his 3 year term. Þingvellir was founded at its location because of its central location for most of Iceland’s first inhabitants. I read a lot of the signage around Þingvellir. It was really impressive. For example, before the laws were written down, the lawspeaker had to recite all the laws from memory as part of his job. Þingvellir is also home to an impressive waterfall, quaint brook, and some scare ducks (pictures below).

Next Stop Geysir and Strokkur

From Þingvellir we drove another 40 minutes to Geysir hot spring area. Geysir is the name of a famous geyser. In fact, the name geyser is derived from Geysir. Geysir began erupting as early as 10,000 years ago. However, it has all but stopped now. Occasionally earthquakes reawaken it but usually only for a few days before it falls dormant again. Strokkur, another geyser nearby, erupts every few minutes to a height of 30m.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Our third stop of the day was at Gullfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s a giant waterfall on the river Hvítá. The river flows over a 3 step staircase formation and then down two separate drops. We parked and walked down a wooden boardwalk to the waterfall. You can get pretty close to the actual waterfall and the closer you get the wetter you get. Standing at the end of the boardwalk is like standing in perpetual rain.

Kerið

Kerið, an extinct volcano, was our last stop for the day. We’d spent the day seeing all manner of wondrous sights. In fact, we never even planned on visiting Kerið. It wasn’t on our list of things to see, but rather it just popped up on the roadside on our ride back to Reykjavik. It was also the only attraction we had to pay for. Literally everything else we saw today was free. Our only expenses so far were our breakfast and the gas to drive our rental car around. That being said, Kerið was only about $3. From the road Kerið looked like a modest hill with a small white shack in front. When we paid we were really taking a gamble since we couldn’t really see anything from the little shack where we paid. However, once we walked up the edge of Kerið and looked down inside of it and realized our money was well spent. The volcano is impressively deep as well as colorful. Just like in India, so many of the attractions we visited were completely open for the public to explore every inch of. Nicole and I walked down inside of the volcano and I got some incredible pics from the experience.

Whale Steaks for Dinner

Salmon, Mackerel, and Lamb in Jars
Salmon, Mackerel, and Lamb in Jars

Nicole and I headed back to Reykjavik after our day of sightseeing. We had a short rest in the AirBnB before heading out to dinner and the part of this paragraph that you’re probably most interested in, eating whale steak. We dressed for dinner and walked down the same quaint Icelandic street in search of some sort of delicious meal. I found a little place off the main road on the first floor. It looked like a little tavern complete with squat little windows and tiny curtains. Inside it was dimly lit and there was an old man playing piano. It was straight out of a movie. The restaurant offered appetizers of various meat mixed with berries and or vegestables served in small jars. We ordered a round of three jars and a minke whale steak to split. The jars were fantastic. We had pickled mackerel, smoked salmon, and lamb. The whale steak was even better. It was a dark purple and similar to steak in flavor, but quite different in texture. The meat was a bit chewier and didn’t quite have that red meat texture, despite having a similar flavor.

The Day in a Nutshell

What a day. Iceland is incredible. After being here only a day I already love it and would love to move here. The people are incredibly friendly. The food is unbelievable. The scenery looks like its straight out of a painting. I don’t think I could take a bad picture if I tried. Looking forward to what tomorrow brings!

The Last Day in Berlin – Museum Island then Iceland

On our last day in Berlin, we headed over to Museum Island, Berlin’s island …of museums. We got passes and walked through a few of the museums including a painting gallery, a sculpture gallery, and a history museum. Just like the Deutsch Museum in Munich, they were really informative. The history museum even went into the history of the museum itself. Apparently a bunch of artifacts were taken to Moscow by the soviets during their occupation of East Germany and Russia still has them. There were several exhibits that brought that fact up. I found it ironic considering the Germans were holding literally hundreds of Egyptian artifacts, but they never mentioned that in the museum.

Pizza and Packing

After an afternoon of hanging out in the museums, Nicole and I got a pizza to share and headed back to the AirBnB to pack. We loaded up our bags and took a tram to a bus to the airport. The whole trip took about an hour and reached the airport right at the 2 hour mark for our international flight. Nicole got us some food while I waited in line to check us in.

Flying to Iceland

Landing in Iceland
Landing in Iceland

The flight to Iceland was no problem. We took off on time and arrived a few hours later in Iceland. I actually slept most of the way. The new travel Austin was finally becoming accustomed to sleeping on long flights. It made the time go by much faster, but at the expense of missing airplane snacks. I made up for it by eating the rest of Nicole’s airplane sandwich when she fell asleep. [divider_flat]

Landing in Keflavik

My trusty yellow bag and a tiny blue shopping cart
My trusty yellow bag and a tiny blue shopping cart

Landing in Keflavik, Iceland’s largest airport, was a breeze, even at 1am. There was absolutely no security or anything, we just picked up our bags from the luggage carousel and walked out. No customs, no declaration forms, Iceland was just happy to have us. I loaded up my trusty yellow backpack into a tiny shopping cart and headed over to the car rental place. The guy I chatted with was really nice. He ended up giving us a free audio CD of the Golden Circle (more on that later) and another CD of Icelandic Folktales. [divider_flat]

Iceland's Keflavik Airport at 1am
Iceland’s Keflavik Airport at 1am

Finding our AirBnB

We got our keys and hopped into our rental car. I used the airport wifi to look up directions to our residence and then we departed. The trip was supposed to take only 45 minutes, but we ended up getting lost in Reykjavik. The trip took about twice as long and involved us stopping at a random house at 2am and almost knocking on the door before we realized we were in the wrong place. Luckily we figured it out and didn’t scare a random Icelandic couple with out late night intrusion. Eventually we found our AirBnB and our room inside the AirBnB. We got inside and brought our bags up to our room before passing out from an exceedingly long day.

Around the World in 22 Days.

Last week I reached my last 60 days of my teaching contract in Korea. Nicole and I have had a blast so far this year and we’re looking forward to teaching in Korea for another upcoming year. We’ve looked into several programs and decided to pursue a few programs in the southern provinces of South Korea. If all goes according to plan we’ll be teaching in Korean public school starting in mid August, and hopefully living together. We should know more around June. That gives both of us about 1.5 months of vacation between our two contracts ending and then starting up again.

Since we’re in charge of booking our own flights back to the United States, Nicole and I decided to plan a mini trip around the world on our way home visiting a few places that we’ve both been interested in and that are vaguely on our way back to America. My contract ends after Nicole’s so we’re going to wait until my contract ends at the end of June to begin our trip. I finish my contract Monday night. After work Nicole and I will pack up the last of our stuff and take a bus to Incheon airport.

All of these pages will link to my travel entries from my trip as I write them so stay tuned.

First Stop India

Taj Mahal

Our first stop will be New Delhi, India. We’re going to fly to out from Korea Tuesday morning and spend a week in India traveling around New Delhi. We’re looking forward to seeing lots of interesting temples and markets in India. We will also be visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Next Up Germany

Neuschwanstein

The next stop on our trip is in Munich, Germany. I visited Germany a few years ago, but Nicole’s never been and she told me she was really interested in visiting. In Munich we’ll see famous beer halls and churches. We’ll also travel outside the city to see castles like Neuschwanstein.

After a few days, Nicole and I are taking a night train and checking out one of Germany’s most historic cities and also home to Germany’s capital: Berlin. We’ll hang out in Berlin for a few days and see the sites before taking a plane across Europe to…

Iceland

iceland

From Berlin, we’re traveling to Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland is home to some incredible natural beauty. We’re going to see everything from lava caves, to geysers, and hot springs. Since Iceland is so far north, and we’re visiting in Summer, the sun will be up almost 24/7. The sun only sets for about five hours each night. Days last from 4am to 11pm and because “night” is so short, it never really gets dark. Those five hours of “sunset” really equate to about 3 hours of dawn/dusk and maybe an hour or two of true night.

Good Ole US of A

mt rushmore

Our final stop on the trip, before we return to our hometowns in Florida, will be in Boston. I’m going to spend the weekend in Boston visiting my friends Adam and Ali as well as my mom’s side of the family for a much deserved mini-reunion.