There are three things you need to know about Iceland.
1.) No, Really, It's FREAKING Cold
Whoever named the North-Atlantic country close to the Arctic Circle was not making this shit up. The barren landscape with active volcanoes, glacier-etched fjords, black beaches, and lava fields, is, indeed, an icy blast of Elsa proportions, especially in November, when we went. To my credit, I was swayed by the travel guides that claimed Iceland would be no colder than New York in the winter and only 10% of the island is actually ice. Ignoring what the name might actually imply and confident that this family lives for cold--Colorado Rocky Mountain cold, I might add--we packed our Gore-Tex and “Your cold don’t scare me” attitudes and headed North. To Iceland. In November. In the middle of a wind storm. Our driver from the airport actually warned us to not let go of the car door while getting out for fear it would be ripped from the hinges. So, in that very moment, that whole, “We’ve dangled from a chairlift in the midst of a mid-winter blizzard and I laugh at your mild-as-New York winter” blew away with the frigid blast that chapped our cheeks and snatched our hats.
2.) The Blue Lagoon Looks Better in Pictures
I’m sure, in the summer, the Blue Lagoon is a majestic aquamarine indulgence. I’m sure the sun sparkles off the opaque ripples and the warm waters lap at what ails you. But, in the middle of a wind storm (see #1), the Blue Lagoon feels like a dip in giant bowl of lukewarm milk. A trip to the geothermal spa starts with pre-booking your tickets to ensure your entrance at a specific time. Make sure you do this, or you may not get in. Then, there’s a brisk walk through a field of black lava rock that leads you to the entrance of the spa. There, you’ll check in, get your entrance bands, and decide what you need to rent: towels, flip flops, swimsuits (eek!).
From there, the men and women separate and head to the changing rooms. While they are clean and sleek, the changing rooms feel a bit sterile and institutional, especially as you take the stark naked trek to the showers where they ask all guests to wash without wearing a bathing suit. Skinny Jeans had never seen so much skin. After the shower, guests can tug on their sticky swimsuits and move over to the much anticipated lagoon.
Skinny Jeans was required to wear inflatable armbands, which were provided. We met up with Peter and entered through the small enclosed section where most of the guests were submerged and seeking refuge from the wind. The water, not nearly as warm as we had hoped, is a milky white. If the thought of Band-Aides lurking on the bottom of swimming pools or the inability to see your limbs just inches below the surface of the water freaks you out, you might want to skip this excursion. I was thankful for the bright orange armbands Skinny Jeans was wearing as all I could think about was losing her to the opaque abyss.
As we ventured out of the enclosure, we were blasted by the Arctic gusts. Soon, our wet hair from the showers froze and any exposed skin was whipped by the winds. Skinny Jeans had been most excited about the idea of putting the white mud (silica) on her face as she’d seen in photos. Chanting, “Mud on your face, big disgrace!” she begged Peter to swim across the lagoon to the mud depository. As he searched the lagoon, Skinny Jeans and I tried to find the “warm spots” where the temperature was said to reach 104°F. Maybe it was chill in the air. Maybe it was the time of year. But if the water reached triple digit temps, we never felt it. By the time Peter made it back from the silica station, his hand had frozen and cramped around a lump of ice cold mud. Determined to look as joyful and relaxed as those white-faced models we’d seen on the website, we slathered our skin with what felt like a frosty milkshake and attempted a stiff smile before rinsing it off and swimming as fast as we could back to the enclosure where the rest of the spa guests had piled up, comparing psoriasis patches and talking in every language imaginable. We didn’t even grab the drink from the swim-up bar we’d been promised with our ticket.
And, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s turning away a free drink.
3.) Make it Rain
I live in an expensive area. The Vail Valley would not be what one would consider budget-friendly. I’m used to a $20 burger and $6 coffee. But, even so, Iceland doubles-down on spendy. According to Numbeo's Cost of Living Index, Iceland currently ranks as the third most expensive country in the world. In other words, a beer will set you back about $10; a meal, closer to $40. That being said, our hotel near the Blue Lagoon, although sparse, was cheap (around $150 per night) and the flights direct from Denver on Icelandair were less expensive than flying to NYC ($500 per person) and Iceland wasn’t our final destination. From there, we flew to London and then out of Paris. So, all things considered, maybe it evened out.
As far as stopovers go, this one was like landing on Mars for a moment before bouncing over to the more well-know regions of the world. Will we be back? Probably not. But, then again, I never say never and, damn, if those marketing materials don't make it look inciting.
This Place Fits: Families who are easily swayed by shiny, colorful images of fake families looking like they are having fun. Just kidding. It's a solid place for families to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Where to Stay: Geo Hotel Grindavik, Grindavik There’s a free shuttle to/from the airport, a free shuttle to the Blue Lagoon, a small grocery store next door, and a breakfast buffet. Other than that, don’t expect much else.
Where to Eat:
We had lunch at The Blue Lagoon cafe, which was OK for a quick bite. The restaurant on site offered a more sophisticated menu, but since Skinny Jeans is allergic to fish, we passed. (Note: Iceland might not be the best place to go with a fish allergy. You know, the whole surrounded by an ocean thing. Skinny Jeans ate her weight in Sykr- a yogurty delight.)
We also ordered take-away from Papa’s Pizza near our hotel and asked that they delivered it to our room since just walking across the parking lot of the hotel was a challenge in the gale-force winds. Total Americans.
What to Do:
The Blue Lagoon It really is a must-see. I just recommend going in the summer months.
Reykjavik While we didn’t have time to venture out to the city, I’ve heard great things. From actual people, not just a travel guide.
All suggestions/recommendations come from my own experiences. I’ve received no compensation of any kind from any of the places on this list.
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