This is the second part to my Iceland series about our road trip around the entire country. For the first installation, click here!
Things that have already been determined about Iceland:
- It’s stinkin’ cold.
- The weather changes on a dime.
- It is outrageously beautiful.
On the second day of our trip, Shane and I woke up from our quaint, rustic, farm-side cottage (pictured above) to find some nosy neighbors getting all up in our business…
One of the really great parts about Iceland’s booming tourism is how much the citizens of the country embrace the visitors! All over the countryside, farmers and their families have built series of 2-5 small cottages, like the one we stayed in, to accommodate travelers driving the Ring Road. They are warm, clean, quiet and usually are equipped with a lovely bathroom and a small kitchenette. I believe that lodging sets the tone for a successful trip, and staying somewhere that makes you happy to come back to makes for an even better travel experience! Plus why stay in a hotel, when you have views like that from the bedroom window?
We hit the road early because we had a busy day planned. Our first stop? Heading north to Illugastadir to visit some seals!
For those who want to know more information about seals, stop by the Icelandic Seal Center, just off of the Ring Road (Highway 1). There are signs everywhere for it, you truly cannot miss it. And if you do, there are also several seal rock sculptures that will definitely catch your attention and guide you there instead!
We left the main road and tried our hand at gravel road driving up the peninsula to the area of Illugastadir. This area must see a lot of tourists because there are frequent signs with seals on it and an arrow pointing to a foot path leading down to the beach. We stopped way down the peninsula to try our seal spotting luck.
Here’s what I pictured: dozens of seals sprawling in the sun on the beach and being the curious little fellows they are, they would come right up to us and I would pet them (like an Icelandic Disney Princess, right?), and we would be on our merry way.
How it really panned out: we walked probably a half mile down a foot path (thankfully others had come before us that morning so we could follow their footprints in the snow) and came to a lookout point. There, if we looked into the water, we could occasionally see the bobbing of heads of seals. And while it didn’t add up to my expectations, I had never seen a seal in its natural habitat before, this was incredible!
Our seal spotting needs satiated, we hopped back in the car to head to Varmahlid, where we were expected for a horseback riding tour.
At Hestasport in Varmahlid, we met our lovely tour guide, Julia, who took Shane and I on a private tour of the Valley of Silence (which actually sounds creepy, but it was quite lovely). We were lucky with the sunny and snow-less weather, and the clear skies allowed us to see all of the beauty around us! Julia told us about the legacy of the Icelandic horses and how they are one of the purest breeds in the world. Our horses, who’s full names I couldn’t pronounce but their nicknames were Ducky and Moussa, seemed to agree with Julia. She even showed us a few tricks that only Icelandic horses can do, including one step called the tölt.
Apparently, tölting is such a smooth quick step, that there are tölt competitions where riders hold pints of beer while the horse quick steps, and the rider with the most beer still in their glass at the end of the allotted time wins! It was easily determined that I would quickly lose. I am not a gifted horse rider (another Disney Princess unrealized dream).
As we rode, Julia pointed us towards scenic views, acted as our photographer (bless her heart), and informed us about the history of the land. Then, we started to hear rushing water. As we got closed, the ground ahead seemed to open up into a giant waterfall! Our first Icelandic waterfall! While riding an Icelandic horse! In Iceland! I could have gone home happy in that moment.
Julia also pointed us to a natural “hot pot” near the falls. Hot “pot” meaning just the right size to fit a few people and enjoy the warm waters for a bit. So after concluding our tour, and saying goodbye to our new friends…
We decided to take our adventure a step further and go find that hot pot!
I have to say, never have I been wearing a bathing suit while standing in the snow.
Goodness, that water felt so delicious. From the warmth of the pot, we watched the sun begin to set between the mountains in front of us and really felt appreciation for the country.
Until the sun went down and we realized it was going to be absolutely freezing to get out and put our clothes back on.
Warm and cozy once more in our car, we headed on the final stretch of our drive to the northern capital of Akureyri.
This was probably my favorite place that we visited while here! We found the country to be much more isolated up north since not many tourists stop in this lovely mountainside town. While the views of the ski runs and the narrow bay that stretched in front of our cabin for the evening were lovely, what was really lovely was the amazing meal we ate.
We decided to splurge on a nice restaurant. “Splurge” being used carefully since coffee seemed to be a splurge in Iceland (everything is expensive). And “nice” being used carefully since everyone was donned in their hiking or skiing clothing sitting around us.
We chose the restaurant Strikid, which is famous for being located with a lovely view on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in the city. That being said, it was only five floors tall, but still had a lovely view. And let me tell you, the food was incredible! A small plates focused restaurant with a great wine list, I was so thrilled with our meal that I didn’t mind the bill at all! At least we were paying for delicious food.
After a rich meal and such a long day, we were happy to be heading to our guest house for the night. We chose a quaint little studio apartment style house situated right on the bay, looking out into the city. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end the night!
Stay tuned for two more posts about our trip in Iceland. Part III will be about our whale watching adventure up north and the final day of our road trip, and Part IV will be focusing completely on Reykjavik!
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