I didn't know what to expect when we had planned a trip to Iceland. I would be about 25 weeks pregnant by the time this trip came around. We wanted to go somewhere to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary and a baby moon. The country had been on our list, it's a place that we thought wouldn't be ideal to bring a young child in terms of the winter temperatures and Icelandic Air was offering deals- $375 direct roundtrip from SFO- which made us jump on it! I purchased some low key crampons from REI and dung out my nordic parka (or you can be like Steve and wear 7 layers- true story), packed my sorel boots and was ready!
I initially thought Iceland was just a country with pretty scenery and dodgy weather. We had a layover here in the summer and it was freezing! Having spent 7-8 days in this country, I am surprised at how much in love I fell with it. The landscape is stunning and the November weather wasn't too bad. It's much warmer than January in New York which where I often am for work at the beginning of the year.
Our flight landed at about 6am and by 7:30am, we were on the shuttle bus to the Blue Lagoon for our 8am reservation. Coming from the States, being in any type of hot tub is a no-no when you're pregnant but there were no concerns from the Icelandic women. "We have pregnant women working in the lagoon." they say. Ideally, the Blue Lagoon is so big that not all areas are the same in terms of temperature. We were able to find some body temperature like pools to dip in which was just the right call after a long flight. I had also made a reservation for one of their floating massages which was an interesting experience. By 11:30am, we were lounging for lunch at their Lava Restaurant, which was delicious and on their 1:15pm bus into Reykjavik. Yes, the Blue Lagoon is touristy but hey it's a must do once in your life if you're in Iceland, IMHO. Besides, what else are you going to do when your flight lands at 6am and your hotel check in time isn't until the afternoon. Besides, the Blue Lagoon is 20 minutes from the airport and about 45 minutes from town so, if you're going to do it, it's best to do it either on arrival from the airport or on your way out to the airport.
Prior to coming, we had to decide to drive or not to drive and I decided not to drive. Instead, we booked a multi-day tour with Arctic Adventures, their 5 Day South Coast, Snaefellsnes and Northern Lights Tour and couldn't have been more happy with it. I was bit nervous about joining a tour as it's not how I normally roll but we lucked out with an awesome guide, Hilmar and a small enough group to not feel like you were on a group tour. Our first stop was the Snarfellsnes Coast with the coast itself being the highlight. The main villages on this coast line are Arnarstapi and Hellnar. Mount Kirkjufell with waterfalls at it's base is a must visit stop. Wear your crampons when visiting in the winter! We spent the night at Hotel Rjukandi with the hopes of being able to see the Northern Lights but the weather wasn't on our side as the lights activity were low and the cloud cover was pretty heavy.
The third leg of our adventure took us to the South Coast which was very glacier focused. Earlier this year, we had traveled to Patagonia in Chile to celebrate my birthday and saw views of the magnificent glaciers there but Iceland would not be out done. On this side of the country, we walked through glacier tunnels with a mildly horrifying incident when the guide announced to the group that we couldn't do an ice staircase because of a 6 month pregnant woman (yours truly) but we ended up being led out with another guide who was with the senior group- phew! I would never want to be THAT person! While the the tunnel walk was cool and we expected the ice cave to be blue even though the glacier guide warned us and said it would be black - probably due to the lack of sunlight- it was the ride in the glacier tank vehicle with controls to alter the tire pressure depending on the terrain that I will remember. Although at times, I did wonder if it was too bumpy for me! The highlight of this leg on the south coast was our experience at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Imagine this huge glacier, Vatnajokull Glacier, breaking off chunks of it's icebergs that then flows through a river into a glacier lagoon which then washes away to the Atlantic Ocean only to have some icebergs swept back onto the sand, which happens to be a black sand beach with diamonds on it. Wild and stunning! Our hotel stay here was a place called Gerdi Guesthouse.
The last day of our tour was greeted with warnings of 90 mph winds and rain which prompted our glacier hike to be cancelled. I was totally fine with it and I think Steve was more relieved because he had been anxious about me slipping. Looks like the weather Gods helped him out! With the weather conditions, Hilmar started our drive back towards Reykjavik an hour earlier to try to escape the onslaught of weather that was coming. If we were to be stuck, it would have been stuck in the middle of nowhere for about 3 hours waiting for the winds to pass. Not ideal! We did manage some stops along the way to the other side of the black sand beach and moss covered lava fields but with the wind speeds, although not 90 mph and more like 50 mph, the mini tour bus was more ideal. After we said goodbye to our tour adventures and our guide, Hilmar, with which Steve had developed a man-crush on, we spent about 1.5 days in Reykjavik. We shopped, we ate, we took photos.
Food in Reykjavik is pricey and we knew that through word of mouth and our stopover airport experience in the summer. Every time we sat down for dinner, it was easily $100 but their food and it's preparation is delicious. Their fish is so fresh and tasty and their vegetables are fresh and creatively prepared. I've never had pickled celery! If you're looking for a cheap eat in town, head to the infamous Baejarins Betzu Pylsur hotdog stand circa 1937 for a $4.50 dog. Bill Clinton ate here! Don't be fooled by the poser, The Hot Dog Stand, in the main street leading up to the original place. You want to look for the stand along shack on a corner for this experience! Our two favorite meals were had at a restaurant in an unassuming food hall called Skal and a fish restaurant on one of the main streets called Messin. Braud Bakery is the morning spot with the nearby Reykjavik Roasters for a good hot morning drink! When choosing a hotel in town, it's worth staying on their city center main street especially in the winter. We stayed at the Alda Hotel.