Welcome back to my Iceland series – please check out the first post here!
After catching up on some much-needed sleep, we set out for an excursion the next morning–horseback riding over lava fields near Reykjavik. When we arrived we were instructed to find helmets and strongly advised to choose the optional rain gear due to the weather forecast. The skies were partly sunny but Icelandic weather can turn on a dime, we were warned. Neither my husband nor I had ever ridden horses before, so we were each put in the “beginners” group. Both of our horses were beautiful and white, but mine was a much smaller horse compared to the horse assigned to my 6’3″ husband. We watched a short video with general instructions and then were left to our own devices to mount our horses.
Icelandic horses, we learned, are actually technically ponies–but they are never called ponies because they are not bred specifically to be small the way ponies are bred. In spite of the smallness of my horse, it took me four tries to successfully mount him. He and I never really bonded; he seemed very independent and uninterested in my cues. He went faster only when the other horses around him went faster, he stopped when he wanted to stop, he repeatedly pulled against the reins and nearly bucked me off of him at least three times, and during a 5-minute downpour, he physically turned 180 degrees and blocked the remainder of the path until the rain let up. It was an experience, to say the least. The scenery was absolutely beautiful–I regretted not bringing my camera along for the ride. The lava fields were covered with moss, the trees were full of yellow and orange autumn leaves, and the sun peeked out from the clouds. It was here that we saw our first rainbow of the trip. It was an absolutely beautiful morning!
We warmed up with complementary coffee after the ride and then headed out for our first real meal since arriving in Iceland. We packed a number of snacks and found a vegan wrap at Keflavik, which shocked us–but nothing compares to a hot meal, especially after a frigid morning riding horses and getting soaked in a torrential downpour! We headed to the only fully-vegan restaurant in all of Reykjavik – Kaffi Vinyl. First, we came across our first stray kitty on a stoop marked with address “5”–so we referred to her as Five. We missed our cats terribly and this one was more than happy to enjoy some love and affection from us. There are many strays in Reykjavik, but they are well-cared for, well-fed, and extremely friendly. They often sneak into shops and even people’s homes when their windows are open for shelter from the unpredictable weather. Five seemed to be in extremely good shape.
After a parking SNAFU (parking meters not accepting foreign credit cards, us having not exchanged any currency and needing to find an ATM…), we finally parked and arrived at our destination. The Icelandic dining experience was an interesting one. Unlike America, waitstaff do not work for tips and tipping is not expected (though it is not discouraged, either, if you have an exceptional dining experience and wish to show your gratitude–we noticed the tip jars were usually filled with American dollars, which is a testament to the American dining culture). At Kaffi Vinyl, we ordered at a counter and then sat in the cafe waiting for our food to be brought to us. We were never presented with a bill in Iceland–at some establishments, you order and pay beforehand, and at others, the expectation is that you return to the counter to pay once you are finished, which was actually quite nice. There are few things worse than waiting for a bill when you are in a rush.
The customers seemed mostly to be locals, and I enjoyed eavesdropping on conversations I couldn’t understand. Thankfully, the menu on the chalkboard was entirely in English–I ordered the lasagna and my husband ordered a barbecue sandwich made with “oumph,” a mock-meat soy protein similar in texture to chicken. Dining in Iceland, I will say, is not cheap. For two meals, two beers, and two desserts, we paid nearly $80 USD, and on average when we dined out, we paid anywhere between $65 and $130, with the variance mostly dependent on how many drinks we ordered. Even at Subway, a veggie sandwich was $12 USD.
It was good to cozy up and fill up with Icelandic draft beers and enjoy the ambiance.
Later that day, we had reservations for the Blue Lagoon, which was the part of the trip that I will admit, I was the least excited about, and seemed to be the part that my friends and family were the most interested in (it is, after all, Iceland’s most well-known tourist attraction). After a long day of driving, riding, and still not being quite adjusted to the 5-hour time difference, I found the dip in the lagoon to exceed my expectations. The water is filled with minerals, like silica, and parts of the lagoon are much warmer than others. There is a swim-up bar, mineral face masks (which we did not use), and is surrounded by black lava rocks. Parts of the lagoon floor are sandy and other parts are quite rocky–so watch your step!
The water appears as a vibrant blue due to the reflection of the sunlight and the sky, but is actually milky white. The water can do extensive damage to hair, so I did everything in my power to avoid dipping my hair in it. They also offer free conditioner and require patrons to shower before entering the lagoon to keep the water is clean as possible, though the geothermal water of the lagoon does completely renew itself every 40 hours. This was one of the parts of the trip where the cultural differences between America and Europe were most apparent–the locker room was filled with more naked people than I have seen in my life. For the modest, there were individual shower stalls and even changing rooms with closed doors–but the vast majority of women did not bother with these options. I also opted to wear my contacts on this day because the water can do damage to prescription glasses. Since I did not have a waterproof case, I did not bring my phone or my camera with me either–though they did sell waterproof phone cases at the swim-up bar.
We arrived home around 9:00 pm that night and promptly fell asleep. It was an exhausting day–but the good kind of exhausting.
Stay tuned for more about my trip in the coming days!