Knowing someone more years than not is a fortunate gift, and lucky for us it's the case for Amy (right) and I, while Meag (left) and I are quickly approaching the same milestone. Finding friendship in elementary school and in high school, our relationships have lasted through the thickest and thinnest of times.
Now living a few thousand kilometres from each other, it's not often that we're all in the same place. And, with less ties to our hometown it was time to meet somewhere in the middle of Alberta, Ontario, and Belgium.
Almost ten years after graduating, we thought we'd really test our limits with a 10-day road trip around Iceland. Oh, did I mention we did it all in Velma our Volkswagen Up! rental vehicle. We didn't think she had a trunk at first sight...
Starting our journey with a 2-day stop in Reykjavik gave us plenty of time to fill up on our city fix. We did a free walking tour with City Walk learning about Icelandic history and folklore, and it only cost us a tip at the end of the tour.
The only thing we could fault Reykjavik for was the cold. Being Canadians, we like to think that we're adapted to the cold, but coming from summer weather to a windy and moisture-filled 10 degrees, we were chilled. Thankfully the #ladiesinlayers were well equipped and it only took a little bundling to keep us warm.
On to the important stuff. The food. Most Icelandic food isn't something to write home about. You can cover off most of the essentials in a few days: lamb stew, mashed fish, and rye bread. But, the seafood is phenomenal - I'm not one for fish, but I couldn't resist trying it all, and I was surprised by how much I loved it. Turns out living inland and eating fish just doesn't do it justice!
We loved Cafe Loki for traditional meals and Seagreifinn for their seafood, just be prepared to wait in a long line.
Our second day, we decided to get our first glimpse of the landscapes Iceland is most known for. Setting out in Velma we we're off to conquer the Golden Circle. From waterfalls, to caves, crater lakes, tectonic rifts, and geysers, we couldn't believe the vast contrast in scenery. Trust me, the photos don't do it justice.
Along our journey, we quickly realized a few things. A. We had a standard car and I can't drive standard. B. Meag doesn't know how to signal at a roundabout (hey, we're Canadian and we don't really have those here). C. Amy was a little scared of Meag's driving.
You can't shove three adults who live across the world from each other in a miniature car together and not expect some bumps in the road. Surprisingly, they were all easy enough to get past. I read the maps and acted as trip photographer, Meag just needed a little reminding on when to signal, and we're still not sure how Amy feels about Meag's driving, but that's for another trip.
On day three we left our downtown hotel towards Vik. We tried our best to stay in Vik, but without any luck, we settled for Hvolsvollur. If we were to do it again, we'd stay in Vik. Meaning most days we'd travel 3-4 hours in the car and split the drive up evenly.
There is a lot to see and do between the two towns, so we decided to drive that stretch and double-back on ourselves at the end of the day. It's hard to pick a favourite portion of the trip, but the south and the southeast are huge contenders. Massive waterfalls remind you of your scale, black sand beaches display the remnants of volcanic activity, and the basalt rock formations dazzle you with their near-perfect lines.
In Hvolsvollur, we stayed at Hotel Hvolsvollur, which was perfect for its amenities and most importantly its breakfast buffet. If you're travelling on a budget, we recommend booking any accommodation possible with a buffet. They're easy to come by and we packed a small collapsible cooler and sandwich bags, allowing us to make our lunches. This saved us a tonne of money and we were able to make some pretty incredible meals.
When we were in need of snacks or a little something extra, we stopped into a Bonus grocery store. The whole country is dotted with these and they offer the most affordable options. We also went to Netto to pick up some souvenirs like lava salt, fishkur (jerky-like fish), and Icelandic licorice - it's way cheaper than the souvenir shops.
On day four, with full bellies and a lunch worth looking forward to, we carried on past Vik towards Hofn. Throughout this leg we continued to see green pastures freckled with little white sheep, while cute, they do escape their pens and wander out onto the roads, so keep your eyes peeled.
Every kilometre gained meant entirely new landscapes. The country looks as though the highlands were reverse-hole punched out of the ground. Protruding with fierce definition, they separate themselves from the coast with stark cliffs often adorned with waterfalls. Suddenly moss-covered cliffs turn to rugged mountain peaks topped with expansive glaciers and you feel as though you've been transported to another country.
You can expect to find glacier-fed lakes sporting massive icebergs in this area. Best-known for Jokulsarlon, you can access the lake by small roadside pull-offs that appear to lead to nowhere. A little further down the road you'll find the main parking lot with washrooms, food vendors, and boat or kayak tours of the lake.
My favourite moments were spotting seals swimming in the water and listening to the icebergs calve, which eventually drain to the ocean or refreeze with the glacier. The black-stained glaciers act as a reminder of previous volcano eruptions, caking its ash among fresh layers of ice.
Just outside of Hofn in Hoffell is where we found our favourite hotel - Glacier World. The small, renovated farm house has good-sized bedrooms, bathrooms with heated floors and towel racks, and the best hospitality. We were greeted with a warm welcome in the main building, which includes the breakfast room and a small museum boasting an impressive rock collection along with short films explaining the history of the hotel and area.
Less than a kilometre down the road is where you'll find their hot pots (a perfect mix between a hot tub and a geothermal hot spring). As if that wasn't heavenly enough, it overlooks another glacier. We spent both our sunset and early morning here, plus admission is included in your hotel stay.
Sad to leave Glacier World and its hot pots behind, we set out towards Egilsstadir. Watching the terrain transform from staggering mountain peaks to rolling fjords was mesmerizing. Winding up and down the coastal highway, we soaked in our first truly sunny day. Along this drive, we allotted ourselves time to get out and stretch our legs and found stunning ocean-looking roadside pullovers and fields with grazing Icelandic horses.
Our trip didn't end here! To continue reading about the east and north click through to Part Two.