Growing intimate with Iceland
NYE Bonfires and Booms
We flew into Reykjavik New Years Eve (NYE). Getting to our hostel was very easy after having bought bus tickets on the airplane. We did not have any checked-in luggage so we just exited the plane, hopped on the bus, and were dropped off at the backdoor of a factory, we mean hostel. KEX has an interesting first impression from the outside, but don’t let that scare you away. Or else, you’d miss out on a gem. Our first impressions of KEX Hostel were not quite the same.
Paul’s first impression:
It reminded me of a scene out of Hostel. As I creeped out of the shuttle bus, I checked my pockets, my bags, and my kidneys…oh, and of course my girlfriend…just to make sure I still had them close by and safe. From the exterior, the hostel looked like an abandoned warehouse. We opened the backdoor and climbed a flight of cold, concrete, steel stairs and entered a starkly different world that was quite different than it’s exterior. It filled me with mixed emotions of curiosity and eeriness. The walls were adorned with books, clocks, candlelights, various artifacts, such as baby doll heads, arms, legs and clowns. As I let my emotions settle, I began to warm up to the place with it’s unique and eclectic decor.
Christina’s first impression:
It had a warm, welcoming, and HYGGE (cozy) feeling.
For New Years Eve dinner at the hostel, we were served a 3-course buffet and were seated with two other couples at a table. It was a warm environment that fostered conversation with strangers—a German couple and the Brits, neither of which were guests at the hostel. The restaurant/bar is open to the general public as well.
We heard that food and drink could be expensive in Iceland, but we were shocked to find out that our two beers before dinner had costed more than the dinner itself. Luckily, it was just a mistake that was discovered and fixed. We were not aware that the price we first paid included the dinner too. Oops…Even though Iceland is expensive, it’s not that expensive. It helps to learn the conversion rates, so you’re not overwhelmed with the thousands you will be spending.
Read more: Festivals in Iceland
After dinner, we began hunt for one of the many bonfires around the city and were joined by many other tourists and locals looking to partake in a traditional NYE activity of Iceland. Meanwhile, fireworks went off all around the city throughout the night. This was, of course, one of the reasons we decided to fly into Reykjavik on the 31st and to celebrate the New Year. The search was windy and cold, but we pressed on. After less than an hour, we found a bonfire, and it was HUGE. It was the perfect way to warm ourselves. A couple hundred of us circled around in our own personal parties. It was beautiful to see all walks of life and ethnicities circle around a bonfire and just celebrate life and a new year. We must warn though, don’t get too close. It gets a bit hot. If you do find yourself at the very front, you might want to try warming your butt instead of scorching your face.
Having our fill of the flames, we made our cold journey back to the hostel and warmed up. After much debate, we decided to bunker down at the hostel and not venture out for the countdown. With luck, we had found ourselves a private fire escape stairwell where we were able to have private viewing of 4 different firework shows, and most importantly, the church was one of them.
The morning after, we found ourselves snuggled up in a window nook enjoying the KEX’s delicious breakfast buffet. It was great for the both of us starting 2018 doing something that started this whole journey of us as a couple. Christina (a Dane) and Paul (an American) had met 2 years prior over breakfast in Seattle at a hostel, but that’s a whole another story.
For now, let us take a moment to review our adventure around Iceland in a camper van.
Messy Bus, but Not to Fuss
Van-life. It’s been romanticized and dreamed of by many, but few actually choose to venture into it. Having rented our very own VW California Bus from RENT.is, we were able to get a taste of something great. We would want to say a right of passage to life, especially as a millennial.
This bus served as the perfect petri dish for us to watch and examine our relationship’s growth. It got messy at times both literally and figuratively, but it was a beautiful thing to experience. We got close and personal. We had to, we were living in the bus. It gave us the opportunity to explore a new landscape with such intimacy to each other and the land.
We only showered when we got to one of many of Iceland’s beautiful, natural hot springs. Gladly, we visited 3 different ones. Olís became a welcoming sign for our toileting needs. It’s a plus that through RENT.is we got discounted gas and a free cup of coffee to fuel our adventure.
This van-life gave us an opportunity to nurture our wild spirits and roam free, or at least, it gave us that feeling of free spirits. It allowed us to feed our appetite to see and explore new wondrous lands. It also gave us the opportunity to say things such as, “Let’s go to sleep before we get to hungry.” As at times, it was tough to find food sources that were open on along the road during our winter trek. Also, the weather conditions did not always facilitate cooking. We were living the rugged life (or as rugged as a heated van with a mattress and cooler could be).
We wanted an adventure, so we decided to explore the northern part of Iceland. We were not disappointed. Yes, we had to go through some scary road conditions passing by two vehicles stuck in snow off the side of the road and a head-on collision. Luckily nobody was badly injured, but it did serve as a warning of Iceland’s ever changing road conditions and to proceed with caution.
Despite all of that, it also allowed us to see a wildly, untamed, beautiful world. There were less tourists and people in general. It graced us with the opportunity to feel like two solitary souls moving through a distant land. Most importantly, the location and a locked bathroom door granted us the possibility to enjoy the Northern Lights. No pictures were taken because we were caught up in the moment. Sometimes it’s better that way without gizmos and gadgets to distract and detract from the present.
This was an adventure to get to as snow had covered much of Iceland’s landscape on our visit. Google Maps, which was made possible by our van’s WiFi unit, took us “off road”. It was actually a gravel road covered with snow. We were not sure, but our daring spirits moved us along. We drove pass a field of Icelandic horses, dodged ditches, and closed gates that we opened.
When we finally arrived, we were not disappointed. There was a British family who had gotten there before us celebrating a wedding anniversary. Once they left, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was enchanting. It was just the two of us surrounded by mountains covered in snow with a view of the ocean in a natural hot bath, and we were able to enjoy it in solitude. It was definitely a “I’m lucky to be alive” moment.
Mývatn Nature Baths
We arrived at this place a little bit after they had just opened. Even though we were not the only ones there, the place was big enough to make it feel as if we were. It was a beautiful place to freshen up and relax. Quite a magical experience it was due to the winter season and distance from Reykjavik. Snow covered mountain tops, rooftops adorned with icicles, and snowfall kissing our faces from the heavens above. There were also geothermal baths (saunas) which we enjoyed.
This was the tail end of our trip as we were making our way back to Reykjavik traveling on highway 1. By this time, we were in our eighth day into this adventure. Things had been going well up until this point without any hiccups. As many probably know, things can get a bit tense with no space to let things simmer and breathe.
Things got heated despite the Arctic surroundings and glacier that sat in front of us. We sat there in the van yelling at each other as the rain fell on the windshield and tears streaming. We were having one of those fights that couples have. Feelings of hurt and pain were unleashed in our little van. As the eruption of our tempers settled, the question was asked, “Do you still want to marry me?” A quick response of “Yes” was given. A calm surrounded us in the form of icebergs and glacier and a sense of love. We wrapped our circumnavigation of Iceland with a hike along Svinafellsjökull (the southern part of Vatnajökull).
GO FORTH, AND EXPLORE
We don’t want to scare any couple or anyone from pursuing the van-life. Quite contrarily, it is highly recommended. As we explored Iceland, we found ourselves discovering the inner intricacies of ourselves as individuals and us as a couple as well. Through this circumnavigation of Iceland, we were blessed to discover the beauty that the world and life surrounds and fills us. We look forward to the next opportunity for us to travel in this way again.
Although food can be expensive in Iceland, there are some that we tried that left a lasting impression on us and would like to share and encourage you to try.
Brauð Bakery is a quaint bakery found in Reykjavik. It offers an array of breads, pastries, and cookies. If available, make sure you get a rye bread snack and a couple cookies.
Langoustine is lobster’s distant cousin and a delicacy of Iceland. Fjöruborðið served us a batch we ate with our bare hands and a bowel of soup, which we used a spoon of course.
Vogafjós here you get to eat delicious food and look at cows at the same time. It brings a whole new element to farm to table cuisine. We even got to sample a shot of fresh, warm milk straight from the utter.
Bæjarins Beztu it’s a hot dog. Get it with everything.
Read more: Iceland – A Bucket list trip
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