Travelogue 06: Iceland
Iceland is magical.
It’s a fairly small country dominated by truly incredible natural features at every turn – enormous waterfalls, natural springs, glaciers, rolling hills, jagged cliffs, fog, moss. And most of it is wrapped in the most incredible foggy gray-green-black palette. It’s a photographer’s dream and absolutely deserves a place on every traveler’s bucket list.
On this visit, our first, we only had a few days to see as much as we possibly could – we worked a honeymoon shoot here into a packed schedule because how could we pass it up – and we knew we’d only scratch the surface.
The camper van we rented on a friend’s recommendation was crucial for seeing a lot, quickly. We prioritized our short/realistic MUST SEE list and headed off.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
I’m gonna be frank here – we kinda fucked up on sleeping during the flight, which left us feeling a little crazy when we landed. With food and coffee and teamwork though, we headed pretty much straight into our honeymoon session at Reynisfjara with some of our favorite clients ever.
The experience of exploring and especially shooting photos around iconic locations you’ve seen online, or on Instagram, or in magazines, or in Nat Geo specials, is nothing short of surreal every time.
I had seen pictures of the black sand. But standing in it, seeing the light play off it, watching the waves crash over it, feeling the chilly damp ocean air, directing clients to scamper around the basalt columns… the photos and memories are the only proof I’ve got that this wasn’t in fact a dream.
After a SOUND sleep in our van, we started our first full day exploring the capital city.
If you’ve read some of our other travelogues, you may know what we were after – great vegan food, coffee, thrifting, sights, and in this case, fresh bread.
Breakfast at a place called Kaffi Vinyl was the first order of business, and it was a HIT. A friend highly recommended it and for good reason. Great food and coffee, great vibe on a drizzly morning.
Bellies full, we started wandering side streets, popping into shops, admiring the architecture and colors, and grabbing coffee when needed. This would be a trend we adopted in Japan as well to great effect: exploring just one block in from a major street.
A huge highlight was meeting up with my sister-in-law – she was travelling with her mom. We chatted about how wild it was that were both in the same coffee shop in fucking Iceland and shared travel plans. They were staying longer and heading the opposite direction around the island.
We said our goodbyes, grabbed a huge loaf of fresh bread from Braud & Co nearby, and headed our separate ways.
Iceland’s relatively small size and simple highway navigation make getting around it a snap (especially since we’re accustomed to long drives around Colorado).
From Reykjavík, we headed counter-clockwise around Route 1 and were parked in the lot at Skógafoss before we knew it.
Another point for the camper van: you can just park at the stuff you want to see at sunrise. Makes seeing these things with smaller crowds much easier. We had a quick breakfast and headed toward this massive waterfall just as the sun began to peak over the horizon.
After exploring around the business end of the falls, we went for a little hike up and around behind it. There’s a huuuuge staircase that leads to some awesome new perspectives and a little trail system if you know where to look (and are sure-footed).
Satisfied, we made the trek down, ate some more, and headed off toward our furthest destination.
Another popular spot – it’s a glacial lagoon full of ice burgs.
The burgs are an incredible swirl of intense blues, whites and blacks, and not too far from the rocky shore. We strolled alongside it, checking out all the unique shapes of ice, watching the birds and seals, and enviously eyeing the guide boats cruising further out.
It’s an understated spot that’d I’d definitely recommend.
I think our last new feature had to be a waterfall.
The falls are an incredible reward for a very accessible hike/walk up from the parking lot. You’ll first see them from a good distance away as you approach along the trail.
This spot was one of our contenders for our honeymoon shoot location, but I’m really glad we went with Vik instead – Svartifoss is awesome, make no mistake, but access and working space was incredibly limited. This space was designed for tourists, not photo shoots, so you’re relegated to a boardwalk and small viewing deck. The natural rocky area at the base of the falls being no longer accessible.
Worth seeing? Yeah! But only for a quick stop.
We decided to leave a little more time for exploring the city before we left.
Really we just wanted to eat at Kaffi Vinyl again, ha. And relax in some hot water!
After another delicious meal, we headed for a neighborhood pool, Laugardalslaug. And what a highlight this turned out to be.
We try to get into a hot tub on every single vacation, and kinda knew we weren’t really feeling the Blue Lagoon on this trip.
I wouldn’t say it’s an especially glamorous spot, nor trendy, nor sexy – but damn if it didn’t make up for that in pure charm. Locals come here, it’s inexpensive, clean, doesn’t require booking, and there’s a huge waterslide. We had found our place.
After a soak, we split up, exploring different parts of town. I was pretty keen on wandering around and soaking in the design, and Jess was off doing her own thing.
Soon we were off to return the camper van and get on a plane back home.
I think of Iceland often and cannot wait to explore the remaining 95% of this incredible place someday.
…and eat at Kaffi Vinyl again.