Winter in Iceland might seem like a really bad idea. And when I planned a trip to Reykjavik in January, I was a little concerned I was making a huge mistake. But we got a smokin’ deal through Travel Zoo and being winter people, we figured we’d have a good attitude no matter what happened. The only thing I really had my heart set on was seeing the Aurora Borealis. I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment, but I couldn’t help it.
A week before our trip we got an email from Icelandair saying we could make an offer on upgraded seats and they would let us know if our offer was accepted. I put in a pretty low amount for the next class up not expecting that it would be accepted, so I was ecstatic when it was! When we got our boarding passes, I noticed that we were in Row 2. What??? The First Class seats hadn’t sold, so they bumped us from Economy Comfort (which I had won in the bid) to First Class. Icelandair is awesome! Brett traveled First Class as a kid, but it was the first time I had ever turned left in the plane and not right. I felt like an impostor.
Our plan to sleep and arrive in Iceland refreshed was derailed by our new seating arrangements. Unlimited food and drinks were at our disposal and we had a party. We drank Icelandic beer, watched Icelandic movies, listened to Icelandic music (Of Monsters and Men was already a favorite) and watched documentaries on the Land of Fire and Ice. I’ve never had so much fun on a plane.
As the shuttle drove us to our hotel, it was pitch black outside at 8 a.m. The sun wouldn’t rise for almost three more hours. We pulled up to the Hotel Natura, and it looked like an office building from the 60s; not exactly what I was expecting. But it was a classic case of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Inside was very sleek and modern, but my favorite thing about it was the wooden people and animals. And I came to find out later, that my other favorite thing was the breakfast buffet. Iceland’s food is amazing!
I had pre-booked all of our activities, and first up was spelunking in ancient lava tubes. Árni picked us up and we got our first look at the Icelandic landscape since the sun was now shining. We drove out of the city and it was beautiful; vast, windswept, snow covered fields as far as the eye could see. We stopped along the side of the road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and met up with another group. We were outfitted with crampons, helmets and headlamps and began walking out into the field. Suddenly, a hole appeared in the earth, which was the entrance to the lava tube. We lowered ourselves into it and I felt like I was in a dream. The lava tube was very wide and tall in some areas and we could easily make our way, but in some sections it was very narrow and we had to crouch to get through. The lava had dried as it dripped from the top of the tube, so the “ceiling” was covered in sharp, dried, 2,000 year old lava drips, and icicles…lots and lots of icicles.
We worked our way farther and farther into the earth. If you’re claustrophobic, this would not be a good activity for you! Finally our other guide Kormákur stopped us and told everyone to turn off their headlamp, and to remain silent. It was quite surreal. We were in the earth in Iceland in the darkest dark I’d ever been, in complete silence. Kormákur then spoke. In the dark, he explained to us that Icelanders believe in elves, fairies, gnomes and trolls, and that these beliefs are taken very seriously. When he was little, he asked his grandma, “are they real?” and she said, “of course not, but never forget that they are always watching you.” He then told us several folktales about these magical creatures. I loved every second!
By the time we emerged from the earth, it was about 5:00 p.m. and the sun had already set. The weather was clear and the temperature was actually warmer than it was back home in Colorado. We were off to a great start!
Up Next: We celebrate Brett’s birthday in an Icelandic way