Part 1: A Pedacito of a Solo Trip to Iceland
Updated: Jun 19
I had wanted to visit Iceland for as long as I can remember. After reading about where the Icelandic Parliament met since the first vikings, I now know it as Þingvellir National Park. Incidentally, it’s also the only location where the North American and European tectonic plates meet landfall.
This trip was a long time coming. As it would turn out, I did this in the final days of young “WOW” Airlines. WOW, at one time, offered a one-way, direct flight from LAX to Reykjavik for (if you pack extremely light) as low as 80 dollars.
This, along with an extended layover policy, was a bid to bring more tourism to the financially struggling economy following a few volcanic eruptions. However, small ones happen frequently, akin to earthquakes in California. And Bring tourism they did.
After touching down and jumping into a rental car, You quickly leave the airport behind, and right away, the landscape is unmistakable and otherworldly. There’s virtually no plant life besides moss and grass and volcanic rock as far as the eye can see.
I had booked a “ Sea view cabin” in a town called Grindavik for my first two nights.
The drive to the cabin wasn’t long, but I took a slightly longer route, hugging the coastline. There were a few points of interest along the way that I stopped for.
I had read about Grindavik in a guidebook, and there were essentially two entries, the Blue Lagoon is nearby and the Lobster soup at the Harbor Restaurant. I planned to do the first but ended up doing both.
As you may be aware, the Blue Lagoon is most definitely Iceland’s biggest attraction, partially because it’s actually really cool and partially because it’s close enough to the airport that you can do it on a brief layover. Due to the popularity, they limit the number of guests and require a reservation. There were two slots available, so I jumped on one.
First, arriving at the “Harbour view cabin,” It was clear it would have been better described as “ Industrial Harbour view, tiny prefab house.” Don’t get me wrong; I really liked the place. It was incredibly cozy and laid out very well.
The entry was electronic, and there was no staff whatsoever on the property. I never interacted with a soul there in 2 days. I loved that. After a short nap, I forced myself out of bed. Having not eaten in nearly 24 hours, I was low on energy, but this was my one and only chance to see the Blue Lagoon, so I jumped in the car.
Already through the parking lot, you can catch glimpses of the iconic blue water through the tall volcanic rock walls that line the pathway to the entrance. Upon entry, the place definitely has a spa vibe. Despite having a reservation, I was still made to wait in a line, though as I was solo, unlike everyone else there, I was able to rush right in. Fortunately, I had added a meal reservation, so that was my first stop.
The restaurant sits adjacent to the lagoon through glass walls, but just distanced enough that you aren’t staring at people in bathing suits, it’s fancy, and there’s a dress code. This was probably the fanciest and definitely most expensive meal I’ve ever had by myself.
I wanted something local (the infamous puffin and whale was absent from this menu), so I ended up with a Lobster soup, not knowing I’d have one again the next day. A little sad not to savor the experience, but anxious to get into the water, I paid the confusing check (Icelandic krona are roughly 100 times the dollar, it always looks crazy expensive).
The men’s locker room was as international as you might imagine, with all levels of nudity and modesty on display. I threw on the house slippers they provided and robe and hit the pool.
The origins of this place aren’t exactly what you might think. Public pools are significant in Iceland; they say the public pool is to Iceland what the pub is to Ireland. As the only country in the world fully powered geothermically (one of the upsides to the constant volcanic activity), many of these pools are fed by natural hot springs.
In the 70s, construction workers were digging and inadvertently opened up a hot spring that started flowing mineral-rich blue water. They made it a public pool that became really popular. So there’s your origin story.
Once outside, it had started to drizzle, and the cool rain against the warm water was mesmerizing. Initially, I left my phone in my locker; of course, I did; it’s a pool. Though as I swam around and enjoyed myself, everywhere, I looked there were phones and cameras and selfie sticks. It felt freeing to not be tied to that for a little bit. Then I got my phone and joined the crowd.
Back to the cabin, I took a walk to hopefully find something to eat. On the way, I noticed some other guests, a young Japanese couple, sitting at a picnic table curiously looking at the sky. For some reason, I thought it was odd, but wasn’t curious what they were looking at.
I discovered the town was mostly residential and nowhere I could find food. There was, however, a liquor store; I figured I could at least try some Icelandic Beer (beer was illegal until very recently in Iceland, and since the change lots of small breweries have popped up).
As I neared the door of the Liquor Store, realizing it was very closed, a girl came walking around the corner saying something to me in Icelandic. Before my brain could even process how to respond, she repeated in English, “ The store is not open today.” I thanked her and began to walk back to, and as we were headed in the same direction, we began to chat.
"Why are you here?” There’s nothing in Grindavik, she told me. Again, before I could come up with a response, she asked me very plainly, “ Have you looked up?” And as I did, I felt embarrassed for judging the couple earlier because right above me, in all their glory, were the northern lights.
And then, this girl, whom I had just met moments ago, sensing how awestruck I was, offered to drive me to the best spot nearby to view them. Icelandic people are some of the most unassuming humans I’ve ever met. Once we were on the outskirts of town, they lasted probably another 20 minutes or so.
As we watched, she explained she had grown up there but was now living and working near a glacier on the other side of the country and was just visiting her parents and friends on her days off.
As she dropped me off, we exchanged numbers, and though she would be leaving for work the day after next, she promised to make me a list of sights only Icelanders would know and asked if I wanted to meet for Lobster soup the next day. Of course, I said yes. Little did I know, but this soup meeting would ultimately lead to a famous Icelandic rapper’s very small premiere party. But that is another story….To be continued.
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