After an earlier morning drive from Columbus, Ohio, to Niagara Falls and a long afternoon of riding The Maid of the Mist and exploring the waterfalls, we capped the night off sampling beers at The Niagara Brewing Company
We ordered The Big Bang and tried all eight beers on tap: Honeymoon Peach Raddler, Niagara Premium Lager, Amber Eh! Ale, Dare Devil IPA, Hennepin Stout, their seasonal cream, wheat, and red Irish ale.
Our favorite was the Peach Raddler. It wasn’t too sweet and was light enough to enjoy without feeling too full.
We ordered some chips and guacamole to go with the beers and enjoyed the view from the patio before catching the fireworks over the falls. It was a great way to end our short day in Niagara Falls!
Niagara Falls is on many people's’ bucket list, since it is the most powerful waterfall in North America. These falls weren’t on my immediate bucket list, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend my 2018 Labor Day holiday on a road trip from Nashville to Niagara Falls.
We got to Niagara Falls late Saturday afternoon and hopped in line for the Maid of the Mist. We took turns going to see the falls from Prospect Point so that we could hold our place in line. As soon as I saw how fast the water was flowing, I was in shock. The volume of water that gushes down the steep cliffside is mind boggling.
After a quick wait in line we took the elevator down to our boat ride to see the rushing waters of The American Falls and Horseshoe Falls as close as we could physically get. We had the best time admiring the rainbows from the top deck of The Maid of the Mist while being showered with the falls’ mist.
After a 30 minute ride, our feet were soaked, so we went to the car to change shoes and drive to the Canadian side. We had a long wait on The Rainbow Bridge to cross border, but we finally made it into Canada!
The Canadian side was so much prettier. There were beautiful, grassy areas with people strewn all around with lawn chairs and blankets. It was lovely to park the car and stroll around.
We walked upstream toward the falls through Victoria Park and watched the sunset over the water. The view of the rushing water was spectacular even though the sun was behind us. When the sun had set, lights were projected onto all three falls. We saw them light up with deep red and bright blue colors before we left to grab a beer at The Niagara Brewery.
We almost didn’t make it back to the waterfalls to see the fireworks. The show only went on for six minutes, so there was barely anything to see. When they finished we made the walk back to our car and stopped we grabbed a few souvenirs to take home!
We may have only spent a few short hours in this wondrous place, but we saw the glory of the waterfalls up close, and that was worth every minute of the two-day-long drive!
The Maid of the Mist is an iconic boat that has been taking people close to Niagara Falls for almost 180 years, and the ride was the number one thing we wanted to do on our trip.
We thought we were being smart by ordering tickets online, but we still had to wait in the line to get to the ticket counter.
The reason was that the tickets weren’t for that specific day. They are good for the entire season. If something had come up and we needed to go another day, we could have! The line was pretty long, but the boat leaves every 15 minutes.We moved across the platform and down the elevator quickly.
Just before we got on the boat, we were handed the famous, bright blue ponchos. Somehow, we claimed a corner spot on the American Falls side of the boat that fit the three of us perfectly. We put on our ponchos and got our cameras ready just in time for anchor up.
The boat ride starts right next to The American Falls, so we were immediately up close and personal with the crashing water. The boat moved very slowly, so everyone could enjoy the view. It gave us time to look back and see the observation deck and the rainbow that the mist was creating.
We slowly continued past the rocky bottom toward Bridal Veil Falls, and we waved to all the people getting soaked while walking to The Cave of the Winds. We slowly continued around Goat Island to get to the main attraction.
Horseshoe Falls is the giant waterfall most picture when thinking of Niagara Falls, and the Maid of the Mist takes you right into the heart of it. The water is so powerful, as it gushes down a 174 foot drop, that it constantly spews a heavy cloud of mist into the air.
The mist absolutely soaked us, and it was difficult to see anything around us. For a while, we couldn’t even see that there was water flowing behind us! When the boat circled around, we got to see the other side of Horseshoe Falls before heading back to the dock.
After the boat ride, I walked up to the staircase to get a closer view of The American Falls. Amazingly, I got even wetter here, but feeling the water on my face was worth it. This made up for the unfortunate fact that we didn’t make it to The Cave of the Winds on Goat Island.
Iceland does a very good job of maintaining the natural beauty of the country by not allowing the tourism industry to drastically change its landscape. There are few large hotels or resorts in Iceland, and we only saw those few closer to the more touristy locations.
Since there were so few places to stay, we rented a three person camper van from Kuku Campers. We were able to pull up to a campsite at night and hop in the back to cook or go straight to bed. It was also really nice to not have set reservations, because most nights of our eight-day trip across the country we got a lot farther than I had originally planned.
Because the population on the island is so sparse, available hotels are expensive and book up fast. Airbnbs are no exception. We would have to find a campsite each night, but we were always successful.
We got lucky our first night outside of Reykjavik and got a very nice and inexpensive Airbnb in Hafnarfjörður. We had the whole downstairs apartment to ourselves with a queen and twin size bed.
Our second night in Iceland really spilled over into the morning of our third day, because we didn't arrive at The Hellissandur Campsite until almost 2 am. The bathroom was nice and the accompanying hostel seemed popular. We woke up pretty early to do things on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, so I didn't get a picture.
Varmahíld Campsite Across the River was our home the third night in the northern region. The sweet woman who owned the property had a wonderful setup. Her backyard was turned into a giant campground suitable to park a van or pitch a tent on. She also had a full kitchen, basketball hoop, hot tub, and clean facilities.
Egilsstadastofa Campsite was where we stayed on the fourth night after our furthest day of travel. We had a full day in the Lake Myvatn area and pushed through into the night so that we could wake up closer to the puffins at Borgarfardarhöfn. We all showered and washed the dishes in the nice, public facilities. We had good coffee from the neighboring coffeehouse before another long drive.
Haukafell Campground was a little difficult to find after a late-night dinner at Hafnarbúdin. We finally found this campsite tucked away behind someone's farm. Waking up at the mouth of Vatnajökull glacier was a great way to excite us for our Glacier Hike later that day.
Vik Camping was a great place to recharge our camera gear and ourselves. We were then fully prepared for a busy day on the beaches of Vik. After showers and a good breakfast, we went climbing on the basalt column and the Sólheimasandur plane wreck.
Selfoss Camping was unexpectedly nice to pull up to at 11 pm. We cooked a quick meal and charged our things before crawling into our camper to try to rest after a long day of driving and Geysir watching.
Hafnarfjödur Camping was our last campsite in Iceland. We pulled up to a fairly empty campsite and watched some other campers practice their fly fishing while we packed up our gear to fly home the next morning.
Overall, we seem to have made the right decision in choosing a camper van over expensive hotels or planned Airbnbs. It might not have been the best quality of sleep every night, but our campsites had amazing facilities and were affordable for the three of us.
The Blue Lagoon is designated as “the spot you have to go your first time in Iceland,” and I can only somewhat agree with that. It is a very interesting geothermal pool that has been made into a high-end spa just south of Reykjavik. As with the black sand beaches of Vik, Kendall and I had both seen hundreds of pictures of the Blue Lagoon on Pinterest and Instagram, so we had high expectations.
We saved this turquoise blue hot spring for the very last activity on our eight day trip across the country, and we were glad we did. We were nice and relaxed before our flight home the next morning. We made a late afternoon reservation for the spa, because the prices went down after 6 PM. It was also nice, because there seemed to be less people in the lagoon. We had no problem getting lockers or showers of which there weren't many stalls for.
When we checked in with the front desk, we were given our towels, wristbands, and guidelines. The basic package we booked included a free drink of our choice! We knew beforehand that we would have to shower off before entering the lagoon, but there are private shower stalls and changing rooms for more modest people. After we showered and got our things packed away, we were ready to enter the lagoon.
The water is about 100°F and felt incredible against the cold wind whipping around us. We walked and swam the perimeter of the lagoon starting at the cocktail bar. John had a Gull beer, my sister had a non-alcoholic smoothie, and I sipped sparkling strawberry wine.
We kept meandering around until we finally came to the silica face-masks. John refused to put one on, unless it was applied as if it were war paint. He wasn’t the biggest fan of being drug to a spa, but he seemed to warm up to it.
After our face masks dried, we washed them off and kept wading around the rest of the perimeter. Before we got out of the lagoon, we checked out the last few things that the spa had to offer. There was a little wading area with a piping hot waterfall and separate steam room that was way too hot for my comfort.We had spent almost two hours enjoying one others' company and literally soaking in our last Iceland attraction.
Our recommendation is to either visit the lagoon at the beginning or end of your trip. It is a perfect way to prepare for a flight or decompress after one. There were truly natural sights we'd seen that were more impressive than the Blue Lagoon, but it didn't take away from the fun we had while floating around the steamy water.
After an eventful morning changing a flat tire outside of our Lava Tunnel Tour, we were looking for a good place to warm up and fill our bellies in the town of Selfoss. We chose Kaffikraus, because it was fairly priced and seemed to have good coffee.
We ordered the Verona pizza which came with mushrooms, pepperoni, cream cheese, and bacon. We ordered the deep fried brie as an appetizer, but it came out with our pizza. The cheese board came with fresh bruschetta and several jellies, and it was the best part of the meal.
Overall it did the trick of warming us up and filling our bellies with good food and good coffee.
It was cold and raining as we walked up to the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara. Up to that moment, my little sister had asked me every day on our road trip when we were going to the black sand beach. She and I had both seen hundreds of pictures of the geologic creations on this magnificent beach, and we were both really excited.
We made sure to wake up early that morning so that we could beat the crowds, but the rain started to come down as soon as we stepped onto the sand. We took shelter under the Hálsanefshellir sea cave and waited for the cold, sideways rain to die down. When it subsided, we had the cave and columns to ourselves for nearly thirty minutes. We climbed all over the hexagonal steps and the sea cave on the other side. It was really nice to have it to ourselves for a short while.
When the groups finally started to arrive, we started back to the car to see the nearby Dryhólaey Cliff. We got to the top of the road, and there wasn't really a good view of the cliff. Although we were a bit disappointed in the vantage point, the view of the beach and farmland on the opposite side were beautiful. We then stopped by a multi-level, shallow cave and explored it for a few minutes, but its coolness was no match for the US Navy plane crash we would see next at the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck .
Back in 1973. the pilot of a US Navy DC-3 super bus plane had to make an emergency landing on the black sands of Sólheimasandur Beach after switching to the wrong fuel tank and thinking the plane had run out of fuel. Luckily, no one was injured, and they didn't crash into anything. The only downside is that it is a very long walk to the plane, because it crashed in the middle of nowhere.
We arrived at the crash scene after a desolate, hour-long walk. The plane has held up surprisingly well over the 40 years that it has been taking a beating from the wind and rain of Iceland's shore. There was a small group of people taking pictures alongside us, but we patiently waited for them to scoot out of our frame. Again, our timing was lucky, because we passed herds of people going toward the plane on our walk back to the van.
We continued along the eastern coast, stopping along at Skogafoss and Gullfoss before wrapping up our day in Vik. We had planned our day perfectly and managed to see all of the things we had planned. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day on the East Coast of Iceland near the city of Vik.
When Taylor asked me to select an activity in Iceland that I would like to do, I did not hesitate in choosing a lava tunnel tour. The Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel is located in the southern region of Iceland and fell perfectly along our route.
The lava tunnel itself was formed about five thousand years ago but was formally discovered in 1971. Our tour began right on time at 8:30 AM. The cave’s cover was a welcome escape from the brutal surface weather that morning.
The first segment of the cave is defined by two large surface openings. A result of ceiling collapse, the two portals allow natural light into a place that had undoubtedly been bathed in darkness for most of its existence.
The next segment features smooth walls with melted red streaks of oxidized iron. We were lucky to also be able to see ice spires rising from the cave floor in June. These spires are created by water dripping from the cave ceiling and freezing in the crevices of the floor.
As the darkness enveloped the tunnel, life began to show in the final segment of our tour. A shining white bacteria lives in the recesses of the lava tunnel away from harmful sunlight. Our very knowledgeable guide mentioned that scientists had begun studying the bacteria to gain insight into what type of life might have—or might—live among the rocks of Mars. Another interesting tidbit she added is that the bacteria is hydrorepulsive meaning it repels water.
Soon we’d reached the end of our metal catwalk and the beginning of the ‘Extreme Lava Tunnel Tour' which takes three hours and features much more of the tunnel. Our tour only went 350 meters into the 1,360-meter-long tunnel, which is Iceland’s fourth largest.
The cave extends less than 50 meters into the Earth, but even such a shallow escape from the Earth’s topography can seem an alien landscape. If Taylor were to ask me again what attraction I would like to sign up for, I would still book the tour at Raufarhólshellir.
After a great morning exploring all that Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park has to offer, we met up with our Tröll Expedition tour guide at the National Park's information center. We were fitted for our helmets and crampons before a quick bus ride to the base of Svínafellsjökull. This 'tongue' of Vatnajökull, is part of Europe’s largest glacier.
Our tour started with a safety lesson at the bottom of the glacier where the ice was covered in a thick layer of soot. We didn't need our crampons yet, but we were soon taught how to put them on. We were also shown how to use the ice pick for balanced walking, but we never used them for anything other than cute pictures). Once we were strapped up and properly trained, we began our ascent to the top of the exposed ice.
John called it, “a stroll around the glacier,” because there was nothing difficult or scary about the hike. It's roughly an hour of stomping around different parts of the glacier, looking at crevasses, and drinking fresh glacial water if you're lucky. Since the tours are on a time restraint, we could only go a short distance onto the glacial outlet. We were informed that it would take roughly three days to get to the looming mountain Hrutfjallstindar.
The experience of walking on a glacier is one few people can say they have had, and it was very very cool. But when we passed a group doing glacier climbing, John and I wished we had chosen a more “extreme” tour to get a different perspective of Europe's largest glacier.
Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park might be one of the most popular tourists destinations in Iceland beside Reykjavik and Vik. The crowds that come with that popularity couldn’t keep us from enjoying all of the natural wonders that the largest glacier in Europe produces.
We followed the flow of ice from the lake to the ocean and its "Diamond Beach”. Washed up pieces of ice litter the beach and beautifully contrast the black sand underneath it. I refused to let John or Kendall touch the glass-like ice, because I could see the touch of humans speeding up the melting process, and I did not want us to contribute to it. We strolled up and down the beach watching the waves crash and wash new ice ashore. We eventually had to leave to meet our tour group for a hike atop a 'tongue' of Vatnajökull.
We met up with our tour group in the visitors' center parking lot. If you want to read more details about our glacier hike with Tröll Expeditions, click here.
We hiked atop Svínafellsjökull for almost 3-hours. It is a unique glacier created by years of snow and volcanic ash accumulation. If you have seen Interstellar, Batman Begins, or Die Another Day, you may have an idea of what our hour long hike looked like. When our tour was finished, our guide took us back to the visitors' center parking lot, and we started our hike to one of my favorite waterfalls.
Svartifoss is definitely worth the moderately strenuous 1.5 kilometer hike up the mountain. We took the S2 trail there and back, but there is an optional loop trail if you have more time than we did. The hike up to the waterfall is a little different than what we expected, because there were trees! These short, stubby trees were some of the only trees we would get close to in Iceland.
When we got to Svartifoss, I couldn't believe how fascinating it was. Layers upon layers of magma cooled and formed hexagonal shapes that were then carved out by the waterfall spilling over them. These columnar shapes are very famous. They can also be found in Vik, and they are the inspiration behind the architect of Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik!
After our hike we cooked a quick dinner outside of Kuku Camper in the parking lot before driving to Vik's campsite for the night. It was a jammed back day on the ice of Vatnajökull Glacier in Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park but we pushed through and had a blast hiking all over the park.
The town of Höfn in the Hornafjörður peninsula prides itself on being, 'The Langoustine Capital of the North'. There are big signs everywhere that caught our eyes and our hungry stomachs' attention. We learned quickly that food in Iceland is very expensive, so we did a quick search for some affordable food, and we discovered Hafnarbúdin.
This precious diner served up some of the best food we had in Iceland. Their signature dish is a lobster baguette, so my sister had to get one. She did let me try it, and it was delicious. I was a bit skeptical of the lettuce, red peppers, and red onion; but they weren't overpowering or even that noticeable. The lobster is soaked in a garlic sauce, and it makes the entire sandwich.
John had the Raekju Dugga. A dugga is an Icelandic open-faced “boat” sandwich. John’s came with shrimp, ham, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. I had the deep fried hotdog with cheese, fried onions, raw onions, and remoulade sauce. Both of our orders were more than satisfying, and the accompanying french fries were an item we all savored.
We had been told earlier in the trip to try Icelandic ice cream, and we had the opportunity here at Hafnarbúdin. We topped off our delicious meal with a cone of vanilla ice cream dipped in dark chocolate. Everything we ordered was delectable, and this diner was well worth the stop.
It was an early morning on a cold, rainy Monday, but we weren't going to let that stop us from watching the nesting puffins at Borgarfardarhöfn.
The drive from the ring road took us roughly an hour there and an hour back, so it was a fairly long detour on our road trip across the country. The drive is along a narrow and bumpy route up the mountain and down to the seashore.
We walked up to the viewing platform and were immediately greeted by sideways rain and flying puffins. There were hundreds of birds lining the steep cliff face. Some were fishing in the water and others were grooming or nesting. It was incredible to see that many puffins in their natural habitat.
We were the only ones facing the elements out on the platform, and we enjoyed every minute of privacy with the glorious birds. I was able to take almost 1,000 pictures in a single hour.
Puffins are all over Iceland, and we saw a few in other places. The concentration of birds in Borgarfardarhöfn is what made this detour well worth our time. The experience is unmatched, and we were so glad to have spent our morning here.
Taylor, Kendall, and I would have missed one of our most unique experiences on our road trip across Iceland if Taylor had not insisted we stop in Djúpivogur. The Gallery of Freevilli is an eclectic home collection of bones, stones, and other interesting artifacts maintained by Vilmundur Porgimsson and his dog. A small bit of skepticism was quickly vanquished by several wonderful exhibits and a friendly host.
The partially reconstructed whale skeletons that guard the entrance to Vilmundur’s gallery are impossible to miss and represent only a fraction of the bones we would see. We saw a multitude of skulls, vertebrae, teeth, horns, and full skeletal reconstructions among the several independent exhibits. The skeletons of several aquatic animals were the most impressive and interesting of the bunch.
Far from a boneyard, the Gallery of Freevilli is wealthy with natural stones and crystals. Crystals and intriguing rocks as small as a pebble inhabit display rooms alongside some larger than my head.
The glistening crystals and abstract gem formations mesmerized and perhaps enchanted us just before we walked outside and began reading about the Icelandic “hidden peoples” and their mystic nature. As we finished reading and began to approach the residence to view the remainder of the collection, we were greeted with a merry, “Hello, people”.
Inside, several shelves of carvings and collectibles lined the walls and wagered for our attention as we began to converse with their creator. Vilmundur is a fascinating and open individual with whom we spoke for nearly thirty minutes. In a country where most of our interaction was with immigrants, this encounter with Icelandic sentiment will not soon be forgotten.
The Gallery of Freevilli is a commendable collection of natural artifacts with a few eye-catching artistic creations. Artifacts and folklore litter the property, and one might find themselves in awe for much longer than expected.
The area surrounding Lake Myvatn was probably my favorite scenery throughout our trip around Iceland. It is so diverse and completely different from the rest of the island. We started our day in Akureyi and drove along the south side of the lake.
When we arrived inside the conservation limits, we kept seeing people climbing on very small hills. We thought they were just taking pictures of the lake, but it turns out they were viewing Skútustaðagígar or pseudocraters created by gas explosions in lava flows. After looking at pictures online, I am really sad we didn't stop to see these. Don't make the same mistake!
Instead, we made one stop along the lake at Höfdi to get a good view of the water. During the summer, Lake Myvatn has the nickname 'black bug lake'; and after a few minutes, we couldn't handle the swarms anymore. We quickly returned to the safety of our car to push on to our next stop Stóragjá.
A narrow slot canyon hid the gem Stóragjá. The bath-like, crystal clear water might have gone unnoticed if it hadn't been for the helpful rope leading through the high rock walls. We didn't stay long, because the water wasn't very warm. We dried off and changed behind a small crack in the rock and walked through the rest of the mossy canyon.
We made a quick drive down the road to our next hot spring Grjótgjá, but this beautiful blue water had unfortunately been deemed too hot to swim in. Back in the 1960’s, some volcanic activity caused the temperature to rise to almost boiling! It is a beautiful spot to check out for a few minutes; and if you are a Game of Thrones fan, you might recognize it. After a few quick pictures of the water and fissure atop it, we hopped back in the car and headed to Mars on Earth.
Hverir was, by far, my personal favorite spot in Iceland. It was seriously like walking on another planet. The barren red landscape is filled with boiling mud holes, steaming sulphur clouds, and deep crevices that add to the strangeness of this area.
We spent about 30 minutes exploring and photographing this amazing landscape. Eventually the sulfur smell got to me, and we had to leave. Hverir is an absolute 'must stop' on the ring road even if you do nothing else around Lake Myvatn!
Laki Hafnarkaffi is a quaint café in Grundarfjörður where Taylor, Kendall, and I stopped to watch Iceland in their first World Cup game. We only planned on ordering a few drinks, but the food options looked too good to pass up.
Our menus were filled with delicious looking options, but we decided on a seafood pizza with red sauce. Taylor and I tried our first Viking beers while enjoying the match, and we all enjoyed dessert afterwards.
Dessert was, by far, the best aspect of Laki Hafnarkaffi. We tried two pies of the day with a touch of delightful coffee. The rhubarb crumble and a mint lemon meringue were beyond delicious.
The time we spent at Laki Hafnarkaffi was absolutely relaxing and cheerful. Whether stopping for a World Cup match or waiting for a whale sighting tour to begin, this café is a wonderful place to rest and enjoy a bite to eat.
The island of Iceland was created by plumes of molten rock that spewed from the continual drifting apart of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The Silfra rift or fissure in Lake Þingvallavatn is the only place in the world that you can swim between these tectonic plates.
Before we even knew we were going to Iceland, my sister had seen 'The Bucket List Family' do this, and she immediately put it on her bucket list. When we planned our eight-day trip around the country, this was the #1 thing she wanted to do. If it hadn't been for her, John and I probably would not have paid to do this, but we would have missed out on one of the coolest experiences of our trip.
In order to snorkel or scuba dive, you must pre-book an excursion. We booked ours through Dive.is, and we couldn't have been happier with the expedition. We were provided a thermal undergarment, a dry-suit, a neoprene head cover, neoprene gloves, snorkels, and flippers. Once we'd suited up, we were given a brief history lesson about the lake and some safety instructions before we hit the water.
Silfra is world renowned not only for being atop the continental divide but for its crystal clear water and excellent visibility. We could see clearly for more than 150 meters in the water. Glacier melt water from Langjökull (Iceland’s second largest glacier) is the source of such clear water, and the water is only 2° Celsius or about 36° Fahrenheit! From above, it just looks like a pretty lake with very clean water, but we could have never expected what was underneath the surface.
Once we were in the water, we followed our tour guide around the beautiful blue water through "Silfra Hall" into what is called “The Cathedral”. We then swam into the Silfra Lagoon where we were surrounded by big underwater boulders covered in neon green algae. It seemed as if we were floating above a grass field. Vastly unique rock formations and wonderful light shows from the sunlight were all we could see for hundreds of feet.
The tour only lasts about 30 or 40 minutes, but when we got to the lagoon, our instructor told us we could stay and explore for as long as we wanted. He also told us to try the some of the water, since it is clean and pure glacier water. We swam for as long as we could and circled the perimeter of the lagoon trying to take in all the beauty.
When we were finally finished, we met back up with our group to put on some warm clothes and enjoy complementary cookies and hot chocolate. We couldn't thank Giancarlo enough for the job he'd done showing us around this one-of-a-kind location. By the end of the trip, we all looked back and agreed that this was one of the coolest things we had done.
As Taylor was planning our trip around Iceland, she weighed the costs of renting a camper van against the costs associated with renting a car and having scheduled lodging each night. We agreed that renting from Kuku Campers in Reykjavik was the best option available.
Kuku offers 2x4 and 4x4 campers of various sizes. We rented a manual transmission category B vehicle. The diesel fuel Renault Traffic fits three people but is not a 4x4. (Iceland’s ‘F roads’ require 4 wheel drive.)
The van features: three cab seats, a fridge, a sink, counter space, a dining table that collapses into a bed, storage under the counter and bed, window curtains, and a heater. All in all, the van’s accommodations were nothing short of impressive.
The rental location itself also included a sharing shelf where previous renters left their unused food, kitchen items, gas canisters, and anything else they couldn't take home with them. We grabbed a few things and left some dish soap, paper towels, rice, cereal, and tuna fish.
The manual transmission vehicles are less expensive to rent than the automatics, but driving a stick was something I had to acclimate to. After a few miles of lurching between gears and a few stalls, we were cruising around the country. Our Kuku camper took us around the entire ring road, around the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula, and out to Borgarfjarðarhöfn with only a couple of hiccups.
The biggest hiccup we had was a flat tire while driving in the wind and rain. This setback was caused by two screws that decided to catch a ride in our tread. Although Kuku Campers provides complimentary roadside assistance for most incidents, it is the renter’s responsibility to repair or replace any flat tires. We weren’t far from a small town, and it only cost $40 dollars US to have the screws removed and have the holes repaired.
The only other mentionable issue was my failure to follow posted speed limits. It is entirely too easy to fly through the Icelandic countryside, and I was caught flying well over the 90 kilometer limit. The officer was polite, but it is required that a speeding ticket be paid on the spot. Three hundred and fifty US dollars later, I was paying more attention to the regularly posted speed limits.
The final note to be made about renting a vehicle in Iceland is that fuel is quite expensive. Traveling the ring road, the Snӕfellsnes peninsula, and out to Borgarfjarðarhöfn (roughly 1,000 miles) cost us roughly $350 in diesel.
The experience of traveling the country in a camper van was priceless. I recommend considering Kuku campers as an option if you wish to travel outside of Reykjavík for a few days or more. A camper provides the ability to pull up to campsites late at night and make meals in the back. This allows more time to spend exploring under the beautiful midnight sun.
The Lebowski Bar in Reykjavik, Iceland, is a shrine to one of the great cult classics of our time. From the moment we stepped through the door, I was enchanted. Ambient lighting bathes the establishment and its patrons in a warm glow that accentuates each piece of impressive decoration. Every square inch of the walls seem to be covered in themed artwork or memorabilia.
Bowling ornaments and custom film posters catch the eye, while exquisite hardwood floors provide the feeling of approaching the platform to roll a sure strike. Taylor, Kendall, and I took our seats in the back room where a projector had been setup to broadcast the World Cup.
We were not there for a meal, but we did notice that the restaurant’s food offerings are mostly burgers with a few chicken exceptions. An impressive, although pricey, list of White Russian inspired cocktails is clearly the focus of the menu. Instead of paying $15-$20 for a cocktail, we decided to have a few happy hour draft beers and enjoy a break from exploring the city.
In short, this beautiful restaurant and bar is a portal into a world where bowling is held in the highest regard, a White Russian is the most delectable of drinks, and everyone rolls along like a tumbling weed. Lucky for most of us, the bar is even open on Shabbat.
Iceland takes a lot of pride in their hotdogs, and this place is no different. Bajarins Beztu Pulsur literally translates to, “Best Hot Dog in Town,” and it was voted 'one of the five best food stalls in Europe' in 2006 by The Guardian. After going, we know why.
The little red stand is near the Harpa Concert Hall in the old harbor of Reykjavik and is deceptively small. When we walked up, we had to double check that we were at the correct location.
Most of the time there is, apparently, a pretty long line. We went around 3:30 PM, and there were only five or six other people eating on the picnic tables in front, so I think we got lucky.
Since they opened in 1937, celebrities like Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, Anthony Bourdain, and even Elvis Presley have stopped by to try these famous hotdogs.
They only serve hot dogs, but you can choose your toppings. John got his dog with “the works” or ketchup, mustard, fried onions, raw onions, relish, and remoladi sauce. My sister and I got ours with only fried onions, raw onions, and remoladi sauce.
We each got a Coke to wash them down, and we each wished we had about three more dogs once we'd scarfed ours down. They were seriously that good.
If you are looking for a good and quick lunch or dinner in Reykjavik, you must get a dog or three from Bajarins Beztu Pulsur.
When planning our first night in Iceland, we knew that we'd want a nice place to relax and prepare for our week in a Kuku Camper. Everything in Iceland is very expensive, and that does not exclude Airbnb's. I was lucky to find a reasonably priced room for three people between the Keflavik airport and Reykjavik. (Use this link to help us out: www.airbnb.com/c/taylorc1809)
We had the whole basement apartment to ourselves. It was a small but cozy space with a lobby, kitchen, and bathroom. The apartment was perfect for the three of us. It had one queen sized bed and one twin sized bed.
Even though we never met our host, she was very accommodating when we asked to drop off our luggage before formal check in. She had left a cute instruction book for the kitchen appliances and a notecard with the Wi-Fi password. The house was only a quick walk from the bus station that would take us downtown.
My next eight nights would be spent sleeping in the back of a van with Kendall and John, and it was important to be well rested before taking on that endeavor. Thanks to Sólrún, our first night in Iceland was great.
Rock City was on my list of must-do's for our Girls’ Weekend in Chattanooga. I have been to Chattanooga a dozen times but had never made it to this famous attraction. I was so glad that I was able to go with two of my best friends, because we were able to act like children and let our imaginations run wild at this fun landmark.
We really didn’t know what to expect, which added to our fun. We started at the Garden’s Gateway Gift Shop and made our way down the trail. We passed through the open garden that is The Grand Corridor before coming into the narrow slot canyons of Gnome Valley. The Needle’s Eye led us to the first gnome arrangement.
We continued to see them throughout the canyon and surrounding gardens. The various flowers weren’t in bloom, but I can only imagine how beautiful they must be in the spring. Goblin’s Underpass was the only remaining stop before our favorite part of the trail.
The Swing-A-Long Bridge is a 180 feet long suspension bridge with a breathtaking view. My one friend and I enjoyed terrorizing our other friend by jumping and running on the bridge. She nor the kids behind us were big fans, but we were having too much fun to stop!
The bridge leads to a wonderful view of Rock City’s main attractions: Lover’s Leap, High Falls, and the Seven States Flag Court. You start by taking in all their beauty from an observation point before making your way across the Sky Bridge over High Falls to arrive at the Seven State’s Flag Court. The view is incredible from atop Lookout Mountain, and you can see farmland for miles and can even spot one of the famous “See Rock City” barns.
We marveled at the many views and pointed out different sites before we started our descent along the trail. We passed through Fat Man’s Squeeze and Rainbow Hall on our way to another great view of the falls. After a quick picture, we headed back into the canyons to discover the best part of the gardens.
We read on one of the plaques that the original owner’s wife loved European folklore, but we didn’t expect the incredible black-lit displays that were inside of Fairyland Caverns. We walked around the pitch black hallway admiring the miniature recreations built into the wall.
The hallway of fairy tales and nursery rhymes led to Mother Goose’s Village. It hosts a massive and incredible tabletop display of nursery rhymes centered around a castle and surrounded by a moat.
The wonderful display of characters and creations was a charming way to wrap up a great day at Rock City. My girlfriends and I had a spectacular time admiring the waterfalls, looking out over the miles of landscape, and wandering through Rock City’s various themed sites. I would recommend giving yourself plenty of time to see everything this southeastern landmark has to offer.
After exploring around Rock City and Ruby Falls all morning and afternoon, we had built up quite the appetite. We were looking for a Chattanooga, Tennessee, restaurant that would give us a big meal for our money.
We found Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria after searching around Yelp! and other review services. We were so glad to have found this quaint restaurant on the banks of the Tennessee River in the cute Bishop Arts District.
We each started with some local brews while we waited outside for a table. Once we sat down, we ordered the fried cheese ravioli to start, and we talked more about how much fun we had earlier that day. After devouring our appetizer, my two friends ordered the low country linguine for their entrees while I ordered the spaghetti con crudo with a caesar salad.
The homemade pasta and fresh ingredients made for an incredible pairing of flavors in all of our dishes. We were so glad to have stumbled upon this wonderful, Italian pasta house.
Ruby Falls is one of Chattanooga’s prized possessions. I was lucky enough to have grown up coming here on field trips in elementary school, but neither of my friends had been, so during our Weekend Trip to Chattanooga, we were sure to go!
After spending the morning at Rock City, we made the quick drive across Lookout Mountain to Ruby Falls. Surprisingly, we were greeted by a line that stretched out the door, and our pre-purchased tickets gave us no privilege in line. After our 45-minute wait, we were standing at the doors of the 260-foot elevator and waiting to go down the into the cavern.
This is the same shaft that the explorer Leo Lewis created in the early 1900's when he found the falls. The most incredible thing, to me, was that he crawled in an opening only one and one half feet tall for over eight hours before discovering the falls. On the tour, you get to see the original crawl tunnel, and I felt claustrophobic just thinking about being in there in the pitch black.
Since the walkways are still extremely small, our group of probably 40 had to walk in a single file line. That made it very hard for our tour guide to point things out as we were walking. Alternatively, a built-in P.A. system gives you information and points out the viewpoints along the tour. There are very cool natural formations like the Tobacco Leaves, the Elephant’s Foot, and one really cool hands-on formation.
We arrived at the waiting area just before the falls, and our guide told us to look up and around the falls once we'd entered to see from where the water originally fell. Once the previous tour group came out, we walked into a very dark opening and followed the sound of the rushing water to the fall.
The lights slowly began to turn on from the bottom of the formations, and before we knew it, we were face to face with the beautiful, 126 feet high, underground waterfall. We stood in awe for so long that we forgot to get a decent picture in front of the falls when it was lit with white light.
Only a few minutes in front of this natural wonder was not enough. I hope when John and I come back, we go on an extended tour or a lantern tour. Ruby Falls was absolutely mesmerizing, and I am so glad that I got to take two of my friends on their first visit.
Brooke’s home in Mobile, Alabama, was a perfect place for Taylor and I to stay while enjoying a weekend of Mardi Gras festivities. The quaint home is tucked into a quiet neighborhood less than five blocks from Government Street where the parade route and bars are located.
Beautifully decorated rooms were stocked with everything a guest could ask for, including towels, dishes, and recommendations. We felt right at home. Taylor and I weren’t able to take advantage of Brooke’s pool on this trip, but it would’ve been a welcome accommodation had we been visiting in the summer.
The Dublin Castle is full of royal treasures; from a golden hilted sword to silver plated cutlery, the castle is home to items of great importance to Irish and European history. Taylor and I walked less than a block from our Dublin Castle Airbnb and purchased tickets to explore the State Apartments.
Our self-guided tour began at the “Connolly Room” where the Easter Rising icon James Connolly lay wounded as a prisoner of the British Empire. The gravity of his situation could nearly be felt as Taylor and I read the enormous infographic displays. Connolly would be executed for his role as an Irish Republican, but his memory and influence has defied death to this day in Ireland.
The next room held two items steeped in royal tradition and ceremony. The Irish Sword of State was commissioned in 1660 and hadn’t seen Irish shores for 95 years. Meticulous decorations trace the edges of the blade to its golden hilt where Ireland, England, and Scotland are symbolized. The second item was a gift to King George IV in 1821. The shamrock-shaped box made of Bog Oak is accented with gold and encrusted with diamonds and pearls. An Irish inscription reads ‘May God Bless You’.
As Taylor and I strolled through the lavish halls and rooms, we discovered countless artworks royal decoration, and exquisite furniture. Several perfectly decorated Christmas trees were still on display with gifts of unimaginable fortune stacked in front of a regal hearth.
As we continued, an exhibition of fine china, opulent utensils, and crystal glasses showed the typical table setting for a castle dinner. Large, featured oil paintings lined the walls of the gallery between the dining exhibition and St. Patrick’s Hall.
St. Patrick’s Hall was the last and most grand room Taylor and I stepped foot inside. The tall ceilings were painted with highly impressive scenes reminiscent of Michelangelo’s master work at the Sistine Chapel. Brilliant yellow columns frame windows and mirrors on respective sides of the Hall while a royal blue carpet and wallpaper serve as an accentuating background.
The Hall was the most grand room of our tour, but the the State Apartments of Dublin Castle are extravagant in their entirety. The Apartments not only satisfy those infatuated with royalty but satisfies those of us infatuated with history as well. Taylor and I spent about one and a half hours leisurely exploring each room and exhibit before hitting the streets of Dublin for the remainder of our day.