Our trip had been seamless so far, except for the minor keypad incident. We had pre-purchased our admission to the Blue Lagoon for 10am which meant that we had to book a 9am bus ride to the lagoon (all booked through their website). It was recommended to go as early as you can to avoid the mad rush of tourists in the afternoon. I recommend this recommendation.
Our bus tickets stated “pickups begin up to 30 minutes before departure.” We didn’t know that meant “pickups will be 30 minutes before departure, and they will not stop to wait for you.” So, we were ready by 8:30am but, didn’t stroll to the bus stop until 8:45am. While HyeMi and Christina went to grab coffee, Jenn and I stood at the corner where we thought the bus would pick us up. I noticed a minibus zoom by on the other side with the name of our bus company on it. “Hey, Jenn…I think it’s that one! But…it zoomed by. It must be making rounds so, maybe it’ll come back around.” Then came 9am, 9:15am…
“Um, the minibus never came around. But, that minibus never even slowed down to look for passengers. It zoomed by as if they were expecting to pick up no one!”
So, we rushed into the nearby City Hall and asked to use the phone. I called up the bus company and the customer service just flat out said, “You were supposed to be there 30 minutes before.” Luckily, she continued on with, “There is another bus coming in 5 minutes. You can catch that one.” We ran outside to the other side where there was an actual bus stop, one where we thought was only for city buses. A minibus came at 9:30am, and it only slowed down because we waved it down.
Finally, we were on the bus. Jenn and I were a little nervous because we had pre-booked massages for 11am, and it took about 45-50 minutes to get to the lagoon. Once on the bus, we felt relief…except that the minibus began making rounds, picking up people at their hotels. At each stop, the bus driver actually stopped, opened the door and called out to the passengers, “Blue Lagoon?” Um, why didn’t he do that for us?? If we hadn’t flagged him down, he would’ve zoomed past again. Then he made another stop and walked out of the bus. I thought maybe he was going for a quick bathroom break.
“Oh, he’s walking back now. Wait, he picked up more people!! WHAT THE EFF?”
Not only did he stop and wait, he physically went to go get them. Not fair!
The bus driver finished picking everyone up and we were finally on the road…the road to the main bus station for the bus company. To our surprise, we were then instructed to get off this minibus, go to the main counter at this station and exchange our vouchers for actual tickets, then board a coach bus..the actual bus going to the Blue Lagoon. No wonder pickups began 30 minutes before departure. It’s because we needed to transfer onto another bus. Why didn’t they specify this before?
By the time the coach bus departed, it was close to 10 past 10am. The Asian family who was on the 3-day tour with us came onto the bus and, though we’ve never said a word to each other during that tour, we happily waved and said hello to each other, bomber jacket grandma inclusive. It’s funny what kind of bonds traveling can create, even in silence. I think we all just like clinging onto whatever familiarity we can find in unfamiliar territories. We wondered what kind of bathing suit the grandma would wear in the lagoon but, after that bus ride, we never ran into them again.
Using the bus wifi, I tried emailing the Blue Lagoon to let them know that we will be a bit delayed to our massages. I didn’t get a response until the late afternoon, informing us that we couldn’t reschedule because they were fully booked. By then, we had already made it to our massages. At least they responded.
Once the bus parked at the lagoon, Jenn and I ran off the bus and started running to the entrance. It was actually a long, winding path to the entrance, and a couple ahead saw us running and moved out of the way.
Jenn: “I bet they’re wondering why we’re running!”
Couple, now behind us: “Actually, we really were wondering!”
Me: “We’re late for our appointments!”
The run was a bit tiring because we had been non-stop laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. We made it inside and gasped at the long line. It was the line for people who didn’t pre-purchase tickets. Phew! We went to the line for people who pre-booked. It was empty.
By then, HyeMi and Christina had caught up to us. We checked in and were given our robes, towels, flip-flops, samples of products and bracelets which allowed us to enter and charge drinks and meals just by scanning them. We bought the premium tickets which, in addition to the stuff just mentioned, also included an algae mask and free drink at the in-water bar, plus a free drink and reservations at the Lava restaurant. So worth it.
Jenn and I yelled, “See you girls later!” as we ran to the massage area. I didn’t have a chance to look around while running to the massage area but, from a few side glances, the lagoon looked so magical – pockets of blue in the midst of black volcanic rock all engulfed in the steam rising from the hot spring. We walked over little walkway bridges to pass over parts of the spring and made it to our massages by 11:03am. Perfect timing!
The massage was UNREAL. It was unlike any other massage that I’ve had in my life. Both us had booked the Nourishing & Glowing Algae Treatment, which I think may have been the most expensive one. We lay face down on mat-covered tables suspended in the water, backs exposed to the cold winds. The masseuse then covered me in hot spring soaked towels, as he uncovered portion by portion for the scrub. The description on the website:
A cleansing and nurturing treatment for the skin. Starting with a salt glow, your skin is polished with a unique combination of Blue Lagoon minerals and oils, followed by a nourishing algae wrap. While you float in the lagoon your face and scalp are gently massaged. The treatment ends with a 50 min full body massage in the lagoon. This extraordinary treatment leaves you energized and nourished.
There is really nothing much to add except HOLY CRAP THIS WAS AMAZING! Throughout the scrub, the masseuse would periodically re-soak the towels in the hot spring and place them back onto your body in a way that only exposed your body to the cold for a microsecond. There was so much wind that the towels became cold within several minutes. The momentary cold and the subsequent hot was an amazing contrast to feel. The algae wrap began with the masseuse rubbing your body with an algae concoction and then placing your entire body into a plastic bag, as you somehow still remained under hot spring soaked towels. Once completely encased, you are then slipped off the table on the floating mat. The masseuse then lifts your head and places a floating neck support. At this point, your body from the neck down is completely in the hot spring, floating. It was like being in the womb. After your face is massaged, the masseuse then places a warm mask over your eyes, and you’re left floating for maybe a half hour or more as the masseuse periodically undulates your body in the water and re-soaks the towels. I drifted off into a light slumber and would wake up in a twitch, momentarily forgetting where I was. Once the 50 min massage began, I kept thinking, “Oh no! It’s already half over!” The massage was also in the water, on the floating mat with the plastic bag now off. This stage is what Jenn and I call “the rebirth.”
We met up with HyeMi and Christina afterwards and went to the Lava restaurant for our 1pm lunch reservation. It was funny sitting in our robes next to a table of people dressed in regular outfits. We each ordered from the 3-course set menu, one with lamb, two with cod and one with the fish of the day, along with free glasses of sparkling wine. All were delicious.
We went back to the lagoon and proceeded to do silica mud masks. There were wooden containers of it along the lagoon for people to use. The silica hardened on my face but it didn’t prevent the cold winds from irritating my face. The sun was also strong and I ended up getting some color on my body. It was recommended to wear sunscreen.
One tip for anyone going to the lagoon – try not to dip your hair in the water or, if you do, leave conditioner in your hair (which they provide). Your hair will harden with the minerals in the water and it will take several days for it to finally feel normal. Also, people will steal your robe and/or towel. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they may have forgotten which was theirs. But, I’m sure they took whatever felt drier and left me with a wet robe and towel.
“Ah, I could spend all day here.”
An hour later, “so, should we get going?”
Haha. We also needed to get back in time for our 6:30pm dinner reservation. After showering and getting ready, we caught a bus back around 5pm. We thought it’d be the same deal – take the coach bus back to the main station, then catch the minibus that’ll make rounds dropping off people in our area. Nope. The coach bus ended up dropping off every single person off at their hotels, near and far. We ended up at dinner about a half an hour late but, it luckily wasn’t a problem.
(Photo credit for the 1st & 3rd photos above: HyeMi)
From the recommendation of a friend and also TripAdvisor, we made reservations at Sjávargrillið. Before our appetizers came out, the waitress served us a small bowl of Arctic char lightly marinated with citrus juices, on the house. Light, fresh, delicious. As an appetizer, we ordered a plate of fresh and deep-fried Icelandic cheeses (not pictured) and, to try something exotic…and to do as the Icelanders do, an assortment of minke whale, smoked puffin and European sack (which is what I thought she said but, I can’t seem to find this bird on Google). None of these tasted great and I will never put it in my mouth ever again.
As our main course, we decided to share 3 plates – Grilled leg of lamb & slow deep-fried lamb shoulder, Grilled catch of the day and Juicy pasta with grilled langoustine & tiger prawn. Yes, “juicy pasta” was the actual name of the dish and, boy, was it mouth-wateringly delicious. All of it was cooked to perfection and helped me to forget the combo taste of whale, puffin and sack.
Ten minutes before 9pm, Jenn and I headed off to meet the Northern Lights tour at the nearby Gray Line bus station. HyeMi and Christina stayed behind to go bar hopping around the city.
Jenn and I expected another minibus and a small group of people. Instead, there were maybe 5 or 6 coach buses full of people going on this tour. It’s clearly the number one attraction. We ran into an Indian couple (who are now living in Amsterdam) who we also met on our 3-day tour. We excitedly said hi to each other, happy to see familiar faces once again. About 30 – 40 minutes out, we were at our destination and the tour guide spotted a faint showing of the aurora. Looking up, I wasn’t sure if the aurora was what I was really seeing. But, there were phases when the lights stopped, and the area around us fell into darkness. Surely, it was the aurora, albeit faint.
Travel tip: For reference, we booked the Northern Lights Mystery tour with Extreme Iceland. We really liked this tour company because not only were their prices great compared to others, their customer service was extremely responsive and flexible with certain changes.
There was a small cafe where people camped out until the lights became stronger. Others stayed on the bus to keep warm or even take a nap. I stayed out for awhile just admiring the faint green and all of the stars.
Since Jenn and I already had our exciting moment when we saw the aurora for the very first time, this time felt a little more subdued. It was still fantastical, especially since the faint lights spread across the entire sky, rather than just a portion of it. The faint green continued to radiate on and off in different parts of the sky, with some periods of darkness in between. It was cold outside but, decent enough to stand outside for awhile. When the winds picked up a bit, Jenn and I went inside the bus to keep warm for awhile.
“Hey, does it look like it’s getting brighter outside?”
“Let’s go outside.”
As soon as we stepped out, the faint green became a bit brighter and the movement was a bit more visible. We were so happy to have stepped out at just the right time.
We went back in when our fingers began to freeze and warmed up for a bit more. By then, it was around 11 or 11:15pm. A half an hour or so later, we were getting antsy to go back to the city.
“Want to go outside one more time? We can look one more time and also take a bathroom break.”
We were back out close to midnight. And, at that exact moment, a green patch began to show, and was getting brighter, brighter and even brighter. I quickly fumbled with my tripod and set up my camera while chanting “Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod.” People from inside the cafe ran outside and a large crowd of people began to huddle together with their faces toward the sky.
Right there, in front of our eyes, was the most beautiful movement of green, so amazing and so visible that it almost felt tangible. At its brightest moment, people began to cheer in excitement and the air became filled with wooooooo!!! and woohoooo!!!!!! A moment like this can bond strangers. Once again, perfect timing.
The aurora lasted maybe close to 30 minutes. After its conclusion, I lingered out for a few more minutes and kept looking back as I walked back to the bus. It was time to go.
Both of us fell into a stupor as the bus drove back to the city and dropped everyone off at their respective hotels. We were the last stop and ended up walking into the apartment around 2am. The other girls also had just come back a few minutes before and the smell of alcohol wafted from their bodies. It was a great night for us all.
Our flights were in the afternoon, so we spent the beautiful morning roaming around the city and stopping at shops for last minute souvenirs. We ate a late breakfast at Bakarí Sandholt, a bakery with a variety of pastries and delicious sandwiches, then headed over to Hallgrímskirkja, the very phallically designed and beautifully simple church. (Sorry the tip is cut off…)
The view from the top of the church is amazing, showcasing the mountains and the ocean with the colorfully roofed buildings scattered about. We grabbed coffee at the nearby Reykjavik Roasters, a cozy cafe with great coffee and where they roast their own beans, and headed back to pick up our luggage. I was sad that the trip was coming to an end.
[March 20 – 24, 2015]