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Traveler Spotlight: Hannah's Trip to Iceland

Earlier this year, I won a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland through the Acanela sweepstakes. I’ll first say, I’ve never entered into a sweepstakes before, let alone any contests. I’ve always been skeptical, thinking that no one actually ever won any trips. But two weeks later, I received an email confirming the trip. And 6 months after that, my boyfriend, Peter, and I finally set off in late October for a long weekend in Iceland.

We flew into Keflavik, Iceland’s international airport. First collective thought: holy sh**. It was cold. We’d eventually learn from many locals that Iceland’s weather is temperamental. “She’s moody,” they’d say. We quickly understood the popular saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes.”

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We took a bus into the city that we caught just outside baggage claim. (I’d highly recommend this over a taxi as they are extremely expensive in comparison). It was downpouring on our drive over, but the terrain was still visible from the bus and we were able to catch some volcanic landscape off in the distance.  

Our accommodation was a lovely modern hotel about a mile or so from downtown proper. Upon arriving, we were eager to shower and hit the streets. Ah, showering in Iceland. Firstly, Iceland’s water is so so clean. So clean, in fact one of the cashiers at a local bodega advised us to bring a water bottle to dip into any river or spring. It, impossibly, melts in your mouth like butter. But it also has a very distinct smell because it quite literally comes from the earth and is heated by geothermal origins. That odor is sulphur and you will never not smell it for the rest of your time there. Best advice, embrace it.

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We eventually caught a city bus into town. And after a long bus tour around the city, we finally figured out how to read the map.

Though, it worked in our favor as we ended up in what would become one of our favorite parts of town, near the harbor. I guess it really does help to get “lost” in a city.

Reykjavik is a small city and we were able to cover a lot of ground in just our first afternoon. Our second day, we continued to explore the city more in depth, visiting the Hallgrimskirkja church, or as the locals say, the “Big Church.”

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Our love for Reykjavik hit us unexpectedly. It has always been on the bucket list, but once there, we both admitted that it took a second to grow accustom. But as soon as we did, we felt as though we’d been there for weeks, weaving through the streets on foot like it was our city.

We were planning our future trips without really knowing it, making our marks in each place and envisioning ourselves taking up space in the little corners of the city we had not yet found. Already, we had favorite bars, restaurants, streets, buildings.

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Our third day was the first planned activity for us. We met a our guide early that morning and took a bus inland stopping at Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, Geysir, and the Secret Lagoon.

For our final full day, we canceled our planned city tour. We felt as though we had explored the city enough and wanted to spend more time driving through the countryside, so we rented a car early this morning and headed back out on the south coast.

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We were lucky to have a mutual friend who works as a guide in Iceland, so she was able to recommend a specific route fit best for our timing. Having our own car was amazing because we were able to stop at our leisure and explore the terrain. The sun finally made an appearance for the first time since we’d been there and it made for some pretty incredible photos.

As we bent around the coast past Seljalandfoss, we nearly drove our car off the road because we were both in absolute amazement that this home had these fews just in their backyard.

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We finally headed back toward Reykjavik, searching for food. Without any cell service, we decided to stop at the first place we could agree on. And we’re so happy we did because we otherwise wouldn’t have found this gem of a place.

Our last stop before Reykjavik was the Reykjadalur Hot River, where we arrived just before sun down. We started on the trail up the mountain to the river but the sun was quickly disappearing and before we knew it, we were hiking in the dark as it started to snow in Iceland. We were so close to the river but decided to turn back as the temperature was rapidly declining but we can’t wait to come back and actually experience it.

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Iceland was an incredible experience. We wished we had more time to explore more of the country. The people are warm and welcoming and the country, itself, is so safe.

Back in Los Angeles, we’ve talked about when we might go back. Maybe next year during a warmer time - a second attempt at seeing at the Northern Lights. Every now and then we’ll catch a quick scent of sulfur lingering and instead of holding our breath, we’ll look at each other with nostalgia and say, “Ah, Iceland.”

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Thanks, Acanela, for a lovely trip and lifelong memories. XO, Pete and Hannah.