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hello! i’m juli!

welcome to design to explore! I document my adventures in travel, design, and food.

I C E L A N D

I C E L A N D

Where in the world is Juli Polise? I just finished and EVENTFUL 7 days in Iceland and here is everything that i did. The week was full of laughs, sceneray, horses, beaches, mountains, bumble, and more...... May 12, 2018 - Reykjavik, Iceland

The first day of traveling is historically the longest day of my life every single time. Boarding our flight from JFK at 9 and arriving in Iceland at 6:45am, meant only 5 hours of flying with only a few hours of actual sleep. But, we arrived nonetheless and went through the most BEAUTIFUL airport ever. The design was immaculate, the wayfinding system was so communicative and effective, my designer brain was so thrilled.

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After experiencing the most wonderful airport, it was time to get our rental car and as we waited we met a Grandma, who’s name I never caught, with an adorable little baby who was almost one year old. We started chatting as we were waiting and the grandma had a thick russian accent and was very friendly, asking what we were doing and telling us to put our coats on before we go outside.

From there we got our rental car, where the guy helping us get the rental car saw my NJ driver’s license and looked up at me and said “ey Jersey, I’m from there too”. Turns out he grew up in Moorestown, NJ, came to Iceland for youth ministry, then went to college in Alabama where he met his wife who was Icelandic, they got married and decided to move back to Iceland when the had kids. Let me tell you, his appearance did not match this description, he looked like a backup guido on the Jersey Shore.  

We get in our car, which is a manual transmission (whoops on my part for booking the wrong type of car) but luckily, thanks to Helen and Tom Polise, I was taught stick shift and this problem wasn’t so much a problem. However, my skills were a bit rusty and I stalled a few times on the way out, but finally got the hang of it by the bigger roads.

We got into Reykjavik around 8:45 and it literally felt like the afternoon since we have already had a day and a half. We paid $20 for probably the worst, most bland breakfast of my entire life at the hostel we are staying at, it looks WAYY better than it tastes. But our hostel is pretty damn cool.

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After that, we decided to walk around the town and see what was up. It’s pretty small but its really cute, with tiny shops lining the cobblestone streets. At the top of the hill was a church, the main architectural piece of the town. We kept walking around, grabbed some rip off coffee (we now have extremely low expectations for food + drinks).

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Next, I decided to embrace the lifestyle of an Icelandic mother and I drove to drop Kristen off at horseback riding! I decided to opt out of horseback riding cause I dont really like horses and yeah I went and took a 20 minute nap and checked into our hostel.

The rest of the night flew by, we showered, got dinner at a vegan restaurant, then went grocery shopping in preparation of the beginning of our road trip around the island. Now I am writing this from our hostel were it is 9pm and still daylight out cause FUN FACT there’s only 4 hours of nighttime during the spring/summer season in Iceland, so shout out to black out curtains for simulating nighttime for us tonight.

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After sleeping like absolute rocks, we woke up ready to take on the day. We made some oatmeal and hit the road and were off. Immediately we were stunned by the natural beauty outside the city and were excited to see what was to come.

Our first stop was a waterfall, the Seljandafoss Waterfall. It was this massive waterfall that fell off the side of a mountain cliff, and the best part was that there was a path that let you walk all the way around to the backside of it, which, of course, we did. It was super fun going around and getting close, the water was splashing so loudly and of course splashing us that we ended up being completely drenched by the end of the 10 minute walk.

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To dry off we walked further down towards two smaller waterfalls in the sunshine, they were not as massive or accessible like the first, but they were still extremely cool. We got back on the road to hit our second waterfall of the day, but before we did that we stopped off to see some horses. But as we got out, the barn people (idk the proper terminology) were beginning to herd the horses to another location and we were stuck in the middle of a giant horse herd going down the highway. It was pretty surreal driving alongside the icelandic ponies.

Then we hit our second waterfall of the day, Skogafoss. It was equally as giant, but no path to get around. But that didn’t stop me, I just went right up underneath it to get the true experience. In the end, I got even more drenched but it was totally worth it.

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From there we were supposed to go see a plane crash, but as we were about to start the walk, Kristen read the sign and it said to see a freakin plane it was a 2-3 hour walk. For a crashed plane? No thank you, on to the next stop.

Then we hit Dryholee, they are cliffs of the black sand beaches were next and we layered TF up because it was windy as HELLLL. Legit the wind is so strong the doors of cars can be blown off (as per our rental car guy told us - holla NJ). But it was extremely pretty looking over the black sand and seeing the giant waves crashing, so naturally our next stop was to go onto the beaches, Reynisfjara. Again, extremely windy even down there, but the beach was cool and the sand was black, but mostly it was just giant stones. So i grabbed a few for capn tom driftwood designs.

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We were close to a big town, Vik, so we headed there for dinner and found the cutest little place that SHOCKED us with amazing food called, Halldorskaffi. I got a burger, cause I just needed it and Kristen got a salad and some lamb, and we finished the meal with a meringue cake that was DELISH.

Our last and final stop of the day was the Seljavallalug Swimming Pool. This was recommended to us by Conrad, and it was a 20 minute hike and we were walking for what seemed like forever before we hit a concrete pool that was nooked into the side of the mountain. There were changing sheds, so we shed allllllllll our layers in this janky shed. It was comical, Kristen and I were trying to not hit the ground but we kept dropping our clothes and boy oh boy, the experience only got more crazy.

We head to the pool and got it, in was warm like bathwater BUT, the ENTIRE GROUND AND WALLS OF THIS POOL WERE COVERED IN ALGAE. It felt not super pleasant to be honest, but the scenery was insane so it was worth it, but as you can tell from some of our faces, it was a lil gross. So we only lasted probably 20 minutes before we head to dry off and head back down the hike.

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Luckily our hotel was on the same little road near the swimming pool and it was beautiful. It was again, another tucked away place and it was super nice inside. We were going to go in the hot tub, but we felt like we needed to wash off all the algae off all the nooks and crannies of our bodies. We were pooped from the day, because at this point it was 11:30pm by the time we finished showering and even though it was still light we PTFO-ed.

May 14, 2018 - Sun Chasers and Birthdays

After getting solid rest after a hectic day, it was time for another adventurous day AND it was Kristen’s birthday! So we headed to our main stop of the day which was Skaftafell National Park for a hike and we saw some amazing views on the way!

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When we got there it was rainy and gross and we could see the sunshine, but it looked like we just missed it. So we sadly ate our lunch of bananas and PB+J and waited out the weather. Within 15 minutes the rain had let up! It was still a small drizzle but we were tough enough to face it, so we went along with our walk to the Skaftafellsjokull glacier. It was a pretty easy hike, nice and flat but quite long to get out to the glacier, but once we did we were the only ones out there. The glacier was insane, surreal even, and after we were done being in awe, we collected some water from the river to drink and it was the best damn water I’ve ever had.

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We were driving to our next stop when we saw a parking lot full of cars, so we decided to pull off cause that must mean there is something to see. We walked through some gravel hills to discover a beautiful, icy, glacier lagoon! The water was so blue and there were actually icebergs that Kristen and I both referenced the Titantic at the exact same time (shout out to Jonathan for making me watch the Titanic movie 5million times as a child, but only the second VHS when the destruction and chaos happens…..)

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Then we were walking back to the car talking about our next planned stop when we realized the glacier lagoon was our planned stop, Jokulsaron, we didnt even realize! So that was comical, and at that point we were only an hour away from the hotel so we just drove our lil booties to Hofn where we are staying at a quaint, posh-ish hotel on the water.

May 15, 2018 - the open road

Today was our first really big long day of driving since we had about 4.5 hours of driving between our starting point and ending point. We were planning to drive through the east fjords of Iceland and then through the mountains to Lake Myvtan. It was aggressive, but we had faith that we could complete it.

The weather was beautiful when we started our day, we made small little stops to take pictures because the scenery was absolutely glistening in the sunlight and was just screaming at us to take pictures and stop. We had fun during one of our stops in the middle of the road (cause it was v barren and empty).

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We were driving and so distracted by the views that we passed one of our points of interest by an hour. We were debating going back, but it would have added way too much extra time to our trip, so we kept going which allowed us to come across some unexpected sights. Our first cool, unexpected stop was in Djupivogur since Kristen and I both had to use the bathroom. We found one, and then found a cool grocery store. But the town was adorable! It was a harbor and there were tons of boats and it was just so picturesque. And 15 minutes down the road was a pull off onto the coast to some cliffs and beach, so we stopped there too to take some pictures and explore a bit before continuing on the long drive.

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The driving was getting a bit long and tiring, so we had to take a stop and we had a little dance party in front of some extremely temple-esque mountains. It was much needed and beautiful, despite the rain we needed to stretch out a bit. The fjords were long long long thats all I can say, but finally we had come inland to the mountains which were snowcapped and absolutely stunning. They blended right into the clouds and were panoramic, surrounding us on all sides it seemed.

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But once we passed the mountain ranges, the inland part of Iceland is pretty barren farmland. We stopped in Austerland for some snacks and were hit with a WALL of MANURE SMELL. IT WAS EVERYWHERE. We were honestly shocked and had to run from our car into the gas station cause it legit was disgusting.

BAck on the road Kristen was looking up directions and she stumbled upon a place called the Mytan Nature Baths. We did a lil research and found out that our hotel was located next to these geothermal baths and immediately we knew we had to go there. Knowing there were baths at the end of our car ride gave us the motivation to finish the last two hours of the car ride, we listened to some comedy and PUSHED THROUGH to the end.

When we finally arrived at the nature baths were were exhausted but excited to relax and unwind, our backs needed it. We had to take showers before we entered, which was reassuring to know that it wouldn’t be gross like colony pool (my chatham peeps will understand this). It was nice and quiet and relaxing and much needed after a long day in the car.

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Afterwards, we settled into our nice hotel, had a wonderful dinner where we listened to a british man explain ALLLLL the dating apps to his father at the table next to us. It was quite comical and we had to hold our mouths closed so we weren't audibly laughing at them. If you want to recreate this experience have a young person explain dating apps in a DEAD QUIET dining room to an older person. viola. guaranteed laughs all around. and went to bed.

May 16, 2018 - country roads, take me to my airbnb

Today we had the longest drive ahead of us - 6.5 hours of driving thru mountains and cliffs. After accidentally turning off my alarm this morning, we slept in a little bit before grabbing breakfast and hitting the road.

Our first, and pretty much only substantial stop, of the day was the Godafoss waterfall. Woah. It was huge, from afar I felt like it looked like a smaller version of niagra falls which was pretty cool. We walked around and got to experience the falls, there were even some stairs leading down to the river the waterfall went into and you could legit just climb down there, no signs, no railings, no safety message, clearly we are not in america since I didnt have to sign a waiver before going down these giant stairs.

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We hit the gift shop after before embarking on the rest of our journey, which was 5.5 hours, lol yes we made it so far without making a stop…

The rest of the drive was uneventful, the landscape was beautiful but the drive was still long and for the most part rainy. We listened to some comedy to pass the time which helped and suddenly we only had an hour and a half left, but I needed a break, so we stopped for some coffee at an adorable little B&B type in Borgarnes.

This place was so cute, and there was an adorable baby who crawled right up to me and made my day, along with the brown sugar meringue pie that was ABSOLUTELY TO DIE FOR. At this point, I just wanted to get to our AirBnb, so we hopped back in the car, threw on my throwbacks playlist and carpool karaoke-d our way to our stay.

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Our airbnb is located across the water from Kirkjufell Mountain, an extremely famous mountain. And it’s super modern and clean and, for Kristen, there are horses located right near us. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of nowhere so we did have to venture back into the car to grab some food, but after that we just laid horizontally and did a lot of back stretches.

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May 17, 2018 - one last drive

We woke up this morning with plans to hike the national park that we were staying by, but the weather did not want us to do that. It was rainy and windy and really gross, so we decided to drive through the park instead. Unfortunately, the park was flat and the road didn’t go through much of the park part, so it was mostly a flat road like the rest of our drive.

We stopped at a cute coffee shop and decided that we should just head back to Reykjavik and then hang out there around the town instead of trying to see nature while the elements were against us. So we went on with our drive, and about 45 minutes in we saw some people pulled over petting horses. Naturally, Kristen had a heart attack and we pulled over to interact with them.

These Icelandic ponies are pretty cute I have to admit, but still not a big horse person. While Kristen was in heaven, I was just trying to figure out where to pet the horse with it hitting me or licking me with its giant tongue. It was still super cool and surreal getting up close and personal with those horses.

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Then, we just went for it and finished our drive. It was nice to have the car parked and not have to get in it and drive for multiple hours, so I could successfully say that our road trip of over 1000 miles was finally complete, multiple back knots included.  

We decided to walk around the town again and do some shopping since the past ⅔ days were spent mostly in the car. It was nice to be out and about in a city rather than the tiny towns we were stopping through, even though the weather was still absolutely disgusting. Kristen and I bought cool matching rings to signify our trips finish.

Dinner was had at a thai restuarant that was actually amazing, then we spent the rest of the night exchanging photographs and videos and chilling in the hotel while Kristen helped me massage out my back knots that were absolutely KILLING ME. Literally I could feel the knots myself BLEH. I never wanna drive again...

May 18, 2017 - on to the next.....

Today we had to catch morning flights, so Kristen and I said our goodbyes and parted ways. She back to America and me off to my next stop on the list - London!!!

To Iceland - thank you for the views, the nature, the peace, no thank you for the food, I need sustenance that doesn't cost a bajillion dollars.

Make sure to subscribe to get all the updates on my future euro adventures coming up! :))))

L O N D O N

L O N D O N

My European Adventure Starts TODAY!

My European Adventure Starts TODAY!