A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime

This particular spring morning, my family woke up early. We’re all pumped up as we’re about to explore Southern Iceland including the main attractions of the popular Golden Circle Route. It’s the first of our two-day road trip. This will be one of our most precious family trips. Indeed, as it was a very special day particularly for our son. It’s a teenager’s journey of a lifetime we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Our excitement was cut short as we woke up to a foul-smelling air. We thought that a million rotten eggs were dumped in Reykjavik. A staff in the hostel where we’re staying for four nights explained that the culprit was the sulphur-smelling hot water due to its geothermal origins. It’s one of those normal days in the capital and there’s nothing to worry about. “You’ve never been to Reykjavik if you have not experienced this smell,” she assured us.

After a quick shower and breakfast, we went to the car rental company where we booked a Toyota RAV4 a couple of days ago. The firm shared the same roof with our hostel so we did not have to go far. A friendly staff briefed us on driving instructions and traffic regulations in Iceland (see Driving in Iceland). Then he walked us to the waiting “Sly” in the parking lot. He handed the keys and wished us well after satisfying our queries.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime
With our rented Toyota RAV4 I call “Sly.”

We clambered with our stuff aboard our rented vehicle. I drove to a nearby petrol station. Loading up our SUV with petrol was a total struggle because the instructions in the filling station were in the vernacular. We were like on another planet. Thanks to my son’s phone app coupled with a lot of patience, we did the impossible and our nightmare was over. Driving out of the station, I made a mental note to myself to always drive on the right side of the road (as opposed to left side driving in the UK where we live).

It was our third day in Reykjavik and the first two days have been amazing so far. We were awed by Hallgrímskirkja, Iceland’s largest church and shocked to find “rotten shark” in a restaurant menu. Also, we climbed atop Perlan, a landmark building which offers a 360° panoramic view of the city, met and interacted with friendly locals, among other things. Please read this post about Reykjavik’s sights.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime
A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime

This morning in April 2016, the sky was grey and overcast. Coupled with the horrible smell in the air, we did not allow these things to dampen our spirits. We’re all excited for our road trip to the Golden Circle Route which features Iceland’s most stunning sights.

At the historic Þingvellir National Park set in Iceland’s largest lake, we saw cracks or faults because the North American and Eurasian continental plates continue to drift apart. Erupting every five minutes or so of up to twenty metres or more is Strokkur, one of Iceland’s most famous geysers. We hiked along a trail at Gulfoss, a popular waterfall as its mists kissed us in the cheeks. Please read this post about the Golden Circle Route sights.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime
Þingvellir National Park
A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime

A Teenager’s Journey of a LifetimeSly drove through a stretch of terrible road. Around us are wide open spaces of farmlands. At a distance lay mountain ranges still blanketed in last winter’s snow.

I took a little break from driving and parked near a barb-wire fenced farm. We made friends with a pair of lovely Icelandic horses.

Known as the oldest but one of Iceland’s best-kept secrets, we dipped and refreshed our bodies at Secret Lagoon’s warm waters. It was a great day to be outdoors.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime

Out of the Golden Circle route and into Route 1, Iceland’s ring road, we marvelled at Seljalandsfoss and went around it as we scrutinise this vertical waterfall. Never mind that we got wet, the experience was something we’ll soak up in our memories. Please read this post about Southern Iceland’s sights.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime

To say that our adventures so far were spectacular is an understatement. It was beyond spectacular, I would say. However, there is more to these experiences than meets the eye. It’s kind of surreal and evokes memories that were not easy to explain.

My mind drifted back some six springs ago halfway across the world. On an Easter family holiday in the US, an Icelandic volcano whose name was guaranteed to make one’s tongue twist was becoming restless. In mid-April 2010, Eyjafjallajökul erupted and created an ash cloud which covered most of the European airspace.

We were enjoying the Californian sun in the company of relatives at that time but we’re scheduled to fly back to the UK in few days. Our son was enjoying and having an amazing time and kept nagging us to extend our holiday. The main reason was he want to celebrate his 13th birthday in the US. Of course, we just ignored him.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime
Universal Studios, California, USA

The time for us to leave the West Coast came. We landed in Boston for our flight to London. At Logan International, we learned that flights to/from most of Europe were cancelled. Eyjafjallajökul’s ash cloud shut down most European airports. We were stranded or to put it another way, we have an unexpected extended holiday. A Boston-based friend and his family who hosted and toured us around some parts of the East Coast earlier happily took us again. A few days later, our son got his wish – he officially became a teenager in the US.

Driving along Route 1 on the way to the southernmost and coastal Icelandic town of Vik famous for its black sand beach and strange rock formations, my wife was busy snapping photos of an endless mountain range. Our son was occupied browsing at some Google images on his mobile phone whilst turning to look at the mountains.

With a loud and excited voice, he blurted out “That’s it! That’s the volcano!” pointing to a ridge. I slowed down. We have that long stretch of the road on our own. Eyjafjallajökul, covered in a thick glacier was an image of peaceful bliss and innocence – a stark contrast and far cry from its fiery outburst half a decade and a year ago.

A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime
Eyjafjallajökull in April 2016
A Teenager’s Journey of a Lifetime
Eyjafjallajökull erupting in April 2010 (Photo credit: patrickmn.com)

This day and moment were special. It was the first day that our son will be spending his last year as a teenager. Six springs ago, he celebrated his day on becoming a first-time teenager in the US. It’s all because of Eyjafjallajökull.

He was silent, gazing intently at the volcano. My wife and I were both speechless. I was tempted to ask “A penny for your thoughts, birthday boy?” I decided not to – it was between him and the volcano.

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A Teenager's Journey of a Lifetime



  1. Must’ve been such a pretty unique (albeit unpleasant. LOL) way to be woken up in the morning with that sulphur-smelling hot water.. 🙂

    It must’ve been really nostalgic seeing that volcano up close! I’m sure your son had plenty of thoughts looking at that volcano. It does look amazing. Iceland is definitely a great place to create wonderful memories with your family!

  2. Loved reading your adventure. I remember when that bloody thing blew up years ago and affected air travel all over Europe! He he. I love Iceland and the Blue Lagoon was defo a highlight. Spent five hours in there chilling out 🙂

  3. You are so lucky! Iceland has always been part of my dream. Your son is so lucky that he gets to experience this at a young age! Also the perfect time to do so. It is definitely a journey of a lifetime.

  4. A very detailed account of a once-in-a-lifetime journey, even down to the smell of rotten eggs! LOL What a fantastic experience for a teenager!

  5. Iceland does sound amazing, but that smell would definitely turn my stomach! I’m really sensitive to smells, I’d be worried about puking! I would keep well away from the rotten shark too, even if it is a local delicacy!!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post. I love it when our own family has memorable experiences like this, and you’re right – they are memories that you will have forever! I was in Washington state when Mt St Helens erupted, and those are memories I will never forget. You always remember where you were and what you were doing when big things like that happen. Iceland is a place I’d also like to visit. How did you learn about the secret lagoon for swimming? That looks better than the famous Blue Lagoon!

    1. Thanks! I discovered the Secret Lagoon when I did some research before we flew to Reykjavik. I found out that it’s within the Golden Circle Route which is part of our itinerary. It’s natural and less commercialised, unlike the popular Blue Lagoon.

  7. Truly, this is a journey of a lifetime. I love the fact that behind the bad smell you managed to experience all the hidden treasures of this place. The waterfall looks majestic and beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  8. What breathtaking snaps! And this is one of the perks of knowing how to drive 🙁 good that you had Sly to go around with. Idk how to drive. The waterfall is amazing!

  9. I totally get the sulfur smell. We have visited a few hot springs including Yellowstone and the smell is really powerful. I love that you got to see so much. The waterfall looks amazing. Eyjafjallajökul is quite a mouthful and I don’t even know how bad I would butcher it if I was trying to say it. Seems like your son’s birthday was an awesome experience. I am a little jealous because my birthdays as a teenager were never that great.

  10. That picture of the eruption is really impressive! I have heard so much about Iceland that I just can’t wait to explore this place. Hope it happens soon. Overall you seem to have a great experience on this trip.

  11. Breathaking snaps. Iceland is definitely on my list and summers in Iceland seem to be really exciting. I too wish to celebrate my birthday during travel and make fond memories.

  12. I’ve heard so many good things about Iceland — primarily that it’s really great for backpacking women. I’d love to visit there. As someone from a tropical country though I cannot imagine being so cold. But you’re right, it could be a journey of a lifetime for me, too.

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