Iceland

Hi everyone!  So it’s officially the final country post on our world travel adventures. Hoch and I decided to splurge and go out with a bang for our last stop, and Iceland was the perfect way to go.  It is very expensive, but also very much worth it.  If you like the outdoors, you will looove Iceland. Hoch – just to give an idea, a hostel bed in Iceland was minimum $35 whereas we were used to $6-$12, including in Eastern Europe. We ended up paying around $70 a night for a decent Airbnb with a great kitchen. Also a disclaimer or sorts; Icelandic is basically unchanged from the ancient Viking language of the yore. Nothing makes sense and we quickly gave up learning to pronounce anything. You should too.

Our primary goal was to see the Northern Lights and we booked a tour early in the trip so that if we missed it, we would still be able to try to see them another night.  Besides that and our AirBnb lodging in Reykjavik, we did not plan too much until our arrival which ended up being a bit of a mistake.

Some lessons learned from our time there:

  • Rent a car.  We took a bus into Reykjavik and initially thought we could join day tour groups, but then we looked into it and realized it was rather expensive.  For us, it was about the same price to just rent a car.  All we needed to do was a little research on sites to see and could move at our own pace and schedule. H – speaking as the person who did all of the driving, I highly recommend exploring with a car if you enjoy driving fast on good roads with fascinating views 360 degrees around you.
  • Start and end in Reykjavik.  We made it our home base which was fine, but it really limited how much of the country we could see, especially with the shorter days (sun was up at 10am and set at 4:30pm).  Next time, I would definitely stay in other cities in areas that I plan on visiting to maximize my site-seeing time and start or end my trip in Reykjavik. H – there is a “ring road” that goes around the whole island with plenty to see and many lodging options along the way. You can also venture into the middle of the island but the weather and roads can get rather questionable; a lot of people choose to rent 4×4 vehicles. Those are, you guessed it, expensive!
  • Book your slot at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in advance.  It is very popular and fills up quickly.  We had to rearrange our schedule a bit in order to fit it in since our first preference was not available.

All that said, we worked with what we had.  We rented a car on our second day and had some rather early mornings in order to drive to see some amazing sights during our short 5 day stay.  Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t desirable for spotting the Northern Lights and our tour group ended up being cancelled and rescheduled every night we were there.  So that means we will have to return another time to see them. H – all Northern Lights tours offer unlimited attempts until you see the damn thing. 

Our first full day there, we joined a walking tour of Reykjavik.  Our tour guide was a bit goofy, but it was an enjoyable tour minus the fact that it was windy and cold!  Our guide even commented on how lucky we were with the weather that day.  We initially thought he was joking, but he was actually being serious.  At least it wasn’t raining, snowing, or hailing.  But that wind tho.  It was brutal.

Some photos from the city:

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One of many cool murals
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Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church, the largest church in Iceland
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Inside the church

Some city views from the top:

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Hoch – $22 beer that won some sort of best beer in the world award. Honestly, it was pretty good but I still favor Founder’s oatmeal stout.

Reykjavik is a neat city, but for us, the fun really began once we rented a car and could see more of the countryside.  We were only able to explore 2 full days, but our mini road trips were definitely the highlights of the trip for me.  I did some research on places to see and we came up with a couple of tentative itineraries.

Road Trip Itinerary 1:

We completed what is known as the Golden Circle (a popular tourist route), went snorkeling along the Silfra fissure (a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents), and ended up at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.  Now talk about a long, but rewarding day.

  • Stop A: Gullfoss Waterfall, we left Reykjavik around 7am to get here by sunrise.  It was still a little dark, and even if it were brighter, the pic still wouldn’t do it justice. img_9765
  • Stop B: Geothermal area which contains several geysers.  The largest geyser, named Geysir, has been dormant for years, but we still were able to see the Strokkur geyser along with a few smaller ones.
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    Steam everywhere
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    Dormant Geysir

  • Stop C: Kerið (Kerid) volcanic crater lake.  We were not sure we would have time to stop here since we had a set time to be at the next stop (where we arranged a time to snorkel), but we ended up being able to fit it in.  It ended up being my favorite stop of the day.
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    The colors looked more vibrant in person.

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  • Stop D: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, location of the Silfra fissure.  We arrived in time for our 1pm snorkel appointment.  We geared up and were in the freezing water for about 40 min.  To be honest, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  The dry suit was extremely tight around the neck, ankles, and wrists to prevent water from coming in (which also meant cold hands and feet), and the face mask was so effin’ tight I looked like a crazy person.  The tight outfit and mouth breathing made me feel claustrophobic and the cold water sort of gave me a headache which took away from the experience for me.  I was ready to get out almost immediately, but tried my best to ignore my discomfort and enjoy the once in a lifetime experience.  Hoch brought the go-pro, but took very little photos so here is a sneak peak of what to expect when we do put a video together. H – wahh. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but this is the kind of crapshoot you sign up for when you are borrowing equipment that would normally be highly personalized because of how precise they need to be in order to be comfortable. I got lucky. She did handle it like a trooper and I wasn’t aware of her discomfort until I got out of the water and saw her face, which was at least a little bit funny. DCIM100GOPROGOPR2480.DCIM100GOPROG0012501.
  • Stop E: Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa.  The only time slot available was for later in the day so we arrived after the sun went down.  There are different packages, but they all include a silica face mask and once you’re in, you can stay as long as you like.  It was very touristy, but since the place is huge it doesn’t feel crowded, especially at night when you can’t see everyone.  The water is a whitish, blue color due to the amounts of silica.  I ended up going back on my own on our departure day (Hoch’s flight was a lot earlier than mine) so the following pictures are from that day.  H – This is a manmade hotspring filled with wastewater from the nearby geothermal power plant, which is cool as shit. In fact Iceland uses 100% renewable energy, which is why they’re cooler than your dumbass country.DCIM100GOPROGOPR2668.

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    Sun came out for a bit

Road Trip Itinerary 2:

This ended up being my favorite day.  We spent a lot of time in the car, including leaving at 5am to drive the first 5 hour stint, but we were able to see some very cool things.  The weather in Iceland is all over the place and we experienced it first hand.  One minute it would be snowing, the next it would be sunny, then windy, and then hailing.  It was crazy.

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Road shot.  The roads were OK for us, but maybe we were just lucky.
  • Stop A (underneath Stop B on the map): Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  One of the coolest things I’ve seen.  The lake was once part of a glacier and has been slowly expanding over the years as the glacier melts.  There are large chunks of blue, luminous glacier (again due to the silica content) floating in the lake like icebergs.  DCIM100GOPROGOPR2596.img_9885img_9920
  • Stop B: Diamond Beach which technically only exists because of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  The glacier chunks slowly float out to sea and several are washed up along the black sand shore.  Seriously so freakin’ cool.  img_9948img_9956img_20161115_103751
  • Stop C: Svínafellsjökull glacier, which is a finger of the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajökull.  We only saw it from a distance, but seeing it made me wish we would’ve planned some sort of glacier hiking excursion.  Again, the photo doesn’t begin to do it justice; it was awesome.

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    End of the glacier has melted (same as Glacier Lagoon)
  • Stop D: Dverghamrar (dwarf rocks).  It was not originally part of the itinerary, but at this point we were just stopping at any place that looked neat along the way back to Reykjavik.  The dwarf rocks are actually columns made of basalt (volcanic rock).  They are located in the middle of open country and the views were spectacular.
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    Just love the views
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    That sky tho
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    Columnar basalt – view from above. H – people in the past, because they were stupid, thought this is where dwarves lived because the basalt rocks form patterns that look like ancient runes or Viking writings.
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    Columnar basalt with a waterfall in the background 🙂

     

  • Stop E: Laufskálavarða, which was another random stop along the way back to Reykjavik.  It is a mound of lava and is the location where the first historic farm in the country once stood.  According to custom, travelers going to the place for the first time erect small cairns (pile of stones) so that their trip is favorable.  We erected our small cairns and took some photos since it looked really neat. H – haha, erect.
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    Cairns everywhere

     

  • Stop F: Reynisfjara Beach, a popular black sand beach with columnar basalt (same as Stop D) and is one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland.  We stopped briefly to check it out, it was super windy and started to hail while we were there. H – they posted a news article talking about the latest victim a couple of months earlier. There still were a lot of people dangerously close to the water for sure.
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    Right before the hail came in
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    More columnar basalt

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  • Stop G: Skógafoss, one of the largest waterfalls in the country.  At this point, we were running out of day light and had one more stop left so we did not stay long enough to hike to the top.  img_0048
  • Stop H: Seljalandsfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls.  One of the few that you can walk behind the flowing water within the cave.  If it wasn’t so cloudy, we would’ve been able to see the sunset through the cascading waterfall which was my goal, but again the weather wasn’t desirable.  There are a lot of cool photos of this online.

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    (Iceland deserves a real camera too, not just my iPhone camera :/ )

As I mentioned before, it was a long day spent in the car, but my favorite day of all our time in Iceland.  Once the sun set, we headed back for dinner and to pack for the airport.

H – after Iceland, I headed to Seoul (via Frankfurt and Qatar) to spend some additional time with my family while Kimberly headed to North Carolina and spent Thanksgiving with her family. Not exactly the end of a 6-month long trip we had imagined, but we certainly needed time with our respective families.

Well that is all for our adventure.  For more photos from Iceland, check out this link:

Iceland Album 2016

We have a lot of go-pro footage and will slowly be sorting through and creating videos of our trip, so be on the look out for those (bear with us, it will take some time!).  Also, we plan on posting a summary of the expenses for those that are interested in the financials of an extended trip like this. 🙂

Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!

Until next post,

Kimberly

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