Back in my ex-pat days I kept, or tried to keep, a blog about my travels throughout Germany and Europe.* Much like my entries to this venture, they were sporadic at best and went dry about a year into my stay in Germany. Due to my own inactivity, may of my adventures went undocumented. This is a project to rectify this, 3-4 years after the fact. I may not have great recall of the stories and shenanigans that occurred while on these trips. However, it will serve as a primer for some of the things that I thought were awesome and those that could be missed should anyone decide to take an adventure to any of the locals that I visited along the way. I figured there was no better way to start this project then with a review of one of my favorite stops, Iceland.
In working my way through these, I will try to keep as true to the original itinerary as my memory serves. I may get off the rails a bit, but I will do my best.
Iceland Day 1:
Upon arriving at Keflavik airport on the southwest peninsula of Iceland with my friends Oveida Fresh and Kapil, we embarked to our hotel which was located next to the world famous Blue Lagoon. I had been told prior to our excursion that the trick to the Blue Lagoon was to go either on your way in our out of the country due to its proximity to Keflavik and distance from just about everything else. This is definitely true, to squeeze this in during one of your other days would basically limit your day to the Blue Lagoon. So given that we arrived a day before the rest of our squad, we took the opportunity to visit the Lagoon after our flight from Germany landed around 4pm.
The Blue Lagoon is a must do in Iceland. The unique thermal lake and silica mud provide for a relaxing experience that you can’t get anywhere else. If you do have a later flight into Iceland, a stay at the Silica Hotel is well worth it. Along with gaining access to the main spa, they also have a private thermal lagoon at the hotel that you can relax in away from the crowds. It’s a nice little treat if it works into your schedule, but not worth it if you land early and just plan on spending your morning recharging from your travels before embarking on the rest of your voyage.
One other quick point, upon arrival you must stop into the duty free store near the baggage claim area. Booze in Iceland is quite expensive so I recommend that you stock up before departing the airport. This will also serve you well if you are heading out into the eastern parts of Iceland. Bars may be tough to come by in some of the smaller towns, especially if you are not traveling during peak tourist times.
Iceland Day 2:
After a quick morning soak in the private lagoon, we picked up a few of our companions, Nick and Norbs, and decided to do a quick tour of the southwest peninsula before another trip to the lagoon to meet the rest of #TeamIceland and embarking to Vik for the evening. The southwest peninsula isn’t a must do on your trip, but it does provide a good idea of the scenery and terrain that you will encounter during your stay in Iceland. Also, if you are expeditious in your tour, you can easily do the trek in about 2 hours including a nice lunch in Grindavik. A few quick highlights for the southwest corner of Iceland. First, a stop at the Bridge Between Continents is a must do. Basically it is a small pedestrian bridge that literally spans a shallow canyon formed by the drifting between the North American and European tectonic plates. The plates only drift about 2 centimeters a year, so you won’t feel anything. However, you can jump back and forth saying, “Europe, North America, Europe, North America.” Maybe just nerds like me do that…
A short drive from the bridge is the Reykjanes Lighthouse that sits near some impressive ocean side cliffs. It’s a great stop along the way to climb around some cliffs and potentially make a new friend! A short hike from the lighthouse are some thermal fields that provide a bit of the flavor of the geothermic activity that occurs in Iceland. Seriously, Iceland is basically a giant volcano waiting to blow due to its location right on top of the tectonic divide. The thermal fields are cool, but mostly you just walk away with the smell of rotten eggs implanted in your nose…but it’s still cool. Finally, end your trip with a stop off at Bryggian in the town of Grindavik for some delicious seafood soup/chowder to fuel the rest of your day.
Iceland Day 3:
After driving Iceland’s ring road to Vik the night before, we awoke in Vik ready to take on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Skaftafell. A quick word on the ring road. When traveling throughout Iceland you are likely to spend some time on the ring road. This is one of the more incredible drives in the world. Ocean on one side, a variety of terrain of barren volcanic rock, glaciers and greenery that resembles Ireland on the other. I highly suggest a soundtrack Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal while on this trek.
Our first stop on day three took us to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Unfortunately on this day there was a bit too much floating ice to take a boat tour, but the walk around was totally worth it. Jökulsárlón is a crystal clear lagoon with the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Spend some time walking around and taking in some of Iceland’s black sand beaches on the Atlantic side as well where you will encounter some small icebergs washed ashore. Although this is a gorgeous natural wonder to observe, it does serve as a stark reminder of climate change as the lagoon is only there due to glacier melt.
Our next stop was to Skaftafell which is a portion of Vatnajökull National Park, one of three national parks in Iceland. The visitor center to Skaftafell is located right off of the ring road and is the staring
point for all of the hiking trails in Skaftafell. First we started off on an easy two kilometer hike to the Svartifoss waterfall. Svartifoss is impressive for what appears to be hanging rock formations behind the falls. From there we hiked across the park to Sjónarnípa an overlook of the Skaftafell glacier to the east of the visitor center. The overlook is amazing as you are standing basically on the side of a cliff overlooking the glacier. From the overlook you can see past the visitor center all the way to the ocean. Also visible from Sjónarnípa is the peak of Kristínartindar which can be hiked to during the summer months into early fall. Unfortunately, we were there in April so no dice on that hike. Finally, it was back down the somewhat difficult path back to the visitor center to retreat back to Vik for the night.
Iceland Day 4:
Our 4th day in Iceland was the day we would take on the world famous Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland and encompasses three primary stops: Gullfoss, Geysers at Haukadalur and Þingvellir National Park. As we were starting from Vik and not Reykjavik like others, we threw in a couple of stops along the way.
Our first stop was just around the corner from Vik, Reynisfjara Beach. The beach contained a number of cool rock formations that you can hike across and climb on. The only unfortunate part is that the morning we were there, the rain and wind was whipping which made for a gross time outside. A few of our #TeamIceland members had to retreat to the cars early which cut our time short. The next stop along the way was the Skógafoss waterfall. Skógafoss is one of the larger waterfalls in Iceland with a drop of approximately 200 feet. There is a stairway that you can take to the top of the falls for a bird’s eye view of the drop. Well worth the visit.
Stop three along the way was Seljalandsfoss which is likely the second most popular waterfall in Iceland. Seljalandsfoss is unique in the fact that there is a pathway which allows you to take a jaunt behind the waterfall for a different perspective. From a volume and size perspective there are more impressive waterfalls in Iceland, however, the walking path makes this one a must visit. It does get a bit crowded so be prepared for a bit longer stop than you anticipated.
Next on the agenda for the day was Gullfoss. Gullfoss is probably the most impressive waterfall in Iceland (and they are plentiful). Gullfoss is a curved
waterfall with five drops along the way dumping approximately 140 cubic centimeters of water per second. There is a path along the top that takes you to an overlook into the falls. However the real star of the show if the power of the falls. There is a staircase and walkway that allows you to walk down into the crevice where Gullfoss plunges down so you can get up close and personal with the falls. It would be wise to wear some level of a weatherproof jacket as you will get wet. Spend a bit of time at the bottom hanging out on the rocks and listen to nature’s power rushing by you.
From Gullfoss head west just a few kilometers to Geyser field at Haukadalur. This is the home of the original geyser, appropriately named Geysir. Ok so there is probably no way to know if this is the actual original geyser, however, it is the first to be described as such in print and the name stuck for all others…so I’ll buy it. Unfortunately, Geysir doesn’t erupt on a frequent basis anymore, so you likely won’t see it go off. However, also in the field is the geyser Strokkur which does erupt every three minutes or so. With a short stay you will easily see Strokkur erupt numerous times so you can capture the natural phenomenon with ease.
The last stop on the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park. The main attraction at Þingvellir is the tectonic plate divide. As we arrived in Þingvellir late in the day we were only able to take a relatively quick hike through a canyon like structure where the plates divide. If you have more time there is a lake within Þingvellir where you are able to dive and swim between the tectonic plates. Þingvellir second claim to fame is that the Icelandic parliament, Althing, was founded here in 930. Althing is one of the oldest existing parliaments in the world. The main hike through the tectonic area will also take you to the Lögberg (Law Rock) which was the primary focal point for the Althing.
After our hike it was time to finally head to Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik for a night on the town. In Reykjavik we stayed at the hostel at Hiemmur Square. Hostels are great when traveling in a large group (we had 9 people in total) as you can basically rent out a full dorm room and turn it into your private party center. As nice as Hiemmur Square was, if you are going the hostel route I would highly suggest the Kex Hostel which contains a fantastic gastro pub in the lobby with prices that won’t break the bank. After dinner at Kex, and partying until 4am it was time to turn in for the night.
Iceland Day 5:
Day five of our Iceland adventure was spent exploring Reykjavik. First off was a stroll along the
harbor front before a quick stop to check out Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert hall. Harpa is a gorgeous glass structure right on the waterfront that is one of the more striking buildings in Reykjavik. From Harpa take a quick walk to Kolaportið, Reykjavik’s largest market place. There are goods of all kind that can be found in the market. However, a must do is the sampling of fermented shark. It’s quite chewy and smells of formaldehyde, however, it was featured on an episode of the Simpsons so you know it the real deal. At this point it was time for some lunch at Sagrefinn which claims to have probably the best lobster soup in the world. It was yummy, but be wary of the odd life-like model of the man in the corner…its creepy.
Next was a nice walk through the old town area of Reykjavik, and then around the lake in the center of town. We had planned a stop off at the viking exhibit that was going on at the National Library, Danes enjoy their vikings, however it was growing late and so some of us broke away to continue the city walking adventure. It was then off for a quick walk through some of Reykjavik’s residential neighborhoods and eventually to Hallgrimskirja which is the large, often photographed church in central Reykjavik. Hallgrimskirja has an elevator to an obersvation deck at the top of the church which provides some of the most dramatic views of Reykjavik. After all of our walking for the day it was time for a beverage and maybe a snack while waiting for the rest of our crew to catch up.
After a solid dinner at Sjávargrillid we grabbed a few quick drinks and then retired to the hostel for a game of Cards Against Humanity. Cards Against Humanity is a great game to play with some friends over a couple of beers especially when one of them is a Dane and you have to explain what pixilated bukkake is. Still, not a night to get crazy as day 6 was a packed itinerary.
Iceland Day 6:
For day six we organized a private super jeep tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Upon arrival on the peninsula our first trip was to Snæfellsjökull the main volcano on the peninsula. A quick point on the super jeep, basically this is a regular jeep that is on a lift kit with tires that look like balloons. They are popular for tours in Iceland as the tires can be inflated or deflated to allow for travel on different terrains. The benefits of the super jeep were immediately realized on Snæfellsjökull as we were able to drive high up on the volcano past the last parking area to get some unabated views of the peninsula from on high.
After coming down from Snæfellsjökull, we stopped off in a small fishing village called Hellnar. In Hellnar we took a walk along the coast taking in the dramatic vistas of the Icelandic coast. Once we were back in the jeep it was off to hike Hólahólar crater, a dormant volcano crater. After our stop, it was time to head back to Reykjavik. On the way back to Reykjavik as I was riding shotgun next to our tour guide, I had to chuckle. As I turned to chat with my companions, I saw that everyone but me was passed out, tired from a busy 6 days in an wonderful place. I guess I can’t blame them, it did feel like we covered a ton of ground in our short time in Iceland. Once we were back in Reykjavik it was one final meal at the Kex hostel and then back to our room for some final beers and laughs before shutting it down early to be able to catch our flights back the next morning.
*If you feel like checking out some of my earlier ramblings direct yourself to Frankfurt Splendor.