24 June 2016

The Golden Circle

Our last full day in Iceland was spent on a well-known road trip east of Reykjavik. When one googles "things to do in Iceland", The Golden Circle always comes up. 

While there are a number of different possibilities for the Golden Circle, the traditional route takes one to four major sites:
Þingvellir Natioanl Park
Strokkur Geysir
Gulfoss Waterfall
Kerid Crater

There are a number of tours that take one through the Golden Circle, but the best way to see it, is to drive yourself. This will give you the flexibility to stop as much and as long as you want. The actual drive itself would take about 3.5 hours without stopping. We started at 9am and returned to Reykjavik around 4:30pm. 


Þingvellir (Pronounced Thingvellir in English) is a national park. There is no one specific sight, but rather a number of beautiful landscapes to see. We drove through the park, admired the lake, and stopped to pet horses. The main route of the Golden Circle takes on through the southern end of the park, at the north side of the lake.


After exiting the park, we continued our drive to Geysir. Up until this point, the route had been mostly just nature, no gas stations or stores, however as we approacched Geysir, a huge rest stop appeared. It was complete with a cafeteria, store and hotel. It also had 100s of tourists. Despite not encountering many people along the route until this point, we suddenly were in throngs of tourists. 
Geysir was incredible. This was probably my most favorite view not only during the Golden Circle but on the entire trip! Geysir is not only the location of a Geyser, but also the origin of the English word geyesr. 
In Geysir are a number of hot spots and water spouts, however one stands out above the others: Strokkur. This geyser shoots water into the air roughly every 10 minutes. While the height varies, I saw it go up to possibly as high as (if not higher than) 50 feet. 



Behind the geyser were some hills. Kelly and I climed up the hill and admired the view, as well as the Geyser from above.


The area was awash with blue lupines. It was one of the most beautiful places, that I have had the privilege to visit.



After spending nearly an hour and a half at Geysir, we ventured away from the "circle" part of the Golden Circle, but still very much stayed on the route. We headed to Gullfoss waterfall. Once again, we came to a huge rest stop with a restaurant, a store, and of course 100s of tourists. 

The Gulfoss waterfall is not the biggest waterfall in Iceland, but it is Iceland's most famous one. The water comes from the Hvítá River which originates at Lake Hvítávatn at Lángjökull glacier. Spray from the waterfall rains upon tourists walking the bath to the observation deck.



From Gullfoss we returned to Geysir and then continued along the circle. We were headed towards Kerið, but first we stopped at a roadside picnic table to eat our lunch and pet more horses. While there we also discovered a stable built into a small mound of earth. It was a beautiful day, sunny, but not too hot, perfect for being outside.



The final stop on our drive was the Kerið Crater. This crater lake was formed by a volcano that caved in. Unlike the last two major stops, this site only had a small parking lot and attendant stand. Surprisingly, there was a cost to enter. This was the first natural site we had visited with a cost. It was only 400 Kr. The water in the lake was a deep turquois. One could walk around the top or go to the bottom, but entering the water is not permitted.



After Kerið, we headed back to Reykjavik. Driving the Golden Circle was an experience that I'll never forget and would highly recommend. It is simply beautiful. 













07 June 2016

Mývatn

It was suggested that we visit Mývatn, we thought it was a city, but it turned out the be the region around a lake by the same name. We headed west from Akureyri, driving along twisting, winding mountain roads. 

After a few little stops to take photos of the scenery, we stopped at a beautiful waterfall, Goðafoss. It was one of the biggest waterfalls we had seen thus far and it was a wonder to behold. We spent about an hour at the fall, hiking around and viewing it from both sides as well as afar. Sometimes we were showered by the spray of the water. It was a warm day, so the spray and cool breeze that blew off of it was refreshing. 


After Goðafoss, we continued on, driving around the south of Lake Mývatn. After a short stop for pizza (Daddis Pizza in Vogar, it was delicious!), then we headed due east again on Highway 1, the Ring Road. 
Throughout our drive, we saw a lot of runners and bicyclists. We knew some event was going on, but it was not until we reached our next stop that we found out, it was a 3K/5K/10K/Marathon event. This event began and ended at the Mývatn Naturebaths, which was also our next stop. 
Similar to the Blue Lagoon, the Mývatn Naturebaths are outdoor pools, heated by geothermic energy. Unlike the Blue Lagoon they were not as big, crowded or expensive. We liked them much better! The Naturebaths consisted of three pools of varying temperatures. We spent a few hours relaxing in the water, enjoying the mountain view.


From there, we headed east into what appeared to be a desert, or mountains made of sand. However right around the bend was Hverir, a site of geothermic mud pits. The boiling mud was mesmerizing. It stunk to high heaven (lots of sulfur!), but it was well worth seeing. 




Hverir was by far my most favorite part of the day. We drove back to our 'home' for the night, via the northern route of the lake. It was a great day, and the furthest east in Iceland that our journey would take us. 










Life is a Highway....

Our third day in Iceland, we set off on a journey, out of Reykjavik towards Akureyri. Back home, Google Maps told us that the trip would take about 3.5 hours. Apple maps predicted 4.45. With all of our stops, it took us nearly 10 hours! What a journey it was...

Some of the highlights of the journey:
* Exploring a cave with three large cones of ice in the middle. They had started as snow that fell through the opening of the cave.
* Watching the landscape change from volcanic rock to flatlands to mountains to rocky beaches.
* Breathtaking views.
* Scary mountain roads with high drop-offs and no guard rails!
* Picnicking on the side of the road overlooking a beautiful valley below.
* Glaciers, waterfalls and horses.
* Finally reaching our destination.

A few of the best photos from the journey ..


Raufarhólshellir cave


We were about to enter a tunnel for almost 15 minutes.


Locals...


Just a waterfall by the side of the road.


Such a beautiful day for a drive!


05 June 2016

Reykjavik 871+- 2

Our second day in Iceland was spent in the capital city, Reykjavik. As I often do, I found the free city tour and set off to learn about the city. 

According to legend, Ingólfur Arnarson founded the town in 871. He allegedly set two logs out to sea and said he would live where they landed. He sent his slaves to find the logs and they did so at what is today Reykjavik. This monument in town represents those logs:

He called the settlement Reykjavik, smokey water, because he saw the geothermic steam. However, evidence of settlements pre-871 has been found. Thus now they say that Reykjavik was founded in 871+- 2. 
Modern Reykjavik is a progressive society. Iceland is home to the first democratically elected female president, and the first openly gay prime minister. Gay marriage has been legal since 1996, and women have had the right to vote since 1915. Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world, there is no army and the police do not carry guns.
Iceland does have a coast guard, with two ships. However, according to our tour guide, these ships never move.
During a gay pride parade, a statue was adorned with lipstick. The prime minister has not let them clean it off. It is still proudly wearing it's lipstick and proclaiming the friendliness and openness to all.
After our tour we visited the Settlement Museum and learned about the historical settlements in the area. Then we headed to the harbor for lunch. I had the catch of the day, and it was amazing!
We completed our day by boarding a boat for a Puffin sight-seeing tour. We took the boat out into the harbor and to some nearby islands, where we spotted some puffins. They were much smaller than I expected! 

A few more interesting sights around town:
The concert hall is designed to light up and give the effect of the Northern Lights:

This square in the center of town was built a top a cemetery. A few gravestones are still on display:


Houses are built of wood, and then covered in corrugated metal to protect them from the elements. 

This sculpture is not only aesthetically pleasing with its Viking ship image, it also is designed to be perfectly aligned with the summer solstice. It will illuminate itself with the sun during the solstice.








03 June 2016

In a fog

My first views of Iceland were in a fog... not just because of the fact that I was jetlagged after the flight, but also  because Iceland itself was shrouded in a fog. 


My friend Kelly and I got in our rental car and headed off in the direction of Grindavik. We were looking for a restaurant called Bryggjan, which another Kelly had recommended. After driving a bit around town, we found it by the docks. 



Upon entering the owner told us to find a seat that that coffee and breakfast would be forthcoming. The breakfast we were served was traditional for the area. It consisted of two types of bread, salmon, herring, egg, tomato, cucumber, cheese and ham. Of course I did not eat the ham. To round off our meal, we were also served Skyr, an Icelandic yoghurt of sorts. It was delicious and a perfect introduction to all that is Iceland. 


Before we left the restaurant, the owner gave us a number of tips of things to do and see. We might need an extra week or two here to accomplish them all! After breakfast, we headed to the most famous tourist attraction in Iceland, The Blue Lagoon. 

Touristy as it is, it was just perfect for our first day. We relaxed in the hot water and worked out all of the stress from flying. We toasted our arrival with an early beer in the lagoon. The water felt amazing!


After the Blue Lagoon, we began to head in the direction Þorlákshöfn, our home for the next two nigghts. However, we did not head straight there, rather we headed into the area around Lake Kleifarvatn. We saw some amazing hot springs, with water boiling directly in the ground. The steam kept us warm and added to the fog around us. 


By the time we reached the lake, the fog had cleared some and we were able to see it a bit more clearly than expected. It is a gorgeous lake, with hills surrounding it.


We drove the rest of the way to our AirBnB. The roads were curvy, and with the fog sometimes it seemed as though we would fall off the end of the road. But we made it safely and then crashed into our beds. It was a lovely first day in Iceland.