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Northern Lights during sunset in Reykjavik

Iceland: Day 10

September 20 (Cloudy)

Reykjavik-London

Northern Lights during sunset in Reykjavik

As if Iceland was thank-ing us for visiting, last night we were greeted with another brilliant display of Aurora Borealis.  It was so intense we were able to see the light show clearly even with Reykjavik’s “light pollution”! (I’ve lived in major cities my entire life and I don’t really consider light pollution unless you can’t see stars on a cloudless night haha).  I realized how special the light show was when 1) local Icelanders rushed outside to photograph the spectacle and, 2) the sun hadn’t fully set!

We spent the evening soaking in the northern lights but we had to turn in early because I was exhausted from the massive amount of traveling from the past 3 days.  We were flying into London for 3 nights per my mom’s request to visit the British Museum and I wanted to make sure she got to Heathrow airport safely for the flight back to Asia.  (I will make a separate entry about London).

I actually flew back to Keflavik Airport (on the way back to Vancouver from London) and spent a night there (worst seats ever for sleeping).  I visited the world famous Blue Lagoon the following morning via shuttle bus (only a short distance away from the airport)… I enjoyed Myvatn Natural Bath magnitudes more to be honest.  I also purchased Brennivin (Iceland’s national liquor) to share with my buddies back home: I still have half of a bottle left 2 years later because it was so foul tasting haha.

**Please return to the main Iceland entry for “Conclusion” aka trip reflection**

Frozen Pond at Landmannalaugar Iceland

Iceland: Day 9

September 19 (Sunny)

Vik-Landmannalaugar-Reykjavik

Frozen Pond at Landmannalaugar Iceland

The excursion to Landmannalaugar was another highlight of the trip and I am glad we decided to make the trek out there.  It was indeed a very long day-trip as we spent 13 hours driving and hiking through the mountains.

From Vik we turned onto route 208 where the road shortly turned into F208.  In front of us was a big road sign that stated 4x4s were mandatory to travel on F-designated roads (we also saw an Icelandic sheep farmer herding 100s of sheeps on his ATV with his dogs).

The drive to Landmannalaugar was extremely scenic and it was clearly evident that it wasn’t a tourist hotspot because I believe we saw no more than 25 vehicles on our entire Landmannalaugar journey (including parked SUVs).  On the way there we also forded countless streams/rivers with our SUV which was an exciting experience on its own. (I had never operated any vehicles larger than my petite Honda Civic in my life before this trip, now I can drive U-Haul trucks with ease hehe).  The last river fording in order to get to the Landmannalaugar parking lot was surprisingly deep as the water extended half way up the door at one point (luckily the current wasn’t strong).

As for the Landmannalaugar hike (we only hiked for 2.5 hours…) I will let the picture in the gallery do the talking.  Giant Obsidians (glass like volcanic rock) littered throughout the landscape against the multicolored backdrop; while typical moss covered much of the otherwise barren landscape which provided some much needed color to most of these pictures.

Trip Map/Gallery

Iceland Day 9 Road Map

Iceland Day 9 Road Map

 

Beautiful mountain reflections off of lake Snaefellsness Peninsula Iceland

Iceland: Day 8

September 18 (Sunny)

Snaefellsness Peninsula-Vik

Beautiful mountain reflections off of lake Snaefellsness Peninsula Iceland

We had driven many many kilometers around the ring road of Iceland and we were heading back to the starting point more than a week ago: the Capital City of Reykjavik.  We arrived a day early than we had originally planned because of the closure of the interior highlands.  We were faced with a dilemma: What should we do with this extra day? 1) Stay in Reykjavik and explore the city, or 2) go to Landmannalaugar (the Painted Mountains: fantastic reviews by photographers and travelers alike) in the southern highlands and still accessible.  Landmannalaugar won and yes, this meant we had to retrace our drive all the way to Vik (similar to day 2-3 of our trip).

Aside from a couple side excursions we really hadn’t done anything that required such a powerful vehicle.  I originally rented this behemoth because I wanted to travel to the interior highlands (Askja) and I would’ve had to ford rivers along the way.  In order to fulfill my desire to drive across rivers/streams we decided that we would stop by Reykjavik for dinner, then spend the night at Vik in preparation for Landmannalaugar the next day = another long haul in the driver seat.

The drive around Snaefellsness Peninsula was extremely pleasant with tiny villages dotted along the way (such as Hellnar and Arnastapi: it always amazed me that there would stand a well kept church in the tiniest of villages).  The entire drive around the peninsula was dominated by a towering active volcano Snæfellsjökull.  Picturesque landscapes aside, the few tourist attractions around Snæfellsjökull such as “Songhellir – The Singing Cave” were truly disappointing.

P.S. On the drive from Snaefellsness Peninsula to Reykjavik we had to go through a tunnel which costed 1000 kronas (~$10 CAD at the time).  I thought to myself this tunnel better be the best tunnel in the world for the steep price that I paid, and it took almost 10 minutes to complete the tunnel… well worth it haha!  We also had one of the best fish course I’ve ever tasted in Reykjavik that night (it was only $90… chump change haha)

Trip Map/Gallery

Iceland Day 8 Road Map

Iceland Day 8 Road Map

 

Godafoss (Goðafoss) in Northern Iceland

Iceland: Day 7

September 17 (Snow, rain, sun)

Myvatn-Snaefellsness Peninsula

Godafoss (Goðafoss) in Northern Iceland

Today’s itinerary was epic in terms of the numbers of stops and the distance covered. I drove from northern Iceland all the way to the west which was estimated to take 7-9 hours by Google Maps (parts of which in terrible icy conditions).  The reason why I decided to drive to the Snaefellsness Peninsula was because of favorable weather forecasts + decent aurora activity predicted = Another chance to see northern lights! Paying a little extra for a full-size 4×4 enabled us the flexibility to make last minute travel decisions because we weren’t dependent on accommodations.  Sights along the way included Godafoss (Goðafoss) and Hvitserkur.

Woke up today to heavy snow and I even began worrying about the road conditions in the trusty Land Cruiser.  As we approach Godafoss the snow slowly became rain (who would’ve predicted that we saw rain again at waterfalls?).  This waterfall was by far the most anticipated for me since I poured many many hours researching and envisioning how I would capture its beauty.  Godafoss (waterfalls of the gods) was no where near as grand when compared to Dettifoss or Gullfoss in terms of scale, but I found Godafoss by far the most intimate and picturesque.  I was able to photograph this beauty up close without fearing for my life, and I must’ve spent a couple of hours there (took photos from both banks from different perspectives).

We proceeded westward passing through the largest town in the north called Akureyri.  Akureyri was highly recommended by many visitors but we only stopped at the gas station for some Skyr due to the long drive ahead.  We then took a 45 min (one way) detour from the main highway to see Hvitserkur: a spectacular rock formation favorited by many professional photographers.  The road to Hvitserkur (if you could even call it a road… it was more like a dangerous rock trail) was by far one of the roughest we had driven in Iceland (even worst than the F-road to Landmannalauger).  This detour could easily take ~2 hours one way if you are equipped with a low-clearance vehicle.  I saw a couple travelers attempting to inch their way to the viewpoint with a Honda Civic and I also saw a few cars turned back half way through.  When we reached the viewpoint it was extremely anti-climatic because I could hardly make out the shape of the rock due to the severe rain, and the weather simply did not permit us to hike down to the beach.  [Tip #7 – Since the ring road is the main road where most tourists will travel on, signs to various tourist attractions are abundant (they are denoted by an icon before the name). Some attractions were spectacular while others were nothing but a hole in the rock (Sönghellir)… so please do some research before hand].

As we descended from higher elevations from the north snow gradually yielded to beautiful lush greeneries.  We took numerous photos along the way (by this time we stopped pulling over to the side of the highway because we could see miles ahead/back and often all we saw were sheeps… no vehicles).  We still had no idea where to stay for the night when we reached the peninsula.  It was near dinner time so we decided to stop at the gas station for some surprisingly delicious fish-n-chips and to search for accommodations in the area.  Since the only hotel in town was booked up and I was sick of driving, we decided to SUV-camp for another night at the closest campsite.  We consumed our second bottle of wine that night and fell asleep in drunken laughter.

“Everybody loves kung-fu fighting, those kicks were fast as lighting…” I had intended to wake up around midnight to see if I was lucky enough to see the light show of the north.  My heart sank a little when my phone read 3AM (I set 3 different alarms in case I snoozed my way out of the first alarms… the foresight was impeccable lol).  When I got outside streaks of green lights were dancing above me with varying intensity.  The light show extraordinaire was even more stunning than I had expected, and after an hour of photos the northern lights subsided and I was back asleep within minutes.  I still wonder to this day what if I actually woke up at midnight as planned… would the Aurora Borealis be even more spectacular?

Trip Map/Gallery

Iceland Day 7 Road Map

Iceland Day 7 Road Map

 

Grjótagjá Lava Cave Iceland

Iceland: Day 6

September 16 (Snow)

Egilsstadir-Myvatn

Grjótagjá Lava Cave Iceland

Today’s weather forecast was more of the same: snow and rain with brief periods of blue skies.  Why did I even bother looking up the weather forecast anymore?  We experienced every type of weather possible daily anyways.  However a couple of things were certain: 1) Waterfall gods despised us since the weather was always at its worst when we were near waterfalls… 2) Having a reliable vehicle was by far the best decision for Iceland travel (slippery dirt roads, ice, snow, etc).

First destination of the day was a waterfall called Dettifoss: the most powerful waterfall in Europe in terms of water displacement.  The landscape was completely covered with 2-3 feet of snow as far as the eyes can see.  Unfortunately the road to Dettifoss was closed when we reached the junction [Tip #6 – When it is snowing it is extremely handy to check the Icelandic Roads Administration website  even though the website looked like it was built by a dyslexic 10 year old.  Aesthetics aside the website was actually very informative].  On the way back we saw two travelers driving a Toyota Yaris towards our direction (yes a freakin Yaris in deep snow)… of course being a good Samaritan I flagged them down and updated them to turn around as the road ahead was closed.  Karma quickly struck as they informed me that there was a new road that remained open a few kilometers down the ring road!  We must’ve been the first tourists to visit Dettifoss that day because I had to trail blaze for the smaller cars including a couple of smaller SUVs in order to reach the designated parking spaces.  It took about 20 minutes to hike through thigh-high snow until we reached Dettifoss (it was difficult to decipher trail markers/cairns in a near whiteout condition).  There were plenty of beautiful and photogenic waterfalls in Iceland alone (such as Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, etc) but Dettifoss was not one of them.  The only word I would use to describe Dettifoss was “brute” because Dettifoss was simply that: A huge earth-trembling waterfall that moved serious amounts of water.

After Dettifoss we headed west for some time and finally entered the Myvatn Lake area. It was supposed to be one of the most beautiful location in the country but its beauty was hidden from us with a thick blanket of snow and fog (visibility was becoming a minor concern for driving).  Along the way to Myvatn we visited Hvenir: a geothermal area spewing sulfur in great quantities (difficult to photograph through sulfur steam and not too photogenic IMHO).  Next up we drove to the rim of Viti Crater (an Icelandic friend told me this crater was actually man-made but I wasn’t sure).  From the lack of tire tracks I was certain no one else had visited in a while… I jumped out of the car to explore on foot while my mom called my dad who was 6000 km away in Asia as if we were in the middle of a Starbucks (only we were at the top of a snow-capped crater).  When I realized that we were actually parked 20-30 meters INSIDE the snow covered rope to alert tourists from falling into the inner crater rim I quickly ran back to the vehicle and continued on with our journey (there were nothing significant to see as everything was covered in snow.

From Flickr I found a hidden gem called “Grjotagja” and it was actually quite difficult to find because everything was covered in a thick blanket of virgin white snow.  Grjotagja was a series of underground-ish hot springs (quite dark, damp, and cramped when I finally visited it in person, but the pictures turned out marvelously!).  We settled into yet another B&B that night but only after a relaxing visit to a fantastic hot spring called “Myvatn Natural Bath” (similar to the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik but way less commercial and way less busyl).  I will never forget the experience of being submerged in a pleasant hot spring while snow gently drifted across my face.  I will certainly return here again in my lifetime with my wife to experience this mystical corner of Iceland…

Trip Map/Gallery

Iceland Day 6 Road Map

Iceland Day 6 Road Map

 

Jokulsarlon in the morning, Iceland

Iceland: Day 5

September 15 (Sunny, misty, snowed, then crazy rain)

Jokulsarlon-Egilsstadir

Jokulsarlon in the morning, Iceland

This was what I woke up to!  The rain clouds disappeared overnight and we were welcomed by rainbows!  Needless to say we spent our morning photographing Jokulsarlon and the surroundings… also had a hot breakfast at the exact gift shop where we had dinner last night (so we could freshen up at the bathroom as well).  Jokulsarlon was basically a lake filled with glacier break-offs due to a narrow opening to the Atlantic Ocean.  Another beautiful spot to enjoy these giant icebergs was the black sand beach ocean-side.  Once we reached the beach (pure black sand like Vik) we saw giant ice boulders of various sizes being pushed back up onto the shore.  I would highly recommend all visitors to Jokulsarlon to visit the beaches directly adjacent to Jokulsarlon as well (it was less than 5 minutes away).

Per my itinerary today we were supposed to head into the interior highlands via F910-F88 to Askja. Since Askja was still buried under 6 meters of snow we had to alter our trip…  We were lucky that I kept our trip open and decided to play everything by ear.  We ended up booking accommodations on the go from this day forward because weather played such a pivotal role regarding which attractions were accessible and the weather in eastern/northern Iceland seemed to be quite unstable: for example the weather forecast for today was: moderate snow, sun, and rain all within 24 hours.

We drove most of the today as we basically traveled from Southeast to Northeast Iceland.  We did make a slight detour to Höfn for its famous lobster/langostino soup (thank you once again Tripadvisor!), and we also took a fun “shortcut” with the Land Cruiser on an F-route (4×4 only) through mountain passes in heavy rain/snow because I felt so secure in that vehicle.

[Aside.. I heard many things about Iceland and its less-than-desirable cuisine from friends/internet forums.  Now having traveled to Iceland I will have to refute all those claims because there truly were a couple of once-in-a-lifetime meals…  perhaps the people who complained did not want to spend $$$ on food and simply did not visit proper establishments.  We often ate granola bars for breakfast/lunch but we always treated ourselves to a proper warm dinner somewhere if available… However dinner at Icelandic restaurants can easily cost upwards of $45-80 per person but they were of fine-foods quality. Food choices seemed to be either cheap gas station fish-n-chips (also yummy!), or fine-quality cuisine with little choices in between.]

As we settled into our B&B I had a long conversation with the owner (a local Icelandic who happened to have spent 17 years in Canada).  He described the horrors of the recent blizzard and the fact that Icelandic emergency crews had been dispatched and worked non-stop to rescue SHEEPS that were trapped beneath the snow!

Trip Map/Gallery

Iceland Day 5 Road Map

Iceland Day 5 Road Map

 

Icebergs of Jokulsarlon Iceland

Iceland: Day 4

September 14 (Misty, sunny with clouds)

Vik-Jokulsarlon

Icebergs of Jokulsarlon Iceland

Woke up today to blue skies!  No need to panic about accommodations tonight since we were already traveling in it. That’s right, the Land Cruiser doubled as our hotel tonight (why pay for a hotel when I had planned on being out all night for Aurora Borealis?). We headed east towards Jokulsarlon and we made pit stops at Fjadragljufur, Lomagnupur, and Svartifoss along the way.

The first stop was the Fjadragljufur Canyon (63.771345,-18.171785 on the GPS).  The sun was fully out and the surroundings were unreal.  The 10 minute hike from the parking lot to the edge of the canyon was quite scenic (similar to the rolling hills showcased as the default Windows XP background).  We were going to hike further into the canyon but my stomach was feeling so sick (from the mystery breakfast fish spread) that we had to go back to the SUV in search of a bathroom (and to re-fuel). We stopped at the closest gas station where we fueled up for the first time, and I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much for a tank of diesel ($170).

Between Fjadragljufur and Lomagnupur the weather turned misty once again.  For the past 4 days we made numerous stops along the highway because the view was just so spectacular.  We also benefited from being able to pull over at will on the side of the ring road (main highway circumventing Iceland) because traffic was so light.  We spotted a random mini-waterfall on the side of the road… it looked pretty so we hopped over the low barbed wire fence (which mangled my jeans because I was being careless) for a chance to see this waterfall up close.  Soon after we arrived at Lomagnupur: a giant intimidating rock formation/mountain (not particularly interesting but still majestic just like everything else in Iceland) and the setting of a famous Icelandic saga (folk tale).

The next destination was Svartifoss and from my research it was a 40 minute hike up-hill.  I had prepared for this waterfall well (this was my first photography oriented trip).  The gum-boots and the tripod alone took up more than half of my suitcase which was beyond ridiculous.  The hike itself was uneventful and not difficult.. but this simple hike became somewhat taxing with a giant tripod, water boots, and a backpack full of camera gear on my back.  More than half way up the hill we spotted a tour bus ascending up the hill across the valley… then we noticed… we wasted 30 minutes hiking when we could’ve used that bus path!  To this date I still don’t know whether those Japanese tourists were doing their usual polite smile, or maybe they thought I was crazy/hilarious because they all smiled upon seeing me: a sweaty China-man carrying gumboots up a mountain.  Once we reached Svartifoss I jumped into my gumboots and jumped into the middle of the “river” for some photos from a different perspective. [Tip #3 – Do not buy a new camera for a photography trip without giving it a test run first… most of the images were unusable because apparently my camera was snapping photos at ISO 3200!!!]

A short drive from Svartifoss was the first highlight of this Iceland adventure: Jokulsarlon.  The weather started to clear up once again… and truth be told I felt Iceland’s magic the moment I saw those giant icebergs tightly packed together in the lagoon.  We went into the little gift shop for some waffles/soup for supper, and asked for directions to the closest campsite (which turned out to be 10 km away). [Tip #4 – Even though there are no chance in hell anyone could pronounce anything in Icelandic, like other Scandinavians most Icelanders could speak PERFECT English].  We were advised to simply park around Jokulsarlon (there were no laws forbidding it) and enjoy the view.  We spent the next 30 minutes scouting for a suitable location shielded away from the wind.  There are many unpaved roads around Iceland that can only be accessed by a decent SUV (like the Land Cruiser).  [Tip #5 – Try not to cheap out on your ride in Iceland since you most likely already spent major $$$ to Iceland… the only way to get the most out of it is to be able to reach some isolated areas.  Do not hire a Suzuki Jimny].  We scouted out many miles around Jokulsarlon including the adjacent Fjallsarlon which was much more isolated but just as beautiful.

We opened our first bottle of red wine that night and we ended up getting hammered (serious giggles ensued).  Temperature was bearable (+3 degrees Celcius… nothing serious) and I am sure that bottle of red wine helped a little bit as well.  We had full internet access (3G) from my phone adjacent to an isolated glacier lake to help the night pass.  We probably fell asleep around 11PM, and the next thing I remember was my alarm going off around 1:30AM (as per various photography blogs the best time to catch Aurora Borealis was between 12-3 AM).  I wiped the condensation away off the windows and I saw absolutely nothing but stars (a great sight in my opinion but it wasn’t northern light).  I climbed onto the roof of the SUV  and took a few long-exposure photos… guess what I captured??? A faint green glow around the clouds!!!!!  Even though it was invisible to my eyes my camera recorded some aurora activities!

Trip Map/Gallery

Iceland Day 4 Road Map

 

Impressive Skogafoss in the rain, Southern Iceland

Iceland: Day 3

September 13 (Rain, violent rain/wind, blue skies near sunset)

Hella-Vik

Impressive Skogafoss in the rain, Southern Iceland

I woke up to rain and more rain this morning. After having breakfast prepared by our B&B host (probably one of the best during the trip) we set off to Seljalandfoss (I was super excited about this waterfall because I had done so much research regarding how to photograph it).

Off-topic: Instead of traditional sausage and eggs for breakfast, every breakfast I had in Iceland were served with processed deli meat, bread, cereal and Icelandic yogurt called Skyr (and it is super healthy and tasted heavenly).   In fact processed deli meat occupied a larger than expected portion of all supermarkets there.

When we got to Seljalandfoss the rain did not ease and in fact I swear it got worst!  I was fairly disappointed since so much planning went into this particular shot but I refused to go without trying.  I climbed up the SLIPPERY muddy slope and quickly snapped a couple of pictures (it was getting dangerous) before leaving. We retreated to the SUV for our next destination: Skogafoss.

The original plan was to hike up Skogafoss (my research indicated a 8km hike one way with many smaller waterfalls along the way) but the plan was quickly axed due to the unrelenting rain.  We stayed around the main waterfall and I was able to salvage a couple of passable photographs which ironically may not be possible in good weather (there were multiple tour buses at the parking lot but very few tourists opted to brave the elements).  By the time we left Skogafoss it got so windy it was literally raining sideways… my windshield was barely wet but I couldn’t see through the passenger windows at all.  The gusts were so impressive that I had to slightly steer into the wind with my semi-tank aka Land Cruiser.  By that time I had already missed 2 major landmarks so logically I prayed to Buddha, Poseidon, Zeus, Allah, and all higher beings for better weather.

Checking the weather forecast on my phone, I was informed that the weather along the entire southern Iceland will be more of the same for at least the next couple of days except Vik (a 1.5 hr drive east) which was our next destination!  Was that a sign of better days ahead? Or was it a mean tease from the weather gods?  Between Skogafoss and Vik we saw 1353463246 sheeps but we did not come across another car.

Vik and its surrounding black sand beaches were ranked as the #2 beach in the world by National Geographic.  When we got there the rain eased a bit but the waves were hitting the shores pretty violently still so we decided to stay at the vantage points above.  Truth be told if I wasn’t traveling with my mom I would’ve ventured below because it didn’t look THAT bad, but I decided to play it safe since she doesn’t play well with water.  The sand at Vik were polar opposites to the pristine white sand of Tofino: the sand was so charcoal black it was like ash… actually it probably was ash lol.

Over the next 15 minutes the rain clouds simply vanished and sunlight finally made an appearance to grace the land with a golden hue.  I spent a good 30 minutes soaking in the view and put my camera/tripod to work before hunger took over.  Once we got to the town of Vik we settled in our hotel, grabbed a delicious fine-dining meal for $120, then headed out to our last destination for the day: the Reynisdranger rock formation (By the way Icelandic people have a way of naming stuff that is literally impossible for a foreigner to pronounce… I stopped trying and resorted to pointing at the word on my phone.  The locals tried to teach me the proper pronunciation but to no avail… similar alphabets/letters but different sounds).

I met numerous photographers that night (I think that hotel was the only affordable accommodation in the area).  One German photographer was kind enough to show me some of his pictures – He saw the northern lights and I was immediately envious of his awesome encounter! (Aurora Borealis was one of the reason why I came to Iceland… funny because we get them in Canada too).  I also saw a pack of ~20 motorcyclists arriving in complete misery from the weather.

Trip Map/Gallery

Day 3 Road Map

 

Majestic Gullfoss in the rain Iceland

Iceland: Day 2

September 12 (Sunny, then downpour)

Reykjavik-Golden Circle-Hella

Majestic Gullfoss in the rain Iceland

I had only secured accommodations for the first few days of our journey. I was checking road conditions and weather forecasts in almost hourly intervals since I had fantastic mobile coverage everywhere I went… I heard that the interior highlands were dumped with 6 meters of snow overnight (unexpected storm) so my initial plans to travel to the interior highlands (Askja) was in serious jeopardy (good thing I didn’t book anything because weather can be so wild! [Tip #2 – only during shoulder season, if you go during the summer season you WILL need to reserve everything… months in advance]).

This was the first “real” day of sightseeing and it is arguably around the most touristy portion of our 10 day itinerary known as the “Golden Circle”.  The Icelandic standard for touristy meant we ran into 100-200 other tourists during the entire day… which highlights the exact reason why Iceland is such a desirable place to visit.  Reykjavik was by no means a metropolis filled with maddening traffic jams, but as soon as we exited the city tranquility filled the air and Iceland’s natural beauty was in full display.  This is an incredible praise coming from a Canadian who is familiar with clean air and beautiful landscapes.

There are three major attractions along the Golden Circle: Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, Gullfoss, and Geysir.  The scenery was breathtaking on the way to Thingvellir National Park and we made our first pitstop at Oxararfoss (Öxarárfoss) which was a waterfall that was neither tall nor majestic but oddly photogenic (see photograph in the gallery below… Foss = waterfall in Icelandic).  I believe Oxararfoss was the only waterfall I was able to photograph with blue skies above.

Thingvellir (The world’s first Parliament and a UNESCO heritage site) was quite unremarkable since it was only 4 white shacks but its cultural significance cannot be overlooked.  Thingvellir National Park was also significant geographically because it is situated at the continental divide between the Eurasia and the North American tectonic plate (a fact I was well aware of prior to my visit… from Earth & Ocean Science elective courses in university haha).

About a 45-minute drive from Thingvellir was Geysir and its odor greeted my nose a good 5 minutes before its magnificence greeted my eyes.  The entire place reeked of hard-boiled eggs on steroids (a smell which I got very used to during my trip).  Geysir actually housed two main geysers: Geysir and Strokkur.  The English word geyser was actually derived from “Geysir” but unfortunately it had been dormant for years… 50 meters away lied Strokkur which offered a serious but short-lived boiling water spectacle every 5 minutes or so.  I spotted dark rain clouds in the distance and by the time we got back to our car the rain was coming down heavily.  Originally I had also found an interesting waterfall on Flickr named “Bruarfoss” and I had its GPS coordinates, but after an hour of searching I had to give up.

Gullfoss was a short distance away and by the time we arrived most tourists had fled because of the heavy rain.  Being from Vancouver rain was simply a part of life so we marched on to the waterfall.  This multi-tiered waterfall was iconic to Iceland and was easily the biggest waterfall I had seen (until I experienced Dettifoss in northern Iceland later this trip) and its roar was so majestic I stayed for 10 minutes just listening to the nature sing (Let’s be honest 9 of those minutes were spent waterproofing my camera haha).  I had the Kerid Crater on the itinerary as well but after being drenched all we wanted to do was to dry up. Off to our B&B at Hella!

Trip Map/Gallery

Day 2 Road Map

 

Honeycomb glass in Harpa Hall Reykjavik Iceland

Iceland: Day 1

September 11 (Sunny)

Vancouver-Seattle-Reykjavik

Honeycomb glass in Harpa Hall Reykjavik Iceland

The trip from Seattle to Reykjavik itself was about 10 hours(?). Flying with IcelandAir was a pleasant experience (on par with other discount airlines such as WestJet). Per Tripadvisor’s advice I brought with me my unlocked iPhone and got a Siminn prepaid phone card on the flight (around $20) and I strongly encourage everyone to do so. If there was ONE thing that’s reasonably priced in Iceland it was its telecommunication. For such a remote country I had impeccable 3G connection literally in the middle of nowhere… Google Maps saved my ass more than once when my GPS unit decided to nap during snow storms.

When the plane approached Keflavik Airport I looked out the window and almost immediately I began doubting myself because the scenery was so barren!!!! (for MILES!).  Icelanders were so chill and informal – as I went through customs the border agent was wearing pajama bottoms and a border agent top LOL.  He even smiled at me and wished me a pleasant journey! (obviously I’ve been conditioned by US customs where agents are emotionless robots feared by everyone).  The “international” airport itself was tiny/homey but functional, and before leaving customs I bought the maximum amount of alcohol allowed ([Tip #1] I think I bought a case of beer and a bottle of wine.  I also Whatsapp-ed my mom who was transferring from London at the time to do the same – another tip courtesy of tripadvisor).  Alcohol was probably worth more than gold in Iceland because it cost a fortune if you wanted to get one in a restaurant haha.

The car rental people were waiting for me at the airport with a new Toyota Landcruiser: a luxurious behemoth compared to the 20 year old Honda Civic that I was driving in Canada.  It was awesome because Iceland was the perfect place to overcome my fear of driving huge vehicles: great roads with very little traffic.  After signing papers and quick vehicle inspection I decided to pick up groceries/supplies for the next ten days at the supermarket because the Land Cruiser will serve as our hotel for a couple of nights (it was called Bonus Supermarket – Giant pink pig as its mascot… you can’t miss it).  I flew in early morning and my mom’s flight was not for another 6 hours so there were plenty of time to get errands done.  I also spotted fighter jets flying overhead with regular frequency around Keflavik which was kind of odd because… it’s Iceland (one of the most peaceful countries in the world!).  Later I found out NATO operated a base out of Keflavik Airport.

A quick 30 minute drive was all it took to get to Reykjavik (Capital city of Iceland).  Reykjavik was a beautiful and quaint city (very walkable in September). We went to a few “touristy spots” such as the conference center, the harbor, and the most impressive building in town which was the church (Hallgrímskirkja) that resembled a rocket (or the basalt columns at Svartifoss). We turned in early to combat the jetlag that night. (Aside: the B&B that we stayed at only accepted paypal which I didn’t have, I only booked for one night but I told the owner that I will come back at the end of the trip… and she replied “Don’t worry about paying now you can pay for the two nights when you come back, what’s your name again?” This lady was so trusting even to a random stranger.. she only had my name! – I stayed at “The Blue House B&B” and it was a wonderful experience)

Trip Map/Gallery

Detailed road map Day 1 Iceland

Day 1 road map