We finished our Iceland road trip with a visit to the capital, Reykjavik. After the epic previous five days, it was a bit anticlimactic to come back to Reykjavik, I have to admit. Not that Reykjavik is not great, but it’s merely cute in a hipster kind of way, and that cannot compare with the awesome countryside surrounding it.
Still, that didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves. The museums were all closed for the holiday, and some of the shops too (I was disappointed, because I had planned on shopping at the Red Cross thrift store), but we spent an enjoyable day walking around, climbing on top of Hallgrímskirkja, gawking at Harpa concert hall, and looking at all the amazing street art.
Then, at dinnertime, it being our last day and all, I suggested we splurged a bit and went out to eat instead of going back to the hostel to cook. We went to Cafe Babalú, a quirky place with awesomely kitschy decorations (they have Star Wars stickers in the bathroom). We had lamb soup and, for me, a giant slice of Nutella cheesecake for dessert. It may have cost half a week’s worth of grocery, but man, it was so satisfying to have some an actual meal instead of random combinations of food.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye – my Amsterdam friends and I were going back to the Netherlands early the next morning, and Debbi back to the US – but we all agreed that it was an unforgettable trip, and were already planning our return. Maybe some time in the winter, to catch the Northern Lights? We’ll see.
Jökulsárlón is the furthest east we went in Iceland; after that we turned around and drove back toward Reykjavik. Since it’s a pretty long journey compared to our previous days (nearly 5 hours), I decided to put in one more stop – Vík and its black sand beach.
After walking around on the beach in Vík for a bit, we drove on to Dyrhólaey, another beach down the road with the famous natural arch standing in the sea (funny tidbit: when we put the coordinates for Dyrhólaey into the GPS, it said there was no route to it, so we had to ask for direction at the Vík gas station. Turns out the GPS couldn’t find a route to those coordinates because they are literally in the sea.)
It was a little bit out of the way (no more than 20 minutes though) and the beach was closed due to a rock slide warning, so we didn’t get to walk around much, but it was totally worth it, because while we were there, we got to see puffins! Hundreds and thousands of them, nesting on the cliff faces and flying out to the sea. We didn’t expect to see puffins at all during this trip (I thought we would have to take a bird-watching tour, which, considering our policy for paying extra – heck no), so it was a very pleasant surprise.
That night, we stopped at Selfoss, a small town just outside of Reykjavik. I was in charge of putting the itinerary together, and I picked Selfoss because I figured, “foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic, so there must be some cool waterfall there to check out. When we arrived and looked it up more carefully, however, we discovered that while there is indeed a Selfoss waterfall, it’s actually on the opposite end of the country. Sure, let’s give the southwest town with no waterfall the same name as a waterfall in the northeast, that’s a good idea!
In the end though, the stop at Selfoss wasn’t a total bust, because one, they gave us free sheets (most Icelandic hostels give you pillows and duvets but charge you for the bed linens, which I think it’s a stupid policy because it means we had to lug around duvet covers and pillowcases. On the other hand, it also makes you appreciate the small things in life, like free sheets); and two, we got to visit Kerið, a nearby volcano crater. For a small fee (400 krona – about $3), you can walk around the crater and go all the way down to the lake formed at its bottom. It was beautiful.
Afterward, we walked around Selfoss for a bit. It was the Saturday before the bank holiday in Iceland, so everything was pretty much dead, but we did find an ice cream shop, where I had my first taste of Smurf ice cream (it was actually just blue ice cream that tasted like marshmallow.)
And then it was time to head back to Reykjavik, back to civilization!
So far in our Iceland trip, we haven’t seen that much “ice” (with the exception of Snæfellsjökull). It’s that old myth – Iceland is not covered in ice, and Greenland isn’t green; it’s actually the other way around. Still, we were about to rectify that with our next destination – Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon (“jökull” means “glacier” in Icelandic, and “sárlón” means “lagoon”.)
The drive from Skógafoss to Jökulsárlón is the longest stretch we had to do, not counting the drive back to Reykjavik – over 2.5 hours – and yet it was the most boring. OK, the road itself isn’t boring. You can’t find any boring road in Iceland even if you try. The thing is, by this time we’d had the car for five days, and reached a point where a view that, on the first day, would make us stop and scramble for our cameras, now only elicited a mild “Huh, that’s nice.”
It didn’t help that we passed through almost nothing but endless lava fields. Sure, it was interesting at first – it looks so alien – but after a while, it got repetitive.
The only entertainment we got was from pointing out the sheep and horses, and hay bales wrapped in colorful plastic that looked like giant marshmallows.
But then we got closer to Jökulsárlón and saw Vatnajökull (aka the biggest glacier in Iceland) in the distance, and things started looking up.
Jökulsárlón was unreal. It wasn’t like anything we’ve seen before – blocks of impossibly blue ice floating around on a small lagoon, some close enough to touch. I wish we could’ve stayed for the sunset, it must be insanely gorgeous.
Play for full effect
After the lagoon, we drove on to our nearby hostel. All of our previous hostels have been in or near a town, but here it’s just a tiny cluster of farmhouses in the middle of nowhere. Despite its size, its proximity to Jökulsárlón means that it was full, so instead of dorm rooms, we were given a separate cabin. We joked that if this was a horror movie, we would probably all be murdered by the farmer and his family of cannibals.
We actually did meet the farmer when we took a walk through the field after dinner. He was very nice. He said “Great weather, isn’t it?” and we all agreed. Except for that bit of rain when we were at Skogafoss, every day had been gloriously sunny and bright. It wasn’t exactly warm though – the farmer was wearing a T-shirt, while we were swaddled up in our thermal shirts and sweaters. Even Debbi and my Amsterdam friends, who are used to freezing winters, had to wear their big coats. But he’s a local, so I guess 50F is positively tropical for him.
Last week when I posted the inspiration for SIA, “The Door Within” by Jean Fetman, which was found by this week’s host Erin in a dumpster (!), I said I didn’t know if I could participate or not because I had nothing that colorful in my closet. But then Jen and Erin persuaded me to try, so try I did, and lo and behold, I did find something – this top!
So maybe it’s not as colorful as the painting, but the painterly quality of the print on the front is an OK match. To pair with it, I chose my black pants and burgundy heels because there is a bit of black and dark red in the painting, and then topped it off with my “house” pendant – the title is “The Door Within”, so I wanted to include “a door within” in my outfit as well. I’m just happy that I did manage to put together an outfit for SIA after all, but the outfit itself is not that bad (even if I do say so myself.)
I wore this to a faculty meeting last Saturday – school hasn’t officially started yet, but we’re slowly getting back to the everyday grind. I am not looking forward to it…
Top: local shop, Pants: thrifted, Heels: Zara, Necklace: hand-me-down
The third day of our Iceland road trip saw us starting towards the coast to get on the Ring Road, the main highway of Iceland, and away from the “Golden Circle” – an area around Reykjavik with the most sights and tour activities (Thingvellir, Geysir, hot springs, etc.) However, before we left, there was one last stop in the Golden Circle that we needed to check out – Gulfoss, or the Golden Waterfall.
It isn’t the most powerful waterfall in Iceland (that one’s up north), but it is huge. The pictures can’t convey the size and power of it, even though I did try to include people in my photos, so you guys can imagine the scale. We felt the spray all the way from the parking lot, and I was really glad I got my waterproof jacket and boots with me. There were tourists walking around in sandals and flipflops (I guess they didn’t want their shoes wet?) and I admit, I side-eyed them really hard.
Coincidentally, our drive to the Ring Road also took us past two more famous waterfalls, and they’re literally by the side of the road, so we didn’t have to go out of our way to see them. First up is Seljalandsfoss. It’s most well-known for the fact that you can walk behind it (and why most packing lists for Iceland recommend that you bring rain pants – but honestly, the spray wasn’t that bad.)
The second waterfall is Skógafoss, which is right in the backyard of our hostel. We planned on walking there after dinner, but when we arrived, it started raining. We didn’t mind too much – it was the first rain we encountered in Iceland – though by the time it stopped, we were too tired, so we decided to turn in early and saved Skógafoss for the next morning.
It turned out to be a great decision, because the next morning was clear and sunny, and it allowed us to even see a rainbow by the waterfall.
With that crossed off our list, we continued along the coast, onto our next destination!
On the second day of our Iceland road trip, we drove back toward the east and headed for Þingvellir (or Thingvellir, as its anglicized name) National Park. This is where the rift between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates lies, and also where Iceland’s parliament was first held, so it has both natural and historical interests.
We spent half a day hiking around, had a picnic by the lake, and also filled our water bottles from Silfra, where you can dive between two continents. The water was incredibly clear, ice cold, and tasted amazing. Too bad we didn’t have the money for a diving session.
(Actually, we tried to avoid paying extra money for activities as much as possible – on the first day, we stopped at a cave by the side of the road, and promptly turned around when we learned it cost money. Still, the sights are so gorgeous that we didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything.)
In the afternoon, we drove on to Geysir, aka the thing that gave English the word “geyser”. Geysir itself has been dormant for years, but the other big one, Strokkur, did erupt quite regularly – three or four times while we were there. You just have to make sure to stand upwind to avoid getting a noseful of that rotten egg smell.
After a quick dinner at our hostel in Laugarvatn, we went to the Secret Lagoon (which is actually not that secret.) It was one of the few activities we paid for, but at 2800 krona (about $24), it’s half the price of the Blue Lagoon, a lot less crowded, and more relaxing. It was just the thing we needed after the Thingvellir hike.
Even though it wasn’t the first stop of my Euro trip, I decided to start my travel diary with Iceland, because I figure that’s what everybody wants to see the most, and I want to write it down while it’s still fresh in my mind.
A bit of backstory first: like I said, this trip was the result of much planning between myself and my friend Debbi. After I decided to stay with my friends in the Netherlands before going to Iceland, we invited them along as well, and thus the idea of a road trip was born. We spent months looking through all the sample itineraries, and finally settled on south-west Iceland for a week, instead the whole island – we didn’t have the time or the money, or frankly the willpower, for that kind of trip. Most of the sights are concentrated around the lower half of the island anyway, so we figured we wouldn’t miss out on a lot. (Pro tip: we based most of our itinerary on the sample itineraries on Hostelling International Iceland, and we also booked our car rental + hostel package through them. It came out to about $750/person, which is not cheap, but it’s cheaper than most self-drive tours out there, considering we were there during the high season.)
So, on the first day, we met up in Reykjavik and went to the grocery store to stock up for the trip. Eating out in Iceland is notoriously expensive, and most days we were going to be in the middle of nowhere anyway, so cooking was the best and cheapest option. The thing is, we were staying at a new hostel every night, so we could only take food that can be easily transported and kept. I still can’t look at a boiled egg or hot dog without thinking of Iceland.
Then, on the next day, we set out for our first destination: the western peninsula of Snæfellsnes!
It was our first day on the road, so we didn’t know what to expect. After we got out of Reykjavik and headed into the wilderness, I think our minds all got broken a little bit at the vastness and emptiness of the landscape. Every few minutes, at every turn, there was something that made us want to stop and get out of the car, to snap pictures or just to simply take in the view with our mouths hanging open.
Soon after we started, we got to meet the famous Icelandic horses – it was a good thing we decided to stop then and there, because for the rest of the trip, although we saw a lot of horses, they were never this close to the road.
We also stopped at a museum displaying the carcass of a whale – you have to admire the very prosaic sign. Yes, that is indeed a dead whale:
The journey should be just a little over two hours, but because we were stopping so much, it took us nearly five hours to get to Snæfellsjökull, the glacier which, according to Jules Verne, holds the entrance to the center of the Earth.
We drove around the glacier for a bit, then stopped at our hostel in Grundarfjörður, a nearby small town. After dinner, we took a walk to a lovely waterfall we saw on the drive there (which turns out to be Kirkjufellfoss, so named because it’s right next to Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain). Finally around midnight, we crawled into bed and got treated to an epic sunset from our hostel window. All in all, a very good first day.