Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Iceland Part III: The End of our Journey

Monday 5 May
It was still misting when we woke up. After a quick breakfast, we set off along the coast again.


Our first stop was another black sand beach, but this one was covered with chunks of ice!! It was surreal and beyond cool. The wind was whipping and it was COLD, but we walked out to the water’s edge amidst the piles of ice. It was like something out of a dream. In fact, I had a dream about an icy beach once. Weird.

I picked up a rock and smashed a giant slab of ice. Preston thought I shouldn’t, but I was curious how strong the ice was…and there was certainly more ice where that came from. The ocean was full of it!!

Kirk also smashing ice. Same family :P

We crossed the street to the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón. Again, we have no idea how to say anything here correctly, so mostly we’d just say…”hey, let’s go check out blah blah blah” :P

Jökulsárlón was awesome and immense. There was an option to take a boat ride, but it was so cold that we visited the little gift shop and opted to walk along the shore and watch the seals play.

 I found this rather amusing

Seals :D

The glacier that feeds this lagoon.

Truly, it wasn’t THAT cold…it was probably in the 30s again, but the wind made it cooler. Iceland is more mild than I might have guessed. I’m just a huge wimp for cold weather!!

These guys weren't so cold :P

We returned to the car and continued on the road. Suddenly on our drive, glaciers started appearing. I’ve never seen anything like these glaciers. They were like giant, skulking monsters slowly creeping and crawling over the mountains. The glaciers sneak around corners and descend upon the vast valleys that they, themselves, carved and created thousands of years ago.


We stopped and had a quick sandwich while taking in the glorious views. 

Next, we came upon Skaftafell, which is a section of Vatnajökull National Park. 

Vatnajökull happens to be the largest National Park in Europe and houses the second largest icecap on Earth with the same name. The park was made by combining Vatnajökull with Skaftafell in the south (where we were) and Jökulsárgljúfur (just give up trying to say anything), in the north.

The Vatnajökull icecap covers 8% of Iceland, but is melting at an astonishing rate. This icecap and these amazing glaciers are disappearing every year. We read that the glaciers are retreating from 3-10 METERS PER YEAR and will soon be gone entirely :(

We pulled into the large parking lot to stop at the vistor’s center. The sky had started to clear and we were looking to take a hike :D

Kirk talked to the ranger there and we decided on one of the Most popular hikes in the park-which was a loop trail that peaked at a waterfall. It was only about 5-6km, so off we went.

The hill was steep and I really felt it after all that wine, cheese, and bread I’ve been eating all over Europe!! I was cold at the beginning of the hike, but soon warmed up with my moving muscles. The sun started to break through the clouds, which also helped.

We came upon the waterfall and stopped to enjoy it and take some pictures. The guidebook said that you can drink the stream water here in Iceland, so we thought…why not?

We filled up a water bottle and each took a sip. Oh. My. Gosh. It was BY FAR the best water I’ve EVER had. The stream and waterfall are glacier fed and the water was cool, crisp, and clear. It tasted exactly like an icicle I would have sucked on as a child. It’s funny to describe ice as having a flavor, but it does and it’s delicious.


We circled up to the top of the ridge and back down. With the sun out, the day was actually warm.

Here comes the glacier

From Skaftafell, we traveled across the Sandar. These giant plains are filled with sand, dirt, and rocks that flow down from the glaciers. It’s a barren place, but a sight to behold. The areas can be quite dangerous because of flash floods.

Most of the volcanoes in Iceland are UNDER the ice of the glaciers. During volcanic eruptions, the ice melts beneath the surface of the glacier and builds up with incredible force…sometimes taking months. This force will finally expel itself into the valleys below like a freight train releasing BILLIONS of liters of water. It’s a crazy place. We passed some bridges that had been washed away. Nothing else lies in these valleys.

We drove across the Sandar to our hotel in the small coastal town of Vík í Mýrdal or Vík for short. The rain returned in sheets and we arrived in Vík to howling wind.

We had been warned about Iceland’s infamous wind by the car rental people, who told us to be careful that the doors weren’t ripped off the car. We saw the force of this wind in Vík. Whoo!!

The wind was whipping across this stretch of road!! Whoa!!

Kirk and Anna were staying at a different (and nicer) hotel in Vík, so we parted ways to check into our respective rooms.

The "town"

The four of us met up again for dinner in the cozy and adorable pub next door to where Preston and I were staying.

We finally had some fish and it was very good. The pub had a self serve soup and bread station. It was perfect.

Deciding on an early night, we returned to the hotels for bed.

Tuesday 6 May
The rain, fog, and wind continued this morning. Preston and I picked up Kirk and Anna and crossed the street to check out the local wool shop. This shop here in Vík spins all its own wool and we were able to look down on the factory from windows in the shop.

We drove out to the beach, which was once voted one of the best in the world (according to my guidebook). It was FREEZING (probably in the 30s again) and the wind was so fierce we could hardly stand against it!!

In the safety of the car, we hit the road. Our first stop today was Skógafoss-another beautiful waterfall. It was still raining. I hit the bathroom while Kirk and Anna hiked to the top with the car key!! Whoops. Preston and I huddled by the car and did our best to stay dry. :P

We continued on our drive to another waterfall- Seljalandsfoss-where you could walk BEHIND the falls. Kirk was the only one brave enough to venture out into the wind and rain, while Anna, Preston, and I enjoyed the majesty of the falls from the warmth of the car.

Kirk returned SOAKING wet and we continued on in the ever changing landscape. The scenery around the entire Ring Road changes with every few miles. It’s incredible.

We stopped for lunch at a little bistro. The soup that came with our giant lasagna was perfect for the rainy day.

Outside of Reykjavik is an area known as ‘The Golden Circle’. This circular drive passes three main attractions-another waterfall called Gullfoss, the National Park Þingvellir, and Haukadalur, which houses two geysirs.

We debated a bit on what we could do time-wise, since the car was due back in Reykjavik at 6pm. We decided on Þingvellir, which was of great significance to the history and the early settlements of Iceland and the Vikings. Þingvellir also happens to be where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot.

 It was quite awesome to see the rift and valley made from the continental drift.

We walked up the path, went to the visitor's center and then returned to the car for a great goose chase for Silfra. 

Silfra is a crystalline fissure branching off from the lake in the park. This fissure is frequented by snorkelers and scuba divers, who don wet suits in the frigid waters. The water is supposed to be incredibly clear. The Americans we’d met in the hotpot had snorkeled here and raved about their experience. We didn’t have time for a snorkel, but we were curious for a glimpse all the same.

We drove around for more than half an hour looking for this blasted thing. Finally, we found the snorkel van and people walking towards the fissure, but at this point my companions decided that we should just leave. What?!

Ciao Lake

So, we didn’t see the fissure, but we did pull up to our hotel in Reykjavik at exactly 6pm. High fives all around.

We lugged all our stuff into our rooms and rested a while before heading back out into Reykjavik for our final and farewell dinner (sob).

The restaurant we found was pretty fancy, but our waiter was incredibly weird and also incredibly sick!! Hehe. It made for an amusing dinner.

Fancy bisque very possibly with drips of snot :P
We made our way back to hotel and said goodbye to the midnight sun for the last time.

Midnight. Reykjavik.
Wednesday 7 June
We got up early today so that we could hit the famous “Blue Lagoon” en route to the airport. Since the Blue Lagoon is right near the airport, it’s recommend to stop by here on your way into or out of Reykjavik.

We took a shuttle bus and arrived at the lagoon. Due to the available shuttle times, we had the option of spending 2 or 4 hours at the lagoon. We weren’t sure how big it was or how long we’d need, but opted to just spend 2 hours and arrive at the airport super early.

It was definitely the right decision. The spa was nice, but without getting a massage or eating at the restaurant, 2 hours was more than enough time to spend in the waters.

The Blue Lagoon is a milky blue natural spring. The mineral rich waters are set amid a lava field. These waters are said to be healing for various skin disorders (ew).

We had to shower before entering and were warned to put a special and provided conditioner in our hair, lest we leave with rigid, crunchy hair. The minerals apparently have that effect on hair.

The water wasn’t super warm…mostly luke warm in certain areas, but it still made me lightheaded. We floated around and rubbed white mud on our skin. There was a sauna and a steam room, as well. We only spent about 30 minutes in the water before getting out and showering again (you know, to wash off the psoriasis) . Kirk stayed in for about an hour. No idea how he didn’t faint:P

Iron Man

We took the shuttle from the Blue Lagoon to the airport (all part of the service). We had about four hours (to Preston’s delight!) before our flight, so we hit up the surprisingly good food court and sat under the skylights reading.

There was a small custom’s line before boarding our plane and we said goodbye to Iceland. 

Sad Facin Iceland. Breaking up the Band :(
I cannot believe that after FOUR months…107 DAYS…we are going home to America. It’s bittersweet and I can’t say I’m sick of traveling…yet:D I’m so glad we’ll be returning to Europe in a few weeks.

Final thoughts/Facts on Iceland
There is a government list for approved baby names. You must choose from this list to name your child or get special permission.

Last names are father’s names followed by son for a son and dóttir for a daughter. Thus, there are a lot of the same last names (see first point). These last names aren’t really used and most everyone is addressed by their first name, even in formal settings. The phone book is even organized by first name.

There are only around 300k people here.

Someone told us winters are on par with winters in NYC. Really?!

After the economic crisis of 2008, the government chose NOT to bail out the banks, but instead to invest in social programs for the citizens. This tactic seems to have been successful and Iceland is on the rise again.

Nonetheless, people don't smile here all that often. It's too cold :D

You can layover here on the way into or out of Europe for no extra airline fees.

There are tons of Icelandic horses and I think they might be eating them :P

Whaling was once an important industry here, but now is mostly sustained for tourists.

Hákarl is a traditional dish in Iceland. It is a shark that is buried in the ground for FIVE months and then dug up to eat. The shark is buried, because it is poisonous until left to decay. It is said to have an ammonia and fishy taste. We didn’t try it.

It’s much less cold here (even in winter) and much more green than one might think.

Iceland is a barren and desolate place, but a true song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones shout out!!). Get here if you can.