live slow, love nature, be adventurous

Monday, November 24, 2014

One Week in… Iceland!

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Back in April, I spent an epic week traveling along the South Coast of Iceland with three awesome friends. Flights from Norway to Iceland were relatively inexpensive since Norwegian Air had just started operating a route from Bergen to Reykjavik (will I ever live in a place where 150 € roundtrips to Iceland exist again?) and before I knew it, we were on the ultimate Iceland trip - and yet, I've barely written about it on my blog so far. I'm finally starting to admit to myself that I may never write the beautifully eloquent posts on Iceland that I planned on writing ever since sitting in the back of our rental car and cruising down the country's renowned Rind Road.

How do you write about a place that looks positively otherworldly? How do you find the right words to describe what is like nothing else you have ever seen before? So far, I feel that my writing has always come our short of conveying the beauty and the sense of adventure of Iceland. Maybe I will find the right phrases one day, but until then I figured it may be helpful to some and hopefully interesting to others to learn just how you can do in Europe's most accessible remote place in just one week. Side note: A whole lot!

One week was too short to do the entire Ring Road justice and so we decided to concentrate our efforts on Iceland's South Coast. I definitely want to go back one day with more time (and a larger budget!) to travel to the North, but this one week was the perfect introduction to Iceland. A week is a great amount of time to check out many of the country's most famous sights and also visit some more unknown spots and having our own set of four wheels gave us some great flexibility. Can I go back already, please?

Day 1: The Blue Lagoon & Thingvellir National Park

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You can't visit Iceland and not go to the Blue Lagoon, am I right? It may as well be the Eiffel Tower of Iceland as far as iconic places are concerned and while it's the most expensive pool visit of my life to date, we couldn't pass this up. Covering our faces in mud, seeking shelter from the occasional hail storm (sitting in warm water while your head is attacked by tiny ice droplets has got to be one of the most surreal feeling ever!) and constantly excitedly exclaiming that we were really in Iceland, made our visit to the Blue Lagoon a very memorable one.

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Once we managed to pull ourselves away from the cozy waters of the Blue Lagoon, we drove to Thingvellir National Park. It was about an hour's drive away from the Blue Lagoon and from the moment the first mountains could be seen in the distance, I was convinced that I had entered a fantasy world from Middle Earth or Game of Thrones. Thingvellir is a stop on the Golden Circle, a tourist route that links three major sights near Reykjavik, and one of the most culturally relevant place in Iceland. It was super cold, but the views were great and we almost had the place to ourselves.

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Day 2: The Golden Circle & A Whole Bunch of Things on the South Coast

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We started our day by visiting the remaining two sights of the Golden Circle, Geysir and Gullfoss. Geysir is the Geyser (yes, the words confuse me, too) all other Geysers are named after and while it rarely erupts these days, its next-door neighbor Strokkur is one of the most active Geysers in the world.  We arrived early in the morning, before the tour buses from Reykjavik arrive, and the lack of people and the fog creeping over the hot pools gave the place a pretty eerie feeling. Gullfoss was a much brighter sight to take in, because the sun finally decided to make an appearance and with its ice-covered rocks it was a very magical place.

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Luckily for me, the closer we got to the coast the warmer it got and I was extremely relieved to realize that I hadn't packed too inappropriate after all. We stopped at the stunning Seljalandsfoss, which was one of my favorite places in Iceland and had the most amazing time marveling at nature. There are moments in life, when everything just comes together perfectly and you are left with the most ridiculous grin on your face and this was one of those moments.

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We were spending the night in Vik, but decided to give in to our adventurous side by heading to Seljavallalaug, an abandoned hot water swimming pool of the 1920s, before. I can't quite fathom why people would build a swimming pool right there in the middle of nowhere and the rundown building certainly does do its best to convey a post-apocalyptic feeling, but I can honestly say that I have never gone for a swim with such an impressive backdrop. Most unique location I have ever gone swimming at? Definitely!

Day 3: Black Beaches & Spooky Mountains

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If there was one reoccurring theme of our Iceland trip, it was that the places we visited just kept on getting more and more unique. Before Iceland, I had never been to a black beach before (not that that's saying much, I haven't been to the beach very often in my life) and they were incredibly beautiful, in a wild sort of way. Our first beach was in Vik, near the rock formation Reynisdrangar, and we had it to ourselves the entire time. We weren't as lucky with the next one, because the buses from Reykjavik had already arrived, but it was still one heck of a place.

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Since we had spent spend a lot of time just driving in the days before, we went for a little hike at Hjörleifshöfdi, a supposedly haunted mountain that we only knew about because I obsessively read Young Adventuress in the months before our trip. The wind was blowing like crazy (you don't know what windy means, if you've never been to Iceland!) and there were moments when I thought I might just go tumbling down the slopes, but the views were outstanding. The final stop of our day was at the canyon Fjadrargljufur (can anyone pronounce that?), which further convinced me that Iceland may actually be the portal to another dimension.
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Day 4: On the Ice

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We spent the better part of our fourth day in Iceland on or near the ice - after all, Iceland isn't called the Land of Ice and Fire for nothing! We went on a fun little glacier walk on the glacier that some of you may recognize as a filming location of Interstellar. I honestly can't remember which company we went with, but this first experience got me curious to go on some other glacier walks in the future again. Afterwards, we quickly hiked up to Svartifoss, which was yet another super unique waterfall. The waterfalls in Iceland are all so different from each other that it's hard to say which one was my favorite!

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And, of course, we couldn't go to Iceland and not see the Glacier Lagoon. We were lucky enough to visit on a warm and sunny day and seeing the icebergs floating on the water was nothing short of magical. We spent a lot of time there just taking photos and relaxing from our ambitious travel schedule and I absolutely understand why people drive all the way from Reykjavik just to visit this place.

Day 5: Getting Spontaneous

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Day 5 called an end to our so far super-organized trip. We had planned to take the ferry over to the Westman Islands, but when we arrived at the port, we found out that the ferry was cancelled because of bad weather conditions. I guess that's just one more reason why I need to go back one day! After consulting our Lonely Planet guide, we ended up driving around to a couple of other towns in the area, before finally settling on taking a bath at Reykjadalur. That stream in the picture above? It's actually super warm and we spent an embarrassingly large amount of time just sitting in the water. When in Iceland, right?

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Day 6: Horseback Riding & Reykjavik

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Icelandic Horses must be just as iconic for the country as the Blue Lagoon and since most of us were big horse lovers, we jumped at the chance to go on a short ride together. I was really, really into horseback-riding when I was younger, but it had been years since the last time I had sat on a horse. I'm glad to say that horseback-riding is a little bit like riding a bicycle - it's something you never unlearn. But I'm still wondering: Has being on horseback always been this uncomfortable? I could hardly walk for the rest of the day!

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We drove to Reykjavik afterwards and spent the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere of Iceland's capital. I don't think anyone comes to Iceland just to visit Reykjavik (the city is pretty cool, but pales in comparison with the South Coast), but there are a few interesting sights and quirky shops. I'd love to spend a little bit more time there on my next visit to explore more of the city's coffee and hipster culture!

Day 7: Snaefellsnes Peninsula

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I can't believe how much we drove on our last day in Iceland! We headed to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula for no other reason than that it looked like an interesting drive. We took a couple of stops here and there, but for the most part we just enjoyed the view of the mountains that we passed and reminisced about the good old times by listening to 90s pop music. Road trips certainly are the best!

Iceland is a country that I was dreaming of visiting for a very long time and I still find it hard to believe that I have actually been there now. I just hope I will visit this beautiful country again and again in the future.

What's the greatest location you ever went on a road trip on?

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