Blown away by Iceland!

Visiting Iceland was never really on my list of must-do trips. A friend of mine in Hong Kong had gone a couple of years ago, and while her pictures were nice, they didn’t get me too excited. (Although I am a fan of Bjork and Sigur Ros….) But while I was visiting Berlin, I reconnected with an old college friend from Ireland (hi John!) and he insisted that I take advantage of his staff travel benefits with British-based low-cost airline EasyJet. So, after a bit of perusing the options for interesting places to see, I found a great deal on a ticket to Reykjavik, and off I went!

….. Holy. Crap. I was NOT prepared for how freaking AMAZING Iceland is!!!

I was there in February, and although it was cold, it doesn’t get as bad as you might expect, given how far north it is. It receives some warm drafts from the Gulf Stream flowing in, which causes it to be pretty cloudy. I landed in Reykjavik and stayed a couple of days in one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in, Reykjavik Village Hostel.

Here is the capital at night, and the stunning Hallgrimskirkja Church:Daytime brought me on a free walking tour of the downtown area. I’m a big fan of the minimalist architectural style:This statue is called “Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat.” It’s… a block of stone with legs. Interpret it as you wish.Iceland is very geothermal, and the name Reykjavik itself actually translates to “smokey bay” because of the steam rising from all of the natural hot springs when the area was first discovered. The people put that steam to good use, however, and have naturally-heated areas to help keep warm in winter! These poles are so hot that they’re uncomfortable to touch!The concert hall is absolutely breathtaking:And I love this statue of a ship overlooking the water:The beauty of Iceland really lies in its nature, however. Thus, I rented a car and started driving around highway 1, aka the Ring Road, which circles the perimeter of the island nation. I gave myself just under a week to do it (in summer I’d recommend more time, but some areas were closed in the north side due to snow).

My first destination was Þingvellir National Park. This area was the meeting place for the heads of the various clans in Iceland, over 1000 years ago. It also has geological significance, being the point where the North American tectonic plate meets the Eurasian plate. There’s even a lake where you can go scuba diving between the plates and touch them both at the same time (bucket list item for me, as I hadn’t yet received my requisite Advanced Scuba Diving Certificate when I was there).Next I stopped to see the Strokkur Geyser, again part of the Golden Triangle.

Waiting, waiting….There we go!The geyser usually reaches 15-20 meters in height, erupting every 5 minutes or so. It’s been known to shoot as high as 40 meters, however!

Last stop along the Golden Triangle was the Gullfoss Waterfall. Iceland is known for having incredible waterfalls all over, and Gullfoss did not disappoint:Some scenes while driving along the southern coast. It almost looks like a desert at times:Before stopping for the first night, I arrived at Skógafoss Waterfall. No, this is not Photoshopped:That evening, I set out to do something I’ve dreamed of doing for decades: see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights! I had been tracking the forecasts for both Lights and cloud coverage online, and I had high hopes for that evening. They’re rather unpredictable and can be difficult to find, especially in Iceland where it’s usually so cloudy.

I had marginal success at around 10:00pm. Forgive the poor quality; these were simply taken with my camera phone.

I was later told that at around 2:00am that night, the aurora was even more active again. The person described it as dancing across the sky! Surprisingly, the color appears only in photographs: the actual Lights are white!

The next morning dawned, and I headed to the black Reynisfjara Beach, where the waves have been known to drag people out to sea:This is a very delicate green moss that only grows over a lava field. Don’t touch!More scenes while driving:A glacier!And then I went exploring an ice cave INSIDE of the glacier….!

Ready to start:Entranceway:Winding our way in:Lovely colors!Outside of the glacier with the ice caves was a lake that had mostly frozen over, and the result was breathtaking…..The aptly-named Diamond Beach has pieces of iceburgs that have broken off and floated ashore:Continuing my road trip, I came across an Icelandic lighthouse:Like a mirror:More waterfall!Later, as I started to reach the north side of the island, I hit true winter weather…. And hit it hard. A couple of times, my car got stuck in the snow and I had to reevaluate my destinations. It was like driving through Hel, the frozen underworld of Norse mythology. I’ve been to a lot of places, but I’ve never seen anything like this:

Charming Icelandic house by the sea!Due to the aforementioned geothermal nature of Iceland, taking hot springs is a common pastime! Virtually every town has an area where residents can soak in naturally-heated outdoor baths, often as an area within a recreational facility. There are some larger, more famous hot springs as well, such as the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík. Towards the end of my road trip, I opted to check out the lesser-known Mývatn Baths up in the north. The water was pleasantly hot and a delicious contrast to the cold air and snow!Overall, I was absolutely blown away by the stunning landscape that is Iceland. It’s probably the most expensive places I’ve been, but well worth it. Winter there is stunning, but summer also has puffins, climbs inside volcanos, and more access to places! The interior of the country is more or less completely closed off during winter due to snow and ice, and that’s where it’s fun to drive a 4×4 to the highlands, a volcanic desert. So until I am able to return, here is a picture of the setting sun while I was returning to Reykjavik to close my trip:

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