Friday, January 31, 2014

Golden Circle Road Trip

For our last day in Iceland, we wanted to tour the Golden Circle- it's a drive that has become a huge attraction for tourists wanting to see the more natural side of Southern Iceland. You have two choices- either pay an exorbitant fee and take a bus tour, where you're on someone else's schedule....or pay an exorbitant fee and rent a car, being on your own schedule. We were happy that we chose the latter, as it seemed like every time we walked past a group, someone was complaining to their partner about how they were hungry, or didn't spend enough time here, or really wanted to explore more there, etc. I also think if your group is more than 1 person, it is less expensive to just rent a car. PLUS, with a car, you get to listen to some awesome Icelandic radio. It goes something like this:

Reporter: fhiweuhfwioehf wefhweoh JUSTEEN BEEBUR ewbfiwefh wfiuhwefwoefh HEELARY CLEENTON dfuhfgd weriwfigh WASHINGTON DC fewrihfwo qewho wierhwihr I GOT YOU BABE

And then a Sunny and Cher song comes on the radio, followed by Katy Perry, awful American artists that obviously have only made it big in Iceland, and The Beach Boys. The randomness of which song would play next was utterly hilarious. 
Another perk with a self guided tour is getting to stop along the way for photo ops! The drive alone is so enjoyable and gorgeous. You really feel like you are the only couple of people in Iceland, the roads are so empty. And I cannot say enough praise for their roads- so safe and ice free. Also, everything is so well labelled, that having a map isn't totally necessary.
The ground was very slippery. We had to incorporate the buddy system when walking- we always had to hold on to each other, and I cannot tell you how many times we saved each other from falling. I Got You Babe took on a whole other meaning.

├×ingvellir National Park

Our first stop on the Golden Circle was to ├×ingvillir National Park. And because I have NO idea how to make that cool P thing, I have to copy and paste the park's name from another website.
The park was probably my favorite stop on the journey, and we spent a little over an hour there. The nation's oldest park has a couple of claims to fame:
1. You can see the rifts between the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates.
2. It is the site of the oldest democratic parliament ever, from the Vikings in the 900's. But there is no building or anything really there to mark it as such. You just gotta believe the tour books and signs.
I, however, just wanted to check out the park with the cool P letter thing because I had read that is is beautiful. And it was!

The park had a line of these little lakes of water. They were actually fissures between the two continents! The water is some of the clearest and cleanest in the world and people actually go scuba diving here. Way too cold for that, in my opinion! But you do then get to say that you have swam between tectonic plates, and that's definitely worth bragging about.

Our next stop on the tour was to Geysir...the geyser that all others are named after! The place reeked of sulfur, or as Daniel called it, "mountain farts", but that didn't stop us!
Geysir doesn't really go off anymore, because some tourists in the 50's threw rocks in it :-( So the next best geyser is Strokkur, and that didn't disappoint!
Honestly, I didn't think I would get so excited about seeing a geyser, but I loved it! The anticipation is what makes it so worthwhile. We stood in front of this small little hot tub of steaming, bubbling water, waiting for it to explode for about 10 minutes. Sometimes the water would begin to overflow and we would go "WWWHHOOOOAAAA" thinking it was about to erupt, but then it would just sink back in. That little tease. When it finally went off, I screamed and hugged on to Daniel in surprise, making him nearly drop his phone and miss this picture.


Our last stop was to the Gullfoss waterfall. I don't know if it's because it was towards the end of our trip and we were tired or what, but I found this the least impressive. I've read that it is much more breathtaking to see in the summer, when you can get closer to it and parts aren't frozen over. It really was huge though. For comparison, that is an iced over road to the left of the waterfall. 

After our tour, we stopped for hot chocolate and it began snowing pretty heavily! Although we never saw the Northern Lights, I am glad we saw some legit snow. 

Thanks for reading about our trip! I have loved writing about Iceland, and if you are interested in going, I am full of advice for your trip. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Learning to spell Reykjavik

I'm glad to see all of my Texan readers have survived "snowapocalypse". I never thought that London winters would be milder than TX ones...yesterday it was sunny and about 50-60 degrees. Nevertheless, I do hope that all of you have enjoyed these days off of work for the "snow", and I hope that you don't have to make the days up! 

Today I am going to recap our day in Reykjavik. Thank God Blogger spell check has Reykjavik in its dictionary, or that weirdly consonated city would be spelled differently every time on this blog. It's the "y-k-j" that gets me everytime. 

On the mid day of our trip, we decided to spend the day in Reykjavik. It meant Daniel wouldn't have to do a ton of driving, and it would be a relaxing day. Here are my thoughts, accompanied by pictures that probably have nothing to do with said thoughts. 

Reykjavik is the world's most northerly capital, so we put it on our schedule. Looking back on it, I think we would have enjoyed spending the day doing something more"naturey", but then we would probably always wonder what me missed out on in Reykjavik (spoiler- not much).
Reykjavik was pretty small and it was easy to walk around the main city center. There really wasn't much to do there- not many museums, architecture is fairly new, and it was too rainy to actually enjoy just wandering around. 
We did enjoy the half frozen pond in the middle of the old part of the city. Afterwards when we would see a duck or goose fly past our farm house, we would say it was off to this pond! I feel bad for them- they must all be freezing! Why don't they fly south for the winter? I think it's because how well fed they are here! 

I did enjoy lots of coffee. It was pretty much all we could afford there! A glass of wine was about 20 dollars, and a beer was about 10. And who wants just one glass of wine or one pint of beer? So coffee it was! That's how it was almost everywhere in Iceland...if you go, and you love wine, bring your own bottle with you! Even at the store, buying a bottle that would have been 6 bucks in the US was $30 (looking at you, Yellow Tail). 
I was surprised how hip Reykjavik was...street art was adorning nearly every empty wall, and the people were just downright cool there. I kind of picture there being a Reyklandia sketch TV show there, staring an Icelandic, blonde Fred Armisen.

The main attraction (other than drinking loads of coffee and getting rained on) is to take the lift to the top floor of the space ship church in Reykjavik for the panoramic views of the city. We are good, honest people, therefore we paid the $14 to get on the lift. If you want to be a thief, it is VERY easy to not pay for this- there is nobody to collect your tickets that you buy from the other side of the church. But really- stealing from a church? That is a new low.

Loved all of the different colored houses. Side note- Iceland, especially Reykjavik, was often described to us as a mix between a US and European city, and I totally agree with that. We felt like we were (and yes, I am obviously aware that we actually were) closer to home being in Iceland, vs London.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset on the drive home from Reykjavik.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Southern Coast of Iceland- Glacier Hiking and Vik

On our first full day in Iceland, we woke up bright and early dark enough to make you think it was early and started on our coffee-filled, 2.5 hour road trip to hike up a glacier. 

This picture is blurry because of the fog! We could barely see more than 20 feet in front of us! 
The drive was actually pretty terrifying, due to the amount of fog, ice, and darkness. Plus, we had to drive along mountains that didn't even have a railing to protect us from the depths below. Needless to say, Daniel understandably drove a good 40 Kilometers below the speed limit. With that being said, though, I need to note that we were really surprised about how well maintained the roads were in Iceland- no pot holes, freshly salted, and very smooth.

That's the sun showing its face, around 10:30

Once the sun was up and we were past the fog, the drive was actually provided some really rewarding views.

After everyone saw my blue moon, we put on these really cool helmets, spikey overshoes, grabbed on to our ice picks, and were off to climb one of the largest glaciers in Iceland! 
Watch. My helmet is lopsided in nearly every picture. And the ones where it appears straight? It's because it was taken right after Daniel made fun of me for it, forcing me to try and straighten it. 
I immediately fell before we even got to the actual glacier. I saw a patch of ice and thought it would be fun to walk on it. It wasn't.

This was all just so cool. Bucket list material. The glacier is actually melting at a mild boggling speed every year and if it keeps at this rate, it will have all but disappeared in the next couple of decades.

The black dirt that you see is from the volcano. Where it wasn't present, the ice was just so crystal clear. The basalt, clear blue ice, and frozen snow layers made it all look the luxurious marble.

We really lucked on the weather this day- it was sunny and probably in the low 50's, with little wind chill.
Me looking really cool with the lopsided helmet. 
It was actually pretty difficult climbing on the ice. I guess it's because I'm so not used to ice, snow, or sleet, but I almost fell more times than I can count. You had to walk with your heals and really pound into the ice. Terrible for the knees.

That is all ice! Looks like frozen waves- it is from the wind that was present while the water was freezing!

I kept thinking that maybe below the ice was just mountain, but it isn't! It is literally a mountain of ice (yes, I am aware that is what a glacier is, but still- mind boggling!).

We had to be very careful on the snow, as you couldn't tell how dense it was. In many areas, it's a thin layer over a huge hole in the glacier. When it was snow we had to pass, we had to lead with that long stick thing to make sure we wouldn't fall to the bottom!

Daniel fixed my helmet before taking this. That's why I look so much hipper. 

A really cool ice cave/ bridge we found

The hike ended up being our favorite thing that we did. The guides had lived in Iceland their whole lives and were so informative (not to mention hilarious!). They told us many old myths and superstitions- involving 1 nipped men, angry farmers, and of course trolls and elves. Our group was small and intimate- just us, another couple, and the two guides. I highly recommend this if you're in Iceland! 

We were only 20 minutes from the teeny little village of Vik. I really wanted to check it out, since I had read that the beach was one of the most beautiful in the world. It didn't disappoint! 

Adorable church by the beach

The beach was filled with smooth black volcanic stones instead of sand. I thought it would be more like Big Island in Hawaii, but it wasn't at all. The rocks were comfortable to walk on and I even took a "lucky" rock with me.

There were a handful of little caves on the beach, all of their walls being the same hexagonal columns. Side note- that isn't sand! Again, it is all tiny, round, smooth volcanic rock. 

The perfectly hexagonal basalt columns are all gigantic and just remarkable to stand next to.

The waves were the wildest I had ever seen! About 10 seconds after I took this picture, waves came crashing into the rocks Daniel is standing next to. I read that there is no land mass between here and Antarctica, which is why the waves are so fierce.

In the town, there are 200 inhabitants and one quaint little restaurant built in someone's house. I had the best homemade bread and freshly caught cod- best meal of the trip! Also, everyone speaks English in Iceland- even in these remote little villages, the people's English is really outstanding.
Just a waterfall we passed on the roadtrip back to the farm. 

Thankfully, there was no fog on the way back home, and we were able to admire the secluded farms and even spot several more waterfalls. We ended up getting back (totally wiped out) around 7:30 and just soaked in the hot tub for the rest of the night!


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