Before our visit to Iceland, one thing would always come to mind when I thought of that country (besides the volcano that erupted and disrupted air travel) and that would be when the Mighty Ducks faced off against Iceland in the 1994 movie! I can now say that my view has greatly expanded! Ha ha nostalgia… Our friends (Martin & Al) had visited Iceland a couple of years before on their honeymoon and had inspired us to do the same. During the planning, I contacted them for suggestions. Al was very clear in warning us of the unpredictable Icelandic weather. It can be very serious business! They lost a day when they went due to hurricane strength winds. Luckily, we didn’t have anything quite like that, but you will see later what we ran into! I joked with Al that I can’t wait to say that we “survived” Iceland! She hoped that she wasn’t making me too nervous, but wanted to make sure we were aware and fully prepared. I appreciated the honesty! Now to the trip…
We arrived at Keflavík International Airport and picked up our rental car! The scenery was nice on our drive to the Airbnb. It was a bit later so we just grabbed a bite to eat (at a gas station – skyr, hot dog, sandwich, and juice) and settled in for the evening.
The next day, our host prepared us breakfast. I thought the characters on the milk carton were pretty funny.
I decided to drive that day since the weather wasn’t supposed to be too bad…just rain in the forecast. As you can see, I’m extremely focused.
Our first stop that day was Þingvellir National Park. This was where the national parliament of Iceland was established back in 930, with sessions held there until 1798. This is also where the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be seen! We noticed several fissures in the ground as we explored the area. We also walked through the crack called Almannagjá – that means we were in the drift between the continents! The landscape was so beautiful and it was a bit windy when we were walking up on the hill. They also have diving there at Silfra where you can dive between the two rifts. I had almost booked this activity, but thought it might be a bit too cold – maybe next time! Can’t wait to visit again one day…maybe in the summer 🙂
Up next was Geysir (well not the Great Geysir, that one’s been dormant for a while, but another one)! I thought it was funny on the sign that they make it known that the nearest hospital is 62 km away…but better safe than sorry! I know I wouldn’t want to fall in… I think this was Andrew’s first geyser, so that was pretty cool! We didn’t really get a good picture or video of it going off, but it’s in our memory and that’s all that matters. This one erupted every 5-10 minutes or so and the water can reach as high as 30m.
The last stop of the day was at Gullfoss!!! Wow, what a beast! This waterfall is located on the Hvítá river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. Foreign investors had wanted to harness the power of the waterfall for electricity, and had been granted a lease by the farmer who owned it. However, before construction began, the daughter (Sigriður Tómasdóttir) of the farmer worked to void the contract to save the waterfall. In the end, the construction was halted due to lack of payment of rent and the waterfall ended up becoming a preserved land. This woman is sometimes called Iceland’s first environmentalist. I love environmentalists! Without them we may not be able to enjoy as much of this beautiful planet! Click here to watch a video of the falls.
We hit the road early the next day to start our full day of waterfalls! Iceland is full of them; especially in the south…spotted small ones all along this road.
Finally we were at our first destination for the day – Gluggafoss! We were the only ones at this waterfall…which is a refreshing change from the immense crowds in Paris. It was neat that you could walk behind the bottom part of the falls – click here to see. There was a path that seemed to lead up to the top, but we decided not to go up because it seemed like it was on private property. Sometime I break the rules, sometimes I don’t.
Not sure which waterfall this is, but it’s beautiful!
The next two waterfalls were fairly close to each other. The first one was called Seljalandsfoss. We got a bit wet near this one! You could also walk behind it into a small cave.
The second waterfall (Gljúfrabúi – the name means “Dweller of the Gorge”) was a bit tricky to get to up close. There were two options, you could walk through a bit of water at the bottom for an up close viewing or climb up to view from above. Andrew chose the first option and I chose the second. I had planned on climbing right onto the ledge and take a picture of Andrew down below (I think a ladder had been there when our friends were there…there was no ladder today). However, it proved a little bit more challenging so I just snapped a photo of the falls and then headed back down to take a picture of Andrew in the little cavern by the waterfall. This was Andrew’s favorite waterfall. He really liked the feeling of being by himself to enjoy the power of the falls. I also found online that the big rock sort of covering it is called Franskanef cliff or the French nose. I can see the resemblance 🙂
On the road again! We first came across Steinahellir Cave. This is a naturally formed cave that had been manually deepened and broadened over time. It was used by farmers to house their sheep and in 1818 the cave became the area’s parliamentary assembly site up until 1905. There are a few strange/supernatural stories about the cave. One story has to do with the ferns inside the cave. The story warns that bad luck will befall anyone who picks the enchanted ferns. We weren’t about to mess with that so we left the ferns alone.
Here we are at the man-made cave, Rútshellir. This one was used to store hay. There are around 200 man-made caves in South Iceland and 41 are declared protected sites.
I also spotted a turf house! I really liked the gate that was in front too. Turf houses were practical for the Icelandic climate and the turf had good heat retaining properties. As far as I know the turf houses of Iceland are no longer inhabited, but used for storage and outhouses.
Our last waterfall of the day was Skógafoss! I was a bit tired so Andrew headed up to the top while I waited below. There were around 527 steps!
I tried to track Andrew as he headed up!
He found me from up above…where’s Waldo…err Jessi?
I had a lady take my picture in front of the waterfall, but it turned out that she wasn’t a very good photographer haha.
Andrew coming down to join me 🙂
Apparently there is a legend that goes along with Skógafoss. It is believed that you can find a chest filled with gold behind the waterfall. Three men had went searching for the chest and tried to pull it out, but only were able to jerk a ring from the chest. They say that ring is on display at a local museum now. However, we didn’t see the chest. There is something quite magical about waterfalls.
More turf houses near Skógafoss. I think these were recreations.
We jumped back in the car and started our drive to Dyrhólaey Arch.
I had to take a very narrow winding road up to the top of the cliff near the lighthouse and arch. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but I’m glad we did it!
The view was amazing! Dyrhólaey literally means “the hill island with the door hole”. The castle-like lighthouse was something my Aunt Marlene would like I’m sure.
We drove down to Reynisfjara shore for a better view of the black sand beach. Walking this beach was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Volcanic activities helped to form these unique rock formations (including one cliff made of hexagonal shaped basalt columns).
The black sand and stones on the beach are remnants of basalt lava.
Andrew took a seat on this rock for a picture and was greeted with an unexpected surprise! The waves and currents here can be strong (there are lots of warning signs and one of our hosts had warned us about the beach). I took a small video of him too, but the waves didn’t hit him again. Having said that, the waves do look a bit intense behind him…
We walked down toward the basalt sea stacks known as Reynisdrangar. According to local legend, there were two Icelandic sea trolls who tried to drag a three-masted ship to land. Unfortunately, daylight broke and they were turned into stone when the sun hit them and became these stone formations. It looked like the beach continued around these stacks so I sent Andrew to go find out. He went in and waved for me to come over. I ran behind the stack which led into a little nook. We thought it was pretty neat to be behind there…our own secret spot. However, we were quickly greeted with rushing water! The tide was coming in!! We jumped up on the little ledge in the back and waited for the water to recede. We did get a little bit wet, and were not harmed, but this was one of my favorite moments on our entire trip 🙂
Sheep were along the road on our way back to the main highway.
We spotted a sign where there might be some “cool shit” as I liked to say so we decided to take the road to see where it led. It led us down the beach to Hjörleifshöfði. Hjörleifshöfði (“Hjörleifur’s Headland”) is named after first settler Ingólfur Arnarson’s foster-brother (Hjörleifr Hróðmarsson), who was killed by his slaves during their first year in Iceland. Hjörleifr is said to be buried in a mound on top of the mountain. We started to hike up the trail, but decided that it was getting too dark. There are tons of things like this to see right off the main road! Fun fact about this particular area is that it was used for filming the Star Wars spinoff film Rogue One (which I learned afterwards).
That night we had our first “sit down” dinner of the trip at a small restaurant in town recommended by our host. The lamb burger and soup were pretty tasty!
The guest house we were staying in was beautiful and we had it all to ourselves due to some last minute cancellations and a late arrival. So we spent the evening upstairs with the lights off listening to music and looking for the Northern Lights. At one point, we were sitting on the couch and Andrew happened to turn around at just the right moment and said, “Is that it?” I turned around and started to get really excited because that had to be it! We ran outside with our cameras and snapped a few photos. They arrived so fast and were gone so quickly…bending and snaking through the sky. It was amazing! I think that they can be even more amazing, but I feel so lucky to have seen them at all.
We walked outside for a bit after the lights were gone. The moon was so bright.
The next morning, we were supposed to go on an ice cave tour, but due to the rain the day before the caves were flooded and inaccessible. The tour operator gave us the option of a full refund or to go on a walk on the Falljökull glacier (along with partial refund). We decided to go with the glacier walk and make the most of the day. We were really glad that we went because it ended up being a good time even though we were rained/sleeted on while walking on the ice! Seeing the glaciers up close and hearing about how they are melting at an even faster rate today puts climate change in perspective. I was a little nervous to walk on the ice and it was our first time using crampons, but I got the hang of it! As we walked over the ice, you could see little pools of water underneath the frozen sheet of ice. It was so beautiful walking around the glacier! Plus it was a good workout 🙂
Since we finished earlier than we would have on the ice cave tour, we decided to walk one of the trails to find Svartifoss. The scenery was gorgeous on the walk up there and it was mostly an uphill walk…which was a little brutal after our glacier walk earlier.
There is Svartifoss! We opted to not walk down next to the falls since we were crunched for time and still wanted to make it to the lagoon. It looked majestic especially with the snow.
On the walk back to the parking lot, you could barely see the mountain.
Luckily we made it to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon before dark. They said that this lagoon is fairly recent and the result of a warming climate. The surface is at sea level and sea water flows into the lagoon at high tide. Eventually the blocks of ice (pieces of glacier) floating around in the lagoon make their way out to the ocean. Some of the blocks of ice were so blue! The pictures really don’t do it justice. The pieces of ice along the beach really did look like diamonds…hence the name the diamond beach.
Back on the road again to our Airbnb for the night! What a great day! That night we ate dinner in town at a place that was basically an American fast food restaurant with an Icelandic twist. They had a lobster sandwich. This was an expensive meal and my chicken sandwich was more expensive than the lobster. Gotta love eating out in Iceland…which is why we mainly stuck to grocery stores and gas stations haha.
The next morning we got up early because we had a long drive ahead of us. We got to see the sunrise…although this time of year it doesn’t rise until around 10h00!
We also drove by a bay/fjord that looked like it was for farming.
The moon looked pretty cool on our drive.
Since the weather wasn’t bad that morning, we took road 939 to save some time. The road was pretty narrow and I was glad that we didn’t meet anyone on the road.
Back on the main road we ran across more turf houses.
I pulled off the side of the road and Andrew ran around the corner to see this waterfall!
The snow was starting to come in…
Finally we made it to the Dettifoss parking lot. Andrew went over to use the restroom before we hit the trail. He met a park ranger when he was over there and he warned us about the blizzard that was moving into the area. What? Blizzard?! I knew that it was supposed to snow, but hadn’t thought the accumulation was going to be that much…perhaps the forecast had changed since I had last checked. He gave us a website that we could check to see the current road conditions. We thanked him for his warning and headed down the trail to find Dettifoss. The scenery along the trail made us feel like we were “beyond the wall.”
Dettifoss! This was my favorite waterfall of the trip. It was featured in the film “Prometheus” and didn’t disappoint. The power was magnificent. It is reputedly the most powerful waterfall in Europe! It drops approximately 148 ft into Iceland’s largest canyon (Jokulsargljufur Canyon). If the weather hadn’t been turning bad, and if we’d had more time, it would have been nice to have gone on the other side too. They say that the flow of water is at times so powerful that it makes the surrounding rocks vibrate! Wow! I loved seeing this beast in a snowy/icy setting, but would also love to come back in the summer time. Since it was icy, we were not able to walk down to the bottom, but it was worth the trip anyway.
On the road again 🙂
Andrew thinks these were used as markers for herders back in the day. I wonder if that is the purpose now. He said that he had seen similar markers in Norway.
We made a quick detour to Hverir. This place looked like a wasteland that would surely be found on Mars. It’s a geothermal area with sulphurous mud springs, steam vents, cracked mud and fumaroles. The bare landscape really adds to the experience. The sulfur was a bit smelly too.
If you see this symbol around Iceland, it means there’s some “cool shit” this way.
We also wanted to see a cave that had been used in Game of Thrones so we decided that we’d better go see it before we headed to our room for the night. With the snow coming down and the fact that it was getting dark we didn’t know if we’d be out much after that. We saw Hverfjall crater on our way to the cave.
Luckily Grjótagjá cave wasn’t too far off the main road. The small lava cave has a thermal spring inside and was the spot where Jon Snow lost his virginity in GOT. This cave was a popular bathing spot until the 1970s, but due to eruptions the temperature rose to above 50 °C (122 °F) and was closed as a bathing spot. The temperature has since dropped, but the sign still says it is closed to bathers. However, there was a girl who had just finished testing the water in her bathing suit when we popped inside. I touched the water and it was very warm, but I’m not sure how it would be for an extended period of time. I love finding these on-site locations from TV/movies.
Since we still had a bit of daylight left, we drove down to the lava fields of Dimmuborgir which was just down the road from our room. We took the shortest trail to see a bit of the area and we were the only ones there. The lava formations were quite unusual and I loved walking around the wintry wonderland. There was a nice view of the crater from there as well. As always, I wish we’d had more time, but that’s how the story goes. According to Icelandic legend, this area is home to Grýla (a homicidal troll), her husband (Leppaludi), and their 13 sons The Yule Lads. The sons’ names are quite interesting…Spoon Licker, Sausage Swiper, and Door Slammer to name a few. The Yule Lads have merged with the Christmas theme in Iceland and they come bearing gifts or something rotten for the children’s shoes at Christmas time depending on how the children have behaved. Fortunately, we did not encounter Grýla, the homicidal troll, on our venture.
Finally we made it to our place of rest for the evening! At the reception and restaurant, they have windows showing their cow shed. You could see the cows getting ready to be milked. One cow looked like she was being “owned” or violated by the look on her face.
We decided to brave the weather once more that evening with a trip out to the Myvatn Nature Baths for a bathing experience and also to have dinner. Andrew tried an expensive Icelandic beer.
It was so cold on that short walk from inside and down the ramp to the bath area! But it was nice and warm once we were inside! Well, our faces were a bit cold, but that was not so bad. It was nice to relax in the water, but the sulfur smell was a bit to get used to. The best part was that it was snowing on us while we were in the water. It was so magical. No photos, but use your imagination 🙂
We woke the next morning and decided that even though we were warned by the park ranger and again by the receptionist about the possible bad road conditions due to the blizzard that we were going to try to make it our next Airbnb…well at least get as far as we could. As you can see, it did snow a bit last night. After we had a nice breakfast at the “cow shed,” we crossed our fingers and hoped for a smooth journey.
The road doesn’t look too bad right?
We decided to skip stopping off at Godafoss, but thought maybe we could see it in the distance…not sure.
Eventually we made it to the cute town of Akureyri. They had hearts for the stop lights – how adorable! The receptionist had advised us to stop at the tourist center in town to check the roads before we went on our way, but we decided to keep going and take our chances.
The road was still fairly bad as we left town, but eventually it seemed like it had started to clear up. However, I soon remembered that we would be driving through two sets of blizzard like conditions. It seemed like we had made it through our first set and this was the calm before the second.
Yep, here comes the second! At times the road was barely visible, but we kept creeping along. However, we ended up behind a line of cars. We thought that maybe they were just too nervous to drive due to the strong winds and limited visibility, but eventually we would find out that a snow drift had blocked their path. Luckily, an emergency worker appeared on the scene fairly quickly. I’m not sure if someone had called him or if he was just patrolling the area. They cleared a path through the snow drift and the worker had to drive some people’s cars through it. A big truck went through the drift before we did so it helped make a better path. Andrew was happy that he was able to drive through on his own without letting the emergency worker get behind the wheel. Once we made it through the drift, the guys cheered and said, “Welcome to Iceland” and laughed. Then they went back to helping what I can assume was a long line of cars behind us. We waited close to an hour and half to get through that drift!
Finally we made it to a gas station in Blönduós! I guess I should say that during our ordeal I said that if we made it to our destination that day that I would go to church 3 times before the end of the year. When we got to the gas station there was a cross…Andrew took it as a sign…for me it was more of a coincidence. We filled up on gas and got a few snacks and made it to our Airbnb for the night!
We were staying with a nice family on a sheep farm. They took us out to the barn that night to meet their sheep. They also wanted to start the breeding process so they put one of the rams in with the ladies. I had never seen this courting process before and it was fairly interesting. The rams tongue was moving so fast and every once in a while he would put his head up and look like he was sniffing something. It was amusing! He was a young one though and couldn’t seem to figure out what he needed to do or was just being extremely picky, because he didn’t seem to be interested in the one lady that seemed to be in heat…figures right? I thought maybe it was performance anxiety.
There were also cute kittens inside! I was in heaven and enjoyed playing with them. You can click here to watch the cuteness.
The bigger cats joined us for breakfast the next morning. They had ulterior motives, but it was nice having them around anyway.
Goodbye sheep farm! Hope we can make it up this driveway.
The roads were still a little slick. We saw a few semis off the road. However, it did get better the further south we went.
We made a pit stop to hike up to the Grábrók Crater (known as Gray Pants). It’s the largest of three craters in a short volcanic fissure. The snow was fairly deep on our hike up there and the wind was cold! We made it up the icy steps to the top to enjoy the view. Andrew and I slid down the railing on the way down! He did a much better job than I did. Click here and here to watch.
Back on the road! We stopped to take a few pictures of the cute Icelandic horses.
Since the weather was not too bad, we took a detour off the main road to Akranes. We drove all the way to the two lighthouses. We were able to go inside one of them. I liked the map of Iceland they had inside.
On our way back to the main road, Andrew spotted more horses that we could actually walk up to so he turned the car around. As soon as we parked the car, a lot of the horses came right up to us. They were so friendly! This was so much fun and apparently horses like car…who knew?
Ready to go through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel! This is a road tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord. It is 5,770 meters (18,930 ft) long and reaches a depth of 165 meters (541 ft) below sea level!
Eventually we made it back to Reykjavik. We returned our rental car and got settled into our Airbnb. On our walk from the car rental place to our apartment, we saw some street art and Hallgrímskirkja church (the largest one in Iceland). I love the design.
That night we had dinner at Tapas barinn. Andrew started with a shot of brennivín (an Icelandic spirit) and we ate a variety of dishes including smoked puffin (sorry we ate the cute bird), arctic char, lobster tails, lamb, minke whale, kangaroo, scallops, and more. We mostly enjoyed the meal and it was an easy way to try several different things at once, but we were looking forward to our food tour the next day.
Andrew made me pose with the statue outside of the restaurant.
On Saturday morning we got up early to explore a bit before the tour. We walked by the church again and got a better picture of the statue of Leif Erikson (an Icelandic explorer and the first known European to have discovered North America). I loved the view walking down to the water and we loved the street art so far.
We made our way down to the water to see the sculpture known as The Sun Voyager which is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. They say the meaning is that it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.
A little further down from the sculpture we enjoyed a small bite to eat. It was a bit chilly near the water!
The statue in the picture was dedicated in 1991 to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Iceland and the US. Just down from this statue sits Höfði House. This is where the 1986 summit meeting between presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbatsjov was held. This meeting effectively marked the end of the Cold War.
Here we have more street art. Andrew appreciating the street art… Lastly we have a statue of Ingólfr Arnarson (known as the first Norseman to settle in Iceland).
We made it to Kolaportið, a flea market that they say is a good place to try fermented shark. Andrew bought a few pieces and you can watch him try it. He told me it was not so bad so I decided to go for it…he hesitated to give it to me because he knew it was disgusting, but I went for it anyway. It is possibly the foulest thing I’ve tasted, but I suppose you could develop a taste for it…over a long, long period of time.
After that disgusting debacle, we started walking over to Harpa, our meeting point for the tour. The harbor was nice to see and they had some neat old ships/boats. There was also a piece of art that was so disturbing, yet I could not take my eyes away.
Finally it was food tour time! I liked this sign I spotted as we made our way to the first destination.
Our first stop was Islenski barinn and we tried the lamb soup with bread and a beer (einstok, a white ale). Fun fact about alcohol, it’s only been legal in Iceland since 1989. Also, he said that the chef serves a different version of lamb soup every day.
A food tour is never complete without cheese, so the guide took us to Ostabúðin. Here we tried 3 cheeses (black gouda, gold cheese and blue mold cheese/big demon) and 3 meats (cured horse, cured lamb, and hot smoked goose with raspberry champagne vinegar sauce). Yes, you read correctly…I tried horse again and it was delicious…I feel terrible.
This was the old prison in Reykjavik. It could house 23 inmates and originally was used as a courthouse. In 2016, 18 inmates could be housed at a time. It was built in 1874 and just closed its doors in 2016. A new, modern and bigger prison has been constructed east of the city.
More street art and 23!
The guide took us to Café Loki for a unique dessert (which was created by accident). Rye bread ice cream with caramelized rhubarb sauce – yum!
We then walked to Tjörnin, the small lake in the center of town for some delicious strawberry skyr.
I loved this statue. This is The Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat.
This is the Parliament House and Austurvöllur square. If there is a gathering, demonstration, or protest in Reykjavik it is possibly happening here.
There was a huge demand for these hotdogs! We got them with everything as recommended. They were worth it and the line goes much faster than you think.
Our guide pointed out this mound in the distance. It is a work of art known as Thufa and the miniature house on top is actually used as a drying shed for fish. So if you decide to hike to the top be prepared for the stench! We didn’t have time to make it up there this trip.
I was so happy to know we were stopping at Sægreifinn (The Sea Baron) for their lobster soup! It was very good and I am not the biggest lobster fan.
Street art…and 23 again 🙂
The last stop of our food tour was for more dessert and coffee at Apotek. I can’t remember what the dessert was exactly, but it was good. The bathrooms at this restaurant were interesting. Inside the stalls, you could see out into the restroom (a sort of one way mirror). It was a bit awkward, but neat.
I love unique door handles.
Our last stop for the evening was at the sculpture garden behind the Einar Jónsson Art Museum. It is free to the public. All of the statues were so intriguing.
That evening we enjoyed pizza at our apartment and watched some movies. We took a short nap and then got up for our early 3am departure to the airport! We loved Iceland and hope we get to return one day 🙂