Exploring Iceland – Week 1
We visited Iceland in October 2016. We spent a week traveling around the Ring Road and then settled into Reykjavik for a week for Iceland Airwaves (icelandairwaves.is), an annual music festival. There are 334,000 people living on the island, most of whom live in Reykjavik. The landscapes are simply awe-inspiring, the people are wonderfully friendly and intelligent, and the hygge factor is a definite 10.
We started our trip around the Western side of Iceland early in the day and were fortunate to spot some whales, unplanned, just outside of Borgarnes where we visited the Settlement Center. We learned about the history of Iceland and had a wonderful lunch at the attached cafe. This is where we discovered the amazing Icelandic Butter – Smjor. It is seriously the most incredible butter you will ever taste. After returning home, I searched high and low for it, and finally found it at our local Whole Foods Market.
I would definitely spend more time exploring the Western Fjords on a return trip, but for this trip, we headed north. The northwest portion of the Ring Road was filled with fantastic panoramic snowcapped mountains and large sheep farms. I felt that there was not enough film in the world to capture the beauty traveling to Akureyi where we landed for the night.
We headed next for the northeast section of Iceland where we explored some of the islands most amazing waterfalls – Godifoss and Detifoss. We spent the night at Lake Myvat which was an ideal spot for viewing the Northern Lights. I was surprised by the Northern Lights. They are not stationary as you might imagine from pictures, but move across the sky, appearing and disappearing in 15-20 second spurts. They also make an interesting crackling sound. I had gone to bed thinking I had seen the Northern Lights when Michael woke me up to an astonishing show of green lights reaching virtually down to the ground around us like a hand from the sky. It was certainly a sight to behold and one I will treasure for the rest of my life.
After a wholesome breakfast at Vogafjos, we headed east to Seydisfjordur. We arrived late in the eastern fjords, traveling over a mountain, descending into the valley and spending the night at Hotel Aldan, a refurbished bank turned into a lovely hotel. We awoke in the morning in the quaintest village I’ve ever seen. We had a nutritious breakfast, then headed for a hike in the hills. There we found a beautiful meandering stream flowing into the ocean, another waterfall, and on our way out of this valley, in the midst of a light rainfall, we witnessed a double rainbow. I exclaimed, “Now God is just showing off.” We hated to leave the eastern fjords – it was amazingly green and beautiful.
Next we headed southeast to Hofn to sleep tight prior to our glacier exploration. We first visited Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This is an incredible sight, something that certainly should be on everyone’s bucket list. The lagoon was formed by ice melt from the Vatnajokull Glacier, part of Vatnajokull National Park, the second largest national park in Europe. The glacier is rapidly melting related to global warming so the lagoon continues to expand each year. We took a boat tour of the lagoon and our guide explained that the turquoise blue chunks of ice are ice that has been compressed in the glacier with no exposure to air. When the bottom of the ice floe tips upward, it exposes the non-exposed side. This is what all pure ice would look like without exposure to air. We finished the day with a short hike to Svartifoss, a waterfall with interesting hexagonal basalt columns.
The next day we woke bright and early to head to Skaftafell for a glacier hike. I am glad to say that in this lifetime, I’ve been glacier hiking. However, I must say, there is something absolutely terrifying about hiking up a sheet of ice with only crampons holding you in place. The most challenging part for me was the descending journey – one wrong move and you are sliding down a sheet of ice into a huge crevice. We had a superb guide, though, with the patience of a saint. It is sad to me what we are doing to the world’s glaciers with our pollution.
We nestled in at Hrifunes on our way to Vik in South Iceland. What a lovely property with such a cozy feel. Our host prepared a three course communal meal which allowed us to mingle with guests from around the world and hear about their travels in Iceland. The food was delicious and the company good preparation for re-entering civilization (Reykjavik). En route to Vik we saw two more large waterfalls (Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss) and many small farms with their own waterfalls (much of Iceland is powered by geothermal power). We passed through Eldhraun here which is an interesting landscape created by one of the largest volcanic eruptions since the Ice Age. The land is covered by 230 square miles of moss covered lava. Despite the rain, Michael agreed to do a side trip with me to Fjadarglijufur. It is ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful canyons and I’d have to agree with this assessment. It was truly heaven on earth.
This concluded our trip around the Ring Road. Next up – Icelandic civilization in Exploring Iceland – Week 2…rocking out at Iceland Airwaves and relaxing in the luxurious Blue Lagoon.