Monday, 27 June 2016

Exploring Iceland

After my first (and too short) trip to Iceland in April of 2015, I was sure I was going to come back there at some point and it just happened one year later.
For those in love with ecotourism, this island is a must-see and has a lot to show, including endless amount of waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, hot rivers but unfortunately, no so many trees or forests due to its mostly rocky soil formation which makes it hard for trees to grow.
Having said that, I proceed with my report on this amazing 10-day trip to the paradise island, which is called "Island" in their Icelandic language as well as in most of Scandinavian languages. The etymology is simple to comprehend: "IS" means "ICE" and therefore: "ISLAND".
The trip started for me on a Friday evening (June 17th), departing from Copenhagen, flying Icelandair.

Reykjavik

Believe it or not, I only took two photographs in Reykjavik and this is one of them. I know what you may be thinking now and it is correct. The night life is intense and people around there were drinking as if there is no tomorrow.
I did have some beers while attending a rock concert of a Norwegian band which I met in the shuttle bus from Keflavik airport to the center. They gave me also a copy of their debut album. The name of the band is Hollow Illusion. Among the cool bar/clubs to go there, I can recommend: Kaffibarinn, pub "Dubliners" and the Whisky bar named "Dillon". There are many more. Just let the night absorb you. Try to find out which bars offer "happy hour" prices for beers, so you can save a considerable amount of money. Beers will cost you normally a minimum of 1000 ISK. Some bars, during 'happy hours' might charge as low as 600 ISK for a beer.

Golden Circle

Our Polish team composed mostly of people from Warsaw, but having a Latino-Breslauer among them, continued the trip on two 4x4 Nissan Terrano (eventually renamed by us to "Nissan Terrakota"), towards the "Golden Circle" which is a ring road leading to the mainstream attractions near Reykjavik. 

Geyser Strokkur, Kerið crater and Gullfoss waterfalls are among the attractions of the Golden Circle:


Gullfoss waterfalls


Kerið volcanic crater lake

The Golden Circle attractions are for those staying in Reykjavik without enough to time to explore the whole island. We definitely needed more.

Hitting the road

We drove on the road #1 which is the main road going around the island and doesn't require 4x4 cars. We passed the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on the way but don't expect much of it as an attraction because despite its fame after 2010's major eruption, it is not a volcano with a classic cone shape, so you can't see much.


Eyjafjallajökull volcano today

Eyjafjallajökull volcano photo during 2010's eruption

Haifoss

Carry on, with so many waterfalls on the way that I decided to show photos only of the most impressive ones, like Haífoss:


Haífoss

Haífoss

Haífoss


Skaftafell

With Rammstein playing in our CD player, the trip continues to explore the Skaftafell region, where the glacier Skaftafellsjökull is located. It is the second largest glacier in Europe after Austfonna glacier on Svalbard in Norway.

The farther one goes away from Reykjavik area, the less infrastructure and hotels one gets. We used a camping area as base to rest and visit the glacier on the following day. Fortunately, we didn't need to use tents. We had cool cottage houses. Exactly these ones below:

Our housing

The morning comes. That's the expedition day! I couldn't hide my euphoria. That was going to be the most special day of the trip for me! I always wanted to walk on a glacier. So here we go!

Before the ascent, we took a photo of our group:


Piotr, Karolina, Mateusz, Magda, Ewa, Kamil, Kasia, Nano

This is me walking on Iceland's largest glacier

An ice chunk from a glacier looks like crystal
Nice photo collage by Ewa Kalata, from our hiking day

Photo taken during our hike

A photo of out team

Walking tours on the glacier can be arranged in the Skaftafell's visitor's center. The staff doing the tours is really friendly. I recommend.

Near the glacier, there is also a lake formed with the melting water from the glacier itself. The name of it is: Jökulsárlón

It really felt like a proper summer trip, far from harmful UV ray lights and mosquitoes! ;)

Relaxing

Svartifoss


Just beside the Skaftafel's visitor center, there is a hiking trail leading to the Svartifoss - the black waterfall. Well, I thought the water would be black (I've seen some waterfalls with very dark, organic water in Brazil) but that is not the case. The name comes from its black rock formation, which makes it a very unusual landscape. See below:


Svartifoss

Svartifoss

Few more impressive waterfalls we found on the way:

Skógafoss

This one has easy access by the main road, so no need for 4x4 cars. It is called Skógafoss:


Skógafoss

Skógafoss


Seljalandsfoss

This one below is called Seljalandsfoss and it's cool because one can walk behind it, has also easy access:


Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Nano @ Seljalandsfoss

Dettifoss

The strongest waterfall in Iceland, the Dettifoss:


Dettifoss
Dettifoss

Glymur

Glymur, the second highest waterfall in Iceland, this attraction includes hiking through dangerous paths and high cliffs. Not recommended for children and for people afraid of height. 


Map of the hiking track to go to Glymur falls

Glymur waterfall

View opposed to the Glymur fall, from the point I was

Highlands / Laugarfell


One nice part of the trip was when we went to Laugarfell, in the Icelandic highlands. It was a short incursion towards the center of the island, escaping the main road #1, and going to a quite isolated area near the volcano Askja.
Apparently, there is only one hostel, called Laugarfell itself. At this point I am not sure if it is the name of the location or the name of the hostel, because it is pretty much the only house around.
The hostel (or shelter) is run by a family and can be booked here. There are two hot springs for the guests, with different temperatures. One of them is really hot, probably better for winter but quite ok for a cold summer night too.
The area is probably the best site to watch the stars or the northern lights because it is very isolated and there is no light pollution at all, but since we were there during summer, it doesn't get fully dark anyways, so it is possible to see only one star - the one in our solar system.
During the day, there is a nice activity to do there which is a 7-km hiking trail with really nice views like this one beside.
I really plan to go back there some day, during winter, so I can see the northern lights which I failed to spot last year.

More photos from Laugarfell:







Akureyri

This is the second biggest town in Iceland, with around 20.000 inhabitants. It has its own airport but I heard that flying from Reykjavik to Akureyri is very expensive. Most people would just take a 4-hour bus trip or would take the car. In Akureyri it would be impossible to be an incognito. People would know who you are if you live there for awhile. There only few pubs/bars and people are so friendly that might make you feel like moving there.
This is among the few photos I took while staying in there but the house we rented was on the other side of the bay, so it doesn't show much of the town. Check the wiki page of the town for more information and photos of the city centre here: Akureyri.

Akureyri is a good base town in case you would like to take the whale-watching boat rides departing from Husavik. It is a short drive and there are allegedly more whales on that part of the island than in the Reykjavik area. Not sure if it's true though. We purchased the boat trip from the company named 'North Sailing' (http://www.northsailing.is/home/). They have schooners, which can be an alternative to inflatable boats, but the journey takes longer (approx. 4h) and is less bumpy. (The first photo on this post also shows the boat we took).

The whale-watching departing from Husavik also passes by the puffin island, which is where they reproduce. The Puffin is a traditional Icelandic bird, present in many postcards around there.

Here are some photos (click to enlarge):


Approaching the "Puffin Island"

Humpback whale
Humpback whale

Puffin bird

Well, I think this was the longest post I have ever written in my blog, even though I really tried to keep it as short as I could.

If you can't get enough of Iceland, check out my earlier post about it, from last year: https://nanocarpediem.blogspot.se/2015/04/discovering-iceland.html

I hope you enjoyed my photos and I wish you a good trip to Iceland! :)

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