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Iceland…Northern Lights…Glaciers…Vikings…Waterfalls…Better than words can describe

June 21, 2017
Amazing Iceland

Europe – Iceland

Reykjavik – 64.1265° N, 21.8174° W

Iceland – Experiences are the new possessions!

The Deal

One snowy Sunday afternoon in Washington, DC, 72hrJetsetterGirl was surfing the net in search of a deal for her next “tropical” destination and up popped a good value independent package to Iceland. Mmmm, another cold and snowy location she thought, but the travel dates were the “right” time to see the Northern Lights.  Ok we all know that Mother Nature can have a mind of her own! Tentatively she hovered the cursor over the link with a sense of anticipation, thinking it won’t hurt to look. Then thought what the heck just do it! 72hrJetsetterGirl just could not pass up the opportunity to see aurora borealis.

Snowy night in Reykjavik

Snowy night in Reykjavik

Getting Excited

A few days before departing to the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state, 72hrJetsetterGirl searched her reservation on the airline’s on-line system. Entered her surname and reservation code and then in big RED letters received an error message saying “unable to find this reservation”.  Try again, this time she hit the keys with a bit more force (not sure how this approach would help!) and received the exact same message. What is going on she thought as a wave of fear came over her. “Keep calm and phone the airline”.  After a discussion with the airline agent, 72hrJetsetterGirl had incorrectly typed her surname when making the original booking, some time back.  Now the name on the e-ticket did not match the name in the passport – HUGE BLUNDER and then incurred a change fee of US$50 because of her fat fingers! An expensive lesson learnt.

101 Serendipity

72hrJetsetterGirl’s first Icelandic’s experience was an introduction to Reykjavik, otherwise known as 101 (its postal code).  101 is a petite city filled with colour and character that can be easily explored on foot.  One of the tallest concrete structure (73m) and the largest Lutheran church in Iceland is Hallgrimskirkja Church which offers panoramic views of the city. In front of the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, the first European to discover America.  Records suggest that he landed on American soil 500 years before Columbus.  The church has an impressive gargantuan pipe organ and the elevator ride to the top is definitely worth the small fee.

Hallgrimskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja Church - Inside the Church and Gargantuan Pipe Organ

Hallgrimskirkja Church – Inside the Church and Gargantuan Pipe Organ

Whilst admiring the city’s colourful roofs from the top of the Church, 72hrJetsetterGirl met two other travelers who were also exploring this little city with a “big heart”. To christen this new traveling friendship, the trio decided to celebrate in one of the many local craft breweries in town.  Check #funfact to find out about Iceland’s beer ban.

View of Reykjavik's colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik’s colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik's colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik’s colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

After a refreshing ale, the three new traveling buddies paid a visit to Höfði House, the house in which Gorby and Reagan met in 1986 for the Iceland Summit; a quick stop at the rotating Perlan glass dome with sweeping views of the sea and hills and a visit to the Sculpture Gardens of Asunder Sveinsson.

Höfði House

Höfði House

Perlan (The Pearl) at 25.7 metres high

Perlan (The Pearl) at 25.7 metres high

Sculpture Gardens of Asunder Sveinsson

Sculpture Gardens of Asunder Sveinsson

An attraction not to be missed in Reykjavik is Harpa – the Country’s concert and conference center.  The center has a distinctive coloured glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. Very impressive.

Harpa - concert hall and

Harpa – concert hall and conference centre

Anyone for Puffin or Minke?

The new travel buddies found themselves wandering around the ferry terminal area of 101 and stumbled upon a cosy and cute fish-market where the Icelandic delicacy of minke whale was on offer. Debating whether to have minke, salmon or puffin (yes Puffin), another couple overheard the predicament and joined in on the quandary.  Just to set the record straight 72hrJetsetterGirl settled for salmon, the thought of chowing down on “Free Willy” was just too much to bear. 

New Friends

New Friends

Peace Man!

One became three and then three became five and before you knew it the new buddies were on their way across the bay to Viðey Island to tour the Imagine Peace Tower.  The tower is a beam of light from a wishing well bearing the words “imagine peace” in 24 languages.  The “Tower of Light” was Yoko Ono’s tribute to her late husband John Lennon.

Peace Tower - “imagine peace” in 24 languages!

Peace Tower – “imagine peace” in 24 languages!

Peace Tower - “Tower of Light”

Peace Tower – “Tower of Light”

Peace Tower - “Tower of Light”

Peace Tower – “Tower of Light”

The trip to Viðey Island was certainly a stroke of serendipity for 72hrJetsetterGirl.  Unaware of the tribute and if she had not met her traveling buddies she would not have visited the tower nor had witnessed the amazing light show of the Northern Lights.  A smile is all it takes to make new friends and experience new adventures.

When in Rome do as the Romans do! Right? Well Reykjavik has the reputation of having a vibrant nightlife that starts late and carries on long into the early morning hours. The five new travel buddies deserved to have some Icelandic’s fun after a very busy day exploring.

Gateway to waterfalls, geysers and Icelandic horses…

As 72hrJetsetterGirl was in Iceland during the winter months, it was more appropriate for her to join a small tour group to explore beyond the city limits of Reykjavik. Today’s adventure was the popular Golden Circle tourist route.

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle

This picturesque 300km loop starts in Reykjavik and then routes its way to the southern uplands of Iceland and back.  During the day, 72hrJetsetterGirl was in awe of the stunning landscape with never seemed to end.  Definitely postcard material and no need to play candy crush between stops! The Golden Circle is an amazing experience which has significant importance to the history and culture of this sovereign country with the added bonus of geological wonders.

Golden Circle

The Golden Circle

The World’s First Parliament

The first stop to admire was the UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Þingvellir is the site of the world’s first parliament, Alþingi (Althing). The Icelandic parliament gathered at this location each year from 930AD to 1798. Wow!  From a geological wonder Þingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.  72hrJetsetterGirl had an opportunity to walk between the plates along the Almannagjá fault.  Another interesting fact is that Þingvellir has the largest natural lake in Iceland.

UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

Aaah So Cute!

As 72hrJetsetterGirl traveled along this natural beauty route, there was a photo opportunity to get up close and personal with the adorable pony size Icelandic horses. Who could resist!  The ponies were brought to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th century and now Icelandic law prohibits any horses being imported into the country and once exported they are not allowed to return, resulting in a horse breed with very few diseases.  Oh they are so cute!

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

Mane Waterfall

The next picture perfect stop on the itinerary was Faxi Waterfall.  Quite appropriate after getting acquainted with the horses at the last stop as Faxi means “mane”.  The waterfall formation is in the shape of an Icelandic Horse’s mane..Ahhh

Faxi Waterfall

Faxi Waterfall

Iconic Waterfall

The iconic waterfall of Iceland, Gullfoss is the next attraction along this scenic route. When 72hrJetsetterGirl arrived at the waterfall, she thought that the Hvítá (White) river simply vanished into the earth as the edge is obscured from view. The force of the following water matched with the beauty of the untouched nature offers a spectacular view.  Not only is Gullfoss, also known as “Golden Falls”, a wonder of mother nature, it also tells of a wonderful story. Thanks to Sigríður Tómasdóttir we can all enjoy this amazing waterfall today.

Gullfoss with an amazing 21 metre

Gullfoss

Gullfoss with an amazing 21 metre drop

Gullfoss with an amazing 21 metre drop

The sweet smell of sulphur in the air….NOT

The highlight of the day for 72hrJetsetterGirl was Haukadalur geothermal area. There is nothing like the aroma of sulphur in the air, the hissing noise of steam vents, the bubbling and gurgling noises of mud pools and the eruption of thermal water and steam shooting high into the air to activate one’s senses. The main attraction at Haukadalur is the mighty Strokkur geysir. Strokkur, meaning “churn”, is constantly boiling so there in no warning of its imminent eruption. On a positive note, as the force of nature erupts every 5-8 minutes there are ample opportunities for that perfect photo/video or just to be entertained by the water show over and over again.

Strokkur Geyser hurling boiling water 30 metres into the area every few minutes

Strokkur Geyser hurling boiling water 30 metres into the area every few minutes

Geothermal Area

Geothermal Area

Experiences Galore Await

While doing research on things to do in Iceland, the “experiences” activities were certainly overwhelming – scuba driving between the tectonic plates sounded amazing but 72hrJetsetterGirl is not a fan of getting her hair when swimming, so will pass on this activity.  One that got her attention was a “glacier walk”. As a native of a very dry and arid country, the opportunity to experience a glacier walk in her own backyard just did not exist.

Once again 72hrJetsetterGirl was collected from her hotel and joined a very small tour group  to explore Iceland’s South Coast which is on the Eurasian plate.  As the travelers were getting to know each other on their way to Vik, 72HrJetsetterGirl learnt that she was the only one in the party doing a glacier walk.  The others option for snowmobiling and felt disappointed as the weather forecast was not promising for that adventure. They now had “experience” envy!

After traveling around 180kms in a southeast direction from Reykjavik, Vik was the first stop of the day. Vik is the southernmost village and warmest place in Iceland and home to one of the ten most beautiful beaches on Earth. The “famous” black basalt sand beach is one of the wettest places in Iceland. 

The Black Sand Beach @ Vik

The Black Sand Beach @ Vik

Vik is surrounded by cliffs and has a quaint red church on its  rolling hills.  The cliffs to the west of the beach are home to Puffins, which burrow into the shallow soils during nesting time. Out to sea lies stacks of basalt rock remnants of a previous extensive cliff-line. There is no landmass between Vik and Antarctica and hence the Atlantic ocean can attack with mighty force. 72hrJetsetterGirl was blown along the black sandy beach.

Vik

Vik

Whilst wandering around Vik, (mind you there is only a gas station, a restaurant and a wool shop), 72hrJetsetterGirl notice trolls appearing at every opportunity.  Just off the shore of Vik the basalt rock formation, Reynidrangar, sticks out in the Atlantic ocean like fingers.  According to folklore, these spindly rock formation are actually trolls frozen in time as the trolls were trying to drag three ships ashore when they were caught in the sunlight and turned to stone!

Troll Folklore - three spindly rock formations in the distance

Troll Folklore – three spindly rock formations in the distance

Clamping on the crampons

Before conquering the glacier,  72hrJetsetterGirl needed to be dressed for the occasion, swapping her high heels for crampons (metal spikes attached to soles of hiking shoes, so as not to slip on the glacier ice) and ice axe at the ready.  The adventure was about to begin.

Crampons on - Ready for an ice adventure!

Crampons on – Ready for an ice adventure!

Under the guidance of a certified glacier guide 72hrJetsetterGirl  was ready for her glacier adventure on the Sólheimajökull glacier.  This glacier is the tongue that extends from the great Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

Iceland's 4th largest glacier - ready to explore

Iceland’s 4th largest glacier – ready to explore

During the fun and moderate level walk, the weather conditions changed dramatically on the glacier – one moment the sun is shining and 72hrJetsetterGirl wanted to ripped off her Eskimo outfit as she was getting quite warm and then five minutes later she is getting pelted by hail. 

The glacier guide in action on Sólheimajökull glacier.

The glacier guide in action on Sólheimajökull glacier.

During the walk, 72hrJetsetterGirl explored the wonderland of ice sculptures, water cauldrons, and deep crevasses on the breathtaking Sólheimajökull glacier.

Ice sculpture

Ice sculpture and deep crevasses

The guide provided information, about the behavior of glaciers and their importance on nature.  This was a unique experience for 72hrJetsetterGirl and yes, experiences are the new possessions.

The final experience…The Blue Lagoon…

Ok, just like everyone else 72hrJetSetterGirl had read reviews about the Blue Lagoon, some saying it is a must whilst others say it is overrated.   As 72hrJetsetterGirl had not experienced a hot thermal spring pool, then this was a new experience.  Certainly a lovely way for 72hrJetsetterGirl to end her Icelandic Adventure.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

Useful tips

  • When making the initial airline booking; check that you have entered your personal details correctly.  Most airlines will waive the change fee if they are notified immediately of the error.  Moral of the story check personal details especially names once you have received the confirmation advice.
  • Drink the tap water in Iceland – it is pure and wonderful, no need for bottled water

Iceland #FunFacts:   

  • Icelandic Beer ban 1915-1989.  Beer in Iceland was ban until 1989.  It was a holdover from Prohibition from 1915 to 1 March 1989 – which is now celebrated as “Beer-Day”;
  • Perlan – was built on water tanks that hold the city’s hot water supply;
  • The name “Golden Circle” is just a marketing term and has not connection to Icelandic History – who would have thought! Go those marketers.

The Nuts and Bolts of this Experience Destination:

Why this destination:

  • 72hrJetsetterGirl always wanted to see the Northern Lights;
  • Go to the place that everyone is raving about. So many unique experiences;
  • Only 6 hours away compared to 20 hours from Brisvegas and a LOT cheaper;
  • Despite its northern latitude, Iceland does not get as cold as one would expect due to the North Atlantic Current and Gulf Stream – rarely drops below −15 °C;
  • Good $$ deal – independent package included flights, accommodation, city tour and Northern Lights Boat cruise.

How long:

  • 3 days / 4 nights (Departed the US Wednesday evening, arrived early Thursday morning into Reykjavik, Out Saturday pm). 

Getting Around

  • Flew into KEP (Keflavik International Airport)
  • Express bus service from airport to hotel.  The buses are literally at the ready lined up waiting for passengers (also equipped with Wi-Fi) – definitely no hanging around 30+ minutes for a shuttle service.
  • 72hrJetsetterGirl’s accommodation was located outside of the City Centre and “tokens” were provided to use the local bus services. The bus service was fairly regular.
  • As 72hrJetsetterGirl was traveling solo, day tours were the preferred option for sightseeing and hotel pickup was included and given the variance in the weather at the moment’s notice this was the best option for 72hrJetsetterGirl.
  • On the final day, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for the Blue Lagoon activity. Collected from the hotel in the morning, taken to the Blue Lagoon and then transported to the airport for flight back to the US. Storage of luggage at Blue Lagoon does incur a fee depending on the size of the suitcase.

What to take

  • Eskimo outfit! – 72hrJetsettergirl for a March adventure. Warm outdoor clothing, waterproof jacket / pants, headwear & gloves, hiking boots

Considerations

  • 72hrJetsetterGirl found the weather conditions in Iceland can change very quickly.  One moment the sun is shining and it is quite warm  than all of a sudden you are being pelted with small hail and gusty winds.
  • Google best time to go to Iceland depending on what you are wanting to experience (Northern Lights, Glacier Walks, Snowmobiling etc.).  We all know that Mother Nature does not always guarantee the perfect conditions for the chosen experience.
  • Food is quite expensive in Iceland and eating out even at the cheaper options are costly compared to American prices.
  • Depending on the time of year and if on a driving adventure, you may not see another car for miles and miles once outside of Reykjavik metro area. This is same for services (gas/food etc).

Verdict

  • The Icelandic tourism industry is one of the slickest around and they cater very much for the tourist. It made traveling a total breeze. Everyone speaks “impeccable” English.  Iceland should be on everyone’s travel list – whether you are like 72hrJetsetterGirl who opted for organized day tours or want to create your own adventure of this stunning country.  For photographers – this is a photographic paradise.  Due to the increased number of travelers to this peaceful country, remember the basics of responsible travel – don’t litter, reduce your footprint and leave the place better than how you found it, so many more travelers can enjoy its beauty. The scenery is picturesque and better than words can describe! Experiences are the new possessions. Two Words:  VISIT ICELAND!!

  

Who else has had a travel booking mishap? Did it work out in the end?