Nordics. Part 4. Iceland.

Our flight from Bergen was relatively easy, we had a quick layover in Oslo and landed at the Keflavik airport around noon.  We were ushered through the duty free store, and decided to be smart about booze this time, and just buy it now - so we stocked up on wine and beer at the airport.  We grabbed our luggage, our sweet little rental for the next few days and headed out to explore, but first we had to dig out our winter coats, hats and gloves, it was a bit chillier here.  We had the good fortune of having a friend who had a friend who lived in Iceland, and we pretty much did everything they suggested to do - including checking out the Reykjanes Penninsula on our way to Reykjavik.  

Sloane and our awesome little Suzuki Jimny.  This car was pretty capable, but honestly - of all the places we went - this was the only one we even came close to needing high clearance or 4 wheel drive - but we did use them both immediately on this side trip.

Our first stop was the bridge between two continents.  This is a foot bridge over a fissure in the ground, that happens to be a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.  The big deal is you can walk from Europe to North America - its honestly a bit under whelming - but worth a quick stop if it happens to be on your way to something else.

Sloane standing between the continental divide, some classic Iceland skies in the background.

Our next stop was the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs, which are sheer lava cliffs that rise straight up from the ocean below.  We had about a 15 minute hike from the dirt road that we parked on, and getting to the trail was a bit of an adventure its self - I almost got our car stuck in some seriously loose sand.  We eventually made it.  I would suggest parking on the main road - and hiking a bit further, rather than driving down the shitty road like we did - it probably took just as long.

Some colorful lichens along the trail to the cliffs.

Looking out over the North Atlantic Ocean.  It looks warm, but it was the opposite.

Long exposure at the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs.

Lava rocks below.

At the cliffs.

We hung out at the cliffs for half an hour, and then decided we needed to get back to the car, we had to meet our air bnb host in Reykjavik soon.  I decided to follow the GPS, which took us the opposite direction we had come from on the dirt road.  It came to what seemed like a dead end after about 10 minutes of driving - although the GPS said it was still a road.  Instead of turning around and driving the half hour back out to the main road, which we could see where we were sitting, I decided to use the four wheel drive and climb over some small boulders blocking the way.  It was a pretty bumpy few minutes, but we got safely to the road and saved our selves some time.  We had plans to visit a few other sites on the peninsula, but we decided to skip them and get over to the city so we didn't miss our window to check into our apartment.   We got to our apartment complex around 430, and after some language barriers, finally found the right place.

Our home in Reykjavik - it was great.

We splurged on this AirBnB, but it was worth it.  This apartment was super modern, brand new, had an amazing bed, was pretty much right on the water and was walking distance to all the cool stuff in town.

Perfect little kitchen, our host even stocked it with some local yogurt and other food.  

Super comfy king bed, and a balcony that we never used, since it was so cold.  They do this type of bedding throughout Scandinavia, and we kind of fell in love with having our own personal comforters - no one steals it from you in the middle of the night.

The view from our balcony.  Grass on a roof - Iceland is such a green country.  

After meeting with our host, and exploring the apartment a bit, we made ourselves a grocery list for the next few days, and headed out to get some grub.  Firs thing I noticed about the particular grocery store we went to was there was no individual coolers for meat and cheeses - they were all just in a giant walk in cooler - it was pretty interesting.  We loaded up on snacks stuff for dinner and lunch, then made our way home for happy hour.

Sloane makes the best cheese plates!

We gorged ourselves on cheese and crackers, unpacked all our belongings, got laundry started and basically got settled into our home for the next 3 nights.  We started to plan our next adventure, which would be driving Iceland's "Golden Circle", ate some dinner and took some time to relax, we were pretty exhausted from jet lag.  I was feeling a little more energetic than Sloane at this point and decided to go walk around with my camera for a bit to see if I could find anything interesting in our neighbor hood.  

A view of the water from outside of our apartment.

A statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler in Reykjavik at Arnarhóll Hill.

It was pretty cold and windy - so I didn't stay out very long.  When I got back I found Sloane getting ready for bed and was about to do the same, but decided to sit down and do some more planning for the following day.  I got pretty involved, and an hour later found myself searching the internet for the Aurora Borealis forecast.  From what I could tell - this was the only night during our time in Reykjavik that they could be visible, even though it was currently cloudy.  I checked the cloud cover and found a spot about 45 minutes away that had somewhat clear skies.  I was incredibly tired, but seeing the Aurora was on the list of top things for me to do here, so I packed my camera bag, some food and water and informed the now sleeping Sloane I was heading out.  I did invite her, but since she was in a deep sleep already, she wasn't interested.  

As I left the city, the rain began which made it hard to see where I was going, the Jimny's windshield wipers weren't the best.  I was a little discouraged, since clear skies are necessary to view the Aurora - but I drove on, with hopes that the forecast I had viewed online was accurate.   When I got to my destination - Lake Kleifarvatn - which I had been told was a good place to view the Aurora - the clouds were clearing, and I could see stars, as well as a full moon.  I parked the car and began to watch the skies above for any sign - not really sure what I should look for.  To help pass the time, I decided to photograph the car, painting it with my headlamp - it turned out pretty cool, as you can see below.

Waiting for the Aurora to show up a lake Kleifarvatn.

The temperature was just around freezing, and I of course was getting cold, so I got back in the car after about half an hour of sky watching and drove a little further down the lake.  I pulled off at the next car park, and decided to hike down toward the water.  I set up my camera and began taking long exposures of the clouds, which were passing very quickly and creating great motion in the still photographs, lots of cool shots, but no Aurora.  I was freezing, it was actually snowing at this point and I was getting frustrated, not to mention exhausted, so I decided to pack it up and head back to Reykjavik.  I picked up my tripod as the shutter closed on my last exposure, I was folding up the legs as the camera processed the 30 second exposure - just as I finished the image appeared on my LCD, and there it was - a faint green line across the sky - not yet visible to my naked eyes.

My first shot of the Aurora, this was before you could actually see it with your eyes.

 I hurried up and re - framed my photograph as I excitedly looked up at the sky - snapping away every 30 seconds.  It took a few more minutes, but all of a sudden, there is was - the Aurora Borealis, dancing across the sky - I was super stoked to finally be seeing this, and I definitely yelled in excitement. It was pretty awe inspiring and I didn't know what to do, watch it or try to photograph it.  They showed up quickly, and vanished just as fast.  I probably only saw this amazing phenomenon for a total of four minutes, but I will remember it forever, and I have some pretty great shots to help out with that.

Getting stronger.   You can see the light pollution from Reykjavik in the background.

This was the peak of the show, so incredible.

The last photograph I captured before they pretty much disappeared. 

The clouds closed in, and I could not longer see the show -  so I hopped in the car as fast as I could, and began driving back toward Reykjavik.  I stopped a few more times alongside the road, to try and capture them again, but it seems the show had ended at the lake, and just a few little glimpses here and there were all that were left.  If you find yourself in Iceland and want the forecast for the aurora - try this link - its what I used to find the best spot.  

I drove toward home, excited about what I had just witnessed, but sad at the same time that Sloane hadn't been there to see it - I knew she was going to be disappointed when I told her it had come out.  We looked every night afterwards at the forecast - to see if we could head out again, but it was always too cloudy to see anything - so I am really glad I braved the lack of sleep and snow to go when I did.  Of course a few days after we left Iceland - the city of Reykjavik shut off all the street lights one particular evening, and you could see the Aurora from anywhere.

The following morning we had a nice breakfast at home, packed ourselves some lunch and headed out to drive the golden circle - along with the rest of Iceland's tour groups.  The sun was out, but it was still cold.  The first thing we noticed while heading north east from the city were the horses - they are everywhere, and pretty handsome as well.  At first we thought they were statues, because they stand perfectly still for long periods of time, but turns out they were all real.  We stopped to photograph a few of them and say hello - they were very happy to do the same.  

An icelandic horse with a beautiful head of hair.

Our first stop was Oxarofoss - a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park - where Iceland's parliament was founded in 930 AD, and also the place where witches, wizards and convicts were executed.  Once you can see past the grim history, it's easy to see why this is one of the most visited places in Iceland.  One thing you will learn quickly in Iceland - any word ending in "foss" is most likely a waterfall, and probably worth stopping to see - there are a lot of big ones here.  We hiked down from above, which was a good move, since all the tour busses stopped below the falls.  It was a nice short hike through what seemed like a crack in the earth.

Sloane at Oxarofoss waterfall in Þingvellir National Park.

We spent a few minutes looking at the waterfall with the rest of the folks, then headed back up the trail towards the car and our next stop the Kerid volcanic crater.  Unfortunately the sun had been covered by clouds at this point, and the wind had picked up, so we didn't stick around very long.  The colors here were pretty amazing, and would've made for a great shot if the sun had been out to give them some more depth.

Kerid crater.  

Our next stop was Bruarfoss, another waterfall, and one of the less trafficked attractions we had the pleasure of visiting, since it is difficult to find, and you have to hike about half a mile (through some serious mud) from your car.  It was worth the trip for sure.  We had our lunch in the car as we drove, to save some time and money.  When we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead for Bruarfoss the wind had begun to pick up and the temps seemed to have dropped even more, but it didn't discourage us.  We began the muddy hike over creeks and through thick brush, I almost ate shit a few times, but was able to save my pride by awkwardly skating in the mud.  We finally reached the waterfall after about 20 minutes of walking - and below is what we found.

Bruarfoss from afar.

The moody skies of Iceland made this gem stand out even more.

I could've stayed here all day, waiting for the sun to poke out, or a wild rain storm in the distance to create a more dramatic sky - but we had more to see.  So we slogged our way back through the mud to our car and headed up the road towards Geysir - a very active geothermal area in Iceland, and Sloane's first time seeing an active geyser.  

Some more blue water from below the earths crust at Geysir Geothermal area.  

The wind had really picked up when we reached Geysir - and it was cold.  We put on our heavy coats, gloves and hats and stepped out to see some water explode from the below the surface of the earth.  It didn't take long, maybe five to ten minutes until we heard the first eruption.  We managed to catch a glimpse of it and decided to head down to stand right beside it for the next eruption.  This one took a little longer, but we stuck it out and were pretty stoked to be standing right in front of the geyser when it spewed forth from the ground.  We stuck around for another eruption, then headed back to the car pretty quickly - we were freezing at this point.  I pulled over at the visitor center and Sloane got us some hot beverages, then we were off to the next spot.

Geysir erupting.

Our next stop on the tour was Gullfoss - one of the main attractions of the Golden Circle tour.  There were people everywhere, and keep in mind - we were here during the off season, I can only imagine what it is like during the warm months.  We parked and began the walk towards the first overlook, dodging old folks with walkers and little kids throwing mud at each other.  It was cold, windy and wet from the mist, which was being blown towards us.  We made it to the first overlook, saw the waterfall and quickly decided we had seen enough.  Had it been warm and sunny, I would have petitioned to stay longer and try to make some photographs, but it was down right miserable.  We walked quickly back to our warm car and began our journey home to food and alcohol.   

Sloane at Gullfoss, her expression says it all.

On our way home we made one last stop along side the road to check out this lava field covered in iconic green moss.  

A field of moss over an ancient lava flow.

That evening we again made ourselves some kind of dinner in the apartment that I can't remember.  Then we went out on the town for a few (expensive) drinks at a local bar.  I'm pretty sure a beer was twelve dollars, but we had a good time anyway.  The next day was another day trip out east.  We again packed ourselves a lunch and were on the road around 9AM.  Our first destination was a hike to some natural hot springs, where we planned to hang out for a while.  The spot we were going is known as Reykjadalur hot springs - it is about a 45 minute drive from our apartment and we pulled in around 10.  The weather was very discouraging - it was in the 40's and there was a light mist - with some seriously dark clouds looming.  

Sloane on the road to Reykjadalur.

We put on our rain gear in the parking lot and started up the trail - there is a considerable amount of elevation gain at first, and it is a bit of a work out.  The trail is just under 2 miles one way, and some of the views are fantastic once you  are up on the ridge line.  There is an amazing waterfall in the valley below, about halfway to the hot springs.  It was visible both times we came across it but each time I finally had my camera and tripod set up, fog had quickly rolled in to hide it from view. The rain was pretty constant during our hike, so very few pictures were taken. As we got closer to the hot springs, we began to smell sulfur in the air, and it wasn't long before we were literally walking through clouds of warm steam.

Getting close to the hot springs 

There are mud pots and steam vents all through the valley, but the closer you get to the hot spring area, the more concentrated they become.  The rain slowed to a drizzle as we made our way to the hot springs. There are boardwalks built along the stream to reduce errosion as well as a few areas for changing - which were basically walls you could turn and face while putting your bathing suit on.  There were 3 or 4 other groups of people already at the bathing area, so we tested out the water as we made our way upstream - it gets much warmer the further up you go.

The bathing area of Reykjadalur

 We found a spot where the water seemed like a good temp and I began the painful process of taking off wet rain gear, boots, pants and shirts in a light drizzle at about 40 degrees.  I simply wore my bathing suit under all this to make it as simple as possible.  I wrapped all my gear up and stuffed it under the board walk in an attempt to keep it dry, then proceeded to wade out to the deepest spot I could find (which was about 1.5 feet) and lay down completely to cover myself with the water and warm up. It felt great, but I soon realized why no one else had chosen this spot, there was a cold water spring pouring in on the side, which obviously made the water here not so hot in most spots.  We grabbed our gear and headed a little further upstream to a small pool with only a couple other people, and quickly got back in the water - it was much warmer here - so we sat and relaxed for about 10 minutes before deciding it was time to dry off and get dressed.

These folks had the warmest spot - just off the beaten path.

The rain held off until we had completed this difficult task, and just as we were heading back past all the mud and steam pots, it began to pour.  The wind picked up, and soon it was actually sleeting.  There were a number of people we passed who were hiking to the springs in jeans and hooded sweatshirts, they were in for a wet, cold miserable hike for sure.  We made it back to the car, again took off our sloppy wet rain gear, and drove up the road to have a quick lunch in the car, then to the closest town to find a coffee shop to warm up in and have dessert.  

Just outside the hot spring area.

Our next destination was the famous waterfall Seljalandsfoss, which was an hour drive to the east.  We drove along the coast, on the ring road, with sun and clouds interchanging every 5-10 minutes, it made for some pretty dramatic skies, and lots of rainbows.  

Uridafoss, a lesser visited waterfall on the ring road, and of course a rainbow.

Uridafoss, a lesser visited waterfall on the ring road, and of course a rainbow.

Serious rainbow on the way to Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss is another one of those road side attractions with bus loads of people, not my favorite - but it was pretty impressive.  You can walk behind this waterfall, and if you happen to be there when the sun is out you can catch a pretty good rainbow in the mist from the falls.  We were lucky enough to see if briefly when we first arrived, then the sun disappeared as we made our way under the falls with the 300 other people there.

Seljalandsfoss.  Creative cropping here, to camera right is hoards of people taking the same picture.

Seljalandsfoss rainbow.

We hiked beneath the waterfall, which was pretty cool, took a few pictures and were back to the car pretty quickly.  At this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had plans to eat dinner out in Reykjavik - so we decided to quickly check out one of the black sand beaches which was close by.   

The view from behind Seljalandsfoss

Mega rainbow, looking inland toward Seljalandsfoss.

Sloane taking a few photos on the beach

Sitting on the rocks at Landeyjahöfn harbor, in the distance is Vestmannaeyjar, a group of inhabited volcanic islands.

We were cold and hungry, and had an almost 2 hour drive home, so we didn't stick around long.  I of course stopped along the road for some photo - ops on the way home, the light was crazy beautiful, but it was only out for a few minutes at a time.

Epic skies and Icelandic horses.

The Icelandic horses near Seljalandsfoss

That night we had a great french dinner at Snaps Bistro in our neighborhood - we had a bit of a wait - but had some delicious booze to help kill the time.  Sloane requested I leave the camera at home, so I complied - no dinner pictures to share here.

The following day was our last in Iceland.  I was up early to grab some pics of the famous church in town Hallgrimskirkja, and a very cool statue down by the water, the Sun Voyager. 

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja and Leifur Eiríksson - the viking who is believed to have discovered America.

Sunvoyager statue on the water, right near our apartment.

After my morning safari I came home to find Sloane up and ready to go - we started off strong by having breakfast in the harbor area at a place called KAFFIVAGNINN - it was simple and delicious.  The sun was out, so we decided to eat outside, the staff thought we were crazy, but kindly wiped down a table and brought us out our food anyway.  

Killer breakfast at Kaffivagninn.

After breakfast we took some time to walk around the harbor area, the light was amazing once again.  

Sunfllares and boats

After a little tour around the harbor area, we drove back to the city center, parked and started walking around being tourists.  Poking into various shops, getting lost, eating amazing pastries - the sun was out and it was glorious.

Harpa, Reykjavic's stunning concert hall and conference center.

Harpa, Reykjavic's stunning concert hall and conference center.

Harpa from the inside.

After our morning exploring, we made our way back to our apartment to have a quick lunch and get ready for our spa day at the Blue Lagoon.  You will read a lot about this place on the internet - it is by far the most visited attraction in Iceland - and for good reason.  Lots of people will tell you to stay away, it's too crowded, too expensive, yada yada.  But if you have made the trip to Iceland already - I will tell you what people told me - treat yourself! go to the Blue Lagoon - its freaking awesome.  

Right outside of the Blue Lagoon

We made it, Sloane was so excited. 

After all the hard miles I had put Sloane through, hiking to stare down at villages and waterfalls, she was so happy to have a relaxing day in a giant hot tub, and so was I.  The sun had disappeared by the time we got into the water, but the experience was still amazing.  We grabbed a couple of drinks at one of the swim up bars, and started exploring all the nooks and crannies of this place.  It rained on and off for the next hour but we didn't care - we were in heaven.  We slathered the healing mud on our face, put silica in our hair, sat in the sauna and showered mud off in waterfalls. Of course no vacation is complete if I don't injure myself. After being submerged in the water for over an hour, I accidentally kicked a lava rock on the side of the lagoon - this of course put a very large gash in my soft skin and I was bleeding pretty good. Instead of freaking everyone out by walking around with blood gushing from my foot, I decided to alert someone - who then took me to the nurses station.  I was patched up quickly and we were both very relieved to hear that the water is supposedly good for wounds, and wouldn't cause any more harm than I had already done to myself.

Moody skies at the lagoon.

Moody skies at the lagoon.

Sloane in all her glory

The moment that Sloane had been waiting for had finally arrived, it was time for our in water massages.  This isn't cheap, but it's and incredible experience.  They put you on your back on a foam pool float which keeps you just under the surface of the water, cover you with warm towels and massage your legs, arms, neck and back.  After our massages we had another drink and relaxed for a few more minutes before heading to the locker rooms to shower up and get dressed.  Although my foot never hurt while we were in the pool, it was incredibly sore when I put my shoes on, good thing there was no more hiking to do.  I got dressed and hobbled out to meet Sloane at the entrance, where we walked around the resort a for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

Some of that famous milky blue water outside of the Blue Lagoon.

Blue lagoon water and epic iceland backdrop.

We loaded back into the car, and started our journey back to Reykjavik for the night, to pack up our belongings and get ready for a long flight the next day.  The Blue Lagoon was a great way to end such an incredible trip, and it has been great going back and recalling all the details for this blog.  Hopefully after the next trip I can get these out in a more timely manner.

Our last sunset in Iceland was incredible.

So long Iceland, it's been real.