Thursday, August 3, 2017

Around Iceland in Three days - Summer in Iceland

A bunch of my college friends decided to go to Iceland for a 3 day reunion. We could not have picked a better location nor a better time. Visiting Iceland in the summer month of June, a magical time when it never gets dark, with a bunch of college friends.. need I say more?

We chose to stay outside of Reykjavik, and found accommodations in the town of Hella using a site called Hella is a great location to consider for accommodations. It is convenient for almost all attractions along the Southern Iceland. But make sure your lodgings are right off Route 1 as opposed to something where the house can be a few miles inland from Route 1. Our house was a beautiful 2 bedroom house with vast open space as the backyard however several kilometers inland from Route 1 but within the Hella Township.

We chose to rent a car instead of using tours or taxis for getting out and about. The rental car gave us all the flexibility and convenience we needed. Driving in Iceland is very easy and convenient. We were not planning on any off-roading a 4 door sedan was more than sufficient for our needs.  We did pay for the extra insurance for gravel damage and additional drivers.

In this itinerary, there are a few attractions that are off the beaten path and a few attractions that are the typical tourist destinations. Even during the peak month of June, we never felt crowded at any attraction.

Day 1 – Arrive Iceland

We landed very early in the morning which gave us a whole day to explore. After picking up the car from the airport we drove around in Reykjanes peninsula towards Lake Kleifarvatn, Krýsuvík, Grindavik & Reykjanesbaer.

The Viking museum at Reykjanesbaer is a great place for a buffet breakfast. If you buy the breakfast, the ticket includes entry fee for the museum as well. Our next stop was the fishing town of Grindavik and the surrounding area. We drove and walked around the gorgeous shoreline. This coast is rugged and you can see the many ships that must have run aground. Along the way we found the cutest orange lighthouse (Hopsnes Lighthouse). This is definitely off the beaten path and not sure I could find my way to the area again. But it is a gorgeous alien landscape with shipwrecks, horses, yellow flowered meadows and mountain sheep.

Drive to Krýsuvík feels like you’re driving on the moon, through lava fields. After a short drive, you arrive at Lake Kleifarvatn, the largest lake on Reykjanes.

Southwest of Kleifarvatn is the geothermal field of Seltún where you can see the billowing steam holes and bubbling mud pots at close range. You can see the whole gamut of colors in the middle of primarily grey landscape. Climb to the top of the hill to an amazing vista of the lakes.

From here we drove to Thingvillir National park. Grabbed lunch at the park cafeteria. Walked a bit to see the tectonic divide (“The Wall” from Game Of Thrones) and then drove on to Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths. We spend rest of our time at the baths, perhaps 3-4 hours. From sauna to steam bath to swimming pool to jumping into the cold lake. We stayed at the geothermal baths until closing time and even grabbed dinner at the baths itself. Drive to Hella took a couple of hours but since there was sufficient daylight outside, we never felt tired. We had sufficient energy left to spend the next couple of hours after we got home playing a few drinking games and an evening full of laughter. Don’t remember if we ever really went to sleep this night. Before we knew it, we were all watching the sunrise together and doing the sun salutations.

Day 2

After an easy breakfast of geothermal cooked pumpkin bread and eggs and tea and juice, we got ready for our day two. We had planned a hike to Hveragerdi River. We wore our swim wear and layered warm clothing on top. Loaded with water and wine, snacks and camera, we hiked from the Hveragerdi River Hike parking lot to the hot spring river. We took our time walking pausing to take many photographs, sing songs, chat with fellow hikers and even greet the many dogs on the trail. The day was gorgeous, the green mountains beautiful, the company of friends – priceless! We were in no rush and the time seemed to have paused for us.

We spent a couple of hours lounging in the hot river waters and catching up on the times gone by. Drinking wine and eating mathri and thepla never felt so good together. One tip, do not take glass bottles (of any beverage) as the river shore and bed is slippery and chances of the bottle breaking pretty high. There are no changing rooms nor bathrooms. Clothes need to be changed out in the open (or hidden behind a towel). I would classify this as a must do hike for all travelers to Iceland.

After the river hike, we stopped at Kjot & Kunst restaurant in the town of Hveragerdi for lunch. The restaurant uses geothermal heat for cooking. After lunch we drove to Selfoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Both are touristy spots but well worth the visit.

We had planned to stop at Dyrholaey, but we skipped this stop and chose to spend our time at Black sand beach. While 30 mins or so is sufficient for visiting the black sand beach, but if your travelling companions are friends you have not seen in many years, every stop takes hours and nothing takes few minutes.

We were lucky by the time we got to the black sands beach at Vik. It was late but not dark and the tide was low. So we had the whole expanse of the beach. The low tide also exposed various caves/inlets in the shoreline. Standing on the beach at midnight that felt like dusk was simply magical. The black pebbles smooth and shiny and glinting the remaining sunlight and your crazy friends being ..well crazy.. was simply memorable. Day 2 ended up yet another late late night. By the time we got home, ate dinner, spent time drinking and singing and laughing, it was sunrise again. After a non stop 48 hours, I think we did catch a 2-3 hours nap before starting our day 3.

Day 3

We heading out to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon & Diamond beach. This was about a 3:30 hour hour drive from Hella through a very dramatic landscape. There are many places to stop along the way such as Skaftafell (Skaftafellsjökull glacier), and Kirkjubæjarklaustur (Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon). Despite our plans to stop at these places, we pretty much drove straight through to Jökulsárlón and Diamond beach. We did stop briefly to get petrol, some fruit and some food. We also stopped at a small but beautiful waterfall that we saw by the roadside. After spending a few hours at Jökulsárlón, we stopped at Fosshotel for a nice dinner and a birthday celebration. This route has very few hotels. Fosshotel looked to be a good hotel very conveniently located to visit attractions along this route. On the way back we passed through a valley of the most beautiful blue purple flowers with wild horses running through them. We stopped by to admire the horses only to find out that they were being led to slaughterhouse. Well.. horse meat along with lamb is a staple food in Iceland.

Day 4 – Late afternoon Departure

The last day was somewhat sad and sentimental. Our reunion was coming to an end, the emotions were high. There was loads of laughter and tears as we got ready to leave. The lifetime lasting memory of this day will be dressing together in colorful sarees to the song of Gerua playing in the background for a photo shoot. No one was in a rush to go anywhere. We did stop for a leisurely lunch at the famous Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport. Au revoir!