Tag Archives: Iceland

Iceland Must Do: Hike a Glacier

If there’s one thing you do in Iceland, hike a glacier. It’s worth it.

We almost didn’t do it because it’s a costly venture for two and half hours of walking on ice, but M convinced me with some sound logic: How often do we have the opportunity to hike a glacier? Answer: Not often.

I used our Chase points to allay the costs – about $240 for the two of us with Arcanum Glacier Tours. Iceland is filled with amazing glaciers, but most of them are more than a day trip’s drive. Sólheimajökull glacier is a two hour drive from Reykjavik, giving us some time to stop along the way back for additional sightseeing.

Our group was just four people and our guide – us and another couple. It’s about a 20 minute walk from Arcanum headquarters to the base of the glacier. We stopped to put our ice clamps on our sneakers, and then we began to climb.

@IMG_6747@IMG_6783@IMG_6959***IMG_6765***IMG_6871***IMG_6965**IMG_6687**IMG_6694**IMG_6751I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never even seen a glacier before. But I quickly discovered two things. One — glacier hiking is a workout! Not only was I climbing an ice mountain, I was doing it with clamps strapped to my shoes. Two — it is so damn beautiful, I quickly forgot about the effort. Once we got up onto the glacier, it’s just ice for as long as the eye can see. Ice and sky and waterfalls. Every couple of minutes, I’d look around and wonder: How in the world am I here? 

**IMG_6804**IMG_6849**IMG_6880**IMG_7034If you’re really adventurous (and trained) you can spelunk your way into an ice cave. We stood on the sidelines and gawked appropriately.

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Hiking a glacier is a singular experience, and one of the coolest things I’ve done. Put it on your to-do list asap.

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Make A Golden Circle

There are two ways to see Iceland: Rent a car or take a tour. Both are expensive, but renting a car was actually cheaper for the two of us and allowed us the flexibility to do what we wanted (like take a nap on the side of the road while M painted).

We rented from SAD Cars which, in addition to having the greatest name ever, rents used cars at low (or lower) prices. We rented a basic automatic car for two days for $200. Filling up the tank ran us about $80 — expensive, but that’s Iceland for you. Overall, we found the process very easy. Our car was actually quite nice (heated seats, thank you very much), and driving was a pleasure, minus the hour of torrential rain with extremely limited visibility.

One of the most popular scenic routes in Iceland is the Golden Circle which is a loop outside Reykjavik that hits some amazing sites. Our loop ended up being more of a straight line because we got a late start and were a bit tired by the time we reached Gulfoss. The alternative circular rout takes you south on route 35 to Selfoss and back to Reykjavik on route 1. We had plans to hit route 1 the next day, so we drove back the way we came.

Golden Circle Tour

We hit Iceland’s big three: Pingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss Falls.

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At Pingvellir, you can go snorkling between the Silfra fissure – a crack between the North American and Euroasian continents for a hefty sum of money.

By far, my favorite was Geysir. I’ve seen geysirs before in Yellowstone National Park, but it was just as fun as the first time. Just be prepared to share the fun with a throng of other tourists.

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There are also smaller bubbling pools that are adorable in their own right. Meet Little Geysir.

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From Geysir, we headed to Gulfoss, a massive waterfall about 20 minutes past Geysir.

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On the way back, we stopped for a photoshoot with Icelandic horses. How cute are these guys?

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Take a Hike… In Iceland

Iceland is heaven for hiking enthusiasts. The natural landscape is so different, so breathtaking, it’s pretty much an outdoor playground.

While there are many full- and multi-day hikes for serious trekers, there are also plenty of hikes for the exercise challenged/couch surfers (who could she possibly be talking about??). One such hike is just a short drive outside Reykjavik.

I discovered Reykjadalur Hot Springs on one of my many stumbles around the Internet, and our new Icelandic friend decided to take us there by a happy coincidence.

Reykjadalur, which translates to “steam valley,” is an aptly named 3 km hiking trail outside of Heverageroi. As we began, we were accosted with lush fields, fresh springs, and steam swirling up around us.

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Then, the trail gets steep. Luckily, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to distract me from my huffing and puffing.

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As we neared the end, the steam grew intense, fogging up my camera lens.

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The water is literally boiling, and there are signs warning not to touch it.

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Watch how thick the steam is in this video!

Finally, the trail turns into a boardwalk, and you can even take a dip in the geothermal springs if you are so inclined. While I had absolutely no desire to strip in 45 degrees, plenty of locals and tourists spent the afternoon in the warm, soothing waters – accompanied by bottles of beer, of course!

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Searching for Puffins in Iceland

I was convinced we would  get so close to the puffins I could reach out and pet one. Not that I wanted to pet a puffin, but I did want to photograph their adorable little faces up close and personal. That’s what I thought when I booked a puffin tour for the two of us from Reykjavik.

Wrong.

I suppose it’s not the tour company’s fault. They took us out on an express boat to an island 20 minutes off of Reykjavik’s old harbor. The boat’s ability to get close to the island depends on the weather and the tide – neither of which were in our favor that day.

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I got super excited until I realized this is NOT a puffin. This is your run of the mill seagull.

The tour company offers a 100% success rate. But I guess it depends on your definition of success. We certainly saw puffins – or specks of birds that resemble puffins. I brought my telephoto lens specifically for this task, so you can actually make out the orange-beaked birds in my pictures… barely. But this was a far cry from the tête-à-tête I was expecting.

***IMG_5306***IMG_5329***IMG_5456**IMG_5259Are these guys not the cutest?

Our puffin disappointment aside, it was nice to be out on the water, watch the city grow ever smaller, and stare up at the mountains that seem to go on forever.

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But if you want to see puffins, skip the $50 express tour in Reykjavik. Drive south or west to one of the puffin colonies that offer a much better chance at a face-to-face meeting. Iceland Magazine has a handy map. Hopefully your puffin search will be more successful than ours!

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Thoughts on Reykjavik

Reykjavik (and the rest of Iceland) truly feels like a world apart. For starters, when you land in Keflavik airport, it feels like landing on an alien planet. The cool weather, the out-of-control wind, the nearly incessant daylight, and the other worldly scenery add up to an alien sensation – but in a good way.

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The crazy wind wreaks havoc on M’s hair

Reykjavik is a small city, and we easily explored most of it in two days. Sitting on the edge of the water with massive mountains looming overhead, the scenery is beautiful.

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Reykjavik’s old harbor

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View of Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains

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This guy has something to say!

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Birds in flight over Reykjavik’s Lake Tjornin

We started with a walk through central Reykjavik, taking in the colorful houses, the street art, and the quirky signs. We saw Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s hard-to-miss church with a bird’s eye view of the city, attended a concert in Harpa, and took a short puffin tour. We even stopped at the eccentric Laundromat Café to do our laundry – the only laundry game in town.

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The walls of Harpa, Reykjavik’s super modern concert hall

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Inside Harpa, post-concert

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Color!

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Hallgrimskirkja

Iceland strikes me as a country that prides itself on individuality and humor. Unlike mainland Europe, it’s architecture is modern; its vibe is fresh – even hip; and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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The sign says: Single gloves – speed dating

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Haha…love this.

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Color in Reykjavik

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Street art

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More street art

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Sign at the Chuck Norris Grill

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A view of Reykjavik from atop Hallgrímskirkja

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Look at those colors!

 

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Even the bus stop has to crack a joke

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The two of us atop Perlan, which houses the country’s hot water tanks

I could get used to this… even with the 25 mph wind gusts… except for those damn prices.

Sure, it is now possible to get to Iceland on the cheap thanks to discount airlines and possible to find affordable lodging thanks to hotel points, but there is no getting around the fact that EVERY SINGLE PURCHASE feels like you are one dime away from declaring bankruptcy. Part of the fun of vacation is splurging a little, buying a coffee or diet coke on the go, but every time I forked over my credit card I cringed. Four dollars for a diet coke??? Six dollars for a coffee? Fifty dollars for a one-hour boat tour??? Eesh. And forget about the alcohol which is singled out with an exorbitant tax.

Iceland in the spring and summer is really amazing, and I’d love to come back to see the northern lights. But I might wait for the Krona to sink a bit before I hop on a plane.

 

 

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