M1 spring break is one for the books! Michelle and I met up in Iceland for a week and explored the Southern and Western parts of the country. I was unable to fulfill my compulsive planning habits on account of school and therefore didn’t plan much of an itinerary before the trip. We booked hostels and a car in advance, but did everything else on the fly. It was pretty fun and way less stress-inducing than I originally thought it would be. On my next trip to Iceland, I’m definitely going to book a 4 wheel drive car though. Side note: Iceland is expensive!! Hostel beds, groceries, eating out, gas, etc. required “multilevel” money! And, Icelandic people don’t wear shoes in the house. My kind of people!
Driving out to Vik
I got to KEF early Sunday morning and bummed around until Michelle’s flight arrived in the early afternoon. We stopped by a grocery store before making the drive out to Vik. I was really sleepy and fell asleep in the car, only to be awoken an hour later. Michelle saw a massive waterfall at the side of the road and pulled over to check it out. It was Seljalandsfoss. The sun was shining on the waterfall, which meant RAINBOWS! We walked around the waterfall…it was pretty epic. Fully awake, we continued our drive to the hostel. After checking in (btw, LOVED the VIK HI Hostel! Kitchen was lovely), we drove to the Dyrholaey Arch parking lot. It was an easy 15 minute walk from the car to the outcropping where we could see the arch. It was super windy (and super cold), but absolutely stunning to see the expanse of water stretching out before me. It was the best sunset I had seen in a while. (Atlanta occasionally has some nice sunsets, but I can never see an entirely unobstructed sky.)
On Monday, we did a hike near Vik (Reynisfjall) and saw Dyrholaey arch from a different viewpoint. Next stop: Reynisfijara, a black sand beach that also has strange basalt formations. The basalt formations are hexagonal columnar structures, which is interesting because nature rarely makes sharp angles, especially on the meter size scale. Earlier in the morning, we called Mountain Excursions to schedule a hike on the glacier (very last minute) for the afternoon. Thankfully it wasn’t yet Iceland’s high season, so we snagged spots on the tour. The Myrdalsjokull Glacier hike was probably my favorite thing on the trip. Our guide was knowledgeable and told us about how the glacier changes with time. He showed us how to read different features in the glacial ice, like how different bands of color in the ice indicate winter/summer seasons. He showed us some deep holes in the glacier that he uses to practice ice-climbing. We also got to see a super rad ice cave. I was struck by all the different shades of blue in the glacier. I also loved seeing waterfalls and an “under-ice” river flowing within the glacier. One molecule with so many phases in one place! Other fun facts:
- A thin layer (1 cm) layer of ash (from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano) over the ice can protect the glacier from melting
- Basalt that cools quickly forms soft structures and basalt that cools slowly forms hard structures.
- The ridge line of foliage shows the previous height of the glacier
- Snow is treacherous on a glacier! Potential crevices live underneath snow. Ice is nice and safe (with crampons)
After the glacier hike, we tried to visit Seljavallalaug geothermal pool, but a sudden flurry and a river crossing made us turn back.
On Tuesday we met Ben (med school classmate!) and Ben’s sister Jenna to see the Golden Circle. We started the day by meeting just outside Reykjavik. Michelle and I hopped into their jeep. It was a cloudy morning and we couldn’t see a thing as we drove to Thingvellir
- 1st stop: Thingvellir – we walked around and didn’t see much on account of the fog. By the time we left the park, the fog was beginning to clear out.
- 2nd stop (fave): Bruarfoss waterfall – this stop wasn’t in my tour book, but someone else recommended it, and it was incredible!! We had to hike through very muddy trails (felt like the swamp from LOTR), but it was totally worth it. The waterfall had phenomenally blue waters. There appeared to be a big crevice at the center of the waterfall, which was why all the water flowed into the center. The center of the river/waterfall was bright blue. We brought our sandwiches with us and enjoyed lunch by the water. If it had been a bajillion degrees warmer and we had tubes, I would 10 out of 10 tube down the waterfall 😛
- 3rd stop: Geysir – this site was literally right off the Golden Circle road and felt very touristy. The geyser erupted every 10 minutes and it was super fun to see it erupt.
- 4th stop: Gullfoss falls – another touristy site but nevertheless beautiful. It reminded me of Niagara Falls. At this point, the skies were completely clear and we could see all the surrounding mountains. A big improvement from the fog-laden morning.
- 5th stop: Secret lagoon – not a secret at all. Lots of tour buses stop here. Unfortunately Jenna and Michelle didn’t pack swimming suits (oops) so we continued.
- 6th stop: Kerio Crater Lake – after paying a small entrance fee, we passed the gate and walked around the dead volcano. The relentless wind battered us as we walked around the edge of the crater. The lake was another striking color of blue.
- 7th stop: Reykjadalur – it’s supposedly only a short hike from the parking lot to the natural hot springs, but since Jenna and Michelle didn’t have swimming suits, we had to pass. As we drove away, we saw a full rainbow! The day was fantastic, morphing from fog to clear skies to rainbows.
Wednesday morning, we left Reykjavik and started on our drive to the Snaefellsnes peninsula. On the way we stopped by Glymur to see the tallest waterfall in Iceland. In total, the hike took 3.5 hours. Along the hike, were were supposed to ford a big river to continue on the marked trail. However, we didn’t want to get wet and the flow of the river looked very strongm, so we followed the advice of other hikers and went an unmarked but well traveled alternative path. Unfortunately we somehow lost the path and ended up scrambling on rocks. After off-roading on rocks and rocks and rocks, we made it to the top. The waterfall was WAY bigger than what we originally thought was the waterfall. After the hike, we drove to Reykholt on the advice of a hostel owner, but it was a bust. There wasn’t much there, but we stopped to have soup at a place in town before continuing our drive. We sang oldies at the top of our lungs as we relished the free, open road. The vistas were magnificent. We got to our super cute AirBnB in Oslavik in the early evening and walked down to the harbor. Of course it was windy and freezing. After a rather strenuous morning hiking, we were happy to spend the evening indoors at our cozy AirBnB. We worked on a puzzle as we listened to podcasts. I have always liked cabins, but the coziness feels amplified by a thousand percent after spending a long day outside in the elements (and feeling cold to the bones). There’s nothing quite like a puzzle, podcasts, and a cup of steaming tea after feeling cold all day.
Thursday morning we drove around the Snaefellsnes peninsula. We happened upon Dritvik Djupalonssandur, a stony beach, and played around the rocks. Also enjoyed lunch with a view of the Atlantic. We also visited Kirkjufell (super touristy). It was a short 2 second walk from the parking lot to the gravel path surrounding the Kirkjufell waterfall. We tried to go to the Kirkjufell mountain, but ended up on a “private” road. Michelle tried to turn around, but our car got stuck in the mud! I hopped out of the car and pushed the car as Michelle reversed. Thankfully we got out of the mud and, completely covered in mud, made it back to the Grundrafjordur hostel. After decompressing at the hostel, we bundled up to try to see the northern lights. We left the hostel around 11 pm (there was still some light in the sky!!) and parked in a partly cloudy area just outside town. We saw nothing. Slightly disappointed and cold, we went back to the hostel around midnight. As we were walking from our car to the hostel, we randomly saw a guy sprinting up the quiet street with a giant camera. Intrigued, we watched the sky. There was an oblong shaped white cloud in the sky, but I didn’t think much of it and went inside. Michelle, ever persistent, stayed outside to watch the cloud. Five minutes later, Michelle came sprinting inside screaming the cloud was the northern lights! Sure enough, the white cloud began to move and take on color. Soon enough, it was an ethereal green and blue and it wiggled across the sky. The northern light were spectacular and no iPhone pictures can do it justice. It danced across the sky, making squiggles and changing colors. Staring up at the northern lights, it’s difficult to imagine the world without some sort of higher power even though, on a rational level, I know it’s just Earth’s magnetic activity. It’s too beautiful to be parsed into scientific jargon. I prefer fictional, fantastical stories about the northern lights to atoms and electricity and magnetism.
Friday morning, we were supposed to go on a whale watching tour, but it was canceled due to poor weather conditions. We drove back to Reykjavik and spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We walked along the main commercial street Laugavegur, had lunch at a crepe place, and ate Icelandic food (read: fish) at Bergsson Mathus (which was delicious). Reykjavik is an extremely small capital city. Although half of Iceland’s population lives in Reykjavik, Iceland’s entire population is only 320,000 people. So yeah, there’s that. We topped off our evening (and trip) with a visit to the Blue Lagoon (a tourist attraction, but hey, we’re tourists!) It was a great trip and a much needed break from school. This trip felt so strange because it was a change of pace in terms of life (aka going from 100 mph learning cardio/studying for hours a day to absolutely no work) and a completely foreign landscape. I loved it.
Bonus: on my return flight, I had a 9 hour layover at JFK. I went into the city and had lunch with Veronica (my cousin who’s a freshman at NYU) before meeting up with Angela! Ang showed me her apt and gym, and we just enjoyed catching up as we walked across Manhattan. Low-level touristy things but high level real talk. It was our 7th consecutive Easter (weekend) together–not that we’re counting. 😉 From Durham to Croatia to NZ to NYC. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep up our Easter meet-ups in fun places.
That’s all for now!
P.S. Happy Earth Day!