Iceland in winter, well it was cold, but a trip back in spring, summer or fall is in in order ;-)
We arrived in Iceland very late on a Friday night. We were last in line at the car rental place. Why does everyone in front of you take 5 times longer than it takes you? We did not get into Reykjavik until close to . Stood in a line for the hotel room (2am remember).
Pingvellir National Park, the Valley being created by the plates separating.
Once we got the keys we went up to the room. It was strange to see people waiting in the hallways, well apparently their keys did not work. Once I figured out the trick I opened the door and as my eyes followed the dirty floor of tossed clothes up to the bed a couple poked there heads out from under the covers, oops, room was occupied. I quickly shut the door after apologies for disrupting them. We headed back down to reception and a tour bus had arrived and the check in line was out the door (remember this is ). I went to the front and quickly stated that we had walked into an occupied hotel room and they would likely have some very unhappy guests. They gave us another room. Again to a new part of the hotel we went and people waiting with keys not working. Ours did not work either. Caryn went back down, and when she came back she was laughing so hard. Apparently 2 guys had decided to move into the elevator with table and chairs and have their evening tea in the elevator. Off to bed we went, long night of travel ;-)
No rush to start the day since day light would not happen until or .
But we did need breakfast so had to get up by to enjoy that. We headed out around to do the Golden Circle. This was a scenic drive pass several historical and unique sites.
The moon was full and the sunrise was coming up, ice was on the road so it made for slow going. First stop was PingvellirNational Park. This is where the worlds first democratic parliament was established by Vikings in AD930.
This is also where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates come together (or apart in this case). The valley there is growing at a rate of 2 cm a year apart. it was pretty windy and cold, so no hiking in the park, just some quick photos and back to the heated car, we had a lot of sites to see and only hrs of sunlight to see them ;-)
Next stop was Geysir. This is Iceland's most famous attraction, it is the hot water spout after which all other geysers are named. It use to shoot 80 m in the sky, but in the 1950's it became clogged by dumb tourists throwing rocks at it, it only go offs 2-3 times a day now ;-(. But they have faithful Stokkur next to it and it goes off every 8-10 minutes, it shoots up 15-30 meters. that is what our pics are of.
Gullfoss was next on our tour.
It is Iceland’s most famous waterfall. A beautiful rainbow was happening at the time and we took lots of shots of it. It was a huge waterfall with several layers, double cascade. It drops 32 meters and has a huge kicking up a sheer wall of spray. We continued on through the town of Laugarvatn which had a huge hot springs lake, and other than stopping at the local gallery we continued on. The towns we passed were so small, with only 300,000 people living on the entire Island, the people that live outside of Reykjavik live a very isolated life so it seems.
On the way back to Reykjavik we stopped at Kerio which is a volcanic crater created 3000 years ago and it had filled with a spooky green slim looking lake in the crater. The singer Bjork once got on a raft and held her concert singing from the raft floating in the green stuff.
As we were driving we noticed that all the shops and such were closing at and not open on Sunday, so we quickly got back to Reykjavik to see some of the downtown area open. The town is very cute, modern, does not have the typical European fill. As a fishing town goes it is very modern, clean and has more of a US feeling to it.
We wandered around and ate a early dinner. Sticker shock was our next big surprise. No idea how folks afford to buy things there. The food, drinks and retail items were so expensive. I think I spent around 8 USD on 4 postcards and stamps. It is always nice to buy something local art wise and take it back home, but the prices could not justify the purchase. A beer was between 10-12 USD and a meal was closer to 30 USD per plate.
After dinner we went back for a nap and decided to try downtown at like , we had heard it had a very active nightlife, which I am sure it does, but I think 11-12pm was still to early, the Irish pub we had chosen had people there but not heaps. We drove around to see the other spots and while considering how cold it was outside there were plenty of people out in the streets going to bars or clubs, but at that hour we decided bed was in order, poor Caryn was still suffering from US jet lag.
The best part about all the site seeing on Saturday was, is all the sites were FREE!!!!!
The weather on Sunday was horrible, snow, wind, rain, and of course still below zero.
While it would have been better to do the Golden Circle drive Sunday, the weather would have made the roads so bad we probably would have had a horrible drive and getting out for the sites would have been worse than just cold. But things did not start opening up until , so another late start. We viewed the local Kolaportio Flea Market, went to the SagaMuseum and then to a Mall to see if any shopping could be done at all. No luck on the shopping, just too expensive.
We headed out in the wind (and I mean wind) and rain to the Blue Lagoon. Now really not the weather for the Blue Lagoon, but a must do in Iceland.
Had to have the experience right? The Lagoon is in the middle black lava fields and pumps in 38 degree hot water from a plant near by. The lagoon was man made, not natural, but the water and the pretty blue was all natural. Weather or not I was going in, the guy said there were about 100 folks inside and there was a sheltered area. So in we went! The water inside was no where near 38 and I would argue that it was luke warm ;-( But I had to experience the outside lagoon. So you had to push really hard to get the door in the pool open to go outside, with the wind blowing and when you get the door open the wind and spray just bombard you..... I get out and immediately you can tell there are "warm" spots where the vents that pump the water in are. but they seem to move so in search of warm spots. the area outside the enclosed area is kind of enclosed itself, with a cave and bridge to go under, but on the other side of the bridge is the big lagoon and there were swells and small waves from the lovely weather. Now it was dark when we where there and there were people trying to swim laps in the open lagoon, but the weather was fierce out there, but an experience none the less ;-). My take home is pictures, memories and of course I bought 2 small things by an Iceland brand called 66 degrees North - a beanie and some warm socks, the cool winter snow coats while really cool, just out of the budget ;-( when we have north face outlets back at home.
After the Lagoon and drive back to the hotel to shower, we decided to go to a somewhat nice dinner. the dinner was good but expensive, the appetizers alone were over 30 bucks a plate which we got none of, our entrees must have been close to 50 bucks each plus a glass of wine each we were set back well over 100 bucks. When the desert menu came and Caryn stared at the chocolate cake, I looked at the 20 buck price tag for a slice of cake and said, hey the cafe next door had chocolate cake for only 12 bucks, maybe we should go there for desert ;-)
It was a good trip, clearly not the optimal seasonal time to go, and we could for sure use a stronger dollar or a crash of the Iceland currency to make it more affordable, but the island has incredible terrain that is very worth exploring. I would love to go back in another season and drive the entire island, see the glaciers, explore and hike a little more, see some of the waterfalls that are hidden away and do some of their adventure tours.
The sun barely goes down in the summer so I can see why it is so popular to go there in the summer, lots of play time!!!!
Sorry that I missed you - maybe next time. And you could have been a bit luckier with weather. Hope that you will revisit Iceland in summer time sometimes.
One correction - Geysir doesn't shoot up water any more. There has been occasions, most recently around the year 2000 when we had earth quake - but other than that - nothing.