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Geysir, Golden Circle, Gulfoss, Iceland, Reykjavik, Travel

The (Frozen) Golden Circle & Our Return to Reykjavik

Gulfoss at sunrise

We wake early in Selfoss, forfeit a shower in order to make sunrise, make a quick cup of coffee and get on the road. We head towards Gulfoss, which is a 72 kilometer drive, and in good conditions should take us about an hour. The winds are still high, but after being very cautious for the first part of the drive, we realize the road conditions have improved dramatically. And for this, we are thankful.

We head to Gulfoss and arrive with plenty of extra time. We’re the only ones about, and when the sun slowly begins to creep up into the sky, showing little slivers of pink, we’re still the only ones about. The winds are just as fierce as yesterday, and they’re cutting through us. Add to this the fact that the winds are blowing a steady mist off the waterfalls and onto us and our camera lenses, and it seems like we’re fighting a losing battle. It’s a white, winter wonderland all around the falls, and the surrounding pathways are closed, seeing as they’ve frozen into sheets of ice.



We attempt a few shots, but decide that we may have better light and angles at Geysir, so we hop into the car and drive the 10 minutes down the road. I take this opportunity to dig my long johns out of my backpack and slip them on under my jeans. The temperature is hovering around 0°C, but it’s about -4° with the windchill. Despite the cold temps, Geysir is just beautiful, and we’re blessed with a golden sunrise as a backdrop to every eruption. However, today, we’re finding it more difficult to stand outside for long periods of time. My body isn’t that cold, but my hands actually hurt from holding my camera up waiting to capture the geysir’s eruption. I tell Bill to take his time, but I need to head back to the car. He agrees it’s too cold to stay out much longer, so we head over to the visitor’s center across the road and warm up with some soup.


Conditions on the drive back to Reykjavik

We decide to make one more trip back to Gulfoss to see if we have any luck with better conditions. We arrive to hoards of tour buses, but manage to get a spot to shoot overlooking the falls. The light is better, but there’s still a mist rising. However, now because we have brighter light now, a rainbow is forming and hanging over the middle of the falls. We’re not here long though, because today, it seems as if the cold has got in our bones and we just can’t shake it. We decide to call it a day and head to Reykjavik, where we will spend our last night.


Our Suzuki Swift

Reykjavik’s OK Hotel

It’s just over an hours drive to Reykjavik, but we take our time, seeing as the winds seem to be just a fierce as yesterday’s. And at times, the wind is whipping so much snow across the road, it’s like we’re driving through white out conditions. When we finally clear the worst of it, we’re about 30 minutes from downtown Reykjavik.
When we do arrive, we find a parking garage near the OK Hotel and make our way to check in. Instead of a normal hotel, we have rented a studio apartment for the night. It’s small and cozy, but the decor is trendy and unique, and we manage to get a sense of what it would be like to be a Reykjavik resident. I dive right under the duvet with my jacket and hat on and proceed to power nap for about 30 minutes. We have nothing on the agenda for the afternoon. Our only plans are to go out and treat ourselves to a nice dinner seeing as it’s our last night and we’ve had one sit down dinner so far this week.

Scallop App at Old Iceland Restaurant

Delicious Icelandic Lamb at Old Iceland Restaurant

We head out around 7pm and venture two doors down to the Old Iceland Restaurant. This place received awesome reviews on TripAdvisor, but what sealed the deal was how close it is to where we’re staying.

Considering alcohol is taxed at 26% in Iceland, we haven’t had a drink all week, so we decide since it’s our last night, we’ll split a bottle of wine with our meal. We indulge in scallop appetizers and Icelandic Lamb for dinner. It’s a treat from start to finish, and worth every bit of the $200 it costs us!

As I do at the end of any journey, I look back and wonder how these five days passed so quickly. This has been an epic journey, and Bill and I toast to our incredible adventures.  Despite being my second time here, I am still as awed by the natural beauty found here. It truly is unlike any other country I’ve visited. And even though we had fewer hours of daylight, some incredibly cold conditions, two near car crashes and a very very bad waterfall hiking experience, in my mind I’m already plotting as to when I can get back here for a third visit. There’s just something so special about this island country! Tak, Iceland!


Dyrhólaey, Iceland, Reynisdrangar, Selfoss, Sjellandfoss, Uncategorized, Vik, WOW Airlines

Vik to Selfoss – Wind Storms & The Search for a Non-Existent Waterfall

The view from Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar

Today dawns relatively clear, but the forecast calls for high winds. We’re in no hurry to get moving from the cozy Carina Guesthouse, but as we’re eating breakfast, a beautiful sunrise begins to unveil through the dining room windows. We chug down the rest of our coffee and scarf down a few bites of delicious homemade bread and hit the road.

We decide to head straight to Dyrhólaey to photograph the unique rock formations that sit off the coast here, and then we’ll head back to town for the views from Vik’s hilltop church looking east. Fortunately, the winds have not picked up too much just yet, and with the right gear, we’re able to photograph for a good two hours without freezing.

Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar

All of what we have seen so far in Iceland has been jaw-droppingly beautiful, but there’s something special about Vik and Dyrhólaey. Large basalt rock cliffs drop down to a long black sand beach, and off in the distance, three jagged rock structures jut out of the ocean. Closer in shore is a larger lone rock structure, and the high tide swirls around it. Soft light stays with us for most of the morning, and by noon, we feel we’re content with what we’ve captured.

Reynisdrangar rocks as seen from Vik

Reynisdrangar rocks as seen from Vik

We drive the 15 minutes back to downtown Vik, pull into a gas station for a hot chocolate break, and see a pathway leading out to a separate beach. Here we have an eastward view of the craggy coastline, but we’re less protected from the elements, and as we’re trying to capture this new angle, we’re literally being sandblasted. I can feel the black sand hitting the back of my neck, and as this is happening, I look up to see Bill’s tripod being blown over by a gale force wind gust. We decide to hightail it to the car with our heads down to avoid more sandblasts.

We do make one last stop before leaving Vik, and that’s at the hilltop church where we’re afforded views of the entire, yet small town of Vik and the coastline below. We park the car off to the side and get out to snap a few pictures of the view. The parking lot is like a skating rink and the wind gusts are so strong, I have a hard time not sliding away. Luckily I grab on to the trunk of the car to stop myself. Right here is an indication of how our afternoon drive will play out.

Vik’s hilltop church

The winds are reaching 60-65mph + when we leave Vik, and road conditions are less than ideal. We plug in Selfoss to the GPS and begin the 1 1/2-hour drive. We’ve had little sunlight or warmth so far today, so patches of ice can still be found in places and the wind is vicious. Not only are the winds whipping snow across the roadways, they are also so fierce that it’s difficult to keep the car from veering. I’m driving now and it’s my turn to have a death grip on the wheel.

We’re no more than 20 minutes from Vik, when I hit a patch of ice, panic, hit the breaks and begin sliding from one side of the road to the other. At one point, I’m sure we’re going to hit one of the yellow posts on the right side of the road, and the next moment, I’m certain we’re going to collide with the white SUV heading towards us from the other direction. By the grace of God, I right the car, and Bill and I look at each other with white faces. How the hell did we not just die??? or at least seriously damage the vehicle??

A winter wonderland at Seljalandsfoss

I’m a bit weak and wobbly now, so we decide to pull over at Skogafoss. Unfortunately, it’s just too cold and windy to even consider leaving the car for pictures. We pull into a parking lot to turn around and watch as other travelers skate their way to and from their cars. Back on the road, we begin to drive parallel to a fjord, and this offers us some sort of protection from the wind at times.


Despite wanting to be in Selfoss for sunset, we know we can’t hurry, so when we pass Seljalandsfoss, we decide to stop for some daylight pictures. Pathways are slick and the grass in front of the waterfall is covered in ice crystals. The wind is whipping the falls, creating a mist that is (again) soaking the pathway that leads behind. We now know better than to attempt to hike up. (We’ll save that for a summer trip!) It’s a beautiful scene though, and at 3:30 the entire landscape surrounding us is glowing gold.

Our room at Garun Heidmork, Selfoss

Conscious of the time, we get back in the car to finish the drive to Selfoss. We have a hostel booked here for the night and decide to photograph Selfoss waterfall tonight and Gulfoss at sunrise. However, as we approach Selfoss, we realize that Selfoss waterfall isn’t in the city of Selfoss at all. It’s not even close. It’s about seven hours away in the northeastern part of the country. Ok, epic travel planning fail, but I’m certain we’re not the first people to make this mistake!

We still have tomorrow morning to photograph Gulfoss and Geysir and we look at tonight as a night to just chill out. We check into the lovely Guesthouse Garun Heidmork, which is a three-story home with a total of about seven rooms and a beautifully furnished kitchen. We make our way up to the attic apartment, dump our backpacks and head out to find food for dinner. When we return later that evening, the road outside is a sheet of ice, and the wind is so fierce that the attic room we’re sleeping in is creaking. We fall asleep to this unsettling noise, wondering what our last day of exploring holds for us!

glaciers, Iceland, Jokulsarlon, Ring Road, Skaftafell, Svartifoss, Vik, WOW Airlines

Eastern Iceland: Jokulsarlon, Skaftafell & Svartifoss


Breakfast at Kálfafellsstadur

Despite a late night, we are up super early and get ready and packed up for the day. We head upstairs and Thora has prepared a full homemade breakfast, complete with waffles and homemade jams! We enjoy what is becoming our only sit down meal of the day, thank Thora for her hospitality and head out for Jokulsarlon.



At 8:30, there is already light on the horizon, and it looks like the day will dawn clear. Unfortunately, my camera is not working, but Bill has lent me his spare camera body which is compatible with my lenses. (I can’t imagine how depressing the rest of the trip would be without a camera, and I’m so thankful to be able to continue to shoot!)



As we drive west along the ring road back to the lagoon, the sun is rising to our left and the moon is setting to our right. It is the last few days of the “super moon” and we watch as a huge giant white ball drops behind the fjords. We park up at the lagoon but immediately walk over to the black sand beach, where chunks of icebergs are being lashed by water in the wave break. Sunrise is continuing behind, making the ice glow various shades of gold, violet, pink and blue.



Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

We spend well over two hours shooting stills and video here – we just can’t get enough of this natural, unique beauty!

We head back over to the lagoon and grab a hot chocolate at the little cafe and then inquire about a boat ride for later in the afternoon. Our plan is to head to Skaftafell National park to photograph Svartifoss and then head back to Jokulsarlon for a boat tour and sunset. Unfortunately, we find out that boats aren’t operating today due to too much ice debris in the lagoon.



We make our way to Skaftafell National Park. which is about a 45-minute drive. Skaftafell, or rather Vatnajökull National Park is home to the Vatnajökull Glacier, but we have come to photograph Svartifoss, a waterfall that sits 1.8km into the park. We begin the hike up and arrive around 2:00. The waterfall is surrounded by basalt rock columns that give me the feeling we’re peering into the center of the earth. Surrounding rocks and shrubbery are covered in a layer of white, frozen mist.

We spend about 1 1/2 hours shooting here, playing with long exposure and neutral density, and we don’t realize how much time has passed. We need to hurry if we want to make it back to Jokulsarlon for sunset. On the hike back down, the light is perfect though, and I want to stop and savor it and take more pictures. Behind us Vatnajökull glacier is brilliant white against an intense blue afternoon sky. To our right are fjords in the distance and bare birch trees, and below us the land is flat and white, and little rivulets lead out to the ocean ahead.


Jokulsarlon – just after sunset

By 3:45, we are back in the car and heading to Jokulsarlon, but we know we’ve missed the best of the light. We kick ourselves for not leaving earlier, and from the car, we watch as the sun sets to our right. At the lagoon, it’s still a pretty picture, and we decide to head on to Vik with the goal of getting there in time to have a relaxing evening, and maybe even dinner!


Foss á Siðu

We begin the two-hour drive, making one stop at Foss á Siðu to photograph the falls at night. Tonight is the clearest we’ve seen the skies since arriving, and we’re able to catch a few shooting stars.  Temps are dropping, so we head back to the car and continue on to Vik, arriving at Carina Guesthouse around 8pm.


Dinner at Suður-Vík

We get checked in and decide as we haven’t had a proper dinner since arriving in Iceland, we should treat ourselves. We head over to Suður-Vík Restaurant for a traditional dinner of Arctic Char and Rib Eye, accompanied with a cauliflower soup and homemade bread. After standing out in the cold all day, the food is warming us through, but making us sleepy!  We pay up and head back to the guesthouse, and as we leave the restaurant, we get a view of another almost supermoon rising above Vik’s church on the hilltop in the distance.

Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland, Jon Gunnar Arnason, Kalfafellstadur, Reykjavik, Ring Road, Sjellandfoss, Travel, WOW Airlines

Ice Driving to Kalfafellstadur & When Not to Hike Behind a Waterfall


Frosty window panes


Our morning drive back to Reykjavik

I wake rested, with no signs of jet lag (thankfully), have a long overdue shower and pack up. Laura has brought breakfast over to our apartment – a spread of breads, jams, meats, cereal, yogurt, coffee and juice. It’s nice to not have to go outside just yet, seeing as the wind and rain have picked up again, and a frost has gathered on the outside window panes.

Over breakfast, we decide to head to the easternmost point on our itinerary, Jokulsarlon, and we will spend the rest of our time this week making our way back to Reykjavik. So, today, we have some driving to do. We decide to break the drive in Reykjavik, tour the city a bit and then head on.


Wild Icelandic horses



The weather forecast calls for 100% precipitation again today, and we leave Arnarstapi around 10:30 a.m. and begin a snowy drive to the capital city. The sunrise is taking its time and a beautiful scene unfolds. Fjords are glowing pink ahead – the early morning sunlight illuminating the snow that covers them. To our right are fields of wild horses. Needless to say, there are quite a few photo stops.

We arrive in Reykjavik around 1pm and find free street parking behind Hallgrimskirkja, which is a perfect place to begin our city tour.

Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran Church and one of the tallest structures in Iceland. Construction on the church began in 1945, but it would take over 40 years to complete it. It is truly one of the most unique structures I have ever seen. The outside columns, which grow in height as they reach the main tower, remind me of the basalt rock formations found around many of Iceland’s waterfalls, and the inside is starkly beautiful, just like Iceland itself. It’s simple and puritan in style, but still stunning.


The view from Hallgrímskirkja’s tower

We take the lift up 240 feet to the top of the tower for panoramic views of Reykjavik. Clouds are parting, providing us with perfect afternoon light.


Jon Gunnar Arnason’s ‘Sun Voyager’

From here, we walk down the main street, grabbing a hot chocolate to go from one of the many cafes, and head to the harbor area. The Sun Voyager, a stainless steel structure, resembling a viking ship, sits on Reykjavik’s waterfront. Constructed by Jon Gunnar Arnason in 1990, he calls it an ‘ode to the sun.’ On a plaque nearby, he offers his own interpretation of the structure: “We all have our fantasy boats, vessels that we dream of sailing away in, into the dream. In my ships, I unite my own fantasy, precision and the knowledge that boat builders have developed throughout the ages. The sun ship gives us a promise of a primeval land.”


Harpa, Reykjavik’s Fine Art’s Center


Goofing off at Harpa

From here, we walk along the waterfront to Harpa, Reykjavik’s fine art center. This beautiful structure looks like a combination of various colored panes of glass – highlights of green, blue and purple catch my eye, depending on how the light is hitting the building. The inside is even more interesting, and we spend about 30 minutes taking pictures (and thawing out).

Time is marching on though, and we’re aware of a long drive to Jokulsarlon, so we decide to head back to the car and begin the journey. We pick up S1 – Iceland’s ring road, and immediately notice that conditions have worsened throughout the day. A strip of ice lines the middle of our lane, and our tires are positioned either side of it. At any time we ascend, the conditions worsen, and at one point while trying to change lanes, we hit ice and skid out. Bill is driving and fortunately rights the car and we continue on…. very carefully!



Conditions improve briefly and just outside of Hella, we see a waterfall lit up in the distance. As we get closer, we learn that this is Sjellandsfoss, the waterfall I’ve been wanting to photograph since my last visit here four years ago. The neat thing is, you can actually hike behind the falls and photograph from a completely unique viewpoint. We decide to pull off and do some night shooting, and we’re getting some pretty good shots, but we debate hiking up behind the falls. Another guy has just returned and told us the spray isn’t too bad, despite the high winds, so we decide to give it a try.

Moments before we reach the first set of stairs, we realize this is a terrible mistake! It’s as if someone is standing in front of us with a hose, spraying us down. Half way up, and we are drenched, but we keep going hoping to clear the spray. The path has turned muddy now and I look up to see Bill turning around, his camera tripod coming inches from my face as he does.


Evidence of a waterfall hike fail

As we make a quick descent, I realize that the tops of my legs are burning from the cold. We hightail it to the car and see two public restrooms in the parking lot. We grab our backpacks, pray that the bathrooms are open and head in to change into dry clothes, hoping that our jackets and boots will dry overnight. We get back in the car and check our gear. Not surprising, my camera is acting up from the cold and damp. I try not to think about this as we drive the last three hours to Kalfafellstadur. Conditions have improved, but only slightly, and Bill has a death grip on the wheel.

We arrive at Kalfafellstadur B&B by 11pm, and Thora has waited up to greet us. She shows us to our room downstairs, which she says is warmer and asks when we’d like breakfast. We settle in and hang our wet clothes over the radiator and read the note she has left in the room. It advises us to sleep like Icelanders, with the radiator off and the windows cracked, to prevent them from “crying.” We leave the radiator on in hopes our clothes will dry, but we crack the window and crawl into bed. Despite the long day, we’re wired from the drive and excited for sunrise at Jokulsarlon… sleep feels a long ways away.


Arnarstapi, Backpacking, Dritvik, Gatklettur, Grundafjordur, Guesthouse Höff, Iceland, Kirkjufellfoss, Mount Kirkjufell, Olafsvik, Snæfellsnes, Travel, WOW Airlines

Iceland Take Two – No Sleep til Snæfellsnes

When I found a roundtrip ticket on WOW Airlines from Boston to Reykjavik for $250, I didn’t hesitate. I grabbed my wallet, pulled out my Chase Sapphire Preferred card and quickly snagged the deal with little deliberation. I had been wanting to return to this stunningly beautiful country since my first trip in October, 2012, and the opportunity had just landed in my lap. I quickly texted my photographer friend Bill to let him know about the deal, as we had talked about the possibility of a trip together, and he booked the same flights that day. Fast forward two months, and we were on a boat leaving Nantucket, with a tentative plan to see southern and western Iceland in 5 days. The only thing reserved was a BUDGET rental car, which was waiting to be picked up upon our arrival in Reykjavik.

8:30 a.m. en route to Arnarstapi

We arrived this morning at 4am. After little sleep on the flight, you would think we would be hightailing it to a hotel for a power nap, but instead we grab a couple of coffees at Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport, change some money and make our way to pick up our rental car. We are given the keys to a gray Suzuki Swift and purchase an internet dongle for $13 a day. This will keep us connected and provide us with wifi for GPS. A good investment to make although I tell Bill that we are not allowed to be on our phones the entire time! By the time we take care of all this, it’s about 5:30 and we head out into a 4-degree early morning to look for our car. Only four hours left until sunrise.



We leave Keflavik and decided to make our way north of Reykjavik to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. I have never explored this area of Iceland before, but from what I’ve seen through photos, it looks gorgeous. We decide to catch sunrise in Arnarstapi and hope there will be one. The forecast for today is 100% precipitation. We drive for a solid two hours and stop for a gas station breakfast of sandwiches and pringles. When we get back on the road, it’s close to 8am and it’s still pitch black. There’s no sign on sunlight for hours! I start to fade a bit and Bill puts on some trance music. After about 30 minutes, I have been hypnotized by the music and the fatigue, but I start to see a sliver of light in the skies to the left of us. With the signs of daylight, we also see heavy clouds and we run into the occasional downpour of rain and snow. It doesn’t look promising.

We arrive in Arnarstapi for sunrise. A car of photographers pulls in ahead of us, an15078781_10154659788378168_2423780937552035329_nd two car loads of photographers pull in behind us… we must have found a good spot! As we walk down to the ocean, we take in the scene around us. Behind us are fjords not yet covered in snow, to the left of us is the popular and often-photographed white house that sits near the entrance to the harbor, and in front of us is a craggy, rocky coast where waves break below on a pebble beach and on a rock archway nearby, called Gatklettur. Dotted here and there are small cottages and homes with moss-covered roofs.14993356_10154659788238168_6516393847014661980_n

We spend some time photographing the rocky beach, trying to catch a little bit of the pink sky that’s slowly unveiling, but rain wins and eventually forces us back to the car, and the rest of the morning goes a bit like this. Luckily, the showers are short and we manage to wait them out at most of the sights along the peninsula. We take a small hike out to the black sand beach at Dritvik and photograph crazy rock formations that are the Lóndrangar cliffs and stop in at the Visitor’s Center to check out a map. We decide we have plenty of time to drive the full peninsula and end up at Kirksfellfoss for sunset.



Our next stop is the little village of Olafsvik. Blink and you will miss it, but we pull over to get pictures of the modern Ólafsvíkurkirkja (church) which is set to a backdrop of fjords and waterfalls. We find a bakery and get a couple of hot chocolates and some baked goods and drive to the outskirts of town where we find a picnic table that overlooks another black sand beach. The wind is whipping, but we insist on sitting on the table soaking in the view of perfect waves breaking hundreds of yards out in front of us.


The coastline near Olafsvik

The afternoon drive to Grundafjordur leads us around winding roads that hug steep fjords on our right. To the left is a sheer drop to the ocean below. Waterfalls dot the landscape, which is a golden, amber hue at this time of year, and wild horses roam near the waters’ edge.

We arrive in Grundafjordur around 3:00, but debate when to actually hike up to the falls. The weather is officially iffy and I want to spend as little time exposed to the elements as is necessary. Bill suggest we go immediately, seeing as we may not get a sunset at all, so we gather our gear and make the short hike up and around to the iconic, often photographed scene of Kirkjufellfoss in the foreground and Mount Kirkjufell in the background.

Fortunately, the weather has kept many people away, so we almost have this scene


Bill photographing Kirkjufellfoss

to ourselves. Conditions maintain, and while we don’t get much color from sunset, we do get some shots that we’re both happy with. An hour passes quickly and we forget any feelings of cold, and by 4:30, we’re back in the car and making our way to Guesthouse Höff by way of a precarious, snow-covered fjord crossing.

We have been going non-stop for close to 30 hours now with gas station food breaks and no sleep, and we’re oficially cold and tired! We have no radio reception, so Bill scours through the very limited collection of music on my iPhone and finds Prince’s Greatest Hits… Little Red Corvette blasts from the speakers of our Suzuki Swift as we ascend and descend the fjord roads of Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Along with playing the role of DJ, Bill is navigating and continually updating me on how far we have left to go. When sleep is almost winning and I feel my eyes beginning to close, he says, “You’ve got this, 10K left, just over 6 minutes.” I want to pull over and ask him to drive the last 6 minutes…but moments later, we pull into the driveway of the Guesthouse. At the back of a gravel road is a bright yellow longhouse, with a grassy roof.


Guesthouse Hoff

Laura meets us at reception and gives us our key to 4B, tells us where we can find dinner and asks if we’d like breakfast in the morning. She walks us over to our little apartment which consists of three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and living room, and a loft area above with three extra beds. Our room is small and cozy and very simplistic – a bed, duvet, pillow and wall light. I immediately lie down and despite having had very little to eat today, I know sleep will win over seeking out food. We decide to opt in for the $13 breakfast and I bundle up and venture out to find Laura to let her know our plans. Instead, I find the owner’s children, a teenage girl and a young boy of about 5 years old. They seem to be immune to the cold in their sweatpants and tee shirts and chat with me for a bit while I wait for Laura. I think they take pity on me and tell me, “It’s cold. We’ll tell Laura so you can go home.” I thank them, and by 7:45pm, I’m warm and snug under my duvet…

glaciers, Hofn, Iceland, Jokulsarlon, Seyoisfjordur

Jokulsarlon and the Glacial Lagoon

After our late night last night chasing the elusive northern lights, we are slow to get moving, but we are in no rush today. Our only plans are to explore Jokulsarlon and the glacial lagoon and then continue driving northeast into the land of fjords.

We head down to the lagoon and sign up for a 30-minute boat tour. We have an hour to kill, so we venture over to the black sand beach and see the pieces of ice that have broken off the larger icebergs and washed up on the beach. In the distance waves crash, washing more pieces of ice ashore. It’s a sight I’ve only ever seen on the Discovery Channel.

I realize that the use of the words, “awesome,” “amazing” and “gorgeous” are no longer doing these sights justice, and I’m starting to feel like a broken record. Carolyn suggests a thesaurus. We are just speechless from the stark beauty of this sight.

We leave the beach and head over to the shop where we are meeting up for the boat trip. The young lady greets us and tells us we’re very lucky, as it’s only the two of us, so instead of taking the amphibious boat, we get to go out in an inflatable motorboat. But first we must get kitted up. She leads us to a small trailer behind the shop and selects two of the sexiest outfits I’ve ever seen. We climb into these arctic suits and look better suited for a space mission than a glacial boat tour.

Willy, pronounced Villy, is our guide and he leads us out to the boat. We climb in and venture out into the lagoon. The boat lurches forward, and we can hear the crackle of ice breaking around us as we make our way toward the glacier. Jokulsarlon, (the name of the glacier), also called “the king,” sits majestically before us.
On the way, we dodge icebergs and watch seals lazing in the sun on small pieces of ice. The icebergs that have recently flipped over, glow a soft blue. The ones that have already absorbed enough sunlight have lost their blue hue. This is a beautiful sight. As we make our way, Willy informs us that the glacier is receding 100 meters every year. It makes me wonder how many years into the future this sight will be here for others to enjoy.
We loop around a huge iceberg and Willy explains that we can see only 15% of it, the remaining 85% is underwater. It’s difficult to comprehend the sheer size of these things. I imagine scuba diving in the lagoon and what a sight that would be. Willy explains that it is indeed possible with the right equipment. (This is for another trip!)
As we circle back to shore, we stop and Willy cracks a huge piece of ice off the side of a berg, and we are able to taste it. He tells us this ice is approximately 1,000 years old!! The trip ends too quickly and I tell Carolyn that this is by far one of the most amazing things I have ever seen or done.
We thank Willy and reluctantly give back our arctic suits and head to the small shop for a hot chocolate. It would be easy to stay here for hours and just savor the sight, but it’s already early afternoon and we have a drive ahead of us. We make a pit stop in Hofn, pronounced Hup, grab some lunch and gas up and then begin cruising through the eastern part of the country, which is known as fjordland. We have the road to ourselves, which is a good thing, as at times we are taking hairpin turns. We are nestled between the fjords on our left and the ocean on our right. Needless to say, it’s a beautiful drive.

We then begin the ascent into the highlands, literally up over a fjord. At this point in time, it is starting to get a bit dark and cloudy, and just as we hit an unpaved road, the sleet begins. We hope our little compact can handle the conditions.

The conditions worsen – it is now snowing, and the wind is so strong it’s challenging our small silver compact. We decide instead of trying to make it to Myvatn tonight that we should stay in Seyoisfjordur. We return to paved roads, but now they are slick with ice and snow. It is mid-October and I can only imagine how bad conditions would be in the dead of winter. When we finally begin the descent from Eskifjordur to Seyoisfjordur, we both let out a little sigh of relief.
After driving in circles for a bit, we find a little hostel in Seyoisfjordur. It’s called Farfuglaheimilio. The building used to function as a home for women who worked in the herring industry. No one is home but the door is open and a note directs us to pick any vacant room we want. There is an interesting vibe here. Animal skins adorn the walls, and a note in the bathroom instructs us to keep the toilet lids down, to “prevent the unnecessary escape of chi.” I think we’re surrounded by hippies!
We dump our bags and head to the local cafe, Skaftafell. This seems to be the life of this little fishing village. I momentarily feel like we’ve been transported back to a hip cafe in Reykjavik, yet we are as far from the capital as we can get. Still, Arcade Fire plays blares from the speakers, and the lovely host offers us a bottle of his favorite Chilean wine. Fresh pizzas are coming out of the kitchen, and the special of the night is a steaming lamb stew.
We cozy up here for the evening, recounting the events from the day, feeling the warmth from the good food and embracing the Icelandic hospitality of this charming little fjord town.
Iceland, Northern Lights, Skaftafell, Vik

Rain, Rainbows, and The Elusive Northern Lights

Many people have asked me why I chose to travel to Iceland, specifically at this time of year, and initially, one of the main reasons I wanted to travel here was to have the opportunity to see the aurora borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights. We had been closely monitoring the weather forecast since leaving Reykjavik, hoping for clear nights, and Carolyn had been checking a website that actually included a northern lights forecast. It wasn’t looking too promising. However, we were pretty certain that we had seen a glimmer of glowing green light in the sky last night before the impending rain set in, so we remained optimistic…

The small village of Vik

We woke up early to a dreary and windy morning in Vik. After a hearty breakfast and couple cups of coffee at Nordur Vik Hostel, we decide not to let the sideways rain keep us inside anymore, so we pack up the compact car and backtrack 15 kilometers west to Dryholaey, a secluded black sand beach, known for its epic views of the tall rock formations that jut out of the ocean in neighboring Vik.

We hope to get some good photographs in the early morning sunlight, but the weather has different plans for us, and after nearly getting blown off the cliffs at Dryholaey (literally) we jump back in the car, bless the heated seats and head back to the main road. In a matter of minutes, the rain clears and the surrounding hills are bathed in a warm golden light. We look up to a beautiful full rainbow in the sky ahead of us. Iceland is continuing to amaze me. We drive back through Vik and are able to see the surrounding landscape in a new light.

From Vik, we drive a couple of hours through never-ending moss covered lava fields. The green carpeted lava is contrasted with a brilliant blue sky, and Jokulsarlon glacier sits majestically in the background. This scene rolls on for miles. We pass the occasional village, which might be comprised of a cluster of homes, but for the most part, we are in the middle of nowhere.  We arrive at Skaftafell National Park with intentions of hiking to Svartifoss, one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, but we needed some fuel first. Unfortunately, there’s not much to choose from in the way of food, so we drive 5 km further to a gourmet gas station cafe. Lunch consists of rye bread, camembert cheese and pepperoni slices, all purchased on site. This type of lunch is not unheard of in this part of the country, where restaurants and cafes are scarce, but it may cost you as much as a gourmet sit-down dinner in Reykjavik.

We head back to Skaftafell and begin the 90-minute round trip hike to the falls. We are blessed with clear skies and the light throughout the entire day is like end of day light. Since the sun never fully rises, the light is soft and illuminating – a photographer’s dream – and another great reason to travel to Iceland in the off-season.

Svartifoss is not the tallest or most powerful waterfall I’ve seen in Iceland, but the surrounding rock formations are what make it unique. The waterfall cuts through the middle of teeth-like rock formations that look like they give way into the center of the earth, a very visually intriguing setting.

Svartifoss Waterfall in Skaftafell National Park

We begin our hike back down and decide to take the park ranger’s advice to stay in Hali, a place she says is a “nice village,” where we can find a guesthouse and a good meal. Hali can’t be found on the map, or in the guidebook for that matter, but we go with the friendly ranger’s suggestion. We’ve been lucky so far today, and we’re putting it out there that the good karma will continue. We are also being overly optimistic about our chances to see the northern lights later on.

We spend the afternoon driving parallel to Jokulsarlon, and about 5 kilometers from Hali, we spot the glacial lagoon, which is just breathtaking. We have plans to explore in the morning, so we continue to Hali to get there before dark.

Contemplating some light reading.

Hali is a unique place. It’s tough to even call it a village, so let’s just say it’s a farm. It’s the birthplace of Porberger Porbarson, an important literary figure in Iceland. To commemorate his works and honor the place where he was born, a museum and restaurant have been constructed. Appropriately enough, the outside is built with larger than life books, which represent his collection of works. We get checked in and sit down at the restaurant for a meal of locally caught smoked Arctic Char, complete with Chilean sauvignon blanc.

After a couple of glasses of wine, we decide to check out the sky again, and we are pretty certain that we can see a glow from behind the fjord in the distance. Since there is currently a new moon, we know there’s no moonlight and there are no surrounding towns to speak of, so we grab our cameras, bundle up and head back to the glacial lagoon. When we arrive, there are a few others camped out hoping to get their epic shot of the green glow, but slowly, one by one, people start to leave.

We take a few shots though, and what you can’t see with the naked eye, you can definitely capture with a camera lens. A soft green hue is growing in the sky above. A few moments later, a friendly Japanese traveler walks over to where we are and says that if we climb over the hill, we will have more complete views of the lights. We take his advice and set up camp with three others. Teeth chattering and trying to operate our cameras with frozen hands, slowly, we begin to see a light show unfold. What starts as a green ribbon of light across the sky, slowly turns into a row of four or five peaks that shoot up from the fjord and disappear into a star-filled sky. It’s subtle but it’s there, and the longer we stay, the more adjusted our eyes become. We are able to capture our first shots of the northern lights! Giddy with excitement, but beginning to feel the cold, we head back to the car after about two hours and blast ourselves with heat all the way back to Hali.

Aurora Borealis, aka The Northern Lights, viewed from Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon

We toast the day with the last remaining sips of wine. What started out with wind and rain, ended with an epic day of  rainbows, waterfalls, glaciers and…the Northern Lights! Three days in, and I’m not sure how Iceland can get any better!

Geysir, Gulfoss, Iceland, Pingvellir, Reykjavik, Ring Road

Day 1 – The Golden Circle

Both needing more sleep, Carolyn and I sluggishly pack up and check out of the hostel in Reykjavik, not before chugging two cups of coffee each. We walk across the street to ProCar, and within a matter of 10 minutes, we are proud renters of a silver Nissan Mica compact car. It will serve as our wheels for the next four days as we circle Iceland’s ring road, Route 1.

A small church on the outskirts of Reykjavik
We head in the direction of the Golden Circle, which is made up of three main sights, Pingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir and Gulfoss. We head first to Pingvellir, driving next to ThingvallavatnIceland’s largest lake, 83 square kilometers!
We arrive at the park and hike up to a waterfall before standing in the place where according to history, parliament was first formed. This is the site where Iceland was declared to be a free republic in 1944, and where their Independence Day is still celebrated today. This is one of the most historically important places in the country. We are also starting to get a sense of why they say Iceland is “a place of lonely beauty.” We seem to be in the middle of nowhere.
Pingvellir National Park


Only 30 minutes away, after driving through remote farmlands, fields of horses and rolling hills, we come to the small village of Geysir. The “village” is actually a gift shop and restaurant, and to the left is a small looped walking trail around three geysers. The most active is “Strokkur,” which erupts with force every 5 minutes or so, shooting water and steam 30 meters up into the sky.  

From Geysir, it’s literally a stones throw to Gulfoss, one of Iceland’s most well-known waterfalls. I was expecting something tall and beautiful, but the roar of water was audible from the parking lot.

Gulfoss is considered to be Iceland’s Niagra Falls, and as we approach, I understood why. We stand in awe as we watch water descend first from an upper terrace of fall to a lower section before crashing into a riverbed below with such unbelievable force. The mist rising from the falls keeps creating a small rainbow above us.

End of day rainbows over Gulfoss

From Gulfoss, we don’t have much daylight left, so we begin our drive to Vik, where we are spending the night. The skies are clear the entire drive and we hope for a chance to see the northern lights, but as we get closer to the seaside town of Vik, the rain clouds are impending and slowly those chances dwindle away.

We check into a cozy hostel, Nordur Vik, and make plans to meet Doruk and Cha in town for dinner, as they are driving back from their trip to the glacial lagoon. We decide to meet at Cafe Puffin… I just hope there is more to the menu than the name implies…

Blue Lagoon, Iceland, Reykjavik

The Blue Lagoon and Runtur in Reykjavik

My friend Carolyn arrived this morning and we met up at REX hostel. She was in the same condition as I was the morning prior, so she went for a quick catnap to recharge for the day. The day had dawned wet and windy, but our plans consisted of a trip to Iceland’s iconic Blue Lagoon so we weren’t overly concerned with getting wet.

At 12:30, we board a bus from the hostel to The Blue Lagoon and arrive around 30 minutes later to a first-class facility. We check in, hire towels, and scope out the surrounding facilities- gift shop, restaurant, cafe and viewing platforms. We receive bracelets with a chip that activates the locker system and allow us to purchase anything on premise. All we need to do is stash our belongings and scrub down…The Blue Lagoon awaits.

In the locker room, the attendants are running a pretty tight ship, specifically making sure things are kept clean. Shoes come off and can go nowhere near showers, showers need to be taken prior to entering the lagoon, and you have to shower sans bathing suit. There is an attendant making sure you comply. We are also told again and again to make sure we condition our hair prior and leave some in, so the chemicals in the lagoon don’t wreak havoc on our dreads. (Thank you!)

We exit through large glass doors to an otherwordly sight. The wind is whipping and the rain is still falling, but the blue-green lagoon sprawls out in front of us like a giant hot tub, bubbling away. A mist hovers on top of the water, hiding bathers in the distance. We climb in and search for the hot pockets, extra warm areas which you luckily discover now and again. We rub silica on our faces, chat with Icelandic locals and tourists alike, and purchase a glass of bubbly at the swim-up-cafe. Any remnants of jet lag leave my body.

A few hours later we are looking and feeling more like prunes than humans, and the wind is picking up, spraying sulphuric water in our faces. Put it this way, it’s a little less relaxing than when we had arrived, so we ask some friendly fellow bathers to snap a photo of us, and decide it’s time to dry off and head back to Reykjavik.

The bus is leaving at 4:30, so we have plenty of time…or so I thought. After inquiring, we realize the bus actually left at 4. So we head to the cafe for a snack and run into our friends from the lagoon, Doruk and Cha, who kindly offer to give us a lift back to the city. They drop us back at REX and we make plans to head to dinner with them a few hours later. They want to try authentic Icelandic food. I can’t help but think, “been there, done that,” but remind myself to maybe not get so adventurous tonight.

We meet up with the guys and walk through the city center. It’s Saturday night and things are slowly starting to show signs of life. We end up at Einar Ben, one of Iceland’s award-winning restaurants that sits on what feels like the second floor of someones home. Having dinner there was more like dining in a formal living room than a restaurant.

After browsing the menu, we are all feeling a bit lost. We confirm our hunch that Blue Ling is indeed a white fish and we order four. We think we’re playing it safe, but I’m not sure I would have ordered the fish if I knew it looks like this. However, dinner is amazing – one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. We are refueled and ready to tackle Reykjavik’s nightlife head on.

When we leave Einar Ben, Reykjavik has turned from a sleepy daytime city to a bustling nighttime hot spot. It’s 11:00 and people are everywhere. (I’m not sure where they all hide out during the day!)

They are all partaking in what Iceland calls, Runtur, or “round tour.” Apparently, the Icelandic people behave all week and let loose on the weekends. To say they let loose might be an understatement, Binge drinking, blacking out, falling over, and peeing in the street – all of this is acceptable, as long as it occurs between the hours of 11pm and 4am on Friday and Saturday nights.

We begin our runtur at a local pub with great live music. We sample the local brew on draught, Viking, and a bottled pale ale called Einstock – which could possibly convert me to a beer drinker (or maybe I just like the viking on the bottle.) We love this pub, but it wouldn’t be a round tour if we stay in one place all night, so we head to the next place on the list, Kaffibarrin. A London tube sign sits above the door, and I immediately feel at home. When we enter, it’s like we’ve entered someone’s winter lodge. It’s cozy and dim-lit, warm and festive…and PACKED. Come to find out, this bar is owned by the lead singer of the band Blur and the local clientele consists mostly of Icelandic movie stars. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone I recognize.

We cozy up to the bar and sample shots of Brennevin, Iceland’s infamous liquor, which tastes like a less harsh version of vodka with a hint of caraway. We finally head home around 3:30, but it seems that many are just finding their groove. People are still lining up to get into bars, and this will continue into the later hours of the morning, but we have a rental car to pick up this morning, so we play the responsible card and head back to REX for a few hours of shut eye.

Iceland, Reykjavik

Iceland – The Beginning

Iceland – the land of Bjork and Sigur Ros, Puffins and Minke whales, never-ending sunlight in the summers, and only 2 hours of light total in the dead of winter. Many people asked me “Why go to Iceland?” I thought, why not?? An island that sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, directly between New York City and Moscow is bound to have a culture different to any I’ve experienced before, and one I hoped would posses parts that have remained untouched and unspoiled by western influence.

So, I order Lonely Planet Iceland and began planning. After looking up a few places online and checking out some photos, I am sold. I visit IcelandAirlines webiste and see very reasonably priced tickets from Boston and NYC to Reykjavik. Unfortunately, I wait too long to book my ticket and those fares go up, but as part of a “stopover promotion,” I manage to get an Economy Comfort ticket from NYC to Reykjavik and then a ticket onto London at the end of my stay in Iceland.

Ok- I have to spend a bit more than I want, but the ticket enables me use of the BA lounge at JFK and a seat in the first row behind First Class with extra leg room, an empty middle seat, a meal and free wine. Oh and did I mention I sit next to the lead guitarist from Anthrax, who I must say might be one of the nicest guys ever! I’d say the trip is off to a good start.

After a bite to eat and a few hours kip, I land in Reykjavik, a bit bleary-eyed and in need of more sleep. I take an airport express bus to town and arrive at REX hostel, the nicest and cleanest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Unfortunately I can’t get into the room until 2, so I get my camera out and venture out to see Reykjavik.

First impressions- it’s 8am and the sun is just rising, but the city is clean, colorful and beautifully set, surrounded by snowcapped fjords in the background. The city is orderly too, typical of the surrounding Scandinavian countries. This makes it easy for me to get my bearings. I walk close to the harbor, passing a steel statue of a viking ship and then head into the center of the city to make my way to Hallgrimskirkja, one of Reykjavik’s most recognizable structures. Completed in 1984, this structure looks more like something out of Star Wars than a church, but the inside is plainly beautiful and an elevator up the tower affords panoramic views of all of Reykjavik. Thankfully, the unpredictable weather is on my side today. It’s a clear morning, but it IS cold, and the sun still hasn’t risen.

A few steps from the church, we stumble upon a sculpture garden. I find out that these bizarrely beautiful works of art were created by Einar Jonsson , and his work can be found randomly placed throughout downtown Reykjavik.

In need of a coffee, I head to Te & Kaffi, a chain of coffee shops throughout Reykjavik. The caffeine powers me through Reykjavik 871 +/- 2, a museum built on historic remains from 930 AD that were just discovered in 2001. I learn about the development of Iceland, from the Nordic settlers who farmed the land, to how Reykjavik became the capital it is today.

Then, I head to the National Gallery, which is a bit disappointing to say the least. Either the art is sub-par, or the caffeine is wearing off. Sadly, I think it’s the first. I head back to REX for a well-needed nap.

I wake up hungry and decide to venture out for something that has had me nervous since the idea of this trip came about… Food! From what I’ve heard, I’m not sure I’m going to be a fan of Iceland’s cuisine. Rumors of smelly fermented shark, herring and puffin have me sure I’m going to lose weight while here. But as a true believer in the fact that food is one of the most important parts of a country’s culture, I decide to throw caution to the wind and get adventurous. I head with a friend to The Icelandic Bar, a place we’re told serves  very “authentic” food “just like your mother would cook.” After stomaching the fact that meals on average are going to cost about $20, I look more closely at the menu choices. Minke whale and puffin soup, herring, fermented shark, reindeer burgers…it’s all there.

I settle on a sampler basket, which is full of various delicacies, some I know are safe and others I decide I should try while here. The basket consists of smoked salmon on a scone (safe), lamb terrine (pate = safe), mustard marinated herring (not sure), smoked lamb (not sure), fish jerky (really not sure) and fermented shark (totally not sure)

Fish jerky (left) and fermented shark (right)
Smoked salmon, smoked lamb, herring and lamb terrine.

The fact that the fish jerky and fermented shark come out in sealed jars leads me to believe that the rumors are true- these things are pungent. And after a quick whif, which causes a gag-like reaction, I’m not even sure I will be able to taste either of them. I seal the jars and venture back to the basket. I start with what I know I will like because I am indeed hungry. The smoked salmon is delicious and the lamb terrine with red onion and blackcurrant jam is a treat, a really nice combination of flavors. The herring is fishy, but is covered in enough mustard and mayonnaise that the taste is somewhat covered. It is indeed a meaty fish though. The smoked lamb is ok, but at this point in time, I am thankfully getting quite full.

I do have to try the two sealed delicacies. It wouldn’t be right not to. So I remove the lids again and try to convince myself that they may taste differently to how they smell. The fish jerky doesn’t smell that bad, but it doesn’t smell good either. On the other hand, the shark smells like the stinkiest brie cheese has been dipped in formaldehyde. I take my fork and tear off the tiniest of pieces… and I bite down into a gelatinous substance that does indeed taste as bad as it smells. It leaves an almost spicy aftertaste in my mouth. I decide I can not sample the fish jerky. My Icelandic food journey has finished. I wash down the last of my water, pay my bill and head to a local cafe for a hot chocolate. I need to get this taste out of my mouth.

The hot chocolate is delicious, maybe one of the best I’ve ever had, and slowly Iceland is redeeming itself in the food and beverage department. I decide to try not to be such a tough critic. I have plenty of other opportunities to sample some less eccentric dishes while here. And after all, the country is known for pizza and hot dogs, funnily enough. At least I know there is a solid backup plan in place. TBC…