Iceland: Days 1-3

After 9 years of dreaming and waiting I finally made the journey to Iceland for an entire week. I never thought I would get there when I did but I am so glad that it finally happened.

The idea to go to Iceland first came to me when my German class in high school had a guest speaker one day who came in and talked to us about Iceland.  She talked about Icelandic culture and part of me feels like she was there trying to see if any students had interest in studying there? I really don't remember I just know that after seeing photos of the country I wanted to go.  Another big reason why I wanted to go or solidified it all was hearing Tyr's cover of Regin Smidur.  You can listen to the traditional tune here

The history of the vikings, the breath taking photos of the country side and hearing TYR just made me want more and more.  Since Iceland (at the time) was not a very popular place trying to convince my parents or others to go with me was quite difficult.  Although recently it feels that everyone and their mom is going to Iceland! From the mouth of 1 tour guide I had; More people have visited Reykjavik (the country's capital) this past year than the number of people who actually reside in Reykjavik.  It really is amazing how over the years Iceland has evolved into a desired destination.

Thankfully with the help of my new job who offers me 2 weeks of paid vacation, I was able to make this amazing trip.  Since there is so much to share I have decided to split this journey into 2 separate posts.  Without further ado, here are the photos and stories from my 1st 3 days in Iceland.

 October 6th-7th, 2016:

Passport and boarding pass in hand, a pint in my stomach and my day pack stuffed and ready, I found my way onto my IcelandAir flight which was a quick 5 hour flight from Newark Liberty International.

After my quick flight, I hung around in the terminal for about 15 or 20 minutes for my travel buddy to arrive.... My sister!

My sister, Alexa, decided to make her trip to Iceland a stopover experience that is available through IcelandAir. We both arrived at 6am Iceland time which really was 2am EST so needless to say we were tired and hungry and powered through the entire first day, no naps!

We stayed at Alda hotel in Reykjavik which was conveniently located to pretty much everything we wanted to do. Because hotel check-in wasn't until the late afternoon we went and did some exploring nearby and came across the Hallgrimskirkja church where an amazing statue of Leifur Eiriksson is proudly displayed.  When inside of the church, you can take a little elevator up to the very top and peer our the observation windows at the tiny town below.

Originally we had intended to go to The Blue Lagoon on our first day in Iceland but the tickets to go sell out very quickly so unfortunately we weren't able to go together--although I did go on day 6 which I'll get into on Iceland Part II. Instead we set out to find another way to have our day or evening at the spa. 

In the end we settled on going to The Hilton Reykjavik Nordica's spa and both set up a 50 minute massage of our own.  To be honest I had never actually had a professional massage until then! Needless to say the massage was amazing! (Especially after a long day and flight.) That night we decided to get a late night snack and drink down in the hotel's bar and just relax after our 50 minute massages!

DAY 2- October 8, 2016:

Day 2 my sister and I got up early and took a taxi down to the car rental place and got our wheels for the day.  We made sure that we got a rental car that had 4-wheel drive incase of bad weather.  That morning the staff at the rental place told us that there was bad weather ahead which made us nervous but thankfully it held up for us. 

Driving in Iceland was very easy and safe and they drive on the right side of the road.  Although all the speed limits are all in kilometers the cars are as well so it was very easy to follow.

Initially, we drove all the way out to see where the Glacier we'd be hiking was just to have an idea.  We arrived at the Glacier site hours before our tour so we drove back a few kilometers and went to check out the amazing water fall we had driven by on the way to the Glacier.

The waterfall we stopped to see was Skogafoss. From far away it looked amazing but up close was even better.  Here's the sight you see as you pull up to the park

Incredible, right?

The entire time we were at this site I can't even remember how many times I said, "WOW" over and over again. It was truly one of the most beautiful things that I saw. I mean, look at that rainbow! Of course we got closer up and took some more photos and of course, selfies.

My sister Alexa looks microscopic in comparison to this waterfall!

After walking around at the base of the waterfall for a little while we decided to hike the trail to the overlook spots

Such a beautiful place and I couldn't believe that it was only the 1st stop of our day.

Later in the afternoon we headed over to our next location which was the Solheimajokull Glacier

We were the first 2 people to show up for our tour group so we geared up and got ready to climb the glacier. I had been really anxious about the hike the entire day. I was anxious because I wasn't sure how hard it would be or how it would be on my knees (because mine tend to suck.) Here are some photos from along the way:

Getting ready to head up! 
We were given little pickaxes and cramp ons in order to make climbing the glacier a lot easier.

After what felt like a long wait the rest of the tour group showed up we headed over to the base of the glacier then started to ascend to the top

This glacier is also known as the vanishing glacier because of how quickly it melts each year.  Each day the tour guides have to go out and check the glacier for major changes and map out a trail for the guides to take tourists on. Since it melts and transforms daily its important for them to set up additional ropes or steaks to help climbers up the trail-- this is also why we were given the pickaxes. 

During the climb to the top our guides talked to us about how in the previous week they had cancelled a number of tours because of seismic activity from the nearby volcano, Katla.  The last time that the volcano had erupted was in 1918 and is due to erupt again fairly soon.  

As you can see in the photos the ice we're walking on is swirled with black and almost looks like marble.  The black in the ice is actually ash from the last eruption of Katla from nearly 100 years ago! And as the ice melts it leaves heaps of black ash all over different parts of the glacier and the locals refer to them as the gnome homes. Gnomes are some pretty serious business in Iceland and not a joke to be taken lightly!

After a few hours on top and around the glacier we decided to make one last stop at the black sand beach about 30 minutes east from where our glacier tour was:

I may have broken the rules, but you only live once, right?
I really wanted to have a lot more time at the beach that day but it was about 4 in the afternoon at that point and we still had about a 2 hour drive back to Reykavik.

Day 3
The Golden Circle

Up again at the crack of dawn in order to take on the next journey of exploring the Golden Circle.  The Golden Circle is a collection of popular tourist attractions in western Iceland.

Our tour included: Faxi Waterfall, Hveragerdi where a severe earthquake caused some devastation, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir sights and Thingvellir National Park.

The first stop on our tour was Hveragerdi earthquake site. I didn't really take a lot of photos at this site. Although it was cool to see an actual crack that ran through the building under a pane of glass on the floor it wasn't worth drooling over for too long as we weren't at the site for that long either.  It was made more into a rest stop than a stop on the tour.

After a quick stop at Hveragerdi we drove over to Faxi waterfall. It was the smaller of the 2 waterfalls we saw that day but I honestly enjoyed how close we could get and my sister and I were able to get some great photos up close and afar.

Then onto Gullfoss...

Gullgoss is huge, as you can see from the photos and is known as a triple tier waterfall from all the different levels it possesses. The power could be felt standing anywhere near the falls and boy, was it misty! These photos don't nearly show the magnitude of this place but trust me it's beyond anything you can imagine.

In-between driving from Gulfoss to the Geysir site, our amazing tour guide pulled over in order for us to pet some beautiful Icelandic horses

As we drove from destination to destination our very friendly tour guide who went by Siggi, told us a lot of fun facts about Iceland along with personal stories and Icelandic quirks and beliefs.

Icelanders are very serious about trolls and gnomes and there is a lot of folklore and true stories tied to them.  Siggi told us a story about when they needed to build the road we were traveling on around a very large stone.  The stone was a gnome home and they had a woman who could communicate with them come to the construction site many years ago while the road was being build. She talked with the inhabitants of the rock and they told her that it was their home and a colony of them lived there and it would be very hard to move all of them to a different stone and that if they destroyed the stone, those who did would inherit bad luck. So there the stone stayed. 

Another story he told us about was that in Iceland there are more than 10 different kinds of Santa Clauses. 1 of them includes a cat who will eat you if you do not wear 1 article of new clothing Christmas day to 1 who leave potatoes in your shoes if you are bad. Pretty weird, huh?

Once we got to the Geysir site, we had about 2 hours to look around, shop and eat. I had never been to a geyser before so it was definitely a cool and anticipating experience waiting for the geyser to erupt!

The map at the entrance showed all of the geysers at the site but Geysir is the only one that is super active. Strokkur erupts every 2 years or so but Geysir goes off every 5-10 minutes a day. So we saw Geysir erupt 5 or 6 times while we were walking around the area. It was also the only part of the day where the sun came out for a little bit which was definitely a plus!

The last stop of the day was ├×ingvellir or Thingvellir. Thingvellir is a place where Icelandic Parliment has gathered in the past but even cooler is that it is a spot where 2 tectonic plates have actually split and separated.  If you're daring enough, you can even snorkel/scuba dive off the coast to see some pretty amazing things.
We didn't take the plunge into the freezing water but we did get hit with some very cold rain and wind as we hiked around the area.

At the end of the day we got home and took warm showers to warm up then headed out for dinner.
We didn't stay out too late as it was my sister's last day there and she wanted to get some rest as she had an early bus to the airport. In the morning I got up and packed up the remainder of my things and walked to my AirBnB!  

I will get into detail about the last 3 days of my trip in the next post but thanks for sticking with me through part 1. Please keep checking back in the next month or so for part 2!



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