Sunday, October 18, 2015

Driving Around Iceland, Part 5: Reykjavik to Jokulsarlón

(please refrain from using my photos without permission)

As I have mentioned in my first three posts, I am writing about my trip to Iceland in reverse chronological order. And so in this last part of my series of blogs about Iceland, I shall be talking about the first part of the trip.

We were actually coming from Toulouse on the way to Iceland. And from Toulouse, we had to change planes in Amsterdam. We took Iceland Air from there. The flight was quite nice. We had some free snacks onboard and there was an entertainment console on each seat, but you'd have to buy the ear phones, which I found weird.

Some slow shutter, moody shot of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lake, taken with an ND filter
We arrived around midnight and so were greeted by the midnight sunset above the Icelandic skies a few minutes before touchdown to Keflavik Airport. Everything was bathed in blood-red outside. It was otherworldly. I’ve never really seen the sunset from the plane before, much less, a midnight one! It was splendid... like a portent of things to come.

The midnight sunset from the plane window, a few minutes before touchdown at Keflavik Airport

On the way out of Reykjavik, early in the morning

Early morning, the very next day, we set out on the road to Jokusarlon towards the southeast. Outside Reykjavik, the roads start to get filled with endless bizarre-looking plains and mountains. It was quite a sight to behold. My eyes were in for a treat -- such wide expanse of land and cliffs and clouds.

The clouds seem to always go out of their way to make the sky look interesting. Some of the time, it will be too low, making everything dark, the sky sombre and overcast. At times, it will be decorating the sky in strange, complicated and curious-looking patters. It’s really too bad I did not have the luxury of time to stop and take better pictures of them.

Skógafoss -- too many people in the background

And so we decided to climb a certain height to be able to take photos without the annoying people in background


This looks easy and comfortable, but it wasn't! everything was slippery and the footpath was narrow... anything for a good picture! :)

Our first stop was Skógafoss. We actually saw maybe hundreds of tiny waterfalls along the road. But we had to choose where we should stop. And most of them are inside private properties, anyway. Skógafoss is one of the most famous, so we definitely had to see it. I am totally crazy about waterfalls.

There were a couple of viewing sights which make you hike up a bit along the side of the waterfall. We climbed to the lower part. It was tiring. At one point, we asked a stranger to take our pic with my SLR. He inched a bit backwards on the narrow path where we were all standing, and he almost fell. I was a bit scared... for my camera... kidding! :)

I was just thankful I wore the right shoes for this trip. And took some warm clothes, most importantly. It was summer but the warmest temperature we had was 20 degrees in Reykjavik. Without the wind, it's nice. But out there in the countryside, it was always windy and drizzly at times, and definitely less than 20 degrees all the time. You really need to dress properly for this.

hubby enjoying the view

standing on very soft mounds of mossy lava land -- it was drizzling a bit but we didn't mind.

As we drove farther down south, we passed by several small villages by the sea. We would stop for gas or snacks from time to time. There aren't really a lot of shops or restaurants along the road, except for the ones that are in the center of the villages.

The farther down south you go, the lesser the vegetation becomes. Everything starts to look barren. The waterfalls and the hills would be replaced by miles and miles of mossy lava land. We stopped by at some point to walk around a bit and stretch our legs. I was quite surprised to find that the ground was so soft to walk on. My husband was running all over the place like a crazy kid. I told him to be careful because I noticed that there are some huge holes in-between or underneath the mossy mounds we were walking on. And we might just step on a soft ground and fall into a giant hole or something, if we're not careful. I told my Icelandic friend about this fear I had when we met her in Reykjavik. And she told me that in fact, her great grandfather once fell into a deep hole like this and it took some time before somebody found him and helped him out. So, if you ever find yourself in Iceland walking on these mossy mounds, do be careful! ;)

Fjaðrárgljúfur -- wet and wild and slippery walk

there was a seemingly nice small farm restaurant just a few meters off Fjaðrárgljúfur but only the café was open and we hadn't had lunch yet

Close to the lava land, we found an interesting walk which took about an hour or so to hike up and down. It was really beautiful -- the hills, the gorge, and the waterfalls. It reminded me a bit of the setting for Jurassic Park. It was otherworldly.

But the most beautiful sight of all, and one of the most wonderful sights I’ve ever come to behold was the glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlón. The pictures below definitely don't do justice! And also, I’ve been too lazy to photoshop all the pictures.

My first glimpse of the glacier

Unphotoshopped but still beautiful -- hubby threw a tiny pebble into the lagoon and a seal emerged from the calm waters. It went quickly out of everybody's sight and did not re-emerge. It was too quick for my camera, unfortunately.

The Ice in Iceland, taken with my phone cam-- seeing the ice melt makes me feel a bit sad about climate change and all that stuff

I was actually sleeping when hubby had a first sighting of the Glacial Lagoon. He woke me up to say we're stopping. By then, the glacial lagoon had been hidden by some hilly rocks. I asked him why we're stopping and he told me, it's a surprise. We stopped and climbed all the way up the rocks, and then I found myself gaping with amazement at the sight of huge floating pieces of ice on a lake.

We went crazy running around the place and started to take lots of pictures. It was the first time ever that I saw my husband taking a "selfie". :D

The Charming Hotel in Hali, right at the foot of the cloud-loving cliffs and a few meters off the sea

The Hali Hotel Reception, Restaurant and Museum

Langoustine for dinner at Hali Hotel

A few minutes down the road, we found our Hotel in Hali. It was beautifully situated at the foot of the cliffs and right in front of the sea. Everything around looked so calm and peaceful. It was almost dinner when we arrived. And so, we just rested a little bit and then went back to the hotel's restaurant, which also doubles as a museum, exhibiting memorabilia of the Icelandic writer Þorbergur Þórðarson (the character Þ is pronouced like "th" in the English-speaking world).

We had a lovely dinner at the restaurant. I had an entire plate of langoustine all to myself! The hotel staff were really nice and friendly. And the guests get to enter for free at the museum. After dinner, I really wanted to motivate myself to see the midnight sunset back at the glacial lagoon, but lethargy and fatigue took the better of me. I had a nice and restful sleep, though.

The Jokulsarlón Glacier that melts into the lagoon and straight out to the cold sea

Beautiful cloud patterns -- Iceland is a cloudspotter's paradise!

We had lovely weather the next day as we set off towards Borgarnes in the west. I was very reluctant to leave Jokulsarlón too early. If only we had planned our trip well, we could've stayed for a couple of days there instead to be able to enjoy the glacial lake more, or even do some hiking.

Along the way, we stopped by Reynisfjara. It’s a black sand beach with some interesting volcanic rock formations along the shore that are shaped like tall pillars. They patterned the Hallgrimskirkja after these basalt rocks, as I have mentioned in my previous post.

A smaller version of Reynisfjara rocks that we passed by along the road

Posing at the base of the rock formations

The beautiful basalt rock formations at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

The closer you get to them the more ominous and daunting they look, and for good reason -- you can hear tiny pieces of rocks from the top falling off bit by bit.

At the beach, there was a small café that sells sandwiches and soups. The lamb soup was really nice, especially with the cold windy weather. You will definitely need all the warmth you can get when you face the blast of the cold breeze from the sea. It really took some getting used to. I had to wear a bonnet for some time.

There were some interesting walks along the beach but again, unfortunately, we were pressed for time. We stayed a bit to take a few pics and sat on the pebbly black sand beach for a while to take in the view.

I am still glad, though, that I was able to visit Iceland during this time while its tourism is still being developed. All of the tourist sites, even the most famous ones are still free for entry. But my local friend says they're thinking about making people pay to enter these sites, or increase the airport tax or something. But as of this writing, everything in Iceland is already a bit pricey as a result of the influx of hordes of Chinese and French tourists crowding the more famous sites.

We also saw a lot of hotels being built around the city center in Reykjavik. And in Jokulsarlón, we can feel that it is really starting to get touristy. As a matter of fact, I had a hard time taking a picture of the ice floe below that is shaped like an evil bunny because there was an annoying woman wearing a red coat standing right next to it. I had to wait for some time for her to leave the frame so I could take this pic.

A cute evil bunny ice floe at Jokulsarlón Glacial Lagoon

Iceland is truly unforgettable and magical. I would even venture to say that it is my best trip to date. The vast and unobstructed view of nature all around, in all its untouched glory, just gives off a very strong and overwhelming sense of infinite freedom. It is one of the very few places on earth with lovely lonely landscapes, refreshingly and extraordinarily beautiful… it can easily make you cry.

That’s all for now, and I hope you enjoyed reading my four-part blog entries recounting my wonderful trip. All the best! :)

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