Holidays in Hindsight: Iceland – November 2014

As you can probably tell by the title we recently visited Iceland!  In fact, that’s the reason why we have not posted for the past couple of weeks.  The first week we were away, the second we were in the midst of trying to sort everything at home, and work, out.  Speaking of, if you check out our Facebook page we have now uploaded a full album of photos from our trip to Florida as well as a full album of photos from our trip to Iceland.

On to our trip…

We flew out with Wow Air, Iceland’s equivalent of EasyJet.  Unlike their orange counterpart, unfortunately, Wow Air do not currently offer online check-in so we needed to get to the desk early to bag our seats.  As we had checked luggage we would have had to go to the desk anyway so it was not a hassle.

The staff were friendly and we did not have to wait long, although we did have the opportunity to vlog a little, more on that to come.  One thing that was different compared to other airlines we have previously travelled with, is that they weigh your hand luggage.  They have quite stringent regulations not only about the size of your hand luggage but the weight too.  Other than that the flight was fine.  The seats were comfortable and they do offer food and drink for purchase on the flight.  We took our own packed lunch, both there and back, and took our own entertainment (we played with our phones and didn’t talk to each other basically!)

Arriving in Keflavik airport was really easy.  Whilst the majority of signposts were in Icelandic, it was easy to find our way round.  The airport itself is very modern and well kept.  It was eerily quiet though to the point that Ant thought there had been a zombie attack.  No such luck.

We had pre-booked a hire car through a Wow Air affiliate.  We did have to wait around at the departure exit for the company representative to collect us but that may have been more down to the fact we were early rather than she was late.  We were driven with another couple to collect our car from a random industrial estate.  It was literally a big hanger style building and our two cars were parked out front.  It was a little weird but was completely legitimate given the company’s office was currently being renovated.

We hopped into our little Citroen C3, set our sat nav for our apartment in Reykjavik and went on our merry way.  We vlogged some of the journey as it was the best way to show the landscape and just how empty it is!  Hopefully you will be able to see the whole vlog soon, we just need the opportunity to finally edit it all and upload to Youtube.

We rented an apartment through AirBnB.  As instructed by the owner, we messaged her when we were leaving the airport with an expected time of arrival and also through the AirBnB website.  Unfortunately, she didn’t receive any of our messages until we’d been stood in the cold and rain for an hour!  Once we were in the apartment, unpacked and dried off we headed into Reykjavik city centre.

We headed down towards the harbour, initially to see if we could scout out the whale tour offices, but happened to stumble across the Harpa Concert and Conference Centre.

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Inspired by basalt crystals, the buildings steel and glass exterior gave a weird squashed honeycomb effect to the outside of the building.  Seeing it at night meant we got to see the full extent of the multi-coloured lights in random window sections.  It was a great sight to see and certainly a contrast to the more traditional style buildings that we saw throughout the rest of the city.

We decided to grab a takeaway pizza and head back to the apartment to rest as we had an early start the following day.  The pizza place was highly reviewed on Tripadvisor but it wasn’t that great so we don’t think it’s really worth mentioning any further.

Tuesday morning we got up at 6 in the pitch black to head out to Skaftafell National Park.  Skaftafell is home of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier and Svartifoss waterfall and is part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park.  Vatnajökull is Europe’s largest glacier and Skaftafellsjökull, the bit we went out to see, is one spur of this.

The journey from Reykjavik is long, a total of just over 325km, and took just over four hours.  It took us a little longer as we stopped to grab some breakfast and something to keep in our backpack for lunch and we also stopped to fill up with petrol.  The drive was easy enough, once we were out of the city, since you literally only have to get yourself onto Route 1 and that’s pretty much it.  It was a weird drive as it was dark for the vast majority of the journey and we saw very few other cars on the road once we were out of the main city areas.  There were very few houses or farms on the way and we saw no wildlife beside a couple of flocks of sheep.

On arrival at Skaftafell we popped into the visitor’s centre to grab a map of the hiking routes and to get our bearings.  The guide in the centre recommended moving to the second car park after seeing the glacier to save walking up the road to then follow the trails for the waterfall.

The walk to the glacier was easy. The routes are gravel and not overly hilly. There were very few obstructions and it meant that we could easily get right up close to the glacier.

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We only bumped into one other couple, on our return to the visitor’s centre, when we were merrily stuffing our faces with our lunch. Typical.

We jumped back in the car and moved on to the next car park. It was a little hard to work out if we actually parked in a car park as there were two roads past it, one going up the hill and the other heading towards the larger glacier spur. We decided to park up and walk the trail rather than being completely lazy.

This walk was harder than the first due to the incline and the sheer size of the steps but it wasn’t difficult by any means.

The first waterfall we saw was Heygötufoss and suffice to say we were quite impressed until we stumbled onto Hundafoss!

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From here it was an easy stroll uphill following the river to our destination. The worst part about the journey was the rain but fortunately we had our waterproof insulated coats and waterproof overtrousers to keep us dry!

The steps down to the waterfall were a little challenging, especially for someone with short stumpy Hobbit-esque legs!

Svartifoss is definitely worth a visit if you’re heading to the area, the lava columns surrounding it look like pipes on a church organ! There were enormous chunks of hexagonal shaped basalt columns scattered around the pool and river, it was quite a sight to see!

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The walk back to the car was easy enough, despite the giant sized steps and the snow trying to ruin it. We even saw our first glimpse of actual wildlife, a little Redwing that followed us back to our car. Then there was a Raven posing as the sun was setting!

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We got caught in a blizzard driving back, which was an experience to say the least. We headed to Roadhouse for dinner. Ant ordered the enormous Empire State burger which consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich between two burger patties, a fried egg, bacon, onion rings, jalapenos and sauce. Kelly had the BB King BBQ Bacon Burger, which was exactly what it says on the tin, a bacon burger with óðals cheese and Kansas BBQ sauce. After all the walking we’d done that day we both scoffed our meals in less than 15 minutes. What pigs!

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Wednesday we went whale watching and as the tour didn’t start until 1pm, we were able to get a nice rest before heading into town. We booked through Elding Whale Watching and headed back into town to grab a famed Icelandic hot dog and a warming cup of coffee and tasty slice of cake. The hot dog wasn’t anything special but the coffee and cake made up for it.

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On the tour you’re at sea for at least three hours and because you’re exposed to the elements, read it’s damn cold, they provide you with very fetching thermal suits to wear. Kelly rocked hers with killer style whilst Ant decided to suck it up and not take one.

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We were very lucky that it was a beautiful day and very calm out. Kelly isn’t the best on boats and was worried about sea sickness but fortunately did not suffer at all. Sadly we did not get to see any whales, not even the slightest hint of one, but we did see a pod of dolphins feeding. It was a lovely experience and whilst we appreciate you cannot predict where and when nature will do it’s thing, we were both still a little disappointed.

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We grabbed a bite to eat at The Laundromat Café and headed back to the apartment for another rest as we had another busy day of hiking planned for Thursday.

For Thursday we planned to take in the Golden Circle. This covers around 300km within southern Iceland in a big circle, of course, from Reykjavik into central Iceland and back again. As we didn’t join as organised tour we missed out on visiting Hellisheidavirkjun Turbine and Generator and Kerið volcano crater.

The first stop on our mini tour was Gullfoss waterfall. The journey took us through Þingvellir National Park, giving us a taster of things to come, and took around an hour and a half.

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We arrived at Gullfoss shortly after the sunrise had finished and it cast a beautiful light on the surrounding mountains. We were also lucky enough to have the place to ourselves for a brief moment before all the tour buses arrived.

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After this we headed back the way we had come to see the geysers within the geothermal valley of Haukadalur. Strokkur was an impressive sight but they don’t warn you about the smell. Whilst you get used to the rotten egg smell, it’s still not the most pleasant thing!

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Last place on our list to visit was Þingvellir National Park. It’s a beautiful serene place to visit despite the volume of visitors. It’s also a little weird to think you’re stuck between two continental plates, America and Eurasian, at times!

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Þingvallavatn Lake is enormous and literally stretches as far as the eye can see. It is overseen by a tiny church and graveyard which are “modern” additions to a much older site.

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We stayed until the sun started to set thinking we’d have a good opportunity to see the Northern Lights in such an open location and without any light pollution from neighbouring towns and cities. Sadly, just like the previous nights, it quickly clouded over and we lost our opportunity.

On returning to Reykjavik we headed to Gandhi Indian Restaurant before heading back to the apartment to pack.

On Friday we made the journey back to Keflavik to get our flight and return home.

Aside feeling like we’d booked ourselves onto the party bus, there were no major hiccups and we arrived home safe and sound.

If we were to do this trip again we’d definitely prefer to stay at lodges along Route 1 to cut down on journey times throughout the day. Other than that, it was a good trip. We’d definitely like to return to explore the north and east of the country and hopefully catch both the Northern Lights and whales!

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