Sunday, August 17, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 5

June 19, 2014

Vík is such a photogenic town, and if you are traveling eastward you have to go by this impressive valley before arriving to Vík,   The night before I stopped by to have dinner and I wish I had taken pictures because the weather was great.

I left the guesthouse early, and driving my little car thru the valley I just mentioned, I was following a car, there was another behind me and the wind was really strong.  Out of nowhere an object flew out of the mid size truck that was driving in the opposite direction.  The object hit the front of my car making an incredible loud noise. I was only able to safely stop when I arrived to Vík, and this is when I finally saw the damaged in my little Yaris.  Yankov didn’t look happy at all, specially since the bumper would have to be eventually replaced thanks to the newest fashion statement in my car: a bumper crack .

The weather was crappy as well, and the amazing pictures I was hoping to take while in town would have to wait until I returned later on the day.  Today my destination was the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where pretty much the Vatnajökull Glacier is melting in the ocean.

There were other things I wanted to do today, but the lagoon was the first stop.  Obviously I was trying to shrug off the incident with my car, gratefully I have a happy and optimistic personality, so here I was driving down road 1 trying to find something positive about what had just happened. 

The Lupine fields are impressive, and you will see them not longer after leaving Vík.  Fun fact: the Alaskan lupine was actually introduced in Iceland in 1945 as a mean to fertilize the soil and stop erosion. This purple invasive flower found the perfect place and conditions to flourish in the island.  It does look pretty and I saw it everywhere I went.

Along the way you will be busy admiring and enjoying the landscape, and you will stop many times.  I wished I had time to explore the area around Kirkjubæjarklaustur, this cute village with tons of hidden jewels.  The waterfall behind the village is so beautiful and too bad I missed the exit to see it up and close.

Remember how I felt when I saw the Sholheimajökull glacier?  Apparently I had seen anything yet because by the time I saw the Vatnajökull Glacier I literally had to stop the car. I think that’s the mother of all glaciers - then again I haven’t seen the ones in Canada.  It is impressive, massive, beautiful and breathtaking.  I should note I was not the only one stopping to admire this beast, safely of course.

Kept on driving and when I was in the middle of the lava desert of Skeiðarársandur I stopped the car in the side of the road, turned on the hazard lights and took some pictures of the glacier.  I had a schedule so I continue my journey, and I hadn’t driven 2 minutes after my last pit stop when a police car coming in the opposite direction turned on his lights and signaled to stop.

I knew I shouldn’t had stopped to take a picture, but I know I took all the precautions. The uniformed viking introduced himself and informed I was speeding, driving at 108km/h on a 90km/h area.  I guess the fascination of the glacier, me trying to forget about my earlier incident, and perhaps after my stop I tried to return to my cruising speed without realizing I had gone over the speed limit.

The officer invited me to the back seat of his cruiser, where a camera was going to record our conversation, it was very cozy and I definitely recommend the experience. The ticket was around USD 300.00 but if I paid immediately I would received a 25% discount.  Painful and costly let me tell you, but remember how I’m always trying to find a positive spin to everything that happens to me?  Well then, I informed the viking officer I wanted to report an earlier incident in the Vík area.  Initially the officer thought it was a dent on the car, but when he saw the crack in my Yankov the incident became serious and he wrote a report, took pictures and informed me I could get a copy of the report in any police station in the country. I wished I had shown my crack earlier, no pun intended, probably it would had saved me a speeding ticket.

The show must go on, and along the way some of the landscape looked like the surface of the moon.  I stopped in one of the rest areas and to my surprise behind the rocks I found the lagoon with icebergs.  It really doesn’t matter where you in Iceland, there is always something that will surprise you, just walk a bit to find it.  Drove another 5 minutes and made to the base of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.  Lots of cars and buses parked, and I didn’t drive this long just to watch the icebergs from the shore right?  There are different companies and I think they all charge more or less the same price. Meet some interesting characters and after the boat tour I decided to have my well deserved lunch.

You should go to the beach as well, there you will find those icebergs that were rejected by the ocean melting away in the sand.  Very peculiar view, and pay attention to those freaking South African birds, because they will keep trying to assassin you. 

Ingólfshöfði was the suggested next stop, the bird cliff in a private nature reserve, but this was a 3 hours tour, I love birds but I had other plans in my head, so I keep driving to the Skaftafell National Park.  Keep in mind now I was driving westwards towards Vík.

First thing I did was to stop at the Visitor Centre and informed myself about the hiking trails, and let me tell you they have all type of trails, you could spend days here, and they also have an excellent campground.  The beautiful Svartifos waterfall is located in this park and it was the first place I went. Beautiful basalt columns constantly washed by the river, stunning. Keep walking and you will reach the place where you have the magnificence panoramic view of the valley, the view of the lava fields, don’t forget to visit Sel, the old farms with grass roof.

I didn't find the hiking to be too difficult, and I spent more time in this park than I had initially planed. Specially since I decide to walk towards the base of the glacier. I probably spent over 3 hours in this park, and worth it.

Back to the road I went, extra careful with my speed and hoping to remember to exit in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, because that waterfall was vibrant. Unfortunately it didn’t go as planned and I missed the exit.  There were other attractions that I could had stopped along the way, but I was tired and just wanted to return to Vík, I had a picture date with the city.

When I finally made it to Vík, guess what?  Yes, it was raining and foggy, once again I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get the pictures I wanted.  I went for a walk in the famous black sandy beach, and even with the rain that place is magical, the colours the ocean, the freaking birds.  To end my visit to the town I went back to the same restaurant from the night before, near the supermarket, and had an amazing fish, recommendation from a fellow traveller I was meeting everywhere I went.

I thought about trying to hike to the C-47 Dakota airplane shell located not far away from the guesthouse I was staying.  The wreckage has been there since 1973 when it crash landed on Sólheimasandur’s black sandy beach - everyone survived.  I know is just a plane, but I thought it could be an amazing phone opportunity, specially since had stopped raining. I also thought about returning to Vík because of the nicer weather but instead decided to visit my bed for a good night of rest.

******* Part 6 and 7 coming soon

Friday, July 11, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 4

June 18, 2014: “What is expensive?” This was the main question asked after I returned to Montreal. I also got the “how cold is it?”  Expensive is definitely relative to where you are from and how big is your budget right?

Gas costs around CDN 2.50/liter compared Montreal's CDN 1.50/liter is a bit on the expensive side, but then some Europeans will claim to be “normal” pricing.  If I wanted to have a regular meal (fish/steak/lamb) with no drinks included the price was between CDN 25.00 to CDN 30.00. Burger, fries and soft drink was around CDN 20.00, finally if you wanted to pick up a sandwich from a super market that would probably cost you around CDN 10.00 - beer was around CDN 10.00 - that give you an idea of what I call expensive.  This was my vacation dammit and I was there to enjoy it so after day 2 I did not care anymore about prices, alright just a little bit.

You will hear a lot about the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland, pretty much is a “circle” that includes the attractions of Reykjavik plus Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir National Park. This meant I had already started my visit to the circle the day before, and I was staying not far away from the Geysir area.  When I arrived at my hotel it was raining like there is no tomorrow, but in the morning everything was much better, I could actually see what was around me.

Today my final destination was going to be a bed near Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland. Road 365 lead me to the road 37 where my first stop of the day was waiting for me. Geysir is the father of the geysers, unfortunately it decided to become dormant many years ago. Strokkur is the performer of the family, and the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs) is eminent as soon as you step into the area.  While driving to Geysir some kamikaze lambs decided to through themselves in front of my Yaris but I was able to avoid the carnage of the lambs.  Then I looked to the left and I saw Lassie (a herding dog) running in front of at least 30 Icelandic horses, really? Lassie was working them man, the horses were following the dog like they knew honey was waiting for them at the end of the road. 

Confession of the day, I was happy I stop to see this natural wonder, but in reality I was not wowed by the experience.  It was cute and it was nice to see where all the geysers got their name from but I did not spend too much time in this area.

10 km further the golden waterfall was waiting for me, the famous Gullfoss.  I had seen pictures of this triangle of water love before, but there is nothing like seen it in person. There are 2 levels to visit this place, the wet one and the safe dry upper level.  You must walk in both because it is fascinating, specially when you see mothers pushing their new borns carriage to the wet level.

Gullfoss almost disappeared once upon the time, similar to what you see when the river vanishes into the earth.  What almost became a hydropower plant today is one of the most famous and visited waterfall in Iceland.  There are so many angles to photograph this natural beauty, I’m just glad I got to experience this place.

Drove south on road 30 until getting to the precious road 1, at this point I was looking for Urriðafoss, a waterfall located in the river Þjórsá in southwest Iceland. This waterfall will eventually disappear when the planned powerhouse is built. Not very impressive but good place to stretch my legs again.  Along the way I picked up this German kindergarden teacher, she was going to this earthy festival somewhere along my route, I was happy to help a fellow tourist.

Seljalandsfoss was my next destination along road 1, and what an incredible waterfall this is, there are other waterfalls in the same area, but this is the one you want to see. Get ready to get wet, and when I got there a photo shoot was under way, there were several cute models getting wet and all. Some Russian teenager tourists were also trying to prove their toughness I guess, because they decided to climb to the top of the waterfall.  I just loved this place, I got wet, I smiled, I screamed while getting wet, it was a dream come true guys, what else can I say eh?

Around 30 minutes drive from this location you will find the ferry that takes you to the Westman (Vestmannaeyjar) Islands, but I will talk about this place later on.  Back on road 1 towards east I went, until I saw one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland, Skógafoss.  By now you probably figured out “foss” means waterfall right?  

Lot of people camping in this area, and according to the legend some Viking buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall, I decided not to pursue the legend and climbed the steps that lead you to the top of the mountain instead.  There are around 25 different waterfalls if you decide to hike the area, and I think the most difficult part is getting to the top.  Just breathtaking view of the valley from the cliffs, which used to be the coastline many many moons ago.  Do not forget to bring your jacket because it could get windy at the top, and you don’t want to get windburned right?

After satisfying myself with this magnificence hike I was ready to keep going.  I had already decided my next stop was going to be the Cape Dyrhólaey and then the city of Vík. Driving I was again on road 1 when I saw it, I know we have them in Canada but I have never actually seen one. No too long after leaving Skógafoss you will see from the road the glacier called Sholheimajökull. I felt like mermaids were singing and calling me to drive there.  I had read it was a gravel road and rough, my original plan was to bypass this attraction but the first thing I did when I saw the entrance to road 221 was to turn and drive to the glacier.  There were some other cars driving the opposite direction, and you have to pay attention to the big 4x4 because some of them don’t slow down and there is always the dangerous your car will get hit by little stones.

My first glacier and I was not disappointed, I just sat there and looked at that enormous amount of ice that has been moving for thousand of years.  I overheard the instructors of a hiking group that they shouldn’t walk in some areas because it was summer already and they could plunge to their deaths in hidden holes.  Glaciers in Iceland have some dark layers and this is due to the volcanic ashes that follow each eruption.

Back to the main road I went until I existed on road 218 towards Dyrhólaey peninsula.  Depending when you visit puffins might meet you there because the cliffs are one of their nesting areas.  Fascinating place, they call it the door hole and you want to see it in different angles because you have the cliffs, then the black lava columns of the Reynisdrangar come out of the sea, the black sand beaches and towards inland you get to the see another glacier.  It is an overload of natural beauty.  I must admit, this was a long day and I was getting tired, so drove back to the main road and exited on road 215 to get my other angle of the area.  Walked on the black sand beach mixed with some type of pebbles and actually stayed there for a while.  Finally drove to the guesthouse I was staying that night, Eystri Sólheimar, cute place where I actually spent 2 nights.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 3

June 17, 2014: Happy Independence Day Iceland, and I should had bought my travel food the night before.  Once again it was 8:30am when I left the town of Stykkishólmur towards the Borgarfjörður region, which meant to take road 58 back to 54 and South on 56 across the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

I was wondering about road 56 because it is pretty much in the middle of the mountains, unfortunately for me, it was super sunny when I started the day, but by the time I reached road 56 it was raining and foggy.  I did not feel like stoping to see the lava fields, but I did stop for the second time at the restaurant where the road 56 and 54 intersects.  National holiday and the place only opens at 10:00am, but a nice gentleman saw me and I was able to buy some chocolate bars, the ones I pretended were power bars because health.

Followed the road 54 until I returned to city of Borgarnes, and then back on Road 1 because the first schedule visit of the day were the Glanni waterfall, not very well known but I wanted to see it.  Minding my own business I was when I realized there were 5 motorcyclists following me. They clearly look like members of a gang. I told myself this was like the Mad Max movie. Hoping I had a similar kind of car, I press the red button hoping for some type of weapon. Instead My Yaris gave me the hazard lights, and after a couple of clicks I accepted my fate, I was destined to be gang raped by a gang of Viking thugs. I looked around to see if I had something to make things easier in the car, and I remembered there was something in my bag, I slowed down the car ready for the Vikings when the unexpected happened: they just drove by...the nerve, not even a goodbye, just drove away, all the psychological preparedness of the last 23.5 seconds were gone like the wind. 

Back to reality, around the Bifröst area you will find not only the Glanni waterfall but also Laxfoss, and somehow I missed the entrance to get to Glanni. I ended up driving on a back road instead of the main one, which was fine because it gave me the chance to see a bit more of the region.  During my trip countless times I would stop somewhere not realizing there was something special right around the corner.  I also must admit I had a kamikaze GPS in my hands, because at this point this diabolic machine kept trying to send me to the no no roads.  I probably drove for 20 minutes on a no no road until I had to turned around to look for road 518 on my way to Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfall.

Guys, Hraunfossar is a magnificence peace of natural art, to see water tumbling from the middle of those trees into the river down below is mesmerizing and you must stop, admire for a couple of minutes and just taken in the natural beauty of that moment.  For a moment I thought I had to drive to see Barnafoss, but pretty much is just a couple of steps away from Hraunfossar, a 2 in 1 deal.  There were so many photographers in this place, and we are talking hard core professionals here, or at least their fancy cameras made me believe National Geographic was having a field trip in the area.

After so many wows I had to leave because there was another stop in my schedule, the famous Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, a world heritage site, and it is freaking awesome place.  There was an issue, in my map it seemed I could actually drive on road 550 and then take 52 to get to my destination.  My kamikaze GPS was telling me to follow that route, until I finally asked one of the locals (yes, there were some at this place) and they told me the 550 was actually a F550, in other words a highland road and my Yaris was not up to the challenge.

Drove back on 518 then on road 50, along the way it was rainy like crazy and i stopped at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere and had the most amazing lamb soup I have ever tried in my life. Finally I ended up turning left into road 52, and this is where I thought twice about my decision.  The sign showed road 52 turning in the last kilometers into road F550, and I was not supposed to drive on those roads, but my map was telling me I could take road 52.  I did take it and eventually it becomes a gravel road, and the more I drove the more amazing the scenery became and the more I thought I probably would have to turn around.  Eventually when it really became harder to drive I found an Icelandic lady snoozing in her car and asked her if I could keep driving on this road, she say yes because the 52 would take me all the way to my destination. My Yaris was good enough and I just kept going until I got to where the tectonic place is ripping Iceland apart, where Europe is divorcing the Americas.

It was rainy, foggy and just miserable when I got to Þingvellir National Park, but I had a smile in my face, because I still couldn't believe there was such an incredibly beautiful country in this planet.  As soon as I parked my car I met this South African couple and I asked them what should I see first, because I noticed there were 2 main points of interest from the parking lot.  They told me to do everything and this is what I did.  First I walked towards the right, where this wood path took me to this waterfall, just beautiful and this is where I really wished  it was sunny right at that moment, because this Þingvellir valley must look amazing with the blue sky and the sun shining all over the place.  I also brought my scuba diving card just in case I wanted to dive at the Silfra lake, which people claim to be just crystal clear - I did not dive.  After I had explored the right hand side, I went to the left and walked thru those rifts, the place were the first Parliament was established in 930.

Once I finished my visit I drove to my hotel located on road 365 in the Laugarvatn area, which was cool because it would take me closer to my first next destination of the following day, the Geysir.

**** Part 4 coming up *****

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 2

There are basically 3 types of roads in Iceland, the main road or Route no 1, also known as the Ring Road because goes around the whole island (1,332 km), secondary roads using 2 or 3 digits in their names (some of them are gravel), and the famous mountain roads, also known as Highland Roads and they are marked as F-roads (F35 / F338).  Why is this important? Because if you want to drive on the F-roads you will need a 4wd vehicle, otherwise you might be subject to serious fines by the police, and who knows what your insurance will do if you damage your rental in non authorized zone.

July 16, 2014: My final destination was going to be my hotel in Stykkishólmur, in the north part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Left my hotel at around 8:30am and drove north on Route 1 towards Hvalfjörður.  

As soon as you leave Reykjavik your mouth starts dropping by the scenery in front of you, sometimes I must admit is difficult to pay attention to your driving because you can’t stop looking at those giant mountains with those green/yellow colours. My solution was to actually safely stop whenever I could in order to fully admire the view.  

Once in Hvalfjörður, I knew I was going to drive around the fjord because I wanted to visit the famous Glymur waterfall.  Many people choose to bypass this natural wonder by taking the submarine tunnel, please don’t do it because first of all the fjord is beautiful, and second the waterfall is a natural monument, the second highest in Iceland.

Small drive in a gravel road until reach the parking lot to start the hike to Gylmur. Before leaving Montreal I had thought about not bringing my Camelbak water backpack, glad I brought it because I used everywhere in my hikes. 

Not a difficult hike, probably took me 45 minutes to get there, and along the way you are exposed to an unforgettable landscape.  When you reach the water stream you have to literally pass thru a small cave to get down to the river bank, then walk across a log to reach the other side and then start climbing to the top of the waterfall.  

You can keep walking because there are other place to visit if you want to, and along the way I met two Belgian guys I wished I had exchange emails with, because returning to the car I was when I turned around and saw them standing in one of the edges of the waterfall. I know they would like to have a copy of this phenomenal moment, because I’m sure they felt as if they were at the top of the world.

Took off again on route 1 towards Borgarnes and then took road 54 towards the peninsula. The weather until now had been wet, not rainy crazy but enough to wear a raincoat, and sometimes you had the glance of the mountains with white spots, or hidden gens behind the strong fog, then as if per magic when I arrived to the Eldborg crater it was sunny again. Initially I started to drive towards the crater, but then I realized the beauty was to admire from far and turned around and continue my trip.

I drove by the Gerdubert basalt columns, interesting geometric formation that you will see again in other areas of the country. The most impressive of all in this peninsula is the diversity of the landscape, actually this is true for the whole country. I don’t know how many times while I was driving I would start laughing after seeing a volcanic mountain, a sandy beach, a beautiful valley, and telling myself how was it possible to have such a beautiful place.

By the time I arrived where roads 54 and 56 intersect, I stopped at the restaurant to refill my energy and fill up the tank of my Toyota Yaris.  This is when you start noticing the other travelers that are going in the same direction, and be assured you will see them again in your future stops, so I pretty much just started establishing some connections right there.  Anytime you stop, just ask the locals about the must see places, they are very proud of their region and gladly will share with you information you might not find in the books and maps you are carrying.

Ytri Tunga beach was my next stop because I was told, by my waiter, it was the place to see seals specially in the month of June. Did not get to see seals, but saw lots of tourists, good way to stretch my legs.  Next was Búðir (also called Búdir), the black church located right after the intersection of road 54 and 574. The view is just so inspiring not only when you are looking towards where Reykjavik is but also in the opposite direction.  There are waterfalls pretty much everywhere, the ones you find in the books are the most famous, and I saw some incredible double, triple and sometimes quadruple falls along the way.

On my way to the town of Anarstapi I was, when I saw another point of interest on the road, the Rauðfeldsgjá canyon.  At first you think is a rock with a bunch of birds and a stream coming from somewhere, and I only decided to further explore this “rock” after my French buddies had decided to do it, and also after seeing someone come from somewhere on that direction.  The closer you get to the base the more you are looking for the “entrance” that is not visible, until you realize the stream is coming thru a fissure on the side of the mountain, and you have to jump some rocks in order to get into the small chamber.  What an incredible view it is inside, with green moss and the water stream coming from the split walls.  You can further explore the canyon, just keep in mind you are going to get wet with cold water.

Before arriving to Anarstapi you can see the majestic Stapafell mountain, and you might actually miss the glorious valley where the town is located because you are still admiring the mountain.  This is another place you must stop and do some hiking, there are several cliffs with tons of birds, basalt columns, and lunar type of rock formation all the way to the Hellnar arch.  The amazing thing about this country is that it doesn’t where you are, there is always something beautiful to see.

By the time I finished my hike I realized I still had a long way to go, so I called the place I was staying advising not to expect me until probably 9:00pm.

The weather had already changed and some dark clouds were covering the Londrangar basalts cliffs when I got there. This unique ancient basalt volcanic formation gives the area this dramatic look, actually I found all sights in Iceland to be somehow dramatic, either because of the colous or because the weather, or because of the landscape.

I had already entered the Snæfellsjökull National Park, and this is where you can see the volcano covered by the Snæfellsjökull glacier. If you read Jules Verne’s book “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” you will recognize this area as the starting poing of the trip.  Driving along road 574 you will encounter several light houses, little mountains, until hit the northern part of the peninsula in the Breiðafjörður bay.

The fishing port of Ólafsvík was my next stop and I was back on road 54, I had already eaten all the food in my car and I was ready for diner.  Cute town with spectacular view, but then again nothing more surprises me about this country, I was actually beginning to believe in the existence of elves.

Only 2 hours left in order to make it to my final destination of the day, in the town of Stykkishólmur.  As you can see, one day is not enough to fully appreciate this peninsula, you need at least one day to explore the south and another for the north, and let me tell you both sides are totally different.  By the time I left my Italian and British buddies in Ólafsvík, the weather was a mix of sun and fog.  Sometimes you will see a mountain surrounded by clouds with spot lights of sun touching patches of yellow grass, given you this amazing uplifting energy of beauty. I’m starting to believe that even the lambs are happy in this country.

You seriously don’t know what to look, because everything is unreal, and although I had a short time to see the north side, I had decided I was going to stop anywhere.  The valleys are just precious, out of nowhere you see waterfalls falling from the mountains, beautiful lakes, and finally you get to see the famous mountain Kirkjufell, and this guy is going to follow you for a while. Just keep you eyes open because you might miss the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, and from the right spot you might get wonderful pictures with the mountain as your background.

At this point I was getting a bit tired and the fog had intensified, so I just wanted to get to my bed. Drove by some small villages, saw some more amazing views until I finally made to the town of Stykkishólmur where a bed was waiting for me.  To be honest I did not explore this place, and people take the ferry to cross the bay to the West Fjords from here, which I heard is amazing.  There is an interesting concrete church and an old lighthouse on the top of the hill.  

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 1

“…but I thought you were going to Croatia?” - “…but didn’t you say instead of Croatia Istanbul was your next choice?”.  Yes, yes and yes people, typical me, thinking about going somewhere and at the last minute deciding for an unexpected place.  Just like the time I was planning to go to Australia and I ended up in South Africa instead.

It was a last minute decision, when initially I thought I was going to go to see the Adriatic sea, or where Asia meets Europe, instead I ended up in the island where literally the American and European continent are breaking apart from each other.  

Let me tell you something, nothing will prepare you for how beautiful this country really is, and how expensive things are.  Paradise if you are into photography because the pictures you’ll able to add to your collection will be unforgettable, and incredibly breathtaking if you are into outdoors activities because literately you will lose your breath by either admiring what you are seeing, or by getting to the top of the waterfall, mountain, volcano or whatever else you are climbing.

Due to the fact I had less than 30 days to prepare for my trip, and not much time to get everything ready I decided to book a Self Drive Tour.  I do recall one of my friends going to Iceland a while back and he suggested me to deal with the company “Iceland Tours”.   Checked around for reviews, and compared prices with the other companies and at the end I decided to book the 6 nights/7 days best of South and West.  Personally I didn’t think 10 days were enough to go around the whole island, unless I was rushing which is not my style, and second I wanted some time to chill out in Reykjavik.

Now if I had the time, I probably would had rented the car on my own, search for places to stay after had planned my itinerary, and perhaps it would had lowered my final bill.  

During my research I also came across a French photographer that had visited Iceland and created a map with unique and detailed information about  the island - after some more research I decided I wanted his map and his Icelandic guide. If it fits your budget search for International Photographer.  The combination of a general detailed map, information from the tour company, and mainly the International Photographer kit were my tools for my Icelandic adventure.  Every night I would decided what more or less my route the next day was going to be.

Iceland is only 4 hours and 15 minutes away from Halifax, and if you traveling from Canada, there are also directly flights from Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.   Fishery used to be the main pillar of the country’s economy, followed by aluminum, but it seems tourism just became the most important activity.  Now lets not talk about volcanos with funny and unpronounced names that are trying to disrupt the European air travel alright?

June 15, 2014: I was a bit disappointed I didn't get to see a nice view of the island while approaching the airport, I had booked window seat just for this reason but that’s okay, it was a short flight with Icelandair (you need to pay for your lunch/dinner on the flight people).  During the flight it seems someone needed medical assistance, and it was comforting to see around 10 doctors stood up when the flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board.

Arrived super early (5:30am) and initially I had thought about going to the Blue Lagoon, but they only open until 9:00am, so I stayed behind trying to see if I could fit the wrong size SIM card I had bought onboard the flight into my Android phone.  I didn’t notice they gave me the one for the iPhone.

Took the bus to Reykjavik (voucher issue by Iceland Tours cause I was going to pick up my rental in the city) and made it to my hotel Gistiheimili Snorra.  Cute place located not far away from the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral. 

Waited a bit until I was able to check into my room, and then I decided to explore Reykjavik. This is when I learned how the weather in this country was going to be during my whole trip: unpredictable.  You have to be ready for anything and everything, and dress in layers. 

The first impression: the cathedral was going to be my point of reference, it can be seen from anywhere in the city.  Super pedestrian friendly with generous cycling paths, and probably 99.5% of the population speak English.  English signs are also displayed everywhere so as a tourist you will have no issues in finding your way around, and if you do just ask for help. 

I walked around the main street towards the historic Midtown and Harbour, and this is when I noticed the Harpa building, which is the Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Center.  It looks modern and interesting, and I did go inside.  Talking to some locals a couple of days later, I was told they wished they had hired a local architect to build something more in synch with the city.  Midtown is the place of the first Viking settlements, and it is full of restaurants/bars.  

Later on the Hertz people came to my hotel to pick me up so I could get my car rental for the week, and then I just planned my first day of driving in Iceland.  As aforementioned I decided to concentrate on the West and South part of the country, and the first part of the trip was going to take me to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, located Northwest of Reykjavik, with some pit stops along the way.

General tip for drivers using GPS, make sure to use the Icelandic keyboard, otherwise you will have issues in finding your destinations.  One more thing, if you have an address and the GPS/Google Map gives you a similar name but not exactly what you typed, the chances are that it is the correct place.  It seems in Icelandic when you are talking about and of something the suffix of the name changes. As an example, Patius (me) and Patiuer (me in a different version) would be the same thing in Icelandic, the difference is if you are talking of me or about me.