Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day 15 & 16 - Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine City

Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik
The weather gods smiled upon us on our last full day in Iceland.  Sunshine and warmth (well...60 F) made the city come even more alive.  We had a few things left on our Iceland bucket list including eating a hot dog from a food cart, some last minute shopping, and a splurge of a dinner.  Here is how we accomplished this...

Day 15 & 16 - Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine City
Hot Dogs at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.  Notice the line behind them.

Our day began with breakfast at our hostel followed by a walk around town.  We were fortunate that our hostel was located right at the start of the popular shopping street Laugavegur.  This street has gift shops, boutiques, cafes, bars, and many parts is for pedestrian traffic only.  Our goal was to work down Laugavegur towards a popular hot dog cart - Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.  The place is known as good bite, and consistently has a line of 5-25 people.  I ordered two dogs with "the works".  This included ketchup, mustard, friend and raw onion, and remoulade (sweet mayo dressing).   They were delicious!

Enjoying the sunshine and a mocha at Uno
After the dogs, we went to Uno for coffee.  We stopped here because it was a warm, sunny day (I was down to only one long sleeve layer!) and they had patio seating.  We enjoyed people watching and sipping our hot drinks.

From there, we took a long, out-of-the-way walk back to the hostel.  I wanted to walk through Hljómskálagarður - a town park and small lake within the city.  It was such a beautiful day that walking outside was a perfect way to explore and get some Vitamin D.

Back at the hostel, we researched restaurants for our last Icelandic dinner.  We settled on seeking out Snaps - rated by one magazine as "The Best Goddamn Restaurant".  We also researched happy hour spots and found out that Apotek- a swanky restaurant and bar - had 1/2 off cocktails during happy hour.  Sold!

Dinner at Snaps

Another 10 minute walk and we reached Apotek where we enjoyed gourmet cocktails in their comfortable and stylish lounge.  Afterwards, we walked 5 minutes to Snaps.  Word of caution - make reservations for Snaps.  We hadn't thought of this, but we were informed they were entirely booked.  Fortunately, there was room at the bar, so we all enjoyed a meal there after all.  I felt the menu had a French influence and I enjoyed my mussels, fries, and house red wine.

After dinner it was time to return to the hostel and pack up.  The next morning, we took an early FlyBus from our hostel to the airport.  It was time to go home.
Walking through Hljómskálagarður park.
What a trip!  It was great to have one extra day in Reykjavik to unwind and explore.  I feel extremely grateful and humbled that I was able to travel 15 nights through Iceland with two wonderful women.  Thank you Leanne and Ali for being the most fun, relaxed, and easy companions.  It's so much better to go to an amazing place and have someone to share experiences with.  I'm also grateful for the work done by Linda at Iceland Unlimited.  She gave great advice, was accessible and easy to communicate with, and found us budget accommodations near amazing locations.
The map we got from Iceland Unlimited with our highlighted route (pink) and interesting sites hand written in blue and green.  What a help!  Thanks Linda!!!
On most of my annual girls trips I know that, realistically, I will not be back to that location. Even though this trip cost three years of savings, I REFUSE to accept that I will not return.  Iceland will haunt my travel dreams for the rest of my life and I will continue to plan a return.  Until next time... "Kveðja".
Farewell, Iceland.  Thanks for the memories and magic!  ~ Lindsey, Leanne, and Ali

Please leave comments or questions below, or visit us on our Facebook page at The Freelance Adventurer for more photos and stories or visit us on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day 14 - The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss

Gullfoss Waterfall
Our trip was winding to a close, and we had left one of the most visited parts of the island for last - the Golden Circle.  The Golden Circle is a popular tourist driving route that includes þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and geysers.  We had a great day exploring these beautiful sites before returning our rental car to Reykjavik.  Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Day 14 - The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss
Kerio Crater

The day started with a drive up Rt 35.  We made quick first top at Kerio - a crater with a turquoise lake inside.  There was a charge to enter the area (~$2 US), but worth it to see the beautiful sight.  Visitors can walk the rim as well as walk down to the lake.

Our next stop was to the large and powerful Gullfoss waterfall.  Hundreds of tourists walked with us along the short 10 minute trail to the viewing area at the top of the falls.  It was an awesome and formidable sight.

Crowds walk down to Gullfoss waterfall
From Gullfoss, we retraced our way back on Rt 35 down to Geysir - a popular geyser that blows every 10-15 minutes.  Surrounding the geyser are some mud pots, sulfur pools, and other geothermal formations.  It was exciting to watch the geyser erupt multiple times and explore the area.
Geysir sequence
Views from þingvellir
We stopped for a lunch of sandwiches and soup and the large visitor center, gift shop, and cafeteria across from Geysir.

Afterwards, we traveled across Rt 365 to þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir) where Leanne and I had gone on our snorkel trip the night before.  We hiked on the well-labeled trails by serene lakes, shadowing cliffs, and cascading waterfalls.  Interpretive signs educate visitors about the social and historical significance of the site.

From þingvellir, we took Rt 36 back to Reykjavik to return our Enterprise rental car.  Somehow along the trip, a piece of gravel (probably from an overzealous 4x4 passerby in the Westfjords) had chipped our windshield. This chip lead to a significant crack.  As a result, we had to pay for a new windshield (about $500 US).  Why didn't we get the gravel insurance you might ask?  Well, first of all, we weren't told it was important, but also it would have cost about $300 to insure ourselves against gravel on the trip.  Realistically, I would have been willing to gamble that on a no-chip trip.  Either way, Enterprise was easy to deal with and they gave us a ride from the bus/rental station to our accommodations -  Reykjavik Village Hostel.
Smaller waterfall in þingvellir
The hostel was adequate - bunk beds in a private triple room with shared bath.  The location was great - near the start of popular shopping street, Laugavegur.  We strolled down the street and eventually settled on a Thai dinner.

We retired to our hostel, knowing that tomorrow would be our last full day in Iceland.  It was a bittersweet thought.  We were all a little homesick, but sad to leave this dynamic and amazing country.

A folded basalt ground with tall lava-rock cliffs in þingvellir National Park.
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Monday, July 20, 2015

Day 13 - The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling

A hike behind Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Day 13 was all about water.  We packed three of the big and famous waterfalls in the country into this day.  In the evening, Leanne and I popped into þingvellir National Park to snorkel the Silfra Fissure - an underwater gorge where two tectonic plates are pulling apart.  Here is how to recreate our adventure...

Day 13 - The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling

Feeling the mighty power of Skogafoss Waterfall!
We discovered that the south coast of Iceland was fairly packed in the summer.  Tourists spending just a few days in the country can rent a car or take a Reykjavik Excursions coach out to this area for the day.  After days without crowds, it was almost stressful being surround by other tourists.

We started the morning early, and WET!  I really wanted a photograph in front of the Skogafoss waterfall near our guesthouse.  I dragged Leanne out of bed to get there before the crowds.  Unfortunately, the morning light put the waterfall in the shade and it was difficult to get the perfect photograph.  It was still awesome feeling the power and spray of the massive falls.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall Hike
After we dried off and had breakfast, we headed out on the Ring Road (Rt 1) to Seljalansfoss.  A moderate 30 minute walk will take you up to the falls. It's a great little hike because you get to actually walk behind the falls in a carved-out cavern.  It was the second time that day I got to feel the mist of a gorgeous fall.

After our hike, we drove to the town of Selfoss to look for a lunch spot.  We decided to inquire in the town library where we could find a local seafood place.  The librarian was very helpful and directed us 10 minutes out of town to the village of Stokkseyri where we enjoyed a delicious seafood chowder, bread, and cocktails at the Fjöruborðið cafe.  I highly recommend the restaurant.

After lunch, we visited the waterfall Urriðafoss which was located just a short ways off the Ring Road (near Selfoss).  It was a wide cascade and we were the only ones there.

Silfra Fissure
Since we had a 5 pm meet up for our Silfra sorkel, we decided it was best to check in to our guesthouse early.  Lambastidir Guesthouse is located just outside Selfoss center on small and quaint farm.  We were excited that our room had a private bath and there was a hot tub and sauna on the property.  It also had a delicious continental breakfast in the morning.

Leanne and I suited up in warm clothes and drove into  þingvellir National Park.  We had scheduled our snorkel two weeks prior with  We were instructed to meet our group at the visitor center within the park.  After our group of 20 was all together, the guides had us following them in car to the dive site (5 minutes drive).  There, we were suited up in a thermal coverall, dry diving suit, wet suit gloves, wet suit hood, and a snorkel and mask.  As science teachers, Leanne and I were totally geeking-out over the fact that we got to dive in a divergent plate boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plate.

Snorkeling in freezing water between two tectonic plates!
The water was cold and clear.  There is little to no life, and was amazing to see the rocky gorge below us and we snorkeled along.  We were in the water for a total of 30-40 minutes.  Any longer and I think my nose and fingers would have gone numb.  I was skeptical about the experience at first, but I have since decided that it was totally worth it.  After the dive, you are welcome to purchase photos from your trip (we abstained since Leanne had a waterproof camera with her), and they treated us to hot chocolate and cookies.  Still hungry, we did a 8 pm stop back at the visitor center for hot dogs and soft serve before driving the hour back to Lambastidir Guesthouse.

Underwater views in Silfra Fissure
We ended the night with a midnight dip in the guesthouse hot tub.  I was getting used to this.

Turf House alongside the road in Pingvellir National Park

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 12 - Southeast Iceland - Icebergs and Glaciers

Jökulsárlón / Glacial Bay
Just when we thought we'd seen all Iceland had to offer, it shook our soul again.  We witnessed a glacial bay, black beaches with washed up icebergs, a waterfall surrounded by basalt columns, and lava rock monoliths in the ocean.  Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Day 12 - Southeast Iceland - Icebergs and Glaciers
Icebergs, Mountains, and Glaciers...oh my!

After a delicious continental breakfasts at Guesthouse Arnanes, we got on the road and drove the Ring Road (Rt 1) south to Jökulsárlón Bay.  Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon located at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier which is part of the larger Vatnajökull glacier and national park.  As the glacier recedes, it releases icebergs into the lagoon.  Because of increased melting due to climate change, the lagoon's size has increased greatly in the last decade.  Calved icebergs float through the lagoon, through the mouth of the bay, and are released into the ocean. Many wash up on the nearby black sand beach.

Black Sand Beach with Icebergs 

Glacial Bay
We arrived at Jökulsárlón early in the morning to rain and cloudy skies.  The view was still overwhelming - thousands of small icebergs literally filled the lake.  So full, in fact, that we were informed that due to the large amount of icebergs, our boat tour would not be going out that morning.  No boat trip and rainy day aside, we marveled at the amazing location and it's awe-inspiring landscape.  A short walk down the mouth and we got to walk along a black sand beach dotted with washed-up iceberg bits.

Not only was the geological setting impressive, the biological was as well.  Rare seabirds like arctic terns floated out to see on ice platforms.  We saw our first seals of the trip swimming in between the car-sized pieces of ice.  As we absorbed the scene, the sun came out and we were treated to a sun-kissed lagoon.

Amphibious Boat Tour 
On our return to the parking lot from the beach, we saw people waiting in line at the boat trip ticket booth.  WHAT?!  We discovered that the boats were now going out. We signed up for an afternoon half hour amphibian boat tour.  In the meantime, we killed time by strolling around the lagoon and enjoying a lunch of fish soup at the gift shop.

The boat tour was great!  We were able to putt around the bay, admiring the glaciers, mountains, and icebergs.  The boat also had a guide give a short interpretive presentation about the history of the bay and icebergs in general, which included scooping out a piece of ice for everyone to try.  This place was definitely one of my favorite parts of our two week trip.

Svartifoss Waterfall
Our day continued by driving from Jökulsárlón to Skaftafell National Park.  This park is home to mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers.  From the park headquarters we hiked up the 30 minute moderate walk to Svartifoss waterfall.  The trail was crowded.

Now that we were southern Iceland and closer to the airport and Reykjavik, we had started seeing many more people.  Crowded parking lots and trails were almost a culture shock after days of rural drives.  The waterfall was beautiful and we enjoyed the warm sunshine.

We stopped in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to see what the tour book called the "church floor".  It turns out this is not a church floor at all but a flat columnar basalt rock formation.  It was a pretty site and a short (5 min) walk from the parking lot.
"Church Floor" Rock Formation"
There were still more sights to see! We took a detour off the Ring Road to Rt 206 to see Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.  This 2 km long canyon is 100 meters deep and ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.  It took about 30 minutes to casually walk the length of it.  You'll see off-shoots where daredevil hikers have precariously walked to the edge.  Photos cannot even show its loveliness.


Vik / Myrdalshreppur Beach
It was getting late.  We stopped for dinner at the Black Beach Restaurant in Mýrdalshreppur.  Talk about location!  The cafe has 75% glass walls that overlook the black beach and picturesque lava rock formations. The food was good as well.  We finished dinner and walked the beach - marveling at the columnar basalt cliffs, black pebble beach, and seashore rock pillars.

Done for the night, we headed to Hotel Edda Skogar.  Little did we know, our hotel was adjacent to one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls - Skogafoss!  We watched the sun "set" behind the mountain and falls before heading in for a late night.

Vik / Myrdalshreppur Beach
This has got to be one of the longest, yet most fulfilling and exciting days we had in Iceland.  From glaciers, to icebergs, to beaches, and waterfalls - the Southeast is truly a magical place.  I highly recommend visitors make the time to explore this amazing area.

Skogafoss Waterfall at midnight

Please leave comments or questions below, or visit us on our Facebook page at The Freelance Adventurer for more photos and stories or visit us on Instagram @FreelanceAdventurer.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day 11 - East Iceland - Hot Tubs, Lobster, and (more) Waterfalls

Town on Hofn in the evening.
Ho hum...another day of beautiful drives, waterfalls, and soaking in hot tubs.  We drove through East Iceland and explored the town of Hofn which has been dubbed, "The Lobster Capital of Iceland".  The evening ended with discovery of another set of amazing public geothermal hot tubs.  Continue reading to recreate this adventure...

Day 11 - East Iceland - Hot Tubs, Lobster, and (more) Waterfalls

Lower Hengifoss Falls
We left Egilsstaðir and headed inland on Rt 931 to see Hengifoss waterfall.  The hike is accessible by a 30 minute uphill hike.  Along the way, we also saw the lower falls which was surrounded in stunning columnar basalt columns.  Hengifoss was a tall, narrow waterfall deep in a shaded canyon.  It was a great way to stretch our legs and enjoy another beautiful Iceland waterfall.

Leaving the falls, we meant to take Rt 92/96 to Rt 1 but unfortunately our GPS took us on a "short cut" on winding, narrow dirt roads (Rt 937, Rt 938, Rt 939).  The drive was beautiful, but a little scary in our tiny 2WD car.

Ali hikes up to Hengifoss Waterfall
Back on the Ring Road (Rt 1), we enjoyed views of snow-capped mountains and fjords.  Once in Hofn, we tried Kaffi Hornið for a late lunch/early dinner.  East Iceland is know as the "Lobster Capital of the World", so of course I had to try some!  The lobsters, called langoustines, actually look like large prawns.  I ordered the Langoustine sandwich.  As a former Maine-resident, I'm a little picky when it comes to lobster. The langoustine sandwich was tasty but it's no Maine lobster roll.  Ali and Leanne both enjoyed a reindeer burger!  When in Iceland...
Langoustine Sandwich
We drove a few kilometers out of town to Guesthouse Arnanes.  We checked in and were informed that we were staying at a separate house a few kilometers away.  We drove there to find a lovely furnished house at our disposal.

Hoffell Hot Tubs
After we were settled it, we headed out again to find the Hoffell Hot Tubs.  This public set of geothermal hot pots are located off Rt 984 (follow signs).  The tubs are open to the public and there is a suggested donation (though not enforced).  There was a small changing shack, a shower, and six tubs - all different temperatures.

After our soak, we headed back into Hofn to walk around town. It was late and we were hoping to get some dessert but the only places open were packed.  We settled for a dessert of candy bars at the gas station.  All around it was a wonderful day in East Iceland.

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Icelandic Horse saying "Hello"