Iceland: The Highlight Reel…

Everyone asks, why Iceland? Sure, it’s becoming a more popular travel destination, especially with Iceland Air’s well-placed subway ads here in New York, promising relaxing spa treatments at the Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights sightings or even just a free layover on your way to a different European destination. As it was his turn to choose our vacation, Steve picked Iceland for none of these reasons. Ok, maybe to see the Northern Lights, which sadly hid behind cloud cover most nights. And we did float in some of the country’s famed hot baths, just not at the tourist draw that the Blue Lagoon has become.

Steve chose Iceland for the varied landscapes, remoteness, for the sheer “this is like nothing we have ever done before” excitement. Adding to the “we aren’t on the yellow brick road anymore” feel, we chose to travel at the beginning of October, a few weeks after peak season ended. While it meant a little more pre-planning for things since a lot of places change their hours drastically (or close completely) for the off-season, it did ensure that we spent six days backpacking the most populated hiking trail in Iceland without seeing a single person, save when we got close to the trailheads “in town” on days four and six.

It also meant a lot less traffic on the ring road, so we had zero issues every time I asked Steve to pull over so I could photograph the grazing sheep. And this happened quite a bit, though a few times not of my doing as the little buggers decided the roadway was the best place to stop and poo :)

In the end, it was an amazing 15-day adventure with my favorite person in the world. We saw and tried things way beyond our comprehension prior to going. When I think back on it, amazing doesn’t even do this trip justice…

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Complete with glass skylights and gorgeous wood floors, the beautiful Keflavík airport outside of Reykjavík is one of the most stylish airports I’ve been lucky enough to venture into!

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Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is a colorful wonderland of low-lying houses and shops. As you get closer to the coastline, all of the streets seem to go out right into the water. We enjoyed walking along Laugavegur, the city’s version of Madison Avenue with luxury designer shops and a delicious bakery where we enjoyed several breakfasts!

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Subway was the most prominent American brand we kept finding around the country.

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If it weren’t for the $20 price tag (in Krona), I would have gotten one of these as a tribute to childhood days spent watching Spaceballs

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Funny money :)

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There were no signs posted saying you can’t feed these guys…

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The churches in Iceland are the most prominent feature to the town’s landscape. The one pictured below is Hallgrimskirkja, it’s Iceland’s largest church.

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First night dinner at Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill). So so so delicious, including this blueberry martini and the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten…

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The remains of said cake…

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From Reykjavík,  we drove slightly north on the ring road to do the “Golden Circle.” If you only have a day to travel outside of Reykjavík, this is what people tend to do. The stops include Þingvellir (where Iceland’s parliment met from 930 to 1798), Geysir (the second tallest geyser in the world, second only to Steam Boat in Colorado), and Gullfoss, a spectacular two-tiered waterfall.

Oh yes, and they like to mark that you have left city limits with these signs. We got quite a kick out of them :)

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Þingvellir National Park…

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One of the steaming pools at Geysir. The water is so incredibly blue and just beautiful! I’ll be posting video to show the phenomenon of the geyser at a future date!

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Gullfoss, the top tier…

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Close-up of Gullfoss…

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If it weren’t for this man, Elias, from the Hotel Skogar, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the trek we wanted to do! Not only did we spend two incredible nights in his hotel, but he cooked for us, and then drove us to Landmannalaugar in the Highlands of Iceland to start the six-day trek. He is one of the most genuine and friendliest Icelanders we met!

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Lamb…I try hard to forget they are baby sheep because the meat is just so delicious!

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The most natural hot bath in Iceland at Landmannalaugar. It’s literally a pond of sorts. The farther you float to the right, the hotter it gets. Such a magnificent way to start our trek ;)

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The start of our trek on Laugavegurinn, or Laugavegur hiking trail. As Iceland’s most popular hiking trail, the 55 kilometers between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk (Thor’s Woods) sees about 200,000 backpackers a year. We saw three day-hikers in the first few kilometers and then a couple of kids when we got to Þórsmörk. We love off-season :)

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Our first day and night was spent on the summit of Hrafntinnusker. The contrast between snow and black lava rock was amazing…

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Inside our cozy tent…

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“Like walking on the moon…”

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The changes in scenery on this trek were a constant delight! Every time we came over a hill or ridge line, a new landscape seemed to stretch out before us. It’s no wonder this is the most popular hiking trail in Iceland, you really do get a great sense of the country and it’s varied landscapes. So we went from moon-like lava rock to mossy green rolling hills…

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It was so enjoyable to make our meals near streams and rivers, especially because the water is so fresh here, there’s no need to filter!

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Sunny skies every now and then…

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This would be the glacier Mýrdalsjökull. Not quite what I was expecting in terms of what a glacier looks like (more like a snow-capped mountain than a solid chunk of ice) but this was still pretty cool to hike alongside :)

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Another view of the glacier…

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There’s a joke in Iceland that if you get lost in the woods all you have to do is stand up. Because of the volcanic landscape and history of the Vikings cutting down a good portion of the trees when they settled the land, it’s been a constant effort on behalf of Icelanders to re-forest areas. This was a few kilometers outside of Þórsmörk, which literally translates to “Thor’s Woods.” The contrast of autumn-hued birch trees to the glacier looming behind was breathtaking…

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We celebrated the end of the Laugavegur trail and four days of backpacking with a few beers at the restaurant/bar in Þórsmörk. They also gave us two slices of spice cake as a reward :) We still had two more days to hike though, as we were adding on the Fimmvörðuháls trail to take us from Þórsmörk back to Skogar.

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After four days of dehydrated food and energy bars, yea…we destroyed the cake :)

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Leave a guitar in the corner, and Steve will pick it up and play :)

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Back on the trail…

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What is unique about this trail is it cuts a path between two glaciers, Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. This last one probably sounds familiar. Underneath it is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and disrupted air travel for a bit. The next few shots are of the freshly-cooled lava fields. In some places, off the trail, the ground was still steaming with hot lava beneath the surface. We were both a little awe-struck to be hiking on such “new” terrain. The two small mounds pictured are both new, they were created from the lava flow in 2010, which also caused the trail course to be slightly altered. I found this link from a photographer who was there when the eruptions were occurring here

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Our campsite at Fimmvörðuháls. The white “mound” in the background is Eyjafjallajökull. This was a particularly windy afternoon and we (meaning I) was grateful the hut was open so we could seek some shelter. Thankfully, the wind died down after nightfall so it wasn’t too tough to sleep in the tent…

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We’ve gone from fall to winter on this portion of the hike…it was snowing when we first got to the hut at Fimmvörðuháls. I couldn’t help but ask Steve to try and catch some Iceland snow on his tongue :)

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Following the snow squall came a beautiful sunset. We knew there would be clear skies overnight, so we set the alarm to get up at midnight and hoped for some Northern Light action. No such luck, but I still love this image! And special thank you to Steve, serving as my assistant and “light-painting” the tent with his headlamp for me :)

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Apparently it didn’t stay clear all night, we woke up to this…

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This is one of my favorite shots ever, it feels almost painterly…

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Our last day of hiking to Skogar should have been so easy and quick. 3000 feet, all downhill. Except you hike along the Skogar River and its 30+ waterfalls. I think it was our longest day of hiking, we just couldn’t resist stopping to take it all in!

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Sheep! We saw so many on the drive, but never tired of them. Ok, Steve may have gotten a little tired of me saying “Sheep!” every ten minutes, but he never let on :) They’re just so fluffy and entertaining…

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After completing the trek at Skogar, we set off in our Suzuki Grand Vitara (we soooo wanted a Jimney, but they don’t rent them in “winter”), the next stop was this cute little town of Vik.

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Black sand beaches and…icebergs?! Only in Iceland :) This is the beach at the opening of the channel from Jökulsárlón, an iceberg-laden lagoon at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull. Eighty years ago, this lagoon didn’t exist. With a combination of warmer air temps and warmer ocean temps, the glacier has slowly been receding, with these icebergs breaking off and floating in the meltwater. The lagoon grows about 100 meters every year. Some of the ice floating in it is over 1000 years old. Because the mouth of the channel leading out to the ocean isn’t very deep, the icebergs remain trapped until they melt enough to float out to sea (or become beached!)

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This, along with the boiling streams of water, had to have been the coolest things we saw while we were there…

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Steve and the GoPro taking some “behind the scenes” shots :)

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Jökulsárlón and the glacier behind it…

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One of the few “touristy” things we did. But seriously, how often do you get to take a boat ride amongst icebergs and not have to worry about a Titanic type situation?!

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Our guide, Fabi, was very informative. This next ‘berg is so blue because it just recently “flipped over.” Only 10% of an iceberg’s mass is above water. If the ratio goes out of whack due to melting, they’ll flip. When they do, they tend to look very blue because of the amount of compacted ice. Something I learned – water does not absorb the color blue from light rays. If you have a very small amount, say in a glass, there isn’t enough volume to notice this lack of absorption. But in the terms of a very frozen chunk of water, the effect is stunning as the ice reflects the blue light is can’t absorb…

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Fabi collected a small iceberg and gave us all a taste of (cleaned) 1,000-year-old ice…

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And we’re drivin’…

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Most of the island on the south side is flat and just sort of “melts” into the ocean as undeveloped marshland. As you drive around the north, it starts to look more like the California coast…

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The small fishing village of Djúpivogur, where we had lunch while watching the men work on building a new dock…

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Vopnafjrdur…

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This trip marked the first time Steve had ever seen a seal. He was quite taken with their dog-like features :)

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Apparently Scandinavian “evergreens” change color and lose their needles in the fall. It’s quite beautiful…

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And again…Fall to Winter in the blink of an eye! This was on our way to Akureyri, the “northern capital” of Iceland. We stopped off to see the most powerful waterfall in the country, Dedifoss. The spray/mist from the falls is so strong and the temperature so cold, that the entire area is covered in ice already. And of course, we left the microspikes in the car :)

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I love how happy Steve is starting up the camp stove. Every. single.time. :)

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A GoPro shot from Mt. Vindbelgjarfjall, overlooking the Lake Mývatn area.

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Where the land is so warm from the hot spot beneath it, snow can not stay….

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Breakfast on a dairy farm? Best. Breakfast. Ever. Ever. Look at all this cheese!!!!!!! And the fresh-baked breads of Iceland are pretty tasty as well :)

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Also tasty? Icelandic Cheesecake. It’s made with Skyr, the Icelandic version of yogurt. It’s like Greek yogurt, but better. This dessert was only slightly edged out by the chocolate cake in Reykjavík.

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Akureyri…

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Part of me loves the minimalist architecture of Iceland. That said, we stayed in a victorian-style home here and that was pretty lovely as well :)

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The Captain was here…no seriously, how cute is this Mini?!!!

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‘nuf said…

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Iceland…where the cats roam free :)

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It took a while to find a place where we could get a horse ride in, but we finally found one on the northwest corner. Mouser (my horse of course) was a tad more difficult than Steve’s (Guester). All she wanted to do was go home…

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Diffidult or not, Mouser is beautiful…

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Drove way out of the way to see yet another waterfall, “But you can walk behind this one,” she says… :)

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Back in Reykjavík for our last night. We found the place we had walked by two weeks prior and enjoyed a really great night out with live music and some nice Icelandic folks :)

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They sang “Route 66” in Icelandic and everyone got up to dance…such a great way to end the trip :)

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I’ll leave you with a sunrise over the bay. Never have we experienced such extremes between landscapes and weather. I know people hear “Iceland” and think, “No way, it’s too cold and icey,” but I promise there is so much more to the country. It’s just a spectacular place and I can’t wait to go back someday…

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If anyone is interested in more info for where we went, where we stayed, where we ate, please feel free to shoot me an email at jlynn@cyrience.com, or leave a comment below!

3 thoughts on “Iceland: The Highlight Reel…

  1. Wow! Go Cyr! ..and go Steve too! Thanks for the great tour, but mostly for seeing you two enjoy this awesome trip. Congrats!!!

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