Thursday, July 25, 2019

Iceland - The Land of Ice and Fire


Iceland is a country that is becoming an increasingly popular destination for people who are looking for different and diverse experiences. This summer my parents and us siblings decided to go Iceland.  Getting to Iceland is the tough part. Mumbai – New Delhi-Helsinki-Reykjavik on FinAir was 17 hrs. But we decided to take the leap – and we were rewarded. Iceland typically is a 10 day trip. But If you don’t have 10 days to drive the Ring Road around the island, Here is my recommendation for a 6 days Itenary. Since we were travelling with my parents – who don’t like to move around with bags, we took the road trip off the table. We stationed ourselves in the suburbs of Reykjavik – Kopvour. Icelandic Apartments is 200mtrs from Route 1 – just outside the city – so it cuts drive time by 40 mins each time you are headed towards the natural wonders and in the evenings you can drive in less than 8 mins and be in the middle of city for your dinner and night out.

In Iceland you drive on the right side of the road – and if you ask me that’s not the tough bit – the toughest part is to see an open road for miles and not being able to speed above 90 kms/hr. ( I may have been the only one who has seen a cop in Iceland and paid a speeding ticket !! ) But hiring a 4x4 is the smartest way to see Iceland otherwise. One of Europe’s most magical and unforgettable spots; Iceland is the ultimate road trip destination. Public transportation isn’t practical in Iceland, so you’ll need to make sure you make solid plans. Consider driving yourself because it maximizes your options and gives you the most flexibility. You can stop wherever you want for as long as you want – like in our case – we had the luxury loving parents – the I want to try street food type brother, the art scene check out sister, the I want to walk back and forth the DC Plane Wreck and Snorkel too all in one day Husband. The Ring Road, or Route 1, is the prime Icelandic route, and along with a few essential detours ( ready one too many that we took ), it will show you the best of my favorite Nordic country. July and August are the best summer-time to visit because you’ll have ample sunshine and fairly good weather.

On the Day we landed into Reykjavik we got there at two different times in 2 groups. My Brother, Kunal and I reached first. We picked up our Car from Blue Cars Rental and headed straight out for dinner. We went to the old harbor area- It’s hard to resist to wander around within it’s charming villages. There they have little boats rugging next to old, colorful sheds from what used to be fishermans cureing shops that have been turned into trinket shops, restaurants and other growing businesses. It’s nice to walk around by the sea with a view of Mount Esja far in the back. We ate at Flatey Pizza and then walked over the Valdi’s for an ice cream. Would highly recommend both. If time permits – they also have a 4 hour Food Walk Tour that we were slightly late to get into.


Day 1
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is around a 370km drive (around 5.5 hours) from the capital city of Reykjavik. Situated about halfway between the southern towns of Vik and Höfn. We stopped for lunch at Vik at TheSoup Company. It’s a small family owned restaurant that serves amazing soups and vegan wraps. When we reached Vik – we almost were ready to come back home  - Jokulsarlon  probably isn’t really a suitable destination for a day-trip out of the capital but we did it anyway. We decided to do this on Day 1 and just tick it off the bucket list – because we knew we would just get very lazy otherwise and never make it there.

The beauty of the lagoon is undeniable and makes the long drive here totally worth it, but there is also a certain irony as its existence which should also serve as a reminder of the catastrophic effects of global warming and the damage we have done to our planet. Most alarming is that the less than a century old glacial lagoon has become Iceland’s deepest lake with a current depth of around 248 meters - all of which used to be composed of ice.

The icebergs that float around in the lagoon are chunks of the glacier that have broken off due to rising temperatures. Those huge chunks of ice that float around in the lagoon are often more than a thousand years old and once they’ve broken off from the iceberg more or less float around in the lagoon for around five years before they are eventually small enough to float out to sea.We took the boat trip on the glacier – which gets you closer to some really beautiful formations. Another feature of the mixture of fresh and salt water is that it transforms the icebergs into either a milky shade of white or into a bright blue colour.

The bright blue icebergs in particular which appear almost diamond-like become even more beautiful once the icebergs become small enough to float out to sea through the river mouth. Once they float out to sea they’re often pushed back into the shore which has created an additional attraction that has become known as the Diamond Beach.

The drive there and back to Reyjkavik left us extremely tired. Pushed us to the brink – I was speeding at a 130 kms/hr and got caught and had to use my Gujju Charm to negotiate the speeding ticket. It worked !! We finally stopped at Sudur-Vik for some Wood Fired Pizza…. Had we not been so tired and the speeding ticket hadn’t marred our spirit – I would have definitely enjoyed the Pizza a whole lot more !!



Day 2:
We organized ourselves a whole lot better for Day 2 ! We decided on a plan and tried our best to stick to it. We started early and drove straight on Route 1 headed direction Vik again. You get the most beautiful view from a vantage point at DYRHOALEY Light house. You will see a beautiful Black Sand Beach Coast - Nicknamed the ‘Land of Ice and Fire’, Iceland is known more for its geo-thermal hot springs and spas than it is for beaches, but you might be surprised to learn that Iceland is home to one of the top-ten (non tropical) beaches in the world! Just don’t expect to go for a swim. Southern Iceland’s ‘Black Sand Beach’, known to locals as Reynisfjara is one of the country’s top attractions and for good reason - It is one of the prettiest beaches you’ll ever have the luck of visiting.

Black Sand? The “sand” that you’ll find on the beach is actually more similar to fine rocks and pebbles than the finely grained sand that you are used to on other beaches. The supply of this special black sand however is constantly being replenished thanks to the volatility of Katla which is in a constant state of activity.

Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
This 40-year-old weather-beaten aircraft has become one of Iceland’s most dramatic photography spots  thanks to a love song “Gerua” featuring Shahrukh and Kajol and ofcourse due to its remote location on a desolate black sand beach. Personally – I did not see the hype – to me it looks like a scene out of some post-apocalyptic zombie movie! The wings & tail are missing, it’s full of holes, and the crumbling fuselage is covered with wind-blown black sand. Once you park your car in the parking lot and pass through the small gate, you’ll see a yellow sign that indicates the track. This beach road is packed down pretty well, (more gravel than sand). We walked out to the plane from the main road which is about 4km long since we missed the only shuttle bus which is approximately every 45 mins. We took some quick photos and got onto a bus coming back – its steep 1500 Kronas for a one way ride per person for the journey back.

We then decided to drive back to the Black Sand Beach – because we found only that one restaurant offering Vegan Food in that area. So if you decide to follow this itenary – do the DC Plane Wreck first. We went to the Black Beach Restaurant – Find my review on Trip Advisor here ! We were pleasantly surprised to find so many Vegeterian Options here – including an Icelandic Version of Cholay Rice ;)


Iceland is home to a countless number of waterfalls with each one of them unique in its own way. The common feature of all of them is that they are a testament to the beauty of our planet’s natural environment and are one of the many reasons why so many people have been attracted to Iceland in recent years. One of the most popular and highly visited of those is the beautiful cascading Seljalandsfoss falls in the south of the country. At sixty meters in height, it is one of the highest waterfalls in the country but arguably its most attractive feature (and one that makes it so popular with tourists and photographers alike) is that you can easily view it from the front and from the cave behind!

Visitors who don’t mind getting wet can even take turns walking down to water-level at the rear of the waterfall to get those all-important travel shots. Once you’ve walked around the perimeter of the waterfall, you’ll probably want to take some photos of it from the front. Visiting Seljalandsfoss doesn’t particularly require a lot of time but depending on the amount of tourists you could get stuck waiting in line on the path to the rear of the falls. It is well worth the wait though. You’re going to need a raincoat, or something to protect yourself from the cold mist. The waterfall is quite high, so it produces quite a bit of mist both in the front and in the cave behind.

Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 15 metres (49 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). It is said, due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days. When standing at the base of Skogafoss, you will really feel your own humanity as you face off against this giant of nature, as you can see in the pics from below. Skogafoss tosses over millions of gallons of water and has been doing so for thousands and thousands of years. Seeing Skogafoss Waterfall in person is an extremely exhilarating experience. The waterfall was a location for the filming of the Marvel Studios film Thor: The Dark World.

That evening, it was with great anticipation that I finally dined at Sumac, on Reykjavik's main shopping street, Laugavegur. In the middle of the restaurant there's an open kitchen where you can observe the chefs working the grill and preparing dishes. It makes for a bustling, steamy, aromatic and interesting atmosphere, and you can also even sit on the counter of this open kitchen to either enjoy cocktails or eat. Go there for your delicious hummus and muhammara (a dip made with almonds and red peppers), crispy falafel and plump, juicy green olives enjoyed with freshly baked flatbread.



Day 3
The Golden Circle
Without stopping, the Golden Circle route can take as little as 3.5 hours to drive, but we spent about 10 hours on the road capturing a lot of photos and didn’t feel too rushed. While there are countless stopping points along the Golden Circle, here are a few of the most popular destinations that we chose to stop at along our drive!


Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has played a major part in Iceland’s history. You can find lakes, waterfalls, natural formations, and most exciting to Kunal and Rishi, the Silfra Fissure! The Silfra Fissure is one of the most incredible dive destinations on earth, so it was an absolute must. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive between continental plates. The water is also nearly freezing (2°C – 4°C year round) as it comes from the Langjökull glacier.
It was raining and it was so cold – so the boys decided to do this on their own. And my parents and my sister and I decided to visit Öxarárfoss Waterfall. 

One of the reasons why Thingvellir is so important to the Icelandic people is because the first ‘Icelandic Parliament’, known as the “Althingi” was formed there sometime in the 9th century. In terms of national pride, this is pretty much the place where Icelandic identity finds its origins and is recognized as the oldest continuously existing national parliament in the world. In order to provide water service to the ancient parliament, the Öxará river was diverted in its direction which in turn created the waterfall as the direction of the river now forced the water over a cliff in the Rift Valley.
While not a large waterfall, visitors are able to get quite close to the river and it is quite easy to take nice photos of the area which has made it an important stop along the Golden Circle. And yes, I know I haven’t mentioned it yet, but those with a keen eye will know that this area was featured in the popular Game of Thrones.

Right where you get off – there is an unmarked Café with a Black Roof where we had Lunch. Hot Pizza and a Thai Soup of the day saved our day. Nothing too fantastic – but your basic food on the go.

Strokkur Geysir
Geyser’s are essentially a rare geological phenomenon that are found only in a few locations around the Earth - To make an analogy, geysers are like natural “teapots” which boil and build up immense heat and pressure before they eventually burst with steam. The sight of that steam and hot water bursting out of the earth in such a spectacular fashion is a natural event that has fascinated people for probably as long as humans have existed. Currently the most active geyser in the park is known as “Strokkur” which erupts every five-to-ten minutes each of which reaching heights of anywhere between twenty to forty meters.

Gullfoss
The majestic Gullfoss waterfall, located in southwest Iceland’s Hvítá River Canyon, is one of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in Iceland. There are various view-points set up around waterfall for people to take photos as well as a well-developed and (more importantly) safe walking trail that allows people to get as close to the falls as possible.

Most of the shots that you will have seen of the waterfall will have been taken from a viewpoint near the lower parking lot where we took this photo from. This area is where you can get the widest view of the falls and are also safest from the mist. This will not show up on your GPS – we just got really lucky with a small sign on the road leading upto the main Parking lot.

Kerid Crater
Iceland is currently home to around 130 active (and inactive) volcanoes which directly contribute to the constantly changing nature of the country’s natural environment. In 2010 for example, the relatively small eruption at Eyjafjallajökull caused massive disruptions to air travel around Europe and North America thanks to the tons of volcanic ash that it spewed for a period of six days.
 What happens though when a volcanic eruption is too powerful?  In some cases a powerful eruption has the ability to completely collapse all the land around it forming a circular volcanic crater known to geologists as a caldera. Iceland is home to quite a few of these craters, especially in the Western Volcanic Zone, and a few of them have become popular tourist attractions. Most notable of those is ‘Crater Kerið’ in Southern Iceland which now serves as a popular destination for tourists along the Golden Circle route to see first-hand the awesome power of the Earth’s destructive capabilities.

This evening – we were in the typical big group dilemma. I wanted to eat a nice Warm Fine Dine Meal and my brother wanted to eat street food – tacos etc. In such situations we highly recommend to go to a food truck park – but its indoors; called Hlemmur Mathöll in downtown Reykjavik. SKAL is a fine dine restraunt with the best Goat Cheese and crackers and an amazing Ceriliac Main Course that blew my mind. Flatey from Day 1 also has an outlet here. Together with Fuego – a Taco Truck that Rishi wanted to go to. The entire dinner party was a feast for us all. 

Day 4
Using combinations of geothermal energy, naturally purified water and artificial light, Icelandic farmers have been mimicking bright, balmy spring days by using greenhouses. One such enterprising farm is Friðheimar, which specializes in growing cucumber and herbs, but tomatoes are truly their thing. Friðheimar’s current owners Knútur and Helena bought it in 1995 with a dream of combining two passions – horses and horticulture. Over the last 20 years they’ve grown the farm incredibly, installing huge new greenhouse buildings (enabling them to grow tomatoes, cucumber and herbs year-round), a restaurant and store, and an equestrian centre with a 20-horse stable. Visitors have been coming in their droves since their restaurant operation began in 2011 and this is the perfect place to stop-off for lunch on a self-drive Golden Circle tour.

Naturally, the tomato soup is the star here and big potfuls of the stuff are decanted into the large soup kettles almost every ten minutes it seemed! Lots of fresh bread of different varieties and toppings is cut and left nearby, so it’s a wonderful help-yourself buffet type operation. You can also order one or two daily specials from the kitchen: on our day there was a delicious sounding ricotta-stuffed pasta and also a flatbread pizza option. On each table sits condiments that you can personalize and tweak the flavour of your dish (most often the soup, it’s their bestseller). So if you enjoy a spoon of soured cream through yours, a liberal addition of cucumber salsa or some freshly-cut basil using the herb scissors provided, you can be their guest.

The drinks and desserts are, of course, tomato-based too! We honestly gorged so much on the soup and bread . We topped it with tomato ice-cream and a green tomato and apple pie. The community spirit amongst the Friðheimar staff and the atmosphere that’s been created here doesn’t feel like an intense farmland production, it feels like you’re sitting down to home-cooked food in a farming family’s dining room (just with about 100 other guests, too!)

Note: Pre-booking is recommended, as it is a popular stop-off by coach tours, but if you have patience and you’re in plenty of time, the lovely team will find you a table!

Langjokull Glacier
A few days ago if u asked my Mum if she wanted to go snowmobiling on top of Langjökull glacier she would have said no way !  But she is the sort of person who takes on any challenge and when each one of us said we wanted our own mobile – she had no choice but to ride one herself. To put things in perspective – We are the sorts who never go on a rollercoaster, But we drive over the speed limit, and  we can’t even think about parachuting without getting nauseous. In short: We are Demi-chickens. So going on a snowmobile tour is something I imagined I would never do, and definitely something I thought I could never enjoy. I was wrong. And this is already the second time I am enjoying it. The Last one we did when we were in Lebanon in Faraya.



Blue Lagoon
By the time we came back towards Reykjavik – it was almost 830 pm and we were contemplating whether of not to go to the Blue Lagoon this late. It’s safe to say that visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is on just about everyone’s bucket list. It’s milky blue water and otherworldly appearance is like something out of a dream. But before my trip to Iceland, I had read plenty of articles about the Blue Lagoon and there were a couple of common themes: it’s expensive and it will ruin your hair and go there either early or late in the day.

I must admit I did not find it expensive – if anything they give you your moneys worth. It is true it will ruin your hair – I mean I have already enjoyed 2 hair spas in the month in which I have been back. And we entered the lagoon at around 10pm and stayed there until close of day at midnight – the sun had just set – thanks to the summer day light – it was just the perfect relaxing thing to do after our hectic 4 days of Iceland. The Blue Lagoon is now a Geothermal Spa (with water temperature around 37-40°C or 98-104°F) and is run like most other day spas you find around the world. There is accommodation, as well as saunas, restaurants & cafes, lockers, showers, etc.

The geothermal water features three active ingredients: Silica, Algae & Minerals.While it looks blue, the water is actually white. If you pour it into a transparent cup, it will have a milky white color. The sun simply makes it look blue! I recommend opting for the standard package (€55 – prices vary as per the time of the day). You get your own towel, locker, and access to the Lagoon, saunas and showers, silica mud mask, and a drink free. I definitely made the most of my visit and stayed for about 2 hours.


Day 5
Downtown Reykjavik
It was really the first day we slept in and woke up really late on this trip... all that road travel sure does get to you. We Decided to have a late breakfast and met with the Free Walking Tour Lady for our Downtown Reykjavik Tour. We walked by Hallgrimskirkja – which is the iconic Church that rises above the smaller buildings of downtown. 


 Icelanders are creative people and Reykjavik has a big focus on design. Most buildings are made of concrete so have become a blank canvas for street art. You’ll find it all around the city – from tiny hidden sketches to colourful murals covering the whole side of a building. The artists are usually commissioned or get permission from the property owner so it’s more art than graffiti.

Reykjavik’s a great place for shopping too, with not many chains and lots of unique boutiques. Head to the main Laugavegur shopping street for cool clothing and home wares. Some of the top gifts to take home are lopapeysa (cozy Icelandic woolen jumpers) and lava rock jewelry.

After walking in the cold for about 2 hours, she left us at the Pond behind city hall. It's the perfect setting, benches to sit on - books with stories that travellers had written left behind, ducks swimming , children running around...We took a few photos and were ready to sit at just about at cafe or deli that we walked by - and we took a chance on this quaint cafe. I would practically move into the Bergsson Mathus if I had one near me. It mixes up slightly kitsch Parisian deli-style decor with Nordic touches. There are artworks covering the walls and the bar is lined with shelves of colour-coded tin cans – what’s vintage not to love?

The food’s good too, with small side plates and local specialities and homemade cakes. It’s a really cosy place where you can hide out on a wintery afternoon and read the papers, buy a book or borrow a board game.  

Rishi had decided yet again to venture on his own and go for that all famous Hot Dog Stand , yes they have a vegan version of it too and then meet us by the music concert hall. Since opening in 2011 Harpa Concert Hall has been a dramatic new addition to the city’s waterfront and has rapidly become one of the most famous Reykjavik attractions. The building is made up of three-dimensional glass panels which use the same hexagonal shape as Iceland’s basalt rocks.

It sparkles with light reflected from the sea and sky by day, and is lit by colourful lights by night. The concert hall is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra but even if you can’t get to a performance it’s worth wandering around and checking out the architecture. There’s a bar, restaurant and gift shop, and a terrace with views out to the harbour and mountains.

After this hectic trip - it was time to unwind and we drove around the new harbour lined with massive Nordic Cruise Ships. We drove past the smaller bylanes and saw some pretty houses facing the sea and then indulged in retail therapy. I wouldnt particularly shop shop in an Iceland Mall. They have the high street brands and a few local shops - not priced competitvely. 

We later went to Gandhi Restraunt for a nice round up hot meal of Paneer Tikka Masala and Garlic Naan. Like every Indian - we licked our plates clean post 6 days of eating Vegan and Deli and Homestyle ... u get this emotion only if you are an Indian National. 

Despite all our differences , a trip with the siblings - the jokes you make on your parents, the eyes you roll at each other - the patience it takes to endure all this - makes it unique. But those early morning cuddles that you get from your dad , and the hot breakfast your mom makes you at the apartment are just what dreams are made off. Although we did leave Samara behind with my mum in law , I missed her so much. I cannot say she missed me - she has the best Grand Parents ever , i count my blessing twice when I think of my In Laws. But to see my parents navigate 3 kids ( 4 if you count Kunal ) , I know what I have coming for me !!! Expanding the brood is going to ensure we never have a dull moment :) 






1 comment:

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