Iceland - March 2014
Casey and I went to Iceland in March 2014, catching the tail end of winter. Going in the summer would be like going to a completely different country. But the winter has its own charms with wonderful views of snow-topped lava rocks and the northern lights, with much cheaper airfare and hotel rates.
We spent just over a week there and the weather was generally snowy and overcast, with temperatures in the high 20s to low 30s. I just brought my normal Boston winter-wear and it was fine. Casey layered up with shirts, sweaters, and jackets and was fine, too.
We rented a car and drove around the country, although it’s definitely possible to explore Iceland while being “headquartered” in Reykjavik. Iceland is a small country, with many of its wonders accessible via day-trips out of Reykjavik. But we wanted to do our own driving tour and stay in some more remote places. Our rental car had snow tires, which was fortunate since some of the less major roads were a little dodgy. Other roads were impassable.
(how to make these internal links?)
- Reykjavik and the Surrounding Area
- Blue Lagoon
- The Ring Road
- Lake Myvatn (+ getting engaged!)
Reykjavik and the Surrounding Area
The capital of Iceland is well worth a day or two on its own. It’s about 30 minutes by vehicle from Keflavik International Airport. We had our rental car, but there’s also a bus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik for about $15, I think.
About half the population of the country lives in Reykjavik, but despite that it still feels pretty small and not too crowded. The main downtown strip, centered around the road Laugavegur, is very walkable, and has two interesting points of interest nearby: the church and Harpa.
A look down Reykjavik’s quaint little main street, Laugavegur.
Reykjavik is a pretty nice city for walking and biking, with paths for each throughout. Also, you can see a bit of snow and ice. In March, when we went, Reykjavik seemed to be entering spring, while further north it was definitely still winter.
Reykjavik’s main concert hall. There was a cool concert with Bjork and Of Monsters and Men our last night there, but tickets were all sold out.
Hallgrímskirkja is a cool looking church in downtown Reykjavik. Majestic inside.
A short drive out from Reykjavik, this place has some picturesque views and interesting history. It is the most visited tourist destination in Iceland.
During the short drive out to Thingvellir from Reykjavik (about 30-40 minutes) we hit some bad, snowy weather. But then it broke, just as we approached the lake, and the sun poked out behind. It was stunning!
Entering Thingvellir national park. The first letter is the letter Thorn, and is an unvoiced “th”.
After a little while the weather cleared up and we were able to see what looked like a little village down below. There are a number of hiking tours in and around Thingvellir National Park but we were running short on time so we couldn’t check them out.
Bathing in a warm pool like this (especially in winter) is a very neat and quintessentially Icelandic experience. However, the Blue Lagoon is expensive! If you have the chance to bathe in hot springs elsewhere, there’s no need to go to the Blue Lagoon. Our Lake Myvatn Naturebaths experience was just as nice and only $8 compared to $100 here. Definitely try bathing in a hot spring somewhere, though!
The hot mineral water dumped by the nearby Geothermal plant has a surreal, iridescent blue look. This view is right before you enter the Blue Lagoon lobby. The part that you actually swim in looks similar, but I didn’t bring my camera out to the pool.
The (One) Ring Road
Iceland has a main road that goes all around it, Route 1. We went about halfway around (about 6 hrs) to get to our next stop after of Reykjavik: Lake Myvatn.
The road goes up through the mountains and got a little dicey at times. Fortunately, our rental car had studded snow tires, so it handled it with aplomb, but there were parts that we had to be very careful. And this was the main highway! Many roads in Iceland (all of the interior, and some others) are simply impassable in the winter, without Super Jeeps or the like.
Here we are on the ring road between Reykjavik and Lake Myvatn.
We had to pull over frequently to marvel at some of the amazing vistas presented to us.
Yes, this is not too long after the previous picture. The weather changed frequently during the drive, mostly because the Route 1 frequently goes up into the mountains.
After dropping down out of the mountains the weather cleared up again. The roads are once again easily drivable and you’re treated to wonderful views of snowy landscapes. There are lots of little, tiny towns along the way, and even occasional bunches of just a few houses.
The “Capital of the North” of Iceland is Akureyri, about 5 hours from Reykjavik on Route 1. There’s no major town between the two. Here we are 100 miles from either, in the middle of nowhere.
Probably my favorite picture from the trip, not re-touched at all (maybe HDR on my phone?). In any case, in person it looked like this. The most common bird we saw in Iceland was the crow, which you can see alighting on the statue to the left.
Here’s a video from the same spot as above. Sorry for the shaky camera. It was gorgeous in every direction.
Akureyri is a pleasant little town; Iceland’s 4th largest, clocking in at a whopping 18,000 people. It’s a nice stop on the Ring Road, with some delicious food and most of the amenities, groceris, etc, you’d expect.
Courtesy Casey: Named for the midges that infest its waters during the summer, Lake Myvatn is a beautiful, other-worldly land in the winter, perfectly devoid of all things annoying and bitey. We traveled there hoping to find a great, abysmal gash in the earth where the two continental plates meet and fight the good fight (the two halves of Iceland are actually running away from each other). Instead, we saw a land covered with strange rock formations, all products of the high geothermal activity throughout the area.
While the whole landscape was super cool awesome, its realistic to say that it will probably all be swept away from out memories eventually. All except that damn crater. And of course there’s the damn dormant volcano with the damn trail leading up to the top to see the damn crater. How can we forget that damn trail covered in snow, hiding all sorts of death (Gabe fell in a hole where the ground gave way, while I unknowingly stood on top an icy pond until Gabe realized and warned me from fifty paces back). We’ll never forget how the walk back after our failed attempt to climb to the top turned from a dejected tromp to an ecstatic skip as soon as Gabe could ask, “Will you marry me?”
The main reason I’ll be wearing a white wedding dress will be to honor that damn snow that tried its hardest to thwart Gabe’s proposal that day. Thanks for nothing snow.
We’ve left Reykjavik to come north, and we find… snow. Everywhere.
I see in the distance a cool looking volcano and decide that that is where I will propose to Casey.
Casey approaches Hverfall as my girlfriend.
The happy newly engaged couple. The ring was custom made by Jewelry by Johan. It’s meteorite and ringed with sapphires.
Casey leaves Hverfall as my fiancée.
We continue to explore and come to these mudflats. Iceland is a very geologically active place! Some of the mud pools were slowly bubbling. Very cool.
Casey finds a steam vent. Smells of egg.
See the steam vent in action.
We explored the Lake Myvatn area from the wonderful little Vogafjos Guesthouse. They have a barn onsite with these cows here and fresh milk every morning.
Small. Only restaurant closed because of owner’s sordid deeds. Flies swarmed indoors to avoid the cold outside. Northern Lights (no pics sorry)! A+ would visit to isolate oneself from society again.
The tiny town of Skagastrond from a hiking trail through hills near it. Population about 500.
The cabin we stayed at in Skagastrond.
Looking out from our cabin deck.
Rancher near the cabin raised the horses.
A closer look at the famed Icelandic horses.
Look at them prance!
We drove north from our cabin to check out the Arctic Ocean. The wind picked up quite a bit, and we had to hurry back before a snow storm blew in!
And that concludes our whirlwind tour of the land of ice and fire and egg. Some things I learned:
- Icelanders eat hamburgers with fork and knife.
- 99% of Iceland’s energy needs are met by geothermal energy and hydropower.
- Many roads and driveways run waste hot water under them to keep from freezing. Consequently, many places don’t require shoveling in the winter!
- Icelandic is the closest living language to the Old Norse that the Vikings spoke.
Sun, Mar 30, 2014 | For updates follow me on twitter