ICELAND: Part IV Finale

This is it! The last part of our Icelandic adventure.

ACCOMMODATION: 

Hotel Edda Vik Friday night we stayed at this hotel in Vik. It is part of the same family as our Höfn hotel and had a similar quality. This one had a really great restaurant! (see below)

Hotel Nupan This is our last hotel and located in Reykjanesbær, which is near the airport since we had an early flight on Sunday morning. It was a lovely little guesthouse. We never met the owner, but they helped via phone to reserve our taxi for Sunday morning and even left us breakfast for our early morning flight.

EATS: 

Dinner Day 8: Berg Restaurant – This is the restaurant in our hotel in Vik. This was an amazing meal and we couldn’t have been happier. We had a starter of Taste of Iceland, with an Arctic char mousse (locally fished), cured lamb with herbs (kind of like lamb jerky) and smoked lamb. The smoked lamb was so unique and a different flavor, you could taste the smoke. For dinner we both had rack of lamb (locally farmed of course). This place was awesome and reminded us that Icelanders know how to cook well, we just haven’t tried much food while we’ve been here.

Rack of lamb at Restaurant Berg

Lunch Day 9: When researching a road trip in Iceland, you will hear a lot about the gas station hot dogs. We got most of our lunches at cafes or at the grocery store, but we finally tried the hot dogs at the gas stations and were NOT disappointed. These are good hot dogs!

The buns are first grilled, then they add fried onions, fresh chopped white onion, the hot dog wrapped in bacon (your choice, but the clear one!) and then you are able to add the sauces yourself. I put on ketchup and a honey mustard like sauce. Not the healthiest lunch for every day while sitting in a car on a road trip, but a nice one to try!

Dinner Day 9: Thai Keflavik – Okay, fine. So, this isn’t Icelandic fair. Butttt it was a more reasonably priced meal and honestly some of the best Thai we’ve had since we moved to Europe! It was also nice to switch up our choice of cuisine.

Day 8: Hiking in Skaftafell

This hike was in Skaftafell, a part of the Vatnajökull National Park, which includes the biggest glacier in Europe, covering 3,100 square miles and some 8% of the whole country! 

We originally planned to hike trail S4 to Kristínartindar, which is a trail that takes you up to the top of a peak in the park and high above the glacier for a view. Unfortunately, the park service still had the trail closed due to snow and ice thawing conditions. We were incredibly bummed as we had saved ourselves for this to be the big hike of the trip, but the circumstances were out of our control. The trail is normally open by June and this was not posted online anywhere, either. So, we hiked M2 to Morsárjökull instead, which took us on an easier 20.9 km (12.9 mi) hike out to see the Morsárjökull (glacier and iceberg lagoon). It was a beautiful day and the hike ended up being really great despite not being exactly what we had hoped to do.

Andrew on the trail on the first section, which took us up to a plateau with a view of the valley and glacier beyond.
Andrew, and our destination in the distance.
Mosarjokull and the iceberg lagoon at the foot. The glacier is beneath all the sediment you see in the center of the photograph. It has been produced from ice fall from the glacier above, which you can tell from the photo if you look closely at the center near the skyline, you’ll see the top shelf is distinct from the bottom. 
Waterfall along the way
The trail we would have taken and the peak we would have climbed 😦 Trail looks okay to me! But we followed the rules and didn’t go up. 

 

 

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We lucked out as mid-week the lupines came out into full bloom all over the country. They blanketed fields upon fields with purple flowers. It was beautiful and brought color to an otherwise earth-toned landscape.


Day 9: Last full day in Iceland 

 

During out last day in Iceland, we drove from Vik to Reykjanesbær in order to be near the airport for an early 7:20AM flight back to Geneva Sunday morning. We had a couple hours of driving distance to cover, and a few really great last stops for our trip.

Stop 1: Black Sand Beach of Vik. You can see the Reynisdrangar rock formations stick out of the ocean. As the legend goes, these were formed when trolls attempted to drag three ships ashore.

Stop 2: Skógafoss

 

Skogafoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in the country. She’s a beauty!

Stop 3: Hveragerði Hot Spring Hike – We think that this might have been Iceland’s best kept secret about 10 years ago, but now thanks to Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination and thanks to the internet, this place was hopping with people making the trek in order to get a dip in the hot spring river.

This is a 6 km round trip hike up into an area full of fumerolles and hot springs. Lucky for us, these are feeding into a stream that the locals have damned up in areas to offer a place to take a dip! The water was never very deep, but was just enough to be able to lay on your back or stomach, propped up on elbows and enjoy the water. It was so relaxing!

This is a shot of the section where you can bathe in the hot river. The locals have built a nice wooden walkway, and even some partitions to block the wind when you change and/or are drying off. As you can see, there were a lot of people.
You can really see the steam coming off the water here!

 

That’s it! The trip is over! As a result, I thought it would be good to provide a quick summary.

Iceland recap:

Route

How did we like it? We LOVED our trip to Iceland. Everywhere we went it was something new and cool to look at or experience. I would 100% recommend everyone I know to come to Iceland for a vacation.

What was your favorite part? Oh gosh. No ultimate favorites as I loved every minute, but Andrew and I both agree that the Snæfellsnes peninsula was really amazing. Part of this is probably because it was at the beginning of our trip when everything in Iceland was new and magic. Secondly, there were less people and we really felt far out there, despite its relatively close proximity to Reykjavik. Lastly, holy cow there were so many waterfalls! Literally everywhere we turned there was another waterfall. We became a little bit jaded by the time we got to the South Coast and saw waterfalls people were pulling over for that were no where near as tall or powerful or cool looking as those we saw on the Snæfellsnes.

Was the food good? When we treated ourselves to a restaurant meal, the food was excellent. While driving around the country, the fields are covered with sheep and horses. Everywhere! Naturally, we tried the lamb and it was delicious. The smoked lamb was even better. The local langoustine that we had in Höfn was SO good. We did not try it as a main course, but apparently the arctic char and the salmon fished locally are good as well. The country is also known for some odd delicacies, including Harðfiskur which is basically the fish version of beef jerky, Svið which is boiled sheeps head, and Hákarl which is cured shark. We left all of this stuff to the locals this time around!

Is it expensive? Unfortunately, yes. I’m no expert, but it makes sense that Iceland imports a lot of goods so the prices are higher. But I think that the prices are also a product of the fact that the tourist industry is rapidly growing as more and more people are visiting the country. As such, gas was more expensive than we experience in Switzerland. Hotel prices were much higher than other places we have traveled. Our hostel in the Snaefellesnes was even about USD 92 per night, and that was the cheapest in town! The restaurant meals were about equal with what we spend in Switzerland. So, if you go, be prepared to fork out some cash, or try to travel a little more savvy by going to the grocery store like we did, and staying in hostels where you can cook dinner or at least have breakfast on your own (most hotels charged extra for breakfast).

How was the driving? We rented a VW Golf station wagon and then a Kia Sportage. Both did well. We thought that we needed 4WD, but we quickly learned upon arrival that unless you are going on the “F Roads” (which are in the interior of the island and only open from the end of June), you really don’t need 4WD and can get away with a cheaper 2WD rental. The highways are all two lanes, speed limits are 90 kmph (55 mph) while in the countryside. Driving was easy. Especially when you are most often sitting in the passenger seat like me 🙂

Typical road in Iceland. 

Was this a good time of year to visit? We visited Iceland at the beginning of the high season. The weather was great, but if you wanted to be able to drive on the interior “F Roads” of the island, it might be better to wait until later in the summer. These were all closed during our visit as the snow and ice was still melting. As I mentioned above this is also the time of year flowers are blooming which was a wonderful contrast to the mostly dark landscape.

How was the weather? WOW. A little crazy! You need to go on this trip ready to get wet, muddy and dirty. We gave up trying to wear clean clothes. Pretty sure we stunk up the plane on the way back this morning! We were told that during our visit the island was experiencing some of the best weather ever, so we were VERY lucky to have three full sun days. We only had two days of rain, and it wasn’t too terrible. The rest were just cloudy. But it was very cold at times, then hot, then raining, then full fog, then low lying clouds. We experienced a little bit of everything, except snow thank goodness 🙂

That’s it! I can’t believe the trip is over. Such a memorable time, I loved every minute. 


ICELAND: Part III

Andrew and I are now on track with our original itinerary. We are driving from Hella, to Höfn, to Vik then back to Keflavik to fly back to Geneva early Sunday morning.

ACCOMMODATION:

We stayed one night at the Stracta Hotel Hella. This place is clearly equipped to handle tour buses full of people, but it was clean, quiet and had a bistro open late with great food and a breakfast buffet with tons of great options.

We stayed two nights at the Hotel Edda Höfn. This hotel is located right on the tip of a peninsula next to an inlet and a harbor. From our room we had a view of the mountains and the glacier. We arrived in full sunlight (thank you to Mother Nature for giving us dry weather and sun the second half of the day!) and were able to eat our dinner the first night on the hotel terrace in the sun. The windows did not have blackout shades (tough when it’s full sunlight half of the night) but we got used to it.  Otherwise, this is a great spot!

Andrew on the terrace our first night, eating dinner

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Drinks at sunset at 10:30PM outside our hotel and it’s still super light out!

EATS: 

Dinner Day 6: Hafnarbuðin  When we asked for a less expensive dinner option, our hotel manager recommended we go to this place for the langoustine baguette sandwich. We each got one, an order of fries and ate on the hotel terrace. The sandwiches were delicious and packed full of langoustine lobster! The town we stayed in, Höfn, fishes these so they were local and so good.

Dinner Day 7: Pakkhús Restaurant We finally let ourselves splurge on a restaurant meal in Hofn. This place is right on the harbor. A bit expensive, but the ambiance was so nice and the food was incredible. It felt like we were in a boat house, and the sunlight coming in the windows that lined the walls was perfect.

Andrew in Pakkhus Restaurant
Top: Andrew’s Langoustine; Bottom: My lamb filet (natural choice after seeing sheep everywhere in Iceland :P)

DAY 6: Driving from Hella to Höfn along the Southern Coast

We woke up in the morning to rain and wind. Typical Iceland weather, we have learned. But that doesn’t stop anyone here from going about their touring, nor did it stop us!!

Stop 1: Dyrhólaey, the southernmost tip of mainland Iceland. We arrived on a hunt to see puffins as we read that there is a colony here. We were rewarded with two puffin sightings! Plus a beautiful view of black sand beaches 🙂

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Stop 2: Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon – We did a short 3 km hike here along the top edge of the canyon. It was cloudy but beautiful!!

canyon

valley
This is from when we hiked above the canyon. Fewer people went this far, so we had the grassy hills to ourselves. It was so peaceful and beautiful!

Stop 4: Jökulsárlón – Fragments of ice from the Vatnajökull glacier calve into icebergs and are now floating in this glacier lagoon. We took a Zodiac boat tour out into the lagoon. We were able to see the icebergs up close and even see some small pieces of  icebergs calve off the glacier.

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We got to wear these stylin’ jump suits for the zodiac boat ride, which make us look like Ghostbusters but worth it because they kept us very warm!

An example of a zodiac boat that we road in

DAY 7: Hiking 14.3 km (8.8 mi) Hvannagil Canyon from Stafafell in the Lónsöraefi region. This hike was on the eastern side of the island, and the farthest east we went on the trip. There are far fewer people in this region, as we are very far from Rejkyavik and the day trippers/tour buses. The hike itself was very different from other areas, as it was dry and almost desert-like. These hills are rhyolite, which are so colorful! The pebbles in the stream came in hues of green, orange and purple. You can kind of see it here in this photo.

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During the first 1/3 of the hike, we walked through grassy hills and saw waterfalls. The second portion, we hiked down into this canyon. 

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The second third of the hike involved several creek crossings. The water was freeeeeezing cold but felt good on a warm day while hiking. It never got above knee-level on me, so very manageable.
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This nut dipped his head in the glacier stream to cool off
The last third of our hike was along a huge open area that looked like this. The above was also a very common sighting in Iceland. You’ll think you’re hiking alone and then these guys (girls?) will be chillin’ on the side of the trail.


ICELAND: Part II

From days 3 – 5 we drove to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which is to the north of Reykjavik. We chose to come here when we had our big “switch in plans thanks to IcelandAir” because it’s only a couple hours away from Reykjavik and also a bit more remote and less traveled than other areas.

ACCOMMODATION: The Old Post Office Guesthouse There weren’t many last minute options available, but we managed to snag a room in this hostel. This village is nestled in the village of Grundarfjörður on the northern coast of the peninsula, with the breathtaking Kirkjufell mountain towering above us. The hostel was clean, comfy beds, quiet, and the kitchen is lined with windows viewing the mountain and bay. It’s the perfect spot for two nights up here while on a budget.

EATS: Andrew and I are not prioritizing our choice or quality of restaurant while we’re here in Iceland. Not to act like we have a chip on our shoulder, but we travel quite a lot and we need to cut corners at times to sustain our travel schedule. We will likely have a couple nice restaurant meals later in the week, but otherwise we cooked dinner here at the hostel and are trying to keep things simple and low-budget.

On the bright side, it’s a novelty to wander through Icelandic grocery stores (so far Bonus and Hagkaup) and see what is sold here in comparison to the U.S. and our Swiss stores. The grocery stores we have seen clearly don’t put effort into making it look nice (it has the appearance of a Costco or Shoppers Food Warehouse) but there are plenty of options and  quite a lot of stuff that Andrew and I never see in our Swiss stores. The alcohol is sold only in state-run stores called Vinbudin, which is similar to our Virginia ABC store. The grocery prices haven’t been bad, but we’ve noticed beer and wine prices are higher than we are used to.

VOCAB LESSON: This is Andrew’s idea to summarize the meaning of some words in Icelandic to help everyone understand the names of some of the places we are visiting. I agree, I think it helps!

  • Jökull: glacier
  • Vik: Bay
  • Foss: Waterfall
  • Fjörður: Fjord

DAY 3: Driving from Reykjavik to Grundarfjorður

After making stops in the morning to buy a couple last minute items at the store (thank you Iceland for having opening hours on Sundays, even if they aren’t til 11AM!) we started to drive north on the 1, the so-called “Ring Road.”

Stop 1: Eldborg Crater 

This is a caldera which sits on the property of a farm. We did about a 1.5 hour hike to go up to it and back. The day was cloudy and it was raining a bit, but it was nice to get out to stretch our legs and hit the trail. It didn’t hurt that there were tons of baby sheep to ogle at along the way 🙂

Stop 2 (below): Gerduberg basalt columns, showing the hexagonal shape here. These were only about a km off the main road!

Stop 3: We drove out to the village of Stykkishólmur, on the northern coast of the peninsula. It was a cute little village (emphasis on little) and the view was stunning from this island at their harbor.

stykiss

Stop 4: Lava fields – We have seen a lot of this on the island, but this area was the coolest for its formations and the texture to the fields. Beautiful and cool to see the moss taking action to re-vegetate the earth!

Stop 5: The waterfall approaching our destination village, Grundarfjörður.

It just so happens that after we pulled off the road onto a gravel shoulder to view the above waterfall, as we drove away heard an awful KLUNK KLUNK KLUNK SCREEEEECH EEEEECH! Bad sound to hear when you’re on a road trip in a remote area of Iceland. After some google searching for self diagnosis and noticing that the sound wasn’t shaking off with our continued driving and turning of the wheel, we decided we had gravel stuck in our left front wheel in between the shield and the rotor. But we did not know how to fix it. Of course, as things go, we had to be in a village 45 minutes drive away in the morning at 9AM for a glacier hiking tour and the village car mechanic would not be open until 8AM. We were not sure if this would work out, and planned on waking up early Monday and giving it a shot to see if someone could help us fix it in time.

Day 4: Mechanic’s visit and hiking Snæfellsjökull


So, Andrew and I arrived at the local mechanic’s before they opened. Luckily, these Icelanders arrive on time, and I knocked on the door to a sleepy and yawning man who responded to my inquiries with “unhhhhh” and “yreahhhh” when I asked if he was available to help. He shuffled some cars around, brought our car into the garage, and within seconds pushed on something in our wheel and out popped the culprit. Half the size of a marble! The man kindly did not charge us for his time. We thanked him profusely, then hopped on the road as there was JUST enough time to high tail it to the next town to catch our glacier hiking tour. We were so glad that this incident happened so close to a town with a mechanic, and also that nothing serious was wrong with the rental car. Here’s hoping that the rest of the trip goes smoothly with the car!

This whole time while in Iceland, I have been thinking of my Dad and how much he would have loved to hear of this trip or rather that he would have tried to join us here in Iceland if his health would have been better. So, while bittersweet at times for me, I know he would be so proud of us for coming out here and is really here in spirit. I was reminded of the time that my Dad and I went on a backpacking trip in the back country of Utah to Salt River Canyon in Canyonlands and got stuck in a rut in a wash (a dry creek bed) and had to walk about 3 miles to the nearest trail head with people, hitch hike to the nearest town and get a local four wheel drive tow truck to go drag us out. It was so frustrating at the time but it reminds me that when stuff like this happens, you just have to go with the flow and be glad it isn’t worse!

Driving in the morning to the tour. So many waterfalls in this country!

Andrew and I signed up with the Go West! eco touring company to take us on the “Snæfellsjökull Glacier Hike – Wear the Crown” tour. I cannot say enough how much we loved this tour! The man who ran our tour, Jon Joel, was clearly passionate about his trade and love for promoting tourism of his country through eco-friendly methods. He was a fantastic guide and I would highly recommend anyone to call him up for a trip in the Snaefellsnes peninsula, or even a trip out of Reykjavik.

The trip was to hike up to the top of the Snæfellsjökull, which was a mountain with a glacier on the edge of the peninsula, and took about 8 hours round trip. We could not have done this hike without a guide as there are several crevasses along the way covered in snow, and you have to have a guide who knows where he is going in order to get you safely up and down. The trip was on our first and only blue sky & dry day so far (here’s hoping we get some more soon!) so it was pretty incredible. I think the photos speak for themselves! (be prepared for picture overload. The guide posted on DropBox and his pictures are unreal)

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Our hiking group. On the left, two sisters from the U.S.; Andrew and I and then a German Dad plus his two daughters
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At the summit. You can tell which way the wind typically blows!

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On the drive back to our hostel, we had to stop a few times….

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Even more waterfalls. Unbelievable!
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The bay where our village was, you can see Grundarfjordur off in the distance in the left of the photo

Day 5: Driving from Grundarfjorður to Hella

This day we planned to drive around the rest of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, then head out to return the car we rented for our impromptu trip to Iceland, pick up our originally booked car at the airport then head off to Hella to pick up on the originally planned itinerary of our Iceland vacation before the flight fiasco occurred.

1st Stop: We drove through the Snæfellsjokull national park first thing on Tuesday. We drove out to the very tip of the peninsula, which involved a lot of twisty roads through lava fields, a beautiful coastline, tons of incredibly strong winds (seriously, the strongest I have  ever experienced) and even involved picking up two women from Chicago and Ann Arbor who needed a ride back to their car after they were sick of hiking through the wind.

Skardsvik Beach

 

The beach from the town of Hellnar
Leaning into the crazy strong winds in the national park

Stop 2: Olkelda Mineral Spring for some natural mineral spring water brought straight out of the earth! Tasted strongly of iron, but was a novelty to say the least 🙂


Stop 3: Landbrotalaug Hot Spring

This place is a natural hot tub! We had some GPS coordinates to guide us off the road to find this spot, which is a teeny little circle in the ground with the perfect temperature of water. It was cold, windy and raining sideways on us when we got in, but it felt SO great to sit in a hot pool while looking out at the Icelandic mountains and revel in where we were in the moment. Amazing!

hot pot

So, that’s the end of Part I-II, which was essentially the part of the trip that we had not planned. From now on, we pick up with the initial planned vacation, and we will begin to travel the southern coast of Iceland. We are sad that we missed the time in Texas with Andrew’s family, and have felt FOMO since then, but we are looking forward to the rest of this trip because it has been pretty amazing so far!

ICELAND: Part I

The original plan was for us to be in Dallas, Texas for Andrew’s cousin’s wedding this Memorial Day Weekend. We had the whole trip planned out in an admittedly not-so-simple plan to make it to Dallas for the weekend, then fly back eastward to finish a week-long vacation in Iceland. The first part went fine. We caught the train from Lausanne to Zurich airport. The next steps were a little trickier. Our plan was to take a flight from Zurich to Reykjavik, have a 1.5 hour layover (taking advantage of the airline’s Stopover Deal), fly to Chicago, go through customs, pick up our luggage, and re-check in to a different flight with United to fly on to Dallas 2 hours later.

OK. We know this sounds risky, but with the timing it looked like it would work and we built in time to allow for delays once we got in the U.S. or possibly getting stuck in Chicago until Saturday morning. Worst case scenario we would make it in time for the 6pm wedding Saturday night. As you’re guessing by now, things went far from expected. Iceland air traffic control went on strike (how could we have planned that one?!) and deliberately delayed flights to/from the U.S. and Europe. Our Chicago flight left from Reykjavik without us, and the only alternative flight plans had us arriving in Dallas over an hour after the wedding started. Sadly, we had to make the call, and since we already planned to be here, we elected to stay in Iceland and extend our vacation by four days.
So, here we are. In Iceland for the next 9 days!

DISCLAIMER: The next few posts will be 100% Iceland as we have a lot to document and need to spread it out into more than one post. This is both to be able to share with you and also to chronicle for ourselves for the future. If you don’t care for it, no worries, just ignore the posts for a little while 🙂

DAY 1 Friday – DAY 2 Saturday:

ACCOMMODATION:

IcelandAir took full responsibility for the missed flights and compensated us with a free hotel for two nights in Reykjavik at the Hotel Cabin. It came with breakfast and dinner. Given that this change in plans is four days more than we planned, and this is not a cheap place to visit (even in comparison to Switzerland) we elected to go budget and take advantage of anything free. The breakfast and dinner were buffet, nothing special but had a good salad bar and breakfast with fresh fruits, meats, cheese and hard boiled eggs.

Comments about Iceland so far:

So far it is clean and it feels less populated even than Switzerland. I noticed I don’t feel so bad speaking English here since no one else in the world speaks their language (is this awful of me?). To their credit, their English is very good! I had to go to the pharmacy to buy my allergy medicine and the pharmacist was super helpful and we communicated well. Iceland clearly has higher prices and Andrew and I are trying to go budget whenever the choice makes more sense.

The sun sets at 11:30 PM and rises at 3:30AM every day this time of year. In fact it is 11pm as I am writing this and it is still very bright. The daylight is great because we never feel rushed to see stuff due to sunset. And so far our hotels have had good blackout shades so you cannot tell how light it is outside while you sleep.

WHAT WE’RE UP TO:

Day 2 – Saturday 28.05.16:

We had planned our whole trip in Iceland to begin on Tuesday May 31 after the Dallas trip, so by starting things early we had to switch the plan up a little. But it’s all working out well! We brought forward our tour of the famous Golden Circle to this day, and it was great because we had all day to tour and take our time with it. The high season is just getting started in Iceland so there are a lot of people and tour buses but it’s not too bad.

First stop of the day:

Thingvellir National Park:  This park features where the Icelandic Parliament first began and also is where you can physically see the continental drift is occurring! It was incredibly windy and raining at times, but forgetting the weather it was amazing. Okay…so you can not actually see the continents drifting apart, but there is much evidence to that fact as pictured below.

Here we are walking in the fissure in the Earth where the two tectonic plates are separating!
A fissure in the Earth caused by the separating tectonic plates which is filled with water. You can go scuba diving and snorkeling in there. Hard to tell but its incredibly clear!
View of the park and the site of the original Icelandic Parliament

Second stop of the day: Geysir was our next place, which is a spot with geothermal activity in the form of 80-100 degree Celsius (boiling!) creeks and a geyser that goes off every few minutes to varying degrees of intensity. It was amazing!

The geyser. This is nowhere near the highest we saw it go, but the highest we took a picture of. 

Third stop: Gullfoss, which is a massive waterfall along the Golden Circle. It was stunning!

 

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Gullfoss – check out the size of the falls in comparison to the people!
Andrew in front of one of the massive, souped up Charter buses. These things are crazy!

Last stop: Kerid Crater

And that was just day 2! We’ll keep you posted as we move on in Iceland 🙂