RTW: The Drive Around Iceland
I had my socks knocked off in Iceland. It was one of the many places on my itinerary, but one of the few that was given particular priority. I really wanted to go to Iceland. Yes, it's a very affordable destination right now, due to their economic troubles, but more importantly it is an impressive little nation - with landscapes you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
My brother and his fiancée met me in Reykjavík and we took advantage of Hostelling International-Iceland's car rental package to do a whirlwind tour of the island nation. I'll tell you about the highlights of our trip after the jump, and fill you in on the hostels of Iceland in another post to come.
We headed north out of Reykjavík, Iceland's capital city on the southwest edge of the island, and spent a night in Grundarfjörður, a very quiet fishing town on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Then onwards to Ósar, Siglufjörður, Akureyri, Húsavík, Fellabær, Höfn and back to Reykjavík. We stuck mostly to Ring Road, Highway #1 that runs a circle around the island.
In Ósar, the hostel was across the road from a pathway down to the ocean and a seal colony that hangs out on the shore across the inlet. They weren't too active while we were there, but the seabirds sure were, divebombing our heads if we got too close to their nesting area in the grass. Just down the beach is a crazy-looking rock formation that is said to look like a prehistoric dinosaur. I didn't spot the dinosaur in it but it was neat to look at regardless.
A lot of my enthusiasm for Iceland was sparked by the documentary Heima (video link), which follows Icelandic band Sigur Ros in the summer of 2006 as they perform small unannounced shows in various spots around Iceland, interspersed with the band's own commentary on their country and the environmental issues it currently faces (all this came about prior to its current financial crisis). So I was pretty happy to find out that Sigur Ros would be performing as part of the Icelandic Folk Music Festival in Siglufjörður when I'd be there.
Their performance was part of a concert featuring much-loved Icelandic chanter, Steindór Andersen. While Sigur Ros' contribution wasn't as extended as I'd hoped, it was still a pretty unique experience - packed into a small church in a town of 1,400 in Northern Iceland, watching a style of music particular to this part of the world, in a concert that was narrated entirely in Icelandic.
Unfortunately, we had a big drive ahead of us so didn't get a chance to visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum in town.
En route to Fellabaer, we swung by one of the most geothermally active parts of the country, around Lake Myvatn where volcano craters frame the big lake, and you can wander around steam vents, bubbling mud and even stand on the edge of Krafla, a volcano that last erupted only 25 years ago.
From here we took a spin by Jökulsárlón (aka Ice Lagoon, photo'd above), a lagoon just off the highway that collects icebergs as they break off Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajökull (larger than Canada's Athabasca Glacier), and flow towards the ocean. Like most of Iceland's landscapes, it's a surreal one.
Back in Reykjavík, we visited Iceland's famed tourist attraction - the Blue Lagoon. It's the image you'll see in almost any tourist marketing that comes out of the country - milky blue outdoor pools heated naturally and geothermally that draw relaxers from 'round the world. It's expensive (23 euros for adults) but has the benefit of being different from most hot springs you'll find - surrounded by lava rocks and volcanoes.
On our last full day, we visited Þingvellir National Park - one of the best places to view the effects of a continental rift, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and are currently moving away from each other, as well as a geyser and a few waterfalls before scoping out the tiny city of Reykjavik.
Iceland is a wild place, where trees are few and far between but where the raw formative powers of the planet are on display.