Friday, November 4, 2016

Iceland 2016: Stykkisholmur to Reykjavík

Well it felt like I woke up in a hurricane, and the not favorable weather stuck around day which slowed down driving times tremendously due to the raucous wind and rain. 

My tent survived the overnight but I’m sure there may be a pole or two bent due to the insane wind gusts all throughout the night and early morning. Not to mention, it’s completely soaked cabin and rain tarp as take-down this morning occurred in a downpour. But...when in Iceland! You can’t let foul conditions ruin your quest for adventuring. I headed into town which was still dark and waking up at 9am and topped off with gas. Pre-reading and researching Iceland before arriving led to some worry about gas being insanely expensive. Sure, it’s not cheap but it’s not going to break my wallet either considering how much driving and off-roading I’ve done. To play it safe and allow for curious driving excursions to places off the Route , I fill up the Suzuki at every half-tank only has cost me about $16-$30 for each half-tank or about 10-13 liters a fill-up. Not as bad as I had expected. The other convenient thing with fill-ups, is that every single gas pump, even the ones in the middle of dark no-where up in northern Iceland where there’s just a sole light illuminating a pump along the side of the road….take credit card. It’s easy, but per all financial transactions you have to have a pin for your credit card otherwise you are wayyyyyy out of luck. Just to give you an idea on recent costs when I filled up this afternoon, one liter of regular petrol 95 octane cost around 196 ISK where as one liter of diesel petrol cost 184 ISK. You also have to actually stand there and pump it, there’s no handle-lock where you set it, get back in your car, and get out when it clicks full. Many of the gas stations here also have free coffee and wifi, along with free car washing supplies.

Today’s goal was to get over to the ‘Golden Circle’ area outside of Reykjavík, by sunset. This loop takes about a day to do and you can easily access three awesome points of interest in one day: Þingvellir National Park and its tectonic plates, the erupting geysirs and Iceland’s most famous waterfall Gullfoss. Before all that, I had one more place to visit over in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula- a 463m mountain called Kirkjufell. Months ago, I had seen photos of Kirkjufell popping up on my Instagram and Pinterest feeds and I remember thinking “I NEED to see this mountain.” It’s gorgeous, inspiring and like your ideal-looking mountain. It’s right outside the town of Grundarfjörður, west of route 56. On the north side of the road lies Kirkjufell or ‘Church Mountain’ due to its shape resemblance, while on the south side of the road is an outstanding waterfall called Kirkjufellsfoss. If you haven’t caught on, anything that ends with ‘foss’s means waterfall. That moment, right there standing at the top of the waterfall looking out towards the North Atlantic and up at Kirkjufell….that is why I love to travel. Unfathomably beautiful. Even in like 45-50mph winds and pouring sideways rain. Speaking of which, I still can’t get over how the ocean waters around Iceland’s coasts are that royal, deep blue and just pierce out, illuminating through the dull gray overcast sky. It’s like it’s glowing. Never anywhere else in the world have I seen water do that, show it’s true colors that much.

So this post is a double, meaning I’m blogging about what I did today November 2 and the 3. Mainly because the ridiculously strong wind and bad rain today delayed my arrival into the ‘Golden Circle’ area tremendously. What’s been the scariest part of Iceland? Driving in high-wind warning conditions, in the pouring rain and passing a monstrous on-coming semi. Iceland’s two-lane highways with no shoulders or barriers in between mean you are prettttty close to on-coming traffic. Whenever a semi-truck today would pass me at 90kmh, a terrifying wave of water and wind would follow, shaking the entire car to the point where I’d just hold the wheel death-grip tight and hope I stay on the road haha. You kind of just let out a “Ahhhhhhh!” when it’s happening, slightly close your eyes and brace yourself. But hey! I got to my destination this evening safe and sound.

Car camping in Pingvellir National Park tonight, it hasn’t stopped raining. Two more days in Iceland, lots of exploring this fascinating country to be done.The next morning, I woke up and immediately set out on to experience the ‘Golden Circle’. The great thing, is that I can easily do it in the few hours I have before scrambling back to Reykjavík. The first stop was to check out Þingvellir National Park, a place of paramount importance in Icelandic history as it’s where the first parliament, Albigi, gathering of the Vikings happened back in like A.D. 930. It was a meeting place where skilled artisans like sword sharpeners and brewers to sell their work, banquets and fun took place too, everything from clowns to big games of tug-a-war and wresting. 
It’s also here where the very first General Assembly in Iceland grew its deep roots. A ‘Law Speaker’ would read out the current laws and write new ones. It’s said too that anyone who attend these General Assemblies at Þingvellir were granted full-immunity from harm. Þingvellir is a geological wonder too because the North American and European tectonic plates way below the ground meet and have continued to slowly drift apart from each other. You can hike through some of the big fissures (cracks) in the ground and as you’re driving through the national park, you’ll see riffs (including the main riff Almannagjá) in the mossy ground that shoot straight down into either darkness or hyper-transparent water. It’s gorgeous to see in person.

Just up the road, a quick detour off the main Golden Circle route is a super sweet set of caves dug into the side of a mountain face called Laugarvatnshellar. Hike up from the parking area on the path towards the peaks and you’ll see two big caves on your left that have been dug out some 50ft into the rock. Back in the earlier 1900s, a couple settled here and built a home within the dark hollows you can walk into. Farmers also used the caves for their protection and could safely stable up to 400 sheep! These caves are also said to be haunted.

Stop two on the tour of the ‘Golden Circle’ was Geyisr. This geothermal area is a collection of bursting hot springs and mud pits along with fluorescent blue and orange pools of past-boiling hot water. If you’re looking to read more about what the heck a geothermal area is, read about this mysterious natural phenomenon in this past blog post. The sulfur smell welcomed me again and I was able to check out a few of the less-active geysirs (Litli Geysir which you "awe" at) and the angry geyser Strokkur which erupts about every ten minutes, shooting a poof of steam and water some one-hundred feet up in the air. It’s so fun to watch it blow! Love it, I could watch Strokkur erupt over and over and over again.

Last but certainly not least in terms of excitement comparison was Gullfoss, the waterfall that Iceland’s proud of. It’s just huge and you can’t help but open your eyes ultra-wide to really accept it’s in front of you. It’s like a staircase of rushing cold water. The river Hvítá drops first down a 11m fall and then flops again another 22m a few seconds later on. Looking at it dead-on is puzzling as the falls seem to flow right-ward first and then fall left into the deep canyon below. The Golden Waterfalls are loud and a plume of mist soaks you as you stand there taking it all in. You can view Gullfoss from two spots- the first is the upper deck near the visitor center, gift shop, café and parking lot…but it’s a tourist trap with bus after bus of selfie-stick wielding crazies. Go down the steps to a platform that gets you closer to the lower falls and the view is superb. It’s also a bit less crowded.
You know what are really good besides the hot dogs over here? The donuts. Iceland’s pastries and donuts are on-par. They’re realllllll nice (in a ‘Christmas Vacation’ Uncle Eddie voice). I filled up the Suz with gas and headed towards the capital city of Reykjavik where I’d be spending the next day or so until I fly out of Keflavik on Friday afternoon. So I’ll be honest, I’m not a city person at all, but Reykjavík is a winner. I got into the city shortly after 4pm and had a few hours of daylight out to walk around. The streets and atmosphere definitely feels European and that’s a big compliment because gosh I’d love to live in Europe at some point. Maybe after our election in a few days I’ll jump the pond. By the way and speaking of which, just about every other traveler I’ve met not from the United States (not a lot of Americans in Iceland right now), asked if I was worried about the upcoming presidential election? People from Poland, Australia, England, South Korea, Canada especially realize just how screwed up our situation is. Many even jokingly invited me to take refuge in their home towns haha. It’s embarrassing to tell you the truth when talking about the U.S. with some of these other foreigners. Worst case scenario, I’ll have zero-problem moving to Iceland haha. It’s an outdoor recreation professional’s paradise.

If you go to Reykjavík, you must visit Hallgrímskirkja….it’s a extraordinary piece of neo-classical architectural art. You'll be able to spot this Lutheran church from anywhere within the city. It’s just a beautiful building towering some 244ft into the Reykjavík's cloudy sky above all the other pastel colored homes and shops that dot the streets below. I couldn’t stop taking photos of it. Designed in 1937 by Guojon Samuelsson who took inspiration from Iceland's many basalt lava flows, that you've seen in a few past blog posts. Hallgrímskirkja was finished after 41 years of on-going construction and inside there's a monstrous 5,275 pipe organ.

I then took a stroll though the city, poking around a few shops, breathing in the scene Next time I come to Iceland I’ll give myself a solid full-day or two in Reykjavík, even the short time I was there it gave off a fun vibe. Rain and sunset came quickly around 6pm and I attempted to get to my hostel I was booked at. Driving a manual-transmission 4x4, in Reykjavík rush-hour traffic, in the rain, at night while trying to navigate with a paper map of the city was hilariously difficult. Yet after spotting a few landmarks, I got to the International Hosteling Reykjavík Downtown Hostel
My roommates were a girl from Australia traveling the world on her life-savings and a father and daughter, Agnieszka, from a small farming town in Poland. They offered me tea and fresh thick honey from their farm as her dad was a beekeeper. We all exchanged English words for Polish words over beers and dinner later that evening. For the first time in like 13 days, I was able to sleep in a bed. A flat, comfortable mattress with a heavy comforter and….pillow!

Enjoy a few more images off the memory card below.