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May 1st 2014
Published: June 6th 2014
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I'd been dreaming of visiting Iceland for a few years now. Not sure exactly why, but maybe it has to do with the remoteness, or the vast scenic beauty, but as the plane came in for the landing at Keflavik airport in the southwest tip of the country, I was ecstatic. I was hoping I was saving the best for last on my brief one month backpacking trip, and soon enough I would know. The plane had flown over most of the country since I was coming in from the east and I already had a chance to see some incredible views during several breaks in the clouds as the place was making its descent. I caught the shuttle towards the capital of Reykjavik, about 40 minutes away. Reykjavik is a small city by most standards, but holds most of Iceland's population. About 200, 000 people live here out of 300, 000 in the entire country. I caught another shuttle that dropped me off just outside the center to my hostel, called Bus hostel. It was the cheapest place I could find to stay and my initial impressions were quite good. Another traveler named Ben, a young man from Dubai but studying in Toronto, stood next to me as we checked in and we began talking. Once settled in we decided to go out together and look for some food. Icelandair didn't serve food on their flights and I was starving. Based on a suggestion from the hostel we walked about fifteen minutes into town and found a place called Vitabar which reportedly served some of the best burgers in town. They didn't lie. I realized quickly however that I wouldn't be able to eat out for all my meals, the overall prices were just too high. We walked around for several more hours and then went up to the Perlan, the highest viewpoint in the city and had an amazing 360 degree view of the city. Mountains enclosed the north part of the city and Icelandic beauty was perceptible even within and just outside of the city. That night I began to research what I would be doing and where I wanted to go. I sat in the common room late into the night and drank some beer I'd picked up from the duty free at the airport.

The next day Ben and I went grocery shopping and split on some items. In the early afternoon we went back into town hoping that the free walking tour we'd read about was happening. Turned out that these walking tours were only held in the summer so we decided to do our own walking tour and headed to the old harbour. We walked through, had Icelandic ice cream, and then walked the shoreline north all the way to the modern day port. We walked for about five hours. When we got back to the hostel we met up with a dude called Riley, who was from California and had sold all his stuff and embarked on an indefinitely long journey. He had already gone through several states in the US and busked to earn money. He was looking to rent a vehicle and Ben and myself let him know we were interested in splitting some costs. Later on we recruited another traveler named Paul, from Barcelona but living in Edinburgh. He was one of many who was in town for a large conference on artificial intelligence. We agreed that the next day we'd embark on a 300 km loop to several highlights, luckily we had a car rental company aptly named SAD cars, right in the hostel. That night I went out with some of the AI guys, including Paul and Aga for beers and food. We went to a few bars and luckily caught the end of happy hour.

I woke early and got some things organized. The others woke up soon after and we hired a small Toyota Carolla. By ten thirty we had hit the road, with Riley driving and me sitting shotgun. Ben and Paul were in the back. As we left the city we drove past volcanic rock plains covered in moss and stopped to jump and lie and it. It was amazingly comfortable. We continued and stopped at a geothermal plant. Geothermal energy is an extremely popular form of energy here in Iceland, and pretty much all hot water and heating is derived from this. We got a quick tour showcasing how this energy gets to people and how sustainable and renewable it really is. We then stopped at some historic church and then drove on towards the famed geysir site. The air was heavy in sulfur and hot springs peppered the landscape with water averaging 80 degrees Celsius. One particular geysir would erupt about 30 feet high every few minutes. It was exciting every time! We continue towards the Gullfoss waterfall and came upon and enclosure of Icelandic horses. We immediately stopped and went to interact with me. I found they were so calm and quiet, very unlike other horse breeds I've encountered in my life. We had our packed lunch and drank some beers alongside them, then continued to the waterfall. As we walked towards the mighty river, it appeared as though it simply vanished from site. It was only until we got closer could we see that the water plunged about 20m into a deep crevice. Riley and myself climbed over the barricade towards the plunging water and got awfully close. We enjoyed the scenery for quite a while, got some snaps and then backtracked past the geysir and off to Thingvellir where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are converging. Also this is the site of the oldest parliament in the country and a cultural centre in centuries past for Icelanders. Giant rock walls rose from two sides of a path and a large lake lay towards the side. We practiced some bouldering along the rock walls and then Riley attempted to free solo a 35 foot section of the wall. Being a rock climber I was inclined to join him but something didn't sit well knowing that one slip could be fatal. Finally I joined him on a slightly shorter wall and we scaled up and over the top. It was definitely exhilarating. We all enjoyed the scenery for a while and then as we headed back on the path between the ridges, Riley and I climbed into a rock section of the wall and found a hidden path of boulders. We followed this along for a while until we eventually found a stream. The others joined us there. Riley submerged himself completely into the waters and I went about thigh deep. The water however was frigid and I began losing sensation in my feet quickly. We crossed the stream and then headed back down towards the car. I was still only in my boxers and it was less then eight degrees. It was a while before the sensation returned in our frozen feet! I drove back and we arrived in Reykjavik about eleven hours after we had initially left. Epic day.

In the evening Riley brought his guitar into the common room and performed some epic acoustic material, kinda reminded me of Andy Mckee. I also played with his guitar and stayed up until about three in the morning, despite having to wake up really early the next day.

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