The Land of Fire and Ice!
December is almost here, and I can hardly believe it. Exams are hot on my heels, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still have some fun, so before the crunch time of exams and projects got in full swing, two of my suitemates and I decided to spend a week in Iceland! You guys, it was seriously amazing. I think I’m in love.
We got a campervan for the first 5 days of our trip so we could just drive around and see whatever we wanted without worrying about going back into Reykjavik every night. We initially planned to spend most of our time in the south of the island, but the weather was pretty good so we actually made it all the way around the island on the Ring Road! (Well, most of the island. We skipped the Westfjords, a peninsula in the north west of the island. It is full of beautiful mountains and ocean views, but also of dangerous dirt roads and icy winter road conditions very early in the season.)
On our first day, we arrived to Keflavik airport in the afternoon, and from there it was an hour bus ride into Reykjavik. We picked up our van and got a few hours’ drive in headed north, but the sun went down around four, so we pulled off the road at a spot with some picnic benches and called it a night. The next morning we drove on to Kirkjufell, the famous mountain shaped like an arrowhead from Game of Thrones, and the accompanying Kirkjufellsfoss. Then, we made it all the way around Snæfellsnes, the western peninsula of Iceland, and up to Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest metropolitan area.
Day two on the Ring Road was the north of the island, including the magnificent Goðafoss, Hverfjall, a giant volcanic crater, Grjótagjá hot spring cave (a favorite spot of Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow and Ygritte….), the Hverir geothermal field, and finally the Mývatn Nature Baths. Most of these sites are quite close to Lake Mývatn, which lies in the middle of a highly active geothermal area. There are several volcanic craters and many old lava flows and fields that stand as testament to old activity, as well as many active mud pots, steam vents, and hot springs that get up to 200 degrees Celsius! The artificially carved out pools at the Mývatn Nature Bath are a much more manageable 35 to 45 degrees Celsius, perfect for relaxing in before we had to make a long drive down the east coast to beat an approaching storm.
Unfortunately, we had to drive past the fjords and mountains of the east in the dark in order to beat the weather, but we made it down to the southeast part of the island in a few hours. The next day was a long drive along the winding roads of the southeast coast, but we did get to stop at Jökulsárlón, a beautiful lagoon filled with huge pieces of glacier ice. The ice slowly floats through the lagoon and down the shortest river in Iceland out to the Atlantic Ocean, where it is broken and melted into smaller chunks that wash up on the surrounding black beach. From there, we drove on to Skaftafell, a large wilderness area that is part of the Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull is Iceland’s largest glacier, taking up over 8000 square kilometers. On the map above, it is the huge white area in the southeast of the island.
Day four started with a quick hike from our campsite up to Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by strange, hexagon-shaped black basalt columns. Then it was on to more basalt columns at Reynisfjara, the stunning black beach of Vík í Mýrdal, a tiny seafront town. By chance, we decided to stop at a parking area for what turned out to be the Sólheimasandur plane crash. In the ‘70’s, a US Navy plane went down on the beach after running out of fuel. Fortunately, everyone in the plane made it. Unfortunately, the pilot discovered after crashing that he had just switched over to the wrong fuel tank. Oops. After the crash, the plane was stripped of its fuselage and all useful components and the rest was left to sit on the beach. It is a cool site, but we got ourselves into more than we realized when we started down the path. After walking for awhile, we stopped someone to ask how far to the wreck. Turns out it’s four kilometers (about two and a half miles) one way! We had about 30 minutes of daylight left when we started out from the parking lot, so making it to the plane was a race against the clock, but luckily there weren’t too many clouds so the light lasted and we made it! That did mean we had to walk back in the dark, though…
Our final day in the van was left to the Golden Circle and Þingvellir National Park, some of the most famous (and most touristic) sites on the island. We saw the huge Gullfoss, Geysir (from which all geysers in the world got their name) and its neighboring steam plumes, Öxarárfoss, the Law Stone where Iceland’s Alþingi (or Parliament) first held its meetings in 930 AD (which, by the way, the Alþingi still exists as the Parliament of modern Iceland, making it the oldest operating parliament in the world!!), the Silfra rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and much more! After that, it was back to Reykjavik to relax and soak it all in before heading back to Norway. I hated having to leave, and to be completely honest I was disappointed to be back in dreary, rainy Bergen, especially because it meant having to buckle down for exams. But soon enough, the semester will be over, and then I’ll be going back to the Land of Fire and Ice as soon as I can!