The land of fire and ice
06/18/2014 - 06/24/2014 50 °F
Bryan’s European Jaunt Part Deux!
After 6 weeks back in the US, I’m back at it traveling around Europe. The time off worked out perfectly - in the past 6 weeks I:
- Spent 2 of those in SF for Brad Miller’s amazing wedding and to check out my future housing options
- “Ran” in Bay2Breakers, a “race” across SF from the Bay to the Pacific. The quotes are there because while a handful of people do actually run this 7 mile race, the vast majority dress up in costumes (we were Minions from Despicable Me) and drunkenly stumble across the city before taking a much needed nap on the beach. At least that’s what I did
- Helped my family to pack up our house and move into a new one! Don’t worry, we’re still in Fairport - just up 250 by Woodcliff
- Spent time with my relatives and a few other very special people in the ROC (you know who you are)
- Went to my 5 year college reunion at Cornell. Wow that sentence makes me feel old but it was so great to see a ton of people I haven’t seen in years and omg I miss Ithaca and all its glory
- Fulfilled a long-standing dream (which is likely to be repeated) by going to BONNAROO music festival with T Halle and Chris Marini. I could write an entire post about the festival and the atmosphere there, but lets suffice it to say that it has a utopian feel where everyone is simply loving life and all those around them. The music was unforgettable as were the people we met.
==ON TO ICELAND!==
Inspired by other travelers I met, I decided to start out the 2nd leg of my trip with a stopover in Iceland! Iceland Air (who is among the cheapest airlines to cross the Atlantic) does a brilliant thing where they have you connect in Iceland and you can put up to 10 days between your connections to explore Iceland, without changing the prices of the flights much. The timing of my flight was both challenging and incredibly fortuitous at the same time.
Challenging - Without fully realizing the consequences of it, I booked my flight as a Tuesday night red eye out of JFK, mostly because it was the cheapest. Bonnaroo was the weekend before, so therefore my schedule was 5 crazy nights at Bonnaroo, drive 17+ hours from Manchester, TN to Hershey, PA, to Fairport, NY on Monday, get home around 2:30 am and pack for Europe for the next 2 hours before catching a 5:30 train to NYC. After pulling that all nighter, I then had the red eye, so I definitely started my trip on fumes.
Fortuitous - By sheer coincidence, I booked my flight to land in Reykjavik about 15 minutes before 2 friends from the Cornell Buds landed from their red eye from Boston. I found out this was happening a week or so before I left and couldn’t believe the chances.
The red eye was uneventful, but relatively short, so I only managed to catch a few hours of sleep before we landed. I was soon energized, however, when I met up with Garrett and Kadesch by baggage claim and went to go pick up their car from, all of names, SadCar. And sad it was - a beat up old Yaris with a dent in the side and over 270,000 km on it (about 165,000 miles).
I was supposed to be in Iceland for only 3 nights, while Garrett and Kadesch were doing 6 nights and circling the island along the popular Ring Road. The plan WAS to explore Reykjavik (the capital city) together the first day, then I would tag along with them down the Ring Road the 2nd day, and then I would have to catch a bus or hitch hike back to Reykjavik day 3 while they continued on. Here are some pictures of the capital, but honestly, you go to Iceland for the outdoors, not the cities (more accurately - the 1 city).
The view from the top of the church shown below
There was a really beautiful cemetery recommended to us by a local we met in the hostel bar. Very glad they did
The concert hall, right on the water
After day 1 in Reykjavik, we couldn’t wait to get out and see the much talked about natural wonders of Iceland. The first day on the road was packed with different things along the “Golden Circle” before we hit the coast and truly started the ring road. One of the coolest things about Iceland is that, for such a small country, they have extremely different and unique natural features. The Golden Circle contained all of the things below, and constituted the first 7 or so hours of our trip. This is totally doable in 1 day from Reykjavik and would be the top thing I recommend if you only have a day in Iceland.
Þingvellir is an area where the various tribes of Iceland met annually back in the first couple centuries of Iceland's existence and also happens to be the location where the North American and European tectonic plates meet. This juncture accounts for Iceland's geothermal power and volcanic activity. Pretty cool because you can actually SEE the 2 plates and can walk between them in 15 minutes. In the pictures below, you can see the edge of the N American plate rising up alongside the path.
Cool waterfall cascading off the rift.
Gullfoss (-foss means waterfall), which made various lists of Top 10 Awe Inspiring Waterfalls (Iceland has 2 on that list)
Strokkur - a geyser that spouts water 15 m into the air every 10-15 minutes. I wasn't quick enough to get either of the eruptions that we saw on camera, but the area was cool even between eruptions
Based on the dude's hat, you know he's a baker. But what is he doing? There's special bread in Iceland made from an ancient recipe and cooked in the ground in these geothermal areas. Later on, we bought a loaf (it weighs a ton!)
and finally, Kerith - a large crater.
If anyone is trying to look up these things, Icelandic has some weird characters like a d with a line thru it that sounds like "th", so they may look a little different online. They also have an awkward p that sounds exactly like the strange d, but the p can't be at the end of a word and the d can't be at the beginning of the word. Strange language, but we had fun picking up phrases as we circled it.
After we finished up these opening impressive attractions, we got on Route 1, the Ring Road that circles the island. We stopped first at Seljalandsfoss, a large waterfall that you can walk totally behind for some cool photo ops.
"Burst Mode" - one of my favorite things on my new phone's camera
Our hostel that night was in Skogar, right next to Skogafoss. Hungry by the time we arrived, we decided to take advantage of Iceland’s unique “Midnight Sun”, getting dinner and doing some relaxing before going out to see the waterfall around midnight. Yes, the pictures below were taken after midnight
Before I went to sleep, I gave into my instincts that had been bugging me all day. Knowing that I was supposed to be turning around after that night and heading back to Reykjavik, I was getting extremely jealous of Garrett and Kadesch circling the country and seeing breath-taking sites for the next 5 days. So, after some quick internet searching (which we had to camp outside a restaurant for), I bought a cheap plane ticket to France on Tuesday, letting me stick with them for the rest of their trip. Hearing this, Kadesh was very excited; Garrett was just tired
The amazing and highly varied sites continued on Day 3, continuing thru South Iceland. Most of our time these first few days were driving from one amazing sight to another, so I'll continue the photo montage with descriptions. To give you an idea of the weather, it was totally overcast thru all of Southwestern Iceland, which constituted the two and a half days of our journey. Ironic that we never saw the sun since Iceland is known for having 24 hour sun this time of year. Once we moved significantly east, however, the sun came out, much to our great delight.
Dyrholaey were towering cliffs by the sea with lots of birds, a lighthouse, and gorgeous views of the waves crashing down onto the black sand beaches below. There was also some hiking trails that allowed you to walk all the way out to the edge of the rocky outcropping. Oh and of course is the picturesque arch that is featured on a number of Icelandic postcards and the like.
The Iron Islands?
A dizzying look down
This was a simple little cave area with a name that I can't find right now, just off the Ring Road. My favorite part of this were the strange hexagonal pillars of rocks that provided for easy and fun climbing. Debate over how the rocks could have formed in this unique way dominated conversation in the car for the next 30 minutes.
Skaftafell - part of the Vatnajökull national park, this is the most accessible part of Europe's largest glacier, covering over 81,000 km^2. This glacier accompanied us along the Ring Road for 2 incredibly beautiful hours. After getting educated in the visitor’s center and talking to the cute Icelandic girl behind the desk about the available trails, we were excited to stretch our legs on the first true hike of the trip. Heading up the mountain, it took us about 45 minutes to reach the scenic outlook, where we snapped some pictures of the gigantic glacier. To repeat a phrase we all said so many times here, “I have never seen anything like it before.”
Knowing we would come back to do a little walkiing on the actual glacier, we continued our hike over to _______, another postcard-featured waterfall. I’d love to talk to a geology expert about how these rocks formed in this way.
I just mailed a postcard to a friend that looked exactly like this
Another different camera feature on my new phone - this one is just silly
Another waterfall on the hike back down:
It was 7 pm by now, but with plenty of light still available, we headed down the trail to the glacier. After carefully reading the signs warning about the dangers of walking on the glacier, especially without guides or full equipment, we decided we could handle it and started hiking up. We had some fun, but turned back after not too far. Like I always say - I do some dumb things, but always in a fairly smart way.
The last stop before our hostel that night resulted in my favorite pictures, maybe of the entire trip. Described as a “lagoon”, Jokulsarion is at the base of another one of the glacier’s tongues that extend out between other existing mountains. It was about 9 pm by then and the light was perfect and just made the pictures.
Since I had spontaneously jumped onto the rest of the trip, I did not have reservations at the hostels along the way like Kadesch and Garrett. Knowing that right around the summer solstice was the busiest tourism time for Iceland, we weren’t sure how many nights I would be sleeping in the car. This appeared to be one of those nights, as the hostel was all booked up. We were all tired, so the other 2 went to bed, but not being in any rush to head to the car, I headed to the common area to start this blog entry.
I did meet some lovely people there that night, but that will have to wait for the next blog entry. I'm currently in Paris and want to go enjoy the lovely weather and surroundings.
Finally, a couple of random pics from a souvenir shop: