To most people, Iceland would probably be somewhere at the bottom of the pile of the "100 Places To Visit Before I Die" list but honestly, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. It's one of these trips you feel sad leaving and probably even motivated to plan the next trip back. The Reykjavik (pronounced reh-kia-vick) trip was a birthday present from Jeanette which turned out to be one of the best trips we've had in a long time.
Iceland's capiktal Reykjavik is the world's northern-most capital city. The timing of our trip from Nov 22 to 30 was selected because it gaves us the best chance to watch the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. This phenomena could only be observed during still and crisp winter nights in the northern hemisphere. and even so, "going to see the Northern Lights" rarely produce results.
Reykjavik is a small city, nested on the south west of Iceland. At this time of the year, sunlight was between 11am and 4pm albeit at a very low angle. For photographers, the sun was almost always at a "magic hour" - with an orange-red light casting long shadows on the ground. Tourism was obviously a big thing here - glacial adventure travel, dog-sleding, whale watching, spa treatments etc. However, it took less than two hours to walk through the city. It was clear very quickly that booking tours, joining a group of tourists or rental a car and finding your own way were the only ways to go. We chose the latter.
Travelling in Iceland
We were fortunate to receive a 4 level model upgrade on our already discounted rental car, making our tour of the country much more comfortable. Although speed limits were more sedate compared to driving in Germany, roads were for the most part, deserted. This, and the fact that most roads outside of built-up areas were elevated from the landscape gave us a feeling of being stranded for days or weeks, if the car ever broke down.
Iceland has a very beautiful, rugged. expansive and unforgiving countryside.. The Icelandic landscape has been particularly astounding to the both of us - where access is via a combination of well tarred highways, gravel roads and F-grade 4-Wheel-Drive only country. Most of the locations we travelled in were the result of volcanic activity and hence the landscape ranged from faraway mountains to flat-like, moss like vegation covering porus magma mounds, made from lava flow a long long time ago.
Yes, they were active volcanoes as far as the eye can see. In fact, these volcanoes left an eerie red glow as the sky turned dark in the evenings Contrasting to that, we were able to see nearby glaciers from our apartment. It snowed on one of the days of our visit - transforming the look of the city once again.
There is an abundance of geothermal activity all around the country - even in the middle of capital city Reykjavik. Kind of like Rotorua in the New Zealand's North Island but without the pungent sulphuric smell. Having said that, we did find THAT smell at one stage of the trip. Although geothermal activity can be found virtually everywhere, tourists are reccomended to "view" these natural phenomena in National Parks and resorts like Iceland's world famous Blue Lagoon Spa. During our visit, Reykjavik hovered around the -2°C mark during the evening and was a stable 3°C during the daytime. Beware though that the wind in the city makes temperatures feel like -.10°C during the daytime. We experienced -10°C during the evening whilst chasing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
The scariest experience
We experienced perhaps the scariest half hour drive in our lifetime - along the cliffside edges of Lake Kleifarvatn, gravel road and many blind spots. All you can see is the silvery blue colour of the lake, steam rising from it and evaporating into the air, quicksand where the colour wasn't blue, every probability that you're going to have a head on collision with a large 4WD across moon-like mountain landscape. Having survived this, we promised ourselves never to go back to that area ever again.
It was an amazing experience to be able to take pictures of an active geysir, 10 feet away from the blowhole - feeling the gigantous power of the geothermal system below you. The pictures show both 100°C thermal activity amidst snow and ice - amazing contrast. Less than 10km away we witnessed amazing water falls amidst a backdrop of the Icelandic red setting sun. The overwhelming experience of the power of nature was humbling.
The Icelanders are a fantastic people; great looking, great complexion probably due to the water and lack of pollutants in the air and really friendly. Just a few days there, our skin became softer and smoother thanks to the water. They were surprised to see two asians travelling on their own (as most Asians would come as part of a tour) and didn't know how to react but the barrier quickly fell away as soon as we started speaking English.
Perhaps, more is better shown in pictures than words. Hence, we've decided to tell our story of Iceland through the pictures in three subtopics: Icelandic landscape, Reykjavik - the Icelandic Capital and Icelandic Leisure.
We hope you enjoy the pictures,... and yes, our mission was acomplished. We DID see the Northern Lights. Several times!
Jeanette and Raymond Han
*Scandinavia is made up of Sweden, Denmark and Norway although some argue that Iceland and Finland should be included.