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Trip Report Iceland Trip - July 2013 - PArt 1

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5th July:
We landed in Keflavik airport a round 9am in the morning. The flight from New York was only about 5 hours –so we did not really get a good night’s sleep. To add to that, we had an 8 hour layover at JFK. So we were tired, but the kids were super tired. After cruising through customs and immigration (there weren’t any immigration officers, rather policemen who checked our passports) we needed some coffee and also wanted to check out the money exchange. Once everything was done we started looking around for the rental car company representative who was supposed to be receiving us. We found all the other companies, but no sign of SIXT. SIXT is not right at the airport but has an offsite location. Now, since the flight had landed quite some time back, we were not sure of the representative had left and we did not have a cellphone that could make local calls either. However the people at the airport were really helpful and one of the shop owners made a call to SIXT and asked us to wait. We waited (and waited…. ) and after quite some time, we found a person entering the airport with our name card. So we boarded the shuttle that took us to the rental location. Once we had our rental car – we were off to our hotel. Just minutes from the airport we began to see that we were in a unique place. It felt almost like we had landed on another planet. There were black lava rock everywhere, often covered densely with moss, creating a very strange colors and terrain. The drive took us through the Reykjanes peninsula and the unlimited expanse of lava rocks and the desolate landscape was everywhere. Once at the hotel (Best Western in Reykjavik), we checked in and then inquired about lunch places nearby. We walked down to a burger place a few minutes form our hotel and started off the Icelandic food journey with American burgers. Back at the hotel it was time for a nap – we were all very tired!!!
It was a wet, cold and dark day – just not ideal for travel – but we had to make the best of it. Instead of walking around Reykjavik, we had to drive in that weather. We drove down to the harbor and then all the way along it to the ports. We saw the Harpa music hall, stopped for pictures by the Sun Voyager sculpture and then drove along leaving Reykavik behind and thru’ the suburbs. It was interesting to see the style of housing change to architect showpieces as we drove out of the city towards the end of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula. The walk was lovely and we could see a quaint little lighthouse on the island of Grotta. In spite of the weather, the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and we kept thinking what it would look like on a bright sunny day. We sure hoped to get a few sunny days in our weeklong stay.
Our dinner reservation was at Austur Indiafjelagid – which I had read was the northernmost Indian restaurant and the reviews were very good. We tend to agree with all those wonderful review comments after a couple meals there. The food and service was good especially considering the fact that maybe lot of those ingredients are not produced in that country.
6th July:
The next morning started with breakfast at the hotel after which we drove down to the Reykjavik harbor to the Elder whale watch boarding location. We decided on the puffin and whale watch. It was cold and cloudy, luckily though the rains held up. We saw a lot of puffins as well as many other species of birds. The whale was however elusive. The guide did shout out indicating he had seen one a couple times – but no one else saw any signs of a whale. Back at the harbor we walked down to the ‘Icelandic fish and chips’ joint for lunch.
After a nap at the hotel, we visited the Hallgrímskirkja church. We climbed up to the top for views of the city of Reykjavik. We stopped at Café Babalú at Skólavörðustígur for afternoon tea (we discovered this place on our way down the hill from Hallsgrimskirkja). It was an interesting mish-mash of furniture and decorations. As we walked along Laugavegur we saw interesting and funky shops as well as Viking souvenir outlets.
Our next stop was the Volcano house to watch the movie about the volcanic eruptions of Heimay and E14. Dinner on our 2nd day was at a Nepali restaurant - Kitchen Eldhus. We were very surprised to find a Nepali restaurant in Iceland. The food seemed to resemble Indian food to a great extent. It was good and the prices were very reasonable by Icelandic standards. Perhaps this was the northernmost Nepali restaurant as well!!
7th July:
Our plan for the day was to drive along Ring Road along the south to take in the various sights. We would stop along the way and see the waterfalls, maybe some geothermal areas. As we left the city, we took a wrong turn and were driving along Route 1 north. We did not realize this till we reached the first village of Mosfellsbær. However this gave us the unique opportunity to view some of western Iceland which we had not planned for, as well as drive through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel which was opened in 1998, one of the world's longest underwater road tunnels.
Our first stop was Akranes, a small fishing village. We stopped to view unique sculptures. This was true everywhere in Iceland – it was dotted with some fine and unique sculptures all over, in the city as well as in the middle of nowhere. Akranes was a small town and we did stop for a quick refreshment. After that we drove towards Borganes. Once in the town, we stopped for lunch at the ‘Settlement Center’, which is in the oldest house in the village Borgarnes. Lunch was hearty lamb meat soup – another Icelandic specialty available at all restaurants. I tried the vegetable soup and salad buffet with lot of interesting salads. The kids stuck to the tried and tested pizza. There was a museum in the same building but we did not visit.
After lunch, we drove down to the very edge and stopped for pictures and wonderful views of the fjord. The town stands by the fjord called Borgarfjörður. An interesting bit of trivia is that the Reyka vodka is distilled in Borgarnes. Next we drove further north and our next stop was Reykholt which was settled by Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic poet and historian. The bath and the buildings have been preserved to some extent and we walked around the area. We also saw the Snorrastofa, a center for medieval studies, named after Snorri Sturluson. On our way back to Reykjavik we could see the smoke from some geothermal fields in the immediate vicinity of Reykholt. We took a detour and followed the direction of the thick smoke and reached Deildartunguhver which we found out was Europe's most powerful hot spring. It is characterized by a very high flow rate for a hot spring (180 liters/second) and water emerges at 97 °C. It is the highest-flow hot spring in Europe.Some of the water is used for heating, being piped 34 kilometers to Borgarnes and 64 kilometers to Akranes.A fern called the "deer fern" or "hard fern", Blechnum spicant, grows near Deildartunguhver. This fern grows nowhere else in Iceland.
We were glad we took the detour as this was our first sight of hot springs and geothermal area up close.
Once back in Reykjavik it was time for a coffee break at Café Paris. After re-fuelling we walked through the streets of Reykjavik visiting the Austurvöllur public square and Lake Tjörnin. We decided to go back to Austur Indiafjelagid for our last dinner at Reykjavik and it lived up to our expectations from our previous visit. For this last night in Reykjavk, we were staying at the Radisson Blu saga hotel. The location was great and the rooms were beautiful.
8th July:
We followed Route 1 out of Reykjavik and drove along stopping along the way. At one point we left route 1 behind to drive down to the coast at Stokkseyri. Back onto Route1 we drove along the base of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier whose ice cap, covers the volcano Katla.
Seljalandsfoss was a beautiful waterfall and even though it was raining on that day we decided to hike up the stairs to the front of the falls. You could also walk behind it along a rock and volcanic soil and gravel path, but we decided against that.
There are waterfalls all over southern Iceland, but Skogafoss is one of the bigger ones. There were steps, so we could climb up to the very top and our fearless daughter at all of 4 years was undaunted. However as we moved up – we saw that the steps were broken at one point and it was a bit tricky to maneuver that section. However there were wonderful tourists who lent me a helping hand to cross over.
Then a 5 minute walk from the waterfall, we stopped at Hotel Skogar for lunch. There really weren’t many choices but we had no other options either.
WE checked in at our guest house at Kirkjubæjarklaustur and decided to walk around the village before dinner.
Systrastapi (Sister's Rock) is a steep-sided rocky hill in the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Folklore says that two nuns were buried up on the rock after being burned at the stake for breaking their vows; one is supposed to have sold herself to the Devil, carried consecrated Communion bread by the door of the privy, and had carnal knowledge of men. The other spoke blasphemously of the Pope. After Reformation, the second nun was regarded as innocent, beautiful flowers grew on her grave, while the guilty nun's grave remained barren. Anyways, after having scaled the stairs at the Skogafoss Falls, we decided to climb up the steep sided hill up to the top. It was a sunny and clear day and the views of the Vatnajökull glacier in a distance were breathtaking.
Dinner was at Systrakaffi (“The Sisters Cafe”) in that same village (Kirkjubæjarklaustur). The menu had a little bit of something for everyone… and most everyone in town seemed to be eating there.

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