Iceland 2014 – Part 6

Iceland.

Day 7: Golden Circle
I knew this day would come. It’s the final day of the trip. I tried not to think about it and instead just focused on enjoying the day. A visit to Iceland is incomplete without doing the Golden Circle tour. But before embarking on the Golden Circle, the day began at the Friheimar horse farm. Not only do you get to see a brief Icelandic horse show, but you get to spend some time with the horses (and perhaps rearrange their hairstyle). It also turns out that the horses can gallop so smoothly that you can ride these horses while holding a beer mug without spilling a drop. True story.

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Before the official Golden Circle tour, yep, another waterfall, Faxi Falls (Vatnsleysufoss).

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The next stop was the final waterfall of the trip, Gullfoss (Golden falls). As we drove closer to Reykjavik, the crowds became larger, especially throughout the Golden Circle. Interestingly, we finally heard English coming from mouths other than our own for once (most tourists we encountered were from non-English speaking countries).

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And right next door was everybody’s favorite, the Strokkur Geysir. Capturing the fountain eruption moment requires patience and strong deltoids for steadily holding your camera since it shoots every 5-10 minutes. I heard that several tourists per week are scalded for putting their hands in the thermal pools, mostly due to curiosity. When up close, the Geysir definitely catches everybody by surprise since there is no warning signal. I found that the best way to capture the height of this thing was to climb to the highest peak as usual. The Geysir can shoot up to 120 ft, and I may have caught the big one. Score!

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The last piece of the Golden Circle and the final stop in our grand ring road tour was Thingvellir (Parliament Plains) National park. This is where the old Icelandic parliament was founded. It’s situated on the tectonic plates that divide Europe and North America. The main path takes you between the edges of the plates.

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Toward the entrance, there were water streams that were transparent enough that you could see the bottom clearly. Although my camera wasn’t state of the art like most people, it was waterproof, and so I was able to dip my hand in the freezing water to see what it looks like under there. I hear that there are snorkeling and diving tours close by.

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Before we knew it, we were back in Reykjavik. For our final meal, we maneuvered around the soccer crowd in the city center and dined at Restaurant Reykjavik. We were lucky to have seats since this place books fast, and I soon found out why. The buffet blew my mind away. If you ever visit Iceland, reserve a spot here and have a seafood party. Even whale is on the menu, which actually tastes pretty good.

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I usually look forward to returning home after a long vacation, but not this time. I’m hooked and I’m not alone in the Iceland addiction. This is definitely a country to revisit. It’s never taken more than 2 posts to summarize a trip. A one week sampler in Iceland took 6 posts, and that was scratching the surface. You could snowmobile on a glacier, hike up volcanoes and snow-capped mountains, go kayaking or horseback riding, trek through all types of landscapes, encounter every waterfall, climb every hill, bathe in every geothermal pool, walk every trail, and witness the northern lights. My message is simple–put this country high on your bucket list. Iceland is like another planet on a small island. As a going away present, Iceland gave me a view of Greenland on my flight back to the dirty, muggy, and fast-paced city of New York, the place I call home.

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Goodbye Iceland, for now.

Iceland 2014 – Part 5

Iceland. It’s RUN time.

Day 6: The South
What would a vacation be without a long run session? I woke up at 5am for a mission to run from the hotel to Svartifoss (Black falls) and back before breakfast at 7:30. I had the route all figured out except for some minor details, such as the uphill trail running portion one mile from the waterfall. I kept confusing meters for feet and always ended up ascending 3x more than expected. Words can’t describe what it felt like to run on a long empty road with wild Icelandic sheep on your left and mountains and glaciers on your right.

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And most of all, it was a refreshing 40F that morning. After reaching Skaftafell National Park, I saw Svartifoss in the distance. Eventually, the hard work paid off, as it usually does.

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On the way back, I realized that it was earlier than I thought. So I took a detour and ran down another trail which led me straight to the Skeidararjokull glacier outlet. I got as close as possible and then headed back to the hotel. So much to see and do with so little time. Skaftafell requires a half day at least. Sky running may be in my future.

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For miles, as long as the eyes could see, there were flat barren plains resulting from the aftermath of the 1996 glacial lake outburst flood. Look what water does to bridges (and what remains of it).

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Moving along the ring road, we arrived at Dverghamrar, a small canyon with hexagonal basalt columns in the middle of nowhere. It was like the Icelandic Stonehenge.

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Not much further along the road, Mt Lomagnupur stood majestically at 2500 ft. It’s the highest cliff face in Iceland. This looks like an epic hike, maybe next time.

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Further south-west were the lava fields of Eldhraun and cairns of Laufskalavarda. It was interesting to find an area where we could contribute in adding rocks to the expansive cairn collection. Knocking one over by accident probably would have caused a disturbance in the force.

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Near the southernmost town of Vik is the Reynisfjara black lava beach. But in Iceland, you can always expect that a beach is not an ordinary beach. You can’t help but wonder if dragons lived there once upon a time. Lava rocks on this beach make good souvenirs since they are free and made in Iceland.

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After a brief stop in the Skogar folk museum (turf farms with rocks for walls and grass for roofs), we made our way to the mighty Skogarfoss (Forest falls). As always, there was a path toward the top where I eventually end up. The photos would’ve been better but it was so cloudy.

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By this point, you could see the strato-volcano Hekla (4,892 ft) and the infamous Eyjafjallajokull (Island mountain glacier, 5,417 ft) known for shutting down air travel in 2010 when a volcano under the glacier erupted. Ben Stiller in the Walter Mitty movie has a great time pronouncing this one. I hear there are great hiking trails around these lands.

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And guess what? Another waterfall stop. Even so, each waterfall is unique and a sight to be seen up close. Not too far from Skogarfoss is Seljalandsfoss, which has a trail that takes you behind the waterfall. The sky was finally clear of clouds and the rainbows appeared. Just for fun, I tried going right under the falls. It was worth getting soaked for.

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Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the Golden Circle; Iceland’s most popular tour. Stay tuned.

TO BE CONTINUED:

Iceland 2014 – Part 4

Iceland.

Day 5: South bound
The journey along the ring road is full of surprises. Following a stream through the Berufjordur fjord revealed a massive glacier-carved valley (Folaldafoss waterfall in the distance). Driving through this valley was another whoa moment. Now that I think about it, Greenland and Iceland should have a name swap. Better yet, Iceland should be called Volcanoland since there are so many volcanoes and lava fields.

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Once we reached the lobster capital of Iceland, Hofn, it was time to get lobster crazy. At the Lobster House, Humarhofnin, we all stuffed ourselves with lobster soup, lobster pizza, and plates full of juicy langostines.

Going further along the ring road revealed glimpses of several glacier tongues (30 outlet glaciers total) flowing from Vatnajokull (Glacier of Rivers). Vatnajokull covers 8% of the country; it’s pretty big. Under this massive ice cap, there are several volcanoes. The last glacial lake outburst flood occurred in 1996 and caused some serious damage.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is located toward the south-east portion of Vatnajokull. It developed into a lake after the Breidamerkurjokull outlet glacier started receding. Two James Bond films, Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins had scenes at Jokulsarlon.

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The 30 minute boat ride through the glacier lagoon was another highlight of this trip. Hunting for photos of juicy blue ice blocks was much easier than whale watching for sure.

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One of the tour operators scooped out a big glacier piece which was then broken into bite size pieces for everyone to taste. You know what? It tasted like ice.

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We made sure to get our hands on some glacier before leaving. The last one was a frozen miniature viking ship.

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Hotel Skaftafell is just a few miles away from Skaftafell National Park. Hvannadalshnjukur (highest peak in Iceland 6,952 ft) and 2 outlet glaciers are right behind the hotel. With hiking paths everywhere, how could anyone resist a late night walk?

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The following day was my most epic run session of the year.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Iceland 2014 – Part 3

Iceland.

Day 4: The East
The day began with a short visit to Namaskard (Mine Pass) steam vents and boiling mud pots. Walking on this landscape seemed like walking on planet Mercury. Once I spotted the path up the Namafjall mountain for the ultimate viewpoint, I couldn’t help myself (I’m the small dot in the last 2 photos).

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Back on the ring road, Mt Hverfjall (1378 ft) was in sight. It’s this huge tuff ring volcano east of Myvatn. The caldera is barren unlike other craters. No time for climbing this one though, awww.

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Afterwards, it was time for the one true waterfall; Dettifoss. When you first approach it, your jaw drops as you feel like an insect compared to it. Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The pictures just can’t capture the power. This is the waterfall in the opening scene of the Prometheus movie. And yea, I made sure to wear my NYC marathon shirt for this one.

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Selfoss is another waterfall that flows into Dettifoss and was just a 10 minute walk away. But after the spectacular Dettifoss, nothing can compare.

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After witnessing the almighty Dettifoss, there was plenty of barren and deserted landscape to pass. But even so, being in the middle of no man’s land is awesome in Iceland.

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There was a quick stop at a small ranch where we all had some Icelandic meat soup and happy marriage cake which were both excellent. There was a pale white cat that slept through everything somehow. We spotted Herdubreid (Queen of the Icelandic mountains) in the distance. At almost 33, I can still whip out the Nike kick, but only after several tries.

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Before spending the night in Iceland’s largest forest, Hallormsstadur, we came across a waterfall valley. One of them had a short uphill trail. It’s always a treat to feel the spray from a waterfall after hiking uphill for a while just to get close enough for the good viewpoints.

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The hotel had a dinner buffet. It was an opportunity to try eating new foods like some goose, reindeer, and horse. A late night stroll led to a horse stable nearby. We just watched them eat their grass buffet for a while. I didn’t know horses could have such nice hairstyles and blue eyes. The next day we head South, the land of the glaciers.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Iceland 2014 – Part 2

Iceland.

Day 2: Northbound
From West Iceland to the small fishing village, Husavik. This was a looong drive day with some rest stops and scenic viewpoint stops in between. It’s hard to be bored when there’s so much to look at. Valleys, salmon rivers, lava fields, mountains, fjords, and a lot of green. Icelandic horses and sheep are scattered throughout the green fields and mountain sides. Every now and then, the fearless sheep would just appear on the road. Driving through the Oxnadalsheidi mountain pass was pure eye candy.

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We then arrived at Akureyri; Iceland’s capital. It was a short visit but we managed to explore a bit.

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And a good way to end the long travel day; Godafoss, the waterfall of the Gods. Iceland is loaded with epic waterfalls.

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Once we arrived in Husavik, I couldn’t help but notice this lupine flowered covered mountain (Husavikurfjall – 1584 ft) behind the hotel. After dinner, the challenge was accepted. I ascended up what seemed to be the hike trail. It was a zig-zag rugged trail and quickly disappeared 3/4 to the top. By the time I reached the ice, the slope became too steep; more than 45 degrees with nothing to prevent me from rolling down after a slip. It was one of those moments where it was wise to turn back. I later learned that I was quite far from the actual trail, a long and easy walk to the top. The mountain won this time.

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Day 3: The North
At Husavik, we started the day by sailing a few miles south of the arctic circle for some whale watching. The whales didn’t jump out of the water or anything but did show a lot of fluke tail. An even greater sight was watching the puffin tornado consisting of thousands of puffins circling their own island.

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Next stop, the Skutustadir pseudo craters near Lake Myvatn (Midge lake). It had to be quick stop since swarms of midges (small flies) ruled these lands.

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Next stop, the Dimmuborgir (Dark cities) volcanic caves and lava formations. There are plenty of trails for getting around this lava world.

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Instead of the well-known Blue Lagoon, we instead headed to the Myvatn geothermal nature baths which seemed to be less crowded. It’s not an ordinary heated pool. There is a thin invisible line between hot and boiling, so tread lightly. Also, you have to keep your hair out of the warm mineral water since it doesn’t wash away easily.

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Without a tripod, there is only one way to take a group photo with the photographer included, the epic selfie.

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I couldn’t accept the failure of the previous night. After discovering the actual trail, me and David (66-year-old from Singapore who is full of life) hiked to the Husavikurfjall summit together. We were victorious! That night, we stood on top of our observable world during the midnight sun getting like we climbed Everest our something. One small leap toward Mt Rainier.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

 

Iceland 2014 – Part 1

Iceland. It’s not the typical summer vacation destination, but it’s definitely one of the best in my opinion. It’s an expedition to another planet and a massive playground for those who enjoy outdoor activities. When you leave this country to return home, it’s as if you’ve awoken from a dream. Leaving Iceland behind is the hardest part.

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As always, with a limited amount of time (8 days), I wanted to see and do it all. The best way to explore this country is by driving along the ring road; the main road that circles the entire country. My only complaint is that this ring road eventually brings you back to where you began, which means that the trip is over. Iceland is almost as large as Pennsylvania with around 300,000 inhabitants (Forest Hills, Queens and Flushing, Queens combined already has that many residents). And yes, I managed to squeeze in some workouts and running sessions.

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Iceland is around 5 hours from New York so there’s no excuse for not stopping by. My wife and I embarked on our 4-year anniversary trip to the land of the midnight sun. Yes, the sun never really sets during the summer. Looking up at the moon and stars in the night sky is something that won’t be happening this week. And forget about the Northern Lights this time. The weather was perfect (for me); 50F-55F during the day. It definitely felt warmer than I expected, people can actually get a sun burn. Although the Icelandic language uses the English alphabet, you soon realize that it’s futile to pronounce anything. Give this a shot: Eyjafjallajokull.

The journey begins in the largest city in Iceland; Reykjavik (Smokey Bay).

 

Day 0: Reykjavik
From our hotel in Reykjavik, we went to the top of Hallgrimskirkja church to get the Googlemaps view of the city. Reminds me of the model town in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood.

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We then explored the city a bit. We checked out some shops, the Sun Voyager, and the Harpa building. Everybody eats ice cream cones like it’s a hot summer day here.

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After a long walk around the Old Harbour, we went on a brief boat tour which sailed to Lundey; a small puffin island. Then we ate some catfish and lamb before heading back to the hotel to sleep off the jet lag.

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Day 1: West Iceland
Before leaving Reykjavik with a group of 20 others and starting the ring road in the clockwise direction, we stopped by the Pearl building. The top floor is a fancy rotating restaurant.

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After driving through valleys and fjords, we stopped by Hraunfossar lava falls and Barnafoss (children falls). Hraunfossar flowed from a volcanic eruption under the Langjokull glacier nearby. By the way, some Icelandic: Foss means waterfall, Jokull means glacier, Nes means peninsula, Hraun means lava, and Fjord means fjord. After sampling a Hraun chocolate bar, I was immediately hooked (jumbo Kit Kat with lava rock chocolate design).

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The next stop was the Deildartunguhver hot springs; the most powerful hot spring in the world. The sulfur smell had me avoiding hard-boiled eggs for days.

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Then we summited Grabrok volcano crater (510 ft) and walked around the rim for some epic views of the mossy lava field landscape.

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Even when you finally arrive at your hotel after a long day, you can’t help but go back outside for a stroll. The Borganes area felt like “the hills are alive, with the sound of music”.

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TO BE CONTINUED…