Visiting Iceland

Iceland has been a place that we have wanted to visit for quite a while. One important motive was the potential to see the Aurora or the Northern Lights and then of course the unique landscape and the natural beauty that this country has. Since the country is sparsely populated (373,000 as per a recent count), one needs to plan the trips carefully and choose between going to the popular destinations and more adventurous trek around the country. And then you have the weather to deal with – summers can have daylight pretty much all the time and winters can be no daylight at all. Added to that is the constantly changing weather in terms of rain, snow, wind and of course sun, all of which could potentially experienced within a 2 hour period.

We made the trip in the early part of October with the plan to spend 5 days on the island going around the south western part of the country which also happens to be the popular among the tourists and hopefully get to see the Aurora if we were lucky. We also decided that we would rent a car and drive around to see the places of our choice and at the pace we wanted.

Day 1

On landing at the Keflavik airport, we went thru the immigration which was a breeze, collected our bags, had a cup of coffee at the airport, got to the rental car place and were on the road within an hour of landing. The plan was to see a bunch of attractions south of the airport and then head to Reykjavik where we would be staying for a couple of nights.

It was quite overcast with rain in the forecast, temperatures around 40F and a strong wind. We started out with our fingers crossed on how the weather would hold out for the day. As soon as we got on to the road, we found the landscape to quite unique in that everything around was lava rock in various shapes and sizes, very little vegetation and it was only a day or two later that we saw any trees!

The first stop was the ‘Bridge Between Continents’, which is seriously advertised spot for viewing the continental divide or where the North American plates and the Eurasian plates meet or grind against each other depending on how you look at it.

Before jumping into what we saw there, Iceland happens to belong both the North American and Eurasian plates with the divide running across the country in rather a dramatic fashion. And for that reason there are volcanoes scattered all around and the landscape looks very different from any other place one would have seen other than the Big Island in Hawaii. And for this reason, the island grows a couple of centimeters every year, but loses that anyway because of erosion. Here is a picture of the plates running thru the island.

The area we were at was a trench of sorts between the two plates and with a bridge that was to give a feeling that one would be crossing from one plate to another.

The next stop was the ‘Reykjanes Lighthouse’ located at the tip of the south western part of the island. Sitting a top a hill, it is a cute light house built in 1908 having replaced the previous one that was destroyed by an earthquake. We were unable to go up the lighthouse which we would have loved to. From the foot of the lighthouse, once can see the ocean with some breathtaking rock formations on one side, the hot springs on the other side and a power plant generating electricity from the geothermal energy (we saw quite a few power plants around the island based on geothermal energy).

The name to fame for the Gunnuhver Hot Springs is the fact there is a power plant near by, but it also happens that there was a family who lived right next to hot springs in the first half of last century, using the heat and the hot water from it for pretty much all their needs. The area stank of sulpher, but I guess the need for heat overcomes these inconveniences – haha.

The next stop was the ‘Brimketill lava rock pool’, supposed to be famous for its seawater filled bathtub of sorts. The shoreline full of rocks, cliffs and with giant waves pounding the rocks was a sight to see, but the bathtub was a letdown; it was simply an area up on the rocks that looked like a bath tub and filled up with the seawater from the waves.

Blue Lagoon was the next stop; For some, the name may conjure up the memories of the movie with this name from the 80s, but there is no connection between the two at all. It is a geothermal spa atop a lava field with hot sea water fed from the underground reservoirs.

Till we reached this place, we may have seen dozen people at the most in the spots we were at and on arriving here, we saw a hue parking lot with dozens of buses, hundreds of cars and of course people. The presence of tourists in Iceland was in full view! As you go into the facility, you see the lava fields fields filled with the blue water and white crusted edges of the ponds in various shapes and sizes, which are outside the main pool. The main pool continuously fed by the underground springs is pretty large accommodating hundreds of people at a time. The water (sea water to be precise) is between 32-38C feels very soothing even though the outside temperature is around 3-4C.

While Blue Lagoon is well known and perhaps the largest of them, there are hot springs all around the island; If you are visiting Iceland, make sure that you do get into one of the hot springs.

We then headed into the city of Reykjavik and checked into FossHotel. Our room on the 12th floor had a beautiful view of the city and the mountains to the north across the waters of the Greenland Sea. The crazy weather patterns were most visible from this vantage spot in that as I looked around, I saw sunshine on one side, low hanging clouds in another and rains farther out and the scenery was changing by the minute!

We knew the next day was going to be rainy, colder and windy – but we had no idea the kind of weather that we would be having the next day!!

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