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Old 11th October 2016, 21:36   #1
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Default A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N

Finding it hard to compile a sequential commentary of our road trip in Iceland, here goes an unusal rendition of uncommon experiences. Hope you enjoy it.

INDEX
Experience 1: Worldcraft
Experience 2: Secrets of the Blue
Experience 3: All that is Gold does not glitter
Experience 4: All that lives
Experience 5: All that Ice
Experience 6: All that water
Experience 7: Geothermally Yours
Experience 8: Stoned
Experience 9: Blue Lagoon - An Awkward Fun
Experience 10: The Drive
Flashback
Traveller Notes
Epilogue


<Experience 1> Worldcraft

Half way into our trip, my wife and I found ourselves hiking up a mountain in South Iceland. According to the visitor center we were on an easy 5.5km trail which would take us to a spectacular waterfall jumping out of basalt columns and a view point from which we could see the entire glacier which adjoins the mountain. Warm sunny afternoons in Iceland are perfect for a hike. So it's not a surprise that a legion of hikers were making their way up.

Eager to not be left behind and glowing at the chance of flexing some Olympian calves and whale like lungs, we set off. Which is why 5 minutes into the hike I was trying to look cool gasping and hoping my lungs wouldn’t sublime. Clearly a bad idea. We never planned it in our itinerary or even looked it up on the internet. Nothing was worth this.

After that existential crisis, we soldiered on and approached the first checkpoint. Momentarily relieved to see a waterfall, but before I could stick a flag on the summit, it turned out to be a trailer of the original one. It's named Hundafoss (Dogs Waterfall) after a story of a dog that jumped in and died trying to rescue someone. Right, onward and upwards! 15 minutes later we finally made it to the waterfall and a ten minute pit-stop was due. This is what it looked like.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1_svartifoss.jpg

About this photo: Svartifoss: Svarti (black/dark) Foss (falls), a 20m high waterfall in a horse-shoe shaped gorge is famous for its basalt (or volcanic rock) columns which are evident in this image. This alien like formation is entirely natural and the rocks even break up in hexagonal shapes. Icelanders were so inspired by this that their flagship church in Reykjavik is modelled on these lines.

I associated this place more with Lego bricks than volcanoes. Sharp cut lines on the rocks make for a great object of photography. This a tourist heavy place and waterfalls aren't really my thing. We left the waterfall and made our way towards the glacier view point. Because we decided not to go down to the waterfall and the fact that there was a signpost showing the way to Sjonarnipa, we ended up taking trail S6 unknowingly (rated challenging). This is when our water ran out, as did our coke. The terrain wasn’t as hard as it was long. The tourists came down from tens to countable ones. Clearly not a popular trail, which should have made us suspicious, but didn’t. Every time it seemed like we had reached the spot and the trail kept leading us on. As the trail opened up, we could see that we had gained a lot of altitude (approx. 1200 ft.) A small moment of joy on effort well spent. The glacier was still elusive. How do you hide something so big at this altitude?

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about Iceland is that every attraction has a tease to it. You don’t expect it until you have crossed over that blind rise, turned the corner or climbed around. This sense of expecting the unknown makes every point of interest its own little adventure.

Just as predicted when we least expected it, went over a rise and saw something which we felt was so good that it had to be illegal. No, seriously. Have a look.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2_glacier_river_birth.jpg

About this photo: This glacier is called Skaftafellsjokull and the view point is named Sjonarnipa on the mountain Skaftafell. The glacier melts into a lagoon where ice from the glacier falls off and floats. This eventually melts and gives birth to the river Skaftafellsa. This is a panorama taken with my iPhone 6.


Being here is being moved. You begin to consume the visual expanse of the glacier, wonder at the blue ice, gasp at the crevices and feel awed by the trailing water source. The scale hits you like a boulder and drives the wind out of your lungs. Icy winds remind you it’s a cold country and that it's good to stick your fingers in your pocket just for a little while instead of the camera shutter button. There is hardly anyone or anything here which you could identify with. Not even power lines. Just a faraway lonely road. It's difficult not to feel a bit melancholic here. Glaciers, one of nature's larger landscape artists, now prey to rising global temperatures. It's some solace then that man's footprint on Iceland is virtually invisible.

Pleased with the effort it took to get here, we just sat down and remained silent for about 20 minutes. The weather in Iceland feels compelled to interrupt human reveries. From bright sunny to menacing storm clouds in a matter of minutes. Many photos and dangerous precipice-posing later we knew we had to get back on the trail. The return was a low key affair. Long and steep. We concluded the hike with a cup of Heit Kako (Hot Chocolate), some leg stretches and a short walk to the parking lot.

Lesson Learnt: Every mistake and wrong turn is worth it in Iceland. (applicable only in Summers)


Some other photos from this experience:(Photo titles below the photos)

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3_skaftafell-map.jpg
A handy map at the Tourist Information Centre.


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4_trek-markers.jpg
A trek path doesn't necessarily mean they have to be paved. Much of the time, these markers are the only things to tell you that you are on the right path.


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-5_svartifoss-scale.jpg
Some people at Svartifoss for a perspective of scale.


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6_stream-during-trek.jpg
The trek upwards from Svartifoss leads you through a lovely stream crossing.


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6.1_rstur.jpg
A thrasher on the ridges.


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-7_glacier_expanse.jpg
The sprawling glacial tongue


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-8_glacier-mountain.jpg
A mountain of moving ice


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-9_glacier_melting.jpg
A deceiving perspective


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-10_martian-landscape.jpg
A glacial lagoon


A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-11_black-beach.jpg
A black beach


Image Source: AmusingPlanet
Remember Dr. Mann's Planet in the movie Interstellar? That was this glacier.

Notes: Admission is free here and you can check out the hiking routes online. There is an incredible tour into an Ice Cave in the glacier, but is unfortunately open only between November and March. There is also a glacier walk tour which literally takes you for a walk on the glacier, and in my opinion seemed more Marketing than experience.

Tips: Carry at least a litre of water. Empty your bladders in the visitor center at the base (open defecation in Iceland is illegal and they have toilets only in public areas). Arrive early to score a parking spot, cause its always full. Carry a sandwich/some food to have a picnic at Sjonarnipa. I guess it goes without saying that you look up the weather ahead of your day onwww.vedur.is. It's not the rain as much as the high velocity winds which will ruin your hike. Pack those hiking shoes. Warm clothes even if the Sun is burning through your SPF. Park an entire day for a long hike on the mountain (depending on your fitness level). The longer the hike, the more brilliant the view becomes.

</Experience 1>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 23:47.
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Old 12th October 2016, 11:50   #2
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Default Secrets of the Blue

<Experience 2> Secrets of the Blue

The day's agenda was a single line item. Anyone who has researched Iceland for a week-long trip will definitely make this part of their itinerary. Every travel website, blogger, critic recommend it. And so we had booked in advance knowing very well that they get sold out pretty fast. Graciously, the weather was the best we have ever had in Iceland, as we made our way from the city of Akureyri to the fishing town of Husavik. The 94 km drive took us through undulating grassy mountains and fully paved roads. (Interior parts of Iceland are notorious for having sudden patches of gravel roads. More on that later)

We made it in time. This would be a 2.5 hr boat ride out into the Greenland Sea. Naturally this means the typical ritual of not drinking too much water and keeping the storage tank relatively empty, had to be adhered to. The ticket counter is right by the harbour, so we collect our ticket and head to the pier where we are told to collect our suits. A little about the suits - these are full-body, all weather, life-jackets that are meant to keep you warm and dry. The speed boat cruises at approximately 70-80 kmph into the sea, which makes you yearn for the warmth of a blast chiller. Do note that its difficult to shove your DSLR's inside these, as they fit snugly.

Tip: Carry your smartphone in a zip lock bag for those at-the-harbor-in-a-jumpsuit selfies. Get ear-muffs or skull caps for your ears cause there is a chance they may end up being frozen fish food. Carry a polythene bag to keep your DSLR in, for the time it takes to reach an observation spot.

Having completed one uncomfortable task, we got into the speed boats. These are 12-16 seater open speedboats with saddle seats. With one captain and an assist, we sped out of Husavik harbor. After a ten minute ride to the only island visible out of Husavik Bay, we arrived at what is known as Puffin Island. If you cross a Hornbill and a Penguin you get a Puffin (metaphorically). Annoyingly cute, these winged birds are Icelandic mascots. They inhabit this entire island and are seen swimming around in thousands. They are super shy of humans and boats so it's tough to get anywhere near them. Which means we weren't really going to the island. At about this time, the value for money gene starts howling in the recess of my mind. Way too uninspiring. Way too over-marketed. With that sinking feeling, this is the best shot I could get.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-puffin-island.jpg
Puffin Island teeming with the little birds.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2.-puffins_two.jpg
Lunch time.

Putting that behind us, we set out further into the sea. After what seemed like a 20 minute ride, we stopped in the middle of nowhere with our captain telling us to keep our eyes open. 14 humans on a speed-boat in Greenland Sea were now doing a manual job of replicating a sonar. What? And then the unveiling began.

The gathering clouds made way for the coming of the sun. Energized, golden rays of a faraway star set the sea on fire. Murky and otherwise frigid waters danced with a golden sparkle. Vast grasslands on the nearest land mass glowed a brilliant green. One of the tourists screamed, "Over there! Nine 'o clock". In the time it took to process the direction, the captain had already swung back and rushed to the spot of the sighting. And nothing. Five minutes later, another guy screamed "there" pointing a little further away. And gone! Nothing seemed to happen for the next few minutes so our assist gave us a science lesson on what we were trying to spot. Their habits and habitat.

And then four of us saw it in unison. A massive black mass sewing its body into the surface of the sea. Flashing its tail as it completed its dive. We had just seen a Blue Whale - rare even by whale watching standards (said the guide).

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-blue-whale_2.jpg
Greeting with its dorsal fin.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-blue-whale.jpg
Showing off.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-5.-blue-whale-tail-fin.jpg
Unique markings on the tail serve as a fingerprint, distinguishing one from another

According to the assist, Blue Whales are rarely sighted here as they stop by for just 10 days a year before they migrate south. It was three times the size of our speed boat, an adult, and would float up every few minutes to breathe. We could even spot it shooting from their blowholes. After spending what seemed like 20-25 minutes with the Blue Whale, we had to move on. To see other whales!

Further away, the sea was teeming with Humpback and Minke Whales. We had some jaw-dropping close sightings. One was barely 10 ft. from the boat. Check it out.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6.-whale_1.jpg
A Humpack Whale.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-7.-whale_2.jpg
A Minke Whale.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-8.-whale_3.jpg
Breathtakingly close. Shot by shoving my lens between two co-passengers. Also indicates how close we were.

At about this time, the passengers get served some spiced wine by the assist. Turns out to be a specialty in this part of the world. After about 2.5 hours, the trip concluded and we were back at the harbour, sinking our teeth into some delicious food. There is a whale museum at the harbour which you can visit for more info on whales, their history in Iceland and much more. But at that moment, we were left floating somewhere in a marine dream, in awe of these marvellous mammals.

Concluding this experience with a YouTube sourced whale song to let the feeling linger.



Some other photos from this experience:

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-9.-faldur.jpg
Other tourists on the sea.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-10.-opal.jpg
Zero carbon whale cruising. Looks classy. But also very slow.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-11.-husavik-harbor.jpg
Husavik Harbor

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-12.-travelling_open-seas_1.jpg
A lucky wallpaper-esque shot.

Notes: There are two main companies that offer whale watching here. Gentle Giants and North Sailing. Based on TripAdvisor reviews and general recommendations on the net we went with Gentle Giants. After much consideration we decided to go for the GG2 package which set us back by ISK 36,800 for 2 adults (approx. INR 21k). For people who are looking for a little less toned down but more refined experience, go for North Sailing. Although their website looks like 1999, they run a classy carbon-neutral full sized explorer boating experience.

Tips: The mid-afternoon times are best for whale watching as they offer good bit of sunlight. Don’t give up if the weather is bad. Call these companies and check if they are still doing the tours. The weather changes fast here so you always have a shot. North sailing operates a restaurant called Gamli Baukur at the landing. MUST have their cream of mushroom soup! They have vegetarian options as well. The speed-boat does rock quite a bit, so if you are one of the vertigo types, pop your pill on before you set out.

</Experience 2>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 23:50.
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Old 12th October 2016, 13:35   #3
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Default All that is Gold does not glitter

<Experience 3> All that is Gold does not glitter

We planned a day's halt in Borgarfjrur Eystri based on just a couple of rave reviews. I dont know what we were thinking to set aside one whole day and night for a remote village based on just two reviews. Crazy, right? But that's not the end of it. Many things could go wrong, and in fact they did.

To reach Borgarfjrur Eystri we had to take a big detour of Route 1 from Egilsstair where we stopped for some food, provisions and fuel. It had started drizzling by then but we weren't worried about the route at all. (partly because I forgot this was going to be a mountain pass). So as usual, we took the GPS, keyed in the location and set out. Unfortunately, in just a space of 100m which I had taken to avoid the traffic, the GPS had re-routed itself and neither of us noticed. So instead of taking the scenic and paved route 94, we ended up on the gravelly route 925. Gravel roads in Iceland are annoying. They are dusty, you can't really drive beyond 65-70 even though the speed limit is 80 and run the risk of loss of cellular connectivity. With great relief we eventually made it onto Route 94 and made our way to the mountains. But life is all about surprises and Iceland embodies it.

The shock: We began the climb and 100m into it, the road turned gravel again. The rain started coming down and the panic fuses went off. The ascent got steeper and we kept slowing down. Higher up, the mist started to gather and soon the visibility was down to 2m and there were no roadside barriers. Had to take a leap of faith crawl a bit to see one of the yellow markers on the roadside posts, and then continue the same for another excruciating 2 kms. So here we were, on a mountain with moist gravel road, zero visibility and no road markers hoping that I don't get a panic attack.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-zero-visibility-drive.png
Near Zero Visibility

We finally got through this and began our descend, the mist cleared up and we were still on the gravel. The GPS eventually led us to our point of stay. The landlady asked us if we were her guests for the night, to which we said yes, and then she went on to tell us how there were 13 hikers already boarded up inside and that we may want to consider boarding somewhere else. Wait, what? She then offered us some relief by telling us that she has already blocked a room for us in the town of Borgarfjrur and all we needed to do was give the hotel a letter. She promised that she would absorb the difference in the cost, so we didnt have much to complain about. And to top it off, we had her let us play with her Border Collie for a little while. WIN-WIN!

We made it to our hotel, moved our things in and kept staring out of the window for the rain to stop. The receptionist let us in on a secret that we could spot Puffins at one of the points in the town and since it was raining, we were much likely to see them up close as they wouldnt be far out in the sea. After a quick break, we set out to find these little clowns at the end of Route 94. We had our waterproof jackets and trousers on, went out saw some puffins, got fully drenched from the waist downward thanks to Snapdeal's product description on the Quechua trousers, but still couldnt get a clear shot. Nope, not happening. This whole journey, the near blind ride on the mountain pass, the incessant rain and a gloomy town was a downer. We put this aside as the lowlight of our entire trip up until then. Tramping on two Tripadvisor reviews was a lesson learnt harshly.

The Awe: Nature, in this part of the world has a handsome way of compensating. We woke up to a glitter on our window and a God in the sky. One last chance to check out the Puffin colony and we had to make it count. We headed out there around 9am to find a bunch of people already making good of the lovely weather. The Puffins were whizzing past us. We had intruded on their breakfast time. After some scouting and waiting, I finally got my Mona Lisa. And just like that, everything was worth it.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2.-sun-comes-out.jpg
The Sun comes out

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-drive-view-point.jpg
Drive to the view point is very scenic

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-borgafjordur_panorama.jpg
A panorama from the view point

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-5.-puffin-mona-lisa.jpg
The Mona Lisa

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6.-puffin-fish_1.jpg
Breakfast, yum.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-7.-puffin-wing.jpg
Check out my moves.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-8.-fulmar-puffin.jpg
Fulmars and Puffins share the place.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-9.-fulmar-feeding-young.jpg
June is the boom time for babies

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-10.-count-birds.jpg
Count the birds.



The viewing platform at this point is lovely, you can get as close as 4-8m near the puffins. A quintillion times better than seeing them from afar at Puffin Island in Husavik. A few hundred shots later, we checked out Alfaborg (supposedly, home of the elves) which was just a simple climb overlooking the town. Saw some Arctic Tern colonies and played with some fantastic local Labradors. There is a lovely caf out in the town called Alfacafe which serves some lovely deserts and plays live music. But early in the day, we were the only customers shelling out Icelandic Kroners for some Heit Kako (Hot Chocolate).

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-11.-sundial.jpg
There's a sundial at the summit of Alfaborg.

On our climb back up the mountain, the road company was levelling some more gravel to make up for loss due to rain. This time around, the mist had cleared up and what it left behind had our jaws on the floor.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-12.-pasternosa.jpg


And just like that, our one night stand with this sleepy but persuasive town had come to an end. We are left wondering how beautiful it would be to live their life - surrounded by farm animals, making some cheese, dealing with the hard terrain and the whimsical weather. Quite romantic.

Notes: You dont need a 4WD to get to Borgarfjrur. Stay here for the best Puffin spotting place in Iceland. Some awesome hikes are available from this place into the adjoining mountains (highly recommended). We couldnt hike because we just had a one day stay which was already raining.

</Experience 3>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 17:09.
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Old 12th October 2016, 17:31   #4
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Default All that lives

<Experience 4> All that lives

Imagine a tropical forest, like the Amazon, with its tall canopies, forest floor filled with ferns and a hundred different animal sounds with the soft tip-tip sound of the last rainfall. The earthy smell wafting from the forest floor, monkeys on tree tops, coiled snakes, exotic birds. So far so good? Now, imagine a world where everything you just pictured was completely opposite. There are no trees or arboreal creatures. Bugs are non-existent. Rain doesn’t pour and the earth doesn't waft with odour. Ferns are replaced by moss and grass. The only native animals you'll easily spot are aerial and aquatic. Forest rooftops are replaced by leagues of volcanic land forms that contrast themselves every 50 kms. But there's a lot to love other than Puffins and Whales. Here we go:

Arctic Terns: These incredibly picturesque birds can be found all over Iceland. They have slender bodies and look gentle in flight. It's a natural wonder that such small birds, on an average, cover over 90,000 Kms during migration. That’s 2.5 times the length of Earth's equator! Wonder what their travelogue would look like! At first, we spent time 'oohing' and 'aahing' around these birds. But after ten days of travelling, Arctic Terns went from the "Awed" quadrant to the "Annoyed" quadrant. Here's the thing - they prefer fight over flight to protect their younglings which may be at least a 100m away from where you are walking. Because they nest on the ground and are so well camouflaged it's difficult to maintain distance. The country being so open, you'll love wandering anywhere to get a good view of the place. And if by great fortune you do walk anywhere close to the Terns' nest, they will swoop right over your head with a high pitched shrill making you flinch and duck. And they'll keep repeating the feat till you have left the radius of the nest (a distance I still haven't worked out). As a popular Writer puts it, "Thief you have been warned beware, of finding more than treasure there."

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-arctic-tern.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2.-arctic-tern_younglings.jpg

Fulmars: These albatross-like birds are common in all the cliff side places in Iceland, where they breed and nest. A quick search on these birds will tell you how they were considered a delicacy in St. Kilda (Scotland). Their defence mechanism involves regurgitating smelly stomach oil at predators. Although they are common in many parts of the world, the name Fulmar originated from Icelandic Flmr, meaning foul gull.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-albatross_flight-1.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-albatross_flight-2.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-5.-albatross_baby_1.jpg

Farm Animals : A short drive into Iceland and you'll be convinced that it was this country that inspired years of storybook illustrations of a magical land far far away. Especially the Horses that we have taken a particular liking to. Have a look:

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6.-horses_3.jpg
Shadowfax?

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-7.-horses_2.jpg
Ride of the Rohirrim

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-8.-horses_1.jpg
The Musketeers

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-9.-sheep_1.jpg
Showstopper

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-10.-sheep-3.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-11.-sheep_1-2.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-12.-swan.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-13.-ducks.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-14.-ducks_3.jpg

Seals and Sea Lions: The frigid waters of Iceland are the perfect habitat for Seals and Sea Lions. But they are difficult to spot. My Wife and I were heading to a popular tourist attraction in North Iceland when we spotted a couple of people staring at something in the opposite direction of this attraction. So we decided to go take a look. It took a while for us to realize that lumps of stones on the far shore were actually Seals lazing around. Super lucky encounter, and I went clicking.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-15.-seals.jpg

Reindeers: Until we started driving in East Iceland, we weren't really aware that this was Reindeer country. When one of the signs by the road indicated that we were now driving into Reindeer territory, the average speed dropped from 90 mph to 60 mph.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

But who were we kidding. Signs don’t automatically mean sightings. We eventually reached our Hotel and checked with the receptionist on recent sightings. Turns out that they graze way up in the highlands during summers and come down towards the coast only during winters when the mountains are frozen. Well, it was worth a shot.

Later in the trip, somewhere in the South, we found a gentlemen parked by an open farm trying to take pictures of something in the distance. Yup, Reindeers! There were four lovely beasts relaxing in the distance (approximately 300 - 400 m away). The old man took the time to politely tell me that I needed a telephoto lens to take anything worth showing. As he pulled away from the spot, I stalked into the field of grass. I could get as close as 150m to them before they all stared at me and slowly got up to move. Thankfully, good sense prevailed and they agreed to pose.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-16.-reindeer_4.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-17.-reindeer_2.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-18.-reindeer_3.jpg

More of Flora and Fauna:

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-19.-snow-bunting.jpg
A Snow Bunting

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-20.-stalker.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-21.-colony.jpg
A colony of terns

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-21.-arctic-fox.jpg
The only one we couldn't see was stuffed on the walls.

Botanical Garden at Akureyri
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-22.-botanical-garden_1.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-23.-bg_3.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-24.-bg_4.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-25.-bg_6.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-26.-bg_7.jpg
Trees !

</Experience 4>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 23:51.
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Old 12th October 2016, 18:52   #5
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Default All that Ice

<Experience 5> All that Ice

Iceland, going by its name, has a long a-la-carte menu of ice offerings. Mountains, rivers, caves, glaciers, lagoons and even ice volcanoes. But nothing quite matches the popularity as the famed glacial lagoon of Jkulsrln. If you have seen Die Another Day, Batman Begins or most recently Sharukh Khan's Dilwale then you have probably seen this place. A large glacier melts into a lagoon and ice bergs larger than steam boats break away and melt into the sea. During peak tourist season, this place has the biggest hit rate and you will definitely find fellow Indian tourists here who, in our case, pretended we did not exist. There is a boat ride on offer which takes you around some of the floating ice bergs and closer to the glacier. It had started to drizzle and the fog had the entire glacier smothered leaving very little visibility. So we decided to skip the boat ride and instead walked around taking a few pictures. On the other side of the road, some of the ice washes onto the shore and is a pretty sight to look at. But considering the hype surrounding this place, we found it underwhelming and drove on.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-jokulsarlon-panorama.jpg
Jokulsarlon Panorama

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2.-ice_berg.jpg
Look for the tern

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-jokulsarlon_ice-berg.jpg
Dazzle me blue

A little distance away a small gravel road led to another glacier. We could see some people exploring their way around and thought we should check it out. We parked our car, climbed over the slope and saw what the fuss was about.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-fjallsarlon_shambala.jpg
Fjallsrln of Fjallsjkull glacier.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-5.-fjallsarlon_3.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6.-fjallsarlon_2.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-7.-misty-landscape.jpg
A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-8.-fjallsarlon.jpg

A glacial lagoon that wasn't going anywhere and an alien landscape. This theater of surprise was far more stunning than Jkulsrln because of the proximity it offered to the ice. No boat rides, no queues. Just pristine, unaltered and unabashed beauty lurking right in front of us. This place is called Fjallsrln.

The ice was standing still and a stream of ducks was wading through it with its younglings. Up above, the glacial tongue loomed like an ancient fury had decided to remain suspended in time. The lagoon was surrounded by lush green landscapes all around and offered a spectacular photography opportunity.

Somehow the word of its beauty had gotten around like the plague. By the time we left the parking lot was completely full. An eatery is coming up at the entrance to the glacier and I suspect that in another couple of years, Iceland will take all the lessons from Switzerland we never wanted it to learn.

Meanwhile, sometime earlier in our trip we had stumbled onto a lovely fishing town that goes by the name Siglufjrur. The town is nestled among the mountains making the sea look like a lake by its side. It's a great place for tourists to camp. The snow-capped mountains are so close that you can almost touch them.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-9.-siglufjordur.jpg
Entering Siglufjordur

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Other Photos

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Alfaborg at Borgafjordur

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Troika of Glaciers at Hofn
</Experience 5>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 22:59.
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Old 17th October 2016, 17:34   #6
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Default All that Water

<Experience 6> All that Water

If you love waterfalls, then Iceland has plenty of it in all shapes and sizes. Most of them are easily accessible, or at most might involve a small walk from the parking lot. Among all the waterfalls that we have saw, the ones that stood out were Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss.

Seljalandsfoss: The popularity of this particular waterfall is off the charts. People are obsessed and are eulogizing it all over the internet. Why, you ask? Because you can go behind the waterfall. Literally. Yes. If you are wondering (as I did) if it leads to an underground cave system where Bruce Wayne became Batman, you'll be disappointed. There is enough space behind the waterfall for toursits to walk into. The volume of the water falling is rather average. Be warned though, the waterfall makes the rocks super slippery and it's just shocking that there is nothing to hold onto here. For the more adventurous among us, you can climb onto the cliff that the waterfall adorns. When we reached the place, it was windy and raining. That's the Icelandic equivalent of a blizzard. To ensure that we last a few minutes behind the waterfall, we stuffed in some coffee at the lovely trailer caf beside the parking lot. Based on how much you love waterfalls, this place will make your toes curl in joy or your frozen fingers ache in pain. Its a polarizing thing.

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Gullfoss: The star attraction of the waterfall experience in Iceland has to be Gullfoss. This massive three step waterfall makes 4,900 cubic feet of water from the Hvita river look like a work of motion art. On a bright sunny day, you are guaranteed a rainbow. The place is super tourist friendly. They have neatly laid out a walkway around the waterfall and have included many seating areas for you to sit back and ink your soliloquy. The local folk tale is that sometime in the early 1900s, a conservationist threatened to jump into the fall if a hydroelectric plant was built here. Some say nothing like this really happened, while others have gone ahead and built a memorial for her along the fall.

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Some of the other waterfalls in our trip:

Godafoss
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Sellfoss
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Lake Myvatn

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Barnarfoss

</Experience 6>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 23:03.
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Default All that Fire

<Experience 7> Geothermally Yours

Lake Mvatn
Lake Mvatn is an ecological hotspot sitting just 100 kms east of Akureyri. Contrast is the soul of the place. You can switch between bird watching and volcano hunting within a radius of 10 sq. km. The description and reviews on some of the travel websites and blogs, about this place, aren't very glamorous. One of our earlier itineraries had us skipping the place altogether. But deep into our research, we unearthed some fantastic experiences we would have regretted missing. The lake region is a huge wetland home to a vast population of water birds. There is a road which goes around the lake and many of the attractions fall along this road. But all the action in the region comes from below.

South of the Lake Mvatn lies Mt. Namafjall part of the Krafla caldera. Its geothermally active. When you first arrive here, you will be greeted with an overwhelming odour of gun powder emanating from the boiling mud pools. The pools, gun metal in color, are formed by steam mixing with minerals on their way up. They look incredibly alien and beautiful. The region around these pools is a bit unstable in the sense that it can cave in, thus the fences. There are around four or five of them; you can simply walk around and see them.

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If you walk a little further, you can see a couple of fumaroles. These are basically vents for hot gases formed beneath the earth's surface, mostly consisting of carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. Some other gases could be toxic, so it's best to work your way around without inhaling too much of the exhaust.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-fumarole.jpg

Hverfjall
At the point where Route 1 leaves the Mvatn region is a huge volcano that you can't miss. After a heavy lunch we set out to conquer it. The road to the volcano is pretty awful, I guess they are still working on it. The parking is all out on the open and it takes a while to figure out the way to the top. The path to the top starts from the edge of the parking lot. The path initially looks ok, and we begin the climb. There aren't any steps or railings to hold onto. The climb kept getting tougher. After what seemed like an excruciating eternity, we reached the top and were profusely sweating. Big mistake. Super chilly winds were having a get-together and we were intruding. You can walk around the ring of the volcano, around 2-3 kms I am guessing. But we decided to skip and just chill out where we were. The view of the lake from this spot is lovely. The volcano itself is entirely empty with loose rocks and more mud. It erupted last in 566 BCE. Everything else, by scale, was a stunner.

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Note: There is a cave near Hverfjall where Jon and Ygritte had a lot of uncensored fun; presumably why 5.35 million people set a new viewership record for the series. The cave is called Grjtagj, and is too hot to bathe in. The place is at the foot of Hverfjall. DON’T MISS IT, like we did.

Skutustadir Pseudo Craters
Have you ever wanted to call a volcano words like cute and adorable? A little further down from Dimmuborgir are these pseudo-volcanoes. Pseudo because they were formed by water popping up from lava lakes instead of subterranean lava eruptions. These are lovely small things that you will have no difficult climbing. They have clearly marked trails for you to take. This also allows you to venture closer to the lake, where you can check out some of the avian population.

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Krafla
Just before leaving Mvatn, we took a short detour to Krafla, on a whim. We stepped out at the parking lot to a maelstrom of icy winds. Wind speeds were crazy and we were literally being shoved around. But the climb to the crater was hardly a couple of stories. We made our way to the edge and saw a dazzling blue of a lake in a volcano. It's a view you expect to see on your Chromecast screensaver.

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Geysir
This is a special mention. In South Western Iceland (far away from Mvatn), there is a lovely Geyser that erupts like it's nobody's business. It erupts every few seconds, and is an absolute delight to watch. The water is super-heated and the winds are unpredictable, so you may have to shift around with the wind. We saw quite a few people get drenched because the winds changed their minds half way through the eruption. Must have stung. But this isn't the only geyser vent around. There are a few other bubbling pools with colourful mineral deposits.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-12.-geysir.jpg
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</Experience 7>

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Old 17th October 2016, 17:42   #8
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Default Stoned

<Experience 8>Stoned

Hvitserkur
A troll who wanted to terrorize a local convent, mistimed his adventure, found the sun and became a tourist attraction. The most unique thing about the Hvitserkur sea stack is that it’s a solo gargantuan piece of rock that is standing metres from the cliff side, decorated with fulmar droppings. Getting to this place is hard. If you are following Google Maps, then it's very easy to miss the turn to the parking lot. Once you do find it, it's a steep ride down to the parking lot. Good luck going back. At the parking lot, you can either walk to a viewing platform from where you can check out the rock or you can walk down to the beach, wage a war with a tern colony, spot a secret seal colony and walk up until the rock. We preferred the latter and it was so much fun. Save for the terns who nearly had us.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-hvitserkur.jpg
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Arnarstapi
Our drive through Snfellsnes peninsula was almost at its end, and though we were totally loving it, the rain had dampened some of the joy. Our first fuel stop was arriving. The rain had left some of the gravel roads slushy. The interest to explore the towns was non-existent. But we could see a stone monument from afar and decided we should give it a shot. This is Brur Snfellss, a half-human half-giant figure, who later becomes the guardian spirit of the mountain. Legend has it that he left his house in madness, and made himself a home in the mountains, and would help the locals from time to time.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-baldur-statue.jpg

There is a path from the statue that leads towards the ocean. It’s a short walk that terminates at a viewing podium on the cliff. What you see here is a huge body of water grinding against spectacular basaltic cliff sides. After a long ride of seeing just mountains and moss, this upsets the entire theme, in a good way. The place is teeming with birds, Terns and Fulmars, and you can enjoy a lovely walk by the coast (highly recommended). We did walk around quite a bit, but because the rain was coming down, we did not venture far and instead stuck to photographing the place instead. We also found an arch rock by the name Gatklettur, which somehow resembles a mammoth (I kid you not).

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The Catacombs of Hell
Folklore has it that this is where Satan landed when he shaved his wings (From Wikipedia). Which is eerie, because I imagined it to be the place that inspired Castle Grayskull and Skeletor. The place is called Dimmuborgir; translates to dark castles in Icelandic. How enchanting! The entire place was a lava lake that collapsed in on itself leaving behind some bizarre structures. At first, the place looks like an elaborate set of Junkyard Wars. But the more you walk around, the more you start admiring the formation of these structures. We took the easy trail, and did not bother to indulge in photography too much.

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Other stoned encounters
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Basalt Cliffs

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The Apostles of Vik

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Kirkjufell, one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland

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The place of our first stay

</Experience 8>

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Default Blue Lagoon - An Awkward Fun

<Experience 9> Blue Lagoon - An awkward wonder

A geothermally active island nation is bound to have lots of geothermal pools. Going by the European and Asian fascination for hot springs, you can bet that something like this in Iceland would be commercialized. That's the famous geothermal spa called Blue Lagoon; in Icelandic thats Bla lni (road signs are in Icelandic).

The Marketing: First off, let's look at how this place is marketed. They are featured on all popular travel blogs like Lonely Planet/Cond Nast, tourist brochures in Hotels around Reykjavik, Flight and Car Rental websites. They also have a chic website featuring drool-worthy images, drone panoramas and luxury packages. I was somehow able to track down a bad review on a third-party blog, only to find the author update his post with a renewed thought-changing experience. The reviews on TripAdvisor are off the charts. They even claim therapeutic benefits of bathing in these waters which adds to the euphoria. Blue Lagoon has its own pick-up service from Hotels in Reykjavik. There are even buses from Keflavik Airport that ply only to Blue Lagoon and back. It's clear that the entire tourism machinery works synchronously in an effort to champion this attraction.

The Experience: The Blue Lagoon experience begins from the website. As it's always sold out, the best practice is to book in advance online. The site is neatly designed and easy to navigate. You can't go wrong here. My wife and I chose the Comfort package at 55 Euros each. Considering our overall trip, we decided to keep Blue Lagoon as our last stop to relieve ourselves of the ten day long driving fatigue; which turned out to be a great decision!

Our last day in Iceland was rainy and windy; a deadly combination. Our teeth started chattering minutes after getting out of the car. Hurriedly, we made our way into the reception hoping that the lagoon would be open, and got into the queue for pre-booked tickets. We were handed a wrist band and towel and given a quick intro to the place and on how to use the bands. Following this, we were asked to proceed to our respective changing rooms. So we split ways and agreed to meet beyond the changing areas.

Icelandic changing rooms are open, which means people drop their pants right in front of you and dont even flinch. A custom that will probably take months getting used to (for some, probably never). If nudity bothers you, then the changing rooms have one enclosure where you can undress and put on the towel given to you. The wrist bands unlock lockers where you can keep your things. There is always a staff member lurking around to help you lock and unlock the locker. Mine seemed to have trouble with the tag recognition. Blue Lagoon mandates that all guests take a shower before proceeding to the lagoon. So there is always a staff member ensuring that people dont slip on their innerwear or swimsuit before taking a bath. Many wander nude into the baths, some of which have a swing door (which doesn't lock). You have to place your towels back in a towel rack and hope that it'll still be there when you are back. (sighs heavily)

After the changing rooms, guests can either enter straight into the lagoon, or enter a small indoor pool and then wade into the lagoon. Its luke warm at first and it isn't until you are into the proper lagoon that warm waters greet you. Everything in the lagoon is well organized. You can take a waterfall bath, have a message done, put on silica face masks and even grab a drink at the bar inside the lagoon. They simply tap your wrist band and you can pay during check out. Every once in a while, a fresh stream of warm water is let into the lagoon ensuring that the waters remain warm. The combination of rain, wind and warm waters is freaking awesome. The contrasting temperature gradients do a great job of draining all the fatigue accumulated over a cross-country drive. My wife and I, thoroughly enjoyed the place and wished we did this at the beginning of our trip too.

Naturally, all that swimming leaves you hungry. You can step out of the lagoon, take a quick shower, change into your garb and grab a bite at a caf inside (or) enjoy a high-dining experience. Before check-out, you will pass through the Blue Lagoon store that stocks expensive skin products and other souvenirs; we skipped that entirely looking at the prices. Thus ended an awkward yet relaxing experience at the Blue Lagoon.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-img_4320.jpg
The landscape around the lagoon

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2.-img_4313.jpg
The lagoon itself. I couldn't take my camera or phone with me, so I dont have any pictures to share of the place.

Tips: We did not carry any waterproof phone or camera and missed out on some great photos. Make sure you carry one or at least a zip lock bag to take some photos. The juices on offer at the lagoon bar suck. Grab a soda or beer instead. The wrist band is quite loose and it is not so hard to lose it in the pool. So be weary and avoid the fine incurred on a lost wrist band.

Notes: Many people have expressed concerns that the water in the lagoon is the waste product of a nearby geothermal plant. This is technically correct. But perceptibly wrong. The word waste brings up associations of foul, dirty, untreated waters. In this case, the water is actually pumped from the ground, used to turn the turbines at the power plant. Essentially there is nothing waste about it. So don't let that stop you from enjoying the place (Learn More). You can also find a similar bath in Myvatn.

</Experience 9>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 23:24.
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Old 17th October 2016, 17:53   #10
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Default The Drive

<Experience 10>The Drive

The last and perhaps the best experience of them all, is driving in Iceland. Everything from renting our car to driving it for nearly 2500 kms over 10 days, was a joy that we will cherish forever.

Renting the car
We had looked at all popular service providers in Iceland, including Sixt, Budget, Hertz, Europcar, Thrifty and SADCARS. Since our budget was at the seams, we were looking for a Polo segment manual transmission car. The 4x4's were very expensive and way outside our budget. SAD cars and Budget were the ones that were offering reasonable rental rates. But we then came across Blue Car Rentals on TripAdvisor. Many reviewers had mentioned that amongst all rental companies, Blue Car had the newest cars on the market. Their service even had amazing reviews online. We took a leap of faith and booked a Renault Clio which would set us back by ISK 116.000 including GPS, Insurance and an Extra Driver fee. We couldnt pay the entire amount at once, so we wrote to Blue Car asking if they accepted partial payment. They responded within the day agreeing for a 10% deposit payment through a secure link, and the balance payment on arrival. Super cool! When we arrived in Iceland, it took a while to find Blue Car's office (although they have clearly given video directions on their website). We were relatively light on the luggage so we decided to walk to the office. This took about ten minutes and a frostbite. Once we were there, they had us fill in a farm, and brought our vehicle around. It was a spanky new Kia Rio Diesel, I had nothing to complain about. The staff showed us the vehicle, the equipment inside, noted any existing scratches on the body and had us sign the form. She even allowed us to take a quick video of the car, just in case we are asked to pay for a scratch that we didn't make. A few minutes later, and the GPS on the dashboard, we were all set to drive.

Getting Started
I have never driven a Left Hand Drive car ever before. I was a bit anxious but getting out of the airport was easy, there was barely any traffic at all. I had all the time in the world to reorient and take things slow. But once we were on the highway, things got a little harder. I was crawling at 60mph on the slowest lane to adjust to the feel of the car, lane discipline and gear shifts. This needed all of my concentration and I couldn't even venture a look around; all I could hear was a tempting commentary from my wife. After about 40 minutes of driving, things had started falling in place and I got the hang of it. The music was on, the GPS was navigating like a pro, heated seats were meeting the brief and a lovely road beckoned. The road trip had begun.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-car-cover-photo.jpg
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The Road
Route 1 is the ring road that takes you around the island. It's an excellent drive, and often to get to some of the key places you have to take plenty of detours. Some of these detours come with gravel roads. The speed limit on paved roads is 90mph, and for gravel roads is 80mph. But these gravel roads are a pain and the last thing you want is to lose control with oncoming traffic. As you enter towns or villages, you will find speed cameras and displays telling you to slow down to the mentioned speed limit before entering. Some of the traveller notes mentioned that when they were found over-speeding, the cameras would send a ticket to the owner of the car, in this case the rental company. And that tourists eventually have to foot the bill. In our case, we were over-speeding a couple of times, but did not find any ticket waiting for us while returning the car.

Further into Iceland, the roads go from 6 lanes to 2 lanes, which isn't much of a problem because there is virtually no traffic on the roads. The GPS was super helpful throughout and there were only a couple of instances where we had to pull out Google Maps for a quick check. At almost all places in Iceland, we got excellent cellular reception with 3G.

Iceland also has some narrow and long tunnel systems. One of the tunnels we had to cross was sing lane with periodic shoulders for traffic to stop by. If these shoulders are on your left, then you have the right of way and oncoming traffic has to pull over in these bays.

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Gravel Road

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Fuel Stations
Since towns and villages are few and far in between, fuel stations take over the role of micro-cities. You can find a department store, a caf, car cleaning services, toilets and tourist information centres around fuel stations. Meanwhile, the fuel stations themselves are devious little things. On our first refuelling stop, I misread the text on the pump and accidentally started filling in Petrol for my Diesel car. Thankfully, backup intelligence came online and I stopped the flow. We were in a fix, whether to inform the rental company and seek a replacement car or to take the vehicle to a service station and have them clean up the contamination. But a quick Google search indicated that if the contamination was less than 5 litres then it could be burned off. I had put in just 3 litres, so took the advice and did not face any issue during the trip. The trouble with these fuel stations is that they are all self-service. You first need to pay upfront via your credit card, then select the pump number and start filling in the appropriate fuel. Once you are done, the service will charge you for the quantity of fuel consumed, thereby invalidating the first advance payment. Weird! It took me almost 3 refuels to really figure the system out. Note: Its best to have two credit cards with you at all times, because some fuel stations don't accept forex cards.

Cleaning the car
Thanks to the gravel roads and rain, the car tends to get very dirty. Remember that when you sign up for a rental car, you are expected to return the car in the same condition you found it. So, you will find many people cleaning their cars at designated spots around fuel stations. These cleaning spots are entirely free, and all you need to do is park your car in the spot, pick one of the cleaning brush cum water hose and get started. It's effective and needs to be done regularly, else the dirt and moisture sort of crystallize on the car surface, which can then be very hard to remove.

Camping and Stopovers
Many tourists rent camper vans that provide a completely different road trip experience. You can sleep and cook out of these mini-vans. Iceland has designated camping areas marked throughout the road where you can park your van for the night and utilize the common restrooms, wherever provided. If you have camping experience in the past, then you should definitely give this a try.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-camper-vans.jpg
Camper Vans

Meanwhile, at regular intervals there are picnic spots with picnic tables installed. You can pull over, host a spread and have a fine meal with some memorable landscapes. The picnic spots do not have restrooms so you'll have to plan you bladder breaks carefully. Pulling over on the highways is illegal in Iceland, but you can pullover on some of the paths that lead to farm entrances in case something comes up. Most of the named attractions have ample parking space and you don't have anything to worry about.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-11.-picnic-mountains.jpg

Returning the Car
On our last day we hadn't found a cleaning spot and were paranoid about returning a dirty car, because we could be fined for the extra cleaning required. But somehow, it rained the entire day and most of the dirt washed off. The return experience at Blue Car was super simple and easy. The staff did a quick check for dents, didn't really bother about the minor scratches, noted the KM reading and wishes us a safe journey back home. And that's how easily, the entire car rental experience was. I would highly recommend these folks, both for the quality of their cars and the lovely service they provide.

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-lighthouse.jpg

</Experience 10>

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 23:57.
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Old 17th October 2016, 18:09   #11
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Default Flashback

FLASHBACK

In 2014, my Wife and I made a 13-day tour of some magnificent Central European cities: Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Zurich, Luzern and the lovely town of Engelberg. Made lots of memories, saw lovely new places and crowded the refrigerator with fridge magnets. Sixteen months later, I was beginning to feel like Bilbo on his eleventy-first birthday. “I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains..!", I told my wife. After which, we began working out possible destinations. Being the kind of guy who loves Europe more than the Europeans (slaps forehead), I started dishing out my favorite destinations: France & Italy, Germany, Sweden and Norway. To reduce some of the bias, I threw in Australia and Vietnam. We worked out the finances and then we shortlisted the following: Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Dubai and Goa. What? Where was all the money, damn it? The beacons of Gondor had been lit. Rohan decided to pass.

Two miserable weeks later we took a call. A dream that involved a swanky white GT TSI was indefinitely shelved. Funds were invested in memories instead. Norway was unanimously chosen. Couple of weeks into Norway research, we realized this was going to stretch budgets. No matter how conservative our spending, the Norway itinerary just wasn't working out. So I kept staring at the map, something snapped and I googled Iceland. And casually asked my wife if she knew anything about Iceland. Her answer compelled me to make her watch "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Turns out, it was cheaper and far more rewarding to do a 10 day Icelandic road trip than a Norwegian tour. This was in October 2015.

We booked our tickets via Yatra.com in December 2015. Our trip was in June 2016. The reason for booking six months in advance was the soaring air-fare during peak tourist season in Iceland (June - August). We booked our rental car at the same time, and the whale watching tour, Blue lagoon in February. We read through dozens of blogs, reviews, websites, etc. for over a month working out our itinerary. It's easy for a well-planned itinerary to go wrong here. Factors like weather, road conditions and geological activity are continuously at play here, altering well-prepared itineraries. People we know had to turn back from certain experiences because the weather did not allow it; they ended up driving back 150kms to their hotels without doing anything.

At the end of Jan 2016, we had ceased all research and reading and had chalked up an itinerary that we were happy with. We removed all bookmarks, unfollowed all Iceland related sites and went into a detox zone to leech out all the Iceland related info we had accumulated. Too much reading messes with your travel mojo and can underwhelm you when you finally visit the place. Three months later, in April 2016, we had successfully forgotten our entire itinerary, names of places, points of attraction, etc. Everything was vague and hard to recall. All the curiosity and excitement that had been dulled by the over-indulgent reading and planning, was now coming back. This is a strange but lovely feeling to have; to know a place like a tourist and revisit it as a traveller.

By the beginning of May 2016, we had started working on our Visa applications. Iceland doesn't have an embassy in India, so the embassy of Denmark processes all applications on its behalf. An unplanned system upgrade had pushed our biometric ID submission dates to the third week of May. We were told it would take a minimum of 15 "working" days to process visa applications. We had 19. The panic set in. We called the embassy and were assured that the applications would be approved. We were to fly on 15th June, and by 6th of June we started calculating the cost of cancellation. Thankfully, by the 8th of June we got the intimation that visas were approved and by 10th, even got our passports. Ready, steady!

Packing our bags was a simple affair. I had snagged two lovely Northface Triclimate Jackets that would keep us warm when the temperatures dipped, and dry when the rain came. Scored some fantastic Salomon hiking shoes (Gore-Tex, yes). Threw in some simple winter wear and were good to go. Food was the best part; we entirely skipped it. Yup, no ready-to-eat, no Maggi, no pickles, no haldirams. Twas a leap of faith which worked well in the end. Packed all the electronic gear and that was it. Jet, set!

A long expected journey was about to begin.

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 17th October 2016 at 19:56.
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Old 17th October 2016, 18:19   #12
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Default Traveller Notes

TRAVELLER NOTES
Itinerary & Costing:

Iceland Roadtrip - Team BHP.xlsx

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-itinerary.png

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-route-map.png
The route map for the trip. You can access a day wise view by viewing this on the web. Click Here.

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List of expenses incurred.

Driving: Some of the websites you need to check out before driving in Iceland:
Weather: www.vedur.is (call 9020600)
Road Conditions: www.road.is (call 1778)
Safe Driving: www.safetravel.is/driving

Videos
Operating Gas Stations:
Road Signs & Driving Tips:

Emergency Number is 112

Eating: Food is quite expensive here. In three places, we ended up having fine dining experiences and choked on the dessert when the bill arrived. Icelandic menus do not have prices written on them, so its better to check with the concierge before you take your seat. We enjoyed the continental breakfasts at all the hotels we stayed in, and took a particular liking to the Hot Chocolate served everywhere, although they weren't piping hot. We hadn't packed any food from back home, so we were trying out whatever came our away. Vegetarians don't have much choice, but you can pick up some lovely Mozarella sandwiches at the supermarket or cafe. Geysir Bread is one of the most unique things you can find to eat here. The rye bread is baked geothermally, and tastes a little odd. But that could just be me.

Sleeping: Accommodations are expensive. There is no getting around it, unless you have a camper van. Anything that has the word Guesthouse in the Hotel Name, is basically a Hostel. Which means, you get your sleeping rooms but share the bathroom with others. It isn't as bad as you are imagining from the Blue Lagoon post. Its quite decent. Most of our accommodation choices had breakfast included, and so we overshot our budget a little. Except for Reykjavik, we did not have parking problem at any of the hotels anywhere. Reykjavik, being a city, is hard to find a good parking spot.

Shopping: As soon as you land at Keflavik International Airport, you can stock up on tonnes of stuff from the Duty Free shop. This appears to be a practice because we saw many tourists doing just that. We took the opportunity to stock up on chocolates and something to drink. Once you are out in Iceland, you can stop at any Bonus (look for a big pink pig logo) or Samkaup super-markets to pick up everything from bread, cheese, soda, chips, fresh salad, fruits, OTC drugs. These stores are the walmart equivalents, are super cheap and stock almost everything. Most of these stores close by 6PM in the evening, so be aware. For shopping, look for authentic Icelandic clothes in Vik. And if you are brand conscious, check out 66N for some premium ice wear. Naturally, the jackets here are expensive and it's better to buy from home. Souvenir shops are all over the place and you won't ever miss them. Especially in Reykjavik, too many snazzy marketing liners floating around with an "Icelandic" suffix or prefix. There is a dedicated shopping district only in Reykjavik and Akureyri. VAT on clothes, souvenirs, and things that can be taken home can be claimed back at the Keflavik Airport. Ask the shopkeeper for a tax free receipt. Refund is given in ISK. VAT is currently 25.5%

Communication: Before leaving Keflavik, we picked up a pre-paid 3G SIM from one of the stores. The Telecom company SIMINN offers 1GB 3G data for ISK 1000 including some limited phone calls and text messages. We had it activated then and there before leaving. I understand that Vodafone also offers services here, but their coverage isn't as good as SIMINN which provided us with 3G connectivity almost everywhere on the road. We only had to top up on our 8th day in Iceland; you can top-up online. The data connection is extremely useful in sharing social updates, checking maps, looking up emails and hotel confirmations. Its a no-brainer to get one.

Research: We used the following websites to research the places and plan our itinerary.
http://www.iceland.is
https://guidetoiceland.is
http://www.iheartreykjavik.net
https://expertvagabond.com/polar-regions/iceland/
http://www.bruisedpassports.com/wher...land-itinerary
http://www.alexcornell.com/iceland-travel-guide/
http://www.tripadvisor.com
http://www.bluecarrental.is/
https://www.gentlegiants.is
http://www.bluelagoon.com
http://www.vedur.is
https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-livin...ountry=Iceland

Last edited by Kings_Wit : 23rd October 2016 at 10:43.
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Old 17th October 2016, 18:24   #13
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Default Epilogue

EPILOGUE

Iceland continues to be crafted by the forces that created it. An island that lives between two continental plates is a permanent witness to change. Volcanoes, earthquakes, river systems and climate are working in tandem to reshape its majestic beauty, every single moment. The natives continue to live in harmony- a mystical life, without disturbing too much around them. They are few and far in between, and constitute one big family. In such a lovely confluence of nature and man, Iceland leaves its visitors enchanted. To some it can open new perceptions on life and for others it can entirely alter it. There's something here for everyone, waiting to be explored & experienced.

A summer road trip in Iceland on a 2WD means that we missed out on Auroras, West Fjords, the Highlands, Ice caves and much more. But that's also an opportunity to go back again sometime in the future and make new memories. That's what we left behind. A promise to return.
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Old 23rd October 2016, 23:45   #14
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Default Everything Else

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-1.-borgarnes.jpg
Near Borgarnes Settlement Center

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-2.-entering-husavik.jpg
Entering Husavik

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-3.-eyrbyggja.jpg
Erbyggja

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-4.-olafsvik.jpg
Olafsvik

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-5.-olafsvik-harbor.jpg
Olafsvik Harbour

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-6.-houses.jpg
Houses in Olafsvik

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-7.-leifsstadir-guesthouse.jpg
View from Liefsstadir Guesthouse

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-8.-schnauzer.jpg
Schnauzer is also a guest at Skogar Guesthouse

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-9.-church-budardalur.jpg
Church at Budardalur

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-10.-church-budir.jpg
Budir Church

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-11.-church-reykjavik.jpg
Hallgrimskirkja, the architecture was inspired by basaltic columns in Svartifoss

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-12.-church_reykjavik_3.jpg
Hallgrimskirkja also has a fantastic pipe organ

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-13.-reykjavik-opera.jpg
The Icelandic Opera

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-14.-reykjavik-parking.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-15.-museum-modern-art.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-16.-db-plane-wreck_2.jpg
DC-3 Plane Crash (must have seen this in Dilwale)

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-17.-plane-wreck.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-18.-mountain-home.jpg
Living in the mountains

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-19.-godafoss-photographer.jpg
Fellow photographer, perched at a precipice

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-20.-grave.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-reverie.jpg
Reverie

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-secrets-2.jpg
A secret place in Myvatn

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-secrets-3.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-secrets.jpg

A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N-vik.jpg
Vik
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Old 24th October 2016, 00:10   #15
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Default Re: A Roadtrip in Iceland - 66N

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!

EPIC is the word! 5 Stars
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