Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Iceland Diary, Part 02

It's time for the next part of my recap of last week's trip to Iceland! I'm really eager to share days three and four of our trip, where we primarily soaked up all the natural beauty Iceland has to offer in the form of glaciers, waterfalls, lagoons, mountains and more.  I had eagerly been anticipating seeing the beautiful landscapes I'd only ever viewed online, but nothing could have prepared me for just how incredibly breathtaking it was to get the chance to see them in person. 

While most of the people I know who have actually gone to Iceland did their own driving (and someday, when I'm a more confident and practiced driver, I'd like to try that too!) to see a variety of sites, Rachel & I agreed that we wanted to book a couple of tours to make things easier for ourselves. (I'd highly recommend it, by the way. You get local tour guides who can share interesting historical tidbits and fun anecdotes, don't have to worry about parking or navigation and have a surprisingly comfortable ride on the tour buses too.) 

Our first day on a tour centered around seeing some of the most famous Icelandic landmarks, referred to collectively as the Golden Circle. Our first stop was Thingvellir, a national park that's also a historical site for the Icelanders and home to a pretty great view of the tectonic plates. 

This was followed shortly by a stop at possibly the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland, Gullfoss, which was just as stunning as it looks in the photos you might have seen. Despite the cold, we both eagerly soaked up the sight ourselves and tried to capture it with our cameras. We also ended up grabbing lunch in the area, having the lamb stew on our tour guide's recommendation - and it was delicious.

Because we were doing pretty well on time and in part, I'm sure, due to the fine weather, we took a little detour to visit Faxi. It's a smaller waterfall that doesn't draw as many tourists, but it was just as beautiful as Gullfoss (and much less crowded)! We continued on with the tour, visiting the inactive Geysir hot spring, the still active Strokkur hot spring and popped in to see Skálholt, a historical site that plays a large role in Icelandic history.

We got back just as evening started to set in and decided it was the perfect time to treat ourselves to a meal. We went to Kol Restaurant, and while I intend to go into details in a future post, I'll just say that it was an excellent meal, from appetizers all the way to dessert. 

We had booked our next tour for the following day, a tour that would allow us to visit the southern parts of Iceland and see some glacier lagoons (which I was majorly excited about)! It's a rather long tour (14 hours total, give or take), but it didn't feel like it was that long since we were pretty comfortable (enough to nap multiple times, in my case), there were plenty of rest stops for bathroom breaks and stretching and dining and I had some good reading material to preoccupy me (I finished rereading three of the four books in the Song of the Lioness quartet!). 

The tour started off at another waterfall, Skogafoss. It's smaller than Gullfoss, but we had the opportunity to get much closer to the actual falls (though it was quite icy and you had to be extra careful about where you stepped). 

We then went on to see our first glacier lagoon, Fjallsárlón, where we had to fight a pretty strong set of winds in order to make our way down to the edge. It was a breathtaking sight though, with the brilliant whites and blues of the glacier and the lagoon and the mountains hemming it all in.

But the glacier lagoon I had been anticipating the most was Jokulsárlón, and it didn't disappoint. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, the skies blue, the sun bright overhead, and we were treated to one of the most unbelievably breathtaking natural sights you could ever see. I was in awe of how blue the water was, how brilliantly the white of snow and ice contrasted against it and the way the mountains framed in the distance finished off a view so spectacular. We had a ton of fun walking around to take photos (though I don't think any of the ones I took could even come close to doing justice to the real thing), and even had a fun little sea lion spotting too!

This was the farthest point of our bus tour, and so, we started heading back to the city. We stopped at another rest stop and had dinner (fish and chips, and it was delicious too!), visited another waterfall (though it was too dark and too cold to properly take a photo) and got another glimpse of the Northern Lights (I've popped in a rather blurry pic just so you can get a sense of what we saw). 

Being able to go on both these tours was a wonderful experience! It was definitely an ideal way to experience some of the most well-known sights in Iceland, and it also made me want to take more of the tours should I ever be lucky enough to return one day. I'd highly recommend taking one (or more) if you ever intend on visiting Iceland and don't want to drive around yourself!

Anyway, that's it for today's recap. (You should also check out Rachel's day two recap!) Don't forget to come back tomorrow to hear about the last day and a half of our vacation (which, spoiler alert, includes Iceland horses and books!). And in case you missed it, here's my recap of day one

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