Thursday, October 13, 2016

Iceland road trip - day 2

Thursday 15 Sep 2016

September is the 'shoulder season' for Iceland tourism, so most of the places were not expected to be crowded. But we did hope to beat the tourist buses in order to get unobstructed views and photographs of the scenes. So we woke up early and got ready. We were going to get on the Ring Road today and start our road trip! The Ring Road, also known as Route 1, is 1332 km long and runs around the island, connecting most of the inhabited parts of the country. 

Our room in Reykjavik

Mommy and baby are all bundled up!

Xena discovered a basket in the room and immediately pretended to be a kitten. That is one of her favourite pastimes -- pretending to be a different baby animal each day. 

Before we left, we met a French girl who was sharing the apartment with us. She was very friendly, but spoke very little English. We asked her where we could throw the trash, and she said she didn't know what we meant by 'trash'. So I went on a dumb charades spree, showing her every way in which you could possibly show waste/trash/garbage, etc. Thanks to my exemplary DC skills, she still had no idea what I was trying to do. So Viv went to our room, picked up our bag of trash and waved it in front of her. And that's when she got it. Phew! 

The plan for the day was to cover the Golden Circle -- a popular day excursion for tourists that includes Þingvellir, the geysers of Haukadalur, and Gulfoss waterfall. The weather was still playing truant and I was hoping that the drizzle would stop by the time we got out of the car. We requested our family rain goddess Xena to make it stop raining and she took this randomly assigned responsibility very seriously.  "Don't worry, it will stop raining." she said. Okay, then! 

And off we go!

Through the picturesque surroundings 

For the most part, the drive was just through winding roads and valleys, but every once in a while, we'd come across a cute little house or a farm. 

If I had a penny for each horse I saw during the trip...

I took a photo of this as I was curious about what exactly it was prohibiting people to do. Apparently, it's a sign asking people not to make cairns. Cairns are stacks of stones used as landmarks, used along hiking trails for people to find their way before the age of GPS. These days, however, many tourists do it for fun, removing stones from their natural resting places and making cairns all over the place, often in places where the stones can roll down onto the road and cause an accident. 

Our first destination was Þingvellir, anglicised as Thingvellir, a national park in the south-western part of the island, about 40 km from Reykjavik. One of the most popular tourist destinations, Thingvellir is significant on multiple levels. It lies within a belt of volcanic activity and fissures, and is a part of the mid-Atlantic ridge, the junction of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The two tectonic plates are being violently pushed apart by boiling magma, separating as much as 2 cm every year!
Xena poses in front of the visitor centre, where we got a map and some sandwiches.

The rain had briefly subsided, but as you can see, it was so cloudy that we couldn't see anything above the horizon. 

This is how it looked from the viewing platform near the visitor centre.

Check out the fascinating fissure! The ground was literally splitting apart at our feet. Surreal. 

Darn! It started drizzling again, so out came the raincoats. 

The walkway near the visitor centre, constructed right over the fissure

It is actually possible to walk down the valley between the tectonic plates and take in the amazing rock formations and beautiful scenery!

We had planned to spend a good couple of hours hiking though the beautiful place, but the rain didn't look like the kind to let up at all. So Viv suggested that we could at least hike to the Öxarárfoss waterfall which was about 1.5 km away. Luckily, I'd read about Iceland's unpredictable weather enough to pack raincoats for everyone. However, they were the simple kind, and not the full-length ones that would have come in really handy. Well, we decided to make do with what we had, and started walking. Strangely, within 10 minutes, the rain stopped and the sun came out and the weather didn't seem so dismal anymore! Xena was so thrilled because she was sure she had made this happen. It was still windy and cold but without the rain, it was a lot more enjoyable.

We had the most gorgeous hike ever...

...lined with streams...

...and tons of greenery everywhere!

Finally, we reached the Öxarárfoss waterfall! Xena had just walked 1.5 km with us without any complaints. 

The Öxarárfoss waterfall originates from the Öxará river.

We wanted to get a family shot but we didn't want to hand our precious DSLR to just anyone. Then I spotted a guy with a fancier DSLR and I knew he'd handle ours with care. He obliged and here we have it, the only family photo of the entire trip!

Xena, for some reason, wanted some jumping shots. Here we go!

...and landed!

She took the map from my hands and pored over it. 

Viv took random photos along the way. Even the dried flowers looked so beautiful. 

Okay, I don't know what on earth Xena and I are doing in this photo. Seriously. 

Gorgeousness everywhere!

On the way back, finally Xena admitted that she was tired so Viv and I took turns to carry her.

But she got down soon after when she saw a puddle!

I love this photo Viv took of us. Of course, over the rest of the holiday, I took like 29843892743 shots of him and Xena like this. You'll see. 

A sign asking people not to throw coins into the water

And of course, we saw coins thrown in the water. 

Xena running across this cute little bridge

There was some sort of a church too, but we didn't go inside. 

Check out the layers on the amazing rock formations.

Xena was back on me as we made our way back to the carpark.

And back on the road we go!

We couldn't get enough of the amazing views!

As Viv said, we are so used to thinking of horses as exotic and expensive creatures, it was weird to see them just grazing around in the open, without any caretakers.

Some places had one or two horses...

...while others had too many to keep count. Xena was going bonkers saying, "Mama, horses on the left! Mama, horses on the right!!"

Our next stopover was at the Geysir area in Haukadalur valley which houses many hot springs that have apparently been active for thousands of years. Geysir is the most prominent hot spring in the area. Did you know that the English word 'geyser' is actually derived from 'geysir'? Though Geysir's eruptions are very unpredictable and can stop for years altogether, it is capable of hurling boiling water 70 metres high into the air. 

Xena and me climbed up to see the Geysir's crater.

The other popular hot spring in the area, Strokkur, was very much active, and presented a spectacular eruption every few minutes. We must have watched it erupt at least five times! It had started drizzling again, but we had our raincoats and perseverance on. Even Xena didn't complain much about having to walk around on a muddy ground. Some eruptions were short, while some shot up very high in the sky. Strokkur's usual eruption height is 15-20 metres, but it can go as high as 40 metres and I think we were lucky to witness one of those. 

Strokkur about to erupt

Here it is!

What a sight!

It was fascinating to see the water gushing back after the eruption.

Then we climbed up a hill to get a birds eye view of the whole place. It was slippery and muddy, so we didn't go all the way to the top, but we managed to go up to a decent height. 

The Strokkur eruption looked even more spectacular from that height!

We also saw Blesi, a hot spring where the colour of the water stunned us. It was shaped like a butterfly, with one 'wing' being a deep blue and the other a turquoise green. 

Bubbles in Blesi

There were many small mud pits and hot springs all over, with signs asking people not to touch the boiling water coming out of some of them. 

Spot the grass growing in the letters on this sign?

We were finally done exploring the area. Our stomachs had started to grumble by now. Well, Viv's and mine, at least. I'd googled for vegetarian food in Iceland and one of the websites had listed a veggie soup place near Geysir.

The place was called Supa.

Check out their vegetarian soups' list!

We got a tex-mex and a tomato-basil soup. 

Xena started eating the bread and after our multiple pleas to at least try a lick of the soup, she did...

...and instantly went back to eating bread. And bread only. I think she pretty much survived on bread during our trip.

Our next stop was Gullfoss, also known as the Golden Falls, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Located in the canyon of the river Hvítá, Gullfoss is fed by Iceland's second largest glacier, Langjökull.

We followed the signs and parked, and yet, we could see no sign of where this amazing waterfall could be. The only hint that we were at the right place was the sight of the many cars and tour buses parked there. We got down and started walking towards the only structure we could see -- an ugly old building. Behind the building, however, was hidden the spectacular Gullfoss! 

We get our first peek!

But it was only when we got closer we realised how huge it was! 

The water plummets down in two stages into the canyon, creating two waterfalls. The height of the upper one is 11 metres and that of the lower one is 20 metres, making the total height of Gullfoss about 31 metres. The walls of the canyon reach 70 metres in height. 

The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 140 cubic metres per second in summer, and 80 cubic metres per second in winter!

It was so majestic and beautiful I couldn't believe the sight. We saw people go down to get an even closer view, but we decided against it as it was a very slippery climb and Xena was already feeling cold...

...and tired! The moment we drove off, she fell asleep!

The timing of her nap was perfect because by the time she woke up, we had reached Kerid. The downside was that it had started raining again! Gosh, the on and off rain was driving me nuts. We waited for a short while in the car, and as soon as the rain stopped, jumped out and headed towards the crater lake. The entry fee was 400 Kronas per person (free for children below 12).  

The oval crater, formed about 6500 years ago, is 270 metres long, 170 metres wide and 55 metres deep. 

The depth of the water at the bottom of the crater varies between 7 and 14 metres as it rises and falls, depending on the water table. The minerals from the soil render it a striking aquamarine colour. 
I was amazed at how close we could get to the crater's edge. In fact, I was quite surprised at the lack of any fences around the crater, considering how easy it was to simply slip and fall right into it! We did see people climbing down the crater (one of the walls had a gentler slope) towards the lake, but in the interest of safety and the presence of a five-year-old, we decided to give it a miss. 
But I really did want to walk around the crater, so that we did. Xena, who was experiencing a bad bout of jet lag was too sleepy and cold to actually enjoy the walk, but my gracious child did not throw any tantrums or complain too much during the walk. It was absolutely gorgeous and if she hadn't been so cold, I'd have liked to go slower, or even descended down to the lake. 

Daddy and baby walking back to the car

Posing with the Icelandic flag

We were done with the day's sightseeing, so we headed towards our accommodation for the night -- Ljosafosssakil hostel. It was in the middle of nowhere, and there didn't seem to be any food options nearby. So we went to the town of Selfoss to grab dinner. Xena wanted pizza and we spotted a Domino's outlet, so we got one to go and while they were making it, Viv picked up some breakfast items and bottles of water from the Kronan supermarket on the other side of the road.

Ljosafosssakil hostel was not hostel-like at all. We had a big beautiful room with a double bed and a bunk bed, with a stunning view. The only thing that felt hostel-like was the shared bathroom, but it was incredibly clean and sparkling.

Dinner in bed!

Xena was so sleepy at this point that she was almost falling asleep over the pizza. So we quickly got her to eat, brushed and changed her and put her to bed.

It literally took her 10 seconds to fall asleep. Child, why you no do that in Singapore when it's bedtime?

Viv, meanwhile, was having an interesting conversation with the owner of the hostel, who said that he actually uses some of the hardware that Viv's company makes! He runs a TV station and he took Viv to his server room where they had a long conversation. I took a long and relaxing hot shower. When Viv got back from his animated discussion about movie post-production software, we watched Narcos season 2 for a while before jet lag hit me and I told him I couldn't stay up anymore. It had been a long and happening day, and going by my itinerary, the next day was going to be just as long and happening!

Click here for Iceland road trip - day 3.



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