Ring Road ‘Round Iceland

Iceland 017Iceland is the land of ice and snow. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland. I first heard about Jökulsárlón  from one of my friends who is also an avid traveler. I couldn’t believe the incredible landscape that she photographed. Underneath a photo she had written that it was the highlight of her Icelandic trip and well worth the 5-hour one-way drive from Reykjavik and the very expensive speeding ticket she incurred. With glowing recommendations like that I knew I had to go.

Iceland 032When I was setting up the travel itinerary, I wondered when we should go. Doing this on the last day in Iceland seemed like we would leave with a bang. We had all day because our flight to St. Petersburg didn’t leave until 12:30 am Saturday. We needed something to keep us occupied the whole day. A long road trip seemed like just the thing. We woke up early and left Reykjavik before 7 am.

But first I needed gas in the car. I learned that my credit card is no good at the pump in Iceland. All the pumps ask you for a pin for your credit card. I don’t have one. So I tried a debit card. That didn’t work either. Fine, I’ll go pay inside. Another problem. I was at a small gas station, so there was NOBODY. Grrrr. I had to go find a large gas station that actually had people working. You don’t realize just how American culture is all about convenience until you go to Europe and find out that shops close on Sundays, lunch, holidays, and other random days; and nothing is open late.

Iceland 035Tank filled, we were off on the famed Ring Road, or Route 1, the 800+ mile road around Iceland. To go around on the Ring Road is definitely a road trip to remember. Unfortunately we didn’t time to do the full Ring Road, but I was really happy that at least we got to do a part of it. There are several places to stop and see; we only got to see a few highlights.

I drove for 5 hours (yes, 5) straight to Jökulsárlón. Ben thought I was crazy, but my mom and I agree that it was definitely worth it. As I was approaching Jökulsárlón, I got a bit worried about missing it because the GPS told me to make a left turn onto a non-existent road. As I said before, the GPS was great for the most part, but it doesn’t do all that well when you need to go to more remote locations, or when you need to travel on small unmarked roads. I wondered if I should have turned left some miles back when I saw a small sign saying that glacial boat rides were available there. I hadn’t because I remembered looking on the map and seeing that it was right on the highway. I continued driving thinking that if I didn’t see anything in the next half hour, then I’ll reconsider. Then I went over a small hill and at the crest, I saw an expanse of blue water littered with icebergs floating on their way to the Atlantic. I gasped.

Iceland 046“Mom, there it is!”

“Oh my!”

We were both awestruck. There was no way anyone could miss this. We were so excited for our zodiac boat trip in the lagoon to get a better look at the glacier and the icebergs. I made reservations with Ice Lagoon. Even though they are pricier than the other competing zodiac boat tour, the website promised an hour long boat ride and warm protective outerwear. Believe me, the wind was really strong (I could lean into the wind and not fall over) and bitterly chilly. The thick insulating gear was needed.

We booked a tour for 12:45, but we didn’t get on for about another 45 minutes. They were running late because of the strong winds. We didn’t mind because we had plenty of time and we loved looking at the shifting changes in the lagoon so much. While we were there, we saw a big portion of an iceberg break apart. The smaller pieces quickly floated out into the ocean.

Iceland 061The zodiac boat ride was a ton of fun. It’s a smaller faster boat, so we could get closer to the icebergs (still can’t get too close because if an iceberg suddenly breaks apart, you’re in trouble). It was amazing to cruise among huge glittering icebergs. The guide explained to us that icebergs appear blue when they hadn’t been exposed to air. If we see a blue portion of an iceberg, it means that it recently broke apart. Within 12-24 hours, the blue will turn white.

Definitely seeing a glacier and cruising in between icebergs are incredible Icelandic memories.

Iceland 096Afterward we turned around and started our long drive back. Our next stop was a town called Vik to see its famous black sand beach. It was way too cold to actually do beach activities, like lie under the sun. My mother and I had seen black sand beaches before (Hawaii and Greece), so this wasn’t anything new for us. In retrospect I would have skipped this, so that we would have spent more time at the waterfalls.

Iceland is full of waterfalls. There are hundreds and hundreds of small unnamed waterfalls that are created by downpouring rain and disappear after a dry spell. But Iceland has some of the most spectactular waterfalls that I’ve ever seen. Blown away by Gullfoss, I was eager to see the other big falls that are along the Ring Road.

Iceland 114Next was Skógarfoss, which is about 200 feet high and 82 feet across. It’s a big waterfall. What’s cool about Skógarfoss is that they built stairs on the hill so that you can climb on and see the falls from the top. It’s a long climb, but well worth the view. If you’re inclined to make a day of it, up top we saw that there was a trail that went along crevasse. We couldn’t see where the trail ended.

Our final stop before returning the car at the airport was Seljalandsfoss, which is the first major waterfall you’d see on the Ring Road if you’re starting from Reykjavik. I had set my GPS to find Seljalandsfoss, but the GPS didn’t recognize the name. No matter. There’s a large sign indicating the turn-off. You can’t miss it. You can’t see the waterfall from the Ring Road, but it’s a very short drive in.

Iceland 132My mother and I have seen several waterfalls all over the world. But Seljalandsfoss is one of the best waterfalls in the world. I would rank it as the third best waterfall that I’ve ever seen. Seljalandsfoss was our favorite waterfall in Iceland. I wish I were a better photographer and that I had better photos to show you. Here, see this Google images. It’s amazing. The wind was blowing so hard that day that the water falling off the cliff appeared to be dancing. The streams of water swayed and undulated as if moving to music that couldn’t be perceived by human ears. We stood there with our jaws open and entranced by the hypnotizing movements.

Iceland 136As if that weren’t enough, you can actually walk BEHIND the waterfall. How often can you go behind a waterfall? There’s a slippery muddy trail that leads you to a large space behind Seljalandsfoss. It was an incredible feeling to stand behind and feel the powerful force of the water drumming down. If you were brave, you would even walk down to the beach below and feel the stray water drops and get a “shower” from the waterfall. Obviously you wouldn’t want to be directly under, but I bet on a hot day (if there even is a hot day in Iceland), this would feel great.

The trail continues past the waterfall to the other side. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go that far, so we stayed behind the falls as long as we could. After a half hour we reluctantly headed back to Reykjavik.

Iceland 148

View from behind Seljalandsfoss

This day road trip was the perfect thing for us to do on our last day in Iceland. We went out with a bang and several new memories. By the time I arrived at the car rental, it was an hour and half until our flight was going to depart. The drop off was quick and easy. Within a few minutes, the car was taken from us and they drove us to the airport. When we arrived, check in and going through security were really fast. It took us less than 15 minutes from when we left the car rental, to get to the airport, check in, go through security, and walk to our gate. We actually had to cool our heels a bit because we needed to go through passport control and they didn’t open until an hour before the flight. I was so happy that the day worked out so well. By doing this road trip, we experienced some incredible things and we were kept busy the entire time until we had to leave.

And one final great thing happened to me that day. I call it my Christmas miracle. After Skogarfoss, I wanted to set the GPS for Seljalandsfoss. I had the car key in my hand and as I fiddled with the GPS, I dropped the key in the car. I couldn’t kind the key anywhere. So my mom and I spent a few minutes looking for it. While I was looking for the key, my hand reached into a space behind the front cupholder. Unbeknownst to me the black space actually was fairly deep little “well” and my hand grabbed something. I pulled out my IPHONE! My phone was there! I had put my phone down at some point and it slipped into that space. I shrieked with excitement. And then like magic, I found the car key on the dashboard. Two hours later I returned the car to the car rental. If I hadn’t found my found, I would have lost it forever. I still shake my head at the thought that I found my phone with only a couple hours to spare. I doubt anyone would have found it for a while because it was a deep space that people wouldn’t think of looking.

Our last day in Iceland was fantastic. I really want to go back to Iceland because there are so many other things there that I didn’t get to see or experience. Until I return, I have these precious memories.

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