Saturday, September 26, 2015

Iceland Part VI: Hveragerði hot river and hike, and the Blue Lagoon

Before I talk about this amazing day we had, I must start with the idyllic house we stayed in for our last three nights in Iceland. The house is located in between Reykjavik and Keflavik and is set right on the ocean, free of noise and people, with the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the distant background. When researching for our Iceland vacation I came across a blog that had this house pictured in them. I messaged the writer and she gave me the VRBO link, and we couldn't have been happier with our choice! Our owners Anna and Birgir welcomed us into their home (we had the entire bottom floor of their house), and were so friendly and informative.

Because the sun sets so late at this time of year we had been finding it hard to go to sleep before midnight - though with our eye masks we were able to accomplish this maybe once or twice. Even though the sun does set in the summer (when we were there it set at 11:50pm and rose at 2:45am) it never fully gets dark. If you woke up at 1:30am it would look like dusk outside... it really messes with you if you're not used to it!

Around 11:15 at night 

We stayed outside for the sunset one night and I have to say it was the most spectacular sunset I've ever seen. One thing about the sunset is that it takes FOREVER to set. It looks like it's hovering over the horizon for over an hour. The colors were striking, especially after the sun dipped below the horizon and stayed just under it for another hour. The sun, coupled with the beautiful scenery from the house made this a really special moment for us to share.

Hanging out at the small dock

We dubbed our last day in Iceland our "free day". We had accomplished everything we had wanted to do the week before and we had it open to do whatever we chose. We chose to go Hveragerði, which is a town about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. The town is known for its intense thermal activity - they have a ton of greenhouses growing vegetables there that are heated from the ground. We had read about a hike just north of the town that leads you to a natural river bath heated from the thermal activity in the ground, but cooled off enough from glacial runoff so people were able to relax in it.

The beginning - looks legit 

The hike
BOILING water!

The climb was almost entirely uphill, but you are rewarded with wonderful views, waterfalls, and geothermal pools. It took us about an hour and 15 minutes and our legs were ready to quit... but we knew that just around the bend was the river!

Up in the mountains looking at some small waterfalls 

Along the hike with geothermal activity behind us 
We made it!
Wooden pathways were a recent addition to the river since it has become more of a "hot spot". Hot steam was coming off of the river and though there were people hanging out in the river, it wasn't crowded by any means. We found an area where we modestly changed into our swimsuits and put our stuff down. Stepping into the water was like stepping into a hot tub. It was so relaxing after an uphill hike! We stayed in the water for about 20 minutes before taking a lunch break on the grass with sandwiches that we packed. We then tried different areas of the water since different parts had different temperatures and water flow.

We then had to change back and hike back down!

Leaving the river, walking through sulfur steam 
We had 5pm reservations at the Blue Lagoon so after going back to the house and hanging out for a bit we headed there. It gets pretty crowded here in the summer so it's recommended that you make your reservations a few days beforehand. We decided that we would spend some time in the Lagoon and then eat at the highly rated LAVA restaurant on site.

The locker room was a little crazy... at least on the women's side. It took me a while to find a locker and even then I had to ask a woman if she was leaving and wait while she changed. The set of lockers that I ended up using had a mechanical issue so we couldn't shut or open them. The poor girl next to me who barely spoke English had just finished a shower and couldn't get into her locker to get dressed for maybe 30 minutes. One more thing.. leave your modesty at the door! They always say that they can tell who the Americans are because we cover ourselves up as we get dressed and undressed. So there were naked people everywhere in that locker room! But I have to say it was pretty liberating and I wish that we weren't so uptight in our own locker rooms... it's hard getting dressed while trying to hold a towel around you! Anyway, I digress...

The lagoon is so beautifully done. The hot aqua blue water was so inviting that we couldn't wait to get in. We parked ourselves in an empty area and relaxed in the water. A few glasses of Prosecco for me and a few beers for Jon later and we were very very happy!

We put some silica mud on our skin making it ever so soft and took in a few more of the sun's rays. We probably stayed in the water for about two hours before we were done.

After a shower and getting dressed we met each other at LAVA restaurant for our 9pm reservation (though we arrived early at 8:30). Even though we arrived early and said it wasn't a problem that our table wasn't ready they comped us for our drinks while we waited! We had one of the best seats in the restaurant looking right onto an empty area of the Blue Lagoon. The meal was spectacular and nicely presented.

Our view from our table! 

On our way out - around 10:30pm 
It was such a nice way to end our fantastic day and our time in Iceland. Up next, exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula before our afternoon flights.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Iceland Part V: A Day in Kulusuk, Greenland & some time in Reykjavik

We went back and forth numerous times trying to decide whether we should spend one of our days in Greenland. The cons were that we only had seven days in Iceland so we weren't sure if we wanted to lose one of them, and two, it was VERY expensive! The pros were that we'd get to go to Greenland and have an amazing experience... and who gets to do that?!

The trip only lasted eight hours total and because of the long sunlit days we still had a lot of time to do what we pleased afterward. We arrived at Reykjavik airport for our 10:15 flight and right away we knew this was a different experience. This airport only serves domestic flights in Iceland, summer flights to Greenland, and flights to the Faroe Islands. There are only two gates (little did we know we would be seeing a much smaller airport on the other end). After checking in and going through the small security line, we settled onto the AirIceland plane for our 1.5 hour flight to Kulusuk.

Definitely didn't need to take the jacket with me! It ended up being sunny and in the 60s! 

Flying into Kulusuk was a very different experience than what we're used to! First, this...

A million pieces of ice as we approach Greenland 

And second, we flew into the smallest airport I have ever seen in my entire life. The airport was actually built by the U.S. Air Force in 1956 as part of an early warning defense system. I started to get a little nervous when it looked like we were only about 100 feet away from the mountains on the left as we were landing, but then we landed on a dirt runway and we started to seriously wonder where we were! This airport is so tiny that when we were leaving Kulusuk they simply opened a back door to the one room we were in (which was more like a souvenir shop) and went around to everyone telling them that the flight to Reykjavik was leaving. This airport is so small that they didn't ask anyone for their passports and the security line would have our TSA agents having heart attacks. Just a totally different experience all around!

This is the entrance and exit to the airport!
This is the whole airport - it's basically one room! 

View from the airport

We met our tour guide who would be taking us around the town for four hours. The tour was originally supposed to include a 45 minute boat ride through the icy water to get a closer look at the glaciers, but because their winter lasted longer than usual the water was still icy and impassable. We left the airport and walked three kilometers towards the town while making some stops along the way to hear about the daily life and history of the people here.

Kulusuk is an island town of about 250 people and is part of the least populated part of the country. Our guide gave us a lot of information on this very small and somewhat disconnected place. The only flushing toilets they have are at the hotel about two kilometers from the rest of the town. They have a grocery store that has a regular supply of food and items (although supplies dwindle in the winter as the ice blocks a lot of shipments to East Greenland), a school house, a church, and a large room where they hold parties. There are no doctors or hospitals, but they do have two nurses if the need arises. If they want to go shopping for anything besides groceries they have to take a boat to Tasiilaq (about an hour ride in the summer, or a ten minute helicopter ride). The winters can be really depressing here (as with all of Greenland) as the sun is only out for about 2-3 hours a day and no boats can leave the area (though helicopters are still able to get out if there's an emergency).

The cemetery - they don't put names on the graves since they'll use that name for the next baby born and believe the person will live on in that name. Some people have 6 or 7 middle names due to this tradition! The flowers are not real and are made in China :/

The grocery store


Our group took the scenic route down...

A really interesting tidbit that our guide told us was that the color of the houses are designed to show what the occupation is of the person living there. There are four main colors used: red signifies government establishments like the school, blue signifies transportation, yellow signifies medical personnel, and green signifies telecommunication. This was to ensure that people could see the houses in a snowstorm if they needed to find the appropriate person. If it's painted a different color then you're not part of these occupations. These days you're allowed to change the color of your house, but almost everybody keeps to the tradition.

 During our time here we also went to the museum where the guide showed us artifacts from the old days, some of which they actually use today! 

We ended the day with a stop at the church, a nice walk along icy water, and a three kilometer walk back to the airport.

This was such a great experience and we're so glad that we decided to do it! We would love to see the western side of Greenland and see the city of Nuuk, and maybe spend some overnight time there coupled with hiking and some boating adventures. Although, it's not quite at the top of our list right now! But you can't beat this stunning view from the airplane ...

We arrived back in Reykjavik at 6pm and went right into the city to Hallgrimskirkja - The Church of Hallgrimur. It's dedicated to the most renowned sacred poet of Iceland, Hallgrimmur Petursson, and it towers over the center of Reykjavik. It has a 73 meter tower, which gives a beautiful view of the city and surrounding area.

After the church we went to a sculpture called the Sun Voyager (Solfar in Icelandic), which sits right on the sea in Reykjavik. They say that the Sun Voyager is a dream boat, an ode to the sun. It's an imaginative view of a classic Viking ship and it's a really beautiful sculpture. With the mountains in the background and the sun hitting just the right way off of the metal, it almost looked like it was on fire (although the picture doesn't show it).

We walked around the city a little bit more and found a restaurant that I had wanted to eat at. It was an Icelandic tapas bar, which I thought would be perfect since it would give us the opportunity to try a variety of food as opposed to a couple of entrees. This was by far our favorite restaurant during our whole trip! We had some Icelandic favorites like puffin, shark, and whale, while also eating bacon wrapped dates, scallops, and so much more! We left very full.

Reykjavik really impressed us. Honestly, I really believe that it could be a city that we would enjoy living in!