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It looked like quite a sunny day when we woke up in Rif this morning. As we were checking out of the apartment, I realised rather belatedly that there was an amazing view of the Snæfellsjökull volcano from around the corner of the car park. Today was the final day of our road trip, so the plan was to drive around the southern edge of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and then back to Reykjavik. Our route led us through the Snæfellsnes national park, which mostly looked like a huge lava field in the shadow of the volcano. The first stop on our itinerary was a place called Öndverðarnes, which is located at the westernmost point of the peninsula. The road here was gravel and a bit bumpy, so we got out and went the last section to the very end of the peninsula by foot. We passed by some beautiful cliffs... ...before arriving at the Svörtuloft lighthouse right at the end. The lighthouse is a very bright orange - you definitely can't miss it! There were some great views out to sea from here. Unfortunately, though, it looked like the day might not be staying sunny for long! We drove on through another lava field. Our next stop was the beach at Djúpalónssandur. In contrast to the sandy beach we visited yesterday, this is a beach of black pebbles. To get to the beach you have to follow a rocky path which leads through some strange lava shapes. I particularly liked this one which had a window in it Once you get down to the beach, you realise that it is littered with bits of rusted metal. These are the remains of the Epine, a fishing trawler from Grimsby which was wrecked here in 1948. The metal has been left on the beach as a memorial, and it's quite eerie to see. The beach is in a beautiful location, although the black pebbles are quite hard work to walk on! Our next stop was the small village of Arnarstapi. The weather had really deteriorated by this point though, so by the time we arrived there it was pretty wet. There is a walking trail which you can follow along the coast here, with views out over the cliffs. There are some really unusual rock formations here. I think people also come here for bird watching, although September isn't really the time of year for it. I was quite relieved that there weren't many birds around, because I'd read some reviews of people complaining they'd been attacked by aggressive arctic terns! As you can see, we were a bit damp by this point so we didn't follow the path in its entirety. We did walk a little further to find this beautiful rocky arch though Then it was back in the car, to dry out and progress a bit further along the peninsula. We stopped briefly at a place called Búðir, where there is a striking black church in the middle of nowhere. After Búðir, the weather thankfully began to brighten up a bit again. In fact, the closer we got back towards the Ring Road, the sunnier it became Our last stop was at the Gerðuberg cliffs. These are a collection of enormous basalt columns. They were really quite striking to see Soon after that, we rejoined the Ring Road and drove the final short stretch back into Reykjavik. What I hadn't realised in advance was that at one point, the road would take us through a 7km-long tunnel under the sea, in order to cut out a long detour around a fjord! Reykjavik seemed huge in comparison to the places we've been over the past few nights! We are staying in the same small apartment place as last time, so we drove there first to unload our stuff, and then went back to the car rental place, where we successfully handed back the car without any problems The apartment is fine again for one night, except that the internet isn't working as well as it did when we stayed before, so doing the blog has been slightly problematic! We were pretty hungry after all our adventures, so walked into the centre of Reykjavik in search of food. We ended up having exactly the same meals in exactly the same place as last Sunday; Hawaiian pizza for me and fish and chips for Tim Then there was just time for a last look at the iconic Hallgrimmskirkja, before heading back to the apartment to battle the Wi-Fi!
Today was the day that our Iceland road-trip was due to start! We had an appointment to collect the hire car at 9am and so we made a fairly early start, leaving the apartment at 08.30. The upside of the slightly out-of-town location of the apartment, was that we only had a couple of kilometres to walk in the opposite direction until we got to the head office of the rental company, which is located on the outskirts of Reykjavik. We could have rented a car for the whole duration of our visit and had it delivered to us at the airport, but we would then have been paying for a couple of days when we didn't really need a vehicle (plus have had the hassle of trying to drive/park in Reykjavik) so renting a car from today seemed like the best option. We arrived at the rental offices ahead of schedule and presented Tim's replacement driving licence. I was rather nervous that the woman behind the desk was going to take one look at it and refuse to hire us a car, but she barely gave it a second glance, just confirming that we had a credit card to pay on and giving us the rental contract to sign. In less than five minutes we were standing outside the offices with a set of keys in our hands. Phew! We inspected the car for damage and found quite a lot, so Tim took a quick video to record everything and then we were on our way! Our first destination was the apartment to pick up all our luggage, and then we set off on the main road out of Reykjavik. Although the main aim of our trip is to drive a circuit of the Ring Road, today's route involved ignoring the Ring Road for a while and driving along a series of smaller roads which make up the so called 'Golden Circle'. The Golden Circle is a name given by Icelandic tourism marketers to a series of three sights which meet the criteria both of being spectacular and of being drivable as a circular daytrip from Reykjavik. The vast majority of people who visit Iceland end up on some sort of tour or excursion which visits these locations, so we knew that today was not going to be a day when we succeeded in getting away from other people, but nevertheless we were really excited at the prospect of visiting some of Iceland's most famous sights. The first stop on our route, about 25 miles outside Reykjavik, was the Thingvellir National Park. The first sign we got that we were approaching the edge of the national park was when we came to a viewpoint by the side of a lake. This is lake Thingvallavatn (Þingvallavatn in Icelandic), which is the biggest natural lake in Iceland. A second viewpoint a few minutes further down the road gave us a clearer view of the lake. It was really beautiful here We were now quite close to the main Thingvellir carpark and visitor centre. It was very busy here, both with cars and coaches, but we managed to find a space. It took us slightly longer to figure out how to pay for the parking; it turns out there are very sophisticated machines inside the visitor centre where you just input the car registration, swipe your card, and they know you've paid without having to print and display a ticket. I forgot to mention in previous blogs that Iceland is pretty much a cashless society, so you can pay for virtually everything by card. So far we've been here three days and haven't so much as caught a glimpse of an Icelandic krona! The parking cost just over £5 which, as we began exploring the national park, soon started to feel like very good value for such amazing views. We started out at a viewpoint overlooking the lake. The national park is located in a rift valley, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart from one another. We could already see cracks and faults in the rocks from here. The main tourist trail runs down the middle of a huge gap in the rocks. From here smaller tracks led off through the rocks to other viewpoints. It was pretty amazing to be somewhere which I'd read so much about during plate tectonics in geography lessons at school For Icelanders, Thingvellir isn't just important because of plate tectonics, but because this was the historic home of Iceland's parliament, the Althing. The Althing was established here in 930, which makes it the oldest parliament in the world. It was quite busy on the main path, with lots of coach parties. As we moved further afield, we discovered some quieter spots though. It had started to rain by this point so we were getting a bit wet, but look what we could see in the distance: a large waterfall which the guidebook hadn't even mentioned! It turns out that this waterfall is called Öxarárfoss. The water here was incredibly powerful. We both agreed it was in the running for the most impressive waterfall we'd ever seen in our lives. It stayed in that position for approximately two hours. From the waterfall we climbed back down into the countryside and began a circular walk back towards the carpark. The views were stunning in all directions. We found Thingvellir church, which is one of the oldest in the whole of Iceland. Then it was time to head back up through the rocks towards the car. Stop 1 on the Golden Circle was complete, so it was time to head towards the second destination. Around 38 miles later we arrived in Geysir. We knew that we were in the right place when we left the carpark behind and could see steam rising from the ground in the distance. It all looked very reminiscent of Furnas in the Azores. As we entered the area of volcanic activity, there were a few warnings to be aware of. I particularly liked the way they notified people of the distance to the nearest hospital The closer we got, the more steam we could see. In case you hadn't guessed, this is the site of the famous Geysir, which has been attracting tourists to Iceland since the eighteenth century. The original Great Geysir here has become dormant and rarely erupts any more. You can still see it bubbling away, though. Luckily, it's next-door neighbour, Strokkur, is far more active and erupts every 5 - 10 minutes. There was a big crowd of people standing around waiting for the next eruption. We waited and waited... trying to judge when it was about to happen... When it finally did, it was spectacular! We stayed and watched a couple of times Then it was time to head off to destination number 3: the waterfall Gullfoss, which is only about 6 miles up the road from Geysir. You know how we thought the waterfall at Thingvellir was impressive earlier? It pales in comparison to Gullfoss! Again, this is a very popular tourist attraction so there were tonnes of other people here, but with views like this it didn't really seem to matter We followed the upper pathway first, from where we had amazing views of the falls from above. The spray was incredible! We could have just stood and watched the view for ages. We wanted to get closer though and see the falls from lower down as well. The lower pathway was rocky and a bit more slippery, because - as we soon discovered - the spray from the waterfall periodically blows over the path and soaks it (and everyone on it!). It was worth it to see the waterfall this close though The power of the water was unbelievable. We have definitely had a very spectacular start to our Iceland road-trip! Once we had finished admiring the waterfall, we had a further 62 miles to drive until we reached our destination for the evening; a hotel in the small town of Hvolsvöllur. This hotel was definitely one of the bargains of the trip, at £93 for the night (including breakfast). I'm not 100% sure why it was so cheap, though suspect it may be down to the general lack of anything happening in Hvolsvöllur. We've got a lovely room anyway, which is at least twice as big as the apartment in Reykjavik We had a quick stroll around Hvolsvöllur to see whether there were any sights (spoiler - there weren't!) and then found a pizza place to get some much-needed food. Two pizzas and a side order of chips set us back £41, but it did turn out to be more food than we could eat, so it was value in that respect Then it was back to the hotel room to start uploading the very many photos which we had taken between us today!
Today was our day for exploring Reykjavik. After a not very nutritious breakfast of some of the jaffa cakes and jammie dodgers we'd brought with us in our suitcase (supermarkets here don't seem to open until 12 on a Sunday!) we set off to walk into the town before 9am. It was dry at the point we left the apartment, although it looked like it had been raining quite heavily overnight, and slightly warmer than yesterday at 10 degrees. We had a few kilometres to cover from our apartment to the town centre, and decided to try and follow a different route to the one we'd taken from the bus station yesterday, for the sake of variety. So it was that after about 20 minutes or so, we were walking along one of the main streets into the city centre and came across the rather bizarre "Icelandic Phallological Museum" This was not somewhere which was on my list of must-see sights in Reykjavik, but Tim's attention was soon caught by the fact that the name of the museum was translated into Esperanto! We have absolutely no idea why! We've since found out from someone on Facebook that all the explanations of the exhibits inside are translated into Esperanto as well, but apparently it wasn't recommended as an official excursion destination when the World Esperanto Congress last took place in Iceland in 2013. Not long after the museum, we caught our first glimpse of the sea down one of the side streets and had to follow it to take a look. When we got to the waterfront, the views were really beautiful We could see quite a long way, despite the fact that it was cloudy. And in fact, in the direction of the city centre it looked like it was brightening up We carried on walking alongside the water and soon came across a sculpture known as 'The Sun Voyager'. It kind of looks like a cross between a Viking ship and an antler Shortly after this we came to the rather unusual Harpa conference centre, which is where the World Esperanto Congress was held in 2013. From there we turned inland, passing a series of pretty parks and squares. Flowers and trees are somewhat of a rarity in Iceland (because the climate is generally too harsh), so we were impressed to see these. We passed the Icelandic Prime Minister's office, which is a rather unassuming building. We were definitely in the centre of town now, and there were lots of colourful buildings. Some of them wouldn't have looked out of place in Rauma We were walking towards a place called Tjörnin, or "the pond". This is a lake, right in the centre of the city, and it's home to lots of ducks, geese and swans. Calling it a pond makes it sound quite small, but it's actually a reasonable size and took us a while to walk around. This church is called the Fríkirkjan, and was opened in 1903. As we progressed around the perimeter of the lake, we also got a glimpse of Reykjavik's most famous church: the Hallgrímskirkja. There's a park surrounding the lake which contains quite a lot of sculptures. Some were more disturbing than others! My favourite view was this one, when we realised we could see the reflection of the Fríkirkjan in the water The weather had become really sunny at this point and it almost felt warm! We decided to make the most of it and climb up towards the Hallgrímskirkja. At 74.5 metres high, this is the largest church in Iceland and can apparently be seen from 20 miles away. The church was commissioned in 1937, with construction starting in 1945 and not finishing until 1986. It was deliberately designed to be enormous, so that it outshone Reykjavik's Catholic cathedral. It's certainly very impressive! Outside the church, there is also a statue of the explorer Leif Erikson. The weather was so sunny at this point that we decided to walk back down to the coast and see whether the views were any clearer. It did look really beautiful in the sunshine The weather changes quickly here though, and it soon started to get cloudier once again. We walked back into the city centre and soon found ourselves in a small square with these two rather strange pillars, which seemed to be emitting steam. The explanation was only in Icelandic so we have no idea what they represented, although this one said something about 874 (which was the year Iceland was first settled). We were trying to walk around the old harbour at this point, but it began to rain torrentially and we got rather wet. As we made our way back towards the shopping district in the search for somewhere to have lunch, we caught sight of another church. It turns out that this is Iceland's Catholic cathedral, which was consecrated in 1929. It was the largest church in Iceland for a while, before it was subsequently outdone by the Hallgrímskirkja! It was definitely lunchtime by this point and we were starving! We began walking around Reykjavik and looking at menus, trying to get a feel for what the going rate was for food. It seemed like around £20 was standard for a main course. We eventually found a nice restaurant where I was able to have pizza, and Tim had what he said was one of the best fish and chips he'd ever had in his life This, together with my 7up (Tim was frugal and drank tap water) set us back about £46. Iceland makes Finland feel cheap It continued to pour with rain throughout the meal and it was still pretty wet once we ventured outside again. We had a bit of a stroll along Reykjavik's main street, enjoying another view of the Hallgrímskirkja. Then we decided that we were wet enough for one day and that we'd better begin the long walk back to the apartment, to dry off and warm up. This involved having our first showers in Reykjavik, which was an "interesting" experience. The cold tapwater here is perfectly normal, but as soon as you turn on the hot water tap you get a very funny sulphuric smell. It's something to do with the fact that the hot water here comes from the ground and is heated geothemally. The smell is just about okay while you're washing your hands, but once you turn the shower on there is a really overpowering smell of sulphur By the time I'd finished washing my hair, the bathroom basically smelled like the volcanic area at Furnas in the Azores! We relaxed in the apartment for a while, before heading out for another walk when the weather brightened up in the early evening. I'd seen on the map that there was a park not far from where we were staying, so thought it might be worth a visit. It actually turned out not to be terribly exciting, although we did find some more flowers Never mind, we've had a really exciting day in Reykjavik (the world's northernmost capital city!), so we can't complain
Finally the day had arrived when we were due to fly to Reykjavik Our flight was at the rather civilised time of 13.05, which meant that for once we didn't have to get up before dawn and eat breakfast in the airport at a horrifically early hour when all reasonable people are still in bed. It was quite novel to drive to Heathrow in the daylight, although there was definitely more traffic when we hit the M25 around 10am then there had been last Saturday at 04.30 We had more luck with Icelandair today than we had had with Finnair last week and our flight was perfectly on time. I was quite excited about the plane because I knew it was a large one with two separate aisles, having two blocks of two seats by the windows and a block of three seats in the middle. We had seats in F and G, which were two seats by the window and it seemed like a really comfortable plane, with plenty of leg room and even enough space for us to get our backpacks into the overhead lockers. The comfort was marred slightly by the people in front of us who insisted on reclining their seats after take-off, but even so I think I had more space than I've ever had on Ryanair! I was also quite excited that we had a little screen on the seat in front of us, which showed the safety demonstration and was then available to watch various things on during the flight. Tim was able to plug in headphones and watch a film, while I set mine to display the map of our flight route, which I found very exciting. It was quite a clear day in the UK when we took off, and I was initially a bit confused after we'd been in the air for 15 minutes or so and I still hadn't seen the Channel; normally it comes up quite quickly when you're flying from a London airport. It took the flight route to remind me that for once, we weren't flying in that direction and we were actually passing over Stoke It was cloudy for most of the flight over the Atlantic, but every so often there would be a break in the clouds and I could see a huge expanse of what looked like extremely choppy water. The clouds also cleared slightly as we got closer to Iceland, so we were able to get a glimpse of the coastline and some mountains behind, as well as brief glimpse of Reykjavik itself before we landed. It looked like it was quite a sunny day in places, but as soon as we landed and the aircraft door was opened, I could feel a chill starting to seep in. What I wasn't quite prepared for was the strength of the wind; Tim was lucky not to fall over as he stepped off the plane, because the steps were shaken by a particularly strong gust at the moment he went through the door. The airport is located near a town called Keflavik, which is about 30 miles outside Reykjavik itself. It's quite a large airport, and as we made our way through it from the gate to the baggage reclaim area, the majority of the other flights we could see boarding were to North American destinations. One of the reasons why Iceland has become such a popular tourist destination in recent years is that airlines have offered transatlantic travellers the opportunity to break their flight here for a few days. It was quite surreal at passport control to find that there was zero queue for the EU passport gates, because so many other passengers had US passports and were queuing in the non-EU lanes. I was quite excited about getting to the baggage reclaim area because this is where the Duty-Free shop is located, and the Duty-Free shop is the place where you can buy what is officially the cheapest alcohol in Iceland The guidebook recommended stocking up here, because alcohol is otherwise only available from the government-run shops and is heavily taxed. There is a limit to how much you are allowed to buy in Duty-Free - and there was a limit to how much we could squeeze into our hand luggage anyway - but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. We ultimately ended up buying five bottles from a selection of the cheapest wines we could find on the shelves, which set us back approximately £38. I had assumed the Duty-Free shop would be a bit like Supermarket Sweep, with hordes of crazed tourists trying to pile cheap alcohol into trolleys, but it was actually pretty much deserted. Either everyone else on our flight was teetotal, or they had no idea what they were missing out on. By the time we'd made our purchases, baggage was starting to appear on the carousel, and I was relieved to see that our bags had made it. Losing a bag in Iceland wouldn't be quite so dramatic as losing one in Lapland, but I can imagine it would be hideously expensive to try and replace any items of clothing here. Soon we were out in the arrivals area, looking for the Flybus counter to buy our tickets into Reykjavik. I had already researched this a few weeks ago and been shocked to find that two return tickets into the capital were going to set us back £79 If you break it down and say it cost £20 each per direction, I guess that doesn't sound too bad, but it's still very expensive compared to the other airport buses we've taken this year (Malta - €1.50, Kaunas - €1, Bratislava - €0.90, Ponta Delgada - free, because we could walk from the airport to the town!). It did, at least, turn out to be a nice bus and the journey was more scenic than I expected. It took around 45 minutes to get to the centre of Reykjavik. The bus stops at the main bus station and we had a walk of around 3.5km to get to the apartment I had booked. I had deliberately chosen an apartment in the capital rather than a hotel, because Reykjavik is definitely the most expensive place in what is a very expensive country, and having heard a horror story about someone who spent £80 in KFC here, I wanted to make sure we had somewhere with a kitchenette where we could cook our own meals. Everywhere in the city centre itself was way out of my price range, so we ended up with a place in the suburbs, for £102/night. The walk was actually quite easy, following a main road in a straight line, and the weather was mostly sunny, though still quite cold and windy. There was just one brief period of 10 minutes or so when a storm seemed to come out of nowhere and we got soaked by gusts of icy rain. At least this vindicated the decision to wear waterproof trousers! Eventually we made it to the apartment and let ourselves in with the key code. This is what £102/night gets you in Reykjavik: The apartment does have everything that was promised: a bed, a small kitchen area, a private bathroom and free Wi-Fi But it is certainly rather compact! There wasn't really much space to unpack anything, so our next aim was to find a supermarket and stock up on some supplies. I googled and located some supermarkets close to the apartment... only to be informed by Google that they closed at 18.00... and it was currently 18.01. Oh dear! This could have been a bit of a disaster - especially as tomorrow is Sunday - but we were prepared! You're allowed to bring 3kg of food into Iceland, and Tim had stocked up on some provisions for the trip last week Our first meal in Iceland may not have been very glamorous, but at least we have made it here Tomorrow we plan to explore Reykjavik, before (hopefully!!!!) picking up the hire car on Monday.