The land of ice and fire (and wind and rain and liquorice and sheep)

So this year, this has been the destination of choice: 

I always had in the back of my mind the idea of exploring the most northern part of the world- as well as the most southern- I actually started looking into travelling in Antartica, but it is something I must leave in the wish-list for a while, as it is very expensive (money!), very far away (flying long distances!), and pretty time consuming (needing 4 weeks!)- all aspects that, I am pretty sure, will take a while to have all happening at the same time. So I figured, we do have here in Europe some wild territory that can satisfy this arctic desire. 

Against all my personal believes, I also left someone else do the bookings for me. I thought, there must be someone who knows Iceland much better than me, so why not let them design my itinerary? In my defence, I have to say I did not have the time to learn and study the map and and figure out what would be best to see etc etc. So I relied on an agency specialised on Iceland and Greenland (Island Tours) to book all the accommodation, and therefore to design the itinerary that we would follow. On my side, I booked the flights and got ready for the trip :-)

Our itinerary took us all around the country, literally. We followed the "ring", which is Road N.1 - a paved long road that goes all along the coast, and allows visitors to do a full circle by car, and touches the most important and beautiful points. This gives the possibility to drive safely and comfortably all over, except towards the interior part. That would be a trip on its own, with big 4-wheel drives, and completely different sceneries (wild glaciers, gravel windy roads, black deserts, remote lakes). We also included the Western Fiords, which are very special indeed and I do recommend to include them in the itinerary.

We started our trip landing in Kelfavik (the international airport), which is in the South Western part of the country- from there, we tackled the country counter clock-wise going through Selfoss, Vik, Hofn, Eglisstadir, Husavik, Akureyri, Siglufjordur, Hvammstangi, Dragsnes, Isafjordur, Latrabaarg, Olafsvik, and back to Reykjavik. 

So first a couple of facts. During the summer time, the days are long (while there, we had about 20 hours of daylight a day), and the average temperature is 12 degrees. That is, the thermometer can go from 8 to 20 degrees, but most of the time it stays around 12-13. Also, it is very cold, because there is (almost) always wind. And it can be rainy and foggy, and that can affects the actual viewing of landscapes and landmarks. 

Another fact is, the country is extremely, ridiculously expensive. And not in the sense of "Europe" expensive compared to say, Asia. This is the most expensive country I have ever visited. Expensive especially for the quality of what is given back. So for example, sleeping in a farm, with bathroom in the room, with bed and breakfast could easily cost 200 euros, even though the set up is extremely basic and in the middle of nowhere. The food is also very expensive. In such farms, a dinner with one soup, a dish either of lamb or fish, and one beer, could be around 50 euros per person. When we had wine (and extremely average bottles), it would skyrocket to up 80-90 euros per person. 

Last facts, Icelanders are welcoming guests, but at their own pace. Everywhere we go, from the very fancy place to the very basic farm, service was always extremely slow, and most often pretty clumsy. They are experiencing double digit growth in tourism related business, and cannot be bothered to speed up or improve the quality of their services. Very often, in the middle of nowhere, there are only very few choices (if not only one) to eat something (that is, if you are not self catering), and therefore they feel no pressure to perform any better. 

Besides all this, the place is very very interesting- and these people are a bit crazy I think! They love liquorice to such a level, that they have entire aisles of super markets only covered by candies and Haribo packages. They drink Coca Cola like there is no tomorrow, they crave the sunlight and dress very lightly even though it is 10 degrees outside, they have weird museums scattered around the country, and believe in trolls and ghosts even though they will not admit it, and one of the country delicacy is rotten Greenlandic shark. 

 

So when driving through the country, this is more or less the ordinary scenery: 

During the fist part of the trip, in the South West, South and South East coast, one can experience they most "typical" and unique landmarks of Iceland. From the Blue Lagoon in Keflavik ( a beautiful hot spring which has been nicely fitted to accomodate guests, so you can soak in water heated by the cracks between continental land masses....!!) , to the famous and extremely exciting Geysir! To the black sands at Dyrohaley, to the glacier that goes into the water and blue icebergs flowing into the sea at Jökulsárlón. Along the way, there are many beautiful waterfalls. 

As we kept driving north, the scenery changed gradually to this, on the coast: 

And then, approaching a bit the interior, more like this: 

We spent a couple of days in Husavik, where we could go whale-whatching and experience the rough cold North Sea: 

As we kept going north-west, the fiords became deeper and deeper. We stayed in Siglufjordur, where people were celebrating a long weekend with parties and concerts and camping all together, then we left civilisation for a while, as we started to approach the West fiords. 

One feature that is ALWAYS there, while travelling through Iceland, are sheep, which roam freely during the summer months. They are covered by a thick layer of wool which is highly valued and used for the typical Icelandic sweaters. 

The main city in the West Fiords is Isafjordur, which means "the fiord of Ice". It is a small town, with a commercial harbour, as well as a tiny airport with flights from the capital. It has a collection of old colorful houses around the city center:  

Finally we made it to the most exciting part of the West Fiords- the Latrabjarg cliffs. They are the country's highest sea cliffs, 14km long and about 400m high. The main thing is that they host the largest sea bird colony in Europe, and one is supposed to see millions of puffins, and other sea birds nesting. I am saying "supposed" because to be honest, at least in the stretched that we visited (and we did walk a few kilometres along the ridge), we did not see many birds.. a few seagulls, but no puffins. It was 9 am, and we've been told that the best time to see the puffins would have been at 11 p.m, when they return from the day at sea. We did see ONE puffin, which was close enough for some nice pictures. However, the cliffs themselves were majestic, and we could even see Greenland from there!

Until the last days, we did encounter many beautiful landscapes, and it was made even easier by the good weather, which improved steadily throughout the trip: 

At the end of 16 days in Iceland, we drove 3,800 km and took about 1000 pictures. I had more lamb in these days than in my entire life. I have been soaking in freezing rain, and been speechless in front of some incredible spots, and had a lot of Viking beer. I took many thermal baths, walked on black sand beaches and saw the water exploding from the ground up to 30m in height. Most used item: wool hat made from my mom. Least used item: sunscreen lotion. Happy about the whole experience: very much indeed.