Friday, 6 December 2013

Iceland II,

 With her relatively uncharted beauty and as one of the Nordic island countries located in the juncture between the North atlantic and the Arctic oceans, Iceland is no doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth. Topping it with the thrill of being 7000 miles away from home and the disarming charm of the locals, it was indeed a memorable trip that I would love to relive again someday - even the cold Arctic wind was an experience in itself. This travelogue is a continuation of my previous post documented here, and if you're geographically inclined and would like a pinpoint location of the places, here is a visitor friendly map of Iceland.

Renting a car from Sadcars, we poked our noses into countryside Nordic life along the island's west coast. We headed North from the city of Reykjavík and drove towards the direction of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula - going through the Hvalfjörður tunnel and making pitstops at the towns of Akranes, Borgarnes and Hellnar. These spots were randomly picked out by us on our paper maps, but just remember to select them properly on the GPS and you're set to go. 

We had a peek into the local neighbourhood as the towns turned out to be hidden gems on our road trip. We also somehow walked into the back alleys of a fishing factory, not surprising as the fishing industry is pretty big in the country. I think the local workers were rather amused to see us, but were friendly enough to say hi! Looking back, I love how the arctic coastline and the occasional Nordic wooden house blended into an unassuming composition with the background mountain range, exuding such a quintessentially Icelandic charm. Even a simple stroll along the beach envelopes you in awe as the snow capped mountains stare down on you - God's creations are sure sublime. Needless to say, they made picturesque shots and certainly speak for themselves.

Some thoughts about driving in Iceland (even though I'm no driver):
1. Don't steer too far away from the main roads and streets, especially when you're out of the city. You may find yourself well in several inches of snow, thin ice or soft alluvial volcanic matter.
2.  Get a GPS, don't trust your map skills when most of the road names are in Icelandic
3. Don't scrimp on your car rental unless you wanna be stranded along the highway when your car breaks down, and also because the winds can get pretty strong and it felt like the car was gonna overturn at certain times
4. Use of dipped headlights even during the day is compulsory, such a nifty fact that I never knew before I went to Iceland! So make sure your rental car has these before driving off.
5. Carry sufficient water for the day because it might be hard to find a supermarket in the countryside, and also if your car catches fire, you will have some to put it out....and not resort to rum or coke.
6. Icelandic radio stations have pretty good music (with English speaking DJs) but they tend to get quite repetitive after a while
7. Visit BONUS for your supply of snacks! It's a cheap hypermarket which has franchises scattered over the island, and has way cheaper groceries than the ones you can get in the city. It reminds me of Giant in Singapore or Lidl in London. Here's a cute picture of some local children singing to the cashier at BONUS for Halloween.

I'm glad we opted to take the coastal route because the landscapes were simply breathtaking! We made countless stops along the way to take in the sights - frozen lakes, mini cliffs and a field filled with hair-like hay. And once again walking around the occasional Nordic cluster of houses, seemingly abandoned.....are they holiday homes? The seemingly deserted countryside is bound to have your thoughts lingering on where the inhabitants of the country retreat to during the day.

Ice picking at Sólheimajökull Glacier was quite the dream, as mentioned in my previous post.

Picture credits: Rebecca Wang

There are many chances to stop along the West coast route to take in the landscapes - these were taken enroute back to Reykjavik, love how the setting sun casted a golden tinge when we stopped for some Icelandic ponies. I've seen many of them grazing along the roads but because I gave R barely 100m of leeway distance to brake and make a pitstop each time, we had to give them a miss time after time. It was lovely that we got to finally stop and spend some time admiring these docile creatures ♥ Along the way back, we got to witness the setting sun with gradients in the sky, such an unforgettable sight!

And of course, a trip to Iceland isn't complete without chasing the Northern lights (but really, the landscape and road trip was the highlight of the trip in itself). The aurora season in Iceland is said to be from October to March, and especially high during the winter season. We were there in February during winter so I was pretty thrilled to finally got to witness the magical lights on my bucket list! Doing some research and gathering information from fellow friends who have been there, the best times to catch them is when the temperatures dip and the skies are dark. There is no scientific explanation for its occurrence on cold nights, but there is a correlation between low temperatures and clear skies - which is a significant factor for the occurrence of the aurora (thank you D for educating me on this). We weren't very well versed in forecasting the aurora, so for the first night we decided to join a Reykjavik tour bus which drove us out of the city and subsequently back after the sightings. It wasn't very exciting because the intensity was really low and it was overall pretty disappointing, but we realized that you don't have to drive very far out from the city to be able to catch them! So we decided to drive out the next night with our rental cars - the drive took about 30-45 minutes, and we headed towards the plateau area in the direction of Þingvellir National Park. If you're driving, it's out of Reykjavik via highway no. 31 proceeded by no. 53. We just drove along in the general direction until it was dark enough and found a good spot to stop....that was the hard part because there were no street lights and we didn't want to wander off the street into several inches of snow. Nonetheless, we found a spot off the small road and perched ourselves outsides until it got too cold and we retreated back into the warmth of the car. Dress well because it got really cold, especially when the draft comes! Even with heat packs (typical tropical being here, sorry), my hands were still freezing so it was beyond the understanding of my tiny brain on how R could lie on the snow paved sides.

Nonetheless, the lights came dancing on and off and it was terribly surreal! It wasn't very overwhelming, but it was definitely magical to see the skies light up right before your eyes. It was, however, beyond the abilities of my camera (it's not an DSLR) to capture these moments so I present you the stark contrast between a shot captured by a professional camera (picture credits to Rebecca) and my embarrassing digital camera shot below. The orange lights come from the city, and are not part of the aurora unfortunately.

Picture credits to Rebecca wang

One of the last things we did in Iceland was to make our way down to the Blue lagoon, a geothermal spa located in the South. It was an interesting experience to dip into the outdoor thermal pool set in a lava field, for the refreshing warmth was extremely comforting in the winter cold! The water is said to be extremely rich in minerals, which is excellent for the skin and health. They also had a special mud mask available that you could scoop a generous amount to slab onto your face, and later wash off with the water. Compared to Japanese onsens, the water was not boiling and was at a comfortable 40 degrees celsius max, but it also did not reek of sulphur which was a pleasant delight. There was nothing much beyond the pool for the standard ticket price (a whooping Euro 33 per entry), unless you purchase premier packages for the renowned spa, hotel and restaurant facilities. Being only 20 minutes from the international airport, it's a perfect layover stop if you happen to transit in Iceland.

I was going to talk more about Reykjavik here before we flew back to London but I've decided to dedicate another post for it as this one is getting too long ♥ Till part III, ciao!

All pictures were taken using my Canon SX40HS


Kim said...

amazing pictures yanting!! you make me wanna go to iceland too

Yanting Chan said...

Thanks Kim!!! Hehe yeah Iceland is such a beauty, you'll love it :)

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