Monday, November 4, 2013

Great time in Iceland

It has been more than a year since I posted anything on this blog. After having an amazing well deserved holiday in Summer 2013 with my girlfriend Suzanne, I felt it was time to make a new blog post on the great time we had in Iceland:


Located as it is on the Mid Atlantic ridge, Iceland is a very young country geologically. Sitting on an active tectonic area, the country is continuously changing with active volcanoes, eruptions and lava flows.It is also the numerous glaciers which have shaped the land. While walking through lava fields one usually feels more like on another planet than in the north of Europe. The hues the volcanic activity has given to the soil and rocks is something surreal. Some of the places we camped in were located in extreme and dramatic locations.At Skaftafell National Park we managed to get close to a glacier. This area also featured in the tv series Game of Thrones. But don't worry, we didn't run into any White Walkers ;) While in the North, I managed to see the waterfalls featured in the opening scene ofPrometheus, Dettifoss, and also paid a visit to nearby Selfoss. The bubbling mud at Krafla, near lake Myvatn was also out of this world but beware of the nasty sulfuric smell if you are thinking of going there, because you need a strong stomach to withstand the odor.

A great view from Skaftafell National Park

Almost like Prometheus

Lisa at Selfoss

Bubbling mud at Hverir, close to Krafla and Lake Myvatn

A pretty smelly place


There is a lot of water and a lot of underground volcanic activity, and this has resulted in a lot of hot water being freely available, which Icelanders have tapped for many uses. One of the uses is to heat houses, another use is to bath in. In fact we went to a lot of places were this hot water has been tapped and used to heat pools. The great thing about taking a hot bath in 40 degree water is that it completely relaxes you and especially your muscles. The most expensive and posh thermal bath we went to was the Jardbodin, near lake Myvatn. Seljavellir under Eyjafjallaj kull (the famous volcano that erupted in 2010) was one of the most amazing hot water pools we went to, sitting in a valley between two high ridges in the middle of nowhere. Grettislaug in the North of Iceland, just next to the sea was another relaxing water pool we visited; there we relaxed in the hot pool while watching the mountains and listening to the waves.

Myself, Suzanne, Amir and Lisa at Seljavellir a.k.a. the middle of nowhere

Celebratory wine at the hot pots of Hoffell

Enjoying the milky waters of Jardbodin at Lake Myvatn


I enjoyed seeing a variety of birds we do not have down south in the Mediterranean. I made it my mission to see the White Tailed Eagle and after more than a week and a boat ride I finally managed to see it. One of the most amazing scenes was at J kuls rl n, where we enjoyed seeing a flock of Arctic terns flying over a melting glacier with seals swimming calmly underneath. We also managed to see the bird colony at Vik, where I got to see Fulmars, Kittiwakes and the charismatic Puffin. I loved the fact that while you are driving around you actually had traffic signs indicating if a location was good for watching birds. At the end of the first week road trip around Iceland just when we were leaving the North we had the extreme luck to witness an arctic fox pup.

A juvenile White Tailed Eagle

An angry Arctic Tern at J kuls rl n

The cold waters of J kuls rl n

A social Whimbrel

A young Arctic Fox crossing our path


Sincewe were travelling all around we met mostly tourists but the Icelanders we met were very friendly and helpful. The Icelanders are an interesting people with an amazing history. I definitely recommend to anyone visiting Reykjavik to visit the National Museum of Icelandwhere one can witness the history of Iceland from the settlement times in the Middle Ages to modern times. The museum houses a collection of amazing artifacts, photographs, all presented in an amazing modern way. We spent about 5 hours roaming around the museum on a rainy day. A special mention goes to H lmfrur Arnard ttir who works for Fuglavernd, the Icelandic BirdLife (), whom I had met in Brussels at a BirdLife meeting. H lmfrur was kind enough to host us at her beautiful family house facing the sea at Seltjarnarnes, where we also celebrated her birthday. On a clear day one could also see Snaefellsjokull from the house. We had several chats with different Icelanders, especially about the crisis that crippled the country's economy. Many of them believe that the country is still not out of the crisis; but the Icelanders are a resilient and hardy people and they still managed to get out of the worse in a short time.

Another great story about an Icelander we met was when we stayed for my birthday at Grundarfjordur on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. On the evening of my birthday, after a long walk, we took the bus back to the hostel. Being the only people on the bus we had a chat with the bus driver and we mentioned we would have dinner at the Hotel Framnes. After a nice dinner with a main dish of amazingly filled portobello mushrooms we ordered a cheese platter for dessert; it was at this point that both waiters at the restaurant came out with a cheese platter in the shape of Iceland and singing Happy Birthday in Icelandic. The bus driver had actually phoned the hotel to tell them we would be celebrating my birthday.

Enjoying an Iceland shaped cheese platter on my birthday


Something which very few Europeans know is that the Icelanders have a vast body of literature, dating back to the Middle Ages, consisting of prose histories. These sagas tellthrough realism the stories of the men and women that founded the nation of Iceland, their explorations, their successes, tragedies and the stories of their descendants.The cool thing is that these sagas are very geographical and wherever you go in Iceland you will hear stories from the sagas linked to the place; apart from the national importance the sagas are of course a great touristic asset. It is to be debated to what extent these sagas are fact or fiction, but often there is a fine line between myth and history.

Grettislaug, where according to legend described in the The Saga of Grettir the Strong, Grettir would warm up after crossing the sea from the island where he was exiled


The city of Reykjavik is a very modest but beautiful city. We were lucky to be there on the 24th August during which Icelanders celebrate for all the night in one big party. During this night we heard local bands in the street, we had free waffles while watching classical dancing and we dressed up in theater costumes for photographs (at the photography museum). One of the quirky things we did was going on a cool 'Dating in the city tour' around Reykjavik and listening about Dramatic Jane's experiences in the different bars.The night ended with a brilliant fireworks show.

Dressing up in theater clothes during the Reykjavik Cultural Night


One of the most remote and spectacular towns we visited was Seydisfjordur. This town is located at the base of long tight fjord. This town was founded in the tenth century and the Norwegian heritage is still very visible in its wooden houses. This town as many others in Iceland is still focused on the fishing and fish processing economy. A ferry operates to this day between Seydisfjordur and the Faeroe Islands. Another cool place we visited in the North was the farm at Glaumbaer. This farm was built of turf, stones, and timber.

Scenic Seydisfjordur (photo by Lisa Schmidt)

Posing as a farmboy at Glaumbaer farm


It was relatively easy for us and our friends to rent a car and travel around Iceland on the ring road. It helps of course if the car can take dirt roads, since some of the cool places are not accessible from tarmacked roads. There are also several bus companies that can take you around, both private companies and the national bus system.

Camping in Stafafell with our rented Chevy (photo by Lisa Schmidt)

Through a group on Couchsurfing we got in touch with two other people who were interested in travelling with a car around Iceland. It was the first time for us travelling with two people we did not know, but it was a great experience. Thanks a lot to Amir and Lisa for being such great travel partners; Amir thanks for driving all around the ringroad, and Lisa thanks for helping with directions.


I spent my birthday on the 28th August walking for kilometers on a lava field underneath Snaefellsjokull with just moss all around. It was a challenging walk but a peaceful one at the same time. A day later we ventured into the Vatnshellir cave; an amazing lava cave that has great features and unique formations of lava statues curved on the sides. There is also a lower cave which can be reached by going down a long winding narrow metal staircase. This cave was probably created between 6000 and 8000 years ago. Some of the igneous stalagmites and stalactites are quite unique. Our guide encouraged us to switch all the torches and we experienced full darkness for a few minutes, which was an amazing experience.

On my birthday roaming the lava fields under Snaefellsjokull

A geeky reference to Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth; Snaefellsjokull supposedly is the entrance to the center of the earth


Great waterfalls, amazing sunsets, crazy geological formations but also quirky museums. I enjoyed seeing the Volcano museum in Stykkisholmur which houses a great collection of paintings depicting eruptions from all over the world. We had a nice chat about volcanoes, eruptions and other interesting/quirky objects which the museum host. After visiting this museum we made a challenge to learn how to pronounceEyjafjallaj kull, the name of the volcano which erupted in 2010. When the volcano caused havoc in air transportation in Europe it also caused havoc in newsrooms around the world with newscasters unable to pronounce the name.

One of Iceland's many volcanoes: Snaefellsjokull


For me it was the first time when I felt so much the need to take a souvenir back home. We had a lot of things to choose from as the Icelanders excel at making the nicest crafty things.This is what I got back home: a book on the birds of Iceland, a glass engraved with a picture of a Golden Plover, a book with Icelandic Sagas, a dvd with a documentary on the origins of the sagas, and a jigsaw puzzle of an old map of Iceland, complete with scary seamonsters. However, one of the coolest souvenirs I got, was for my colleagues: 'real' Puffin Eggs ;)

Photos taken by Suzanne Maas
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