Tuesday, November 08, 2016

D3 Iceland - South Coast of Iceland

Morning view of Stracta Hotel

We had delicious and fulfilling breakfast before leaving our hotel. I took photos of the hot tubs and sauna that we used the night before. It was beautiful, wasn't it? Made of wood, it looked so natural and cosy :) And yes, that was the van that we took for our tour at the southern part of Iceland these past few days.

Group photo courtesy of Francis Lew - Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Our guide cum driver was named Inggo, a tall, young, and strong Icelandic man who told us lots of fable from Iceland throughout our journey, the one who stood directly behind me :) And yes, the photo taken was with the background of the magnificent 60-meter high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, our first stop for the day!

Jump pose at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall - South Coast of Iceland :)

Footpath behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall - Iceland

Unlike other waterfalls in Iceland, here it was possible for us to walk behind it (see the photo above), via a footpath at the base of the cliff. It was wet, stony and slippery though. So, a good waterproof hiking shoes were really needed!!! And I was amazed on how my Mom would be able to walk through it!! Well done Mom!! :)

Other waterfalls next to Seljalandsfoss waterfall :)

In panoramic view - Seljalandsfoss waterfalls - Iceland

And there were other few waterfalls next to it as shown in the two photos above :)

Icelandic horses on the move :)

On our way, we passed by through many beautiful view on our left and right. I loved the view of Icelandic horses running freely in a small group, so free and natural :)

Icelandic turf house - connected to stones

We also passed by many Icelandic turf house like shown at the photo above. Too bad we did not have any chance to visit and see how it looked like.

"The common Icelandic turf house would have a large foundation made of flat stones; upon this was built a wooden frame which would hold the load of the turf. The turf would then be fitted around the frame in blocks often with a second layer, or in the more fashionable herringbone style. The only external wood would be the doorway which would often be decorative; the doorway would lead in to the hall which would commonly have a great fire. Another interesting aspect of the Icelandic turf house was the introduction of attached toilets, which were communal, and the act of going to the attached toilet was often done in large groups. The floor of a turf house could be covered with wood, stone or earth depending on the purpose of the building. They also contain grass on their roofs."- Source: Wikipedia.org

Skógafoss waterfall - Iceland

We visited another beautiful waterfall called Skógafoss waterfall - a 60-meter high waterfall in the Skógá River. Legend said there was buried treasures (chest of gold) by the settler called Þrasi Þórólfsson in a cave behind this waterfall.

View of the Skógafoss waterfall upper part :)

At the upper part of Skógafoss waterfall - where the waterfalls came from :)

Here, there were staircases where we all could go up and see where the waterfall came from. So I guess, the above photo was the Skógá River itself. Oh my!!! It looked so wonderful!! So pretty!!! Love it so much!!! :)

Reynisfjara or Black Beach at Vik Village - Iceland

From there, we continued our journey to see the unique black sand/ pebble beach called Reynisfjara located at Vik Village, south coast of Iceland. The beach was named by International Islands magazine in 1991 as one of the ten best beach in the world. Perhaps due to its uniqueness where all the pebbles and sands were black in color.

Eldhraun Lava Field - Iceland

We had lunch afterwards and continued our journey across the Eldhraun lava field.

"This impressive lava field the biggest lava flow in the world which occurred during the Laki eruption in the late 1700s. The enormous site which is 565 square kilometers (218 sq mi) is where the Apollo 11 crew came to train for their impending moonwalk."- Source: icelandtravel.is

"The thick green moss dressing the lava wipes out all hard edges and, for a while, the world exists only in the colors of the asphalt, the sky, and the moss."- Source: icelandmag.visir.is/

 It felt simply amazing just passing through this huge area. There was no one staying as the area not suitable for living.

More waterfalls throughout the journey - South Coast of Iceland

More waterfalls - South Coast of Iceland

Iceland was truly rich of natural resources. As we passed by, more waterfalls were to be seen on our left side. Simply grateful with the beautiful view it offered!!!

Skeiðarársandur or vast sand desert - South Coast of Iceland

We passed by the Skeiðarársandur - a vast sand desert that used to be farms before, but destroyed by huge floods caused by the volcanic eruption that came beneath the Vatnajökull glacier back in 1996. It was so huge until it swept the bridge away and disconnected the Ring Road to eastern side of Iceland. It was said to be the largest Sandur (outwash plain) in the world covering an area of 1,300 km sq.

Panoramic view from the top - Jökulsárlón or glacier river lagoon - Iceland

The journey continued on. We were brought to Jökulsárlón or glacier river lagoon, a large glacial lake in southeast of Iceland. Many movies had been using this place for their background, such as: Lara Croft: Tomb Rider, Batman Begins, and 2 James Bond's films, which were A View to Kill and Die Another Day.

Beautiful glacier lagoon - Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Tried licking the glacier hahaha.... :P - Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Tasted the floating ice - I know.. the water looked dirty, but who cared??? :D

Wishing stones - wish for dreams to come true.... :)

My friend and I were having so much fun there. Licked the glacier pose was fun! Inggo helped us taking the photo and we were just laughing with our stupidity there! Hahahahaha..... :P We tried the taste of the glacier ice too :) Although the glacier lagoon looked dirty, but who cared, right? Hehehe... And while my friend was busy taking photos, I was busy building the wishing stones :) It was at the back of my mind wishing to have chance to build it and the chance was just there waiting for me :) Thank you SB for granting my wish!! I was very happy to finally have my dream came true there!! Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!! :)

Expression of my happiness by being there!!! Grateful!!! :)

Glacier lagoon at the black beach - Iceland

Amazing view that can not get it too often in life!!! You only live once!!! :)

Add one stone at the top of someone else' wishing stones :D

Group photo at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon - Iceland

We did not finish there. Inggo brought us to the black beach nearby where we could spot the glacier there too. Oh my!!! Icelanders were very lucky staying in their country. For us, it might be a once in a lifetime experience to be here. But they could view this beautiful scenery as and when they felt like doing it!! I was very grateful though for the opportunity given. Thanks to my parents who made this trip possible!!! Without them, I might take much longer time to realize this dream :) Thank you, thank you, and thank you Pa, Ma!!! :)

Stayed and dinner at Hotel Smyrlabjörg 

After a very long day, we finally reached our hotel - Hotel Smyrlabjörg. Some of us ordered our dinner there while some made their own food at the hotel. I had fish again - one of the two fresh and delicious food in Iceland (either fish or lamb). Ma and Pa shared the lobster soup and lamb steak. My friend and I shared another beer - their own brand - Smyrlabjörg Beer. It was bitter though! But nice try! :) Overall, we had a wonderful day in Iceland. A bit tired, but worth it!!! Will continue the journey in a while... Hope you enjoy reading it and are patiently waiting :D

Sunday, November 06, 2016

D2 Iceland - Golden Circle at southern part of Iceland

Hveragerði Geothermal Park - South Iceland

We started our day by cooking the fresh eggs inside the stream of hot springs for 10 to 12 minutes at the Hveragerði Geothermal Park, a 45-km drive from Reykjavik. The egg tasted so delicious and thoroughly boiled! :)

Cafe Restaurant that used geothermal heat for cooking at Hveragerði

It was amazing to find the town like this where the hot spring's geothermal heat was used for cooking (outdoor kitchen), baking bread, space heating, laundry, and even greenhouse.

Beautiful nature at Þingvellir National Park - Iceland

Beautiful Þingvellir church and fissure from afar at Þingvellir National Park - Iceland

From there we headed to Þingvellir or Thingvellir National Park, the first national park in Iceland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance in Iceland - so called a must-visit destination in Iceland!!!

Þingvellir National Park - Iceland

It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It was also the site of the world's oldest parliament, the Alþingi,established around 930 A.D, and location where Icelanders celebrated their independence from Denmark back in June 17, 1944.

Erupted geyser at Strokkur - Iceland

We had a short lunch break at "Geysir,"which means geyser or hot spring. There were few cafes available there. At the opposite, it was the site where we could watch the erupting small geyser, the place name called Strokkur, which erupted every few minutes. It was harmless though. People could just stood up surrounding it and watched it amazingly!!! Great experience!!! :)

First tier of the Gullfoss waterfalls - Upper part
Second tier of the Gullfoss waterfalls - Flow to the bottom creating splash like rain :)

From there we went to see Gullfoss, which means 'Golden Falls,' a breathtaking two-tired waterfall that dropped 32 meters into a long, narrow canyon.

Full view of Gullfoss waterfalls or Golden Falls - Iceland :)

The full-view of the Gullfoss would be as the picture above :) It was beautiful, wasn't it??? :)

Gullfoss - Iceland

There was a stone memorial to Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who determined to preserve the waterfalls and threatened to throw herself down into the falls in protest against the foreign investors who wanted to transform it into a dam for a power station. Fyi, my friend and I had to wear the raincoat as the falls' water splashed into us as we passed by the area. It was a wonderful exposure to keep walking up and see the upper part (first tier) of the falls. Simply beautiful!!! :)

Fridheimar Greenhouse

From there, we were brought to Friðheimar or Fridheimar Greenhouse, a place where tomatoes were grown inside there all year round through the long dark winter under the artificial lighting and using natural hot water from underneath. They opened small cafe or restaurant serving various food and beverage products using the tomatoes that they grew, such as: tomato ice cream, tomato and apple pie, tomato Schnapps, and so on.

Icelandic horses' stable - Fridheimar, Iceland

Other than doing horticulture inside the greenhouse, they also bred Icelandic horses at the stable nearby and offered demonstration of the famous five gaits of the Icelandic horses. They opened up the stable for us to have closer view and we could touch and have selfie with them as well :D Free coffee/tea was served while watching the performance.

The Gaits of the Icelandic Horse - Pic source: Fridheimar

The Icelandic Horse show at Fridheimar, Iceland :)

"Whether on the farm or for overland transport, the horse has been the trusty companion of the Icelanders down the centuries, and even today farmers ride into the highlands to round up their sheep in autumn. In modern times the horse has become the Icelanders’ favorite leisure companion. The Icelandic horse is a small, sturdy breed, famed for its five gaits: in addition to the walk, trot and gallop, Icelandic horses may have the tölt (a smooth run) and skeið (flying pace). Four- and five-gaiters are prized." - Source: fridheimar.is

Stracta Hotel in Hella, Iceland

After such a long day, we were finally brought into our hotel - Stracta Hotel - located at Hella in South Iceland. Since there were 3 of us, we were given the Studio Apartment room, which cost double from the usual Standard Double room. There was kitchen facilities and bathrobe provided as well.
Wonderful dinner at Kanslarinn Restaurant at Hella, Iceland

It was up to us where we wanted to have our dinner at. Some chose to eat at the hotel's restaurant. Some ate their own food brought from Singapore, e.g. instant noodle. And few of us chose to eat at the Kanslarinn Restaurant located just opposite of the Stracta Hotel. It was one of the recommended restaurant by the Trip Advisor - coincidentally. My friend's dad and I had fish with boiled potato, rye bread, and salad; Mom ordered lasagna; my friends had fish and chips; and my dear father ordered the tenderloin horse meat steak.

Excuse me? Did I type wrongly? No, I didn't. And yes, he ordered the tenderloin horse meat steak for his dinner. When I read through the menu available, he immediately told me that he wanted to order that. When the food came, everyone was trying it. I was hesitant in the beginning as I loved horse, not as food, but as they were. My friend convinced me trying it as it tasted delicious, even more delicious than the beef steak. So I asked my dad for a bite, and true enough, the horse meat was really delicious!!! It was tender and juicy. The chef should have cooked it skillfully to serve up to this standard. Well done!!! So, if you happened staying nearby this restaurant, go and try it for yourself!! :)

Soaked ourselves with hot tub under the full and bright moon and stars :)

We finished our dinner and walked back to the hotel. Some of us met up again at the outdoor hot tub provided by the hotel, just outside the restaurant. It was cold outside at night but the water was warm at 38 degree Celsius and it felt so shiok to soak ourselves in it after such a long day!! Moreover, we were blessed with beautiful full and bright moon plus thousands of stars above us!!! Our day was ended beautifully!! We had a peaceful, warm, and beautiful sleep afterwards. Recharged and ready for our next adventure in Iceland!!! :)

Saturday, November 05, 2016

D1 Iceland - Reykjavik- the Capital and largest city in Iceland

Icelandair - Flight to Reykjavik :)

After transiting few hours at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, we finally continued our journey to Reykjavik. It was my first time experiencing Icelandair :)

Fall for Iceland - Inside Icelandair :)

Trying different kinds of airlines from all over the world was part of the traveling experiences that I enjoyed most as inside there, we were experiencing different kind of services and food/beverages offered; reading different kind of in-flight magazines; enjoying different type of in-flight entertainments; listening to different language they were using in the announcements or conveying safety procedures; and also observing different nationalities of the air steward/stewardess from each airline.

Iceland's location from the map (Source: Icelandair)

If you were wondering where Iceland was located, please look at the above map.

Iceland overview (Source: Icelandair)

And from the above picture, you could see where roughly Reykjavik was located and the white area showed the glacier in the country.

Keflavik International Airport - Iceland

In around 3-hours time, we finally landed at Keflavik International Airport - the Iceland's largest and main international airport located at 50 km southwest of Reykjavik. The main airlines operated there were Icelandair and WOW Air. WOW Air?? What an interesting name!!! :) The airport was originally built by US military during the World War II and was handed over back to Iceland's control after the war was over. And for the timing, it was 2 hours before Amsterdam's time or 8 hours before Singapore's time.

Duty free import to Iceland allowance (Source pic: Smyril Line)

Next to luggage belt area, interestingly, they had the big duty free shop selling any kinds of things included liquor, wines, and beer, which were their biggest attraction!!! Why??? Because they sold it half price cheaper than what outside shop sold. And their alcohol allowance per person was impressive enough!!! P.s. Look at the chart above. Fyi, the most beer allowance that Singapore custom allowed was only 2 liter, and that too, without much price differences with what we bought from outside...

My lovely nickname who happened to be a vodka brand in Iceland!!! :D

No wonder the shopping carts were provided just outside the shop and almost every Icelandic would rush into this duty free shop before collecting their luggage :D (Lucky I managed to buy few bottles of mini Reyka Vodka from there! :P)

Cashless form type of payment - VISA card - Iceland

Our tour escort asked us to change the money at the currency exchange counter outside the arrival's hall. Interestingly, they offered the cashless payment form - which was VISA card - where we could use this card everywhere in the country. So, it was more like a form of debit card. So, for example, when we exchange USD to ISK (Icelandic Krona), 1 USD = ISK 110.17, we could choose to store the money directly inside the VISA card which they would issue to us on the spot. We then were given website where we could enter our VISA card number to check the balance of money inside. It was interesting, wasn't it??? :) And all that was without any extra cost. How wonderful it was!!! :) Indirectly, it showed how advance the country was in terms of technology applied in their usual daily life, plus productivity and convenience offered :)

On our way from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik

Once everyone finished changing their money, we were then taking the tour bus into our hotel in Reyjkavik. The journey was about 50 minutes to one hour's time. I sat next to the bus window so that I could see how the Iceland looked like. I was so exciting!!! It reminded me of my first time's visit to Bhutan.

Good luck omen!!! Half rainbow welcomed us to Iceland!!! :)

And suddenly I was thinking, "Hmmm..... will I encounter rainbow here too? Just like in Bhutan???" Guess what? Suddenly half rainbow appeared in front of us... Oh no... It was like the Universe could hear what I said inside my heart!!!

Double rainbow came soon after!!! :)

And after some time, the double rainbow appeared in front of us!!! Yalama kheno!!! How beautiful nature was!!! And how simple the nature could bring happiness inside all of us by simply appearing like that!!! My lips was curving up all throughout the journey and thanked the Buddha above for protecting us, giving us good health, and now, with beautiful nature in front of us!!! Life was indeed beautiful, if we knew how to appreciate everything surrounding us :)

How compassionate Icelandic was!!! :D

Suddenly our bus stopped. Hhmmm... weird. There was no horn sound. So I thought it must be traffic light or any junctions ahead. But I was wrong!!! Instead, there were ducks crossing the road. Hahahaha..... :P Weren't they cute???

Hotel Reykjavik Centrum - Reykjavik, Iceland :)

We stayed for a night at a strategically located hotel in city area called Hotel Reykjavik Centrum. We were given a room for three person at level 3 (highest was level 4). It was big enough for 3 of us and looked so cosy and warm despite cold weather outside.

Reykjavik, Iceland

It was autumn season. Leaves were turning yellow and started to fall. The weather was very nice at average temperature of 7 to 8 degree Celsius when there was no rain or with little rain. The above were the surrounding area of where we stayed.

Welcome Seafood buffet dinner at Restaurant Reykjavik :)

At 7 pm we were heading to Restaurant Reykjavik, which was only five-minute walk distance from where we stayed, to have our welcome seafood buffet dinner given by the tour. Fyi, our package tour price was not include lunch and dinner except for our first day's welcome dinner and last day's farewell dinner. Because the food cost was very expensive there!!!

The dinner consisted mostly of fish and seafood products. The mushroom soup with bread and butter were perfect to start my meal with. It warmed my stomach right away. Later on, various and funnily taste cold dish or appetizers were following in and continued with hot dishes and desserts. Among their dishes, there was the famous local Icelandic dish called cured whale or Graffin Hvalur in Icelandic words. In the picture above, it was at the top right (blackish in color).

Still remember the first few book I read after starting my reading habit back into my life - "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner - it inspired me to visit this country as Iceland was one of the happiest countries in the world!!! In 2016, it ranked third after Denmark and Switzerland (Source: World Happiness report). In the book, the author mentioned of rotten shark (another type of must try local dish for the adventurer!!!). Therefore, no matter how awful or weird it tasted, I did not want to miss the opportunity to try!!! :) There we also tried the first local brew Icelandic draft beer - Gull - one of the most popular beer brand in Iceland. It tasted great!!! Perfect to have it with the roasted lamb :)

Northern Light Tour Ticket by Gray Line - Iceland

Our night was not ended there. At 9 pm, we continued hunting for the northern light (Aurora) by joining additional tour by Gray Line. Although we were all exhausted from our journey, we did not want to miss any chance if there was any light appeared. We paid additional ISK 6,400 (USD $58/pax) for this tour. Someone from the tour told me that the chance of seeing the northern light was very high that night. There was a website to check on that but I was not aware of it in the first few days of the tour. But we followed the majority to join the tour anyway.

Bright full moon with many clouds hovering the sky

The bus brought us to somewhere dark after forty-minutes drive. I could not recognize the place but the next day it was somewhere on our way to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. There was a cafe selling hot drinks for those who were waiting and they accommodated toilets for guests. But there was a bright full moon and many clouds surrounding it high up in the sky. Oh no!!! In order to see the northern light, the sky must be dark and clear, away from cloud. So after a while, the bus driver announced us to go back to the bus and we were brought to another location.

Strandarkirkja Church - Selvogur, Iceland

This time, we were brought to Standarkirkja Church, located at southern coast of Iceland. It was a Lutheran parish church in Selvogur. It rose from the coast and pointed its tower towards the heaven, had more supporters all over the world than any other church in Iceland. It was often referred as 'miracle church' with the locals 'longstanding beliefs that it had profound, divine powers,' originally built in 12th century. Nearby, there was a statue of Norwegian granite called Landsyn or 'land in sight' to commemorate the story of the church's founding. The carver - Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir - herself was buried in Standarkirkja cemetery. (Source: Wikipedia.org).

It looked grand and beautiful, but also a bit eerie at night as there were tombs (cemetery) at the front and back part of the church. If the northern lights were to appear there, how nice it would be!!! Too bad, the clouds were again blocked the lights. Soon after we were brought to another place, but again, no luck this time. We were then brought back to the nearest area from our hotel and reached our room at 2 am. What a long day!!! We were tired but happy!! :) Exciting too for more things to come!!! :)
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