Europe / Iceland / My Travels

Iceland: Challenge Accepted!

“Emotions weren’t created to just lie around. You should experience things to the full. I’ve got a sense of the clock ticking. We have to feel all those things to the maximum. Like, I don’t eat a lot but I really love eating. And I like being precise and particular. There is a certain respect in that. If you can do your day depending on how you feel, and enjoy things as well.”  Bjork (musician from Iceland)

Kirkjufell Mountain as seen in Game of Thrones | West Coast of Iceland

There is something about Iceland that mystifies me for the longest time now, that is why it has been on my bucketlist. It started with my fascination for artists with strange voices when I was still younger (90’s), some of those are Bjork and Emiliana Torrini of Gusgus, who are both from Iceland.

When I discovered more artists that I admire instantly (like Sigur Ros, Of Monsters And Men, Kiasmos,  Pascal Pinon, My Bubba, Var, Sóley, Ayia, Gangly, Ólafur Arnalds, etc, etc, my list will go on and on and on!) the more I am convinced that I should go to this isolated country with so much talents and I want to discover more!

Imagining Walter Mitty skateboarding on these Icelandic roads!

Initially, I want to go to Iceland during summer months where they have music festivals, however, when Laurie promised to gift me to see the Northern Lights in Lapland (Finland), I’ve told him that it might be better if we just go to Iceland.

Northern Lights will not show up 100% even on winter months, even if the sky will be clear, if this natural phenomena will not show up, it just won’t. So I picked Iceland because even if the lights will not show up, I know for sure that we won’t go home disappointed because there so much nature we can see and activities we can do there.

I waited for Laurie to be free to go with me for almost 2 years (when he “gifted” it on my 40th) until I cannot wait any longer, lol! I told myself that I would go to Iceland on Feb-March of 2019 with or without him. And so, yeah, that’s what actually happened – I went WITHOUT him.

Northern Lights on my 4th attempt to see it! Even if I’m blurred, I love this photo because it shows the purple lights, too! (I was still trying to get the proper settings at that time).

Unfortunately, 2019 started a bit rough for me. When my much-awaited Christmas holiday with my family in Phuket and get-togethers with friends in Philippines got ruined, I decided that I needed another holiday and if Laurie is not coming with me then I need to go ALONE.

I just had the feeling that I need to be away from everything and everyone I know. Hence, Iceland (and Greenland) will be the perfect places to find solitude and peace of mind.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

This is the very first time that I am solo travelling that I did not have everything planned out. I only have my flight tickets and accommodation, but I did not booked any tours because it is also not advisable to book ahead because the weather in Iceland is quite unpredictable. It is better to book your tours a day before so you can check the weather forecast in that particular area first. You do this if you are NOT driving around the country. If you are driving, it is better to have everything planned out to maximise your time and things to do.

I also recommend for anyone to drive around instead of joining tours like what I did. It is cheaper and you don’t feel so rushed and tired at the end of the day. In as much as I wanted to drive, I couldn’t because I was just alone and I am not used to driving in the snow and heavy wind. There were times that even our big bus had to drive slowly because of the strong wind!

Sólheimajökull Glacier as seen in Game of Thrones | South Coast of Iceland

 

KEX HOSTEL

It was very gloomy when I arrived Reykjavik – it was raining! But then, I was positive that my mood will change as soon as I arrive my accommodation which is at Kex Hostel.

I’ve told myself long before that if I am going to Reykjavik, I HAVE to stay at this hostel. Because I’ve been seeing a lot of Youtube videos of cool music artists and bands (not just Icelandic) that plays at this hostel’s bar. If you’ve checked the links of the musicians I mentioned above, it’s all at Kex Hostel.

And also, during my visit this is the venue of the annual Iceland’s Beer Festival! Iceland celebrates the day when the prohibition for beer was lifted. However, because of my long layovers, by the time I arrived Iceland, it was the last day of the beer festival :(

I stayed in a 4-dorm room (because getting a solo room for myself is so expensive in this hostel!) and 3 of my dorm mates from the US left that day because they were just there for the festival. I was alone in my room for 2 days which was good but then, I felt miserable because it was just raining non-stop! Then there were also no events in the bar of Kex Hostel because perhaps they just finished the beer festival. Talk about wrong timing!

The luggage closet was my favourite spot at Kex Hostel, I always sit here and read my book or watch Netflix! :D

 

SOUTH COAST

I got lucky on my 3rd day, the sun was not out yet but the rain have stopped. So Kex Hostel advised me to join the excursion to the South Coast. My mistake for doing this tour was not including the glacier walk going inside the ice cave! I thought it will be very tiring, but as soon as I saw the photos of some people I’ve met who did this, I regretted that I missed that out :(

This tour took us to the most diverse nature along the south coast of Iceland. It’s too extreme that it is described as plains meet mountains and fire meets ice. Sounds like Game of Thrones already!

We stopped first at Seljalandsfoss waterfalls where you can walk behind the falls. The falls flows down the river that has its origin in the infamous volcano glacier, Eyjafjallajökull. This is the volcano that erupted in 2010 that affected most of the flights within Europe.

The Icelandic people apparently were enjoying watching the international news then because of how reporters pronouncing the name of the volcano wrongly! Haha! Since the eruption, tourism in Iceland have boomed apparently so it’s actually a blessing for Iceland!

 

Then we went to the black sand beach of Reynisfjara with columnar basalt formations and ocean carved caves. The force of the North Atlantic waves is too dangerous if you get closer to it!

This is Game of Thrones’ film location for Eastwatch-by-the-sea where The Wall of Westeros is, this is also where Jon Snow and the band of Wight hunters docked their boat before going further North.

Then we went to southernmost tiny village of Iceland called Vik for lunch, I had my very first Icelandic lamb soup here. Vik is the warmest place in whole Iceland.

Traditional Icelandic Lamb Soup

After lunch, we went for a short walk going up close to a fast melting glacier called Sólheimajökull glacier, a sublet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull, where you can witness the formation of the Icelandic glaciers and its rapid melting.

This is another Game of Thrones’ film location where Sam finds the dragon glass in Season 2!

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Glacier hikers

On our way back, we stopped at the mighty Skógafoss waterfalls, one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls. I’m feeling lazy already at this point to climb at the cliff because our time was very limited anyway. This is the disadvantage of going on huge bus tours :(

We also stopped by quickly at Cape Dyrhólaey to view the seaside cliffs that is constantly changing the shoreline of Iceland. It’s winter so we didn’t spot any puffin though.

Cape Dyrhólaey

 

WEST COAST (Snæfellsnes Peninsula)

The next day, Kex Hostel advised me to take the West Coast tour which will take us to Snæfellsnes Peninsula, another diversed nature like the South Coast, but with a little bit different sceneries but equally beautiful. Actually, I like the West Coast more!

Our first stop is at Grundarfjordur where we had a short walk around a breathtaking view of the mountain Kirkjufell. This is the mountain used in Game of Thrones as the mountain shaped like an arrowhead that Jon Snow and his band of wight hunters are looking for based on The Hound’s visions.

We visited the fishing village, Olafsvik, where we had our sumptuous seafood lunch stop, at Sker Restaurant, it’s the best meal I had in all Iceland, the fish is so fresh that they just caught it just before we arrived.

Got so excited to eat I forgot to take a photo, this is halway eating the BEST meal I had in Iceland :P

Olafsvik Port

 

After lunch, we went to Iceland’s another black beach called Djúpalónssandur, where you can still find the wrecks of the ship Grimbsy in 1948. You can also find boulders of rocks here with different sizes and weight used by the fishermen to test the level of their strength.

Then we stopped to fishing villages and walked along the cliffs with amazing views from Hellnar to Arnarstapi. This is where you can also find the the large troll sculpture of a legendary figure recounted in the Icelandic sagas as Bárður Snæfellsás, a half-human, half-troll/ogre.

The statue of Bárður Snæfellsás, a half-human, half-troll/ogre.

On our way back, we just drove by the glacier-capped volcano, Snæfellsjökull, which became famous because this is the volcano used in the novel Journey To The Centre Of The Earth where they found a secret passage going the to the centre of the Earth!

 

GOLDEN CIRCLE

This is the most popular trip for any tourists going to Iceland because it’s very close to Reykjavik and you’ll get to visit the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Þingvellir National Park, considered as the most important site in Iceland in terms of history, culture, and geology.

Þingvellir National Park is where you can find Iceland‘s largest lake and the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and drift apart. It’s so cool that you can snorkel and dive to actually touch 2 continents in each of your hand! My friend, André, whom I’ve met in Greenland have scuba dived just to experience this!

A guide telling kids they’re stepping on tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. Not sure if true because our guide said this can only be seen if you snorkel or dive, lol!

Þingvellir is also the birth place of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth and the Alþingi assembly, where Iceland’s most powerful leaders met to decide on legislation and carry out brutal viking-age justice.

This is also the film location of Game of Thrones for the stomping ground of the Wight Walkers and the trail of the Wildlings from the north of the wall. The part where Aria with The Hound and Sansa with Little Finger were on their way to Eyrie, is actually along the canyon going to Oxararfoss waterfalls.

Then we went next to “The Great Geysir” hot spring, which all geysers are named after. You can already smell the silica around as soon as you reach the area. There are a lot of different sizes of boiling pools with steam.

This is also where you can find one of the world’s most reliable fountain geyser, Strokkur hot spring, that erupts heated water up to 20 meters high every 2-10 minutes. We had our lunch break here at the Information Centre at Geysir area.

From Geysir, we went next to Gullfoss waterfall is at the canyon of a very wide river Hvita. We had a short walk down a pathway and get up close and feel the mist of glacial water. Amongst all the waterfalls you’ll visit in Iceland, this is the waterfall that you can view from the top. It is regarded as the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.

On our way back, we made a quick visit to Brúarhlödur, the White River Canyon where our driver said it’s a little bit hidden or secret from most tourists visiting the Golden Circle. He said during summer, locals do rafting here.

 

ICELANDIC VIKING HORSE

This is the only thing that I did in Iceland that I wished I had not! Haha! Well, it’s expensive that’s one reason, secondly I wanted to have the Heritage Tour originally where I will be horseriding through meadows, lava fields, rivers, volcanic mountains and farms to give us a history of agriculture of Iceland over the years. Then at the end of the tour we’ll have some home-baked cake and coffee/tea. Sounds fantastic right?

But this tour was fully booked at the time I booked it (the night before!) so Kex Hostel booked me a horse riding that is part of the Golden Circle tour. Knowing that all horseriding tours will be the same, I was wrong. Because what we had was just horse riding around the compound of the horseriding company!

Yeah the sceneries were beautiful, but I didn’t really got the culture I was looking forward to learn. All I got was a sore bum at the end, lol! For me, it was a rip-off because I am not that into horses and horse riding anyway :(

Anyway, the Icelandic horse is hairy, fat, and short! Haha! But they are very gentle creature, that has been stuck on this country since it was first brought by the Vikings (Norsemen). All the Icelandic horse are clean, they are not vaccinated so importing and exporting horses in Iceland is prohibited to avoid passing any disease.

My new-found friend from Argentina, Maria. She said, the reason she went to Iceland is because her ex associates her to an Icelandic Horse! :D

 

ICE CAP GLACIER

Next to the horse riding, maybe this is also the tour that I’ve done that I wished I had not. I wanted to go to the ice caves at Vatnajokull in the South Coast because when I met the peole who have done it, I regretted that I did not do it when I went to the south coast. However, Kex Hostel told me that this is usually 2-day tour because it is quite far.

So I’ve asked them to recommend an ice cave that I can only do in a day tour and they have recommended this newest attraction in Iceland, Ice Cap Glacier, an ice cave dug at Europe’s second largest glacier, Langjokull. However, this is man-made, but I have no choice anymore :(

Langjokull Glacier

Definitely NOT a glacier hiking, because even a baby can do this tour, lol!

From Husafell, we hop on the special glacier vehicle that will drive us going to the Ice Cap Glacier. It is a very informative tour about the effects of global warming as well as Iceland’s seismic history through the blue ice corridors.

The glacier vehicle

The ravens!

What spoiled the whole experience for me is that even if it is a real ice cave, they made it looked too man-made with LED lights and some areas simulating a bar and a small chapel, which for me is not necessary. Also, I feel too rushed whilst walking inside because they divided people into groups so it won’t get too cramped, but the thing is the pacing is too fast that you had to go to the next area already and I haven’t even taken any decent photo or looked around for awhile.

Anyway, it is what it is. If you don’t drive in Iceland, you have no choice but to abide to the schedule of your tours :(

The black line was the glacier formed after the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.

The machine that carve the cave. They call it Wall-E :D

 

On our way back, we stopped by quickly at the highest-flow hot springs of Europe at Deildartunguhver and get close to bubbling water; as well as the cold blue water of Hraunfossar waterfall running down through lava fields.

I guess it’s an okay trip if it weren’t that expensive. But everything in Iceland is expensive anyway! Sooo…

Deildartunguhver Hot Spring

 

REYKJAVIK

I only got the chance to see Reyjavik sunny when I returned from Greenland, and also it felt much warmer after Greenland, lol! During my first week, if it wasn’t raining, it’s cloudy. That is also why I never saw the Northern Lights during my first week stay in Iceland. Well, it was sunny when I left for Greenland so I was hoping that when I return it will still be sunny, and it was gloriously sunny!

Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland where 2/3 of its small population lives. Iceland is one of the smallest nation with only 350k+. It is the world’s northernmost capital but in the southwest coast part of the country so it is a bit warmer than other parts of Iceland. It is believed that the first settlement in the country was here.

During those early rainy days, I went to a Free City Walk Tour and at National Museum of Iceland after the walk because I was just soaked, wet, and freezing I need to be indoors! This museum takes you through the history of Iceland from settlement to today. I’ve met a wonderful couple from Melbourne (Anne & Marc) but they cannot hang out with me that night because they had to get up early for their tour in the north.

Reykjavik is actually just a small walkable city that you can walk around without getting lost, this is also I think my first time to wander around to a new place without a map. I did the city walk tour on one of my early rainy days so I was a bit familiar already especially when it’s a sunny day, everything around you just looks perfect – walking along the lake, the sea with snow-capped mountains, colourful cute houses, and one interesting shop to another.

The sea with snow-capped mountain at the horizon.

Here are some of the landmarks I’ve just come across whilst wandering around the city:

Hallgrímskirkja  the largest church in Iceland, you can go up the tower to see a panoramic view of the city, but I didn’t do that anymore.

Harpa Reykjavík  a concert & conference venue and the new home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Construction was delayed and it only opened in 2011 due to economic downturn in 2008.

Laugavegur  main shopping street with lots of authentic restaurants and pubs also, it gets busy at night.

Ráðhús Reykjavíkur  it’s the city hall where you can find a miniature model of the whole Iceland. It is one of the best examples of late 20th century architecture in Iceland.

Tjörnin  a small pond or lake in the centre of the city where young and old often gather to feed the ducks. The Icelandic name, Tjörnin, literally means “The Pond”.

 

I have not explored that much with restaurants around Reykjavik, I’ve only been to few as I always have my breakfasts and dinners at Kex Hostel every after my long-day tours, well the food at their bar were all great anyway, yes ALL, because I’ve tried them all, lol!

There were 2 restaurants though that I’ve always come back to, the Icelandic Streetfood because it’s cheap (eat all you can!) but very authentic, and at Messin, a very good Icelandic seafood restaurant, a bit pricey but has huge portions, it’s good for sharing, so not ideal for solo diner like me!

And since you are in Reykjavik anyway, try their infamous hotdog that even Clinton and the Kardashians have tried it! Haha! Just don’t get confused with the other stall pretending to be the original one!

Then I realised, you won’t actually feel cold eating ice cream because the weather is already cold, haha! So try the Icelandic ice cream, too.

I’ve also checked if I can join pub crawls but they don’t offer it on weekdays! The only full weekend I have for this trip is the time I will be in Greenland. So I end up having my own pub crawl, haha! Iceland is very safe to walk around anyway even at late nights and I felt so, too.

I tried each beer from each region of Iceland at Icelandic Craft Bar

The beers I’ve tried, arranged from what I liked the most to not so much, left to right.

I always check the Grapevine Happening website for some gigs and events happening around the city. So in some nights, I go on my own and check it out as long as it’s FREE! I’ve seen a local indie duo in Bryggjan Brugghüs, local stand-up comedians at The Secret Cellar (just below Icelandic Craft Bar), pop bands at The English Pub and The Drunk Rabbit Irish Pub (of course!), karaoke night at Gaukurinn, local rock band at Dillons, and a local jazz band just in my hostel’s bar, Kex Hostel! I didn’t check out the clubs though, not sure if I am still fit for that crowd, lol!

 

BLUE LAGOON

A visit in Iceland will never be complete without visiting at least one geothermal spa. Blue Lagoon is one of the famous geothermal spa in Iceland and is a common stop from or to Keflavik airport after or before your flight because it is close to the airport. And that is what I did. I went on my last day because my flight is not until 9pm anyway.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon is a geotherman spa located in a lava field near Grindavík and water is supplied by the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. The water’s milky blue shade is due to its high silica content. The smell of silica is quite strong too as soon as you reach the compound. The silica forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lake which you can apply to your faces as face masks. It is proven that this is good for the skin.

The geothermal pool

The water temperature  of the lagoon is around 37–39 °C but it felt like not that hot because the air temperature is too cold and it was actually snowing when I was there! There is a bar where you can order your drinks so that could also add some warmth to your body, however hold on to your plastic cups as the wind may tend to blow it off!

Unfortunately, my Gopro didn’t work, pffft! So as a solo traveller, I had to ask other people to take a photo of me and email it to me. Unfortunately only one person emailed me but it was against the light that I cannot even see my face, lol!

However, I was lucky to see my new-found friends, Meg and Tim, whom I’ve met at a bar the night before! So I had to get my phone and asked them to take a photo of me. We hang-out for awhile but I had to leave before 5pm because of the last bus going to the airport.

It was so much fun and a very relaxing activity to end my whole trip!

 

NORTHERN LIGHTS

Lastly, I was glad that I still have 4 days in Iceland when I returned from Greenland because I was able to see Iceland in a lovely weather and finally seeing the Northern Lights! I was starting to lose hope already that I won’t be able to see the aurora borealis during this trip but glad I still did, even if it wasn’t strong and vivid, and it wasn’t dancing. I guess I need to plan another trip for that! ;)

1st & 2nd attempts – NO lights at all :(

So here’s the story, I went to this trip to find solitude and peace of mind. Original plan is to see the Northern Lights. So I made a deal to the universe before my trip. I have a life-changing plan to make and I want the universe to give me a sign. I asked the universe that:

  1. If it shows me the Northern Lights then that would mean everything will be fine and will be back the way as it was in my life.
  2. If it doesn’t show me the lights, then that would mean that I need to make a change and take the challenge I’ve been dreading to accept.

Obviously, I wanted the first sign because I do not want to change anything in my life, I am positive that in my 2 weeks stay in Iceland plus Greenland, I would definitely see the lights because it’s winter, lol!

Then one week has passed in Iceland, I had 3 attempts, it didn’t show up. I went to Greenland for 4 days, I never even had a single attempt because forecast was always too low in all the 3 nights I was there!

Actually, it was in Greenland when I had my realisations that what the universe was actually teaching me is that I cannot change anymore the things that are beyond my control. It reminded me that I truly needed to accept the challenge to make a change so I can move forward. And that Option No.1 is never an option at all to begin with.

(Click HERE to see my entry for GREENLAND)

3rd attempt, just a little bit :(

I was reminded that I can be anywhere and still be happy, that I can drop good things and still turn out alright, and that I will not be lonely for too long. Every pain is just temporary but we cannot avoid it. And for us to surpass it is to experience it to the full rather than struggling vainly against it. Because emotions weren’t created to just lie around…We have to feel all those things to the maximum.

Don’t resist it, don’t even try to stop it. Doing so is just prolonging your suffering.

Sooo, when I had these reflections, I spoke to the universe that I am taking back my challenge, that I don’t need it to give me a sign anymore because it is too obvious what I had to do – ACCEPTANCE. So since I’ve accepted my fate then, I’ve just asked the universe to just please show me the *fookin* lights then, lol!

Then as soon as I got back to Iceland, that same night, the universe showed me the Northern Lights! (Madali naman pala kausap, lol!)

Smiling at my 4th attempt! Green, blue, purple, and even red lights! Thank you, universe!

4 thoughts on “Iceland: Challenge Accepted!

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