Iceland – Vík To Höfn

Continued from Part 1.

From here, we headed east along the Ring Road. We took a few short stops during our drive, but one was extra epic. There was a gravel road that ran off of the highway and we decided to follow it. Thankfully, we had a 4×4 vehicle because this drive was bumpy. We inched along bump by bump until we flattened out into a parking lot. We had made it to Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður, a beautiful fjord that offers glacier hikes and an incredible view. We did a quick change of outfits and were so excited about our find that we had to bust out some dance moves.

Fun fact: This glacier was one of the landing spots for the first aerial circumnavigation of the world in 1924.

Along the highway, on either side of a bridge, you arrive at Diamond Beach. Jökulsárlón lagoon carries mini iceburgs out to the sea from the Breidamerkurjokull glacier giving incredible photo opportunities who want to capture the beautiful, blue-clear ice shining against the black sand. It definitely earned its namesake, in terms of looks. While we were enjoying the view, one seemingly brave individual unzipped his jacket to reveal a wetsuit and grabbed a surfboard from his vehicle. He ended up just snapping some photos of himself with a remote-controlled camera.

That night, we stayed in Höfn, a small harbor village. We got some subs with local fish and ice cream before calling it a night. My cold was really acting up and I sat outside in the Airbnb’s common area doing my best not to keep everyone awake with my coughing. Extra strength menthol cough drops were my lifeline during this trip. Those and bags of sweet chili pepper Doritos. As the night went on and I tried to make myself tired enough to sleep through my cough, I was looking at the My Aurora Forecast app to see if we had any chance of seeing the northern lights. It was too cloudy the entire time we were there, but there was some magnetic activity in the area that night.

The next morning, we drove up to the Viking Cafe, near the Vestrahorn mountain. For 800 Icelandic Króna (ISK), you can visit an abandoned viking village movie set, an easy walk from the cafe. You’re free to roam the grounds and explore, but by the time we reached the settlement, the rain and snow had picked up and we were getting pelted and drenched, cutting our exploration to just a brief run through.

After we made it back to the car, we took a short drive to the Stokksnes area – a gorgeous beach with dramatic views. Between windstorms throwing sand at us, a frigid breeze, and more snow, we managed to have an outfit change and take my favorite photos of the trip. I’m cutting this paragraph short because I cannot find words to describe Anna’s work here.

For our trip back, we stopped at the same Airbnb in Vík as our first night (where I once again tried to stay up until the middle of the night to have a chance at seeing the northern lights) and revisited Reynisfjara. Along the road to the beach is the Loftsalahellir Cave, which you can get to after a steep, muddy climb. We snapped a few more photos and continued on. We had to drop Anna off at the airport before Rachel and I continued to Reykjavik and then the north.

We were one small slip away from being covered in mud trying to get here.

The Ring Road is essentially the only way to traverse most of Iceland. There aren’t secondary or tertiary routes to follow, so if something happens on route 1, it happens to everyone trying to drive on that section. We ended up in a long standstill that resulted from a car crash a few kilometers ahead. Rumor was (I spoke with a lady that had a badge so I believe her) that the family had to be evacuated by helicopter, though I never thoroughly followed up on the story to see how valid that was. Nothing pops up on Google, so I have to assume the incident was minor. We eventually got through and dropped Anna off at the airport, saying our goodbyes and heading off for the second half of our trip.

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Iceland – Keflavík To Vík

Our Roadtrip Around The Southern Half Of The Island Nation

Rachel responded to a post she saw on Instagram from a couples photographer who was looking to go to Iceland and invited a couple along to split the cost in exchange for a photo shoot. This was how we met Anna.

I knew of Iceland and it had been recommended to me by several friends, but as someone who despises the cold, it never climbed high on my to-go list. Oh boy, how that has changed. I would go back anytime now.

We flew into Keflavík Airport in mid-March, nearing the end of winter. You basically have two seasons in Iceland – winter offers the best chance to see the aurora and summer gives you the midnight sun and the longest days to explore the country with.

I was feeling a bit under the weather. A cold had been spreading around my workplace and had finally gotten to me right before we left for the trip. It would end up sticking with me for nearly two months before we left for a trip to Cancun.

Anna had been to Iceland a number of times before so she was all prepared to load us into our rented Kia Sportage, hook up a transportable WiFi device (I definitely recommend renting one for ~$10/day) and start driving us away from the airport. It’s a lot of barren land between Kevlavik and Reykjavik, the nation’s capital and largest city. Barren land and roundabouts. I still hear “take the second exit towards Hafnarfjörður in my head from our drive back to the airport.

Seljalandsfoss.

Driving on route 1, the highway known as the ring road because it makes a circle around the island, we were essentially making a U around the bottom half of the country. Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, where we found a number of beautiful waterfalls and fell on our butts traversing the slippery ice. The drive around here was awe-inspiring; your jaw drops as you pass mountain after mountain, waterfall after waterfall, each location more beautiful and impressive than the last.

Right outside of our Airbnb.

For the first night, we stayed near the town of Vík, the southern most village in the county with a population of about 300. We stayed in a cute little room that was nestled on a farm off the main highway. We were met by a nice woman and her black labrador, let into our room, and from there we planned our excursion. We headed into town to grab a veggie burger platter from the gas station (this would become a recurring theme) and stopped by Reynisfjara for a quick visit to the famous black sand beaches and basalt columns to shoot a few photos. As we strolled along the beach, everyone was heading up the beach, towards the parking lot. Before I could realize why I was the only person close to the water, a sneaker wave engulfed my legs, soaking my bottom half. I was lucky enough to maintain balance, but my boots and pants were drenched and I had to leave them to dry for the next two days. There are a myriad of signs warning of the dangers of sneaker waves and I just happened to be the person not to heed them.

The wave got me just a moment after this.

The next morning, we woke up early and took a (very) quick hop down the road to visit Skógafoss. This wonderful waterfall (“wonderfall,” if you will) is visible from the road and a big tourist attraction, which makes waking up early a must. As we approached, we really felt the power that the fall had. It was loud and grew exponentially the closer you stepped. We ditched our jackets and Anna snapped some great pictures that captured our modest selves juxtaposed against the height of the falls. There was a steep staircase that took you to an observation platform for another vantage point. [Continued in the next post…]

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Taking A Road Trip To Toronto – Pt. 2

Continued from Pt. 1

Despite dorming with seven other guys, it was pretty easy to get access to the bathroom. I took a shower, got dressed, and set off for some breakfast. The first thing I got excited about (I was a little too visibly happy about this) was all of the black squirrels running around. In the mid-Atlantic, where I’m from, all of our squirrels are brownish grey. It was cool, okay…

Now, I’m one of those people that will walk a million miles to get somewhere. “It’s not that far.” Sorry to those of whom I’ve traveled with. Mapquest has a really neat feature where you can put in the addresses of a bunch of places you want to go and it’ll route you the most efficient path. So I plugged in a bunch of landmarks I was interested in and got a little map to use. Two of the places – the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum were a little out of the way, so they were going to be “if there’s enough time afterwards” places to check out.

Strolled by this fountain in Berczy Park on my way to the CN Tower.

I headed towards CN Tower to see about doing the Edgewalk around the top of the building, but at around $200, it was out of my budget. Nonetheless, it was a cool and there were banners around celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Nearby were the Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre (since renamed to Scotiabank Arena,) home to the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Maple Leafs sports teams. Just around the corner was my next stop, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Entry was $20 plus the program I got with it. I don’t remember how much extra that was and I’ve since lost it, so we’re going to pretend like that just didn’t happen. This place is a must for any hardcore hockey fan and still really fun for the casual fan too. Between the displays of equipment through the ages, memorabilia from the Olympics and Miracle on Ice, and of course a few Wayne Gretzsky shrines, there was plenty of stories and stats to get lost in. My favorite section was the temporary exhibit of goalie masks even if they didn’t have a display for Olaf Kölzig, the Washington Capitals goalie I grew up watching. Towards the end, you come into a room that displays the trophies won by the best defenseman, best goal scorer, and the coveted Stanley Cup.

By the time I left, it was the afternoon, which means a socially acceptable time to have a drink. Outside of Steam Whistle Brewing is a pretty neat train display and a lot of people wandering around. A middle-aged gentlemen with a walker asked me to help him get across the train tracks that were running through the sidewalk. I gave him a quick assist while I listened to him speak in the most stereotypical Canadian accent I have ever heard. He was incredibly polite and spouted out a few “eh” and “aboot”s during our brief walk together. We wished each other a good day and I headed inside the brewery for a tall pilsner. Despite it being a Saturday, most of the people in there looked like they were coming right after work, dressed up a little and chatting like colleagues more than friends.

They made the grey/green aesthetic work.

After my mid-day cap, I continued on to check out Old City Hall and (new) City Hall to get a picture of the Toronto sign. I passed through St. James Park where I saw a bunch of people walking their dogs around with little boots on their feet. I somehow managed to arrive at the Toronto sign and snap some pictures just moments before two tour buses rolled up and a few dozen people poured out to take over the area. Somewhere in the mix of things I had strolled into St. Lawrence Market. I didn’t get anything to eat, but I did enjoy a lot of people watching and the sights and smells of the market. Just observing is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.

Around dusk, I took a walk along the waterfront and stopped for dinner at The Goodman Pub. It was pretty empty so I sat at the bar and I had a much better experience than the reviews for the place suggested. The only weird thing was a woman at the end of the bar ordered a beer with ice cubes (since going to Thailand, I’ve learned that it’s not completely uncommon.)

My late night exploring took me through the shopping district, back around the CN Tower, which was lit up with various colors, and back towards my hostel. I had put some mileage on my pedometer so going to bed was welcomed. Remember my normal looking bunk mate from last night, well now it’s a short, chubby, older guy that has decided to get ready for bed wearing nothing but a very revealing set of briefs. Please don’t have nightmares about that image…

I was able to snap a few pictures before the tour buses unloaded.

When I woke up, I checked out and grabbed a chai latte and muffin from Starbucks. Carlton was written on the cup. I chuckled. When I got to my car, my GPS wouldn’t turn on after a few minutes of trying. No big deal, I had just arrived two days prior so I just used memory to get back to Queen Elizabeth Way – a straight shot back to Niagara Falls.

I wanted to spend some time on the Canadian side of the Falls, so I found some parking and started walking around. This side was much better than the American side. There were tons of restaurants, bars, arcades, things to do, and people venturing around. Was it because it’s a weekend day or is this all the time? Let me know in the comments if you’ve had the same experience. The Canadian side also affords you a visit of the horseshoe falls, the most famous of the falls here. I got a few pictures in and stood in awe at the amount of water that dumped over the falls, it’s incredible.

My phone still wasn’t working, so I stopped in a café to pull up their Wi-Fi and try to map my way home. I put together a plan to get me back one city at a time, using Wi-Fi at the different stops. This plan was going to add 2-3 hours to my former plan, but there was no way I’d get back through countryside New York and Pennsylvania without Apple Maps. As I approached the border guard, he asked me the standard questions and after I answered them all, he told me to turn off the car and pop the trunk. I complied and this guy took a solid few minutes to rip apart my trunk. It was empty, save for a few tools, a blanket, and my spare tire. He let me go without much of a courtesy. Eventually, when I got near the NY/PA border, my service came back. Turns out, the phone bill was past due so once I got that situated, everything went back to normal.

I was a little grumpy because of the phone situation and border guard leaving my trunk a mess, otherwise I would have spent some more time on the Canadian side of the falls and probably more time in Toronto before leaving. I’ll be back sometime, hopefully sooner than later.