Iceland Part 1: Reykjavík, Waterfalls, Hot Rivers, Vík

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

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Thursday morning, J and I arrived at Keflavíkurflugvöllur (KEF Airport). A fairly empty private bus dropped us off at a bus station, and we transferred to a shuttle that brought us into Reykjavík. In the scenery around the airport, I felt like I had landed on the moon. As we got closer to town, I saw numerous black rabbits frolicking by the stream at Elliðaárdalur park.

We couldn’t check into the AirBNB until the afternoon, so we lugged our bags around town in search of lunch. Due to errors on TripAdvisor, we ended up eating at a lackluster Thai restaurant under the assumption that it was a well-rated noodle shop at the same location.

Our first meal was also the first taste of the high prices for food in Iceland. If a Thai visitor had looked at the menu, I imagine their eyes would make a boinging sound when popping out.

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The beautiful Hallgrimskirkja.
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Inside the church.
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Organ.

We killed more time at a popular coffee shop until it was time to get the keys to our place. The AirBNB was spacious and tastefully furnished with modern furniture. The unit was on the ground floor of a complex of brand new buildings. They were so new that they showed up as a construction pit on Street View, and the outdoor landscaping was still being finished.

At 5PM our alarm ended a nap, and we went to explore the city.

We quickly covered the main shopping streets, Hallgrimskirkja church, Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, and the old harbor. We stopped and ordered four wieners from the original stand of Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. I didn’t find them to be all that special, even with their signature blend of three animals.

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Government building.
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Icelandic Deco.
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Backyard table.
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Hospital escape route.
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Tear van.
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Chipped.
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Patchwork.
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The hottest dogs in town.
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Glutton.
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Where the warehouses are.
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Dry dock.
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Hole.
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Overkill.
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Hipster fish.
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The friendly shrimp people inspecting their net.
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Emblem.
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Touring.
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J and the mound.
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Harbor view.
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I found my door.
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Just like home.
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Who am I to disagree?
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El Gatito?!
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Car barrier.

Reykjavík was neither as beautiful or interesting as we expected it to be. Most of the buildings were made of metal or concrete, with a basic design. Utilitarian. Even with blue skies, it felt dreary. It felt more like a ski town than a capital city with two-thirds of the country’s population.

J and I bought groceries and walked home. She retired at a reasonable hour, and I sat listening to music and browsing on the fast internet until 2AM.

When I went to bed, the sky was still light.

Friday, we ate filling bowls of asian-inspired chicken at Noodle Station, then walked to City Hall to check out the scale relief map of Iceland.

The massive map was beautiful, and it was fun see the topography we’d be driving around in a few days.

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Delicious soup.
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Stacked.
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There goes the neighborhood.
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White and yellow.
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The mega map.
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Another map view.

We met an old friend from Chiang Mai nearby, and caught up over coffee. Both parties had plenty of adventure to talk about.

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Canopy.
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Reunited.

After parting ways, J and I walked across some major roads and up a woody and wild-flower covered hill to the Perlan. The building was a bizarre and fairly pointless construction atop four water towers, but the view was free and good.

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Overpass.
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Hill path.
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Flappy.
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Inside Perlan.
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DNA.
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Dome.

To save time and walking distance, we walked along the busy Bústaðavegur Road to Elliðaárdalur. It was past lunch, but the route had no sources of food. Searching our maps revealed no sources of food either. Hungry and tired from the walk, we crossed through the park, up a hill, and to a gas station Subway at an exit from the 49 highway.

Full of one foot of sandwich between us, we walked back into the park in search of rabbits. We explored both meadows and woods on the lush island between the two channels of the river, but we found no rabbits. I was sad about that, but was happy about the pretty scenery.

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Where the rabbits should have been at Elliðaárdalur.
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Empty factory.
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Tree maze.
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River.
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Into the woods.
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Lupine.
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Baby robin.

On the highway, we caught a bus into town for 350ISK/$2.5 each.

At 11:30PM, the sky showed hints of peachy sunset. But again, it never got darker.

J and I struggled to keep our eyes open as we waited for our friends to arrive. At 2AM, we were reunited. With black out curtains drawn, we all went to sleep at 3.

At 9AM on Saturday, J and I made rooster crows to wake everyone up for our walk around town.

We paid 600ISK each to go to top of the church tower. The view was excellent, and we enjoyed seeing a ball of human hair rolling around due to the drafts. At noon, the church bells deafened us.

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Excavation nation.
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Panels.
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Hairball made from clocktower winds.
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Looking down.
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High view towards the domestic airport.
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Mystery key.
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Personal mural.
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The white raven.
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Flower child.
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A face-sized pastry.
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Dog of the steps.
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A recently discovered Viking house.
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Dried fish.
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Shoes inside the flea market.
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Mad props.
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Glassy.

While walking around town, it became obvious that we didn’t need any more time in the Big R. We changed our rental car reservation to a day early and were picked up in a van by the concert hall.

By 2PM, we were on the road in a shiny copper brown Ford Fiesta, standard transmission.

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Our car.
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Our first taste of driving. Big dot is Reykjavík, with stops at Hveragerði, Selfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Vik, and Thingvellir National Park.

Southward, we quickly left civilization and entered sulfur-smelling lava fields. We passed mossy lava, geothermal power plants, and all sorts of piping. The landscape was barren and surreal.

Back at sea level amongst lots of greenery, we stopped at Seljalandsfoss to get misted while walked behind the falls. As we circled back around, a rainbow was visible at the base.

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Mossy lava rock.
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Small climbers, big hill.
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Heading behind Seljalandsfoss.
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Looking up from behind the torrent.
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Looking back at the misty path.
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Rainbow.

Further down the road, past the pastures of Iceland sheep, horses, and cows, we stopped and walked to the top of Skógafoss.

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Even smaller hikers.
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Scenic farmland.
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Skógafoss.
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Lil’ selfie.
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View from above.

We arrived in Vik at dinner time. J and I ordered expensive burgers and pizza (about $20 each), while our friends splurged on the even more expensive lamb menu. My bottle of delicious Icelandic porter cost around $8. Ouch.

Since it was still light outside, we stopped at Black Sands Beach and watched the puffins fly from their roosts above the basalt columns. They are ungraceful birds.

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Vik barn.
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View from the hill.
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The church.
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Sun falling on the way to Black Beach.
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Basalt buddies.
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Pebbles.
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I’ll be the judge of that.

We returned to the apartment at 2AM.

Sunday, everyone slept until 11AM.

Our destinations for the day were the hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs. It was around 3.5 miles to the section of stream set aside for bathing. We found a nice spot away from most of the people and climbed into the naturally warm water. We relaxed up to our necks, using a rock dam as pillows. Upstream, people changed in and out of their swimsuits.

Dark clouds formed over our idillic valley, so we hiked back to the car. My flip flops performed well on the crumbly trail.

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Map.
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The hike begins with great enthusiasm and excessive gear.
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The gorge.
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Falls.
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One of many steamy pits.
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Many of many steamy pits.
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The bathing area.
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A in the warm water.
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Hot mud.

We ate lunch in Selfoss, then drove in a loop to Thingvellir National Park and back into the Big R. It was windy and cold.

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Vast view.
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The empty road.
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Cave hut.
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The photography team.
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Thingvellir Church.
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Chasm river.
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Glowing wildflowers.
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A sprawling valley view straddling tectonic plates.

Most of the restaurants were closed by 10PM, and we ended up eating at a sad Danish-themed restaurant with small $10 bowls of lamb soup.

We tried our best to get to sleep earlier, but failed.

Monday morning would have an early start to the next phase of adventures. Our friends were off to trek around Monte Blanc, while J and I were going to pick up another friend and begin our drive around Iceland.

But the latter is a story for the next posts.

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