Friday, December 27, 2013

Visiting the Final Resting Place of a Hero: Jimi Hendrix's Grave


Growing up, my dad made sure I had a rich, cultured, and thorough knowledge of music.  We listened to the whole gamut: classical music, opera, grass roots, and of course, rock.  My dad is a huge fan of 60's and 70's rock, particularly the kind with wailing, intricate guitar riffs and solos.  Some of our favorites were Cream, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, to name a few.  Oh yes, and Jimi Hendrix.  Good ol' Jimi!

In the summer of 2011, I weaseled in on a family road trip with my neighbor, Jana, and her two kids.  We decided to head down for some touristy fun to Seattle, Washington.  It was a total blast - Jana is just like me in that she likes to see everything and anything an area has to offer while visiting.  One of the things we learned about the Seattle region is that you can go visit the grave site of my former guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix, in a little town called Renton just south of Seattle.

tomb of Jimi Hendrix Seattle
During a trip to Seattle, I got to visit the grave site of one of my teenage idols.

Before driving through Renton, I'd had the chance to stroll through the extremely interesting EMP Museum in downtown Seattle.  The EMP Museum, or "Experience Music Project" Museum, is dedicated to Seattle-based musicians who made a mark on the music industry during their rise to fame.  Nirvana was naturally a main feature, and so was dear old Jimi.  It was cool to walk the aisles of the exhibit and see Jimi's personal collection of guitars, some of his more famous and flamboyant outfits, and read some of his own handwritten notes about music.  It was also the perfect way to gear up for a quick jaunt out to his tomb to pay my respects.

One of Jimi's more famous outfits - no, the color has NOT been photoshopped!

One of Jimi Hendrix's smashed guitars at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

Renton, as stated before, is just south of Seattle, about a 25 minute drive from the EMP Museum if you want to hop right to it after visiting Jimi's exhibit. Once you enter Renton, you are looking for the Greenwood Memorial Park, on 350 Monroe Avenue NE.  (If you have a GPS, it comes in handy for sure!)  There are no major signs or billboards - the cemetery looks just like any other, so don't rely on guideposts to help you find your way.

The Hendrix family tomb in Renton, Washington, just south of Seattle.

Once you reach Greenwood, you will then be able to locate Jimi's grave quite easily.  His plot is a family plot, and his tomb is a giant stone gazebo filled with etched pictures and lyrics from his songs.  Jimi is buried with all sorts of members of his family, although naturally his tomb is the biggest and most prominent.  It is free to enter Greenwood and to pay your respects to Mr. Hendrix, so don't worry about visiting an ATM first.

One of the beautifully etched plaques that guard Jimi's grave.

For those younger people who don't know much about Jimi Hendrix, here is a quick breakdown: Hendrix was born in Seattle and became famous for his experimental and influential guitar playing (think "Purple Haze" or his riotous version of "Star Spangled Banner").  He is considered one of the greatest songwriters and musicians in American history.  He is also, sadly, part of the "27 Club", a group of fast-living, hard-partying rockers who seem to meet tragedy at the age of 27.  When Jimi was 27, he died in London, England after suffocating on his own vomit following an overdose of barbiturates.

Me beside the tomb of Jimi Hendrix.

For me, it was an honor to stand at his grave site and leave a token for myself and for my father, who first introduced me to his music.  I know it might be a macabre task to accomplish during a family summer vacation, but the significance for me was more reverent than morbid.  I am glad that I had the chance to visit!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I've Changed my Mind about Hostels


While planning last summer's trip through Iceland, I made a point of writing about why I disliked staying in hostels - the dormitory-style beds, shared bathrooms, lack of privacy, and the possibility of stolen possessions all made hostels sound horrific and "too young" for an older traveler like me. (I'm aware being in your early 30s is not OLD; but nor am I in the college crowd era anymore.) While finding a 'home away from home', I like the privacy and security of my own hotel room, or at least my own tent.

However, I must say, my opinion of hostels has changed greatly since our trip to Iceland.  Hotels are difficult to find in Iceland - they book up nearly a year in advance for the summer season (usually by big travel companies who reserve entire hotel floors at a time in anticipation of tour groups and cruises).  Hotels are also expensive, and quite rare.  It is much more simple to find accommodation at a 'guesthouse' - read: hostel - than it is to book a hotel room in Iceland.

hostel living room Iceland
The shared sitting area in Hvammur Guesthouse in Hofn, Iceland.  Not too shabby!

In order to save money and to make life easier, while planning for Iceland I just gave up and booked us a room at Guesthouse 101 in Reykjavik for our first three nights in Iceland.  It was a semi-hostel set-up: we have a private room, albeit with separate beds, but shared bathrooms and kitchen/sitting areas.  It was the best I could do considering all of the hotels I had looked at were full (and I was booking in March for a trip in July).

hostel Guesthouse 101 Reykjavik Iceland
Our tiny but private room in Guesthouse 101 in Reykjavik, Iceland.  

I still don't like the idea of sharing rooms with strangers (I snore a little, I drool, and I'm also hella-sensitive to other people's little sounds and movements, lights, etc., which wake me up), so this set-up I could live with.  We had privacy, could lock up our possessions without jamming them into a tiny locker, and I could sleep in my undies should I so choose.  I was alright with that.

hostel bathroom Iceland Hvammur Guesthouse
The shared bathroom in Hvammur Guesthouse - nicer than expected!

I even discovered I actually ENJOYED some aspects of hostel life.  I liked the shared kitchen and the freedom to cook your meals.  Dishes were provided so we didn't have to worry about lugging around a picnic basket filled with plates and utensils.  As long as you cleaned up after yourself, all was well in kitchen-land.  I also liked the chance to sit around and meet people and chat - people seem more open and willing to converse when in a hostel versus when in a hotel restaurant or lobby.  While staying in a hostel in Hofn, Hvammur Guesthouse, we sat down and ate a lovely breakfast together with a wonderful couple from Denmark, who offered to do a house-swap with us next summer.  They had a cute two-year-old who didn't understand why we couldn't understand her - next summer we'll have a 6 month old (who could be fun to take to Denmark...)

hostel kitchen Iceland Hvammur Guesthouse
The cheerful and well-stocked kitchen in Hvammur Guesthouse where we dined with a Danish family.

Another hostel we stayed at while in Vik, Hostel Lunda, was hoppin' with people from all over the world as well.  We met a young geologist from the United States who was in Iceland to work on her doctorate regarding the thermal activity on the island nation.  She was fascinating to listen to, as she'd been to Iceland at least twice before, and knew of some really cool locations to explore if you were curious about geothermal hot spots.

So here is my hostel run-down:

Pros:

  • Hostels are extremely cost efficient, much cheaper to stay in than hotels. Sometimes not by much, but still, a penny saved...
  • Hostels are usually available at the drop of a hat. We booked in Hostel Lunda and Hvammur Guesthouse about 10 minutes before being shown to our rooms.  Unless you are visiting Iceland off-season, that probably won't happen with a hotel.  Some hostels have more to offer than others: Hostel Lunda didn't provide blankets on their beds, just sheets, but that didn't matter to us as we'd been camping all over Iceland and had nice, comfy sleeping bags to curl up in.
  • Hostels are great places to meet people from all over the world - the open, shared atmosphere of a hostel lends itself much better to conversation than an individualized, compartmentalized hotel
  • Some hostels even provide you with food.  Hvammur Guesthouse in Hofn offered us a stocked fridge for a very tasty breakfast, including cheese, bread, milk, juice, fruit, cereal, and lots more. It was nice not to have to pack in our cooler or worry about going breakfast shopping in the morning.

Cons:

  • There is little to no privacy, depending on your type of hostel. It is great if you can get a private room, and lots of hostels offer those, but still, you are sharing showers and toilets, which isn't the most hygienic.  The walls of every hostel we stayed in were very thin, so you had to keep conversations low. (And if someone doesn't keep their conversation low, they can potentially keep everyone else in the hostel awake all night.  That happened to us a couple of times.)
  • Along with the thin walls and chatty people, comes the annoyance of hearing people come and go at all hours, or smelling their cooking at all hours. In a hotel, with thicker walls and carpets, you might not notice this as much (and you really wouldn't notice the cooking as most hotels don't do the kitchenette thing anymore).  If you are a heavy sleeper - bonus!  Hostels are for you! I am a bit of a light sleeper, so I didn't get the greatest sleeps while staying in the hostels.
So I leave it up to you. Are you a hosteler? Or a hoteler? I am proud to say that I am both - depending on the circumstance!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Snorkeling Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal, Mexico


Way back in May of this year, my husband and I visited Akumal in Mexico for his brother's wedding.  We were only in Akumal for about four days due to my work schedule, but we managed to pack a lot in while there, including the wedding and precious family time.  One of the alternate activities that we tried was snorkeling in some of Mexico's natural areas, including one hidden gem called Yal-Ku Lagoon.

things to do in Akumal Mexico, snorkeling in Akumal, snorkeling in Mexico
The beautiful natural area of Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal, Mexico.

Originally, I had wanted to go snorkeling in Akumal Bay, where according to other blogs and websites, there is a plethora of free-swimming and wild sea turtles.  That sounded amazing to me, so my husband and I grabbed our personal snorkeling gear, called a cab, and headed out towards Akumal Bay from our hotel, the Gran Bahia Principe Tulum.  As we chatted with our cab driver, he suggested the nature preserve of Yal-Ku as it is quiet, not touristy, and an area where locals go to do some sunny-day snorkeling.  Always a fan of what the locals suggest, I agreed.

Yal-Ku is located a little bit past Akumal Bay, but in the same general vicinity, just off the Playa Akumal exit on the 307.  We drove through a little village with a deeply rutted alley and cute shops selling locally-made wares - along the right-hand side I could see Akumal Bay peeking out from between buildings.  Then we turned left and left Akumal Bay behind us, and made our way to Yal-Ku, which is a small lagoon connected to the ocean via two narrow channels.  Yal-Ku is a small and beautiful government-protected nature preserve that houses many specimens of fish and ocean vegetation, unique because it is the site where the salty waters of the Caribbean meet with the fresh waters of the Yucatan.  While you snorkel through the lagoon, you can literally see the layer where the fresh water rests atop the salt water.

things to do in Akumal Mexico, snorkeling in Akumal, snorkeling in Mexico
Preparing to 'go deep' while snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon.

Our cab driver, thrilled that we had followed his suggestion and chosen Yal-Ku (and certain that we'd like his suggestion much more than any trip to Akumal Bay), offered to wait for us to do our snorkeling and then take us back to the hotel.  He asked for $60 US, which included the cab ride from the Gran Bahia, an hour and a half wait, and the ride back to the hotel.  This seemed reasonable to us, especially since Yal-Ku is a tad bit in the middle of nowhere and we weren't certain how easy it would be to find a cab to get home. We agreed, and he happily made his way to a car wash to clean the cab while we snorkeled.  Maybe we got ripped off, but frankly I didn't care - it was nice to know we'd have a ride ready and waiting for us when we were done.

The entrance fee to Yal-Ku is $12 plus the cost of equipment - however, we had our own snorkeling gear so I can't tell you exactly what the rental rates are.  You can check out a great informational website for Yal-Ku here. You must shower before entering to get off any hairspray or sunscreen (they want to keep the water as pristine and chemical-free as possible, and the oil and grease residue from sunblock is not good for the fish).  There are lockers you could rent to store your belongings - we didn't do that as Yal-Ku really is a hidden gem and there were hardly any other people snorkeling with us. Instead, we took our belongings with us to the bay-side and left them on a bench.  Nobody touched them.

things to do in Akumal Mexico, snorkeling in Akumal, snorkeling in Mexico
Yal-Ku Lagoon is protected by the rough ocean waves due to its limestone formations.

From the entrance, you must walk down some beautifully manicured pathways to reach the edge of the bay.  There are many ladders and platforms that allow entrance to the water dotting the edge of the bay - simply find a relaxing area to sit and prepare for your dive.  Iguanas were everywhere - sunning themselves on rocks, eyeing your bags in case you brought food, or skittering across the pathways ahead of you.

things to do in Akumal Mexico, snorkeling in Akumal, snorkeling in Mexico
An iguana suns itself in Yal-Ku Lagoon's secluded beach area.

Unfortunately, there are no turtles in this bay (and if you do spot one, consider yourself lucky, for it is a rarity), which I found to be the only disappointment.  However, there were tons of tropical fish and surreal looking rocks and inlets.  At first, the water seemed really murky and I was worried we'd see nothing, but then I realized I was swimming right in the slipstream where the fresh water met the ocean water.  Once I reached the calmer edges where the limestone rock formations created a natural barrier, things really cleared up and I was able to see some amazing sights.  In fact, it is recommended that people snorkel in Yal-Ku Lagoon on days when the ocean is rough (rather than Akumal Bay) because the rock formations block the waves and keep the lagoon calm and smooth.

I don't know my tropical fish varieties very well, but we did see plenty of different, colorful, and curious fish.  One for sure that I knew was a needlenose fish - a few of them followed us around for awhile, maybe hoping for a treat (which we didn't give - it is forbidden to feed the fish at Yal-Ku Lagoon).  Most of the fish schooled inside the limestone rock cracks and crevices, and we found it was a fun game to poke our heads inside to see what was there.

things to do in Akumal Mexico, snorkeling in Akumal, snorkeling in Mexico
A friendly needlefish joins Joey and I for our afternoon of snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon.

We snorkeled for about an hour and fifteen minutes before running out of steam.  We didn't know it at the time, but I was pregnant and therefore fighting occasional bouts of nausea. After spending extended time in the ocean water, the salty taste would begin to make me feel sick.  In reality, an hour or so of snorkeling is probably plenty anyway.  We happily packed up our gear, found our cab, and headed back to the hotel.  I highly recommend visiting Yal-Ku Lagoon if you want a nice afternoon of peaceful, successful, and stress-free snorkeling.

things to do in Akumal Mexico, snorkeling in Akumal, snorkeling in Mexico
The clear waters of Yal-Ku Lagoon allow for some great marine life sightseeing.

Next time, however, I'd like to try Akumal Bay so I can see some sea turtles!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Iceland's Skaftafell National Park & Svartifoss Waterfall


There are three national parks on the island nation of Iceland.  The biggest, Vatnajokull, is made up of three 'former' national parks, combined to create one large park in 2008.  Vatnajokull National Park is the central portion and features the Vatnajokull glacier, Jokulsargljufur makes up the northern portion, and Skaftafell National Park rings the southern edge of the park and features some amazing natural features and waterfalls.

map of Iceland's national parks, Vatnajokull map, Skaftafell map
National Parks of Iceland

During our summer trip along the southern coast of Iceland, my husband and I had the chance to explore Skaftafell Park.  We were headed back to Reykjavik after driving the Ring Road to Hofn, then turning back. We'd skipped a visit to Skaftafell on our way east due to heavy, thick rainfall and intense fog.  Upon the return trip, we were determined not to miss the opportunity to do a little hiking and exploring.  It was a still a bit rainy and gloomy, but the clouds were patchy and the rain wasn't consistent, so we opted to give Skaftafell a shot.  We pulled into the parking lot, located about 30 seconds off the Ring Road (approximately 4 hours east of Reykjavik, or 50 minutes east of Kirkjubaejarklaustur).

I'm so glad we did!  As soon as we stepped out of our rental SUV, the clouds broke and the rain let up.  The sun peeked out and shot out a few weak rays - good enough for us! We bundled up in several waterproof layers (just in case), packed some water bottles, and headed inside the visitor center to find the best route to the Svartifoss waterfall, which is one of the main highlights of Skaftafell National Park (er, the former Skaftafell National Park - let's just pretend it's still a national park for the sake of this article and so that I don't have to keep side-noting this fact.)

Hundafoss waterfall Skaftafell national park, national park Iceland
Joey stands above the precipice of the Hundafoss waterfall in Skaftafell, Iceland.

Inside the visitor center, there are lots of books on Iceland, the park, glaciers and natural history, but not so much maps of the trails.  You could purchase a book on Skaftafell which featured a map section, but it wasn't cheap and we weren't interested in book-shopping that day.  There was also a store for sweaters and hiking materials, and a small cafeteria - but no trail maps!  I was a little bummed, particularly after perusing the 'museum' section of the tourist center that told the sad, sad tale of some missing and dead hikers.

Since you know I'm a morbid person deep down inside, you know I'm going to share that story with you now.  According to the placard inside the visitor center, two British undergraduate students from the University of Nottingham, Ian Harrison and Tony Prosser, came to Iceland to study the glacier Morsarjokull in 1953.  On August 2, they completed their measurement tasks of Morsarjokull for the day, and decided to do a little recreational hiking up to the peaks of the Oraefajokull glacier.  It was a nice day when they set out, but the afternoon brought strong winds and snow that lasted for 10 days.  The men did not return.  Search missions turned up nothing, and the hikers were presumed dead.

In 2003, a group of hikers discovered decrepit and rotting hiking equipment on the Skaftafellsjokull glacier, moved down the mountain by the flow of the outlet glacier.  The equipment's style dated back to the 1950s. No human remains were ever recovered, but it was assumed the equipment had belonged to the two unfortunate British students.  That same equipment is what you can find on display in the Skaftafell National Park visitor center - and the display is pretty powerful once you know the story.

Equipment found in 2003 in Skaftafell that once belonged to two missing British students.

Therefore, the main moral of the story was, from my interpretation: don't go hiking if you're not prepared and know where you're going.

Which led me full circle back to the case of the missing hiking maps in the visitor center. If anyone from said center is reading this... c'mon!  Just a basic brochure with some pretty colored trail maps is all anyone needs. One page.  Folded.  Easy peasy.

Luckily, outside the visitor center on the path towards the campground, there stood proud and tall a sign indicating all of the trails - where they began, where they led, and their level of difficulty.  Using my trusty iPhone, I snapped a quick pic of the trail sign, and that is what we used to guide our hike.  (Turns out, in the end, it is really easy to navigate Skaftafell park and really, trail maps aren't necessary.  But I wanted to tell you my tale!)

Svartifoss waterfall Skaftafell national park Iceland
The hiking trail to Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell, Iceland.

Hiking in Skaftafell is free.  The only cost associated with the park is the campground fee if you choose to stay overnight, and anything you might want to purchase in the visitor center.  Once Joey and I had found the entrance to the Svartifoss trail, off we went with the sun shining on us and not a raindrop in sight.  It was perfect!  The trail up to Svartifoss is relatively easy - I struggled a little being 4 months pregnant and getting used to some weird changes in my body.  But it was nothing I couldn't handle, and young kids and the elderly were passing me with ease, so I'm guessing the trail wasn't considered hard at all.

Hundafoss waterfall Skaftafell National Park Iceland
Hundafoss watefall in Skaftafell, Iceland. Quite beautiful!

We stopped to catch our breaths (okay, I stopped to catch MY breath while Joey waited patiently) at a pretty waterfall called Hundafoss.  From a rocky outcrop near Hundafoss, we had a spectacular view of what lay beyond Skaftafell National Park, on the other side of the Ring Road.  Desolation.  A black, barren lava field edges right up to the lush green forests of Skaftafell, and the juxtaposition couldn't be any more startling.  I loved it.

A view across the park and on towards the barren lava fields beyond.

Next up on the trail, after about 15-20 minutes of hiking, was the amazing Svartifoss waterfall.  I'd seen pictures of this natural wonder online, but seeing it in person was so much better.  It's not exactly the waterfall that is incredible, but the unique rock formations all around it.  Large, towering volcanic basalt columns ring the waterfall and make it seem as if Mother Nature built a fortified rock fence around her precious cataract.

You can hike down to the bottom level of Svartifoss, but you can't get right next to it due to trail restrictions.  Not that you'd really want to - the water is icy cold.  But standing in the belly of the cavern is very cool, as you are surrounded by these fantastic columns and can feel the misty spray of the falls on your skin.

Svartifoss waterfall Skaftafell National Park Iceland
Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell, Iceland - check out those basalt columns!

If you are so inclined, you can also hike across a bridge and up the other side of Svartifoss.  This trail then continues on to other parts of Skaftafell.  I was pretty winded by this point, and having seen my main goal, was ready to head back.  We were on our way back to Reykjavik and didn't have a lot of time to spend in the park, which was unfortunate, but I was glad we'd seen Svartifoss and had had the chance to hike in the first place.

Enjoying the beauty of Svartifoss!

If we'd been able to spend more time in Skaftafell, perhaps a couple of days, there is no shortage of things to do.  Other than hiking in the forested trails, you can hike on and alongside the glaciers (on your own or with a guided tour), visit Lac Polaire, or even take a small airplane ride above the glaciers with the Atlantsflug tour company.  And I'm sure that's only the tip of the iceberg!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

12 More Travel Quotes to Inspire You


Last year I posted an article that featured 50 of my favorite visual travel quotes, mostly taken from Pinterest but a few created by yours truly.  It has proved to be one of my more popular posts - people love to be inspired by wise words about adventure and personal growth!

Over the last year, I have slowly been collecting an assortment of other great travel quotes to add to my repertoire.  Rather than pilfer Pinterest, I have attempted to create my own visuals to go along with these inspiring quotes. (Mine are watermarked with my blog URL so you know which ones I've created.  All visuals created by me were done using my own photography.)  Please enjoy these 12 'new' favorite quotes and feel free to use them at your leisure!













Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Majestic Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon of Southern Iceland


While researching the beautiful country of Iceland to determine what activities and sights were within driving distance of our planned route along the southern coast of Iceland, and which were affordable or worth the cost, I came across some fantastic photographs on Pinterest of a place called Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. (Please don't ask me how it is pronounced - I truly massacred the Icelandic language when trying to sound out any word I encountered.)  Carved 100 meters deep into volcanic rock, and ranging at least 2 kilometers, this canyon is an impressive sight indeed.  I instantly added it to the itinerary.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
The beautiful Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in southern Iceland.

Then I had to figure out how to find it.  There wasn't much online, so I am now dedicating this post to helping others experience this majestic feat of nature.

Despite my troubles finding information online, visiting Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is very easy.  It is located approximately 2.5 kilometers off the southern Ring Road, just down a slightly bumpy country road, and is free to hike. There is no camping or place to stay directly nearby, but luckily the Canyon is only about 10 minutes away from the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur (we camped there twice since their campground is very nice).  There are signs advertising the canyon, but they are not large or very obvious.  If you have a GPS system, use it!  Simply take the F206 road to Lakagigar (locals call it the Laki Road), and drive just past the Hunkubakkar guesthouse.  When you get to the canyon, you'll see a sign advertising your arrival, and a bridge that crosses the Fjaora River responsible for the canyon's creation.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
Joey stands atop one of the peaks - just a little nervous!

The canyon is cut from a type of volcanic rock called palagonite.  Its rocky walls tower over the relatively small Fjaora River, and are covered in vibrant green mosses and vegetation.  A hiking trail leads you from the tiny gravel parking lot up the hill, and then along the edge of the canyon.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
A view from Fjaorargljufur Canyon looking down.

The trails are marked, and it is obvious that Iceland is doing its best to preserve the canyon.  Trails that previously cut along the very edges of the canyon have been closed, and newer trails have been created further into the flatter and safer portions of the canyon's boundaries.  When we examined the older trails, we found they cut very deep into the land, and erosion was beginning to use the older trails to slice the canyon into bits.  I understood why the trails near the edge were closed - with further wear and tear, collapsing canyon walls, extreme damage, and possible fatalities were inevitable.  Even so, it was hard not to venture, every now and then, to the edge of the drop-off for a few amazing photo opportunities.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
Trying to capture how deep the canyon is, and how beautiful!

We could have spent all day hiking in Fjaðrárgljúfur.  There are two possibilities for hiking - along the river's edge at the bottom of the canyon, and along the southern top portion of the canyon.  The northern edge is fenced off - the land within the fenced boundaries was dotted with grazing sheep who hopefully know better than to wander too far to the edge.  My husband and I hiked a bit at the bottom of the canyon, but knew that the better and more scenic views awaited us up top.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
What the Fjaorargljufur Canyon entrance looks like from below.

If you find yourself driving the southern stretch of the Ring Road near Kirkjubaejarklaustur, wiggle some time into your schedule for a hike through Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.  You won't regret it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Coastal Town of Vik, Iceland


The Ring Road around Iceland, although shown to be 'skirting' the coast on a map, is in reality quite a distance from the actual coast line.  While driving the southern portion of the Ring Road (Route 1 if you want to be formal) from the capital city of Reykjavik, my husband and I first glimpsed the ocean from the road as we neared the town of Vik.

coastal town of Vik Iceland bird's eye view
The town of Vik, Iceland, shrouded in mist.

Vik is a charming town.  Other than the larger town of Selfoss, located about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik's city limits, there are no other major stops along the southern Ring Road for groceries, hotels, or other amenities until you reach Vik.  After camping in Iceland's unseasonably chilly weather, we were happy to chug into Vik and find ourselves a warm room for the night.  Using our wonderful GPS system, we mapped out the various hotels in town and starting checking them out.  As I have said before, hotels in Iceland are expensive, and Vik is no exception.  After getting quoted over $200 per night at a couple of different inns, we found Hotel Lunda and agreed to stay in their hostel portion for about $110 per night - the cheapest place we could find other than the campground. (It was supposed to pour buckets that evening, so we did not feel like camping again.)

Once settled in our room in the hostel, we decided to explore Vik for the rest of the afternoon.  Joey found a golf course that wrapped around the black sand coastline, and so he opted to golf for the remainder of the afternoon while the weather was still holding.  He golfed 9 holes for about an hour and a half for $40 CDN and had a wonderful time - he would like me to add in this post that he highly recommends it for any avid golfers out there that read my blog.

black sand beach Vik Iceland
Exploring the black sand beaches of Vik, Iceland.

While my hubby golfed, I decided to explore what the town of Vik had to offer.  First, I drove up to the cute church that overlooks both town and ocean from atop a windy bluff.  Known as Flatanger Church (or simply as Vik Kirke) this building is situated perfectly with an amazing vista.  It was closed when I arrived, but I sat happily on its front stoop, munching on a granola bar, and just enjoyed the incredible view of the ocean and the fascinating peaked rocks jutting from the surf.

Flatanger Church Vik Iceland
Flatanger Church in Vik, Iceland.

After staring longingly at the beautiful and mysterious-looking beach, I decided that was my next stop.  Down the hill I puttered, and maneuvered my rental SUV to one of the sandy parking lots that dot the Vik beach.  Made of the same glittering, black lava sand we found at Jokulsarlon, the beach looked strangely desolate and haunting, but at the same time very beautiful.  The looming Reynisdranger rocks - known as the "Sea Stacks" - speckle the horizon, sprouting from the sea like giant trolls.  Indeed, the legend is that three giant trolls found a three-masted ship and decided to haul it to shore, but instead were caught by the rising sun and turned to figures of stone where they stood.

The sea stacks of Vik, Iceland.  Image via pinterest.com

The next day, we back-tracked a little bit down the Ring Road to the Dyrholaey Nature Preserve.  This national treasure is home to many thousands of nesting puffins and other sea birds.  I had never seen a puffin before, so this was a very exciting morning for me.  Pathways line the coastal cliffs, and it is strictly forbidden to walk off the paths as the entire area is a nesting ground for puffins, and has been for years and years.  There is no cost associated with visiting the Dyrholaey Nature Preserve, but visitors are asked to respect the natural area in return for Iceland's generosity.

puffins Dyrholaey Nature Preserve Vik Iceland
Puffins line the cliff at Dyrholaey Nature Preserve near Vik, Iceland.

It was spitting a misty rain during our stay at the Nature Preserve, but we didn't mind.  The rain encouraged the puffins to zip to and fro from their cliffside nests, out to the ocean where they fished for dinner and then returned with their prizes to their homes. Puffins look round and awkward when roosting in the grass, but they fly with a surprising amount of grace.

puffins Dyrholaey Nature Preserve Vik Iceland
Puffins, puffins everywhere!  I loved them - they were so cute!

Besides ogling the cutie-pie puffins, we also had the chance to hike around the rocky outcroppings that separate the nesting areas from the black, pebbled peach.  I had read about the natural formation nicknamed the "Arch of Dyrholaey" that I wanted to find - but then we found two naturally ocean-carved arches, and were unsure which was the true 'Arch of Dyrholaey'.  Later on, back at our hotel, we were able to distinguish between the two.

Arch of Dyrholaey Vik Iceland Nature Preserve
Is this the Arch of Dyrholaey at Vik, Iceland? Nope...
Arch of Dyrholaey Vik Iceland Nature Preserve
The real Arch of Dyrholaey. Photo via because mine is blurry and gloomy from the rain.

The gloomy day and heavy fog made it difficult to take really stunning pictures of the views or truly capture the beauty of the area.  We did our best, though, and enjoyed hiking through along the beach, exploring all the nooks and crannies in the rocks carved out by centuries of waves.  Eventually, the misty rain permeated our clothing and we had to escape to the confines of our warm SUV.

Dyrholaey Nature Preserve rock formation Vik Iceland
More strange rock formations at Dyrholaey Nature Preserve near Vik, Iceland.



map Dyrholaey Nature Preserve Vik Iceland
Driving directions from Vik (A) to Dyrholaey Nature Reserve (B) - thanks to Google Maps!
I really do wish we'd had better weather with which to explore the area of Vik.  There were so many other places that I wanted to explore, but due to the rain and heavy fog, locals advised us to just save our gasoline as we wouldn't be able to really see anything.  Places we missed that were on my list included the beach at Reynisfjall, which features some really stunning basalt rock formations, and the Myrdalsjokull glacier, which features somewhere under its depths the active volcano Katla (set to explode 'any day now' according to scientists - in fact, the townspeople of Vik practice regular volcano-related evacuation drills. A little freaky if you ask me).

basalt rock formation Reynisfjall Vik Iceland
The basalt rocks at Reynisfjall, which I didn't get to see.  Image via

Vik was definitely a lovely stop on our Iceland tour - I wish we'd been able to see more but I'm very happy with what we did manage to take in! What else did I miss in Vik?  If you've been there or know someone who has, let me know what else this enchanting town has to offer in the comments section below! :)