Iceland – March 17, 2016 (Day 1)

Mar 17 – Drive Map (click to see the map)

Learning to use WordPress & this is my very first blog … The emphasis is on photography and pictures rather than on words.

I landed at the Keflavik International Airport from Seattle at around 0915. Going though customs and immigration was a breeze. I didn’t have to fillout any forms – just showed the passport and walked to Baggage Claim. I was picked up by my cousins Indu, Bala, and Susheela who had flown in the previous night from Bangalore/India and Singapore. Bala had rented a rather beat up silver Jeep Grand Cherokee the previous day and we loaded the car and went to the Rental Car place to add me as the 2nd driver as you have to pay extra to include a second driver to the rental car agreement.

Our first stop on the way to Reykjavik was the beautiful Kálfatjarnarkirkja  church surrounded by lava fields in the town of Vogar.

Kálfatjarnarkirkja WP
Kálfatjarnarkirkja (64.015479, -22.295551)

Almost all the churches we visited in Iceland including this were locked and we walked around it and shot a few images. Most likely the churches are open only during the summer.

We then drove to Reykjavik in search of a grocery store to grab snacks, fruits, veggies for the next 2-3 days of the trip. We found a Bonus (a grocery store chain in Iceland) near the highway. After 30 min of shopping, we checked into Fosshotel Baron at Noon. The hotel’s location is terrific and close to restaurants, nightlife, and Hallgrimskirkja. The rooms were small compared to US standards but comfortable. A tip: Get a room with a view of the water. After taking a shower in a sulphur infused water, we walked to Kryddlegin Hjortu, a very good reasonably priced restaurant that had a good vegetarian/vegan friendly menu. After a healthy consumption of soup and salad, we returned to the hotel to start the afternoon tour of Reykjavik.

The fist stop was at the Sun Voyager sculpture (Sólfar), a block from the hotel on Sæbraut. It is a big Viking ship steel-sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason (1931-1989) and a reminder of Iceland’s history and heritage when the first Viking settlers landed. Below is the picture of my cousins at the sculpture with a breathtaking background.

Trio in front of Sólfarið
Sólfarið – The Sun Voyager (64.147549, -21.922406)

Then we drove northwest to Seltjarnarnes (a suburb of Reykjavik) to checkout the Grotta Lighthouse. Not as colorful as a lot of lighthouses in Iceland, this was the first one we encountered. As usual, the sun was playing hide and seek and winds blowing at 30 mph or so. From the parking lot, there is a very good trail to the lighthouse and we saw a lot of families with kids and dogs on the trail. Tip: This is a very good spot in Reykjavik to view Aurora Borealis in winter.

Grotta Lighthouse WP
Grotta Lighthouse (64.162907, -22.015875)

After spending about 45 minutes around the area, we drove back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at a small mostly frozen lake called Tjörnin in downtown. From the western shores, you can experience a beautiful view of Reykjavik downtown.

Tjörnin WP
View from the Western Shore of Tjörnin (64.144652, -21.944834)

We returned to the hotel from Tjörnin and dumped the photography stuff (2 bags and a tripod) in the room and walked to a very good high end Indian restaurant in Reykjavik, Austur India Fjelagid. The choices were rather limited but the food was excellent.

At 10pm we were picked up for an Aurora Borealis (AB for short in future pages) chase as the forecast was reasonably good. We chose to go with a tour as we were lazy to track the weather and drive on our own. It cost us US$50/person. A more expensive option is go in a Super Jeep tour that may set you back $150/person but you don’t have to deal with 50 others and these Jeeps can go to certain spots where the big coaches can’t. The cheapest option is to drive on your own but you should know where you should go and be prepared to deal with snow/icy road conditions in the middle of the night. The big coach drove us north on Route 47 that runs parallel to the Hvalfjörður fjord. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy. The tour guide told us a lot of stories and history about Iceland that were both educational & entertaining. We stopped twice to look for AB with no success. We were finally dropped back to the hotel around 2am without seeing AB. The tour companies generally give you a free ticket for another chase but we couldn’t make use of them as we had other plans. We had a short sleep that night so that we could start on Day 2 activities bright and early.

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