The land of Ice and Fire – A brotrip to Iceland
Omitri and David’s brotrip to Iceland
Visiting Iceland during winter time might not sound as the most logical choice to make for a one week trip. With the possible harsh conditions and the small time window of daylight, it would scare off most people. Through earlier experience, backpacking through the Scandinavian countries all up to the most northern parts, we knew Iceland also had to be amazing, even in winter. We just couldn’t wait!
2016-12-04 Góðan Daginn
Leaving in the early morning from Brussels to Amsterdam airport and saying goodbye to our girlfriends, who also deserve a special notice because they were so friendly to drive us all the way up to Brussels and Amsterdam, we took our flight to Reykjavik.
After three hours we heard the long awaited Icelandic sentence coming from the pilot: “Ég óska ykkur öllum góða dvalar á Íslandi!”
David almost getting eaten by a troll at the airport
At around 3 P.M. we arrived at the Rent.is camper rental office to pick up the campervan to start our first ‘camper van brotrip’ ever!
The reception in the rental shop was very friendly. The ‘Rent.is’-guy behind the counter took his time to explain us everything about the car and the do’s and dont’s on the road in Iceland. He was also very helpful, giving us direction to get some food because we hadn’t eaten all day and were starving!
The car looked exactly like on the website. Brand new and everything inside was nice and clean. It is ingeniously designed to fit everything you need for a comfortable trip through Iceland.
Read more: What’s included in your campervan rental
First stop: Reykjanesbær!
Since we arrived for the week with only carry-on hand luggage, we didn’t have any supplies. So the first thing we had to do was to shop for groceries.
Let’s start by sending out a small warning to all foreigners on a budget, who want to go shopping in Iceland: It can get expensive really fast! Only buy what you really need. That being said, Icelandic shops do offer a big variety in quality food and drinks and you’re not tied to one brand. You’ll surely won’t starve and if you pick smart, you can save a lot of money.
After getting what we needed, we went to the fast food restaurant next door (What a luxury!). Since the menu was completely in Icelandic without any translations, we just went ahead and ordered some unknown kind of burgers and french fries.
We soon discovered that Icelanders, being famous for their hotdogs, also know their way around the kitchen to make an awesome variety of hamburgers. Fresh and tasteful!
After all preparations were done, we were faced with the fact that during winter time in Iceland, the sun shines for only about 5 hours. At 4 P.M. it started to set already as we arrived at the coast of Reykjanesbær. Still, the view was amazing and we went for a little walk.
Tourists as we are, we soon discovered a free to visit boat (The Baldur) and couldn’t resist taking a look on deck.
Omitri on the Baldur boat
Coast of Reykjanesbær
Coast of Reykjanesbær
A little further away we discovered the cave of Skessuhelli and thus came in touch with Icelandic folklore as we found it was the home of a huge (sleeping) troll, accompanied with explanatory signs in Icelandic as well as in English.
Visiting the cave of Skessuhelli
After our walk, we did what every tourist does: Visit Reykjavik.
We were lucky to find a parking spot close to the center that we didn’t have to pay for, since it was Sunday and after 6 P.M. when we arrived.
Due to the, for us, unexpectedly- big amount of tourists, it was quite crowded from time to time but the mood in town was friendly, happy and relaxed. There even was a small ice skating area and Christmas market in the center, with beautiful Christmas decorations all over the place.
Omitri even found Santa’s mailbox!
Reykjavik Ice skating area Reykjavik Christmas market
Icelandic Santa’s mail box Statue of Leifur Eiríksson and the church
We also visited a Church and took a picture at the statue of Leifur Eiríksson, of which we would learn a lot about during our trip through Iceland.
As it was starting to get late, we decided to leave Reykjavik for now and get to our first camping spot: Þingvellir (Þjóðgarðurinn á Þingvöllu), National Park.
It took about a half an hour drive to get there, during which it started to rain, but since we were in a comfortable car it didn’t bother us at all.
Read more: Campgrounds open all year around in Iceland
After a few minutes, driving out of Reykjavik, the street lights stopped and it got really dark. Luckily, we adjusted fast and that darkness was something we’d quickly get used to. However it didn’t seem so at first, not having any lights around would later turn out to be a blessings as we experienced the most beautiful night skies we’ve ever seen.
But since the gods decided to make it rain on Sunday night, there wasn’t much to see that night.
We found ourselves a good parking spot, had some food and tried out our beds and sleeping bags in the back of the van for the first time. Since both of us measure little over 6 feet we were a little weary of the fact that we’d be able to stretch ourselves completely, but to our big surprise and joy we could! How awesome was that!
What a big difference from our previous trips to Sweden and Norway, where we were hiking through the lands with our backpacks and tents.
We now had a nice, heated car and a comfortable bed that was actually long enough and broad enough to get a nice rest for the night!
Inside the van
2016-12-05 The Golden Circle
Our first goal of Iceland was to do the Golden Circle. This famous route is done by many tourists, and today wasn’t any different. We were waked by a guard from the Þingvellir National Park. Apparently, we weren’t allowed to camp inside the National Park. So watch out folks! After we paid our debts (the regular price for camping inside the park, on designated areas), it was time to go.
The Golden Circle consists of some beautiful scenery, including the National Park itself, Geysir, the Gullfoss waterfall and many more. The weather was great so there were a lot of people. In December, the days are short and the nights are long. During the day, it seems like an endless sunrise all day long.
Strokkur geysir doing what it does best
Our best Icelandic friend at 1PM
Halfway the Golden Circle, we decided to make a little detour and go east. First stop was Selfoss, quite a big city. As darkness was already falling, we went for a little bite. An Icelandic hot dog as appetizer, followed by a footlong sandwich, delicious!
David enjoying an Icelandic hot dog + happy tourists!
We continued our journey on the famous Hringvegur, or Ring road, passing several viewing points including the Seljalandsfoss waterfall and the Eyjafjallajökull.
The Seljalandsfoss was beautiful as it was lighted up during the night time. We were even able to walk behind it. Rainproof jackets are mandatory though!
Read more: What to pack for winter camping in Iceland
Hours later, arriving in Djúpavogshreppur, it was time to set up our camp for the night. The area was very cloudy and it was raining, so there was almost no chance for us to see the Northern Lights that evening. It was time for our second night in our camper van. We thanked the gods (and Rent.is 🙂 ) for our heavy duty sleeping bags.
2016-12-06 Winter and Northern Lights
After a good night sleep, we were ready for day three. Today we would continue our route on the ring way. There were remarkably much less tourists and people in general on the east side of the island. The moon-like landscape was also much rougher, as were the roads. The fjords were beautiful and oh so quiet. We even spotted some reindeer! The weather was typically Icelandic, it changed every 10 minutes.
Omitri checking out the fjords Our camper van
Slippery roads, thankfully our camper van is equipped with snow tires
After driving for a few hours and enjoying the view, our noses were suddenly attacked by the smell of rotten eggs. Yes indeed, it was time for another geothermal field, Námafjall! This field was massive, with lots of smoke. David noticed another place where there was smoke, behind a mountain. We decided to make a little detour and check it out. It was a geothermal power plant, which was special to see, since we do not have these kind of things in Belgium.
To our surprise, while driving back to the Ring road, we discovered a shower! It was constantly providing hot water, which was a blessing since we’ve been on the road all day. It was a special experience, hitting the shower in the freezing cold.
The power plant’s hot water road shower
David enjoying the smell at Námafjall The power plant
After a quick stop in Akureyri, making some phone calls to our significant others, we searched for a spot to see the Northern Lights. The long December nights are an excellent chance to see the them. David’s brother Andy had seen it multiple times, so we were excited to see it ourselves. Thanks to our free Wifi in our camper van, we could check multiple sources, including the Aurora Forecast. Andy was our main source, providing us with detailed information about chances to see the Northern Lights. Our area was supposed to be cloud free around eleven, so we searched a nice dark parking spot. And although it was freezing outside, our wait was suddenly rewarded, there were the Northern Lights! They were beautiful, and they were even dancing. It was magic, the perfect end to a perfect day.
The Northern Lights!
2016-12-07 Black sand, waterfalls and a glacier
This morning at around 10:30 A.M. we arrived in Blönduós. The black sandy beach and quiet environment provided the perfect setting to relax and come to oneself. We took a walk on the breakwater which provided a nice scenic view of the town.
View of Blönduós
As we went along, we saw many fascinating things, but the most remarkable was the change in landscape as we approached the western part of the country. The frozen winter tundra made way for rocky planes, heavily overgrown with green moss and patches of bushes and trees.
Western Iceland landscape
We drove up the Glanni-Paradis road, parked our car and went out to do a little sight seeing. Since we hadn’t checked out this place online (we were just following the signs), we didn’t really know what to expect. We just knew that we found ourselves in front of a closed visitors center and were all alone on the parking spot. But no way that was going to stop us from exploring!
We hiked along a muddy trail and discovered a very beautiful rapid water waterfall.
Alone at the Glanni-Paradis parking with an amazing view
David enjoying the view at the Glanni waterfall
After soaking up the atmosphere we got ambitious and decided it was a good idea to drive all the way up to a glacier. We left the ‘1’ and went up the ‘50’ to visit the Langjökull!
Or at least, that’s what we hoped to do. On our way to the glacier we saw some interesting viewing points, as Deildartunguhver and the Hraunfossar waterfalls, but as we didn’t know how long it would take to get there exactly and daylight time was limited, we decided to stop there on our way back – if possible.
But Freyr, the weather god, was not on our side.
After an hour drive, we saw that the road changed into a F-road, which in Iceland means 4×4 only, and on top of it, it started to rain and it got very foggy.
No, it was not our brightest idea to try and take that road. And, yes, we did give up on our try to reach the glacier as the conditions of the weather and road got too bad to continue on safely.
To everybody reading this: As Rent.is warned us, we also do STRONGLY advise AGAINST taking the F-roads if you do not have a 4×4, even if they seem to be in a good condition at the beginning. They WILL GET BAD and you will have to turn around eventually.
They F-road to the Langjökull looked good at first, but gets bad really fast
On the other hand, it did give us the opportunity to stop at our previously passed viewing points, in daylight.
Horses along the road to the Langjökull Hraunfossar waterfalls
As it was soon going to get too dark to see any more landmarks, we decided to continue on to Reykjavik to enjoy the city by night.
On our way over we both agreed to adjust our traveling schedule. Originally we planned to get the car for 4 days and the other remaining days we’d stay in Reykjavik. But we had such fun along the way that we wanted to spend more time traveling around. Omitri made a quick call to Rent.is and without any problems they arranged that we could rent the camper van until the end of our trip. Thanks guys!
With time on our hands, instead of going straight to Reykjavik, we went to the Laugarvatn Fontana, one of the famous Icelandic hot springs, and enjoy a nice long relaxing evening.
Taking pictures wasn’t forbidden, we’ve seen several people do it, yet, to us it did feel a bit uneasy to photograph people enjoying a bath. So no pictures here.
Afterwards we had to drive quite a while before we found a good spot to sleep. We drove all the way back to the ‘Day 2’ Seljalandsfoss waterfall and as our car rocked back and forth in the wind that night, we had a good night rest.
Eventually it turned out we didn’t have to drive all the way up there to find some good spots, but we seem to have have missed them in the dark.
2016-12-08 Following the Vikings
For those who know little of Iceland, most of the places we mentioned won’t sound anything familiar and the one thing you know Iceland for you probably can’t pronounce right and neither did we.
But today was the day we got to see the Eyjafjallajökull vulcano!
We didn’t talk about it before since we passed by it at night our first time around, but now daylight was on our side. Being so close to it once again, we couldn’t resist and went to take a look at the visitors centre.
Thanks to the signs outside we did manage read all about the volcano and were able to spot it, though we did feel a bit disappointed because it was closed..since November.
One of the info signs at the Eyjafjallajökull visitors centre
We continued our trip by driving back to Hvolsvöllur, to visit the Saga Center museum, but once again.. It was closed. No opening hours, no signs. Nothing.
In front of the museum there was a rock with a sword embedded into it. Was it a Viking version of the Arthur sagas? Did we have to pull out the sword to prove we were worthy to become Vikings ourselves? The sword didn’t bulge.**
What was going on? Since failing the ascent to the Langjökull everything didn’t seem to go 100% right anymore. Were the gods punishing us for failing? We had to find out!
The sword in the rock in front of the Saga Museum at Hvolsvöllur
On the outside wall of the museum we found a map marked with the Saga route and a lot of viewing points. Omitri took a picture of it, studied the map and we decided on what route we were going to follow. Thus we took our first steps of the Saga quest.
After a little drive we encountered some Icelandic horses who seemed to be really happy to meet us. We took their friendship to heart and after feeding them some grass from the other side of the fence, we continued our way.
We decided to stop at every viewing point and got to see the many beautiful landmarks, waterfalls, canyons, and so on, until we encountered a sign telling us the road became impassable.
We stepped out of the car to have a check and conditions didn’t seem bad at all, but having learned our lesson before, we turned the car around and looked for other ways to continue our trip.
David and Omitri getting greeted by horses Following the Saga route
Beautiful View Points along the Saga route
Of all the beautiful things we had seen and discovered, there was still one thing we hadn’t done yet: Learn about Iceland and it’s history.
Next on the trip: Back to Reykjavik to visit the Aurora Museum and the Saga Museum
At the Aurora museum you can learn everything about the Northern Lights. From the origins of the myths, to the real science.
Hundreds of years worth of collected Northern Lights in the secret storage at the Aurora museum
At the Saga Museum we took a trip through history: From the discovery of Iceland to the first settlements, the Icelandic Middle Ages and the lives of the most famous figures and their gods.
We finished our visit by dressing up as Vikings and having a little sword fight.
Omitri fighting a polar bear
If you have the time, we really do recommend to visit both museums. Though it wasn’t forbidden, we didn’t take many pictures inside out of respect for the other visitors and because we were so fascinated that we, kind of, forgot it.
After our visits we went to the city centre to shop for some gifts and then left towards the swimming pool where a running contest was organized. Omitri took on the challenge! However he didn’t finish on the podium, he did finish in the front runner group (104 of 404 participants). On his first visit to Iceland, on unknown territory and without preparation? That certainly deserves some credit!
Omitri somewhere in between the runners walking to the start at Reykjavik
That night we didn’t stray too far off from Reykjavik as we found a nice and quiet place to eat and sleep on a dark side road just five minutes away.
**Just kidding, we didn’t touch it, but it sounds cool right?
2016-12-09 Until the light takes us
Today was our last day on this magical island. There was only one more point left on our checklist, visiting the Blue Lagoon or Bláa Lónið. As we had already enjoyed the Icelandic baths on Wednesday, we had no plans to hit the most famous spa in Iceland. But the area was worth visiting! The water was clear blue, it was almost like paradise, hadn’t it been from the awful smell. After a walk through the area, and getting a little lost, we returned to the entrance of the Blue Lagoon. There were lots, and I mean lots of people! After a quick look in the shop, it was time to head back to Keflavik.
The Blue Lagoon
We decided to dig a little deeper into the life of Leifur Eiríksson and his friends by visiting the Viking World museum. We learned lots of interesting stuff on how Vikings lived, on how they were buried and much more. We also saw the replica of the Gokstad viking ship, the Íslendingur, which was used in 2000 to sail the exact route as 10 decades ago, to commemorate Leifur Eiríksson’s trip to the lands now known as Canada. There was plenty to do in the museum, it even had a chess game. Final score of the afternoon: 2-0 for Omitri.
We were getting hungry again and decided to go to the place where we first ate, the fast food restaurant in Reykjanesbær. Since it would be our last meal of the trip, we went all in and chose the family menu. Four burgers, french fries and a 1,5L bottle of coke. The cook was a friendly and funny guy. He asked us if we wanted cucumbers on our burgers, referring to the cucumbers as ‘these guys’, because he didn’t knew how to translate it. It was hilarious, and delicious! And yes, we finished it all!
Our last stop was the Museum of Rock. It contained tons of information about Icelandic music. There is clearly more than Björk and Sigur Rós! There was even the opportunity to hit the drums and guitars ourselves, even though the guitar had one string missing.
After rocking out, it was time to clean up and prepare for our journey back. We parked on a parking space along the road to the airport and started cleaning up. We still had a whole evening to go, so after checking our favourite website (the Aurora forecast), we decided to go south of Keflavik, because there was a good chance of Northern Lights, and the southern area was supposed to be cloud-free.
We ended up in a dark place, and it was a geothermal field! One of the biggest we saw during our trip. And apparently, we were favoured by the gods, because after some waiting, there were the Northern Lights again! They were even more beautiful than Tuesday. We continued driving around the area looking for clear skies, and the Lights came and went. They were definitely icing of the cake for the whole adventure!
Our last glimpse of the Northern Lights
2016-12-10 Sjáumst síðar
We got up very early this morning to start packing our stuff and cleaning the car. Our flight to Amsterdam left at 6 A.M. so there wasn’t much time to waste.
It’s cliché, but we really didn’t feel like leaving. The end of the week came too soon! There was still so much to explore! But deep down we knew.. Iceland had given us everything we wanted and more and we were very grateful for everything we had seen and experienced.
3.000 kilometers away our girlfriends were anxiously waiting for our return and we have to admit we were looking forward to seeing them again too.
At the airport, we had to commemorate Rent.is once again, as they send somebody to their shop at 3 A.M. to wait for us to turn in the car. We’ve been to a lot of countries and this isn’t a service you can find just anywhere.
Before we boarded we took one final look around on this mythical island of fairies, trolls and Vikings and we knew that this would not be our last visit.
We’ll be back! Sjáumst síðar!
Read more: Winner of CamperStories November 2016
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