Skaftafell Glacier, Iceland

Ring Road Trip Around Iceland: Hike to Skaftafell Glacier

Curving alongside the southeastern tip of Iceland lies the immense Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap outside of the poles which has over 30 glacial tongues sliding down its mystical ice mass to the volcanic ground. A drive around the Ring Road passing the “Glacier of Lakes”, the Icelandic translation of Vatnajökull to English, is a magical, wondrous journey. It is a drive that encompasses some of the most spectacular glacial scenery on earth passing by nostalgic Icelandic farms with everlasting green, Icelandic horses, glacial tongues falling from the sky, the black sand beaches of Vik, the waters of the sea and the dreamy glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón with its sensational icebergs floating harmoniously atop its aquamarine waters. The South of Iceland is so incredibly striking that it feels like a dream.

We left Jökulsárlón around noon continuing our incredible drive south along the Ring Road. I had remembered this very drive from 13 years ago when I first came to Iceland and was mesmerized by her beauty. At each bending turn, one is rewarded with an enormous frozen valley of ice jetting off from the ice cap down into the black, hardened lava fields and dead gray sand.

If it is a cloudy day which is frequent in this part of the world, the view is even more fantastic and mystical. At times it looks like the ice cap rising above is floating high up in the sky like a cloud. It is such an impressive sight that the drive took us double the amount of time to account for each and every stop along the way to take photos of these mammoth glaciers. The glacial tongues seemed to be everywhere and go as far as the eye can see. I continually had to pinch myself to see if I was really there in such an unbelievable place, in a world that is still in the process of being created.

South Iceland

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Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Travel During the Pandemic: A Visit to Jökulsárlón

I rose late after a restless night of endless tossing and turning and worry. The perfect trip that I had planned for our family to Iceland had been drastically altered. I tried to think about the options and the “what if’s” over and over again, spinning circles in my head. The more I tried to research everything online, the less answers I found. I felt like we were in one big mess and there was no easy way out.

We were still in Höfn, with two days left in our Ring Road Trip itinerary. We were in a bit of a pickle as there was no way for me to get back without riding in the rental car with my family who all tested negative, and it would take a minimum of six hours to drive all the way back to Reykjavik. We had already paid for our hotel in Vik and had two of the best days planned of our trip ahead. The only solution we had was to go on with our trip as planned, and try our best to distance me from the rest of the family and not go near anyone outside of our family for the next three days. I layered up in three masks, only left the room to use the bathroom once the whole car was packed up and we set off with all four windows open, heading to our next destination, Jökulsárlón.

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Travel during a pandemic: When things go wrong

We were seven days into our ten-day Ring Road Trip around Iceland when our long-awaited family trip turned upside down. That morning, after a lovely hike along the waterfalls outside the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður, we loaded up our rental car and set off for what was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: A two day visit to the majestic South.

The South of Iceland is so magnificent that most tourists simply fly into Reykjavik and head straight there. Nowhere in Iceland has such immense beauty and hypnotizing magic. Home to the mighty Vatnajökull Ice Cap encompassing 12% of Iceland’s territory, the South of Iceland is graced with endless glacial tongues dripping down to the plains, countless waterfalls, evergreen farmland and stunning seashore all wrapped up in one surreal place.  It is so insanely beautiful that it takes your breath away.

I will never forget my visit 13 years ago, when my father and I first went to Iceland and set off from Reykjavik heading south along the Ring Road to Vik and ending in Skaftafell National Park. I had fallen in love with the South of Iceland and this time, thirteen years later I’d be back bringing my family to this incredible place. I knew exactly where I’d take them, what views we would see and what hikes we would do. Little did we know, our special family trip would soon turn upside down.

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A Stay in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

Nestled at the bottom of the rugged Fjarðarheiði mountain pass at the end of a long, narrow fjord in Eastern Iceland is the magical coastal town of Seyðisfjörður. Given its remote location (it is about a two and a half hour drive east from Mývatn and another 3 hours to the more popular town of Höfn), and its unique surroundings, we were in for a real treat. It was our sixth day in Iceland following our Ring Road family trip adventure, and we had just spent two fantastic days in Mývatn and Krafla exploring its volcanic wonders. Now it was time to enter into a fairytale world of endless waterfalls, lush green mountains and blue sea as far as the eye could see.

We arrived in the late afternoon, down a long, serpentine, gravel road, pulling out of the clouds and into lush green valley and fjord that surrounds the village. It wasn’t hard to find our hotel or the center of town given the compact size of Seyðisfjörður. Yet instantly we were charmed by the lovely, colorful wooden buildings for which Seyðisfjörður is known for. Since Seyðisfjörður is quite small, many travelers simply pass it by. However, if you love taking a hike and having literally the entire mountainside to yourself followed by world-class Icelandic dining, then a night in Seyðisfjörður is definitely something you should do and highly recommended.

Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

First glance of Seyðisfjörður

Seyðisfjörður Iceland

The tongue of the long fjord

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Iceland: Two days in Mývatn and Krafla, Iceland

Day Five of our Ring Road Trip around Iceland found our family of four arriving early afternoon at Mývatn Lake, probably one of the most geologically fascinating places I’ve ever been in my life. By this point in our trip, we were all a bit exhausted with all the driving and moving around. We had already slept in four different places, drove over 758 kilometers and had not been in one place for more than a night. (Here is our route and stops via google map since we left Reykjavík).

We had visited an active volcano, raced through the capital, and drove hours on the Ring Road barely having a moment to catch our breathe. Then finally we pulled into the tiny village of Reykjahlíð, located on the shores of Lake Mývatn in the north of Iceland, and we were at peace.

After a delightful lunch of fresh cod at the quaint Gamli Bærinn, we headed around the lake to our lovely apartment, the Stella Rosá, which was the best place we stayed at during our entire trip in Iceland. It was utterly a treasure of a find and the perfect place to base ourselves for the next two days in Mývatn.

Before booking our trip, I honestly had no idea that Mývatn Lake combined with neighboring Kafla, was such an absolutely surreal place. I had only known that it was a recommended stop along the Ring Road Tour and thankfully it was the only place we allowed ourselves two full days. There is so much to do, see and explore there that we could have almost used another day. It ended up being one of my favorite places in Iceland because of all the incredible sights together in one place. We often felt like it was the closest place to being on another planet all together.  It is that surreal.

Entering the lava fields feels like walking on the moon….

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A Hike up to Iceland’s Newest Volcano: Fagradalsfjall

On July 29, our family of four took our first trip out of the country since before the pandemic to the magical, surreal landscape of Iceland. I had first visited Iceland back in 2008 with my father and was spellbound by her unearthly beauty and astonishing mystique. While I had wanted to return to this phenomenal country and explore it more, the idea quite frankly did not pop back into my head until late in the Spring when our family had all been fully vaccinated and heard the news that Iceland with its small population of roughly 368,792 hearty souls was welcoming back vaccinated tourists. As someone who follows travel news closely, Iceland’s clever tourism pitch got my attention.

Icelandair has long had direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavík, and to meet the increase in demand, Delta Airlines also launched a non-stop flight from my home town airport as well. The flight to Iceland from Minneapolis is roughly six hours. The only downfall is that the flight is too short to really get any sleep and the time change is a difficult five hours ahead meaning jet lag was going to be an issue that first day. The good news is we would have nine full days to adjust.

The route from Minneapolis to Iceland takes you directly over Greenland. The view was jaw-dropping!

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Jökulsárlón Northern Lights. Photo credit: Tom Archer

Discovering Iceland with Hidden Iceland’s Small Sustainable Tours

There is perhaps no other more mystifying place on earth than Iceland. Known as “the Land of Fire and Ice”, Iceland is home to extreme geological contrasts being blessed with some of the largest glaciers in Europe and also some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Iceland’s extreme beauty has captured the world’s attention making this small Nordic country one of the hottest tourist destinations in the the world. Many travel companies have opened up shop to support the growing tourism industry especially in a sustainable, responsible way. Hidden Iceland is one small tour company that is breaking the way in sustainable travel.

I went to Iceland in the summer of 2008 filled with anticipation. I had heard so much about Iceland’s stunning natural beauty of rushing waterfalls, massive blue icebergs, and her expansive, mysterious landscape. I wanted to see for myself if this magical place was real and within the first day I fell in love with her mystical power and beauty. While there were tourists around most of the sights during my visit, it wasn’t as popular ten years ago as it is today. Over the past few years, tourism has exploded which of course has its pros and cons. Per the Icelandic Tourist Board, “The total foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was around 2.2 million in 2017, a 24.2% increase from 2016, when foreign visitors numbered around 1.8 million”. With Iceland’s small population of approximately 338,000 this surge in popularity has not come without its price and there have been lots of people wondering how to travel to Iceland sustainably and protect its unique culture and environment.

One way you can travel responsibly is by choosing a sustainable tour company that offers off the beaten path tours to lesser visited areas, employs local guides and also takes care of the environment and culture. Hidden Iceland is a boutique travel company that focuses on immersive experiences with passionate guides in remote settings such as glaciers, volcanoes, Northern Light spots and ice caves.  Hidden Iceland is also a Certified Climate Neutral Partner offsetting their carbon emissions, and also maintains a strict sustainability policy of offering only small guided group tours. They are currently ranked number 3 in all of Iceland on TripAdvisor out of 386 tour outfitters (with all five star ratings!), and their unique approach to combining personalised service, expert knowledge and a love of all things Iceland is what makes them stand out as one of the best.

Sólheimajökull Blue Ice.

Sólheimajökull Blue Ice. South Coast. Photo credit: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

I had the opportunity to learn more about Hidden Iceland from Ryan Connolly, one of the co-founders and here is what he has to say about what makes their trips unique.  

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Los Glaciares National Park

My Top Five Wild Hikes

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” a dark, raw and fiercely humorous book on how one woman finds herself during a three-month long trek through the wild Pacific Crest Trail. The book is powerful, emotional, honest and inspiring, and Strayed uses her brilliant memoir to take a hard look at self-discovery, heeling and change.

Of course when times are tough, we can’t always pick up our bags and leave town. Yet, I often find that there is no better way to escape and reflect upon life than to go on a hike, and the more remote and wild, the better. I have been fortunate to have done many wonderful adventurous hikes over the years.  Although every hike I’ve done has been special and has brought me to a new place, there are a select few that have truly inspired me and are unforgettable.

Here is a list of the top five wild hikes that are bound to get your mind thinking.

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Myrdalsjökull Glacier

A Sea of Ice: Iceland’s Myrdalsjökull Glacier

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Perhaps one of my most memorable adventure travel experiences thus far has been my hike across a real live sea of ice. There is nothing quite like strapping on a pair of crampons and moving at a snail’s pace straight into unimaginable winds and icy cold rain across one of the world’s most beautiful and magical glaciers. Sure I’ve done plenty of amazing hikes around the world ranging to such far off places as Peru, Patagonia, The French Alps and Nepal. Yet nothing was quite like walking across a wide, moving sea of ice.

Myrdalsjökull Glacier

First steps onto the massive Myrdalsjökull Glacier. Unfortunately there was no way possible to show the enormity of it all. This is just the beginning.

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Into the Mystic of Iceland

“We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic”   –

 Lyrics to one of my favorite Van Morrison songs, “Into the Mystic”

I just couldn’t resist including it with the post…listen along and view my photos into the mystic….

There is no place more mystical than Iceland. Come take a look for yourself and let me know if you agree that there is no place quite like it.  The mystical land of fire and ice.

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A return to Iceland

I felt like I needed to spice my blog up a bit.  Lately I’ve done an awful lot of posts on Minnesota and even have another one in the queue.  When I started this blog it was mostly for sharing my stories and photos from traveling somewhere else.  Yet I came to realize that many of my readers have never even been to Minnesota and perhaps don’t realize how incredibly beautiful it really is.  Hence my recent focus on places around the land of lakes (we do have over 13,000!).

This morning I wanted to share some photos I’ve reworked from my trip to Iceland back in the summer of 2008.  Iceland truly appealed to me.  It has all the nature you could ever desire, loads of hikes, and not many people.  I found a lot of peace and serenity in such a beautiful, magical place.  It is my hope that I can return someday as there is much to see in this gorgeous land.

Here are some photos that will help illustrate what I mean.  Hope you enjoy!

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Getting down and dirty at the Blue Lagoon

A visit to the world-famous Blue Lagoon is something that cannot be missed when visiting Iceland. Located only 8 miles/22 km from the Keflavik Airport and 24 miles/47 km from downtown Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is a perfect way to spend your first jet-lagged hours in Iceland or a fantastic send-off before boarding your flight back home.

We opted to go to the Blue Lagoon at the end of our week- long hiking vacation in Iceland, and the geothermal spa’s hot, mineral rich waters were the perfect treatment for my aching body and my enlightened soul.

The Blue Lagoon is quite a unique place. Located in the middle of an enormous lava field in the Reykjanes Peninsula in Southwestern Iceland, you would think at first you were visiting some kind of freak of nature. The drive to the spa itself makes you feel like you’re on the moon. Fallen black lava dots the rugged, barren landscape and you truly feel that you are out of this world.

The spa itself is actually man-made yet the waters, the heating process and the minerals are all natural. Believe it or not, the lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant! The seawater originates about 6,500 feet beneath the ground where it is heated by lovely Mother Nature and then cools a bit as it is pushed upwards to the lagoon.

The water’s temperatures at the Blue Lagoon are a perfect 98-102 degrees F/37-39 degrees C, and the six million liters of geothermal seawaters are renewed every two days.

Inside the Lagoon, is a fancy spa, a restaurant, and a showering area where you must shower completely nude before entering the lagoon. Icelanders take hygenine very seriously!

The Lagoon itself is enormous and bathing in it is quite an invigorating experience that is unique to Iceland. The hot waters are magical and the steam rises off the lagoon giving the place an eerie, mystical appearance. There are two bars inside where of course you can get drinks (probably not the best thing to do when you are getting so dehydrated but “when in Rome”). There is also a pile of mineral-rich mud that you can apply liberally to your face, arms, and wherever else you’d like. You let the mud dry and form into a nice facial mask before washing it off. It is quite a sight to see hundreds of people, bathing together and covered in mud. But that all leads to the fun and the experience of the Blue Lagoon.

When I was finished with my visit, my body felt like butter and I was as relaxed and happy as a clam, all ready to board my 5.5 hour flight back to Minneapolis.

All in all, my trip to Iceland was one to remember. It was by far one of the most beautiful, peaceful and unique places I’ve ever traveled to and am looking forward to someday going back. There is so much more to explore!

For more picture, information and a visual tour of the Blue Lagoon please visit their website at: http://www.bluelagoon.com

Here are some photos from my visit:

Leaving Reykjavik and heading to the infamous Blue Lagoon

Driving on the moon! The entrance to the parking lot of the Blue Lagoon:

 

 

 

Stay tuned…thirdeyemom is on vacation and it is a mystery location that I am certain will be interesting all the same. Secret hint is that it is not that far from my home!

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