Sunday, September 21, 2003

2003: Summer of (2nd part)

The main part of our vacation was still to come though. So, the beginning of August we left for Iceland, a destination we had in mind for some years already, and we became two of the about 300 Greeks that visit Iceland each year (one every day except Sundays! :-). Finally we managed to find a home-exchange partner, a nice Icelandic family -and cheap tickets to get there! We flew via London using Easyjet and Iceland Express airlines (The cost of the ticket was not much higher than that of a domestic flight to Rhodes!!) We spent a day and a half in London, always our favorite destination, and then Reykjavik!

Iceland is often dubbed 'the land of ice and fire' and with good reasons that we'll present to you. But we have to say, right from the beginning, that this was a wonderful trip for us, probably the most interesting we ever had. Our friends know that we like the Nordic countries, so this explains a bit why, but still we saw remarkable things not to be found easily elsewhere...

We were leaving in Seltjarnarness a suburb of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland a small, clean and tidy city of a few hundred thousand inhabitants and not many sights for the tourist. We spent our first day there and then using the jeep our home exchange partners had left for us, we left for our first visit to the country side: at about an hour's distance from Reykjavik there is the Thingvellir area, a place of natural beauty and historic importance for the Icelanders: it was there that the local 'parliament' of old times gathered, amidst rocks, waterfalls and green fields. Then we visited the famous Geysir spring: a natural phenomenon of hot water being spouted to great heights from the earth at regular intervals. But there were still more to see in that day: Gullfoss, a majestic 'double' waterfall.

Excited from what we had seen that far, we left the day after for a trip around the island, a trip we planned -and managed- to complete in four days. So we moved clockwise from Reykjavik following the route of highway 1, a two-lanes asphalt (for the most part) highway circling the island, following mainly the inhabited coastline. We had gathered tips from a Greek friend that had done this trip about a decade ago (with his car that he had brought from Greece!!) and from an abundance of tourist literature that we found in several places in Reykjavik.

Our first stop was the city of Akureyri, the second biggest in Iceland. A city with charms and a wonderful microclimate that allows plants not found elsewhere in the island, including trees, a not so common sight in Iceland, to grow. We spent the night at a student residence, which turns to a hotel during summertime. That was the closest we came to the polar circle, by the way. On with our trip, we visited the waterfall of Godafoss (the waterfall of the Gods) and through a thick fog we reached the lake Myvatn. The name means 'lake of mosquitos' and it was 100% true! We had to buy a full head net to protect our selves from the annoying mosquitos that were omnipresent. The area of the lake was interesting with beautiful views. Lava rock formations in Dimmuborgir were an interesting sight, too. We should mention here that all natural sights in Iceland could be visited for free.

Then we went to Krafla, an area of recent volcano eruptions. On our way we saw incredible hot colored mud and steam spouting from the earth. Not a common sight and we won't forget it easily! The lava and the craters made absolutely clear that this is, at times, a land of fire. Indeed, very often in Iceland we had the feeling of a trip back in time, in the geological past of our planet.

Next stop the village of Hofn (we have still difficulties in pronouncing its name). This would be our base for the next two days. Our first excursion would be to the glacier of Vatnajokull, the biggest glacier in Europe (as big as all the others combined!). We left our jeep at the parking lot by the highway and guides took us to a hut near the glacier with their super-jeeps (jeeps with huge tires and special equipment). At the hut we were provided with helmets and full body suits. After that a tracked vehicle took us to the glacier where we found snow scooters waiting for us! The ride was fantastic! But that day had more in store for us! When we left after a few hours the glacier we head to the lagoon Jokulsarlon. This was probably the most beautiful sight we visited: A lake at the edge of the glacier, where icebergs (pieces of ice detached from the glacier) float. A perfect blue color and icebergs in different shapes and forms create an amazing sight! Amphibious vehicles (Truck/boat combined) were used to guide us in the lagoon. Not to be left out of the description, are the lovely seals swimming in the lake. No wonder that James Bond movies used the lake as their scenery...

If you have managed to read this far, congratulations! It's not always interesting to listen to other people's vacation narrations, but believe us, Iceland is a place you must visit! The following morning we visited the Skaftafell area, a national park of a sort. The most interesting sight there was the Svartifoss waterfall (yes, we know almost every paragraph contains one waterfall, but there are so many of them in Iceland!). The special feature of this waterfall was the black basalt rocks around it. A quick lunch at the village of Vik and then to Dyrholaey: A high rock with the most typical lighthouse on top and kilometers long black sand beach. One more impressive sight to see. (Being Greeks we could only feel sorry for such a beach to be wasted... It goes without saying that swimming in the sea is out of the question, unless one wants to be one of the ice sights of the island!)

Back to Reykjavik, then! (Keeping with the tradition, we should mention in this paragraph the Skogarfoss waterfall, one more on our way back). This is where we spent the rest of our time... It has to be said that Iceland is a very expensive country: products and services cost two to four times more than what they cost in Greece, so we had to be sensible in the way we spent our money! Reykjavik is sort of famous for its nightlife - which is true, if you compare it with other Nordic countries, but keep in mind that this is a small city, so the choices are not endless... Some of the things we did in Reykjavik were: to go swimming in open-air swimming pools (there is at least one in every neighborhood or village all over Iceland, which is quite understandable considering that the sea is out of limits). An interesting feature of the swimming pools is their hot spots: small pools of high temperatures. Hallgrim's church is the most distinctive (and tallest) building of the city. Lake Tjornin and the modern City Hall, the Perlan restaurant on top of the geothermal water storage tanks, the open-air Αrbor museum with typical Icelandic buildings and the Art museum(s) are some other sights in Reykjavik we liked.

So you're with us this far. Great! Because we have one more 'secret' to share with you: actually it's not a secret at all, it's the most visited sight of Iceland- the Blue Lagoon. This is an artificial and perfectly blue lagoon (hence the name...) of warm to hot water amidst a field of lava rocks.

So, that's it! We've reached the end of our narration from the land of 'ice and fire' and our summer of 'ice'. And if you think you can take some more, we have 4 hours of videotapes at home to show you!

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