Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sources of inspiration: Iceland // Landscapes, textures and delicious food // Top 5 things to do and places to visit while traveling this amazing island

Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. When I booked my trip to Iceland I needed an easy getaway, staring at lagoons and endless lava landscapes seemed like the perfect vacation. The perfect break from all the chaos, heartbreak and loss. I never travel to colder places, but I usually don’t book a trip during summer so I decided to go North and visit this beautiful island full of amazing landscapes. Adventure was  waiting once again!  

I woke up and was starring out of the plane window 10 minutes before landing and the glance I had over the landscape instantly gave me a little peace of mind. The roads and the landscapes under me where completely empty. Such a relief after all the rush and chaos I had been in for the past months. My first stop was Reykjavik, from here I would travel the Golden Circle and then after a few days it was time to have a little road trip and go east. 

The weather quickly changes and in Iceland they have a saying “just wait 5 minutes.” So when the rain comes, chances are it will be gone in 5 minutes. Definitely something to keep in mind when you arrive at that waterfall and it is pouring. I was lucky with the weather, out of 8 we had 4 days of sunshine, but I did need lot's of layers. Make sure you pack enough clothes! Make sure to pack warm clothes and proper water resistant hiking boots are a must if you want to experience this Island’s raw nature.

Iceland only has a small population and most of the people you will meet are tourists themselves. Therefore the country is focused on serving that tourist majority, the food, the shops, you will find fries and hamburgers and 50% of all shops are selling souvenirs. This is what hell looks like for me, I am not a big fan of the American food culture and I don’t like to buy things, but if you get out of Reykjavik and travel around the country you can dodge this consumerism a little bit. Leave the mass behind and soak up the peace and quiet of this amazing country with snowy tops and black beaches, lava landscapes, waterfalls and geysers. Here is a little short list of things to do and some tips to enjoy this place to the fullest. 

1 // Reykjavik 
The old city of Reykjavik is definitely worth a little peek. I loved the colorful wooden buildings and the city is pretty small, easy to do it all in a day or two. Personally I am a big fan of modern architecture and I love to see how old places are renovated and get modern interiors. The Hafnarhús Art museum is both an interesting building and a great place to visit if you love modern art. A ticket to the art museum is also your entry for two other museums: The Asmundarsafn sculptures and Kjarvalsstadir that houses the works of Iceland’s most influential artist, Jóhannes Kjarval. So if you are an art loving creature like me, this is what a perfect afternoon looks like. 
In the harbor the modern glass concert hall Harpa is definitely worth a glance. This brand new building is a beautiful contrast with it’s surroundings. Take the elevator up to the top story, stare into the reflecting textures, take a look at the ocean view and have a coffee in the lobby after you walk your way down the pretty stairway in this amazing building. Don’t forget to look back. it is such a delightful piece of architecture.  
Although the main shopping street is one big souvenir avenue, there are some nice places where you can find some more authentic memorabilia. Reykjavik still has some record stores where you can get your hands on some original LP’s and they have a great collection of Icelandic music and movies. If you rent a car to make a road trip you can buy your soundtrack in one of these places. I am a big fan of Icelandic music and have made a playlist in my Deezer account for those who want to listen to the landscapes. 

2 // Icelandic cuisine 
On my first day in Iceland I had a terrible meal and as you might know already, food is important to me, so I was not very happy to eat shitty. Iceland is very popular among American, Canadian and British tourists and unfortunately most restaurants serve hamburgers, hot dogs and fried things like fish and chips. While traveling around the country you will notice the donuts and unhealthy take away options when you stop to fill up your tank. Eating out is pretty expensive on the Island but if you want to eat a proper meal it is best to spend just a little more on your dinners. With a little extra you can eat so crazy good! You will thank me for this tip, seriously! The fish on the island is amazing and so are the typical Icelandic dishes where hamburgers are left off the menu. My top 3 restaurants in Reykjavik were Matwerk, Sushi Social and Rok. The last one has small dishes to mix and match and was definitely my number 1. Iceland has some typical local dishes on their menu. Whale can be found in big touristy places but since the whale hunt is up for debate, the more sophisticated restaurants don’t put it on their menu. Reindeer and puffin however are not endangered, if you want to taste Icelandic meat, this is your chance.  

I was surprised Iceland has so many local beers to choose from. If you are a beer lover you can eat your heart out! But it’s expensive. A proper beer will cost you around 1400ISK choose your beer wisely! Wine is just as expensive, but they do have a standard of good wine, not like here in Holland where the wine can be extremely bad sometimes. Not sure how that works, bad wine.  

3 // Walk over water 
Iceland is an amazing country and has lot’s of amazing places to visit. One of the highlights of my trip was a glacier walk, at the Jökulsárlón-Glacier. Maybe also because I am a little challenged doing hikes with my rheumatic joints and I was pretty proud completing an afternoon of hiking over ice, but I am sure it also has something to do with the amazing views, colors and the knowledge the ice won’t be there forever, you can hear the water flowing under you, the melting ice you are standing on. if you are afraid of heights this activity might be a little challenging. The black lava peaks, the gaps between the ice, the textures, the view over the glacier and the ever changing landscapes. It is breathtaking. You can also make a short boat trip on the glacier lagoon and see the blue reflection in the ice caps. The colors are amazing. You won’t be needing any meditation before going to bed that day i promise you!

4 // Chasing waterfalls 
Iceland has over 30 amazing waterfalls, enough to accidentally find some along the way, go off the beaten track and find one of these hidden gems around lunchtime. The perfect way to have a little break from driving and enjoy your lunch. Make sure you are equipped if you want to visit the main waterfalls: protect yourself from the water or get soaked. The Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss and the Gullfoss are Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, they attract a lot of tourists so these are not the best places for a lunch stop but they are worth the visit. The Seljalandsfoss has a path that takes you on the other side of the water. You can see the water drop 50 meters from the cave behind the waterfall. The water comes from Iceland’s notorious Eyjafjallajökull volcano. If you walk up and follow the track you can find another three waterfalls. You can either climb up and go down through the water of enjoy these forces of nature from the main track.  

5 // Geyser watching 
Most households in the city of Reykjavik get hydropower and households are heated with geothermal water from the surrounding springs and is the only country that solely uses renewable sources. Hot water is everywhere and so are hot springs, one of the most famous one is by far the Blue Lagoon. It is also the most expensive and crowded one. There are some little less touristy hot springs scattered throughout the country. If you travel by car you will bump into a few that are more natural and less crowded. The water is important to Iceland and the steam of hot water rivers and geysers turn the landscape into magical sceneries. Water comes in so many forms. The one thing I really wanted to see with my own eyes were the geysers. A rare phenomenon you can only see near active volcanic area’s and one of the worlds famous geyser is the Icelandic Strokkur where you can see the active geyser erupt every 10 minutes. It is truly spectacular. 

These are just a few things on my trip that were spectacular and I really wanted to share. Do some research and explore this amazing country. Make sure you pack a camera and some proper lenses to spot wild life. Puffin, whales and seals. And whatever you do in Island, take your time and respect nature. Don’t go off road or walk into the lava fields, respect and don’t impact and most of all take your time to look. And take in the spectacular views of snow topped mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, green canyons and wild ocean waves.