Iceland - The Stops
For 3 consecutive days we toured Iceland in a tiny rented Nissan Micra -- affectionately referred to as "The Toaster Oven." These are the places we went in that magical machine.
Heimay is the largest of the Vestmannaeyjar islands - a small archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland -- as well as being the only populated one. The town stretches over the grassy hills of the island right up to the base of the two peaks Helgafell and Eldfell, the latter of which had a massive volcanic eruption in 1973. Our first stop was for coffee (universally weak in Iceland) and the woman working the counter suggested that we walk a path that runs up Eldfell and over a pass to the peak of Helgafell. Despite a relatively treacherous path, the views of the islands, ocean and town from the pass between the two peaks were worth the trek.
Snæfellsnes is a peninsula on the West coast of Iceland. There are a number of small coastal towns, as well as a wealth of volcanic formations, beaches, geothermal hot springs and lava rocks. Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth was set at the peninsula's biggest volcanic mountain Snæfellsjökull.
Our first stop was Stykkishólmur, a small fishing town on the north shore that has a historic number of small islands. We braved the rain to visit the colorful harbor, the roadside horses and the local bakery.
From there we followed our travel book to a little town called Rif, where we had read about a small cafe with stellar fish soup. Rif felt almost deserted at first, but the sun emerging through the clouds gave it a nice shine. The tiny Gamla Rif cafe was warm and welcoming with incredible fish soup as advertised. The town reminded me that I'm often surprised by which are my favorite stops on the road.
The afternoon sun brought us around to the southern part of the peninsula. We made a couple of stops to walk up the hills next to the highway, with the view showing the ocean to our right and the volcanic Snæfellsjökull National Park to our left. Lastly, we visited the black sand beach Djúpalónssandur. There we encountered lifting stones that Icelandic fisherman were required to test their strength on. Those who couldn't lift the second smallest (called Hálfdrættingur or "weakling") weren't allowed on the boat. After easily hoisting Hálfdrættingur we went for a quick dip in the freezing water, getting us plenty of stares from other, less enthusiastic visitors.
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon reachable by 5 hours on the road east of Reykjavik. It's one of those places that you can read about anywhere on the internet, and there are millions of pictures to be seen. In my opinion it's near impossible to capture the feeling of being there. The magnitude of the natural beauty was completely humbling.
People frequently asked me why I had chosen to go to Iceland above other places. I'd say that these sights are a pretty good argument.