March 19th was Jon’s birthday and one of those travel days that is as close to perfect as you can get. After a long night of catching up on sleep (I think it was close to 10 hours!) we woke up at 5 am to catch the sunrise and photograph Reykjanestá.
Reykjavík was still sound asleep on the Sunday and with our bags packed the night before, we slipped out of the Kvosin like ghosts wearing our warmest thermals.
When waking up early, there is always one consolation: hot baked goods! Icelanders take their pastries seriously and Reykjavík is home to the incredible Brauð & Co. which usually has lines going out the door and up the sidewalk. Well on this chilly morning, aside from a few drunken students making their way home, it was just Jon and I, accompanied by the smell of hot dough and cinnamon. I ordered one of whatever they had, and I wish I could tell you more but we ate those pastries so fast that they were soon unidentifiable crumbs in a bag. I know I said the Blue Lagoon was a great way to wake up, but so was sinking your teeth into the soft, buttery, sweet dough of a Brauð & Co. cinnamon-and-sugar-bun-pop-over-thing. Jon could have basically taken us anywhere that morning and I would have been happy as a clam.
The cliffside at Reykjanestá is epically beautiful and in the early blue light we could tell that the sunrise was going to be a good one. I could go on about what it was like to be there, on the rocks in the cold morning, but I think these pictures really speak for themselves.
Once the sun was past its prime, we hopped in the car, pecked at the leftover pastries and headed for the Icelandair Hotel in Iceland’s southernmost village: Vík.
We were too far south to head back to Reykjavík for a latte, but we thought we might have some luck on the road in a small town. I was pretty skeptical, but desperate for something hot, so we settled on a café called Bryggjan in the teeny fishing village of Grindavík. Upon walking in, we were surrounded by a group of Icelandic fishermen telling tall tales about their last great catch and a few other tourists eating breakfast. Despite my initial hesitancy, the coffee (and the ambiance) was fantastic. Jon even had a friendly chat with one of the owners who is a passionate musician.
Then we were back on the road again…
The journey to Vík leads to some of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Now, I think what struck me most was that they are all just hanging out right off the main highway – the “ring road,” that goes in a complete circle around the country. The waterfalls can be seen from afar, mist and all, but it’s so striking how they’re just a turnout away, like roadside attractions. We made a quick stop at Seljalandsfoss, which was beautiful but oh, so crowded, and in deep shadow. I took a snap…
…and we went on our way to Skógafoss, another beautiful, but busy, waterfall.
Before our trip, Jon found this fantastic Iceland photography guide on YouTube that revealed a few, lesser frequented waterfalls, like the one we went to next. Instead of following signs and tour buses to Skógafoss, we drove to the fence behind the Skogar Museum and parked. According to the video, there’s a trail that leads to a smaller waterfall, called Kvernufoss, which is away from all the tourists and if you’re lucky, you’ll have it all to yourself.
It turned out to be the right choice, because we were all alone, and while I usually worry about “going left” when everyone else goes to the main sights, I was excited for a bit of adventure. The hike was icy, snowy and a little muddy, so we put on our crampons – little spikes that go over your hiking boots and help you dig into snowy terrain. They made the walk a breeze and I don’t recommend going to Iceland in the winter without them!
Over the fence we go! I love these little fence ladders. I think I’ve only ever seen them in Iceland and Jane Austin movies!
As I approached the side of the waterfall, I was completely overcome by the beauty and power of the rushing water. The landscape was bright and earthy, with moss-covered rocks all along the cliffside and at the base of the falls. The mist had formed delicate ice crystals on some of the plants and as I walked behind the waterfall, I was overwhelmed with emotion and my own eyes turned to mist.
But we were not alone for long, and soon came a few adventurous others, sans-crampons, to enjoy the seclusion with us.
Satisfied with our time at Kvernufoss, we headed back to the car.
And made our way to the bustling walkways of nearby Skógafoss. A slow exposure helps to remove all the people.
At this point, it was nearing 3 in the afternoon and we were certifiably starving. We stopped at this cute and wonderful fish and chips truck for some chips (neither of us eat seafood). The double fried chips were absurdly delicious and I happily enjoyed the wide selection of condiments, most notably the lemon salt, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post.
We chatted with the owner Mia, and she told us how wonderful the weather was for this time of year and how it was her busiest week ever! Clearly Iceland tourism wasn’t slowing down, even if it was deep winter.
And then, we were on our way again, only a 30 minute drive from the Icelandair Hotel Vík. We dropped our bags off, changed socks, and then hurried off to the day’s final destination: Dyrhólaey.
The raised peninsula has breathtaking views of the black sand beaches, a giant ocean arch, and on a clear day like we had, you can see far and wide into the distance.
The sunset was simply spectacular! Aside from a few little mishaps when I dropped my sunglasses in the snow and then stepped on them, and then left my mini Manfrotto tripod on the ground to be snagged by someone. I hate losing things and take such care with my stuff that I was a little frazzled. But in the end, I didn’t let it stop me from taking photos and I chalk it up to hunger combined with a very long day.
As the sun set, we got friendly with a few guys on a photo tour, and enjoyed watching the last rays sink behind the ocean.
Without even a stop at the hotel, we headed for dinner at Suður-Vík Restaurant where after waiting for an hour, I finagled us a table using Jon’s birthday as a frankly, fair excuse to be seated. Jon devoured his pizza and I could think of nothing better than an appetizer of salty, mozzarella sticks and roast chicken after such a rigorous and demanding day. Funny enough, the couple that sat down next to us lived not 30 minutes from us in the States and we ended up having a lovely conversation about technology and travel.
Nearly closing the restaurant, we went back to our hotel, had long, hot showers, packed our bags and crumpled into bed. Jon said within seconds I had dissolved into a snoring pile under the sheets, while he stayed awake, uploading the day’s photos to our hard drive. It was only day two, but it was an absolutely memorable birthday for Jon, and a gorgeous introduction to the landscapes of Iceland!
Can you believe that was all one day? Tell me about one of your great travel days in the comments below!