Part III - dswphoto
Day 6.

After an early morning run I went downstairs for breakfast at the hotel. It was very busy with lots of people fuelling up for the day.


For day 6 & 7 I had booked a two day tour of the Icelandic South Coast through Extreme Iceland, heading east of Reykjavík and seeing the sights, staying overnight at Guesthouse Gerði before making the journey west back to Reykjavík the next day.


I was picked up on time at 8am before picking up the others on the tour and then heading east out of Reykjavík. The minivan had space for 20 but there was only 7 people onboard today; as well as me there was a couple from Chicago, a couple from Hong Kong and two ladies from San Francisco.

About an hour out of Reykjavík, we stopped for a short break. There were a few heavy duty 4WD's in the carpark too.

Some Icelandic water and chocolate I bought during the short stop.


We then continued on the ring road until our next stop, Seljalandsfoss.


Seljalandsfoss is fed by the water from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010 and caused havoc with European airspace.


Our next stop was Skógafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls on the island. The very powerful and striking waterfall was a location for the film Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.


After another stretch of driving east in the minivan again, we arrived at the black pebble beach near Vik.


One of the Reynisdrangar or basalt sea stacks just off the coast. The interesting shape is also used to market Icelandic condoms!


Up above the cliffs was a colony of Atlantic Puffins.


It was great to watch these beautiful and colourful birds.


Watching them swoop down and off into the sea to catch their lunch.


It was about 1pm, so we grabbed some lunch ourselves at the beachside cafe.


Next stop was the moss covered Eldhraun lava field. The lava field was created during the 1783 Lakagígar eruption, which produced an estimated 14 cubic kilometres of basalt lava with lava fountains estimated to have reached heights of 800 to 1,400 metres.


The eruption resulted in the death of an estimated 20–25% of Iceland's population due to famine and fluoride poisoning as well as around 80% of sheep, 50% of cattle and 50% of the horses.


We then continued our journey east, stopping to take in the view of Skaftafellsjökull glacier which we would be trekking on tomorrow.


And Svinafellsjökull glacier just to the left.


And then we arrived at our final destination for the day, Guesthouse Gerði, just before 6pm. A nice and spacious room and a bit bigger than the broom closet I had back in Reyjavik.


At 7pm we met up for dinner where I had the Icelandic lobster. At 6200 ISK / $54 it wasn't cheap but definitely worth it. I chatted with one of the ladies from San Franciso and she had done quite abit of travelling too. Before arriving in Iceland she had been on an Arctic cruise that went up to Svalbard and across to Greenland.


And for dessert I had the berry skyr, an Icelandic type of yoghurt.


After dinner I went for a walk around the guesthouse before retiring to get some sleep after the late night before.



Day 7.

After a good sleep we had a decent breakfast at the guesthouse restaurant.


Clouds covering the mountain tops just behind the guesthouse. We then checked out and headed west to begin the journey back to Reykjavík.


After a short drive we arrived at Diamond Beach.


The clear blue diamond ice up close. The ice on the beach comes from the nearby glacier lagoon (Jökulsárlón), which float down the river and are broken up and scattered by the waves.


Black & white.


The black sand and pebbles were a striking contrast to the ice diamonds.


Chunks of blue iceberg just off the beach.


On the rocks.


The darks clouds also helped to dramatize this very interesting, beguiling and natural beauty of the ice diamonds on the beach.


It was an amazing, unusual and crazy beautiful sight, definitely a highlight of the trip!


After Diamond Beach we made the short drive across the road to Jökulsárlón, and boarded one of the amphibious LARC-V for a tour of the glacier lagoon.


An iceberg in the lagoon with the different layers of ice visible from periodic volcanic eruptions.


The lake is up to 200 metres deep and is filled with brackish water with the sea mixing with the glacier melt.


Another iceberg with Svinafellsjökull glacier in the background.


It was great to see the icebergs up close.


Our guide giving us the history of the lagoon. He said that the lagoon was closed off from the sea back in 2001 to stop the saltwater flowing and allow it to freeze over to film a car chase scene in the James Bond movie, Die Another Day.


Svinafellsjökull glacier in the background again.


The surreal natural beauty was literally breathtaking.


A seal swimming near one of the icebergs.


A 100 megapixel panoramic I took once we got back ashore.


A rubber boat skimming across the mirror water. An amazing experience and well worth the 4000 ISK / $35 ticket price.


After the memorable morning we drove for about an hour west and then stopped at a roadside safe for lunch. I had the tasty lamburger with red onions, mushrooms, bernessause, rhubarb jam and fries.


After lunch we suited up with a harness, crampons, helmet and an ice pick for a trek on Skaftafellsjökull glacier. Andres, our guide posing on the glacier with his ice pick 'to complete the Viking look'.


Skaftafellsjökull glacier has been used as a location for several movies, including the film Batman Begins.


And another Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar, where it was the location for the ice planet where Matt Damon unsuccessfully tried to kill off Matthew McConaughey.


Another group of trekkers in the middle-distance just to the right.


The grey discoloured ice below the green covered mountains looked very much like hard granite.


A panoramic shot across the glacier.


Trekking up.


Next was the 767 metre tall Mount Lomagnupur. Unfortunately not enough time to climb it though!


After the glacier hike we headed west on the minivan again before stopping off at another waterfall, Foss á Siðu.


We then continued on to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 100 metre tall, 2 kilometre long canyon.


At Laufskálavarða, a lava ridge surrounded by stone cairns, between the Hólmsá and Skálmá Rivers. Travellers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time would pile stones up to make a cairn, which was supposed to bring them good fortune on the journey.


And for a break back at the village of Vik where I walked down to see the black beach on the eastern side and to see some of the Reynisdrangar again.


Vík í Mýrdal Church.


And back at Reykjavík at the Cabin Hotel at about 7pm after a great trip to the South Coast over the last two days.


After checking in again, I went for a short walk to get some thai noodles for dinner at the end of day 7.



Day 8.

After an early morning run I had breakfast at the Cabin Hotel, and then got ready for another Icelandic adventure, drysuit diving in the 2°C waters at Silfra.

Just after 8am, the Scuba Iceland minivan pulled up outside my hotel for the 45 minute ride to Þingvellir national park.

We arrived just after 9am at the park and drove down to the dive site where the other teams were preparing their gear for the first dive.


Silfra is a rift or canyon filled with melted glacier water fed by a spring originating from Langjökull, Iceland's second largest glacier. Silfra was formed by the divergent tectonic drift of the Eurasian and North American plates, and hence gives the rare opportunity to swim between the two continental plates.

With the close to freezing waters at Silfra, today we would be wearing a drysuit to keep the cold water out. In addition to the drysuit, we were given a nice thick pair of overalls and some woollen socks to wear to add extra insulation from the freezing waters.


Bob from Bristol, our dive instructor, showing us where we would be diving through the Silfra rift.


Once we suited up, we walked the 200 metres to the dive entry site. On the left is Grant, a dive instructor in the US Army, and Simone on the right from Copenhagen.


As we were about to step into the freezing waters, I noticed that the battery door on my new Nikon waterproof wouldn't lock properly! It was my only second time using it so was extremely disappointed. A quick look online afterwards showed that it was a common problem, and that the camera subsequently had a very low rating on Amazon.com.

Below is a photo from Scuba Iceland of the Silfra dive. With the clear glacial waters flowing into the rift, visibility is an amazing 70–80 metres.


Apart from the exposed portions of my face and some water seeping into my gloves, the water temperature was quite bearable. Not the painful experience I had dreaded and imagined anyway.

The glacial meltwater takes thirty to a hundred years to percolate through porous lava rock, and hence by the time it feeds into Silfra it is extremely filtered, exceptionally clear and very drinkable.

A photo of one of the girls on our dive. Simone had a GoPro so thankfully I had a couple of photo's from our dive.


It was my first time drysuit diving and the extra buoyancy from the air in the drysuit was a bit of a challenge. I bobbed up to the surface a couple of times initially, but as we were only diving to a maximum of 6 to 8 metres it wasn't a big issue.

We finished up our dive after about 25 minutes. Although we had plenty of air left, our time in the water was limited by the cold water temperature. While still relatively comfortable, I was starting to feel the effects of the very cool water by the end of the dive though (photo courtesy of Scuba Iceland).


After walking back to the prep area, we had some hot chocolate and cookies to help warm back up. The clear blue skies and warm sun definitely helped too.


Due to a process called cold diuresis, your body needs to urinate more when blood rushes to your internal core to minimise heat loss when you get cold. When wetsuit diving this is not normally a big issue, but obviously with a drysuit it is not so easy! Hence a prompt visit to the toilet was in order once we got our drysuits off.

One of the girls in our group decided that while she enjoyed the dive, she was too cold for a second dive. Our two dives costs 40000 ISK / $350 so it seemed a bit of a waste though for her to skip out on the second dive.

After getting new tanks and suiting up, we went in for our second dive (photo courtesy of Scuba Iceland).


Despite being our second dive, it was just as amazing before, with the super clear water making it almost feel like you were floating in outer space!
We took a slightly second different route back for the second dive. I'm the scuba diver in the middle distance in the photo below (photo courtesy of Simone Gasque).


Although not cheap, it was an amazing experience. The opportunity to dive at one of the best and most unique dive sites in the world is an experience I will not easily forget!

We were dropped back off in town at about 3pm. I then went for a walk into the city and got a mocha and some cake to refuel.


I then wandered down to the wharf. A couple of Icelandic whaling ships that were docked.


For dinner I went to the nearby Fish Restaurant Reykjavík and had the fish and chips for 1990 ISK / $17, a bit of a bargain for Icelandic restaurant prices.


I then wandered back into the city. Reykjavík Airport was quite closeby to the city centre and there were a few planes coming in to land and takeoff.


Reykjavík. After after a bit more walkabout through the city, I headed back to the hotel at the end of day 8.



Day 9.

This was my first time in a while to have a decent sleep in today, with nothing planned until a 2:30pm city tour that Jason had organised. After a good run and breakfast at the hotel, I walked into the city again.


Looking across to Mount Esja from the Reykjavík waterfront.


The waterfront Harpa concert hall. The building was originally part of a redevelopment of the area dubbed World Trade Center Reykjavík, which was partially abandoned when the 2008 financial crisis took hold.


Fortunately the government decided to fund the rest of the construction for the half-built concert hall however.


At 11am, the Reykjavík Museum of Photography opened and I went to check it out.


There was an exhbition by Icelandic photographer, Thorvaldur Örn Kristmundsson, on the Icelandic West fjords peninsula, and the dwindling farming community there. It was really interesting, with some great photography to both appreciate and inspire.


For lunch I headed to Apotek Restaurant and had the Mink whale with shallot vinaigrette and crispy Jerusalem artichokes. It was one of the top restaurants in Reykjavík and the meal definitely lived up to this reputation.


And for dessert I couldn't resist a big, delicious hot chocolate.


At 2:30pm I met up with Jason and the team for the Reykjavík walking tour at Austurvöllur, a public square just opposite Parliament House. Our guide Marteinn said that there was a bit of a tradition to protest at Austurvöllur, with protests in 1905 over radio towers, in 1949 over Iceland joining NATO, in 2009 during the financial crisis, and recently in April 2016 following the release of the Panama Papers.

Also in the centre of the square was a statue of Jón Sigurðsson, the leader of the 19th century Icelandic independence movement.


Next stop was a statue of Skúli Magnússon, the founder of modern Reykjavík.


From there we walked to the old town. The houses were originally had a wooden exterior, but with the lack of tree's on the island, corrugated iron quickly became the material of choice in the 1860s when it first arrived from Britain.


We then walked back into the city, where there were two pillars, the symbol of Reykjavík. According to the Landnámabók, an Icelandic medieval book which describes the settlement of Iceland, Ingólfr Arnarson and his wife were the first permanent Nordic settlers of Iceland, and according to tradition, they founded Reykjavík in 874.

According to tradition, when he first spotted the coast of Iceland, he threw his high seat pillars (a sign of being a chieftain) overboard and vowed to settle where the gods decided to bring them ashore. Two of his slaves then searched the coasts for three years before finding the pillars in the small bay which eventually became Reykjavík.


Fishing boat.


At Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a famous Reykjavík hotdog stand that was once visited by Anthony Bourdain.


We then went to Arnarhóll in the centre of Reykjavík. There was also a statue Ingólfr Arnarson, the first Scandinavian settler in Iceland in AD 874. Our guide also took the opportunity for a group photo!


We ended our walk just outside the City Hall, and where Marteinn talked about a Genealogy Database called the 'Book Of Icelanders' where couples could check how closely they were related. Apparently being in an isolated island country of only 300,000 people meant that it was quite a real risk to date a reasonably close relative!


Afterwards we headed off to an English pub for drinks, where I also had the Icelandic horse carpaccio, very tasty!



Day 10.

For day 10, Jason had organised a tour of Reykjanesskagi, a peninsula at the southwestern end of Iceland, west of Reykjavík. On the way we stopped at a small village for 15 minutes while our guide knocked on a few doors for a bathroom to use, before heading on our way again to the peninsula.


Next we went to the bridge between two continents at Sandvík, where you could symbollically cross between Europe and North America. After scuba diving between the Eurasian and North American plates 2 days ago, it was cool to walk between them again across the symbolic bridge that had been built.


We then drove to the Atlantic coast to take in the views of the crashing waves against the rocks. In the distance on the horizon is the island of Eldey, one of the largest northern gannet colonies in the world, with around 16,000 pairs.


Next stop was to check out some of the geothermal activity in the area.


Five major geothermal power plants exist in Iceland, which produce approximately 26% of the electricity supply.


Yellow sulfur that has percolated to the surface.


At about 12pm we arrived at the famous Blue Lagoon. The man-made lagoon is fed by the discharge from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. The mineral-rich water has purported healing powers so after three hours of soaking in them I almost felt like a brand new person!


We made it back to town just before 4pm, and agreed to meet up again at 4:45pm to head back into town. It wasn't enough time to head back to my hotel, so I went for a bit of a walk.

Höfði, a house in Reykjavík best known as the location for the 1986 summit meeting between presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and was effectively one of the first steps to ending of the Cold War.


Also nearby was a piece of the Berlin Wall on display.


It was after 4pm and I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, so went to the nearby Íslenska Hamborgarafabrikkan (Icelandic Hamburger Factory).


And had the very tasty Animal park burger, which had both a lamb and a beef patty, plus a big fried egg on top(?!).


In the restaurant was also a photo of Reagan and Gorbachev in 1986 shaking hands outside Höfði.


After meeting up with the guys again we walked through Reykjavík to Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran Church that at 73 meters tall is also the second tallest building in Iceland.


And with an awesome view of Reykjavík from the top.


We then headed down into the city for some drinks again, and had a pint of the local Borg Brugghus. I chatted for quite a bit with Jasons mum and her days in the airline indusry, and also a few storys about Jason that I had to promise not to repeat!


Although Jason and the team had further plans tomorrow, I unfortunately was leaving Iceland tonight, so I said farewell, went back to my hotel to pick up my bags and caught the flybus back to Keflavík International Airport.


Airside after checking in for my Icelandair flight to Paris. I bought a burger and some chocolate with some of my leftover Icelandic krona.


And boarding the 1:20am flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. I was pretty knackered and promptly passed out soon after sitting down in my seat.



Day 11.

Looking out the window as we pulled into the gate at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport after the 3 hour flight from Reykjavík on the morning of day 11.


I had a few hours in Paris before my Air France flight back to Dubai, so organised to meet with friends, Philippe and Shirley at the Airport Mariott Hotel for breakfast.


A tasty breakfast buffet with everything from bacon to Nutella.


It was my first time seeing them since 2010 in Shanghai, so was great to catch up with them again!


After saying farewell and vowing to come back to Paris for a bit longer next time, I caught the hotel shuttle back to the airport.


And about to board the Air France 777 for the flight back to Dubai after an amazing trip through four very different countries!


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