Iceland Day 5

Day 5 was expected to be our busiest day. We were driving a good distance west to Akureyri, the “capital of the north”, with several stops around Lake Myvaatn.  We managed to pry ourselves out of bed shortly after 6am.  Nothing was open so we ate granola bars and cashews as we drove west through ever-changing but always extra-terrestrial landscapes.  

Our first stop was at Detifoss, the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe and the one featured in the movie, “Prometheus.”  The sound of the roaring water got louder and louder as we hiked a short distance across the Martian landscape. As we climbed over a rocky hill, we came to this…

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(Detifoss Waterfall, Iceland)

A couple kilometres upstream of Detifoss was the slightly smaller but still striking Selfoss waterfall. 

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(Selfoss Waterfall, Iceland)

We drove to a grocery store in Reykjahlid to stock up and have lunch before traversing the Lake Myvaatn area. This time we were a bit smarter with our purchases, buying slightly more practical food that would stretch our money a little farther.  Loaf of bread (instead of artisan buns and croissants), vegetables, juice, and only enough meat, yogurt and cheese to last the day as we had no means of keeping it cold.  So this time we spent about $50CDN on enough food for breakfasts and lunches for about 3 days…we were learning. 

Next stop, the Viti Crater in an area known as Krafla.  We intended to hike around the Viti crater as there are hot springs on the other side, but settled for the view from near the road as the wind was freezing and so strong it nearly blew us over.  Viti means “hell” and the crater is the centre of a volcanic eruption that started in 1734 and lasted for 5 years.  There is now a turquoise lake within the crater.

Source: https://guidetoiceland.is/travel-iceland/drive/viti-in-krafla

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(Viti Crater in Krafla, Iceland)

We then drove to Hverarondor Hverir at the foothills of the volcanic mountain, Namafjall.  This area is full of a variety of hot springs in the form of steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pools, and solfataras.  

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(Hverarondor Hverir, Iceland)

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(Steaming Fumarole – A fumarole is an opening in a planet’s crust, often near volcanoes.  They emit steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulphide.  The steam forms when superheated water vaporizes as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground.)

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fumarole

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(Solfataras – these are fumaroles that emit sulphurous gases. The sulphur can be seen all over the ground.)

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fumarole

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(Boiling Mud Pits – these are acidic hot springs or fumaroles, but with limited water. The acid and microorganisms decompose the surrounding rock into clay and mud, which then boils and bubbles.)

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudpot

It was like walking on another planet…one that reeks of rotten eggs, or the sulphur recovery units I worked in for several years. Oh the familiar smell of sulphur, how I haven’t missed you. 

We drove through the Namaskard mountain pass toward Lake Myvaatn and stumbled upon this neon blue geothermal lake. Signs posted warn that it is far too hot for swimming. 

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(Geothermal Lake west of the Namaskard mountain pass.)

Travelling south around Lake Myvaatn, we stopped to explore Grjotagja, a small lava cave within a large fissure.  There is  a thermal spring inside, which was a popular bathing site up until the mid-1970s when nearby volcanic eruptions caused the water temperature to rise above 50°C. It has since cooled but bathing is strictly prohibited as it is private land.  For Game of Thrones fans, this is where Jon Snow lost his virginity to the wildling.  

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grjótagjá

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(Grjotagja, Iceland)

At this point we were just west of Hverfjall (otherwise known as Hverfell), a tephra cone or tuff ring volcano that erupted in 2500BCE.  We hiked up the path from the south and around the ring of the crater, which is about 1km wide.  The views were amazing in all directions. 

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hverfjall

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(Hverfjall, or Hverfell, tephra cone volcano)

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(Lake Myvaatn from the top of Hverfjall)

Further south around the lake, we came to the lava field of Dimmuborgir. We almost didn’t stop because we had already seen so many lava fields along the drive. But fortunately, we did, because we were greeted by massive lava formations that looked like the ruins of an ancient city.  In fact, Dimmuborgirtranslates to “dark castles”. 

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimmuborgir

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(Dimmuborgir lava rock castles)

At the nearby restaurant we bought a loaf of rugbraud or Geyser bread, which is a heavy bread baked in clay buckets for 24 hours in the natural heat underground.  It tastes a bit like fruit cake without the bits of fruit and is not bad with butter.  We had a sandwich and some rugbraud in our car before moving on. 

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(Rugbraud or Geyser bread)

Having seen the highlights of the Lake Myvaatn area, we proceeded west to Akureyri.  Of course, there was one more stop along the way, Godafoss waterfall, just east of Akureyri.  Another incredible view.  Godafoss means “waterfall of the gods,” and has an interesting story.  In about 1000CE under the rule of Norway, Icelandic lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi was forced to convert and declare Christianity the official religion of Iceland. Upon his return home, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Since then it has been known as Godafoss. 

Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goðafoss

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(Godafoss Waterfall)

We arrived in Akureyri, known as the capital of the north since it is the largest city outside of Reykjavik and the commercial hub of northern Iceland.  It is situated at the tip of a gorgeous fjord. We checked in at our accommodation for the night. A comfortable room in the basement of a local home.  Our host was Ragnar, a welcoming Icelander with a passion for art. His paintings, among other works, decorated the quaint house.  He suggested we try Neo, a relatively reasonably priced restaurant specializing in local fish. We had cod and wolf fish (spotted cat fish) and they were superb.  It was a little cold and we were winding down so we just drove around town before settling in for the night.  

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(Accomodation in Akureyri)

 

Iceland Day 4

After breakfast the next morning we set out on Day 4, a meandering drive through the fjords of Iceland’s east coast. A fjord is a long, narrow inlet from the sea between high cliffs. They are typically formed by glaciers over very long periods of time. Day 4 carried the promise of the most magnificent views yet and was probably my most highly anticipated part of the drive around the island.  This is what we saw…

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(Magnificent view across a foggy fjord.)

Perhaps not as I had imagined, but the fog and rain did not deter us.  The little we could see was still incredible.  Steep mountainsides disappearing into ominous grey clouds with only a narrow road separating sheer cliffs and dramatic coast lines.

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(Somewhere on the east coast of Iceland.)

Despite the rain, we still made the occasional stop.  The Haifoss waterfall at Fossardalur was particularly beautiful. 

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(Haifoss waterfall at Fossardalur)

Isolated farmhouses dotted the coastline as they did the mountainsides, usually with little to no sign of life other than the grazing sheep.  We kept wondering when the work was actually done, but enjoyed the peaceful stillness as it was. 

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(Random farmhouse on the east coast of Iceland)

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(Sheep grazing in the mountain foothills.  There are more sheep than humans in Iceland.)

We stopped for lunch in a small town at Stodvarfjordur (again, hot dogs and coffee).    The gas station doubled as the local grocery store and information centre so we collected some maps that would be useful over the coming days. 

 The rain and fog continued as we travelled up the coast. I was excited to drive through the mountain tunnel, Faskrudsfjardargong, but we missed the turn off and ended up going all the way around the coast on a gravel road. It was a little harrowing in our toy car but offered up more amazing views. Luckily, the tunnels’ exit was near to the road we had taken so we backtracked a bit to go through.  It was 4 miles of glorious tunnel…8 miles for us!

We were en route to Hafaldan Old Hospital Hostel in Seydisfjordur, a quaint little fishing town in the north east. To get there, we drove up and over a large mountain pass before descending into the fjord in which the town is nestled.  As we drove up the mountain we seemed to be level with the clouds and could see the fog sweeping across the valley over Egilsstadir. It was breathtaking.  Seydisfjordur itself was so picturesque, it was easily the most charming place we had come to yet. 

(Fog rolling over Egilsstadir.)

When we checked into the hostel, we were told we had a single bed in a dorm room and that we would be sharing with several people. Sharing bathrooms had been adventurous for us so the looks on our faces apparently revealed a lot to the receptionist. We checked out the dorm and returned to the front desk to politely inquire if a private room was still available. Before we could say anything, the receptionist offered a private room at no additional cost. We laughed at our awkward reaction earlier and celebrated our little win. 

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(Hafaldan Old Hospital Hostel in Seydisfjordur.)

(Dorm vs. Private room at Hafaldan Old Hospital Hostel in Seydisfjordur.)

We explored the town and went to Skaftfell  Bistro for dinner. We met an American couple from Minnesota who were also driving the ring road and shared our Icelandic experiences so far. After dinner we hiked up and around Budararfoss waterfall and then played at a local playground that featured a zipline. We got back to the hostel with time enough to plan out our next day. 

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(Meeting a local of Seydisfjordur, Iceland.)

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(Church in Seydisfjordur, Iceland)

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(Skaftfell Bistro in Seydisfjordur, Iceland.)

(Budararfoss waterfall in Seydisfjordur, Iceland.)

Iceland Day 3

 “Wow” is likely the word most commonly expressed throughout Iceland.  At least it was for us. The natural beauty of the landscape is intense, extremely varied and a glimpse of primordial earth.  Vast expanses of barren yet unmistakably alive wilderness are teeming with powerful waterfalls, canyons carved by fast flowing rapids, and steam escaping the earth through tears in its crust.  It is humbling to say the least.  As if time there is measured on a different scale, and one on which we need not factor in.  It was like driving through the imagination of Bob Ross on LSD (Classic Bob Ross).  There are happy little friends at every turn and just when you notice something incredible, there is something even more spectacular around the bend.  The land is constantly outdoing itself.

Day 3 started with a makeshift breakfast in our room at Hotel Edda in Skogal – one seedy bun with an unreasonable spreading of Smjor Icelandic butter. Delicious!  We picked up an over-priced but necessary coffee from the nearby hotel lobby ($4 CDN each) and were back on Route 1 heading east toward Solheimasundul beach.  

We pulled off the road to an inconspicuous parking area and another tourist advised that the site we had come to see is about a 45 minute walk from the road to the beach. It did not look that far but the cold, harsh wind stretched every second. 

(Strong winds on Solheimasundul Beach, Iceland)

Finally, we arrived at the wreckage of a US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane that crashed in 1973.  So eerie.  The contrasting twisted white metal and black sand looked post apocalyptic.  Apparently everyone survived the crash, unwittingly creating this iconic landmark. 

Source:  http://expertvagabond.com/airplane-crash-wreckage-iceland/

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(Plane Crash on Solheimasundul Beach, Iceland)

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(Plane Crash on Solheimasundul Beach, Iceland)

After the long, cold walk back to the car we regained feeling in our hands, shook the black sand out of our shoes and continued down the highway to Dirholaey and Reynisdrangar rock formations.  First we stopped at Dirholaey, which translates to “the hill island with the door hole.”  It is really a massive black arch of lava reaching out into the sea, which sounds better than the literal meaning, but still not nearly as impressive as the actual view. 

Source:  https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/jorunnsg/dyrholaey–the-arch-with-the-hole

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(Dirholaey, Iceland)

A short drive further and we were at Reynisdrangar, three black lava sea stacks.  If you watch Game of Thrones, think iron islands of the iron born. 

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(Reynisdrangar, Iceland – from the west side, facing east)

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(Reynisdrangar, Iceland – from the east side, facing west)

We stopped in Vik to visit the Icewear Woolhouse (Vikurprjon) where we showed great restraint and only bought a thick wool blanket to commemorate our stay in Iceland.  We had a quick bite to eat (more gas station hot dogs) and carried on to the east. 

In my research of Iceland, I read many blogs that described the temptation to stop every 5 minutes along the highway to admire the scenery and take pictures.  That temptation is very real and often irresistible.  We did stop many times but the pictures just don’t do justice to the surroundings.  The following are just a sampling. 

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(Eldhraun Lava Field, Iceland)

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(Massive glaciers spilling through mountain ranges.  These are frozen rivers of dense ice, formed when the accumulation of snow exceeds the rate at which it melts, often over centuries.) 

 Source:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier

 

(Endless fields of purple flowers called lupines.  These are all over the country, however we were told the actually originate from Alaska and were brought to Iceland some time ago.)

We later stopped at Fjallsarlon and Jokulsarlon glacier lagoons on the south end of the Vatnajökull glacier.  Our cameras didn’t capture the enormity of these glaciers. The icebergs floating in the lagoons are the broken shards of ice that had fallen off the glacier.  Jokulsarlon Lagoon actually flows out into the north Atlantic ocean.  The turquoise icebergs float majestically in the frigid waters while the waves crash violently over them and wash them ashore.  The black beach is lined with all shapes and sizes of beautiful ice sculptures.

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(Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon)

(Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon)

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(Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon flowing out into the North Atlantic.)

(Icebergs from the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon washed ashore.)

We finished the day at Hotel Jokull (Hotel Glacier) in Hofn.  This was the cheapest we could find and still ran about $200CDN per night for a small double room with a shared bathroom.  It was cozy and clean and included breakfast so we were happy. We splurged on a nice dinner in town at Pakkhus restaurant right on the harbour.  We will soon be writing a separate post on the food of Iceland so I’ll skip that for now. 

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(Hotel Jokull – Double Room)

Iceland Day 1 and 2

It didn’t dawn on us that we’re leaving home to travel for 10 months until we landed in Iceland on June 16.
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Daddy’s Lil Girl
I was holding back my tears as I handed over my precious Sophie to Pam.
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Our lifesavers and Sophie’s godparents
6 hours and 45 minutes later ….
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Picked up our car from Sixt Rental.
Cost : $550 CAD / 50,0000 KR
First stop, the famous Blue Lagoon. It is located about 10 minutes from the airport.  All excited and in awe of the sights driving out of the airport, we took the wrong turn and ended up in Reykyavik 45 minutes later.
 Luckily we managed to get in despite being an hour and half late for our spot. When you book your tickets for the blue lagoon, they give you an hour to get there before they give your spot away. So, make sure to give yourself ample time in case you make the wrong turn.
Welcome to the Blue Lagoon!
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The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland
 Source : Wikipedia
We got the Comfort package which includes a towel and a drink.
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Breakfast and a silica mask to start the day!

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I think I missed a spot
Cost : $130 Euros / $189 CAD for two pax

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It was totally worth it especially after an overnight flight from Edmonton. No better way to freshen up and start our road trip!
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Food was incredible expensive. I had a sushi box that cost about $21 CAD and Adam had a ham and cheese sandwich for $11 CAD.
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The sushi was surprisingly good for a cafe
We’re trying to watch our budget cause we tend to splurge on food. It was difficult as we love to eat and explore anything gastronomic.
Our plan for the day is to drive the Golden Circle. Instead of doing the usual route from Reykyavik, we decided to head south to follow the south coast east towards Selfoss.
We stopped at Grindavik which was the first town south of the Blue Lagoon.
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Lava field
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We had to stop every so often to take pictures of the sights along the way because they were incredibly beautiful.
And then we realized, we never going to get to our destination if we keep stopping to awe at sheep, horses and OMG SO MANY PRETTY PURPLE FLOWERS!!!
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Macro Game
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Random stop because so pretty
 Our first Hotdog for lunch. They’re pretty good I must say. Apparently there’s lamb in it to enhance the flavour.
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Cheapest food in Iceland – $3.50
First stop on the Golden Circle – Thingvellir National Park
The Þingvellir area is part of a fissure zone running through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
 This park is famous for the continental tectonic drift
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Pictures does not do any justice to the beauty of this natural site.
Next, we made our way to Geysir to catch some geysers.
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Thirsty?

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Wait for it …
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Ka-BOOOOOM!
Watching a geyser erupt is a surreal experience. We managed to catch a few eruptions and that never gets old.
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We had a very expensive lamb soup at the cafe.
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$20 for soup and 2 buns but it was surprisingly tasty! Icelandic butter … OMG. It was so good that we bought a tub the next day for food on the road. More about that later.
We arrived in Selfoss at about 930 PM and realized our accommodation for the night is 30 minutes away from there.
Turned out that we were staying on a horse ranch! Adam found this place on AirBnB for $75 a night.

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Louise, the host is a very sweet Scottish lady who moved to Iceland 10 years ago. She told us to check out Reykjadalur.

Reykjadalur (‘Steam Valley’) is a highly scenic valley innermost of Hveragerdi town.As the name of the valley implies, this is a geothermal area.The hot water stream gushing down the mountain range is ideal for relaxing and the valley offers a rich variety of hot pools and geothermal springs. It is also possible to have a dip in the river.
Source

We were sold!
Day 2
It was tough to wake up as we were up for 24 hours the day before. But, we had a lot of ground to cover so we rolled out of bed and head to the grocery store to get some provisions. We figured, it’s cheaper and healthier  to live on sandwiches and fruit for the next couple of days than eating hotdogs every meal (even though they are delicious).
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$80 later ….. Pepperoni Cheese, Icelandic Herb cream cheese, smoked lamb, pepperoni, blueberries (they were soooo good !) strawberries, cherry tomatoes, bananas, seed buns, Icelandic donuts, butter (butter here is incredible), some Goji Berry juice, 2 yogurts, granola bars, chips, nuts and paper plates.
20 minutes later, we arrive at Reykjaladur which is located in a town called Hveragedi. The hike was beautiful and it was about an hour before we got to the hot river. Be careful of horse manure and sheep poop. They are everywhere !
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The views make it easier … and trust me, once you see the river, all pain magically disappears!
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Soaking in the Sun
The water was very clean even though you can see the algae and moss on the stones.

Super highly recommended and worth the visit !

Now that we’re all freshen up, we are ready for our stop which is the epic Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
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So gorgeous that I have no words to describe it
Kelly, our wedding photographer told us about this waterfall in a cave which was a little walk away from the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. He showed us some amazing pictures of being in a cave with a waterfall. We wanted to look for it and eagerly went down the path to search for it.
About 20 meters off Seljalandsfoss….
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This wasn’t it … where’s the cave?!
We actually attempted to climb that really steep slope and there were a lot of loose rocks. My legs literally went jelly. In the end, we gave up and were disappointed that we couldn’t find that waterfall …
Then, we decided to walked along the path and 100 meters later …..
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Totally worth the treacherous climb 😂
After getting get at the majestic Seljalandsfoss, we headed to the next waterfall at Skogafoss.
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One more picture for good measure
On our way to Skogafoss, we passed the famous Eyjafjallajokull. The ash from the volcano eruption in 2010 grounded many flights in Europe. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the video below.
We stayed at Hotel Edda in Skoga.
Cost : $120
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The Skogafoss waterfall is part of the Katla National Geopark and there’s a hike that you can do which takes you up the mountains. There are more than 20 beautiful waterfalls along the hike. Unfortunately we didn’t do the whole hike but we did a short hike further up the waterfall and saw some gorgeous views of the other waterfalls.
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Skogafoss – a true wonder indeed
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Oh yeah, the sun never really sets here and it gets moderately dark at 1230 AM. We were still hiking around at 1130 PM and we didn’t need any light cause it was still relatively bright. Kind of dusky I would say. One of the best part about sight seeing in Iceland  is that you can be out late and still see the sight.
After a much tiring hike and 99,999 stairs and across the sheep mine field, we retired for the night.
Next up, day 3 and 4!