Iceland In Seven Days Part III: The East Coast

Let's get a couple of introductions out of the way before we get going, if you've read another Iceland Post, these are all the same,so feel free to skip down to the next picture, if you haven't, then check out PART I right HERE, and Part II right HERE:

  • This is going to be a Multi-Post EPIC JOURNEY THROUGH ICELAND, so you can read them in order, or skip around, or don't read any of them, I'm not your mother, I'm just glad you clicked.
  • If you like the pictures, there are A LOT more on our Facebook page, go like us and look at them! Again, or don't. I'm not your mother.
  • There's going to be a lot of Iceland Inside Jokes throughout this, so you can go back and read them again later and you'll enjoy them on another level. This will be the Memento of blog posts.
  • It's my hope that people planning a trip to Iceland can use these posts as a loose guide to getting around the Ring Road, or just cherry pick some ideas from it. At the very least, you can click from here to this Expert Vagabond post, which was extremely helpful for our first couple of days.
  • We traveled to Iceland during the shoulder season (late April/Early May), which was fantastic, as the weather cooperated for most of our stay there, and it wasn't too crowded at any tourist attraction. There were many times when we didn't see another person/car for almost an hour. 
  • There's A LOT of driving. You're driving almost 900 miles if you simply rock the Ring Road and don't deviate, and you will deviate, because Iceland is insanely beautiful and you're there to see things and do stuff. Be ready. It's a lot of driving.
  • Iceland is incredibly easy to navigate once you get out of the city (mostly because there's just not that much outside of Reykjavik), road signs are a-plenty, but we used Google Maps for a fair amount of our travels while we were in Reykjavik or on the south side of the island. How did we use Google Maps, you ask? CHECK THAT NEXT BULLET POINT, SON.
  • As soon as you arrive in Iceland, go into the Duty Free store and buy the following: However much booze you'll drink for your entire stay, and a SIM Card for your phone. The 1000kr and 1GB Data card which cost 1990 krona lasted us the entire week and we used it a fair amount. Why buy booze? It's incredibly expensive and hard to find outside the airport, and we know you like to drink. DON'T LEAVE THE AIRPORT WITHOUT BOOZE, YOU WILL REGRET IT.
  • If you see this symbol on a road sign, something incredible and otherworldly is coming up, pull your car over and get your camera ready. Let's go to Iceland.

DAY THREE (If You Haven't Reads Part I Or II, They're Here And Here)

Did you wake up a little hung over after drinking Gull and Brennevin all night? I know we did, but there is good news because the next AWESOME stop is literally directly across the street. You can find black sand beaches (FUN FACT: The beaches are black because most of the sand comes from volcanic ash) in other places throughout Iceland, but Vik is by far the largest and the most beautiful. You can backtrack around the mountain from the campground for views like this, including the spectacular basalt columns:

I stole this picture from flickr. Sorry!

I stole this picture from flickr. Sorry!

Or you can be a little lazier and just drive right through town to get the striking views of the rock formation Reynisfjara. If the weather is nice, you can hang out on the beach and have your hot tea that you made with hot water you procured by pretending to be a guest at the IcelandicAir Hotel with your breakfast which you picked up yesterday at the Bonus (if you're trying to dupicate our trip exactly which I think you definitely should), or if it's windy and cold like it was when we were out there, take some pictures (both real and mental), and let's get moving. A lot to see, and we've got a lot of driving ahead of us.

So this is about a three hour stretch of driving, but it goes quickly, because the views are absolutely spectacular. The landscape changes so that within minutes you go from driving on what feels like the surface of the moon with the craggy lava formations surrounding you and the massive, snow covered peaks towering ahead of you to a coastal highway with lofty cliffs and clusters of sea birds winking in the distance; in an instant you're back alongside a farmhouse that sits next to a mountain which juts into the clouds. You're going to pull over and take a lot of pictures, and I don't blame you. If you want to see more of the almost one thousand pictures we took, check out the Iceland Album on our Facebook page, but here are a couple to whet your whistle:

SIDE NOTE: My advice is to have a specific singer or album that will be your soundtrack for Iceland. For us, we blasted Ryan Adam's version of 1989 almost the whole trip, and it was fantastic. As we came around a curve and Ryan poured his heart into "This Love", we saw the coolest thing we saw in Iceland. Are you ready?

Jökulsárlón translates from Icelandic to English as "Glacial River Lagoon", and if that doesn't make sense to you, let me break it down like this: Jökulsárlón is a river with chunks of glacier floating in it. That means there are ICEBERGS floating in a river. That you can see. You can get right up next to them. ICEBERGS. Don't believe me?

Look close, because there are also SEALS!

Look close, because there are also SEALS!

When you drive up to the area, there are basically three places to park, we went to all three, and we recommend you do the same.  The first stop should be on the left side before you cross the bridge. This was our favorite vantage point, as you avoid some of the tour buses which are parked across the bridge, and there are even some trails to get even closer to the water. We stayed up here for almost an hour, just observing the seals playing in the water (apparently they will sun themselves when the weather is nice which it wasn't for us, as you can tell by Renee's coat/hat/scarf/overall freezingness) and enjoying the quiet embrace of nature. A place like Jökulsárlón was truly awe-inspiring and one of the most impressive sites I've seen in real life. The pictures are spectacular, but they truly don't do it justice.

Head across the road to the black sand beach, where if you're lucky like we were, there will be chunks of ice strewn across the beach and in the shallow waters. Yes, that's right, there are more icebergs! These guys are not exactly Titanic sized (I know that you won't like that joke, but it makes my heart grow), but it's still super cool to see chunks of a glacier not only floating in a lagoon, and not just on a river, but actually in the ocean. You can even go and take pictures next to them....

Once you've had your fill amongst the icebergs, head over the bridge (be careful, it's one of the thousands of one-lane bridges in Iceland) and to the small coffee shop surrounded by tour buses. There are a lot of tourists on this side, so make sure you've secured enough memories to last a lifetime, maybe grab a cup of coffee, update your Facebook status with the free wifi inside, and let's roll. 

Before we go any further, I need to tell you something. Originally, our plan was going to look like this:

  • Night 3 - Hofn
  • Night 4 - Myvatn
  • Night 5 - Somewhere On The West-ish coast (I had my eye on Hvamstanggi)
  • NIght 6 - The Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel (Yes, that's right. That's why we were sleeping in our car for four nights)

BUT. While we were camping with our friends in Vik, they told us about that on Night Four, the Northern Lights were going to be active and the cloud cover didn't look to bad on the west side of the island. After about five minutes of debate, we decided that we could handle a couple of long driving days if it meant crossing the Northern Lights off of our bucket list. If you're traveling to Iceland, be sure to check out the Aurora Forecaster for the time you're there. You never know when the lights will be shining, although (SPOILER ALERT) April-September, it will probably be too light out to actually see anything. This is what the forecast looked like for us:

So we took a shot. So while most people took their time and stopped in Hofn for the evening and spent a day exploring the eastern fjords, we decided to keep on trucking. More 1989 for us! Driving in and out of the fjords for a few extra hours sounded like it was going to be a pretty good time, and it almost was. Until it started to flurry a little bit. FORESHADOWING. 

As we pressed farther north, the snow started to pick up a little, until a fateful moment where we encountered another tourist driving towards us flashing his brights and waving us over to the side of the road, as the Ring Road was closed about four miles ahead. The sign on the road said to call *1778 for road information, and the extremely Icelandic woman on the phone told us we could take 92 to 96 to the next town and meet back up with the Ring Road at Egilsstaðir. I asked her if it would be safe for us as tourists, and she told me, "Both roads are passable." Allow me to put something in bold for you.

When An Icelander Tells You The Road Is Passable, IT DEFINITELY IS NOT. 

So as we continued to progress north, the views stayed spectacular (we were going in and out of fjords) and we were having a great time; Ryan Adams was telling us that haters were going to hate, and it seemed like smooth sailing. As we saw a sign letting us know that Egilsstaðir was only twenty five miles away, the snow started to pick up just as we entered a tunnel. A super long tunnel. A five kilometer long tunnel. Seriously, it was a long tunnel. We had hoped that the snow would subside on the other side of the tunnel, but unfortunately, we were wrong. We blazed out of the tunnel into a full whiteout. 

Let me paint this picture for you. Before we hit the tunnel, we had driven about fifty kilometers without seeing a single car, town, person, or puffin. And we were about fifteen kilometers from Egilsstaðir. So our choices were:

  • Pull a three point turn in the middle of a white out snowstorm where any car coming in either direction wouldn't see us until we were in their front seat. Then drive fifty miles down a cliffside mountain on a road which may or may not also be snowed out.
  • Continue into the storm, without knowing what the roads looked like ahead.

Sweet choice, huh? So we plowed (PUN) ahead, and five minutes later, we saw the best thing in the world. Another car. And an SUV at that. Hooray! We followed closely behind this Angel in a Kia for the remaining fifteen kilometers until we arrived in Egilsstaðir safe and sound. 

PIcture doesn't look too bad, right? Remember. Pictures in Iceland never do justice. 

So we had an unscheduled stop in Egilsstaðir, as we clearly weren't driving any more that night. We found out later from our friendly neighborhood gas station attendant that almost fifty cars had been stuck in a forty mile radius around the town, so we counted ourselves lucky. And because I know you're curious, the driver of the Kia was a Belgian tourist couple who was just as nervous as we were; we'll call them Kia Belgians, and don't worry, we'll see them again later. 

We treated ourselves to a pizza in Egilsstaðir, so if you're looking for a ridiculously overpriced meal in a small mountain town of Iceland, try the Salt Bistro and Cafe. They had the four things we needed when stranded in a foreign country: Pizza, Beer, Wifi, and French Fries.  The traditional Icelandic meal.