Why hello there. The dream is over. Snap back to reality. In case you didn’t notice – I won’t be offended if you didn’t – we were away for most of April travelling in Europe. A good friend was getting married and we figured if we’re going over for the wedding in England, why not pack in some Edinburgh and Iceland as well? It’s like when you go buy a new car: since you’ve already committed a few ten Gs, whats a few Gs on all the lovely extras the salesman pushes on you? Anyways, the trip broke into 3 main components: England, Scotland, and Iceland. This will be incredibly easy for you: pictures. Go on, you can do it.
Foolishly or not, there were A LOT of things I didn’t get around to doing in London when I lived in the city 5 years ago. I was too distracted, like a total nerd, reading books, preparing for exams, and writing things that neither I nor the world remembers.
Anyways, I would highly recommend checking out St. Paul’s. It is a fascinating cathedral. I had no idea Lord Nelson was buried here… stupid school hindering me from learning about history. Apparently the spot Nelson rests in the bottom of the cathedral was reserved for a monarch. I can only imagine Nelson resting in peace with a the biggest shit-eating grin on his face.
There’s a little mall complex next to St. Paul’s called One New Change. You can goto the top and check out some cool views from the rooftop patio area. There is also a bar up here for those who are TOO cool for school. If you are looking to indulge in a drink, be warned your wallet will take a hit.
Another thing I lamely missed checking out 5 years ago was the Tower of London. I was expecting some boring museum with a dry guided tour. How erroneous I was. I learned more history in that guided tour than I learned in one of my history courses I took 5 years ago. The Tower of London was good, real good. The Yeoman Warders are top notch. It’s super touristy, but I would hands down recommend it to anyone who has not been. There’s usually 2 for 1 deals for entrance if you have a rail ticket, so don’t be a chump and pay full price.
The Shard was still under contruction 5 years ago. It is now open. However, when I looked into tickets to goto the top, I almost blew a nut: $56 for one person. For 2 people you are looking at over $100. I mean, I know London is a pricey town, but that’s just extortion to ride an elevator to the top of the tallest building in the European Union.
Mazal Tov! There exists a alternative that is absolutely free. Granted, it’s half as tall as the Shard, but free is free. At 160 metres, The Walkie Talkie… er 20 Fenchurch Street has a rooftop garden area called Sky Garden. As long as you book your ticket in advance, it’s completely free to go up. Once up, if you’re feeling like a big man, there are bars and restaurants that will rob you blind. A cocktail at the walk up bar cost over $20. Just think of it as admission to the top.
From London, we made our way to the mighty town of Wallingford, where our friends who were getting married reside. It was cute. If you’re looking for something distinctly small country English, this is the place for you.
Then we took a day trip over to Bath to get out of the frantic wedding planning that was going on. We had some other good friends who live in Bath so we stopped by. We came to Bath 5 years ago but we literally saw just the Roman baths. It blew my mind that there was so much more city, and history, to Bath. The city runs free guided tours which were pleasantly good, seeing as they were free. Apparently Nicolas Cage lived in one of these flats a few years ago or something.
Then took a day trip over to Oxford for the same reason. It was cute. Looked like the place you wanted to come to school for if you wanted to become a Slytherin… or was it Hufflepuff? I can’t remember.
Once all had settled down a bit, we took a trip down to the New Forest and had wonderful, hard, English cider and classic ploughman’s. The New Forest has horses and cows wandering all about as they are allowed to.
From the New Forest, we took a jaunt down to the south coast to look at Hurst Castle. It was an impressive fortification that has served in one form or another since that religion making, spouse murdering, rotund of a monarch Henry VIII. If you’re down that way, it’s at least a 3 km walk from the parking lot to the castle.
Finally, we went to the wedding. Cars were the theme of bad luck at this wedding. The groom went to go collect a vintage Cobra for the wedding car he was going to depart the church with his bride the night prior to the wedding. He crashed it. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt but the car was going no where fast. I think he had insurance for it. Because of this, he arrived at the hotel we were all staying at past midnight the night before the wedding. He took it exceedingly well, given the circumstances.
The wedding at the church went off without a hitch. Then, on the way to the reception venue, we were riding in a car with our friends from Bath. We were on a narrow, English country road that could barely squeeze two cars through. Travelling at 50 mph, massive pot holes came up ahead.
By the time you could say pot holes, there was no way to escape them as swerving would have meant hitting an oncoming car. Just pure bad luck. Flat tire. We changed the tire on the side of the road. Correction, my wife and friends did that: I hopped in a car that was heading to the venue as I played the best man card. Suffice to say, I got to enjoy some champagne and appetizers that were gone by the time the car made it to the venue.
Besides those hiccups, everything went swimmingly. The reception was held at a spot called Old Luxters Barn. They brew their own beers. There was a gold ale that they produced – a proper English ale, none of that North American attempts at ale baloney – that was heavenly. We danced into the night and then that was it for England.
The morning after the wedding, we hopped on a train and travelled to Edinburgh. We were only here for 2 days, but with enough walking about, you can see almost all the major things to see in the city in 2 days. Unlike London, Edinburgh is fairly compact: you can cover a lot of ground and most of the attractions are contained in the photo above. The photo was taken atop of Nelson’s Monument. It was a steep $19 to walk up but it one of the highest points in the city and the views were worth it.
Like I said, the city is very walkable and lots of culture and history to soak in walking around.
Edinburgh Castle was a neat tourist stop. Lots to look at. Enjoyed it much.
Went on a Scotch whisky tour – as you do when you are in the country that gave birth to the stuff – and saw what’s dubbed as the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky. Diageo bought it from the man who collected it and loans it to The Scotch Whisky Experience (which is next door to Edinburgh Castle). The collection certainly is quite impressive. Rather than collecting MTG cards, collect whisky. Then sell the collection to Diageo.
And after two fun days in Edinburgh, we were finally off to Iceland (yes a bit of a tease up to now as the title did indicate 7 days in Iceland).
Iceland… what can I say? It was incredible. If I were to make a tourism slogan for the country, it would be:
Raw. Powerful. Epic.
The worst part about Iceland were the people. Don’t get me wrong, the Icelandic people were incredibly friendly. The hordes of tourists in the Golden Circle were just doing their thing. What I mean is that once you left the populated areas, people became few and far between. It became just you and mother nature. That magical spell of being on a geologically unique island, isolated from the rest of humanity was broken when in the large cities. Good thing isolation starts happening outside of the greater Reykjavik area (which isn’t very large relative to North American standards).
Powerful glaciers looming in the horizon.
Raw volcanic landscapes that changed as frequently and with as much variety as a kaleidoscope.
Epic vistas atop volcanoes, waterfalls, and coastal cliffs.
Damn, Tourism Iceland should hire me.
We checked out the Blue Lagoon. Locals hate it. Tourists love it. And we loved it. We knew going in that it wasn’t the “authentic” Icelandic geothermal pool experience. We still had fun regardless. I would recommend you go early, right when they open so that you can enjoy at least and hour or two of relative calm before it turns into a Vegas pool party. Go. Enjoy it for what it is: runoff, waste hot water from the geothermal power plant next door. With poolside drinks.
After the Blue Lagoon, we headed east, with Höfn our furthest point east. We thought about driving around the whole island (it’s only 1,332 km), but with 7 days, we figured it would just amount to endless amounts of driving without really being able to stop and soak in things along the way. Although we knew we could do it, we already did mind-bending miles of driving last year on our trip to Omaha and back so we thought we’d take a bit more of a leisurely drive around Iceland.
Our goal for the first day was to drive from the Blue Lagoon to Vík, around a 220 km drive.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is the first main attraction to really check out along the way, so that is what we did.
Skógafoss Waterfall is next and it was impressive as well, but I think Seljalandsfoss is the better looking waterfall. This is also where I had a bowl of soup half the size of a can of Chunky that cost $15. I mean, it was “traditional Icelandic meat soup” but the portion was so small and the soup so salty that I felt like I was taken to the cleaners.
Our first night was at a guesthouse just outside of Vík. We checked out Dyrhólaey which gave some impressive views atop sea cliffs. We saw some puffins which made us incredibly giddy. Mýrdalsjökull is the ice cap in the background – the ice cap covers an active volcano called Katla. I was hoping we’d get a magma show but it was not to be.
The next day, we departed Vík and headed for Höfn, a 270 km drive.
Driving through east Iceland, you frequently get met with vast empty roads and towering mountains of ice and snow. Remember what I said about the isolation being our favourite part about Iceland? We just loved it.
We stopped at Vatnajökull National Park to go check out the Iron Throne of waterfalls, Svartifoss. It’s almost a 3 km hike with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain from the parking lot in the visitors centre, so keep that in mind.
About 3 km the opposite direction the the visitors centre, the glacial tongue of Vatnajökull, one of the largest glaciers in all of Europe. The thing covers 8% of Iceland. It’s pretty insane. No wonder they used the location to shoot some Game of Thrones here.
As you move a bit more east, you reach the only suspension bridge that we saw in Iceland spanning over Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon that houses all the bits of glaciers and ice that have broken off Vatnajökull.
This was a cool spot. It was among one of our favourites.
When we got to the guesthouse we were staying at in Höfn, we phoned the lady who ran the place, assuming as you do that the doors wouldn’t be unlocked. She showed up and told us that everything was unlocked and we could just walk in. We found that super cute. It’s such a small town they don’t even have to bother locking their doors.
We ate at the Pakkhús Restaurant in town and we would highly recommend it if you’re in the town for a visit. Apparently lobster is a huge seafood commodity for this town and they are in the midst of hyping the valuable sea critters. I can’t blame them.
This is the furthest east we drove. If we were to circle the whole island, we would start heading north into the Eastern Fjords. Next time I suppose.
We stayed one night in Höfn and zoomed back 400 km from where we came to Selfoss. Our game place was to hit up the Golden Circle in one day and then head into Reykjavik for a few days. Up to this point, we had yet to see much civilization so we just assumed all of Iceland was as empty as the east. How wrong we were.
The Golden Circle crawls with tourists, especially the geyser area. It’s proximity to Reykjavik means it’s the goto thing to hit up on a tour bus. There were tour busses galore and it wasn’t even the high season. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t take too many photos on this leg of the trip.
Haukadalur is the area that contains the geysers. It has a geyser named Geysir and that is where the word originates from. This spot was filled with tourists. Not to sound like some geyser snob, but having been to Yellowstone last year, we found the geysers here a little underwhelming.
This is the same picture from earlier. Gulfoss is the second part of the trifecta that is the Golden Circle after Haukadalur. Impressive waterfall. Crawling with tourists.
And finishing off the Golden Circle trifecta is Þingvellir, a geologically and culturally significant spot in Iceland. The ground is literally ripping apart in this rift valley as the North American and Eurasian plates are slowly drifting apart.
We finally made into a dense population cluster. Reykjavik was a cool little town. The best view to be had was from the top of Hallgrímskirkja cathedral.
The view of Hallgrímskirkja from the ground.
The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik.
After a couple nights in civilization, we again headed out for sparsely populated wilderness. We drove about 200 km northwest towards the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Along the way to the peninsula, you can detour to see the Hraunfossar waterfall. I’ve never seen a waterfall where it looks like the water is just seeping out of the ground. It was a worthwhile detour to check out.
There’s a little point called Búdir that has a yellow sand beach, one of the two if I recall correctly in all of Iceland. Yellow sand is rare in Iceland. Funny the perspective difference where it is all too common here.
A short drive away, there is an old fishing village called Hellnar that has some spectacular rock formations by the water.
Part way up Snæfellsjökull in Snæfellsjökull National Park, you can look down on the view of the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Looking up you can see Snæfellsjökull, a strato-volcano with a glacier cap. Unfortunately, we did not get to see it spew magma.
From there, we stayed in the town of Grundarfjörður for the night and then headed back towards the airport to leave for home.
Iceland really was more green than ice.
And Greenland was definitely more ice than green. The Mighty Ducks were correct.
Some tips? Expect to pay roughly double on everything. In Canadian dollars, a pint of beer at a pub was $12. A 500 ml can of their Molson Canadian equivalent at the liquor store was $3.50. Oh, speaking of liquor stores, they aren’t really open much. It has to do with their history with prohibition, which surprisingly was not fully repealed until the late 1980s.
We rented our car from Budget. We got a Nissan Note. It was a small, compact 2 wheel drive but it did the job. We weren’t going anywhere that needed 4 wheel drive so there was no need to pay almost double or more to get a 4 wheel drive. The total came to around $280 Canadian for 8 days and then another $70 to add an additional driver. Gas is also almost double, so it was nice that this thing just sipped on gas. We drove around 1,800 km in total and we paid around $200~$250 for gas in total.
Iceland is known for their hot dogs: it’s like a national dish. The hot dogs have lamb in them so they have a bit more of a gamey taste than what we’re used to back home. They were delicious.
Finally, for this trip, we decided to travel super light and brought only what was essentially needed.
Everything we needed for this trip was packed into 2 carry-on suitcases. It was an absolute dream to not have to lug around suitcases the size of a teenage child everywhere. And even with such minimal packing, we found we still brought a bunch of things that we didn’t even use over the +3 weeks of travel. For example, I brought my SLR which took up some prime real estate but rarely used it – 95% of the photos were shot on my iPhone 6.
Would highly recommend travelling as light as possible. It’s much, much more relaxing and comfortable.
We used up the bulk of our travel reward points on our Capital One World Elite Mastercard to redeem all of of our flights for this trip. The right rewards credit card can be amazing.
We really do love travelling. Not just for the sake of travelling. But like in the way that a nerd loves MtG. Being away from the daily routine and in new and foreign environments forces you to re-examine yourself, your motivations, and what you deem important in life. Sometimes ideas and insights aren’t available until you place yourself outside of what you are so used to day-to-day.
People get that inspiration in different ways. We derive ours through seeing this vast and incredible planet of ours.
Well, there you have it. This is where we were for essentially all of April.
These four products we bought before the trip were absolutely essential – I couldn’t recommend them enough if you plan on trekking a similar journey: