So You Wanna Drive Ring Road? What To See, Do & Eat in Iceland (Part 2)

what to see do and eat in iceland while driving around ring road

The southern coast of Iceland is known for its unpredictable weather, icy mountain caps and steep cliffs. Which, while offering panoramic views in every direction, was taxing on the travelers passing through, to say the least.

iceland route
In case you missed Part One, here’s another snap of our route.

It had been less than a week and our hiking boots had already been thoroughly broken in, covered in ash and dust. Although it was a bittersweet goodbye, we were looking forward to a calmer few days in the north coast, a reprieve from the the challenges we had endured. If you’re just diving in, click here to check out the first half of our trip around Ring Road in Iceland!

Dettifoss
Dettifoss

After climbing back over the mountain from Seyoisfjorour, we made our way to Dettifoss, and its baby sister, Selfoss, two of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. The falls themselves were a magnificent sight to see, but the desolate rock fields leading up to them were even more intriguing. Looking something like District 13 in the Hunger Games, the deserted land offered the solitude one could only find on the moon. At one point, I wasn’t even sure if we were on planet earth anymore.

Trail to Dettifoss
Trail to Dettifoss

While continuing to drive through the volcanic lands, we headed up to the Krafla Volcanic Region where we would find Hverir, a geothermal area at the foothill of Namafjall.

Hverir
Hverir

If you can survive the strong smell of sulfur hanging in the air, you’ll be able to to witness a contrast of colors only few have seen in nature.

Krafla Volcanic Area
Krafla Volcanic Area

Spending the past week in temperatures hovering near freezing, we were looking forward to a group of natural hot springs that an AirBnB host had told us about on our way to Akureyri. While Iceland is often symbolized by its Blue Lagoon, the hot springs exist all through the country, although some are far too hot for people to go in or even near. Beyond the toursity appeal of the Blue Lagoon, the Myvatn area offers hot springs for the locals, or the few visitors who make it outside of Reykjavik.

Myvatn Nature Baths, Jarðböðin við Mývatn
Myvatn Nature Baths, Jarðböðin við Mývatn

A good soak rejuvenated us to venture onto the second largest city on the island, Akureyri, a colorful urban area at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord. At the center of the city sits the 1940s Akureyri Church that overlooks the main streets. Graffiti decorated the pathways in a tasteful and clever way, adding to the city rather than detracting from its beauty.

Graffiti decorating Akureyri

Instead of staying within Akureyri, we found a once in a lifetime farmstay in a van a couple miles outside of town.

Akureyri, North Iceland

The Icelandic farm sat on the edge of a lake pillowed between mountains, the perfect vantage point for the midnight setting sun.

sun set at midnight in Akureyri, North Iceland
Midnight sun setting in Akureyri

We spent the evening enjoying a home-cooked meal by the owner and gossiping with her 14 year old daughter, who dreamed of one day moving to L.A. After trading our stories, we cozied up in our camper van with the sunlight still hanging in the sky.

Homemade bread
Homemade bread

The never-ending daylight meant another early wake up as we prepared for our longest drive yet. Our kind host left us some freshly baked bread to take on the road. A much calmer drive than before, we headed to Snafellsness, a peninsula often overlooked on others’ trips around Ring Road. We stayed at another farmstay and took recommendation on where to explore.

Dritvík

We started at Dritvik and Djupalonssandur, another black sand beach where you can see the bright orange remnants of shipwrecks from hundreds of years ago. Not to waste the day, we quickly made our way to Vatnshellir Cave for a caving tour below the earth’s surface.

Caving in Vatnshellir Cave

Vatnshellir Cave

With a full day behind us, we savored another night on a new farm and set up a time to ride the farmer’s horses in the morning. Despite the chill in the air, we were eager and ready at 8am to ride off through the volcanic fields, observing lava tubes and glacier cuts through the mountains around us while on horseback.

Horseback riding through volcanic fields at Kast Guesthouse
Horseback riding through volcanic fields at Kast Guesthouse

After learning more about life on the peninsula from our horse riding guide, we were fascinated to learn that most people on the peninsula move back to the city during the winter. Only a farmer or two stay around to feed the horses, whose thick fur keeps them warm no matter what the weather.
As we packed up our things from our last stay around the island, we made our final list of sights to see on our way back to the capital. After a quick detour to Kirkjufell Mountain, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, we headed to Mount Esja for our closing hike.

Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell Mountain

Mount Esja overlooks Reykjavik and felt like the most fitting final stop on our adventure. The mountain appears to glow a lime green from the mix of wild flowers growing around the base.

Mount Esja
Mount Esja

A steep climb leads up to fresh spring water where you can fill your bottle straight from the creek, along with an extraordinary view of the city we had only left 11 days ago.

Mount Esja Summit

Heavy-hearted, we leisurely made our way back to Reykjavik, already planning our return to this unparalleled island.

For even more Iceland fun, follow us along as we tried out best to film through the wind, ice, fog and magic.

Stay tuned for a recap of what to do in Reykjavik! While I highly recommend traveling Ring Road to truly immerse yourself in the Icelandic way of life, a weekend in the capital will give you a taste of why Iceland has become loved by so many. I mean, Beyonce was here, wasn’t she?

xx,
Juliette

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Advertisements

So You Wanna Drive Ring Road? What To See, Do & Eat in Iceland (Part 1)

what to see do and eat in iceland when driving around ring road

The people in airports fascinate me. I often wish that travelers were required to wear a label when flying sharing where they came from and where they were going. Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way (although I get that’s where I’m headed), but more so because I believe you can learn the most about a person by seeing the places they value. Are the going home? Or faraway from it? There’s so many details that can be learned by merely scanning one’s boarding pass. It was during a conversation like this with the woman sitting next to me on a plane back from California when we got to talking about the greatest places we’d ever been. Without a moment of hesitation, she said that Iceland not only changed how she traveled, it changed how she lived. That sounds like a bit much, I thought to myself, but it didn’t stop me from doing a little research when I got home.

Views from the Golden Circle
Views from the Golden Circle

It quickly became apparent that the land where lava meets glaciers was drawing the appeal of millions. I, too, was not immune to its magical pull. Two months later, my best friend and I planned and booked 12 days driving around Ring Road for the middle of July (which allowed for optimal daylight hours and least chance of blizzards). Now that it’s been some time since our trip came to a close, I finally feel ready enough to pull out my journals and photographs to revisit the most enchanting country I’ve seen. Given the extent of this trip, I’ve split it up into three parts. Part one will follow us along Ring Road on the southern coast, part two is Ring Road leading up the northern side, and lastly, a separate post for all the gems to be found in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.

iceland route
Our route around Iceland. We spent one night in each of the labeled towns.

So go grab your hiking boots and sheep’s wool, it’s time to explore this land of beautiful contradictions. Welcome to the the place where fire meets ice.

Geyser in the Golden Circle
Geyser in the Golden Circle

After landing at Keflavik, the Reykjavik airport, we headed over to Sixt to pick up our rental car. A small hatchback we would use to travel around the highway circling Iceland. Given that we were traveling in the middle of the summer and planned to stick to main roads, four wheel drive wasn’t necessary. However, we did opt for the WiFi router and GPS (life saver!). Although it’s difficult to get lost when going in one direction, the street signs are less than stellar, especially if you’re not keeping up with your Icelandic. It was reassuring to have a safety net in case we got lost. Lastly, we stocked up on groceries since towns were sparse along the way. This is what they created trail mix for.

gullfoss
Gullfoss in the Golden Circle

Our first day was spent exploring the Golden Circle. This charming park is filled with rushing waterfalls, volcanic craters, steaming geysers and awe-inspring outlooks along the way. The route is easy to follow and we were able to see mostly everything in one day.

Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park

We spent the night at the Bus Hostel in Reykjavik and were up early to join a day tour to explore the glaciers. This hostel was more than just a bed to sleep in. We enjoyed the free breakfast in the morning and the ability to chat with others in the common area (and use the speedy Wifi!). It was the perfect spot to get suggestions from others who had been in the country for several days ahead of us.

Solheimajokull Glacier Hike
Solheimajokull Glacier Hike

This was our only pre-booked adventure, as we were determined to have the freedom to travel wherever the road took us. Yet, I couldn’t suggest this group enough. Although the high winds prevented us from walking across much of the glacier, a common weather disruption here, we were able to make up for it with other sites.

Solheimajokull Glacier
Solheimajokull Glacier

History buffs will be enamored with the Sólheimasandur plane crash that occurred on Saturday Nov 24, 1973 when a United States Navy airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in the south of Iceland due to severe icing. All of the crew members survived, and many of the Icelanders would visit the plane to use its leftover fuel.

Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash

Since we were in the land of waterfalls after all, the guide took us behind the sheets of water to view the world from another perspective.

Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss

Sometimes the smallest waterfalls were the most moving to stumbling upon, a hidden secret you weren’t exactly looking for.

Hidden waterfall
Hidden waterfall

In between waterfalls, we encountered grass huts built into the sides of mountains. The folklore of trolls and elves is alive and well in Iceland. So much so, Icelanders reroute their highways to respect the land of the trolls.

Grass huts along Ring Road
Grass huts along Ring Road

Lastly, we visited Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs and the Black Sand Beach. Known for its high wind, you could full let your body fall against the strong gusts and feel your weight being supported. While difficult to breath, the thin air only added to the dark contrasts of the black sand against the icy water. Straight out of Game of Thrones, the area looked more like a movie set than an actual landmark.

Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs, Black Sand Beach
Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs, Black Sand Beach

We stayed overnight in a small AirBnB in Hvolsvöllur and prepared our snacks for the next day. It was important for us to always check the weather for impending storms and make sure we dressed accordingly. Our next night would be in Hofn, a small fishing town in the southeast. We woke up early to beat the rain and headed off to Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park (say that three times fast..or actually just try and say it once) and Skaftafell to hike to Kristínartindar Mountain and the Svartifoss waterfall, which tumbles over black basalt columns. A popular walk, we felt as though we were on the edge of the earth. Each turn led to a view across mountain tops and the glaciers sliding in between until we reached the diamond shaped rock of the basalt falls, signaling it was time to turn back.

Svartifoss in Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park
Svartifoss in Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park
Vatnajökull Glacier
Vatnajökull Glacier

Since we still had time left in the day, we drove past Hofn in search of another hike before doubling back for dinner. We began to notice a series of cars pulling off the road towards large sand dunes. Curiosity got the best as off as we followed their lead. After climbing over the mountains of sand, we were rewarded with one of the the most unique scenes of the north.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

A large lagoon reaching towards the edge of a glacier lay on the other side of the sandy mounds. Ice chunks had fallen off the glacier and turned an electric blue when they hit the water, creating a pool of neon ice cubes.

Jökulsárlón - Glacier Lagoon 2
Capturing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

When we’d had our fill of nature’s miracle, we trekked to our hostel in Hofn after a meal of skyr and langoustine, Icelandic lobster. We mingled with the locals and conversed with a geographer from Europe who was staying up near the glaciers to create topographic maps.

View from our hostel in Hofn
View from our hostel in Hofn

Our bed for the night overlooked a inlet of water with the mountains in the distance we would be driving to the next morning.

Hofn
Hofn

We enjoyed a communal breakfast in our hostel the next morning as we planned our trip up the eastern fjords. Little did we know that some of the most dangerous moments lay ahead of us as we penciled our route. One small turn off the main highway led us to a dirt road a mere inch away from the edge of a disastrously high cliff. I never realized how much I took guard rails for granted, or double yellow lines tbh. As we held our breath for the entirety of the drive, we were finally able to relax having reached our hike of the day, Hengifoss.

fjord driving
The only picture taken after our death-defying drive through the fjords

We lucked out that the Icelanders we spoke to were more than eager to offer suggestions for their favorite trails left off of google searches. This is how we came across Hengifoss, a strenuous trail tilted at a 45 degree angle with a rushing river below. Yet compared to what we just came from, this would be a breeze. Hiking through the bright green moss to reach a towering single stream of falls was worth the fire and ice to get there.

hengifoss
Hengifoss

Although we believed we had had enough heart attacks for one day, our journey had one more in store. We found a quaint hostel in Seyoisfjorour, a small town that is typically only reached by boat from the east. Thus, the only way to get there from inland was to drive up a steep mountain with so many switchbacks that made you began to question your car’s breaks after each turn. To add to the fun, a thick cloud laid on top the mountain for a darling zero visibility.

Driving through the clouds is only romantic theoretically
Driving through the clouds is only romantic theoretically

Finally, we arrived on the other side, our hands still shaking from the day’s unintentional adventures. We made a modest dinner in the abandoned hospital-turned-hostel and recapped our snafus with the older gentleman who had just come off a boat from Norway for a fishing trip. After briefly considering leaving our car behind to sail away, we shook off our fear and got back in the saddle…er driver’s seat. After a restless sleep, knowing we would have to go back across the mountain a second time to make our way to Akureyri, we prepared for the second part of a trip filled with a little more than we bargained for.

Seydisfjordur, Iceland
Seydisfjordur, Iceland

Stay tuned to learn how you can go spelunking underneath the glaciers and horseback riding through volcanic ash as we continue around Ring Road. Check out part two here! SPOILER ALERT: we survived.

Iceland

xx,
Juliette

P.S. I lucked out to have a best friend who is an incredible photographer. I suggest you make sure you have one as well so you can catch these sights from unique perspectives. Check out more of her talents here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

What is Mindfulness and How Do I Get It?

how to achieve mindfulness in your daily life

Capturing mindfulness is like the trying to get tickets to Hamilton. We know it exists, we know that we NEED it in our lives, but we’re not quite sure how to actually make it happen. To make up for it, we drop the idea of mindfulness like it’s the biggest buzzword since Paris Hilton coined “that’s hot”. But despite this sought after concept being forced into us with abstract instructions on how to achieve this elite state, we sit with our disgruntled souls pretending to be more aware of who we are.

Before we can even being to lead more mindful lives, we need to breakdown what it means, exactly, to encompass the teachings of mindfulness within ourselves. It’s vital to note that mindfulness is already within you, perhaps a little beaten down from life itself, but it’s there. Hidden behind the everyday stressers, the underlying fears of failure, and the never ending to-do lists, mindfulness is sulking in the background waiting for you to uncover it’s powers. Thus, this is not an effort to “fix” who you are, changing your personality to fit into the mold of the zenned-out yogi on the mat next to yours. No, mindfulness will look unique for each of us. Though made up of all the parts, it’s construction will be different in each body.

mindfulness

Think of those days where you wake up, shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, reach for your lukewarm coffee and drive to work. Suddenly, you sit down at your desk and can’t recall a single detail from the morning’s routine. How did your shampoo smell when you washed your hair? Did your coffee taste strong? Bitter? Did your significant other dress in a color that was perfectly reflected in his eyes? Were there clouds in the sky as you went to work?

Without mindfulness, this could sum up our whole lives. Little moments strung together with nothing but routine and order holding it together. And then, one day it’s over.

Scary, huh? So here we find the necessary steps it takes to become conscious and aware of our internal and external actions at any present moment in time. We recognize the good thoughts we have along with the bad ones and know they are simply passing through. We accept that we are human and it’s in our nature to think beautiful and ugly things…but it’s also within our power to accept what these ideas have offered to us, and pass them on without judging ourselves for what we are inclined to see as faults.

mindfulness

Avoid Multi-Tasking
Multi-tasking causes us to give little attention to numerous things, causing all of the above to be completed half-heatedly and without intent. Usually, it takes more time to jump back and forth between projects than it would to sit down and complete one before moving on. Instead of eating your lunch while checking your email, set your phone aside and notice the taste, texture and experience of the meal. When sharing time with others, use all of your sense to be invested in the conversation. Have your body towards your companions, keep your gaze from drifting off to the guy walking ahead of you, your ears away from the sounds of cars whizzing by.

Recognize Triggers
When you become more aware of your tendencies, you’ll start to notice certain triggers that cause you to lose touch with reality. Perhaps it’s a stressful conversation with your boss that causes you to fret about the future, or your schedule changes outside of your control and you can’t plan accordingly. Recognize that the unexpected will happen, do not judge yourself for feeling this pressure, and identify what is within your control. Comfort yourself in knowing that it is not possible to attend to tomorrow because it does not yet exist. Come back to the now.

Abolish Mind Stories
The triggers can lead to obsessive thoughts that can consume our entire mind, causing unneeded stress. Learn to determine what is a true event, and what is just a story you’ve created. Hint: anything in your mind that begins with ‘but what if this happens’, is not based in reality and can be let go. Breath in that you have these worries and breath out that this worry only exists in the mind and therefore can be left behind as you move forward.

Act Without Concern for the Outcome
With anxiety for the future, we start to hinder our actions because we are so concerned with their influence over what is yet to be. To truly be mindful in the moment, we need to detach from the end result. Act according to what is in your true nature in that moment, and let go of your expectation of how you think it should go. When we loosen our ideas of how the picture should look, we have the freedom to draw and paint and color outside of the lines as we please.

Create Habits in How and What You Think
Although it may take more than overnight for a quick turn around, acknowledge your habits and learn what cues you can use to come back to the present. Counting your breaths and listing what you see, hear, smell, touch, taste in the present can root you back to this moment in time and space. A mantra, such as ‘let go’ or ‘just now’ stated while breathing in and out can also bring you back to the now.

Mindfulness allows us to overcome anxiety and inner turmoil by letting us be accountable for this single moment without expectation for the minute that has passed and the minute that has yet to come. Using these steps is not a way to lengthen our days, but to deepen them, giving each second the attention it deserves.

mindfulness

How do you practice mindfulness?

xx,
Juliette

Follow my blog with Bloglovin