Updated: Aug 23, 2022
This is my 14th blog. Missed the 10th post but 14 is an excellent number to mark a milestone. These articles mainly serve as a catalog of my own experiences. Something I can harp back toward in regards to my own film photography journey. Iceland no doubt was a learning experience in many facets. I hadn't truly, from start to finish, planned an international, non-weekender trip. This invoked research to define and optimize the process planning, digital organization, and resources for planning a trip. It is easy to get overwhelmed by what an entire country has to offer and trust you are going to get the most out of your time and money.
This Iceland trip's inception began with planning a journey that would be a surprise for my partner. It stemmed from the pre-9/11 idea that you can show up at an airport, buy a ticket to the next flight out and go somewhere spontaneously. That feeling of excitement of not knowing where you're going does make you feel alive. But it was expensive. Ergo, the solution is that I would plan a trip and keep it a secret for my partner until we showed up at the airport.
Now as to why Iceland was chosen? To see the Northern Lights.
Apps / Resources
While engineering my process for planning a trip was enlightening, I still don't count myself as an expert. I won't pretend to be a pro and recommend numerous things at this time. That being said, there are some tools that are necessary for planning an Iceland trip.
Icelandair Covid Guide - covid-19 delta was making its rounds while planning the trip and this helped simplify what would be necessary to travel to Iceland and back.
Safetravel - This is among the most amazing things that Iceland offers. Iceland allows you to dock in an itinerary and will help you navigate the tough and ever-changing roads. Alongside this is a list of helpful features to keep you safe while in Iceland. This is a must.
Road.is - The official website for road status and video of road conditions. Depending on what time of year you go, this is a must.
Thursday - March 16
We flew out Wednesday evening, flying through the night to land early Thursday morning. You could actually see the stars over Greenland.
Your traditional blurry iPhone photo. Im actually impressed it was able to pick up most of what was illuminated.
Here is where things get interesting. When we took off, we were told we’d be landing possibly in snow storm. As we neared the airport in Kevlavik, we heard the pilot come over the intercom to state that we needed to fly around for a bit so that the morning crew could clear the snow off the runway. The photo above shows the state of things as we picked up our rental car. However, we weren’t able to leave right away because the road to Reykjavik was closed due to the snow. As soon as it “opened” we made our way along the what would have been 45 min but now 75 min trip with trepidation.
With no real plan now, we did stop at Costco to get food for the trip. Icelandic Costco is great. Sushi, A new menu, and a good selection of legos.
Our original plan was to do the ring road clockwise. As the day continued, the realization set in that we weren’t going to make it to our first stop. This ultimately meant that days 2, 3, and 4 were out of the question. A somber mood set in with the unknown of what we were going to do and if we were going to be able to get the money back from the places we booked. Took the wind out of our sails. Here is this trip that I spent hours on end planning, the first real trip I’ve planned mind you, and this happens.
First off, we needed a breakfast. Something in our stomachs to give us energy after a long flight and to get through the crash planning ahead of us. Had ourselves a lovely meal at Sandholt. Highly recommend.
After eating, we had a real “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” moment.
Went for a much needed film walk (even though the rest of the photos in this Thursday section are iPhone) and captured some nuances throughout the city.
Found our way to Grandi Mathöll. A food hall with boutique street food. It made for some still needed lowkey activity. We booked a room at Hotel A Room With A View for a decently good price and took a nap. When we woke up we went into survival mode and started calling hotels. Thankfully we got most of our money back. Not a fan of airbnb for several reasons but maybe that’s for another blog post.
Just another nuance.
Made the most of the day in Reykjavik. I won’t lie that it was nice not have to start the journey day 1. But it definitely was a rough beginning. In the evening, the two of us went to grab a drink and dinner. One of our favorite spots, Rúblan bókakaffi, was a sort of library or bookstore with a bar in the front. Great place for a beer at the beginning of the evening.
Dinner was at Sjávargrillið and was expensive but absolutely delicious. Ended the evening Kaldi Bar for a glass of wine.
With a new lease on life thanks to getting most of our hotel money back from places we knew we couldn’t get to due to the weather, we went northeast up the ring road.
Our drive was much easier this day with most of the roads cleared up. Felt like I was driving through Hoth.
The new itinerary had us stopping at the Reykjadalur Hot Spring for our first stop. The snow was still pretty deep in places and we didn’t quite make it to the actual hot spring but enjoyed a hike up the to the top of the short mountains. The hot springs everywhere in Iceland smell foul I will warn you.
Passed through Selfoss and stopped at Urriðafoss. Not much of a hike but a waterfall that was different from the dozens of other waterfalls along the route.
Seljalandsfoss was beautiful nearly iced through with birds flying near the cliffs. The navy blue river flows through the white snowbanks.
The last item for the day was Skogafoss. Pictures have been taken of the falls so many times by so many people that I didn’t feel the need to take one that day. All the attractions for the day were pretty much right off the ring road and therefore our day consisted of mostly driving with scenic stops here and there. We had to drive back some 30 minutes to where our hotel was. This seemed like wasted time and didn’t help the ending of the day. Decidedly, we vowed to not book a hotel until the end of each day.
Saturday - 19
Our trip really felt like it started here. We had figured out a lot of the hiccups by now and truly felt on our way and able to enjoy the day.
First on the docket. Fjadrargljufur. A stunningly beautiful landscape that takes you to another state of mind. The fogginess of the day and underexposure makes for a moody and somewhat muddy-looking photo. Not my favorite capture but I was testing the auto exposure for my camera and found it generally underexposed. This could be due to the snow as the light meter within my camera is center-weighted average metering.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip was pulling off the road to see this rather unique waterfall, Foss a Sidu. The wind carrying the water through the air adding a layer of motion to the rather thin and peaceful waterfall. Additionally, we were greeted by this dog who was incredibly happy to see us.
The dog was so energetic and ecstatic to see. Clearly wishing to play. Also, it was so cold and the dog was wet. Hopefully, it was warm enough.
Stopped at Svartifoss. Alongside the Fjadrargljufur hike, this was a great path with unique views throughout. I'm not sharing any film photos of it because the colors rendered were just not my favorite. And in fact, a lot of my photos from this trip just didn't come out as I had hoped. Mostly suffering from lack of color and about a stop of underexposure. But don't be mistaken, Svartifoss is a great hike and should be added to your agenda.
Finished the day at Svinafall Glacier, we were truly in another element and were blown away by the landscape here. Shoutout Interstellar, our minds were transported to another planet with the environment. Definitely had to find a path to walk to the foot of this massage piece of ice, but was able to pull over and have about a mile hike to the edge.
And as previously stated, we booked our hotel 30 minutes before showing up to the place. Fosshotel was perfect at the end of our trip that welcomed us with drinks, good food, and hot tubs. It was the exact thing we needed after a cold day in Iceland and cemented our initial snowstorm troubles in the past.
Sunday - 20
The biggest day with the most anticipation. I booked a glacier tour for today. One of the items on the itinerary I wasn't going to give up after the initial hiccup.
On the way to the meeting point for the tour, we stopped at Fjallsarlon. The photo above was taken on the way there. You can see the hint of a Rainbow there. Another example of how I was unimpressed with the color capture on the trip. Again not sure, but I think it might be lens related. But the lake Fjallsarlon gave a good look toward the glacier and was a nice breath before heading to the populated Jökulsárlón.
This photo wasn't actually taken on this day. Instead, it was taken on the way back on the trip. However, I felt it was best put here as we did explore Diamond Beach. And I might add that when we did walk on the beach on the 20th, there was almost no ice on the beach. It was just a black sand beach. So it was a bit of a shock on the way back when we saw why it was named Diamond Beach. So bizzare and incredible.
Here is Margaret on our glacier tour. The tour was run in conjunction with about a dozen different tour companies. It consisted of a bumpy half an hour drive to a parking point and then a 20 minute hike to the edge of the glacier. The hike isn't through the glacier, it is to the glacier. I guess I was hoping for a bit more of a hike in an ice cavern element. Nevertheless, it was still unreal.
Here is me. Had this photo taken as I felt it was a good adventure version of me I'd like to show my kids someday.
Headed toward Hofn where we were staying that evening and felt that these Icelandic horses grazing in the field were majestic. Wish I had a longer lens though.
On the outskirts of Hofn, either covid or the winter has this station shut down. The red roof, the blue sky, and white mountains were too good to pass up.
Spent the evening in the dunes near Vestrahorn. Here we saw a photography tour of about 30 photographers, all trying to take the same photo. Even saw the waves consume some of them. It was proper comedy.
There is a lake just slightly inshore that is perfectly still. Surreal.
This photo was taken by Margaret and absolutely captures the beauty of the evening. You can even see the photographers who would later be consumed by the water.
With a well-needed meal at Pakkhus, we headed back to our hotel room outside the city.
So. Here we are. On our 1 absolutely clear day. Thousands of miles traveled. Plans recalculated. Just for this chance to glimpse at the northern lights. We didn't even have a high percentage forecast. I think in the end it was 26% chance. You can read more about it in the dedicated post.
Margaret took this picture of me on her new digital camera. It was the first real time she shot with it and was still figuring out the finer details. However, I think it is still a great photo and floods my mind with the memory. Mostly with just how cold it was.
Not to repost the roll I shot, here is my favorite photo from shooting the Northern Lights on film.
Monday - 21
At this point, we are officially headed back. Our original plan followed the ring road going clockwise. Due to the storm, we had to implement an out-and-back approach. This made it quite difficult to section out scenes and activities for the way out and the way back. We would stop at Diamond Beach again as there was massive pieces of ice sitting on the beach. Some of them were larger than me. Just chillin' on the beach.
Even if we did have a lot of driving. It was always beautiful.
I think a less obvious hike that I would HIGHLY recommend is the Múlagljúfur Canyon. Tucked away by a gravel path and overshadowed by Iceland's more popular valley hikes (like Fjadrargljufur). I didn't even get to finish the whole hike because we needed to be on our way and it was still maybe my favorite outdoor activity of the trip.
Made it to Vik sometime in the afternoon. The weather was quite harsh at this point with a frigid rain falling. Not wanting to waste more time on the trip, I set out for a really treacherous photo walk. The rain felt like little needles. I was soaked through and through by the end. In a town that was no bigger than a neighborhood, a dozen stores or restaurants, and a single church, I found it to be the town I most imagined myself to have grown up in. The school's track and field scene above felt oddly homelike to me.
A washing station just off the black sand beach.
Again a warm dinner was well-needed. Smiðjan Brugghús hit the spot as we rejuvenated from the harsh cold. Spent the evening in Hótel Kría as another storm passed through. It was at this point of the trip that we realized that all the chaos so far would just be another story really. Would I want to go through it again? No. But I can at least recognize that it shaped the trip.
Tuesday - 22
Headed back to where we started in Reykjavik. Our final day of roadtripping.
Not hitting enough of the Icelandic churches, we for sure weren't going to miss a chance to stop at the one on the ridge in Vik.
The famous Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach headlined our final trip. The pitch black sand that we had seen at Vestrahorn and Diamond beach was the same tone but interrupted by the grass on the dunes or the ice or rocks on Diamond beach. Here it spanned an incredible distance with a pure and consistent shade.
Totally unnecessary to tell but we had found that we lost the black cap to the super 8 camera when getting back to the car. I headed out to see if I could find it. Black cap on a vast black beach. Low hope. Luckily as I was literally giving up, I found it.
All along the coast, not just Reynisfjara, birds soared high in the sky.
After stopping at the Dyrholaey Lighthouse (also hoping the puffins had migrated early), we made our way to Reykjavik.
With plenty of time, we went for a long walk through the lower part of the city. Reykjavik has quite the graffiti in most places. Here was another that I found to be unique.
The Harpa is a large music hall that sits right next to the water. It is absolutely beautiful and reminded Margaret and me of Iceland's own Kennedy Center. I could easily envision several photo shoots here. Above a couple anxiously made their way to the Harpa.
Where else but Rúblan bókakaffi to begin our evening again? We made a night of it and ended up going to several other bars including Einstök Bar and Kaldi Bar. But the gem of the night honestly was a tip from one of the bartenders to go to Mandi for shawarma & fries for late-night food. 10/10 food.
Snapped on the way back from bars to our hotel.
Wednesday - 23
The adventure came to a close. Enough time for the last photo walk through the city.
A funky food spot in a square. Had I thought about it, I would have gone inside to capture some of the people in there. There was quite a few characters.
The jug sitting outside among the empty chairs and green tone. Overall felt slightly uncharacteristic of Iceland but shot it regardless.
Me in front of a house colored my favorite shade of blue.
Margaret giving the worst notice for the picture. I love the picture anyway.
A mostly empty delivery van on the streets of Reykjavik.
I've written this post by day rather than by location as I felt that the story of the trip was more so captured. This trip had really high highs and some low lows. But I will always remember it for the challenge and adventure it gave. Not all trips do give a true sense of adventure. This one did.