Tag Archives: sabbatical

#6monthstravel – Start of an epic journey – Iceland

#6monthstravel

Me at Stokkur geysir
Me at Stokkur geysir

It’s been a dream of mine to be able to travel the world for an extended period instead of just the usual 2-3 weeks holiday that I have been taking as annual leave from work. While many may think 2-3 weeks is a long time to be away, I feel it is never enough to experience the many places in the world that I want to visit. Many people do a gap year in their younger years after finishing school and some even go further on to traveling for a few years and funding themselves through finding short-term work opportunities or odd jobs in different countries. I haven’t had the luxury and opportunity to afford that in my younger years, and I have come to a point in my life that I can and I decided to take that chance.

I initially wanted to travel for a year, but having given it a thought, a year might seem too long for me to get back to reality of working and living what most people consider a normal life. While it is true that I do desire to lead a more adventurous and spontaenous life, part of me wants the routine and knowing what to do the next day. I think a good compromise I made was to do 6 months travel. That way, it is long enough to experience traveling for an extended period, yet not too long that coming back to where I used to live becomes too much of a culture shock all of a sudden.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to talk to my boss and for him to allow me to travel for the last 6 months. Of course, I wasn’t getting paid for this period, and it also took some discussions from the management before they agreed to it, but at least my employer decided to keep my position for me, and I definitely had a job to get back to.

That said, I had a few places in mind that I wanted to see, and things that I wanted to do during this period. To start off my list, the very first item was to run in the Reykjavik Half marathon and see Iceland. And here is what happened:

ICELAND (16 Aug – 21 Aug 2016):
Keflavik International Airport (16 August):

Keflavik International Airport
Keflavik International Airport

The airport arrivals area was surprisingly very chaotic! I thought I had landed in a small airport with not that many incoming flights, but it turns out that it is one of the low-cost hubs for flights into Europe from North America! They now have so many flights arriving from different parts of the US, Canada and across Europe, and they only have 3 baggage carousels at arrivals! It felt like a small warehouse-turned-baggage claim area. Though it seems that they are expanding the airport to cope with the demand, I think they have not managed the expansion very well.

Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa Concert Hall

I took the Flybus shuttle to get into downtown Reykjavik. The travel time from Keflavik airport  to downtown Reykjavik is roughly 50mins, through the lava fields of Reykjanes peninsula. Flybus was good, they have free wifi onboard, and when one bus is full, they immediately had another bus arriving to take passengers to downtown Reykjavik. On arrival at BSI bus terminal at downtown Reykjavik, those with a Flybus Plus ticket were asked to board a smaller shuttle to their respective hotels and hostels.

I arrived in the evening and after having taken 4 flights in 40 hours just to get from Sydney to Reykjavik, I was feeling so tired. I was also hungry, so I had to fight my tiredness to find a place to eat. I ended up choosing to have dinner at Messinn. But before I could have dinner, I was asked to wait 30mins for a table. I decided to go down the road to check out Harpa concert hall, which is this impressive glass crystal-shaped building and is their version of the Opera House.

I was shocked at the prices in Iceland, I spent nearly $50 for a meal and drink and it wasn’t even a posh or expensive restaurant! After dinner, I was so tired from the long journey that I went straight to bed.

Day 2 – Golden Circle tour

Gulfoss
Gulfoss

I started the day with a quick breakfast at Kaffitar, across the road from Loft Hostel. It’s like the Icelandic version of Starbucks, but still the food I found was rather expensive! A ham and cheese croissant and coffee costs AU$18, which is too much for a coffee chain like that! I guess I really have to just adjust to the exorbitant food prices in Iceland!

I had pre-book a tour with Reykjavik Excursions, as they had a discount special for marathon participants. The pickup by Reykjavik Excursion from near the hostel was late, but good thing the tour bus that we were going on waited for us at the BSI bus terminal.

Our tour guide was Helga. She was really good and knowledgeable about Iceland and Reykjavik and was very accommodating. The drive took us through some of the stark but beautiful lava fields that dot the island and covered with lots of ancient moss.

Our first stop was a greenhouse that grew tomatoes all year round – a novelty for a place like Iceland that has a harsh climate and terrain. It was called the Fridmar Greenhouse and they had some items for sale to try out their fresh tomato produce. I tried the tomato soup that they sold and it was really hearty and good!

Fridmar Greenhouse
Fridmar Greenhouse

Next stop was the geysers, where the geyser “Geysir” used to be. Geysir has stopped putting on a show for a few years now and the famous one now is just next to it called Stokkur. Stokkur is quite active and seems to erupt every 5-10mins. Around the area are lots of hot pools and small geysers, with a larger one just around the corner from Stokkur (but not as active as Stokkur)

Stokkur Geysir
Stokkur Geysir

After Geysir, we went to Gulfoss. The view was amazing! The falls, though not tall or wide, was spectacular to look at and you can either do the walk above for a panoramic view or walk down to get up close to the waterfall. It was a great experience to do both and get wet with the splashes near the falls.

Gulfoss - up close
Gulfoss – up close

After Gulfoss, the tour went to drop some of us off at Fontana wellness spa in Laugavatn, which is by the shore of a lake that also has some thermal activity. The spa has a few thermal pools as well as steam baths and sauna facilities. But before we were let into the spa, a guide took us to the shores of the lake to show us how they make bread by burying them in the hot sands of the lake. It looked similar to what the Maoris in New Zealand do with the hangi. The spa and sauna was a great relaxing stop for the day, and we spent nearly 2 hours just chilling in the wellness complex.

Fontana Wellnes Spa
Fontana Wellnes Spa

Our tour finished at Thingvellir National Park, the area where the first parliament session in the world occurred when the leaders from different sections of Iceland gathered to pass laws. The national park is also where you can see the North American and Eurasian plates meet. It’s one of the most important sites in Iceland, one that the nation holds a lot of pride.

Thingvellir
Thingvellir

Overall, it was a great day exploring the Golden Circle of Iceland. It showcased the important places that Iceland is known for, and gives a glimpse of the beautiful scenery that the country has to offer. More on the rest of my trip to Iceland in the next post..