I recorded this video in May of 2015 during takeoff from Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur (NCE) on a flight bound for Heathrow Airport (LHR). The airport is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on three sides, and during takeoff we flew over the sea before turning back inland. After the plane levels over the sea, you can see part of the airport in the right side of the frame.
The day after we arrived in Vík, we drove 193 km (120 miles) from Vík to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon in Austurland, the Eastern Region of Iceland.
The trip was entirely on the Ring Road, and it took us through the most varied and stunning scenery we saw in Iceland.
Cliffs that seem to have sprouted abruptly from flat grassy plains:
And the remains of a bridge destroyed during a glacial flood:
The occasional farming community and gas station – which, if you’re lucky, might also house a convenience store or a café – are the only signs of civilization in this part of the country.
Single-lane bridges are common on this stretch of the Ring Road.
Most of them are short enough that you can make sure the bridge is clear before proceeding. The longer ones, like the one seen in the video below, have small places to pull over in case you meet another car head-on (which did happen to us once, on a different bridge). To give you an idea of exactly now narrow this bridge was, we were driving a Toyota Yaris, and it felt like a tight squeeze crossing the bridge.
This house was a popular spot for people to stop and take photographs (click the image to see it full-size), which is probably why the sign was at the entrance to the driveway.
We saw a few people walking around the gate (the driveway was gated, but there was no fence) to get a closer look. We just stayed next to the road and took some pictures of the land and the surrounding cliffs.
Jökulsárlón and the Atlantic Ocean
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon and the deepest lake in Iceland. It’s full of icebergs that break off from Breiðamerkurjökull, one of the glacial tongues of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland. (The lake can be seen in the beginning of A View to a Kill, where it stood in for Siberia.)
There’s a channel from the lake to the Atlantic Ocean (I think it was created by the glacier’s retreat), and the icebergs eventually end up on the nearby beach or floating in the ocean.
The beach is black volcanic sand, which provides a striking contrast to the white and blue-green icebergs.
Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland, is on the Ring Road and sits below the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and the Katla volcano. It has around 300 residents, a few restaurants and hotels, and one gas station/convenience store. (Our hotel’s guidebook said there was a golf course 300 meters from the hotel, but we never saw it.) There’s not much to do, but it’s a good base for exploring this part of the country, and the local scenery is stunning.
Vík’s most famous feature is Reynisdrangar, a set of basalt sea stacks just off the coast. According to legend, two trolls tried to drag a three-masted ship ashore, and they were turned to stone when the sunlight hit them at dawn.
The N1 gas station is the only place to buy anything in Vík. I’m not sure where or how often the residents of Vík, and especially the more remote areas, buy essentials like groceries. The nearest town that has anything larger than a convenience store is about 80 miles away.
Gas stations in Iceland are self-service, and you have to pay at the pump with a chip-and-PIN card. You have to authorize an amount on your card (in Icelandic krónur), and the pump will turn on. You can only pump up to the amount you authorized. At some stations, you pay directly at the pump. At others, there’s an automated pay station called an automat that controls multiple pumps.
At the N1 in Vík, there were four pumps but only one automat. We were buying gas on our last day in Vík, and I was waiting for a man to finish paying at the automat. He was clearly frustrated, because he turned to me and asked in a very thick accent, “You know how this thing works?” He was repeatedly inserting and removing his card, so I told him he had to enter his PIN and showed him which key was the Enter key (it’s actually in Icelandic, but I can’t remember the word). He said he entered his PIN, so I told him he needed to enter an amount. He said, “How am I supposed to know how much?” I told him I entered 10,000 ISK the previous day, and it was more than enough. He said, “Then I put 5,000.” (April found this whole exchange very entertaining, as she was sitting in the car laughing the whole time.)
The church in Vík sits above the town. It’s believed that if Katla erupts and melts the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the town will be flooded with only the church surviving.
Reynisfjara, which is about 10 km from Vík, is probably the most famous beach in Iceland. Like the other beaches in the area, it’s called a black-sand beach, but it’s really pebbles. The basalt cliffs are, as far as I know, unique to Reynisfjara. During certain parts of the year, the cliffs serve as a nesting ground for puffins. (They weren’t nesting when we were there.) There are shallow caves in the cliffs, and you can also see the other side of Reynisdrangar as well as the Mýrdalsjökull glacier from the beach.
Dyrhólaey is an arch-shaped peninsula that, like most of Iceland’s geography, was formed by volcanic activity. It’s visible from Reynisfjara, but to reach it by car is actually a 19 km drive from Reynisfjara. To actually get the best view of it, you don’t go to Dyrhólaey itself but to a nearby beach called Kirkjufjara beach.
Looking back toward Reynisfjara, you can see a rock called Arnardrangur or Eagle Rock as well as Reynisdrangar in the distance.
The Mýrdalsjökull glacier is also visible from this location, although it’s a much different perspective that gives you a better idea of the enormous area that it covers.
On our recent trip to Iceland, France and England, we found five iPhone apps to be essential. If you’re planning to travel anywhere, especially to another country, I recommend downloading all of these.
TripIt is the best way to keep all of your travel plans organized. Just forward your reservation emails to [email protected], and TripIt will parse the email and add the relevant details to your itinerary. If an email can’t be parsed by TripIt, it’s easy to add the details manually. If you have a TripIt Pro subscription, you also get notifications of flight changes (often before the airline notifies you).
HERE is a maps app that works offline. You can save maps of your destination cities/regions and then use the app for driving directions even if you don’t have a data connection. It’s great if you have a limited data plan or if you’re in an area with spotty cellular coverage. In Iceland, HERE provided better driving directions than the Garmin unit that was in our rental car. Points of interest are also saved for offline viewing. Don’t expect to get Google Maps-level coverage, but any major landmark or attraction, as well as some restaurants and other businesses, should be viewable in the offline map. (There’s no telling how the recently announced sale of HERE will affect the app, but for now the app is still available.)
Vert can convert almost any measurement to a variety of other units (including more obscure units like rods and stones, should you need them). Unlike some other conversion apps, it works offline. (For currency conversions, it periodically downloads new exchange rate data when you have a data connection. When offline, it uses the last rates that it downloaded.) Since we live in the U.S. – one of the three countries that doesn’t officially use the metric system – we found Vert to be especially helpful in Europe, where distances are measured in kilometers and gasoline is sold by the liter. You can mark categories (weight, length, etc.) as favorites to quickly access them without having to scroll through the entire list.
TripAdvisor is indispensable for finding restaurants and things to do. As we discovered, Yelp has limited coverage in Europe. If you’re looking for a place to have dinner or just something nearby to fill a gap in your itinerary, TripAdvisor has you covered almost anywhere. Even in a small village in Iceland, TripAdvisor had reviews of a few local restaurants.
Google Translate is vital if you don’t speak the local language, or sometimes even if you do. I speak passable French (at least I like to think so), but reading a washing machine manual that was printed in French turned out to be quite a challenge. Thankfully, Google acquired Word Lens and added its functionality to Google Translate. I was able to point my iPhone’s camera at the washing machine manual and read the manual well enough (the translation wasn’t perfect) to determine why the water wasn’t draining at the end of the cycle.