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Land of endless foss-ibilities
A self-drive holiday around Iceland will give you memories of a lifetime. Its stark lava fields, gorgeous glaciers, abundant waterfalls and friendly natives are likely to stay with you forever
It was eleven at night and still sunny outside. There we were, all alone in the middle of nowhere, in Iceland. It was so windy that our midsize rental car, our only shelter from the elements, was shaking violently. Before us lay the vast and majestic expanse of the Arctic Ocean. As we sat there on top of the cliff, contemplating the awesome nature around us, we heard some odd screeching sounds. We reluctantly left the warm comfort of our car to see what it was. Looking up, we saw a couple of seagulls being tossed around by the wind, shrieking loudly. One of them, unable to control its flight, almost hit us. We were so overwhelmed by the moment that the thought of getting back inside the relative safety of our car didn't cross our minds at all.
These and many such moments marked our travels across this wondrous North European country. In the course of a week, we encountered lush greenery, fiery geysers, and dramatically abundant waterfalls alongside glaciers.
The best way to make the most of a visit to Iceland without feeling rushed is to rent a car and to drive around the island from one town to another, spending each night in a different town. The road you would likely take is the Ring Road or Highway 1. We started at the capital, Reykjavik, located on the southwest part of the island, and drove eastward. Self-drive tour packages like Touris are a great starting point. We were able to tweak the package provided by Touris to include our main interest: Dettifoss, the biggest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume. Located in the Vatnaj?kull National Park, this waterfall (' foss' in Icelandic), ultimately falls into the J?kuls?rglj?fur canyon.
As you drive around the country, you will notice that a typical town here is a group of five, fifteen or twenty houses with the tallest building usually a church with a steeple on it. They would typically be located in the valleys surrounded by beautiful mountains. And you can see "strings" of waterfalls flowing from the mountain tops all the way down to many of these remote towns. In fact one can see these towns from miles away. Iceland provides many wonderful opportunities for those who want to stop and feast their eyes on the overwhelming abundance of natural beauty around.
While it can get pretty cold even in June, summer is the best time to visit, mainly because of the 24-hour daylight you will have at your disposal. And don't forget to pack a picnic lunch, park anywhere and get a front seat view of natural splendour at its best. You can choose between the Eldhraun Lava Fields;the beautiful rainbows over the Gullfoss (pronounced Gutlfoss) waterfall that appear and disappear every few minutes depending on the time of day and the weather, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, which is a must-see mainly because unfortunately, it is receding at a rapid pace due to global warming, while still retaining its spectacular beauty;and the Great Iceland Geysir.
While being a vegetarian certainly presents a bit of a challenge in Europe, eggetarians will be glad to know they should be able to manage just fine in Iceland. Having said that, Iceland is a very tourist friendly country. The cafes and restaurants were more than ready to accommodate our 'No meat', 'No fish' and 'No egg' diets. All I had to do was to ask them very nicely, in English, if they would make something outside of the menu and they were willing to oblige. And for the more adventurous there is the H?karl. Pronounced haukhadl, which is Icelandic for shark, this unique dish is clearly an acquired taste, with its very strong taste and smell of ammonia.
Speaking of smells, the one thing that literally hit us the moment we landed in Iceland is the strong smell of sulphur. The entire island smells of sulphur. You feel it more in Reykjavik than in the rest of the country. And it is particularly strong in the hot natural water flowing in the faucets and showers. As for the health and safety issues regarding smelling this over extended periods of time, the 300, 000 inhabitants of Iceland will happily vouch for its safety. The best thing is to try and forget about it as soon as possible. And hey, the amazing sights around the island make it easy to do that.
I especially remember this one day. As we were traversing the only highway of the country, we had this eerie feeling that we were being watched. Not by someone, but by a silent giant;One that has literally been on the move now for more than a million years. It was the majestic Breidamerkurjokull glacier. This magnificent and peaceful ocean of ice was guiding us through twists and turns until we reached the awe inspiring Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
Come to think of it, this is why we travel. So that we may push our comfort zones just a little bit more. So we can force ourselves to learn smatterings of foreign customs and languages and get smiles when we try to use it on the locals. So that we may be there in the moment when looking upon nature's wondrous majesty in a place like Iceland. And so that we may later share that with anyone who cares to listen, hopefully inspiring them to head to Iceland's windy expanses, too.
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