Saturday, 22 September 2018

Dear Diary.....Golden Circle Tour Part I (Southern Iceland)

Dear Diary,

This day was the day that my husband and I had looked forward to the most ever since we touched down in Iceland - the day when we embarked on our Golden Circle tour. Filled with anticipation for the tour, my husband and I woke up super early and managed to pack our stuff, check out of our accommodation and waited at the pickup point way ahead of the scheduled timing. Even then, it was not a long wait before we got onto our ride and joined the rest of our tour mates on the journey to southern Iceland!

Our group consisted of 17 people including our driver and guide and the travel van was our main mode of transport for the next few days. When we board the van, we could see that everyone was as excited as we were for the trip and all of us could hardly wait to see the extraordinary landscapes of Iceland!


After what seemed like a long drive from Reykjavik, we arrived at our first destination for the day - Seljalandsfoss, the most visited waterfalls in Iceland with a drop of 60 meters. Seljalandsfoss is unique in that it had a pathway that stretches all the way around the waterfall. We had long heard of this waterfall and seen many beautiful photos of it in the social media but were quite disappointed when we actually saw it with our own eyes. It was without a doubt that the waterfall had a very majestic and impressive outlook with its towering height and the forceful speed of the water. However, the brown and barren land surrounding it made it lose some of its aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, the pathway behind the waterfall was still covered in ice and was very slippery. In view of that, my husband and I decided not to venture there to minimize risk of falls. Our attempts to take a selfie when standing at a closer proximity to the waterfall (but still quite a distance from it) was also hindered by the tons of water splash as the waterfall crashed onto the pond of water located at the bottom of the cliff. We were left drenched and without a proper photo - what a way to start the day!

Look at that water splash!

Disappointed, we slowly made our way back to the van and it was a short drive before we reached the next destination - Skógafoss (another popular waterfall, situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland). Our eyes literally lit up when we saw this next destination. the landscape here was drastically different from that seen at the previous stop. The land surrounding Skógafoss was covered in snow! The white snow coupled with the dark colors of the land against the backdrop of the massive Skógafoss evoked a rather surreal feeling and the scene was just gorgeous! Skógafoss, with its towering height of 60 meters and width of about 25 meters, had an impressive outlook that was not inferior to that of Seljalandsfoss! I had finally understood what my friends meant when they said that the landscape in Iceland can differ quite a lot from one location to another.


The state of my camera lens after visiting the two waterfalls :(

Skógafoss had given us a new lease of hope and we started to be more optimistic about what is in store for us for the rest of this day. It was another long drive before we arrived at the third stop for the day - Sólheimajökull, a glacier in southern Iceland, between the volcanoes Katla and Eijafjallajökkull. It was time for some glacier hiking! I had never seen a glacier prior to this and everything around me seemed very new and interesting, I was literally getting quite overwhelmed with this mysteriously beautiful sight!


For safety reasons, our group was further split into two, with each group following a different glacier hiker guide. Our guide was a rather stern young chap who led us to the a spot where the glacier hiking equipment were neatly arranged on the floor. Following his prompt instructions, we each picked up a set of hiking equipment and followed him to another spot further up. There, our guide demonstrated to us on how to put on the crampons and the correct way to use the glacier hiking stick. After a brief lecture of the safety aspects to note for the hike, our group proceeded on further into the glacier. 

The glacier hiking equipment

Right from the beginning, I was lagging behind as I found it rather difficult to walk with the crampons on. Noticing my struggles, my husband suggested for me to step harder onto the ice so that the crampons can have a better grip and thus allowing me to walk with more ease. It worked! I no longer had to struggle with my crampons but rather was able to admire the view of the glacier up close! Along the way, our guide showed us many things - including a huge hole that went all the way down (it would be disastrous if any one was to fall in), how clean the glacier was (by breaking off a small chunk of glacier ice and popping it straight into his mouth) and the proper setup for an vertical hike up the huge chunks of glacier ice blocks (and for us to take our “hiking” photos). It was a fascinating and interesting hike and unlike the many others that we had experienced! 

The glacier...

Certainly would not want to fall into that hole....

Reaching the top of the glacier, we were given some time to take some photos. The view was phenomenal. At this point in time, the sun was already setting and the sun rays reflected on the glacier was one of the most beautiful sights that I had ever seen! I knew I should have brought my camera up with me on that hike! Nevertheless, looking out into the glacier, I became lost in this natural landscape which seemed to stretch for endless miles and suddenly everything just seemed so insignificant compared to it! It was certainly a wonderful and therapeutic experience!

Gorgeous view!

I felt like I was walking through an ice cave...

After taking tons of photos at the glacier, we made our way back to our van where everyone was desperate for a rest after hiking for close to 3 hours. It was yet another long drive before we arrived at the final destination for the day -  Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, situated under the mountain Reynisfjall near the village Vík. This beach is famous for the basalt sea stacks (or Reynisfjara), its black sand and the massive sea waves.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

The basalt sea stacks


The waves were seriously huge and our guide had warned us not to get too close as there were cases whereby people were swept away by these waves. Without venturing too near to the coastal lines, my husband and I started to explore the basalt sea stacks and it was just fascinating how such beautiful structures can be found in nature itself! We spent some time admiring the view and the sea breeze before the cold got to us and we had to make a dash for the cafe nearby to warm up (my camera got fogged up due to the rapid change in temperature as well!).

Look at that huge wave!

Dyrhólaey Cape in the distance...
It was only the first day of the tour but my husband and I had already had so much fun and we were feeling very blessed to have the chance to see the beauty of Iceland with our very own eyes! We are certainly looking forward to more exciting adventures for the next day....stay tuned!!

Yours Truly,

Related Posts:
Dear Diary.....Reykjavik and Northern Lights (Iceland)

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Dear Diary.....Reykjavik and Northern Lights (Iceland)

Dear Diary,

All the various photos of the stunning Northern Lights appearing in the various social media has brought back fond memories of our trip to Iceland! It was yet another impromptu week-long trip to Iceland in the hope of fulfilling our dreams of dancing alongside the Northern Lights! Having long heard of many friends raved about the extraordinary beauty and uniqueness of the landscape in Iceland, my husband and I were full of anticipation for the trip. However, we soon realized that one week was probably too short a duration to cover all that we want to see in Iceland! Furthermore, as it was during the winter season, with the unpredictability of the Icelandic weather and unfamiliarity of driving in snow and ice, we decided to join a local tour group! The only downside of this decision was that we were only left with 2 days to explore Reykjavik and to go for the Northern Lights hunt! :(

Beautiful street art in Reykjavik

We touched down in Iceland in the afternoon but as daytime is short during the winter, it was dark by the time we reached Reykjavik and we were quite disappointed that we did not get to see much on this first day. Our disappointment was made worse when we got news that the Northern Lights hunt for the night had to be cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Hallgrimskirkja church looking rather mysterious at night!

In a bid to shake off all that negativity, we headed back to our apartment after a brief walk in the city center to cook our dinner. Looking at the prices of the restaurant food and even that of the fresh food in the supermarket, we were glad that we had the option of cooking our own meals by picking an accommodation with a kitchen as well as packing several staples and ingredients in our luggage! After dinner, we then headed to bed, vowing to wake up earlier the next day so that we can have more time to accomplish the things that we had set out to do and see!


Waking up earlier than usual the next day proved to be quite a challenge, especially on a cold winter day! With the sky still dark, the inertia to get out of the warm and comfortable bed into the cold and windy streets was one of the strongest to date! However, as we do not have the luxury of time, we eventually dragged our lethargic bodies out of the apartment.........and headed straight to a nice and cosy cafe for breakfast!

Breakfast time!

Cute pancakes :)

After a nice and hearty breakfast and with the sun slowly rising up from the horizon, my husband and I proceeded to explore the city. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, had a rather modern and sophisticated outlook. As we walked around, we were constantly amazed by the uniqueness of its architectures. The exterior of the Hallgrimskirkja church looks impressive with its towering height and resemblance to the basalt rock columns and the huge pipe organ located in its interior was certainly mesmerizing!

Hallgrimskirkja church looking very different during the day..

The huge pipe organ inside the church

Along the harbor, the Harpa Concert Hall, whose geometric shaped glass panels bore some resemblance to the basalt columns, was one eye-catching architectural structure! Located a short distance away lies the Sun Voyager sculpture, a boat-like structure which was set against the beautiful backdrop of Mount Esjan. It would have been nice to stand there and admire the view if not for the sudden downpour of rain that left us quite drenched!

The artistic Harpa Concert Hall

Sun Voyager Sculpture

Time seemed to have sped by as we walked along the picturesque streets of the city, admiring its awe-inspiring buildings and just soaking in the crisp and cooling winter air. Before we know it, it was time for lunch and we went straight for this particular restaurant that caught our eyes (and stomach) with its signature fish soup and fish of the day dish. The fish soup was creamy and filled with seafood flavor with a tinge of sourness from the tomatoes and vinegar - a very refreshing and unique taste. It also contained a generous amount of sliced fish. We also ordered the grilled fish of the day and it was delicious. The outer layer of the fish was grilled to perfection with the inner portion still retaining its moist, fresh and tender mouth feel! My husband and I could literally feel the ocean surrounding us as we indulged in this “fishy” Icelandic cuisine!

Yummy fish soup

Grilled fish!

We were glad to have filled up our tummies and obtained adequate rest time for our legs during this lunch break before we went for our city tour. Our guide was a local, handsome and young chap who had a great sense of humour, making it a joy to follow him as he shared with us the unique history and folktales of Reykjavik. The most interesting thing that he mentioned was that majority of the locals believed in the existence of elves. They also believed that the various huge rocks or stones lying around were the home of the elves - moving them could only be done after seeking the approval of the elves, otherwise bad things will happen to those who touched their homes! Not only did he also gave a good history of the various significant landmarks in Reykjavik, he also tried to teach us some common Icelandic phrase (which I found it extremely difficult to pronounce!). It was an afternoon well spent which left us with a deeper understanding of the history and culture of Reykjavik! :)

On our city tour...

These timber houses in Iceland were built with imported timber and corrugated iron from Denmark

The stone which was believed to be the home of the elves

Iceland's main church which has been in existence since 1847

Parliament House

The Unknown Bureaucrat statue

City hall

With no news from the tour group that we signed up for and this day being the only day left available for us to go for the Northern Lights hunt, we were about to lose all hopes of ever seeing the lights when we received an email stating that the Northern Lights activity was at its peak and that the hunt will proceed later tonight! Hurriedly, we rushed back to our apartment for a quick dinner and started to prepare for the exciting hunt later on!

At the designated time of 9pm, we were already waiting in front of our apartment for our ride to catch the Northern Lights. It was quite easy to tell when was a good day to try and catch the lights as we could literally see many others (just like us), standing in front of their accommodation, waiting patiently for their ride for the night! Several vans came and went before ours arrived and we boarded the van excitedly and were welcomed with the excited chattering of those who were already in the van.

Our driver-cum-guide was an experienced photographer who had been organizing tours like the Northern Lights hunt and tours around Iceland for many years. Equipped with a walkie talkie, our guide was constantly communicating with the other guides to locate the best spot to watch the Northern Lights. After leaving the city, we drove for quite a while in the darkness before we managed to locate a particular spot. There, we saw a faint streak of green lights floating in the sky and everyone got off the van to admire it. Our guide started setting up his camera and proceeded to help each and every one of us to take photo with the lights!

The faint Northern Lights at our first stop..

As the lights started to fade away, our guide decided to try and find another spot. It was another long drive in the dark (which I had absolutely no idea how our guide was able to navigate in the dark so confidently) before we came to our next location. It was completely dark when we got off the van and looked up in the sky when suddenly bang! - a bright wave of green lights started dancing above our heads. The view was phenomenal, nothing like I had ever seen before! The initial dark sky was suddenly lighted and filled with energy and life! It was as if the lights were doing a joyous dance to welcome all of us to Iceland! All of us cheered and clapped when we saw this awesome display of lights and we just stood in silence with eyes fixated on the lights for the whole duration that it was there. It was only when the lights vanished as suddenly as it had appeared that we slowly proceeded to board the van. Northern Lights - another item ticked off our bucket list! It was certainly a night to remember for all of us and I was glad that I was able to witness this phenomenal view alongside my husband!

The only photo that I managed to capture of the dancing lights at our second destination of the night!

Physically tired but mentally very much alert and heart pumping hard from all the adrenaline rush earlier on, we finally reached our apartment and it was time to call it a day. We were really fortunate to be able to see the Northern Lights with our very own eyes and we really could not wait to embark on the Golden Circle tour around Iceland scheduled for the next few days. Stay tuned~

Yours Truly,

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Art of Travels - Part III (Arts of the World)

Street Art, London

Looking back at my travel photos, I realized that I had compiled quite a collection of street art photos from the various countries that I had visited. Some might wonder why the obsession with street art? Well, I am not so sure myself. Ever since my husband and I moved to Europe and started travelling more, our travel goals seemed to have evolved into one that allows us to see the unique parts of our travel destinations and street art seems to fit that bill! We would still make it a point to visit the main tourist attraction sites whenever we travel to a new place but we would be constantly on the lookout for unique street art along the way.

Street Art, Paris

As mentioned in my earlier post, I do feel that art and travel goes hand in hand and I personally feel that it is even so for street art. Most of us travel to venture out of our comfort zone, to explore and discover new things that cannot be found in our homeland. However, now with globalization, we can easily see the outside world from the photos and videos posted on social media without even the need to step out of our house. To me, it would be quite meaningless to travel all the way to another country just to see things that appeared exactly the same as the photos seen on the various social media. Street art, on the other hand, adds color and vibrancy to a place. Furthermore, a new piece of street art can be easily painted over an existing one, which thus allows for the injection of a whole new outlook and new elements of surprises to the same region! It is this form of fluidity that motivates me and my husband to travel more!

Street Art, Singapore

We had noted the transition of the haphazard graffiti into beautiful art murals in the many places that we had visited. Today, street art is still a rather controversial issue with some countries becoming more open to it and letting these form of art create a more lively and colorful outlook to the region while others still frowns upon it and view them as a form of vandalism. Regardless of how the world see street art, my husband and I just purely treat them as art pieces and as a way to better understand what the locals are trying to express in a rather creative format. As an amateur painter, I also find inspirations from these various street art and I always find myself having the burning desire to pick up my painting brush after coming across some interesting art on the streets!

There are certainly many more gorgeous art pieces waiting to be discovered and it is my greatest wish to be able to find them while travelling to the different corners of the World! With that, I would like to end off this “Art of Travels” series with some of my most valued street art photos that I had taken so far. Hope that you have enjoyed this series thus far and feel free to share with us your thoughts on this topic! Cheers :)