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Visiting Iceland – Part 1

I visited Iceland for 8 days last year and I would like to share some of my experiences with you, some information that might be helpful in case you plan to visit and some of my favorites photos I took during this trip.

I going to write several posts since it is a lot of information to put into just one, I hope you enjoy them, so here we go!

Before Arriving

Inspiration

We all know that lately Iceland has become very popular thanks to social media and I can honestly say I am not the exception. I follow a lot of photographers who inspire me with their shots and techniques, lots of whom have shared lots of great shots of Iceland which of course had made me want to visit this gorgeous country.

Every time I saw one of these amazing photos I showed it to my husband which made his interest in visiting Iceland grow as much as mine. After several years of wanting to visit this beautiful country, in 2016 we decided that 2017 would be the year we will go and then we started planning.

Planning

One of my biggest influencers was Iurie Belegurschi who is a recognized landscape photographer from Iceland and also co-founder of Guide to Iceland, because of his influence and his photos we decided to use his company to book our trip.

We wanted to have some help with the itinerary but we didn’t want to go in a guided tour so we could have more freedom and be able to adjust our plans if we wanted to, so we booked the 7 Day Northern Lights Self Drive Tour that included the car and all the hotel bookings plus extra tours that we wanted to do but with the freedom of driving ourselves.

From Guide to Iceland we got our itinerary for each day which included suggestions for places to visit, suggested amount time to spend on each place, the coordinates and some other useful tips. Each booking had their contact information, address, phone number and email in case we needed to contact the hotel or service provider directly.

Moving Around

Since we were driving ourselves we made sure we had all the information needed before driving in Iceland during the winter. Thankfully Guide to Iceland provides lots of information, couple of helpful blogposts are:

In addition to this, to help us understand our itinerary better and have a visual version of the trip for a given day I created Maps with the routes and possible stops using Google My Maps. These maps were incredibly helpful because you can add images to each stop which helped me associate a place with a name as these names sometimes were really hard to remember. I will be sharing the maps I created in case they might be useful to you.

As many people these days, I rely on my smartphone a lot to access information, but sometimes you don’t have coverage and you cannot access your data when you really need it, so one recommendation is to make sure to write down the coordinates of all the places you want to visit during a day, either in a notepad or in a note file in your phone that you can access offline. Also make sure to rent a GPS for your car as this is almost always reliable.

Day 1 – Arriving and Reykjavik

We booked our tickets through IcelandAir, we arrived to Keflavik International Airport at 6:15 am where the car rental people were waiting for us to take us to get our car, it was still dark and it was snowing a little bit.

The car rental company that we got the car from was SScarrental, they provided a good service, transportation from and to the airport and the car was in good condition, we had no issues.

Blue Lagoon

The first stop in our itinerary was at the Blue Lagoon, we booked the standard entrance ticket and rented towels and robes when we arrived, they also rent flip flops and have drinks and food.

After a long flight, having a swim in these thermal waters is very relaxing, also there are some trails outside the building where you can walk around and take pictures of the lagoon.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Reykjavik

From the Blue Lagoon we went directly to Reykjavik to get some lunch and then check in, we parked at a public parking near the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre where we were able to pay with a credit card, we never needed cash anywhere.

For lunch we found this nice small restaurant called  Verbúð 11 – Lobster & Stuff where the food was simply amazing, we didn’t have a reservation but were lucky to get a table fairly quickly, totally recommended.

After lunch we went to the hotel to check in and take a nap. We stayed at Fosshótel Rauðará, it is a nice hotel in the middle of Reykjavik, only 150 m from Laugavegur shopping street, 50 m from Klambratún city park and around 1 km from Hallgrímskirkja Church.

After checking in and taking a short nap we went to see Hallgrímskirkja Church which is the largest church in Iceland and it is visible throughout the city. It was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937 who got his inspiration by the shapes and forms created when lava cools into basalt rock.⠀

There were a lot of tourist but I still managed to take a shot of this amazing building without people in it.

Right in front of the Hallgrímskirkja Church there is the Skólavörðustígur street where you can find a lot of shops and restaurants. In this street we found a restaurant which name I can’t pronounce but where the food was to die for, we ventured in hoping to get a table and luckily we did even though it was pretty crowded, sometimes that is the advantage of just being two.  The restaurant’s name is Sjávargrillið, I totally recommend this place but to be on the safe side I suggest getting a reservation as it gets pretty busy. It was so good that we went back on our last night in Reykjavik and ordered the exact same dishes.

The next day we left Reykjavik to drive up to the west to visit Buðir and Kirkjufell, I’ll talk more about these places on Part 2 of this series.

Sun Voyager

Day 1 Map

This map lists some of the main points of interest in Reyjavik, we didn’t get the chance to visit them all but here they are as reference.

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We have visited Yosemite National Park in the past but never during winter. This year after returning from our trip to Costa Rica we decided to go to Yosemite during Martin Luther King’s weekend, we prepared our bags and left early on Saturday morning, we stopped for breakfast in Manteca and reached Yosemite Valley mid-morning.

Our first stop was Bridalveil Falls, there were a lot of people in the trail and there was a lot of ice which made it difficult to walk, a lesson we learned that day was to get ice grips for our shoes. We could not reach the end of the trail due to the icy conditions but I managed to get a shot of the falls that I like.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

After Bridalveil Falls we decided to go to the valley and we made a stop at Swinging Bridge, we took our snow shoes out and walked through the meadows, there was still a lot of water from the flood caused from the storms from previous weeks, which were creating some awesome reflections. It was not sunset yet but the light was nice giving a lot of life to Yosemite Falls and Half Dome.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

After the meadows we headed to Tunnel View to catch the sunset and because of the weather we had to drive really slow, we made it to Tunnel View just a few minutes before the sun went down, there were a lot of people, tourist and photographers, it was super icy making it a bit hard to find a good spot to shoot from. There were no clouds but the colors were amazing and due to the rain and snow of the previous weeks all the trees looked beautiful. I was able to get a shot before the sun went down, there was fog coming from the valley which gave the view a mystical feeling.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

The next day we drove down to the Valley and stopped at the Chapel, the contrast of the sky, trees and snow against the Chapel colors was amazing.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

After this we decided to hike to Yosemite Falls, again we found a very icy trail but we managed to walk up and get some long exposure shots of the lower falls.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

In the afternoon of that beautiful Sunday we went to Valley View where we saw the fog was starting to come up making the view breathtaking. That side of the valley was under the shade however the top of El Capitan and the Three Brothers were being hit by the sun creating a lot of contrast, lots of snow down on the valley, not so much at the top, also the light and the shade created some amazing views.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

We decided to head back to Cathedral Beach to shoot some photos of El Capitan before going up to Tunnel View for the sunset. The Merced river water was very clear and I was able to get a shot where you can see the rocks in the river and a beautiful reflection of El Capitan.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Again we run up to Tunnel View, there were some more clouds and the sky was on fire that day, the tip of El Capitan and Half Dome were painted red by the sun and I was able to get a better spot to catch that amazing view.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

We stayed a little later after the sunset to try to catch the car trails in the valley, I was able to get one shot however since there was not a lot of fog that day the car lights were not reflecting as much as I wanted, but still I am happy with that shot. We didn’t stay much, it was incredibly cold so we went back to our rental for the night.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

On our last day, we stopped at Tunnel View to get a shot early that morning and then we spent some time in the Valley before heading home, it was a wonderful weekend that we hope to repeat next winter.

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

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