Vik, Iceland

The Icelandic village of Vik is about 180 kilometers from Reykjavik (about a 2 hour drive).  The basalt rock columns seen in this photo rise above the sea and provide a dramatic backdrop during sunset.  The folklore behind these striking columns is that they are former Trolls who were trying to drag their boats out to sea, but were caught by the sunrise.  Because trolls are creatures of the night, the daylight froze them into the columns you see rising from the Atlantic.  Vik is particularly famous for its black sand beaches – the black sand being the black basalt.  Another interesting find here is the Puffin bird- it can be spotted in the Vik beaches during its nesting season.

black sand beach Vik
The black sand beaches of Vik

BEST TIME TO VISIT Iceland:

Plan a visit in late June, July or August when the weather is the warmest and the days are the longest.  Summer travel, while more expensive, allows you to make the most of your time there.  During the longest days in the summer, the sun will set after midnight and rise again around 3 am!  If you want to get the best deals on hotels in Iceland, you may choose to travel in May or September.  Remember, because of Iceland’s proximity to the North Pole, the days become shorter quickly, leaving less time to explore Iceland’s natural beauty.  The near 24 hours of daylight plummets to 11 hours of daylight by mid September.  Although that is still plenty of time to explore, Vik is two hours from both Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón.  Thus, long drives between destinations, especially at night, is more challenging on poorly lit roads.

WHAT TO BRING / WEAR:

In the summer months you will need plenty of layers.  During the day the temperature could be 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 15 degrees Celsius), but at night it can drop as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bring waterproof boots as well.  Even though it may not rain, the beach at Vik is cold and damp-definitely not the traditional “toes in the sand” situation.  If you plan to travel off season, bring a winter coat, hat, and gloves.  Made obvious by the country’s name, it is cold here.

HOW TO GET TO Vik, Iceland:

The easiest way is by renting a car. Several tour companies will also offer tours from Reykjavik (379 kilometers away) to Jökulsárlón, which will stop in Vik along the way.  However, this will limit the amount of time you can spend here.  For the most freedom, rent a car, and plan to stay overnight in Vik.  Vik is located right off the Route 1 ring road.

The cheapest way to get to Vik is to hitchhike or take a bus.  Although I did not hitchhike, if there’s any country to try it in, this would be it.  There is one major road in the country and it has the lowest crime rates.  Another option is taking Strætó, which provides bus service in the capital and to other parts of Iceland.  Bus route 51 travels from Reykjavik (the bus stop in the capital city is called “Mjodd”) to Vik as well as Jökulsárlón.

WHAT NOT TO MISS IN ICELAND:

In addition to Vik, Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland’s most famous sites.  It is 2 hours from Vik.  Along Iceland’s southern coast, you will also find the striking waterfall of Skogafoss.  Closer to the capital city, is the famous Golden Circle route which covers geysirs, the Thingvellir National Park, and Gulfoss (another waterfall).

Me, Vik, and Twilight
Me, Vik, and Twilight

 

 

 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

The jaw dropping Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the equally jaw dropping Palace of Versailles.  The Palace of Versailles is located an hour outside of Paris and should not be missed by travelers.  The Hall of Mirrors has seventeen mirrored arches to reflect the seventeen windows that overlook the gardens.  During its heyday the Hall was actually dimly lit so that smoke would not damage the architecture.  The clever arrangement of mirrors allowed enhancement of a small amount of candlelight.  The Treaty of Versailles, which marked the end of World War I, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors.  A visit to the Palace should not be done without a visit to the gardens, which are equally magnificent.

Bath, England

The city of Bath is located in the southwestern part of the English countryside.  The first Moorish baths here were built as early as 836 BC over two thousand years ago!  The hot water rises here along the fissures in the limestone where the water’s temperature can rise to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  A trip to Bath is well combined with a visit to Stonehenge which is about an hour car ride away.

Bath, England

Cape St. Vincent or “The end of the world”, Portugal

The southern coast of Portugal is well worth a visit.  Vacay-tioners can either fly into Lisbon and take a bus to Lagos, or fly directly into Faro in the south.  One of the most famous spots on the southern coast lies at the most southwestern tip of the country called Cape St. Vincent.  Cape St. Vincent is about 4 miles from the town of Sagres.  Sagres however is very quiet so it is better to visit it while vacationing in the charming and bustling beach town of Lagos.  To get to Lagos, you can either take a bus from Lisbon or fly into Faro and rent a car.  In order to reach Cape St. Vincent you must take a bus to the small town of Sagres (which is also a brand of Portugese beer) and then switch to a bus going to the Cape.  When it was thought that the world was flat, Cape St. Vincent was erroneously thought to be “the end of the world.”  The dramatic cliffs here are nearly 75 meters above the Atlantic and the sunsets are some of the world’s best!

Cape St. Vincent
Cape St. Vincent, Portugal- what explorers thought was the “end of the world” before knowing the world was round and not flat.

The original Bellagio

Lake Como in Northern Italy, famous for its charming homes and villas on picturesque cliffs, is becoming more and more traveled.  This Y-shaped lake has several towns around its perimetry.  The elegant town of Bellagio can be found where the arms of the Y intersect and we can see why someone would name a hotel after this beautiful destination. Lake Como is also well known to be site of many star studded vacation homes.  Both George Clooney and Gianni Versace have owned homes on this lake.  For those of us who are not able to be house guests of George, there are several housing options along the lake.  Travelers arriving by train to the town of Como can find modest to high end accommodations in this town.  A ferry connects Como to the other towns and villages (including Bellagio) and runs from morning til evening.  There is also a bus that travels between towns, but is not nearly as scenic.  The train ride from Milan to Como is just an hour, and flights into Milan from NYC tend to be cheaper than Rome!

Bernina Pass, Switzerland

The Bernina Express is considered to be one of the most scenic train rides in the world.  We couldn’t agree more!  The journey began in Tirano, Italy.  Travelers can reach the start of Bernina Express in Tirano by rail or a one-way car rental.  It is important to note that the type of train you travel in – the famed “Bernina Express” which makes less stops but is more expensive or the local train, the journey is on the same route and just as beautiful.  Depending on whether you take the local or express, the magnificent journey is between 4 and 6 hours from Tirano, Italy or Chur, Switzerland.  With the local train you can buy your tickets on site.  The Bernina Express requires advanced reservations.  Either way, you will cross over the famous Landwasser viaduct during this ride.  The journey is the destination so sit back and enjoy the ride!

Iceland’s Glacial Lagoon

One of Iceland’s natural wonders is Jökulsárlón which means “glacier river lagoon.”  It formed when the tip of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier (part of the Vatnajökull glacier) began to retreat from the sea in the 1930s.  Large pieces of glacial ice break off the glacier to form create the striking icebergs floating in the lagoon.

Iceberg in glacial lagoon

The lagoon was the backdrop for scenes from the James Bond film Die Another Day and most recently the new Bollywood film Dilwale.  The lake developed just over 60 years ago and has doubled in size since 1975.  Global warming is real, people.  It takes over 4 hours to reach this area from Reykjavik so you can either leave very early, or make an overnight stop in the seaside village of Vik.  Once you arrive at Jökulsárlón, jump on board a boat to weave you between icebergs in the glacial lagoon.

glacial lagoon iceland

BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT Jökulsárlón :

Plan a visit in July or August when the weather is the warmest (relative to the rest of the year) and the days are longer.  If you want to get the best deals on hotels and airfare, travel a bit off season in early June or mid September.  Remember, because of Iceland’s proximity to the North Pole, the days become shorter quickly.  Summer travel, while more expensive, allows you to make the most of your time there (nearly 20 hours of sunlight in the summer!).  By mid September, the temperatures drop and the days shorten to 11 hours making driving late at night more challenging on poorly lit roads.

WHAT TO BRING / WEAR:

In the summer months you will need plenty of layers.  Although Reykyavik may be pleasant during the day, the area surrounding the glacial lagoon will still be chilly and wet.  Bring waterproof boots as well.  If you have trouble sleeping, the constant daylight in the summer months may drive you crazy.  So bring a sleeping aid, if you think you need it.

HOW TO GET TO Jökulsárlón Lagoon:

The easiest way is by renting a car. Several tour companies will also offer tours from Reykjavik (379 kilometers away) which takes away the hassle of driving, allowing you to enjoy the scenery along the way.  Depending on how many people you are traveling with, renting a car may be easier as well as more economical.  The lagoon is located just off the Route 1 ring road.

The cheapest way to get to Jökulsárlón is to hitchhike.  Apparently, backpackers do this safely here, as Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  It is also possible to take the bus (route 51) to the glacial lagoon from the bus station in Reykjavik (called “Mjodd”).

WHAT NOT TO MISS:

On the way to Jökulsárlón, be sure to stop by for a meal or an overnight stay in Vik.  Vik is about 2 hours into your 4 hour drive from Reykjavik to the glacial lagoon.  The black sand beaches here are truly unique, and the sunset here borders on magical.  Another interesting site to note is the volcano Eyjafjallajökull.  Uhh… What?  Don’t waste your time trying to pronounce it – just know that it is the volcano that famously erupted back in 2010.  It is located 30 minutes by car away from Vik en route to Reykjavik.  Just follow the Route 1 ring road back to the capital.

Vik, Iceland
Vik at Sunset