Our last full day in Iceland we did not have such great weather but it still didn’t stop us from making the long but rewarding drive out to the Glacier Lagoon.
Our first stop on the way out to Jökulsárlón was to Seljalandsfoss. This beautiful and powerful waterfall is one you can actually walk behind! We got more than just a little bit wet but we had plenty of time to dry off on the rest of our drive out to the glacier lagoon.
Our next stop was in the southernmost village of the island in the town of Vik. Here you can see the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar and the beautiful black sand beaches.
Next up was the main event of our day - the Jökulsárlón! This lagoon is surrounded by hills so is not really visible from the road until you reach the main bridge. We parked the car and as we made our way over the top of hills and the glaciers came into view, it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Both of our jaws dropped in awe at what we we were seeing. As you can imagine the photos don’t even come close to doing this place justice but you can get the idea.
This lagoon is situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and developed into a lake as the glacier started receding from the Atlantic Ocean. The icebergs in the lake calf from the glacier and eventually make their way from the glacier to the mouth of the river that empties the lake into the Atlantic Ocean. The milky white and bright blue come from air trapped within the ice and is an interplay of light and ice crystals.
This place looks like it should be on another planet! I think that could be part of the reason why it has been a set for several large blockbuster hits like the Bond film Die Another Day, Batman Begins, Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider and even reality shows like The Amazing Race.
Ryan decided he wanted to taste 1,000 year old ice and went to fish out his own iceberg.
Happy about his prize
View of another glacier driving down Iceland’s main ring road - Highway #1
After we spent several hours at the Glacier Lagoon just taking it all in, we made our way back to Reykjavik for our last night in Iceland.
On our first full day in Iceland, we set off with our rental car to see the sights of The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a full day tourist route that generally starts and ends in Reykavik and includes the sights of Thingvellir National Park, the geothermally active valley of Haukadular, and Gullfoss or Golden Falls.
The weather was absolutely perfect for us making the sights we saw on The Golden Circle even more beautiful. There were so many times as we were driving around Iceland that Ryan and I would look at each other in amazement at what we were seeing. This country is so gorgeous it left us speechless at times!
Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park. The largest lake in Iceland is in this park as is the sight of where the world’s first Parliament started and met beginning in AD 930. The coolest part of a visit to Thingvellir is that you can see the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates!
Thingvallavatn Lake - the largest in Iceland
Thingvellir National Park
Continental drift between North American and Eurasia
After our visit to Thingvellir National Park we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the town of Laugarvatn called Lindin. It was so good! If you find yourself in Iceland, make this your lunch stop. We ate in the bistro area of the restaurant. Ryan ordered the Reindeer Burger and I had the Arctic Char - yummy!
After a lovely lunch, we set off to see the rest of the sights on The Golden Circle. Next up was the geothermally active region of Haukadalur and the geyser called Strokkur. The most famous geyser here, Geysir, is actually where these erupting springs get their name. Unfortunately, Geysir no long erupts except after earthquakes. Lucky for tourists, the geyser Strokkur nearby erupts regularly every 5-10 minutes and is quite a sight to see.
Gorgeous views on the drive between Thingvellir National Park and Geysir
Geothermally active region of Haukadalur
After we had our fill of this region we made our way further to the Gullfoss. This is an absolutely gorgeous waterfall and particularly beautiful on a sunny day. We walked as close to it as we could and got a little wet in the process but it was so worth it.
Gulfoss - Golden Falls
Beautiful Icelandic Horses - they are everywhere throughout the countryside
Gullfoss is the last traditional stop on The Golden Circle but we decided to stop at one more optional stop at the volcanic crater named Kerid. The pictures really don’t do the colors of this crater justice.
Kerið Volcano Crater
Part of what is so great about the Golden Circle is that even when you aren’t seeing one of the famous sights, everywhere you look you are still surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. I knew we were going to like Iceland but I had no idea how much we would love it. After our day on The Golden Circle we weren’t sure how our visit could get any better but we still had a huge treat in store for us the next day - Jökulsárlón or Iceland’s glacier lagoon.
Let me just start this post by saying that Iceland could quite possibly be the coolest and most beautiful place I’ve ever been. If you can swing it, go. Immediately.
We had been hearing some really great things about Iceland and were really interested in going but the flights were just as expensive from Europe as they would be if we were to fly from the US. Then we heard about something really cool that Icelandair offers - free stopovers in Reykjavik for upto 7 nights! And so, we decided we would fly from Germany with a stopover in Reykjavik on our way home to the States.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and one of Iceland’s main attractions. It is located in a lava field in between the airport and the city of Reykjavik making it a perfect stop on your way in to town. Although quite expensive, it is worth every penny and a place you would regret not going.
The water is rich in minerals like sulphur and silica making it very good for your skin and is the most stunning milky blue color. There are steam rooms, saunas, and various skin treatments available throughout the blue lagoon as well as a swim up bar! We spent several hours here relaxing until our fingers and toes were beyond pruny, and then drove the rest of the way to Reykjavik where we experienced our first day with 24 hours of daylight. A perfect start to our visit and we were already falling in love with Iceland!
When friends would ask where we were traveling to this year and we mentioned Bosnia we would usually get the same reaction - WHY Bosnia?!? Part of the reason we decided on Bosnia is because we wanted to go somewhere different but it is also because there is SO much to be learned about the history of the region.
The Yugoslav Wars took place when I was very young so although I remember hearing about it, I will admit that I was a little ignorant when it came to the specifics of what went on here. The first thing we did, and something I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting Sarajevo, was go on Neno’s Free Walking Tour. Neno is an incredible guide and he is the same age as I am, making him just 6 years old when the war started in Bosnia in 1992. He began his tour with a very in depth but brief explanation of the history of the region. I will never be able to replicate his explanation for you in its entirety so if you want the backstory I would highly recommend reading more about it here, here, and here.
That being said, I think it’s important to understand that the Ottomans who ruled the area of Bosnia from roughly the 1400’s to the late 1800’s introduced the people to the culture and religion of Islam. Today the Muslim population of Bosnia are known as Bosniaks, the Catholic population known as Bosnian Croats and the Orthodox population known as Bosnian Serbs. Although today Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia are all separate countries, at one time they were each republics in the old Yugoslavia. When the republics of Yugoslavia began to disagree on the way the country should be run, they each started declaring their independence. However, when Bosnia declared independence in 1992 the Croats and Serbs decided they wanted to take the territory from the Bosniaks and the Serbs in particular started shelling and murdering the Bosniak population in hopes of taking over.
Our guide Neno was very open about his experiences. He said that Sarajevo has some of the highest instances of mixed marriages in the world - in fact his mother is Muslim and his father is Catholic. He told us that for his family they celebrated holidays for both religions. He talked about the food they had to eat during the war and how horrible it was - to the point that after the war when they would try to feed their war rations to the dogs, their dogs wouldn’t even eat them. How the Bosniak people felt forgotten by the International community. He talked about how he had to go to school in the basement because it wasn’t safe for anyone go outside. He even told us that to this day he hates fireworks because it reminds him of the constant shellings that happened for almost 4 years straight during the Siege of Sarajevo. But one thing he stressed throughout his tour is that he does not feel hatred and does not wish ill will on Serbs but wants everyone to understand and never forget so that something so horrific never happens again.
The Siege of Sarjaevo is still very apparent everywhere you turn but there was also another huge historical incident that took place here in 1914. The first picture below is a photo of the bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, by a Serb no less, marking the start of WWI and making it the shot heard round the world. We also happened to be in Sarajevo just 4 days shy of the 100 year anniversary of the assassination.
Outside of our historical experience with Sarajevo, the food we had there was beyond delicious and the people were extremely friendly and happy to see tourists coming to their city. If you ever find yourself in Sarajevo, do yourself a favor and go to Avlija. Delicious!
20 years later and Sarajevo is still in the midst of being rebuilt. Many of the buildings, although reconstructed on the inside, still show evidence of the shells that hit them during the Bosnian War. I hope that in the coming years they continue to rebuild this great city into what it once was so that more people come to visit and appreciate all that Bosnia has to offer.
Eternal flame - WWII Memorial
Sarajevo Rose - a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell’s explosion that was later filled with red resin.
Sarajevo Old Town
City Hall and National Library - was completely destroyed in 1992 and has since been rebuilt with help from the EU
Sadly, most of these graves are from the 1990’s
Bosnia is by no means a place on most people’s “must go” list but when we decided to make a return trip to Croatia in order to see Dubrovnik, we knew we wanted to finish our trip with something more off the beaten path.
At first we were just going to head to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo but after some research decided we needed to make a detour along the way to Mostar.
We hired a Croatian driver who drove us from Dubrovnik to Mostar for a very good price and as we crossed the border he sarcastically commented to our group - “Welcome to Bosnia, one of the richest and most technologically advanced nations in the world.” Well clearly that is not the case but mostly because the war that was fought here in the 80’s and 90’s is still very apparent and sadly results in a lot of poverty and war stricken buildings still waiting to be repaired.
Nonetheless, the old town of Mostar has mostly been repaired to it’s pre-war glory with it’s beautiful architecture and the major highlight being the Stari Most or Old Bridge. The Stari Most was built in the 1600’s by the Ottoman’s who ruled the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina until the Austrians took over in the late 1800’s. This bridge is also considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. Unfortunately, the original bridge was destroyed during the war in the Balkans but has since been rebuilt and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nowadays the Old Bridge is famous for it’s history and beauty but also for the young Bosnians who jump off the bridge if they can collect enough money from the visiting tourists. We were lucky enough to see one jump with precision and what looked like a whole of training. The water itself is quite cold so from what we read, it’s not only about the angle at which they jump and enter the water, but also about lowering their body temperature before the jump so they can withstand the water temperature.
Mostar is a great day drip from Dubrovnik and a place I would highly recommend seeing if you have the chance. And next we were on to Sarajevo to see the sight of the shot heard round the world!
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