Vlieland is a little gem in the north of The Netherlands. It is 1 of the 5 inhabited Wadden Sea islands and it may be the smallest 1, I think it may be the most beautiful one! Come with me to Vlieland.
The Wadden islands (Waddeneilanden) in the north of The Netherlands are true pieces of paradise. The islands form an archipelago at the east of the North Sea and stretch from the northwest of the Netherlands through Germany, all the way to the west of Denmark. The Wadden islands shield the mudflat region of the Wadden Sea from the North Sea. This mudflat region is pretty special; large parts fall dry during low tide exposing Wadden Sea treasures and ferry boats can only cross the Wadden Sea during high tide and following mapped routes.
The inhabited Dutch Wadden islands are (from west to east): Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog (also known as Schier). Texel belongs to the North Holland province and the other islands to the Friesland province (and are known as the Frisian islands) since 1942. The islands are loved by the Dutch, but also by our neighbours from Germany who visit often (the entire coastline of The Netherlands actually). There are 3 uninhabited islands: Noorderhaaks (also known as Razende Bol), Rottumerplaat and Rottumeroog and 6 sand banks (not big enough to be classified as an island). Most of the islands are environmentally protected areas and of big importance to wildlife. The flora and fauna on these islands cannot be compared to any other part of the country. So far, I have visited 3 islands (Texel, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog) and I am ready to visit the next one: Vlieland.
Vlieland is the smallest inhabited Wadden island and compared to the other islands, it lies the furthest away from mainland. As a visitor you cannot bring your car to the island, but you can take a bicycle on the ferry boat. On the island you find more walking and bicycle paths than roads, so those 2 options are ideal ways of exploring Vlieland. People come to Vlieland mostly to relax, to find peace and quietness and sometimes themselves. It is the most perfect place to unwind and that is what I needed!
It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go to Vlieland. I was lucky to go on an educational city trip to Wroclaw, Poland in the beginning of this month and that trip did a lot of good to me and the other travel agents on this trip. Due to Covid-19, 2020 has been such a weird year and both my planned holidays to Greece and Cuba were cancelled. I realize very well that health comes first always and travelling is a luxury, so I am fine with the fact I could not go. However, the need to get away and explore (if only for a few days) is always there and since we are again in some kind of lockdown and cannot travel abroad, I decided to go to Vlieland for a few days.
Since I live at the coast in the west of the Netherlands, I travel over the Afsluitdijk to the north. The Afsluitdijk is the flood defense between North Holland and Friesland, which closes off the IJsselmeer from the Wadden Sea. The dam takes its name from this. The Afsluitdijk is important to protect our little country against flooding.I always stop in the middle of the Afsluitdijk to admire te view and take some photographs.
If you want to go to Vlieland, you will have to travel to Harlingen first! Harlingen is a lovely town, which you can visit on your way to or from the island. You can even spend a night or 2 there. I love the lighthouse, which is designed by the same architect as the lighthouse in my hometown Noordwijk. There is 1 difference though, this lighthouse is a hotel, so I know where I would want to sleep!
From Harlingen you take the ferry across to either Vlieland or Terschelling. I made sure I arrived early, so I had time to go for a walk. I went to the lighthouse, strolled through the harbour and admired the beautiful ships and I saw a whale! Next time I will stay for the night and take some more time to explore this town. For more information about Harlingen, click here!
The lock down we are in right now (October 26th, 2020) in The Netherlands, is a smart lock down (I think there is nothing smart about it, but anyway), which means that shops are still open. Restaurants, bars and clubs are closed and indoor activities are also not allowed. If I would stay in a hotel, I could eat at the hotel restaurant, but since I decided to go on my own, I booked myself a semi luxurious apartment, having a bit more space. During the day I would explore the island and at night I warmed up in the bathtub and sauna and let the sun shower warm my tired muscles. I bought some groceries on the island, ordered food at night (take away and delivery thankfully still possible) and I just relaxed.
I will not publish a travel diary, which I normally keep when I travel, but I will put down a top 10 (in random order) of what you can (or should) do and see when going to Vlieland. I will also place some personal notes in this top 10 and of course my own photographs taken during this short break.
Number 1: Beach walks!
People come to Vlieland to enjoy the beautiful beach and so do I (and I live close to a beautiful beach, but I will never get enough). The beach stretches from the west via the north to the harbour at east Vlieland and it is about 17 kilometres long. The beach changes shape all the time, depending on the tide and the weather conditions. You can take your dog who can chase the beach birds, or collect shells and when the sea is quiet and safe, of course you go for a swim! Maybe you are lucky and you spot seals or rainbows as you walk along the beach. In the north-east and the east, you find a restaurant beach club on the beach. Although they were closed due to Covid-19, Beach restaurant ‘t Badhuys offered take away and hot drinks (I will use any excuse to get a hot cocao).
The western part of the beach is called Vliehors, this part is about 24 square kilometres and is also known as the Sahara of the North. Much of this sandy plain is used as a military training ground for the Royal Dutch Air Force. It is the only place in the Netherlands where air force pilots and NATO partners are allowed to practice with ammunition and explosive charges. As a result, the Vliehors is only freely accessible during the weekend when the red flag has been lowered. Sunset at the beach may be difficult during the week, since the sun sets in the west, but I suggest you watch the sunset from the beautiful dunes. There are plenty of beautiful spots to enjoy the most beautiful sunsets and during the weekend you can them at Vliehors.
Number 2: Vliehors Expres
I just wrote about Vliehors. Now, whether it is during the week or during the weekend, I would advise a trip with the Vliehors Expres! During the week it is the only way to visit this remote area and if you decide to walk when visiting the island: it is a long walk towards the west and this saves a lot of time and it is fun!
The Vliehors Expres takes you there by beach truck, leaving a message in the sand with its tires. I managed to do this tour, since it is seen as an outdoor activity and precautions were taken on board of the truck. I absolutely loved it! The driver/guide stops twice, once at the little rescue house, which is now a small beachcomber museum where you can admire the funniest and weirdest items. The second stop is at the most western part of the island, from where you can see neighbour island Texel well. If there is a spot on the island where you have chance to spot seals, then this is it. We stopped at the little rescue house first, but it can also be the other way around.
Do not worry: the driver/guide is in contact with the Royal Dutch Air Force to make sure that they know when he will enter Vliehors (cease fire ;). We got a tiny bit of action though, when a helicopter did a small tour over Vliehors!
Number 3: Lighthouse
I am a lighthouse lover (lighthouse lunatic). Vlieland has a tiny lighthouse, which is round, red and beautiful and can be found just outside the village on top of the 40 metres high Vuurboetsduin (dune). If the weather is clear, you can see both neighbour islands (Texel and Terschelling) and even mainland. The view is amazing from this point. I could not go into the lighthouse, it was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but the location offers beautiful views, whether you are inside our outside of the lighthouse! I had a lot of rain during my visit here (the only time I got bucket loads of water on my head), but I loved it anyway. Make sure you check opening times before you go (Covid or no Covid, the lighthouse is not open every day!).
Number 4: Bunkermuseum Wn 12H
Widerstandsnest 12H was part of the Atlantic Wall during the war. I could not visit the museum; it was closed when I got there. Widerstandsnet is a museum now, with an exhibition about Vlieland in the war years; you can see special objects and archaeological finds from that period. Excavated and completely restored bunkers and gun emplacements, are connected by trenches and tunnels. If you are interested in history, especially war history you must pay a visit!
Number 5: Vlielander cheese bunker
Close to the lighthouse is the Vlieland cheese bunker. It is an old bunker located deep underground, also built in WWII as part of the Atlantic Wall. The bunker offers perfect conditions for ripening cheese and storage (where I live, we have a few bunkers too, also used for cheese ripening. This bunker I did visit! I got there too late for a tour, but I did have a quick look and tasted/bought some delicious cheeses (later I went to the local butcher in the village and got some local delicacies and together with a good glass of wine or 2, I had the most delicious private tasting at my apartment).
Number 6: Fortuna Vlieland
Travelling and food: my favourite combination! The local cheese and delicacies from the butcher, also go well with a beer and Vlieland has its own beer! Fortuna Vlieland makes the beer and also sparkling water. I tasted the beer when ordering a meal and I enjoyed it! I could not visit the brewery, but I will when I go back to Vlieland (and I will someday). The beers they make are Duin Blond (duin = dune), Island Ale, Stortemelk Wit (wit = white), Wad Donker (donker = dark), Monnicke Weizen and Storm Stout. Vlieland a small island, but big dreams are reality here!
Number 7: spotting seals
In the Netherlands there are a few places perfect for spotting seals and the Wadden Sea is one of them. The harbour and grey seals gather on the sandbanks located in between the islands and from every island you can book seal spotting tours all year round. The animals are admired from a safe distance, the boats do not go too close. Some of them, however, are curious creatures and might swim up close to the boat and dive under before you get to take a photograph :). Bring a good camera and tele lens with you, that is all that I can say. I just had my phone and thankfully it is a good one, but I need a new (normal) camera. Depending on the season, you will get a warm outfit not to get cold on the boat.
Number 8: horse riding
As a young child I used to go horse riding, I started when I was 8, and I managed to keep on horse riding for about 8 years. But it is like riding a bicycle; even if you have not been on one for years, you just need a bit of practice to get back into it. I did not have time for horse riding, but also it was not possible when I was there due to restrictions because of Covid. But Vlieland is really a great place for horse riding, both on the beach or in the little forest/dunes.
Number 9: Vlieland village and Museum Tromp’s Huys
When visiting Vlieland of course you want to learn about its history and the Tromp’s Huys museum is the place to do so! When you visit the village (the only one) on the island, take a stroll through the lovely and picturesque streets (with shops, hotels, bars and restaurants) and then go to Tromp’s Huys. You can learn about the culture and maritime past of Vlieland, admire paintings, drawings and prints. The museum offers also a large collection of clocks and photographs, maps and ship models. There is more to see: just go and explore!
Number 10: forest walk
Although I am a beach lover, I loved walking through the dunes and in Bomenland (meaning tree land). It is a little forest full of hidden treasures. I visited the island in autumn and I found the most beautiful and colourful mushrooms and the vegetation is pretty spectacular. You can also see all kinds of birds, who live here or love to spend their winters here or simply stop on their way down south or up north! If you want to take a bicycle, there are many bicycle paths in Bomenland.
This is my top 10 for Vlieland and like I said I mentioned them in random order. But Vlieland (no matter how small the island may be) has more to offer! For sure when it comes to sports and outdoor activities, there are plenty of possibilities, like kite surfing, wind surfing, karting on the beach, beach football or volleyball and so on! Have a look at the website of the VVV/Tourist Office of Vlieland where you can find more information about the island, sightseeing, activities, etc.! I have one more island to visit: Terschelling, but I will return to Vlieland for sure. I left feeling zen and full of energy; I absolutely love Vlieland and the beach is so beautiful!
An educational city trip to Wroclaw in times of Covid-19? Yes! After taking all necessary precautions, me and a small group of travel agents are ready to discover this special city in Poland and its surrounding area!
The year 2020 started so well and looked promising! At the travel agency where I work it was busy and me, I had a trip to Cuba to look forward to in May. But all changed when Covid-19 took over the planet. At work things got really hectic and I can tell you: not in a nice way! Cuba was rescheduled for October (when we still believed this whole situation would blow over soon), but cancelled once more a month before departure. At that point I was not even disappointed, I just wanted to believe that sooner or later all would return to normal. To me it was important that my family, friends and colleagues stayed healthy and at work I hoped that I would soon be able to do what I love to do: send people to the most wonderful holiday destinations!
During the summer months some destinations (within Europe and the Dutch Antilles) opened their borders for Dutch tourists and that lasted until half October; then most countries closed their borders once more. In the beginning of October, a promotional trip to Wroclaw (pronounce as Vrotsjlove), Poland was planned by tour operator De Jong Intra Vakanties. Poland is (still) open to tourism and instead of looking at what is not possible, this tour operator looks at what is possible in times of Covid-19. I registered, hoping I would be selected for this trip, simply because I love to travel and always want to explore new destinations. Knowledge is power; the more I know about a destination, the better I can inform my clients! Wroclaw is a city I would not have chosen to go to myself, but in the past, I have gone to destinations I did not have on my bucket list and these trips always turned out to be the most pleasant surprises!
I got selected, I am one of the lucky travel agents who gets to go to Wroclaw. The reactions of people around me were mostly positive, although some just did not understand why I want to travel in times of Covid-19. They almost made me feel guilty about wanting to travel, but I do not feel guilty. The tour operator always follows the travel advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I believe that we need to act responsible when travelling, even more during these times. Whether that is wearing a mouth cap, taking a test, keeping distance, washing and disinfecting your hands 10 times an hour, etc. Respect the rules when you travel and behave (always, Covid or no Covid)! I made sure that I did not see people for about 10 days before going on this trip and I will do the same when I get back.
Day 1: off to Wroclaw
Together with a small group of travel agents, tour operator representatives Sarena and Gitta and Magdalena from the Polish Tourism Organisation we are off to Wroclaw on Monday the 5th of October! We travel by KLM from Schiphol Airport around noon. We meet on time, just to be sure, although the airport really does not want you to show up too early. It is weird to be at Schiphol Airport when it is so quiet; although not as quiet as in April when I picked up my sister who got stuck in South Africa during her time as a volunteer. The airport then was a ghost town and really spooky.
I am excited, it feels so good to be able to do what I love most and that feeling when you get when being at an airport… it is the start of a new adventure! Our check in goes smoothly and I get myself some magazines and something to drink. Thankfully plenty of shops are still open and a coffee or tea to go is possible! Our flight leaves on time and believe it or not: the flight is actually fully booked. All passengers wear mouth caps, fill in the required forms, stay in their seats and a flight has never been so relaxed! We get a small snack and it is actually funny to see how careful people eat without making other passengers feel uncomfortable. Before we know it, we land at the airport of Wroclaw, since it is only about 1,5 hours flying from Schiphol. The airport of Wroclaw is modern and clean. We gather our luggage and go outside where a transfer bus is waiting to take us to our hotel PURO Wroclaw Stare Miastro, located only 10 kilometres from the airport.
PURO Wroclaw Stare Miastro is a modern, cosy and comfortable hotel and located perfectly, just outside city centre. The entrance is light and bright and so is the lounge area and restaurant, with its vibrant colours (both located on the ground floor as well). Upon arrival we check in straight away and normally we share rooms, but now we all get our own room. The rooms are beautiful, have comfortable beds, a safe, coffee/tea maker, hair dryer and a rain shower! We have a bit of time to freshen up before we meet for lunch.
The hotel has a spacious terrace outside, right next to the restaurant. A big table is set up for us, to have all the space we need to stay safe. We have heaters hanging over our heads and blankets are also provided to warm us up if necessary, but the temperature is mild. They serve us pumpkin soup, pasta and a chocolate desert. The first extra pound has already landed on my hips after only 2 hours in Wroclaw, but we will walk it off later ;)!
At lunch we meet Monika, our local guide during this trip and after lunch she hands us an audio system. With this system she can talk through her microphone and we can hear her through our ear plugs! We are going for a city walk and with this system we do not intrude on locals and other visitors doing their thing and also, we can keep a safe distance from one another and still hear all she has to say! For me, this system is really perfect, because I cannot stand still (having a tiny foot problem) and I always wander off for photographs.
Unfortunately, it starts to rain, but that does not spoil our fun; it is only a drizzle, so not too bad. Monika speaks perfectly Dutch, so in our own language she guides us through the city. Close to the hotel is The White Stork Synagogue and from there we walk towards The Market Square. During our walk we see dwarfs (or gnomes… what is the difference between the 2?); they are everywhere in the city and come in various “outfits” and with various “accessories”! No, we did not have too much wine during lunch, we really see dwarfs! Wroclaw is famous for its dwarfs and they have their own festival in September! We try to spot them all, which is impossible, but Monika points them out and they are probably the most photographed attractions of the city!
Wroclaw (also known as Breslau) is the historical capital of Silesia, but also a university city and the 2 go really well together. As we walk, we see an interesting mix of old and new, young and old(er). You can admire the most beautiful historical buildings like the Town Hall, while enjoying the modern world that lies in between history (think about hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, etc.). The Market Square is the centre of the city and very picturesque with its colourful buildings; hopefully we will come back when the sun is out, so we can take better photographs.
We go back to the hotel to freshen up again and change clothes, before returning to city centre by foot. The location of our hotel is really perfect and the bit we walk is necessary to be able to enjoy another meal. Tonight, we are going to restaurant La Maddalena, located on a tiny island in the Oder river. The river runs through the heart of the city and can be crossed by its many bridges; the bridges are an important part of Wroclaw’s identity. La Maddalena is an Haute-Cuisine restaurant and they serve us the most delicious dishes; what a treat! We listen to live music and from the restaurant we can enjoy the view over the Oder and the University that lies on the other side. The dessert is a show stopper and the most delicious and beautiful eclair I have ever eaten. What a night!
Day 2: Zoo, Centennial Hall, Japanese Gardens, Hydropolis and Dom island
Breakfast at the hotel is another treat. I am so glad they do not serve stuff like cakes, donuts and cookies. You can eat a healthy breakfast and there is plenty to choose from (warm dishes, yoghurts, quinoa, smoothies, croissants, etc.)! The restaurant staff pays a lot of attention to hygiene and make sure the guests can follow the regulations. After breakfast our transfer bus is waiting for us in front of the hotel. It feels like we are going on a school trip, we are excited about what awaits us today. Wroclaw has a lot to offer and not just in city centre and that is why we need the bus!
Our first stop is at Wroclaw Zoo, the oldest zoo in Poland; its doors opened in 1865. This zoo is really unique, having the largest number of animals in a Polish Zoo, over 1100 species! In 2006 new director Radosław Ratajszczak initiated an extensive programme of investments and new pavilions and enclosures were built. We visit the Africarium, where the director himself guides us though an oceanarium, specially designed to feature the fauna of Africa, which opened in 2014. We use the audio system that Monika gave us yesterday. We see species like sharks, rays, manatees, crocodiles, hippo’s, mousebirds, ibises and hornbills. Of course, there is much more to see at this zoo, but we are going to move on to our next stop. During trips like the idea is try to see a bit of all the destination has to offer and if we feel like there was not enough time and we want more, we can always come back!
Our next stop is a truly unique project within Europe: Hydropolis Centre for Ecological Education. Hydropolis is a science centre dedicated to water and everything starts with water on this planet! Upon arrival we get gloves so we can safely use the interactive parts of the exhibitions. A young man guides us through Hydropolis, also using Monika’s audio system; our time is limited but he explains as much as possible and it is very interesting! Hydropolis uses a variety of technologies and that way they teach us visitors about the role of water in the environment, its importance to humans, and the history of human interactions with water. I love this place, water is such a big part of my life, living by the sea. Hydropolis is popular and booking in advance is recommended!
It is time to have lunch and we do so in style at Restaurant Gran Cru, located in the luxurious 5* Grape Hotel. This hotel is a renovated 19th-century villa and offers 13 uniquely furnished rooms, whose character and design resemble and identify with the most famous wine regions from Europe and the world (my kind of place). Apart from the beautiful rooms, the hotel offers a 24-hour sauna, spa centre and restaurant with its own wine library. We are served another delicious meal, with local, seasonal products and matching wines. I could easily stay here for a few days, although I would gain a few more pounds for sure. The hotel is surround by a lovely garden and its locations is close to highlights like the Zoo, Hydropolis and Centennial Hall.
At some point we need to move on and we leave Grape Hotel behind us. Our bus takes us to Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski), the oldest part of Wroclaw and close to city centre. This part of Wroclaw with its rich history has a lot to offer and walking through this part of the city is such a pleasure. Monika tells us the most interesting stories of the history of Wroclaw, which started over 1100 years ago. We see Gothic and Baroque architecture: The Cathedral of John the Baptist, Church of the Holy Cross and other ancient churches of Wroclaw like St. Giles and St. Martin. Of course, dwarfs are also found on Cathedral Island and it has become a sport to spot them. At the end of the day, when it gets dark, you can see the 103 working gas streetlights being lit. We leave at the end of the afternoon, but I can imagine it attracts a lot of people.
The transfer bus is ready to take us back to the hotel, where we will have dinner tonight. But since we have a bit of time left, half the group decides to walk back. The weather is beautiful today and walking is the best way to see more of Wroclaw. We cross the Mlynskie bridge (Mosty Młyńskie), quickly visit the Roman Catholic parish church NMP on the Sand before crossing the beautiful red Sand Bridge (Most Piaskowy) over the Oder river. We stand still on the bridge for a minute; the view is amazing. When being on a city trip I have learned I need to stand still now and then, since I am always running, trying to see as much as possible. Autumn colours, the Oder and Cathedral Island paint a pretty picture and we need to take it in and remember this view!
We walk towards Market Square, pass by a naked lady bathing in the Oder and visit St. Matthew Church. At the end of the afternoon, we find ourselves a place to sit down for a warm drink (yes, an alcoholic one!).
Back at the hotel we freshen up and change. Tonight, we have dinner in the hotel restaurant and again the weather allows us to sit outside on the terrace, where we have plenty of space. We all have blankets and heaters over our heads to keep us warm. We listen to a small presentation before our starters arrive. Sarena tells us about the new program for 2021 and we all hope that by then things will have returned to “normal” as much as possible and that our clients our able to travel again. We realize that it travelling is seen as a “luxury”, but travelling is so much more than that. It teaches us so many things, it makes us rich simply by experiencing other “worlds”, cultures and customs (and more). It is time to eat; I have a delicious avocado with poached egg as a starter and a beef bavette as main course, accompanied by a glass of wine. It is the end of day 2 and more and more we are relaxed and able to leave our worries behind for a while.
Day 3: Gross-Rosen, Osowka, Książ Castle and Peace Church Swidnica
The alarm clock goes off very early, at 6:00 am to be exact. I am really not a morning person, but today we will leave the city behind us to explore more of Lower Silesia and we need as much time as possible. There is quite a bit on the program and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get to our first stop. So, after another good breakfast our bus awaits us and after about 15 minutes, we have left the city behind us. Our guide Monika keeps us awake and tells us a lot about “her” Wroclaw, about things we see along the way. It is unbelievable how good her Dutch is and all her stories are interesting to listen to! She also speaks about the history and big influence of the Germans in Wroclaw and Poland and the destruction during the war. We will see a part of this history today.
As soon as we leave the city, we drive through a spacious, green, hilly area, passing by small villages where time seems to stand still. Our first stop is an important part of history; a part that must never be forgotten! We arrive at Gross-Rosen, close to Rogoznica. It is a former concentration camp, established in 1940 as a subcamp of concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Until February 1945, Gross-Rosen was hell on earth for over 120,000 prisoners and about 40,000 people were killed here. At the entrance of the museum Monika meets 2 local guides and hooks them up on our audio system. The group is divided in 2 smaller groups and a lovely, young lady takes us to the gate of the camp to guide us around.
We walk through the original entrance gate which has 2 (original) guard houses. Just seeing the barbed wire makes me shiver. The camp looks very peaceful right now, the sun is shining, no wind… but you can feel the horror of this place. Our guide tells us that during the war there was no green grass as we can see it now; the prisoners would eat it, not getting enough food or any food for that matter. We visit all that is preserved in this camp: the camp bell, foundations of barracks and for me (and the other ladies) it gets emotional when we stop at the death wall and the mobile crematorium. I have to concentrate on what our guide is telling us, because seeing the crematorium is so impressive.
Close to the crematorium is a memorial and inside are remains of bodies found on these grounds. As we walk down towards the reconstructed barrack, a deer is walking in front of it and puts a smile back on our faces. Inside the barrack we get an idea of how the prisoners lived and then we walk back to the entrance. We have spent an hour in the camp, not long enough and there is no time to visit the museum; but I am grateful we came here. Every year at home in The Netherlands, on the 4th of May, we remember victims of various wars and that should never stop, so that we never forget!
We move on and after a short ride we arrive at Osówka, in the Owl Mountains. It is an underground city with a huge system of concrete corridors, halls and fortifications. We are welcomed by the director himself and Monika acts as his translator. Before we enter this mysterious, underground city, we are handed plastic caps, helmets and gloves to wear, before we can enter. Of course, we wear our mouth caps as well. Almost completely covered we enter Osówka.
Osówka is built by the Third Reich, as part of the RIESE (Olbrzym) project. This impressive, underground city was built on a large scale in 1943, by workers and prisoners from the Gross-Rosen camp. Their working conditions were horrible; they were forced to dig from 1943 to 1945, many of them not having proper tools and even having to use their hands. Many prisoners would not live to tell! More than two kilometres of tunnels were dug. We walk about 1 kilometre, get to see images and found items along the way, while we listen to the stories.
The war was too short to complete this secret project, which some say should have become Hitler’s headquarters. Others believe that it was the idea to make secret weapons here, since areas like the “Gym” and “Casino” are big enough to store massive weapons. One can only guess the truth; the project was so secret, workers died and all documentation has disappeared.
We exit the underground city through its back door and a path takes us back through a beautiful, green forest to the restaurant, close by the entrance. The director thanks us for visiting, but we have to thank him! So far this morning we have learned a lot about history and I consider these visit valuable lessons in life. In the restaurant we get served a true Polish lunch, with delicacies such as pumpkin soup, Barszcz (beet-based soup) and Pierogi (dumplings filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms and others with spinach).
After lunch we head to Książ Castle, the largest castle in the Silesia region and third largest in Poland, located in northern Wałbrzych. From the parking lot we have to walk for a little while and first we stop at the viewing point to admire the impressive castle from a distance! It looks like it comes straight out of a fairy tale. After taking lots of photographs, we walk towards the entrance and into another important part of history.
The castle has a rich and stormy history, which started in the 13th century. It changed owners quite often; it belonged to various states and much was destroyed during the wars. From the 16th century the castle belonged to the powerful Hochberg family, for about 4 centuries and during this time the castle was visited by lots of VIP’s like royalty, tsars, presidents and magnates (if walls could talk). Now there is so much to talk about its history, like the family Hochberg falling into debts and opening the castle for public or about the time the Third Reich took over the castle. I suggest you visit the website to read all about the castle: or better go and visit! The castle is now owned by the Walbrzych district government (since 1991).
A handsome young and English-speaking man awaits us (and I believe he is in shock when seeing only women). He guides us through Książ Castle with its many, many rooms. He talks about the renovation works that are being done in the castle, which has now covered 4 floors and there is so much more work to be done. The interior of the castle is impressive and well-kept and when looking out of the windows, I see beautiful gardens. He tells us juicy stories about the last family that lived here and of course he has stories about what took place here during the 2nd World War. Another very interesting tour, which unfortunately comes to an end.
The castle is a true tourist attraction and because of its location it is also known as the Pearl of Lower Silesia. I could easily spend a few days here, just taking photographs; both the castle and its location are very photogenic. The castle does house a hotel with restaurant and you can even get married in the castle; lots of wedding parties are organized here. The hotel is located in three outbuildings, but I would love to stay in the castle itself (which is not possible of course), although I am sure I would not be able to sleep with ghosts from the past probably haunting the place. At the end of the afternoon, we walk back to the bus, as I keep taking photographs with the sun going down peacefully.
We have one more place to visit and that is the Peace Church in Swidnica, which we reach after about a 25 minutes’ drive. We are a bit late, so we hurry; it is already getting dark. The Peace Church is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is one of the largest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe, built in the mid-17th century. It does not look like a church on the outside, so I am curious what awaits us on the inside.
Once we are inside, the richly decorated interior is one big surprise; I simply do not know where to look. Everything we see is made of wood. We sit down in the benches and through a loud speaker comes an audio tour and Monika helps to point out the highlights being mentioned. The church is a mix of Baroque art and Lutheran theology, simply amazing. The Peace Church bears testimony to the quest for religious freedom. We need to leave, it is late. I wait for everybody to leave the church and I quickly take some photographs of this beautiful and special Church when no one else is inside.
From the Peach Church we walk through the centre of Swidnica to restaurant Rynek for dinner. We get served beef in a rich sauce, together with potatoes, a salad and cheesecake for dessert. What an impressive day today, we have seen and learned so much. We have a lot to take in! But how great is it to combine a city trip to Wroclaw with a day trip to this part of the region. We walk back to our bus, admiring Swidnica by night. Our driver takes us back to the hotel in about 90 minutes and most of us fall asleep on the bus…
Day 4: more of the city: architecture, music and market
After a good night sleep, we have another full day in Wroclaw ahead of us. This morning we were supposed to go on a boat tour, but the water level in the river Oder is too high, so boats are not allowed to go out! That means a change of plans and after breakfast we are picked up by 2 mini e-vans, who will take us on a city tour. The e-vans are small and can manoeuvre easily through the city! We put our mouth caps on, open the windows, the sun is shining and off we go…
Our first stop today is at Centennial Hall (Hala Stulecia); we saw the building when visiting Wroclaw Zoo 2 days ago, which is located on the other side of the road. We get a quick tour inside the building, which reminds me a little bit of the Pantheon in Rome. Centennial Hall opened its doors in 1913 and for more than 100 years, this building had the largest dome in the world without pillars. Centennial Hall is a multifunctional space and one of the most wanted places to organise exhibitions, conferences, congresses, cultural and sporting events for Poland and from abroad. Since 2006 the Hall became a part of UNESCO World Heritage List, making it even more interesting.
We hurry outside, so that we are on time to see the fountain show in the garden, located behind the hall. OK… this fountain show may not be like the fountain show at the Bellagio ;), but it is worth it! The large pond in which the fountains are located is surrounded by a beautiful pergola / arch, which displays its autumn colours and I end up taking photographs from every angle. After the fountain show we visit the Japanese garden, which is located behind the pergola. It is a lovely and peaceful spot and here also autumn shows its most beautiful side.
We have lunch at Concordia Design, a multifunctional building. We arrive a bit late, due to a traffic jam on one of the bridges. Concordia Design contains co-working spaces, an event venue, a food hall, a café and a rooftop terrace on Slodowa Island. Upon arrival a friendly lady named Ewa Kaucz, is waiting for us. She is the managing director and takes us on a small tour before going to the rooftop terrace, from where the view over the city is wonderful. The building has a good atmosphere and I can see why this is a popular place to visit.
We go back downstairs to relax and enjoy another delicious lunch! First a vegan cream soup, then a bowl with teriyaki mackerel and wakame salad, accompanied by a good glass of white wine and last but not least: we are treated to a cinnamon bun. We better do some walking this afternoon!
After lunch we visit the National Forum of Music (Narodowe Forum Muzyki or NFM), the most important music venue of Wroclaw. The building looks amazing, the front is made of wood and symbolizes the wooden sound boxes of the string instruments of the orchestra. The front porch is in copper colour, symbolizing the brass instruments and the balustrades in the reception hall are white and reflect in the black rear wall, symbolizing keyboard instruments.
The NFM was completed in 2015, houses a large concert hall with 1800 seats and also has 3 chamber halls (from 250-450 seats). We get a tour through this photogenic building, which is very quiet during the day. The NFM is home to many major ensembles and festivals in Wroclaw and it is one of the largest and most modern music venues in Poland. At this very moment Jordi Savall is rehearsing in the concert hall and we get to sneak in and watch for a while on the balcony. But I think he knows we are here, because they are not playing, just tuning. Still, it wonderful to see this big concert hall and the light shining over the orchestra. We leave the NFM and once we are outside, we have to take a photograph of the dwarf orchestra 🙂 located at left side at the front.
We have a few hours to ourselves to enjoy the city and since the sun is still shining, we walk! Little groups go into various directions and I am part of a small group that wants to visit the old market hall (Hala Targowa). It is a 20 minutes’ walk and again we see more of the city and more dwarfs! The market hall is still used for daily shopping and I love markets like these. I love the colours; I love the smells and I love to see foreign products. Many local suppliers here sell their goods.
We walk back to the hotel, passing the Maria Magdalene church. There is a small souvenir shop inside and we go in to have a look. Once we are inside, we see that here we can buy a ticket to visit the Penitent Bridge (Mostek Pokutnic, also known as the witches’ bridge). It is a footbridge between the 2 towers of the church, at 45 metres high! We still have time before it closes, but not all of us want to climb 247 stairs. I actually do not want to either, but after that lunch I think I have to! Halfway the winding stairs I am already out of breath, but I keep on going and the 360 view on top of the bridge is worth it. The sun is low, but still shining enough light over the city. I photograph the witches on the bridge and if you want to know about them, just click here.
Back at the hotel we quickly freshen up, change clothes and walk back to city centre for our last evening meal in Wroclaw. We have dinner in a traditional restaurant called Pod Fredra, where it is warm and cosy. We get served almost every traditional Polish meal there is on the menu, so we make sure we try a bit of everything and we can hardly come out of our seats after dinner. It is a good thing we have to walk back, although it is only a short walk back to the hotel.
Day 5: departure day
The day of departure has arrived. We all get up early to enjoy a last delicious breakfast in our hotel. We will leave the hotel at noon to go back to the airport, so we still have time to go into town once more, to take some last photographs, buy more souvenirs and to spot more dwarfs. Even in streets where we walked several times this week, we find dwarfs that we did not notice before. I take a last look at the colourful houses and beautiful facades at The Market Square. This city turned out to be one big surprise; I love it here!
We walk back to the hotel, pack our luggage and are taken back to the modern airport of Wroclaw. Yesterday we already said goodbye to Monika, our wonderful guide and now we say goodbye to Wroclaw. We had a great educational trip; both tour operator De Jong Intra and the Polish Tourist Board gave us their all. We saw so much of the city and the surrounding area; this destination has a lot to offer for everyone (young, older, old… big or small budget)! History, art, culture, architecture and a huge range of food and beverage outlets and activities… you name it; Wroclaw has it! To all the ladies who were travelling with me: thank you for your good company, it was a pleasure to meet you all!
At the airport is not so busy, so many flights have been cancelled. After check in, we have a look at the departure hall, get a snack for lunch, before KLM flies us safely back to SchiphoI. It felt great to be in Wroclaw, to escape daily life especially in time of Covid-19. I know that it is wishful thinking, but I hope that soon our lives can go back to “normal”. Health should always come first, no matter what! So, whatever we need to do these coming months, we will do! But I hope that sometime next year, we are able to travel again, because there is still so much to explore and enjoy!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
October 9, 2020
Do you want to know more about Wroclaw? Click here!
Northern Ireland: this 4 day short break makes me want to know more of you. I loved the green hilly landscape, the mountains, stunning coastline. Your biggest asset: your friendly people! Thank you so much for your warm welcome! I hope to come back!
A week before my ..th birthday I was having breakfast, thinking that in a week I would finally go on holiday; I could not wait! I was so tired and felt like going back to bed, but I had to go to work. I picked up my phone quickly to check my email before leaving home. And there it was: an early birthday present 🙂 I jumped up from the couch and did a little happy dance. It was an email from Tourism Ireland that said: Congratulations you have been chosen to attend the Ireland Specialist FAM trip! YES… happy dance! 4 weeks (and a holiday in between) later I am on my way to Northern Ireland.
Day 1: from Amsterdam via Dublin to Newcastle
We meet on Friday morning at Schiphol Airport; 8 Dutch travel agents and a lovely lady named Ann Marie from Tourism Ireland meet at the gate, ready for our flight to Dublin. We fly with Aer Lingus, with whom I have flown to Dublin before. Within 1,5 hour we already arrive; it is only a short flight! At Dublin we (the Dutch travel agents) get acquainted a bit better and we get a bit of extra time to do so. We wait for 5 Belgium travel agents to arrive from Brussels, but their flight is delayed with half an hour. Not a problem, Ann Marie gets us a warm drink and we chat away until the group is complete.
After the Belgium travel agents have joined us, we meet Conor, who represents Hidden Tours Belfast and who will accompany us for the next few days. He guides us outside of the airport and we walk towards the bus, where driver Martin of Quinns Coaches is waiting for us. And off we go, leaving Dublin straight away. Conor introduces himself a bit more on the bus and tells us we are free to ask him as many questions as we want. He lets us enjoy the landscape along the way instead of talking too much on the microphone. I actually am happy about that because upon arrival on a destination, the first impressions of what you see are many and I like to take it quietly. And the beautiful green landscape along the way speaks for itself. I already fell in love with Ireland 7 years ago and am so grateful I am back to explore a part I have not seen before.
We drive north and the weather is not so good. Hmm… The drive takes us about an hour and I enjoy looking out of the window, seeing the green hilly landscape. When we arrive at our first stop, the sun has come out, like it was meant to be. We do not stay overnight, but we have lunch at the lovely Whistledown Hotel in Warrenpoint. Warrenpoint is a small port town at Carlinford Lough. The hotel is right in the middle of Warrenpoint overlooking the lough. What a great location to stay and what a view. We have a table on the first floor and I take a seat by the window so I can look outside at the water. I can stare for hours just looking at sea birds, boats passing by, people walking on beaches or boulevards. We get to choose from a special menu and I order a steak sandwich. OMG, it is the best ever, although I can hardly get out of my seat after eating it. Simply delicious and the rest of the table is very quiet too during lunch (always a good sign). Before moving on to the next stop, we quickly go outside to take some photographs of the old pool and the lovely houses on Rostrevor Road.
We go further north and half an hour later we stop to have a look at Spelga Dam in the Mourne Mountains. They are also called the Mournes or Mountains of Mourne and they are a granite mountain range in County Down. The dam is located about 12 kilometres from Newcastle. We are told that it is a man made dam built in 1960 and on the other side of the dam is Spelga Reservoir. The reservoir and dam apparently were built as part of a project with the idea of supplying water to Belfast, but the Portadown and Banbridge areas receive the water supply. At the parking there are 2 buses of school kids going for a hike, maybe even camping and what a beautiful area to do so. I quickly run down the road to take pics of the Dam and then we move on.
We run a bit late. Let me tell you… travel agents are probably the worst tourists since we want to see it all and always wonder off to catch another glimpse of something ;-).
From the dam it is only a 20 minute drive to Tollymore Forest Park. Although we take a bit longer to get there (extra sight seeing on the way). I read about Tollymore Forest Park, it is the first state forest park in Northern Ireland. It has the most amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the sea at Newcastle. Once we arrive, we get ready for a Game of Thrones Experience (including wearing a fake fur cape). I feel like lady Stark. Where is Ned Stark??? Oh right, he died… and lady Stark did too.
Northern Ireland is home to many film locations of this immense popular TV show and Tollymore Forest Park is one of them. We walk through the park where the Shimna river flows through and there are 16 bridges you can cross. It is like walking in a real life fairytale. We get to see the location where the scene of the husky puppies is shot in season 1 (Game of Thrones fans will of course know what I am talking about). But there are more film locations in the park.
We have to get back before it gets too dark. A shame, because this fairytale looking Forest Park is so beautiful. If you ever have the plans to go to Tollymore, you can of course go for the Game of Thrones experience (for sure if you are a big fan), but you can also get yourself a map and take your time to walk around. Take a picnic with you, sit down in between and just enjoy the beauty of the park.
Martin drives us to the Burrendale Hotel in Newcastle where we check in. The hotel has a perfect location for sporty people who want to go for a walk or a hike in the area. But of course it is not only for the sporty ones. We all have a comfortable room where we freshen up for dinner. I take a bath; I do not have a bath tub at home, so when I get the chance… I relax and go down to the restaurant to meet the group. During our check in we already got the chance to order from the menu so we do not have to wait long for our food. Another great meal, a good glass of wine and a yummy desert. And I am in good company and we talk about what we have seen this afternoon and how incredibly lucky we all are to be on this trip. 13 lucky travel agents!
Day 2: from Newcastle to Belfast
After a good breakfast we leave Newcastle and go to Belfast. The drive is about an hour. Martin drives us to various spots in the city and Conor gives us information about the places we see and where we stop as well as some history lessons. We stop at Queens University Belfast, one of UK’s leading universities. We see the Garden of Remembrance en route as well as other important places in the history of Belfast. An emotional stop is at Belfast Peace Wall at Cupar Way, the biggest Peace Wall in Belfast. The Peace Walls in Northern Ireland are barriers that were erected to separate Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.
This Peace Wall is a major tourist attraction and that feels a bit weird. On the other side, I am standing here as a tourist too right now and we learn about an important part of history. On the wall there is wall art displaying images of Peace Walls from all over the world… Are they though, Peace Walls? I am not in a position to give my opinion. I am not religious. I am just a person who thinks that in this world we have so many serious problems. Let us focus on what really matters: our beautiful planet, being healthy, having a place to live, a job that pays the bills and having family and good friends around to enjoy those simple pleasures in life… Belfast people: you are beautiful, to me your religion, background, colour does not matter.
We continue our drive through Belfast and arrive around 11am at The Titanic Experience. The building which is home to The Titanic Experiece is beautiful; the ships bows are sailing in all kinds of directions. Check out the YouTube video below to learn more about this iconic design.
Ofcourse we go inside! The tours takes us through nine innovative and interactive galleries, telling the story of the famous RMS Titanic. From her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her famous maiden voyage and tragic end.
The galleries have many features, such as diving to the depth of the ocean to explore where RMS Titanic now rests (I think I have seen a documentatry once on TV; maybe the same one?). We enjoy a dark ride, an underwater exploration theatre and see recreations of the ship’s cabins. It is very busy this Saturday. It is a major tourist attraction, but really worth it! I thought I knew a lot about the Titanic, but I have learned so much more know. On the ground floor you can score some great souvenirs, go for a drink, eat a snack or even a meal. All the facilities are there!
We, however, have other plans for lunch. We go “next door” and have lunch in the Titanic Hotel. This boutique / art deco hotel lies within the Titanic Quarter. People are having lunch or a high tea when we walk in. It actually looks really cosy inside. A delicious tomato soup is being served to us along with light sandwiches. Just what we need. After lunch we get a tour through the hotel from Zi Ayoub, who takes so much pride in his job and loves working at this hotel. He has many interesting stories to tell. The hotel was once Harland & Wolf’s headquarters and drawing office. It is filled with art, beautiful historical photographs and vintage posters and for sure I would love to stay in one of the rooms for a few nights.
Next on the program is a visit at Crumlin Road Gaol. We are going to discover over 150 years of history and follow in the footsteps of over 25,000 prisoners as we make a journey through Northern Ireland’s only remaining Victorian Era prison. Guide Roy takes us on a guided tour. He used to work here as a guard and is such a sweet man. He tells us about the building’s colourful past and gives us a unique and memorable insight into the daily lives and routines of both prisoners and prison officers over the Gaol’s existence. We walk through the tunnel that used to connect the prison with the court house and it gives us the creeps… well a tiny bit anyway.
The building is well looked after and inside we get to see the cells, toilets, the kitchen, etc. and the hanging room. Now that room really gives me the creeps. Roy makes the tour a great experience. He tells us that at night you can go on a ghost hunting tour, since people did die in this prison and there is paranormal activity. But he also tells us he will never go himself; NO WAY! I guess that would be a NO WAY for me as well.
Martin drops us off close to Belfast Cathedral. We meet Adam from Seed Head Arts, who will take us on a wall / street art tour through the Cathedral Quarter. It has started to rain a bit, but not too bad and we walk along the streets for about 1,5 hour and we get to see the most amazing wall art. I think I must have taken about a 100 photographs; the paintings all are so beautiful and different; not one is the same! Adam tells us about Seedhead Arts, about the artists who create the wall art, about the wall paintings, how they wer made and about the events Seed Head Arts organize. My favorite wall painting you can see below.
I am so inspired, although wall painting is not really something I have tried yet. But I am creative and for sure I need to do something with all that is buzzing in my head right now. It is only 1,5 week ago that I enjoyed the wall art in Reykjavik, but Belfast for sure has become a place where Street Art has flourished, where many artists from around the world have come to paint. Just WOW. This tour is a must do when you are in Belfast!
We go to the Maldron Hotel, where we will stay overnight. Our suitcases are already there and it is great to take off the wet clothes and have a warm shower, relax a bit and get changed for dinner. We walk to Café Parisien, located in front of Belfast City Hall. We have 2 tables on the first floor. Café Parisien is a great place to relax, the interior takes me back in time a bit. It is Saturday night and the place is packed. The staff is friendly and the food and drinks are good. We take our time for dinner and afterwards we ask Conor to bring us to a pub with live Irish music and dance. We end up at Henry’s, a great restaurant/bar with lots of choice in beers and other drinks. I enjoy a Guinness. This place is packed too with locals who enjoy the live music and the Irish dance and so do I. I remember quite a few songs! When living in Australia for a year back in the 90’s I used to go to The Mercantile in The Rocks, Sydney every Sunday and that is where I enjoyed the Irish live music and learned the songs by head.
Belfast has surprised
me today. I think it is a great city, still authentic and despite
what people may think: very friendly! Together with a few girls in
the group we walk back to the hotel and I have a good night sleep.
Day 3: from Belfast via the Causeway Coastal Route to Bushmills
We get up early (quite difficult for those who had little sleep). We leave Belfast and soon we are driving on the scenic Causeway Coastal Route. I make sure I sit on the right side of the bus, to enjoy the sea view and the scenery is really stunning. After 45 minutes we arrive at The Gobbins Visitor Centre. The Gobbins is a cliff-face path at Islandmagee, Country Antrim on the Causeway Coastal Route. It runs across bridges, past caves and through a tunnel along The Gobbins cliffs. We will walk along the famous Gobbins Path together with a lovely young lady called Amy, who is our guide. We get a safety talk first, put on our hiking boats and a safety helmet. By minivan we are taken to the start of the walking tour.
The area is breathtaking. As soon as we start our walk we see a dolphin in the distance. I am too late to grab my camera phone, but that is OK. It is swimming too past up north and disappears in the distance. The weather is great when we start the tour and we can taste the salty air, feel a bit of wind from the Irish Sea. Our guided walk takes us along the path hugging the dramatic cliff face and across spectacular bridges looking down on the crashing waves of the North Channel. We are lucky with the weather, so no big waves for us. Another dolphin pops up in the distance and a curious seal is following us along the coast. At the end of the tour it starts to drizzle a bit, but who cares. Where I come from we say: I am not made of sugar and will not melt from a bit of water. You have to be fit to walk a walk like this, but hey… I managed (and I am really not that fit). I can highly recommend doing this guided walking tour, I enjoyed it so much.
It takes about half an hour to reach Ballygally Castle Hotel where we will have lunch. The hotel is located right by the sea and I love it. I cannot do without the sea, so this trip is just perfect for me. Ballygally Castle is a stunning 17th Century Castle which overlooks the golden sands of Ballygally Bay and the Irish Sea. At the hotel we find one of the Games of Thrones Doors. In January 2016 a storm swept the island bringing down some of the famous Dark Hedges trees. The wood from the fallen trees was salvaged and transformed into unique works of art in the form of 10 intricately crafted doors. We have some big fans in our group, so they are really enjoying this part of Ireland where Game of Thrones shot so many scenes.
We order lunch and have a bit of time to wander through the beautiful garden. This place is a little peace of heaven on earth. You can hear the water from the river behind the hotel, the sound of the sea at the front, birds singing and it is so peaceful. After lunch we get a little present: a Duck of Thrones. Clients who would book a Game of Thrones tour together with a stay at the hotel got a duck… and thankfully there were a few left. It is a collectors item, so I will treasure it!
Afterwards we do a small tour around the hotel. There is a ghost room in the tower and a bridal suite that I would love to stay in for a few nights (seriously, I need to come back to Northern Ireland… I keep saying this). The view from this room is just perfect. I go outside and go for a quick walk on the beach. I think I made the bus wait for me. Sorry guys for being late… but it is so beautiful here!
We continue our journey to the north. The scenery gets more beautiful every minute. Little villages by the sea, small harbours with a few fishing boats, colourful houses and beautiful beaches. If I was driving a car, I would stop a 100 times to look around and take photographs. Martin needs to move on though. We do stop at Portnareevy View Point. From here there is a stunning view of the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge. We do not have time to go there, but looking from is distance is fine by me. I am sure crossing this bridge is not for the faint hearted.
We arrive at the village of Bushmills and stop to take some photographs of Dunluce Castle. The sun shines bright in our faces, making it impossible to take photographs, too much light comes in, but the view is amazing and dreamy with the bright sunlight behind the castle.
We visit Bushmills Distillery for some whiskey tasting. I would have loved to do a proper tour, but we are late. Our guide Gerry does tell us about the process and the different types of barrels the whiskey is ageging in. And hey, the best part is that we get to taste a glass of 12 year old single malt. After the tasting we quickly hurry to the shop before it closed to buy ourselves some gifts. I go for the whiskey toffees and caramels (of course).
We leave Bushmills and check in at at Causeway Hotel. The story of the Causeway Hotel began in 1836, when Miss Elizabeth Henry built the hotel, creating the first place for travellers to stay overlooking the famous rock formations (say The National Trust website). I love this hotel, which is right at the famous Giant’s Causeway, surrounded by a rough coastal landscape and the Atlantic Ocean. What a view, what a location… In the room there is another warm welcome in an envelope from The National Trust
Instead of freshening up for dinner I walk, together with 4 other of the group, towards the Giant’s Causeway. We do have it on our program tomorrow morning, but the weather is great, so we might as well take this moment. It is about a 20 minutes walk and seeing the hexagon basalt columns is overwhelming. You just cannot beat nature and this place is magical.
We stay for another 20 minutes before we start our walk back to the hotel. I have a warm shower, get changed and go to the restaurant. The interior of the hotel is just as a coastal hotel should be. We have a lovely dinner and afterwards I go back to my hotel room. I am really tired, in a good way of course, but I just need to relax a bit. In the middle of the night I wake up, there is a storm going on outside, but thankfully I manage to fall asleep again.
Day 4: from Bushmills back to Belfast
It is still grey outside and raining when I wake up. No breakfast buffet this morning. We get to order from the menu and I decide to treat myself to pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. Yum! We check out of the hotel and walk to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. During breakfast the sky opened up and now the sun in shining. What a gift!
The £18m Visitor Centre is an innovative state of the art facility which rises out of the landscape with walls of glass, soaring basalt columns and a sloping grass roof. In the Visitor Centre there is a lot to see and to learn about the area and there is a shop with beautiful souvenirs.
We are welcomed by John, who tells about the National Trust and the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre(which is located in an incredible building). He introduces us to Neill, the guide who will accompany us throughout our walking tour. Neill tells us amazing stories, most passed on to him by his grandmother and he is the perfect guide. 60 million years ago, when molten lava cooled suddenly on contact with water the Giant’s Causeway was created. It is an area of about 40,000 interlocking, mostly hexagonal basalt columns. We see the camel, the Wishing Chair, and the Giant’s Organ; all formations created by mother nature.
We have to leave and we take the shuttle bus back up; it just saves us time. Martin drives us to the Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges were intended as a compelling landscape feature to impress visitors as they approached the entrance to their Georgian mansion, Gracehill House. However, two centuries later, the trees remain a magnificent sight and have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. In fact, these iconic trees have been used as a filming location in HBO’s epic series Game of Thrones, representing the Kings Road. It is impossible to take a photographs without people in it, but who cares. The trees are beautiful and impressive.
Our 4-day trip is almost coming to an end. We go back to Belfast, which takes about an hour. We stop in city centre and have lunch in McHughs. After lunch the Dutch travel agents go to George Best airport. We fly back from to Schiphol with KLM, who celebrates her 100th anniversary. The Belgium depart from Dublin back to Brussels. We say goodbye. We had such a good time and in great company. We all got along so well. How quickly these days passed by. But it is as the saying goes: time flies when you are having fun.
I once visited the Republic of Ireland and I fell in love with the country, the landscape and its people. And now I have fallen for Northern Ireland where the landscape is just as pretty, maybe even prettier and a bit rougher and the people are so kind. The Causeway Coastal Route to me was one of the highlights of the trip. I hope to come back and then I will come for a week at least, rent a car and take my time to stop in every picturesque little village on the way. I will continue the trip towards the north and drive back through the north west coast. There is still so much to see in Northern Ireland.
Thank you Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland for your hospitality, for inviting us to get to know you. I enjoyed every single minute!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
October 7, 2019
If you want to read my travel blog about my holiday in the Republic of Ireland, clickhere.
Reykjavík; the capital city of Iceland. Here we end our amazing 2 week holiday / road trip. We drove 3,043 kilometres before reaching this amazing city. We leave our rental car behind and discover Reykjavík by foot. Amazing wall art, sculptures, architecture and more… Rekjavik has it all!
This is the last travel blog about my amazing journey through Iceland in September 2019. If you want to read about this adventure from the beginning, just click here 🙂 and travel with me from Reykjanes to West, North, East and South Iceland. This blog is about the amazing capital city: Reykjavík!
Day 13 of 14: from Flúðir to Reykjavik
We have spent 12 days on the road, driving around Iceland. Our trip has been unforgettable and my head is full of impressions. This morning we left Flúðir, visited Kerið crater on the way towards Reykjavík. Today our road trip ends because we return our car in Reykjavík and we will discover the city by foot. From Kerið crater to Reykjavik it is only an hour of driving and we arrive before lunch time. We actually still have a few hours before we have to return our little 4WD and I ask Astrid if we can visit one more lighthouse… please! Being my friend for 35 years she will not say no 🙂
We drive to the west corner of the capital city so we can visit Grótta Island Lighthouse. I do not remember exactly how many lighthouses I have seen during this trip, but it must be over 20 (and there are many more). When arriving in Reykjavík the sun has come out again, treating us once more during this trip. We park our car close to Grótta Lighthouse and we just have to get out of the car to soak up the sun. Grótta Lighthouse is a small lighthouse at the north-westernmost point of Reykjavík. We see that the area is perfect to go for a walk, bird watching and it is probably a great location for seeing the Northern Lights (if you do not want to go out of the city too far).
I think this location is perfect, it is quiet here and we walk towards the lighthouse on a small stretch of sand and seagrass. I take a lot of photographs as usual, being a fan of lighthouses and being a person who cannot do without the sea. Online I read there has been a lighthouse at Grótta since 1897 and the one we see now dates back to 1947. At the back of the lighthouse, facing the see, is a beautiful painting of a goose and unfortunately some idiot painted some creature on his neck (I cannot imagine this being part of the original painting). I stare over the sea and as usual when doing so I dream away.
We need to walk back towards the car says Astrid and she goes ahead. The tide is coming in and we will be able to get back, but not without getting wet feet! About 5 minutes later I walk back too and can just about keep my feet dry, but my hiking boots are dirty! I love the concrete shell sculptures that I see close to the parking. I think they would look very pretty in my little garden at home.
I would have loved to do a bit more walking in this area, also on the island, but we get back into the car. We need to return “our” 4WD to the car rental company and before we do so, we want to leave our luggage at the hotel where we will be staying for the next 2 nights.
Getting to Hotel Frón is not so easy, since they are working on several roads in the city centre, so we end up doing a small city tour before we finally get there. Finding a parking spot is extremely difficult, so we quickly park in front of the hotel to take our luggage out, but of course we cannot leave it there. So Astrid tries to find a parking spot and in the meantime I check into our room. After about 10 minutes she arrives and tells me she parked for about 45 minutes and paid a fortune. It is very expensive to park.
At the reception we meet a young Dutch woman, with whom I had contact online about our stay in this hotel. We have a bag with food and wine left, which we give to her (since there are some typical Dutch things in there). We do not take any of it back to Holland and here in Reykjavik there are plenty of places to eat and drink, so she can enjoy it. Then we leave our luggage in the room, I put on clean shoes (without sand and seagrass from Grótta) and we get back into the car for the last time during this holiday.
The car rental company is just outside of Reykjavik centre, close to its airport and Perlan. When we return it, we are asked where we went and how much we have seen of the country. The lady asks, because in 12 days we drove 3,043 (yes… three thousand and forty three) kilometres. We did see an awful lot and could have easily added another 500 kilometres. But we are satisfied with all we have seen and done and happy we relaxed a bit in between our sight seeing. Bye bye little 4WD drive, we were very happy you kept us safe on the road!
A shuttle bus takes us back to city centre and the driver asks us where we want to get out. We tell him he does not need to drop us off at the hotel, but at Hallgrímskirkja, which is easier for him, saves him time and we can start our sightseeing straight away.
We have not eaten anything for lunch, so before visiting the most famous church in Iceland, we get a Reykjavik Street Dog, which is very tasty and enough to keep us going for a while. And then it is time to pay a visit to Hallgrímskirkja, which looks just as impressive in real life as on the many photographs I have seen online.
Hallgrímskirkja, which means “the Church of Hallgrimur”, is a true national monument, dedicated to poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. Hallgrímskirkja can been seen from almost anywhere in the city of Reykjavik. The tower is 73 metres high and you can go up to enjoy a 360 view over the city. Building this church started in 1945 and the church was consecrated on October 26, 1986. State architect Guðjónn Samúelsson designed the church and what an incredible design, sticking to Icelandic traditions and materials. Hallgrímskirkja is inspired by the impressive basalt columns we saw at Reynisfjara Beach.
Going inside the church is free, but if you want to go up in the tower you pay an entrance fee (which is fair of course; just a few years ago a new elevator was installed and the money will help to maintain the church). We want to go all the way to the top, because today is a beautiful day and the view over the city will be amazing. Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most visited places by tourists in Iceland and you cannot skip a visit when being in Reykjavík! We take the elevator up as far as it goes and then it is just a few steps on the stairs before reaching the level that offers the most beautiful view over the city! We take our time, enjoying the view and I love seeing the colourful houses from above! I tried to leave the high rise building out of the photographs as much as possible. I believe they do not fit in.
After about 20 minutes we go back down and start walking on the Skólavörðustígur towards the centre. We come across beautiful buildings, shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes and see pretty wall art along the way. Apparently Reykjavík is well known for its amazing wall / mural art and I am sure we will see more today and tomorrow! The end of Skólavörðustígur is car free and this part of the street is the famous “rainbow street”. Once it was painted for the Reykjavík pride and now this part of the street is permanently painted and one of the most photographed spots in the city.
I take many photographs as well of the street and I just love it. The rainbow brightens up the street and I think there should be a rainbow street in every city 🙂 At the end of the street we see an ice cream shop and we cannot resist. We go inside at Eldur og Ís and order ourselves a delicious ice cream and sit outside on a bench to eat it.
Around the corner is Bankastræti, where we find the Icelandic Punk Museum and opposite is the Prime Minister’s Office. From here we turn to the Hverfisgata, where our hotel is located. We have a look inside the shops and admire the wall art we come across. Reykjavík is great mix of locals and tourists and it is full of life, but not too busy this time of year.
At the end of the afternoon we return to our hotel and just relax for a while. Hotel Frón is located in down town Reykjavik and its location is just perfect. It is close to all the main shops, restaurants, cafés, galleries and museums and you can reach all by foot. We do have to get used to the city “noise” after having stayed at the most quiet locations since we started this trip, but Reykjavík is pretty great and its noise not loud.
We go back outside after about an hour to find ourselves a place to eat. There is no shortage of restaurants, but we want something casual. We end up at Reykjavík Chips and order a fish and chips with a Boli beer (if you read the previous blogs, you must be thinking I am being sponsored by Boli, but it just became this holiday tradition, to order a Boli beer with our dinner). It is quite busy at Reykjavík Chips, it seems a popular place to eat and we just take our time enjoying our meal and chat away as usual.
After dinner we do not go back to the hotel straight away, but go for a walk instead. The sun has set, it is dark, but the city lights make it bright enough. We walk towards the sea and stop at Sólfar / Sun Voyager, another icon in the city of Reykjavík located next to the Sæbraut road. The Sun Voyager is an ode to the sun, a dreamboat. The artist who created the sculpture was Jón Gunnar Árnason and he wanted the Sun Voyager to symbolize the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream full op hope, progress and freedom. I think it is a very special piece of art and although dark, it still makes a pretty picture. We are not alone here and I have to wait now and then to not have tourists (like myself) in front of the lens and I take a lot of photographs as usual from every possible side. If you want more information about the Sun Voyager, just clickhere!
We continue our walk towards Harpa, which is truly one of Reykjavík’s impressive landmarks. We can see it from a distance, since it puts on quite a light show at night. It is the cultural and social centre in the heart of the city, a concert hall and conference centre and the opening concert was held on May 4, 2011. The building features a coloured glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland; a design that shows up in the city at various places. The light show on the glass facade changes all the time and at some point we see the Northern Lights (so we got to see it after all).
The doors to Harpa are still open and we go inside. On our right side we see a bit tourist shop and we have look inside. Funny enough we hear music by Dutch artists being played in the shop and it turns out there is a Dutch speaking man behind the counter. The shop offers beautiful souvenirs, books, goodies, eatable items from Iceland and so much more! I think it is one of the most beautiful shops if you want to get yourself a souvenir (or 2). We continue our “night tour” through the building and walk towards the back, from where we can look out over the harbour. We hear someone singing beautifully, preparing his voice for a show; well… it sounds like a warming up. We will come back here tomorrow, so we can see more of the building and discover it by daylight.
We slowly walk back towards the hotel coming across more wall paintings; mural art is everywhere in this city. It is a Wednesday night and on the Laugavegur where our hotel is located, it is not too busy, but quite a few people are enjoying themselves having a drink in one of the many bars. We had a long day though and we go back to our hotel room. For sure I need a warm shower. On the other side of the room Astrid has fallen asleep and I turn off the light, go through my photographs and post some on my social media and fall asleep as well.
Day 14 of 14: city walk and a virtual flight!
Our natural alarm clock wakes us up early and the city wakes up as well. We take it easy, no need to rush today. We enjoy a simple, but good breakfast before we have a full day to explore more of Reykjavík. I really cannot believe it, but even on our last day we are treated to good weather . We see clouds, but the sun comes through often enough. I have heard so many stories from friends going to Iceland having only rain and this is our 14th day and so far we had 7 days of sun, 4 days of clouds and 3 days with rain. How amazing is that? To me it is the best birthday gift ever!
We decide to walk back to Harpa, to see the this landmark by daylight. On our way there we come across another great mural painting. I hope more cities will follow by having beautiful wall art like this (instead of ugly graffiti signatures). It really brightens up any “grey” wall.
Harpa looks totally different by day and we get to see how impressive this building really is. Every day (if I am correct) you can take a guided tour. I am actually quite curious to know what the concert hall looks like and see other areas where you normally cannot go. But we are here at 09:45 in the morning, so we just walk in the areas that are open to public. Inside I think the building looks even more spectacular and the glass columns are a true piece of art and reflect the colours of the sky and sea: just WOW! Go to the Harpawebsitefor more information about the building!
We leave Harpa and take the Sculpture & Shore Walk which starts at Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum and the Recycled House (which I really want to see), which goes al the way towards the harbour. We walked a part of it last night, from the Sun Voyager to Harpa. The sun is coming out more and walking alongside the harbour is just my cup of tea. I love coastal photography and my Facebook page used to be about coastal photography only. I merged it with the one I have now, but you will still find a lot of photographs taken at the coast, harbours, beaches, etc. So poor Astrid knows I will stop a 100 times for a photograph. But then again, when she sees a shop, she goes in and we always manage to catch up again. There is hardly any wind and the water is like a mirror. I love it here (well almost the entire trip was a treat, driving alongside the stunning coastline)!
We have been fortunate to have seen whales in North Iceland (at Hauganes), but you can take a whale watching tour from Reykjavík as well. The harbour is full of ticket offices and whale watching boats and as a bonus you will see beautiful sea birds on your trip.
We keep on walking and stop at Kaffivagninn, Iceland’s oldest restaurant! We just ran into it, did not look it up. It is located perfectly and although it is too early for lunch, it is the perfect time for a cup of tea / coffee with something sweet (we will walk off the calories today, we deserve a treat 😉 ). The weather makes it able to sit outside, we are on a terrace overlooking the harbour and the Odinn Coast Guard Vessel. It already is a perfect day!
A few weeks ago a new attraction opened in Reykjavik and we are not too far away from it. In Harpa earlier this morning we saw a cinema in the basement, where you can see a short film about Iceland, but we had too wait about half an hour before it started. And since the weather is amazing, I said to Astrid: why not keep on walking for a while. Then I told her about this new attraction called FlyOver Iceland that I want to go to. From Kaffivagninn it is only a 300 metre walk.
FlyOver Iceland gives you the opportunity to see parts of Iceland you will probably not be able to see at all, or the way you will see it here on the screen. When we arrive it is not so busy yet, for it is still morning. And the size of the group going for a ride is not too big, so to me that is a big plus. We buy tickets and only have to wait for 10 minutes. Before we actually enjoy the ride, we enter a room where we get a pre-ride show. A lovely troll tells us about the role nature played and still does, about time and humankind in Iceland. It think is actually a pretty good and informative show and beautifully told.
Then we move to the “cinema” where we sit down in our seats and get buckled up. We hang suspended, with our feet dangling, before a 20-metre screen while the film takes us on an exciting journey across Iceland. While watching there are special effects, including wind, mist and scents, which makes the experience even more real (and makes the audience laugh and scream). It is like going into an attraction at Disney or Universal, but then SO MUCH better. The footage is so incredible and beautiful. It kind of completes our holiday, seeing parts we did not get to see (including Aldeyarfoss which was on our list, a funny story which you can read about in the blog about North Iceland) and in such a spectacular way.
Since it is not allowed to take photographs or film inside (understandable), I suggest you have a look at the video below. FlyOver Iceland is a great place to go when staying in Reykjavík; I can highly recommend it. Once the show and the ride are over, you exit through the shop.
Close to FlyOver Iceland is Whales of Iceland, an exhibit of life-sized whale models. We skip this one, we want to continue our walk. But in this part of Reykjavík, there is a lot more to do and see. You can also pay a visit to Reykjavík Maritime Museum, the Saga Museum or Aurora Reykjavík (the Northern Lights Museum). We walk back towards city centre on the Grandagarður, which has little shops, cafes and galleries and we continue on the Mýrargata and Ægisgata (full of mural art) when we stop at the catholic Landakotskirkja. This area is where various embassies are located and it is full of expensive houses and apartments. We go inside the church to have a quick look.
From the church we walk towards Ráðhúsið and Lake Tjörnin where swans, pigeons and geese are being fed and create a spectacle. The view over the lake and the surrounding buildings is pretty, with the autumn colours in between. We sit on a bench to enjoy the view and soak up the sun. We check out the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat (Óþekkti embættismaðurinn); Reykjavík has so much art and it never gets boring. We continue our city walk on the Fríkirkjuvegur, where we see The National Gallery of Iceland, Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík (the church is closed) and Hallargarðurinn.
We did not have lunch yet and we are halfway through the afternoon, so we walk to Lækjargata which is full of restaurants. So far during our trip we ate local food and now we end up at Planet Hollywood. Oh well, the music that is on is pretty good and it is bright inside and spacious and we let our feet rest for a while. I admire the collectors items which are displayed on the walls and especially a dress from Icelandic singer Björk (I am a big fan). The food is pretty good actually and we have our last Boli beer… (OK, 2 beers / pints). We stay here for some time and consider this meal our late lunch / early dinner. It is our last day in Iceland and Reykjavík and there will never be enough time to see all there is to see and we just want to take it easy for the rest of the day. At the end of the afternoon we leave.
We feel like walking a bit more though after this meal, so we continue to discover city centre while it it still light. We see a sign for the Penis Museum, but decide to skip that ;). We stop at the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the various government buildings and most of all we enjoy the wall art we come across. If only I was that creative!
When it gets really dark we decide to slowly walk back to our hotel. We leave very early in the morning and still need to pack. But before we reach the hotel, we decide to sit down at Kaffibrennslan for a warm drink and we sit outside to enjoy our last hours in Reykjavík. Once the first rain drops come down we decide to go back to the hotel. Everybody goes inside the café, which means it is packed. We have had a pretty wonderful day today, but if you are into a bit of nightlife, then Reykjavík has plenty to offer! Great bars, cafes, clubs… We are back in our hotel room and start packing. We have about 5 hours of sleep before the alarm goes off.
If you want more information about Reykjavík, what to do and see, just click here. We have only seen half of the city and there is more to discover!
Day 15: D(eparture)-Day
Last night we packed our suitcases and early in the morning the alarm goes off. I did sleep, but just a bit because it took a while to fall asleep. It is 4 am and we quickly go downstairs for a mini breakfast. Normally breakfast starts later, but the hotel knows that Icelandair leaves early for many destinations and they have a small breakfast table for those who want a cup of tea, some yoghurt or fruit. We check out and walk towards bus stop #14 at Skúlagata, where we will be picked up for our transfer to the airport. We need to change at the bus station and then we are on our way to Keflavík Airport. Upon arrival it is very busy and chaotic, but we manage to check in go through customs. We wander around the shops and wait at the gate to board our plane. Do I really have to leave? Can I stay in Iceland a little while longer? Please… But we take off and I have a last look through the window and see Iceland disappear as we fly back to Schiphol.
I cannot believe how quickly these 2 weeks passed by. This (road) trip was a gift to myself for my birthday and it was the best gift I could have given myself. And it was great to make this trip with Astrid! I have been blessed with all the beautiful trips I have been able to make in my life, but this holiday went straight to number 1 on the list. Iceland is a country so pure, you cannot compare it to any other destination. If you want to be one with the elements, then this is the place to go to. I loved the spectacular coastline, impressive waterfalls, seeing whales and seals. I fell in love with the Icelandic horses and sheep. The volcano landscape is so beautifully weird, the earth is fuming and bubbling. I can only hope to come back to Iceland someday, because I have a list of places there was no time for during this trip 😉 … I have so much more to discover!
I took over 5.000 photographs and about 350 short video’s, so back home I have some sorting out to do. But I will do it with pleasure and I will be able to enjoy Iceland a bit longer when doing so! I hope you enjoyed reading the blogs, seeing the photographs, the YouTube video’s and if you have any questions or need tips, please ask!
From Reykjanes we drive through West, North and East Iceland and now we are in the South! South Iceland has an awful lot to offer. We visit glaciers and glacier lakes, find diamonds on the beach, see seals, visit stunning waterfalls, geysers, hot springs and so much more…
This amazing Iceland road adventure started at the Reykjanes peninsula, continued in West, North and East Iceland. If you want to be up to date before you start reading this blog, then clickhere to go to part 1; it is a bit like Monopoly 😉 …
Day 9 of 14: from Hallormsstaður to Höfn
We left Hallormsstaður this morning and drove on a misty ring road towards the south. Right now the sun is shining in between the clouds. Late in the afternoon we cross the border between East and South Iceland. Although I am a bit confused as to where exactly the border is. But I go by the map of Visit South Iceland. We stop at Sea Viewpoint to quickly admire the view, stretch our legs and let the sun warm our faces. Behind us we still see the thick layer of clouds, which created the mysterious world we drove through.
We continue our drive; we are close to village Höfn but we keep driving on the ring road. Tonight we stay at Fosshotel Vatnajökull and we reach it after only 10 minutes. But we want to enjoy the daylight as long as we can today, especially since we are no longer stuck in the fog. So we stay in our car and keep on driving. I read about the Hoffellsjökull glacier and it is only 20 minutes away from the hotel, so that is where we are going. We leave the ring road, continue on a dirt road and halfway we see the Hoffell hot tubs. We do not stop, we want to move on and see the glacier before the sun sets. Driving on this Húsberg road needs caution, it is very bumpy and slippery because of the rainfall, so we drive slowly. We reach Hoffellsjökull and park our little 4WD at the parking lot. There are only 2 cars, which means it is going to be very quiet.
Hoffellsjökull is an outlet glacier which flows from the ice cap of Vatnajökull. Its name comes from Hoffell, which is the mountainous area and farmland we just drove through. Both Hoffellsjökull and Hoffell are part of Vatnajökull National Park (one of 3 national parks in Iceland). I will not bore you with details about its history, but due to climate change the glacier has retreated considerably and a deep lake has developed, which will become larger and larger as the glacier retreats.
We read the warning sign at the start of the foot path. I cannot say it often enough, but when visiting Iceland please respect the rules and read the signs before starting your walk/hike/tour/etc. Not only to protect its nature, but for your own safety! Since we are not on a guided tour, we stay on the foot path and have no intentions of going close to the glacier itself. Once we walk up the path and see the amazing view we have over the glacier and its lake, we find ourselves a spot to sit down. We just want to enjoy the silence, the serenity and the beauty of this place! We are both so overwhelmed by what we see and for sure I am speechless (which does not happen very often ;))! The sun is slowly setting, creating a grey / purple scenery and in the lake are blue and black icebergs floating around.
After about half an hour we walk back towards the car. I find it very difficult to leave this place, for it is so beautiful and so serene. There is no wind, no rain and there are no people in sight. Places like this make me realize what life should be about and I feel so blessed to be here. I am seldom able to stop my mind from thinking, worrying, wandering… but right here right now I let go off all thoughts and I just enjoy the moment.
Back at the parking there is only one other car left. Well it actually is not a car, but a truck camper and it has a Dutch license plate; how funny is that? We see the owners and have a chat in our own language. They are lovely people, who are retired and twice a year they make a long trip to a beautiful destination. We get to look inside the truck to see how they live. They bought this truck and converted into a camper and what a way to travel! I will post a photograph, but I have blurred the people and the license plate.
We drive back, have a quick look at the hot tubs of Hoffell, which are very busy this time of day. So we drive to Fosshotel Vatnajökull and check in. We receive a very warm welcome at the reception and the key to a beautiful room with a view. Both the interior and exterior of the hotel blend in with the surrounding landscape. We make a dinner reservation while checking in. We freshen up in our room, get changed and relax for a while before going to the restaurant in the hotel. No more driving today and we really do not need to, because the restaurant in the hotel is just perfect. We order our Boli beers and Astrid a luxurious fish and chips and me… I have the most delicious lobster burger! We take our time and stay in the restaurant for quite a while before going back to our room. Before falling asleep I manage to sort out the photographs I took today. I am taking so many, but why not. This is the most photogenic country I have visited!
Day 10 of 14: from Höfn to Nupar
After a good night sleep and a tasty breakfast (with fresh waffles, yum) we check out and continue exploring the south while going west. I am probably repeating myself when saying I wish I had another night in this hotel, to visit Höfn and spend more time at the Vatnajökull National Park. In the morning we can actually see the glacier from the hotel, reason enough to stay here. And I really like this hotel, comfortable rooms, good food, beautiful surroundings… what more could I wish for.
So far we have been really lucky with the weather during this road trip. Only in West Iceland we experienced a big storm, but we actually enjoyed it. Today it is grey and rain drops are falling, but this is Iceland too and it is not too bad (yet), so we are going to enjoy this day, no matter what!
It takes us about an hour to drive to Diamond Beach. It is probably one of the most famous and photographed beaches in Iceland. It is a strip of black sand, located by Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. The icebergs which fill the lagoon pass Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi and then wash up ashore, having become ice sculptures on their way here. The contrast with the black sandy beach they are resting on is just really pretty. So nature and beach lovers like me can spend hours here, taking photographs and spot seals. I also read that it is one of the best places in Iceland to spot orcas from the shore (next to Snæfellsnes / West Iceland). But it is not the time of year to spot the killer whales. But we do see seals…
We park our car at the east side parking and get out to admire the ice “sculptures” laying on the beach. It is raining, but not too bad. The amount of ice, their shapes and sizes vary during the day. It actually all depends on the amount of ice that breaks off from the glacier. I have seen photographs where the beach is completely covered and the ice laying on the beach is blue. Today the beach is not full with ice, there is no sun, but to me it is still a pretty spectacular sight. I have not edited the photographs. It looks like I have taken them in grey scale, but this is just the way it is today.
We get back in our car and cross the street and park next to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is just opposite the road. The lagoon is probably just as famous as Diamond Beach and it is another natural wonder in Iceland, although being the result of the climate getting warmer. The lagoon is at sea level, so the sea water actually flows into the lagoon when the tide is high. This means that the lagoon contains a mix of salt and fresh water, which gives it a beautiful blue-green colour. Blocks of ice (believe me… real big blocks of ice) break off the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull (another outlet of the Vatnajökull glacier) constantly, creating spectacular floating icebergs. The lagoon is about 20 km2 and reaches a depth of 250 metres deep, which makes it the deepest lake in Iceland. I think it looks mysterious.
I have booked us tickets at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours for a boat trip on the glacier lagoon. The lagoon is such a special place and a must see. There are 2 trips to choose from: you can either go on an amphibian boat or on a zodiac. I have chosen for the zodiac, because we will be able to cover a bigger part of the lagoon and get closer to the icebergs than on the amphibian boat. The Zodiac goes almost all the way up to the glacier, but keeps a safe distance. We collect our tickets and get changed into a thick flotation suit and a life jacket. It is still raining, but I have a feeling we are going to get wet anyway on the lake.
We have a safety briefing before going on the lagoon and the group is divided over 2 zodiacs. We have the sweetest captain / guide and unfortunately I cannot remember his name, but he takes us on a wonderful trip. When seeing large icebergs he stops, lets us take photographs and explains about what happens here on the lagoon and in the glacier. It is an non stop process about ice breaking off the glacier and growing back on the other side. From what I understand more ice breaks off and less ice grows back on.
The rain is coming down harder, but still we do not care. Although when the zodiac is making speed to get close to the glacier, our faces get soaking wet. And so does my outfit beneath the flotation suit, because my suit has a hole where the crutch is… But hey, I still do not care! Yes, this trip would have been great if there was no rain and maybe even a bit of sun. But seriously: I am in Iceland, so…! When we get closer to the glacier we see an amazing iceberg, which just broke off the glacier. The colour of this iceberg is truly spectacular and it is a bit weird, because although the ice breaking off the glacier is a natural ongoing process, you realize that the glacier does not grow back to the size it was. I see all kinds of forms in the icebergs and funny enough I also see the face of The Grinch. Seriously, have a look at the photograph below, the close up and you can see The Grinch’s face!
The zodiac goes closer to the glacier and at a safe distance our captain stops the engine. There is silence and being so close to the glacier leaves us all in awe. Our captain / guide explains a bit more and answers any questions the group has. Then we hear the glacier making a noise like it has become alive, and we hear a crack and we cannot see it from where we are, but somewhere a big iceberg breaks off the glacier, creating waves on the lagoon. It makes our zodiac rock, but in slow motion. We sit down to be safe and admire the scenery, before our captain takes us back to where we started this boat trip. We really enjoyed the trip!
More rain comes down and by the time we get back it is raining quite hard. We return our suits and Astrid has been smart by putting on her rain gear beneath the suit and I did not, so half of my jogging outfit is wet. I can only laugh. Before going back into the car we quickly have a look at the outlet, where the water leaves the lagoon and where the icebergs gather before they float into the sea. We see a lot of seals today, and from what I heard there are hundreds here in the winter. They are amazing and curious creatures and swim around the icebergs. The lagoon also holds different species of fish like krill, herring, trout and even salmon. I filmed the seals, because in the rain it was difficult to focus with my phone camera and not seeing where they would pop up. After about 10 minutes we walk back to hide in the car, because the rain is pouring down now and I am getting cold.
The parking at the lagoon is really full and we decide to drive to the parking of Diamond Beach, but this time on the west side where it is more quiet. We have a warm noodle soup and have the heating on, so hopefully my jogging pants will dry. After the rain stops pouring down we go out and walk on this part of Diamond Beach for a while. I just love the natural ice sculptures on the beach. We are close to the outlet and see the icebergs coming out and the seals going in and out. It is funny how they play with us visitors, putting on a show now and then and disappearing once you are ready to film them with your camera.
After about 15 minutes we go back to the car, when it starts raining heavy again. Astrid will drive so I can take off my wet pants because it will dry better keeping it in front of the heating instead of keeping it on. No worries, I am not sitting in my underwear. I had a legging in the back of the car which I put on. We are back on the ring road and it takes us about an hour before we reach our next stop. During the drive we see glacier tongs sticking out between the mountains. But since it is wet outside and damp above the glaciers, it is difficult to get a clear photograph.
It is about 3 pm when we reach Svínafellsjökull Glacier. My wonderful clients, for whom I booked a trip to Iceland earlier this summer, gave me this tip. It is really easy to reach by car. From the ring road we turn to road 988 and we can park the car quite close to the glacier. So if you do not have a lot of time to walk, this is just perfect. Svínafellsjökull is also another outlet glacier of Vatnajökull, just like the ones we visited this morning and yesterday afternoon. Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Europe and I hope it will stay that way. This glacier apparently is popular amongst hikers, because of its spectacular formations and stunning views. In my guide I read that Svínafellsjökull was a National Park in its own right, before Vatnajökull National Park was created and absorbed it. Do not go hiking on your own, I mentioned it earlier in this blog. Go on a guided tour, because places like these are unknown territory and can claim lives.
Since we are here in the middle of the afternoon, there are quite a few visitors. We go for a walk, there is a path which leads close to the glacier offering amazing views. It is not that crowded, so I can take photographs as much as I want. I believe Svínafellsjökull once was a background decor in “Game of Thrones”. The crew and cast did quite a bit of filming in Iceland and I can understand why. Iceland has the most perfect scenery which cannot be recreated on any filmset! To me this entire trip feels like being part of movie decors. Every time I think it cannot get any better, Iceland surprises me with more beauty!
After about an hour we leave Svínafellsjökull and drive towards Fosshotel Nupar where we will be staying tonight. The closer we get to Nupar, the more mysterious the scenery gets with beautiful clouds covering the mountains on our right and the road in front of us.
We stop in the area of Núpsstaður to admire a waterfall. I am sorry, but I do not know its name, but we just saw it when driving on the ring road and there was a spot to our car alongside the road. There is a little dirt road that could take us closer to the waterfall, but we cannot go because we see a private property sign and of course we are not going to intrude. But from the parking I take a quick photograph or 2 from a distance before we move on. At Núpsstaður we also see turf houses and I am expecting elves or trolls to show up anytime. This countryside comes straight out of a fairytale.
At the end of the afternoon we arrive at Fosshotel Nupar. We are a bit cold and tired, so enough driving for today. We check in and decide to relax for the evening. This Fosshotel is different from the one we stayed at last night. The rooms are maybe not as modern, but they are just as comfortable and the reception area and restaurant just as cosy. Here also the views from the hotel are amazing, overlooking the glaciers.
We both need a warm shower and have to get changed into something clean and a 100% dry ;). Astrid goes first while I have a cup of tea. We clean our boots and hang up our wet clothes so they can dry. We decide to go for dinner early in the hotel restaurant. We are lucky because it is still happy hour when we sit down at our table and we order our usual Boli beer. Astrid orders a burger and I enjoy a pasta. Just like most during most dinners we sit at our table for quite some time, enjoying our meal and chatting away. Back in the room we watch a movie on TV and I cannot remember watching the end.
Day 11 of 14: from Nupar to Flúðir
When we wake up and look out the window, the world is just as grey as yesterday. Oh well, as long as the rain does not come pouring down we are OK :)! We go for breakfast and are ready for another day in the beautiful south of Iceland. We get back on the ring road and drive further west.
Our first stop is after only 20 minutes, at Skaftareldahraun (try to pronounce that name quickly). I actually did not know about this beautiful area and thankfully we see a sign and people turning with their cars and so we follow. South Iceland is more touristic then the east or north, so when it comes to sight seeing it is handy when seeing other tourists leading the way. At Skaftareldahraun I have to read the signs to understand what it is about. And here it comes: in 1783, a huge lava flow streamed from Lakagígar in what is known now as the “Skaftá Fires.” They say that this has been one of the greatest lava flows in a single eruption in the history of the world. The molten lava filled the gorges through which the Skaftá and Hverfisfljót rivers flowed, and swept down in two branches into inhabited areas, to spread over the lowlands. Well, it created a beautiful and weird landscape. There are a few lava caves in the field and everywhere I look thick moss forms a continuous layer which looks grey when dry, but beautiful green after rain. Today it is green. I am glad we stopped here!
We drive for another hour to reach our next stop: Vík í Mýrdal. The village is the southernmost one in Iceland. Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, has beautiful sandy beaches and usually rough seas. It is the only sea-side village which has no harbour. But it has been an important trading post for farmers along the south coast of Iceland for a long time. The village is not that big and it looks a bit sad with the rain coming down. We drive to the church from where you can see the entire village and surrounding area. We have a quick look and decide to move on. I am sure Vík has more to offer than what we see and I will save it for the next time I visit Iceland.
Only 10 minutes / kilometres from Vík, we are on road 218 that leads to the famous Reynisfjara Beach. The further west we go, the busier it gets and at Reynisfjara Beach the parking lot is full of cars and minivans! It is dry when we get out of the car and although we feel like having a warm drink, we go for a walk instead while it is dry.
The site was named after a Norwegian viking named Reynir, who was the first settler in this area. Reynisfjara basically means “Reynir’s beach.” In 2018 Reynisfjara beach was ranked as one of the best beaches in the world. I have to conclude that Reynisfjara Beach is more famous than Diamond Beach and it has been a filming location for Game of Thrones, Noah and Star Trek (and more). It has beautiful black volcanic sand and pebbles, stunning basalt sea stacks, hexagonal-shaped columns and caves as a backdrop. Now I can explain you all about these stacks and columns, how they were created, etc. but I think you can find all the information you need on this subject on the world wide web.
It is difficult to take photographs without having people in it, but I do my best and manage. This place is so beautiful and photogenic and once more I cannot believe what I see in front of me. Nothing beats mother nature and her creations and this is just one more spot in Iceland that is out of this world. During summer season this location is filled with puffins and other sea birds (which we can still now).
When walking on the beach, you cannot help but notice the rocky sea stacks just off the shoreline, which are known as Reynisdrangar (Reynir’s pillars). Of course there is an Icelandic story to tell here: the odd rock formations were once sea trolls who tried to drag a ship to the shore, not realizing the sun was rising and it turned the trolls into stone when it touched them. The photographs I take are grey, just as the scenery is today (ans yesterday); no filters are used!
Especially when getting close to this part of the beach, visitors have to be aware of the enormous sea currents and waves. We saw the warning sign when walking onto the beach; you really cannot miss it! But many tourists seem to believe that they can ignore the sign and think the waves are exciting and fun to challenge. We see people being really stupid and I know this place has claimed lives. So please just respect the rules and be safe! Make sure you keep your distance from the water, never turn your back on the ocean and supervise your children all the time.
We leave the beach and go into Black Beach Restaurant to use the rest rooms and treat ourselves to a warm drink. It is too busy in the restaurant and as soon as we finish our drink we leave. On our way back to the ring road we quickly stop at Reyniskirkja for a photograph.
We drive to Dyrhólaey, which is actually close to Reynisfjara Beach, but we need to drive around to road 218 to get there. Dyrhólaey means hill island and it used to be known as Cape Portland. It is the southernmost point in mainland Iceland and formerly an island of volcanic origin. This peninsula has an elevation of 120 metres and we decide to go up to where the lighthouse and viewing point are.
The road is a bit of a challenge and we are so happy with our little 4WD. We see a lot of normal cars struggling to go up and we keep our safe distance when driving up there in line. The first thing I see is of course the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, which is located on the top facing the sea. There is a strong wind today and we need to be careful when opening the car doors. We put on our rain coats, since it is a bit wet outside. The 360 view from Dyrhólaey is breath taking. When looking north we see the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, east Reynisdrangar and west the entire coastline directing to Selfoss. There is a bride and groom walking around for a photo shoot and I feel sorry for them, because it is wet and very windy and she must be cold. And the photographer makes them pose at dangerous spots; pour couple!
Right in front of the peninsula, there is a gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea, which gave the peninsula its name. Reynisfjara Beach is a popular place for puffins, but in the summertime here at Dyrhólaey it is packed with Atlantic puffins who are found nesting on the cliffs.
We go back to our car, we have walked around for about 20 minutes and there is still plenty we want to see today, so we move on. Before going back on the ring road we see beautiful black and white sheep and I quickly take a photograph while standing safely on the side of the road.
The good thing about the south is that a lot of sights are close to each other, so you do not have to drive for hours to get to the next stop. After 20 minutes we reach the parking for our visit to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. We need to walk for a while before getting to the famous plane wreck. But then I see a shuttle bus, get out of the car and ask when it leaves. It leaves within 5 minutes, so that is great and we decide to save ourselves some time and get tickets. It does costs you ISK 2.500, but it is either a 4 kilometre walk or a 10 minutes drive.
The shuttle is packed, even this time of year and at the wreck site it is busy as well. Just quickly some information about the plane wreck: on November 21st, 1973 this US Navy aircraft was on a routine flight from Höfn when the Douglas R4D-8 Super DC-3 crash-landed on the black sand desert of Sólheimasandur around 2 pm. All passengers aboard survived the crash, and the Navy basically abandoned the plane. Ever since, the remains of this plane have been lying on the volcanic sands, exposed to the elements and I am sure it does not look any better with the years passing by. When tourism started to boost in Iceland, visitors started pilgrimage to the crash site, just to catch a glimpse of the plane wreck, which now lies in a bizarre landscape. It is a bit like mankind tried to land on a different planet, trying to discover if there is life on this other planet 😉
We really wanted to come here, but to be honest: I do not feel very comfortable. People are climbing inside and on top of the wreck to take photographs and have their photograph taken. To me it seems dangerous and I do not understand this wreck is not fenced off. People for sure should not be climbing on top and sooner or later someone will get hurt. We do have a laugh though when a group of Asian tourists go inside the plane wreck and pretend to sit behind the windows for a photograph. Anyway, we stay for a while and I try to take a photograph without people on it, which is almost impossible. As soon as the shuttle bus comes back, we hop on it and leave the site.
It is time for waterfalls. It has been a while since we visited one ;). Not even 10 minutes away from Solheimasandur is Skógafoss. We park our car and first visit Skógar Street Food; we have not had lunch yet. It is a bit late, but thankfully there is still something left to order. I have an appetite and want a burger with fries while Astrid has soup with bread. Believe or not, but this is the tastiest burger I have in a long time!
We walk to Skógafoss waterfall and although it is dry, we wear our rain coats! There is still a lot of wind and we will get wet from the waterfall for sure! Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country, it has a width of 15 metres and a drop of 60 metres. Because of the amount of spray the waterfall produces, a single or even a double rainbow can be visible on sunny days. But today is not sunny and I just imagine the rainbow! Of course this waterfall has also been a filming location for Game of Thrones! I try to get as close as possible and within 1 minute my face is soaked. The waterfall is impressive and a must see, although very touristic and busy. We miss the quietness of the north and east. It may not always be easy to plan, but a visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon must be more quiet than in the middle of the day.
The waterfall can also be seen from above. We decide to climb the 370 steps to the top of the waterfall (hmm… that burger may not have been such a good idea, although it was worth it). On top we are rewarded with an amazing view over South Iceland’s coastline. And you can walk even further, there are more waterfalls to see. And just as we want to continue our walk, Astrid is worried she has left her wallet in the restaurant. So… we walk back down, because there is no use in feeling uncomfortable (although I am sure she left it in the car). Astrid rushes down, I take my time and enjoy the view a bit longer and take plenty of photographs. If you are visiting and not in a hurry: walk the Fimmvorduhals pass, it is a beautiful and popular hiking route.
It is actually not a bad thing we went back down to the car. We still have places we want to visit today and we also have some driving to do before reaching our overnight address.
About 10 minutes from Skógafoss we see the well known and heard of Bra Fence on our right side, opposite of Holtsós lagoon. There is a safe place to stop alongside the road. I do not think anybody knows why the Bra Fence was created (but if you do know, please leave a comment!). I think it is there for 7 years now. I cannot imagine that the land owners are happy with the fence being decorated this way, especially since it is getting fuller all the time. People also leave more than just a bra, but it does make you laugh when you see it and I heard that there is a plan to create a donation box for breast cancer. Just donate to Pink Ribbon I would say, do not leave money in an unattended box if there should ever be one installed!
We continue driving on the ring road and after 20 minutes we stop at Seljalandsfoss. We have to pay a parking fee and I am sure this is the result of tourism growing in this part of the country. I am OK with it, facilities need to be created and paid for. Again: make sure you have your raincoat on when visiting the waterfall, because you will get wet. It is only a short walk towards the Seljalandsfoss, which drops 65 metres. We can even walk behind it, which makes it possible for me to take some pretty photographs from underneath (although the sky is still grey… grrr… where is that sun and rainbow that comes along with it ;).