Duck! Our Last Few Days in Iceland

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The homestay in Hvammstang was run by a woman named Oddney who lives with her husband and kids in a nice historic home on a fijord of Hunaflo. We got there not long after the other guests, a couple from Australia on a getaway for a couple of weeks. Was nice to spend some time chatting with them and Oddney before going out for dinner. Upon returning, I shared some of my favorite dark chocolate biscuits with them, Mrs. Vittes. They knew them well, having come from England themselves and we got to spend a bit more time with them before going to bed. Breakfast the next morning was neat. The kitchen overlooks the water and we all spent time scanning the waves looking for whales. While we had no luck, our hostess told us stories of other sightings by other groups.

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Look! Sheep!

Out on the road again, we wasted no time getting into trouble. We had stopped briefly to look at another hot pool installation before continuing to head west. As we were driving, two big ducks took off from our right and flew right across our hood. Instinctively, we ducked, but windshields can’t do that and we hit one of them right in the chest! He slipped … or maybe it was slid up the windshield right in front of my face, over the hood  leaving a thin purple streak behind and disappeared. We did not look back, we did not stop.

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It Looked Like This One

Funnily enough, when we stopped a few miles down the road at the shark museum, they had a stuffed duck that looked similar. I had to take a picture. The museum though, was the real reason for the stop. The Bjarnarhofn shark museum educates on how Greenland sharks are prepared to make a safe, edible Icelandic traditional food. The sharks are no longer hunted, just harvested and sent to this museum if they’re found in the net and  are actually poisonous if eaten directly after being caught due to the amount of uric acid that runs through their bodies like an antifreeze. Works great at keeping them alive in the deep, but not so good for human consumption. So, they cut them up into chunks that are then layered in crates and left for four to five months. This dries them some and lets some of the ammonia dissipate. Afterwards, they hang the chunks individually to cure the rest of the way. Yes. We tried it. No, we did not take any home. Marc did get the t-shirt though.

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Marc Takes A Bite

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He’s Smiling Because The Wind Is At His Front

We spent a restful night in Olafsvik, and I even cooked. It was nice to get someplace early and just chill after a shower and I even got to cook a simple dinner. Our hosts were a nice couple of characters with a country music performing past and really helpful in suggesting sights ahead. We had our last destinations planned pretty quickly.

Our first stop the next morning was at the end of an extremely rocky, pitted, one lane dirt road that is officially known as the most western part of Iceland and maybe, depending on who you ask, of Europe too.. There is a lighthouse at Snaefellbaer and cliffs populated by many species of birds. So many in fact, that they used to routinely harvest eggs to sell. Pretty neat, eh?

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Rolling on, we did this awesome climb up the side of a volcano, got to stand in the caldera and tried to take some cool pictures. My phone was having problems though and that’s all we were using for pictures this trip. it was so overcast that nothing much turned out well, but at least we got some exercise.

Next stop, was the fictional entrance from the Jules Verne’s classic story,  Journey To The Center of The Earth. map

Vatnshellir cave is  actually a lava tube, and is believed to be between six to eight thousand years old.  We descended a long spiral staircase and went deep into the cave. It gets so quiet down there, and the total darkness when all the flashlights go off  was pretty amazing.

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Looking For Adventure!

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The Staircase Lit By 10 Flashlights

We came above again and could immediately appreciate how much warmer it was up top. The cave had a few stalagtites and stalagmites, and bizzarly enough an 80 year old skeleton of a fox that had died down there but it was also chilly and somewhat damp. Much better up top.

Traveling on, we came to Hellnar and a hike that had been recommended as particularly good.

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Isn’t It Gorgeous?

While we didn’t do the whole walk, we did hike out and explore the caves at the edge before following the path for a bit.

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Marc Strikes A Pose

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Seen From the Path. That’s Snaefellsjokull Glacier In The Background

The rest of the trip back to Reykjavik was pretty uneventful, if a little uneven. The roads are a little bumpy  so I couldn’t fall asleep except when going through the tunnel north of the city. Remember the green moss-covered lava fields we saw at the start of the trip? We had a bit more of that too before we made it back to the city and some new digs.

Our last morning dawned bright and cool. We found our favorite pastry shop for a quick nosh before getting in a little souvenir hunting before we left.

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Rykavik Morning

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Accidental Kitty Ambassador. Cats were seen  practically every place we went.  

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Interspersed w/ the souvenir shops were some private residences. Isn’t this beautiful?

 

So, Iceland was seriously cool and I’m not punning. We’re already trying to figure out when we can go back for a long weekend. I’d like another shot at the northern lights. I’ve got the right camera now and Marc knows how to use it. LOL. Love to all who read this far. Next post will be short as, I swear!

 

 

 

Northern Iceland!

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Remember me telling you all about the sixty-five plus year old woman whose camper van we stayed in? Her name was Anna and she was such a lovely woman. She and her dog Shnorty (I know I’m mangling that spelling) live in a small town and host visitors every evening. Her front yard was twinkling with tea lights when we arrived and she showed us the amenities before leaving to great her final guests for the night as they arrived.

The van was comfortable and reminded me a lot of ours in New Zealand. The biggest difference being, we were told this one, “doesn’t move.” Just in case we wanted to get crazy in the middle of the night. So I got to experience once more the fun of climbing over Marc to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night and trying not to wipe out on the very slippery lader. There were tons of horses hanging out in the front yard, but the little stallion made sure no one got any love from me.

Didn’t take us long to get our stuff together and hit the road again. It also wasn’t long before we were stopping for another gorgeous waterfall. Got a nice little hike in through a well-worn sheep trail to get a little closer to the falls and traded taking pictures with some of the other folks.

waterfallWe continued to drive on through a landscape that became less and less green and more and more rocky. The mountains resolved into individual volcanos and the grass finally disappeared completely.

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It Looked Like This

Every so often, we would see little pools of toxic looking water either off in the distance or next to the side of the road. We kept going as we were starving. The potato chip supply began to dwindle. Our destination for the night was a homestay in the second largest town in Iceland, Akureyri. Before we got there though, we had to stop at a hot spring  everybody had been telling us about. Myvatn Nature Baths  are unique because there is a sandy bottom and the water itself is full of beneficial minerals that leaves your skin feeling silky smooth. The water stays at a comfortable 96 to 104 degrees and they warn you to take off any brass or silver before you enter as the water will literally turn them black during a visit. These pools were so amazing for lounging around in and people watching. The cafe was rather nice too and it meant we could lay off the chips for a while.

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Aftermath. Do we look relaxed, or what?

Marc had to drag me out so we could leave, but getting changed presented its own challenges. Although we had the option of renting towels, we decided to rough it. How do you dry off without one? Easy, after the shower… you use a hairdryer mostly all over and use paper towels for the delicate bits. Worked out pretty good actually and soon we were back in our seats and on the way to Akureyri.

Our hosts Paulina and Samuel showed us our room inside their beautiful home. Everywhere we looked art works were on display and it didn’t take long for us to find out Paulina and her husband (whom we didn’t get a chance to meet) were artists. I took many pictures inside their home.

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I also took many outside their home as Akureyri had cool stuff to see everywhere we looked. Paulina’a husband we were told, teaches art in town and there was an art exhibit going on during our visit.

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Cute Little House. Not Our Homestay Though.

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The Door of Akureyrarkirkja. A Prominent Lutheran Church.

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Paper Mache Monster from the art show

Our breakfast was included the next morning and it was neat to experience what an Icelander might normally have for breakfast. Of course, I always bring our own tea, but otherwise, we did as the locals do and enjoyed soft-boiled eggs, cucumbers, red pepper, oranges and banana’s and granola. Marc  even got to try a little of the local yogurt.

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Satiated, we did a little more poking about before we had to take off again. Just as well since Akureyri had more tourists and simply more of a sheer mass of people everywhere than any other place besides Reykjavik. After seeing the wild and wide expanses of nothing from the safety of our little car, being shuffled along with throngs of people palled quickly. Besides, we had another homestay lined up in Dalabyggo to get to. Off again we went!

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This is how you know you’re leaving town… if it isn’t already obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

Iceland! The Golden Circle and Points East!

Breakfast Spot (1)

We got an almost early start our third day in Iceland, having to stop briefly for fresh croissants to eat in the car. The intention was to begin the drive around the ring road and hit the sites that  are highlighted along The Golden Circle. If you go for a tour, the buses do a loop out and back to Reykjavik that covers about 190 miles. We just went out and kept going.

Our first stop was premature, but we did finally locate Pingvellir National Park. The mass of cars and tour busses in the parking lot giving it away. This beautiful spot is where you can see a clear boundary between the North American and Eurasian Tectonic plates. Literally! There is a nice walking path but prior research had informed us that it’s also possible to skindive and see the break between the plates from underneath the very cold, very clear water. We chose the hike option. Lol.

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The path is directly between the plates

It wasn’t too far to the next stop but before we got to the Geysers, we had to stop so I could pet some horses. We saw so many horses in our travels around Iceland and it’s hard to believe that most of them are for riding. One of our homestays, has a hand in the industry and they educated us that it’s just the foals that are eaten, and the rest are used for riding. The horse I met seemed unsocialized, and I  well believed it could end up on a plate somewhere. No judgements here. About 10% of me wanted to try it but the majority said no and we didn’t actually see it on too many menu’s anyway.

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Sorry, I have nothing to feed you. Let’s just say we’re even!

The next spot featured two geysers. One of which, Geysir, seems to have stopped erupting after an earthquake years ago. The other one though, is quite active. Stokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes and it was fun to stand outside the rope barrier along with 100 other people all going, “oh! oh!” every time the water would heave upwards. It always seemed to fake us out too, which led to much laughter.

After enjoying the show, we ended up climbing the small mountain behind the geysers for a little exercise and a different perspective. Quite beautiful from up there and you could seriously see for miles. TopOThe World

Our last interest point of the day was Gullfoss waterfall. This natural wonder is just an amazing site for tourists and even from a good half miles away, you cold feel the power from the rushing water and a definite drop in temperature from the spray hanging in the air. I understand that Iceland considered using if to generate power, but settled on just maintaining in as a tourist attraction instead.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss

Marc and I found our accommodations for the night pretty easily, but had a bit more trouble figuring out what to buy at the local grocery store for dinner. It’s hard to do when everything is in Icelandic and pictures can sometimes be misleading. We ended up with some pork ribs (they may have been heavily preserved, tasted like it) and some potato salad. Our digs had a hot tub so we had a great lazy evening of soaking, reading, having cocktails and dinner. The best part of the day, I cannot show you though. Marc woke me up and hurried me outside to see the Aurora Borealis. I had read that the earliest it could be seen was August 20th and so I wasn’t trying to get my hopes up, but there it was! A faint green glimmer in the sky that moved very fast and was gone in less than 10 minutes. How cool is that??!!

I’d like to say we got an early start the next day, but who am I kidding? After a breakfast of leftover croissant, bread and tea, we gathered up the trash, packed the car and took off. The sun was brilliant and the roads were sparsely traveled. We got gas and then found our first interest point of the day. Seljalandsfoss waterfall was beautiful and  is the location for a lot of wedding pictures. You can also hike up behind the falls and with our rain coats on, we were up to the challenge!Waterfall

Does anyone remember that volcano that erupted in Iceland back in 2010? It disrupted air travel for weeks and really brought attention to the whole country as newscasters tried (and mostly failed) to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. We found it! Seems the buildings at the base all needed to be rebuilt, but a truck rumbling over the cattle gate and scaring the hell out of me seemed to mean that life was pretty much back to normal there.

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How’d you like to live here? The offending volcano in the background.

We motored on and stopped when I saw this cute little house in the side of a mountain. Turns out, this is one of about 200 man-made caves that can only be found in the south of Iceland. This one is pretty deep and was used to store hay. It’s so deep, that another cave runs perpendicular to it and was used as a forge. We didn’t go in, having too many miles to go, but it’s really picturesque, eh?

Rutshellir

Tour buses led us to our next destination. The black sand beach  called Reynisfjara  is close to the southernmost tip of Iceland  and we were totally surprised to round a corner on the beach to see the basalt sea stacks  under the mountain. A small cave undercut the mountain and little sea birds called Puffins were constantly flying from the cliffs above out to the ocean.

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Near the mouth of the cave. Good geological formations everywhere!

A word about food…. by now, we had a goodly supply of interesting potato chip flavors and we were trying to stay stocked up on apples, but we hadn’t quite clued in yet to the whole you can drive for miles and hours and never see a restaurant or a gas station. So we had a lot of lunches featuring paprika or Mexican peppers and cream chips or Doritos cool American  (read ranch flavor) chips. Dinners were usually much better! We were aiming for dinner in Hofn that night, as they are known as the best place for langoustines in the country. We just had to get there first.

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A beautiful stream in the middle of nowhere.

After that pretty stream, we drove through some of the most monotonous countryside I’ve ever seen. Take rocks, cover them with moss, and then put that on both sides of the road for a couple of hours. Relieve the monotony by spotting the occasional big black bird perched on a rock but otherwise, that’s all there is. They even warn you somewhat on the maps. There is a big swath of green from the black sand beach all the way up to the Vatnajokull glacier. This is what it looks like in person:

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I never want to see this again and I’m pretty sure Marc feels the same way.

We did finally drive out of it and our attention was distracted by the massive glacier that loomed ever closer. We got out to stretch our legs and take a closer look at the first turn off we came to.  There are warnings posted to be careful and a plaque honoring two young Germans who went missing years ago and were never found. We picked our way over a rough path besides the glacier for some cool pictures.

Glacier

From there, it was another good hour or so to Hofn and that wonderful dinner. Then, another two hours or so to get to our stopping place for the evening. Thank goodness it doesn’t get dark until 10:30 or so at night. We were able to check out the mountains and the scenery almost until we arrived. Marc had booked a unique/ nostalgic spot for us and our host was this wonderful 65+ woman who seems to make her living as a homestay. Anna was great and so were the digs! Especially after the drive we had that day!

Hofn dinner

Langoustines with salad and potato. Marc chose the ‘Duck & Dive’ which included duck confit.

Camper:Eidur

Feeling great after a good nights sleep. Kind of like being in NZ again. Thank you Marc!

Iceland! The Reykjavik Experience!

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Tjornin: Icelandic for The Lake or The Pond

Wow! Has it been a whole year since I’ve gone on vacation? It sure felt like it. Especially the last few weeks leading up to our departure. Marc had set a goal of one new country a year and when I heard that you can fly to Iceland in about the same time it takes to get to the west coast, I was in!

Our flight was relatively easy although the cabin itself was freezing! Marc was kind enough to jump up to snag my coat from my carry on shortly before we departed, only to get yelled at by the crew. ” I’m sorry, it’s my fault! ” I yelled loudly to defend him , ” I thought I would only be cold once we got there!” That seemed to defuse the situation and I wore that coat half the way there. I think WOW airlines likes to acclimate people to their destination as on the way home, it was really warm.

We landed in Keflavik at about 6 am on Sunday morning to a surreal world of rain and foggy mist hanging in the air. The time change is just four hours ahead of the East coast, but when you leave at seven pm, you kind of miss a nights sleep. This probably contributed a bit to the alienness we experienced our first day there.

We drove about 45 minutes to get to Reykjavik through a green and gray landscape of rocks and moss with the occasional  seagull flying by. I think we passed one small town, but it was almost a ‘blink and you missed it’ kind of deal. We were more entranced with the radio and seeing what Icelanders are listening to. Turns out they are big into 90’s nostalgia and I know I heard a Brittney Spears song followed by a reworked version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Heavy metal style!

Once we found our digs for the night, we parked the car and started exploring. At 7 a.m., not much is open yet, but we found the Einar Johnsson grounds open to the elements and to visitors. He was Iceland’s first sculptor and died in 1954, at which time his home and grounds were turned into a museum and sculpture garden. His work is very powerful and found in several parts of Iceland. Neat to see the rain on the sculptures too!

InarJohnssonStatue

We had heard that Iceland is big on pastries and breads and it didn’t take us too long to find a good spot for breakfast. The  cinnamon roll was fabulous and it was so neat to hear the polyglot of languages swirling around us as we savored  our meal.

Pastries

The rest of the day was broken up by short naps; stolen wherever  and whenever we could, a trip out to a lighthouse, hunting for a natural hot spring that someone had pointed out to Marc on a map (found it too, but it was more for feet than anything else), and soaking in a nearby spa that was recommended to us as a good place to meet locals. They had much to say about immigration and tourism, not all of it positive, but it was good to get some different perspectives, and to ride a water slide again! A great way to wind down after a crazy first day.

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Grotta Lighthouse in Reykjavik

Our second day in Reykjavik was cool and sunny. After an early morning cup of tea,  and an apple, we went out to do some more exploring around town. Iceland has about 320,000 people and 200 thousand of those live here in Reykjavik. We headed up the hill and turned in at the sculpture garden again to get a different perspective in the sunshine.

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As we were strolling the grounds, we started chatting with a young woman enjoying the sunshine. Birna was sitting on the grass enjoying a cigarette and, as she told us later, waiting for her class to start. We all sat in the sun, warm enough to take our jackets off and   have a cross cultural experience with this cool artist! She’s a painter and does the most beautiful tatted lace. We also talked about the music scene and she showed us a music video of one on her friends. Olafur Analds featuring her friend Nanna Byndisilmards. The song is called Particles.

Birna

Birna showed us a couple of her favorite streets on the way to a coffee shop close to her class. We parted in  brightly lit square after sipping tea and being harassed by a some opportunistic bees.

We continued down to the waterfront, and found the spiffy cool sculpture honoring the Vikings.

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Solfar (Sun Voyager) Sculpture

As we continued to walk the streets, we got a sense of how accessible and sensibly laid out everything is and that you can pretty much walk everywhere you want to go if you have several hours available. We got to Harpa for a neat little four wall and a ceiling nature movie experience before turning inward again towards our hotel. That’s when we found the coolest little gem of a cemetery. Hollavallagardur  is the oldest cemetery in Reykjavik and was opened in 1838. Amazing to walk through the narrow, lanes between graves green with moss and age.  Mature trees sometimes growing directly  above.

We found embassy row and a nice park by the lake, and more amazing art work.

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Do you see stealth Marc in his Elven cloak of hiding?

There was some relaxing back at the hotel before we went out for dinner. The lateness of the sunset meant that we could go have dinner, and then head to a prime viewing spot. The summit of the little park boasts a sculpture of the first settler to Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson. Who did the statue? Einar Jonsson. Of course. A great way to end the day.

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Gorgeous, Isn’t it?