Iceland 2016: Time to Go

12 08 2016

Tuesday, June 7 to Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Our last day on this grand Iceland adventure: a day I’ve been dreading, but now since it’s here, I’m determined to make the most of it.    We get to Geysir early and before the crowds.   Our word “geyser” comes from The Icelandic word “geysir,” which means gusher.  The original Geysir no longer spouts, but just beside it is another one, Strokkur, the Churn, that spouts very conveniently every ten minutes or so.  Take that, Old Faithful!  Base temperature of this geothermal area is a warmish 2500 C, so we decide to forego any hot soak.

6-7-17 Geysir (6)

From there we go up the road just a few kilometers to Gullfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland due to its location on the Golden Circle so near to Reykjavik.  There are quite a few people here, although “crowd” in Iceland doesn’t mean near the same as in America.  The falls are spectacular and are almost as amazing as the vehicles in the parking lot.

 

6-7-16 Gullfoss (3)

Not our ride

In the well-stocked gift shop, I finally give in and spend big bucks on a beautiful wool blanket.  I tell Brian it can be my birthday present.  Maybe he won’t remember.

Dave has read about a cave nearby, so we turn off the main road onto a bumpy gravel road to try to find it.  As we bounce down the road dodging potholes, I can sense Brian’s tension rising as he remembers all too vividly our earlier adventure of getting stuck on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere.  We finally arrive and find two small caves called Laugarvatnshellar.  The story behind these caves is that in 1910 a young couple moved in and raised a family in one of them, using the other for a sheep shed.  These Icelandic folk are a hardy bunch!   And they didn’t even have midge hats!

On to Þingvellir.  This area is noteworthy both for its geology and its history.  It is the best place for viewing the Rift Zone, that area in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are diverging at a rate of two centimeters a year.  Numerous fissures crisscross this sites, evidence of the many faults in the Rift Zone.

It is also the site of the oldest known parliament in the world, the Alþingi, in A.D. 930.  Chieftains would meet here every summer from all over Iceland to hear the telling of the law and decide on court cases.

On our previous trip to Iceland, Brian and I snorkeled at Silfra, one of the fissures in this rift valley.  Because of this, we didn’t have much time to explore this National Park.  Today we will remedy that omission.  We eat lunch at a picnic table pull-off just inside the park, then go to the site of the ancient parliament.

6-7-16 Þingvellir (37)

In the foreground is the Law Rock where speeches were held

 

6-7-16 Þingvellir (32)

One of the prettiest fissures, where people throw coins to commemorate the Danish King’s visit

We explore one of the fissures and do our part for Continental Drift.

We walk up one of the main fissures with hundreds of other people, including a large group of rowdy middle-schoolers taking selfies and paying no attention to where they are or what they are seeing.

6-7-16 Þingvellir (42)

And then it happens.  My Teacher Voice rings out, loud and clear.  A group of kids runs ahead of their chaperones, skidding down the gravel path and shooting clouds of dust and the occasional rock onto the other tourists.  I am just ahead and turn around to see what is happening.  Before I can stop myself (and really, I don’t even try), I spear them with my Evil Eye and impale them with a stern jab:  STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.  Startled, they do.

It’s time to go.

We make one more stop at a gas station so that Brian can wash the grime off the car.

6-7-16 Þingvellir  (3)

Inside, I find a chocolate-covered marshmallow dolphin for Annalise.  She hates dolphins and takes great pleasure in biting its head off.

6-7-16 Þingvellir  (2)

It’s time to go.

We turn in our car at Dollar Thrifty, where we are delayed for an hour or so while they assess a $200 fee on us for a small ding in the chassis caused by an errant piece of gravel.  We have insurance, but the deductible is $200.  Amazing.

It’s time to go.

We check into the Hotel Frón.  We make arrangements for an early morning pick-up.  We repack our bags.  We settle in for a sleepless night.

It’s time to go.

6-8-16 Reykjavik

Our travel home on Wednesday is uneventful, thankfully.  We make it through Customs without a hitch.  We make all our connections.  We are home and in our own beds before the night is late.

My body is thankful to be in the familiar comfort of my own space, but my mind is still in Iceland.  Like Peter Pan’s shadow trapped in Wendy’s drawer, a piece of me will always remain in Iceland.  I hope it never escapes.

shadows at 9 oclock

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Icelandic Saga 2013 Overview

16 07 2013

I am not a world traveler by any means, but I have been to my share of places:  all over the United States as well as parts of Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Great Britain, and a smattering of European countries.  Never have I been to a place that compares to Iceland.

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There simply are not enough synonyms to describe the sights in Iceland.  To say Iceland has scenic beauty does this country a grave injustice.  Jaw-dropping sights are around every bend in the road. And there are many bends in the road.  Drives that our GPS told us should take three hours ended up taking all day because we were constantly stopping to take pictures, gawk at a waterfall, climb over a lava field, or watch chunks of a glacier gracefully roll down a frigid river.

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For ten days, from July 1-11, we traveled the Ring Road, the modest two-lane, sometimes gravel road that circumnavigates Iceland.   Temperatures ranged from 8-18 °C (46-65°F), although frigid winds often brought the temperature well below freezing.  During that time, there were a couple days of sunshine, but it was more often the case that the day would be overcast, then scattered showers, then partly cloudy with the sun peeking through at times.  A tee-shirt in one of the few gift shops said it best:  If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes.

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Most days we dressed in layers, starting with long underwear, wool socks, jeans, a shirt, and a windbreaker with a removable liner.  Quite often, though, we shucked off our outer layers as we warmed up on our hikes.  Although we brought gloves, we rarely used them.  Pockets sufficed to keep hands warms between photo ops.

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Icelanders speak Icelandic, which to their pride is one of the most difficult in the world.  However, they also are multi-lingual, speaking English easily as well as one or two other languages (Danish and German being the most common).  Unlike some European countries, Icelanders don’t cop an attitude if you don’t speak their language.  They just easily switch over if they suspect you speak English.  Iceland is sparsely populated:  Reykjavik has 200,000 people, and the rest of the country has only 100,000 more, most of whom live near the coast.  500,000 tourists visited Iceland In 2010, more than doubling the population. Icelanders are very proud of their Viking heritage as well as their literate society.  High taxes forced the Vikings out of Norway to Iceland around 840 AD when the country’s climate was warm enough to grow corn.  Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and more poets and writers per capita than any other place.  What else would you do during those long dark cold winters?  And yes, they do have a very high abortion rate.   As a whole, Icelanders are a very friendly people, making Iceland a great place to travel.

On her journeys abroad, my mother would always keep copious notes about where she went, what she did, what she ate, and how much every little item cost.  I’ve decided not to do that.  Not only am I too lazy to keep track of all those details, I think by so doing I would put the emphasis on the wrong thing, the trees instead of the forest, so to speak. [By the way, there are no forests in Iceland.  Apparently, what the Vikings didn’t chop down, the volcanoes killed. Icelanders have tried to replant, but growth is slow.  Icelanders have a saying: “If you get lost in a forest in Iceland, just stand up.”]

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So, in a nutshell, here are the bare details of our trip.  Future blogs will address more interesting aspects of our experiences.

We booked a self-guided driving tour of Iceland’s Ring Road, taking us all around the perimeter of the island, through IcelandGuest, a division of Nordic Visitor.  IcelandGuest made all the arrangements for a car rental and accommodations, providing us with a detailed itinerary of suggested highlights, optional side trips, helpful tips, and a GPS. 

ring road map

Day 1, June 28:  Drove to Charlotte airport for evening flight to JFK.  Our flight was delayed and then cancelled.  Delta was unable to get us on another flight until June 30.

Day 2, June 29: After spending the night at Delta’s expense, we bummed around Charlotte for the day, calling our travel agency in Iceland so they could rearrange our trip.

Day 3, June 30: Delta rerouted our trip through Minneapolis, MN, instead of through JFK.  From there we flew IcelandAir to Keflavik Airport outside of Reykjavik. 

Day 4, July 1: Arrived in Iceland at 6:15 AM and hit the ground running.  Drove west along the Snæfellsnes* Peninsula, spending the night at the Virkið** Guesthouse.

The remains of a crater some 3-4000 years old

The remains of a crater some 3-4000 years old

Day 5, July 2: Explored the peninsula and took the three-hour Baldur ferry from Stykkishólmus across the bay of Breiðafjörður to Brjánslækur in the West Fjords.***  Spent the night at the Bjarmaland Guesthouse in TalknafJörður.

The remains of the trawler Epine at Dritvik that wrecked in 1948, left as a memorial to the 14 crew members that perished.

The remains of the trawler Epine at Dritvik that wrecked in 1948, left as a memorial to the 14 crew members that perished.

Day 6, July 3: Drove out of our way to see the birds at the Látrabjarg cliffs, but it was well worth it!  Drove in and around fjords to the Dynjandi waterfall, stopping at Isafjörður to spend the night at Fisherman guesthouse.  Our room was actually a small house with a kitchen and an upstairs bedroom. Nice!  This was actually our northernmost location at just above the 66° latitude line.

The view from the kitchen window

The view from the kitchen window

Day 7, July 4:  Long, beautiful, winding drive through the fjords to heading east to Dæli, a farmhouse just east of the village of Hvammstangi, where we went through a seal museum, did some grocery shopping at a Bonus, shopped at a wool factory where I was charmed by two young entrepreneurs, and exchanged some money at a Landsbankin.  No Fourth of July fireworks here, but the scenery is just as spectacular.

These two enterprising young girls sold me a horseshoe for 5000 ISK (a little less than $5)

These two enterprising young girls sold me a horseshoe for 5000 ISK (a little less than $5) at the Wool Factory Shop in Hvammstangi

Day 8, July 5:  Drove toward the Skagafjörður fjord, stopping at Varmahlíð for a three-hour ride on Icelandic ponies through Hestasport.  After our ride, we hiked through the fields to a hot springs next to a waterfall for a long soak.  Drove on through Akureyri (third largest city after Reykjavik and Keflavik) to the Hótel Natur in þórisstaðir for a two-night stay.

A hot pot soak felt so good after our ride (getting out into the cold drizzle, not so much)

A hot pot soak felt so good after our ride (getting out into the cold drizzle, not so much)

Day 9, July 6: Explored the region, visiting the priest’s turf farm house at Laufás.  Then drove into Akureyri (the only town I could ever pronounce…Ah-kur-rare-ree) for some shopping and walk through their botanical gardens.  Walked the shoreline down from the hotel, finding lots of treasures!

Museum turf house outside of Akureyri

Museum turf house outside of Akureyri

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Treasures!

Treasures!

Day 10, July 7: Continued east to the Mývatn lake region where we walked across a lava field and climbed a steep volcanic crater before continuing to Dimmuborgir where the lava fields are so eerie they are said to be the home of the Yule Lads, the 13 Santa-like elves that make Christmas in Iceland a unique experience.  We passed through the geothermal area of Hverarönd where I collected some sulfur, drove to the Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls (missed the road to the Krafla volcano, to my regret), cutting across the northeastern tip of Iceland and ending up at Egilsstaðir where we spent the night at the Eyvindará Guesthouse.

geothermal area at Namafjall Hverir

Day 11, July 8: Drove to Seydisfjörður on the East Fjords for a two-hour kayak tour with a guide who never introduced himself but we named “Sven Gunnarson.”  Ate lunch on a windy ice field at the top of a mountain.  Stopped in a small village named Fáskrúðsfjörður where we discovered a WWII museum that we of course went through.  Drove on to Höfn where we watched arctic terns feeding their young at their summer nesting site.

Kayaking with Sven

Kayaking with Sven

Day 12, July 9: Stopped at Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon at the southern edge of the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe (fourth largest in the world), where we watched ice bergs float to the sea on the glacial river.  Drove past Vatnajökull, stopping at the Skaftafell where we hiked to see several waterfalls (if you haven’t already guessed, jökull means glacier). Crossed vast flood plains of glacial rivers, black sand, and lava fields to spend the night at the Hótel Skógar in front of the Skógafoss waterfall, one of the most photographed in all of Iceland.

Glacial Lagoon

Glacial Lagoon

Day 13, July 10: Drove back to Skaftafell (a two-hour drive back, the only hitch in IcelandGuest’s itinerary) for a morning “Blue Ice Experience” walk on the glacier.  On the way back to the Hótel Skógar where we would spend a second night, we stopped in Vík, a small town where several big name movies have been filmed on their black sand beaches.  Found a bird cliff on the beach, so of course I climbed part way up to take puffin pics.  Did some shopping at a wool factory there.

Blue Ice Experience is gray with accumulated ash

Blue Ice Experience is gray with accumulated ash

Day 14, July 11: Our last full day in Iceland.  Out early to get to þingvellir National Park for a snorkeling tour in the rift zone.  Due to time constraints (we wanted to be back in Reykjavik by 5:00 to turn in the rental car), we made a crazy, speedy tour of the famous “Golden Circle.”  Saw Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal area of Haukadalur, home to Geysir, the source of the word “geyser.”  We rushed back to Reykjavik and turned in the car and checked into the Fosshótel Barón.  We spent the evening walking through Reykjavik and doing some last-minute gift shopping.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

To my deep regret, we missed going to the Bridge Between Continents, which is on the other side of Keflavik, that spans the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  I also missed going to the Blue Lagoon, a must-see that I didn’t see, again due to time constraints.  Ah, well, I guess I need to save something for my next visit!

Day 15-16, July 12-13:  A blur.  Flight from Keflavik to JFK, where due to a missed flight and a cancelled flight we ended up spending the night in the airport to take a 6:15 AM flight on US Air (changed from Delta) to Charlotte, then a three hour drive home, finally back by noon. 

In spite of the troubles getting there and back, I would go again in a heartbeat.

 

*Æ or æ is pronounced like the “i” in “smile”

**Ð or ð is pronounced like the “th” in “breathe”

***Icelanders pronounce them “feareds,”  as in “I was a-feared to drive down the 12% grade gravel road into the fishing village by the fjord.”