Iceland 2016: Never Enough

7 08 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just when we think we have seen the most beautiful falls in all of Iceland, we turn around and are awed by the next one.  Down the road from our hotel in Geirland, we come across a waterfall that stuns us with its beauty.

It isn’t very tall.

The volume of water isn’t great.

It doesn’t drop from sheer cliffs.

But its rounded features mirrored by the hills around it sooth us and its turquoise waters draw us in.

It is poetry.

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (3)

This place deserves some Marie.

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (17)

 

Annalise adds her own brand of poetry

And because there is a hill, I climb.  And because I climb, Annalise takes off after me and soon leaves me in the dust.  Such a climb!

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (15)

It is exhilarating to hang onto the hillside with a handful of grass, pulling yourself up the steep slope.  I get three-fourths of the way up before Annalise decides to come down.  Turning around, I look down and suddenly remember that I don’t like heights.  Shoot.  How to get down?  6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (18)

As I’ve done a time or two before on this trip, I face out and start crab-walking down, but am passed by Annalise who is simply sliding down.  So I give up my crab-walk and slide on my butt, laughing all the way.  Worries, stresses, problems…they all disappear when I give in to this moment!

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (13)

And after a stone-skipping contest with Dave, who wins with a seven-skip rock, we get back in our cars for our drive around the southern-most part of the island and up to the Golden Circle.  And all day long a niggle in the back of my mind says, only two more days left to experience Iceland.

We cross miles of black sand before reaching the town of Vík.  Vík has a huge tourist souvenir shop—just the sort of shop I love to hate, but need in order to find some goodies for my family back home.  When we step outside and look to the cliffs along the beach, we see a parasailer working his way along the cliffs.

6-6-16 Vík I imagine what he is seeing: jagged rocks, seabirds nesting on ledges, puffins scooting into their burrows.  But I am glad to have both my feet firmly on the ground.

We replenish our food stocks at a grocery store, then walk to a nearby park with a picnic table to eat lunch.  While we eat, the parasailer floats closer and closer, landing gently in the field next to us.  We watch as he gathers his sail up and stuffs it in a bag, hoists it on his back, and walks down the road.  This guy is older than we are.  What a life he must lead!

We go to the black sand beach that has made Vík famous.

6-6-16 Vík (1)

Nancy and I amuse ourselves by walking over to the cliffs to look for puffins.  One can never have enough puffin pictures!  We only see one on the cliff, too far off for a good shot, although we see lots of them bobbing on the waves just past the surf.

From a kiosk, we learn that these sands and those in the sand flats we’ve just driven through are the result of “subglacial outburst flooding.”  Yipes.  The geology of this place fascinates me.

On to Skógafoss, one of the prettiest waterfalls in all of Iceland.  Definitely the most crowded.

6-6-16 Skogafoss (12)

Brian and I climb the stairs to a good viewing area, sidling out on a ledge that has me quite uncomfortable, but hey, we got some good pictures!

6-6-16 Skogafoss (18)

6-6-16 Skogafoss (16)

We climb down again to find Nancy taking some close-up shots of a patient and photogenic  sheep.  One can never have enough sheep pictures, either!

Next stop: Seljalandsfoss.  Yes, another waterfall.  Never enough.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (3)

This  waterfall is unique in that you can walk behind it.  So I did.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (8)

And we get a glimpse of Darwinism in action, almost.  People have hiked up to the top of the falls, and one hiker who is either very brave or very stupid or both gets right out on the edge, close enough to stick his feet into the falls.  He must have very good karma, or at least a good grip on reality, because he doesn’t fall.  That would have been a serious downer.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (4)

We end the day at Efsti-Dalur Farmhotel.  Efsti-Dalur is a working dairy farm, with a wall of windows separating the restaurant and dairy bar from the barn.  We can’t resist: even before going to our rooms—each a little cabin with wood paneling—we settle down in the dairy bar with fresh, homemade ice cream as we watch the cows next door who provided the milk.  We hear that people make the trip all the way from Reykjavik just for this ice cream.  I can believe it!

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (2)

Dinner in the upstairs restaurant is equally delicious, although a bit more unsettling, as we eat huge hamburgers that are also produced on site.

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (3)

Our view as we eat our hamburgers

And our timing for dinner is impeccable, since we finish just as a loud party of people with full body tattoos comes in.  I don’t dare take pictures, but then the image is seared into my brain anyway!

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (5)

We walk past the horse pasture to our little cabin room and fall asleep to the sweet songs of birds in the ever-light sky.  And the birds sing all night.  Never enough.

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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.”