Well, the day finally arrived…SUMMER VACATION!! And this one is like nothing I’ve ever done before. Two and a half months of fast travel. Usually I get a housesit in one location and hang there for the majority of the summer, then meet Brian somewhere and we fast travel for 7-10 days. But I wanted to mix it up a bit this year…
It started as all of my travels do, with a housesit. I saw a cat sit in Dublin for 10 days. Easy! Applied, got it, and started looking for other sits to work around it. I landed one on the French Riviera, near Nice, for 4 days with a ferret. Next up, two weeks in Switzerland with a cat. Then, the ICEing on the cake, a two week sit in Reykjavik, Iceland with a cat (sort of- there’s someone else here to take care of it if I want to leave and explore for a couple of days). I will say this- NONE of these were places I was thinking, “Oh! I want to go there this summer!”. A sit pops up in a place I’ve never been, I apply, if I get it, I’m there. 🙂
After I had these 4 sits in place, I started working out my schedule around them. After Iceland, I decided to head to Scotland for a couple of weeks to research and film for a Scottish Mythistory class I want to do. Then I’d go to Dublin, do my sit, head to Cork for a few days after that to explore. Then, back to Dublin to fly to Nice for my sit on the French Riviera. Then off to meet Brian in Malta for a few days of exploring. We’d then fly to Rome (cheaper return flight for him, even though I was there last summer), explore for a couple of days. He’d head home, I’d fly to somewhere to be determined for 10 or so days (I was hoping I could find a sit to fit those dates), then I’d be off to Switzerland for my housesit. From there, I’d fly to Spain to visit a friend for a few days and then fly home. I had everywhere set and booked except for those 10 days after Rome. Then the Dublin lady cancelled the sit. GRRRRRRRR! It happens, gotta roll with it. I already had flights in and out of Dublin, so I just extended my trip to include some time in Belfast and see more of the country and sought out super cheap AirBNBs. And then I finally figured out what to do with those spare 10 days- I’ll do a solo driving tour of Romania! Whew! This will be a summer to remember (and with my crappy memory, a summer to blog as well!!). And packing was a CHALLENGE with all of these varied climates (ski pants to sun dresses!), 2.5 months, budget airlines with serious baggage restrictions, and my obsession with only using carry on…I’m working on a post just about the packing adventure!
Flight to Iceland was on WOW Airlines. CHEAP from LAX. Like $200, plus $50 because I want to carry my luggage on rather than check it. WOW is a bare bones budget airline. They don’t even give you water. No in flight entertainment. You get a seat, a seat belt, a barf bag, and restroom access (which I was happy to see didn’t have a coin slot!). Leg room was really good- better than most flights I’ve been on lately. I was THRILLED when no one sat in my row! The 9 hour flight left at 7pm. I took my ZZZZ quils, and <del>slept</del> changed positions every 20 minutes while dozing. I am convinced that the management at WOW went to whoever made the plane and said, “We’ll pay extra for you to put torture devices in any area that might possibly allow a passenger to get comfortable while sleeping.” Seriously, no matter what position I was in, some hard piece of plastic or metal was jabbing me. I’ll shut up with my complaining now.
Woke up to an announcement that we would be landing in 30 minutes, almost an hour ahead of schedule. I looked outside to see ocean and clouds. A very cold ocean. My least favorite type of ocean. See, I don’t do cold. Cold to me is anything below 70 F. Iceland highs would be in the high 40s, low 50s. Iceland, indeed. A few moments later, I saw land. Wow.
We got off the plane and boarded buses to go to the terminal. It was chilly, gray, and drizzly out, but I was dressed appropriately in thermal layer shirts, a big puffy jacket, and ski pants (yes, i wore ski pants on the plane! Don’t judge! I am all about comfort over fashion!). Easy breezy through customs, they didn’t even look at me. Just stamped and sent me on my way. Found the Grey Line Tour people, walked outside and boarded the bus. I swear to god that the guy who took my ticket is a direct descendant of Erik the Red. This guy looked exactly how you would expect a Viking to look! Except he was in a raincoat and waterproof pants. 😉 I was excited to see the scenery for the next 45 minutes, except I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we got to Reykjavik and I had to change buses! There were only a few people in the minivan with me, and they all got off first. It was just me and the driver for the last few minutes. He’s from London, been here 40 years, his wife is Icelandic. He said I only need to know 2 things about Iceland: It’s always raining and it’s expensive!! LOL I don’t think the Iceland Tourism Board will be hiring him anytime soon, but he was lovely to talk to and we had a few laughs!
He dropped me off in the aforementioned rain. I had to walk about 10 minutes to my housesit. No problem with Google Maps (which is usually trying to kill me, but somehow managed to take me directly to my destination this time- I think it’s hoping I’ll let down my guard so it can ambush me on car rental day…). The house is just LOVELY!! Simple, clean, cute, with a very friendly cat. I quickly unpacked and got ready to go get groceries. I was STARVING. And I had to prepare myself- I had heard horror stories about just how expensive Iceland is. Like mortgage your house to eat a hamburger in a restaurant expensive. So 99.9% of all of my meals will be homemade, plus I brought along 3 lbs of pepperoni sticks just in case! I walked to Bonus, which is the discount grocery store of Iceland and is about half a mile from here or less. It was still drizzly, but with all of my layers I was warm. I’m in the Old West Side part of town- the very touristy spot. You know it’s touristy when you turn the corner and see Hard Rock Cafe. 😉 The best part is that I’m literally within walking distance of practically everything I want to see in Reykjavik! Easily found the store and started shopping. The store was small (by US standards), but the selection was good. Most things were in Icelandic and I just had to go by the pictures, but that was easy enough. The prices for things like bread and peanut butter and jam and crackers and pasta and such weren’t really all that bad! Very comparable to LA prices. But the meat. Good lord, if I lived here I’d be a vegetarian!! It is SOOOOOOOO expensive! Like a normal size pack of bacon, about a pound of it, was $20!!! Um, no thanks! Same with small packs of chicken breasts and such. Even frozen fish sticks were like $14 for a medium sized bag. I did break down and buy a very small (less than 8oz I’d say) pack of chicken lunch meat for $4. Ouch. So here’s my haul:
2 Salami Frozen Pizzas
1 Big Bag of Penne Pasta (several meals)
1 2-pack Frozen Garlic Baguette
1 Peanut Butter
1 Big loaf of Bread
1 Big bag of frozen veggies
1 Very small Chicken (I think) lunch meat pack
3 cans of tuna (pricey at over $2 a can, but a little bigger than normal cans and good protein)
1 tub of mayonaisse
1 jar of pasta sauce
3 packs of Ramen noodles
2 packs of flavored crackers
1 pack of butter (at least I think it’s butter- it’s all in Icelandic, but the package looks like a butter package…)
1 2-pack of toothpaste (it was cheaper than buying just one tube, go figure)
1 5 pack of chocolate/granola/fruit/nut bars
1 pack of those tasty milk chocolate biscuits (cookies) I always get in Europe
1 3 pack of Cup a Soup
Grand total? 5,685 ISK = $54 US. Honestly, no where near as bad as I was expecting, and this should last me for about a week. Knowing that a fast food hamburger at McDonald’s here is like $15, I’d say I scored.
Came back, made a sandwich, and watched some YouTube while waiting for Brian to video chat. The 13 minute You Tube video wasn’t even over before I fell asleep- for like 4 hours!!!! And I didn’t even move once! I woke up to about a zillion messages from Brian who was convinced I had frozen to death or something. Made myself a dinner of Ramen with some of my frozen veggies in it (hey, I gotta get some kind of nutrition out of that junk!). Sat down to plot out my adventures for tomorrow and blog. I am so far pleasantly surprised that Iceland isn’t as cold as I thought it was (because I actually prepared for Arctic Tundra Death) and food isn’t going to max out my credit cards. 🙂 It’s now 10:30pm. This is the view from my room right now. Yep, sun is still out. Sunset is at 11:15pm and sunrise is at…get this…3:30am!!! Yep, only 4 hours of darkness this time of year. Glad I brought my sleep mask.
Slept until 6:30am, which was about 6 straight hours. You’d think that that, combined with the “sleep” I got on the plane, plus the 4 hour nap I had taken when I arrived would be plenty of sleep for 3 people! Apparently not, because I ate some breakfast, video chatted with Brian, and fell promptly back asleep about 7:30 and woke up to my alarm at 9:30. Why an alarm? Because I had an adventure to attend to at 10!
One of the best ways to get orientated when you land in a new city is to seek out the “free” walking tours. Pretty much every city has them, some have multiple organizations that do it. Now, let me start by clarifying “free”. It doesn’t mean you should be a total cheap ass and suck up the guide’s time and energy and pay nothing. It means you should donate whatever amount you think the tour is worth at the end. Tours are generally about 1.5-2 hours long, and depending on how many stops we make (more stops = more information), the personality of the guide, how much I learned, and the size of the group, I pay anywhere from $10-$20. There were two free walking tours in Reykjavik that I found, and I decided to go with City Walk Reykjavik, mainly because I like the idea of starting at 10am AND they offered the ability to pay online with a credit card. I hate exchanging currency and try to avoid it at all costs! FYI, if you want to do this tour, you MUST book in advance.
The group was about 25 people, which was quite large. People from all over the world, which was cool. We started at a little park called Austurvöllur that is just a couple of blocks from my housesit in front of a statue of this dude, Jón Sigurðsson. Don’t ask me to pronounce any of these names or places. Like the guide said- just try to get the first syllable right and mumble the rest….
I learned that Iceland used to be a colony of Denmark, and that the Danes weren’t very nice to the Icelanders… they wouldn’t allow them to have their own businesses or anything. Denmark had a complete monopoly on the island. Well, it was good old Jón Sigurðsson, who was a native Icelander living in Denmark, who plead the cause of independence for his people in the mid-1800s. However, Iceland didn’t receive independence until 1944 (spoiler alert: Denmark was kinda getting crushed by WW2, so Iceland said, “Yo, Denmark, we’re going to be independent now. Toodles, and good luck with that Nazi thing.” Denmark wasn’t really in a position to argue…). But because Jón had fought the good fight and kinda sparked the whole idea, he is known as their father of independence.
Directly across the street from Jón’s statue is the parliament building. It was built in 1881 out of a type of volcanic rock (I forgot the name), the only natural building material on the island! It isn’t very big, and here’s the crazy thing- it took 1/3 of the entire budget of Iceland to build it!!! Iceland was a super poor country, being under the thumb of Denmark… That crown on top of the building represents Christian IX, king of Denmark at the time. And over each of the four sets of windows, there is an animal. A dragon, an eagle, a bull, and a giant. Each are the spirits that watch over the 4 regions of Iceland. Now, without getting too much into politics, when Icelanders get pissed off at their government, they literally come to this park across from Parliament with pots, pans, and spoons- banging them to make noise that they are unhappy!! This isn’t some protest from generations ago- it still happens today! I couldn’t help but envision millions of Americans on the White House lawn with pots and pans and spoons…
A short walk took us to another statue, that of Skúli Magnússon. He was the first entrepreneur in Iceland. He started out as a young man working for a Danish owned (because there wasn’t any other kind) business. His boss would tell him to charge the poor people more, and Skúli hated this treatment of his people. He became a sheriff, and as sheriff he had connections to the King of Denmark. He was allowed to open a wool factory in this little area of homes that was barely even a settlement. People flocked (god, I crack me up!) to the wool factory for jobs and opportunity- things that were severely lacking in this Danish colony. Over time, the area around the factory grew and grew. That little settlement was Reykjavik, and Skúli is known as the father of Iceland’s capital. Interestingly enough, the little area where his statue is is on one of Iceland’s oldest graveyards. Construction on the hotel next door has to constantly be stopped because they keep finding bones. Remind me not to book lodging there if it ever opens…
Speaking of supernatural construction issues, next on the stop was something I was really excited to see! The Elf Stone! The story goes that the city was building a road in a suburb of Reykjavik. There was a large boulder, and every time a machine was in place to move it, the machine would break down. This happened to FIVE different machines!! So the construction company did the logical thing- called in a woman who can speak to elves. She struck up a conversation, and learned that the elves would be willing to move if they were given one week’s notice and moved to a more central location in the city (even elves hate commutes!). The construction company complied, and the stone was moved to its present location without further problems. Fun fact, polls show that over half of Icelanders believe in elves. 🙂 If you like this story, stay tuned- I have more elvish enlightenment coming next week!! #believer
Next we walked into the oldest part of Reykjavik, a neighborhood called Grjótaþorp. Here you can find the oldest homes in the city, back to the mid 1800s. Yes, by European standards those houses are infants, but Iceland is a different kind of Europe, having been colonized rather than its own country. This is the neighborhood where Skúli set up his wool factory, and people came to live. The houses are built out of timber that was imported from England and Norway (rumor has it that those pesky Vikings cut down every tree practically in Iceland to build ships!). The timber is covered with corrugated sheet metal (also imported) to protect the wood from the elements. The home owners are not allowed to change anything about the houses except for the paint- so many of them paint the homes in bright colors!
We now walked to a park surrounded by a lot of little restaurants. It’s called Ingólfstorg Square, and is a place where locals hang out. In the winter, they turn it into a skating rink! Notice those two pillars toward the back with steam rising out of them? Interesting story… The early history of Iceland (800’s forward) is written in sagas. Of course, these sagas weren’t written until the 1200’s, so take them for what you will. However, here’s what’s really cool. The modern Icelandic language is still EXTREMELY close to the ancient Norwegian language. So these sagas that were written over 800 years ago are still readable by people who speak Icelandic. How cool is that?! Anywho, let’s focus on that “ancient Norwegian” language for a second. Iceland was founded by Norwegians- which is where the language comes from. Quick detour- Icelandic children learn Icelandic, English (from age 6), Danish (from age 13), and then they get to pick another language (generally French, Spanish, or German). So pretty much every Icelander speaks perfect English (for those of you freaking about about all of these words I’m posting that look impossible! btw- they are!). Ok, back to Iceland being founded by ancient Norwegians. The sagas tell the story of Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian nobleman. He got into a feud with the earl, ended up losing, and in the process lost all of his land. With nothing left for him in Norway, he packed up his wife, children, slaves, animals, and the two huge pillars that held up his house, and sailed west. He saw land, threw the two pillars into the water, and prayed to the gods to wash those pillars on the shore of the place where he should settle. The pillars landed ashore in 874 at a place where smoke was rising from the land (thanks to all of the geothermic activity). Ingólfur named this place Reykjavik, which means “steamy bay”. And that is how the first settlement of Iceland came to be! The two pillars with smoke are a symbol of the city, and can be found almost everywhere you look!
Look for the smoking pillars!
We then left the park and walked up a little hill with a statue on top. It’s the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, who will forever overlook the city he named from his hilltop perch. And the symbolism is just amazing. It’s just so darn….VIKING! Love it!
It was really windy and cold on top of the hill (back when I thought that was windy….see Day 3….yowza). We walked back down into town, down some touristy streets, and toward the tourist information center where the tour ended. Here were some of the sights we saw along the way…. Very nice tour and highly recommended to get some of the backstory of Reykjavik and a feel for the layout of the city.
So many different meanings to this one…
After the walk, I came home to get lunch, ate, and promptly took my 2nd nap of the day for 3 hours!! What in the hell is wrong with me? I couldn’t sleep to save my life in South Africa, now all of a sudden I’m a narcoleptic! Anyway, woke up and decided I had time for another adventure. Looked at my nifty little map I’ve created of all the places I want to go, and decided on the Settlement Museum- mainly because it was a) like a 2 minute walk away and b) reviews said it would take about an hour and I was kind short on time since I had already taken 2 naps and one tour today! Paid my $15.50 to get in, and I must say, that although it’s pretty small, this is a very well done, modern museum!
One thing that was really interesting was that the only land mammal in Iceland at the time of settlement in the 800’s was the artic fox. Settlers had to bring all of their animals with them to survive. There was a whole little exhibit room about the animals. Birds that were eaten included puffins and auks- which were large flightless birds. The last of them were killed in 1844. 🙁 Outside that room, there was a really cool area where kids could get hands on with Viking stuff!
The next room was the main attraction. In 2001, construction was started on a new building. As they were digging, they just so happened to have unearthed the oldest known human settlement in all of Iceland!! It’s dated to 871 +/- 2 years. And that was actually the first name of the museum! 871 +/- 2!! See, no one could agree on the EXACT date. Was it 871? Was it 870? Was it 872? Icelanders, not being one for controversy, decided to compromise (insert gasp with an American accent) and make everyone happy by including a range of dates. If this was the US, we would have 5 groups of people, all firmly convicted of their belief of the exact date. They would call each other names, start Twitter wars, refuse to even think about hearing any logic from the other side. There would be Viking deniers, and people screaming that Viking is a racist term- they are Norwegian. Sigh. We suck. Anyway, back to how things should work…the city stopped the construction, excavated the site, and preserved it by building a museum over it. The museum is underground, giving you full access to the preserved site. The site is right in the middle of the large room, and all around the edges are these really cool, interactive information boards. There are also a ton of artifacts that were found at the site. It was seriously very well done, easy to understand, and fun to explore. Three to five longhouses were found, and there is still excavation to be done. How do you say, “I would like to buy a shovel.” in Icelandic? 😉
Silver bracelet. So delicate and gorgeous, and in such great condition!
An axe head. WOW!
I am all about Viking keys. They are SO COOL!
Look at the detail still on this! They think it’s a gaming piece.
Reconstruction of how it would have look back in the 870s.
Came back, made some dinner, did some work, and went to bed with the sun still shining at 11pm.
Day 3- This’ll be fast…
Woke up at 8:30!! Dang!! Even after two naps the day before! Made breakfast, and promptly took a 2 hour nap! What. The. Hell.???? Brian thinks it’s exhaustion from such an intense spring semester. Could be true. Summer semester starts next week. Ugh. It was windy outside. Like seriously tropical storm force winds. Internet said 33 mph winds, and that was steady, not even including the gusts that would shake this entire 3 story house. What a shame, because it was actually kinda sunny outside! But I know my constitution is not up for such conditions. So I stayed inside and worked all day instead of going to the museum I had planned. No worries, I’ll go tomorrow. It’s 7:30pm now and the wind is already dying down a bit. Supposed to be back to normal tomorrow.
So last night el suckoed. I decided to try a night without my zzzz quils. I tossed and turned and turned and tossed half the night. I got up at 1:30am and snapped this picture. This is smack dab in between what is supposed to be “sundown” at about 11:30pm and “sunrise” at about 3:30am. As you can see, there is no such thing as darkness this time of year. It’s weird. Like really weird. Thank Odin I brought my sleep mask, because there are no curtains in my room! Took my zzzz quils, and dozed off somewhere after 2:30am.
Didn’t wake up until 10am, and that’s because the kitty, Mani (pronounced M-ow-ni) started scratching at the door saying, “Hey, housesitter lady, you better get my food ready or I’m leaving you a craptastic review!”. Glad he woke me up, because I had adventures to attend to!! That is, if the weather was cooperative…Let me tell you something I’ve learned about Iceland weather in the past 4 days. What’s the forecast? ALL the weathers. You pick it, I’ve had it (except warm!). There’s a saying that Iceland is the place where the gods create the weather before they send it out all over the world. I’m sold on that belief system, because it’s the only thing that makes sense! I was beginning to think that I would only get warmish (c’mon, this is ICEland and I know “warm” isn’t really a thing!) sunny weather when unicorns danced through stars and rainbows (that’s the equivalent of “when pigs fly” in Iceland, at least in my mind). Well, well, well….what do we have here??
Yep! The day was GORGEOUS!!! Zero wind, blue skies, sunny, and warmish (low/mid 50’s)!! Ate my pb & j sandwich, layered up, packed my stuff in my daypack, and headed out to meet the free shuttle to the Perlan Museum. The free shuttle says it meets at Bus Stop 5 at the Harpa Center. I was standing at the bus stop. Thank Thor I turned around and saw the shuttle! If you’re coming here, the meeting spot isn’t at the actual bus stop. If you’re facing Harpa, it’s to the right, where the water starts. Quick ride to the museum. I was really looking forward to this, because I plan to create a brand new Earth Science class online in the fall- and the goal is to take full advantage of all of the major Earth Sciencey things Iceland has to offer, like volcanoes and glaciers and geysers and such! The Perlan exhibit called Wonders of Iceland had all of those things in one spot, so I was really excited….and man, it did NOT disappoint!
There were basically four parts to the museum:
–An exhibit on volcanoes and the tectonic timeline of Iceland
–Some animals of Iceland, including a recreated cliff where seabirds nest and a virtual aquarium
–An exhibit on glaciers, including a man made ice cave
–An observation deck
I started off in the volcano section. Oh my gosh!! It was SO. WELL. DONE!!! So much information, great images, and even a really cool movie that I recorded for class! I took pictures of literally every single piece of information there was- it was that good. Basically, the entire exhibit is on my camera! 😉 Seriously, it was the first time I got really excited about this new class, and I am so ready to dig in and teach this stuff. It’s fascinating!!! In an effort to not overwhelm you with the inner workings of plate tectonics, here I present just a few of the pictures I took of the general exhibition area.
Ok. I had to show you ONE sign! There are dozens more. Email me for copies. 😛
You sat on that glacial bench and an awesome movie about tectonics played- sound effects, shaking, the whole deal!
Just part of that cool timeline exhibit
The timeline kind of flowed into the animal section. There was an artic fox- the only indigenous land mammal of Iceland. There was a fossilized walrus skull. Walruses used to live in Iceland, but were hunted to extinction here by 930!! Crazy, isn’t it? And apparently a lot of places in Iceland are named for walrus, because the animal was so important. Practically every part of it was used. I guess not important enough to not hunt to extinction, though. :/ There was talk of the cod fishery, which we discuss in my Marine Zoology: Vertebrates class. Yet another species almost hunted to extinction, but we had sense enough to stop it slow it down. Then there was a huge replica of the Látrabjarg bird cliff, which is the largest sea bird cliff in Europe. Did you know that over 10 MILLION puffins come to Iceland every summer?! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get to see some next week. The exhibit had these cool viewers that you could look through, zoom in on a bird, and it would show a realistic scene and give you information. So fun and innovative! The last section was a virtual aquarium, where you could sit on a bench and watch a movie of underwater life in Iceland. I had fun naming the phylums and classes in my head. 😛 #sciencegeek
I seriously can not tell you how impressed I was by these first two sections. But little did I know what was next… Guided tours of the ice cave were every half hour, although you could just go in by yourself if you wanted. They were handing out coats at the door. I really didn’t want to use one, because I was already looking like the little brother in A Christmas Story after his mom dresses him to go outside…in my SmartWool leggings underneath my water resistant outdoor pants and my two layers of thermal shirts underneath my puffy winter jacket. (Yes, this is what I was wearing for 50 degree sunny weather!!). The guide was nice enough, but I didn’t feel like she had a strong understanding of the glacial cave and its features. She was telling us about some animal that lives in the glacial moss that starts with a T and she can never remember the name but it’s one of the toughest animals on earth. Of course, I pipe up with “TARDIGRADE!”, and she says, “Yes, that’s it!”. #sciencegeekhermione Anyway, it was COLD in that cave!! -10 C, which is 14 F!! But I was like a kid in a candy store, trying to learn as much as I could! When the tour was over (it was 12 minutes long- it’s not a huge cave), I went back through by myself and shot video explaining everything. I was in there for probably 20 plus minutes and didn’t even feel cold. Until I was done and realized my fingers had kinda gone numb. 🙂 It was a FANTASTIC experience, and almost has me half persuaded to go into the real thing….there is a tour that leaves from Reykjavik…it’ll mean eating PB & J for the entire Scotland trip as well, though….hmmmmmm…. With no further ado, I present to you the pictures inside the ice cave!! It was really an amazing exhibit- I wish there had been more to explore!
Just one of the many ice tunnels! Some you had to stoop to walk through.
This is a glacial mouse. It’s not a mouse. It’s a rock covered in moss that looks like a mouse. And tardigrades live in it. 🙂
This was a simulation of a cravasse- a deep crack in a glacier that can be 100s of meters deep. The effect was with mirrors, and I didn’t even realize it until the 2nd time I went through!
This showed how the glaciers are layered with ice and ash. Scientists can date the layers because they know when the eruptions happened.
I exited out into the warmth of the museum, thinking my glacier adventure was over. Not by a longshot! There was an entire exhibit all about glaciers!! It took a while for my camera to defog itself, but once it did, I took so many pictures and videos. I swear, the people in there must have thought I was crazy. The exhibits told all about the different types of glaciers, organisms found in the glaciers (using these cool microscopes- I videoed all of them for the class, about 8 in total!), seriously anything you ever wanted to know about glaciers. Who knew they were so cool (pun SO intended!!)?? And to top it off, this HUGE interactive screen exhibit. There were three different topics about glaciers, then 3-4 sub topics for each of those- things like geology, people, organisms, etc… You stood on the footprints for each sub topic, pointed to the wall, and information would come up! I was in science geek heaven, and kids would have a BLAST with this thing! Of course, I videoed a lot of it. Again, so innovative, creative, educational, and FUN!! At the end, there was a wall of little plastic disks, where you could write stuff and hang it up. 🙂
That interactive wall.
These little simulation microscopes were so cool! You turned the knob and information and pictures appeared.
I had spent over 2.5 hours in this museum so far, and loved every second of it! Now it was time for the last part, the observation deck. And man, were the views amazing….
It was time to catch the shuttle back. But damn, it was SO nice out!! I google mapped it, and it was only 2 miles back to the house. Why not! I actually took off my puffy coat, stuffed it in my backpack, and headed off into the unknown parts of Reykjavik! There was a beautiful little hiking trail from the museum down to the main highway.
Tell me an elf doesn’t live in there, and I’ll call you a damned liar!
The hiking trail soon met with the main highway, and I was really concerned about there being a safe place to walk (I’m looking at YOU with a side eye, Malaysia!!!). No need for concern! This is Iceland!! There was a perfectly lovely walking/bike path literally the entire way from the hiking trail to the tourist center by my house!
What? You don’t have to play frogger to cross the freeway in Iceland??
I spent a lot of time watching these birds hover over the water, dive in, and come back out with something to eat. They were beautiful!
This picture, with these red tulips, kinda captures the day. 🙂
I then took a quick detour. Someone on the Iceland Facebook Group told me that Dr. Pepper could be found at a store just a block or so from my house! I headed over there. No Dr. Pepper, but I did find this little guy! Oh! And remember the story of the two pillars from Day 2? Here are some. 🙂
Oh my Meili, I am in full travel mode, now! I admit, it’s been a weird past few days. The sleep thing, some anxiousness about the intensity and logistics of the next 2.5 months, and probably the gray skies (seasonal affective disorder…it’s a real thing, people) and 24 hour sunlight. But all that changed today! Adventurous solo traveler (that’s ME!) is back and ready to explore, discover, and learn! And speaking of adventurous….you’re going to fall over D. E. A. D. DEAD when you see where I’m going tomorrow!!!!
I slept from 11:30 to 6:30! Yes, with the help of zzz quils, but at least since I had no nap yesterday, I feel like I’m finally getting on track with sleep. What’s on the schedule for today? The usual. Working tirelessly for all of these students of mine, striving to spark creativity, passion, and knowledge in today’s youth, research, research, and more research… Yep. Just another day at the office. Except that today, my office is INSIDE OF THE MAGMA CHAMBER OF A FREAKING VOLCANO!!!!!!! People, my job does not suck. 🙂
So Mary, you’re probably saying to yourself, how in the world are you going into a magma chamber of a volcano? Everyone knows that magma chambers either solidify rock solid or collapse into themselves after an eruption (duh, right?!). Well yes, well educated reader, you are correct about that! However, as I always tell my students, there is ALWAYS an exception in science! And the Þríhnúkagígur volcano (pronounced Thrihnukagigur…yeah, that doesn’t help me either) is the exception. It is one of the very few volcanoes in the entire world where the eruption didn’t either fill or destroy the magma chamber. The magma just kind of ran back down into the earth they think- like pulling the plug on the end of a pipe. And it left a glorious, intact magma chamber in place. And not only is Thrihnukagigur one of the few volcanoes in the world where this has happened, it is the ONLY one in the world that you can go into!! Hell yeahz! I’m all about doing something super unique! Which is why I coughed up $100 more than I paid for my plane ticket from Los Angeles to Reykjavik for this tour… That’s ok. I’m living fine on PB & J and ramen. Seriously, my cupboard looks like I’m 19 again and in college! 🙂 Dear waistline: Follow suit.
Trying to figure out how to dress for this thing was a bit challenging. Did I want to go with my heavy winter clothes and break out the ski pants? It was cold outside (it didn’t get over 45ish today). On the other hand, we did have to hike 2 miles to the volcano and 2 miles back, and I didn’t want to be overheated…. decisions, decisions. I finally decided to go lighter- my wool tights under my water resistant hiking pants, knee high thermal ski socks, two layers of thermal shirts, and my puffy jacket (yes, that’s light. don’t judge). I stuffed my raincoat in my daypack as well, because like I said yesterday, Iceland has ALL the weathers, and you never really know when or which one is going to pop up! This combination turned out to be perfect, and luckily I never needed the raincoat.
I researched several companies that offer this tour. It’s all the same exact thing, so I went with the cheapest. That was Grey Line, using my SEE5 code for a 5% discount. Same company I’m using for my airport transfers. They picked me up promptly at 9:30 and we went to their main terminal, where I got on a bus that was not subtle about where we were going! I was excited- this was going to be my first time out of the city and into the natural wonders of Iceland!! It was cloudy, grey, and cold out, but I enjoyed seeing the snowpack on the Blue Mountains in the distance get closer and closer.
Soon we were at a ski resort, where we were dropped off. We went inside the ski lodge for a bit, then our group of about 18 people headed off down the trail with our guide for the day- Stainay. I know I just butchered however that is spelled in Icelandic, but she told us it’s like “Stain” on your shirt and the letter a. 🙂 I wish everyone would break down Icelandic like that! It was cold, I ain’t gonna lie, and I was seriously starting to regret my decision to not put on the ski pants.
Along the way, Stainay gave us information about the volcano, all of which I videoed for class! She said that she would have at least put on some mascara if she knew I was coming! 🙂 It was really interesting that the volcano wasn’t even discovered until 1974. The guy who found it was lowered down 120 m (400 feet) on a rope with a flashlight. He stated there was nothing there but a big ugly black hole- basically because the immense darkness just swallowed all of the light in his sad little 1974 flashlight. In the 1990s, the rescue teams of Iceland used it to practice rappelling, because there’s no wind inside. They explored a bit and saw that there were some colors and formations inside. Eh. National Geographic contacted these guys when they were doing a documentary on volcanoes in 2010 (only 8 years ago!!). They used window washing lifts to lower all of their gear inside, and this is the first time the magma chamber was properly lit up. They were amazed at what they saw! Tours only started in 2012.
The trail was easy. And I’m not saying that as some fit Angeleno…let’s just say that on a couch potato scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “there’s somewhere to exist other than the couch?”, I’m a 4.5. Seriously. The only time I’m active is when I’m traveling, and the last time I did that was at the end of March. Otherwise, I’m either creating a lesson plan or grading on the couch- upwards of 10 hours a day. Oh, and I have a rebellious knee that goes rogue every once in a while. I say all of that to say this- if you think you aren’t fit enough for this hike, you’re probably wrong. It’s flat 95% of the way, with only 2 little climbs at the end- one to the base camp and one to the volcano. If I can do it with zero problem, chances are you can too. At one point, we crossed a metal bridge over a pretty deep gorge, several meters deep. This was a rift where the Eurasian and North American plates are pulling apart!! They’re spreading at a rate of about 2.5cm (1 inch) per year. Before we crossed the bridge, we were on the Eurasian plate. After the bridge, the North American plate. SO COOL! I plan on seeing this phenomenon in another spot next week as well. Fascinating stuff! And then, in the distance, the misty clouds cleared just enough for us to see the volcano! It’s actually a series of 3 volcanoes. The one we were going in is on the far right. It’s the youngest, having erupted 4,500 years ago. The middle peak formed about 5,000 years ago. And those two are infants compared to the one on the left! That one formed during the last throws of the Ice Age, about 50,000 years ago! When it erupted, it was covered by several hundred meters of ice. Wow. Soon the trail started its first climb- toward base camp.
It was a short climb (which definitely warmed me up!) to the cozy little camp. It was basically 3 rooms- we entered in through a gear room with helmets and harnesses, then went to sit in another room where there was hot coffee, tea, and water. Here we were split into 3 groups because only about 7 people can go on the lift at once. I was in group three. We kind of just sat there waiting for our turn, which finally came in about 30 minutes or so. I recommend trying to get in the first groups, because then you have longer to spend at base camp when you get back! You’ll see why later. 🙂 We had to put on a harness, which I ain’t gonna lie, freaked me out. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I am TERRIFIED of heights. What in the hell did I need a harness for? I was too scared to ask, because if they had said something like, “You have to rappel 10 m down to the lift.” or something, I would have just wasted $350. I kept my mouth shut and put on my harness. Then they gave us super cool bandannas (that we got to keep!) that we were to put on under our helmets. All geared up, we were ready for the final climb to the crater of Thri*mumble mumble mumble*!!
A very short, steep climb brought us to the crater, where a bridge (god dammit, why is there ALWAYS a sketch ass bridge high above some deadly drop that I have to traverse on EVERY freaking vacation!!!!!! I’m going to have a word with my travel agent…) led out over the nothingness below. Soon, the lift arrived! And much to my relief, I learned what the harnesses were for. We were clipped in to cross the bridge, and then clipped on to the lift. No diaper required. 🙂
I videoed the entire 6 minute ride down. I was so captivated by what I was seeing, I didn’t even consider the fact that I was dangling in a metal death trap 400 feet above the unforgiving floor of a 4,500 year old volcano! The colors! The formations! It was like a cave on crack! Seriously, they could have lowered me half way to China and I wouldn’t have been bored for one second. Plus, it would have been warmer! It’s always about 5 C (41 F) in the chamber. Brrrr. But I survived -10 C yesterday for 20+ minutes in the same clothes, so I wasn’t too concerned. Plus, just like yesterday, when I got to the bottom I was so excited about everything around me I forgot about being cold. The floor of the chamber measures about 50×70 m (160×220 ft). Large lights are strategically placed, lighting up the gorgeous formations. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I took about 80… It’s hard to understand the scale with nothing to compare it to. Let’s just say “Huge” and leave it at that. Water was falling from above, like thousands of constantly streaming diamonds. The water takes 6 months to filter through the rock- so we were seeing water from Christmas. 🙂 It then filters through the floor of the cave to a huge underground lake, which supplies much of Reykjavik’s drinking water. The colors in this place were unbelievable. Reds for oxidized iron, yellows for sulfur, and greens for copper. Like an underground rainbow of rock.
The opening to the crater is up there somewhere.
The lift coming down
All too soon it was time to go back up. We got to spend about 25 minutes on the floor of the cave. This time, I took pictures as we ascended… There was white stuff covering the rock in patches in certain places. Stainay said this was bacteria. Apparently there are about 20 species of bacteria that live in the chamber, 5 of which have only been found in this one volcano!! No insects or other critters live in the chamber. In what seemed like seconds, we were back to the top, and our exploration of Thri *mumble* *mumble* *mumble* was over. 🙁
We had only been down there for a total of about 40 minutes, but in true Iceland form, the weather had changed! Not to warm, but to clear! The clouds had left, and we had a view of Reykjavik! When we came up, we couldn’t even see the other two volcanoes that are right next to this one! We took some pictures and descended to base camp, where we were met with a DELICIOUS bowl of hot lamb (or veggie if you’re so inclined) soup!! YES!! A meal that did not consist of peanut or ramen and had MEAT in it! Real meat! And this is why I say be in one of the first groups- because we kinda got rushed out of there and I didn’t finish my soup. 🙁 We headed back on the trail toward the ski lodge. With the clouds gone, the views were just out of this world- which is exactly what the lava field we were crossing felt like. This tour was amazing. Like seriously, amazing. It is so worth the money if you are a science geek or adventure geek (I’m both!). Because seriously, who do you know that can say they’ve been inside of the magma chamber of a volcano?? Not counting me. 🙂 Do it. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. And who knows, some earthquake could cave it in at some point or it could become active again and it’ll be gone…
Reykjavik zoomed in
Lamb soup and a little light reading!
Got back to the house and was beat. I managed to whip myself up a brand new dinner concoction though!! Penne pasta with butter and cup o’ soup mix with tuna. 4 whole ingredients!! That’s a record so far! And it was reaaaaaaallly good. Not lamb soup good, but fancy tuna helper good. 🙂 And I need that nutrition…because tomorrow, the teacher goes to school….
There are two things I only do when I travel: exercise (walk) and take medications. Sleep medications, specifically. I used to use Nyquil, but for this trip I learned that they also make a sleep aid that doesn’t have all of the cold meds in it called zzzz quil. That’s been my go to for the past 5 days. It doesn’t make me as groggy in the mornings as Nyquil. Last night, I hoped that the hike from yesterday would have sufficiently worn me out to the point that zzzz quils would be unnecessary (fun fact: I have this completely irrational fear of becoming addicted to medication). I mean, I could easily have dozed off on the bus ride back from the volcano and had to force myself to stay awake. Well, here it was, 11:30, and I was still up. Since I didn’t have anything planned for early, I decided to ditch the meds and try to sleep on my own. Sleep mask firmly in place, I laid down in the gloomy daylight (cloudy all day yesterday) at almost midnight. One thing I’ve learned, even when I’m jacked up on the zzzz quil, is that sleep in Iceland is mind over matter. If you wake up and your sleep mask has moved and is allowing light in, you seriously have to convince yourself it’s 2am. I don’t care what time it really is, it’s 2am. Because 2am is the time when all middle aged teachers with a loving boyfriend at home should be soundly asleep. I woke up probably half a dozen times, quickly adjusted the mask, reminded myself that it was 2am and no I did NOT need to look at my phone to confirm (that would be the end of any sleep), and dozed back off. I managed to do this until 5:15am. Which by that time I was firmly convinced had to be at least 8am and time to start work. Yeah, not so much. But I am pretty pleased that my almost 5 hours of sleep was drug free! That said, I worked until 9, then my brain started fogging up, so I napped until 11. Well, 5 + 2= 7 which is pretty close to the 8 hours I require, so I’ll call it even!
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent working. Then, it was time to head out on the day’s adventure! Basically, I was going from teaching school all day (well, grading projects), to being the student. Because today is the day I attend ELF SCHOOL!! Again, like yesterday’s trip inside the volcano, this isn’t for my personal entertainment. No, no, no! This is research for classes I am going to teach- mythology and folklore (I’ll be researching in Scotland, Ireland, and Romania as well this summer- yeah I know….).
It was a 2.5 mile walk to Elf School. I am FAR to cheap to take the bus. It’s like almost $5 one way!!! I’ll hoof it, thank you very much. But one stop I had to make before I went was to the bank to change money. This is something I hate, hate, hate doing, and try to avoid whenever possible. I prefer credit card, because I don’t have the energy to figure out what all those damn coins and bills are. I’m old and grouchy. Hell, I never even use cash at home. I hate it. I lose it. Plus, I then end up with this mountain of random currencies from all over the world stuffed into various drawers and bins at home. Hate it. But the banks here are closed on the weekends and I’m renting a car Sunday. Just in case I was in the middle of no where and wanted a snack and they didn’t take credit cards, I figured I better change $100. Of course, that might get me a pack of gum, a water, and some chips. 😕 Landsbankinn bank was just a couple minutes from the house, and on the route to Elf School, so off I went. Here’s how it worked…you go in and take a number. Watch the big screen for your number to pop up, and see which teller number desk you are supposed to go to. Seriously, that simple. No guns, no hermetically sealed double doors, no “one person at a time in the bank” rule. Civilized banking, at your service! She did try to give me two huge bills and a bunch of change, but I asked for smaller ones for the bus. Just in case I decided I didn’t want to walk back- I know the buses require exact change (and a kidney). When I got back home after the day and looked at the money, I literally squealed with delight! MARINE LIFE!!! Also, I did the exchange rate online. I got back $96 for my $100, which is about $40 more than what I got back from a $100 in Rome (side eye to Italy).
Bank only took about 10 minutes, and I had allotted 30 to be safe. Started the walk toward Elf School, and had a little extra time to explore anything that caught my eye. I walked by a convenience store to look for Dr. Pepper. And elves be praised!! Look what I found! Almost $3 a can, though. YEE-OUCH!! I can almost get a case for that back home!! I did pay $2 a can in Belize, but that was black market Dr. Pepper! Plus, I could eat a meal like a normal person for about $3-$4!! I passed on the Dr. Pepper, even though I was intrigued by that Dr. Pepper Zero, which must be like my beloved Diet Dr. Pepper. I’ll probably cave in tomorrow and get some. I just didn’t want to haul it in my back pack 5 miles roundtrip.
Then I saw a sign for a tattoo convention. I had an INGENIOUS idea for a traveling tattoo sleeve right before I left. I’m not brave enough, but Brian has one extra bare arm!! I told him about it and he got that look on his face…. Had he been here, we would so be there! And no, I’m not telling you my idea until we implement it! Cause we’re selfish like that! Here are a couple of other random things I saw along the walk…
I’m convinced that that black glove is the one I lost in Paris!!
Want a decent meal? Take out a home equity loan. $60 for 3 courses. This isn’t a fancy restaurant. Just a regular one
I looked at the GPS and was still way ahead of schedule. Saw a Kronon on the side of the road, so decided to stop in. This is another grocery store chain. I must say, it is MUCH nicer than the Bonus by me, with a much better selection. Prices honestly didn’t look too much more than what I spent at Bonus. If it wasn’t so far from me, I’d rather shop there. I wasn’t comfortable being “that tourist” on day one in the grocery store, but I had nothing to lose at this point (hell, it’s day 6!), so snapped some pics of random things so you can see the outrageous prices.
$6 dollars for a bag with about 5 avocados- each one about the size of a toddler’s fist. Like all of those put together would make one of our big Haas avocados at home. $6!!
Want one of those pre-roasted chickens to take home? That’ll be almost $14!!
$22 for a pre packaged grocery store kit of sushi. HOLY CRAP!
Kept walking. Definitely wasn’t in the touristy area any more. This was “local” Iceland. Businesses and such that tourists wouldn’t be interested in. Home decor, electronics, etc… Very “Main Street USA” before the big box stores came along- except more upscale looking. I soon arrived at my destination….ELF SCHOOL!!
I walked in and headed upstairs. The door was locked, and there was a couple sitting outside. I started talking to them. Now, if you know ANYTHING about me as a traveler, when I see or hear an American, I run the other direction. Literally. If I can’t run, I stare at the ground, stare at my phone, try to blend into the background and not make contact. But something about them was a really cool vibe. I have traveled to 4 continents in the past few years. I have run into a lot of Americans. These are the only ones I actually felt drawn to converse with. It’s a big deal for me, people. (Yes, I’m Ameriophobic, so sue me.). Anyway, we started talking about where we were from (they’re from Minnesota), what we were doing in Iceland, what we were doing in Elf School…I told them about the Elf Stone I saw on Day 2. A father and daughter from New Jersey showed up, and a couple from Quebec. Then, we were ready to begin. We met Magnus, the headmaster of Elf School. (Side note: How cool is it that he’s been married to his husband for 30 years and adopted two little girls from Africa!!) We paid ($65 each) and he gave us a nice sized book about elves! I sat next to the lady from Minnesota (Connie). I took a couple of pics of our classroom, which was more of a study room in their home. I didn’t feel comfortable filming or taking pictures during class.
Let me begin with this. Elf School is not for everyone. Neither is medical school, law school, or high school (god, I hated high school!!). If you’re going there with the idea that this is some slick tourist operation and there’s some high tech, well rehearsed and regurgitated lecture about elves, you will be sadly disappointed. If you want to sit in a room with a man whose passion in life is all of the unseen things, a man who is kind of like an eccentric grandfather who will tell you rambling stories about elves in between going off on decidedly non-elf tangents, and quite possibly tease you often (the lady from Quebec was on the receiving end of that, thank goodness!), then you will be quite pleased. I was quite pleased. 🙂 He started by telling us how humans with psychic abilities are the only ones who can see the elves and hidden people. Then he started talking about how psychic ability is inherited. It must have been all over my face (or he’s psychic! Except he’s never seen an elf…), because he looked right at me and said, “Are you psychic?”. I said yes, and told him the story about how I was the black sheep (had to explain that analogy!) in my family for a lot of reasons, but my ability to see and feel and know things others couldn’t was one reason. And how when I learned I was adopted at age 36 and met my birthmother and half sister, I learned that it ran in the family. 🙂 Not something I talk about very much, especially because I have so much conflict with it because of this darn scientific, logical brain of mine, but I felt comfortable enough sharing there. Because if you can’t talk about your weird 6th sense in Elf School, where can you discuss it?!
Over the next hour or so, Magnus told us various stories of encounters people have had with elves and hidden people. You’re probably thinking, what’s the difference. Well, there are about 14 known types of elves. Anywhere from a couple of inches tall, to almost a meter tall. And elves are kinda what you think- flower elves, tree elves, nature elves, house elves (shout out, Dobby!), etc… The hidden people though are unique to Iceland. These are human looking, just like you and me. You’d never know the difference if you saw one walking down the street. But for the most part, they are hidden unless you have the ability to see them. They live in rocks and cliffs and things. The story goes that Adam and Eve had a lot of children. God came to visit one day, and said he wanted to meet all of them. Eve brought out some of them, but there were others that she hadn’t washed yet, and she was embarrassed for God to see them. Of course God, being God, knew there were more children that had been hidden from him. And he said that from then on those children would be hidden from all mankind. Hence, the hidden people. Fun fact, I believe more in hidden people than I do in God… Like seriously. Weird, huh?
After a few stories (and several tangents and teasings of the poor woman from Quebec- but it was all in fun and harmless…he’s not mean), it was break time. Magnus’ husband brought us WONDERFUL bread, butter, and Icelandic pancakes, that were made from a recipe given to someone by an elf!! 🙂 The pancakes are more like crepes, and filled with whipped cream and some kind of berries. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. There was tea or coffee as well. During the break, Connie turned to me and said I didn’t have to be afraid of dead people. Come to find out, she’s a medium and paranormal investigator!! I’ve never met such a person, and I immediately understood why I felt comfortable with them from the very beginning.
More stories, and being the Hermione I am, I asked a lot of serious questions (of which there really were no answers, thus is the nature of this stuff). After about 3.5 hours it was time to say goodbye. Seriously, I could have stayed another few hours. I really wanted to talk more about various hypotheses and explanations and such. He did say I asked clever questions. 🙂 We got our Elf School diplomas and took a group photo. I’m hoping he’ll send me a copy of that.
After class, I offered to take Connie and her husband to see the Elf Stone by my house….my fee would be one car ride to said Elf Stone! They agreed, and we all got in the car and headed downtown. As we walked to the stone, I told them a little history of the neighborhood that I had learned (and felt like a proper tour guide with all my names and dates and such!), then showed them the stone. We exchanged information, hugged, parted ways, and I was happy to have made a new friend. 🙂 It was a short 2-3 minute walk to the house. Fed the cat, ate a sandwich, worked, blogged, did some research on my road trips that will start in a couple of days, and stared at the light pouring into my room at 10pm, 11pm, 12am, 1am…..fine zzzz quils. You win. But maybe I better research zzzz quil rehab centers in Los Angeles before I doze off! 🤔
Oh, my lovely little zzzz pills. Why do I fear you so?? When all you want to do is love me. And let me sleep until 10:30am!!!!! Yep, that’s right. I went to sleep around 1:30, so that’s a full 9 hours of sleep!! Woo-hoo!! Got up, made some breakfast (ramen with some frozen veggies in it- gotta ward off the scurvy), and packed up for my day out.
Today I was going to wander down to the harbor for the first time. It’s a little less than a mile from the house, so a nice walk. Cloudy and cold, but weather wasn’t calling for rain, so I decided to just layer up and leave the raincoat. Nice little walk on streets I haven’t been on before, and quickly reached the harbor. You think I’m crazy for eating PB & J and ramen every day? That I’m shitting you about the food prices here? Here’s another example…just a burger, fries and soda- almost $19!!!
This is literally 1/3 of the budget I’ve spent on food in one WEEK here by buying groceries and being frugal.
The day was gray, but the boats were lovely!! I saw a little dock that had some shallow areas on the side of it. Marine Biology Girl (yes, that’s my superhero name) couldn’t resist sneaking down there for a peek! Not a single animal to be seen. 🙁 But lots of kelp. I couldn’t help to think about how damn cold that water must be. God. Worst nightmare- being in cold water. I won’t even get in the hot water pools around here because at some point I have to get out and the air will hit my skin!! It’s a major faux pas, because Icelanders are ALL ABOUT their thermal pools. Well, until they scoot this island down closer to the equator, there’s one less tourist they have to worry about crowding them for space!
Free things in Iceland are tough to find. Festival of the Sea was FREE!! The 2nd Sunday of June is Fisherman’s Day, and the Saturday before is usually a day of celebration as well (as today was). It’s a celebration of the sea- including fisherman, vessels, fish, even mermaids (although I didn’t see any, much to my chagrin). They had several boats open for you to tour for FREE! I’m not much of a boat person, so I chose one of them- the Coast Guard Ship Óðinn. It was put into service in 1960 and decommissioned in 2006. It’s still operable, but now serves as a part of the Maritime Museum. It was involved mainly in patrol and rescue, but also in the Cod Wars! You could explore the entire thing- except for the narrow, steep sketch ass stairs, it was really interesting!
The next thing I saw, I would have gladly paid for!! An exhibition of frozen fish!! (For those of you who don’t know, I have a degree in Marine Biology, teach Marine Biology and Marine Zoology, and am a self proclaimed fish freak!!). I named it “Bizarro World Alien Fish of Iceland”. Catchy, I think. Considering trademarking it… People, there were fish in these tubs that you couldn’t even imagine dreaming up, no matter what kind of drugs you were on! Just insane!! Damn, someone really needs to put an aquarium in this harbor… And without further ado, I present to you, Bizarro World Alien Fish of Iceland!!
A type of angler
OMG!! They had THREE different types of chimera- the most primitive of the jawed fish!! I almost died of excitement!! #fishgeek
Squid, sea stars, and super cool basket stars
This is the fugly fish.
An AMAZING angler
Hello, lamprey, you cute little parasitic primitive jawless fish you…. open up and say ahhhhh!!
They were having a strongman contest. Apparently strongwomen were allowed as well! Damn, girl! I can barely lift my 10kg carry on over my head to put it in the overhead compartment! 😛 #noodlearms
There was a whole area for kids. Kids were trying out stilts, using nets to scoop out balls from tubs of water, sliding down slides, throwing sea buoys into big bins…just having a grand old time doing SIMPLE things!! No screens involved! There was a big area where kids were building their own little wooden boats. I shit you not, there were real nails, real hammers, real saws, real drills- and kids from about 5-15 were working away on their creations. They were not wrapped in bubble wrap and did not have mothers helicoptering over them. I did not see a single child lose an eye, finger, or limb. Shocking by American standards….
In another area, there was food. Food? Like real food? Hmmmmm….lemme look. Turned out to be pieces of fish on bread. Bite sized, with toothpicks. Hmmmmm….let me watch for a minute and see if anyone is exchanging money. No?? Free food!! Ok. I’m in. I tried two of the types. Eh. Not “spit out out” material, but I’m glad I didn’t pay! 😛
Now whale watching is a big ta-do in Iceland. There are a lot of tours that leave from this very harbor. But I don’t have enough layers in my entire suitcase to keep me warm out on the water. I know me, and I would be miserably cold. Plus, honestly, it’s hard for me to even look at that water knowing how cold it is. So I decided to go whale watching INSIDE!! Next stop, the Whales of Iceland Museum.
Ok…as mentioned above, I have a degree in marine biology and teach that and marine zoology. I even do a 4 week workshop on marine mammals. That said, marine mammals really aren’t my favorite (taste like chicken!). I’m more of a fish and invertebrates kind of girl. Sticker shock on this place was a little shocking for sure- $28!! That’s $10 more than the super impressive Perlan! I better be super impressed! I was given an audio guide, and went inside. It’s dark. There are life size replicas of all of the whale species (about 25) that are found in Icelandic waters hung from the ceiling. There are little displays at each species with text and audio information. The first room was all of the toothed whales (dolphins, orca, narwhal, sperm, etc…). Eh. Really, just eh. The second room was all of the baleen whales (the big boys). The only cool thing about it was to really be able to understand just how large these animals are in comparison to scrawny little humans. Other than that, another big “Eh”. Look, I am probably not the best person to review this place, because I already know all of the stuff they were talking about. So I didn’t really learn anything. If you are someone who loves marine mammals and want to learn more and see life size models, then you’ll probably enjoy it. But I was in and out of there in less than 30 minutes- before the audio guide was even finished for the first room. $1 a minute. I would have rather had 10 Dr. Peppers….
Blue Whale- largest animal that has ever lived on earth!
Started walking back toward the house, and there was a Kronon! The grocery store from yesterday! I went in. This one was much bigger. Wandered around and got a bottle of shampoo for $2 and a pack of cookies (of COURSE that was the first of my groceries from last week to run out!!) for another $2. There’s a Bonus and another store right on this intersection as well.
Reykjavik is SO unbelievably easy to navigate. Lord knows I am the worst navigator EVER, because I never pay close enough attention to my surroundings. But here, no problemo. I use google maps to navigate to where I’m going if I’ve never been there, but I can so easily find my way back without turn by turn guidance! I walked through town and came to Ingólfstorg Square- the place with the steaming pillars from Day 2. There was a crowd gathered around. What was happening? DRAGONS WERE HAPPENING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😮 🐉 Oh my god, they were FANTASTIC!!! I could barely see over the mob of people. There were 5 of them…huge….and a guy on super high stilts that was like the “dragon master” or something. Before I could even get a decent shot without someone’s head in it, they started walking out of the park and down the street. The crowd followed, but I stuck to my original goal- to find the Dr. Pepper store.
Found the 10-11 store, the same one I was in yesterday. Those bastages had marked it up an extra 30 krona!! Yesterday it was 299…today, 329! Well, the guide for the city tour on Day 2 warned us that the prices are jacked up on the weekends. Note to other people: Buy things Monday-Friday, because it’s expensive enough as it is here without paying extra on the weekends!!! I bought two- one for today and one for tomorrow. That’ll be $6, thank you very much. 🤑 I’ll come back Monday to stock up for the rest of the week.
Started heading back toward the house, and what in the world was that in Austurvöllur Park, across from the Parliament building?? THE DRAGONS!!!! Oh, but they were stunning!! They even made dragon sounds!! Made the price of admission to the whales exhibit worth it, because if I hadn’t of gone in there I wouldn’t have been in the right place at the right time to see this amazing sight!! I’m working on figuring out exactly what this is. Will report back if I do! Tomorrow, watch out Iceland!! I’m going to be behind the wheel!!
I live in Los Angeles. There are more cars there than any other place in the United States. I wouldn’t list driving as one of my top 10 skills, in fact probably not top 20. I hate to drive and I kinda suck at it. I’m good enough to prevent major accidents (most of the time), but my judging of distances sucks pretty hard. My car has a name. Pinball. Why? Because it’s small, silver, and bounces off of everything! But the freedom a car provides is second to none! And since Iceland has the common sense to drive on the right side of the road, not the wrong side (like Scotland and Ireland where I’ll be the rest of the month), I figured I would give it a whirl! So buckle up, Icelanders! And avoid the Reykjanes Peninsula today! Because that is my destination!
I researched the heck out of car rentals. I always hear these horror stories about how they wind up finding some .005mm scratch under the front bumper when you come back and retroactively charge your credit card like a zillion dollars. Brian and I have managed to avoid that scam in Panama, Cuba, El Salvador, Malaysia, France, and South Africa so far, mainly because I’m super anal about taking pictures of EVERYTHING before we leave. I make sure the guy marks down EVERY scratch, dent, piece of dirt- no matter how small it is. I don’t take, “Oh, that’s so small it’s not a problem” for an answer. Mark it on the sheet. And I research, research, research. I read tons of reviews. If there’s any kind of a track record of scamming from a company, I steer clear. If they all have a track record of it (side eye at you, El Salvador), I just go by price and get a car from one of the big chains. In Iceland, the best reviews I found where Blue Car Rental. A local company that includes ALL of the insurance in your quote (except sand and ash). Knowing how much gravel and such there is on the road here (and my penchant for bouncing off of things), I figured maximum insurance was the best bet. Yes, my credit card has rental coverage, but I’m traveling for 2.5 months and I don’t want to deal with that. $185 for 3 days, full insurance, automatic transmission. Not terrible! And a hell of a lot cheaper and more flexible than if I took tours to the areas I wanted to go….
Packed up (including my lunch and water- I ain’t buying no meals on a road trip!) and headed out at 7:45 for the 15 minute walk to Blue Car’s office at the harbor. The reason I booked the car for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday is because the forecast showed partly cloudy and no rain for those days. I stepped outside into misty sprinkles. Let me do you a favor and give you the weather forecast for Iceland. It doesn’t matter where in the country you’re going or when. Unpredictable. With a chance of being the exact opposite that you’ve prepared for. You’re welcome. As I walked, the mist turned to full on sprinkles. Grrrrrrrr! Got to the office at 8:01 and waited about 10 minutes for an agent. Declined the sand and ash protection. Why? Because all the research said that unless you were driving a lot in or past Vik and the wind was blowing hard, you didn’t need it. Not driving past Vik and no wind in the forecast. Cue epic windstorm…. Out the door and in the car at 8:25. Had to install my fancy windshield mount I got! I didn’t want to be driving and trying to manually navigate with my phone. Omg, how have I lived without this thing my whole life??? It’s awesome. Highly recommended if you are solo. The sprinkles were pretty heavy at this point. I made sure I turned on my headlights (it’s the law!) and figured out how the wipers worked before I pulled out. Off I went!
Wow. Easy driving! Hardly anyone on the roads this early on a Sunday. Seriously, the biggest problems driving here are a) the center divider line and lane divider is like the equator in most places…imaginary. Just stay to the right. b) Don’t stay too far to the right, because you have like 6″ of shoulder and that’s it. What you’re supposed to do if you have a flat, I have no idea… Navigation was set to the geothermal park. Scheduled arrival, 9:06. It was 12 minutes from the lava tunnel, so I’d have about 30 min there. I was kicking myself, because I could have gotten a 10% discount if I booked online. I had planned to do it this morning, but forgot! Ugh! Oh well… As I drove, periodically I’d see smoke billowing out of the ground, and occasionally catch a whiff of sulphur. So cool! Followed Google maps and turned into the parking lot at precisely 9:06. Um, this didn’t look like a tour kind of place… I pulled up my itinerary. %/#&$@* this was the wrong place! I had passed the geothermal EXHIBITION (not park) about five minutes ago! I didn’t have time to go back, so headed straight to the lava tube. This is when I was happy I didn’t book the geothermal exhibit online! Everything happens for a reason…
The sprinkles had stopped. Didn’t take long to reach the Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel. Got there at 9:25, sat in the car to confirm the rest of today’s navigation, then went in about 9:45. Got a helmet and waited with the rest of my group (about 20 people). We went through a doorway that led underground, and stepped into what felt like another dimension. It was a huge “room” with a couple of holes, called skylights, in the roof. Below the holes, were pyramids of snow. Our guide (I didn’t catch his name) was AWESOME. I mean AWESOME. I’m a teacher. I want to learn something every day. And man, did this guy deliver! He explained all about the lava tunnel as we walked through, in ways that were easy to understand and really brought the tunnel to life. I videoed it all for class! There is a lot of information, but I’ll just give you the important part- this lava tunnel was formed during an eruption over 5000 years ago. When you have lava that has a fairly low viscosity (about that of heated up honey), it flows quickly. As the lava flows, the outside that is in contact with the air cools down quicker than the lava inside. The cooled lava hardens to rock, the hot lava continues flowing out of it, and it leaves behind an empty tunnel. Super cool! This one is over 1/2 mile long, and pretty wide and high- in places the ceiling is over 10m (30 feet) high! You aren’t going to get claustrophobic in here! After our introduction lecture, we headed underneath the two huge skylights into the heart of the tunnel. The first little area we came to was full of “upside down” icicles, like stalagmites in a cave! They’re formed from water dripping through the ceiling and then freezing. It literally looked like hundreds of individual ice sculptures, each with a different size and shape. So beautiful!
Once we were inside of the tunnel, I was just amazed at all of the colors and the formations of the rocks. So intricate and beautiful. The reds were just…I don’t even have the words for it! We’d walk for a ways, the guide would then stop and give us a 5-8 minute talk about what we were seeing, then we’d move on. Everything was just so FASCINATING! The information, the tunnel- I was just in awe of the whole thing. At one point, he had us turn our headlamps off and he flipped the switch to the main bulbs. Absolutely, unpenetrable blackness. All too soon we reached “our” end of the tunnel. It continues back quite a ways, but you have to be on the “extreme tour” to do that. A lot of climbing over rock rubble instead of walking on a nicely groomed path, and no fixed lights to show you the features- just your headlamp. Nah. By the time we got to the end, I had kind of worked my way up to the front of the line. I was first to get my picture taken, and that meant I could be the first one back out of the tunnel- with no people interrupting my shots!! Of course, I took so many shots that by the time we reached the entrance again, I was back at the end of the line! Seriously, this tour was fantastic and so much greater than I expected. Honestly, and this is hard to say, if you have to choose either the Into the Volcano tour or this lava tunnel tour because of time or money, do this one. We were inside of the tunnel for a little over an hour (we ran long!), but only inside of the volcano on the other tour for about 25 minutes or so. And there was a lot more to see in here. I seriously could do it again. It was that good. That said, I’m glad I did both. For $64, I feel this tour was the best value I got in Iceland for my tourist dollars. BOOK IN ADVANCE! It fills fast.
Got out of the cave at 11:15. I couldn’t believe my luck! I knew from the website that the first Geothermal EXHIBITION (not park!) guided tour was at 1130. I had wanted to do it, but I really wanted to just go there first, even if I had to do it without a guide, then go to the lava tunnel. Well, since I had made that mistake earlier, now I was at perfect timing to get there for the guided tour! I had 15 minutes… Navigation said 12. I’ve got this! Pulled in with a couple of minutes to spare. Here’s what I’ve learned in my travels- everything happens for a reason. It’s why I don’t sweat it when something gets messed up and doesn’t go exactly to my pre-ordained, pre-scheduled, pre-spreadsheeted itinerary!! That said, if you want to go to this, book online in advance. You’ll get 10% off. I paid my $15 and waited for the tour to start. The lady was really nice, and you could tell she was excited about geothermal energy, but I didn’t feel like the explanation was clear enough. I was on this tour for 20 minutes and still really don’t understand what they do, except that they are located on a very geothermally active area at the base of a volcano, and they utilize that heat to create hot water to heat people’s homes and for their taps, and to create electricity. How, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. 🙁 There were a lot of videos you could watch, some various exhibits, etc… I was kinda short on time, so I did a quick run through, snapped some pics of signs, and will figure it all out later to tell my students. Honestly, unless you’re really interested in geothermal energy production, I’d skip this one.
Next top was a little “gem” (pun intended!) of a destination that I heard about on one of the Iceland Facebook groups- the Ljósbrá Stone and Mineral Museum in Hveragerdi. It was on the way to my next stop in the Reykjanes tour, and it was FREE, so why the heck not?? 🙂 Navigation showed that it should be on the left when I exited the “freeway” (I’m from Los Angeles. Any major “freeway” in Iceland will be in quotes!). Um, I didn’t see it. Maybe google maps was wrong (shocking), and it was really in the strip mall on the right. I looked there and didn’t see it. Google maps insisted it was on the left, by the gas station. I entered the gas station area on the right of it, drove around to the back, and to the left, where google said it was. There was no building on the left of the gas station! Argh! Oh well. I drove around the front to leave, and there it was- INSIDE the N1 gas station. Derp. Parked and went in. A really nice collection of minerals and stones and fossils and things. Fun to look around for about 15 minutes. And free, so there’s that!
I just loved this desk and all of the cool things on it!
The next stop was purely for research for an upcoming class on weird creatures around the world. And I had high hopes, because it was kinda out of the way. But no where as near out of the way as the Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum and the Sea Monster museums I really wanted to see waaaaaaaaayy up in the Westfjords. Cue Icelandic Wonders– the Elf and Ghost Museum in Stokkseyri. I walked into the Elf Museum, and paid $25 to do both museums. I was given a headset to walk me through. Ok…..I am going to describe this the best way I can. I think someone with either an a) serious interest in the paranormal or b) serious interest in tourist money or c) serious interest in getting some traffic into Stokkseyri started this museum. Possibly, all of the above. However, it was pretty damn cheesy, I hate to say. You walked into these different areas that had a scene set up with some decor and a mannequin elf, and a story was told over the audio guide. The stories had no continuity, no flow. It’s not a museum, as much as a walking audio “experience” (I’m trying to be polite, here). I was all alone in there. There were a few rooms, then a room with a movie about elves, but the audio didn’t really match the screen. Then, the thing that almost killed me. The Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights room. You sat in a chair and stared at a large screen with a pretty poorly projected image. It was just video images of the northern lights. The audio seemed to be from some kind of movie or documentary about the lights, as you could hear sounds like horse hooves and flowing rivers that weren’t on the screen. And it went. on. and. on. for. ever. Oh my god. I was ready to tear my hair out, but I didn’t know how to fast forward my headset without messing it up. Had I known that the rest of the museum was literally like two more stories, I would have just left. I was in that museum for about 40 minutes. Easily half of it was that lame ass movie that had NOTHING to do with elves. I was not pleased. I literally learned NOTHING. Sigh. Oh well, maybe the ghost museum would be better!
The ghost museum was in the same complex, but around the other side. You got a nice ocean view from there, as it’s literally right on the water. The lady at the front desk was so happy to see me! I was her first customer of the day. Seriously, meeting her was the highlight of this whole stop. She asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes. She was very intrigued, and said she wanted to travel alone, but wasn’t sure, and that she had joined the Solo Women Traveler’s facebook page. I told her I was a member there, too! She hugged me and we talked for several minutes. Very, very sweet young lady. She gave me my audio headset, and told me to make sure to lift up the stone in room 19. That sounded ominous…. I will say this, the ghost museum is much more interesting than the elf museum! It’s still kinda cheesy, but there are some pretty interesting stories that are told at each stop (and, some that kinda sucked). You’ll be in this one for almost an hour if you listen to the whole headset. There are 25+ rooms to go through (much bigger than the elf museum). Basically, you go into a room, it’s decorated to represent the story, and you listen to the story. Again, all alone in this place, and I won’t spoil it, but there are some “surprises”! 😉 I didn’t go into room 19- frankly, I didn’t want to be scared! And I kinda skipped past the rest because it was taking so long and I needed to get back on the road. Said goodbye to the nice lady and headed out.
The standing one is a representation of a typical Icelandic male ghost. The sitting one with the weird thing on its head is a female ghost.
I just. I don’t know. So completely weird! The story was something about naked people and ghosts. I didn’t really understand it, but anytime I can insert a penis in my blog (ha!), I will!
The weather was kind gray and not so great, and it drizzled off and on as I drove along the south coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula on the 427. It was all lava fields. A really surreal landscape with weird lava formations rising up through the mossy grass type stuff that covered everything. It was a pretty long drive to get to my next stop- the Brimketill Pool. Legend says that a troll bathed here a little longer than she should have…and got caught by the sunrise, which turned her to stone. The sea has eroded away her body, but the pool is still there. Actually, there are 2 of them- one on the left that you can only see part of, and this one on the right. Very cool, and a fun little story for my students!
Next stop, research for Earth Science (you people think I’m just wandering around on vacation? Heck no, I’m working here!! 🙂 )- the Gunnuhver Geothermal Area. I could see the smoke rising in the distance- this really is the land of fire and ice! I parked at the lot and walked in (FREE!). There’s one extremely active boiling pool, that is the largest in all of Iceland. Water and steam are just constantly boiling out of the ground, with water shooting up a few meters. There’s a really nice boardwalk, and you can walk around the entire area- doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes or so. The oranges and yellows and reds on the ground are so beautiful.
Next stop, more Earth Science! The Bridge Between Two Continents (FREE!). There is a bridge that literally spans the North American and Eurasian plates. I got a lot of video for the class, but didn’t take an actual picture of the bridge (oy). However, here I am standing on it, looking at the sandy rift where the continents are slowly pulling apart almost 1″ per year. Eurasia is on the left and North America on the right. Fun stop- takes 5-10 minutes. There are some other hiking opportunities in the area.
So let’s see- so far I had seen elves and ghosts and trolls. What’s left? A giant!! A giantess, to be exact! This was a fun little detour into the city of Reykjanesbær. I hear word on the street that if you go to the tourist center here, you can get a certificate stating that you had crossed the bridge. I was kinda worn out, still had a ways to go, so didn’t search for the tourist center. Anyway, I came here to visit the giantess (FREE!)! Google maps wants to take you up into a neighborhood. Don’t do that. Park in the marina. You’ll see the footsteps leading to Skessan’s home! The hours said it was open from 10-5, but I guess she had to run out and do giantess errands, because her door was locked. 🙁
The final stop for the day was to the Seltún Geothermal Area. Now this one was REALLY tricky with Google Maps. Google was showing it off of some unnamed road on the right between Vogar and Hafnarfjörður. Fortunately I had posted my proposed itinerary on a facebook group, and someone said it isn’t on that road- it’s off of the 42 out of Hafnarfjörður. Why I didn’t clarify which end of the 42, I don’t know. I just assumed that since google was showing it on the north side of the Peninsula, that’s where it must be. Oh google, always making an ass out of me. I started driving down the 42, looking for signs. Nothing. Nothing. For a really long time, nothing. Then, my pavement turned to gravel! I got a little nervous- I’m back in the middle of no where, 2 wheel drive, no cell signal, hmmmmmm. The only thing I didn’t have to worry about was it getting dark (cuz it never gets dark!)! 😛 In typical throw all caution and common sense to the wind, I decided to go for it. The gravel didn’t last long, and it eventually turned to pavement again. The drive went along what I would assume is a stunningly beautiful lake when it’s not cloaked in cloud cover. Finally I reached Seltun (FREE!)! Where was it? Literally at the very end of the 42- almost all the way down to the coastal road I drove in on from the ghost museum! Ugh! Had I known that, I would have gone here before Brimketill Pool and saved myself a lot of driving. It was gorgeous. Very Yellowstone National Park-like. I had a great time exploring the boardwalks and watching mud boil, water spew, smoke rise, and holes hiss! Much more extensive and beautiful than Gunnuhver in my opinion, although both are worth a stop. I spent a little over 30 minutes here, and there are a lot of additional hiking opportunities.
You’ll notice there is no mention of the Blue Lagoon, even though it’s smack dab in the middle of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Why? Because I’m not interested in it. For one, I’m not one to sit around in water. For two, it’s stupid expensive. For three, it’s super touristy. I kind of liken it to the Eiffel Tower. I went to Paris twice, and really didn’t care to see it. I just kind of stumbled upon it around a corner one evening. It was pretty, but…eh. I’d never pay to go to the top. Same with Blue Lagoon. It’s kind of the national iconic tourist stop of Iceland, but in my opinion….eh. Plus, anything with “spa” or “yoga” or “retreat” or “resort” in the name generally gets a firm NOPE from me. 🙂
I drove back the way I came and headed back to Reykjavik. I had kinda planned to see if I could find the elf garden in Hafnarfjörður (this is the town of the elves, after all!), but was pretty worn out. I had been on the road for almost 12 hours already. I would definitely recommend the Reykjanes Peninsula if you have an interest in geothermal things (which I do). Honestly if you aren’t geothermically driven and have only 3 days with a car (like I have), I’d do the Snæfellsnes peninsula north of Reykjavik instead Reykjanes. I haven’t seen that area, but I hear amazing things about it. Spoiler alert: if it’s anything like the scenery I saw on days 9 and 10, it would be worth it!!
DISCLAIMER:I am a picture taker. Not a photographer. There’s a big difference. Kind of like how I’m a traveler and not a tourist. 🙂 I have a good camera. I put it on auto, frame my shot the best I can (which usually means crooked or from some crappy angle), pray to Odin (or the coolest god of whatever country I’m in), push the button, and hope for the best. Then, push the button a few more times just in case. There is no time in all of my travels that I wished I was a photographer and not a picture taker than today. The scenery is stunning. Mind blowing. Awe inspiring. And I just don’t have the skills to capture it in a way that does it justice. Forgive me. I do the best I can. 🙂 Come see it for yourself.
I took my zzzz pills again last night because I had to make sure I slept. Got another full day of driving planned! This time, to the Golden Circle- kind of the holy of holies of Iceland! 🙂 Packed my lunch and water and got all my gear together (by gear, I mean all the clothes because lord knows what you might run into!) It was cloudy and grey in Reykjavik, but that’s about par for the course. Left about 7:15 in an attempt to beat the crowds (tour buses!).
What’s the first thing you have to do when you have a rental car and just spent 12 hours driving the day before? Get gas!! Ok. No problem! Pulled up to the pump, put in my card- hey, this is just like at home! Until the machine demanded a pin number. I don’t have a pin number on my credit card…. Befuddled, I went inside. I said I needed to fill it up and handed him my credit card. Um, yeah. That’s not how it’s done in Iceland. You had to pay inside with the credit card to buy a prepaid card to use at the pump. And by the way, you better guess how much you need, because it’s non-refundable. I didn’t worry too much about that part, since I knew I would need gas again, but I had no clue how much to even put on it. I had a little less than a half a tank of gas left in a tiny ass Toyota Yaris. The guy told me 5000kr should do it. WHAT?! $50 to fill up HALF a tank in a tiny car??? No one warned me that in order to get gas I had to have a pin number on my credit card, take out a home equity loan, and make sure I brought a defibrillator with me. I took the prepaid card, put it in, and the car took every bit of that 5000kr. Yowza. Side note: When I got back, I did the calculations. Gas is 225kr per liter. 1 liter is about 1/4 of a gallon. So I literally just paid about $9 PER GALLON for gas!! Dear Los Angeles: I will never bitch about your $3.50+ per gallon gas again. As I headed up the 36, I was cloaked in clouds, drizzle, and disappointment. Two days now of this. Sigh.
The first stop of the day was a waterfall. If you see the word “foss”, you know you’re about to see water falling off of some cliff somewhere! 😉 This one was Öxarárfoss. I pulled into the parking lot and not another car in sight…yes!! I didn’t hear a river or anything, but there was a path leading away from the parking lot, so I headed down it. In no time, I realized that I was on top of an amazing cliff!! And that there was a fantastic trail in a narrow canyon, with sheer rock walls with really ancient and cool looking formations. As I descended down into it, I literally felt like I was going back in time. That a Viking or an elf or anything unexpected and from a time long past might be hiding behind the next boulder. I don’t know what it was about that place, but it is the most magical feeling I’ve had while in Iceland. And being in there alone greatly enhanced the experience! Soon the rock path ended, and so did that magical feeling. I was on pavement now. The trail branched off in a different direction, and a lot more people were sharing the space with me now. Soon I reached the waterfall. It was beautiful!! On the way back, I read the sign about Gallow’s Rock. It is known that 15 men were hanged here, generally for theft, between 1602 and 1750.
The most magical place in Iceland to me- and that’s saying a lot!
I went back through the magical canyon, which had lost some of its mystique with the arrival of other people. Some things you don’t want to share… Back in the car and headed toward Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir). This is a national park, and wow but you could see why. The views were stunning!! And the best part? Blue sky was starting to peek out through the clouds!!I stopped at the little visitor center, and then drove down to the old settlement area. Here, I had to pay $5 to park. Got out and did a quick survey. There were little bridges and boardwalks meandering up the hills and over the stream, a church with some other buildings, and it was all surrounded by utter beauty! The sun was coming out! Birds were chirping! Angels were singing! 🙂 I headed up one of the paths, and saw that it also led to the path where I had just been at Öxarárfoss. So if you want a really good walk, the ability to experience that cool little canyon, and to not pay for parking (which I didn’t mind AT ALL, small price to pay for this place!), you could just park at the top of Öxarárfoss and walk down here. As I walked along the stream, there was a group of teens with a guide who was having them fill up their water bottles from the stream. Fun fact: You can drink any of the stream water in Iceland, no worries. However, there were a LOT of geese around. Lots of geese= lots of geese poop. Yeah, I’ll pass. 😉 From the top of the hill I could see that the boardwalk continued down the hill, across the stream, to the church, and from there I could go back to the parking lot. There are quite a few trails in this area to explore, though! I headed down to the church. There were a LOT of people in the area, and getting a picture without them in it was practically impossible. I pulled at the church door- locked. I was kneeling down in front of the church to take a picture (no other reason for me to kneel there! 😝). A guy walks up to the door with a large key!! Oooo! Could he be unlocking the church?? He WAS!! I looked at him with a “Can I go in?” look. He nodded. I was the first one in! But man, the rush of people behind me was crushing. It was ridiculous. I managed to quickly get in a shot before getting elbowed out of the way. The church is TINY and quaint, and there were no less than 30 people in there within seconds. By the time I got back out of the door, there was a line to get in. Oy. Near to the church there was a little graveyard, but you weren’t supposed to go in.
I walked back to the parking lot and up the road for a bit. I wanted to see something I’d seen advertised on tours, but would never do in 900 million years….Silfra. Why wouldn’t I do it? Because it’s snorkeling (or diving) in ice cold, crystal clear water between the tectonic plates! All of that sounds great except the ice cold part. I’m not even interested in getting into the natural hot springs, for fear of having to get out and have the wind touch my wet body, causing me to freeze in place like a troll caught in the sunlight!! So, this gets a big “hell no” from me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they give you a dry suit. Who cares? Parts of your face are still exposed! When they start running glass bottom boats or have some kind of heated human hamster ball contraption they can put you in and toss you in the drink, I’m in. Until then, I’ll watch from the sidelines.
I love seeing weird wildlife signs all over the world. No real wildlife in Iceland, but I found a fun sign anyway!
Walked back to the car and headed out. There’s a ton of hiking and little back roads and such here, so you could probably spend days getting lost in the wilderness and beauty. But I was on a serious schedule!! I had to be in Laugarvatn by 11:15!! What’s Laugarvatn and why the hurry? Well, I’ll tell you….someone on one of the facebook groups had mentioned that they had a lava bread tour- where they would show you how they bake bread in the ground, using the heat from the earth! I am SO there!! But the problem was that I woke up this morning and realized that in my exhaustion yesterday, I had forgotten to book it!! ARGH!!! I emailed them before I left, but hadn’t heard a word. The tour started at 11:30, and I was hoping that if I got there a little early and it was full, that I could charm my way in, since it was only 1 little old person….and….I’m a TEACHER! (people across the world love that!!). As I was driving, I saw a sign pointing to a place called Laugarvatnshellar: The Cave People. How had I missed that in my research??!! Ugh! It sounded cool, but I knew I wanted to do the lava bread thing, so off I went. Upon later research, it does seem pretty interesting and might be a good add on for your Golden Circle trip! Pulled into the parking lot of Laugarvatn Fontana a little after 11. I walked very quickly to the front door and into the restaurant area. I asked the cashier if there was room on the 11:30 tour. YES!! WOO-HOO!! Gladly paid my $15. I had really been looking forward to this, and would have been super mad at myself if I missed it! I had about 20 minutes to walk around the grounds. The sun was out so bright now, that I stripped down to one, count them ONE, layer!! It was 17C (63F) and WONDERFUL!! Laugarvatn Fontana sits on a beautiful lake, and there is steam coming out of the ground everywhere! There are greenhouses over some of the hot springs, utilizing the geothermal energy for heating. So smart! I wish I could have gone in. I saw an AWESOME pair of birds, which later research revealed to be Haematopus ostralegus, an Oystercatcher. The tour guide later told me they are VERY aggressive when they have young. Yikes! It was time for the tour, and I was surprised that it was just me, and a couple from Philadelphia who had just flown in that morning. Our guide grabbed a shovel, and we headed down to the beach by the lake. Water was boiling out of the ground in places. He took us to a little area next to a boiling hole, and said they put the bread in the ground for 24 hours. We were going to dig up yesterday’s batch. It was marked with a little stone on top. He dug it up, and everywhere he put his shovel, boiling water would come to the surface. Crazy! He got the pot out- it was wrapped in some kind of plastic wrap- I assume to keep the water out of it. Using gloves, he unwrapped it, took the lid off, and wa-la!! There was a huge pot of lava rye bread! He then buried another pot for tomorrow’s tour, and we went back to the restaurant. There, he sliced the hot bread for us and gave us some butter to put on it. It was gooooooooood! So moist! Then, he gave us all HUGE pieces to take home!! Yay for tours that provide food!! It was a really interesting process, and I highly recommend it.
Headed off down the road again, one layer, window down (and then up, and then down, and then up….) loving the warmish air and sunshine!! Instead of the lava fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula, I was now in lush, green, beautiful farmlands, surrounded by jaw dropping mountains, still holding on to the last bits of winter. Icelandic horses (which in my opinion are the PERFECT horse- short, strong, and friendly!) lazily grazing in fields and rolling in the sunshine. Baby lambs bouncing alongside of their mothers. You seriously can not imagine a more gorgeous setting. And it was in this setting that I pulled into my next stop- another suggestion from a facebook group- Efstidalur II Dairy Farm. There’s a lot going on here. There’s a hotel, a restaurant, horseback riding, and the reason for my visit….and ice cream barn!! I figured I needed a tasty snack treat on a gorgeous day such as this, and ice cream right out of a cow’s teat (yep, it comes out frozen- this is ICEland 😜), was just the thing! I walked into the ice cream barn and saw why it was named that. The windows by the table all looked into the barn, where you could see cows happily munching away on hay and turning it into ice cream! There was a wonderful array of flavors. I chose green apple because I had never heard of such a thing as green apple ice cream! It was soooo good! Just the right amount of tart, sweet, and unusual! And sooooooo creamy. Mmmmmm. Highly recommended at $4.50 for a small scoop.
On the road again, heading toward my one “office” stop for the day- the geysers at Geysir. Geysir, the big geyser at this location, was first named that back in 1700s, and the name has become synonymous with similar features around the world. In it’s hey day, it would erupt several times a day, shooting boiling water 60-170 meters (200-550 feet) into the air! 😮 Now, it rarely erupts, but it’s little brother, Stokkur, puts on a show about every 5-8 minutes- with water shooting up to 30 m (100 ft) high. I pulled into the WAY overcrowded, commercialized, touristy parking lot. Oh boy- it was PACKED. Ugh. I walked around the various steaming hot pools for about 20 minutes, and Stokkur erupted a few times- you’d hear the “whoosh” of water and screams of the crowd, but by the time you’d turn around, it would just be a pool of hot water again!
Inhaling the breath of the earth….
After I looked at everything, I went over and found a prime place to video Stokkur from. Held my camera in place as steady as I could for almost a minute, and then BLAM! Off it went! I got so excited, I hit the button and ended the video before it finished! Ugh! But here are the pics that I pulled from the video.
So it’s this totally flat, hot steaming pool….every once in a while a little wave or something will lap at the edge….
Then, all of a sudden, this huge dome shaped bubble rises up!
And WHOOSH! It erupts!
I stuck the first and third videos together so you can see it. The 2nd eruption was a burp, much to the disappointed crowd who collectively went “awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww”. 🙂
Made a quick bathroom stop in the gift shop area (when in Iceland, see a klósettið, use a klósettið…#Allison). I hadn’t driven very far, when I saw some cars pulled off to the side. That’s better than any informational sign with 37 consonants and 4 vowels that there’s something cool to see here! And oh! It was! People were petting an Icelandic horse!! There was a little parking lot and a sign that said “Icelandic Horses”. I walked up and petted the one who was by the fence and seemed to be enjoying the attention! The mane is sooooooooooooo thick! Oh my gosh! What an awesome creature!
More driving through impossibly beautiful landscapes to the next stop- Gullfoss. Remember what I told you- when you see the word foss, there’s a waterfall! And my oh my, was this a waterfall! But first, let’s talk about me falling in love…. See, as I was driving along, I had a fabulous view of the mountains to my left. And they had this really weird, flat, bright white cloud on them. Not in front of them, but on them. And blue skies above. It was a super weird phenomenon, so I pulled over (for literally the 10,000th time that day. Always add triple the time google maps says, because you will be stopping CONSTANTLY to take pics!). I zoomed in and wait……could this be what I thought it was…….a glacier??
I had myself 94% convinced that that’s what it had to be. Then, I got to a fork in the road. There was a sign pointing to the left saying “Gullfoss Parking”. DON’T FOLLOW THAT SIGN!! Go to the right, unless you enjoy climbing a ton of stairs for no reason. Of course, I tell you this in hindsight. I went left and parked. There were signs, and yes!! This was a glacier I was seeing! It was so amazing and so emotional and visceral for some reason. I was just mesmerized by it, in awe of it. I climbed down the ton of stairs to see Gullfoss– arguably the most famous of Iceland’s waterfalls (and that’s saying a lot because there are waterfalls EVERYWHERE!!). It’s fed by Iceland’s 2nd largest glacier- Langjökull- henceforth known as MY glacier! 🙂 The falls were pretty impressive, I must say. Huge and powerful. The amount of water going over them was almost unfathomable.
I headed back down the road I had come in on (Gullfoss was basically a deadend, because the road into the highlands was closed). My next stop was Faxifoss (I bet you speak enough Icelandic now to know what it is!). I looked at the map and decided to take a detour off the main roads- and take the 30 to the 358 over to the 35. Oh, what an excellent decision! I basically had this gravel road all to myself. Well, me, the Icelandic horses, and the sheep! Gorgeous, gorgeous farmland without a tour bus in sight. I was staring at the views, and noticed someone else staring as well. There was a majestic Icelandic horse, standing in this very “I am king of all I purvey” stance, staring off at the mountains. He seemed as much in awe of the view as I was. Then, there was this very narrow bridge. I was kinda sketched out by it, but it was fun to cross. So….beautiful and perfect.
Soon I reached Faxifloss. What a gorgeous little waterfall! And the coolest thing was that there was a fish ladder for the salmon!! Oh my gosh, I was in heaven! Honestly, I liked this waterfall better than Gullfoss. There were only about 4 other people here. Plus, I was finally able to get a good shot of a Motacilla alba– the White Wagtail!
Last stop of my Golden Circle tour was the Kerid volcanic crater lake. It’s a collapsed magma chamber that filled with water after an eruption about 6000 years ago. You had to pay $4 to park. After that, you could walk around the entire crater, and even take stairs right down to the water. Very nice spot! If you start your rim walk to the right of the office, BE CAREFUL as you descend the hill on the other side! It’s very small, loose gravel, and I slipped and busted my butt! Fortunately I wasn’t at the crater rim when that happened…
And for all intensive purposes that was the end of my Golden Circle tour! But looking at the GPS, I was going to get back to Reykjavik at about 5:15. Free parking on my street starts at 6. What to do, what to do… I looked at google maps and found an alternate route back. Perfect, since I didn’t want to backtrack roads I had been on yesterday anyway. So my new plan was to take the 35 to the 36 to the 350 to the 435 to the 1 and back to Reykjavick. Best. Decision. All. Day!! The roads had so many tour buses and tourists on them. It’s hard enough to just find a place to pull over for a picture. It’s even worse when there are cars and buses on your ass! I saw hardly any cars for the next 40ish minutes. A gorgeous lake. Beautiful mountains. My glacier. What an unexpected delight!! I highly recommend adding this section of road to your golden circle tour!! Most of it is gravel, but easy to drive on and pretty flat. Once you start climbing up into the mountains, it’s paved. Honestly, I can’t even describe this day. The weather. The landscape. The stops- all quadzillon of them! Everything was simply perfect in every way. Now I see why this is the most famous tourist area in all of Iceland! 11 hours after my departure, I arrived back in Reykjavik. Tomorrow would be my last adventure with the car…
Zzz pills again last night, because another LONG day ahead. But I swear this is the last of them! I don’t have any super long days head of me after today, so if I can’t sleep, I’ll nap and deal with it. I woke up to the most AMAZING morning there has been in Reykjavik!! Bright and sunny! Blue skies! YES!!!!!!! Two days in a row of fabulous weather to drive in and see the sights! And oh, but I had sights to see….because today I was doing another famous Iceland driving tour- the south coast to Vík.
Remember how yesterday I taught you that foss means waterfall? Remember that, but BURN this into your brain. Vík is pronounced VEEK, not VICK. VEEK. When Iceland is kind enough to give you a word that has only three letters and one syllable, you should be deported if you screw it up. And I’ve heard practically everyone say it wrong. 🙄 You’re welcome.
Ok…back to my glorious sunshiny morning of wonder and delight!! Packed up my gear, lunch, and water, and headed out a bit before 8. Stopped to fill up the car. I’ve got to spend all of these kronas I changed for $100…I had a little more than 1/2 a tank, so I went in and gave him 2000 ($20) for gas and got my prepaid card. Car took every bit of it. And off I went, into the brilliant sunlight, dreaming of peeling off layers soon and driving with the window down. Oh, silly, silly girl. This is Iceland! No sooner than I hit the last roundabout out of town, I was in a fog bank. Not cloudy skies. Full on fog. Like could barely see the car ahead of me. Which on these extremely narrow roads with a 6″ shoulder and imaginary lines for center dividers, is not a happy place…. The fog turned to drizzle. I drove in that for about an hour and a half through, sorry to say, not very exciting farmland. Possibly because I couldn’t SEE, but even if I could, I don’t think it was too great…
But then I pulled into my first stop. Seljalandsfoss. C’mon, guess what it is??! A waterfall! And a gorgeous one! It was pouring off of a huge, brilliant green (even in the gray skies) cliff. I pulled into the parking lot and there were already a good amount of people there. By this time, the drizzle had turned to full on sprinkles. I pulled on my waterproof ski pants over my hiking pants, and put on my rain jacket. Here you had to pay $7 to park. I walked up toward the waterfall, lamenting the fact that all of my pictures would be super washed out because there was no decent light. I snapped a few pics, and took a video. This is a waterfall that you can actually walk behind. I said on the video that there was no way I was interested in getting soaked. Turned the video off, took a few more pics, and decided what the hell- I only live once and I had good gear on! So I headed up the path to the waterfall. As you got closer, the power of the water made it feel like it was raining pretty hard! Luckily, the wind was blowing slightly in the other direction, so most of the drops and mist went away from me. I see how you could easily be soaked by the time you even got to the waterfall. And there were people doing it in JEANS!! 😲 Taking pictures was a feat in and of itself. I had to keep the camera under my jacket. When I was ready, I’d get the camera steady, take off the lens cap, and start snapping like crazy! Because within milliseconds the lens would be covered with mist and I’d have to wipe it off and start all over! I worked my way around and got behind it. And I was happy that I pushed past my comfort zone and did it.
Behind the falls was like another world! The gray at the bottom is the path.
By the time I got back to the car, my ski pants had water beaded all over them. I peeled them off and kind of spread them out in the trunk area to hopefully dry off a bit. Underneath, my other two layers were perfectly dry. 🙂 Took off down the road again. This cliff structure went on, and on, and on. It was GORGEOUS! I’ve never seen a landscape quite like it. And SO green! I was super angry at the clouds for concealing my view of the top. Here and there you’d see other waterfalls, tumbling through black rock and green moss. Farmhouses. Sheep. Horses. Just idyllic (except for the pesky weather!). I pulled over so. many. times. There was just something to ooo and ahh at about every 1/4 mile! And luckily, there were a lot of spots to easily pull off the road. I reached my next stop, Skogafoss. Spoiler alert: it’s a waterfall!! 🙂 There was another parking lot, full of people, but you didn’t have to pay. All this water was doing a number on my bladder, so i thought I better stop in. $2 to pee??? Oh HELL NO. I’ll hold it, thank you very much. I ain’t paying to piss! This was a campsite (peeing is included with your camping fee 🙂 ), and there were lots of tents around. I seriously could not think of anything more miserable than sleeping out in the cold and rain in a tent in Iceland… The area was next to a pasture, and cute little baby lambs were jumping around having a fine old time, drizzle or no drizzle! I tried to feed them some grass, I even informed them that the grass from my side of the fence was MUCH tastier, but they declined. Or only spoke Icelandic…. The falls were beautiful, and there was a set of CRAZY stairs going to the top. I talked myself into going behind Seljalandsfoss. I didn’t even start the conversation with myself about those stairs. El nope-o. So many people…hard to get good shots. 🙁
I was super excited for my next stop. Sólheimajökull. Yesterday I fell in love with something. It’s name was Langjökull. Remember what it was? See a pattern in the words? I fell in love with a glacier!! When you see jökull, that means it’s a glacier. Look how much I’ve taught you! Waterfall, bathroom, how to pronouce Vík, and now glacier! Consider yourself lucky- I usually charge big bucks for teaching! 😛 Anyway, they do hikes on to Sólheimajökull, but they were 3 hours long and I really didn’t have the time (and possibly the energy/stamina) for that. But you were supposed to be able to TOUCH it from here! YES!! I pulled into the parking lot and hardly anyone was there. Obviously this isn’t a big stop for people, but I don’t know why not…. I walked up the black lava path and got to the top of the hill in a couple of minutes. And from there, I could see her! Oh. My. Goodness!!!!!!!! Beautiful! Actually, Sólheimajökull is a glacial outlet, a tongue so to speak, off of the much larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier itself is stunning. But it is pushing into a “bay” of sorts. A calving bay. When pieces of a glacier break off, it’s called calving. And huge chunks of it were floating in the cafe au lait colored water. Mesmerizing. I was even more in love! And I wanted to get to the end of the trail and touch it!!! Then, I saw this…
See the kayakers? That shows you how big these calves are!!
Unstable! All love affairs are unstable! But the instability of this one could kill me. 🙁 Seriously, if a chunk of ice broke off and fell on you…DEAD. If you were standing near the water’s edge and the glacier “calved”, that huge piece of ice could create a wave that would sweep you right off your feet…DEAD. Love isn’t worth dying for. So I stood there, taking pictures, and staring at her longingly. Groups below looked like little ants as they trailed up the glacier…I was a jealous lover! I am going to hike a glacier. Not today, and maybe not in Iceland, but it is now a bucket list item I never knew I had…
How huge is this small little outlet of a glacier? See the guy on the right??
I hated to leave this beauty, but there were other things to see! Pulled back out on to the main road for next stop- Dyrhólaey lighthouse. I turned off the main road and followed google maps. It was leading me up a really, really, REALLY steep gravel hill. I was watching a guy in a SUV, probably 4×4, coming down it, and he did not look happy. He was going super slow and had about 5 cars right behind him. Would this little car even make it up that hill? I pulled over and watched for a bit, basically waiting for that line of cars to get off the hill before I went up, because it was pretty darn narrow. One of the cars was no bigger than mine, so I thought I might as well give it a shot. No one was in front of me and no one was coming. I just needed to keep my momentum going and not stop. Up, up, up I went. I was gripping the steering wheel so hard I think I left some flesh behind, and my palms were sweating like crazy. About 3/4 of the way up I realized I didn’t really want to do this afterall, but too damn bad, missy. No way to turn around. I made it up to the parking lot, and all I could think about was coming back down. Well, that and “Why aren’t there any bathrooms up here???” I texted Brian and asked him if it was low gear you put a car in to go down a steep grade- I was pretty sure, but wanted to double check. That’s boy stuff (yes, I have designated boy things and girl things- boy things tend to be anything I don’t care about or don’t want to do! 😜). He wasn’t going to be awake for at least another 30 minutes, so I got out and walked around. The lighthouse was eh, but the views were magnificent! Facing the freezing cold North Atlantic, on my right was a gorgeous black sand beach. Ahead of me was an fabulous rock arch, like a doorway to another realm. And to my left was another gorgeous black sand beach, with formations in the background. From here there was a trail that went down to the left. I seriously considered abandoning the car, hiking down, and hitchhiking back to Reykjavik!! Got back in the car, still no word from Brian. Off I went. So, so, so super slow. At one point, there was a drop of, I don’t know, 100 feet or probably more, right off the side of the cliff. Thank GOD no one was coming up. I would have had a nervous breakdown. I have never been happier to be off a damn road in all my life! Not because it was particularly dangerous, and I’m not trying to discourage you from doing it, but because I’m just not confident enough with my driving skills in such conditions.
Seriously with this road?? Dear Iceland, Guardrails. Love, Mary.
Next stop was where I had read that I might be able to cross off a bucket list item….PUFFINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was a beach called Kirkjufjara. And speaking of buckets, the fact that I didn’t wet myself going down that hill was astonishing. And my luck wasn’t going to hold out much longer. Kirkjufjara was just a few minutes away, and there were BATHROOMS!!! I walked in. That’ll be $2. Gladly!! Happily!! Willingly!! Note to readers: If you have to pee super bad, bring 200kr in coins. If I would have had to wait at the credit card machine for those ladies to figure out what the hell they were doing….well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have needed to pee anymore, and there would be a cleanup on aisle 7… Made peece (not a typo) with my bladder again, and walked down the path, scouring the cliffs for puffins!! Nothing. 🙁 But I did get some decent shots of the cliffs, another rock arch, a sea bird nesting (mega zoom), and from high above, I zoomed in on the white ocean foam lapping at the black sand beach. Why zoom? Because I’m not getting anywhere NEAR that damn water…why?? Read on. It’s important.
A little thing called sneaker waves. I had learned about these before I left, and knew it was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. Seriously, on my “worst effing nightmare” list. THIS video should be required watching in the line at Iceland immigration…
My next stop, Reynisfjara beach, is notorious for these waves. Tourists have died here. See, the ocean is just doin’ its thang…waves crash on to the beach and retreat, generally in the same location. If you’ve been to a beach, you’re familiar. But on occasion, a rogue bit of energy builds up in the ocean. There’s nothing to slow it down between Antarctica and here. It’s silent. It sneaks up on you (hence the name sneaker wave). If you get too close to the water, even if you’re paying attention you could be swept off your feet before you know it and washed out to sea. If you have your back to the ocean, taking a picture, talking, looking at the scenery….you’re being rushed out to sea before you even know what hit you. TERRIFYING!!! The signs said to stay away from the beach- I think it was 30 m (100 feet). They did NOT have to tell me twice!! The tide was pretty low, and I stayed right along the edge of the cliff area. But the people I watched at the water’s edge- some taking their children there- seriously, what IDIOTS. I have zero tolerance for people like that, and if they get washed away it’s a damn shame that an Icelandic rescue team has to put THEIR lives in danger to save an idiot. I’d say buh-bye and good riddance, but I have no tolerance for fools. #darwinawards
Ok, with the warning firmly in place (that I hope you heed because you are a traveler who is respectful of your surroundings and other people and not an idiot tourist), let me show you this stunning black sand beach and its magnificent formations!! There were tons of people here, so almost impossible to get a shot without them.
A gorgeous cave! It’s not deep or anything…more like a carved out sideways bowl.
Hexagonal basalt columns that look like someone made them a thousand years ago and stacked them there to reinforce the mountain or something. So strange!
Another cave a bit further down.
Look at these crazy formations in the cave! So surreal!
The beach had two parts- black sand, and then all of these gray/black perfectly rounded rocks. Zillions of them.
I managed to leave Reynisfjara without incident. Whew!! I give all the credit to Aegir. This was my last stop of the day, but it was still pretty early. I had about a 3 hour drive back to Reykjavik, and I’d be arriving around 5:30. Hmmmmmmm…what to do, what to do. There was nothing left on my list at all. Then, I remembered a post I had read a few weeks ago about turf houses. At the time, I had looked for their location, but the information I had said they didn’t open until June 15 (this was June 5). I thought I remembered that maybe they were along this route. I googled Iceland turf houses south coast and Keldur came up. Found that original post, and yes, they were about 7 miles off the main road on the way back to Reykjavik. Perfect! Because frankly, I wanted to break up that long drive as well… I figured I’d just stop and snap a few pictures, because they look pretty cool…even if I couldn’t go in. I drove into Vík (VEEK, not VICK!) to get gas before I headed back. This was a new station I hadn’t used before. Here, you had to buy a 3000kr ($30) prepaid card, you couldn’t just get less. Car took every bit of it. Vík is a tiny town, not much going on there, really. Headed back in the direction I came to find the Keldur turf houses, snap a couple of pictures, and head back home. Along the way, I saw cars pulled off. My cue to be a conformist! There was this big wooden wall and door in the side of a mountain. I learned that this was Steinahellir Cave- it used to be used to hold sheep, as a parliament meeting place, and it is supposed to be SUPER haunted! In fact, the vast majority of the signage was about all of the creepy ghosts that inhabit this place. Fearless, I walked inside. What was super, super weird is that moss was growing in the cave. In the DARK cave. Very unusual. I used flash to take this picture inside.
Beautiful little church by Reynisfjara beach.
Got to my turn off, and drove on the gravel road. The road dead ended into a T, and Keldur was on the right. I knew from the blog that you were supposed to park in the parking lot by the signs and then walk up to the turf houses. This is a working farm, and you shouldn’t just go driving anywhere you please!! I did, and followed the path next to a bubbling stream. Not bubbling with heat, but with fresh spring water coming up out of the ground! I walked up to the gate and saw this sign…
THEY WERE OPEN!!! I was greeted by a lovely man who asked me if I wanted a tour. I told him that my money was in the car (I wasn’t expecting them to be open), and I’d run and get it. He assured me that after the tour was fine. 🙂 It was me, a little old German lady about 70-75 who I want to be when I grow up, and a young man from Maldova. The German woman was traveling solo, had basically hitchhiked a ride with a museum worker in some other town, had read the Icelandic saga that mentions this place THREE times, and was just a spitfire and full of information! She is my spirit animal….
Ok, I literally can not even believe that this place is not a “must see” on the famous South Coast tour. It is FABULOUS!!! Frankly, looking at scenery is nice, but I have this sick obsession with trying to learn something every day…I don’t learn much from looking at a waterfall. Oh my, did I find the right place!! Look, I’m going to give you the bare bones facts, in hope that it will intrigue you enough to get your butt over to this place, learn something, and support their work in restoring and maintaining this treasure. Of course, if you prefer to play in the waves at Reynisfjara….well, to each his own. 😉 So, if you remember from Day 2, I went into the Settlement Museum in Reykjavik. This is the oldest known settlement in Iceland, dating back to 870ish. Of course, it’s an archaeological excavation site now. The remains are a few walls and such. But Keldur is the oldest known STANDING structure in Iceland. Written records show that this place was inhabited from the late 900s. How do we know? Because the family was so important, they are mentioned in the Saga of Njáll! One of the most powerful clans in Iceland, the Oddi clan, inhabited this place in the 1100s. The current buildings are from at least the 1600s, because the oldest carving found here is the date 1641. Basically, it’s a Viking longhouse, covered with turf for insulation. The walls are stacked lava rocks that have been there for hundreds upon hundreds of years. The frame is timber- which was almost as precious as gold in Iceland (there are no forests). The timber would wash up on the beach from who knows where, and was then utilized to build the home. The old structure consists of a row of turf houses. The main one is the longhouse- living quarters. Inside, there were rooms for cooking, storing food for the long, dark winter, and storing fuel for cooking. Wait- there’s no timber to cut, what little washes up is precious, there’s no coal on the island…what fuel did they use? Cow manure (I, being Hermione, answered that question correctly when it was posed, barely beating the German lady to the punch #youth). And they would collect it to store in the house for the long winter. There was even a crazy cool tunnel dug underground with an entrance in the house and an exit down by the stream. It dates back to the 11th-13th centuries. This was a time of war in Iceland, and was most likely built as an escape route and for defense. AMAZING!!!!!!!!! Next to the long house are a few other turf house structures- a slaughterhouse, a meat processing building, a smithy, and more storage. Toward the back of the area are the ruins of the animal stables, which hopefully they will have funds to restore soon. Get thee to Keldur!!!!!
This is the food storage area inside the longhouse. Can you imagine how much food they had to store not just for themselves (about 30 people would be living here at any given time), but for the livestock as well, to get through the long dark winter? Very, very hard life.
Kitchen- these are original artifacts. Obviously not from the 1200s or anything, but still quite old!
This is a storage room in the longhouse, next to the kitchen. It is BIG. All of that area underneath the cross timbers would be FILLED with manure for fuel to get through the winter. They would store food in the upper part. Mmmmm.
These are the other 4 turf buildings that are in the same row with the longhouse, but separate.
“Cozy” is an understatement about how these people lived. This is part of the “modern” house that was added on to the longhouse. There were two of these rooms directly across from each other. Each of those barely-bigger-than-a-twin-bed beds would sleep 2 people, sometimes with a kid or two as well! And there were 3 or 4 beds in each small room! They would eat here, socialize here, sew here, make the children here, have the children here, raise the children here. Wow. See that “groove” cut out of the side of the bed? That’s because it was a bed and a couch. They had a board to put there when there were sleeping to keep from falling out! Now here’s what’s really cool. Over the years, this place evolved and was added to. A modern farmhouse was built on to the longhouse in the early 1800s. You could walk right from the ancient longhouse into the farmhouse without having to go outside! So cool!
The oldest tombstone from the church graveyard. It was brought in to protect it from the elements. From the 1700s.
I spent about an hour here, and loved every. single. second of it! There are two tour guides on staff during the summer, and they actually live here. The tour was just fantastic, and the guide was so passionate and full of information. This was the best historical thing I’ve done here, hands down, and it was my absolute favorite part of the whole day!! And it’s not even on most people’s south coast itinerary, and it was a complete afterthought even for me!! The tour was over and I had to go get my money to pay. I walked to the gate and faced one of my biggest land dwelling fears….
Um, cows scare me. Unless they are presented to me fresh off of a grill. I walked soooooo tentatively by them, talking softly to the closest one who was giving me the stare down that we should have a mutual understanding of just completely ignoring each other. I made it through the cow gauntlet! The farmers had turned them out here to graze, and fortunately by the time I walked back through, they had moved them elsewhere. Yes, I will travel the world solo, hike through jungles infested with all kinds of who knows what that wants to kill you, eat questionable street food, etc…. but cows… <shudder>. I walked back and gave the guy 1500kr cash. He went to give me change and I told him to keep it. The tour was well worth it. He seemed so shocked and pleased! Seriously, I paid double that for the dumb whale thing in Reykjavik where I spent 1/3 of the time and learned zilch. And my battle cry to all Icelandic tourists now is “GET THEE TO KELDUR!!!!!”. You’re going that way anyway, because it’s pretty close to Seljalandsfoss (not too far after it if you’re heading back to Reykjavik). Just take the 264- you’ll be glad you did. 🙂
I drove back to Reyjakvik and arrived 11 hours after I left. What a fantastic day!! You know, it’s those little unexpected things while traveling that really make a “trip” an “experience”…
Not much happened on days 11-14, so I figured I’d just string them all together in one post…
So….the most exciting thing about Day 11 was returning the rental car. The guy at Blue Car was soooooo nice and friendly!! Most Icelanders in the “customer service” position have been efficient, but I wouldn’t call them overly friendly. They just do their job without all the chit-chat. This guy was super chatty! It was nice….especially when your primary sources of conversation for the past several days have been yourself and a cat. Want to know the sweetest words ever spoken?? “You don’t have any speeding tickets.”, after the nice man looked at his computer. Why, of course I don’t!! I would….never….speed….in Iceland!! 😪 Seriously though, you have to be careful. The roads are narrow, there are a lot of tourists who can barely drive in their own country trying to drive in a new one while staring at scenery and pulling over constantly to take pictures ( 🖐 ). There are speed cameras strategically located, and tickets can be—get ready for this—-80,000kr!! That is like $800 for speeding!!! YEEEE-OUCH!!!!!! What’s the fine for lying?? 😉
Walked back toward the house, stopped at my little Dr. Pepper store (true to form, it’s a weekday, and they were back to 299kr), bought two, came to the house, and worked ALL day. My summer semester started yesterday, so I had to deal with that, finalize grading for the spring semester, and about a zillion other things that have to be done before I leave for Scotland on Sunday. Plus, blog for day 9.
For Day 12, I had to make some decisions. Last few days in Reykjavik…could I work every one of those days right up until my flight leaves? Yep. But I wanted to put at least one more adventure on the schedule! All work and no play makes Mary…(richer, but pale and tired!). I had a list of things on my spreadsheet that I hadn’t done yet, and started whittling them down to figure out which one I REALLY wanted to do.
I pretty quickly nixed the Saga Museum- it seems kind of cheesy and more for kids. Crossed off Aurora Reykjavik and Volcano House as well- too much money to pay for just some movie. All 3 of those things just seem a little overpriced and too tourist-impulse-buy for me. The chocolate factory could be interesting, but I’ll be in Switzerland later this summer. Those people are the chocolate gods! I’ve heard good things about the Arbaer Open Air Museum, and if it was within walking distance, I’d go. But I’m not interesting in navigating buses to get there. That left the National Museum and Culture House- things I felt I could actually learn something from, plus you get to go into both for $20 and on Saturdays there’s a guided tour at 11. Perfecto! So that would be my Saturday- Day 14. The last day.
And seriously, figuring out that, working my butt off, and blogging Day 10 were all I did on day 12. See? It’s not adventures every day around here!
Day 13. I’m in serious need of real food. Like no joke. 12 days straight of PB & J and ramen. Ugh. Yesterday, I posted on the Iceland facebook groups asking for restaurant recommendations. If I’m going to spend the money, it better be GOOD! I got a ton of suggestions and started going through them one by one, looking at websites and menus. One very disconcerting thing I saw on a lot of menus was whale meat. Yes, whale meat. I’m not going to pretend I’m not a carnivore through and through. I am. I have no issues eating meat, and I have no issues eating exotic meat. I’ve eaten agouti in Belize, and springbok, kudu, warthog, ostrich and crocodile in South Africa. In fact, I have no qualms about trying exotic meats and will seek it out. That said, I have serious issues with whale meat. This isn’t some traditional Icelandic fare that is a cultural thing in Iceland. Because I’ll be honest, I have no problem with Native Americans taking a whale or two a year because that IS their culture. But I have a SERIOUS problem with it when a country is going against all common sense and science to exploit an ENDANGERED (yes, ENDANGERED) animal- and using loopholes in international restrictions to do it. Iceland hunts two species of whales- Fin (the 2nd largest whale after the blue whale) and Minke. Fin whales are on the endangered list. Minkes are not. But knowing their slow reproductive rates, slow maturity rates, low fecundity rates, and long gestation periods (#marinebiologydegree), there is no way the species can keep up with high tech whaling operations, and it’s just a matter of time before populations decline. Iceland basically is a party to the International Whaling Commission, which banned the commercial hunting of whales in 1986. But they defy the ban, along with Norway and Japan. Why? Not to feed their own people, who don’t really even eat the stuff, but to ship the meat to Japan and to feed selfish, idiotic tourists (yes, if you eat whale meat I’m calling you a selfish idiot. #truth). Disgusting. And there was no way in hell I was going to spend a penny at any restaurant that would serve it. The other meat I saw often was horse. Horse is a different matter. I can not sit here and say “I eat cow, pig, chicken, and lamb, but no one should eat horse.” It’s a farm animal. Just because it’s cute and we have an emotional attachment really doesn’t change anything logically. For me, horse meat on the menu wouldn’t prevent me from eating at a restaurant, but I wouldn’t order it. It’s just a personal thing, admittedly emotional and not rational. If an Icelander invited me to their home for dinner (they do eat horse) and served horse, I’d eat it. But I wouldn’t purposely seek it out.
Ok, so all of that said, the whale meat thing DRASTICALLY narrowed down my dining options. You wouldn’t believe how many restaurants serve it. And I wouldn’t step foot into one of those places. I finally decided on Icelandic Street Food. Tiny menu of lamb soup, shellfish soup, or something called fisherman’s favorite. The prices are reasonable, they offer REFILLS on soup (free food refills? amazing!), have free desserts, and had fantastic reviews. I had finally made my decision! Seriously, the amount of research I put into food rivals almost everything else I do when traveling. I HATE to eat out, I’m not a huge foodie, and consider it to be a big waste of money. #experiencesnotthings #experiencesnotfood Plus, eating alone is in my top 4 things that I hate, hate, hate. It literally takes hours (days) of mentally building myself up to do it. With all of those issues, I have to make sure I am totally happy about the experience! 🙂
I woke up and didn’t eat breakfast at all. I wanted to be good and hungry for my free refill at 11:30! I literally was counting down the hours. Left the house at 11:10, because I wanted to go to the bank first and change all of my krona for pounds so I would a) have some bus money when I arrive in Scotland Sunday and b) wouldn’t have a pile of worthless money to take home. I did save one each of the cool fish coins! 🙂 Got to the bank, changed my cash, and happily walked to Icelandic Street Food. Went in the door, started looking at the menu. The cashier walked by me with a handwritten sign that said “Cash Only Sorry” and taped it to the door. I turned around and said, “No credit cards?”. He said no. FUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKK! I had just changed all my damn krona to pounds! Fucking fine, whatever, I hate to eat out anyway. I stopped at my little store, bought 3 Diet Dr. Peppers, perused the candy aisle and found two weird chocolate bars that I had never seen before in my life, and checked out for $13. Came home, put my last frozen pizza in the oven, and found out that Anthony Bourdain had killed himself. Gutted. That guy was such an inspiration. A true traveler in every sense of the world (not a typo). Sigh. The rest of the day was spent working, getting things in order to leave, and blogging Day 10.
Day 14. The final day. The goal was to wash blankets, clean the house, go to the National Museum at 11 for the guided tour, pack, and work. After realizing just how much work I needed to do, something had to go. And what went was the National Museum. 🙁 Honestly, I’m not terribly disappointed. I feel like I’ve done enough to get a good feel for Iceland, and I am going to be traveling like a crazy woman every day for the next 6 days. It just made sense to wrap up things here, make sure I was caught up with work, and get to bed early for my 5:15am alarm so I could be at the bus stop by 6. I ate the very last of my groceries- a mish mash made up recipe of the last of my pasta, frozen veggies, tuna, pasta sauce, and garlic bread. Not Anthony Bourdain worthy, but it’s sustenance.
Now, it’s Day 15 of traveling, and I’m sitting in the Keflavik airport (about to hit send on this post), waiting to head to Scotland for 2 weeks of adventures in a brand new (to me) country. Iceland, you have been AMAZING. I never would have been here if I hadn’t clicked “refresh” on my Trusted Housesitters screen at exactly the right second and found this housesit. Oh, the adventures I’ve had! I’ll never forget them (primarily because I write them all down! 😜 #agingisabitch). This is one of those places I’d definitely come back to with Brian. I’ve only explored a tiny piece of this island. There’s a lot more adventures to be had here.
There will be one more post on Iceland- that will be a post that is not a journal, but more of a details and tips guide. My budget, things I’ve learned to help others plan their trip, things to do, things not to do, etc…. It will be a couple of days before that’s up. If you want to see it, make sure you join my mailing list right above my picture at the top of the right sidebar. I’ll send an email out when it’s done, and a link to all of my maps as well that show exactly where I went and cool places that I’ve researched but didn’t make it to….yet.