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Adventures in Iceland

Waterfalls everywhere!

overcast 50 °F

“The Icelanders are the most intelligent race on earth, because they discovered America and never told anyone.”
― Oscar Wilde

On a very hot and humid Houston September day we boarded up for the hopefully chilly and lovely far north. The land of waterfalls, volcanoes, and of course, Game of Thrones. We made a pit stop in Newark and caught a 5-1/2 hour flight from Newark to Reykjavik. A much shorter journey than I had imagined it would be until I looked at a map:

Wow! Iceland is small and really close to Greenland and Norway. In fact, you can traverse the outer ring of the entire country in about 12-14 hours (in summer).

We landed at 6:30 am on a nice 50 degree day in Reykjavik and proceeded to make our way through customs to pick up our rental car.

We thought we could make do with a little Yaris rental car, but luckily they were all rented, so Hertz gave us an upgrade to the lovely Skoda. There are quite a few warnings at the rental desk about not driving your rental down gravel roads and highlands, etc. We took our chances and headed out. Gas is about $2.50 US per liter, so every fill up makes you appreciate Houston gas prices.

One of the most popular destinations in all of Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. Iceland has a lot of geothermic activity and most of the electricity is provided by geothermal energy. There is a hotel and restaurant by the Blue Lagoon, and you can even take a dip in the Lagoon if you like (reservations very important). The Blue Lagoon is manmade and the water flows from a geothermal power plant a half mile away.

We wandered around outside the entrance to the Blue Lagoon and took a little hike down a path. It was quite an experience, and felt like we were on a different planet.

Then we went inside and checked out the actual Blue Lagoon. Nice!

After having our first serving of eye candy, we headed downtown (the airport is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik) to have a look around.

Our first stop was the Harpan Concert Hall, designed by Olafur Eliasson and Henning Larsen Architects. The hall is open for tourists to poke around and enjoy the stunning design:

From Harpan, we went to find the famous mammoth concrete Lutheran church Hallgrimskirkja, which was completed in 1986:

There is a large statue out front of Leif Ericsson, father of Iceland and apparently the discoverer of Greenland.

Right across the street from the church is a nice little cafe with lots of traditional fare. We headed over to find out about mashed fish and other Icelandic delicacies:

On Jeff's sampler plate was rye ice cream (odd but slightly like cookies and cream ice cream), herring on toast and mashed fish. Herring is a big export from Iceland, well after aluminum. My plate had tasty fish with carmelized onions, little potatoes and salad. We really should have been bold and daring and tried the fermented shark, but we thought we would have plenty of chances (we never saw it on a menu again).

The guide book warns you that Iceland is not cheap, and that's a true story. We got some Icelandic cash at the airport ATM and I was impressed with the festiveness of the Icelandic dollars. The exchange rate was about $.0078 US dollar to $1 Icelandic Krona. So we eventually just took off two zeros and discounted 20% for quick conversion. (So $1000 Krona was about $8 US).

To keep a reasonable budget, many people rent these camper vans to tour Iceland. We saw dozens of them during our stay, with a lot of different designs. We saw one camper park for overnighting during our stay, but there has to be many more hidden away, based on the number of people traveling like this.

After lunch we took a stroll down one of the main shopping streets in the city, Laugavegur. Reykjavik architecture is minimalist for the most part, but they really dress up the buildings with paint and murals:

We had read about a Big Lebowski bar on Laugavegur, and being fans of the Dude, went to check it out. It was only about noon, so we drank our White Russians and enjoyed the bowling balls, bowling lane and rugs on the wall in relative quiet and chillness, as befitting the Dude. We did not see any nihilists (that we know of) or Bunny.

Laugavegur has a lot of interesting shops to peruse, with art like this:

After all the activity, we headed to the Grand Hotel Reykjavik to catch a bit of shut eye/nap. All of the hotels we slept at in Iceland had this lovely set up with two single comforters on the bed. Two thumbs up!

After a few solid hours of shut eye, we ventured back out to find dinner. We found Hi Noodle, purveyors of decent tonkotsu and exceptional Dan Dan Noodles. Yum. We went back to get those noodles again on our way out of town, they were that good!

The next day we headed for the beautiful countryside and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Snaefellsjokull National Park. The views from Reykjavik to the National Park are gorgeous and breathtaking:

We found our lodgings for the evening, Hotel Budir, checked in and set out to discover the Peninsula. Our first stop was Djupalonssandur, the Black Lava Pearl Beach. We walked down to visit the surf and passed this fun feats of strength game:

Jeff could pick up about 120 pounds and I* picked up a stray stone that may not have been in the game (*recent back injury).

We rolled on to a nearby volcano that allows walking around the top. I was excited, expecting to see hot, molten lava bubbling away. Turned out to be an extinct volcano, but we did get the chance to walk up the equivalent of 19 flights of stairs to see the top.

There are a lot of interesting towns along the Peninsula, not the least of which is Hellissandur, which has its own amazing mural park:

Along the road, we saw this beautiful waterfall:

We wrapped up our day with a visit to Budakirkja, which happened to be right by our hotel. This church is one of the most photographed in Iceland, with many capturing the elusive (for us) Northern Lights with the church.

This fellow was just walking along the road to our hotel with his family. Sheep are ubiquitous in Iceland, but often are fenced in.

We ate dinner at the hotel that night. There are not a lot of stand alone restaurants on the Peninsula. Most of the hotels have a small restaurant that has four or five options for main entrees, usually one fish (arctic char = very popular), one steak, one vegetarian (cauliflower masterpieces) and other random items. We did not see any chicken or pasta on any menu - very interesting and explains why the Icelandars are in good shape!

The next day we set out for Borgarnes. We stopped off at the supermarket to see what we could find. There were many large legs of lamb in the freezer case, but they are not appetizing to look at, so no picture. You're welcome. We did see lots of delicious Skyr and other fun things like "enrobed" Oreos and other things we could not identify at all:

We also popped into a yarn shop to view their wares (which I am told by my yarn aficionado sister Deanna is expensive at $40 US a roll). You can find the classic Icelandic wool sweaters at most tourist destinations, ranging in price from $125 to $250 US. Living in Houston, I could only wear such a sweater once a year, in the middle of January, so, though tempted, I had to pass. I did get a fun hat to shield myself from the rather biting cold rain we would encounter over the next few days.

Next we went in search of the Gerduberg Basalt Columns, and they were impressive:

After the columns, we went to visit the Krauma geothermal hot springs. Very cool! There was a large pool for those wanting to take in the benefits of the water, but we were already freezing, so we passed.

We read about a goat farm that was open for visitors in the Fodor's guide book so decided to find it. While the main roads in Iceland all look freshly paved, there are many side roads that are a mix of gravel and pavement. After all the warnings at the car rental place, I was a bit nervous to go off-roading, but Jeff squashed my concerns and carried on the less smooth, less traveled road and we found the goat farm. The proprietress was a lovely Iceland native who raises lots of goats, a few sheep and makes all sorts of products with the goat milk, like soaps, lotions, feta cheese and also makes sausage from the goats who are no longer with us. She told us she has to put about twenty male goats a year down because they love to fight and will fight until they kill each other.

We bought some of her lovely cheese in olive oil, and goat sausage. We found out later that the US does not like (1) people visiting farms and traipsing around in the dirt or (2) people who try and bring back meat or food from another county. On our way through customs we had to take a brief foray to see the US Agriculture people in customs, who double x-rayed our luggage to make sure we were not carting in a bunch of other contraband and required us to give up the goat sausage. We never even got to eat it! We had to go through security again in Newark and TSA was highly suspect of Jeff carrying the remaining cheese in his carry on. Word to the wise - truthfully fill out the customs form at your own peril!

The goat farm was loads of fun. We got to frolic with the goats and eat goat ice cream and even manhandle the goats! Several of the goats that live at the farm starred in an episode of Game of Thrones (the one where the dragon picks up an unsuspecting goat in his fire-breathing mouth) - so they are kind of a big deal.

The cheese, which we may never eat and instead just keep to admire as a trophy of perseverance. I never even got a photo of the goat sausage!

After all the fresh air and goat fun, we carried on to our hotel for the night, the Icelandair Hamas. We were happy to get an upgrade to a little suite with a view of the golf course, where it appeared some type of tournament was going on. Jeff had a view of the hot tub from the dining room and noted there were many pale-skinned, shirtless people enjoying the hot tub. Two thumbs up for the Icelandair Hamas!

The next day we were all set to drive the "Golden Circle", one of the most famous areas in Iceland. Unfortunately, the day dawned blustery, cold
and rainy and someone (ok me) did not pack appropriately for the elements. Luckily, Jeff packed an excessive number of coats and jackets, so I was able to bundle up with several layers.

The first stop was Pingvellir, the only place in the world where you can see the convergence of two tectonic plates (Europe and Iceland) above water. We checked it out from the car for the most part, as it was pouring rain. Still cool though.

The next stop on the Golden Circle was the Geysir. There are lots of geysers, one which shoots an impressive bit of water every five minutes.

We stopped in to the large gift shop and were somewhat surprised to see an entire table of reindeer skins for sale. Rudolph! Comet! How could they? There were many other skins for sale, including fox.
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The next stop was the largest waterfall in Europe, Gullfoss. (Not a great picture - more rain!)

Here's a professional photo:

For our next stop, we searched out the Secret Lagoon and admired the hot springs and all the bathers braving the chilly weather to take a dip. It's a social scene in the hot pools, at the Secret Lagoon, there were groups of people spending the day with cocktails in their hands. It looked good, except for the cold.

I was happy to see some elf houses at the Secret Lagoon!

Last stop of the day was the Hraunfossar waterfall. Stunning and well worth the trip.

That night we stayed at the Stracta Hotel. We enjoyed a few beverages and dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had lobster soup, which was delicious, and fish au gratin, also very good. Jeff had salad and steak. There are a lot of cows in the countryside of Iceland, and they do not allow any hormones, etc so the beef all tastes grass-fed.

The next day we headed across the street to a lovely little restaurant. The young lady behind the counter said "today we have fish and chips" and so that's what we had:

This sign made me glad we were there on a Monday, when they were serving fish.

The weather was chilly but only intermittent rain, so we headed to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can actually walk behind. We saw a lot of sheep, including one that was trying to follow his friends up a river bank to higher grasslands. He was having a lot of trouble hopping out of the river, and there was a crowd of people watching his plight, which I'm sure was not helping. He backed up to the field and his sheep friends baaaa baaa baaaad at him until he made another attempt. It was epic and really fun to watch. Oh and the waterfall wasn't bad either!

After the waterfall we thought we would see about the ferry to Vestmanneyja, a series of small islands where puffins live during the summer. Unfortunately, the ferry only ran at 7:45am and 8pm, so we missed the boat, literally. We got to check out the ferry landing, which was beautiful.

Next stop was the site of the volcanic eruption that disrupted European air travel for ten days in 2010.

We read there was an abandoned hot spring pool at Seljavallalaug that you could take a hike to, so we set off to find it. There was a bit of water to get across (and wet feet), but the views were spectacular. When we finally made it to the pool, it was very abandoned and quite cold due to rainwater runoff. Fun anyway.

Thinking you can't see enough Icelandic waterfalls, we headed to another one, this one at Skogafoss.

Next stop on our way to our hotel in Vik was Dyrholaey, the southernmost point in Iceland.

We rolled into Vik and ate dinner at Sudurvik restaurant. Jeff got a pizza and I got a hamburger. It was my birthday so we splurged and had some delicious pie a la mode for dessert. Tasty!

Breakfast at the Hotel Vik was a pretty good representation of what is served at most of the hotels on the breakfast buffet. I never knew I wanted to eat beans with eggs, but I do!

We headed out to find Reynisfjara, Iceland's most dangerous beach. The tide comes in strong and powerfully on to the black lava beach, which has caught a few people unaware and pulled them out to sea. The beach has a remarkable cove with basalt columns that look other worldly.

Down the road, we saw signs for a glacier, Solheimajokull, so we decided to take a walk. There is about a half mile path that takes you to a viewing platform. We saw a few other people walking further down by the glacier, so we threw caution to the wind and trekked down. Pretty amazing to see a glacier up close. The glaciers in Iceland are melting fairly rapidly, and are expected to disappear within 100-200 years.

It was our last day in Iceland, so we headed back to the city for our flight out the next day. Along the path, we saw these racks of drying fish. There was a giant truck pulling out loaded up with fish heads, so there is definitely a lot of demand. The interwebs told me these fish heads are a delicacy in Africa, so that solves that mystery!

When we got back to the city, we headed to the Perlan, a museum all about Iceland. They had some terrific exhibits about glaciers and volcanoes and a recreation of an ice cave, which was -10 to -20 degrees and mighty chilly. Forget what I said about being cold before then! This was a great museum with an outdoor viewing platform and a Northern Lights show in the planetarium.

Sadly, the next day we headed to the airport and flew back to sunny, balmy Texas. We had a great trip. The natural beauty of Iceland is truly exceptional and a sight to see!!!

Posted by Fun Susie 23:27 Archived in Iceland Tagged volcano waterfall iceland geysir

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Absolutely stunning scenery! So glad you guys had the chance to see it. Looks lovely and very memorable. They serve eggs and beans together for breakfast in Australia too - surprisingly yummy.

by Denise

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