Monthly Archives: September 2016

South Iceland

I’m covering our last week in Iceland all at once because there was little time to sort photos. The amazing sights and activities kept us on the go, plus the Northern lights shortened our sleep. Enjoy the pics; I definitely enjoyed taking them.

8/30/16 – Skaftafell

 Towards the end of our drive from Seydisfjordur (covered in East Iceland post), we stopped at Jokulsarion, a glacial lagoon. By then it was cold and raining (winter gear would have been perfect), so we didn’t stay long. See 9/1 for an amazing return visit. We checked into Hótel Skaftafell, our nicest, and most expensive lodging, and had dinner at their restaurant.

 8/31/16 – Hike before rain and a nice Sunset

The surprise breakfast item of the day was curried eggs. We looked for this yummy item the next two mornings, but it did not reappear. The Skaftafell region of Vatnajökull National Park was only a few minutes away so we headed over for a hike under gray skies and drizzle. We took the S1 trail to Skaftafellsjökull, the giant tongue of a glacier and enjoyed walking along the lagoon with floating icebergs.

We timed it just right; a downpour started just after we returned to visitor center and it rained all afternoon. I used the time to download, keyword, and sort photos, a time consuming task. We went up to the bar at happy hour and enjoyed a half-priced glass of wine, and then ate a backpacker meal in our room (saving a few dollars in this expensive country).

We were thrilled to see the sun come out early in the evening and went for a stroll on a nearby path where we watched a beautiful sunset.

9/1/16 – Wow! Glaciers, Waterfalls, Icebergs and Northern Lights

The weather gods graced us today. In the morning, we took a four-hour hike in Skaftafell, with glacier views, waterfalls, and a visit to Sel, a restored traditional turf-roofed farmhouse.

We had the second half of our lunch in our hotel room, then Ingrid and I returned to Jokulsarion Lagoon, 40 minutes away. We spent hours admiring the incredible blue icebergs, whose shapes included tyrannosaurus, a dolphin, and a crashed star ship Enterprise. I made the classic mistake of looking at the view while walking and tripped on a rock, bruising my knee and both hands. My lens has a scar from where it hit the ground, but miraculously both my camera and I are still functioning.

On our way back to our room, we stopped at the N1 and had dinner at the gas station, a hamburger and red wine for me.

Though tired, we put in a wake-up call in case the Northern Lights came out. We were sound asleep when the phone rang an hour later and I knocked over several items trying to answer it in the dark. I was immediately energized when we got outside; green lights were visible in all directions.

9/2/16 – Another Driving Day

We made our way slowly from Skaftafell to Hrauneyjar (in the middle of nowhere), stopping at many interesting sights along the way, including a sheer-walled narrow canyon filled with fascinating rocks, a moss-covered lava field, several waterfalls, and Vik, the small town serves as a hub for southern Iceland; the gas station market was mobbed with tourists.

Following the advice of the Highland Center, where we stayed, we took road #26 from Hella. The sealed road ended and we slowly drove for many kilometers on a gravel road. In hindsight, a longer paved route is available, which I would recommend instead.

9/3/16 – Multicolored Mountains

I’ve never seen so many types of breads and crackers offered at a buffet breakfast and at this point never want to see bread again. I was excited by another one-day variation in the menu: cubes of feta.

Once again, we were blessed with perfect weather. We took an hour-long bus ride over a rough F-road, complete with river crossing, to Landmannalaugar. We took a loop hike through an obsidian-filled lava field, along a meadow at the base of colorful folded mountains, up a very steep trail to Brennisteinsalda, then back down to another section of lava. Listed as 2-3 hours, this hike took us just over four with a couple detours, lunch, and stops for photos. The last hour was a rush down from the peak to make the 15:30 bus back to our hotel. (Thank you Ingrid for sprinting the last few minutes and convincing the driver to wait while we ran to use the WC). We didn’t want to wait for the next bus at 20:00, so we skipped the thermal springs.

9/4/16 – Flat Tyre  

Today was a reminder that flexibility is essential for travel, and life in general, because inevitably not everything will go according to plan.

Shortly after we departed the Highland Center, I pulled over onto a gravel patch to get out my sunglasses and didn’t notice the black lava rocks along the edge causing a flat tire. We spent three and a half hours on the side of the road. Amy led our unsuccessful attempt to put on the spare temporary tire while I made numerous phone calls to figure out our options. In the end we paid $300 for road service (later reimbursed by the insurance we purchased before departure). After this experience, I can’t recommend Thrifty. The lug nuts were over tightened and rusted in place, the lug wrench was bent, and the service repairman told us that the thread was low and all four tires should be replaced. Fortunately, it was mostly sunny, we were stuck on a safe stretch of road, and had no specific plans for the day. Axel and his wife were terrific; we followed them for miles to confirm that the patch was holding.

We stopped in Selfoss for an awful late lunch and brief grocery store stop where I found some dark chocolate (a rarity in this land of milk chocolate lovers). It was late afternoon by the time we reached Grindavik, a location selected for it’s proximity to the airport and the Blue Lagoon. After unpacking at the modern Mar Guesthouse, in an industrial part of town near a harbor smelling of fish, Amy, Ginny, and I drove over to the lagoon only to find that it was totally sold out. Our pre-trip research warned us to avoid mid-day crowds, but I don’t recall needing advance tickets. Instead of soaking in a hot pool near a geothermal power plant, we joined Ingrid at Bruin, a friendly bar/cafe across the street from our hotel.

I know I’m traveling with the right group of women when everything goes wrong and no one gets upset.

9/5/15 – Home Again

 We headed out early to drop Ingrid at the airport, then returned to our hotel for breakfast. There was an even smaller selection than unusual with the unexpected addition of carrot sticks. We then took walks to stretch our legs before our flight. I wandered around exploring the area around the harbor, and walked out to the orange lighthouse, passing many shipwrecks along the way.

We gladly surrendered our rental car. We put 2000 km (1200 miles) on it and were glad three of us shared the driving. At the airport, I had one of my favorite meals in Iceland, a chicken sandwich on thin bread with tasty extras, like avocado and pesto, and a fresh juice combo, all for a reasonable price at Joe & the Juice. Yum. I’m glad we ate that downstairs before heading through security to the mob scene upstairs, where I purchased chocolate at the Duty Free shop (here’s where they’ve been hiding dark chocolate!) and food for the plane before heading into the long line for passport control, and yet another pathway through a duty free shop. For a country with plenty of water, they are stingy with it at the airport. The only way to fill a water bottle is to plead with a café employee and see if they’ll fill it at the sink. (The bathroom water is warm). Someone obviously cares more about making money than protecting the environment from a flood of plastic bottles.

Our flight was delayed about an hour, but was otherwise uneventful. At home, I was greeted by a prancing dog, two curious cats (sniffing my luggage), and warmer weather. In Iceland, daytime temperatures reported on our car display ranged from 4-14 oC (39-57 o F). My first day back it was in the 70’s. I also noticed a huge drop in air quality and visibility, probably from the fires still burning in California, and the water isn’t as tasty or cold.

Travel Insurance warning: though baggage and personal effects are covered, buried in a 30-page description of coverage is an exclusion for eyeglasses. Apparently this unfair practice is common in the industry.

East Iceland

We all loved the eastern fjords and wonderful hikes we had in Seydisfjordur.

8/28/16 – Seydisfjordur

 On our drive to one of the easternmost towns in Iceland, we expanded on our list of descriptors for the landscape: vast, stark, barren, patches of brilliant green surrounded by black and hints of yellow, sprinkled with cairns. The temperature dropped to 4oC (39oF). It rained along the way and the fog was thick, obscuring the view, as we descended down into town.

The skies remained grey, but the rain subsided shortly after arrival, so we took a lovely hike to a couple of the numerous waterfalls surrounding this small port town. We enjoyed a beer at the bistro and then checked into Hótel Snæfell, an old building with a difficult to open entry door. Ingrid and I shared the smallest hotel room I’ve ever been in, fortunately on the third floor so we couldn’t hear anyone above us. We had to step out of each other’s way to navigate the small space between our twin beds.

We returned to the bistro for dinner; I split a small pizza and veggie lasagna with Ingrid. We were excited by the small salad that was included; fresh vegetables seem to be rare here. We’ve learned to ask what vegetables are included when indicated on a menu; they might be something as simple as onions in the sauce.

8/29/16 – Waterfall Lane

This breakfast included a welcome surprise from the usual: hummus and an olive tapenade. It was cloudy, but not raining, so we split up and wandered around town for a while before hiking up to Tvisongur, a sound installation on the hillside above town. The five chambers echoed nicely. It was dry enough to eat outdoors at a picnic table. The two vegetarians, Ingrid and Ginny, ordered take-out veggie burgers, while Amy and I munched on items gathered from breakfast and the grocery store.

Slowly the sun came out and in the afternoon we were blessed with beautiful weather for our hike up waterfall lane, obviously named after the countless waterfalls encountered along the way. The only downside was the loss of my prescription glasses. I switched to sunglasses mid-hike and the case must have fallen out of my pack afterwards. Fortunately I had a spare pair in my suitcase and purchased trip insurance.

We hiked directly to the bar and I had another good Porter. After a quick shower, we walked over to dinner, at Hótel Aldan, one of only three places serving food. The cod fish was good, though expensive and a bit bland (a common occurrence in Iceland).

8/30/16 – Lots of Driving

We departed Seydisfjordur under cloudy skies with only slightly more visibility than when we arrived. It was a long day on the road with several stops to stretch our legs and take pics of sheep and other sights. We stopped at a Vinbudin in Djupivogur where we each bought a bottle of wine for less than we’ve been paying for a glass. These stores are the only place to buy alcohol, besides restaurants, and they often have short hours, e.g. 16:00-18:00. The highlight of our day, or should I say the hot spot of our day, was the hot tubs in Hoffel, where we soaked a bit before continuing on to Skaftafell.