Wednesday, August 24: We arrive back in Reykjavik at 3:00. After our amazing circular 11-day trip around Iceland, we’re back to the beginning. When we first arrived, we had gray and dreary weather; today we’re blessed with impossibly blue skies and crisp but comfortable weather. What a perfect way to end our trip.
We missed Jón Gunnar Árnason’s TheSun Voyager when we were here before, so this is our first stop. The work is constructed of quality stainless steel and stands on a circle of granite slabs surrounded by so-called “town-hall concrete.” It sits along Sæbraut Road, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.
It is commonly thought that TheSun Voyager represents a Viking ship, sitting ashore as it does in the land of the sagas, but this was not the artist’s original intention. It was essentially seen as being a dreamboat, an ode to the sun symbolizing light, hope, progress and freedom (Wikipedia: The Sun Voyager).
Jón Gunnar Árnason was ill with leukemia at the time that the full-scale Sun Voyager came to be constructed, and he died in April 1989, a year before it was placed in its present location.
We do enjoy the sculpture, but there are so many tourists posing in every manner possible – climbing on the sculpture, hanging up side down on it – that I can’t get one decent photo without people.
We then drive directly to the OK Hotel/K Bar to check in to our apartment. It’s right in the center of busy Reykjavik along Laugarvegur, and, oddly, has an automated check-in system. A doorphone to the left of the front door is connected to a remote reception. They buzz me in through the K-Bar restaurant, closed and undergoing renovation (without a person in sight), and then check me in from a phone in the lobby.
Inside OK Hotel
Suitcase display at OK Hotel
Bar at OK Hotel
Our room is fancifully decorated in what looks like old American encyclopedia pages. An angel is drawn overlooking the beds with the words: “Does an angel contemplate my faith?” written among the folds of her robes.
You can see some close-ups of the encyclopedia pages by clicking on any of the images below.
our room at OK Hotel
Biological Clock – encyclopedic wallpaper
trains in America
Mike finds a parking spot, surprisingly, right outside the door of K-Bar. We have to pay for parking until 6:00 and it’s free after that. It seems too good to be true. Because of this unlikely good luck, I worry all night that we’ll wake in the morning to find our car towed. Of course, all my worries are for nothing.
After dropping our stuff in our apartment, we go out for a walk. Immediately we come across a Bonus market, where we buy some breakfast food and some snacks for our flight home tomorrow morning. After returning to our room and depositing our food in the refrigerator, we sit on our balcony and enjoy the rooftop views and a glass of wine.
After our wine, we head out again for a walk. I’m excited to find a shop full of puffins. This is my one and only close-up view of puffins in Iceland!
We’ve already seen many of the sights in Reykjavik, and as it’s late in the day anyway, we simply enjoy walking up and down the shopping street, Laugarvegur.
We want to take home some Icelandic music, and luckily we happen upon the perfect music store, where we can sit in comfortable chairs and listen to various CDs. The owner recommends a couple of CDs, which we buy to take home.
Reykjavik is such a quirky town with great street art, decorative and artsy shops, and cute houses. I’m charmed by all of it.
I love this admonishment to forget the Wi-fi and to actually “Talk to each other and get drunk!”
After our walk, we stop at Salka Valka fish & more, where we enjoy a great yet simple meal accompanied by beer. We have a long chat with four young Scandinavian ladies, who have done some major treks, glacier hikes and camping. They are treating themselves to a restaurant meal tonight.
I have really loved our Icelandic fish dishes on this trip. This one is Traditional Plokkfiskur: “Our signature dish, oven-baked plokkfiskur (haddock and cod mixed with potatoes, onions, spices and herbs in a casserole like fashion) topped with béarnaise sauce and served with root vegetables, Icelandic sweet bread, butter, Basmati rice and our in-house red sauce.”
After dinner and drinking a beer, we go out to walk some more, but of course, after a beer, I shortly need to find a bathroom. As finding a bathroom anywhere in Iceland is like finding Waldo, we walk around in vain with the situation getting increasingly desperate. Finally, we find a pub where the only available restroom is a men’s room. Mike checks it out to make sure it’s empty and then guards the door while I find some relief!
Back at our hotel, we enjoy another glass of wine on our balcony and then pack up all our stuff. We have an 10:30 a.m. flight tomorrow.
Total steps today: 15,986, or 6.77 miles.
Thursday, August 25: We get up at 6:15, eat breakfast, shower and drive our rental car back to Budget at the airport. Luckily, there are no extra charges on our rental car. We’re relieved as we were never clear as to whether our rental included insurance! Our flight back is uneventful, with less turbulence that we’ve encountered on many flights, arriving back in Washington at 12:30 p.m.
All told, we drove 2,700km around Iceland’s Ring Road, with many detours along the way. 🙂
I loved Iceland! I would love to go back again on the Icelandair Stopover because there was still so much we missed that I’d love to see!
Friday, August 19: Following our hike along the river Fjarðará, we take a drive on a gravel road on the north side of Seyðisfjörður. We have been told by Tourist Information that if we drive all the way to the end of the dirt road, we can park the car and walk about an hour to a lighthouse at the end of the fjord. We drive and drive, making a couple of stops along the way for pictures of the fjord.
The drive is pastoral and lovely, with red-roofed farms set in a landscape dotted with plastic-wrapped bales of hay.
Toward the end of the road, it appears we are crossing a gate into someone’s private farm but the road still continues on. Since we haven’t reached the end, where we were told to go, we drive on, finding sheep and horses grazing among farm equipment and a junkyard of sorts.
This vehicle graveyard is a little eerie and, though we don’t see a soul around, we’re worried someone will pop out of nowhere and yell at us for being on their property.
We drive on only a little further before the road dips steeply down toward the coast and we decide we really don’t feel comfortable driving further. Nor do we feel comfortable leaving our car out here in the middle of nowhere. We don’t see any other cars left behind by other hikers either. We decide to turn around and go back to where we passed a series of waterfalls and try to follow the well-marked trail along that river.
On the way, we pass a rustic little barn.
We stop to enjoy the sheep and horses grazing in a field near the mountains.
We come to a set of ruins in the Vestdalur Valley. These ruins are considered part of a heritage site, but we don’t see any descriptive signposts, so I don’t know the story behind them. We wander around the ruins for a bit and then make our way across the road to the path to the left of the Vestdalá river.
Later, I read on Visit East Iceland: The Trail of the Mountain-Maid that this route once served as the principal communication link between Seyðisfjörður and other regions in East Iceland. Nineteenth and twentieth century relics of this transport route can still be detected through meticulous road constructions, stone walls and cairns.
We begin our hike on the left bank of the Vestdalá river. We can see the fog-engulfed opening to the fjord where it empties into the North Atlantic Ocean.
The river flows down a series of plateaus and we enjoy finding all the different waterfalls along the way. What an incredibly picturesque place. It’s like paradise, and to think we have it all to ourselves. I adore this place!
We climb a steep incline and stand at the top of a narrow knob and see this waterfall to our left. The wind is blowing fiercely up here, and I feel dizzy with the height.
Looking down we can see the fjord, the ruins and our speck of a car.
Mike wants to take a picture of me, but I have to say I’m a little nervous standing on this small ledge at this height with the wind almost knocking me off-balance. You see me smiling here, but all I want to do is get down safely from this ledge!
As we reach the top, the fog that we had seen hovering over the end of the fjord quickly moves in and engulfs us. It’s a good thing we didn’t walk to the lighthouse after all. We would have probably been enveloped in fog the whole time.
Apparently from this spot, we could keep on climbing up a total of four hours until we reach Vestdalsvatn, a small lake that remains frozen most of the year. We could also get a view of Mt Bjolfur. But it’s getting late in the day and we’ve done a lot of walking, plus we’re all wrapped up in fog now.
We make our way back down to the bottom where we parked our car. In the fog, we drive back into town.
We return to our room before dinner as Mike is feeling sicker than he did this morning. I’m tired too, and even though we have the smallest room imaginable, we rest for a bit. Mike takes a nap while I finish the book I’ve been reading, Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith. I really enjoyed this lyrical book about longing, love, and loss. My daughter Sarah had lent it to me, and I decided since she’d already read it, I’d just leave it behind in the common room at our hotel.
We have reservations for 7:00 at the Hotel Aldan’s Nordic Restaurant. Mike orders hot water with lemon and honey for his sore throat. I order a glass of wine and Arctic Char fillet served with broad bean puree, roasted beets and a bisque emulsion. (Arctic Char is a coldwater fish in the Salmon family native to alpine lakes and arctic and subarctic coastal waters). My meal is artfully prepared and delicious.
Mike’s meal is just as artistic and is Eastfjord Cod: pan-seared cod served with sautéed zucchini, pont neuf potatoes, veggie chips and “beurre blanc” sauce.
After dinner, we take one last stroll around the little town and then we head back to our hotel.
Thursday, August 18: We get back on the Ring Road after leaving Leirhnjúkur and then take one more detour, on Rt. 862, north for 24km on a sealed road. The landscape is as barren and desolate as any we’ve seen so far in Iceland. We’re heading toward the south end of Vatnajökull National Park. There we’ll see the powerful Dettifoss, a waterfall known as having the greatest volume of any waterfall in Europe.
As we’re driving up this sealed road to the north, we can’t imagine where on earth a waterfall will emerge. It’s as flat as can be as far as the eye can see.
We finally arrive at a parking lot and see the footpath toward Dettifoss. It’s a 2.5km loop walk to the canyon-edge view of Dettifoss and the smaller cataract, Selfoss. We wonder if we have the energy to do this entire walk, as we’ve already walked our fool legs off today! We decide we’ll just walk to Dettifoss and then see if we feel like following the loop to Selfoss.
The walk is as barren as the rest of the surrounding landscape.
After quite a walk, we finally reach the west edge of Dettifoss. The roar of the 193 cubic meters of muddy water per second tumbling over the 44m high and 100m wide cliff is enough to take our breath away. We can feel the immense power of this waterfall.
We’re lucky it’s a sunny day, because we can see rainbows over the canyon downstream from the waterfall, as well as directly over the waterfall.
The pathways down to the edge of the waterfall meander through a carpet of green, the only green to be seen for miles in any direction.
What a spectacular waterfall Dettifoss is! We walk around on all the paths and see the waterfall from every angle.
I love the blue skies dotted with gray-bellied clouds and the rainbows that shimmer in the mist and sunlight.
We’re so impressed by Dettifoss that we don’t want to leave the area. We decide to continue on the loop to the smaller waterfall Selfoss. We return to the trail through the rocky landscape.
We get our first glimpse of Selfoss. Poor neglected Selfoss, which in any other place would be considered a major waterfall, is as pretty as any waterfall can be.
I suppose next to Dettifoss it isn’t much, but it’s quite beautiful in its own right.
I love the character and beauty of Selfoss more than the powerful, almost bullying, Dettifoss.
By this time, it’s nearly 5:00 and we still have to walk back to the parking lot, drive back to the Ring Road, and continue our drive to Seyðisfjörður where we’ve booked our hotel for the night. We still have a long drive ahead. Once we return to the Ring Road, we hardly make any more stops, as it’s impossible to do so. We go through nearly 100km of absolutely nothing, very little vegetation, no houses, no civilization of any kind. The road is raised and there are few pullouts, so we can’t even stop to take pictures, which I’m sure is a relief to Mike who is awfully tired of me asking him to pull off at every opportunity.
I have some of my most stellar and lucid moments on this drive; I like to think it’s because I’m exhausted. I don’t know if my mind stops working because I’m tired, distracted, or just getting old. 🙂 At one point, I see a waterfall and I blurt out, “There’s a watermelon!” Later, some other tourists are taking pictures out of their car and Mike says, “It’s too dark to take a picture!” At the same time, I say, “It’s too dark to take a people!” We have a lot of laughs over my ridiculous blurts.
As we get closer to the Eastfjords, we come to a long area of unpaved gravel road, maybe 20km altogether. As we get closer to the east, we start to see more green farmland, hills dotted with rotund sheep, and trees with silver-backed leaves that glimmer in the sunlight.
We finally reach civilization at Egilsstaðir, a town on the banks of the Lagarfljót river. From here, we still have to drive east on Route 93 for about 17 miles, but it’s a slow drive over a mountain and down into the town that sits prettily on the fjord of the same name. We check into our hotel, the Hotel Snæfell, at its sister hotel, Hotel Aldan, where we’ll also have breakfast in the morning. By this time, it’s 8:30 pm and we’re starved, especially after the almost 10 miles of walking we did today, plus over 200 miles of driving. We head straight for the Skaftfell Exhibition Gallery & Bistro for dinner. At the bistro, the late artist Dieter Roth’s book works are on display along with other interesting art books and book art.
Mike enjoys a Baldi lager while I stick with an Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale.
Our dinner here is delicious; I have cod with risotto and arugula and Mike orders a Skaftfell pizza with minced beef, bacon and onions.
We head back to the Hotel Snæfell, where we’ll be staying for the next two nights, and are disappointed to find our room is impossibly tiny. It does have its own bathroom however, which several of our hotels don’t have. However, for $166/night, I think it’s over the top!
We’re pretty exhausted after our long day today, so we don’t have much trouble falling asleep. Tomorrow, we look forward to exploring the area around Seyðisfjörður.
Total steps today: 22,463, or 9.52 miles. Yikes! It’s no wonder that Mike is starting to come down with a cough and a cold.
Wednesday, August 17: We arrive back at the town of Dalvík, a village on the western shore of Eyjafjörður in the valley of Svarfaðardalur, just in time for our 3:00 whale watching trip with Arctic Sea Tours.
Arctic Sea Tours
Arctic Sea Tours
As soon as we check in, we’re given arctic suits and told to hop into them. It’s actually getting quite warm this afternoon, so it’s too hot to be wearing these suits. Many people keep the tops unzipped and folded down over their behinds.
When everyone has arrived, we all march down to the marina to board the boat. The marina with its backdrop of snow-capped peaks is charming and picturesque.
marina in Dalvík
our seafaring boat, the Draumur
We aren’t going out into the Greenland Sea but will stay in Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður, measuring 60km from head to mouth. The tour is for 3 hours.
The fjord is surrounded by hills and mountains on both sides; the mountains are taller on the west side. The mountains pictured below on are the east side.
Freyr Antonsson is the man in charge. After we’re underway, he shows us photos of the creatures we might encounter, especially the great humpback whale, white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, small harbor porpoises and possibly even the majestic blue whale. Today, we’ll see only humpback whales and harbor porpoises.
Even though it was warm on land, it’s quite cold and windy out on the fjord. Luckily we’re bundled up in our Arctic suits and winter hats.
We can see the tip of the island of Hrísey in the middle of Eyjafjörður. It is the second largest island off the coast of Iceland and is often referred to as “The Pearl of Eyjafjörður.” It has a population of approximately 120 people and has been continuously inhabited since the Settlement of Iceland (Wikipedia: Hrísey).
We can see the western mountains on Tröllaskagi, the “Troll peninsula.”
The mountains surrounding the fjord are treeless and capped with snow.
onboard the boat
Mike on the Draumur
As we approach the mouth of the fjord near the Greenland Sea, we start to see some humpback whales. Their backs rise out of the water and we can sometimes catch a glimpse of their tails before they submerge again. When they’re just under the surface of the water, we can see a flat area in the water with bubbles rising.
Sometimes when they surface, their backs are just slightly above water, but other times, they curve out of the water in a nice hump.
I’m excited to finally capture one decent tail picture. It’s very difficult to capture the whales on camera as you have to be looking at the sea in the exact spot where they rise up unexpectedly and you have to have your camera ready to shoot. Often, they are simply too far away to get a decent picture.
During the trip, the crew hands out hot chocolate and cookies for a warming-up snack.
As we head back to Dalvík, the crew passes out fishing poles all around and people toss their lines overboard. It’s amazing how quickly they start to pull in fish. Different people on board pull up cod and three other types of fish. This young man catches a big one!
Mike even tries his hand at fishing but doesn’t catch anything.
The captain cleans all the fish on board, tossing the heads and entrails overboard, while seagulls flap along overhead hoping to catch some scraps.
We arrive back at the marina and head back to the Arctic Sea Tours office.
Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.
Back at the Arctic Sea Tours office, Freyr Antonsson fires up the grill and barbecues the fish we caught and he cleaned. We each get a small portion of the various fish cooked with a butter spice topping.
After enjoying our snack, we get on the road back to Akureyri and the Lamb Inn. At the inn, we soak for a while in a hot tub behind the inn and talk with a couple from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Ray and Marybeth, who are enjoying their holiday in Iceland. They are quite the talkers. 🙂
We have 8:00 dinner reservations at the Lamb Inn and we find our dinner to be one of the best we have in Iceland. I order traditional fish gratin (made with cod) “dressed up” with butter and rye bread. It’s delicious!
Mike’s meal of slow cooked lamb shank with chives, mashed potatoes and wild mushroom sauce is also wonderful, and I’m not generally much of a meat eater.
We’ve had a busy day with our drive all around Tröllaskagi, our hike around and above Siglufjörður, and our whale-watching tour. Tomorrow we’ll sadly have to leave Akureyri for the east of Iceland. We should definitely have planned more time for our trip.
Tuesday, August 16: We arrive at Lamb Inn Öngulsstadir at around 7:00 pm. We immediately fall in love with its idyllic setting in the valley at the end of Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður.
The Lamb Inn is set on a former farm and the family still lives adjacent to the property.
Mike finds a Border Collie that reminds him of our dog, Bailey.
After settling in, we drive into the town of Akureyri, Iceland’s second urban area after the Capital Region, and the fourth largest municipality. It would be considered a small town by most standards, with a population slightly over 18,000. Known as the Capital of North Iceland, it’s an important port and fishing center.
We are debating between eating at Rub 23 or Strikið. We opt for the latter. But first we take a short stroll around the town.
Akureyrarkirkja, or The Church of Akureyri, is a prominent Lutheran church that towers over the center of the city. It was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the State Architect of Iceland, and completed in 1940.
Doors on Akureyrarkirkja
Walking down from the hill, we can see the harbor at the end of Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður.
We settle in at Strikið, on the fifth (top) floor of Skipagata 14. I’ve become fond of an Icelandic white ale, Einstök Ölgerð. We enjoy our views over the harbor and I love my meal of Wolffish and Caridean shrimp in lemon & capers, potato mousse, parsnip and mussels sauce. Mike orders Reindeer burger with “Ljotur” blue & white cheese, herb mayonnaise, salad, peppers and tomato in brioche bread, served with fries. He doesn’t seem as enamored with his meal; for one, it’s too much food. He says the reindeer has that gamey flavor similar to venison.
After dinner, which is after 9:00, we stroll around by the harbor and enjoy the beautiful light as the sun goes down. We see the cultural center, Hof, used for music and other performing arts.
We also find some whale-watching boats.
At nearly 10:00, the sun is finally setting, as we return to our hotel for the night.
Total steps today: 10,315, or 4.37 miles. This is one of our lesser days of walking, as we were in the car most of the day; we drove a total of 242 miles. 🙂 Tomorrow, we plan to explore some of the northern fjords.
Monday, August 15: After leaving Reykjavík 871±2: The Settlement Exhibition, we continue our walk through Old Reykjavík.
The pyramid form of Water Carrier (1937), by Ásmundur Sveinsson, suggests strength and stability, which is important, since the image depicts the women who carried water year-round to every household in town, whatever the weather (Reykjavik Grapevine: Statues of Reykjavik).
A statue of Norwegian Ingólfur Arnarson (Ingolfur meaning royal wolf), reputed to be the first Icelandic settler, sits atop Arnarhóll. He and his wife Heilveig built their home in Reykjavik around 874 AD. The sculpture by Einar Jonsson and shows the settler standing by his high seat pillar which is decorated with a dragon’s head.
After leaving Arnarhóll, we head up the colorful main shopping street, Laugavegur, where we see a lot of quirky and charming buildings.
We are in route to an unusual museum recommended by Lonely Planet Iceland: The Icelandic Phallological Museum. It is probably the only museum in the world to contain phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammals found in a single country. We can’t help but be bowled over by this unusual collection.
According to the museum’s website: The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of more than two hundred penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland. Visitors to the museum will encounter fifty-five specimens belonging to sixteen different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear, thirty-six specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and more than one hundred fifteen specimens originating from twenty different kinds of land mammal: all in all, a total of more than two hundred specimens belonging to forty-six different kinds of mammal, including that of Homo sapiens.
One sculpture memorializes the Icelandic men’s handball team, who won a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics. According to a 2012 article in Slate: “The sculpture consists, basically, of a bunch of silver penises pointing at the ceiling in a kind of wild-mushrooms-waving-in-a-field effect.”
The Icelandic National Handball Team
the silver penises of the Icelandic National Handball Team
There are numerous specimens of whales, dolphins, walruses, horses, giraffes, reindeer and even one Homo Sapiens, that of former Icelandic explorer and notorious womanizer, Pall Arason, who died at 95.
White beaked dolphin
Sperm whale, pottwhale, cachalot
one of these is a reindeer
After visiting the museum, we walk down to the waterfront where we have a view of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Harpa Concert Hall.
We had passed an Icelandic Tapas spot earlier on our walk and now we decide to stop here for an early dinner as we’re going to the Blue Lagoon this evening.
Across the street is a bright blue music store.
Inside, we sit at tall bar tables on wooden benches and order tapas served in jars. This is something new for us both as we’ve never had tapas in jars before!
The walls have drawings of some of the wildlife found in Iceland.
drawings on the wall of Icelandic Tapas
artwork at Icelandic Tapas
artwork on the walls at Icelandic Tapas
We order beers, me a white pale ale. We enjoy homemade bread with wild mushroom spread and pesto. The tapas jars are these: smoked lamb salad on flatbread, Icelandic fermented shark, sweet potato soup with ginger, coconut milk and chili, blue cheese and poached pear salad, and Acras, or deep-fried salted cod fritters and marinated red onion.
All tapas flavors are delicious, although I have to say it’s not a very satisfactory dinner; we’re both left hungry afterward.
We continue our walk through the city until we come to Joylato, where we order fresh-made ice cream. We try to order scoops of two different ice cream flavors to share, but this is very confusing to the staff as the ice cream is homemade and they make one flavor at a time. This helps fill us up after our not-so-filling tapas dinner.
Finally, we make our way back up Skólavörðustígur, with me jumping out into the busy street to take some parting shots of Hallgrímskirkja.
We go back to our room to relax for a while until we drive to the Blue Lagoon for our 8:00 timed entry.
Saturday, August 13: Many people these days take advantage of the Iceland Air Stopover , which allows a 7-night stopover for travelers en route from the USA to Europe. We don’t do the stopover, but instead opt to focus our entire vacation on Iceland. Our plan is to spend eleven full days driving around the famous Ring Road in a rented car. In retrospect, we should have planned our trip for a minimum of 14 days. I’m always a firm believer in spending at least two weeks in a country, if not more, because I like to be immersed, to take on the culture of a place, to feel like I belong. To drive the Ring Road in a leisurely fashion (some of it is not paved, though it’s in decent shape), to do some longer hikes and other activities, like glacier walking and horseback-riding, we could certainly have used more time.
While waiting at Dulles International Airport for our 2:10 pm flight, I use the bathroom and then walk to the end of the gate corridor. I realize when I check my steps that my Fitbit has disappeared from my wrist! I figure the only place I could have lost it was the bathroom, where I took off and put back on my backpack. Luckily, when I go back, the cleaning lady has found it and hands it directly to me. This will be the first of many times during our trip that my Fitbit goes missing. 🙂
Our flight from Dulles to Reykjavik is 5 1/2 hours. During the flight on Iceland Air, we watch a hilarious Icelandic movie, Albatross. We don’t have any earphones with us, and, as Iceland Air charges for EVERY SINGLE THING except sodas, juice or water, we opt not to dish out $5 for earphones. Instead, we watch the movie by subtitles only, which is still enjoyable. No matter, the Icelandic would have been unintelligible to us. In the movie, city boy Tommi, who has big plans for the future, chases his girlfriend to the wild Westfjords. Soon after he arrives, she dumps him, and he is stuck with a strange cast of characters working at a golf course.
In one scene, the three guys working at the golf course have a long discussion about toilet paper. One of the guys comes out of the bathroom naked after his bathroom use; he says he shits naked because he doesn’t want to get his shirt dirty! A conversation ensues with the other two guys giving him grief: “You just pull up your shirt!” Then they ask each other whether they wipe from front to back and how much toilet paper they use. One says he uses two pieces and the other two tease him for wiping like a woman. Another says he rolls a bunch around his hand. One mentions that if you wipe from the back to the front, you get it on your balls, and the other says, No! You tuck them in!
I’m laughing so hard, I’m crying.
In another scene, the golf course owner is trying to win a competitive bid for an important golf tournament. The sponsors want a driving range, but the terns have built nests all over the driving range and every time someone tries to use it, the terns dive bomb them. Of course, an environmentalist is on the scene, arguing against disturbing the terns. In a hilarious, slow-motion scene, the guys at the golf course have to move the tern nests to the other side of the road, with the terns attacking them from all sides.
A funny and heartwarming movie, watched only with subtitles and no sound. 🙂 Later, as Mike and I travel around Iceland, we notice the multitudes of golf courses and can’t help but think fondly of these Icelandic characters.
When we arrive at the Keflavik Airport at 11:40 pm, we have to deal with the Budget Rental Car person, who tries to charge us over $600 for car insurance. Iceland is extremely expensive in every way imaginable, so we’ve already paid a fortune for the rental car — about $1,200 for 11 days! Our confirmation isn’t clear on whether we’d purchased car insurance when we’d booked, and we honestly can’t remember. In one place on our confirmation, it says we have the Collision Damage Waiver, and in another place it says we have only travel insurance. The woman at the Budget counter tells us she has no record of any insurance purchased. After much confusion, we decline the coverage, figuring the credit card that we used for booking through CheapTickets.com provides coverage. We do opt to rent the Garmin GPS, to help us navigate our way around Iceland.
When we exit the airport in pouring rain, we search the parking lot for a red VW Polo. When we finally find it, we try like hell to get the trunk open but our key doesn’t seem to do it, and we can’t figure out how to open it in the dark. Finally we throw both our suitcases in the back seat and try to start the car. It won’t start. It’s like a Three Stooges movie, but with only two stooges! As Mike tries unsuccessfully to start the car, I notice instructions on the dashboard to put your foot on the brake to start the car. What amazing things happen when you read directions!
Next, we have to figure out how to use the Garmin. We’re used to using our phones for directions, but neither of our phones work here. We keep putting in the address of the BGB Guesthouse, Hafnargata 58, but the Garmin says the address isn’t found. We figure we’ll try to find it using Mike’s printed directions, but they’re pathetic and we can barely see them in the dark. We end up driving around in circles in the airport parking lot about three times before finding our way out. Finally, after driving in the dark rain for a while, not having any idea where we’re going, we find the Ace Guesthouse, which is open. A woman inside tells Mike to “go to the lights and turn right” to find BGB Guesthouse. I ask Mike what lights she is talking about? We drive down the road and see many lights but finally we come to some low traffic signals and turn right. We’re still not on the right road, but I see the sign for Hafnargata intersecting our road. We head down Hafnargata and finally come to #58, BGB Guesthouse. We’ve been given a code to get in as it’s a self-service guesthouse. With the code, I open a lockbox and remove the key, but I can’t get it to work. Finally, by 2:30 a.m., after many attempts, we find our way inside an itsy-bitsy room with birds flying above our pillows and reindeer on the pillows. We collapse, relieved to finally reach our destination.
Sunday, August 14: In the morning, we wake up early and use the shared bathrooms, with showers the size of telephone booths, at the far end of the hall. About half of our guesthouses or hotels in Iceland will have shared bathrooms, which I hate! But, even though we booked two months ahead, many of the more ideal places were already booked. In a country that normally has a population of ~330,000, there are not enough accommodation options to serve the swells of summer tourists. The accommodation that we find is very expensive and, at the same time, very simple. Many people opt to camp or rent campers during the tourist season.
We pack up and get ready to head to Reykjavik. It’s dark, dreary, wet and cold. Our plan is to check into Freyja Guesthouse , which we found on Airbnb, and then head immediately to The Golden Circle for the day.
After checking into one of our favorite guesthouses in Iceland, we take off for the Golden Circle, an artificial tourist circuit which encompasses three major attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss and Geysir. This route is only about 100 km from the capital and can be done in one day; it’s not to be confused with the Ring Road, which circles the entire country and takes over a week to complete.
By this time, it’s about 12:30 and we’re hungry for lunch. We’ve heard the hot dogs in Iceland’s gas stations are fantastic, so we stop at a gas station to taste for ourselves. The hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and are normally served on a bed of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, fried and fresh onions. I have mine with only mustard and fried onions. They’re certainly tasty, but I’m not sure they live up to their reputation! We might have tried one of the healthier options, shown below, in the same gas station.
Outside the gas station, we encounter this little fella peeing on a rock. Mike says there ought to be a girl squatting behind the rock with a piece of bronze toilet paper left behind. We see toilet paper evidence of women peeing all over the country, and I have to admit I was a guilty party in this regard as well. Sadly, bathroom facilities are few and far between around Iceland’s Ring Road.
We begin our drive of The Golden Circle, gasping at every scene before us. I ask Mike to pull over the car for pictures too many times to count. This will happen during our entire trip.
It’s not easy to pull off to take myriad pictures because the roads in Iceland are generally two-lane highways on a raised bed with no shoulders. Every once in a while there is a gravel pull-off or a farm driveway where you can pull off; whatever view you have from that spot is the picture you’ll get.
We almost miss the entrance to Þingvellir National Park, but we turn around at the first opportunity and go back. Þingvellir, anglicized as Thingvellir, is a spot of natural beauty, situated as it is on a tectonic plate boundary where North America and Europe are tearing away from each other at a rate of 1mm to 18mm per year. Dramatic fissures, ponds and rivers scar the plain. (Lonely Planet Iceland)
Here, the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alþingi (pronounced al-thingk-ee), in 930. Þingvellir, the “assembly fields” or “Parliament Plains,” sits approximately 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of what later became the country’s capital, Reykjavik. This event marked the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Even after Iceland’s union with Norway in 1262, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1799, when it was discontinued for 45 years. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since.
Þingvellir National Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
From the cliff-top visitor’s center, we can see over the great rift, Almannagjá.
Below us, we can also see the farmhouse known as Pingvallabaer at the bottom of the rift. It was built in 1930 for the 1000th anniversary of the Alþingi and is the official summer residence of the Prime Minister of Iceland. It is used for receptions hosted by the Prime Minister’s office.
We take the path that runs along the fault between the cliff-top and Alþingi site.
The meetings of the Alþingi were conducted outside, and as with many saga sites, only the stone foundations of the ancient encampments remain.
Þingvellir lay adjacent to a lake abundant with fish on land with plenty of firewood; it was a dramatic setting perfect for political oratory. Every important decision regarding Iceland was made on this plain: laws were passed, marriage contracts were made, and even the country’s religion was decided here. The annual parliament was also a great social occasion, where people met and exchanged news, feasted and played games. Entertainers performed, merchants sold goods and services, and ale-makers brewed drinks for the assembly.
It’s fairly difficult to take pictures here today as it alternately rains steadily or spits periodically. I keep wiping off raindrop smudges on my lens and have to keep putting my lens cap back on immediately after taking photos. Many times, I tuck my camera into my raincoat or under my arm. So, if you see some blurry-looking spots on my photos, that’s why. 🙂
The church, Pingvallakirkja, has been at Þingvellir since shortly after Christianity was formally adopted by the Alþingi in the year AD 1000. In the Kristnisaga, it’s stated that Olaf the Holy, King of Norway, who came to power in AD 1015, provided wood in order to build a church here. It’s not known for sure where the original church stood and most likely there were in fact two churches in Þingvellir, one for the parliamentarians and one for the local parish. Research shows that the church was moved to the place where it now stands around AD 1500. The current church was built in 1859 and consecrated on Christmas Day that year. The tower was added in 1907.
The parish cemetery serves the local community that surrounds Þingvellir. Many lie here that originate from farms now long abandoned. The last church priest buried here was Heimir Steinsson (d. 2000), who also served as the National Parks manager. In 2009, a new gate was built by students from Hafnarfjordur Technical College using traditional woodworking skills.
We continue to walk along the many trails here, eventually ending up at the most impressive spot where the river Öxará cuts across the western plate, at Öxarárfoss. By this time it’s raining quite steadily and it’s hard to get a good picture. I keep putting my lens cap back on my camera and wiping the lens off.
It’s a long walk back to the Visitor’s Center, and after quite a distance, I pull my camera out from inside my raincoat and find my lens cap is missing. We walk back quite a way along the path, but we can never find it. It’s such a bummer to lose my lens cap right at the beginning or our trip! Between that and my Fitbit, which keeps falling off every time I put on or take off my back pack, I’m definitely being challenged at every turn!
One of the great things about Iceland’s national parks is that most of them are free. However, you sometimes have to pay for parking, as we do here, and you often have to pay to use the toilets, which are few and far between.
Finally, we make it back to the Visitor’s Center, where we hop back in the car and make our way to the next stop on the Golden Circle. On the way, I nudge Mike several times to pull off for pictures.
We see the famous Icelandic horses and sheep all over Iceland during our trip. Every time I see them, I want to stop and take pictures! Horses have always been one of my favorite animals, and the sheep are adorable.