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Month: February 2015

Iceland Day 6

Iceland Day 6

Day 6 was dedicated to the ice cave tour (or so we thought). We decided to stop at Jokarlsarlon lagoon again since we had some extra time on the way to the tour pick-up point.

Today at the beach we watched the waves crash over the glaciers in direct morning sun.

When we returned to the lagoon we noticed things we didn’t have time to before, like the local wildlife. A plethora of birds soared about, even some crows. Sea lions basked on a faraway glacier and occasionally swam a few laps around the pool.

(side note: seeing sea lions seems to be a big deal in Iceland and they’re very culturally significant. Ironically this was the one thing we didn’t really give a hoot about since we oftne go swimming with sea lions in La Jolla, or simply see them at Point Dume in Malibu)

We left and headed to the ice cave tour pickup, but we were early. One of the guides said we could high-tail it down the road to a Shell station that had a restaurant. In the restaurant we had fried fish and au-gratin potatos in five minutes before dashing back to the pick-up.

An hour later we were at the famous Vatnajokull crystal cave – ice cave – skaftafell – iceland.

Although the tour had been billed (and I do intend the pun) as a “photography tour,” we only had 40 minutes to explore the cave. 40 minutes in a small cave with three different tours, each of about 12 people.  You can guess who got the short end of the stick when it came to taking photos: the couple that didn’t come in a group of ten friends. Still, the experience was something we’ll never forget. The walls of the cave are stunningingly beautiful. They look like all different shades of blue ocean waves just frozen in time and stood upright.

After we went back to the pickup we decided we’d spend the rest of the day checking out all the apple commands that we’d ignored earlier.

The first one was an innocuous sign that said kviamyrarkambur. We drove out to a little parking area and saw that it was a faraway view point for one of the glaciers.

That wasn’t good enough for us so we walked as close to the glacial lake as we safely could.

Back on the road again we stopped at Fjallsarlon, which, it turns out, is another glacier lagoon.

However, this one was definitely the best on we had seen so far. Jokarsarlon is bigger, but at this one we could walk right up and touch the glaciers, and the mountain the glacier is sliding down is much closer. More than anywhere else we’d been to in Iceland thus far Fjallsarlon had an alien feel to it.

By the time we left it was getting dark, so we headed back to our hotel, stopping to eat at the only restaurant on the way.  At the restaurant we had Iceland Char, which is a less pink version of salmon, but with pink spots on the skin. (very tasty)

Down the street from the restaurant were more horses.

Iceland Day 5

Iceland Day 5

The weather on the morning of day five was much better than the previous day. The skies were clear and the weather was crisp, but not cold most of the time.

We headed east to the Landbrotsholar hills, but we got lost at first because many roads share nearly the same name. When we finally did find the hills we found the famous basalt columns were blocked off and the hexagonal ground stones were completely covered in snow.

We searched for restaurants but were turned away because either the places weren’t open in the winter or they weren’t opening for another hour.  We headed east again munching on the snacks we’d bought in Selfoss.

On our way to Svartifoss we stopped several times to take photos of close up mountains or far off glaciers.

At Svartifoss the weather was nice, i.e. the sun was out and the wind was absent. We went on a 2km hike to the lower waterfall and then then Svartifoss, the “black waterfall.”

Svartifoss is an impressive foss not for the width or height of the water, but for the crown of hexagonal black basalt columns that run all around it.

After Svartifoss we stopped at the next apple command we saw (it was commanding us to stop!). It wasn’t on our list and so we weren’t sure what it would be. It turned out to be Svinafellsjokull, the lip of another glacier gliding out into a lake.

Very few people were there, and eventually we hiked out to an area where we were alone on the side of a mountain facing the glacier.  It was the most serene and beautiful place we’d seen (so far). Both of us had the same thought as we stood there with our cameras. Cameras are useless in this place. There is no way a recording (video or static) can convey what it’s like to stand there on a volcanic mountain cliff over a blue glacier lake, and know you’re alone for miles in every direction.

Our next stop at sunset was the famous jokalsarlon glacier lagoon and the black sand beach with the glaciers that have gone our to sea. The lagoon itself wasn’t as impressive as we’d been lead to believe.

However, the nearby beach, with massive angry waves crashing into school-bus sized bright blue glacial fragments was worth the stop.

Our next stop was hotel Skalafell, where we had a very good dinner of soup (again, soup, yes), steamed fish and beef with gravy.

A few hours later we went down the road to try and see the northern lights in the first clear sky of our trip. However, we were disappointed as the only bright spot in the sky was the moon.

Iceland Day 4

Iceland Day 4

After a waffle breakfast at our hotel we struck out for Skogafoss, one of the more famous waterfalls in the south. It was a big deal because our hotel warned us that we might not want to go anywhere at all because a “heavy storm” (30km/hr winds, sleet, hail and rain) was headed in. We made it to Skogafoss before the real storm hit. Even so, we were all wet by the time we left.

We climbed all the way up to the top of the cliff on the right side of the very tall waterfall and spent a good amount of time just studying it. The falls produced fake looking groupings of snow and ice. I say “fake” as a compliment, it looked like a massive Disney production made of plastic and glass. But this waterfall wasn’t plastic stretched over a steel skeleton, the only steel around was the overlook we were content to stand on. Beneath us were softly cresting drooping mounds of white water in various states dripping down a very steep hill. Next to that, a booming deep blue surge of water so eager to get over the cliff that it forgot to freeze.

Next up was the mysterious downed U.S. Navy plane somewhere on the black sand beach. This was something not on the official tour guide maps and I only had a GPS coordinate to google map before we left America. Since we didn’t get a GPS unit for the car we knew it wouldn’t be easy to find. We just had a map that showed a road a few miles in from the sea, bounded on either side by little streams. Between the streams, somewhere in a ten square mile stretch of black sand and boulders was an airplane.

When we came upon an opening in the roadside fence we passed through it. Nothing marked the site as a place of interest (Note: all places of interest in Iceland use the same symbol on their sign as the command button on a Mac). The only sign was a simple yellow one with two vehicles. A “4×4” and a sedan with a line through it. We took this as our sign the plane was somewhere out there.

It should be noted that the “heavy storm” was in full force by now. We were being pelted by hail and winds stronger than I’ve ever experienced. However, we didn’t come all the way to Iceland to NOT see this damn plane, so we pulled off the road onto the black rocks.

We drove around for a good half hour looking about for the plane. Visibility was limited to perhaps a quarter mile before the hail blotted out everything. All we could see in every direction were black rocks and smooth oblong boulders, each one looking like a  piece of airplane fuselage. We drove up to three or four giant distant planes that all turned out to be boulders before we saw some little yellow sticks in the ground.

A path! We followed the sticks, imagining there was no other reason to put up rows of yellow markers than to indicate the way to the plane. And suddenly, after cresting a big black sand dune it was right in front of us.

It was an amazingly bleak picture, but I had to get out and see it for myself, climbing in and out of the plane. If I was wet before I was dowsed now.

An hour later we were driving to Dyrhólaey. Up on the crest of the cliffs above the beach we were nearly blown into the sea by the terrible wind and rain coming up from the nastiness of the ocean below.

Down at the beach it wasn’t nearly as bad.  A good thing too as the scenery was something that felt like another planet. The dark waves of the ocean beat upon black sand before meeting hexagonal black basalt hills.

We didn’t stay long as we were now soaked to the bone, water managing to sneak past every millemeter of our “waterproof” apparel.

We headed back to Vik and found a random restaurant to have, you guessed it, more chicken soup. It’s worth noting that all three times we’d had chicken soup in the last 24 hours it had been sold as the “soup of the day.”

Iceland Day 3

Iceland Day 3

 

We visited Þingvellir and walked through the snowy chasm before paying $2 each to use the floor to ceiling windowed bathroom.

On our way to Geysir we stopped at a random farm restaurant. The burger and the soup were excellent and the thick snowflakes were really starting to come down as we watched from inside. After we left Sam let snow land on her tongue for the first time.

Geysir was tough to get to as the snowstorm was in full effect and the steam coated the subtle grade of the walkway with solid ice. After nearly slipping several times we came to the geysir that all other geysirs are named after.  We waited for what felt like fifteen minutes in that cold, but it was probably going off every two minutes. Because it was below freezing the geysir bubbled up into steam instantly, depriving us of the sky high fountain it emits in warmer temperatures. I messed up on my camera settings and everything came out blurry. It was so cold and nasty I decided to not try again.

As the snow kept falling we headed up the road a bit for somthing that would knock our socks off if they weren’t already frozen in our boots.

Gullfoss is something inspiring, especially covered in ice and snow. Unfortunately the ice was so bad that the lower viewing platforms were closed, but the thunderous mountain of water careening into a deep ravine was breathtaking enough from on high. The only way we could take pictures was to hide our eyes behind the camera and point. The snow was blasting sideways at us, coming up from the waterfall.  On the cliff view the wind was slightly less and we stood there for a long while just admiring the ferocity of the freezing flow.

Our next destination, Selfoss, was a few hours down a snow covered road. Once there we caught up on our grocery shopping, which consisted essentially of chips, chocolate and bananas. Then we headed deep into Southern Iceland to see Seljalandsfoss.

If Gullfoss was inspiring by it’s magnificence, Seljalandsfoss won us over with its fairy-tale come-to-life appearance. As we arrived the sun was setting behind us in muted pinks and oranges which just barely kissed the still falling snow surrounding the waterfall.

Though not nearly as big as Gullfuss, the waterfall was still higher than anything we’d seen in Hawaii and wide enough.  This waterfall one you could walk around if you wanted, though it’s hard to believe you’d want to when the thermometer dips below zero. The stairways on either side of the falls were frozen. We approached the one to the right and took photos in the heavy spray from the falls before turning back and heading to the other side. While I went up and over the ridge to get as close as possible to the backside of the falls, Sam walked down the stone path to see the other smaller waterfalls in the area.

To the side of the falls was hidden a magical alcove complete with green and orange moss, man-sized icecicles and a mound of unfrozen black volcanic rock. That rock was the only thing not frozen because the water was falling directly on it.

After I’d spent enough time back there Sam was on her way back to the car as the sun had gone past the horizon and the already freezing temperatures were lowering quickly. I couldn’t leave without seeing the other waterfalls so I ran along the black volcanic gravel trail. At the very end was a last waterfall hidden in a crack in the mountain. A few men braver than I, and with waterproof clothing, tried to sneak through the crack to see the cave inside. I was content to snap a few photos from outside before running back to the car.

Night quickly fell and we made our way to our hotel. We were hungry, though, and so we stopped at the first “open” sign we passed. As luck would have it the small oceanside restaurant was another random pick of delicousness. We ordered chicken soup and meat soup. The meat soup was thick with beef, tomatos and lots of spice.  The stars of the meal though were the mint and paprika flavored jams that were given to put on bread. We liked them so much we brought a tiny jar of each home with us (at $8 each!).

Iceland Day 2

Iceland Day 2

After a few wrong turns on icy roads we made it to Eldhestar horse farm. We suited up and got on the horses. Most of the ride was just through the field near the farm. It would normally have not been very exciting, but getting bounced around by a horse at below zero centigrade and twenty mile an hour winds was quickly too much for me. We had ordered all day tours, but I gave up at lunch time.

Ironically the lunch included with the horse ride was much better than Cafe Loki. Eldhestar’s meat soup was actually rich and filled with spices tasting German. Cafe Loki’s meat soup was just a bland broth with a little meat and a lot of potatoes. The meat took center stage at Eldhestar and it was delicious. Also available was a hot (and good!) Tomato soup, breads, cheeses and a herring curry. I contented myself with a makeshift grilled cheese sandwich. Hot chocolate and cookies were available to wash it all down.

I took a much welcome sit in the hotel lounge while Sam braved the wind again to spend the afternoon with her spirit animals.

Apparently Sam’s love for horses went unrequited. Her horse threw her off in the afternoon and they forced her to sign a release that she wasn’t hurt. After leaving the horse farm we went to nearby Kerid, which is a volcanic crater, now filled with ice.

After that we went to Selfoss to get more hot dogs. As we drove back to Reykjavik the sun set and we tried to take photos of the church at night, but there were too many locals and tourists to get anything good. Then we headed to the ocean to see the viking boat statue.

Iceland Day 1

Iceland Day 1

I was not able to sleep on the flight to Iceland at all. We landed at 8am in Iceland (midnight in California). We ate a large lunch in Seattle but nothing on the flight so we were both hungry. After going through customs we saw the Iceland equivalent of a 7-11 by the airport exit and we couldn’t resist the hot dogs.

Hot dogs are a very special thing to Icelanders and so they put a lot of things on them. There was no relish, but there were 5 types of sauces  (including mayonnaise,  but not yellow mustard), potato salad, fried onions and minced onions.

Our rental car was in a lot outside of the airport. So we walked for ten minutes with our luggage in the pre-dawn darkness through the ice and a howling snowstorm to the Thrifty shop. Our suv (a Ford Kuga) was nice enough but smelled like diesel inside.

Our airbnb wouldn’t be open until 2pm so we headed to the nearby and world famous blue lagoon. The snow was blowing so hard we had to creep through it at 10 kph sometimes, but in a short while we arrived. We blindly braved the short hike up the lagoon with snow licking our eyeballs and wind screaming in our ears. When we arrived we were told that the spa was sold out already (it was 10 am) but we could take pictures if we wanted.

So we went up to the famous rooftop lookout, only to have our hats blow off in the powerful wind.

We decided to give up and make our way to Reykjavik. Many parts of that drive were blizzard conditions as well, but it still didn’t take more than an hour to get to the city. Once there we headed to the big church tower. We didn’t go up as the queue was very deep. It was a special Sunday mass crowd. We decided to have lunch across the street at the famous Cafe Loki.

We ordered $50 of food and ate less than half. Everything sounded good, it just didn’t live up to the expectations. All the meat was strongly smoked. I like bbq smokey taste but this was a different kind of tree, one with a bitter aftertaste that ruined everything you ate the rest of the day. I couldn’t place the taste until later when I sniffed second hand cigarette smoke and realized it was similar.

However, nothing could compare to the terribleness of the fermented shark. Every culture has its own disgusting thing that they acclimate to out of necessity and tourists eat for a joke or dare. This fermented shark is Iceland’s balut.

After lunch we crossed the street to a now more empty church and went right to the top.

After checking into the airbnb we went for a quick grocery run and then tried to get some much needed sleep.