Iceland 2022 – Day 12

June 8: Akureyri

We had a very quiet day today, letting our legs recover from all the hiking. European dryers were not designed for American fabrics, so this was the aftermath of our laundry yesterday:

Trish went forth to a nearby bakery, Bakaríið Við Brúna, to fetch breakfast for us. She chose a baguette and a local pastry with three different toppings. It had a stripe of cinnamon sugar and almonds, a stripe of custard, and a stripe of chocolate. It was very tasty!

We also found a salad place for lunch!

The Google Translate App is amazing

We both napped the afternoon away…

and then went for a 1 hour horseback ride!

Icelandic horses are small, shaggy, and known for being friendly. They also have a fifth gait, called “tölt,” which has all the speed of a canter but the smoothness of a walk. Unfortunately, I only got to experience that for about two steps because my horse, Bjartur, was not interested in working any harder than absolutely necessary.

Still, it was a lot of fun and the ride was through some truly beautiful scenery. A seal also watched us go by from the water!

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Iceland 2022 – Day 11

June 7: Krafla Lava Fields and Akureyri

We slept in this morning after all the hiking yesterday and just made it to breakfast. We bade farewell to the cows and a couple of the calves thought Trish might be a source of milk.

Sadly, she was useless.

Fortunately, we had yet to shower! We headed back to the room and got ready for the day and to head to Akureyri, where we’re staying two nights at an AirBnB to do laundry.

After we had the car loaded up we backtracked 15 minutes to hike around Krafla Lava Fields, which we missed on our way in and after all our hiking yesterday. I’m glad we decided to go when our feet were fresh because the scenery was stunning. Truly, it looked like we were on an alien planet at times.

I love how you can see three (four if you count the snow) totally different landscapes in this photo:

It would have been my favorite hike of the trip, but it loses points for the swarm of flies that followed me (just me, not Trish) around. That’s why I have as little skin exposed as possible in all the photos. I didn’t want to give the little buggers any opportunities.

The path needed a little TLC

I think a lot of people stop and turn around when they get up to this sulfurous, geothermal pool, but the path actually continues around the mountain/hill and shows off some truly stunning volcanic landscapes.

Trish is about to burn her finger on steam. To be fair, she was being careful until I (very slowly) reached toward the vent, stopping as soon as I felt heat and said, “oh, yes, you can feel it a little.” Trish then stuck her hand right there.
So different on either side!

Trish saw that this path connected back to the car park, so we followed it to the end, across another small snowfield.

We made a quick stop at Hverir (boiling mud pits) because it was right across the ring road from the access road to Krafla. I promised Trish boiling mud pits and so far they’ve been obscured by steam or geysers. I finally delivered!

After that, we headed for Akureyri. We were going to stop at Goðafoss (the final stop on the Diamond Circle) but it started to rain and it turned out you could see it quite clearly from the road. It was another large waterfall but we’ve seen plenty of those on the trip. Also, our stomachs started to growl.

Before going to our AirBnB for an afternoon of flopping and laundry, we stopped at Blaa Kannan Cafe, for some filling broccoli soup/bread and a chicken pesto panini.

As soon as we got into our AirBnB (which is lovely), we started laundry. We both thought we’d overpacked for the trip, but actually, we came out just about even.

While the laundry thought about itself, I caught up on transferring videos and blogging and Trish took a snooze.

After two and a half loads of laundry, Trish woke up and we decided to go to Rub 23 for dinner and try some Icelandic sushi!

We had some tasty mocktails including a very refreshing virgin mojito and a Japanese magic potion (raspberry puree, honey syrup, ginger, lime, and ginger beer).

For dinner, we split an appetizer bento box which gave us tastes of Thai braised beef short ribs, sushi pizza (Artic char, chili mayo, unagi sauce, & spring onion on top of a thin tempura rice/seaweed “crust”), salmon Tataki with mango-ponzu sauce, & crispy Catalan dumplings.

My two favorites were the shortribs and sushi pizza

This place allowed you to order half rolls, which I really like because you get to try more things. We had:

  • Titanic (Artic char, chives, red bell pepper, mango-cream cheese, & sesame seeds)
  • Seafood crunch (Lobster, salad, tempura surimi, garlic mayo, & unagi sauce)
  • Bubba No Gump (Tempura shrimp, mango, black sesame seeds, chili mayo, & unagi sauce)

Cheese is not a usual accompaniment to sushi, but they had a cheese board for dessert with four Icelandic cheeses: 2 creamy (1 brie style the other even mellower), a hard yellow cheese, and a blue cheese.

The pot in the middle is Icelandic honey
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Iceland 2022 – Day 10

June 6: Húsavík & 2/3 of The Diamond Circle

Trish has apparently seen many a cow milked in her day. Last night I thought perhaps I would get up to see the 7:30 AM milking… I did not.

After breakfast, we headed north to Húsavík, the whale-watching capital of Iceland. We were a bit early, so we stopped for gas and to clean the bugs off our windshield. Not every gas station has these, but they mean business!

I wish our gas stations had these bad boys!

When we checked in for our whale-watching tour, the woman behind the counter warned us the weather hadn’t been great that morning, so the tours had been skipping Puffin Island and were adding ponchos in addition to the floatation overalls. However, despite the inauspicious start, the weather cleared up beautifully.

I was also on a mission to get us the best seats in the boat and I strategically positioned us to be first in line (pats self on back).

We got to stop at Puffin Island (the second largest colony of Puffins in Iceland). The puffins were everywhere! They’re so ungainly in the air. Their wings are too small for their body so they have to flap them 400 times per minute to fly. Also, their feet kind of stick out to either side like propellers. Underwater, it’s a totally different story. They are excellent divers. When our boat approached any floating in our path, they would dive into a wave rather than take flight.

The main event, of course, was a humpback whale who put on quite a show for us. He must have been feeding because he kept surfacing around us for almost an hour.

You can catch just a glimpse of his tail at the end

At one point, he even came right up to the boat!

It was so cool how sometimes, when he was close enough to the boat, you could see the white of his fins appear in the depths and predict where he would surface.

Incidentally, I love this head mount for the GoPro so much. It allows me to capture POV video without spending my vacation staring at a screen! My head is the tripod.

It was much colder on the water than on land, so we did not mind the extra layer of poncho. By the time we made it back to land, we were frozen and in search of a hearty, warming lunch. We went to Naustið.

The first thing we both ordered was hot tea. It smelled good (Golden Chai) but also it steamed some feeling back into my face.

I decided to have Plokkfiskur (fish mash) with potatoes, salad, and more Geysir bread (seriously, I can’t get enough of it). Trish had flatbread with grilled vegetables.

Fortified, we set off for our afternoon hiking adventures. Our first stop was definitely off the beaten path. We continued north from Húsavík about 15 minutes along the Tjörnes peninsula and turned off on a road with a gate you had to open and close. After driving through a field, we reached a steep dirt road down to the sea and Tjörneshöfn Guesthouse.

The reason for the stop was fossils! This peninsula is famous for fossil layers that show the different warm and cold phases during the Tertiary period. I thought we might have to squint to see any fossils but the cliffs are chockablock full of them!

You can’t take any with you because the area is protected, but things like this are just lying all over the place.

Trish also found local poultry and made friends.

She also spotted some type of golden-colored rodent, but we couldn’t get a good picture.

The beach also has a few blocks of soapstone, which isn’t found in Iceland. The assumption is it hitched a ride over from Greenland on an iceberg.

Our next stop was one of the wonders of the Diamond Circle: Ásbyrgi Canyon. It’s a horseshoe-shaped canon and legend says it was left by Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.

We took a pleasant 3.5 km hike around the inside of the hoofprint (it was my kind of hike, we only had to go up about 10 meters and then it was flat!). The path was a very interesting texture. It was a bit springy, like a playground made out of recycled tires.

After that, we traveled to the west side of Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, another stop on the Diamond Circle. The waterfall is accessible from the east or west sides but the west side is more developed (aka it has trails and a paved access road).

We decided to save Dettifoss for last and hiked out 0.6 km to see nearby Selfoss, a v-shaped waterfall above Dettifoss.

The area you can hike on now looks like it floods during the spring melt.

We made it to Dettifoss, which was, as advertised, very big.

I’m glad we chose the west side because I don’t think my feet would have liked hiking down what you can see on the other side!

We headed back to the hotel for dinner and a well-deserved drink! After all the hiking, we both opted for burgers and rye bread ice cream (tasty, but not as good as what we got in Reykjavik).

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Iceland 2022 – Day 9

June 5: Höfn to Mývatn

This morning we were up before our alarm. I tried to take a timelapse video overnight of what it looks like when the sun goes down but the GoPro did not cooperate.

We had breakfast in the hotel again. This time there were no hot dishes but Trish thinks they must have had a hidden camera on the spread because the second something ran out, a person would appear with replacements!

Our first stop of the day was just outside Höfn, only about 20 minutes away: The Viking Villiage and Café. I’m not 100% sure what the full story is, but someone (the farmer who owns the land? a defunct production company?) built a Viking village to use as a movie set, but no movie was ever made!

I actually recommend skipping the village. It’s in pretty poor repair and there’s not much to see.

This 100% looks like a Xena set (but is it a Roman garrison or a greek village or New Zealand…? Yes.)

However, I highly recommend this stop for the seal watching, hiking, and black sand beaches!

Trish and I really enjoyed climbing out along the rocks to see the seals, who were fat and lazy on the sunny rocks.

Sleepy seals

After clambouring around, we headed to the black sand beach and practically had the whole place to ourselves!

Dani and Trish footprints

The road down to the seals and the beach passes by these unusual hillocks. Once the sun got high enough in the sky to start baking down, the moist sands around them started to steam.

This stop (everything but the Viking village) was far more interesting than I anticipated, so we ended up spending a good hour wandering around. After that, we pressed on again. We stopped for lunch and gas in Djúpivogur, a small fishing village on the eastern coast.

We went to Við Voginn for lunch.

I had excellent fish and chips and Trish had “Chicken Bread” (chicken and mushrooms on a slice of sourdough).

Carrot cake for dessert

Trish has been at war with the Icelandic gas pumps. So far she’s 0 for 3. The first one she tried to use she accidentally set for Icelandic instead of English. The second one wouldn’t take her credit card. This one didn’t automatically shut off and covered her hand in gasoline. We drove with the windows down for a while after that…

Much of today’s drive was along the East Fjords. I think it was National Seafarers Day, but we didn’t see any of the festivals or celebrations the guidebook promised. Maybe it’s because we didn’t turn off the Ring Road.

Part of our drive was narrated by a Smart Audio guide (though it’s slightly confusing because our route keeps taking us on the tours backwards). The guide mentioned the unique mineral collection in Stöðvarfjörður that is a woman’s lifetime work. It’s one of the most extensive private collections in the world. We drove past and got a peek at the outside exhibit, but pressed onward.

The last sign of civilization for a while was Egilsstaðir, so we stopped at Skálinn Diner (an inexplicably 1950s American style diner) for a cup of coffee and a bathroom break.

After that, we drove for another hour and a half through beautiful nothing.

For the next two nights, we’re staying at Vogafjós Farm Resort in Mývatn. It’s a working dairy and sheep farm with a nice restaurant. We checked in at the main building. The woman showed me a very simple map explaining how to get to the guest cabins but somehow I got it wrong…

We temporarily gave up on finding our room and headed straight for the Mývatn Nature Baths, the Blue Lagoon of the North. It has the same mineral-rich blue waters but fewer frills.

The locker rooms are NOT set up with a good workflow. I’m still not 100% sure what they were thinking. Also, I seriously underestimated how nice Sky Lagoon’s setup is that you never actually have to walk outside from the changing rooms to the lagoon. There, the ramp down is inside and you don’t turn the corner into the outside world till you are fully immersed in the warm water. At Mývatn Nature Baths you have to leave the changing room, wet from the shower, and walk about 20 feet to the ramp. Also, you have to leave the changing room through the showers, so we didn’t think to bring our towels or robes with us to the tables/chairs outside. Trish was a hero when we left and fetched my towel outside.

The water felt nice, but if I was going to go back to one it would be Sky Lagoon.

After a soak, we returned to the hotel reception desk and Trish got the correct directions to our room.

Before dinner, we said hello to the dairy cows and calves.

The dining room has views of the cow barn and sheep pasture. It’s a little macabre with burgers and lamb on the menu but… dinner was extremely good.

After dinner, we said goodnight to the calves as well.

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Iceland 2022 – Day 8

June 4: Vik – Höfn

The weather was much more favorable today! In fact, rather than backtracking, we were able to go paragliding in Vik.

We met our flight guides outside the Lava Show and followed them to the takeoff spot, just on the other side of the hill by Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. Thank goodness they drove us up the hill though! The driver said they used to have to reverse down it, which did not sound fun.

It didn’t take long to get ready. The parasails and harnesses pack down into a really big backpack. Once we were clipped in and ready to go the wind was so good, it basically just picked Trish and her instructor up!

“Let’s go for a walk… or not.”

From Trish’s POV:

They even showed us how to steer!

Paragliding was another bucket list activity I’m glad we can check off. Though fair warning, the spinning can make you motion sick! I hadn’t really expected it to be a problem since flying never makes me sick, but this did make me a bit queasy. It was still fun, and we had an amazing view of the beach and glacier (which had been completely obscured by clouds previously).

After landing, we stopped at the grocery store to get some food for a picnic lunch in Skaftafell National Park, which is apparently Icelanders’ favorite national park. There are not a lot of towns between Vik and Höfn, so it’s good to be provisioned.

We chose an ~5.5km hike up to Svartifoss (Black Falls) and back around to the visitor center.

The hike was a bit steeper and MUCH hotter than I expected. Even though the temperature was only about 55 the sun made a big difference. Also, though this is technically a forest hike, it’s an Icelandic forest, so don’t expect much shade as you’ll probably be taller than 80% of the trees!

Trish is a weirdo who likes going uphill, so she enjoyed the first half of the hike the most.

At one point, we made a 0.2 km detour to the lookout point Sjónarsker (which also turned out to be uphill) and I sent Trish on ahead while I sat on a rock and drank some water. I did eventually make it up to the top of the hill! However, all in all, I much preferred the downhill portion of the hike.

We ate our pre-packaged sandwiches and some of our road trip snacks back at the visitor center.

We timed things perfectly, so we had enough time to get to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon with plenty of time to spare before our boat ride out to see the icebergs.

The water in the lagoon is brackish, so it never freezes. Even the largest icebergs usually only last a few weeks once they break off the glacier. Even in the Zodiac boat we could only get so close because only about 10% of the icebergs sit above water. They flip and rotate frequently, so our guide says no two tours are ever the same.

A freshly calved or flipped iceberg appears blue. The color only lasts for about seven hours before they turn white.

This one rotated between the 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock tours:

The line between the white and blue segments used to be the waterline.

An unexpected highlight of the tour was seeing seals sunning themselves on a rock. They are the biggest predators that can make it into the lagoon, so they live a happy life getting fat and lazy!

However, our tour guide did accidentally-on-purpose run us into a tiny iceberg and startle 2 out of 3 of them.

Currently, it’s 8 km from the beach to the glacier front, but thanks to climate change, that distance grows every year.

After the boat tour, we took a walk along the waterfront and spotted some more seals.

Tonight, we’re staying at Milk Factory, a (you guessed it) milk factory that has been turned into a little hotel.

I think this is actually the best view from a room so far!

We snagged the last table at Pakkhús for a well-earned dinner.

Höfn is famous for its langoustine so we tried two different preparations, the “Langoustine Pan” (whole langoustine tails in shell (350gr) pan-fried in butter, garlic and parsley. Served in a copper bowl with potatoes, bread, salad, and cold langoustine sauce) and the “Cream Langoustine” (langoustine tails and whole langoustine baked in a creamy white wine sauce. Served with a side salad, potatoes, and bread).

Both preparations were excellent. Interestingly, the cream langoustines were easier to separate from their shells than the pan-fried variety.

I splurged and had a glass of the house chardonnay, which was actually quite tasty and went very well with all the buttery goodness we enjoyed.

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Iceland 2022 – Day 7

June 3: Vik

This morning we had breakfast in the hotel. So far, all the hotel breakfasts have been pretty similar. There are breads, skyr & granola/cereal, meats & cheeses, fruit, and eggs, bacon, and waffles. The fish liver oil migrates around. At the Frost and Fire Boutique Hotel it was next to the coffee. At Hotel Vestmannaeyjar it was next to the skyr. Today, it was above the meat & cheese. Maybe no one knows what you’re supposed to put it on or in…

Most mornings I’ve had bread and skyr, but this morning I decided to try the hot dishes which were very tasty.

After breakfast, we were supposed to go paragliding. The weather didn’t look exactly delightful, but they didn’t call to cancel, so we went to the meeting place. No one was there! It turned out there had been a mix-up and our reservation was accidentally marked as canceled by us. It was a moot point because flights were indeed canceled for the day, but that’s why they hadn’t called us.

The tour guide was very apologetic and asked if we’d be around tomorrow because they were planning to do flights around Seljalandsfoss (which they rarely do). We told him we had to be somewhere at 4 PM the next day. He said that should be plenty of time but, to play it safe, he said we could start half an hour earlier than they normally do. Fingers crossed the weather holds!

That left us with almost a whole day of leisure. Since we were already up and dressed, we decided to return to Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve to do some bird watching.

We did get to see puffins! And actually, they were closer than we saw on the boat tour. Puffins prefer cloudy/rainy weather, so more were out. I packed binoculars, which gave us pretty good views of their ungainly flapping and hopping. Puffins are very graceful in the water, but on land and in the air, they are not exactly ballerinas.

After puffin-watching, we took one of the paraglide guide’s recommendations for what to do today and stopped at a cafe that’s been built inside an American school bus. It’s Skool Beans!

There’s even a little fireplace inside!

The menu of house-roasted coffees, artisanal teas, and decadent hot chocolate creations punched way above its weight.

I had Orange Chocolate and Trish had Wasabi Chocolate

Sadly, Jeffrey, the resident cafe-cat, was at home in a cone of shame after getting into a fight with a neighborhood bully.

We spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel. We tried on some hand-knitted Icelandic sweaters but haven’t found the ones that make our hearts sing.

This evening, we went to The Icelandic Lava Show. This is the Land of Fire and Ice, but the ice is a lot easier to find reliably than the fire. To solve that issue, an enterprising descendant (great-grandson) of a survivor of the 1918 eruption of the volcano Katla, has created lava indoors! They melt stone from the 1918 eruption (found in abundance in the black sands around here) and release it into a trough.

Originally, I dismissed this as a gimmicky experience, but then I read a review that called it an unexpected tour highlight, and I have to concur. The presentation was very informative about why Iceland is so seismically active, what the evacuation plans are in Vik when Katla erupts (it’s 50 years overdue), and about the different types of lava and the types of rocks/formations left behind when it cools. Plus, it’s neat to see really, really hot rock!

The room got pretty toasty!
600 degrees C is the magic number when lava switches between orange and black

I splurged and got us backstage tickets to see behind the scenes at the furnace.

They have to replace the crucible after 40 shows. Right now (shoulder season) that means about every 3 weeks. In peak season, they have to replace it every 10 days!

He’s holding a chunk of metal they often find at the bottom of the crucible when they retire them. The heavy metals slowly sink out of the rock as they reuse it.

We each got a piece of basalt glass as a souvenir (it’s different than obsidian – more fragile).

We had dinner at Suður-Vik, another paragliding guide recommendation and a place I had identified in my research. They have an eclectic menu of local dishes, pizza parlor fare, and, incongruously, Thai curry.

We had smoked char, a fried app assortment, and a pizza (the “Númer tvö” with pepperoni, onions, bacon, mushrooms, pineapple, fresh chili, and cream cheese). Dessert was strawberry skyr cheesecake.

We tried a couple more Icelandic brews. Trish was very taken to discover that her Borg porter was number 7(0f)9.

I had the Borg Icelandic Stout. It was very good and dark. but Trish’s porter was so complex! It smelled like caramel and tasted like toasted marshmallow. The flavor went on and on.

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Iceland 2022 – Day 6

June 2: Waterfalls & Vik

I woke in the wee hours of the morning and snapped a picture of the dead of an Icelandic summer night:

Trish was poking around yesterday and saw there is a short(ish) hike up to the top of Eldfell. Even though it meant getting up earlier, she wanted to climb it! We had breakfast with the other early risers (mostly retirees) and drove to the trailhead.

We were surprised to be the only car in the parking lot but it was nice to have the entire mountain to ourselves!

The trail is only 1.3 km but it goes up 87 m (~285 ft or a 28-story building). Google claimed it would take 21 minutes, and they must be calibrated for out-of-shape hikers because we managed to do it in about 25 minutes.

The terrain was surreal. The mountain is so young there are basically no plants growing on it. The base looks like the moon and then, about halfway up, the soil turns red and you’d swear you were on Mars (if only we could have initiated Martian gravity!).

Trish lead the way and only lied to me once about being at the top.

Spoiler Alert: this was not the top

The view was absolutely worth the climb, however.

Trish was (temporarily) the tallest point on the mountain.
Then I became the tallest point on the mountain

I wore the GoPro on the way down and followed Trish. Down was a lot easier (and faster!) than up 🙂

We made such good time at Eldfell that we had time for another stop before returning to the hotel to shower before checking out. I saw a video of this yesterday and instantly knew Trish would want to try it.

The sport most characteristic of Icelandic islands is “sprang” a form of miniature cliff rappelling.

I could explain it to you, but I think in this case a video is worth a thousand words. Here’s Trish’s first attempt:

She actually did quite well. She says if she’d had her sneakers on and could have gotten a better grip on the rope she would have done even better.

I, on the other hand, have weak noodle arms…

I realized I neglected to mention the tragedy that struck leaving Hveragerði… I left my hand sanitizer at the restaurant! I had to go through all of yesterday hand sanitizerless. The horror! (OK, we still had the big bottle in the car, but my pocket-sized bottle has been sacrificed to the Norse gods.)

We tried to replace it at the grocery store last night but had no luck. Trish thought to check at a gas station and success!

Life will go on

We returned to the hotel, showered (well-earned), and still had half an hour to kill before queuing for the return ferry. It started to drizzle as soon as we got in the car, so we just took a short drive up to Puffin Outlook. We didn’t get out of the car but this family of toasted marshmallows greeted us.

A persistent drizzle kept us inside on the ferry, but the seas were even calmer today (0.5 m swells) so it was a pleasant trip. Back on the mainland, the drizzle was more intermittent, but if we were going to get a rainy day, this was a good one because we planned to spend most of the day in waterproof gear exploring waterfalls!

Our first waterfall was Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most visited and photographed destinations. It’s beautiful, 60 m tall, AND you can walk behind it. But do be aware, you WILL get wet. Very, very wet. Definitely wear rainproof everything. My iPhone stayed safely inside the waterproof gear and I used the GoPro to capture some memories.

Getting behind the falls requires going up and down some slippery and rock-studded slopes, so it is definitely at your own risk.

About a 10 minutes walk away, there is another waterfall, often less visited, Gljúfrabúi. Personally, I found it to be even more spectacular because it is hidden between the rocks. The walk to catch a glimpse of it through the passageway is easy.

But the really cool part is working your way back to the actual falls. Unfortunately, my GoPro recording didn’t work, but you’re using rocks (not particularly flat) as stepping stones through the river and the canyon wall as support. Once you’re back there, it is again very wet but breathtaking.

The drizzle started up again as we walked back to the car. Honestly, it wasn’t very much of a problem because we were already waterproofed from head to toe.

Next, we headed to Skógar, about 25 minutes away. The main attraction is Skógafoss, another impressive waterfall that can be seen from the Ring Road.

We stopped for a picnic lunch with our goodies from yesterday. The drizzle kept us in the car, but we had a nice view of some sheep.

I was very interested in the highly recommended Folk Museum, which is based on a collection put together by an Icelandic man over 72 years! He finally retired at the age of 92.

So far, this was my favorite museum of the trip because the signage contained interesting, brief facts. Most of the items dated from the 1800s and early 1900s.

Again, we timed the weather well. It rained pretty hard while we were inside the museum, but cleared off by the time we wanted to explore the outside portion. Over the years, several old buildings from various places around Iceland have been disassembled and reassembled at this museum, including some turf dwellings, a school house, the first wooden house from a particular area, and a church.

A common theme is very short doors.

I would not have had many brain cells left…

With the break in the weather, we prioritized Kvernfoss, a hidden waterfall off the tourist radar, over Skógafoss. The path to Kvernfoss starts behind the museum and involves climbing a ladder over a fence (I assume there may be sheep in the field you cross, though I didn’t see any). If anyone (*cough* parents *cough*) is worried we were trespassing, don’t worry! The museum actually does have a map of the route that explicitly tells you to hop the fence.

The transition from the flatlands to the mountains is abrupt all along this area of the coast. In fact, Seljalandsfoss used to be at the coast. The landscape is just staggeringly beautiful.

Trish found more things to climb down on our approach to the falls.

Just after this spot, we turned and got our first glimpse of the Kvernfoss.

You can also walk behind these falls! It’s possible to get less wet than at Seljalandsfoss, but Trish didn’t choose that path.

Even after all of that, Trish decided she still wasn’t wet enough, so she approached the front of the falls as well.

We headed back to the car and I made her pose with some of the lilac (we assume) that carpets much of the countryside.

I married such a cutie

Back at the car and very damp, we decided to skip going to the base of Skógafoss since we got a good view from the road. However, our path was temporarily blocked by a family of sheep!

Little Lamb! The middle of the road is not a good place for dinner!

We pressed onward to Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve and got an aerial view of Iceland’s famous black sand beaches.

We also got a look at the Dyrhólaey sea arch.

Our final sightseeing stop of the day was Reynisfjara, one of the most photogenic beaches in the world. There are stunning basalt columns, worn somewhat smooth by all the hands scrabbling to climb them.

More things to climb!

The beach is beautiful, but visitors need to be aware of “sneaker waves,” unusually large waves that appear without warning.

I’m glad we stopped here because it was like a geological playground for Trish to indulge her love of climbing things.

Trish thought this one looked like the inside of a spaceship
There she is!

After LOTS of hiking (Trish broke 20,000 steps – either due to the climbing or her short legs), we checked into our hotel in Vik, Hotel Kría. We’ll spend two nights here.

The puffin has been christened Flap Flap Pufflin-nap.

Before we lost steam, we changed out of our damp clothes and went to Smiðjan Brugghús, for dinner and Icelandic beer (we earned it!).

They have 10 Icelandic beers on tap and offer tasting flights. Unfortunately, they were out of a few, so there were 7 total to sample.

The darkest beer they had available was the “Stuck at Home” Stout, so we got two of those.

Here are my rankings/notes:

  1. Stuck at Home – Stout – coffee grounds
  2. Micro Lager – Gæðingur – hint of bitterness, kind of like root beer
  3. Brio – Lager – a lot like Sapporo
  4. Paradus – IPA – spritz, citrusy, milky/creamy texture/finish, surprisingly pleasant
  5. Summer Tumi – IPA – more malty than hoppy
  6. Haltá ketti – lemony
  7. Randy – Böl – fruity, like berry cider (not what I’m looking for in a beer)

Dinner was appropriately hearty. Trish was really into this Chicken and Waffle preparation and the BBQ sauce on the ribs was made with Stuck at Home.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and collapsed into bed.

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Iceland 2022 – Day 5

June 1: Heimaey

Last night, we fell asleep to the soothing sound of rain on the skylights above our bed. This morning, we woke to beautiful sunny weather!

I guess what they say about Iceland is true: if you don’t like the weather wait 10 minutes (though so far in our experience it’s more like “wait 10-24 hours”).

We enjoyed a tasty breakfast spread at the hotel, though we did skip the Fishliver Oil, which was next to the coffee and cottage cheese. I do not know which of those three things were supposed to be mixed together…

I’m a big fan of Icelandic bread so far. There were three types to sample this morning! A dense, sweet ryebread, something wholegrain, and a loaf of cranberry or raisin bread. We also had blueberry skyr with granola and fruit. It was not the typical collection of nasty honeydew and melon! This was a mix of apples, bananas, oranges, and, incongruously, watermelon.

We needed to hit the road at 9 AM in order to make it to Landeyjahöfn to catch our ferry to the city of Heimaey in the Vestmannaeyjar islands, known for its proximity to numerous puffin colonies and a disastrous volcanic eruption in 1973.

We arrived at the ferry 30 minutes early, exactly as instructed, and discovered Icelanders and tourists of Iceland are a prompt bunch. We were at the back of the cue for cars driving onto the ferry!

The seas were calm (only 0.7 m swells) and the crossing took about 40 minutes. Inside had comfy chairs, tables, and a cafe, but we spent the voyage in the fresh air up top. Embarking and debarking (even with the cars) was speedy and we arrived in plenty of time for our noon tour.

Originally, we were booked on a 4 PM excursion, but while we were out walking yesterday our Puffin Safari tour guide called us and asked if we would be able to take an earlier tour because they were worried they wouldn’t be able to run tours later in the day due to weather issues. (Fortunately, the weather in question was wind rather than rain, which didn’t impact our afternoon plans for dry land at all.)

The timing actually worked out perfectly. We docked at 11:30, parked the car, found the tour office, used the bathroom, and went out to get suited up for our excursion! It’s the height of fashion.

We weren’t risking the phones to potentially choppy water, so Trish used the 360 camera and I used the head rig for the GoPro (definitely recommend! It allows you to record but still experience the scenery without looking through a lens!).

3x speed

We definitely saw puffins but, strangely, puffins don’t like bright sunny days, so most were up in their nests, visible as little white specks against the green. We also saw a lot of seagulls and guillemots. The tour was really more about the geology and interesting rock formations around the island.

We both had a great time!

After the boat docked back at the harbor, we had lunch at Tanginn, a harbor-side restaurant with an eclectic menu. Trish and I both opted for reindeer burgers. Blindfolded, I don’t think I could reliably tell you the difference between bison and reindeer. It’s gamier than beef but very similar.

We took a couple tacky tourist photos with the giant puffin statue in the harbor.

Going on the earlier boat tour actually allowed us to hit both of the other main tourist attractions in Heimaey this afternoon, freeing up our morning tomorrow for either sleeping in or walking around the island. (I guess it’s three attractions if you count the tacky tourist photos with the giant puffin statue at the harbor…)

We went to the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre first. Part of Klettsvik Bay (adjacent to the harbor) has been netted off for the whales. This is the first whale sanctuary and is a bit of an experiment. The first two residents, Little White and Little Grey (who lived their whole lives in a Shanghai water park), only arrived in 2019… and they were scared of the bay!

Right now, they’re staying in the relatively small quarantine/observation tank in the main building (journeying between it and the bay requires truck and boat transfer, so is a bit complicated). The care teams are making changes to the bay to make it less overwhelming and they hope the whales will be able to spend a few months there later this summer. They’re planning to bring them back to the quarantine tank for the winter to test out the weather-proofness of their new bay accessories. If all goes well, the whales will then live in the bay full time.

For now, these chonky belugas are living their best life with numerous enrichment toys.

The sanctuary also rescues puffins who need some TLC, like this guy with only one eye.

Also, they ended up with a guillemot. I’m not sure what his story is but he was a bit of an attention hog!

Trish was really into how his head turned silver underwater

They also have a small aquarium showcasing Icelandic fish and invertebrates.

One tank had cod and pollock. Until a few weeks ago, the substrate at the bottom of the tank was dark, so all the pollock were dark. Then, they switched it out for a lighter color and all the pollock changed color to match it… except for one!

Goth Pollock

After the aquarium, we went up the hill to the Eldheimar Museum, dedicated to the 1973 eruption of Eldfell. In January 1973, a firey rift in the earth opened up a few hundred meters from the town of Heimaey in the wee hours of the morning. The entire island (population ~5,300) had to evacuate in the middle of the night. Fortunately, a storm the day before had forced all the fishing boats back into the harbor so they were able to accommodate everyone. The eruption lasted for 5 months, increasing the size of the island by 20%, and forming Eldfell. Over 400 homes and businesses were destroyed by the volcano and 1/3 of the population never returned.

Some structures were completely destroyed by lava, but others were merely buried under 10 meters of pumice and ash. In the mid-2000s, the city decided to excavate a few houses and create a museum to memorialize the event. The resulting museum has been built around one of the fully excavated homes.

There aren’t many artifacts or much signage in the museum, but there is an excellent audio guide and video presentation.

We ran a few errands before checking into Hotel Vestmannaeyjar. We filled up the gas tank and stopped at a grocery store to get some road trip/picnic fare for the next few days.

After relaxing at the hotel for a bit, we had dinner at Gott.

Trish had the “Spicy Wrap” which was kind of like a burrito, except on more of a roti-like flat bread. I had the fish of the day, cod, with potato mash and vegetables and boy was it delicious! We finished the meal with some date cake and skyr-flavored ice cream.

Even the street signs have puffins on them
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Iceland 2022 – Day 4

May 31: Reykjavik – Reykjanes Penninsula – Hveragerði

We slept well after yesterday’s adventures! I got up a little before 9 AM and showered. Trish was up by the time I was done. It didn’t take us long to pack up and we were ready to hit the road by 10 AM.

Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be quite rainy for the next few days, but at least we packed appropriately! We both have waterproof jackets and pants. Visibility was a little low heading out of Reykjavik but we had a pleasant first stop at Viking World Museum. The exhibits were modest but it was cute.

The main attraction is the Viking ship Íslendingur (the Icelander). It was built as an exact replica of the Gokstad ship, which was excavated from a burial mound in Norway in the late 1880s. The Gokstad dated back to about 870 AD, the same time the Vikings sailed to Iceland. The ship sailed from Iceland to New York in 2000 to commemorate Leifur Eiríksson’s voyage to North America.

Now bring me that horizon!

We had a cup of coffee and watched a short video presentation about the run-up to the 2000 sailing trip.

On our way out, we picked up another souvenir, a wooden ornament shaped like Iceland. An 85-year-old man in town makes them in his shop and his wife adds the stain and ribbons!

We grabbed a quick, hearty lunch at Malai-Thai Restaurant.

Since visibility was low, we decided to skip the two lighthouses in Garðskagi and head straight for the Bridge Between Continents. Like yesterday, we could see the edge of the plates.

We continued around the tip of the peninsula on route 425. We cut off on a side road and eventually found the T-intersection described by our guidebook. We took the east path first and stopped at Reykjanesviti Lighthouse.

Neither of us felt the need to climb to the top, so we continued on ~500 more meters to the coast.

This was a cool stop! We were able to climb a small hill and get a gorgeous view of Valahnúkur Cliff (currently home to nesting seagulls).

We could also see several rock formations out at sea, including Karlinn (up close in the foreground) and the islet of Eldey way out there (left side by the horizon). Eldey is home to one of the largest colonies of Northern Gannet in the world.

Is Trish smaller than a Northern Gannet??

We returned to the car and retraced our route back to the T-intersection and went down the western fork. This led to a geothermal area with steamy, bubbling mud pits. The largest, Gunnuhver hot spring, bubbled away merrily and emitted huge plumes of sulfurous steam.

We returned to the car and decided to head straight for our accommodations in Hveragerði. It rained pretty hard for the first part of the drive but cleared off as we arrived.

We tried to stop at Rósagarðurinn, one of Hveragerði’s famous greenhouse farms, but they weren’t giving tours because a plague wiped out all their roses!

We checked into Frost & Fire Boutique Hotel and the very nice woman at reception gave us a quick tour of the grounds. I think we have the best room in the hotel! We’re on the corner so we have panoramic views of one of Iceland’s only warm rivers.

Sadly, the spot you can swim in is located at the end of a hike that takes about an hour. However, from our room, we can see plumes of steam rising from the geothermal areas across the river.

Before dinner, we took a 2 km walk through part of Hveragerði and across the river through the geothermal areas.

We got to see our hotel from the other side!

The rain returned just as we got back to the hotel, so our timing was good.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, Varmá, tonight. They cook about half their menu in the hot spring in the parking lot!

We had their three-course meal, which was very tasty. The carrot puree was a particularly nice accompaniment to the lamb.

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Iceland 2022 – Day 3

May 30: Reykjavik & The Golden Circle

Last night, Trish and I figured out how to use the local bus app to buy tickets to get us to the meeting point for today’s tour. It was our only early wake-up call for the whole trip, but we had to pry ourselves out of bed at 6:15 AM to get there on time. And we successfully took public transportation without being able to read the signs!

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the meeting point, there was much confusion over the tickets I’d booked, which included a tour of Iceland’s “Golden Circle” and a snowmobiling adventure.

The first guy who checked us in said, “Great! You’re in the right spot.”

Then, at boarding time, the tour guide said, “Wait a minute… We don’t offer a Golden Circle & Snowmobiling combo.”

So we did not get on that bus. We went back inside and a third guy said, “Oh, don’t worry. We’re having you picked up by a different tour operator… in an hour. We just have to call them and tell them to come get you.”

It would have been nice to know our early morning didn’t have to be quite so early! Oh well.

The tour I booked was for a 50+ person group on a bus with an audio guide and tablet in every seat. The tour we got was just 10 people in a massive Ford Explorer with offroad tires. It was nice to get the small group, but our driver didn’t have much to contribute in terms of commentary.

Trish for scale

Unlike yesterday, the weather in Reykjavik was foggy and visibility was low. I feared we’d picked a bad day for a scenic tour, but as soon as we got past the city limits we drove out of the fog and into another beautiful, clear day.

Our itinerary today took us significantly inland. The Golden Circle is certainly well-paved and tourist-friendly, but getting to the snowmobile base camp took us into the outskirts of Iceland’s true interior highlands and I’m *really* glad someone else was driving. Roads (and I use the term loosely) in Iceland’s interior are rugged, pitted, bumpy, gravel affairs. The driver joked that “in the UK they drive on the left side of the road. In Iceland, we drive on what’s left of the road!”

Our first stop of the day was one of the sights on the Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park. “Þingvellir” roughly translates to “fields of parliament.” The world’s first democratically elected parliament, the Alþingi, was formed here in 930 AD. The ~30 Viking clans in the Alþingi met annually at Þingvellir.

Visible today are the exposed North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It’s one of the only places on land where you can see such a sight.

TBH not sure which side is which

We drove past stop numbers 3 and 4 on our way to the snowmobile base camp for Langjökull Glacier. It’s the second-largest glacier in Iceland and the name translates to the “Long Glacier,” because it’s long and skinny.

The road to the base camp was rough! It felt like sitting in a washing machine on wheels. Fortunately, Trish’s magic anti-motion sickness zapper-thingy worked wonders.

Getting ready to snowmobile was a two-step process. First, we stopped at the lower cabins to get geared up with snowsuits, gloves, and helmets. The weather was so balmy (almost 60 degrees F!) so most of us actually stripped off all the extra layers we’d brought to keep warm. Once we looked like astronauts, we crammed ourselves back into the Escape to reach the actual snowmobiles.

We got a quick lesson on how to use a snowmobile and then set off! It was two people per snowmobile. One person drove 25 minutes out and the other person drove 25 minutes back.

I drove first and snowmobiling is a lot harder work than it looks! You really have to shove on the handlebars to steer the front skis. The slower you go, the harder it is to steer. I was trying very hard to stay in line with everyone so I only got up to 35 km/h a handful of times. You also have to lean your whole body into the turns so you don’t overbalance and tip over.

We had a 10-minute break to play in the snow, take pictures, and switch drivers.

Trish was much more of a natural than me! We were the last snowmobile going back and the person in front of us was going very slow. Trish actually used this to her advantage because she’d slow down and let them get ahead, then zoom to catch up. She got up to 52 km/h and really enjoyed making big S curves!

If our kids ever want to go snowmobiling, she’s on deck. I enjoyed the experience and am happy I can check it off my bucket list, but I don’t think I need to do it again!

We returned our gear and backtracked along the Golden Circle. Stop #3 was Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”). Water from Langjökull plummets down two separate cascades (the first 11 meters, the second 21 meters).

We are able to enjoy Gullfoss today thanks to an environmental activist, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, in 1907. She stopped an English businessman from turning the falls into a power plant.

You can look down on the falls from an observation point above them. You can also take a trail through the waterfall’s misty spray to get a closer look. Our waterproof pants finally came in handy!

We packed some hearty Icelandic bread and jam for (late) lunch and accompanied it with an orange and an Egils Appelsín orange soda (I guess Icelanders really like their orange soda!).

Our last stop of the tour was Geysir Geothermal Area. Geysir (which gave its name to other erupting water features around the world), is dormant now. It hasn’t erupted since ~2000. Only one geyser, Strokkur, is active now, but it goes off every 4 to 8 minutes.

With our half-hour stop, we managed to watch it erupt 5.5 times (one was just a little burp).

Trish also decided to take in the sight from a unique angle…

Trish Cam TM

The drive back to Reykjavik took about 90 minutes and I admit I dozed off for part of it. By the time we got dropped off near our AirBnB, we were both starving. Hearty as the bread was, we’d worked up an appetite! (My apple watch is so proud of me–I’ve closed all three activity rings for the first time since COVID and I’ve done it two days in a row!)

We decided to try Sæta Svínið (Sweet Pig) Gastropub. We ordered and devoured a bread basket with fresh-baked sourdough and beer-date butter with Icelandic sea salt. We also inhaled bacon-wrapped dates with chili-honey sauce.

We both opted for burgers. Mine was a little dry but still hit the spot after a long day. We also treated ourselves to a couple of Icelandic beers. Trish had an Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter and I had a Víking Krummi Stout.

The Google Translate app is coming in very handy on this trip!

Also, I’m reminded that I neglected to mention yesterday that, until 1989, beer was illegal in Iceland. I knew that, and just assumed all alcohol was illegal until 1989, but no! Stephen told us that prohibition went into effect in 1915. But, Europe was pissed about buying Icelandic fish if they weren’t buying European wine. So, in 1922, they lifted the ban on wine (that didn’t last long!) and on spirits in 1935. But beer stayed illegal until 1989!

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