Day 6 – A Mixed Bag Kind Of Day

Andy woke Laurie in the middle of the night to look at the stars. It was nice being able to star gaze from the warmth and coziness of our bed.

Orion was bright and easily recognizable. Unfortunately no Aurora Borealis was to be seen.

Laurie’s eyes stayed open for about 3 minutes before they closed again and she was fast asleep.

Last night we made changes to our plans. We both really want to explore an ice cave, but unfortunately they are all located in the southern part of the island. We tried booking a few when we were down there but they were all sold out.

Now our choice is to explore the western fjords and wait until our next trip to Iceland for an ice cave experience or skip the western fjords and drive back to where we spent the our 2nd night to do what we really want to do.

One of Andy’s favorite sayings is “Why put off for tomorrow what you can do today.”

So we booked an ice cave tour and will stay on Road 1, taking it back toward Vik instead of exploring Northwest Iceland. We feel good about this plan, even though it means we will literally be halfway across Iceland two days from now.

We had a nice breakfast at our hotel including “geyser” bread which is dense rye made in holes in the ground and cooked for 24 hours from the heat of the geysers. It wasn’t the tastiest thing (at least for Laurie) but it was nice to try.

We drove about 40 minutes to the Godafoss waterfall under dark but clearing skies. This is another giant waterfall formed from a river carving a path through 7,000 year old lava fields.

It was very pretty and not yet very crowded as it was still early in the morning and most people were having breakfast.

Laurie snoozed while Andy drove another hour to the town of Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town.

Here we decided to partake in a common Icelandic recreation activity – swimming.

Andy does not know how to swim but is trying to learn. He took swim lessons earlier this year but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to practice mainly because he hates chlorine and most pools around the Bay Area are heavily chlorinated.

Laurie was excited when she learned about the amazing Icelandic pools. She packed googles, a swim cap and even ear plugs to make swimming as enjoyable as possible.

Hopefully Andy would feel more comfortable in less chlorinated water and this would be a fun way to break up the long driving days.

Our morning at the pool did not disappoint, even though it was a balmy 9 degrees celcius.

We payed our entrance fee equivalent of $9 and parted ways into our respective changing rooms.

Laurie busily put on her bathing suit and swim cap and was looking for the exit to the pool when a lady stopped her to ask if she had showered. She hadn’t. She went back to do so and learned there are dry and wet sections to the locker room to keep the place as clean as possible.

One is supposed to undress, place his/her towel in the towel section, take his/her bathing suit to the shower where you shower naked and THEN put on your bathing suit. This all makes sense, particularly when done in the reverse order after the pool however to a newbie American if felt quite complicated.

There are many pool options – 4 hot tubs, 2 slides, a kid pool, open water pool and lap pool. All of which are heated with natural spring water (plus a little chlorine).

One of the coolest features of the pool is the possibility of a wet entry. There is a small pool indoors and plastic flaps allow you to enter the outdoor open water pool without having to brave the cold air.

It is like a doggie door for humans. Of course there are regular doors too for those who are used to the cold, but that was not us!

We played on the slides for the most part. Laurie took a little break to do some laps while Andy sat in the “hot pot.” Unfortunately one of our pair of googles fell off Laurie’s head at some point so we both couldn’t swim at the same time. Honestly, the slides were too fun for Andy to want to work on his swimming.

We pulled ourselves away to continue with our plan for a grocery run and a hike. Andy drove (Laurie slept) another 40 minutes north toward a trail that led 2,000+ feet up to a lake in about 3 miles.

Unfortunately the clouds got darker and darker and the winds grew stronger, especially so when we turned inland to find the trail. It was not ideal hiking conditions so we turned around.

Truth is we probably wouldn’t have been able to get very far anyway because of the amount of snow on the mountains.

We drove back to our guesthouse and relaxed for a bit before heading out to wander around the town of Akureyri, where the winds were mild and blue clouds were overhead.

Many of the shops were closed but we did try some Icelandic ice cream and leaned how to say “thank you.”

As it got dark we came back, made dinner and blogged as the wind howled outside.

Tomorrow will be another long driving day but we hope to break it up with some more waterfalls and whatever else piques our interest.

Tonight we are grateful for each other and clean and cozy guesthouses.

Godafoss waterfall

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Day 5 – Highway To The Thermal Zone

In order to see the northern lights one must have all three of the following: solar activity, clear(ish) skies and little light pollution. Last night there was a slight chance (a score 3 out of 9) for solar activity and clear skies. Our hostel was on the outskirts of town.

That was enough for Andy to set his alarm for midnight with hopes to see his first northern light show.

There were a few stars out at midnight so Andy got dressed and headed outside. He looked up and immediately saw a shooting star.

He was happy. It wasn’t too cold and the sky kept clearing. He was hopeful. He called his parents, blogged and saw a few more shooting stars.

Around 1:30am the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, but Andy persisted.

At 1:45am he thought he heard chickens. Fearing he was hallucinating, he thought it was time for bed but he kept hearing them and remembered the hostel offered fresh chicken eggs for 50ISK. Then he heard the ducks calling.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

He returned inside around 2:15am disappointed but content with the multiple shooting stars. Laurie was sound asleep spread across the double bed but easily moved over to let Andy in.

We both had trouble opening our eyes when the alarm went off at 7 am. We bargained with one another and finally got up at 8. We opted to eat on the road to save precious time and daylight. It was going to be another jam packed day.

Our first stop was a waterfall just past the hostel in the opposite direction. The morning air was fresh and only a few clouds hung in the sky. We scampered up the hillside, Laurie aching to just keep hiking.

The constant feeling of needing to keep moving to see it all has been the hardest part of this trip. The weather makes it really hard to plan and there is just too much beauty to see in 10 days.

Essentially this trip feels like a scouting trip so we will know where to come and spend more time next time we come. (And there will be a next time – this country is amazing!!)

We stopped off at Gufufoss waterfall on our way back up the hairpin turns.

On the way down from the pass we noticed a car on the side of the road facing us at an awkward angle. We slowed and stopped to help an older French couple who had veered off the road and buried their wheels in the steep bank.

We were the first of 7 cars to stop and try to help. It was amazing to see how helpful everyone was. Andy and another gentleman attempted to push the car out but the wheels spun and dug deeper into the loose soil.

Ultimately a suave Icelandic driver backed the car down further into the ditch to level it out a bit and gain traction. He then slowly and methodically drove backwards partway up the bank. A big rig positioned itself on the narrow 2 lane road to pull the car out. The locals strapped one end of a tow rope to the car and one to the truck.

As the truck driver slowly inched forward and Mr. Suave slowly drove in reverse, the right rear wheel of the car came off the ground. After a few tense moments all four wheels were on tarmac once again. All the bystanders applauded the efforts of the friendly and helpful locals.

From here it was a long 2 hour stretch through snowy alpine tundra and along a river.

We have been checking the road conditions religiously since we are not in a 4wd car. The road to Dettifoss indicated there were patches of ice but it was fine to drive. We were reassured to see the road was paved all the way to the west side parking lot.

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. It is much wider than most and the amount of water that thunders down is insane- according to one guidebook 500 cubic meters (17,700 cubic feet) of water spill over the ledge every second.

The area around the falls is all volcanic and it was fun walking around what felt like a Mars like environment.

Selfoss was a 1 km walk upstream and was a smaller but similarly powerful waterfall. While Dettifoss is a singular and long waterfall at a ~45° angle, Selfoss is more of a bowl shaped waterfall and very pretty in its own right.

Back in the car we drove to Krafla, past a power plant and up to the caldera which was formed during the volcanic activity of the 1970-1980s known as the “Krafla- fires.”

On the way down we saw a bunch of cars and one tour bus parked in a snowy parking lot. Tour buses are our indication of something interesting so we followed the muddy footprints through the snow to the colorful crater of Leirhnjukur.

The sulphur smell was strong but the light blue water and surrounding orange clay provided a nice contrast to the dark molten lava and snow.

We were happy we made the side trip but yet again there was so much to see and it was already 3:30pm. With 2 hours of daylight remaining we opted to skip seeing more geothermal mud pits and instead turned toward the underground hot spring of Grjótagjá.

Unfortunately it is too hot to swim in but to the hands it was nice and the water was incredibly clear. On the way out Andy hit his head on a rock neither of us saw, resulting in a sizeable welt on his forehead (what Armenians call a shishka).

Laurie of course started laughing as Andy asked rubbing his booboo, “Ah, what was that?”

“A rock probably” spit out Laurie amidst giggles.

“Yes, definitely a rock ” confirmed Laurie after lightly hitting her head on the same rock.

Our last stop of the day was the 3,280 foot wide crater of Hverfell. We hurried up the steep path along the side of the crater trying to stay warm. The strong wind whipped sand at our faces near the top.

Once at the top we stayed long enough to take one picture before turning our backs to the wind and heading down.

We checked into our bed and breakfast and went out to eat a nice, tasty farm to table meal.

The restaurant was called Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe. They use the word “cowshed” quite literally as there were cows eating hay right next to the dining room, but that did not stop us from ordering a burger.

We split that and a lamb flank. With so many sheep grazing about we had to try some of the local cuisine.

We are now cozy in bed in our tiny little room with a wall of windows. Fingers crossed for an active evening of northern lights! Today’s score is 4 out of 9 so there may be some green lights overhead..

Tonight we are grateful for sunshine and farm to table restaurants.

Dettifoss

Selfoss (or Selfiefoss if you’re Laurie)

Krafla

Leirhnjukur

Leirhnjukur hot shower (there’s a sink next to it too!)

Grjótagjá hot spring cave

Hverfell crater

Day 4 – East Iceland in Rain and Fog

We woke up excited for the day. We had planned to enjoy the hot pools prior to breakfast, then drive to play at the base of a glacier followed by a scenic drive along the eastern coast of Iceland.

Well, only one of those happened.

We got to the hot springs around 730am. No one was around. No attendant and no wind either. But it was sprinkling and foggy.

We dipped our toes in each of the 5 pools having a Goldilocks moment as we chose which pool to submerge our bodies. We sat for about 15 minutes in the 2nd warmest pool, savoring the quiet morning and warmth of the water.

We had splurged on our hotel thanks to funds from wonderful friends and family who contributed to our wedding registry.

The stay included breakfast which was nothing fancy but did include homemade bread and interesting jams (cayenne and red pepper jam anyone?) along with the usual European continental breakfast options.

As we gathered our things the rain picked up so we decided to forgo the opportunity to explore the nearby glacier.

The entire drive we kept hoping to turn a corner and see sunshine or at least a lighter layer of clouds but no luck. Our drive consisted of mainly rain and fog.

Andy was especially bummed because the forecast called for partly sunny skies after 12 pm. He knows better than to trust weather forecasts but we had been told that Verdur.is is usually accurate.

The road hugged the coastline with alternating views of a jagged rocks and rolling hills with roaming sheep.

A few miles after getting gas, which, if you’re an American with a US credit card you can’t do at the pumps because our credit cards are not set up with pins for purchases, we drove through a 6 kilometer tunnel.

Andy stopped at one point to touch the walls, expecting it to be very cold and smooth. But instead it was very sharp rock at normal temps.

The tunnel was so long Laurie was hopeful there would be sunshine on the other end, but unfortunately this was not the case.

Around 3:30pm, as we crossed through Egilsstadir, the rain let off and the skies became a bit lighter.

We drove next a long narrow lake which was the home to Iceland’s largest forest. At the end of the lake we took a 40 minute hike up a hill to see Iceland’s 3rd tallest waterfall – Hengifoss. This 128 meter high waterfall is unique because of the red layers of clay between the basalt.

It felt great to be moving in the cool fresh air. As we descended back to our car the sun broke through the clouds (unfortunately in the opposite direction than we were heading).

We attempted to hike to one last waterfall before the sun set but the “short walk” wasn’t so short. We turned around after the seeing the lower of the two falls.

The 9 hours of day light seems like a long time but there is so much to see in this country we always seem to be racing against the clock toward the end of the day.

Also, we don’t believe we’ve mentioned this yet but we have a total of 11 days in Iceland and are driving the Ring Road around the country. It’s enough time to do so but getting the most out of each day takes planning and the understanding that you simply can’t see it all.

We have been booking our accommodations one day ahead of time. This particular evening we chose a coastal town with hopes of clearer skies and an increased chance of seeing the northern lights.

We did not expect the road to gain altitude and take us through snowy alpine tundra before dropping back down to the sea. By now the sun had set and the evening glow reflected off the snowy hills and lakes. It was beautiful! Andy did a great job driving slowly and we both took comfort in our studded winter tires.

We slowly made our way down the hairpin turns to the small town of Seydisfjordur nestled at the end of a long fjord. The twinkling lights at the edge of the water reminded Laurie of small towns in Switzerland.

We made dinner at the hostel and chatted with Max from England and 2 women from Switzerland. We planned out the next day and went to bed with a plan to wake up at midnight in hopes of seeing the northern lights.

Tonight we are grateful for optimism and thermal pools to ourselves.

The only wildlife Laurie can capture without them running away (:

How Laurie spends most of her time in the car..😴

Hengifoss