Day 10 – Bye Bye Iceland

October 24, 2018

Lambafell to Keflavík

We woke up to a dark sky. Like most mornings it was hard for Laurie to get out of bed.

We kept the day’s itinerary simple – swimming pool, return car and head to airport.

It was a 90 minute drive to the outskirts of Reykjavík where we wound through a neighborhood to the Árbæjarlaug pool.

This pool was used to foreigners as they had the instructions for the changing rooms written in English. Apparently this was confusing initially to others as well!

By this time we were pros.

We quickly changed and jumped in the pool at the base of the slide. The water in this pool was not as warm as previous ones but it was much warmer than the outside temperature and falling rain.

It had an exposed (as in not enclosed and thus colder) stairwell to the top of the slide. The 5 degree weather did not deter us from playing on the slide for a good 20 minutes. A few slides in Andy showed Laurie how to use a swinging motion to gain momentum and go even faster.

It was not as fast or exhilarating as the slides in Akureyri but it was faster than the ones in the previous pool.

Laurie swam some laps while Andy hung out in the hot pots and massaged his neck and shoulders under a powerful fountain.

We spent about 90 minutes in the pool splashing about and moving our bodies before the 9 hour flight home.

The car drop off was uneventful other than a few trips past a round-about trying to locate the entrance to a gas station.

Andy did let the rental car company employees know he was displeased with the brakes of the first car and got a haphazard apology. He believes Europeans don’t do apologies very well.

We paced through the airport multiple times stretching our legs prior to the flight.

As US citizens we had the privilege of multiple extra security checks. While most people procedeeded through the passport check with green lights, us Americans received a red light and loud buzz as we attempted to go through the turn style.

We were corralled to a separate line and had to answer questions on our purpose of travel, where we had gone, where we had stayed, etc. The agents were very friendly, particularly after Andy talked them up and Laurie made them smile attempting to pronounce the names of various places.

Once through Passport control we figured we were good so we wandered the extent of the terminal.

Our gate was through another checkpoint where they sent all Americans into a small room and patted us down and went through our bags. Apparently they do this because of TSA requirements. Or maybe it is a way to employ a lot of people..

In any case, the agents were all friendly and we had plenty of time to spare so it wasn’t a big inconvenience.

By the time we got to our gate people were already lining up. We joined them and waited another 20 minutes before they began loading the plane.

Wow airlines has very specific guidelines on the size of “personal items” vs “carry on.” One couple on our flight got in a huge argument with the airline staff because their carry on did not fit in the plastic measuring containers. Apparently they took off the luggage wheels to make them fit to avoid the extra charge.

We were glad we had payed a little extra to check in bags in addition to carry on luggage and a personal item to avoid this hassle.

We took a bus to our plane, inhaling our last breaths of cool, crisp Icelandic air before ascending the steps to our bird.

Once on the plane we settled into our seats, Laurie eyeing the empty rows in hopes of snagging one to sleep across. The suspense grew as the time between the buses extended.

There were no announcements but it seemed too good to be true to have so many empty seats. Eventually the facial expressions on the flight attendants relaxed and a large number of people boarded the plane. We had waited for a few dozen travelers who had been delayed and were connecting to our flight.

Suddenly the chances of sleeping comfortably on the plane diminished and we resigned to our original seats.

The flight was fine – long but fine. We snacked, napped, walked and repeated.

Coming home is never as fun as leaving but we were content with our trip. We had a great time and will certainly visit Iceland again in the future.

Tonight we are grateful for sleeping in a horizontal position and loving family who welcomed us home with salad!

Larger than normal thermal activity near the main road

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Day 9 – A Beautiful Grey Day

October 23, 2018

Akranes to Lambafell

We slept well. It sounds like we say that at the start of every entry but our beds really have been quite comfy and we’ve been sleeping through the night and waking up rested.

Something else we keep doing is setting alarms and sleeping through them because it’s always dark when we get up.

This morning was no different.

Our alarm sounded at 730am but we didn’t get out of bed until about 8am.

Laurie showered and put on her robe. She felt fancy and was grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes it’s just the little things that we need to help us feel extra special.

We packed and headed to breakfast. Toast, jam, pickled herring, peppered cold cuts, 8 types of cheese, eggs, granola, flaky mini croissants and chocolate pastries. Yum! Hands down the best breakfast yet.

We drove 5 minutes down the road to Skogafoss. The crowds hadn’t arrived yet but there were at least a dozen camper vans in the parking lot. Some people were outside drinking coffee and making breakfast but others seemed to have not woken up yet. It clearly states no camping, but apparently some people disregard these signs.

We hope this does not lead to more stringent regulations and enforcement in the future. Part of what makes this country so enjoyable is it’s wild nature, lack of guard rails/fences and police presence.

We hiked up the metal stairs to the top of the waterfall. The trail continues here for miles and miles. In the summer it is possible to start a 4 day trek from this location with huts along the way. We hope to do that someday.

We were the only ones at the top of the falls but couldn’t fully enjoy the water crashing down because of the annoying buzz from a drone. Again, there are signs that clearly state no flying drones but we saw plenty of people ignoring this restriction.

At 10am we met our ice cave tour group in the rear of a supermarket parking lot. There seemed to be more people than they anticipated and it took some juggling to fit everyone into two 12 passenger vans.

Laurie asked to sit in the front seat since nobody else had claimed it. We drove through town and on Road 1 for about 10 minutes, then pulled off on an unnamed road.

The Ford Econoline vans were lifted, converted to a 4×4 and had massive tires with an onboard inflate/deflate system to provide a softer ride off road. (You can tell Andy has a slight obsession with these kinds of trucks).

The falling snow provided a nice dusting and contrast to the black volcanic rock.

While driving, our guide gave us some nice history of the area. The Ring Road (which we drove on and appreciated the smoothness of everyday) was completed in 1974. Prior to that the main road around the island was gravel and located in the foothills. Many places where the current road was built upon in the south was still underwater prior to the 1970s.

He spoke about the shrinking coast line and how floods often follow volcanic or earthquake acitivy, which is why the new road had so many bridges and dikes.

We learned that the locals don’t know road numbers, only names. And not just names of roads but the names each ravine, hillside and large rock in the area – usually names after the first settlers. They locate their sheep by using such landmarks.

Once at the base of the glacier we put on Kahtoola microspikes and helmets and headed to the cave. We had to wait a few minutes to let another tour exit. We were both excited and Laurie nearly ran into our guide when he suddenly stopped.

The ice caves form by water running through and off the glacier. They change every few months depending on the rains.

Unfortunately, as it was snowing, the light was too bright so the glacier wasn’t blue like we had seen in pictures but it was still cool to walk inside.

Laurie scampered around and climbed whatever she could. The volcanic rock was loose and deep and the microspikes aren’t made for climbing so she didn’t get very far.

We wandered around the glacier a bit as a group, looking at old cave locations and remnants from sink holes.

Eventually we made our way back to the 4×4 and back to town.

It was raining in Vik so we weren’t in any rush to head to the waterfalls. We had a tasty lunch (more arctic char and lamb, although this time a marinated lamb sandwich). Very tasty.

We drove to the black sand beach to check out Reynisdrangar, which is quite popular given the number of tour buses and cars in the parking lot.

It was cold and miserable walking to the beach with rain and wind whipping our faces. Reysindrangar are hexagonal basalt sea stacks located up the hillside adjacent to the beach. There are tall and interesting rock formations not too far out into the sea as well.

The natural geometric basalt shapes are so amazing. There were other thinner pancake like stacks inside a basalt cave, all of which are a result of the volcanic activity of the region.

Given the poor visibility, we didn’t walk on the beach much and headed for our next stop Kirkjufjara beach. There were more basalt formations here along with more interesting rocks in the sea that weren’t clearly visible given the rain and fog.

We can see how these beaches would be beautiful with sunny skies, however in the rain it looked like just another coastline with some cool arches made from crashing waves.

We hurried back to the car to get warm. Again we passed up an opportunity to see more rock formations and drove past our accommodations to visit two waterfalls.

This was the third time we had attempted to visit Seljalandsfoss. The first time it was dark, second was yesterday and it was getting dark. Third time had to be a charm.

We parked away from the crowds closer to Glúfrabúi. This is a waterfall that falls into a cave. One must walk through the river to enter into the cave.

We started out stepping on stones to get in and met a line of people partway through trying to get out. Andy kindly helped each of the 15 people identify which rock to step on while Laurie desperately clungto the rock wall trying to make herself as small as possible so as not to be in the way.

It was entertaining to see the differing comforts of people’s rock hopping skills and getting wet feet. Some people clung to Andy and then onto Laurie to avoid dunking their feet into the river, while others laughed as they skipped along the rocks.

The cave was cool, although like with most things, it would have looked better in the sunlight.

We walked about 500 meters to Seljalandsfoss, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. This one is popular because you can walk behind it, making it a nice place to take sunset photos.

There was not going to be any beautiful sunset shots tonight so we didn’t hesitate in walking around for the experience.

We entered from a different direction than most and one American “recommended that we don’t go that way because it was treacherous and she couldn’t see how we could possibly face the wet rocks and mud going downhill.”

We smiled and continued – aware of our abilities and comfort zones. The trail was no worse than the mist trail in Yosemite without the steepness, duration or mud.

The issue, more than the condition of the trail, was waiting for a break in the trail of people to get a chance to walk.

We were soaked from the rain so the mist from the fall didn’t phase us. It was cool to watch the water crash down in spurts from 60 meters (197 feet) above.

We had one more stop on our itinerary, but Andy was done. The one place that we had identified and had hoped to see on multiple days was Iceland’s first swimming pool. It has one wall made out of rocks to trap geothermal water. The pool was located very close to our accommodation (a short drive and 15 minute walk) up the valley but it was 4:45pm and very wet out.

Laurie reluctantly agreed that it made sense to get settled, eat early, relax, work on the blog and sleep early on our last evening, however she had trouble letting go of “seeing it all.”

This entire trip was about letting go of seeing it all given the variable weather but the need to see and do it all runs deep within Laurie.

Eventually we settled into our room, played 2 rounds of pool and attempted to watch TV (but nothing good was on). It started to pour which made Laurie feel a little better about passing up on the hike and swim.

This trip was wonderful and we both are left with a desire to return to explore more.

Next time we would hope for sunnier skies but one never knows with the weather. All you can do is bring your rain gear and hope it stays in your pack.

Tonight we are grateful for compatible traveling styles and cozy evenings while listening to the rain fall outside.

Skogafoss

Our tour guide in the shot for perspective

Andy – the keeper of the ice cave

Reysindrangar

Glúfrabúi

Seljalandsfoss

Day 8 – No Tomato Soup For You!

October 22, 2018

Akranes to Skógar

We woke up in the dark, refreshed from a good night’s sleep.

We had planned another full day with stops at some of the sights we had missed on our original drive to the southwest part of the country.

But first we had to leave the hostel. When Andy went to put on his shoes, one of them was missing.

We were both perplexed, there were 2 doors to the hostel but the missing shoe wasn’t at either.

Did someone take it by mistake? That could potentially be the cause if both were missing, but not just one.

Did someone use it as a door stop? Nobody else was awake other than a French family whose room was next to ours. Laurie was about to ask them when Andy opened a closet near one of the doors and found the missing shoe.

Thank goodness. We really didn’t want to spend precious daylight shoe shopping, particularly since everything would be uber expensive and we are quite fond of our waterproof Keen boots. We suspect the young kiddo at the hostel hid it thinking it was funny, but we will never know.

Finally in the car with cozy boots, our first stop was to the local bakery. We bought a cinnamon roll larger than our heads to share on our last days in Iceland.

We left the town of Akranes via a 6 km underwater tunnel. It was rainy in Akranes and once again Laurie hoped that we would encounter different weather on the opposite side of the tunnel – again, this was not the case.

We had so much fun at the public pool in Akureyri we decided to go to as many pools as possible in our remaining days.

Given that it was 8:30 on a Monday morning, there were less people at the Lágafellslaug pool. The waterslides were not as steep or fast as those in Akureyri but we still had fun.

We went down the slides together (probably weren’t supposed to) to gain more speed. And there was nobody else there so we never had to wait. We had a blast! Laurie also swam laps while Andy alternated between the hot tubs and plunge pool.

It remained gloomy and rainy and the pool seemed to be the best place to be. Reluctantly we left around 10am to continue south.

We returned to Thingvellir National Park – a place we had accidentally driven through on our first delirious day without knowing its importance.

This site has both geological and historical significance. Iceland is the only place in the world where the rift between two tectonic plates is above sea level. They say the rift between the two plates widens by 2.5 cm each year.

Not only is it the meeting place of the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates, but it is the location where representatives from each clan met in the 10th century to discuss law on the island and create a commonwealth.

We joined the herd of people as we walked to the Öxarárfoss waterfall. In 7 days we haven’t heard as much English as we did in the hour we spent in this National Park.

It was cool seeing water fall off the shelf formed by the movement of tectonic plates but nothing as spectacular as the waterfalls we saw earlier in the trip.

As we pulled away Andy took a deep breath and tried to blow away all the clouds. We both want sunny skies but it it’s supposed to be cloudy and rainy for the remainder of our trip. But as we always do, we will make the best of it.

After leaving the park we turned onto Road 36 toward Kerid Crater. To our right there were many cars at a dam so we pulled in. As Andy neared his chosen parking space we heard a noise similar to running over a soda can.

Then, as Andy attempted to stop the car, the brake pedal went to the floor but the car did not slow. Andy pumped the brakes a few times and thankfully the car came to a complete stop just before hitting the concrete median and ruining the underbody of the car.

After a quick inspection Andy realized the right rotor showed extreme signs of uneven wear and there was no right front brake pad any more.

He was pissed but thankful this happened in a parking lot rather than on the highway or twisty mountain roads.

We called the rental car company and eventually the emergency service number. Three hours, one visit to the interactive energy museum, one cold walk and one Laurie nap later, a very nice service man met us with a new rental car.

We quickly moved our stuff to the new car and took off. We had to alter our plans quite a bit since we lost 3 hours of daylight but we were thankful to be safe and back on the road again.

As we turned into the parking lot for Kerid Crater both of us had an epiphany. We had been here before.

On our second day, when driving this same road we had seen a bunch of cars and tour buses so we pulled in. When we saw the 400 Kronar per person entry fee to see a crater we figured it wasn’t worth it and turned around.

Now we were back – and this time it was planned!

We laughed at ourselves for being so cheap, payed our entrance fees and walked around the top of the crater. It was pretty with the blue/green water in contrast to the red volcanic rock and vibrant green moss. Of course nothing was as vibrant as it could have been with heavy cloud cover and mist but it wasn’t raining.

We are glad we stopped here as this crater was formed about 6,500 years ago.

We continued south, having to pass up our original plan to have what many claim to be really good tomato soup at a farm with many greenhouses.

As we approached Seljalandsfoss falls the light was poor again so we kept driving to our hotel. It has turned into a long day.

Our hotel is about 5 minutes from Skogafoss, another really pretty waterfall we didn’t get to see on Day two.

We got out to take a quick look, with the intention of coming back tomorrow morning without the crowds to walk up the wooden staircase to the top of the falls.

We got settled into our hotel, enjoying nice features like views of a green mountain side and a heated bathroom floor.

We ate a delicious meal of locally caught Artic Char and roasted lamb in the intimate dining room of the hotel.

We are savoring the last few nights in Iceland and looking forward to our ice cave experience tomorrow, whatever the weather.

Tonight we are grateful for our boots (all four of them) and a working car.

Walking on the North American tectonic plate toward Öxarárfoss waterfall


Öxarárfoss waterfall


Disappointed travelers with a broken car


Kerid Crater


Can you find Laurie?


Skógafoss falls


Kia Cee’d – our new rental car. Quite possibly the only car in the world with an apostrophe in its name.