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 7 – Winter is on its way

October 21, 2018

Akureyri to Akranes

**We’ve decided to include the date and start/end locations for each day in our posts. We will be going back through our blog in the next dew days and adding this information to each post. If you want us to include any other information please leave a comment.**

Laurie woke up dreaming of toast and butter. Luckily there was a toaster in our hostel and we still had ” bakari” bread (aka bakery but we like saying this because it is one of the only Icelandic words we can pronounce).

The window in our room had ornamental indentations so we couldn’t do our usual morning weather check. The wind was no longer howling but there was a constant hum that we hoped wasn’t rain.

It wasn’t but the sky was still pretty dark. And darker in the direction we were headed.

As we drove north and then west of Akureyri it started to rain, then sleet and finally snow. The road began to climb as the winds picked up and soon we were driving through a little blizzard.

With visibility less than 50 feet at times, Andy kept the car in our lane by using the yellow snow posts as a guide. Luckily there were no other cars around so we went as slow as we wanted.

We passed a snow plow and the first Icelandic official vehicle we have seen on our trip. The guy was chilling in his truck on the side of the road – probably with his vehicle running and the heater on.

A few times we wondered if the road was open but figured they would have closed a gate if it wasn’t. So we kept going. Locals would probably laugh at us for considering today’s weather a storm.

As we neared the top, the wind mellowed. Our studded winter tires worked well and we both felt at ease while enjoying the adventure.

As we headed down to the next valley we eventually fell below the snow line and entered into the rain again.

The road continued like this for another 2 “passes.” Even the sheep were dusted white from the snow at the higher elevations.

At one point our car read -1 degree, the coldest it has been thus far (not considering the wind chill). We pulled out our big puffy coats for the first time this trip.

There weren’t many points of interest along the first half of today’s drive. We attempted to locate the waterfall of Reykjafoss. Google maps directed us down a road and we could see a size-able gorge and a river but there was never a spot to pull off or any path (or hole in a fence) to hike through. We eventually gave up and drove back to the main highway (Road 1).

Laurie moved in and out of slumber while Andy drove and enjoyed the scenery.

Eventually the skies cleared a little as we pulled into a parking area containing more cars than we had seen all morning.

We walked up wooden steps to circumnavigate the Grabrok crater which was formed by an eruption approximately 3,000 years ago.

We then drove about 10 minutes to the Glanni waterfall. We were the only people there, which was strange given the popularity of the neighboring Grabrok. We walked the main trail then followed a smaller path (which was quite wet) back the car.

It was another hour from here to the Deildartunguhver hot spring. This is the fastest flowing hot spring in the world. So much hot water comes out of the ground here that through ~70 km of piping it supplies hot water to the surrounding towns! The pipe network reminded us of the pipes that direct water from the Eastern Sierra to Los Angeles.

There was a fancy hot spring there but we decided to indulge in hot chocolate and carrot cake rather than take another hot plunge.

From here we took a little side trip up to Hraunfossar – one of the most unique waterfalls in Iceland. Here water flows out of lava tubes and into a river.

It’s hard to see what’s special about it at first. But then your brain catches up with your eyes and you think to yourself, “wait, where is this water coming from?”

We walked around as much was we could until it started to pour. Laurie ran back to the car as she had opted to wear her warm big puffy jacket which was not water proof.

The clouds produced more rain, then hail, then horizontal rain directly into our car enroute to our last stop. Along the way we stopped at a turnout to video chat with Andy’s parents and show them the incredible double rainbow behind us.

As we drove into Akranes – our home for the night, the clouds parted slightly and the sun came out.

This coastal town relies heavily on the fishing industry as its main source of employment.

Once settled in our hostel we decided to take a walk to stretch our legs after 6 hours in the car. We had about an hour of daylight so we wandered toward the lighthouse.

The smell of sea and fish wafted through the air. The wind picked up and eventually it began to hail. We choose our route to avoid long exposed areas.

Eventually the hail subsided as did the rain. We walked for about an hour – winding through small streets and gazing into warmly lit houses.

We returned to our hostel and made dinner consisting of beans, rice, cheese, tomatoes and greens after Laurie took a nice warm shower. It was fun to know where the water was coming from!

Tonight we are grateful for cozy accommodations and winter tires.

Grabrok Crater

Glanni waterfall

One steo, two step, repeat. And don’t fall in

Deildartunguhver hot springs

The most unique Hraunfossar waterfalls

Interesting rock formation or massive pile of cow dung?

Laurie tried to put Andy’s rain hood on. It didn’t go well.