Iceland: Final Adventures and Reflections

Home and recovered from jet lag, I can regale you with our final adventures and reflect on our what was a most amazing trip. The last adventure I wrote about, the Reykjanes Penninsula, did not actually end that day! We arrived home about 4:30pm, and felt we still had some oomph left in us, as well as bus tickets! We quickly freshened up and headed to the bus station. We travelled back downtown, crumpled map in hand, and headed off to Skuli Bar. Skuli had come highly recommended by staff at both Bastard and RVK. Although not a brewery, it specializes in local craft beer. The funny part, we walked around the exterior twice, trying to figure out how to get inside! As it turned out, the huge and heavy sliding door was pointed out to us by the bartender, outside having a smoke!

I had researched the craft brewery scene while in Iceland, and was so excited to be able to have a beer from Lady Brewery, their signature IPA called First Lady. Two young women started and run this small brewery, and are achieving great success! Ken, Trekkie from a waaaay back, enjoyed his beer from Borg. It was a lovely and lively little place in the old area of Reykjavík, and worthy of its recommendations.

Just three blocks away we headed to Microbar, also highly recommended. We loved the atmosphere! It is down in the basement, and really struck me as retro. The music was great, as well, old 60’s tunes. We shared a flight, but I could have had a whole glass of the Apricot Skyr Sour! Oooh, it was delicious! I was disappointed I hadn’t tried the Mango version, but had certainly achieved my “walking safely to the bus” limit! What a way to culminate our last “out and about” day!

Our last full day in Iceland involved packing, cleaning, cooking, and enjoying time with Gormur. Oh, and one last trip downtown to buy more wool! We ended up with skeins of wool packed in some of the oddest places. But it was squishy and light, an easy thing to pack, even 27 skeins!

Dear Gormur! We both fell in love with this little guy! He has personality galore, and other then his extreme dislike for cats and other dogs (we became adept at choosing direction based on whether there was another dog in the vicinity), he was a pretty easy guy to love! He certainly fit into our love of walking, and was like an energize bunny, regardless of the weather! We will miss him!

We drove to the airport for 12:30 the next day, and were able to pull over in the drop-off zone, unload our luggage, load Hólmfríður and Siggy’s luggage, and send them on their way home. We stood outside the airport, exchanging highlights of our respective trips, until they were shivering, having returned from the extreme heat of Australia! We are disappointed we didn’t get a little longer together, as we feel we truly made some friends here! Our flight home was uneventful, so nice to have a direct flight. I seem to really luck out, sitting beside interesting women with things in common both ways! We were picked up at the airport by Oleg and Jade, and arrived home to Alex, decorations by Jade, and a beautiful dinner made by Pauline!

Now that we are home, and have spent time with both family and friends, we find ourselves reflecting on our trip. On our last day, Eric asked if we had been able to do everything we had wanted, and we were able to give a resounding yes. Iceland is a wonderful place, magical in its geology, its history, its stark and untamed beauty. We would love to return and explore further, some of the more remote areas. We found the people to be welcoming and friendly, whether the cashiers at the Bonus we became “regulars” at, people we met on the street, or the amazing run club and run community. We enjoyed the lifestyle, a lifestyle committed to health, whether in food or activity. The air was clean, seldom a cigarette to be smelled, and definitely pot-free! Oh to have the trail system for walking and running, and the pool facilities! Sigh! Really and truly, the only “con” to travelling in Iceland is the cost of living. Between the cost of gas, which impacts driving, transit, excursions, and the cost of lodging and food, you do need to have a healthy budget for a vacation there. We were so fortunate to have a lovely home to stay in, and a kitchen to prepare our meals rather than eating out. With the cost of a beer (1400 kr, or over $15), even happy hour took our entertaining budget! Would we recommend a visit? Absolutely! Will we return? Absolutely! We have been on the Reykjavík Marathon site already…’til the next adventure…Albania here we come!

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Reykjanes Penninsula

We are fortunate that our last week here in Iceland has been stellar weather! Off for another driving day, this one due to both the homeowners’ and our tour guide’s recommendations. The Reykjanes peninsula is located on a drift zone, between two continents, the North American plate and the Eurasian plate. It is a unique site where you can find different elements that exist because of the drift zone; geothermal energy, lava fields and other natural phenomenon. The Reykjanes Penninsula is, in itself, a UNESCO global geopark. Iceland, truly the land of fire and ice! And, part of the day’s glory, few tourists! (Because we aren’t, right?)

Kópavogur is around the red dot, that is where our day began.

First stop, Lake Kleifarvatn. Lake Kleifarvatn is the largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula, and the third-largest lake of southern Iceland, 9.1 km². It is also one of the country’s deepest lakes, at 97 metres. It varies in size over the year. Since 2000 it has been shrinking, after two major earthquakes probably opened up fissures on the lake bottom. We stopped to look at the amazing geological features, and the plain old beautiful view!

Next up, Seltún. This was a good spot to take Gormur for a walk. Again, he was pretty much the only dog for the entire day. A boardwalk leads through the area, protecting the landscape. Seltún has many mud pots and fumaroles, and minerals deposited from geothermal eruptions provide colorful sediments. There was a hike across a stream and up the mountain, which Gormur and I sent Ken off on. (Note the photo of Ken at the top.) The overwhelming smell of sulphur was, well, overwhelming at times!

Next stop, just a few kilometres down the road, was Grænavatn lake. It has green water due to thermal algae and crystals which absorb the sun. We ate our sandwiches here, enjoying the view.

Next up were the Krísuvíkurberg Cliffs. Thank goodness for our Jeep (thanks again to Siggy and Hólmfríður!), we were able to take the gravel road and view these magnificent cliffs! The bright, sunny day made the view even more glorious.

Brimketill was our next location. Legend tells that the pond was regularly occupied by a giantess named Oddný. The viewing platform overlooking Brimketill is just a few steps away from the parking lot starting with a small set of stairs. The only issue? The cement grating with square holes. The holes were too big for Gormur’s little feet, so we needed to carry him! Standing on the platform you risk the possibility of getting soaked as the waves can almost reach the parking lot. The challenge for Ken was to get just the right photo, without getting sprayed! The ground was so cool, just pure, black lava!

Up next, Gunnuhver. The area is close to Reykjanes lighthouse and is collectively named Gunnuhver after a female ghost that was laid there. She had caused great disturbance until a priest set a trap for her and she fell into the spring. This happened about 400 years ago. Off in the distance, you can see all the workings of the geothermal plant, harnessing all that hot water energy.  From the boardwalk close to Gunnuhver itself, you can look down to the spring and hear the vigorous noise, see the boiling water and feel the power bursting from the ground and the steam. We were sprayed completely on one side as we passed!

A short drive away was the Reykjanesviti lighthouse, a working lighthouse, and more amazing cliffs, and lava deposits. From here we had a view of Eldey Island. This a seabird mecca, with the world’s largest colony of northern gannets.

Final destination, the bridge that crosses the two plates! The lava-scarred Reykjanes peninsula lies on one of the world’s major plate boundaries, the Mid Atlantic Ridge. According to the continental drift theory the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are continuously drifting apart with great forces under the gaping rifts. As the plates diverge, linear fractures, known as fissures form due to stresses created by the tension that builds up as the plates move away from each other.
The Bridge between two continents at Sandvík is a small footbridge over a major fissure which provides clear evidence of the presence of a diverging plate margin. The bridge was built as a symbol for the connection between Europe and North America. Amazing, scary, amazing, scary…

The Golden Circle

Sunday was another driving day for us. We packed up ourselves, with extra layers just in case, a bag lunch, coffee in our travel mugs, and Gormur. The Golden Circle is a well marked driving route that covers many highlights of south-west Iceland. It is possible to do it comfortably in a day, and highly recommended for those with a short time here. There are many commercial day trips, but many rent cars as well. Winter driving can be treacherous, and we were careful to choose our date wisely.

We left about 10:30 am, and our first stop was only 14km along the way, at Mosfellsbær. Here we stopped to visit Alafoss, an old wool factory powered by a waterfall. Nowadays it is a lovely store selling the best selection we have seen of Icelandic woollen wear. There was also a large selection of wool, knitting supplies and patterns. Some of the yarn varieties sold in Iceland are still produced in Alafoss. Fortunately for Ken, I had already purchased my yarn, and only need food for my eyes. There were old machines on display, and we were able to walk through this quaint little are to the waterfall behind the shop.

Stop number two was Þingvellir (which translates into field of parliament) National Park. Here we spent a few hours, enjoying the fact that Gormur was the only dog (permitted on leash in the park), as everyone else were “tourists”! We walked up and along the naturally formed wall, to the Öxarárfoss waterfall. Astounding! We then walked along the Almannagjá gorge. Almannagjá marks the boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Rift, which runs through Iceland. This rift is the space between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This was amazing, and the highlight of the trip for Ken. I found it a tiny bit creepy as well, thinking of what could potentially happen here!

Much of Iceland’s political history begins right here in the park. The Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, was founded here in 930AD. This is, in part, why the park is a UNESCO world heritage site. A large, flat, raised outdoor area, difficult to capture in a photograph, was the seat of parliament. There is also a small church and a few small buildings, the Prime Minister’s summer residence.

We headed back to the car, and had our sandwiches prior to driving the further 50km to Geysir. Though Geysir itself is rarely active these days, Haukadalur Valley boasts a plethora of hot springs and geysers, including the powerful Strokkur, Smiður and Litli-Strokkur.

Strokkur is, arguably, the country’s most famous hot spring, shooting vast jets of boiling water from 20 metres (65 feet) up to 40 metres (130 feet) high. Strokkur erupts every five to ten minutes.

Now, we are in Iceland, and the beautiful blue skies we had at Þingvellir and at home were gone, and the winds were now so strong that once the car door was open, it was difficult to close again! So, we bundled up, and stood with many others in the bitterly cold wind, holding our phones/cameras as steady as possible to capture the eruptions! It was well worth it!

Happily, back into the warmth of the car we hopped, and drove the next 10km to Gullfoss, or the “golden waterfall”. We took Gormur for a little walk, but feared he would actually be blown away! He was more than happy to wait in the car for us as we braced for the wind and viewed the waterfall!

Now on our way towards home, we had one last stop, Kerið. Kerið is a crater, formed about 6,500 years ago. It is a volcano that drained of lava, rather than erupted. The lake is formed from ground water. We were able to walk down to the lake, and around the top perimeter. Again, this was when you worked at NOT being a sail!

All in all, this land of ice and fire has done nothing but astound us! What another completely amazing day!

Sunny Saturday in Reykjavík

Ahhhh! The sun! After a number of very rainy days in a row, how lovely to see the blue sky! I began to type “awaken to”, but altered that. When we first arrived, sunrise was just after 10am. Now today is at 8:26am, but that is long after I have arisen!

Saturday is long run day, and my plan was for a swim. However, arriving at the pool, there were issues with the hot water, and the main pool and surrounding hot tubs were closed. I’ll make up for it and get there at least once more! I did a walk, and headed home to make coffee and a nice breakfast before Ken arrived.

We decided to bus downtown again. This time I took us on a historical walking tour. My poor old city guide book (my mission to find one in every city we visit) is looking pretty dog-eared. I had pulled out the walking tour pages to carry with my even more dog-eared map!

The most fun information of the day was about Government House. The guide book states: “Completed in 1771, this was Iceland’s first proper prison, designed to hold 16 felons and 54 misdemeanants – serving as such until 1816. Today it houses the Prime Minister’s Office and serves as the meeting place for the state council consisting of Iceland’s 12 ministers. A popular joke is that while they closed the prison, the criminals still haven’t left the building!”

Iceland’s Alþingishúsið is the world’s oldest parliament still functioning. It was founded in 930AD. Despite this, the House of Parliament was only built in 1881. Until 1799, the Alþingi assembled outdoors at Þingvellir National Park (see tomorrow’s post).

We walked through town, noticing all of the “tourists”. It is funny, as we don’t actually feel like tourists here! Last Sunday, when we attended the church service, the weather was soooo not conducive to going up the tower of Hallgrimskirkja. Saturday was perfect, and the panorama was magnificent!

While on our way to the church, we passed a number of cool murals. It seems Mural Art has taken off in so many cities, including Vancouver. Here are a few of the murals we have managed to capture on our travels!

After the tower, we made our way through completely new neighbourhoods on our way to RVK Brewing. The website said that it was difficult to find, through a car dealership parking lot, but our beer divining rod helped us find the way! We ended up being the only patrons inside, and thoroughly enjoyed talking with the young woman working the bar.

As we enjoyed our flight of eight (all but one of their brews), a bachelor party arrived. Then a couple of other small groups, and the small tasting room was almost full! We chose our mutual favourite to share a glass of, before beginning our trek and bus ride home. Our big splurge for the day was our RVK hoodies! You may see us at our local breweries sporting our Reykjavík gear!

Running in Reykjavík

Running, as well as health and fitness, are big here in Iceland. This has suited us (well, Ken) well on this trip.

From the Run Iceland website: There are many active and lively running clubs in Iceland. The running community in Iceland has boomed in recent years and number of runners has increased significantly. There are numerous running clubs in Reykjavik and the surrounding neighbourhood. You can also find running clubs in most of the larger towns around Iceland. Most running clubs in Iceland have at least three sessions a week, with intervals and tempo runs common in midweek and long runs traditionally on Saturday. Many of the clubs have links to sport clubs or start out from one the countries many swimming pools. Often there are facilities to change and shower. Just show up and introduce yourself to someone and they will hopefully point you in the direction of the coach!

The local run club, the Kópavogur Biddu Blikki, meet at the Breidiblik sports complex half a kilometre from our house Monday and Wednesdays. On Saturdays, for the long run, they meet at the local swimming pool. They welcomed us right away. We were invited out to brunch with the group after the first Saturday run!

Ken has now done three events since being here: the Northern Lights 5km Run, the Powerade Winter Run (10km), and last night the FH and BOSE 5km hlaup.

Last night’s run, with 390 participants, Ken came in third in his age class, with a finish time of 24:50! Great job!

The little friend that has accompanied us to Iceland is our club mascot, Miles. He gets around, this guy, and has accompanied runners to many places for races. I managed to make him some cold weather gear, a toque, mitts, and a cozy jacket with some Canadian buttons to keep him warm and cosy while cheering Ken on!

Out and About in Reykjavík

We caught the bus for town, and started off our blustery afternoon at the English service at Hallgrimskirka. I am enthralled with church organs, and was most excited to hear that the organ would be played throughout the service! With some hymns that I knew! (I’ll return to that.) After visiting many cathedrals and churches in Europe last year, this one is very modern in comparison. The structure inside is more simple, yet elegant. I smiled, listening to the pastor, as he seemed to struggle with keeping his English flowing. I feel that way when reading/speaking second languages as well. The organist was amazing, and by the final verse of each hymn, the chords were huge, my spine was tingling, my heart was full. Now, back to the last hymn, commonly known as the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Except I was a Girl Guide leader for many years. All I could picture in my head was my young friend Laura leading campfire at Camp Olave on the Sunshine Coast, singing Pink Pyjamas, the Girl Guide version! As Ken and I chatted, the Girl Guide version is much “cleaner” than some of the scout versions!

We quickly decided against paying to go up to the top of the tower…not only was it overcast, it was soooooo windy! As we exited the church, it was hard to maintain our footing. We helped an elderly lady with a walker her into her car, she couldn’t even get the doors open!

We walked down one of the main streets with the next stop being the Handknitting Cooperative. Here you can buy Icelandic sweaters, mitts, hats, and crafts made by the artisans themselves, from Icelandic wool. You can also buy wool! I purchased the rest of the yarn needed for my Icelandic sweater. There is already a Pinterest page full of patterns, ready for me to design my sweater! On a side note, the wool is actually the one thing that is more affordable than home!

Stop number three was our first brewery of the day, Bastarður, or Bastard. We tried a flight with their four in-house brews, along with a glass of the IPA. Oh, we long for Vancouver prices, though! A beer is around $14 here. Beer and snacks (yummy beef carpaccio flatbread) here is like a dinner out at home!

Stop number 4 for the day was to an Icelandic shop called 66 degrees North. We popped in to buy Ken a nice sweater. Stop number 5 was our second brewery of the day, Bryggjan Brugghús. It was happy hour! We had their own brewed lager (for Ken) and porter (for me). Plus, it was Icelandic Women’s Day, so I was given a beer cocktail as well! Beer with both regular and sweet potato fries in a lovely environment, great! The wine cellar was very cool, as the lighting inside slowly changed colour. When we arrived it was quiet, but during our stay folks packed. Our timing was right. Another great Icelandic adventure day!

South Coast Tour: Day 2

After a good sleep, we met our fellow travellers in the dining room for a delicious breakfast before our 8:20am departure. After the glacier hike in Skaftafell, and the visual masterpiece of the lagoon, the Jökulsarlón glacier lake, a glimpse of the northern lights, how could this trip improve?

We returned to Jökulsárlón, but headed across to Diamond Beach on the Breiðamerkursandur glacial plain. Here, as the glaciers are released into the ocean, the waves pound them and wash them up on the black sand beach. The sight was amazing!

It was mesmerizing! I could have watched for hours! But alas, we were back on our minibus and off to the black sand beach, Reynisfjara. Just past the little seaside town of Vik, we parked again, getting out in the wind. We walked to the beach for yet another round of amazement. The unpredictable surf was pounding against the shore. The beach itself was black sand with a multitude of tiny round rocks. The rock “sculptures”, worn by wind and sea were marvelous. The stories are told that these are trolls that were turned to stone when caught in daylight.

Sigh…yet another place to be pulled away from. Is my fascination with Little Rock’s obvious? There were only a few in my pocket… We left, shaking our heads, saying that we had truly felt we had our monies worth by the end of the first day. We were in awe. But wait, we hadn’t even seen the waterfalls yet! We hopped back in the van and were off to Skogafoss first. Skoga means forest, as there is a “forest” at the falls. The joke we have heard more than once is that if you are lost in the forest in Iceland, what do you do? Stand up!

After Skogafoss, we drove to the next falls, Seljalandsfoss. These falls are 69m high, 2m higher than Skogafoss. There is a walkway behind the falls, but it was closed due to the extremely icy conditions.

Astounding! This was the final stop on our tour. We headed back to Reykjavík. As we were the last picked up, we were first dropped off. We got back home to a happy Gormur, and have spent lots of time enjoying our photos. A most wonderful Iceland adventure!