UK / Iceland – Sunday: Reykjavik and Reykjanes

It’s taken me over three months to write this final post, so the memories are at this point a touch fuzzier.  (Don’t let the posted date fool you – that’s set to match the actual date of the trip.)

Sunday was our final day in Iceland, and we hadn’t yet spent all that much time in Reykjavik itself.  We spent the morning generally bonking around the city, looking at tourist sites and visiting the art museum. We also mocked statues, because that’s a thing you do:

The Reykjavik art museum had an exhibition about the less visited interior portions of the country, which was good, because we visited those parts less.

To finish our stay, we hopped back in our car and drove around the Reykjanes peninsula.  This is where the airport is, and therefore where Dan spent Thursday morning, but Leigh hadn’t seen any of it, and there’s a lot to see.  Driving around randomly looking for lunch brought us to a delightful little oceanside cafe in Grindavik that mainly just had lobster bisque, but that’s OK, because it was *good* lobster bisque.

We took a picture, but I’m not going to bother adding it, because it is seriously just a picture of a bowl of soup.

What IS worth staring at pictures of, however, is this:

The little boards sticking up are where the previous walkway was, before the vent moved and melted it.  Kind of made us feel safe standing on the CURRENT walkway.  Also, Iceland continues to look like another planet.  From this geothermal field, it was a quick drive over to the coast. And another stunning view.  Iceland is terrifyingly pretty.

Nearby was a statue dedicated to the last surviving pair of Great Auks, who were summarily murdered on a nearby island so a collector could have them stuffed.  People are awful.

And on that cheerful note, we headed back to the bridge between continents that I had visited on the first day, so we could wave at each other from North America to Europe:

And with that, it was time to fly home.  Iceland is pretty.  You should go.

UK / Iceland – Saturday: Snæfellsnes

Having spent Friday on the primary tourist loop, we wanted to take a different excursion on Saturday.  We had dinner reservations (more on that later), so our range was not unlimited. We decided that a drive up to the Snæfellsnes peninsula would be a good day trip.

A word on pronouncing “Snæfellsnes”: We have no idea how to pronounce “Snæfellsnes”.  We kept saying “Snuffalupagus”, which is probably insensitive.  We apologize.

The drive up the coast was, unsurprisingly, stunning.

Lots of volcanic mountains.  Also sheep.  Lots of sheep.  Those were less stunning, however.

We made a stop at a cafe for baked goods, and then another at a volcano that you can, in theory, hike to.  However, the hike turned out to be a bit longer than we had budgeted, so we stopped to look at some goats and then moved on.  I am not a good judge of goats – these may be stunning, I’m not sure.

Our next stop, however, certainly was: The Gerðuberg Cliffs, (seriously, we have no idea how to pronounce this stuff, please stop asking) an ancient wall of basalt columns.

And legally mandated panorama.  Seriously – it’s worth clicking on.

Continuing up the peninsula, we reached the farthest north point of our trip, the fishing village of Stykkishólmur, which we also have no idea how to pronounce correctly.  This is also the farthest north we have ever been, full stop, surpassing Jyväskylä, Finland, which we also also have no idea how to pronounce correctly.

We had a delightful lunch of local seafood in an appallingly quaint little restaurant, and then hiked up to the top of the overlook point on the north side of town.  Once again, pictures say it better than words.

After our hike, it was time to return to Reykjavik for dinner. Where Thursday’s meal represented a cutting edge culinary experience, Saturday’s was fine dining that focused on traditional Icelandic culture and ingreedients.  We did NOT choose to experience rotted shark, but instead feasted on lamb and an entire cod head glazed in blueberries and honey:

The fried bit on the upper left is the cod’s tonsils.  Did you know cod have tonsils?  Me neither.  Tasty, tasty tonsils. (Lower left is nothing more unsettling than potatoes.)

Saturday was probably our least touristy day in Iceland, and we really enjoyed just driving and walking ourselves around looking at stuff.

Next up: Lava and Lobster!

UK / Iceland – Friday: The Golden Circle (Part 3)

Having successfully acquired fish, it was now time to get something to put under the fish.  Even though we had decided not to actually pay the fee to sit in the hot spring, we nonetheless drove back to the one we had previously considered to acquire another Icelandic traditional food item: fermented shark.

No, just kidding. We wanted to get some geothermal rye bread, baked right in the hot springs.  Purchasing a loaf was straightforward, but locating knives proved trickier.  We checked at a nearby restaurant, and while they didn’t have any plastic silverware, the proprietor noticed our loaf and was at pains to warn us not to eat more than a slice or two, lest we suffer acute gastric fluidity.

So now we had lots of fish, suddenly suspicious bread, butter, and no way to combine same.  There was obviously no alternative – we went to a gas station, which meant driving even further back the way we had come.  At said gas station we acquired a loaf of presumably safer paprika bread and a box of plastic knives.

From there it was time to visit one of the most important national parks in Iceland, Þingvellir. Since I’ve now gone four paragraphs without a picture, let’s make up for that right now:

And, how about another panorama? (It’s the law.)

And in case the scale of that big pile of geology isn’t quite coming across:

Þingvellir literally means “Assembly Field”, and it’s where the ancient parliaments of Iceland met.  We found a picnic table surrounded by ducks and ate our bread and fish, and it was delicious.  The ducks weren’t allowed to have any.

By this point, it was after 9 PM, but there was absolutely no way to determine that from the ambient lighting, which was pretty much the same as it had been all day long.

Did we mention that Iceland is spectacularly pretty? I think we mentioned that.  At any rate, after a hike around this corner of the park, we were about out of gas, so we returned to our AirBnB in Reyjavik where, at 11:30, it was STILL just as bright as it had been all day.

Next up  – Snuffleupagus, volcanoes, and goats!

UK / Iceland – Friday: The Golden Circle (Part 2)

After our tomato lunch, it was time for lots more geology.  Iceland is basically covered in geology, and our next stop was Gullfoss waterfall.  It sort of speaks for itself:

After Gullfoss, we headed to Geysir hot springs area.  Geysir is both the name of the park, and the name of one specific geyser in the park.  This is the ur-geyser, the Platonic Ideal of geysers, the one true geyser for which all other geysers are named.

Sadly, it almost never erupts any more.  Fortunately, there’s another one about 50 meters away that erupts every five minutes. It erupted several times while we were there, and we somehow still failed to take a decent picture of it.  The whole area was very reminiscent of Yellowstone – lots of random very hot things in unnatural colors that smell like sulfur. 

We climbed up the hill at the back of the area and took another stunning panorama.  Honestly, Iceland almost demands that you leave your camera in panorama mode the whole time:

Continuing around the circle, we decided it was time for ice cream.  The ice cream place had a good view of the suppliers:

From there, our plan was to visit a geothermal bath, but when we got there it just didn’t speak to us.  We decided it would be more fun to keep seeing the Iceland than sit still in a tub.  But first – fish!

I had printed out directions to a place that sells smoked fish.  The place had been highly recommended by one of the online blogs I had read while researching the trip ahead of time, and it was only a short distance from the spa.  Or at least, that was my recollection, since the directions were sitting on my desk in Michigan. But we decided to try to find it, because adventure!

First we turned down a medium-sized road which was being resurfaced.  So it was dirt.  Then we turned down a small gravel road, which matched my vague mental recollection. Then we turned down what were essentially ruts between houses in a tiny little village.  Then we pulled into a driveway in front of a private home with a detached garage, that had a sign on it in Icelandic that we couldn’t read and a picture of a fish.

We got out of the car, and wandered into what appeared to be a private garage with no one around.  And there was fish: 

We were trying to decide if we should just put money in the cashbox when two adorable preteen girls came out and started putting out samples and chatting with us in perfect English.  A further difficulty arose when we realized that a) we had no Icelandic cash and b) neither of their credit card readers was working.  Eventually their grandmother came out and was kind enough to accept $10 US for some smoked trout. She even tried to offer us change!

Coming up in part 3: Bread! Birbs! More Geology!

UK / Iceland – Friday: The Golden Circle (Part 1)

The top of every guide to what to see in Iceland starts with a day trip from Reykjavik called “The Golden Circle.”  It’s a round trip that takes about 3 hours or so of driving, but much more time out of the car looking at stuff.   There’s a lot of stuff.  It’s pretty good stuff, too.

So after starting the day with some excellent pastries and coffee, we hopped in our rental car and set off.  There’s two options for the first leg of the drive, and we took the gravel road for more scenic views and less traffic.  It seemed to work.  There was quite a bit of scenery:

Scenic scenery, even:

Also an angry squid:

But it was a scenic squid.

We got out of the car a few times and just marveled at the landscape, occasionally hiking up into the rocks to fail to find a geocache or two.  But who cares when you have these views?

Eventually, we rejoined the main road and made our first official Golden Circle stop – the volcanic crater at Kerið. (In case you’re wondering, ‘ð’ is a “voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative.” So there you are.) It took about 20 minutes to walk around the whole perimeter. Not for the only time this trip, Leigh took the appearance of this striking piece of geology as proof that the Earth is trying to kill us.

We still had a little time before our lunch reservations, so we visited the church at Skálholt. Skálholt was the center of power for the Bishops of Iceland for rather a long time, until the Reformation. The bishop and his sons, were understandably, not really interested in being reformed, so they were put to death. There’s a memorial stone here, as well as a set of excavations of one of the many prior churches on the site.

One o’clock, and it was time for lunch! We had made reservations at a tomato greenhouse. I’m not quite sure how they managed it, but the owners of this greenhouse have parlayed themselves into a tourist attraction. You sit among rows of tomato plants, and eat all you can snarf tomato soup and bread. There’s also a pot of basil on your table with a pair of scissors for dismantling said basil into your soup.

Next time: Dan and Leigh continue the golden circle! Geysir fails to erupt! Fish! Stay tuned…

UK / Iceland – Thursday

We started Thursday separately – I took a red-eye flight from Detroit and landed at about 11 AM in Iceland, and Leigh was to join me a few hours later.  Given a rental car and a bit of time to explore, I took off to see the Reyjanes peninsula, which is the part of Iceland closest to the airport.  But first, I found out what airplanes hatch from:

The weather was grey and rainy, and that wouldn’t change for the duration of the trip, but the scenery was unreal.  The southwest corner of Iceland is basically one big lava flow, and every time I got out of the car it felt like I had another planet to myself.

One of the sights you can see in this part of the world is the place where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes ashore.  The Ridge is the place where two tectonic plates are separating, and most of the time it has the common decency to stay underwater where you can’t see it.  But not in Iceland.  Oh no.  Not only is their plate separation flagrantly above ground where everyone can see it, they’ve even built a bridge over it.

That’s Europe on your left and North America on your right, for those keeping score at home.

Once again, Leigh and I had decided that it would be a great idea for the pair of us to arrive at a location in a foreign country where our phones didn’t work by separate routes.  After all, it wasn’t at all terrifying the last time. However, in this case, the location in question was an airport, my rental car did not get stuck behind a flock of goats, and we reunited without a hitch.

From the airport, it’s about a 40 minute drive into Reykjavik proper, where Leigh had found us an adorable little AirBnB right next to the most famous building in the city, the Hallgrímskirkja. (And if you think I’m not cutting and pasting all of these Iceland words into the blog, you’re nuts.) Since we each took a picture of it, I’ll let you, the reader, decide which one you liked better.

I’m not, of course, going to tell you who took which one, because then I’d have to admit that I took the one with the trash can in it.

To finish our first day in the land of Ice, we took a restaurant recommendation from a good friend of ours who knows from food.  We did an 8 course tasting menu at Nostra, which is a restaurant much too hip to have allowed us in.  There must have been a mistake somewhere.

Still, the food was amazing.  I don’t recall everything, but we had pressed lamb with tomatoes four ways and salmon roe, celeriac combined with celeriac puree and beef, arctic char with parsnip two ways, and a bunch of other things that were all too amazing to mention.  Leigh and I don’t go to fine dining restaurants that often, because we live in a mitten, but if we could go places like this more often, we’d have no money left at all.

One more peculiarity of this trip – since we were there right around the solstice, it never got dark.  Reyjavik is below the arctic circle, so the middle of the sun went below the horizon, but the whole thing never entirely set.  Walking home at 10 at night looked just like noon the same day.

Bonus Iceland Picture: