|My favorite pic of the old church.|
We spent the night at the Country Anna Hotel and had the most delicious "vegetarian steak" for dinner. The next morning we began our day at two of the most well known waterfalls in the country, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Seljalandsfoss was first up and we were reminded immediately that this was a very touristy thing to do. The parking lot was packed with tour buses and people were everywhere. It was a stark difference from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where we would go miles without seeing another human. We parked, I pulled on my waterproof pants and we set off to hike behind the waterfall. Despite being touristy, it was pretty cool. We were also excited to see a bit of blue sky for the first time. We left there, stopped briefly at Eyjafjallajökull hoping to see the volcano that erupted in 2010, but the weather was back to cloudy and rainy so we could only see the farm below. We moved on to Skógafoss waterfall, which is 80 feet wide with a 200 foot drop. This was less crowded and we were able to walk right up to the edge. It is impressive being so close to such power. According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind this waterfall. Locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. Next time I might look a little harder to see if I can find it! Waterfalls get a lot of attention in any "what to do in Iceland" list and I can see why.
From there we drove to Dyrhólaey, stopping to take pictures of a very calm pond off route 218, right
Volcano Hotel, then went into Vik for dinner at the only place open- Halldorskaffi. I got "settler's pizza" with Blue cheese, Camembert, castle cheese, mozzarella and red currant jam on the side. Yes jam. It was good!
We then hit Skeiðarár Sandur, a wide plain of black volcanic sand. The scenery on this part of the drive was like no other. It was desolate in a way I had never seen before; expansive and open. We stopped at the Skeiðará Bridge monument. In 1996, the volcano Vatnajökull, erupted, melting portions of glacier and creating massive floods. While the bridge was built to withstand a hefty amount of flood waters, there was no preparing for the house-sized icebergs that the floods washed down the plain. A number of these glacial shards crashed into the bridge, wiping it out and creating a gap in the main ring road around Iceland.
The temperature dropped as we neared the Svínafellsjökull Glacier and as soon as I saw it I giddily turned down a road to see how close I could get. My first glimpse of a glacier was amazing, the black ridges of lava ash were way prettier than I thought they'd be. There was a plaque for two missing hikers there and the saying engraved has really stuck with me: "you are no longer there, where you were, but you are everywhere where we are."
Another Must Do was the glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón and it was one of the most amazing parts of the trip. Actually amazing isn't big enough of a word, this place is incredible and pictures do not do it justice. As the the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull melts it breaks apart creating icebergs that float through this lagoon out to sea. We were able to take a duck boat out into the lagoon getting close to the icebergs. We even were able to hold and taste a piece of one (it was very hard and very cold). The sun came out as we were on the water which made the blues all that more intense.
After being in the middle of nowhere with very few people, Reykjavik seemed very crowded and busy. We found parking at our hotel in City Centre very easily, checked in and took showers, noticing the sulfur smell very strongly for the first time. The hot water in Iceland is heated by geothermal power plants, which makes it very hot and very plentiful, but wow does it smell. I knew this going in, but was surprised at how bad it was. We walked around Reykjavik shopping for the traditional Icelandic wool sweater, the Lopapeysa. They were very pretty, but very itchy! Searching for 'traditional Icelandic food" we went to Cafe Loki where Shelia tried the fermented shark while I had a Brennivins shot, also called Black Death. Graffiti decorates many buildings and walking around the city was cold but pretty. We spent most of the night at The English Pub, had dinner at Cafe Paris (cauliflower soup for me) and finished the night at the Micro Bar in our hotel with every hipster stereotype possible. Sunday we did some more shopping, packed and drove in the snow/sleet rain to the airport. It was pouring rain when we left Iceland, a pretty fitting ending for the trip.
When I told people I wanted to go to Iceland, most people asked "Why? Are you crazy?" But this island of just over 300,000 people is magical in many ways. Over 55% of Icelanders believe in elves, trolls and magical spirits and this belief actually changes the direction of roads and construction projects that might anger the elves. It's hard not to get caught up in the idea and I definitely found myself praying to them when I felt nervous hiking behind the waterfall, you know, just in case.
Sure it was cold and wet, but like they say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. And the weather changed so often; in one hour we went from sun to grey to rain to sleet to snow to sun. In one hour. The people were lovely, spoke flawless English and driving was easy even with all the signs in Icelandic. The landscape was like nothing I have seen before; Jackson, Wyoming on Mars if that is possible. It is at the same time remote and majestic and awesome. The pictures are good, but not anywhere close to capturing what it actually looked like. We didn't get to see the Northern Lights which was disappointing, but I have to believe when I do see them, they will be even more special. I would absolutely go to Iceland again, but might try the summer time as I think it would look like a completely different place! I underestimated how "off" off season is there, but glad to have tried so many different kinds of soup! Who knew asparagus soup would be so good?
We didn't plan a lot on this trip and that worked out just fine, with most of the really memorable experiences coming from spur of the moment "turn here"; another reminder that sometimes the best parts of life just happen when you don't know where you are going. You just need to turn down the road and see what's there for you.
To see all my pictures, click here.