This is the post excerpt.
Guess where we went yesterday?!?!
We decided we couldn’t miss it, and got up at an insane hour, to do the long drive to catch the 9am ferry. But it was worth it!
So, the only slice of the Arctic Circle that Iceland owns is a little island called Grimsey, with only between 80-100 full time human inhabitants, and the birds outnumber people 10,000 to 1.
We didn’t think we were big bird enthusiasts, but we actually loved sitting on the cliffs, watching all the Puffins swimming around, flying around, and just chilling on the rocks!
And it was a beautiful day! Unlikely our disasterous island day on Flatey, we only had 5hrs there, but we wished we’d had a few more!
…and the scenery was gorgeous!
We even got certificates confirming we’d been to the Arctic Circle, in case anyone ever challenges us and calls us liars (although mine says “Robyn Monh”, which I’ll have to doctor a bit, so I guess people could still accuse me of lying…)
The island also had sheep, 1 horse and tons of other birds, and it was one of our best days! On the way over we were a bit worried because we’d checked the weather and it said it’d be 8 degrees, but everyone else on the ferry were dressed like they were going to the North Pole in the middle of December. They were all wearing giant parkas, and lots of scarves/toques/mittens….we were in sweatshirts and jeans. But turns out we were right, and the rest were uncomfortable and sweaty all day (we saw lots of them carrying around their parkas and looking slightly miserable! Yay us!
All in all, it was a long 23hr day for us, but so worth it! And now it’s our last afternoon here before catching our flight to Halifax, and then home tomorrow afternoon!
Left our swanky hotel this morning, and we were both very sad about it. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s some shots again of our hotel’s own Blue Lagoon, which we pretty much had to ourselves at all times!
*sigh* But it’s ok! We enjoyed our 20hrs of R&R there, and headed back into Reykjavík, which has some fun welcoming signs!
We also finally met a reindeer!
….and saw the Northern Lights!
Ok, ok….we didn’t see the real Northern Lights (and full disclosure: that reindeer isn’t real either), but we went to the Aurora Reykjavik, which was surprisingly cool. It’s a museum/exhibit dedicated to the Aurora Borealis, and told us the different countries where the Northern Lights are visible, and the legends/myths that people used to rationalize and explain them (some were hilarious!). It also explained the science behind their existence (which was dry and hard to follow, but I’ve never been a fan of science. lol), and had a panoramic theatre with a multimedia show to let you “experience” them. They also had virtual reality glasses which were hilarious (I looked like a minion):
We checked into our airbnb, which is super cute, and in a fantastic location, and then headed out again to do the Settlement Exhibition. Mo isn’t a museum enthusiast, but she was a good sport and did agree to go with me, and we both loved it! It is centred around a Viking longhouse that was discovered in Reykjavik’s Old Town in 2001, and dates from 930-1000. They built the museum around it, and had all sorts of multimedia stations talking about what life was like, and how the houses were built, and the people who lived in them. It was really well-done, and we highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city!
Our plan was to check out the local nightlife tonight, but we have to get up ridiculously early tomorrow for a spontaneous road trip we organized for ourselves! Should be some great photos for tomorrow’s blog! Hope all is well back home!
Today was our last day on the self-drive tour! We left our adorable hostel, did breakfast at our new favourite bakery, and then hit the road back to Reykjavik! Made a stop in Akranes to see the famous lighthouses! The little one isn’t in use anymore, but was voted the 6th most beautiful lighthouse in the world. Not sure who’s job it is to travel around and rank them, but I wouldn’t mind!
The man running it was the chattiest person ever, and was very excited that I was from Canada. A friend of his had painted some different country’s flags on some rocks out front in a little rock garden, but the Canadian rock keeps getting stolen (I think it’s the Americans doing it), so they finally moved the current one inside where they could “guard” it. He then went on to tell me that the accoustics inside are amazing, so he encourages people to sing when they are inside. Well, it was just him and me (Mo was napping in the car), and I was like “ok…”, and started to walk away. But he was persistent! “Sing!”, he commanded, and I just stared at him, blinking awkwardly, and then I started to sing really quietly, and he must have realized he’d made a terrible mistake, and was at risk of having his eardrums punctured, so he quickly waved his hand and said “or humming works too…..”. I started to hum, now feeling REALLY self-conscious, and he changed his mind again, and said “I guess clapping is just as good…”, and at that moment some French people came in and distracted him, so I did a quick clap and rushed up the stairs:
I didn’t hear any singing or humming from the French people, so my theory is that my singing was soooo bad, he’s never going to risk asking another stranger to flex their vocal chords.
Next up, we checked out the much-photographed shipwreck Höfrungur.
Well, I checked it out. Mo continued napping, and I came back to the car to find it surrounded by numerous curious shipbuilders, who were trying to watch her without being obvious.
That was our last stop before Reykjavik! We couldn’t check into our hotel till 3pm, so we had some time kill. Now, everyone I know who’s been here has gigglingly told me that I “had” to go to the Phallological Museum here (although no one was as enthusiastic about it as Nicolle!! lol), so we gave in to peer pressure and went in.
Mo decided this was definitely worth skipping a nap for, and it was….interesting? There’s tons of jokes to be made, and a few awkward exhibits, but it was very comprehenssive! Every type of mammal, and even specimens from trolls, and the entire Icelandic National Handball team (silver medal winners in Beijing Olympics) made silver casts of themselves, and donated them to the museum:
After that it was time to check into our fancy hotel, and we wanted to be there right at 3pm to take full advantage! This hotel is next to the famous Blue Lagoon, and has its own lagoon, just for guests. Each room also has a lovely deck surrounded by a giant moss-covered lava field, which is gorgeous!!! Our hotel reservation gave us a premium admission to the big public Blue Lagoon, including a drink of our choice once there. We wandered over to check it out, and drank our free drink, but it was sooooo crowded and busy, we just came back to our own at the hotel, which isn’t much smaller. We spent 2hrs soaking in there, with only 4 other people. It was lovely!
Here’s the public one:
That’s just the lineup for the in-pool bar. The rest of the pool was loud, and crowded and busy and chaotic. In contrast, here’s our hotel pool:
We’re heading back for another soak before bed (it’s open till midnight, yay!), and then tomorrow we check into our airbnb!
Mother Nature really gave us a good apology for the wet windy day we suffered on Flatey yesterday! We woke up to the sun shining, the sky a clear blue, and the temperature soared to a balmy 16 degrees! And good thing, because we’d spent our day disasterously yesterday, which only left us one whole day to explore this stunning peninsula! Snæfellsnes is purported to be Iceland in a nutshell, giving you everything you’d see around the country, in a tiny area (minus those insane mountain roads in the Western Fjords).
Nothing like starting the day with a mini hike up ol’Helgafell, to make 3 wishes! The lore is very specific: 1st you have to stop at the grave of Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, which stands at the bottom of the trail up the mountain (not super dignified, if you ask me…with clumsy tourists stumbling over/around you). 2nd you have to walk up to the chapel ruins without uttering a word & not looking back (not easy to do when you’re walking uphill on loose razor-sharp shale rocks, and nearly twisting your ankle or falling on your butt every 10 seconds….a few expletives might have added some outlet for frustration. But rules must be followed!). 3rd, you must face East and utter 3 wishes, and never tell them to anyone. I messed up and told Mo one of mine, which was wishing all of my friends/family happiness and prosperity….sorry now that it won’t come true for you all, but at least my more selfish wishes still have a chance to come to fruition! haha. There were some beautiful views!
Next up was something we’ve been excited about since we started planning this trip, and that was a visit to the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum to try some hákarl (fermented shark meat), a traditional Icelandic dish. The museum itself was used as a stand-in for Greenland in the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, which was kind of cool.
Lonely Planet told us that these sharks are classified as “near threatened”, but the guide at the museum assured us that they don’t actively hunt them anymore, and just use ones that were accidentally caught by fisherman, and which drowned themselves in the fishing nets (the sharks, not the fishermen…). The meat itself is hugely toxic and can kill you if it isn’t properly fermented, which takes about 6 weeks. They slice it off the carcass, keep it in a slightly cold (but not freezing) fridge, and then hang it to dry. Here are the drying racks:
They smell pretty ripe, let me tell you! But how do they taste? I’m glad you asked, because every admission comes with a free sample! Here I am, trying it out:
1st: picking the right chunk…(don’t let my expression fool you, I was excited to try it, but the pieces looked like slimey undercooked chicken)
2nd: savouring the “unique” flavour….and thinking “ok, interesting, but not TOO bad…”
3rd: “oh wait…the ammonia flavour just kicked in….”
4th: “well, I got it down and didn’t barf. I’ll consider that a ‘win’. Glad I tried it, but don’t need to do it again soon, and won’t be serving it at my next dinner party”…(I don’t actually have dinner parties, so don’t feel offended that you’ve never been invited).
I must have made it look pretty bad, because poor Mo didn’t even bother to try it! But she did notice “The Shark Man” in the lobby of the museum, who’d been featured on her favourite show “Departures”, and wrangled him in for a victory photo!
I think it’d be understandable to say that we didn’t leave there with much of an appetite, so we headed to Svödufoss (a waterfall in the middle of nowhere), and the church Ingjaldshólskirkja, called the “lonely church” because it stands alone on a hill, with nothing around it, except stunning views:
Today had a lot of incredible scenery, and most of the view was dominated by the glacier Snæfellsjökull which was made famous by Jules Verne using it as the setting for his book “Journey to the Centre of to Earth”:
We got some beautiful shots at the Djúpalón beach, which has little black stones (called “black lava pearls”) instead of sand (they look pretty, but are hard to walk on!), and some cool rock formations. One is rumoured to be an elf church, and the other a troll woman. There’s also smatterings of rusted metal everywhere from a shipwreck in the 1940’s, which was really neat:
By this point, I needed to get the putrid taste of Shark out of my mouth, so I convinced Mo to take a road trip to a dairy farm we’d read about….it took us about 1.5hrs to get there, over gravel roads, but it was worth it! They had frozen Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) dipped in white chocolate. It tasted like the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious cheesecake you’ve EVER had. We also got to pet the cows (so cute!), before making our way back to the peninsula for some more exploring.
Next on our route was Rauðfeldsgjá, which is a cave you can hike into, with a stream running down the middle, and tons of birds soaring overhead (the top of the cave is open in the first chamber):
The legend is that Bárður Snæfellsás (a half-man, half-troll) killed his nephew Rauðfeldur by pushing him into the cleft of the gorge, simply because Rauðfeldur had playfully pushed Bárður’s daughter Helga onto an iceberg where she drifted to Greenland, lived happily (and found a lover!). Seemed to me to be a bit of an overly dramatic reaction, but I guess family politics can make one a tad temperamental!
Last up was the cute little town of Arnarstapi, where they had a cute little monument to Jules Verne, and signposts saying how far to some major cities, from “The Centre of the World”:
…and a lovely statue of the tempestuous Bárður, who is memorialized as being helpful to humans who are lost, and the protector of Snæfellsnes (rather than “nephew-murderer”):
We drove around the rest of the peninsula, admiring the views, and amused by the traffic signs that give you a facial expression to express how much they like/dislike your speed:
(Yes we did drive by the same sign at varying speeds to get the pictures….you’re welcome. lol).
And that’s about it for today! Tomorrow is our last day on this self-drive tour, which is bittersweet! We’ve had a great time exploring, but moving each night and living out of a suitcase is starting to lose its novelty!
We made the decision to take the ferry from Brjánslækur to Stykkishólmur, which saved us some crazy rugged-road driving. Although looking back the time might have been better-spent in the car on those deadly treacherous roads….
Lonely Planet and all my online research recommended we stop off at a little island called Flatey between the 2 stops. There are about 40 little islands in Breiðafjörður, but Flatey is the only one with year-round inhabitants (although in the wintertime there’s only 5 brave souls who stay there, and I’m not even sure if all 5 are human). All descriptions painted it as an idyllic little island where you feel like time has stood still:
Sounds good, right? Well, time sure stood still for us! That 7hrs felt like 24hrs! We had read that in the 19th century, it was a hub of commerce, art and culture, and that there had been an Augustinian monastery on the island, founded in 1172, and in the Middle Ages it was responsible for housing Flateyjarbók, one of the most important of the ancient Icelandic sagas. Anyway, that all sounded appealing, so we thought “why not?”, and hopped off. No cars are allowed on the island, so our rental car went on to Stykkishólmur, and we’d pick it up on the other end, after catching the ferry back.
I will say that the town is really pretty. Surrounded by the water, lots of greenery, pretty black cliffs, rocky beaches, and colourful houses. But we have NO idea how one is supposed to kill 7hrs on this island that measures 2km long, and 1km in width. Plus, it was windy and freezing cold! We started out optimistic that the time would fly by….Mo decided to use patience to try to win over some local sheep:
While I went for a walk to try to find some Puffins that were rumoured to be living on the island. No luck finding any, but the views were nice!
After Mo finally gave up trying to win the wary sheep over, we wandered into “town”, and started with the church, which was cute and had some very pretty frescoes from the 1920’s:
Next up was the library behind the church, which turned out to be the oldest public library in Iceland, dating from 1864:
It was all wood inside, and very cosy, with maybe 150 books, and 2 armchairs. We were tempted to curl up in the chairs and take a nap, because we were freezing there weren’t many places to go for shelter, but there were too many other tourists milling about for us to do that without looking weird.
We checked out the cemetary, which had grave markers mostly from the 19th century, but a few of the deceased had been born in the 1700’s, which was kind of cool. We found an elf house:
If you look closely, you can see that 2 of the elves are passed out on the roof. Not sure what they got up to the night before, but we’d had 1.5 bottles of wine the night before, so I was envious of their drunken slumber! Then we found some fish-drying racks, and I decided to try a wee nibble.
By this point we were exhausted and cold, so we went to the only cafe/restaurant, which was really cute. Mo had cheese toast, and I had the seafood tacos (which luckily did not include the rancid dried fish from the drying rack!). We tried to make that meal last as long as we possibly could, but we still had 3hrs left…..possibly 3 of the longest hours ever.
I went off exploring, and came across the ruins of the monastery (which don’t look like much from the photos because they were roped off and I couldn’t get close):
I also found an old shipwreck:
Unfortunately I couldn’t get close to it because the eider ducks in the area were still nesting until July 15th. And while I was respecting those birds and their nesting, their cousin-species ( the Common Redshanks) were NOT respecting me! I wasn’t even close to any stupid nests, and a few started dive-bombing me. I could hear the flutter of their wings approaching, they’d wait till they were a millimetre from my ear and let out a loud screech as they whizzed by. But a few actually smacked me in the head! I’m sure I made quite the spectacle running through an uneven field (nearly twisting my ankle several times in the process!), shrieking and waving my arms around like a human windmill. These birds are JERKS. And I can’t help but feel that they had been biding their time, planning this attack because they’ve pretty much been annoying us at all our stops in Iceland. They’ll fly right in front of the car windshield, and then swoop down to the grill of the car, making you think you’ve hit them, and then about 10 seconds later they’ll come soaring back up at the windshield again, as if they’d just been psyching you out. It’s the weirdest thing, and they’ll do it for minutes at a time! At first, when we thought we had hit them, we were kinda upset about it….now I’m going to start aiming at them! This is what they look like:
Innocent and kind of cute-looking right? WRONG! We saw them attacking a redheaded woman at the glacier lagoon, the day we did our zodiac tour (and no, it wasn’t “kick a ginger day”), and her husband had to throw rocks at them to get them to go away.
Anyway, after my harrowing ordeal, being swarmed by murderous birds, I met Mo back at the cafe, where she tried ordering a hot chocolate with the dual purpose of warming her up, and killing more time. The hot chocolate ended up being weirdly salty, and neither of us could drink it, but we sat there hoping they weren’t going to kick us out. The people at the table behind us had clearly fallen for the same Flatey propaganda we had, but they spent all 6 of the 7hrs in that cafe/restaurant, and appeared to be barely speaking to each other, which must have made the slow passing of time even more excruciating!
When we finally decided we couldn’t stay in that cafe any longer, we ventured out to try to find puffins again, and found a little rocky cove sheltered from the wind:
Still no puffins appeared, but it was here that I discovered that the redshanks had actually pooped all over the back of my jacket and hoody when they were terrorizing me earlier….I was happy to remember the old adage that it’s good luck to have a bird poop on you, but Mo piped up and said “no, no….that’s just what people say to make those who are pooped on feel better”, and then I was back to being angry again (notice I’m wearing a hat that this point, so that if they land on my head again, they can’t make try to make a nest!).
Finally the ferry re-appeared to take us off this island, and over to Stykkishólmur, which is in the Snæfellsnes peninsula (both are fun names to try to say!).
We’re doing some laundry at our accommodation, and planning out our busy day tomorrow! I’m sure I’ll have nightmares of birds tonight!
Today was our last full day in the Western Fjords! We really loved this area, and the rugged beauty, but also the random museums. We found the sign for the Nonsense Museum, which we didn’t go to, but the list of exhibits made us laugh.
We didn’t think it was worth $20 to see a collection of sugar cubes and teaspoons, or a collection of monkey memorabilia, but the idea of a museum dedicated to the random hoardings of various villagers cracked us up.
We travelled on the windy mountain roads to Hrafnseyri, the birthplace of good ol’Jón Sigurðsson! Now, you may be asking yourself who the heck that is, but he was the first person to push for Icelandic independence from Denmark. He moved to Copenhagen and wrote letters to every single farmer in Iceland (talk about writer’s cramp!) urging them to petition for independence. It didn’t work in his lifetime, but finally in 1944 when Denmark was preoccupied with the war, Iceland declared itself independent with the backing of the USA, and Denmark said “yeah, whatevs. We got other things to worry about right now”, and that was it. Good visionary’ing Jón!
Here are some photos of his lovely homestead:
We noticed a stone monument in the garden, which at first from a distance we assumed was Jón’s grave marker. The lady running the exhibition was extremely nice and took the time to tell us all about the history. Turns out that back in the 13th century, on the same land, a guy went to Italy and became a doctor. He then returned and was a surgeon, and started the first free ferry service in the area. Once he died, the ferries stopped until the 1950’s. Now, it’s not a competition, but we ended up being more impressed by this guy doing kidney stone surgery in the 1200’s, than we were with Jón and his letter-writing!
We also learned that Iceland had the first female president, and here she is looking all president’ish!
It’s been a day or two since we’ve visited some really impressive waterfalls, so we were happy to stop at Dynjandi Falls, which are described as the “most dramatic” falls in Iceland. We didn’t find them particularly “dramatic”, but definitely scenic! There’s the big main one, and then 5 smaller ones below that (6 for the price of 1). I hiked right up to the top, which was really cool, but the waterfall was too big to get a good photo of me right in front of it. The shots I took just looked like I was standing in front of a giant fountain.
On our way to our next spot, we found some natural hot springs (which locals refer to as “hot pots”), which is something Mo has been super excited about. Here she is hot-pot’ing it up with a random speedo-clad Frenchman!
You couldn’t beat the view of the Fjords surrounding the geo-thermal pool, but it was really cold and windy out, and there were some evil birds dive-bombing us.
Anyone who knows me (…or who read the Necro Pants blog entry), knows that I have a fondness for strange museums, and today it was the Skrimslasetur Icelandic Sea Monster Museum!
Mo opted to skip it, and nap in the car, so I was all alone in the Museum, and it was really creepy! They had the lights really low, some uber-freaky subtle horror movie music playing in the background, and life-size monster replicas set up.
Yes, i know they don’t look even remotely real, but I did have to keep looking over my shoulder to make sure no one in costume was going to sneak up behind me. I always thought that having a Museum to myself would be wonderful….turns out it depends on the museum. In this case, it was the stuff nightmares are made of, and I had to keep my back to the wall the whole time.
I think I’ve mentioned the roads here before, but it’s worth mentioning again that that these roads in the Western Fjords are not for wussies! They are steep with sheer drops onto sharp rocks very far below (and no guardrails), are exactly wide enough to fit 1.5 cars (which makes things VERY exciting when you encounter a tractor or tour bus coming the opposite direction!), and are loosely-packed giant pothole-ridden slippery roads with a smattering of gravel scattered haphazardly accross just for fun! It is TERRIFYING to drive them, and I shudder to think of the damage to the undercarriage of our poor little Kia!
But that said, “nothing easily gotten was ever worth getting” so as character-building as these roads are, they do lead us to some very cool places! Case in point: the beached Gardar boat, which is the oldest steel ship in Iceland, built in 1912 and beached in 1981. They recommend you don’t climb on board….although it’s extremely rusty, and looks like you’d catch Tetanus:
We carried on up a seemingly never-ending road which we were sure would kill us, and arrived at Látrabjarg, which is a bird sanctuary (where we finally saw our first Puffin!):
The signs are hilarious. They show a picture of a drone with a line through it and state “no drones”…..but the picture of a stickman falling off a cliff needs no words to accompany the gist of it: it clearly says “Now that you’ve survived our treacherous roads, you could fall off a cliff and die”. No words or explanation necessary!
This spot is the very Westernmost point in Europe! So of course we had to take a photograph with the proof! It was so incredibly windy, we were worried we’d be blown off the mountain and plummet to our death:
Mo joined the local “speedwatch”:
….and we are now tucked in at our gorgeous accommodation, right on the beach….
….strategizing our plans for our last few days here:
*warning: this post starts off with some nudity, which is neither tasteful or necessary….and no, it isn’t either of us*
Well, today was the day we did one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to since we started planning this trip! And we started the day with the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. Now, Mo is not a museum-enthusiast, but I must have really sold this museum in my extreme anticipation to meet the Necro Pants!!! And here they are, in all their revolting hairy glory!!!
You’re probably wondering what the heck you’re looking at, but yes, they really are what they appear to be! Pants made from human skin! Your next question is probably some variation of the phrase “dear God, why??!?!”, and that’s a fair question. Let me enlighten you! A sorcerer makes a pact with a living man to get his permission to dig up his body, skin it from the waist down, and then the sorcerer steps into the skin which immediately becomes one with his own. Now, that’s not all! The sorcerer must then steal a coin from a poor widow at either Easter or Christmas (hey, if you’re gonna steal from a poor widow, why not do it on a festive religious holiday, eh?), and it must then be kept in the scrotum, where it will then draw money from other living persons, keeping the sorcerer rich. You’re all lucky they don’t sell these pants in the gift shop, or you’d all be getting a pair!!! They didn’t even have mini necro pants Christmas ornaments…I was very disappointed!
Now, other than that juicy bit of messed up folklore, we also learned the recipe for invisibility! All you need is some blood from the index finger of your left hand, and some from the ring finger of your right hand, some from both of your nipples. Mix those with some blood from a living raven, and melt it all with the raven’s brain and pieces of a human stomach. Carve the sign of the lignite with magentic steel that’s been hardened 3x in human blood. Easy-peasy! You’re welcome!
We learned a lot of other fantastic and useful things, but we’re keeping them to ourselves! Let’s just say that I’m excited for Mo to try a particular spell that involves growing nipples on her thigh to suckle a creature she’s made out of a human rib and grey cloth. These Icelanders sure have some interesting and colourful folklore!
As much as we wanted to stay in this museum all day, we had to get moving. Our next stop was more turf-houses (you can never have enough!) at the 2nd part of the sorcery museum (which is randomly 25km away, up a gravel mountain road). It was showcasing how the poor lived, to show why someone might risk being burnt at the stake, and turn to witchcraft to better their circumstances. Cute as they are on the outside, the cramped and damp interior would make anyone throw on a pair of Neco Pants, and snatch coins from widows!
….followed by finding the abandoned throne of a giant:
Since the giant clearly wasn’t using it, I attempted to scramble up, but failed miserably and retreated to the car. I’m pretty sure a herd of sheep who witnessed my humiliation were mocking me.
This brings me to the highlight of the day: Our excursion on Icelandic ponies, where I must say we rocked the helmets:
Mo rode a horse named Franz, and I was on Kvica:
They were super sweet horses, and our guide Cami (or maybe Tammy….we’re not sure) was very nice. And the surroundings were beyond beautiful!
These horses are famous for their gait and smooth ride….I didn’t find it that “smooth” and was jostled up and down, and tossed around everytime we went faster than a walk (there may have been a small amount of screaming from me in the beginning….), but it was still a lot of fun! Mo is more horse-savvy and said she could definitely tell the difference between these horses and the kinds more common in North America. Her horse Franz had 5 gaits, and looked really pretty when he was trotting along, whereas mine had 4 gaits, and an aversion to water which made crossing the river (and some puddles) very exciting. But this outing was definitely a highlight!
We drove through some incredible scenery on the way to our night’s accommodation. We’ve now entered the Western Fjords, which is an area of Iceland that only about 10% of tourists get to, and you can tell the difference because there’s vast stretches of road where you don’t see anything but sheep (who like to lie in the middle of the road and dare you to honk at them or swerve around them). Here’s a few pics of the Fjords and the surrounding areas. I didn’t alter these photos in any way, I swear everything really is that blue and green:
We’ve been soooo incredibly lucky with weather, it’s almost laughable. The only times it’s rained has been when we are in the car, and the day we did the hike in the national park (which was less “rain”, and more “refreshing mist”). We thought our luck had run out today when it was raining as we arrived at the horseback riding, but as soon as they were saddled the sun came out and it was gorgeous! Must be the good travel karma from the cairn we built at th beginning of the trip!
We came up with a new game in the car today, very similar to the punch-buggy game (when you yell “punch buggy, no return!” and slug the unsuspecting person next to you in the car, which is even more fun when that person doesn’t even realize they’re playing), except we do it when we see waterfalls….well, it only took about 2hrs to see about 150 waterfalls (no joke, it’s insane), and both of us had sore arms, so we gave it up. But we both got out some good pent-up aggression during that 2hrs! haha.
I know today doesn’t seem like we did a lot, but it was a lot of driving and breath-taking scenery! We feel pretty lucky to be in this spectacular place! Here’s the view from our guesthouse tonight:
And just in case you thought I was going to leave you with the lovely view as my parting thoughts for this entry, you’re wrong! Mwahahaha!
Couldn’t blog yesterday because the wi-fi was a tad spotty, but better late than never!
We were in the North, staying in the Holmavik area, and started out with some beautiful views of mountains and the ocean! We were following a route called Tröllaskagi (aka “troll peninsula”) which runs between 2 fjords:
So pretty that it actually looks fake. We even found the world’s most scenic phone booth!
Technically it’s an “emergency” phone, but still a phone box! Parked right outside a long giant tunnel through the mountain, where we may (or may not!) have gotten caught by photo radar camera going a tad over the speed limit. It’ll be a fun surprise, and I’m sure the ticket will look great in the scrapbook of the person who was driving at the time (I’m not telling which of us it was, because I know she wouldn’t want me to say….lol). Anyway….it’s called “troll peninsula” because the legends say there’s giants and trolls dwelling in the craggy mountains and deep valleys. We didn’t see any, unfortunately!
Next up we hit the fantastic little fishing village of Siglufjörður where we both made friends with locals. Mo learned that there really are “plenty of fish in the sea” when she was flirting it up with a local fisherman, who agreed to let her pose with a fish, gallantly leant her his gloves, and endured the good-natured mockery of his co-workers:
Wheras I met a kindly old gentleman who gave me a free glass of beer (which was delicious! I’m choosing to believe that just because it was called “Black Death” doesn’t mean he hates foreigners!):
He told us the whole history of the town, and it was actually really interesting! Fishing is obviously a big industry, but so is boat-building, and there’s a pharmaceutical company making anti-inflammatories out of fish skin. After the free history lesson, he strongly urged us to visit the “herring museum”, which we feigned interest in, and then ran the other way when he wasn’t looking. We got hot chocolate to go, and found an adorable outdoor patio with all the furniture made from barrels:
Anyway, if you’re ever in Siglufjörður (and you really should go, it’s gorgeous!), we highly recommend the Harbour House Cafe!
Lonely Planet has really saved our lives. Without it, we would have missed a ton of really cool things, including a little town called Hólar, which was the education capital of Northern Iceland between 1106 and the reformation. It was also a big religious centre until 1798, and now it has a museum, a very old church with some tablets dating back to the 1500’s, and some bibles dating back to the 1600’s. The church itself is from 1763.
We also found more turf-roofed houses! They are adorable, and look like Hobbit-houses.
We went and did the Icelandic Horse History Centre, thinking it was going to be more interactive with actual horses, but ended up just being a museum. We did find the part about the Icelandic mailmen interesting, and all the hazards their jobs entailed, but otherwise the exhibit was a bit dry. That didn’t stop us from taking a photo op in 2 of the random parts of the museum, though!
Here’s Mo doing her best “Murder She Wrote” impression, and making important phone calls:
While I made myself a cup of tea:
You may be wondering how that typewriter/desk and this kitchen set-up figure into an exhibit about horses, and the answer is: we have no idea, everything was in Icelandic. But they were very releastic!
We left little Hólar, intending to take a lovely detour to Vatnsnes Peninsula, and our crazy GPS decided to take us somewhere completely different, making us have to turn around and head 1.5hrs the opposite direction. Now, the guidebook described this peninsula as a “splendid detour”, 82km in length, and also warned us to drive carefully, but didn’t mention that the road was all gravel, full of pot holes, and only big enough for one car. It was like a terrifying amusement park ride. Several times I thought we’d bottomed out, had numerous near head-on collisions, and I think Mo’s fingernail indents are still visible in the passenger-side door handle. But it was worth it! First up was Hvítserkur, which is a 15m high basalt stack which looks like a dragon drinking water. Legend says it was a troll caught by sunrise trying to destroy a nearby monastery (what a jerk, eh?):
…and after that we carried on to Illugastaðir, which is an old farm and has paths leading to bird-filled fields, and rocks where seals sun themselves. It was remarkably good timing because it had only opened to the public the day before we got there, so that all the ducks could finish nesting. The whole place was filled with little goslings and ducklings, and they were adorable. We also saw numerous seals, which made Mo happy (I keep having to remind her that we have seals back home, but she claims it’s not the same….)
She even took off her shoes and socks, and waded into the freezing cold Denmark Straight to walk to a little island to see more seals, and we tested out the complimentary binoculars in the seal-watching shed:
As happy as I was to see baby birds, and seals, I geeked out for another reason. I don’t know if anyone else has read the book “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent, but I read it about a year ago, and it’s based on the true story of the last person (a woman!) executed in Iceland for taking part in a murder. Well, it turns out the actual murder took place at this very farm in 1829! So, it was kind of cool to be in the spot I had just read about, and Lonely Planet didn’t mention the connection, I only discovered it because of a tiny sign on the public bathrooms.
It was a long day of driving, we ended up being on the road between guesthouses for about 13hrs in total, so we were exhausted. Had the chance to party with some gentlemen of unknown origin who were 3/4 of the way into a bottle of tequila when we arrived at our destination, but we opted to head to bed!
Today we left Mývatn and headed up North! But first, our poor little car was due for a serious wash. A lot of these “roads” are long stretches of dusty gravel, and it really takes its toll:
Our first stop? You guessed it! Another waterfall! This time it was Goðafoss (English translation “waterfall of the gods”), which is considered one of the most spectacular in Iceland. It seems that every waterfall we go to is touted as being “the best”, “the nicest”, etc etc. That being said, they are all insanely beautiful and i don’t know how you could say one is “better” or “nicer” than any of the others, but it does amuse us when we read in our little itinerary that there’s about waterfall we shouldn’t miss on our daily route. Our conversation generally goes like this:
“yes…but apparently this one is the most ‘spectacular'”
“but the last one was supposedly the ‘most spectacular'”
“no no, that one was ‘the most stunning'”.
“and the one before that?”
“that one was ‘the most lovely'”.
“oooh. Ok. Well we certainly can’t miss the one deemed to be ‘most spectacular'”.
And of course they never disappoint!
This waterfall played an important role in history in the year 999 when Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði (how’s that for a name? lol) made Christianity the official religion of Iceland, and then proceeded to hurl his statues of the Norse gods off this waterfall (as you would, when you no longer need those ol’things!). Again, there wasn’t much in the way of guardrails, and we were pretty sure a few times that a few tourists would be hurled off the rocks, but miraculously it didn’t happen.
Now, remember yesterday when the tour guide at Dimmuborgir told us that Icelander’s don’t believe in Santa? Well, imagine our shock and surprise at seeing this guy loitering on the side of the road:
Yes, those are our shocked faces (…and yes, it appears someone shot out his left eye with something…it wasn’t us! We wanna stay on the “nice” list!). So, we of course had to know what was going on 31km down the road, And this is what we found:
It’s Santa’s vacation house in Iceland! They were playing Christmas carols in Icelandic, serving mulled wine and candy apples, and even Santa’s laundry was hanging from a clothesline in the front yard (very undignified, if you ask me!). It was amazing! We really got into the spirit of it!
Remember those Yule Lads from the last post? The elf-men with the hilarious names?
Well, they were all there too, and their unsightly mother Grýla, the ogress who makes a stew of naughty children. She was frightening, and I’m not sure if the photo correctly captures exactly how terrifying she looks:
Luckily we are neither naughty, nor children, so we knew we wouldn’t be devoured by her. Still weird to find her lurking in the basement of Santa’s vacation home.
At the moment, we are Akureyri, which is the capital of the North in Iceland, and it’s so North, we are actually only a short ferry ride to the Arctic Circle! Unfortunately (…and this really broke my heart), we weren’t able to catch the boat in time to go, and the short flights you can take were all booked! Guess I’ll have to get there on another trip. But it sucks to be so close and not be able to go! We’ve been seeing lots of signs on the road for reindeer crossing….haven’t seen any yet, but am VERY hopeful!!!
Next up we checked out the traditional turf-roofed houses at Laufás, which were very cool.
The signs were very clear that we should not climb up on top of them, so that thwarted that plan! But we made do with just walking around.
So, not only is Akureyri extremely picturesque with all the mountains and Fjords…
…but they also found a unique way to amuse motorists and cut down on road rage:
Yes, all their red lights are shaped like hearts! We thought we were hallucinating at first, but then noticed that the heart is kinda the town symbol and on most of the signs.
We checked out the famous church here, made by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson, who also created the crazy-looking church in Reykjavik, which was featured in an earlier blog posting:
If you look closely, you can see the conscientious fellow tourist who tried to hide himself behind that tiny post in the left-side corner, to give me an unobstructed picture. Didn’t quite work, and actually looks a bit sinister, but I appreciated his attempt!
And now we are checked into the most beautiful guesthouse right on the water, in the Fjord. They have a gorgeous big lounge with windows overlooking the water and apparently there’s always whales out there swimming by:
…and of course Mo is loving the outdoor hot tub!
We made it in time for Happy Hour at our hotel, so glasses of wine were only $7 Canadian, instead of $14, which was nice! First time we’ve had wine on this trip!
Tomorrow we head further North. Fingers crossed we find a reindeer!
So, I didn’t do an entry yesterday, because it wasn’t super eventful. It didn’t start out great. I was pouring what I thought was yogurt (the runnier ones come in large juice containers) onto my oats, only to find out when I took a bite that it was actually sour cream. The girl running the guesthouse was looking at me weird when I did it, which should been a clue. Anyway, the first bite was a nasty surprise, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing I’m an idiot, so I ate it anyway, and made sure she thought I was enjoying it. Don’t try it at home….it was revolting.
Next, we drove for what felt like hours through a strange barren landscape, where it looked like nothing could live/survive. Finally we pulled into a gorgeous lush-looking canyon, with a giant waterfall! I know, shocking. So, the first one is called Dettifoss. Its claim to fame is that it has the greatest volume of any waterfall in Europe (400 cubic meters of water thunders over the edge every second), and you can see the spray for up to 1km away:
You can walk alarmingly close to the edge of the falls, on very slippery rocks, with no guardrail. Mo said she saw a tiny note written at the bottom of the sign (which I didn’t see at all) warning that if you go further than the viewpoint, it’s at your own peril. But the area beyond the viewpoint isn’t roped off, and there’s nothing to discourage people from venturing out on the rocks! Maybe the Icelandic attitude towards tourists is “survival of the fittest”?
Further down the beautiful canyon is a smaller waterfall (yes…they are everywhere) called Hafragilfoss (super fun to say!), which was also pretty:
Next up we headed to Ásbyrgi canyon. It’s in the shape of a horseshoe, and the legend is that Odin’s 8-legged horse Sleipnir accidentally touched down on the Earth, and left this hoof-print. But there were no viewpoints from above to give us a good aerial shot of this, so all we could really do is drive around it, and admire the walls of the canyon, which wasn’t too exciting for us, and we didn’t even take any photos.
Lastly we checked into our hotel. Mo had a soak in the outdoor picturesque hot tub, and then we headed into the town of Húsavík, which is renowned for its whale-watching. We skipped that, and had a lovely dinner, and just checked out the cute little harbour and bizarre-looking church.
Not a lot else to do, so we made our way back to the hotel, but enroute a funny little symbol lit up on our dashboard to warn us that the air outside was cold enough for snow and frost! It’s definitely been verrrry chilly up in the North. We were expecting it to not be balmy in the North, but we certainly weren’t anticipating snow or frost in mid-to-late June!
Mo wants me to mention that we are in a geothermal area, so even the toilet at our guesthouse has hot air rising from it, it’s like getting a facial for your butt every time you use it!
Today was a bit better. We are staying in the Mývatn region. Lonely Planet describes it as the “undisputed gem of the Northeast”, but we were a bit wary, since we’d read that “Mývatn” translates to “lake of midges”, and we were already pretty tired of the pesky biting flies. But as it was cold this morning when we got there, they weren’t too bad!
The lake itself is surrounded by craters and diverse lava formations. We went to a nearby place called Dimmuborgir (translates to “dark castles”). The strange pillars and crags were formed about 2000yrs ago. We lucked out and arrived just in time for a private guided tour with a park ranger (who’s name we can’t pronounce or spell, even if our life depended on it).
This particular spot is called the Kirkja (“church”), because it’s a cathedral-like cave:
Now apparently in Iceland they don’t have Santa. They have these weird elf-men called “The Yule Lads” who leave presents in the shoes of good children, and rotten potatoes in the shoes of the bad children. They have such bizarre names as “Spoon Licker”, “Door Slammer”, “Sausage Swiper”, and “Skyr Gobbler” (“skyr” is Icelandic yogurt, and it’s AMAZING….I don’t blame him for gobbling it up).
Apparently they live here, amongst these lava formations. We didn’t see them (thank god! If one had popped out of the rocks, I would have fainted on the spot), but we found a camp allegedly belonging to one of them. I had to resist my natural urge to short-sheet his bed:
It was overall a really cool place, and neither of us really fancied ourselves as geology-enthusiasts, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but we ended up really loving it.
Next up we climbed a crater! It’s called Hverfjall, and it appeared 2700yrs ago in a “cataclysmic eruption” (which sounds very dramatic!) and is 452m high, and 1040m across. It was no easy uphill trek let me tell you, but it was worth it!
The pictures make it hard to see just how impressive it is, so you’ll just have to trust me!
After that trek, we rewarded ourselves with a relaxing soak in the Mývatn geo-thermal pools, which are known as the “Blue Lagoon of the North”:
They even let us have beer in the pools!
But just to make things super awkward, they make you shower naked with no curtain/privacy before you’re allowed into the pool. They even have a sign telling you which parts of your body to especially pay attention to….
We deserved the beer after enduring that!