Introduction & Planning
Welcome to our Iceland Grand Circle Road Trip! As usual, we'll keep you up to date with reports on bookings, itinerary changes, and everything else that happens between now and our departure.
We will fly from San Diego to Denver to catch a non-stop flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. On the way back, our intention is to drive home from Denver, adding another month or so as we zigzag south through Colorado and make a couple of stops in New Mexico and Arizona. You can follow the progress of the High Country Road trip HERE.
June 30, 2014: Our preliminary plans are laid out on the map with expected overnight stops shown. As of today, the total time in Iceland will be about 40 days, but what we have so far is a wish list. A few places will likely be deleted as we refine our sightseeing excursions in each city. We intend to depart around the first of May. That means we are arriving in Iceland before the tourist season that lasts from mid-June until the end of August. There will be fewer tourists on the road, but the trade-off is that many museums and organized tours are unavailable. As you know, we aren't museum types, so that isn't a big deal to us. We anticipate the weather to be a bit of an issue, especially in the north. If we have to skip something, so be it. We're flexible if nothing else.
July 1, 2014: The itinerary has been reversed to better accommodate the winter schedule for the Baldur Ferry. A couple of overnights were eliminated or changed.
July 6, 2014: An overnight was deleted in Grundarfj÷rur (hotel options are lacking.) We'll just drive an extra hour to Stykkishˇlmur where we will catch the Baldur Ferry after a two-night stopover.
July 8, 2014: Our departure date was pushed out one day to accommodate the airline schedule. There are no direct flights from Denver on Thursdays. We could have switched to a Seattle round trip, but the fare is $200 higher than flying from Denver.
July 15, 2014: HˇlmavÝk was deleted as an overnight stop due to a lack of acceptable lodging options. We'll have to suck it up and make it to Hvammstangi in one long day. We will stop in the town if the Witchcraft & Sorcery Museum is open and grab some lunch.
July 16, 2014: A change of an overnight stop and our first booking occurred today! We changed the stop in B˙ir to Hellnar because it is a bit closer to our destination for the following day and the hotel there is more suitable for us. Literally the only thing in B˙ir is the hotel. At least Hellnar has the visitor center for the nearby SnŠfellsj÷kull National Park, too. We booked a Twin Room with Sea View at the Hotel Hellnar for Ç140 (about $189), including breakfast. Supposedly, free wi-fi is available, but we'll believe that when we see it. This place is in the middle of nowhere. Of course, what isn't in Iceland? The price is higher than what it should be for this kind of hotel (most hotels in Iceland are quite basic), but we expect it will end up being one of the least expensive stops all month. Prices for food and lodging in Iceland are outrageous! Many hotels quote prices in Euros or U.S. Dollars, but charge in Icelandic Krona based on the exchange rate at check-out, so coming up with an exact price in advance is impossible.
We had to book this hotel through www.booking.com. Normally we avoid using third-party booking sites, but this is our only option in this case. It appears that we will have to use it again for a couple of other places down the road. There is no booking fee and everything appeared to work efficiently, so hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised by the end results.
By the way, all hotels in Iceland are entirely non-smoking, so we won't mention that in each booking going forward.
July 21, 2014: We have another hotel booking for you today, the Hotel Stykkishˇlmur in, where else, Stykkishˇlmur. Again, we had to go through www.booking.com. The hotel chain's website links to the booking site directly. We have booked a Double/Twin (requested a twin) for Ç140 per night, including breakfast. This city is the jumping off point for the ferry to the Westfjords.
July 29, 2014: Moving along, we have booked two nights in Borgarnes at Egils Guesthouse for the very reasonable price of ISK11000 (about $86) per night. We booked Studio 1. Rates include free internet, but no breakfast. All rooms have washing machines, which should come in handy at this point in our trip. The room also has a kitchenette. We were able to book this accommodation directly through the guesthouse's website.
August 1, 2014: We have booked two nights in ═safj÷rur at the aptly-named Hotel ═safj÷rur. Again, we had to use www.booking.com. All rooms, except one, are Twin/Double standard rooms that are modern and have the usual amenities...free internet and breakfast. The rate is about $211 per night.
We are trying to book our hotel stays in chronological order in case we have to change stops due to availability of rooms. However, we're being thwarted by the Fosshotel chain because they don't release rooms for booking this far in advance. So, we had to skip Patreksfj÷rur for now and book ═safj÷rur.
August 4, 2014: We've discovered that many hotels are filling up already, so in towns with few hotels to choose from we're moving ahead and making reservations. All of today's bookings were made through www.booking.com. Today, we have reserved our hotel in Seyisfj÷rur, Hotel Aldan. We chose a Twin Room, breakfast and wi-fi included, for the rate of Ç167 per night.
In Akureyri, our choice is the Rßđh˙siđ Apartment Hotel where we booked a one-bedroom apartment for Ç168 per night. This does not include any meals, but there is free wi-fi.
For our one-night stopover in Hvammstangi, we booked a room at the Welcome Hotel Hvammstangi, including breakfast, for Ç100 per night. This "hotel" is more like a Motel 6, but it is OK for a stopover.
We got the last twin room at the Hotel VestmannŠyjar for our two-night stay on the island. A Twin Room in the older section goes for Ç132 per night. Wi-Fi and breakfast are free.
August 7, 2014: An adjustment was made to our itinerary that extends our stay in Akureyri. It is the only "big" city in Northern Iceland and we think it will be a nice town to schedule a down day to catch up on laundry or whatever. To accommodate the extra day, we subtracted a day in Mřvatn (previously shown in the schedule as ReykjahlÝ.) With that done, we booked a two-night stay at the Hotel ReykjahlÝ on Lake Mřvatn. We chose a Superior Twin for Ç200 per night, including breakfast and free wi-fi.
August 9, 2014: We changed our room type at the Hotel VestmannŠyjar to a Double in the newer section of the hotel. It is slightly more costly at Ç160 per night, but after reading more reviews of the rooms in the older section we decided it is a small price to pay for comfort.
And, since we're on a roll, we booked a night in Fl˙ir at the Icelandair Hotel Fl˙ir. We chose a Double Room at the Best Flexible Rate with Breakfast for ISK 26,400. Guests who book directly through the Icelandair Hotels website receive free internet access.
For our two-night stay in VÝk, we selected the Icelandair Hotel VÝk where we splurged and booked a Deluxe Room with Breakfast for ISK 33,400 per night.
August 19,2014: We settled on one of the highly rated apartment-style hotels in the center of town for our final five nights in Reykjavik. We booked a one-bedroom apartment at the Reykjavik4you Apartments Hotel for $333 per night.
August 23, 2014: We have been watching with interest the news reports about an impending volcanic eruption. It isn't anywhere near the road we have to travel, so it is unlikely to affect our plans unless it happens several months from now. At it appears at the moment, the eruption has already started and the authorities are waiting to see what happens when or if it breaks through the overlying glacier. There is a section in the northwest where the roads have been closed as a precaution against flooding. It stands to reason that all will be resolved by the time we get to that area.
August 25, 2014: We're getting antsy about booking the last few stays because hotels seem to be booking up so quickly, even this far in advance. We have reserved a room at the Seljavellir Guesthouse just outside of H÷fn. None of the hotels in the town are available. All rooms at this guesthouse are twins/doubles and include breakfast. This place is new and looks like a hotel to us, so we're not sure why it is called a guesthouse. The price certainly reflects a hotel-type status at $222 per night!
We also reserved our first two nights in Reykjavik at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica using 80,000 HHonors points total. The regular rate for a Hilton Twin Room is $244 per night. All rates include internet service. We will get free breakfast for being Diamond Honors members. We requested early check-in because we expect to arrive in Iceland around 7:00am, but checking in that early seems unlikely. We chose this hotel not only because we can stay using points, but because it is located outside of downtown where we will be staying at the end of the trip.
August 27, 2014: A slight change in overnight stops allowed us to book another hotel. Instead of staying at the only hotel at the entrance to Skaftafell National Park, we will stay nearby in KirkjubŠjarklaustur and drive to the park for a visit. We reserved a Double Room with Breakfast at the Icelandair Hotel Klaustur for ISK 26,400 per night. Free internet is included.
August 31, 2014: With hotels filling up quickly, we made a reservation in Patreksfj÷rur at the Rßageri Hostel just to be sure we have someplace to stay. We wouldn't classify this place as a typical hostel though. We'd step it up a notch and call it a guesthouse. The price is very reasonable (for Iceland), Ç140 for a Double/Twin Room with private bath. Breakfast is included, as is wi-fi.
October 24, 2014: Reservations finally opened up for the Fosshotel H˙savÝk, so we have booked our final remaining hotel. We chose a Twin Room with breakfast for approximately $218 per night. That's very overpriced for this kind of hotel, but everything in this area is pricy, so it isn't unusual.
December 14, 2014: We booked our round trip flights from Denver to Reykjavik directly with Icelandair. Two Saga Class (business) seats cost us $5,180 including taxes and fees. Both flights are non-stop.
We reserved and prepaid our car rental today through Auto Car Rental in Iceland. We chose a standard SUV (such as a Hyundai Tucson) for $3,547. This company rents older cars, but they include all insurance plus the extras that cover sand and gravel damage, etc., a GPS, and discounts on gasoline. We figured it was worth the gamble to save at least a thousand dollars. Maybe we'll get lucky.
December 16, 2014: We went ahead and booked our one-way flight from San Diego to Denver directly with United. The fare for Economy Plus (non-refundable) is $458.20 for two seats according to the website confirmation. The time we want to fly showed as more expensive than any other departure by about $50 per person. But, when the e-mail confirmation/e-ticket receipt arrived, the total fare was only $344.20. Go figure. This includes $57 per person to upgrade to Economy Plus.
We also bought trip insurance to cover the flights and medical emergency/evacuation from CSA Travel Protection (through www.insuremytrip.com) for $570.16. Our non-refundable San Diego-Denver ticket is covered through Allianze Global Assistance for $38.
February 7, 2015: We changed our lodging choice in Akureyri from an apartment hotel to the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. After researching the apartment hotel further we felt that a suite at the hotel would be more suitable. Besides, we'll need some luxury at this point in the trip. We booked a Suite with the "Spring Is In the Air" rate of $272 per night. This price includes a breakfast buffet package that is about $15 per day per person. Wi-fi is free at Icelandair Hotels when booked directly through their website, which is what we did.
February 8, 2015: We made another change to a hotel booking. Instead of staying at a very basic, although modern, guesthouse outside of H÷fn, we switched to a Deluxe Room at the Fosshotel Vatnaj÷kull nearby. We're only staying overnight at this location, so we prefer a full service hotel with a restaurant for dinner. The price for this room, which is in a brand new wing, is Ç197.60 and includes breakfast and free wi-fi.
March 13, 2015: Oops! We didn't check a major link in our itinerary. Who would have guessed that there is no ferry connection on a Saturday? This means that we either have to drive around a remote fjord for five hours over mostly unpaved roads or make a bunch of adjustments to our schedule. We chose the latter, so here's what changed today:
We shortened our stay in Stykkishˇlmur where the Baldur Ferry originates. This will enable us to take the ferry across the fjord on Friday and arrive in Patreksfj÷rur a day early. Our previously booked hotel in this town is not available a day early, so we cancelled our stay at the Rßageri Hostel and made a reservation at the brand new Fosshotel Westfjords instead. Here we selected a Superior Double at Ç153.71 per night including breakfast and Wi-Fi. This price is about the same as the other place. This is a "real" hotel with a restaurant, which is more convenience overall. We booked directly through the Fosshotels website.
Our reservation in ═safj÷rur was moved up a day with no issues. The hotel and rate remain the same.
We were left with an extra day to fill, so we decided to stay overnight near HˇlmavÝk. This was a scheduled stop for a visit to the Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum anyway, but we hadn't planned to stay overnight. We found what we hope is a charming hotel in a converted school about 25km north of town. The Hotel Laugarhˇll is in the middle of nowhere, but it does have a restaurant. The rate for a Twin Room with private facilities is Ç124 ($130), including breakfast. Dinner is Ç44 per person extra, but we didn't book this in advance. We booked through Icelandic Farm Holidays and prepaid. This stay will break up what would have been a very long day of driving, so it worked out for the best.
And finally, the issue that caused all this ruckus...we booked the crossing from Stykkishˇlmur to the Westfjords on the Baldur Ferry. The total cost for two people plus a car is ISK11016 ($79.32) which we had to prepay. We received a voucher via email to exchange for our tickets on the day of departure.
March 14, 2015: There was an upheaval in our reservations today. Dave was randomly checking reservations and printing airline e-tickets. Turns out that our flight from San Diego to Denver was changed and now has a new flight number and a different type of aircraft. The departure time is just a few minutes later, so not a big deal. However, the larger aircraft has a 3-3 seating configuration in coach which is NOT acceptable for us. Sorry, but a major rule for us is no sitting with strangers! Call us snobs, but this is one compromise we will not make. The only alternative is to upgrade to First Class. We tried to upgrade the same reservation, but that didn't work (you can only upgrade using mileage points, which we don't have, plus $50), so we had to cancel it and start over. Bummer. The original tickets are non-refundable, but we did get a refund for the Economy+ upgrade of about $120. We ate a hundred bucks or so, but we can handle it. An email from United with the cancellation confirmation stated that we can use the credit toward new tickets. Yeah, right. After the change fee of $400 the new flight would have cost almost $200 more than starting from scratch, so that didn't happen. It was cheaper to eat the non-refundable tickets and book new ones in First Class, so that's what we did. At about $250 per person, it isn't going to break the bank and we'll be a lot happier.
We wrapped up the final reservation that hadn't been made yet, which is the ferry to/from VestmannŠyjar. This was booked directly with the ferry company online and prepaid. Two adults and a car costs ISK 9,100 round trip ($62.52). We immediately received boarding passes via email. This is only a 30-minute crossing on a relatively tiny ferry, so it could be interesting if the weather doesn't cooperate. Apparently there is a possibility of being re-routed to a different port, but that usually doesn't happen in May. If it does, we'll have to get up at the crack of dawn and drive two hours to catch the ferry.
As far as we know after going over all of our reservations again, everything is now booked. We've programmed our GPS with the entire route, printed out Google maps "just in case", and finalized our itinerary. Or so we hope! Keep your fingers crossed that some other glitch doesn't show itself before we leave. All that remains is to arrange for shipping our luggage to Iceland, but we'll cross that bridge in a month or so.
March 26, 2015: We're keeping close watch on the road conditions in Iceland as our departure date gets closer. There is a 17km section of gravel road that is shown as "impassable" on the road conditions map. We have to use this route between Patreksfj÷rur and ═safj÷rur. If we can't take this route it will mean a long drive all the way around the peninsula or skipping ═safj÷rur altogether. If we skip it we'll have to make some changes to fill the extra two days in the schedule. Hopefully it won't be necessary, but it never hurts to be prepared with alternatives.
April 14, 2015: Dave obtained a new CapitalOne Venture credit card that imposes no foreign transaction fees that will save us some money. We need a credit card with an IC chip and PIN to use in Iceland's automated gasoline pumps, so this should take care of it. The Chase IHG MasterCard he already has is the only affinity card that doesn't have foreign fees, but it isn't available with the chip yet. He had his Platinum American Express card replaced with a new one with a chip, but it isn't as widely accepted, so we'll just use it as a backup. The Amex agent insisted we don't need a PIN code with the chip, but we know for a fact that in order to use the automated gasoline pumps in Iceland a PIN is required.
Last week we "came this close" to canceling this trip altogether, but we're back on track with the issues mostly resolved. We are still watching the road conditions and weather in case we have to make some itinerary changes. If things don't improve soon we will delete the visit to Patreksfj÷rur and the ferry crossing. At the moment it looks as though we will still be able to make it to ═safj÷rur by adjusting a few overnights.
If you'd like to follow the Icelandic road conditions, click HERE.
Packing is well underway, so we'll be making a decision about which luggage forwarding company to use in the next week or so.
April 20, 2015: We received an email with the combination to the key box for our stay at Egil's Guesthouse Apartments today. It advises us to check in after 4:00pm and when we leave to put the key back where we found it. Apparently we aren't going to see the proprietors at all which is perfectly OK with us, but kind of odd.
We placed an order for our luggage to be picked up and forwarded through LuggageFree. They are supposed to pick it up tomorrow, but then we got an email asking for documentation "48 hours in advance of pick up," so we're not sure what's up. Dave emailed scans of the information they need, so hopefully it will be processed more quickly. They asked for a scan of the passport information page, a list of contents in the bags (yeah right, like we have a clue at this point?), and a copy of our flight itinerary. They did say we can "estimate" what will be in the luggage. The cost of the pickup is $50, plus $6.33 per pound for the Economy Delivery option (takes 5-7 days). You can avoid the $50 full service fee by having them send the shipping labels and you do everything else. With full service someone is supposed to come and wrap everything is plastic, and then do the rest for you. We'll keep you posted on how this plays out. We were dismayed at the poor layout of the order process online. We had similar problems last year with LuggageForward, which is why we decided to try a different service. In this case, the form isn't set up for foreign addresses and kept telling us there were errors in the state and zip code. We eventually made it work, but shouldn't it be more coherent than that?
April 21, 2015: This morning Dave received an email confirming that LuggageFree received the documentation they need and everything "looks great." Another email asked for our check-in date so they can coordinate it with their agent there. An hour later, a courier arrived to pick up the luggage. We knew from shipping luggage to Japan last year that we can't lock the bags, but there was no mention of that anywhere. The courier called LuggageFree and confirmed they should be removed, which we did. He said he would zip-tie them for extra security. This only applies to shipping internationally because of customs. If you are shipping domestically you may lock the bags. Less than five minutes after the courier left we received an email from LuggageFree confirming that the pick-up is complete and confirming the delivery date in Iceland. So far the service we have received from this company is far superior to LuggageForward who took days to acknowledge an email. Now the trick will be to see if the bags actually arrive on time.
April 27, 2015: LuggageFree emailed a confirmation that our luggage was delivered to its destination in Reykjavik today.
We're ready to go and just waiting until our departure date. It looks like the weather in the Westfjords is worsening which means it is increasingly likely we will have to skip that part of our drive. We'll wait and decide after we arrive in Iceland and speak to a few locals to get their take on the conditions before making any changes.
April 30, 2015: Boarding passes are printed, the house sitters are on their way and we're ready to go!
REMINDER: If you would like to comment or ask questions during our adventures, be sure to join our Forum HERE.
Day 1: Friday, May 1 - Fly to Reykjavik via Denver
The car service arrived promptly at 8:30am to take us to San Diego International Airport. We had the same driver who picked us up last time. He is, as he specifically pointed out, 78 years old! He's very nice, but...
We made it to the airport in record time, so we had about 90 minutes to kill before our flight. The security check-point took maybe ten minutes, if that. Security for the domestic terminal is much more thorough than when we flew to Japan last year. At that time there were signs saying no need to remove shoes, etc. Today it is the full body scanner and take off just about everything. Strangely enough, there were no issues with either of our carry-on bags that are full of electronics and several battery-operated devices. Dave required a pat down of one arm and a leg. Bill got a torso inspection. OK, Bill is wearing a sort of back brace contraption under his shirt, but it is made of Velcro and fabric. Dave has on nothing but his clothes. Oh well, it was quick and the agents we dealt with were very nice.
If you have to choose an airport to fly into or out of California definitely go for San Diego. The airport is brand new, pleasant to look at and easy to navigate. You pretty much walk from the curb right to your gate. There are tons of nice shops and restaurants to browse along the concourse. The waiting areas have power outlets and USB ports built into the seats. There is an interesting animated LED "sculpture" that runs the length of the gate area corridor. At the far end it depicts a seal (or something like that) jumping into the ocean, and then it swims all the way down the concourse. It is subtle and attractive.
Our United plane arrived and disgorged passengers while we waited. Boarding started right on time and we departed as scheduled at 11:11am. The flight was full so it is no wonder they upgraded the plane to a full-sized one rather than a commuter jet it was originally. There isn't much leg room in first class on this flight, but nobody reclined all the way, so it was fine. There are entertainment systems built into the seat backs, but people were complaining about the tiny earbud headphones they give you (upon request), so we didn't bother.
The flight was fine, nothing to write home about, but nothing wrong with it either. The plane could have been cleaner, but it was adequate. When we saw the flight attendants walk through the lobby we were expecting a surly experience, but they were all very pleasant once we got on board. One of them rushed over to us before departure and asked if we are twins. She couldn't understand how we are twins with different last names. Um, maybe because we aren't related? So chalk up the first "are you twins/brothers" question and we haven't even left the airport yet.
Dave's response of, "I hope not because it would have been the longest labor in history," endeared us to the flight attendants so we got first choice of lunch entrees. We weren't even expecting real food. Maybe a pre-packaged sandwich or something. But, we had a choice between a Southwest Chicken Salad with Tortilla Soup or a Tenderloin of Beef Chili with Cornbread and a Fresh Fruit Salad. Both were very good under the circumstances. Dessert was a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. By the way, they only had two of the salads, so Dave really got lucky that we were favored by the flight attendant.
We arrived a few minutes early in Denver despite making a detour to avoid a thunder storm. Since we don't have any luggage, all we had to do is jump on the shuttle train from Terminal B to Terminal A and find a place to sit for 2-1/2 hours. We did all of that with no trouble at all. Denver International's gate area isn't as nice as San Diego's, but there are plenty of restaurants and shops to choose from if one is so inclined. There aren't any power outlets by the seats, so everyone was crowded around a pay phone kiosk that had a few on it. Tough luck if someone needs to use the phone, but that isn't much of an issue these days.
All we did for two hours plus was sit there and people watch. There was a huge thunder storm that drew everyone's attention. It looked very dramatic from a distance, but when it reached the airport there was just some lighting and it rained for a couple of minutes. Our departure wasn't delayed at all. We boarded at 4:40pm and took off on time at 5:10pm.
Our Icelandair flight is on an older 757, so similar to the United plane we arrived on. We were offered champagne when we sat down, but we declined. Anyway, that's what it looked like, but the flight attendant called it something else we can't recall. This flight is full also.
Dave wisely close the only seats in Saga Class (first) that have good legroom. These are the two bulkhead seats on the right side of the place. The other bulkhead seats lose about 12" due to a closet in front of them. However, both have storage cutouts at the bottom so you have someplace to stow luggage that is even more spacious than putting it under a seat in front of you. We selected the same seats for our return flight.
As mentioned, this is an older aircraft, but it is clean for the most part. Bill's touch screen has something spewed all over it, but he took care of it with the hot towel offered before dinner.
After take-off we were offered drinks and handed little bowls of hot almonds. It was at least another hour before dinner was served. The flight attendant supervisor asked the first row what they wanted as an entree and only then discovered there are no menus. So, he had to go to each person and describe the two choices. We had a choice of Beef with Spinach or Vegetable Pasta with Cheese. We chose one of each. Both meals came with a cold seafood salad that sort of looked like tuna salad with little stale pieces of toast to spread it on. Everything was edible, but that's all we can say for it. The portions were generous, so that's a plus, but honestly this is probably the worst airline food we have had in a very long time. The dessert of a piece of nut cake with fresh berries was the best part, but we wouldn't knock anyone over to get it again. We did have real dishes and silverware rather than disposable stuff (United had this also).
We're about at the halfway point of our flight right now, so it is 8:00pm at home and 3:00am at our destination. Both flights have Wi-Fi, but it is free in Saga Class on Icelandair. It is EXTREMELY slow, but it exists. This is definitely the first time we've updated the blog during a flight!
We were given nice amenity kits that include socks, an eye mask, and other essentials such as a toothbrush and lip balm. There were fluffy blankets and pillows on the seats when we arrived. It wasn't chilly enough for the blankets, but it was nicer than most airlines give you. The headphones handed out were a very nice noise-cancelling type.
Nothing much happened for the rest of the flight. About an hour before landing we were served a warm croissant sandwich containing turkey and cheese, and a plate of fruit that consisted of two paper-thin slices of pineapple and half of a strawberry. The sandwich was better than the dinner course we had earlier.
Day 2: Saturday, May 2 - Arrive Reykjavik
Iceland is the perfect destination for people looking for the unexpected.
Something out of the ordinary. The people of Iceland are warm and welcoming, the
nature is rugged and beautiful, the culture is rich and appealing and nothing is
quite what you expected. Come and join us on an expedition of discovery. Find
out what makes Iceland special.
Our flight landed in Iceland right on time at 6:20am. The Keflavik Airport looks nice, but it is very poorly designed. It took what seemed like forever to work our way to the customs check with very little signage to point us in the right direction. Customs was cursory with no declarations to fill out. The inspector asked Dave if he was traveling with the woman ahead of him, so he said, "No, I'm with that guy behind me," much to the agent's amusement. Bill breezed right though after that without being asked anything at all.
We went through the baggage claim because we figured that's where our car rental guy would be, which he was. We rented through Auto Car Rental which is a family-owned small business based in Reykjavik. We were a little nervous because the price is significantly less than the other companies we checked and it includes all of the insurance coverage that is optional with anyone else. They readily announce that the cars they rent aren't the newest models. However, our experience with the guy who met us couldn't have been more reassuring. He spoke perfect English, got all of our snarky humor, and wasn't hard to look at either.
He asked us to walk over to a big map of Iceland so he could help us with our route planning. The first thing out of his mouth was that we should have come later in the year. Apparently this has been one of the worst winters they have seen in many years. After a bit of back and forth about the Westfjords part where we know some roads are closed, he agreed with us that we should cancel Patreksfj÷rur and drive around the other way to ═safj÷rur. Also, he pointed out that the bad winter has kept the birds away which is the only reason to go to Patreksfj÷rur at all. His other advice was to never check out of a hotel without asking the front desk if we can make it to our next stop because the weather is so unpredictable.
We were told to buy something called "tire rinse" at a gas station and pour it over the tires before setting out if the roads are snowy. The car has snow tires, but the tread can get clogged with snow. We were given a Ford Explorer which is a nicer SUV than we ordered. He said we could get what we ordered tomorrow if we care that much, but the Explorer is a better car so we said we'd keep it. He referred to our particular car as a "workhorse" and declared that it will give us no trouble. It doesn't look any worse for wear than any other rental we've had before.
There were other random amusing things he told us not to do. There are harsh sandstorms in the southeast that we are supposed to avoid. He said our red car would come back stripped of its color if we kept driving. Also, he told us that if the wind blows us off the road not to try to save the car. "Just let it blow you off and then you can drive back onto the road." Most tourists try to save damaging the car and they end up rolling it instead, so just go with the flow and if the car is ruined no big deal. "That's to be expected around here," is what he told us. After talking to him for quite a while, we're convinced every possible calamity will befall us, so we'll be extra careful. He told us that they had 250 cars stranded at once on the Golden Circle route last week because the tourists didn't check conditions before setting out. We assured him we know about the road condition website and we will follow what it says. Apparently we CAN drive under any conditions except "Impassible". He said that with the Explorer we can handle the "Difficult Driving" category. We probably wouldn't attempt it, but it is good to know we can if we have to. He said the rescue team will come out and save us no matter where we get stuck, but be sure to have a full tank so we can stay warm in the meantime. We already knew that, but we're glad he told us anyway. He was pleased that we already know not to leave the engine running if the exhaust is blocked with snow (duh). And then he announced that in addition to the paint-stripping sandstorms, they had a "rock storm" last week. Oh goodie. He laughed when Dave said that sounded like fun so we'd be on the lookout for rock storm weather.
We were told that when we're done to just bring the car back to the airport and park it anywhere in the long-term parking lot, put the key under the seat and leave it unlocked. Oh, and when he filled out the pre-rental inspection he marked the entire car as "full of dings and scratches" so no matter what happens it isn't our fault, "Because the conditions are so harsh we don't expect the car to come back undamaged." He also said not to be alarmed by all the warnings the car gives such as low tire pressure or check engine. Any yellow warning light can be ignored and, "You can think about it if is red, but usually it isn't anything." Apparently the dust and blowing sand throws off the electronic sensors that are required by EU law, so everyone in Iceland just ignores them.
We were advised to drive into Keflavik to fill the car with gas before getting into Reykjavik, so that's what we did. Keflavik looks like a Soviet-era town full of ugly monuments and statues. We saw no other cars or people at all. There are some whimsical light poles along one part of the drive. The gas station was automated (our new credit card with a PIN and chip worked fine). We're not sure why all these fancy roads and traffic circles were built unless perhaps there were grandiose plans that fell apart when the economy crashed a few years ago. Off the main highway into Reykjavik there are several traffic circles that go nowhere. Why anyone would want to live out on the lava fields anyway is a mystery to us.
After getting gas, we switched to the GPS we brought from home rather than use the one provided. We can understand ours better and it is a newer model. It knows speed limits and traffic conditions, for example. Not that traffic is any problem. We could have stopped for photos in the middle of the highway and not blocked anyone. We didn't do that, of course, although we did think about it.
We arrived in Reykjavik in about 30 minutes. The hotel just sort of appeared unexpectedly. Everything looks kind of the same...modern buildings and wide empty streets. We're on the outskirts of town for this brief stop, so we're not seeing the historic part of town just yet.
The Hilton Reykjavik Nordica is a typically modern Scandinavian design. It looks nice on the outside, but the inside is a bit dark. We never expected in a million years to be able to check in at 8:00am when we finally got there. However, we were checked right in and told we can have a free breakfast in the executive lounge or in the restaurant. The desk clerk apologized that she couldn't upgrade us to a room on the Executive Floor because the hotel is fully booked, but we have never been upgraded before, so we never expect it (we are supposed to be upgraded to the next available level for being Hilton Diamond). When we asked about our forwarded luggage she went in back and came out with it on a cart. Dave asked for something to cut the heavy-duty zip ties and remove the plastic covers, so she produced some enormous scissors. We cut everything off, gave her back the cart, and went up to our room on the fifth floor.
Our room is tiny and the doors are very low. It reminds us of a Japanese hotel. The room is a little worn and the upholstery is kind of dirty...not filthy, but not clean either...everything else is spotless. The bathroom is spacious and clean. The only temperature control is a radiator under the window with a dial that doesn't turn it off completely. There is no thermostat in the room. We opened the windows, so it is very noisy with some jack hammering up the street. We're not concerned since it probably won't go on tomorrow or at night. Plus, it isn't the hotel's fault. There is a nice harbor/mountain view from the elevator lobby and rooms on the other side of the hotel. Our view is of the aforementioned all-look-alike buildings.
We cleaned up a bit and went downstairs to get the rest of our stuff from the car, and then went down to the restaurant for the free breakfast buffet. The food was OK, but nothing fabulous. We have no idea what it costs, but from the list at the hostess station is looks like almost everyone staying here has it included in their rate.
The hotel is full of bus tourists of every nationality. We'd guess that Chinese and Japanese tourists predominate, but there were some obnoxious-looking Germans grumbling out front waiting to board their bus. None of this affects us one way or the other, we're just reporting what we see. At first glance we would say this hotel is way too touristy and we probably wouldn't stay here again. The staff does have their act together and they're all very pleasant, so no problem there, but a hotel full of groups is never any fun.
After we finished breakfast we went back to the room. Bill promptly crashed, but Dave forced himself to finish the blog and kind of rearrange some luggage. We have no further plans for today, but we'll see what happens if we wake up around dinner time. If not, you'll hear from us again tomorrow.
By the way, it was 23F today at the highest. However, we went outside briefly without jackets and it wasn't too cold for us. It is very nice in the sun, but we can imagine it would be awful if it was windy. We hear that the weather will be very nice tomorrow, also.
We managed to wake up and pull ourselves together enough to go downstairs for dinner at around 7:00pm. Vox Restaurant is the same as the breakfast venue, but the atmosphere is much more subdued in the evening. The lobby was noisy, but it was from a private party off to the side. The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived. The hostess asked if we have a reservation, but when Dave asked if we need one she laughed and gestured at the empty room.
Click to view the MENU. We both ordered the Chef's Choice three course menu for ISK 79,000. It included an amuse bouche that was microscopic (as such things should be), but delicately arranged with multiple flavor layers for such a tiny portion. The Starter was the scallop dish. This was the most dramatic of the courses. After setting the bowls in front of us our server spooned a super-frozen concoction over it that she described as some flavor of "air". It made the bowl smoky and actually added flavor to the dish. Crystal Cruises could take a lesson from this place about microscopic gastronomy (or whatever the heck it is called these days). Everything about it was amazing. The main course was a filet of lamb that could be the best meat course we've ever had. If you are familiar with Crystal's Chateaubriand dish, it was similar to that, but done with an extra dose of perfection.
There was a long wait before dessert for which our server apologized twice. It was well worth waiting for. It was the Skyr selection from the menu, but it went way beyond the description. After it was set in front of us the waitress poured berry juice into the bowl where a tiny dam made of caramel kept it separated on one side in a wavy pattern. Besides being beautiful, everything in the bowl, which was a lot of different flavors, was delightful. By the way, skyr is a traditional Icelandic yogurt-type of thing. It looks like whipped cream cheese, but it is almost fat free. They usually add fruit or other flavors to it.
We were served by two attentive young women who spoke perfect English (among other languages). They couldn't have been more delightful. One of them came over after we were finished and asked if we would mind waiting for a "special surprise" from the kitchen. Who can pass that up? She arrived with a wooden plank with small homemade sweets arrayed on it. The portions were tiny and just enough for a sample. As with everything else tonight, it was perfect. Nobody else received this extra course although everyone we could see in the room had ordered the same course menu.
When the bill came Dave asked if tips are included and the server told him not to add anything. There is a line for a tip as there is in most American restaurants, but she insisted we shouldn't add anything. All in all, this is one of the best meals overall that we have ever had. By the way, no tipping is the norm in Iceland, but if one is offered no one will be offended as might happen in Japan, for example.
A few more guests arrived after we did. Most were locals dressed to the nines for an evening out, but a few were dressed casually so we didn't feel out of place. The restaurant looks upscale, but it isn't at all pretentious about it.
We were back in the room by 9:00pm, did some sorting and digging in our luggage and finished up for the night. It started to rain during dinner, so Bill went outside, briefly, and when he came back in he declared it to be officially "cold". After we got back to our room it started to snow. Everyone today said the weather tomorrow should be the same as today, so the snow probably won't be on the ground by the morning. No matter, we're prepared for anything...except rock storms. The only reason it is darker outside now than it was in the middle of the day is due to the rain clouds.
Day 3: Sunday, May 3 - Reykjavik
At 7:00am the weather is bright and sunny. We assume it is still freezing, but we'll check on that later. As far as we are aware, it never was completely dark all night. We thought that was only the case during summer, but it was always light enough to see outside. There is no evidence that it snowed last night. There is no residual snow anywhere to be seen in this area or along the drive from the airport.
We slept fine although it is very noisy here. The walls and floors are solid, so there isn't any noise transfer between rooms, but everything from outside and the hallway sounds as though the people are in the room with us. If you stay here be sure to bring earplugs. Apparently, thin-walled hotels are common in Iceland, so be prepared.
The beds are comfortable, but it is too warm in the room to use the duvets and that is with the window open. The radiator can't be turned off completely, so you are forced to be at least somewhat warm no matter what.
We had our free breakfast at Vox again this morning. There were a few new pastries, but other than that it was the same. We overheard the hostess telling some guests that the price is $27 per person. It appears that the vast majority of guests are not paying for breakfast, so they have to make up the loss somehow.
This hotel is overflowing with package tour groups of every nationality. Some of them don't look like they are having much fun, but maybe they're always like that. No wonder everyone seems to like us so much. At least we're pleasant.
We modified our itinerary by adding a day to our stay in Stykkishˇlmur. The hotel and rate are the same. An overnight was added in HˇlmavÝk to break up the drive to ═safj÷rur. We've booked a double room with private bath at the very basic Finna Hotel for $98 through Booking.com. We're not sure if the rate includes breakfast because the information on the hotel's website is kind of vague. It seems to depend on how many bookings they have on any given day whether they can be bothered to serve breakfast. These are "just in case" modifications at the moment, but if they stick we'll cancel our stay in Patreksfj÷rur and the ferry crossing. Looking at the road conditions this morning it is very likely we'll follow the advice we got from the car hire guy and simplify our route to the Westfjords.
Since the weather is so clear today we'll take a short drive across town to the Perlan viewing deck this afternoon. On the way back we can stop at a supermarket for some supplies before we leave civilization tomorrow morning.
We left for the short drive to Perlan at around 10:30am. It is such a short distance that the GPS asked if we want to walk there. Yeah, right, it isn't THAT close...about 1.5km. Yes, we could have walked, but it is cold here, you know. It only feels cold when it is windy. Otherwise it is pleasant enough.
Perlan is a glass dome covering the central open space between four huge hot water storage tanks. The weird thing is that this is a major tourist site and there are absolutely no signs pointing to it or on it. You just have to know what you are looking for. There's not even a marked entrance. We ended up walking toward the one closest to the parking lot, but there are four more. Really, not one sign anywhere telling people what this is. Admission is free, so that's a plus.
We were amused by a sculpture out front. Look at the picture quickly and you tell us what it looks like those guys are doing. OK, so we have dirty minds, but come on. At least we got some amusement out of it because it is pretty hideous otherwise.
Walking into the building there is still no indication whatsoever of what this place is or where anything is. Mostly it is rented out for special events, which is fine, but there is a fancy restaurant, cafeteria, and gift shop somewhere. We guessed and took the elevator to the fourth floor. There is supposed to be a Saga Museum as well, but we never found it. The "extensive" gift shop is a corner behind the cafeteria line with some leftover Christmas decorations.
The main point of this place is the viewing deck on top of the tanks. To get to it you have to walk through the cafeteria, by the way. Again, not one sign pointing the way. People have to wander around until they find a door that leads outside. The cafeteria looked tempting, but when we were ready to find some food for lunch two tour buses disgorged a throng of elderly Germans who descended on the food like locusts.
We will admit, the view of the harbor and town from here is spectacular. The weather is particularly perfect today for this sort of thing. There is not a cloud in the sky so we can see all the way to the frozen reaches of the peninsula to which we are headed over the next week. There are kiosks around the viewing deck that are supposed to play recorded information in various selected languages, but none of them worked. This place could really be something interesting with a little more thought put into it. As it is right now it is kind of sad.
Since the cafeteria is overflowing with the geriatric tourists without a single clue among them, we wandered outside to look around for the museum. We expect that if it still exists there will be signs pointing to it, so we weren't surprised to find no evidence of it. We discovered later that it moved to the old harbor area, so maybe we'll have a chance to visit at the end of our trip. Don't hold your breath though.
There is a sign describing Stokur Geyser near the parking area for Perlan. Upon closer inspection it is revealed on information plaques that it is a manmade example of a geyser. Apparently, according to the guide books, there is one inside also, but the only evidence we saw of it was a shallow pool in the basement by the restrooms. We thought it was there to hasten the process for anyone who needed it. Anyway, the fake geyser wasn't doing anything except vaguely steaming. The hours of operation on the sign are taped over, so it looks like they've given up on it.
That excursion took less than an hour, but it is after noon and we're probably going to need lunch soon. We programmed the GPS to take us to the nearest Bonus Supermarket which is on the way back to the hotel. Although we followed the instructions, we had to go around the block three times to find the entrance to the parking area. The market is located in a three-level shopping mall, but we couldn't find the entrance to the parking garage. You guessed it, there are no signs anywhere! What the heck? Maybe so few people live here that you are just supposed to know where things are.
Eventually we found the parking we needed by going the wrong way in the garage. Did we mention there are no directional signs? You can imagine how fun it was to find the grocery store in a mall under the circumstances. Luckily there is ONE directory we ran across, so we found it quickly. But, why is a supermarket located in the center of a mall with no outside entrance? Who knows, but it fits right in. Being Sunday most of the stores are closed.
Calling this a "supermarket" is a total stretch of the imagination. It is more like a glorified 7-11. Well, OK, maybe a little bigger than that, but you get the idea. All we need is some bottled water, snack food for the car in case we get stranded, and some paper towels. Water only comes in giant bottles, so we had to buy soft drinks in small bottles that we will pour the big ones into as we need it. They don't sell paper towels. Maybe they don't have them in Iceland at all? We found a few snacks, but we had to supplement it with a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a tiny jar of Skippy peanut butter, and an equally tiny box of Ritz Crackers. Our haul came to about $38. We had to pay for two plastic bags and put everything in them ourselves. The cashier spoke no English, but we understood what she was asking and it was no problem. We paid with our credit card again and it worked fine without requiring a PIN. We signed a slip the same as at home, but the card reader had a keypad, too. It was all in Icelandic, but Dave assumed the green button meant OK and it worked.
This store has one good idea we haven't seen before. The produce and all items needing refrigeration are in chilled rooms so nothing has to be in a refrigerated display. Frozen foods are displayed the usual way, but anything that is just chilled is in these separate cold rooms.
We had read in advance about an Icelandic chain (of 3) hamburger restaurants that seems interesting. There is one in the mall that just opened last year, so we gave it a try. The Icelandic Hamburger Factory features various combinations of gourmet burgers and other food you'd expect to find at a Hard Rock Cafe. In fact, this location used to be just that, although it is tiny in comparison to any HRC restaurants we've ever seen. No wonder it failed. We were seated in a booth kind of in the sun which was a drag because it was already about 85F in the place.
Click to view the MENU. The menu is worth reading because there are some amusing descriptions on it. Dave ordered #11 The President burger while Bill went nuts and ordered the Factory Mini Burgers, a Factory Salad, and The Dream Shake. Yes, he ate all of that. The burger was excellent with lots of interesting flavors. The mini burgers were good also. The salad was good, but something in it was very spicy. Bill liked the shake except it was too thick to suck through a straw and they didn't have any spoons. Go figure. The total bill for this was about $58 which is pricy for what we got, but not too out of line. We would probably go to another of these if we run across one. The service was adequate and everyone spoke English to us the moment they realized we aren't locals.
We easily found our way back to the hotel where we arrived at around 2:00pm. We have no plans to venture out tonight, so we'll probably go to Vox for dinner again tonight. We're both a bit jet-lagged, so we're not quite up to speed just yet.
After laying down to rest at 3:00pm and not waking up until 7:00pm, we decided to walk up the street to a row of restaurants to find some dinner. Neither of us is hungry, but we probably will be when we are wide awake at 2:00am. The constant daylight doesn't bother us, but when we woke up after napping we both assumed it was around 4:00pm, so we were quite shocked to look at the clock and see how late it really is. It isn't just light; the sun is shining. This is the view from our room at 8:00pm.
We went to Brasserie Askur less than a block from the Hilton. Click to view the MENU. When we arrived just after 8:00pm it was nearly full, but we didn't have to wait for a table. We both ordered the Steak Buffet when we realized it is less expensive than most of the entrees. Bill made himself a big salad to start that he intended to share. Dave got some of the cream of lobster soup. The soup was so filling that Bill had to eat the salad by himself. The salad bar had a typical array to choose from and it was fine. The soup was good, but nothing to rave about. The buffet offered some gross looking Icelandic fish dishes, a few side dishes such as au gratin potatoes, fried potatoes, onion rings, etc. There were cold peas and corn, straight from the refrigerator to the serving bowl. The chef carved whatever meats we wanted. The choices were turkey breast, pork, roast beef and lamb. The onion rings were fantastic. All we can say in favor of this meal is that it was edible and we were full when we were done. We're surprised this place gets such rave reviews because it isn't anything special at all. It is a good value for Iceland, we'll give it that much. When we were about to leave the waiter brought us dessert that was a cup of berry mousse. We had planned to skip dessert, but since it was set in front of us we had to eat it. It was fine for what it is and it was light which is what we needed. We wouldn't go back to this place.
Back at the hotel, Dave stopped at the front desk to buy stamps for the postcards he sends weekly to deployed troops he's supporting (two of them, not a platoon). Of course, the trick will be to find postcards to send. We haven't seen any so far. The front desk agent offered to mail the cards for him, which was nice. The receipt for the stamps says "Icelandair Hotels" so this place is just masquerading as a Hilton. It does fit the Icelandair Hotels mold better than it does branded as a Hilton, so it all makes more sense now.
We were finished for the day by 10:00pm. Tomorrow we set off for the great beyond, so wish us luck!
Day 4: Monday, May 4 - Drive to Borgarnes - Egils Guesthouse
Throughout the centuries Borgarnes and Borgarfj÷rur have been an ideal stop for
tourists. For many Icelanders Borgarnes is a must-stop for an ice-cream or a hot
dog before continuing on their journey. The Borgarfj÷rur area is a
growing tourist destination very close to the capital, ReykjavÝk. In Borgarnes
you can plan an unforgettable holiday. A lot of activities can be done in
Borgarnes: breakfast at GeirabakarÝ, relax in the SkallagrÝmsgarur public park,
visit the Borgarfj÷rur Museum and the Settlement Centre, hike in Einkunnir
Country Park or on Hafnarfjall mountain, take a dip in Borgarnes Swimming Pool,
eat a good meal made from local products and rest in one of the town's
guesthouses or B&B's. And don't forget the playground Bj÷ssarˇlˇ where children
(and adults) can play for hours. Borgarnes has good supermarkets,
restaurants and other services for tourists.
The weather is again beautiful, bright and sunny...and 32F. Maybe we'll get lucky and it will make it above freezing later? We're up early because we're still jet-lagged, so we're waking up at random hours of the morning. We don't have to check out until noon, so we have plenty of time to pull ourselves together before setting out on the first leg of our road trip. If things go as they usually do we'll leave the hotel around 11:00am.
Breakfast was nice this morning because it was very quiet in the restaurant. Most of the tours left very early today.
Our final thoughts on the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica Hotel: It is very nice, but too touristy to suit us. There's nothing wrong with that and we'd probably stay here again under the same circumstances (free using points), but it is overpriced if you're paying for it. The food is FANTASTIC and the staff is helpful and kind. Once we found out that it is really an Icelandair Hotel the general service level of the place made a bit more sense. It isn't at the luxury level one would ordinarily expect at a Hilton, but it is fine. The rooms are tiny with strange furniture that isn't at all practical, but the beds are comfortable and the bathroom is nice. So overall we were satisfied and comfortable. Would we recommend it? That's hard to say. If you want to see the sights in Reykjavik then the answer is no. Stay at a smaller hotel near downtown. If you are just passing through and want to use HHonors points as we did, then yes, by all means stay here.
Some of our readers are interested in our opinion of LuggageFree, so here it is: We would definitely use them again. It is cheaper than most of the others and the service is far superior to LuggageForward. Our bags were wrapped up so well they arrived looking brand new. We would prefer that they provide a tracking number while the luggage in is transit, but apparently other companies don't do that anymore either. They were very prompt at answering emailed questions. We received an email from the owner asking if we had any suggestions for improvements which is very service oriented. We'd say go for it and use LuggageFree.
If we were to drive directly to our next hotel it would take only about 45 minutes, so we're going to Ůingvellir National Park before continuing on to Borgarnes. This isn't a park like Yellowstone, for example, but is the site where the Al■ing general assembly was established around 930 and continued to convene until 1798. Major events in the history of Iceland have taken place at Ůingvellir and therefore the place is held in high esteem by all Icelanders. Today Ůingvellir is a protected national shrine. According to the law, passed in 1928, the protected area shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation, under the preservation of the Al■ing.
We checked out and set off for the 30-minute-ish drive to the park. The first part of the drive is on the "ring road" that circles all of Iceland. The only thing remarkable about it is that near Reykjavik it is sort of like a freeway. Except, there is a traffic circle every 500 meters. Who thought that was a good idea? At each one it was like Mister Toad's Wild Ride trying to dodge cars going every which way and this wasn't rush hour! Oh well, we survived to tell about it, so no harm done, but geez...
Once we turned off on the ring road toward the park it was another 30 minutes or so along a very scenic route. We passed a charming church on a hillside that looked like it was put there specifically to be pretty. There were some farms and such at first, but then the landscape changed to snowy, frozen tundra and ice-covered lakes. There are several turn-outs at particularly dramatic locations such as a field near a lake where people have piled up rocks for some reason. Everyone, except us, was doing just that. Apparently they didn't notice that in order to get the rocks to make your own sculpture you have to disassemble someone else's creation. So, it isn't as though these are monuments for posterity.
Shortly, we arrived at the visitor center adjacent to the overlook of the entire valley. This is where the island is being pushed apart by tectonic forces that continue to move several centimeters each year. As it spreads new lava comes up to form the floor of the valley. The edge of the rift is where the walkway leads down to the major sites. The view from this vantage point is amazing.
There are various historic sites along the walk down into the valley. There is the Law Rock where new legislation was introduced (or something like that...if you really care Google it), a beautiful waterfall/pond with crystal clear water where criminals were drowned, etc. Sounds fun, doesn't it. The walk down is dramatic with shear lava rock cliffs on both sides. There is a new view of a waterfall that falls over the sharp cliff edge.
By the way, did we mention that it is FREEZING? OMG it's cold! The woman the other day who told us the wind makes all the difference wasn't kidding. The wind whips through the rift we have to walk through and it is bitterly cold. We have the proper clothing for this, but it was literally painful to walk into the wind. As soon as we entered a sheltered area it was much more bearable, but we may be spending more time in the car than walking out on the frozen tundra than we had anticipated. And, this is on a beautiful sunny day.
While it is possible to continue walking along a boardwalk to the rest of the historical sites in the valley, we decided to drive there. We made a stop at the visitor center to buy postcards and our usual small trinkets, and then drove the short distance to the north entrance. We stopped at the parking area for the path that leads down to the river. We passed a tame goose-y sort of bird, a beautiful body of crystal clear water in the lava where people have tossed in coins (frowned upon by the wardens), and ended up at the cemetery in front of the church we could see from the overlook. Behind the church is a raised circular area that is some sort of cemetery reserved for very special people. So special, in fact, that only two guys have made it in so far.
The brochure we picked up when we arrived is basically useless, so we're going on limited information for where to go and what to look for. As far as we know, we saw all of the history stuff. As you know, we're not exactly founts of accurate historical information because, quite frankly, we just don't care that much. We're all about pretty scenery with a cursory dose of factual information. That's where Google comes in if you care to learn more about any of this.
We decided to follow the road to see where we'd end up, much to the horror of our GPS. We had to mute her while we drove around a beautiful fjord that makes up the submerged part of the rift valley. When we turned the GPS on again, she began admonishing us to make a U-turn in 2 kilometers, so that's what we did.
We ended up at the north visitor center, so we went in to see if they have anything we can't live without. Answer: No. We bought a couple of pre-packaged sandwiches and drinks to get us to our next destination, and then re-traced our route back to the ring road. On the way in we noticed a stainless steel monuments of sorts, so we stopped to look at it. Turns out it is a "Friendship Grove" of trees donation by various countries. The plaque claims that Queen Elizabeth herself paid visit. No offence, but if we were going to host the queen we'd go to way more effort than this, but whatever. There is a short path to a stone monument supporting small plaques showing who donated what. Yawn. All the trees look the same.
Back on the main highway, we kept driving north along a beautiful coastline. To the right are towering volcanic mountains. No snow is on the ground in this area and all of the roads so far have been good. There are fluffy horses in the fields grazing along the way. The big thrill of this drive was going through a long tunnel under the fjord. This shortcut saves considerable time. It was foggy in the first half of the tunnel which added to the mysteriousness of the whole thing. We had to pay a ISK1,000 toll on the way out which we did with a credit card. That reminds us, you can use a credit card to pay for literally anything. The entrance to the pay restrooms at the visitor center had a credit card reader!
We arrived at the turnoff into Borgarnes at around 4:30pm. There are several nice gas stations and a big Bonus Supermarket, so we stopped to stock up on food for breakfast the next two mornings. This Bonus is much larger than the one in Reykjavik with a wider selection. Still, we'd be hard pressed to put together a nice meal on what is available here. It is very basic with only one or two brands of any particular item on offer. We picked up some fruit, a mini loaf of bread, sliced cheese, cold cuts and some tubs of skyr. We want to feel like locals, so we chose traditional foods. Or close enough anyway. FYI, you have to buy bags to carry your groceries home or bring your own. You also have to bag the items yourself. When you buy a bag the cashier just sort of throws it on top of your pile and it is up to you to deal with it.
Next we went into the shop at the N1 gas station. We could have bought all of our groceries at this market, but it would have been more expensive. They also have a fast food restaurant and an automotive shop. We are looking for the "tire rinse" stuff the car guy told us to buy. Fine and dandy, but all of the labels are in Icelandic, so God knows what. We finally found something in a spray bottle with a picture of a tire on it and Icelandic words that sounded out sort of like tire rinse. We asked the cashier if that's what it actually is and we were correct. He asked if we have a discount card from the rental place, so we showed him the keyfob thingy we have. He said it is for a different brand of gas station, so at least we know what to look for. We really don't care about it, but if we run across this brand we might stop there just to see what kind of discount it gives us. He told us the nearest one is on the other side of town.
From the gas station it is just a couple of minutes' drive through the small town of Borgarnes to our accommodation for the next two nights, Egil's Guesthouse Apartments. There is parking across the street that is convenient. Our apartment is the one of the left in the photo with nothing over it. We were emailed a code for the combination lock box on the door to retrieve our key and it worked fine. The studio apartment has a wood floor and looks very clean and modern. There is a small kitchen area and two twin beds under the window. The bathroom is spacious, but poorly laid out. The sink is so tiny that you can barely fit a hand under the faucet. There is a washing machine we hoped to use, but it smells so strongly of mold that we decided not to risk using it. The view out the window is stunning.
It is a bit weird not interacting with anyone and just walking in, but our bill is sitting on the dresser so we know we're in the right place. As mentioned, the only real problem here is the mildewy washing machine. To say it makes the bathroom reek is an understatement. Hopefully we won't get black lung or something dramatic.
Someone knocked on the door and scared the crap out of us. A man asked if we will be able to see the Aurora tonight. Dave was bewildered like, "Why are you asking ME?", but he said someone told him it might be possible if it is clear. Turns out the couple at the door thought this is the owner's unit. Why? We have no idea. It is the same as their unit with a sign on the door that says "Studio 1". They were suitably humiliated and we were equally amused.
Around 6:00pm we started to crash so we started looking for someplace to have dinner. There is a big, drab hotel across the street that looks closed (although it isn't) and a Filipino restaurant we can see from our window that isn't open tonight. We aren't in the mood for a fancy meal at the Settlement Center Restaurant we could walk to, so we drove back to the gas station zone and went into the Grillhusiđ attached to one of the gas stations. We expected a fast food place, which would be fine with us, but it is a table service restaurant with a roadhouse theme. One half of the building is a small 7-11 type of store. Needless to say, we're not expecting much.
Talk about a pleasant surprise! The menu consists of burgers, pizza, pasta and things like that. Bill ordered a chicken pasta dish and Dave had a burger with bacon and a few other toppings. Both were delicious and could not have been better. Really. We half expected some pre-fab boil-in-the-bag entrees, but everything was freshly prepared. The burger ranked with the best we've ever had. And it was cheap, too.
We've observed a couple of dining protocols in Iceland we'll pass on so you too can fit in like a local. Eat your burger, fries, pizza and other similar dishes with a knife and fork. We noticed it at the other burger place, but it wasn't busy enough to decide if that's the norm. This place was full and everyone ate their burgers with a fork, even men. So, that's how it is done here. The other is that you never get a bill at the end of the meal. Yeah, we know that most places in Europe you have to ask for the bill, but here you literally never get one. When you are finished you just go up to the cashier and either tell her what you had or she pokes around on the computer until she finds a check you both agree is yours. Seems to us like giving out checks makes more sense, but whatever. When in Rome and all that.
Back at the apartment, we tried to get some things done. Doing the laundry is out for sure...we don't want to end up with moldy clothing. We're not out of clothes this soon, but we had hoped to keep up with it. Dave started processing the photos for our daily blog update, but he kept falling asleep so he gave up and got ready for bed.
Dealing with the shower and the microscopic sink pretty much woke him up, but he managed to finish everything properly. Bill just got in bed as is and crashed. It is noisy here because of the location right on the road and the need to leave the window open. The instructions in the apartment ask guests to please leave the window cracked for ventilation, but we also don't want to get too warm. We had to turn on the radiators when we first arrived and they quickly warmed the place up (there are three of them). The traffic did die down later on, so it wasn't an issue.
Day 5: Tuesday, May 5 - Borgarnes - Egils Guesthouse
We were wide awake at 5:00am since we fell asleep at 9:30pm last night. The weather is bright and sunny again. We only have one attraction to visit today, so don't expect anything too exciting.
Dave caught up on the blog now that he's awake enough to do so. We put together a semblance of a breakfast from the things we bought yesterday. We only have to walk a few blocks down the street to get to the Settlement Center Museum, so there's no rush to go out this morning.
We made some changes to our itinerary in the interest of being safe rather than sorry. Patreksfj÷rur has been removed from the itinerary, the ferry crossing from Stykkishˇlmur canceled and refunded (very promptly, by the way). Our stay in Stykkishˇlmur was extended by one night and an overnight in HˇlmavÝk added as reported previously. While we have no reason to believe that the weather will worsen over the next few days, this stop was never a "must see", so why take a chance? The discussion and warning from the car hire guy made up our mind to play it safe in the Westfjords. We're hoping that the road to ═safj÷rur will be open on the days we need it. There is a very iffy section that we're still checking several times a day. The map at the top of the page has been revised to show the new route.
We started walking toward the Settlement Center Museum at around 11:00am. Following a sign pointing toward "Museum" we ended up at the shoreline with no museum in sight. So, we followed a boardwalk around the rocky shore for a great view of the fjord and a weird stainless steel bird statue overlooking it. The boardwalk led to a gravel walkway that led around to where we started on the main street of town.
OK, we know the museum is somewhere within the circle we just covered, but as usual there are no signs or any other indication of where to go. We assumed correctly that the building with a parking lot in front of it is probably the right place. We found a confusing (what else is new) sign that sort of marked the entrance through a door that looked abandoned. However, it opened and inside we found the ticket counter and a nice gift shop.
There was no one in attendance, but a bell said to ring for service. That would be great except the bell didn't work. We stood around for a few minutes until someone wandered out of the back with a cup of coffee and offered to help us. He couldn't figure out how to work the computerized cash register, so he asked if we would mind paying afterward when he figures it out.
The way this place is set up is that you are given an iPOD audio guide that you are supposed to follow through the exhibits. Without it you won't have a clue because nothing is marked with an explanation. There are two parts. The first is a history of the settlement of Iceland and the other is a re-telling of Egil's Saga in the basement. Each tour lasts 30 minutes. We'll tell you right up front that the whole thing is a colossal waste of time. Ten minutes looking at either or both of these would have been plenty. The narration is well done, but it dwells too long on each "exhibit", some of which consist of nothing more than a 2'x3' painting or something similar.
Dave's audio guide didn't work, so he had to go back to the counter for a new one, which wasn't a big deal.
We'll give some credit to the first tour for being educational about how Iceland was settled and such. It served its purpose and wasn't too terribly boring. Don't get us wrong, it was boring, just not terribly boring. Some of the displays were fairly ambitious like the one that depicts famous settler's skeletons frozen in blocks of ice. Others have you stand around a relief map and push numbered buttons to light up a point as it is mentioned in the narration.
OK, so that's 30 minutes of our life we'll never get back. We swapped out the guides for a different one for the basement tour of Egil's Saga. Dave's system again didn't work, so back he went for a new one. The displays in this section were each created by a different artist, so there isn't any rhyme or reason to them. Most of them are wood carvings, collections of junk cobbled together to make some sort of scene, or scraps of wood used to make life-size mannequins. As art they are interesting...for about five minutes.
Back in the gift shop Dave had to remind the guy that we still haven't paid. By this time he had figured out how to work the system. The admission for both exhibits is ISK 2,000. You can do just one for ISK 1,500 if you are short on time. Honestly, this place is WAY overrated by the guide books. From the gushing descriptions in the books we expected much more. There's nothing wrong with it really, but the guides raised our expectations too high. In any case, this isn't the "must see" that it is made out to be by any stretch of the imagination.
We intended to have lunch in the restaurant, but a bus tour arrived and jammed it up. So, we decided to walk around town to kill some time and see what we can see.
The town is maybe six blocks total, so it doesn't take much effort to walk around the entire thing. There are some cute old buildings, an antique-cafe-whatsit shop, and lots of vacant apartments. Several quirky houses have various types of painted rock art outside. We walked around until we found a church atop the hill behind our accommodation. We assumed correctly that there would be a view from its vantage point.
Well, that took all of ten minutes, so we decided to walk up the main street to the gas station area to pick up a light lunch. It is 2:00pm at this point, by the way. The walk is maybe 2km if that and would have been pleasant except for the icy wind that froze our faces. That wind is really a mood killer! Some tourists in a car stopped us to ask if we know where a restaurant is around here, so we pointed them back to the Grillhusiđ by the gas stations.
Along the way we passed a daycare (we think) with a Snow White picture on the front. Geez, you can't get away from Disney no matter where you go. We came upon a forlorn park featuring a bronze bas relief having something to do with Egil. Based on the history of him we learned at the museum, he sure was an egotistical asshole, so we're not sure what the big allure is.
Eventually, we arrived at the cluster of gas stations by the ring road and chose one we haven't been to before. We went to the very nice N1 station first, but a bus had just disgorged a tour into it, so we gave up. The one we went to has a Quiznos in it and a tiny table service restaurant. We decided to buy some cut fruit and light snacks to take back to our room.
The walk back had the wind at our backs so it was much more pleasant. Once back we crashed, ate our snacks and napped until time to go out for dinner around 6:00pm.
We walked to the Settlement Center Restaurant at 7:00pm. We can see it from our window, by the way, so it isn't like we had to walk for miles or anything.
We were greeted by a nice young man and seated in the back of the restaurant. The building backs onto a natural rock cliff and they have used it as the back wall of the restaurant. That was done with limited success based on the water damage to the wood, but it looks nice.
Click to view the MENU. The first item on the list is some sort of tortilla dish that gave Bill the notion to ask the waiter for a tortilla so we can celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Needless to say, that freaked him out until he realized we were just having fun. He was very cute/shy, but once he decided we weren't going to bite him he warmed up to us. Everyone here speaks English perfectly.
Bill went nuts and ordered the Horse Filet. Dave played it safe with the Meat Lasagna. We both had the Vegetable Soup of the Day which was something green in a cream base. We think it was broccoli, but it might have been spinach or a combination of both. Whatever it was it was very good and a large portion. The garlic herb bread served with the meal was tasty also.
When the entrees arrived, a different waiter came over to ask if we eat horse in America. He said people freak out all the time when they see it on the menu. We told him that as long as they don't serve dogs we're cool with it. When in Rome you know. The horse portion was enormous and delicious. It sort of reminded us of the bison steaks we had at Yellowstone. It had a wild berry sauce over it that was outstanding. Everything on the plate was amazing. The lasagna was good and freshly made, but nothing unusual. The homemade ice cream for dessert was a perfect compliment. The Settlement Center does something right and that's the food!
We walked back to our apartment at 9:30pm with the sun still shining. We crashed shortly after getting back to the warmth of our room.
Day 6: Wednesday, May 6 - Drive to Hellnar - Hotel Hellnar
Hellnar is an ancient fishing village, a cluster of
old houses and buildings situated close to Arnarstapi on the westernmost part of
the SnŠfellsnes peninsula. Although Hellnar used to be a major port of call for
fishing vessels and the largest and busiest centre of fishing and fishing
vessels in SnŠfellsnes, there were also a few farms in and around the village
along with quite a few semi-permanent and short-stay living quarters for seamen
and the migrating workforce. Hellnar can in all probability trace its function
as a major port of call back to the Middle Ages, and the oldest written source
of it being describes as a fishing port dates back to 1560.
The weather today is the same as it has been all along...clear, sunny and 38F. If it wasn't windy it would be kind of pleasant out. We're awake by 6:00am because we fell asleep so early. That's fine except we're hoping we can stay awake at some point in case the aurora is cooperating. So far it is never dark while we're still awake. We've pretty much determined that it gets dark at 12:30am and the sun comes up at 3:30am.
We ate the last of the breakfast stuff we bought when we arrived and dawdled around until 11:00am. We have to take out our own trash, but that's all the instructions tell us to do as far as cleaning. Oh, and wash our dishes and put them back where we found them.
Our final thoughts on Egil's Guesthouse Apartments: The studio we have is cute, well furnished and clean. It is noisy with the street right outside, but it is quiet at night. It is nice to have a kitchen since no meals are available. In fact, we still haven't seen any evidence that there is a staff of any sort. The biggest drawback is the extremely moldy washing machine in the bathroom. It is just gross. Other than that, we liked it and would stay here again. The only hotel in town is right next door and looks closed, although it isn't. This place was fully occupied last night. We never heard anything through the walls though.
Our final thoughts on Borgarnes: It is a cute little town, but an overnight would be plenty. You can see the Settlement Center Museum as you are passing by on the ring road to somewhere else. There isn't much in the town itself and we never saw any locals out on the street. If you need a lot of stimulation this isn't the town for you. We can't see any reason to stop here again, but it was fine for our purpose.
We set off for our next overnight stop at 11:00am. The drive to Hellnar takes about two hours if we stop to look at views a few times.
At first the drive is a bit inland passing scenic rivers and low waterfalls surrounded by pasture land. We're not sure what the farms are growing or raising since all we can see are miles and miles of brown grass. We saw a few fields with groups of horses standing around, one herd of cattle, and a small pen full of goats, but that's it. We saw no evidence of farming unless you count bales of straw.
After several miles we turned west along the base of towering volcanic mountains and the sea to the left. There are more miles of grassy fields and farms backed by snowy mountains. Some of the peaks are dramatic volcanic cliffs that appear to have been thrust straight up at some point in the distant past. Others could be the mother teat of the world as we have seen elsewhere.
We turned off into Hellnar and the road to the Hotel. We stopped at the visitor center for SnŠfellsj÷kull National Park we'll visit tomorrow. It was created to preserve the natural habitat surrounding the glacier SnŠfellsj÷kull which was designated as the gateway to the center of the earth by Jules Verne. Our research indicated that the visitor center doesn't open until May 15th, but it was open along with a cafe attached to it. The woman in the center was very helpful with information and advice. She checked tomorrow's weather conditions for us (it will be colder, but dry). She said they are very tired of the cold weather, so apparently it is unusual even for them.
We arrived at Hotel Hellnar at 1:30pm. Check in time is 4:00pm, but we figured since there are no cars in the parking lot that maybe we could get in early. The manager manning the front desk greeted us and immediately said that she can't check us in until 3:00pm because there is a country-wide hotel worker's strike. She and the chef are the only ones working here. Nobody is allowed to help (we offered) and they can't bring in replacement workers. Later we saw one other woman working who we think is the housekeeping manager. This is a scheduled two-day strike, so we expect to find some issues at our next hotel also. We told her we understand and we'll come back later.
We were directed to a nearby "beach" where there is a coffee house, sheer volcanic cliffs and a bird cave. We drove down the only road in town and easily found the parking area. We found the microscopic cafe, but we aren't really interested in coffee, so we didn't go in. If the woman at the hotel hadn't told us about it there is no way we'd know it is even a business. There are no signs on it at all. What's up with that? Is everything in this country word of mouth or what?
Dave started to walk down the rocky area toward the cave, but the rocks are loose, so he gave up. We decided to follow a trail to see if it goes anywhere interesting. We recall the visitor center woman telling us about a 2.5km trail that takes 2.5 hours and we think this is it. The trail winds through an old lava flow with views of pinnacles and other mildly interesting features. We're not hikers and got bored after about 20 minutes of walking, so we turned around. All we see when we hike is our feet, so what's the point?
Back at the cove area, we walked out on a long-abandoned concrete jetty. We're not sure what the point would be even if it was in good repair because the water isn't anywhere near it. Maybe there was a wooden part that went out farther at some point? It provided a good vantage point of the rocks and tidepools, so it was worth looking at for a few minutes.
We debated just sitting in the car for another 45 minutes, but we decided to drive to the first site in the national park and check it out. When we arrived and looked at the sign, it indicated how long each trail will take, all of which are longer than we are interested in doing today. We turned back toward the hotel at 3:00pm, stopping briefly at an atmospheric abandoned farm along the way. There is a sign pointing to a historical monument to the first Icelandic woman who gave birth on North American soil. It doesn't take much to be famous around here.
Back at the hotel, we were able to check in. The manager was at the front desk folding wash cloths, so Dave asked again if she wants us to help, but she declined. She made a reservation for us in the restaurant for 7:00pm. Apparently she will be serving us since there aren't any other employees here today. We chatted briefly about the hotel business and hospitality in general and then went to our room.
Tiny doesn't begin to describe the room, but it looks recently renovated and is attractive. It is very basic, but it has everything we need for a night. We wouldn't want to stay here any longer than that though. We do have a beautiful view. The only bath amenities provided are shower gel and a pump bottle of hand soap. There is no facial tissue, so we're glad we brought our own.
We snacked on the Pringles we bought a few days ago and just hung out until time for our dinner reservation. We assume the only reason we need a reservation is so they can plan who is going to show up and when. There was only one other time slot marked besides ours. The hours were cut down for the next two nights due to the lack of employees.
While we were sitting in the room doing nothing, the housekeeping manager barged in without knocking. She was very apologetic, but Hotel 101 says to always knock, wait, and knock again before entering a room even if you think it is vacant.
We showed up in the dining room at 7:00pm and were seated promptly. There are more people staying here than we originally thought. It isn't full by any means, but there are at least ten couples. The manager took our order, but there are a couple of guys at the desk and serving in the restaurant also. The menu is limited because of the strike, but the choices available are appealing. Dave ordered the soup of day, Onion & Leek, Bill chose the Seafood Bisque. Both were a beautiful presentation with cream and oil drizzled on top. The soup was delicious. For an entree Dave had the Grilled Lamb Filet and Bill ordered the Black Cod. They were both outstanding and beautifully plated. The meal was way more sophisticated than one would ever expect from a small country hotel in the middle of nowhere. Only one dessert was offered, a traditional Icelandic oatmeal cake. It was like eating wet dust, so not quite as successful as the rest of the meal.
We were done for the night at back in the room by 8:45pm.
Day 7: Thursday, May 7 - Drive to Stykkishˇlmur via SnŠfellsj÷kull National Park - Hotel Stykkishˇlmur
Park is situated on the SnŠfellsnes peninsula. The park was established on
June 28, 2001 and its proximity to Reykjavik (approx. 2 hours drive) makes it
one of the most visited parks in Iceland. Considered by many to be the jewel of
West Iceland, SnŠfellsj÷kull is the most famous volcano in Iceland. The park
include many famous sites including the magnificent SnŠfellsj÷kull (SnŠfell
Glacier), Dj˙palˇnssandur beach, Saxhˇll volcano crater, Lˇndrangar the two
massive lava formations, S÷nghellir (the singing cave) and Raufeldargjß the
hidden waterfall. The main purpose for establishing the park was to protect the
unique landscape of the area, the rare plant and animal life and also the
important historical relics around the mountain.
It is bright and sunny this morning at 8:00am, but only 28F. It sounds windy, but we haven't been outside yet. The view from our room sure is breathtaking. That alone makes staying here worthwhile.
The complimentary breakfast is very basic, but enough to get the job done. No hot food, just cold cuts, cheese, sliced tomato, cucumber, cereal, bread, and some fruit that looks like it was chopped up with an axe. All of the staff members who were here at dinner time are back this morning. It looks like a few of them are imported foreign workers. They speak English to the Icelandic managers. Some of them are Spanish. That may be the reason they can work while the Icelandic workers are on strike.
Our final thoughts on Hotel Hellnar and Hellnar in general (since there is nothing here besides the hotel): We'd stop here again. The hotel is pleasant, basic, but good enough. It looks like it was recently refurbished. The bed is very comfortable and we slept well. The view is amazing, so be sure to book a room with a sea view if you stay here. The food at dinner is fantastic even with the limited availability due to the strike. The staff is helpful and shows no sign they are under duress. We wouldn't have known there is a strike at all if we hadn't been told.
We're watching the news because there is a possibility of flight delays due to the rolling strikes. At the moment, the week we are leaving shouldn't be impacted, but the week before and the day after travelers are being advised to check with their airline before going to the airport. We're not hysterical about it one way or the other. If we have to make adjustments we will.
We set out toward SnŠfellsj÷kull National Park at 10:30am. The GPS is programmed for most of our stops, but we improvised by turning off at every sign that pointed off onto a dirt road. This led to hysterics from the GPS, so we had to mute her a few times. You know how women can be when you don't listen to them! When we turned her back on we'd swear she sounded exasperated.
The first site we arrived at is the one we drove to yesterday which is the vantage point for some bird cliffs and the towering sea pinnacles in the distance. These are supposedly trolls turned to stone who didn't make it home before sunrise...or something equally saga-ish. There is also a view in the other direction of the dramatic lava shoreline.
Next up is a black sand beach. Most of the beaches in this area are either black sand or black lava rocks polished by the action of the waves. The jagged a'a lava flows are blanketed by a thick layer of moss that disguises the sharp lava underneath.
The next site must be important because it is the only one all day with restrooms and a paved road to a parking lot. There are several trails to various vantage points, but the main one overlooks a huge cove with, what else, a black sand/pebble/rock beach strewn with remnants of an old shipwreck. We took the trail down to the beach and wandered around for a while before making our way back up to the top of the cliff. Did we mention that it is FREEZING...literally. The "warmest" it got all day was 34F, but it was often a few degrees less than that. If it weren't for the damn wind it wouldn't be nearly as bad, but apparently it is always windy here.
From the top of the cliff we followed another trail to an overlook of a pillar of lava near the water. The lava flow here created several layers of tide pools between the pillar and the cliff face. We had a great view over the entire length of the black sand beach from here. We walked to the end of the trail for a view of the coast in the other direction before heading to the next stop.
Holaholar (we think that's how it is spelled) is a drive-in crater. That isn't as impressive as it might sound. Once inside it doesn't look like a crater at all. At least we can say we did it.
The next trail head starts are the ruins of a small village and leads through the lava fields to a larger settlement abandoned long ago. Yes, we actually did hike. As isnHIKE. We had to follow vague trail markers through the lava with no clue where this would lead. The answer to that is a bunch of low lava stone walls built near a picturesque body of water. Earlier we learned that this water is connected to the ocean, so in order to drink it the settlers had to carefully scoop up the top layer of fresh water without mixing the two. The ruins of a concrete structure look forlorn up on the hill. Considering the wind, cold and lack of reliable fresh water, we can understand why this place would be abandoned, but why did they settle here in the first place?
The next turn off leads to Saxholl, another freestanding volcanic peak. There is a trail up to the top, but can you say, "No way in hell?"
By the way, the actual time it took to cover all of these trails and overlooks takes more time that one would think, so it is after 4:00pm already. We tried following a gravel road to God-knows-where, but it was too scary with huge ruts, so we turned around. The woman at the visitor center yesterday told us that if we ever got that gut feeling that says, "I shouldn't be doing this," that we should always turn around.
At the very end of the peninsula, we found a paved road and ended up at a windswept beach with picnic tables. Why on earth would anyone sit out here and have a picnic? It is f-ing freezing! The view is lovely though. There is a marker nearby describing a Viking grave that was excavated fairly recently. There is no evidence of it except the sign telling about it.
Further past the beach the road turns to gravel and is very bumpy. However, it is doable and doesn't seem dangerous at all, just slow going. We ended up at another village ruin that is near an ancient well. Dave was brave enough to go down into the well, but without a flashlight there was no way he was going all the way in. Taking a picture with a flash reveals the well at the end of a stone-lined tunnel. Bill wasn't tempted to see it for himself.
There are some boats speeding along in the choppy ocean just off shore. OMG, it must be so cold out there!
After bumping back to the main road, we turned off again and ended up at yet another abandoned settlement and a trail to an excavation of some animal bones or something like that. There are bones laying all over on the ground. We assume the orange sand bags are temporarily covering whatever it is they are digging at, but it looks like nothing has happened here for quite some time. Yet another ancient well was exhumed from the sand when the grandson of the farmer who used it years ago told someone how to locate it. There are 17 steps down into a cave that is marked by a whale hip bone.
That concludes that national park part of our day. Now we have another hour or so to drive up the opposite side of the peninsula from where we stayed last night. We stopped at a few interesting sites along the way, not the least of which is a cliff face right next to the road that gushes water from different layers. The water is frozen into icicles that look like delicate cake frosting. Some idiot had driven his SUV off the road and right up to the cliff, broke off one of the icicles to take a picture, and drove off. Don't you just want to slap some people? We were hoping that when he broke one off that it would cause the entire structure to collapse onto him, but no such luck.
We passed a few odd monuments to whatever is important to the locals. In one town there is a hideous metal sculpture in the middle of a traffic circle. Another boasts a land-locked fishing boat at the edge of town.
Needless to say, although we'll say it anyway, the scenery along the drive to the next stop is absolutely breathtaking. There is the random waterfall, a bay that once supported a Viking settlement, and the usual snowy mountains and volcanic cinder cones.
We arrived in Stykkisholmur at 6:15pm and happened upon a gas station that matches the discount gas key fob we were given. Dave tried in vain to figure out the pump, but it didn't have an option for English that made any sense and/or it wouldn't read his credit card. It did recognize the discount thing, but he couldn't figure out how to make it complete the transaction. Maybe we'll try again tomorrow when we're not already worn out. Or we'll just go to an N1 station where we know how it works already.
The Hotel Stykkisholmur is a big concrete monstrosity on a hill above the town. It has been recently refurbished, but it is kind of lipstick on a pig to be honest. We're not sure how old it is, but there is a multi-level nightclub-like room off the lobby that looks like something from the 1960's. One of the wings is newer, but both look pretty much the same. The new chain has tried to fix it up (same chain as last night's hotel and the color scheme is exactly the same), but it just looks dated.
The strike is still going on, so there is an old guy at the front desk. He's nice enough, but it took him a while to figure out how to check us in and then he asked us to pay up front. He said that since they are so short staffed that if we want to have dinner here to please let him know, which we did. He advised us to arrive at 6:50pm rather than 7:00pm because two large groups are coming and that way we can get a head start. He told us when breakfast is served and that the internet is free.
We went back outside, where it is now down into the 20's, to get our luggage and haul it up to our room. The hallways are nicely re-done, but as we said there's only so much that can be done with an old hotel. We found our room and pulled out our key cards to find that they are reusing the same ones over and over with the room number written on them. Who does that?
If we thought last night's room was tiny, that was a palace in comparison to this one. There is barely enough room to walk around the beds. There are two chairs, which is a plus, and the decor is sort of updated in a half-assed way. They kept the dated brass lamps for some strange reason, but everything else is new. The bathroom must have been a gut job because it is entirely modern with a heated towel rack. One thing this room has that can't be beat is a spectacular view of the town's modernist church and the ocean beyond.
We quickly cleaned up and went down to the dining room. It was a few minutes before someone acknowledged us and she wasn't the friendliest person on earth, but she pointed to a table with our name on a sign and gave us menus. We're not sure if the menu is always this limited but there was only one soup (asparagus), a couple of fairly repulsive and way dated (as in from the 1950's) appetizers, four entrees (chicken, lamb, fish, and vegetarian), and two desserts. Dave ordered the chicken and Bill had the fish of the day which is fried plaice. While both entrees were prepared with heavy sauces from the 1950's, we liked both of them. For dessert we had the warm chocolate cake with ice cream. Under the circumstances they did an admirable job of coping. Two large groups were seated after we were and they managed to serve them with only two people on duty, one of whom is a manager of some sort. We'll try to find something in town for tomorrow, but we were happy with what we had tonight.
We were back in our tiny room by 8:30pm and done for the day. The internet service is very slow and cuts out constantly, so updating the blog is quite a chore and/or next to impossible.
Day 8: Friday, May 8 - Stykkishˇlmur - Hotel Stykkishˇlmur
It is snowing lightly today, so we're glad we don't have anything important to do. The "town" is a few blocks away and consists of three restaurants, a volcano museum, and...well, that's pretty much it.
Whoever designed the bathroom remodel in this hotel should be fired! There is no way to shower without getting the entire bathroom wet. You can't avoid spraying water all over the hairdryer that is plugged into 220 volts. There is a glass door that sort of protects the toilet, but two sides of the shower "stall" are open and the door only covers one side. The sink area gets soaked. It all looks very nice with a rain shower head and such, but what's the point if you can't use it? At least everything works.
The walls here are very thin. We heard way more than we wanted to last night from next door. The scary part is that most of the guests staying here are of advanced age so it is either horrifying or encouraging that they're still going at it. Don't people realize that what you do in a hotel is likely to be overheard? On top of that the doors don't have deadbolts and there are no do not disturb signs.
We went to the included breakfast at 9:00am. It is the same limited spread that we had yesterday. There is enough to get you started, but just barely. We didn't mind so much at the small place with a strike going on, but apparently that is what this chain offers all the time. If they were charging less than $100 per night it would be sufficient, but the price is much higher than that.
Dave keeps having flashbacks to his trip to the Soviet Union in the 1970's especially with the staff in the dining room speaking Russian for full effect. The only difference is that the plumbing works and the food at dinner was more than fat and gristle. The elevator even has hours of operation. What's the point of that? Oh yeah, there isn't one. Obviously we aren't loving this place, but it isn't unbearable. We just expected a bit more for the money. It is clean and the beds are relatively comfortable.
We had to resort to using the data plan with Bill's cellphone to get the updates done. The hotel's internet is so slow that it is useless.
Around 11:00am we drove through the town. That took about three minutes. Since it is snowing, we thought it would be a good time to go to the Bonus Market to stock up on Kleenex since hotels don't seem to provide it in this country. We decided to try the gas pump with our discount again. Dave tried a different credit card and this time it worked. We saved about ISK 5 per liter with the discount, so it isn't significant. We wouldn't search out this brand of gas, but if it is handy like this one, we'll use it again.
We saw a group of school children all bundled up going toward a small cove near the hotel and just below the church. They were picking things up off the beach and didn't seem to mind that it is snowing and they are inches from the freezing cold water.
We went back to town to give the Volcano Museum a try. Nothing here ever looks like it is open and there are no signs, of course. We only know about it because it shows on Google Maps. It was indeed open and the guy inside was happy to see us. He took our admission and took us upstairs to watch a documentary about the 2010 eruption because the guy who started the museum is in it. We didn't mind watching it, but it is a National Geographic TV show we could see for free online. Another couple arrived during the video and joined us.
After the film we went back downstairs where the guy showed us some information on his computer about recent earthquakes and what they might mean. He was very nice and willing to chat. The museum has an original Andy Warhol that he said no one expects to see in a town with a population of 1,500. The rest of the museum is a hodge podge of mineral samples and art works involving volcanoes. We chatted with the attendant about the Hawaiian volcano eruption before we left. The couple who arrived just after we did asked if we are from Hawaii and chatted for a few minutes. Two other couples arrived as we were leaving. This isn't the most exciting place we've ever been, but any time we have a chance for a chat with a local is usually more fun than anything else.
The restaurant we wanted to go to for lunch across the street is closed for "remodeling." OK, so why are the tables still set? We decided to walk around town, such as it is, and scout out some places to eat for dinner. Basically, there is a boutique hotel in a former warehouse, a few restaurants in restored old houses, the Norway House museum that isn't open until June, and the harbor where the ferry docks. There is a big office building sort of place that looks like an old warehouse repurposed for modern uses.
There are some nice houses on the point overlooking the harbor, but the inhabitants must never be able to go outside. The wind is relentless normally so up there completely exposed it must never cease.
Based on the ridiculous wind and stormy weather we are better off that we cancelled the ferry crossing today. We can imagine that we'd be hanging over the side the entire time. Sometimes thing work out for the best. The road we were waiting to be opened is now showing as being prepared for opening, but since it is snowing today we're not sure how long that will last.
We ran into the hotel manager when we were walking out of a shop. She was much nicer than she has been at the hotel.
There is a bakery/cafe across from the gas stations that we saw earlier, so we went there to see if they have anything for lunch (it is 2:00pm). The very friendly baker informed us that Fanta soda was invented in Nazi Germany when they weren't able to get Coca-Cola products during the war. OK, whatever, we bought a big sandwich and the soup of the day which was cream of mushroom. The food was fine and it revived us enough to make it back to the hotel.
There are no busses in the parking lot today, so that's a plus. The housekeepers started banging around in the room next door and screaming to one another in the hallway. They knocked on our door at 4:00pm, but we don't need anything so we told them not to bother. Good thing because Bill has his unmentionables hanging all over the room drying. When he asked at the front desk if there is laundry service he was informed that the nearest laundry is 24km away and it takes a week to be done. That sounds a bit extreme, so maybe he misunderstood what Bill was asking, but that's what he said.
At 6:00pm we drove back to town (we could walk, but did we mention it is freezing?) to Narfeyrarstofa Restaurant. It is highly rated on Tripadvisor. Or it was until a month ago, and then it seems to have started slipping. There was only one other couple there when we arrived, but by the time we left it was full. Strangely enough the menu is from Plßssi, the restaurant across the street that is closed for remodeling. Later we found out that the owners of Narfeyrarstofa bought Plßssi and they are serving a hybrid of both menus until Plßssi is refurbished.
Click to view the MENU. The menu isn't 100% up to date, but it will give you a general idea of what is served. We both ordered the soup of the day that is cream of vegetable. The little rolls served with it weren't the best, but they were edible. The soup was very good. For an entree Bill ordered Lobster Pasta. The waiter immediately informed him that it is more seafood pasta with mussels and other things in it, which was fine with him. Dave ordered Grilled Lobster. Icelandic lobsters are smaller than regular lobster, by the way. Both entrees were very good. The lobster was eight tails served over a mixed green salad. Bill loved the tamarind-based sauce on his pasta. Neither of us was thrilled to have to work for our food, but at least it was worth it. For dessert Bill had the homemade ice cream thinking it was one flavor, but he got a bowl with caramel, berry, and skyr ice cream. Dave had the cheesecake that came with the berry ice cream and whipped cream topped with blueberry compote. The cheesecake tasted sort of like a refrigerator, but it was OK.
The couple we saw in the hotel restaurant last night and again this morning was there. Apparently they weren't in any rush to return to the hotel's restaurant either.
Back at the hotel, we stopped at the front desk to ask about the best route to take tomorrow. We plan to take a gravel road part of the way because it is shorter, but both the front desk guy and a waiter said that Icelandic gravel roads are terrible. After thinking it over, he decided in our case it is probably OK, but he advised taking a different road than we planned across the isthmus to get to HˇlmavÝk. We'll check road conditions tomorrow and decide then which road to take. He pointed out some places on the map to be sure to see, all of which are already on our itinerary. One of the roads we will need in the east is closed today, but he said it should be OK by the time we get there next week. Every Icelander we speak to complains about the harsh winter, so we picked the worst possible year to come early in the season.
It was only 28F when we got back from dinner with the light snow flurries continuing. The snow is a strange consistency and ends up piled along the curbs in little balls. It sort of looks like when a Styrofoam block disintegrates and you get those little white beads all over the place. It doesn't build up on the ground at all. The small accumulation from this morning is already gone. The guy who told us Icelandic snow doesn't fall, but it blows sideways was right. That's why the roadways are built up so the wind will propel the snow up and over the road rather than cover it. It seems to work because most of the roads are always clear.
Day 9: Saturday, May 9 - Drive to HˇlmavÝk - Finna Hotel
Finna Hˇtel is located in the center of HˇlmavÝk with a beautiful view over SteingrÝmsfj÷rur and the old town. HˇlmavÝk is a small fishing village in the West fjords of Iceland, where there are many interesting places and spectacular nature to be enjoyed. On the ground floor we have the reception and the breakfast area. This area is newly renovated and welcomes our guests to enjoy a relaxing moment weather it is to be inside or outside on the terrace overlooking the ocean. The Hotel has 14 spacious rooms on 3 floors. We offer standard rooms with bathroom and rooms with shared bathrooms. Majority of the rooms offer good view over the ocean and the old town.
It is overcast and cold this morning, but it isn't snowing anymore. We checked the road conditions and all but one section is marked "easily passable". The one that is "difficult driving" has the symbol for the snow plow clearing the road. By the time we get there several hours from now it should be fine.
We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant again. It is quieter in the hotel today. There is a group of Russian tourists staying here, but it isn't a large group and they aren't noisy (surprisingly enough).
Our final thoughts on Stykkisholmur: It is a cute little town with several good restaurants, but there is no reason to stay here for more than an overnight. Most people only stop here to take the ferry the following day, which was our original plan. We are very glad we nixed that idea because the crossing must be very rough with the high winds. We wouldn't make an effort to come here again, but if we had to we wouldn't mind.
Our final thoughts on the Hotel Stykkisholmur: This place is a throwback to 1970's Soviet tourist hotels complete with Russian-speaking staff in the dining room. Everything works properly (except the internet), so it isn't quite true to that era. It was recently remodeled, but as we said, lipstick on a pig. We wouldn't stay here again. If they charged half what they do we would find it acceptable, but it is in no way worth Ç140 per night even by expensive Icelandic standards. The staff is helpful once you engage them in a conversation, but they don't look at all pleasant otherwise.
Dave asked at the front desk for the road conditions and was advised that the dirt road is probably best for crossing the peninsula, but we should stop and ask at a gas station closer to our destination.
We set off on our gravel road adventure around 10:30am and hoping for the best. It is about 40km on the gravel road, but there is plenty to look at and it isn't too rough. We wouldn't want to do it in a regular car, although it is designated for them. The road winds in and out of the fjords, past brown fields of grass and a few groups of shaggy horses. The road wasn't as bad as we expected based on the conversation with the hotel guys last night and we reached the paved portion quickly.
At the crossroads we followed a sign to an information center/cafe near the water. No one was manning the information desk, so Dave went and asked the woman in the cafe if she knows if the road is open. She graciously looked it up on the computer and said, "It is only blowing snow, it's OK." She told us we really don't want to go the way the hotel recommended because most of it is gravel and it will take a lot longer. Fine with us since the "snow" route is the one already programmed in the GPS.
Following the highway north we started to climb up into the mountains. It was 40F at one point during the drive...for about 5 minutes. Most of the time it was below 35F.
After we turned off on the road to the other side of the peninsula we found the snow. The road was clear most of the time, but at the highest point it was completely obscured by blowing snow. It wasn't slippery and we didn't feel any sense of imminent danger. There were several other cars on the route, so we weren't alone by any means.
Shortly after leaving the mountains we reached the edge of the water on the other side. From there it was only about five minutes more to get to HˇlmavÝk. The town is sort of picturesque in a ramshackle sort of way. There is a big stainless steel fountain by the harbor that is partially frozen. It would probably be more attractive if the entire thing was covered in ice.
We drove through town, such as it is, scouting out restaurants. We found two, one a pizza/bar/cafe and the other in the Witchcraft Museum. We continued up the dirt roads to our hotel on a hill overlooking town. Yes, the hotel is on a dirt road. We arrived in town just after 2:00pm.
The Finna Hotel is more of a hostel than a hotel, but it looks like they are working on fixing it up. In fact, one of the painters let us in through the locked door and called for the supervisor. There are remnants of food strewn around the check-in counter and there are paint cans all over the breakfast room. We know breakfast isn't available until summer.
The woman who checked us in did know we are coming, but we wouldn't call her welcoming or friendly at all. She took our money and gave us a key to the front door and our room. Then she told us that they are painting the stairway and to be careful not to touch the wet walls.
When we came back with part of our luggage we had to push past a big Russian guy who is painting the stairway railing. He probably wouldn't have moved if the supervisor hadn't walked by right then. Our room is right off the stairs, so we get to listen to them yammering in Russian.
The room is much bigger than the one we just came from, but is about as basic as it gets. There is a double bed with lime green sheets, two wooden bedside tables, two chairs and a very worn wooden table. The bathroom is tiny, but everything in it looks new. It has a nice slate floor and white tile walls. All of the fixtures are high quality and new. The light fixtures and paint in the room are new, as is the laminate wood floor. For a place to sleep for one night it is OK, but we wouldn't want to stay any longer than that. On the plus side, we have a beautiful view over the town to the ocean.
There is no internet here that we are aware of, although there is supposed to be. With the renovation going on we're assuming lots of amenities are not available at the moment. Since it is less than $100 to stay here, we'll just live with it. There is an access code on the sign on the back of the door, but it doesn't work. Dave reset the router in the hallway, but it didn't do any good. We'd ask someone if there was anyone to ask. The door to the reception area is locked up tight.
We went out in search of food at 5:00pm because we got bored sitting in the room with nothing to do. We went into the cafe we saw earlier, but it isn't open until summer. God forbid there should be a sign and/or the door locked. The woman inside was nice and told us to look for the "big grey house" at the entrance to the village or try the Witchcraft Museum restaurant. The museum doesn't look appealing at all, so we went looking for the other place.
The "grey house" turned out to be the catch-all supermarket behind the gas station. OK, so it's grey we'll give her that much. And they have a fast food counter, so we did manage to find something to eat. Bill had a chicken burger and Dave had a bacon burger with onion rings. All of the food was edible, but the onion rings were delicious. Last time we had them they were the same, so there is something great about whatever they use for batter in Iceland.
After eating we went to the market part of the building and picked up some grapes and muffins for breakfast. We plan to get the hell out of Dodge ASAP in the morning. This place isn't cutting it for us. We're hoping the painters don't show up at 6:00am. Being Sunday we might get lucky in that regard, but we won't count on it.
There are some extremely steep wooden stairs to the level above us. There are three rooms up there that share a large bathroom. At the landing there is a large living room with a nice sofa and chairs, a kitchenette, table and chairs with playing cards set out, and a TV. How you are supposed to get luggage up those stairs is anyone's guess.
We're not sure if we are the only guests tonight or not. We thought we heard someone come in at 7:00pm, but it didn't sound like they came up the stairs, so who knows?
Day 10: Sunday, May 10 - Drive to ═safj÷rur - Hotel ═safj÷rur
═safj÷rur is the largest town in the peninsula. It is
conveniently located between five smaller villages, and being the capital of the
area it is the centre of interest in the peninsula. On the gravel spit that
stands out into the fjord, small corrugated houses line the streets. Having a
wharf all around the spit is fitting, as fish and seafaring has always been the
name of the game. For the tourist, ═safj÷rur has a range of services for all
budgets and tastes. An array of day tours, both in the wilderness and closer to
civilization, are available, for hikers, paddlers and other outdoorsy types of
course, but also for those wanting a leisurely walk in a bird colony or at a
The weather is about the same, overcast and cold. Road conditions are a bit better, so we're happy we can make it to our next destination mostly because we can't get out of here fast enough.
A family checked in late last night and banged up the stairs several times. Then they cooked dinner in the kitchen upstairs and stunk up the entire place. If this "hotel" was full it would be unbearably noisy.
We ate the makeshift breakfast we cobbled together from the grocery store yesterday. Bill declared the kitchen where the breakfast (whenever it is available) comes from downstairs as "filthy". Dave hadn't noticed because he was too busy trying to overlook the clutter all over the counter and in the breakfast room. The general rule about guests making up their mind about a hotel within the first ten seconds of arrival definitely applies to this place. It's too bad because the renovations that are complete are well done and high quality. But, you can't just slap some paint on the walls and call yourself a hotel. You have to actually offer some sort of hospitality, as well. They didn't even bother to clear the entry walkway of snow.
We hauled our luggage down the scary stairway and piled it up in the foyer, making several trips. After taking it to the car, Dave went back to turn in the key to find the door to the reception area locked. So, he put the key in our room door. Screw 'em if they don't want to play with us.
So we don't have to stop in this town again, we went to the Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum. There was an old bearded guy out back smoking and giving us the evil eye. When we got inside, he's the only person working here and he was perfectly nice to us, helpful in fact. We paid our admission of ISK900 each. The attendant asked where we are from and then if we speak English. Answer: Sort of. He laughed and handed us guide books in English. The displays only have Icelandic explanations, but each is numbered to correspond with the book.
The big thrill at this place is the "necropants". If you wear them you can reach down to the scrotum and find coins there, but don't dare die while wearing them or all sorts of ghastly stuff happens to your dead body. Seems like you are infested with lice or something like that. Anyway, that killed an hour. We wouldn't go out of our way to see this (although we already did), but if you are passing through anyway it is just quirky enough to be interesting. The food the guy was making for the restaurant smelled good and his tiny kitchen was clean and orderly.
Our final thoughts on HˇlmavÝk: It is a cute little fishing village with nothing to do and nowhere to eat dinner except fast food at the gas station. The only reason to stop here is for the Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum.
Our final thoughts on the Finna Hotel: Let's be clear about one thing. This is NOT a hotel. It might get there eventually, but at the moment it barely passes as a guesthouse. There is no hospitality at all which is odd considering how nice most Icelandic people are. If they are renovating and don't want guests then they shouldn't accept a reservation. The room was large and renovated with a nice view, but if there were more guests staying it would be extremely noisy. We definitely would not stay here again and do not recommend it.
The drive to ═safj÷rur is lengthy (over 3 hours). The road first winds up through an expanse of meadow, and then a mountain pass. Then it climbs up over the mountain, which is where the road often becomes impassible. The snow isn't piled very deep along the side of the road, so we're not sure if it is the amount of snowfall or the fact that it is blowing around that closes the road. At the highest point the road is coated in a thin layer of snow and ice, but it wasn't slippery as far as we could tell. The temperature dropped to 25F at the summit.
On the down slope side of the mountain there are numerous abandoned farms, a few working farms, and one small town. We pulled off at turnouts a few times where amusing "look at that" signs point at something we should look at. The hardy people who live along this lonely stretch of road sure do have a fantastic view. Occasionally we would stop and find various types of birds along the shore. Most of them are black and white birds with long orange bills, ptarmigans perhaps? The rest are ducks or geese.
An informational sign points in the direction of Vigur Island and advertises sightseeing trips that can be arranged from ═safj÷rur. We stopped to inspect the old farm site of Litlebaer for a few minutes. It consists of a turf-roof house, several stacked stone ruins, long runs of stone walls that enclosed hay fields, a ramshackle barn and a couple of cabins built into the hill.
The main reason this drive takes three hours is that we have to drive around deep fjords. Only two of the smaller ones have a causeway or bridge as a shortcut. Several of the others take 45 minutes to drive around. The road is good, so no problem keeping up the speed limit of 90kmh. We passed maybe twenty cars coming toward us the entire three hours, so there is obviously no traffic to speak of. Nobody passed us going our direction.
The only "town" along the way is a tiny village where the only business, a bar, is closed. They have erected a metal bottle-shaped trash can to encourage recycling. They also have the only phone booth we have seen so far and it actually still has a phone in it.
We arrived in ═safj÷rur at around 3:30pm and easily found our hotel for the next two nights, Hotel ═safj÷rur. The building looks straight out of the 1970's, but it has been redone inside and is very nice. At first the receptionist couldn't find our reservation, but as we were futzing around trying to find our reservation number on the cellphone she found us. The reservation was originally for two nights starting tomorrow and that is the one they have. We changed it months ago, but it was never sent to the hotel. She said it was fine, they have plenty of room. First she gave us a room on the third floor, but when we came back in with our luggage she upgraded us to the fourth floor with a "better view".
The receptionist offered to recommend restaurants while the manager went to check with the restaurant to see what the fish of the day might be (no one was there, so he came back empty handed). We'll probably go to the hotel's restaurant tonight and find something in the town for tomorrow. The key folder has a coupon for 10% off in the hotel's restaurant.
No kidding we have a view! The rooms were redone over the winter so they look brand new. Our room is small, but everything in it is as modern as it gets. The keycard is the type you just wave at the door to open it. The bathroom looks like a fancy cruise ship bathroom complete with heated towel rack. We don't expect to hear anything through the walls or ceiling because the building is solid concrete. And, the wi-fi works...woo hoo!
It was 4:30pm by the time we were all settled. The restaurant doesn't start serving dinner until 6:30pm, so we snacked on our store-bought food to tide us over until then. Icelandic restaurants are like most in Europe and don't start serving until six or seven in the evening. A benefit of the late nights is that the complimentary breakfast at all of the hotels so far is until 10:00am.
At 7:30pm we went down to the restaurant, which was empty except for some cross country skiers having some drinks. The same manager-type who was at the front desk earlier is serving tables, so it is just him and the chef working the restaurant. Click to view the in-season MENU just for kicks. The menu we were handed is an abridged version with very little to choose from. Almost everything is "something" of the day, meaning whatever the chef decides to make that day. The other items are a hamburger, chicken salad, and a steak sandwich. Dave had the soup of the day which is tomato and garlic (he thinks). It tasted like a warmed up version of Pace Picante Sauce. The bread was stale, but still edible. We had a choice between the fish of the day or the beef of the day. The beef is BBQ ribs. We both chose the fish which is pan-fried plaice. It looked nice and was almost excellent, but the stuff piled on top should have been on the side. It made the fish mushy.
For dessert the manager/waiter had to go ask the chef what he has tonight. The choices were flourless chocolate cake with ice cream or three flavors of ice cream. We chose the cake and it was pretty good. Nothing to write home about, although that's kind of what we're doing here, but good enough. We have no idea how much this meal cost, but the manager said he gave us 10% off when we charged it to our room. There was kind of a rush when the restaurant had several couples walk in at the same time right before closing.
It appears that a large group of cross-country skiers is staying here. They were in the lobby when we arrived unpacking all of their gear...in the middle of the tiny lobby, by the way. Several rooms on our floor have boots and other paraphernalia piled outside the door. We have half a mind to hide it in the stairwell to teach them a lesson.
We were back in the room by 9:00pm and done for the day. We're still not 100% sure when the sun finally goes down. We're pretty sure it is around midnight and that it gets light again by 3:30am.
As mentioned, our room is brand new, so they must have gutted the rooms and started from scratch. However, the deadbolt on our fancy door lock doesn't line up with the hole in the jamb, so we can't use the security lock. The sliding bathroom door doesn't have a handle on the inside, so it would be easy for someone to get trapped in there until someone comes to open it from the outside.
Day 11: Monday, May 11 - ═safj÷rur - Hotel ═safj÷rur
It is overcast this morning, but the temperature is about the same as it has been. We started the day by going to the complimentary breakfast in the hotel. It is the most basic offering so far. All they have are some cold cuts, one kind of sliced cheese, diced melon with the skin on it (how are you supposed to eat that?), some packaged bread, and cereal. There is a waffle machine that Bill tried and declared the waffle "gummy". It got us out the door without having to go shopping, so no harm done.
We're driving to the waterfall we missed when the road was closed and we took the long way around to ═safj÷rur. The road from here to the waterfall is open with only one stretch indicated as "slippery". The rest is "easily passable". We hit the road at 10:30am. The drive should take a little over an hour if all goes well.
After turning off the main highway through town the road climbs up into the mountains providing a spectacular view over the city and passing a ski resort en route to the 7km tunnel out of town. The only way to get in or out of ═safj÷rur is through a tunnel. This is the longest of them. It wouldn't be so bad except half of it is only one lane wide. We figured out that if you are headed out of town you are supposed to pull into one of the turnouts if you see an oncoming car. Luckily everyone seems to know that rule because it wasn't a problem. We assume there is never much traffic or this system wouldn't work. We only had to pull over twice.
On the other side it is snowy, but the road is fine until we turned left onto gravel and started climbing again. Part of the road isn't even gravel, but dirt. Or should we say mud? Most of the time the snow isn't very deep, maybe a foot, but there is one section where the snow towers over the road. We reached out and touched it to find that it is hard as a rock. We have no idea how the plows cleared this road. We passed the plow as it tried to clear more of the snow off the road. At this point the road is coated with slushy snow, but it isn't slippery or any problem to drive on.
Just in case we get stranded, there is an emergency hut stocked with supplies at the summit. You are supposed to sign for anything you use. It isn't very well marked, so like everything else in Iceland you are just supposed to know what it is without being told. There is a long and winding gravel road back down to the base of the fjord. Note that in Iceland there are no guardrails on the roads and rarely any safety railings at cliff edges. You are supposed to know better than to get too close to the rim. That's a novel concept, isn't it?
Once we cleared the snowy areas the drive wasn't at all difficult or unusual. The gravel roads in Iceland are generally well maintained. It takes over an hour to cover the distance to the waterfall because of the deep fjords we have to drive all the way in and out of. We only passed one small village on the way, but there are a few working farms as well as abandoned ruins along the way.
We arrived at Dynjandi at around 1:15pm. This is a major tourist attraction, but there are only ten cars here. It is probably a zoo in the high season since there is bus parking available. The road in from the other direction is gravel also, so a bus ride doesn't sound like much fun.
From the parking lot the falls are impressive. You really don't even have to leave your car to see part of them. Of course, you didn't come all this way to look at it from the car, did you? It was snowing when we first got out of the car. Or maybe better to refer to it as "icing" since it was tiny chunks of ice and not snowflakes. It only lasted a few minutes, but it was definitely cold.
As we walked up the trail we could see that there are several smaller, but no less impressive, falls tumbling down from the big one at the top of the cliff. They are all still partially frozen over. The main falls are almost completely encased in ice. You can't tell that the water is flowing until you get up closer and see that it is running inside of ice tubes covering the face of the cliff. The view back down the river to the fjord is also stunning. There is an interesting iced-over part of the trail that has air bubbles flowing in the water under it. Click to view a VIDEO (allow plenty of time, it is a large file).
We spent about an hour at the falls. Dave climbed up to the upper falls, but not all the way to the top. Bill chickened out at the first set of "stairs" that had snow covering part of them. There were a couple of people at the very top on the rocks. Remember, in Iceland there are no guardrails to keep you from falling hundreds of feet straight down, so if you are stupid enough to climb up a cliff and you plunge to your death, tough luck. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. Click to view of VIDEO to get the full effect.
The drive back seemed a lot shorter, but that's probably because we were going faster knowing that the road is in better condition than we had anticipated. Besides, it isn't our car, so if we hit a pothole, so be it. We didn't, by the way.
The snow seems deeper along the road, but maybe it is just the different approach. It certainly didn't accumulate in the last hour. The snow plow guy is still at work. Only a short stretch of road has any trace of snow on it, so he was a busy boy while we were gone. We can't tell if it is snowing or if it is blowing off the existing drifts, but it is flying around.
We reached the tunnel into ═safj÷rur before we knew it. We felt like the Queens of England driving through the tunnel with all of the cars coming our way pulling over to let us pass.
We arrived back at the hotel at around 3:30pm. The car looks like we went on an all-day off-road adventure or something. It is caked in mud. We don't really care except now we have to be careful not to brush against it when we are getting our stuff out of the back.
Our room key didn't work when we got back. The woman at the front desk was very apologetic, so all is forgiven. However, at this point we were jumping up and down to get to the bathroom. A fact of driving around in Iceland is that there are no restrooms at any of the tourist stops except the absolute top tier. They had some at Dynjandi, but they are only open in the summer. Thank goodness for ancient ruins that are tall enough to hide behind if you are really desperate.
After cleaning up a bit we decided to go out and walk around the town. The little square in front of the hotel is kind of cute. There is a bakery and a few other shops of interest only to locals. We walked toward the marina area where there are many of the oldest houses still standing. These were originally imported as kits from Norway in the late 1800's to early 1900's. They're very picturesque. You'll find these old homes restored or in varying stages of dilapidation all over town. Some are four story mansions and others are little bungalows.
We wandered to the other side of town to the seawall that faces the open ocean. This seems to be the bad part of town, although it isn't dangerous or anything of the sort. It is just that some of the houses are in disrepair and/or have nearly rusted away.
Since we haven't eaten since our minimal breakfast hours ago, we checked out a couple of restaurants and settled on a counter service pizza place. We're kind of over fancy Icelandic meals at the moment. Well, for today at least. Pizza just sounded good to us. We ordered a large Margarita pizza and some onion rings and sat in the diner-esque dining room. No one would mistake this place for fine dining, but the pizza was pretty good and the entire meal only cost ISK2700, including some bottled drinks. We briefly considered going to the Subway across the street, but thought that was the easy way out. There's a Thai place over there, too.
We were amused by the three teenage girls in the booth next to us. Each of them was engrossed in her cellphone or staring into space. They never said a word or interacted with one another the entire time. Then, without a word, they got up and left. Wasn't that fun? Why bother to hang out with other people at all?
We stopped at a bakery for a dessert. Dave bought a chocolate-iced donut sort of thing for less than a dollar. Good thing it was cheap because it wasn't anything special. Iceland sure isn't Denmark in the pastry department. We haven't had a dessert outside of Reykjavik that was worth the calories or sugar content. We should probably stick with fruit we buy at the supermarket from now on.
We were back at the hotel around 6:00pm and finished for the day.
Day 12: Tuesday, May 12 - Drive to HˇlmavÝk - Hotel Laugarhˇll
Hˇtel Laugarhˇll is a
peaceful and comfortable country hotel in the east part of the Westfjords. It is
located in the green and sparsely populated valley Bjarnarfj÷rur, midway
between ReykjavÝk and ═safj÷rur. We have 16 double rooms, 11 with private
bathrooms, and a comfortable living room with free internet access.
The weather is the same again...cold and overcast. We don't expect any changes for the next several days.
We started off with the hotel breakfast. All of the groups are gone, so it is quiet. We're not sure how the breakfast area would cope with a full house because they only set out small plates of cold cuts and such. The two of us used up most of what was there and we didn't take a huge amount. What's there is very basic anyway.
Our final thoughts on ═safj÷rur: It is a cute little town in the middle of a fjord, so the surrounding scenery is certainly worth looking at. You probably don't need more than one or two nights here, but it is worth seeing at least once. You can, as we did, drive to Dynjandi waterfall which is the biggest tourist attraction in the part of Iceland.
Our final thoughts on Hotel ═safj÷rur: It's nice. The rooms are brand new. It looks like they were gutted and completely re-fitted. The bathroom is really nice and modern. Amenities are basic, but that's how it is at most Icelandic hotels. The staff is helpful and pleasant. Everyone speaks perfect English. There is a restaurant for dinner that is acceptable if you are too tired to go out. Breakfast is basic, but sufficient. We'd stay here again for sure and highly recommend it.
We'll set off back toward HˇlmavÝk at 11:30am. We're staying outside of town this time. No way do mwe want to repeat our stay at the Finna Hotel. The sun came out once we hit the road.
On the way into town the other day we saw signs pointing off the road to an Arctic Fox Center, so we figured we might as well kill a few minutes and stop by. It is located in an old house that was restored to like-new condition. Well, that's what the brochure says. The woman at the desk said it is a new construction built to look like an old house. All we know is that the ceiling is very low and Bill has to duck.
We aren't expecting much since there can't be much in such a small space, plus there is a restaurant in part of it. We paid our admission to the woman at the desk (we don't recall the exact amount, but it less was than $10) and a guide appeared out of nowhere to show us around. She was a bit hard to understand because she is from Paris, strangely enough. She told us that she only arrived a few weeks ago and is still getting used to the almost constant sunlight. The guide was very nice, taking us through the displays and explaining what they are doing research-wise with the foxes.
At the end she let us go back on our own and look at the displays, which we did. The tiny restaurant filled up in the time we were in the museum. It is simple food such and soup with bread, but it smelled good. That's fortunate because our clothes smelled like it for the rest of the day.
The drive was kind of a bore because we already saw everything along the way and it takes over three hours. The road is good and the scenery is, of course, spectacular, but three hours is a long time. The big thrill was seeing some swans in the road. It pissed them off when we pulled over to look at them, but we stayed in the car so they couldn't peck us to death.
As far as we know it hasn't snowed again since we passed over the snowy mountain road at the summit. There isn't quite as much snow on the road as a few days ago, but parts are still covered with packed snow. It doesn't cause any problems and isn't noticeably slippery or anything drastic.
The GPS directed us to turn left after we descended from the snowy area, but it didn't seem like the right road. After consulting a big directional sign by the road we realized it is the right way, so we continued. Then we were directed to turn left onto a gravel/dirt/mud road for about 16km. There is a sign pointing to our hotel, so we know this is the right way. There isn't any snow left on this road at all, but it has more potholes than the dirt road yesterday. Still, it isn't a problem, just bumpy.
To say that the Hotel Laugarhˇll is out in the sticks is an understatement. There is nothing anywhere near it except some farms in the distance. However, the setting is spectacular and there are no sounds except the birds chirping. The hotel used to be a school and still has an auditorium with the original gold velvet drapery.
We arrived at 3:45pm and were welcomed immediately upon walking in the door, so we're getting good vibes from this place already. The young woman who checked us in asked if we want dinner tonight. We said yes, so she asked if fish is OK and we said it is. There are only two rooms occupied tonight so they are asking us to show up at 7:00pm. They have a restaurant, but it isn't open to the public today. She then asked what time we want breakfast and started by suggesting 8:00am, which horrified us. Then she said we can have it whenever we want because of the low guest count. When we asked what time check-out is she said we can leave whenever we want to, "No big deal."
We were shown the living room area where we can get internet access. It is furnished with several sofas and looks like someone's private home. She explained that we can use the geothermal pool next door for ISK400 per person. The water comes directly out of the mountain behind the hotel. There is an ancient hot pot up the slope, but it is only to look at not to bathe in (we never found it). There is a stone-lined hot pot below the pool we can use, but she warned that it is slimy so be careful. We don't plan to use it, but it was nice of her to warn us. She also pointed out the Sorcerer's Cottage we can walk to past the pool that is part of the Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum we visited previously.
Our room is on the second floor at the end of the hallway. Rooms on this floor all have private bathrooms. The rooms on the ground floor share a bath. The second floor rooms are former classrooms, so they still have maps and similar classroom-ish items on the walls. The room is simply furnished, but it is clean and spacious. The bathroom is modern and looks very nice. The view is simply spectacular.
After snacking on some of the stuff we brought with us, we walked outside to check out the pool. There are still patches of snow on the ground around here, but it isn't any colder than anywhere else we've been. The geothermal water sort of comes out of the ground all over the place, but there is a pipe running from high up on the mountain that feeds into the pool.
There is only a short walk to the Sorcerer's Cottage from the pool. Signs explain that "sorcerers" were just poor people who used various incantations to better their lives. They didn't have any other way to do it, so what the heck apparently. Most of the symbols carved into the beams of the sod cottage were supposed to keep foxes away and things like that. The interior of the cottage is so damp we're surprised they didn't die of black mold. Or maybe they did? There are bones lying around including a scary-looking skull outside the door. There is a steaming pond out front that adds to the creepy atmosphere.
The signs indicate that we should continue walking beyond the cottage to find a chair left behind by the last of the giant trolls in the area. OK, whatever. From the road we were wondering why there would be a lifeguard stand in the middle of a field. Hey, it is free to look at it, so why not?
We went downstairs a bit before 7:00pm to wait for dinner. The other couple was also hanging around. Eventually the woman who checked us in ushered us into the dining room. A big platter of salad was delivered to us to share, then an entire casserole of baked cod and another of steamed rice. The meal reminded us of something you'd have at a friend's house to serve four people. We ate all of it and got more rice, but for normal people it would be a huge amount of food. None of it was delicious, but it was edible and filling. We're not sure what the fish was baked in. I had a pink-ish layer of sour cream and herbs on top. It tasted better than it sounds. It could be that the pink part was red bell pepper since there were some diced on top.
Dessert was a choice between a flourless chocolate cake or apple crumble, both with ice cream. We had one of each and they were the best part of the meal. We have no idea how much this cost, by the way. The woman who served us could not have been any more pleasant.
We confirmed our appointment for breakfast at 10:00am tomorrow. We don't want to leave here very early because it isn't much more than an hour to our next hotel. Dave considered cancelling the next place, but we'd have to pay for it anyway at this point. It is only a stopover; there's nothing to see in that town that we are aware of.
We were done and back in our room by 9:00pm. Dave had to go down to the living room to get internet access, but other than that excitement nothing else happened.
Day 13: Wednesday, May 13 - Drive to Hvammstangi - Welcome Hotel Hvammstangi
Village Hvammstangi on the Midfjordur bay is a
commercial and tourism center for the county, and has been a trading post since
1846. It is located 7 kilometers off the ring road. The village developed around
the trading post and the inhabitants relied on the fisheries (shrimps mainly)
and fish processing until this operation was shut down. Nowadays its livelihood
is based on services and tourism, which plays an increasing role. Travelers
spend a few nights there to enjoy and explore the splendid nature of the
Vatnsnes peninsula and to watch seals and birds. A visit to The Icelandic Seal
Centre is also an important addition to the educational recreation in
There's no change in the weather, which is a good thing in Iceland.
We showed up at our appointed hour, 10:00am, for breakfast. What is offered is simple, but enough to get us going. Dave asked if there were ever enough children to support such a large school and got the short story of this hotel. The second floor was added on after the school was closed, so the school was only half the size of the current building. That explains a lot. Sometimes there were up to seventeen students, but other years there might be only three.
The community took over the building thirty years ago and turned it into a hotel when the government couldn't afford to keep it up anymore. It was operated over the years by several different people until the current owners bought it six years ago. They were teachers here when it was a school. Isn't that sweet? The woman serving us (we've only dealt with her since we arrived) is only here during the season. She might be from Romania or someplace like that. She's extremely congenial and friendly. She came to visit a friend who was working here a few years ago and liked it so much she comes back every year. The pace is so slow and laid back she forgets what day it is. She said that last year she thought it was June when it was July and that, "Happy people don't pay attention to time." It sure is beautiful here, that's for sure. Working here is kind of like a low-key version of working on a cruise ship.
Our final thoughts on Hotel Laugarhˇll: It is a simple county hotel with copious amounts of hospitality. In a friendly country like Iceland it is hard to stand out in that regard, but this place is memorable for the friendly vibe. The rooms are simple, but everything works. The food is fine. It is nothing special, but good enough. They should get the hotel listed on Booking.com if they want to attract more customers. Being listed only on the Icelandic Farm Holidays site generally suggests a rural farm stay, so it might put some people off. This is most definitely a hotel unlike the "hotel" we stayed at in this area a few days ago. We'd stay here again and highly recommend it. All we hear this morning is the sound of birds singing. What more could you want?
We checked out at noon for the 2+ hour drive to our next destination. Skip ahead those two hours because we have almost nothing to report about it. The road was paved, then gravel, then paved, you get the picture. There wasn't any rhyme or reason to what is paved and what isn't. Luckily the gravel parts are fine, so it wasn't a problem, just weird. The drive was a bore and all of the scenery looked the same. Brown grass and low hills with long circuits to drive around fjords. By the way, it got up to 50F today, so we're having a heat wave.
At the turnoff into Hvammstangi we found the first semi-interesting thing we've seen all day; a rock couple on the corner. After another 6km of driving we arrived at the Welcome Hotel Hvammstangi to find all sorts of construction equipment and supplies outside the front door. This can't be a good sign.
As we were futzing around getting ready to get out of the car, a woman came out of the hotel and asked if we have a reservation. She asked us to pardon the mess and to go around to the side entrance where she would meet us. We did that and she showed us to a room. Apparently she knows who we are based on nationality or maybe we are the only guests (a French couple arrived later). There is a refrigerator in the hallway and a table with cereal in plastic containers. She said they would stock the refrigerator with breakfast items we can help ourselves to in the morning "whenever".
Dave discovered at this point that he still has the key from the previous hotel in his pocket. How he overlooked it is anyone's guess because it has a huge piece of wood attached to it. He asked the manager of this hotel if she would mind sending it back and, after making fun of him for not noticing the huge key in his pocket, said she would be happy to.
As far as we can tell this hotel only has six rooms, maybe eight. The only part of the hotel that is accessible to guests is the short hallway where the rooms are. There is a closed door that leads to a dining room and breakfast area, but all of it is under construction. We don't really care unless it is noisy in the morning, but it looks like they are painting and not hammering. The manager told us to look around for her if we need anything. She's very pleasant, so we're not getting that unwelcome vibe we got off the last place that was under refurbishment.
Our room is VERY simple with two twin beds and a table. There is a built-in desk/closet by the door and a small bathroom that has seen better days. It is clean, so acceptable, but we wouldn't want to stay here more than one night. It is right on the main road through town, so the traffic noise is very loud with the window open, but we assume it will die down by bedtime. Hopefully the rooms are next on the refurbishment plans. A young woman came out of the one next to use carrying all of the shower parts, so it looks like they are re-doing everything.
They have free internet that is 50 times faster than what we have at home (yes, we tested it). Dave immediately emailed the previous hotel to tell them we accidently stole the key and that it was being sent back. When he checked his email he found a message from the hotel asking if he still has it and saying, "It would be nice of you to send it back to us." We're happy they didn't just charge us for it.
The hotel manager told us that the Seal Center is open until 4:00pm, so we walked down to check it out. We were told that it is impossible to get lost in this town, but we couldn't find it earlier. Turns out it has moved to a location by the harbor behind the grocery store. Our information says it doesn't open for another couple of weeks, but it is indeed open. On the way there we passed some cute old houses with dates like 1904 on them, and a fish drying area by a building marked 1922. This is where the Seal Center used to be located along with a restaurant that no longer exists.
The Seal Center is small, but covers a lot of information. We have plenty of seals at home, but we have nothing else to do, so why not? The displays are nice for a small museum and there is an interesting film about seals that plays continuously. The best part was the woman at the front desk. She gave us all sorts of information on things to see in the area we never would have known about otherwise. She said if we take the long way back to the ring road that we'll pass several seal colonies. She also showed us on the map where there is a waterfall most people don't visit and a couple of other things of mild interest.
Dave asked her if there is really a restaurant upstairs and she assured him there is and it is very good. How anyone would know that we have no idea. There are no signs anywhere on the building or elsewhere, you just have to know it is there. It opened several weeks ago, so there's no excuse for not having some sort of sign by now. We decided we'd come back at 6:00pm for dinner...like we have a choice? The only other restaurant is a coffee house. The grocery store closed at 4:00pm.
We walked back to the hotel along a picturesque stream and park. There is another of the rock people in the park and an ugly modern sculpture.
Nothing happened until we went back to the harbor to find the entrance to the restaurant at around 6:30pm. Again, how the heck does anyone find this place? We weren't even sure where the door was, so we sort of took a shot at one of them and it was correct. The name, although you don't know this until you are handed a menu, is Sjßvarborg. The menu is limited, but covers a range from hamburgers to beef filet. We both had the filet and split a salmon starter that was billed as "Nobu Style". It smelled like the miso-coated dish from Nobu, but that is the only resemblance. It was fine, but nothing exciting. For a tiny town like this it is shocking to find something this sophisticated, that's for sure. The beef filet entree was nicely presented and tasty, but it was a strip steak, not a filet. That's actually fine because the portion is bigger and we haven't eaten all day.
There are two servers and both of them are friendly and helpful. They are serving a large birthday party as well as several other guests and doing it all with no apparent hysteria. The dining room is decorated in a fishing motif that works well. We both had homemade blueberry ice cream for dessert that was very nice. The meal was very pricy, but we did choose the most expensive items on the menu. We saw the hamburgers served and they are huge. Those and a steak sandwich are priced reasonably.
We walked back to the hotel along the scenic route and were done by 8:30pm. We'll decide if the hallway breakfast suits us in the morning. Otherwise we might just go to the coffee house and hit the road from there.
Day 14: Thursday, May 14 - Drive to Akureyri - Icelandair Hotel Akureyri
Akureyri is situated in north-east Iceland, in one of
the longest fjords in the country and is surrounded by mountains reaching
1000-1500 m. The Arctic Circle in only 60 km north of Akureyri but still the
climate is mild, with summer temperatures up to 25░C and winter temperatures in
average around 0˚C.
It is quite blustery outside this morning and it looks like it might rain. Our car could use a wash, so let's hope there is enough rain to take care of it.
This hotel is probably the worst we have stayed at so far. It is clean and functional, sort of, and the manager/owner is very nice, which is a plus. Taking a shower is totally frustrating. There is no water pressure and the hot water smells like sulfur. That's not the hotel's fault, but still it's gross. We have no clue what's up with these ridiculous Icelandic bathrooms and microscopic sinks. This place will probably be much better once the renovation is complete.
Our hallway breakfast was fine. Once we dug around and found everything it is pretty much the same as we've had everywhere. The other couple left already, so we're the only guests still here this morning. The manager came out to ask if everything is OK and to say she talked to the hotel Dave stole the key from. He asked if they declared him to be an idiot, but all she'd admit to is that they're puzzled that anyone could fail to notice a huge piece of wood. Where there's a will there's a way!
Our final thoughts on Hvammstangi: Most people use this as a halfway point stop between Reykjavik and Akureyri and for that it is fine. The Seal Center was interesting enough and the woman at the desk there was very helpful. Everyone we've encountered here has been beyond helpful and friendly. This isn't a destination in itself, but it is a good overnight stop.
Our final thoughts on Welcome Hotel Hvammstangi: Right now we wouldn't recommend it. The rooms are OK, but the bathrooms are an exercise in frustration. The staff is very accommodating and helpful, which is a definite plus. Breakfast was OK in spite of being in the hallway. It should be fairly nice once the renovations are done, but that won't change the size of the rooms. All in all it is fine for a pit stop, but no more than that.
We'll set off to see at least a few of the sites recommended by the Seal Center woman on the way to our next destination. We don't intend to take the entire route around the peninsula especially with the weather situation. It is extremely windy, but it hasn't rained...yet.
We checked out of the hotel around 10:30am. Dave told the manager to add something to the bill to cover sending the key back, which she did (we think).
The road turns to gravel at the city limit, but it is fine for a regular car. The first recommended stop is at HamarsrÚtt which is a sheep herding corral. There are only a few of these remaining intact. Iceland sheep roam freely, but they are collected once a year. They all go into the center circle and are then sorted into the proper owners' section to be taken home.
Svalbarđ is the next stop which is supposed to be a beach full of seals. No such luck today; there are no seals to be seen. The rocks and beach are scenic though. We decided that since the road is so good we will continue on the entire route. We never found the second recommended seal viewing spot.
The third seal stop is at Hvitserkur, which is a sheer pinnacle of rock sticking out of a black sand beach. There are some bird's nests high up on the side, but no seals again. We've seen seals, so we don't really mind and the view is spectacular.
We followed a sign pointing toward Bargarvirki and the road became narrower and rougher, but still doable. This stop is a volcanic plug of basalt columns that historians believe was used as some sort of fort in the settlement era. There are wooden stairs leading up to a stone wall enclosing one end of the natural crater at the top. There are stone ruins of buildings inside, but they are hard to see in the jumble of rocks. One thing for sure, the view from this vantage point is breathtaking.
The last stop recommended by the woman at the Seal Center is a waterfall called Koluglj˙fur. To get there we have to backtrack about 4km on the ring road and turn off on a gravel road for another 7km. We drove past a lot of groups of cute horses along the way. We were about 100' away from the ones in the photo, but when Dave called out to them they all perked up their ears and looked at us. It is extremely windy, so we're surprised they could hear him.
We found the waterfall with no problem. A wooden bridge crosses over the canyon right in front of it. Problem is the wind is so strong we are afraid to get anywhere near the edge of the bridge for fear of being blown over. We were appalled that there were tourists climbing down to the sheer drop off into the canyon below. We left when a bus disgorged a gaggle of tourists who had to be at least 80 years old. We didn't wait around to see if any of them were blown off the bridge.
It is 2:00pm at this point, so the drive around the peninsula really did take almost three hours. It didn't seem like that long at all.
Back on the ring road we stopped for lunch at a gas station restaurant run by an entire family. Although everyone said hello to us, nobody seemed interested in serving us. We couldn't tell who worked there and who was just visiting. Eventually an older man asked if he could help us, so Dave asked if they serve food (it is obviously a restaurant). He beckoned for us to come to the counter and look at a menu where we ordered two different types of burger. Bill got a bottled soft drink and Dave asked for water. The guy said the tap water is better than the bottled and that he would bring us some for free.
When the burgers were served we were very surprised at the nice presentation. The French fries were served in little metal buckets on rectangular black plates. From the look of the place we expected paper plates. The food was very good, especially the fries which were delicious. They probably still fry in lard here, but who cares when it is so good.
The gas pump out front, which is the whole reason we stopped here, didn't work. So, we drove on to the next town to get gas and continue toward our next overnight stop. Akureyri is about 2.5 hours' drive and we have no stops planned.
Most of the drive was fairly boring. It is pretty much the same scenery we have seen since we arrived; brown fields and snowy mountains. Eventually we entered a scenic valley full of farms. All we have seen anyone grow here is hay. Why they need so much we have no idea. The livestock we see in the pastures is 90% horses and 10% sheep. We saw one small herd of cattle last week, but none since. Some farms have a small pen with goats, but that's about it. What are they doing with all these horses? They eat them here, but not that many and it is very expensive when we've seen it on a menu.
About an hour later we climbed up into the mountains. Everything at this elevation (about 1,500 feet) is still covered in snow, but the road is completely clear. There are some glaciers in the distance. The ring road follows a glacial river almost the entire way.
Descending from the mountains we arrived on the outskirts of Akureyri. The city is supposedly so friendly that all of the stop lights are heart-shaped.
The Icelandair Hotel Akureyri is located uphill from the main part of the town. It is a historic building (it was a university) that was repurposed as a hotel in 2011. There was some sort of confusion with our reservation that stymied the front desk clerk, but she didn't say anything to us about it. Dave handed her the printout of our reservation and she kept looking at it, then the computer, talking to her colleague, and back to the computer. We have no idea what the problem is because we booked directly through the Icelandair Hotels website. Eventually whatever it is was sorted out and she gave us a key. We're surprised such a new hotel still uses keys that we presume have to be turned in if we go out (they are attached to huge keychains).
We were hoping a hotel this nice would have laundry service, but no such luck. We were directed to go to the hostel in town and ask if we can use one of their machines. That's not happening. After consulting the map we were given it turns out there is a laundry clearly marked on it, so we're not sure why the woman at the desk isn't aware of it.
We booked a suite because by this point we need some space in a modern hotel. At first glance, the suite is very nice. It has a living room with comfortable furniture and a huge LCD TV. There is a fancy coffee/tea machine on the desk. One side of the suite is a wall of windows overlooking snow-covered mountains beyond the city. The bedroom is nice and has another large TV and a wall of storage.
Now we come to the most ridiculous bathroom we have ever seen. It is floating in the middle of the space and there is no privacy at all. You can walk around by the windows to get to the bedroom or through the sink area of the bathroom. The towel bar is lying on the counter with a clean towel on top of it. What the heck? Dave found the screw to fix it on the floor and put it back together, but come on. The "best" part is that the shower and toilet are separated by a frosted glass wall that stops three feet from the ceiling. It is like using a bathroom in an airport where nothing is left to the imagination. Who thought this was a good idea? There are glass doors on both stalls that are also three feet short and there is a gap around the edge. The door pull is a 3" diameter hole. The sink area does not have a door on either side. Get this, no hand soap is provided and the shower has only a pump bottle marked "shampoo". Oh, but there are washcloths and Kleenex. It isn't all that clean either. We kind of think the maid freaked out when the towel bar fell off and left in the middle of cleaning.
We're too tired to complain at this point, so we'll see if the bath amenities appear tomorrow. We have our own, but we expect a hotel charging over $300 a night to have their act together.
At 6:30pm we went to the hotel's restaurant in the basement. Doesn't that sound atmospheric? Yeah, about as you might imagine for a basement. Part of it is being converted to a bar, so it might be better in the future.
Click to view the MENU. There weren't many tables occupied, so the service was attentive and helpful. Our waiter is Italian. Don't Icelandic people work? Anyway, Dave ordered the Bruchetta Mozzarella and the Chicken Salad. Bill had the Arctic Char. The food was good and reasonably priced for what we got, but nothing was particularly memorable. Dave had the Cake of the Day (apple) and Bill had the ice cream for dessert. Both were the best part of the meal. The cake is the first pastry so far that has been worth eating. The ice cream is always homemade and very good, so we'll stick with that most of the time.
We made it back to the room by 8:30pm and crashed for the night.
By the way, it was between 45 and 50 degrees all day and it never did rain.
Day 15: Friday, May 15 - Akureyri - Icelandair Hotel Akureyri
It is supposed to rain today and it does look like it might, but it is still in the high 40's to 50F.
We went to the dungeon for breakfast. Our rate includes breakfast, but it was an add-on with the package we booked. There isn't anything wrong with what they offer, but it is exactly the same limited selection we have had elsewhere at far less expensive hotels than this one. No way is it worth the ISK1700 they charge for it. Talk about a rip off. We decided that this is a Motel 6 masquerading as a fancy hotel.
On the way out of the hotel at around 11:00am, we stopped to turn in the key and ask someone different about the laundry situation. We got the same answer; take it to the hostel downtown. Do they really expect guests at a hotel like this to do that? We'll drive around town and check it out, but there's no way we're doing laundry at a hostel.
There is a laundry shown on the map, so we decided to drive over to the botanical garden nearby since it is in the vicinity (we never found a laundry, BTW). The garden is small, but nicer than one would expect in this area. We've only seen two kinds of trees and one shrub up until now so we aren't expecting much.
Most of the beds are just starting to sprout and they haven't cleaned up the debris from last year. Many of the bulbs are already sprouting and some are blooming. There are some areas where there are lots of blooms and a few interesting shrubs are flowering, too. Their rock garden gave us some ideas on what to do with our lawn, but we'd do it a bit differently.
The drinking fountain looks like a sculpture, but it isn't turned on you so we don't know how functional it actually is. There are several empty ponds and fountains that will be nice in season. There is no admission charge to the garden, so we don't mind that it is just starting to sprout. Even so, there are several areas where the flowers are so vibrant they appear to be glowing under the trees. There is also a greenhouse, but most of the plants are seedlings that will be planted outside when it warms up.
After driving around a bit, we stopped at a big Bonus Supermarket to pick up some supplies. We brought along hotel-sized bottles of shampoo and lotion, but since no Icelandic hotels have provided it (except the Hilton) we are running low. Plus, it is very dry, so we need an industrial strength body lotion to counteract it. This is the first Bonus store we've been in that has a decent range of merchandise. If we had to shop at the others we've been to on a regular basis we'd be hard pressed to make up a variety of menus.
We drove back to the hotel to drop off the car and walked back down the hill to the downtown area. The walk is fine except for the blowing dust every time a car goes by. In order to park downtown you have to get a clock that adheres to your windshield. It is free at gas stations and banks. You set the time you park and have two hours to get back to reset it. If you reset it every two hours you can park as long as you want. Yes, it is as stupid a system as it sounds. It isn't like there are four million people waiting for parking places, so we have no idea what problem this is attempting to solve. On the way down we had a good vantage point to view the church that looms over town. It is supposed to resemble basalt volcanic columns prevalent in Iceland.
Our main goal is to find the "Laundromat" at the hostel to check it out. There is one main shopping street in the old part of town that is picturesque. It is lined with shops and restaurants. There is a good view of the church from the center of town. The bells toll every hour and they are horribly out of tune. We can't tell what they are trying to play.
We easily found the hostel on the shopping street and Bill went in to ask about the laundry. He came back a few minutes later and declared it too rinky-dink to bother with. Good call. You really didn't expect us to do anything at a hostel did you? Apparently backpackers can have clean clothes, but people staying in hotels can't.
There are some nice souvenir shops along the street. We found a couple of small items to buy in one of them. In the next shop we ended up chatting with the proprietor for a while. He was very friendly and incidentally, easy on the eyes. We asked him if there is anything we should do in town and he was stumped. He suggested driving a few miles to a boat harbor where the local fishermen keep their boats. He told us to find the smallest boat and talk to the fisherman because the crazy ones with the small boats are the most interesting. A family of giant trolls placed on the sidewalk attracts every tourist in town for a photo op.
There is a cruise ship in town today. We asked the shopkeeper if many ships call here and he told us this is the first one this season. In about two weeks when the season is in full swing there will be a ship in port every day. Crystal Symphony calls here this summer.
We walked to the end of the street to a little circle where the apartment hotel we originally booked is located. We changed to the Icelandair Hotel because we didn't want to deal with parking downtown. That was probably a good call.
There are many restaurants to choose from downtown. Being 2:00pm already, we decided to stop into Bautinn for a casual lunch. Click to view the MENU. Dave had the pork sandwich and Bill had the chicken sandwich. Both came with fries and a small salad on the plate. The food was good and we were happy with what we got. The staff is very friendly and, as usual, they speak better English than we do. So far the only Icelanders we've dealt with who don't speak English are the checkers at the Bonus Supermarkets.
After lunch we walked up the steep stairway to the church. The KEA Hotel is right next to the steps and it is probably a better choice if you are planning a visit to Akureyri. We didn't choose it because reviews say it is always teeming with groups (and it is), but it looks nice from the outside. It is very expensive though.
Back at the room we washed out some shirts in the sink, turned up the radiators and draped our wet clothes over them. We thought the windows don't open, but Dave finally figured out how the latches work and got them to open. If we were European we'd probably turn up the heat and leave the windows closed, but we hate being hot. We turned them completely off and opened the vents to the outside air the moment we arrived yesterday and we were still too warm.
All the maid did was rearrange the duvets on the bed and empty the trash. We still have no soap and we didn't see any on the maid's cart, so this hotel doesn't supply any amenities. Maybe it really is a Motel 6? Oh wait, they give you soap, so apparently not. We're really not happy with the total sensory experience we have to share regarding the open plan bathroom. It is disgusting and there's no way around it. If you don't know your partner well when you arrive here you will certainly know more than you ever cared to by the time you leave.
There is a swim meet of sorts going on at the pool across the street. The loud announcements drew our attention enough to look to see what is going on. We heard some people at breakfast talking about some sort of "meet" they are involved in, but this seems very amateurish to come all this way to participate in. It is extremely windy so they must be freezing their asses off. It lasted less than thirty minutes.
At 7:30pm we walked back to town and chose La Vita Ŕ Bella Ristorante for dinner. It is part of the place where we had lunch, but we didn't realize it until we saw the Visa charge slip. Click to view the MENU. Dave had the Bruchetta as a starter, Cannelloni as his main, and the Vanilla Ice Cream dessert. Bill had the Chicken Pasta. Everything was good, but it doesn't stand out as anything special. The portions were generous and overall it was a good value.
The walk back up the hill nearly killed us, but we figured if the old ladies ahead of us can make it, so can we. We made it back by 9:00pm. The clouds are gone. It never did rain today.
Day 16: Saturday, May 16 - Akureyri - Icelandair Hotel Akureyri
It's a very nice day today with a few clouds and warmer. It is almost not necessary to wear a jacket...almost.
The hotel breakfast has much more variety this morning with scrambled eggs, sausage, and baked beans added. They also had cups of very tasty yogurt. We kind of think they cut it down yesterday because there were several groups with breakfast included. That's underhanded, isn't it?
We don't have any plans for today, so we'll walk back to town and wander around until lunchtime. On the way out we told the maid she can do our room now and asked for clean towels. Dave turned in our key in the lobby and we started walking.
There is only one street with anything of interest to tourists, so we walked toward the waterfront just for kicks. There are some funky old houses that line the road to the port. It is easy walking distance from the cruise ship dock into town. There is a big concert hall called Hof that is also a tourist information center on the waterfront. There is a nice gift shop and a cafe inside. The woman in the shop told us that the show going on inside is a local dance show. We recognized the music as Disney through and through.
The waterfront view is refreshing today and provides a different vantage point for the town center. The shopkeeper yesterday suggested that we walk to the end of town to see some old houses, so that's what we did. The houses are similar to the ones we saw in ═safj÷rur, but they're larger. We're overdressed for the unexpectedly warm weather, so we wandered back into town to find a place for lunch.
We settled on a Mexican fast food place we saw yesterday called Serrano. It is such a novel concept for the area that they have instructions on how to eat a burrito printed on the counter and on the paper it is served on. Dave ordered a Mission Carnitas Burrito and Bill had the same as a Quesadilla. We didn't finish either of them. The food wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly worth eating either.
On the way through town we stopped to buy a couple more souvenirs, check out another shop, and watch the poor hot dog stand operator get bombed with an entire busload of tourists. The line stretched all the way down the block. Icelandic hot dogs are one of the "must eat" things, but we'll have to wait to find a less popular place to try one.
We struggled back up the hill to the hotel where we arrived at 2:00pm to find our room hasn't been touched. Ugh. The maid showed up a while later and gave us new towels. We told her she didn't have to clean the room mostly because all they did yesterday was rearrange the bed. We entertained ourselves by watching "North by Northwest" on the huge HD TV.
At 7:00pm we walked back down the hill to find a restaurant for dinner. There is a concert (or something) letting out of the church and everyone seems to be going into Rub 23, the current trendy restaurant in town. It gets mixed reviews and the menu looks like work to decipher. We decided to go to a place we saw on outside of the shopping street facing the water. Dave looked it up online this afternoon and it has great reviews.
Strikiđ doesn't look like anything from the street because it is in a dingy 5-story office building. There is a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising "Fresh Fish Daily", but the menu we saw online doesn't emphasize fish, although they do have sushi. You can't miss it walking down the sidewalk because there is a red carpet out to the curb. The trick to dining in Iceland is to arrive before 8:00pm when the locals show up. There was no wait when we got there around 7:15pm, but it quickly filled up after that. The same applies to lunch; don't arrive at noon or every restaurant is packed. Wait until 1:30pm and they are empty.
Once inside the restaurant it is beautiful in a modern sort of way with a panoramic view over the fjord and the snow-covered mountains. In the summer you can sit outside to enjoy the fresh air, but it isn't warm enough for that quite yet.
Click to view the MENU. Dave ordered the Tempura Langoustine starter; Bill ordered the Smoked Puffin. The tempura was served in a jar with a twist-off lid while the puffin was in one of those little jars with the metal wire latch on top. All Bill said about the puffin is, "You wouldn't like this." He described it as sort of liver-ish (Dave gags on liver). The tempura was interesting in a good way. Both portions were small and appropriate for a starter.
For a main course, Dave had the Chicken Breast; Bill had the Lamb. OMG, both entrees were to die for. Really, you know we don't gush over things very often, but this is the best meal we have had since we got here. It ranks at the top of all-time best food, too. Both presentations were creative without being weird. The spiciness of the chicken dish was exactly right and counterbalanced by the marinated watermelon cubes with it. The mashed potatoes under both entrees were delicious. Really, truly, take our word for it and don't miss this place if you are ever in Akureyri.
We both had the White Chocolate Mousse dessert and it is probably the most interesting and creative dessert we've ever had. We can't begin to list all of the different elements in the bowl, but there were a lot of them. Bill didn't like something in it, but that is a personal preference. Dave loved every bit of it. It was almost too pretty to eat.
Service was very attentive and friendly. We're still surprised that most Icelandic people speak American English and not British. Most of them don't even have an accent (to us) when they speak English.
We walked back up the hill for the last time (thank God) and arrived back at the hotel around 9:30pm. We've been "rinsing out a few things" all day since we can't seem find laundry facilities. The reviews of our next hotel say the water smells like sulfur, so we don't want to rinse anything out it in, that's for sure. All of the hotels have the same issue in H˙savÝk.
Day 17: Sunday, May 17 - Drive to H˙savÝk - Fosshotel H˙savÝk
H˙savÝk has in recent years become increasingly
popular as a destination for both foreign and native visitors. There are several
reasons why visitors flock to H˙savÝk. It is the largest town and centre of
commerce and services in Ůingeyjarsřsla county of Northeast Iceland. It is a
clean and tidy town in an attractive natural setting and offers all basic
services in addition to a variety of recreational opportunities.
It is raining this morning. Nothing drastic, but maybe it will rinse the car off somewhat.
We had breakfast at the hotel as usual, then packed up and prepared to hit the road by noon. Our next stop is only about 90 minutes' drive, so we're hoping to stop at a couple of attractions on the way to kill some time.
Our final thoughts on Akureyri: It is a cute little town with one shopping street, but there are lots of great restaurants to choose from. It is easily walkable unless you are staying at a hotel up the hill. The downtown area is flat. The people are very friendly and helpful. There aren't any must-see attractions in town, but it is a pleasant place to hang out for a while and decompress. We'd come here again.
Our final thoughts on the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri: Don't even get us started on this place. The bathroom takes the cake for the biggest design fail in the history of hospitality. What on earth were they thinking? We really don't want a 4D sensory surround sound (among other things too graphic to mention) experience in a bathroom. We've been together for 32 years and we're pretty familiar by now, but come on. If you're happy brushing your teeth while your companion is sitting on the John, more power to you and have at it. If it weren't for that major faux pas our suite was very nice with an attractive modern design, comfortable furniture and a king sized bed. The towel bar on the counter and dirty floor upon arrival didn't win any points though. There is no way in hell if you paid us a million dollars that we'd ever stay here again. Well, OK, for a million dollars we would since we've already humiliated ourselves. There certainly isn't anything left to mystery at this point. Gross!
Light rain continued as we drove across the fjord and out of Akureyri. This is an upscale area with nice homes and farms. We had to make a stop at an "art" museum with a huge metal man out front, but we didn't go inside.
As already mentioned, the drive time to H˙savÝk is just a little over an hour and we have only one planned stop. We were hoping to find the kitschy Christmas Garden, but all we saw were two signs announcing it coming up in 20km. Oh well.
It only rained hard for a few minutes and never became a problem. We arrived at Goafoss, a major tourist stop, about forty minutes after leaving Akureyri. This waterfall isn't the highest in Iceland, but the volume of water makes it quite a spectacle. You can see the spray from a distance away, but the waterfall isn't revealed until you walk right up to the edge. Amazingly that's what some people did; walk right up to the edge. It is 100' straight down into the churning river and there is only one short stretch where there is a "guard rail" about two feet high made of one strand of rope. To view a video of the falls click HERE.
There is nothing to prevent anyone from walking right up to the top of the falls. We did walk out sort of in that direction, but not way out where a couple of people had climbed out onto a promontory overlooking the falls. There are small signs warning that the cliff edge is unstable, by the way. You have to wade in shallow water to get to an island of rock for the best view, but it isn't difficult to do that. We wandered around as much as we could without being stupid which meant maybe a half hour freezing in the light rain.
The rest of the drive is through farmland that is starting to green up a bit, but it was either foggy or raining most of the time. Unfortunately the rain wasn't heavy enough to wash off the car. All it did was turn the dust into mud. We'd have been happier if the cars coming toward us in the fog had stayed on their side of the road, but such is life. We still haven't seen any farms growing anything other than hay or raising horses.
We arrived in the cute little town of H˙savÝk around 1:30pm. It is famous for whale watching tours, so the main street is lined with companies competing to sell tickets to the tourists. One offers soup, another coffee, etc. We're not sure if the tours are operating today, but there are people working the ticket counters. There is no way we are going out on the ocean in the windy weather we've had lately.
Our first stop, mainly to kill time, is at the Whale Museum. The girl at the counter was completely disinterested in her job, but she did what she is supposed to do and sold us admission. The museum is supported by a conservation group, so as you can imagine it is heavily tilted toward how humans are destroying the planet and such. There is extensive information on how whales do pretty much everything, their biology and whatnot. The displays are well done and it isn't too preachy. Upstairs there are several real skeletons of various kinds of whale hanging in the rafters.
After buying our usual ornament souvenirs in the gift shop, we walked next door to Salka Restaurant for lunch. Click to view the MENU. Dave ordered a 10" Americana Pizza; Bill chose a 12" Hawaiian Pizza. Both of them were outstanding and we'd gladly eat at this place again. On the way out Dave asked the waitress why Icelandic people speak American English so well and she said that is what they are taught in school. He told her that they speak better English than we do and they laughed, but it wasn't a joke.
After lunch we went to the charming consignment craft shop next door and found some little things to buy. The old lady running it didn't speak English that we are aware of, but that didn't stop her from talking to us as though we had a clue what she was saying. The shop sells an eclectic variety of items made locally ranging from stone buttons to wool sweaters. The prices are very reasonable and the quality is high.
Across the street is a wooden church that is picturesque. The state architect, Rognvaldur Olafsson, designed the church. It was built in the form of a cross with wood imported from Norway, and consecrated on June 2nd 1907. The churchĺs design is different from other churches in Iceland, because it does not have the familiar pulpit. The artist Freymodur Johannesson painted and decorated the churchĺs interior in 1924. Sveinn Thorarinsson, the artist from the farm Kilakot in the Kelduhverfi county, painted a depiction of Lazarusĺ resurrection for the altar in 1930-31. The organ was consecrated on November 8th 1964. Sculptor Johann Bjornsson from Husavik carved the baptismal font and other wood carvings in the church. The church was consecrated on the 2nd of June 1907 and the pipe organ was inaugurated on November 8th 1964.
Isn't that fascinating? Don't we sound knowledgeable? Dave copied that from Wikipedia, so don't give us too much credit. Anyway, there is an admission charge, so we didn't go in, but it looks nice. We checked out the fishing boats in the marina and got back in the car to drive the two blocks to the hotel. Had we followed our GPS it would have been eight blocks, but we ignored her because we could see the hotel from the harbor.
We'll be frank, we're expecting nothing from the Fosshotel H˙savÝk. That's a good thing because it looks like a total dump from the outside. There is only one car out front and there is a construction crane out back. The sidewalks are a mess and there is no landscaping. Looks promising, doesn't it? Hey, maybe the bathroom has a door? Wouldn't that be novel?
The woman at the front desk was pleasant when she took our money. This place is way overpriced for what it is, but it is the only real hotel in town. The restaurant doesn't open for the season until tomorrow (there is no mention of this on the website, by the way), but it does serve breakfast in the morning and it is included with the room. We were instructed to go back outside and walk around to the side of the building and look for a glass door. That's where we'll find the entrance to the building where the rooms are. We were told that the front desk closes at 10:00pm, so if we have any questions be sure to ask before then. We assume that means nobody is on duty after that since we were given a key to the front door.
The entrance door looks like a loading dock, but there is a door to a bar (closed) next to it. It looks like they dug out the soil and added windows to the basement wall that are a work in progress. There's no elevator and no access to the lobby from this wing. There are three wings added at various times, plus a huge addition in the back. That's why the lobby isn't currently connected to the rooms. It appears that the lobby will be in the addition when it is all finished. Oh, and there is an identical copy of the nightclub/showroom that the Hotel Stykkisholmur has. Literally exactly the same and straight from 1970.
We started to feel better after entering the building. The carpet looks new and the corridors are modern and clean. We booked a Deluxe Double, but for some reason we were given the largest room in the hotel. Maybe that's because we arrived before the only other couple staying here tonight, so we hit the jackpot?
The room has a queen bed and a twin, so it is meant to sleep three people. The bathroom is huge and modern. At first glance it looks newly renovated, but the shower pipes are corroded, so it is older than it looks. However, it does have a door, counter space, and a big shower. They actually provide Kleenex and soap for both the shower and the sink. The hot water reeks of sulfur, which isn't the fault of the hotel, but it is still repulsive.
There is stationary and a pen on the desk, which is a first for Iceland. The carpet has a stone print that is interesting. The furniture looks like it was bought from a hotel furniture recycling company. It is whitewashed oak with pink upholstery. It is in good shape, but it doesn't fit the style of the hotel at all. It is clean and everything works, so it isn't a problem. We'd prefer a place to sit rather than the extra bed, but from looking at the floor plan of the building our bathroom is twice the size of the others, as is our room.
We have a lovely view of the construction project out back. A worker arrived at around 4:30pm and proceeded to toss metal pieces from the second floor to the ground. We're expecting it to be very noisy tomorrow with all of the workers doing the same thing. The building is poured concrete, so we project that they will be removing the forms and throwing them to the ground starting at the crack of dawn. One has to wonder why they would put anyone in a room facing the construction when there are only two rooms occupied. We plan to be out most of the day tomorrow or we would ask for a different room.
We promptly feel asleep even with the noise going on outside our window and didn't wake up until 7:00pm. At this point we forced ourselves to walk back to the harbor to the other restaurant in town, Gamli Baukur. Click to view the MENU. We both ordered soup; one Icelandic Meat Soup and the other the Soup of the Day which is Navy Bean Vegetable. For some odd reason, the soup of the day is self-serve, but whatever. Neither soup was anything special, but they were edible. Neither of us liked the bread served with it, so we didn't eat most of it.
Dave ordered the Chicken Breast entree; Bill ordered the Fish of the Day which was Haddock. What Dave actually got is the BLT with Chicken Sandwich. He didn't care and didn't say anything. Besides, it is half the price of the entree. As with the soup, the meals were edible and about average, but we wouldn't order them again. We didn't have dessert. All we can say in favor of this place is that the decor is cute, as are the waiters, but that's all we have to recommend it.
We walked across the street to look at the sailing ships moored at the dock. If these are the whale watching boats it solidly confirms that there is no way in hell we're booking a tour. They're pretty to look at, but we'd be barfing over the side and never see a whale.
It is only a short walk back to the hotel. The area around the hotel looks very dreary. The houses are drab and ugly. It isn't necessarily run down, but it certainly isn't pretty. The sidewalks are all cracked with the concrete curbing disintegrating. The main street and the harbor are quaint though.
We were warned when we checked in that there is free internet, but, "It sometimes doesn't work." It does work so far, but there are some sites that won't connect (Tripadvisor, for example). Otherwise, it is relatively speedy and we were able to upload the blog with no problem, including the waterfall video.
The rain picked up after we got back to the hotel. It is supposed to rain tomorrow also, so maybe it will deter the construction workers from arriving too early in the morning. We can cream, can't we?
Day 18: Monday, May 18 - H˙savÝk - Fosshotel H˙savÝk
It is rainy/misty/foggy/pick-one today. The temperature is about the same ranging from 38-48 during the day.
The construction noise started abruptly with jack hammering at 8:30am. Our room is about as close as a room can get to the center of the action. Why would a hotel put the six guests staying here in all of the rooms closest to the construction? It defies logic, doesn't it? Or maybe that's why the only website we can't access from the hotel is Tripadvisor?
We are awake anyway, or should be, so it didn't bother us that much. Too bad the construction workers aren't burly super-model types, but you can't have everything.
When we walked out of the loading dock/hotel entrance, we were confronted by two huge cement trucks readying a pump to hurl the cement over the building and into the forms on the other side. There are only perhaps six guys working on this huge project. If this was happening at home there would be workers swarming all over it. No wonder it is taking so long. At this rate it will be years before it is finished. We will give the workers credit for showing up in the rain though.
We made it to the free breakfast in the restaurant at 9:30am and startled the woman in charge of it. Actually, she startled us when she greeted us from a table around the corner. There were no other guests there. The food is pretty much the same as everyplace else we've stayed, so we're used to it. There's nothing wrong with it except we're on day seventeen of exactly the same things...cold cuts, sliced Swiss cheese, sliced hard boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, bread you slice yourself, and cereal (Cheereos, corn flakes, and granola). There are whole oranges and apples at this place, plus a couple of containers of skyr. Again, it's fine, but always the same no matter where we stay, free or not.
The dining room is at the very tip top of the ugly scale. It looks like it has been partially remodeled several times without ever removing what was already there. So, we have two different drapery tracks, but no drapes, hideous glass ceiling lights that are half burned out, and painted over textured linoleum on the columns. This is the hotel's restaurant, not just a breakfast room. Hopefully the new addition will include a decent space to replace this one.
We can't quite figure out where the rooms are located. The hotel information says they have 46 deluxe rooms and 11 standard rooms. There are 35 rooms in our part of the hotel, so that accounts for most of the deluxe category. The original building is three stories and the older addition is five. There must be many rooms they aren't using anymore for one reason or another. Maybe they're even too ugly for Icelanders to tolerate?
On the way out we stopped to marvel again at the showroom off the lobby. We still can't fathom what a hotel of this size can do with a Las Vegas-esque showroom/lounge/whatever. It is probably the only place in the area to hold a wedding or other large event, but the population is less than 1,000 in the immediate vicinity.
We set off for our day trip to Asbyrgi at around 11:00am. It is about an hour's drive each way. It is very foggy, but not so much that we can't drive safely. It rained a few times, too. The fog lifted suddenly to reveal a beautiful coastline. We were compelled to stop at a penis-shaped stone monument to some guy. When we die, please do not attach a bronze bas relief of us to a giant penis. That reminds us, the construction workers have kindly drawn a penis in the dirt on the outside of the stairway lobby glass door that used to lead outside. There is no way the maids can't notice this, but it has been there since we arrived.
A sign depicting people pointing at scenery gestures off the highway, so we had to stop again. This time it is at a bird cliff that drops hundreds of feet straight into the ocean. The only birds we can see are seagulls, but supposedly there are puffins and other birds nesting here also. There is striking view of the coast to the south and the huge glacial river delta to the north. This delta is fed by the river that carved out the canyon we are on the way to see. It leads from the large glacier on the east coast that is constantly being suddenly melted by volcanic eruptions under the ice. Icelanders are always concerned about this because the flows often destroy farms and wash out bridges that are the only means of crossing the rivers.
We arrived at the turn off for Asbyrgi and stopped at the Visitor Center. It is raining, so we thought we'd go in and look at the displays for a few minutes to wait for the rain to pass. We are the only tourists here at the moment. From the parking lot we can see the overall view into the canyon. Depending on who you choose to believe the horseshoe-shaped canyon was formed when a Norse God's horse accidently touched his hoof to the ground or by a huge flood caused by an eruption under the glacier. The latter explanation is so outrageous that we choose to believe the former. Heck, anything's possible.
After we got back in the car it poured rain for a few minutes, so we just sat there and waited. Once the rain subsided we drove into the canyon. There is an island in the center with 300' sheer rock walls that rise straight up from the valley floor. The canyon's cliffs protect the largest aspen forest in Iceland. There is more vegetation here than we have seen anywhere else so far.
This area in general has more trees than we have seen prior to arriving in H˙savÝk. There have been many reforestation efforts around here, so the landscape it more interesting to look at than just brown barren fields. The city of Akureyri is planted with many trees, also. It makes a big difference.
It is only a few kilometers to the parking area at the farthest point in the canyon. There is a waterfall plunging from the top of the cliff right in the center of the canyon. It is so perfectly centered that it looks artificial. The rain started up again, so we sat in the car and waited. There is another couple doing the same thing. Eventually they got out of their car and bumbled around trying to arrange gigantic cameras and backpacks. We waited for them to move along, but gave up and started walking along a trail through the woods. Of course, they followed immediately behind us. Were they too chicken to go alone or what?
As we keep saying, people are so damn stupid! These cliff walls are 300' high and there are no guard rails anywhere. We're on the floor of the valley, so we can't get hurt if we try, but there are people on the top at the very edge looking down. It is windy, by the way. What the heck???
The sign at the beginning of the trail said something or other is 3.6km, but we arrived at the base of the waterfall in just a few minutes. There is a frozen over pond there that is evidence of a much larger waterfall gushing over the cliff face at some point in the distant past. The waterfall that is here now is tall, but there isn't much volume to it. The water disappears into the jumble of rocks at the bottom and then flows into the pond. We didn't see any outlet for the pond, but there must be one somewhere. The viewing deck for the pond is buried under six feet of snow.
We followed a pathway covered in snow to another viewing deck at the right end of the pond for another view of the waterfall. The weirdo's from the parking lot were always right behind us until we ditched them when they became distracted with their gigantic cameras again.
There is bus parking here and restrooms, so it is a big deal. Luckily there's hardly anyone here at this time of year. The only sounds are the hundreds of birds that live in the canyon walls and forest. It sounds like Jurassic Park when you step out of the car. If you are so inclined there are tons of trails and you too can get to the top of the cliff to defy death at the edge. There's a campground, too.
On the way out of the canyon we stopped at the gas station to see if they have any snacks. Supposedly there is a grill restaurant here, but all we found were some muffins and a proprietor trying to sell whatever he happened to collect over the years. The muffins were tasty and the guy was very nice, so we were fine with what he has. If you want a used CD this is the place to find it. He also sells wool sweaters and groceries. Well, he has them displayed, but how many he actually sells is up for speculation. He seemed happy to see us for sure.
We didn't make any stops on the way back to town except briefly at a recent car accident. A mangled car was lying upside down in a field. It must have been going very fast because by the look of it had rolled several times. One of the doors was bent backwards. Someone had already stopped and called for help, so we didn't just drive on and ignore it. We didn't see any of the occupants of the car walking around, so it didn't look very promising. It was a little foggy/rainy, but not enough to cause that sort of accident without the driver doing something reckless. All we know is that it wasn't there when we were passing by here a couple hours ago. If they had rolled off the other side of the road they would have plunged off the cliff into the ocean and nobody would have noticed.
It became very foggy and it poured rain on the outskirts of H˙savÝk. Once we arrived in town the rain stopped and the fog lifted, so we stopped at the gas station to wash the mud off the car. Many gas stations have washing stations in the back, so we decided to give it a shot. Bill went in and asked if there is a charge, but it is complimentary. The car was sort of washed off by the rain, but the before/after picture shows it wasn't THAT clean. We each washed one side of the car. It was so fun we want to get the car dirty again as soon as possible. Yes, we know we're simple.
We arrived back at the room at 3:30pm. The cement trucks are gone. Workers are in the process of moving the concrete forms up from the second floor to start on the third. We think this will be a five story addition. The windows at the end of the hallways are blocked out in the other tower, so it looks like that's where it will connect as well as to the small lobby by the stairs in our building. The work is noisy, but not TOO noisy. We can't open the drapes because the workers are literally right outside the window. Again, why didn't they put the guests on the other side of the hotel? On the other hand, the maid actually cleaned the room, gave us fresh towels and refilled the soap dispenser in the shower, which is a first.
At 7:00pm-ish we walked to Salka Restaurant, the place we had lunch yesterday. Click to view the MENU. Dave had the Americana Pizza again and it was again a slice of perfection. Bill was more daring and had the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich that he described as "nice". The Skyr dessert was OK, but nothing amazing. We don't quite get the big thrill over skyr other than that it is almost fat free. It has the consistency of whipped cream cheese, but has almost no flavor of its own. It's OK, just not as good as we expected it to be based on what we read beforehand.
It is raining again tonight. The construction workers left while we were at dinner and it is finally quiet.
Day 19: Tuesday, May 19 - Drive to Mřvatn - Hotel ReykjahlÝ
Lake Myvatn is one of the highlights of the north. All
major services are provided in the village of ReykjahlÝ, such as a mini
supermarket, bank, post office, health care centre, school and swimming pool. At
Lake Myvatn, different types of accommodation are available as well as good
restaurants and cafÚs.
The weather is better this morning; partly cloudy and in the 40's. Rain is forecast for the next couple of days.
Construction started promptly at 7:00am, but it isn't too terribly loud. Workers are erecting the forms for pouring concrete walls on the next floor up, so our view is now completely blocked. These rooms will not have a view of anything other than the rooms across the courtyard when this is finished.
Breakfast was the same as yesterday. Fine, but nothing unusual or different than we've had for the past two weeks.
Our final thoughts on H˙savÝk: If you are into whale watching this is your kind of town. Everything revolves around it. It is cute on its own and is a good base for a day trip to Asbyrgi Canyon. One night is probably plenty depending on how late you arrive the first night. The two restaurants are good, especially Salka which we highly recommend.
Our final thoughts on the Fosshotel H˙savÝk: Right now we don't recommend staying here although our room was large and nice enough. This place is a giant construction site and should remain that way for at least another year, if not longer. It is way overpriced in its current state. The staff is nice and helpful and it is the only hotel we've stayed at so far where the maid actually did more than empty the trash. We even got Kleenex and washcloths. This property will probably be very nice when the construction is finished and then we'd give it another try.
We'll hit the road at around 11:30am and make our way toward Myvatn. It isn't a long drive, so we have several sightseeing stops planned along the way. It was so foggy when we arrived here that we weren't aware that there is a beautiful view out across the fjord from the waterfront.
It is about 8km to the turn off toward Myvatn. After turning off the main highway we passed several upscale farms. There are more sheep farms in this area than we have seen elsewhere and the farms appear to be more prosperous. They certainly are larger complexes of houses and farm buildings.
The road climbs into the mountains where we ran into snow again. The road quickly turns to gravel/dirt/mud as the elevation increases, but it is well maintained and not a problem to drive on. Strangely enough, the gravel roads are much wider than the paved ones. These roads look more desolate than they really are. There is cell phone service almost everywhere except in the highlands where a 4-wheel drive is required.
We arrived at a seemingly abandoned monument and information sign. There's no signage on the road, but we saw a flagpole and turned off on a gravel track to get to it. This area is a reclamation effort that the plaque states was finished in 2010. They're trying to stop the spread of a highland desert that was caused by overgrazing. It looks about the same as all of the snowy areas we've seen, but there's probably more to it than we can see at this time of year. We do know that the panoramic view from this point is striking.
In the distance the Myvatn area and its collection of volcanic peaks becomes visible. The area we are entering is very active volcanically. The most recent big eruption at Myvatn was in the 1970's.
We bypassed tonight's hotel because we know it isn't staffed until check-in time (it only has 9 rooms) and turned off toward the geothermal area adjacent to the lake. This is where the most recent eruptions took place. There is a turquoise blue pond that looks pretty, but it full of sulfurous water too dangerous to swim in. Beyond that up the road into the volcanic hills are several geothermal wells belching clouds of steam. It is just a little creepy that the hills are still steaming from the eruption in the 1970's.
On the other side of the hills is a very active geothermal area that is similar to many parts of Yellowstone. It reeks of sulfur from miles away. The first thing you notice is the smell, then the clouds of steam rising everywhere. There is a wooden deck overlooking a large boiling pot of black water that looks menacing. The area is large and visitors are free to walk around. There are only a few warnings about walking carelessly off the pathways. The areas of light colored soil can be from 80-100C. There is a large section sort of roped off with a small sign warning that this section is unstable and severe injury can occur to anyone dumb enough to cross the rope.
By the way, by "roped off" we mean pieces of rebar about two feet high with a thin rope tied along the top. Stray footprints are an obvious sign that people have chosen to ignore the barrier. The ground is so hot in some places that it can melt the soles of your shoes.
You can walk right up to a boiling lake, deep craters of sulfur deposits, plopping mud pots, and steaming fissures. Some of the mud pots are huge. There are several of the super-hot areas that are roped off.
Part way up the hill from whence all of this came, is an abandoned geothermal project. The well exploded unexpectedly and it was abandoned. The pipe is still steaming away as is the fissure at the top of the hill.
Continuing around the semi-marked trail leads to a large sulfur bank and back up to the parking lot level. There are two huge fumaroles that you can walk right up to and touch if you are foolish enough. Someone did just that and quickly jumped back. The larger vent belches a plume of steam that reaches all the way back to the highway.
From here we continued to the scene of the Krafla eruption. This is one of the biggest eruptions in Icelandic history. The lava field is mostly covered with snow today, but it is still dramatic. They were drilling for the geothermal plant currently operating today when the eruption began along a huge fissure. Seems a strange coincidence, doesn't it?
Someone has turned an abandoned geothermal well into an art project with the well water powering a shower and a brightly colored toilet sitting under it.
At the end of the road is the Viti explosion crater. This area is still covered in snow, so the parking area, which is very crowded, is precarious. We have no idea if it is usually larger than the area they have plowed today, but we hope so. In the high season this must be chaotic. It is bad enough today.
From the parking lot it is a short, muddy walk to the edge of the crater. There is a frozen lake in the bottom of the crater. It is possible to walk all the way around the rim if you are so inclined. The sign says it takes about an hour to do that, but we only walked up to the highest point on the left side where we could gaze at the view toward the parking area and the snowy vista beyond.
There is another steaming area and a smaller lake on the outside of the crater. As usual, there are no barriers as to where you may walk except common sense. In the summer it is possible to drive to another crater, but the road hasn't been cleared yet.
After some maneuvering to get out of the snowed in parking area, we stopped at the nearby parking area for another volcanic site. The parking lot is what seems like miles from the thing you are supposed to look at and the snow is several feet deep. A sign warns not to attempt the trail if it is wet. Besides that, it looks like it is very far to walk to see yet another volcanic crater, so we passed.
It is 3:00pm at this point, so we drove back to the hotel area to find something for lunch and to kill another hour. The owners of the main hotel also own the smaller one where we are staying. It used to have its own restaurant, but they eliminated it after taking over a couple years ago. The only choice is the Gamli Bistro adjacent to the larger hotel.
The single server was overwhelmed because several couples arrived at the same time. She was very apologetic that we had to wait to get a menu, but it really wasn't very long. We weren't sure if we should order at the counter or if they have table service, but when other people went up there they were told to sit down and someone would serve them.
Dave ordered a cheeseburger and asked to eliminate the fries that come with it. He was offered a salad instead, which was nice. Bill had the quiche which also came with a salad. The food was fine, nothing special, and extremely overpriced. It got the job done though.
We arrived at our hotel at 3:45pm and were happy to see that a staff member had arrived. She was very nice and checked us in with no problem. She gave us a map of the lake features we will use tomorrow and told us the only option for dinner is the place where we just were. That's disappointing for sure. The menu is extremely limited. The larger hotel's restaurant is only open for groups until summer. We know of another place we will check out for dinner, but we're not sure where it is and it isn't mentioned online at all. Breakfast is served at this hotel from 8-10am and is included in the rate.
Our room is on the top (3rd) floor, so hauling our luggage up the stairs wasn't any fun. This is an old building, but it has all the modern conveniences. There is a sitting room at the top of the stairs with two rooms on each side of it. We're facing the front of the hotel, so we have a view toward the hills and a side window that looks out on the lake.
The room is large with two twin beds and a daybed, two wicker chairs and an IKEA closet thing that doesn't match the theme at all. The bathroom is large, too, and has all of the amenities we have come to not expect in Iceland. There is shampoo, washcloths, little soaps, a hairdryer and a bathtub. They almost got it all right until we noticed the gas station style toilet paper dispenser full of brown paper squares. What the heck is that? Oh well, apparently every Icelandic bathroom has to have something weird about it.
Oh, and get this, this hotel has laundry service! We couldn't believe it, so we asked the girl at the desk if they are just teasing us or is it for real. The form doesn't have any prices, so we're assuming it is very pricy. Later when we took the laundry down she warned that it will be "very expensive", but at this point we really don't care. Well, if it is $1,000 or something we'll care. At least the wi-fi is free.
We went out in search of the Cowshed Cafe at 7:00pm-ish. We found it just a kilometer or two up the road from the hotel. This place is half cow barn and half restaurant separate by large windows. We're not kidding, you have to walk by the cows in the barn being fed to get to the front door. The cow closest to the open door was quite personable.
The parking lot is nearly full and the place is packed. We have no idea where all of these people came from, but everyone in the area seems to be here. The hostess was extremely apologetic that there is at least an hour wait. We said we'd come back tomorrow and she said the best time is to come before 6:00pm.
So, back to the bistro we went. Dave had a chicken salad (this dish is on every menu we have seen for some reason) and Bill had the lamb cutlets. The lamb was good, but the salad was a bore. To make up for it Dave ordered waffles for dessert that were topped with homemade berry jam and whipped cream. Bill had the skyr cake (like cheesecake) that the waitress claims is her favorite. It was OK, but we're still not sold on the allure of skyr.
Back at the hotel we delivered our laundry to the woman at the front desk. Again she advised that it would be very expensive, but didn't give us a price. There's not much we can do about it when this is only the second place we've been that even offers laundry service.
Day 20: Wednesday, May 20 - Mřvatn - Hotel ReykjahlÝ
It's a nice day today and partly cloudy. It is still warmer than it was when we first arrived in Iceland, so we're not freezing all the time.
The hotel's included breakfast is skimpy. They set it out once and never replenish anything. We arrived an hour before it ends and almost everything was depleted except cereal. Shortly after we sat down a very nice woman came out of the kitchen and offered to make bacon and eggs for us. That's a first since we arrived in Iceland. We've never had anything freshly cooked to order before this.
We left the hotel for our excursion around Myvatn today. This lake is infested with midges during the summer, but we're safe from them today. In the summer it can be unbearable without a head net. They sell them at the grocery store if you don't bring one with you.
If we didn't stop anywhere it would only take about 30 minutes to circle the lake, so it isn't very much distance to cover. The closest stop is a parking area for a hike up to the top of Hverfjall, a tephra cone from an old eruption. We'd rather look at it from a distance, so we skipped it.
The most important stop is at the Dimmuborgir Lava Field. There is a great view over the lake from here, too. This depression was a marshy area that was covered by a massive eruption. A huge lava lake formed on top of the marsh and the rising steam cooled the lava to form fantastical columns of rock. When the lake drained away, the crusted over top collapsed, but the columns remained standing.
You can choose from several trails that take from one hour to all day depending on what you are interested in. We wandered around through the formations for about an hour and felt we saw everything major. It is sort of like walking through a set for Star Wars with the twisted columns all around. At the rim you can see how deep the lake actually was, which is impressive. You can use your imagination to decide what some of the formations resemble. One looks like a couple about to kiss, for example. There are several caves and a huge crack in the ground that runs for several hundred feet.
There aren't any sites listed on the map after this, but we turned off at a small parking area for Hofdi with no idea what the point is. We followed a dirt road on foot through an aspen forest, and then climbed some rustic stairs to the top for a view of the lake. A short drive away is an area near the lakeshore where you can clearly see the layers of crust formed on top of molten layers that drained away.
There is a small collection of hotels at the southern end of the lake, all of which look closed. We don't know if they actually aren't open yet, are out of business, or just don't have any guests. The place we are staying doesn't look open either since there are no cars out front until everyone returns from sightseeing.
There is a map of a lengthy trail through a group of pseudo craters adjacent to one of the hotels. These craters are formed by steam explosions when hot lava meets underground water, so they have never actually erupted lava. The trail is being repaired and is mostly crushed lava rock in pieces too big to comfortably walk on. The rest is a muddy mess. We took the short trail and still got bored. When you've seen one pseudo crater you've seen them all. We'll concede that one of the craters has a small depression in the center filled with water, but otherwise they're all the same. Yawn.
Driving north up the other side of the lake, we passed another tall volcano that is visible from all around the lake. Out on a peninsula down a bumpy dirt road is Sigurgeir's Bird Museum. We expected a collection of stuffed birds in someone's garage, so were pleasantly surprised to find a stylish turf-roofed building with a spectacular view of the lake. There are birds of all kinds in the shallows and at the lakeshore. If you are into birding this is the place to come.
We're the only visitors and it doesn't look very open, but the door was unlocked so we went in. A very, um, eccentric, but extremely kindly older Icelandic woman came out and asked if she could help us. There is a cafe here also, but she is the only person working here. She's perfect for this job since she speaks in a sort of slow calming manner that fits the quiet atmosphere. We paid our ISK1000 per person admission and she took us into the museum area.
She explained that this collection was made by a young man who lived in a simple farm in the area. He had been collecting birds since he was a little boy and always wanted to open a museum to display them. Unfortunately, he was drowned in a freak accident on the lake when he was only 37. The birds were stored in very primitive buildings until his friends and relatives could pull together the means to construct a permanent museum to house the collection.
The building is very well done and much more sophisticated that you'd ever expect. The birds are displayed in glass cases with dramatic lighting. When you push a button above the identification plaques along the display, a blue LED lights up to tell you which bird it belongs to. Being the only people here this concept works just fine, but if a huge group or a bus load arrived it would ruin the experience. There is a trickling fountain in the center of the room that runs under a glass bridge and out through the cafe.
We chatted with the woman in the cafe for a few minutes after we were finished looking at the birds. She said that it is unbearably crowded in this area from mid June through early September, so we chose the best time to come. As quickly as they arrive, all of the tourists vanish and the locals have the area to themselves for the next nine months.
We drove the sort distance back toward the hotel. We stopped in at the grocery store/gas station across the street to fill with gas up for tomorrow and get something for a light lunch. The market has a grill, so Dave ordered two of the famous Icelandic hot dogs; Bill ordered a grilled ham/cheese/pineapple sandwich. We amused the girl behind the counter when she asked why we came all this way from California. We said it is because it isn't hot, it isn't on fire, and the toilets use 400 gallons of water per flush. The toilets use so much water that they are an attraction all their own for us. Every time we flush one we're flabbergasted by the gushing avalanche of water. She thought we were joking, but we weren't.
Dave was asked what he wanted on the hot dog, so he said, "Everything," which is how you are supposed to get them. She looked surprised and he asked, "Isn't that how you are supposed to eat them," and she said yes, but foreigners never do it right. "Everything" means raw chopped onion on the bottom topped with crispy fried onions, mayonnaise with mustard mixed in and a choice of regular or chili ketchup. They are very good, but perhaps not something we think Iceland deserves to be famous for. Bill's sandwich was as disgusting as it sounds and he loved it.
We were back at the hotel by 3:00pm. Our room was not made up today, but we don't know if we were overlooked or that they don't clean rooms that are staying over. We don't need anything, so we don't care, but it is the first time that has happened.
At 6:00pm we drove to the Cowshed Cafe for dinner hoping we arrived early enough this time. The parking lot was nearly full, but there were plenty of tables available. We had time to look at the young cows enjoying their dinner in the barn on the way in. We stood at the hostess stand for a few minutes until she noticed us and said to sit anywhere we want, so we did.
Here is where it went off the rails and what explains why they get overwhelmed enough to turn people away. They don't have enough menus to go around. From the look of it they have maybe ten copies for four times that many guests, so we had to wait until someone else was finished to get a menu. We don't care since we're not going anywhere, but no wonder they don't turn the tables over very quickly. Eventually we got menus and ordered so she could give our menus to someone else.
Dave ordered a tomato and mozzarella starter made with their homemade cheese. It wasn't anything special. It came with their Geysir Bread that is baked underground for 24 hours. It is a heavy, dark, sort of sweet bread and was quite good.
We both ordered the Sliced Lamb entree after seeing what a mess the Lamb Shank is (it is on the bone and looks like something the Flintstones would serve). It took forever for our meals to arrive to the point that the manager/hostess came over to apologize. Again, we don't care, but no wonder they give up trying to seat people by 7:00pm. As soon as all of the tables were seated they started telling newcomers that they probably wouldn't get in. And yet they still tell people to walk right in and sit down. They had to throw people out because they sat at tables intended for people already waiting. It is totally disorganized. Everyone working there is VERY nice, but they have no clue how to run a restaurant.
When our food finally did arrive it was very good and what looks like a huge portion. However, by the time we cut out the bones it was a normal amount of meat. It came with a salad and a big potato cake that was almost very good. After another lengthy wait we were offered dessert. Dave had the Geysir Bread Ice Cream; Bill had Blueberry Cake. The ice cream was very good with chocolate sauce and whipped cream on the plate with it. It tasted like homemade chocolate chip ice cream. The cake was more like a coffee cake, but it was fine.
We wondered how the ridiculous Icelandic method of settling the bill would work in a large, busy restaurant. It doesn't is the short answer. A long line formed at the cash register with the cashier trying to figure out what each person had. You never get a bill at all in Iceland. You go to the cash register when you are done and the cashier tries to guess what you had based on things that were rung up as ordered. It makes no sense at all in a place this big and busy. It seems to work, but it is a lot easier to do it the way every other country does it and give the patrons a check. We have seen the screen at a couple of checkout computers prior to this and the tables not yet paid for are highlighted. So, the cashier pretty much cycles through all of them until the patron agrees that is what his party ordered. Ugh. Oh, and the place where you pay is at the counter in the middle of the dining room. We have no idea what the hostess station by the front door is used for.
There is a lot of hype around this place, but we don't see any way this place would function in the summer when it is actually busy. They don't take reservations and they start turning people away by 7:00pm. It does have a beautiful view of a field of baby sheep cavorting with the lake in the background. Apparently they don't know they are going to end up on the plate of those looking through the windows since they seem quite happy. The food is good and not as overpriced as it could be under the circumstances. The service is ridiculous though. Luckily they're friendly, but come on. It took two hours for us to finish dinner.
Our laundry came back and it wasn't any more expensive than any other hotel where we've sent things out before. Of course, it was expensive, but not THAT expensive (less than $100 for two big bags). We sent out less than that in Japan one time and it was over $200.
It started to rain as we left the restaurant and it looks like it will continue for the night.
Day 21: Thursday, May 21 - Drive to Seyisfj÷rur - Hotel Aldan
A place of singing waterfalls and peculiar characters,
Seyisfj÷rur is a welcoming town booming with creativity and rich in history.
Inhabited by about 700 people the town acts as one big family, and a friendly
one at that. Everybody is welcome to our little paradise and we want to share
the goodness with you. Visit Seyisfj÷rur, experience the flourishing art
scene, try our guided tours and delightful hiking trails. Enjoy the local
cuisine and the sensation of our unique town.
The weather looks pretty good today, but there are some storm clouds lingering, so we'll have to see how things develop later on.
Breakfast at the hotel was the same. Apparently they do not replenish the food once it is set out in the morning. We arrived an hour before it ends and took the last glasses. We're tired of the cold cut thing, so we both had cereal and toast. They have homemade peanut butter, which is nice (every place has had it). When we were almost finished the staff woman offered bacon and eggs, but we declined. It is a nice little extra that nowhere else we've stayed has provided.
Our final thoughts on Myvatn: This area is a must see for every tourist to Iceland. There is a lot to see, but it can all be done in one long day if you are short on time. If you are into bird watching this is definitely the place for you. Hiking? Lots of interesting places for that, too. The geothermal areas are interesting and you can drive a short distance up to the top of the volcano nearby for spectacular views. Definitely recommended.
Our final thought on Hotel ReykjahlÝ: This hotel almost gets it right. It is the only hotel so far that provided shampoo, Kleenex AND washcloths. The room is spacious and comfortable. Breakfast is OK with the added bonus of cooked-to-order eggs and bacon. Plus, they have laundry service. That alone is a good reason to stay here. With only nine rooms it isn't overflowing with groups like the main hotel up the road always is. A grocery store and gas station is across the street for snacks and lunch. The only restaurant within walking distance is very limited, but better than nothing. Beautiful view of the lake from most rooms. The major negative is the gas station toilet paper dispenser, but we went to a grocery store and bought "normal" paper, so problem solved. There is only one staff person on duty at a time, but both of them were very helpful. We'd stay here again.
We'll drive to the east coast today with one scheduled stop for sightseeing on the way. Our stop is at a major tourist attraction, Dettifoss waterfall. There are two other waterfalls that are accessible from the same parking lot in summer, but because of the snow only Selfoss is possible to visit today.
The road to the parking area was recently paved, so the 24km drive off the ring road is easy. There is a parking area at a very nice new viewpoint, but it isn't marked from the road. We just happened upon it. The gravel road from the west coast is closed and blocked with a gate until mid June. The road on the other side of the river is in the same condition.
At the parking area we found a lot of people and several buses, but not nearly as many as will be here in a month or so. The area around the restrooms (which are porta-potties) is completely flooded as is the access to the trail to the falls. There is no indication from the parking lot how far the walk is to the falls, by the way. There is a sign announcing that due to the weather conditions the walk "may be difficult". They aren't kidding.
The "trail", which is nothing more than sticks stuck in the snow, is covered with several feet of icy snow. If you follow the sticks faithfully you'll end up falling through the ice into various streams underneath. In one area a small waterfall plunges several feet and disappears under the snow where everyone is supposed to walk and comes out on the other side. So is there an ice bridge over a rushing river we could plunge into at any moment or what?
We came to a distance marker at the halfway point indicating the remaining walk to Dettifoss (.5km) and the trail to Selfoss (.6km). We reached some basalt rocks and had to climb up to follow the markers. Sometimes the trail is muddy, sometimes it is just wet, and then it is snow again. The old ladies making their way back to the bus did not look very amused.
Once at the Dettifoss viewing area, if you can call it that, you forget all about the treacherous walk. It is spectacular. The swirly black and white frozen spray at the edge is like a giant art project. By the way, in case you can't figure it out yourself there is a tiny sign indicating a fall danger. It is no more than a foot from the edge of the cliff that plunges straight down 300' into the river. There are no barricades, ropes or anything else to prevent people from hanging over the edge if they so desire. And the rocks are icy for good measure. Click to view a short VIDEO.
The power of the water is evident looking downriver at the layers it has etched through to create a deep canyon. This is glacial runoff water so if a volcano erupts under a glacier this is where the water goes.
Believe it or not, we managed to walk to Selfoss also; only another .6km through more snow. We didn't even fall through the ice, although several other people already had based on the holes in the snow. Selfoss is a horseshoe-shaped waterfall upstream from Dettifoss, so it has the same enormous flow of water. We were amused by the rope barrier that you might expect to be keeping people away from the cliff edge. In fact it is directing everyone toward the cliff and away from a foliage restoration area. There are no barriers at the edge of the cliff and this one plunges even further down.
Selfoss is just as impressive as Dettifoss and you can, if you so choose, walk right up to the top of it. You'd have to wade through part of the river to do that, so we passed and accepted the view we could get from dry rock. There is a dramatic view down canyon from here, as well. A sleet storm started just as we were turning back to the parking lot. The ice fell so hard that we had to stop walking and turn our back to it. It sure did change the view of the canyon when it changed from ice to big clumps of snow.
We were coated with snow and ice by the time we made our way back to the car. We forgot to mention at the beginning that in order to get to the trail you have to cross a set of boards laid across a flooded area. These boards are just lying there not connected to anything, so they rock from side to side. Imagine a bus load of old ladies doing that. Oh, and we saw a woman in a short skirt wearing flip flops on her feet on the trail. OMG!
A young couple was standing at the edge of the flood contemplating the options when we walked up coated with snow. They asked how far it is and we pointed "over there" and then turn left and it is another .5km. "And by the way you end up looking like us." (We're coated with snow and ice)
By the time we reached the car the snow was falling horizontally and coating the passenger side of the car. If Dave had opened the door the car interior would have instantly been filled with ice. We're both already soaked, so no big deal really, but it is cold. The parking lot is completely white, but people are still setting out on the trail to the waterfall.
We're a little nervous that the road to our destination might close if the snow continues, so we started driving back toward the ring road. About halfway down the road the snow stopped and all was back to normal. The people driving in probably wondered why all the cars coming out are covered with ice. Just goes to prove that you can't predict Icelandic weather and if you don't like what's happening right now just wait a few minutes and it will be completely different.
Back on the ring road we turned inland for a two-hour plus drive through pretty much a wasteland created over time by endless floods from glaciers melted by volcanic eruptions. Most of the highlands area is covered with drifts of grey gravel strewn with larger rocks and/or lava flows. No wonder they used it for practicing moon landings. If it was red it would look like recent pictures of Mars. This is the only taste of the highlands available to visitors without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Even so, the highland roads have warning signs to the effect that if you go beyond a certain point and something goes wrong you will be rescued "at great expense to you." We'll pass.
After driving for at least an hour through this empty space we finally started descending from the high country. This area of mountain valleys looks the same as on the west coast with farms and such lining the hillsides. We pulled off at an unmarked parking area and found a waterfall equal to any we have seen so far, but not shown on any maps or in guide books.
Another hour or so and we passed through the only town in this part of Iceland that is of any size. There are the usual services found in large towns, but it isn't particularly attractive. Then we started up into the mountains on the coast. There is a great view over the valley below from halfway up. As per usual, we came to the highest part of the mountains and it is snow all around. We can see why this road was closed last week. There is no snow on the road at all now, but that can change on a moment's notice. The roads are usually so clear of snow it looks like they are heated to melt it (they aren't, it just looks that way).
We started the dramatic descent from the mountains into the town of Seyisfj÷rur. It started to snow again, but only briefly. There is a very dramatic view of the town from this road, but we couldn't stop to get a photo of it. We did happen upon another beautiful waterfall on the outskirts of town.
The main road runs right into the reception building for Hotel Aldan, our home for the next two nights. There are no rooms in this building; just a restaurant that we were informed is not open for the season yet. It would have been nice to know that when we booked, but whatever. The woman who checked us in was very nice. She walked outside to point out the building where our room is located and the general direction of the two options for dining in town. One is the gas station (no kidding) and the other is a bistro behind said gas station.
Our room is in the more upscale of Hotel Aldan's two options. It is in an old bank building near the church, tucked back behind some old houses near the harbor. People sure were more spry back in the day. The steps are very high and there is no other way to get into the lobby of the building. There is a beautiful curved wooden staircase to the second floor where a cute little landing is decorated with antiques. At the end of the hallway there is sitting area with coffee and tea making equipment, not to mention a view of the fjord.
The building is fairly modern inside, but they have kept most of the old features. Unfortunately one of those is a very squeaky wooden floor. There is no way anyone can sneak through the halls of this building. Our room is at the end of the hallway, so there shouldn't be much traffic, if any. We doubt many people will be staying here at all.
Our room is cute with two puffy twin beds, a little sitting area, and a nice bathroom. The slope of the roof is a bit of an issue for us, but it isn't unbearable. We'll probably have to hit our head a few times to learn, but such is life. There is a stocked mini-bar in the desk, which is a first. If we choose to spend a king's ransom we have enough tiny bottles of booze to throw quite a party. There is a small skylight that opens. Our window overlooks a residential area and the towering mountains beyond. The room is pretty damn cute actually. They provide shampoo, little soaps, and conditioner, but no Kleenex or washcloths. We never know what each hotel is going to provide, so we're prepared for anything.
It was 5:30pm before we were settled in and had the luggage hauled up the stairs. So, we bundled up again and walked around the river area to get to the luxurious environs of the gas station in search of dinner. There is indeed a Skaftfell Bistro behind the gas station, so that's where we went. It is the town hangout being a combination bar, restaurant and internet cafe, but it wasn't crowded. The menu is handwritten at the counter plus they have a standard pizza menu. We went with pizza. The place is kind of a dump, but it looks clean and the staff is pleasant.
The pizza was very good. Not fabulous, but we both liked what we got. When Dave went up to get some cake for each of us for dessert he asked the woman at the counter what all the horses we see are used for. We expected her to say they are for food, but thankfully she said they are very expensive and sold abroad for upwards of Ç50,000 each. She agreed that the tan ones with the long blond manes look like supermodels posing with a wind machine blowing their hair. They do, too.
Dave commented that we are very happy to find pizza she said most tourists complain because they aren't serving Icelandic food. We assured her we have had enough of lamb and arctic char for a while. She asked if we have had reindeer yet. We haven't seen it on a menu, but we saw signs warning of reindeer crossing the road. They were brought here when the king of Denmark decided that Icelanders needed to settle down, but they weren't interested and just let them wander freely, which they've been doing ever since.
We stopped at the gas station mini mart to get Bill some Gatorade and see what they have in the way of food. Not much is the answer, but they do have hot dogs, burgers, fish and chips, etc. The whole place smells like frying grease. The jolly woman at the cash register seemed to be enjoying herself.
On the walk back to the hotel we passed a yard with a group of "cool" wood carvings. This is an artsy community with many galleries and other enterprises supported by creative types. We'll walk around and check it all out tomorrow.
We made it back to the hotel by 7:00pm, done for the day. It hailed a few times which is interesting when you are in a room with a skylight.
Day 22: Friday, May 22 - Seyisfj÷rur - Hotel Aldan
There was a lot of wind and other weather going on over night, but it is normal this morning. This location among the tall mountains seems to catch the rain clouds, so it sort of spits from the sky all the time. The temperature is the same, in the 40's, so not bad under the circumstances. It isn't windy now.
We walked over to the check-in building/restaurant/coffee house at 9:00am for the included breakfast. A young woman asked for our room number and told us to find a seat and help ourselves to the buffet. The spread is the same as usual, plus a waffle maker. Coffee has to be ordered at the counter, but otherwise it is all self service. The way it is arranged is confusing though. Everyone who came in looked confused. If you are running a business and your customers can't figure out right away what is going on, you are doing it wrong. Every hotel in Iceland seems to be trying to reinvent the wheel. Guests never know what to expect or how anything works. It is as though each property makes it all up from scratch.
We're surprised how many guests stayed at the hotel last night. It isn't crowded at breakfast, but there are at least ten couples in the restaurant. Maybe most of them are in the cheap seats in the other building? We only heard two other rooms of guests arrive last night, but there could be more downstairs.
We have nothing major on the schedule for today. That's a good thing because when Dave asked at reception if there is anything we should see in town the woman said, "In town? Not really." Then she advised driving to the end of the road on each side of the fjord and wandering around town to look at the old buildings. That's what we had planned to do anyway, so at least we know we're not missing anything.
Our drive started on the main (only) road through town passing the Bistro where we had dinner. In this town even the area behind the gas station is picturesque. Beyond that we drove through Barney's Ass (you may recall a reference to this from one of our other road trips) and onto a gravel road. Wow, the fish cannery or whatever it is sure does REEK. Yikes. We can sometimes smell it near the hotel, but so far it hasn't come inside. It doesn't smell like fish particularly, so we're not sure exactly what it is. It's sort of a combination of shrimp and musk, but it is probably herring or whatever is big here.
There is a beautiful waterfall every few hundred feet that cascades from high up the mountains. It almost looks artificial or like a movie set. Rounding a bend reveals a spectacular view of the fjord toward the ocean and the farms across the water. The road ends at a farm around the bend, so we turned back for a view of the fjord toward the town.
Passing through town, we followed the street to the other side of the fjord where we found a parking area for a large multi-cascade waterfall we could see from the other side of the fjord. No one else was there when we arrived. This is one of those places where there is no defined path at all. We followed what appears to be a trail in the grass, but we can't see the main falls from this side. So, we walked across the wooden one-lane bridge and hiked up another vague trail where we could get the full effect of the falls.
One other car arrived after us, so they had the advantage of seeing us come back from the correct trail. Again, this "trail" is no more than sort of trampled grass that could just as well have been made by the sheep judging by the amount of poo along the way.
The road turned to dirt and we passed several cute groups of sheep with lambs frolicking or curled up with their mother. The group at the feeding station was offended when Dave yelled out, "Kitty!" to them. You had to be there, but Bill almost peed his pants at that remark. However, it made them look.
Exclaiming "kitty" every time he saw a sheep, Dave was only distracted by a roadside waterfall. That kept him quiet for a minute or two, but only until another one came up. He had one more chance at the kitty remark when we found a very cute mother with her lambs laying the grass by the side of the road.
We know this is an art community and all, but what's up with a yarn-bedecked log randomly lying in a field by a remote dirt road? Apparently it is an art installation to someone who doesn't care if only three people see it.
Back in town we put the car back where we found it and set out walking around to see what we can find. There is a twisted steel girder sculpture close to the hotel that doesn't look like much. Then Dave remembered reading that it is a memorial made of the wreckage from a factory that was pushed into the fjord by an avalanche.
Nearby is a house with a mural painted on the side. Dave declared it to be the "Hooker House", but Bill wasn't quite as convinced. That is until we walked around to the front of the house. The mural on the front depicts sailing ships coming back to harbor, so those women aren't dancing; they're displaying their wares.
There are some elaborate old buildings on the street in front of the hotel. This used to be the downtown back in the day with our hotel being the bank.
Across the main street is a house advertising arts and crafts, so we wandered over to check it out. Only a tiny room in the house is used as a store. The "arts and crafts" are beautiful open-weave crocheted hoodies and wraps, plus some ugly paintings. The artist who makes the crochet work was sitting in the center of the room working and was very friendly. He's French, but has lived in Iceland for ten years. He moved from Reykjavik to this artists' community to live at a slower pace. He said that young artists come for workshops in the summer, but he gets tired of the 18-year-olds thinking everything is "so awesome". The way he said it was very funny.
We asked him where everyone gets furniture and such since we haven't seen any stores. He said that they can get to Akureyri in a couple of hours or order online and have it delivered "eventually". Locals fly to Reykjavik for anything major. He said flying is like taking a taxi and everyone does it.
He told us that there are fourteen cruise ships calling here this summer with the first one coming next week. We're talking 2,000 passengers plus, not Crystal Symphony. The population of the town is 500. Picture what will happen when those ships disgorge 2,000 people into this town with only one tiny restaurant! The first one is a Princess ship.
There are many colorful old kit houses in town that have been restored. Some are guesthouses, but most are still private homes. We walked back to the little harbor area and looked at the beautiful view again before heading back to the hotel. We arrived back in our room at 3:30pm and promptly feel asleep until 5-ish.
At 7:00pm we walked back to the Bistro for dinner. It is much busier tonight, but we arrived just before a rush that filled all of the tables. They turned away a group of eight and told them to come back in 30 minutes. We had pizza again and it was fine. After dinner we went to the gas station to see if they have anything desert-ish, but decided to pass on the soft-serve ice cream. The place looks clean enough, but it sort of creeped us out for some reason.
We walked back to the hotel and declared ourselves done for the day at 8:30pm.
Day 23: Saturday, May 23 - Drive to H÷fn - Fosshotel Vatnaj÷kull
This community in the Southeast is also called
Hornafjardarbaer. It is situated on a spit of land in the only navigable estuary
of the country. The main trades are fishing, fish processing, tourism and
commerce. People started settling here around an important trading post more
than a century ago and the town received its municipal rights in 1988. Visitors
are offered varied recreational opportunities, sightseeing tours, glacier tours,
golf, boat tours, whale watching, fishing, cultural events, museums etc. During
summer the Glacier Exhibition in the old supermarket building is worth a visit.
Good accommodations and restaurants take care of the bodily needs and as
everywhere in the coastal towns, fresh fish should be the priority choice of
those on the menu. A part of the municipal landscape has been declared a nature
Ah, the morning breeze is lightly blowing through Barney's Ass on the way into town...PPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!! OMG. Other than that the weather is the same as usual, overcast and in the 40's. We're expecting light rain at some point today, but nothing major.
We made it to breakfast around 9:00am. It must be less busy today because there is just one woman working the check-in building. The food is fine, but getting very tedious.
Our final thoughts on Seyisfj÷rur: It's cute. This is a place to relax and slow down. Several Icelandic people told us it is their favorite town to visit. There are no major attractions here unless it is during the summer arts festival, but we enjoyed it anyway.
Our final thoughts on Hotel Aldan: It's cute, too. Our room was nice and cozy. The furniture looks antique, but it is in good shape and not too old lady-ish. The amenities provided are better than average for Iceland. The small staff is friendly and willing to help. Breakfast was OK. We'd stay here again and can recommend it. Be sure to book the Hotel Aldan rooms and not the other building with the shared bathroom. We can't vouch for that one.
Today is mostly just driving from here to there. It takes all day because the road weaves along the fjords. Of course, we'll stop whenever we see something worth looking at, but we don't know yet what that might be.
We'll cut to the chase; it rained and/or was foggy for the entire 4-hour drive. So, we didn't see much of the scenery above the ground. That made the drive a bit of a bore, but we managed to find a few things to look at.
In the town down the hill where we turn onto the ring road, we passed a house with several cute metal sculptures along the side of the house. The town itself has constructed several huge baskets as planters along the road. That's about all of interest in the town though. We stopped at a hydroelectric facility across a nearby river, but we couldn't get close to it. The nice thing about it is that the river it crosses has so much flow that the low profile dam doesn't back up and flood the valley at all.
We drove for an hour until we reached a mountain pass where the road turned to gravel. Don't believe anything you read about the ring road being paved all the way. We can tell you from today's experience that there are at least two 40+km sections that are gravel. Our car is filthy again to prove it. The most treacherous parts of the road are the areas that are unpaved. The winding road from the dizzying heights of the pass down into the valley isn't paved and there are no guard rails. It is raining and foggy to add to the thrill.
Back at the coast, we stopped at every turn-out we came across. One had a stone monument to a bunch of dead guys, but the view of the foggy coastline was worth looking at long enough to stretch our legs.
We drove through another of Iceland's creepy long tunnel under a mountain. A sign sort of pointed off the road to a view of a huge waterfall hidden in a chasm behind the hill. We took the wrong road at first, but quickly figured out how to get a good view of the falls. Click to view a VIDEO. A few miles farther along we stopped at another waterfall tumbling over a big solid lava cliff.
During a downpour we stopped at some rock pinnacles sticking up out of a field. There are informational signs in the parking lot telling us something about Iceland becoming a Christian nation, so we're calling these the "Christian Rocks". There is a polished granite rock with a cross etched onto it incongruously placed among the natural formations.
Another viewpoint revealed a mysterious panorama of a black sand beach (so far all beaches in Iceland have been black sand). And then we have the most unusual site today, a herd of reindeer crossing the highway.
Four-something hours after we left Seyisfj÷rur we arrived at the FossHotel Vatnaj÷kull in the middle of nowhere. We have high hopes for this hotel because it is all new. There was an existing hotel here, but they did a complete makeover and added a two-story wing of new rooms. Everything looks new and trendy. We can't see any remnants of the old hotel, so perhaps they tore down the old wing. Spoiler alert: This is where it goes off the rails.
At the front desk the snooty young woman there acted as though we don't have a reservation. Dave booked this directly with FossHotels and received a reminder e-mail yesterday, so we know we have a reservation. He handed her the printout of the confirmation. That shut her up, but it took forever for her to figure out what is going on. She told us we should make a reservation for dinner because, "We like to know when people are coming." OK, what restaurant doesn't? We suggested 6:30pm and she said 6:00pm would be better because a large group is coming at 6:30pm. Fine with us. (Make note of the time SHE told us to show up.)
The rooms have all have names of geological features in the area, which is cute. The hallway is nice, as is the lobby. But, here we go again with incorporating a bar with the front desk <sigh>. The best part is that there is an elevator.
The room, at first glance (sound familiar) looks very nice and modern. There are two twin beds pushed together, a couple of chairs in the corner, a nice wooden closet unit and wall-mounted LCD TV. The room is small, but functional. At first glance. When it isn't raining we have a view of a glacier in the distance.
Here we go again with the ridiculous bathroom designs. The toilet is in a little room off the entry hall and has a tiny sink with a wall-mounted pump soap dispenser. There are no towels in the toilet/sink room, but there is one hook. The door is frosted glass with a 1/2" gap all the way around. You know what that means without us spelling it out, right? The bathroom floor isn't clean and we're trying to convince ourselves that the stains in the brand new toilet are just rust.
The shower is around the corner behind its own glass door that opens directly into the bedroom. There is a counter in front of it with what we assume is intended to be the bathroom sink because it has a mirror over it on metal stilts. There is no wall between this set-up and the rest of the room and nothing to prevent water or whatever else from falling off the counter. The counter is metal and there is a bar stool type chair at it. Maybe it is supposed to double as a desk, but who knows. The light above it is trendy, but is not sufficient for working at the desk since it is about as bright as a night light. The towels are laid out on the counter, but there is nowhere to hang them up after they are used. In the drawer is a hairdryer that is supposed to be mounted to the wall. There is a blank plate for it in the toilet room, but that must not have worked out because it is just laying the drawer with all of its parts.
The light switch for the shower cubical controls the entire room, so there's no way to take a shower without waking up your partner. These lights include two spotlights in the ceiling that shine directly on the bed. The switch by the bed only works the light over the sink area. It is a bare light bulb in a clear glass globe with a hole cut out of the side. It is dusty.
Oh wait, we haven't come to the best part yet...
At 6:00pm, as instructed by the woman at the front desk, we showed up at the restaurant. Or we think we did. There's no way to differentiate the lobby from the bar from the restaurant. What looks like bar seating is four steps higher than the dining area by the windows, which makes sense, but there are two stairways and no indication where to go to be seated.
A young non-Icelandic man we assume is the restaurant manager came up and asked if we are here for dinner. We said, "Yes," to which he replied (we swear), "Well, we like it when guests make a reservation for a table." Dave then said, "We made a reservation for 6:00pm." His reply to that, "The restaurant doesn't open until 6:30pm" Dave: "Maybe you should tell the front desk then." Him: "Are you sure you made a reservation? (implying we are lying)" Dave: "Yes, and the woman at the front desk told us NOT to come at 6:30pm and to be here at 6:00pm." Him: "Well, the chef isn't even here yet." Dave: "Maybe you should get your act together? What time will that be and when should we come back?" Him: "6:30pm" Dave: "You have a big group coming then, are you sure?" Him: "It'll be fine." Dave: "OK, we'll come back, but please get it together by then."
The manager guy went to the front desk to check the list (again, to be sure we aren't lying) and tells the guy at the front desk that the restaurant doesn't open until 6:30pm. The guy at the desk says, "Why not?" Ugh.
OK, we came back at 6:30pm again with no clue where to go or where the entrance to the restaurant actually is. There's nobody who appears to work there standing around, so Bill went to the front desk/bar. The original manager guy intercepted him and said to sit anywhere because, "We don't assign tables." Dave's thinking, "Maybe if you did this would all make more sense?", but he didn't say anything. It was suggested that we sit in the bar area because the group (of Chinese tourists) are taking up most of the dining area.
The group is surprisingly patient considering that they sat there for twenty minutes before they even got water. And then only because the tour leader stomped into the kitchen and forced them to serve it.
We were given menus and actually had our order taken promptly. The prices here are outlandish even for Iceland. The menu selections are about the same as we have seen at all hotels. Dave ordered the Lobster Soup as a starter; Bill had Carpaccio. Both were fine, nothing exciting, but fine. The waitress asked if we wanted to keep our bread plates when she took the appetizer plates and Bill very clearly said, "Yes." So she took them away along with all of our cutlery.
Our entrees were Filet of Beef BÚarnaise and Baked Cod on Mashed Sweet Potato. We had to ask for cutlery after the food arrived. The beef wasn't a filet, but it tasted OK and was a huge portion. The fish was good, but the potatoes were bland. The beef came with a baked potato with nothing on it, but we had butter left over from the bread. By the way, the manager exclaimed that the bread basket we were given is the wrong "bigger" one. What was the point of telling us that?
There is a waiter who looks like he arrived to work for the first time about an hour ago. The waitress isn't much more experienced, but she is relatively coherent. The waiter-ish guy doesn't have a clue. In fact, he licked his fingers after putting a plate down in front of one of the group members.
We were finished with our entrees before the group got their soup. They didn't seem to mind, but the tour leader was about to have a stroke. At some point we heard screaming coming from the kitchen, but we don't know who was yelling at the chef. None of the guests were complaining. At this point the place was totally chaotic with guests arriving and not having a clue how it works (because it doesn't).
When we went up to pay, the smarmy manager guy asked how our dinner was. We said it was fine. Then he said he wants comments good or bad to help improve the service. Since they are doing absolutely nothing correctly we didn't dare even start to tell him. When Dave asked to charge the meal to the room he said, "The computer is down and besides we don't like room charges. If you pay now we're sure we get everything due to us." Huh? Just say you can't charge it to the room, don't make it worse by saying you don't like doing it and we might screw you. OMG!
Honestly, the whole scenario was very entertaining for us. It kept getting worse and feeding on itself. It reminded us of the chaotic scene at Grand Canyon Lodge a few years back. Management, what? We can't wait to see what breakfast is like when the entire hotel shows up at the same time.
The hotel has free internet, but it won't stay connected, so we couldn't update the site tonight.
Day 24: Sunday, May 24 - Drive to KirkjubŠjarklaustur - Icelandair Hotel Klaustur
The second national park, Skaftafell., established in
1967 (400-500 square kilometers), contains some of the most precious natural
pearls of the country. The rugged landscapes, mountains and glaciers, the flora
and the fauna have a magnetic influence on the visitors. In 1984, it was
increased in area (1736 square kilometers) including a considerable part of
Glacier Vatnaj÷kull. In November 2004 the area of the park was still increased
to 4,807 square kilometers. It now comprises the Laki Area as well as about half
of Europe's largest icecap, Vatnaj÷kull.
There are no roads in the park, but a network of trails offers the opportunity
for differently extended hikes. The camping grounds are large but it is
difficult to hammer the tent pegs into the gravel surface. Among the services
rendered in the park are toilets, washing machines, a restaurant, a small shop
and a very interesting Visitors Centre. The park wardens offer regular guided
walking tours and daily bus tours tours from the park to the volcanic Laki area
and J÷kulsßrlˇn as well as the daily schedule.
The weather is beautiful today with a much improved view toward the glacier from our room.
We wandered down to the dysfunctional breakfast buffet at 9:00am, one hour before it ends. Here is the order in which the buffet is arranged: 2-slice toaster, tray of sliced bread, trays of sliced meat and cheese, big gap for kitchen doors, plates & bowls, cutlery, cereal, pitchers of milk/cream/yogurt, tiered bowls of unpeeled fruit cut up with an axe that nobody touched, jams/peanut butter, trays of sliced egg, tomato and cucumber (that belong with the sliced meat/cheese), napkins, chafing dish with a baked egg dish, chafing dish with tiny sausages and other meat mixed together, down four steps: beverages, empty coffee machine, empty water pitcher, pitchers of juice.
By the way, half the tables are piled with dirty dishes while three servers wander around doing basically nothing. The rest of the tables are set with paper placemats that were used earlier and have coffee stains, etc. None of the tables have been wiped off, so they are full of crumbs and other debris. Doesn't that sound appetizing? One of the servers is training a new person and says, "I have no idea how the coffee machine works, so just don't bother with it."
About halfway through the time we were sitting there, a busboy came out and managed to clean off three tables by making four trips back and forth to the kitchen. He spent most of his time looking around the room doing nothing. All of this was very entertaining for us, but come on. People are paying to stay here and it isn't cheap. Oh, and get this, there is a tip jar on the counter by the cash register! They've got to be kidding. (Besides, there is no tipping in Iceland!)
On the bright side, this is one of a handful of hotels so far that have had any hot food at breakfast and it was pretty good. Of course, we had to pick through the cutlery and dishes to find some that didn't already have food on them, but you can't have everything. Maybe they were trying to give us a head start by already having the food on the plate?
The final straw is Dave's number one pet peeve: Maids knocking on the door on check-out morning to ask when we are leaving when the Do Not Disturb sign is on the doorknob. GRRRRRRR. The maid knocked at 10:30am (check-out is noon). Dave opened the door and she said, "Oh sorry, I thought you were leaving." Dave said nothing and pointed at the DND sign on the doorknob. This hotel has the most up to date electronic locks, so she should have known we were in the room by swiping her keycard. There was no need to knock to find out if we are still in the room. Ugh.
Our final thoughts on the FossHotel Vatnaj÷kull: Dreadful. DO NOT STAY HERE. End of story. We didn't see the town of H÷fn, so we can't comment on it.
We'll continue down the east coast today. Our only planned stop is at a glacier lagoon, but since the weather is nice we might come across something else of interest.
We checked out at 10:30am. The manager of the hotel asked Dave if he still needed to pay for the room. This is after looking at the computer. We were tempted to tell him we had already paid, but we were honest. Neither he nor the girl at the desk with him asked how our stay was. It was God-awful is what it was. Get us the heck out of here NOW.
If we make only the stop at the glacier lagoon the drive should take about three hours. Well, that didn't happen and here's why. We stopped at every turnoff marked as a tourist site. Rather than waterfalls, for today we have countless glaciers and related rivers and flood plains. Getting to the various glaciers requires driving over very bumpy gravel roads, but they are doable in a regular car if you are brave enough. We started off toward one, but we couldn't get close enough. We almost picked up some hitchhikers, but we figured doing that would give Bill's mother a stroke, so we didn't.
All along the drive are spectacular views of mountains, fields and empty gravel floodplains. The first named glacier we made it to is Flaaj÷kull where we encountered a warning sign that is posted at all of the glaciers. If you are so inclined, you can walk right up to any of these glaciers. As usual, there are no barricades or anything else to prevent anyone from doing something very stupid. The best part of this particular glacier is a bouncy suspension bridge over the runoff river to reach the view point. It replaced referring to sheep as "kitties" as the "funnest" thing Dave has ever done.
Continuing along the ring road we stopped at another sign pointing to something or other. From this vantage point we could see the vast glacial runoff from the Flaaj÷kull glacier, and two more upcoming in the distance. To get to the view point we had to pass through a very narrow sheep gate. We've seen various ingenious incarnations of these gates, but this one requires a svelte figure to pass through.
We stopped at an unnamed glacier for another breathtaking view of the mountains, and then continued for several miles to our planned stop at J÷kulsßrlˇn. This lagoon is a recent one, the result of a warming climate. The surface is at sea level and sea water flows into the lagoon at high tide. Huge blocks of ice constantly break off the glacier, Breiamerkurj÷kull, and large icebergs float on the lagoon. The lagoon is not very wide but it is up to 250 meters deep which makes it the deepest lake in Iceland. Breiamerkurj÷kull is an outlet of the Vatnaj÷kull glacier.
Ordinarily there are amphibious boat tours of the lagoon, but they are not available today. That is probably because the lagoon is jammed with so much ice that the boats can't get through it. We were undecided about the boats, so this development made it a lot easier to decide. We certainly did find the tourists. There are more tourists here than we have seen in total up to now. In spite of the crowds, the ice formations are beautiful and it is possible to walk just a short distance to get away from everyone. We were amused by the bus loads of American tourists who never shut up the entire time they were at the lagoon. None of them even had a clue what they were looking at, nor were they interested in anything other than Aunt Jane's hysterectomy 20 years ago. No kidding, that's what a group of them were talking about!
The lagoon flows down a short river and under the ring road bridge to the sea. The river isn't very deep, so the larger chunks of ice get stuck until they melt down enough to continue to the ocean. The volume of water flowing out to sea is enormous.
We're not sure why there is a sign forbidding the playing of patty cake by the river, but whatever. You know how touchy those Icelanders can be.
It is possible to walk from the lagoon and under the bridge to the outlet of the glacial river. Here, on a beautiful black sand beach you'll find miles of stranded icebergs washed up on shore and stuck in the surf. Some are big chunks of translucent blue while other have melted into artistic shapes. The beach is teeming with tourists, as well.
Continuing our drive, we next stopped at Fjallsarlon, another large glacier with its own lagoon full of icebergs. There is a ruined old highway bridge that was washed away in a flood at some point. Most of the bridges along the ring road have been washed away at least once.
The next glacier is Haalda. Its outlet river also has the ruins of a bridge next to it. These huge floods are caused when a volcano erupts under the ice and an enormous flow of water is released all at once.
Drive a few miles further and another mountain top glacier becomes visible. Then another gravel road leads to an easily approachable glacier that extends a long finger out into its runoff lake. This is Svinafellsjokull glacier. As you approach the Svinafellsjokull Glacier at Skaftafell the first thing that hits you isnĺt the sheer size of the glacier looming in front of you. In fact, the massive white summit is dwarfed by the impact of a small sign you approach the glacier entrance. Mounted on a unimpressive boulder, the square sliver sign lists two names with a simple note: ôMissing on the glacier since 2007. With love from their family and friendsö
This glacier is up close and personal. Clambering along the rocky cliff at the edge of the glacier, the layers of ash and other debris collected by its slow crawl is right in front of you. We're still surprised at the risks visitors will take to get that last picture. The cliffs are slippery with gravel and it is straight down into the crevasse along the edge of the black ice.
This is the last stop for today and thank goodness! It took MUCH longer than we expected to cover this leg of the trip. All day, in fact. And we were nearly out of gas, too. We kept driving past Skaftafell glacier because it is our intended destination for tomorrow. We didn't stop at any of the sites between it and our hotel at KirkjubŠjarklaustur, another hour's drive.
We arrived at the Icelandair Hotel Klauster at 6:30pm. That is a lot later than we are usually out driving in any one day, so we're exhausted. And here we are at another Icelandair Hotel. This is an older property, so perhaps it isn't as weird as the last one. The lobby is small, but attractive with a staircase that spirals up to the second floor rooms. We are, of course, up these stairs and there in no elevator, but we're getting used to it at this point.
Luckily we didn't have any issues checking in at this hotel and the woman at reception was very nice. This hotel also appears to be staffed with imported labor, but they are much friendlier than at the FossHotel. We were asked to choose a time for dinner because, of course, they want to know when everyone is coming. The place is dead quiet, by the way, but we played along and chose 7:45pm.
Our room is small and old fashioned, but we'll take that any day over another weirdo bathroom configuration. This room is completely normal with a real door on a totally conventional bathroom. Whew! This Icelandair Hotel provides all of the amenities most hotels do, so we're not sure why the one in Akureyri was so stingy. Our view is of the hills behind the hotel. The town consists of one restaurant, a supermarket, and a gas station. The only nuisance is that we can hear everything that goes on in the neighboring bathroom with incredible clarity, but we'll take that over what we went through last night.
We showed up at the appointed time in the dining room. We were greeted by a very welcoming waitress who showed us to a table marked with our room number. The dining room is attractive with an added on greenhouse room where we were seated. All of the staff in the dining room seemed happy to be there and they were extremely helpful. The woman who seated us suggested the langoustine started, which is what Dave ordered, while Bill had the Chef's Salad, which is a Caesar Salad tonight. Click to view the MENU.
When the starters came they were both the langoustine. The waiter who brought them apologized and replaced one of them with the salad. He was appropriately apologetic and seemed sincere about it. Both of the dishes were outstanding.
For dinner Dave ordered the Chicken Breast and Bill had the Arctic Char. These dishes were also outstanding. The waitress recommended the Fire & Ice dessert, so Dave gave it a shot. It is one of those gimmicky desserts where the server pours something over it to make it look like it is erupting. It was light and had a nice flavor, but other than a spectacle there wasn't much to it. However, it certainly is impressive and way more sophisticated than we'd ever expect to find in the middle of nowhere. We were very pleased with our dining experience tonight.
So far we are getting a good vibe from this hotel. God knows we need it after last night's nightmare!
Day 25: Monday, May 25 - KirkjubŠjarklaustur - Icelandair Hotel Klaustur
The weather is about the same as it was yesterday, so very nice. It isn't quite as warm (it never broke 60 today), but still pleasant.
This hotel ends breakfast at 9:30am, so we got up a little earlier and made it with time to spare. The selection is about the same as at previous complimentary breakfast buffets except this one seems a tad higher on the quality scale and the service is more attentive. We were happy and got a good feeling from the restaurant staff again.
We're driving back to Skaftafell today, which is about an hour each way without stopping anywhere. Dave stopped at the front desk to buy a postcard of the cute Icelandic horses to send to his adopted soldier who loves horses. The charming woman at the front desk, who also served us yesterday and at dinner, asked where we are going. Then, without being asked, she produced a map and made several suggestions about what to do there. We weren't aware that there is a "must see" waterfall and we probably would have skipped it if she hadn't mentioned it. A+ for thoughtful service at this hotel.
We left the hotel around 10:30am. We stopped each time a sign pointed to the right for something to see. Iceland isn't as efficient at marking important sites as we are at home, but they do have a little squiggly symbol that means there's something you should look at. The first one we arrived at is Dverghamrar or the "Dwarf Cliff". We read the information sign that has something to do with a little girl, or princess-y type person hearing singing and wanting to stay to listen to it. She can't find whomever is singing, but it is coming from these cliffs. She assumes it is elves or dwarves. Who wouldn't?
At first we couldn't see what all the fuss is about because we took the wrong trail. Once we found the correct one we ended up walking down a gap that was long ago eroded between two towering basalt column cliffs. Standing at the bottom this gap perfectly frames a waterfall in the distance. Who needs elves to make a scene like this magical? There are even little shrubs blooming along the trail. What more do you need? Oh, maybe another trail passing some leaning columns? We can understand why people thought these structures were man-made way back when.
Back on the road we stopped at a private road to get a closer look at an old turf-sided barn. Nothing like a picturesque old barn to make an Icelandic landscape complete.
Another sign with a "look at this" symbol directed us to a view of a glacial river. It is pretty, but that's all we remember about it except that it is fed entirely by glacial runoff and not spring water. Who cares, it's lovely. Around here you don't even have to get out of the car to see spectacular scenery.
After rounding a towering cliff the vast wasteland created by centuries of glaciers and catastrophic flooding is revealed. This empty space of gray gravel and black sand is at least 40km deep and just as wide. The glacier from which this emanates is about 30km wide. The last huge flood was caused by a volcanic eruption in 1996. Several major bridges were destroyed. A monument has been created around two enormous steel supports that were twisted like spaghetti after being battered by tons of floating icebergs from the glacier.
Eventually we arrived at the visitor center at Skaftafell. We expected to walk up to a glacier or something similar to that, but those hikes are way too long for us (20km). We watched a short video about the park in the visitor center, then decided to go ahead and do the hike to the waterfall the woman at the hotel suggested. A sign indicates that it is 1.8km, but it is all uphill on loose gravel, so it wasn't much fun. If we can still walk tomorrow we'll be very surprised.
There are a few things to look at before reaching the grand finale of Svartifoss. First we arrived at Hundafoss, an impressive waterfall on its own. From this height we can get another view over the floodplain and the wasteland created by the flooding. A bit more hiking and we arrived at the location of an old hydroelectric generator that was used to power a farm up until the early 1970's.
We reached what we thought was the "almost there" point after about 30 minutes of uphill gravel, stairs, and mud. Or that's what we thought. The waterfall is still quite a distance away. Eventually, we did manage to arrive at a vantage point good enough to see the entire spectacle without another hour of hiking. A few brave souls walked all the way down to the falls, but doing that means hiking all the way back up, too, so we passed on that section. The draw of this waterfall is the natural amphitheater created by the backdrop of basalt columns that look like a giant pipe organ. The hike took about 40 minutes each way.
The walk back is all downhill, but that isn't necessarily a good thing when the trail is mostly rocks and gravel. However, we made it back down with no problems that we are aware of at the moment. We'll have to wait and see how we feel about it tomorrow morning.
It was 3:00pm by the time we got back to the visitor center area, so we stopped at a food truck called Glacier Goodies that is parked off to the side of a camp ground. We expected hot dogs and things like that, but they sell Lobster Soup, Tempura and a few other things of an upscale nature. Click to view the MENU. Dave ordered the Lobster Tempura and Bill had the Lobster Bisque. It was pricey and we had to pay cash, but the food was very good, especially under the circumstances. Everything was cooked to order and the guys working there were enthusiastic and friendly. The tempura was sort of like lobster fish and chips.
Suitably refreshed by our meal, we started driving back toward the hotel. Driving 40km while passing nothing but black gravel is a bit of a bore, but the one-lane bridges kind of liven things up now and then. The replacements for the bridges washed out in 1996 are much longer than the old ones. Most bridges in Iceland are one lane, but there is a protocol that whichever car arrives first gets to cross and the other one waits at a mark on the pavement. The two here are too long to see the other end, so there are turnouts built in every so often to allow a car to pull over to let others pass. Luckily most people cooperate and there isn't a lot of traffic, but it is still nerve wracking at times.
After the wasteland area we stopped at a tall, thin waterfall between some farmhouses. There is a makeshift parking area, but no signs pointing at it. However, you can't miss it from the highway.
At the traffic circle near the hotel we took a detour toward the cliffs nearby where we saw from the highway what we think is a big waterfall. A sign pointed at a site to park, so we did. Turns out this is the famous "Church Floor" Natural Monument. Dave knew about it, but thought it was coming up tomorrow, so it is lucky we happened upon it now.
This natural formation is the top of an eroded cliff of basalt columns. It was thought that perhaps it was a manmade church floor when it was found, hence the home. However, it is a natural phenomenon and there never was a church here. The edge could be interpreted as the ruins of steps leading up to the flat area.
Just up the road from the Church Floor is the waterfall we saw from the highway. We parked across the street and walked along a fence to reach it. If the water wasn't near freezing the pond below the falls would make a nice spot for a swim. Click to view a VIDEO.
What looks like a pasture with sheep grazing in it adjacent to the falls is actually a small park. Dave followed a trail that led to a set of rickety wooden stairs over the barbed wire to get inside. Bill stayed safely on the outside of the fence. But hey, who can resist getting up close to cute little lambs lying in the grass? Well, apparently Bill can, but Dave braved the wrath of the mother sheep to get a photo (none of the sheep even blinked an eye, but he did take care not to get between the mother and her lambs...he's smarter than he looks).
We arrived back at the hotel around 5:30pm after stopping at the gas station to wash the car and fill up for tomorrow. It would have taken far less time to do that if people didn't park at the pump and go inside the shop while there is a line waiting to gas up. What the heck are people thinking? For some reason people have been having all sorts of problem interpreting the instructions to operate the automated pumps yesterday and today. They take forever to finish pumping and then stand there staring blankly at the screen. Everything is in English and it tells you exactly what to do, so what is so mysterious about it?
The woman at the front desk who suggested the waterfall hike asked if we enjoyed our day and we assured her we did. She made a reservation for dinner in the restaurant for 6:30pm when it opens because several groups are arriving at 7:00pm. This hotel doesn't require reservations, but it makes it easier because they reserve a specific table for you with your name on it.
After pulling ourselves together and trying to look more presentable, we went down to the empty restaurant for dinner. A charming local woman served us. She's probably the only Icelandic person working here, but everyone is equally helpful and pleasant. She asked where we are from and we chatted a bit about the abundance of clean water here and how the toilets are still awe inspiring for us. She was amused.
Click to view the MENU. We both had the Langoustine starter which was as good as it was last night. Bill had the Chicken Breast that Dave had last night for his entree; Dave splurged on the Lamb. The chicken was good again, but the lamb was spectacular. Everything on the plate with it was delicious. The waitress we had last night was delighted that Dave liked the starter she recommended so much that he made Bill order it, too.
Bill had the Fire & Ice dessert. As you recall, it starts out with several colors and flavors that represent Iceland. The waitress pours a warm rhubarb sauce over it to represent a volcanic eruption that causes the entire thing to bubble and smoke. Dave had the Skyr dessert and it was much better than he anticipated. It was, in fact, delicious. So much so that Dave asked the waitress if there is something different about the skyr that is served at this hotel. She didn't think so, but went to ask the chef if he does something to it. She came back to tell us he whips it with some cream and a bit of powdered sugar. That makes all the difference. Even the version served plain at breakfast is far superior to any we've had so far. Now we can understand why it is so popular.
We were back in the room by 8:30pm and done for the day. If this hotel didn't have paper thin walls it would be near perfect. We get a very good feeling of genuine hospitality from this hotel. Let's see if the next Icelandair Hotel can match it.
Day 26: Tuesday, May 26 - Drive to VÝk - Icelandair Hotel VÝk
VÝk Ý Mřrdalur is one of the most popular tourist
destinations in Iceland, where peace and quiet reigns supreme. Far from the
hustle and bustle of larger cities, we pride ourselves on our cozy village life,
where practically everyone knows their neighbor. Come and spend a day or a week,
discovering VÝk Ý Mřrdal and experience for yourself the great variety of
contrasts that nature has so graciously bestowed upon us.
It is rainy today, but nothing out of the ordinary. Temperature is about the same and it isn't windy.
We had the breakfast room to ourselves this morning. Everything was moved around to accommodate earlier groups, so we had to learn where everything is all over again. That taxes our tiny brain first thing in the morning. The food was fine and the young woman clearing tables was pleasant.
Our final thoughts on the Icelandair Hotel Klaustur: We liked it. It isn't the newest Icelandair Hotel, but that's a good thing because it means the bathroom isn't some bizarre designer's fever dream. The walls are paper thin, but oddly enough we could only hear things that went on in the neighboring bathroom. At least now we know that everyone runs in and pees a waterfall the moment they arrive. The food in the dining room at dinner is exceptional, so we didn't mind (too much) paying through the nose for it. What really shines at this hotel is the staff. Every one of them is delightful and they truly seem to care about the guests. The hotel manager is very hands on and we saw him helping the staff all the time. Kudos to him for that. We're one for one with Icelandair Hotels, so we'll see how they do in VÝk. We'd gladly stay here again.
Today's drive isn't long at just under two hours without stopping. However, we'll surely stop at something, so when we actually arrive at our next hotel is anyone's guess at this point. We'll leave here around 11:00am.
At check out the woman who has been so helpful to us all along offered to point out some sites to see on the way to VÝk. She said to stop at "the most beautiful canyon in the world" (according to an Icelandic magazine). We wouldn't have been aware of it if she hadn't told us. She also let us know that there is another of the rolling hotel strikes coming up on the 28th and lasting for two days. It will be interesting to see what happens at the family-owned hotel where we are staying for those two days. During the previous strike she said that this hotel had a buffet at dinner and that the manager, "Is the best waiter here." We have seen him helping the staff which always wins points from us.
The canyon we were told to visit is only about five minutes down the highway from the hotel, so we arrived quickly. The sign at the roadside says there is a waterfall also, but we never found it. Too bad because we were looking forward to "Fag Falls" and wondering if it is a slur or might make us want to smoke. It probably depends on your nationality.
At the turnoff for the aforementioned canyon, we stopped briefly to snap a photo of a scenic old sheep sorting pen with a waterfall backdrop. After about a kilometer the road turns to bumpy gravel, but it would be manageable in a regular car. We arrived at the parking area for Fjarßrglj˙fur in just a few minutes. It must be famous because it has restrooms, which is very unusual around here. Bill decided a rock by the road looks like it has a monkey sitting on top of it (it is a tuft of grass).
It looks like we have another uphill hike if we want to actually see anything. There is a nice view from the old concrete bridge at the outlet of the canyon. A sign advises that it is possible to hike up the canyon, but you'll have to wade for part of the way. Not happening. We started walking up the steep grassy trail. Several areas are marked with tiny signs telling visitors not to take certain trails, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone. It isn't crowded, but there are people way out on the edges of skinny little shards of cliff. There are a few signs warning of a fall danger...no duh!
It isn't necessary to put yourself in danger to see the view from various angles. The canyon isn't very long, but there is a scenic river at the bottom and a waterfall at the upper end where the canyon meets a valley. It is worth the effort to get to the falls, but it is very steep. It seems harder than the long hike to the waterfall yesterday, but it isn't. Must be the angle or something because we were about to die by the time we reached the top.
We bumped back to the ring road and continued until we came to another sign pointing at a picnic area. That's what the signs appear to signify and there is always a picnic table there, but there is also some sort of historic point of interest, too. This one is in the middle of a lava flow from the Katla Volcano that devastated this part of Iceland and caused huge famines here and in Europe. The jumbled lava is covered in a thick velvety moss. In the distance there is a frozen waterfall of lava where the flow plunged over the face of a cliff as it made its way down from the highlands.
Further along is a sign pointing at Laufskßlavara, a lava ridge, surrounded by stone cairns, between the Hˇlmsß and Skßlmß Rivers, close to the road north of ┴lftaver. Travelers crossing the desert of Mřrdalssandur for the first time would pile stones up to make a cairn, which was supposed to bring them good fortune on the journey. The highway department brought piles of rocks so passersby could continue the tradition, so it isn't quite the natural phenomenon one expects. We weren't sure if someone was buried with just a hand sticking out of one of the piles, so we didn't inspect it closely. You are supposed to add a stone to bring good fortune in your travels. We didn't want to risk it, so we each added one to a pile.
In the distance there is a huge rock island attached to the mainland by the usual expanse of black gravel from catastrophic floods back in the day. We turned off at the sign for this set of cliffs and arrived at the parking lot for Hj÷rleifsh÷fi or ôTuff islandö. This was a coastal headland until the 14th century, when the shore began to advance as deposits piled up after glacial floods from Mt. Katla. Hj÷rleifsh÷fi (ôHj÷rleifurĺs Headlandö) is named after first settler Ingˇlfur Arnarsonĺs foster-brother, who was killed by his slaves during their first year in Iceland (ingrates!). Hj÷rleifsh÷fi, the product of a submarine eruption during the Ice Age, was inhabited up until this century.
We'll tell you right up front that there is no way in hell in a million years that we are going to climb the trail up to the top of this thing! We don't care who is buried up there. So, we decided that since we didn't pick up the hitchhikers the other day that we could go off-roading on the gravel instead. There is sort of a road that is marked with a few signs warning that it is not safe for regular cars. Basically you can drive all the way around the cliffs or out to the ocean if you are so inclined (we are not). There is a huge cave at one point and some interesting lava layers to see. A few big outcrops poke up from the black sand. There is only one part where we weren't confident it is solid enough to keep driving, so Bill made Dave get out and poke at it. We decided that as long as we don't stop long enough to sink in that we'll make it to the end, which we did. We weren't brave enough to do a river crossing, although there is a track to follow, so we had to drive all the way back around to where we started.
We drove past our hotel for tonight to get a major site out of the way. The small peninsula, or promontory, Dyrhˇlaey is located not far from the village of VÝk. It was formerly an island of volcanic origin. The view from there is interesting: To the north is to be seen the big glacier Mřrdalsj÷kull. To the east, the black lava columns of the Reynisdrangar (Troll Rocks) come out of the sea, and to the west the whole coastline in the direction of Selfoss is visible.
There is a paved road to the main parking lot where most of the tourists congregate. It is raining now and extremely windy, so there is no chance of us getting anywhere near the edge of these cliffs. The sea below is very angry! That's not stopping many people from climbing out on the lava arch over a churning ocean though (it is about 10' wide). Down the coast are more dramatic cliffs with several tunnels at the bottom with waves crashing ominously. It certainly is a scene with the wind, rain and crashing waves.
There is another vantage point with a vista over a huge black sandbar that divides the waves from an inland lagoon. This was open to the sea at some point, but the wave action built up a thick barrier of glacial runoff to form a barrier. From a certain angle a gigantic cave is visible over the beach below where we are walking.
A bumpy dirt road leads up a steep hill to the location of the bird cliffs. Many puffins nest on the cliff faces of Dyrhˇlaey during the summer, but all we can see today are seagulls. There is a lighthouse at this location, too, but as with most of Iceland's lighthouses it is more utilitarian than picturesque.
It is freezing, extremely windy, and raining, so we're calling it a day and going to the hotel. It is 3:30pm, which is about the time we usually start to run out of interest in hiking and being generally miserable.
We arrived at the Icelandair Hotel VÝk at 4:00pm. The Icelandair part is brand new, but it is attached to an older single story hotel that sits in front of it. The old part is now an Edda Hotel. These are summer-only budget hotels usually housed in school dorms and barely above a hostel. This one and most others have shared bathrooms, so it is very incongruous for it to be sharing a lobby with the stylish Icelandair Hotel (Icelandair Hotels owns Edda). The parking lot is compacted black gravel loosely held together with what looks like asphalt. However, rolling luggage across it left a trail from the car to the front door of the hotel. There is some construction going on, but it seems to be concerned with the Edda portion of the property.
The man at reception was very helpful and friendly. He produced a map of the area and pointed out things we can see tomorrow that are between here and the ferry terminal. We don't want to stop on the way to catch the ferry "just in case", so we'd like to cover everything ahead of time. He gave us two maps of the area to help us. We were asked to make a reservation for dinner if we want to eat at the hotel, so we chose 6:30pm.
is modern, but in a good way. So far, so good. There is a bar adjacent to the
front desk, but it is separated by a big stone column. Apparently we aren't the
only ones who don't like a bar combined with the front desk because this is a
newer design than the hotel in Akureyri.
We have the usual queen bed with individual duvets, a sofa that makes into a single bed, a desk and bench in the corner, and two chairs pushed against the wall by the bathroom. The room is huge, but isn't organized very well. The furniture is all pushed up against the windows or the walls. Surely that wasn't the original design intention.
Of course, we have another weird bathroom configuration. The toilet and sink are on the left side of the bed and the shower is on the other side. So, when you are done showering you have to traipse across the room to get to the hairdryer to finish up. At least there is a towel rack in the huge shower area because there are none in the sink area. The towels are sort of stacked in any available space. There is no holder for the toilet paper either. It is just sitting out on the shelf behind the toilet. There are holes in the front of the sink counter where a towel bar has been removed, so we're assuming it got in the way and they simply gave up.
The entire floor of the room is heated and has a thermostat, which is a first. We immediately turned it off and opened a window because we're always too hot in hotel rooms. The lighting is terrible. There are four small halogen spot lights in the ceiling and tiny LED reading lights by the beds. That's it for the main part of the room. The desk and sofa are in total darkness with the drapes closed. Oh well, nice try. At least there is a solid door on the toilet room. Woo hoo! The only sounds we can hear are doors slamming, but no talking or other undesirable noises. It is odd that even in their new hotels, Icelandair still issues real keys.
We rested until time to go down to dinner. The dining room is huge, but very attractive. There are only 36 rooms in this hotel, so they must host tour groups for lunch. Even if every guest in the hotel showed up at once it would only be half full. In any case, we were greeted and seated immediately. The waiter explained a few things such as the fish of the day and what is on the set menu tonight.
Click to view the old MENU. We don't have the latest version, but you'll get the idea from this one. We each ordered a different soup, so we had the Icelandic Lamb Meat Soup and the Angelica Soup. They arrived at the table with no liquid which was poured over the solid parts by the waiter. Nice idea, but neither soup was anything special, although they looked nice. That trend continued with the Beef Steak entree we both ordered. It is sort of a surf and turf sort of thing now with a couple of Icelandic lobster thrown in. The beef is a huge portion and cooked properly, but everything on the plate lacked seasoning. Adding salt helped somewhat, but what a shame to not take full advantage of high quality ingredients. Everything was good, but could have easily been elevated to fantastic with a more creative spice palette.
Click to view the new dessert MENU. Dave ordered the Profiteroles and Bill had the Fondant. Beautiful presentation, generous portions, and little flavor. They were OK, but nothing special other than as something delightful to look at. Oh well. The service was very attentive and helpful, which was very pleasant. The total bill is the highest so far, just over ISK 20,000, and not at all worth that much. We won't be back tomorrow. We'd rather eat pizza at the gas station across the street. Again, it wasn't bad, but overall not worth the price. It's too bad because the overall experience is very good.
We were back in the room by 9:00pm although it took a while to get out of the dining room. There was a large Indian family trying to negotiate the prices down. They persisted for so long that a long line formed while all of the staff was tied up dealing with them. The final word from the head waiter was, "Our best price is what is shown on the menu." They left.
Day 27: Wednesday, May 27 - VÝk - Icelandair Hotel VÝk
It is nice this morning, but rain is expected later. The temperature is in the 40's.
We went down to the hotel's included breakfast at 9:30am. All of the buffets elsewhere have served locally made jams and house made peanut butter. Here they have little packs of Smuckers. Another first; no skyr. We could be anywhere by looking at this buffet. They do have a chafing dish of a baked egg dish that is tasty, but the rest of the offering is very generic. The service is efficient, no problem with that.
We left the hotel at 11:00am to see the sights along the drive to the ferry we are taking to VestmannŠyjar tomorrow. That will save us from having to leave the hotel very early or miss something because we're in a rush to catch the ferry.
The road out of town climbs up a mountain pass with a beautiful view over a valley full of farms. We've been in Iceland for so long that the seasons are changing and fields are finally starting to turn green.
The guy at the hotel told us to stop at Skagafoss which is a famous waterfall on the tourist circuit. Most of the places we've been the past couple of days, and from now on, are close enough to Reykjavik that they are always crowded. It will only get worse in the coming months. The parking lot for Skagafoss is full, so we parked on the grass at a nearby campground. This is a stop on the tour bus route, also. In the summer months it must be a total zoo. There are lots of people here now, but it isn't too bad. There's a very steep wooden stairway to the top of the falls if you want to see it from the top (we do not). Click to view a VIDEO.
We continued driving for several kilometers until we saw a charming old set of turf barns built into natural caves in a rock outcrop. It is on private property, but that didn't stop a few people from walking up the driveway to get closer. We stayed outside the fence. Farther along the road we stopped at an example of an old roadside shelter where people would wait for transportation. There is also a stand for milk cans where the farmers would put it out for pickup. In warmer weather they'd put it in the shelter instead.
By the highway there is one of many random waterfalls tumbling down the face of the sheer cliffs. There must be hundreds of these falls in the area.
Another major tourist destination is at Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall of the river Seljalandsß drops 200 feet over the cliffs of the former coastline. It is possible to walk behind the waterfall, which people are doing in droves. It is pouring rain at the moment and they're not going to get more wet than they already are, so why not? There are several falls along this cliff face.
We walked along the pathway that follows the creek at the bottom of the cliff to look at each of the different falls. One used to be power a small electric generator used to supply electricity to a small farm. The last of the falls along the trail is Gl˙frab˙i meaning "canyon dweller". The water falls into a crack behind a boulder that hides the bottom half of the falls. It is possible to wade up its creek and inside the grotto, but that's better left for warmer weather. If this was in the tropics it would be overrun with people frolicking in the water. Ruins of a farm are located in the park below the falls where there is now a little cafe, campground and information desk.
By the time we finished walking around and looking at the various waterfalls, in the pouring rain, we were completely soaked. We do have appropriate waterproof jackets and hats, so it isn't unpleasant. It is, however, a hassle when we want to get back in the car.
This stop is just a kilometer or so from the turnoff to the ferry port, but instead of turning back to the hotel we decided we would go all the way to the ferry landing. We're not exactly sure how the boarding process works, so we want to ask to be sure we do it correctly. We also want to know if we need to arrive early to check in. We already have boarding passes we printed at home, so we THINK we are all set, but better safe than sorry.
It is 17km from the ring road to the harbor built specifically for this ferry. Previously the crossing took several hours and left from an existing port a distance away. They dredged out this port a few years ago to shorten the trip. Now it only takes 30 minutes to make the crossing. It is sometimes too rough or the harbor fills with sand and they go to old port, but everything looks OK at the moment.
We arrived around 2:00pm and saw the ferry approaching from the islands. We'll be going there on tomorrow's sailing at 12:30pm. As the ferry arrived in the harbor the bow opened up to expose the ramp for the car deck. We watched the passengers and cars disembark and observed how the departing cars are arranged for boarding. All of it is obvious enough, but we saw passengers still in some cars, so we're a bit confused. The instructions we received say that only the driver may remain in the car and any passengers must board through the terminal. Eventually, once the cars were sorted to go onboard, the passengers were required to get out and go through the terminal. Just in case, we went inside to ask the woman at the ticket counter if we need anything other than the vouchers we already have. She confirmed that we just show up and park in the line and we're done. That means we could in theory arrive at 12:30pm.
We watched the staff try to figure out how to stuff a tour bus into the car deck when it was already full. We have no idea how they did it, but it was eventually squeezed in and the ship sailed off.
It is still raining, but we've now seen everything along this route, so it doesn't matter to us. The drive back to town takes about 40 minutes. We stopped at the visitor center for the volcanic eruption a few years ago that caused all of the air traffic in the area to shut down. It is a bit of a rip-off to charge ISK 800 per person to watch a 20-minute video, but it was well done and gave us a lot of insight into how the local farms coped. We wouldn't do it again, however.
We decided to drive through "downtown" VÝk to look for a restaurant we saw online. It is 4:45pm and we're both starving. Since we're here anyway, we followed a sign to the town's "famous" black sand beach. These beaches are all over Iceland, so we don't know what makes this one any different other than good marketing. There is a good view of the Troll Rocks we can see from our hotel room and a bird cliff looms over the parking lot. From the beach the entire town can be seen...it isn't very big, but it has more tourist facilities than most places we've been so far.
We had to go around the block a few times to find the restaurant we're looking for. The only reason we found it is because there is a rendering of the building on the tourist map. We didn't know it beforehand, but it is in part of the tourist information building that has a different name on the front. There is a tiny sign above the door to the restaurant, but it continues the Icelandic trend of not making it easy to find things.
This is a very casual place, but they do have table service. You have to get your own water and silverware though. We each ordered a different large salad and split a meat pizza. The salads were interesting and the pizza was fine. Nothing outstanding about any of it, but it was good. Bill had a piece of meringue cake (sort of looks like a Boston cream pie); Dave had homemade ice cream. The desserts were very good. The price for this extremely casual food added up to just over ISK 10,000. Getting a meal for less than $100 is very unusual. However, we liked this better than the dinner at the hotel last night that cost twice that much.
After filling up the car with gasoline at the chaotic N1 station across the street, we went back to our room and crashed. The bed is very uncomfortable, so we woke up several times during the night to rearrange ourselves. We had the same problem at the previous Icelandair Hotel, so we're a bit sleep deprived at this point.
Another 2-day hotel workers' strike begins at midnight tonight. It will be interesting to see what happens at the breakfast buffet tomorrow morning and if there's anyone home at the Hotel VestmannŠyjar when we arrive.
Day 28: Thursday, May 28 - Ferry to VestmannŠyjar - Hotel VestmannŠyjar
VestmannŠyjar - The Westman Islands are a group of
15-18 islands, depending on how they are classed, and about 30 skerries sand
rock pillars, located off the mainlandĺs south coast. The islands were formed by
submarine volcanic eruptions along a 30-km long fissure lying southwest to
northeast. The largest island is Heimaey, 13.4 km2.Most of the islands have
steep sea cliffs, and are well vegetated. Bird hunting and egg collecting are
traditional to the islandersĺ culture. A Norse timber church, a gift from the
Norwegians to commemorate 1000 years since Christianity was accepted in Iceland,
was consecrated on Heimaey. The only church of its type in Iceland, it has been
situated at the Skans area where a stone wall, built after the Turkish invasion
in 1627 occurred, has been rebuilt.
It is a beautiful sunny morning. Let's hope it stays this way for our short ferry crossing.
There is no evidence of a hotel strike today. It seems that it has been delayed five days due to progress in the negotiations. However, according to the new schedule of rolling strikes, ground services might be on strike on our day of departure from Iceland.
The hotel breakfast was the same as yesterday, so perfectly acceptable. It isn't as busy this morning.
Our final thoughts on VÝk: This is the most tourist-oriented small town we've run across so far, but that doesn't mean the town is a must-see stopover. There are many things to see and do nearby, so as a base it works. We'd stopover here again.
Our final thoughts on the Icelandair Hotel VÝk: Finally a modern design that isn't so weird it inconveniences the guests. Our bathroom configuration isn't ideal, but only the "deluxe" rooms are arranged this way. We looked into a standard room and they have normal bathrooms. We'd opt for one of those next time. They're spacious and nicely furnished. The beds at Icelandair Hotels are horrible. We ended up sleeping on top of the duvet to get some padding. Otherwise we wake up with sore hips and shoulders from sleeping on a rock. The staff at this hotel is professional and very helpful. We'd choose this hotel again and feel safe recommending it, but don't have dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was way overpriced and not that great.
We'll check out around 10:45am and drive to the ferry. Our departure is at 12:30pm.
We arrived at the ferry port just before noon, so we didn't have to wait very long. Dave had to board through the terminal because on the driver is allowed to stay in the car. We have no idea why, but that's the rule.
In the terminal, Dave walked from the front door straight up the stairs, had his boarding pass scanned and was on board in minutes. The people sitting in the departure lounge were oblivious to the fact that the gangway is open. That's fine because it gives Dave a chance to explore the ship before the less observant guests figure out that they can board.
The lobby isn't anything to look at. There are a couple of vending machines and a model of the ship. There is a video lounge adjacent to the lobby if you have to watch TV during the 30 minutes it takes to complete the voyage. If you are famished within that same 30 minute window you can get hamburgers and such in the restaurant. Up the stairs is a very pink cocktail lounge. Or used-to-be cocktail lounge. It faces forward, but the windows are so dirty/etched/whatever that there isn't much of a view anyway. There is an open door to the outside deck and a narrow passage between the stacks to an aft viewing deck.
Dave saw Bill driving the car onto the ship, so he went inside to wait for him in the lobby. While standing there, a group of elderly tourists from a bus wandered up and stared up the stairs constantly wondering aloud if there is a lounge up there or if it is outside. They were blocking the stairway with luggage and their general befuddlement at the entire overwhelming experience (which it most definitely is not, by the way). It was so ridiculous that Dave went over and explained to them that yes, there is a lounge up there, and no, it isn't outside. Then he went up the stairs and stood at the top to point them in the right direction when they got up there. Talk about cattle. Can't anyone think for himself? It took all of five minutes to figure out where everything is on this ship. It isn't exactly a Carnival cruise.
Bill came up from the car deck and we wandered around the ship again. We ended up outside where we didn't have to listen to incessant babble about Aunt Jane's gall bladder operation twenty years ago. The weather is very nice today as long as we can stay out of the wind. We watched the sail away and mostly stood by the railing waiting for the arrival. Being on a ship with the familiar accoutrements almost makes us nostalgic to take another cruise...almost.
No announcements or safety information was given to us. True, it is a short cruise, but it is no wonder that people panic in ferry accidents. We're familiar with cruising, so we looked around and found the muster station, but nobody else did that. We'd probably be organizing the evacuation, also.
There are two separate small islands off the coast of the main island where we are headed. Both of them are sheer-sided with no visible means of landing on them or getting to the flat part on top. However, both have a nice house up there, so someone is making an effort to live there.
Soon we could see the volcano and the enormous lava flow that almost destroyed the town in the 1970's. The entire town had to flee to the mainland to wait out the months it took for the eruption to end. When it did, one-third of the town was buried in lava. The port was almost closed off by the flow, but the fire department hosed it down with cold ocean water and it ended up actually improving the harbor. It's a bit creepy to see the huge cliffs looming over the ship as it enters the harbor. On the lava flow side there is an oil tank half buried in the lava.
The town is relatively large considering it is in the middle of nowhere. It is definitely larger than the teensy towns we've been staying in lately. The harbor area is nice and aimed at tourists arriving by ferry. There are icons painted on the sidewalks indicating which direction to walk to various attractions. Some buildings are painted with huge murals that are sometimes artsy or comical.
Bill was the third car off the ferry, so he had to park in town and go looking for Dave. There is a defined route to walk from the ferry, so it was easy to reconnect. It's not like we docked in New York City and had to look all over.
We arrived at the hotel after driving around the block a few times. Several of the streets are one-way and it confounded out GPS for a few minutes. The hotel looks old from the outside, but the interior is all new and modern. We arrived just after 1:00pm, but we were given keys and sent to our room on the third floor. Dave thought he booked a room in the new part of the hotel, but apparently not. We're in the tiniest room we've ever stayed in and facing the front of the hotel. Everything is new with up-to-date touchless locks and modern furniture. The bathroom is tiny and not quite as updated, but everything functions. There is a tiny sink with a shelf over it that prevents getting anywhere near the sink. Good luck brushing our teeth later. We have a great view of the volcanoes looming over the town.
Walking into the room was like walking into a sauna it was so hot. The radiator is turned off, so it must be the sun shining in. We opened the small vent window, but it didn't help much.
We decided to find a restaurant we saw in a brochure on the ship for lunch. Turns out it is right up the block from the hotel, but we turned the wrong way first and ended up on a nice little shopping street. Once we found the restaurant it was fine. It is just a burger and pizza kind of place, which is what we were looking for. Dave had a cheeseburger; Bill had pasta with ham and mushrooms. The burger was outstanding, but not quite on a par with the one from the Hamburger Factory earlier in the trip. The pasta was OK. The bill was only about $35.
We know we are getting close to Reykjavik again because the tourists don't know how anything works yet. One person asked about tipping (there isn't any) and another asked for the bill to be told to come up to the register to pay.
Since the weather is nice we decided to wander around town until we get tired of walking. We're not sure how long seeing the various sites outside of town will take tomorrow, so we want to do the actual town now. We stopped into a designer housewares store on the shopping street mentioned earlier. They had some nice things, but we don't want anything large that we have to haul home on the plane. A man-shaped knife holder is a bit grotesque.
The town is cute and has many old houses from the early 1900's in very good condition. An unusual feature is that the majority of homes have large private yards and nice gardens. We have rarely seen that on the mainland. One particularly upscale neighborhood is very nice with large modern homes lining a wide street. We're speculating that these were built after the eruption destroyed the older homes in the area. There are some houses where the lava stopped right in their backyard.
There is a church up on a hill in the middle of town, so we walked up there. A cemetery is across the street with a dramatic backdrop of two of the most recent volcanoes nearby. In front of the church is a monument to fishermen lost at sea. Well, that's our take on it since everything is in Icelandic. From here we walked back downhill to the harbor.
OK, we thought that other fishing village stunk to high heaven. That was nothing compared to this town. OMG, it REEKS. It smells like a cross between spoiled shrimp and sewage. There's no escaping it either. Maybe we'll get used to it since we have to leave the window open to cool the room down.
We stopped into a souvenir shop and bought a couple of small items. The shopkeeper was very friendly. She had some items made locally representing the volcano and such, but we have no way of getting delicate ceramics home in one piece, so we passed. The prices were sort of outlandish, as well.
Back at the room it is still too hot, so we put a wooden hanger in the door to prop it open to allow the breeze to blow through. That did the trick and all is well. The walls are paper thin anyway, so an hour of the door partially open wasn't much different.
We debated briefly about whether to go to the restaurant downstairs, which is the highest rated one in town, or go to a healthy-choice restaurant up the block. We decided to go to the latter because we're not hungry enough for a fancy (read expensive) meal tonight. The healthy place, Gott, is just around the corner from the hotel. Come to think of it, almost everything is just around the corner from here.
All of the food is organic and made with whole grains. The flatbread for their wraps is made with spelt flour, for example. Dave ordered the Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup as a starter. It is made with rice noodles and marked as gluten free. He doesn't care about that, but why not try it? The soup was almost good, but not quite flavorful enough. Dave had an Italian Chicken Wrap and Bill had a Spicy BBQ Chicken Burger. The burger was all spice and no other flavors. It was OK, but not great. The wrap was also almost good. The wrap part was very good, but the filling lacked a bit of something. You could tell all of this stuff is healthy which doesn't bode well. For dessert we had one Date Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce, and their Chocolate Cake. The desserts were the highlight of the meal. The Date Cake was the standout. It had a sort of salty-sweet flavor that was delicious. Overall though the food wasn't good enough for a return visit.
On the way back to the hotel we were treated to a rainbow to close out our evening.
Day 29: Friday, May 29 - VestmannŠyjar - Hotel VestmannŠyjar
It's sunny and warm(ish) this morning. It should be a great day for sightseeing.
Wow, this place STINKS, literally. It smells so bad most of the time that we can almost taste it. How do the residents tolerate it? Yuck.
The included hotel breakfast was fine. It's the same as everywhere else we've been. Don't the locals get bored with the same breakfast every day? We've never seen such a widespread standard as in Iceland. There is never any variation of any significance.
While we were downstairs our room was cleaned. Well, our duvets were re-folded, but that's all.
Our island tour started at around 11:30am. The intention was to go to the Eldheimar Museum, or the "Pompeii of the North", to learn more about the volcanic activity before exploring the area. The museum didn't appear to be open and there's work going on out front, so we drove on. There's a road that leads around the volcanic cone that formed during the 1970's eruption. The lava flow added a significant amount of new land to the island. To be perfectly honest, this drive, while scenic, really didn't do much for us.
We drove back toward the area where the lava flow covered one-third of the town. The huge mounds of lava could have swallowed up the entire town if they hadn't started pumping sea water on it to stop it. As it is, over 400 homes were buried while the rest of the town was damaged by heavy ash fall. It took years to clean it all up. Right now it looks like nothing ever happened.
We made our way to the area we saw from the ferry the other day near the entrance to the harbor and the dramatic cliffs to be found there. The lava near the harbor is several meters thick and probably would have closed the harbor forever without the valiant pumping effort to stop it.
At the edge of the flow is a concrete water tank that is half crushed by the lava. Nearby are one and a half concrete stanchions that were the entry point of the electric lines from the mainland. There were four of them. The lines were destroyed and a new cable had to be laid. Water also comes from the mainland in an undersea pipeline.
We decided to try the museum again and found that it is indeed open, although it doesn't look to be. We were the only visitors the entire time we were there. The "Pompeii of the North" encompasses a street of homes that is being excavated. The homes were preserved under tons of ash and lava. The ash prevented the lava from burning the homes, so they are now a time capsule from the 1970's. People had to leave so quickly that they had little time to collect their belongings. There is a partially buried home protruding from the hillside, the completely excavated house inside the building, and another one being uncovered in back of the building. Eventually they hope to uncover the entire street.
The museum is set up to be explored using a smartphone guide that is supposed to follow you through the exhibits. Dave's stopped working about halfway through and he had to get another one. The idea is good, but it didn't work properly. There is much more to the display that just the excavated house and they are professionally done. However, almost none of the videos were working. This is a new museum and the admission price isn't cheap, so there's no excuse for it. We learned a lot from the museum and the movie about how the eruption affected the town, but we left somewhat disappointed overall.
We're running on three consecutive nights of not getting enough sleep, so we were happy to be finished sightseeing by 1:00pm. We went to the casual restaurant by the hotel to split a pizza, then back to the hotel for a nap. We woke up around 4:30pm when the stench of the fish processing plant woke us up. No kidding. Today it smells like they added boiling cabbage to the rotten shrimp and sewage. The sun hitting our windows turned the room into a sauna, as well.
At 7:00pm we sent downstairs to the restaurant off the lobby. It is the #1 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor and it is easy for us to get to obviously. The atmosphere is pleasant. Click to view the MENU. We both had the Lobster Soup as a starter. For an entree Dave ordered the Chicken Cannelloni; Bill had the Lamb. The soup was the best of its kind we've had so far. The creamy broth was tasty and the lobster pieces had a nice flavor, as well. The cannelloni was good, but not quite as expected. It was a nice try at being different. The lamb was outstanding, but that's not all that unusual in Iceland. We both had the ice cream trio for dessert. The portions were tiny, but everything was homemade and very good. Service was friendly. This meal cost considerably less than the flavorless meal we had at the Icelandair Hotel Vik and we were happy with the experience.
We returned to the room at 9:00pm and had to prop the door open with a hangar again. It is beyond hot in the room due to the sun hitting the windows. We kept the drapes closed all day, but that didn't help at all. The town's fish odor has dissipated, but since it comes and goes depending on which way the wind is blowing, we expect it will return later tonight.
Day 30: Saturday, May 30 - Ferry & Drive to Fl˙ir - Icelandair Hotel Fl˙ir
Fl˙ir is an inland located hamlet in beautiful surroundings. A salmon river,
Stora-Laxa, runs through the hamlet and the area is very thermally active.
Horticulture, greenhouse- and mushroom cultivation are among the bases of
livelihood as well as industry and tourism. The hamlet has a good hotel, farm
accommodations and good camping grounds. The swimming pool is excellent and
other recreation possibilities make a few days stay very enjoyable. Quite a few
historic sites are nearby, such as the parsonage Hruni. In Hruni the
congregation used to celebrate the arrival of the new year with dances and
drinking in the church. One new year's evening, the devil pulled the church with
its contents down to his domain. The Golden Waterfalls, the Geysir Area and the
Thjorsa Valley are nearby.
It looks like it might rain this morning. It is also very windy (as it was all night), but that's a good thing because it blows the awful smell away. That helped improve our sleep since we didn't wake up gagging every few hours. However, people were out on the streets all night. Since it never gets completely dark, nobody goes to bed.
Breakfast in the restaurant was fine, as usual. We only have one more of these standard issue breakfasts left to experience, and then we're on our own in Reykjavik.
Our final thoughts on the Hotel VestmannŠyjar: We wouldn't stay in the old section of the hotel again. The room is tiny with a bathroom to match. The lobby is new and very modern, as are the rooms in the new section. If we could guarantee we'd be in that part of the hotel we'd stay here again. The staff is helpful and pleasant and everything is clean.
Our final thoughts on VestmannŠyjar: It's a bigger town than we expected and very nice. There are lots of nice restaurants to choose from. Sightseeing requires perhaps half a day unless you want to hike to the top of the volcano. The ferry ride is fun. It sometimes smells terrible when the wind blows from the fish processing plant. We'd recommend a visit if you have time to spare in Iceland. You can fly here from Reykjavik in 20 minutes if you are short on time.
Our ferry crossing back to the mainland departs at 1:30pm, so we have a couple of hours to sit around somewhere after our 11:30am check-out time. With the windy conditions the crossing might be interesting. There were several people turning green on the way over and it was a smooth as glass.
We drove down to the ferry dock and parked in the lot at 11:45am. There are no other cars here yet and it isn't clear where SUV's belong in the lineup for cars, so we'll wait until a few others arrive. It is very windy, but it hasn't rained yet.
After sitting in the car for a few minutes we decided we'd walk up the street to see if there are any shops to look at. We found one, but didn't see anything we couldn't live without (that pretty much covers everything at this point in our lives anyway). A few blocks up the street is an aquarium we purposely didn't include in our sightseeing. But, with nothing better to do we thought it might kill an hour. The town does what it can to help tourists. Besides the icons on the sidewalk pointing to the three attractions in town, there are cute puffin directional signs at major intersections.
An hour? Yeah, right. It took all of fifteen minutes. The "aquarium" consists of three rooms. The first is a collection of rocks and minerals. All of the descriptions are in Icelandic even though it is aimed at tourists. Or we hope it is because we can't imagine why a local would come here more than once. The next room has old-school glass cases full of stuffed birds. They're not dusty or moldy, which is a plus under the circumstances. The third room is the aquarium part and it looks like something out of the 1950's or maybe someone's living room. The fish look miserable, although the tanks are clean. Some of the fish have cloudy eyes and that can't be good. Maybe they've been here since the 50's? The tanks are so boring that they've added decorative elements like glass suncatchers hanging in one tank and blown glass mushrooms in another. You get the idea...tacky. The whole place smells like old socks. That's ISK 2,000 down the drain. This place should be charging ISK 500 tops.
We walked back to the car and sat there until some cars arrived for the ferry and then we moved into the line. Everyone arrived in a big rush about 45 minutes before the 1:30pm departure. After the ferry arrived and started to disgorge passengers and cars, Dave went to the terminal. The building was packed and people kept pushing their way in. Dave stood outside until he could see that people were actually boarding. What's the point of being jammed in with a million other people just standing there? When he did go in he found that some people were going up the stairs to board, but most of them were just standing around the lobby blocking the way for everyone else. No one in charge ever came out to tell people what to do and no announcements were made that boarding is underway. Of course, if you look around it is clear that's what is happening, but since when does anyone pay attention?
Dave was already on board and hanging over the railing before Bill got the OK to drive onto the ship. By the way, nobody looked at Dave's boarding pass. The guy at the gangway collected tickets from other people, but when Dave sort of waved his pass at him he waved him through. There's no way he saw any dates or other data on it. It could have been a blank piece of paper for all he knew.
At this port the cars drive on through a big folding door at the aft end of the ship. Inside, the smaller cars are loaded onto a secondary rack that lifts them up above the larger cars that drive in under them. It doesn't look very safe and we can see why loads shift and ferries tip over. The crew is very efficient at loading and unloading. It doesn't take more than fifteen minutes.
We sailed at 1:35pm; five minutes late. As expected it is very rough with the high winds. We stayed outside until the ship left the protected harbor. Some foolish people stayed outside while we watched a huge wave crash over the entire deck, drenching them. Then a torrential rain started that lasted about ten minutes. We found a place to sit in the lounge. If the trip was much longer than the 30 minutes it is, Dave would have been hanging over the side pretty soon and that's with seasickness medication taken beforehand.
With the strong headwind and current the ferry arrived on the mainland about ten minutes late. Bill was already waiting out front by the time Dave made it off the ferry and out of the terminal.
We took off toward our next destination, turning left onto the ring road and continuing in the direction of Reykjavik. We still have one more day of sightseeing by car tomorrow when we will tackle the part of the Golden Circle route we haven't already covered.
The rough ferry ride took the motivation out of us, so we decided to stop at the first restaurant we could find to see if some food would revive us. We stopped at Eldstˇ Art Cafe and went inside. Click to view the MENU. The guy at the counter said, "Can I help you guys?" Dave said, "Food." He gave us menus and we sat at a table.
This place is a bistro, pottery gallery, and guesthouse all in one. There is a HUGE microwave/cell tower/scary electronic stuff connected to it. We're not sure we'd want to spend a whole lot of time here unless we need a free X-ray, but for a lunch stop we'll risk it. Dave had a cheeseburger while Bill had the vegetable pie. The burger was delicious. Most burgers so far have been far superior to anything we get at home, but on the other hand we only get them at fast food places, not restaurants. The vegetable pie was a large portion, but nothing special. We're sure it was re-heated in a microwave because we heard it beep.
The meal served its purpose of keeping us going for another hour until we can reach our hotel in Fl˙ir. The scenery is definitely more developed in this area. There are more stores, farms are larger, trees are bigger, etc. All in all, it looks a lot better than most of the country where there is little vegetation and no trees at all. We are fairly close to Reykjavik, so it stands to reason there would be more services available in this area.
We turned off the ring road toward Fl˙ir and arrived in about fifteen minutes. The entrance to the town has a cute wooden Viking couple standing by the road. This is an area known for geothermally heated greenhouses where most of the home grown produce for the entire country is farmed. The area is beautiful with nice farms, rolling green fields and a river running through it. Of course, there are snow-capped mountains in the distance. Let's just say it is quite scenic.
We tried to get gas across the street from the hotel, but the pump wouldn't take the card, so we gave up (it is raining at the moment). We only had to drive across the street and into the driveway or our hotel where we arrived at around 4:45pm. We're staying at another Icelandair Hotel. This one is smaller and older than the others, but it is still very nice. It was probably built in the 1980's and is all angled roofs and wood beams popular back then. The problem is that this type of design is prone to water leaks and this place is no exception. The wood floors in the corridors are severely water damaged and mildewed. It is generally in good repair, but there are places where the eaves have completely rotted through and you can see into the underside of the roof. That can't be good in a country where it rains almost every day.
There is one of Icelandair Hotel's iconic wooden people standing just inside the lobby door. The front desk is also the bar, but there is a separation between them, so it isn't too ridiculous. The guy at the check-in counter looks sort of creepy in a Norman Bates sort of way, but he was pleasant enough. Dave gave his name and he was handed a key without any other conversation or showing an I.D. The front desk guy sort of gestured in the direction of our room and told us when breakfast and dinner are served, and that was it.
We got our luggage and tried to find our room. Needless to say, there are zero signs telling guests in which wing their room number can be found. We went the wrong way the first time, but since this isn't a huge place it didn't matter. But, would it kill them to at least put a range of numbers on the wall to give us a hint?
The rooms are arranged around a courtyard with basalt columns dividing it into a seating area and another area with two hot tubs that are open 24/7. Our bathroom has a door that opens directly out to the courtyard. The room is nice with a vaulted wood ceiling and wood floor. It is old, but in fairly good shape. Our view is of the aforementioned courtyard. It is very nice to have a normal bathroom in which we can actually function again. The shower must flood the bathroom floor because there is a push-broom size squeegee hanging on the wall. There is a little foyer area between the bathroom and the bedroom, so no intimate details need to be revealed. The room is, and probably will remain, too warm even with the heat turned off. There is only one tiny vent window and since it opens to a courtyard there is no breeze. Oh well, we should be used to that by now (but we are not).
We both napped for about an hour, and then pulled ourselves together at 7:00pm and went to the dining room off the lobby. Actually, it is part of the lobby since the whole place is an open plan. On the way to the lobby a woman walking toward us wondered aloud to her husband, "What is that odd smell?" Dave said, "Mildew," and she laughed. It's actually a flowery room deodorizer attempting to disguise the smell of mildew, but close enough.
Our waitress wasn't exactly Miss Personality, but she was OK. The menu is extremely limited, but they do have a few inexpensive "light" options and a couple of entrees. Dave ordered the Lobster Soup, which was the best yet. Bill had Cream of Mushroom that was also very good. Dave had a Chicken Salad for his entree. These are on every menu in Iceland for some reason. It is usually grilled chunks of chicken and a few vegetables on lettuce. This one was very good with fantastic croutons. This is the first time Dave can ever recall noticing croutons in a salad as anything special. Bill had the Lamb, but it wasn't anything exciting. We both had Strawberry Skyr for dessert. It was served in little ceramic milk pails along with two small cookie-type things topped with jam and cheese (better than it sounds). We both liked it. The waitress asked for our room number, but didn't ask us to sign anything.
We were back in the room by 9:00pm, ready to crash. We're looking forward to getting to Reykjavik and spending a few days relaxing without any pressure to get back in the car and go anywhere that takes all day. Dave thinks he's getting a cold, so he's sucking down Cold-Eze like crazy. On the other hand, he might only be tired, so we'll see.
Day 31: Sunday, May 31 - Golden Circle Sightseeing - Drive to Reykjavik
The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route outside Reykjavik. This route covers about 300 km distance from Reykjavik to central Iceland and back. The three main stops on the route are the national park Ůingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss (golden falls) and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Ůingvellir is a national park containing both historical and natural beauties. Nowhere else the continental drift is more visible than in Ůingvellir. Gullfoss is a spectacular waterfall that is a must see. The two grand geysers, Strokkur and Geysir, are both interesting to watch. Other stops include Keri volcanic crater, Hverageri greenhouse village, waterfall Faxi and the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant.
It's a beautiful, sunny day today. There's no rain in sight.
We were the only guests at the hotel's breakfast, but it was fully stocked. It's the same selection as everywhere with the addition of scrambled eggs, sausage, and baked beans.
Our final thoughts on Fl˙ir: You're probably not going to come to this town for any reason other than the start or end of a tour of the Golden Circle. However, it is a scenic little farming village. You could ride a horse or go to the town swimming pool. There are more trees and green grass around here than we've seen anywhere else.
Our final thought on the Icelandair Hotel Fl˙ir: We liked it. We got the best night's sleep we've had in a long time last night. The hotel is old and there is some maintenance that should be done, but it is clean. The rooms are large with normal bathrooms. The vaulted wood-paneled ceilings give the rooms a cozy cabin feeling. We'd definitely stay here again.
We set off for Gullfoss around 11:30am. This is one of the three sites to see on the so-called Golden Circle route. This can be done as a round trip from Reykjavik in a day or you can do as we did and end or start at Fl˙ir for an easier day of it.
The drive to Gullfoss isn't very far, but most of it is on a gravel road so it is slower going than if it was paved. If you are doing this route from Reykjavik the road is entirely paved. We expected massive crowds, but there are no more tourists here than at other big waterfalls. This is the most touristy site we've been to so far meaning there is a gift shop and restaurant by the parking lot. It isn't tacky at all. In fact, the shop sells some nice things and the cafeteria-style restaurant has a decent selection to choose from. Of course, it you arrive at the same time as a busload, the restaurant will have a line a mile long, so be patient.
There is some construction going on adding on to the restaurant, but the walkway is easy and turns into a boardwalk that takes you to a long stairway down to the falls. Prepare to get wet because the spray is continuous. There is a huge volume of water going over several tiers of falls that drop down into a deep gorge. It is very dramatic to say the least. We've seen a lot of waterfalls, but we have to admit that this one is definitely a must-see. It isn't as wide as Niagara Falls, but it must cram the same volume of water into the channel it has carved out of the lava.
You can see the falls without going down the stairs, but you really should go all the way down and walk out to the rock outcropping at the top of the falls. Walking along the path reveals different views of the layers of the falls as you wander along. Remember, YOU WILL GET WET. There is no avoiding the spray. It probably isn't the safest thing in the world to walk out onto the outcrop overlooking the top of the falls, but there is a rope to tell you when you are close enough without falling over.
Back up the stairs there is another boardwalk to follow along the ridge above the falls for a different angle on the view. The trail continues along the river above the falls, but that's too adventurous for us today. Instead we went to check out the gift shop where we bought enough trinkets to qualify for another tax refund at the airport on the way home. We probably should have waited to buy all of the little things at one store so it adds up to over ISK6,000 in one transaction. That's the minimum sale at a single store to qualify for a refund.
From the falls we drove the short distance to Geysir. This is the location of Geysir, the geyser that gave its name to all other geysers. Unfortunately it no longer erupts because people threw so much stuff into it to cause eruptions that it is now clogged. All that's left is a steaming pool at the top. However, a nearby geyser, Stokkur, erupts about every five minutes. You have to watch several eruptions because they vary in height from low and wide to narrow and tall. In the meantime, it is fun to watch the water swirl around and bubble in its pool. If you have seen the geysers at Yellowstone, this isn't a must see. However, if you have time, it is definitely worth it to stop by and watch for a few minutes.
We drove to the visitor center to check out the huge gift shop, but we didn't buy anything. It is time for lunch, 2:00pm, but we just bought some sorbet and sat outside to eat it. Watching the tourists come and go is entertainment in itself. Several of them were baffled by the automatic door on the visitor center that sticks at halfway open. Even so, it opens wide enough for two people to walk through side-by-side, but what are you to do if your group has four people in it? OMG! What a dilemma!!
There's one more stop programmed into our GPS, but we can't remember exactly what it is. No matter, we'll just follow the directions and see where we end up. We turned off at a sign pointing to something we are supposed to look at. Of course, it is along a bumpy dirt road, but what the heck? We can't recall what the actual point was. Maybe something to do with settlers entertaining tourists with tales of ghosts in the caves? Anyway, it's something equally ridiculous. However, there are some interesting rock formations at the top of the cliff that sort of looks like elephant skin.
We kept driving to God-knows-where and ended up at the visitor center for a hydroelectric dam. It is after 4:00pm now, so nothing is open, but we took a picture anyway. After bumping along on dirt roads interspersed with paved sections for no apparent reason, we ended up at the whole point of this detour. It is a geothermal plant that provides the hot water for Reykjavik some 40km away. Oh yeah, it is closed because it is after 4:00pm. Oh well, a photo will suffice. As you know, we lose interest in just about everything after 3:00pm.
Climbing up the mountain to reach Reykjavik we found the pipeline that carries the geothermally heated water to the city. The road, now thankfully paved, follows the pipe for over 35k before joining the ring road into town.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland with more than
113,000 inhabitants (2005), or nearly 40% of the countryĺs total population. It
is the seat of government, and most of the government agencies. The Parliament
"Althing", which is considered to be the oldest in the world, assembles in
Reykjavik. Even though the city is spread over a vast area (242 km▓) the
distances to reach natural surroundings are short. "Elliaßr",
one of the countryĺs best salmon rivers, runs right through town and anglers
enjoy landing salmon from this clear and unpolluted river under the bridge of a
busy motorway. Icelandĺs first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson, made his permanent
residence in Reykjavik in the year 874 and the area has been inhabited ever
since. Upon arrival, Ingolfur saw steam rising from hot springs near a cove and
consequently named the bay "Reykjavik" - The Steamy Cove.
We arrived at the Reykjavik4You Apartment Hotel after missing it and having to go around the block. It is almost 5:00pm, so we're way past our expiration date by now. There's no one at reception, so we rang the intercom and the guy who answered said he'd be there in a few minutes. In the meantime, he buzzed us in so we could sit down if need be. He did arrive in just a few minutes and was very nice. We paid for the five nights and he took us to show us where our apartment is located. The price is less that it would have cost for a suite at a moderately priced hotel.
There is a big modern building in front the old reception building, but we are in the next building up the street in some apartments they just acquired and remodeled. Getting there requires going down a breezeway that is less than attractive and passing a pile of what is essentially junk in an adjacent yard. That aside, the apartment is very nice and modern. We have a one bedroom unit with a full kitchen. There is a nice leather sofa in the living room, plus a modern chair and LCD TV. The kitchen has a full-sized cooktop and oven, microwave, and a dishwasher. The dishwasher will come in handy later because the dishes and silverware are filthy. No way we're using any of it until it goes through the dishwasher. All of the cleaning supplies we need are provided. We don't have to clean the apartment in general, but they provide dishwashing liquid, detergent for the dishwasher, etc.
The bathroom is large, but could be arranged better. There's no counter space although there is plenty of room for it. There are hookups for a washing machine, but alas there is none. We asked where we can do laundry and the guy who showed us around said we can use their machines after the maids leave for the day. We just have to go ask him. We think that's very generous. Towels are provided and the usual hotel amenities, plus bathrobes and slippers. Everything except the dishes is very clean.
The apartments are about a block and half away from the main shopping street in Reykjavik, so we don't have to walk very far to find hundreds of restaurants and shops. Being in a residential area avoids a lot of the party noise we'd have right on the main street. There is still some traffic driving by and people talking (and smoking) outside, but we're on the second floor, so we can't see them. We haven't heard any noise from other residents so far. There is a bakery across the street and a barber shop. We might take advantage of both of those places before we leave. There is free wi-fi in the apartment.
Right now we're in desperate need of a meal. We also need to find a grocery store to get breakfast supplies for tomorrow morning. We have cereal we bought at the beginning of the trip "just in case", but we need milk for it. There is a Bonus Supermarket around the corner, but it closed at 6:00pm, so we missed our chance.
We walked down to the main shopping street and started looking for a restaurant for dinner. There are four million bars that serve food, but that's not really our thing. We could have gone to the Queer Bar with "The Best Dancing in the World", but we're surely too old for that scene. The area is sort of Amsterdam light with artsy graffiti, repurposed old buildings and funky shops.
An Italian restaurant caught our eye and we went inside. We were greeted warmly and seated by the front window. Our waitress was hilarious. We think she's from New York, but she's definitely not Icelandic. Later she told us she married an Icelandic man and he wanted to move here to sponge off his family. "I work for my money," she declared. We like her because she very up front and has a snarky quality we love. Dave told her that he wants to be her friend.
Click to view the MENU for Rossopomodoro. Dave ordered Bruchetta Caprese for a starter; Bill had a shrimp dish. Bill said the shrimp was "nice". The bruchetta was to die for. Really fantastic. For an entree Dave had Lasagna; Bill had the Beef Tenderloin. The waitress asked if he wanted it cooked medium and he foolishly said "medium rare". He always does that and regrets it. He said it was still mooing, but tasted good. The lasagna was good, also. When it came time for dessert the waitress suggested the Tiramisu or the chocolate thing. Dave tried the Tiramisu which was fabulous. He usually doesn't like it at all, but this was outstanding. Bill had the Gelato that turned out to be a huge ice cream sundae. That seems to be the norm in Iceland when ordering the ice cream option for dessert. It almost always comes with some sort of sauce, fruit, whipped cream and such.
After we joked around with the waitress for a few minutes she said we made her day and that we are the kind of people who make her want to have this type of job at all.
We tried to use the phone to find a convenience store or market to no avail. So, we wandered around our neighborhood and found a mini-market that is about the size of a shoebox. They have milk, half-loaves of bread and containers of skyr, so we now have enough to get us started tomorrow morning.
Dave's cold or whatever it is hasn't progressed very much, so he's still fully functional and not feeling bad or anything annoying. Let's hope it stays that way.
Day 32: Monday, June 1 - Reykjavik - Reykjavik4you Apartments Hotel
The weather is the best it has been since we arrived. It is almost warm enough to go outside without a jacket.
We have to fend for ourselves for breakfast from now on. We had cereal and toast this morning. We'll go to the supermarket and find something to add to that for tomorrow. We have no intention of cooking anything though.
Neither of us is at all motivated to do anything today. Dave didn't get out of bed until after 10:00am just because he didn't have to. Bill wanted to go back to bed by the time Dave got up. You get the picture; we're not in the mood. It is very noisy with ambient city noises around here especially because we have to leave the windows open to get some air. We're a bit afraid we'll be charged for smoking in the room because so much second-hand smoke billows in from people walking by on the street. Hopefully the maids can tell the difference.
By the way, do American tourists EVER shut up? OMG, that's all we hear on the street and this is a residential area. One plus is that they aren't the ones smoking as they're walking.
We finally forced ourselves to go out for a walk just before noon. At the very least we'll find someplace for lunch after wandering around for a while. The apartment is in a perfect location for finding restaurants and shops. It is less than two blocks to the center of everything.
Today we'll walk up the main street to the church that is the icon of Reykjavik, HallgrÝmskirkja. At 244 ft, it is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland. State Architect Gujˇn Sam˙elsson's design of the church was commissioned in 1937. He is said to have designed it to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape. It took 38 years to build the church. Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986, the landmark tower being completed long before the church's actual completion.
Situated in the center of ReykjavÝk, it is one of the city's best-known landmarks and is visible throughout the city. It is very impressive from a distance and is only a short walk from our location. Up close the building is still impressive, but the stucco finish needs some upkeep. It isn't terrible, but it kind of detracts from the grandeur of the whole thing. What are impressive are the bronze modernist front doors. Usually they are closed and visitors push a button to cause them to magically (or divinely) swing open. Today they are propped open, so no drama for us.
The interior is very impressive! The design is awe-inspiring in its simplicity. There is a beautiful modern pulpit near the altar toward the front and the massive gleaming pipes of the organ at the back. The pews cleverly reverse direction to face either the altar or the organist depending on what is being presented. There is a less impressive organ console near the altar for use during religious services. It is almost inspiring enough to make us get religion...almost.
Tickets for the elevator to the top of the tower are sold in the gift shop, but we passed on doing that. Admission to the church itself is free of charge, as it should be. There is a place to donate to the cleaning of pipes of the organ if you so choose.
Back outside we decided walk down toward the waterfront which is just a few blocks away. As we've mentioned before there are tons of cute, colorful shops and eccentric houses all over town. We could live without all of the graffiti, but it isn't sinister in any way. We detoured along the second major shopping street and wound up in front of the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, it is a penis museum. Get over it. Make up your own jokes now. This museum used to be in someone's garage in H˙savÝk, but it moved into these fancy new digs a few years ago. Some guy was obsessed with collecting specimens of all species' penises and therefore we now have a museum to house them all.
The guy at the counter only takes cash for admission which only adds to the sleazy feeling. However, it is anything but sleazy. It is modern and nicely presented actually. It isn't at all erotic. Mostly it is huge glass tubes of preserved whale penises and other animals. Yeah, OK, there are silver castings of an entire soccer team on display, but that's the extent of anything vaguely untoward. And, we have to say, we felt sorry for half of the guys on that team, so they're lucky the castings aren't labeled! Bill had to buy one of the wool knit Icelandic monsters we've seen several times. You can imagine what they've added to the ones here.
Back on track, we walked to the waterfront area. There's not much here except a view and a lot of construction of fancy new high-rise apartments. Once we managed to find a way to cross the highway to the walkway near the water it was a bit more pleasant. There are several hideous sculptures scattered around and one reasonably attractive stainless steel representation of a Viking ship. Icelanders sure are enamored with ugly sculptures. We're all for modernism and we've seen many elsewhere that are attractive, but the ones here look like a third grader's art project gone wild.
The walk toward the old harbor leads to the newish Harpa concert hall. This was the first building constructed to help revive the old industrial port area and make it attractive to visitors and locals alike. Apparently, according to their website, it is successful in that regard. The building is a jumble of huge hexagonal glass bricks made of iridescent and colored glass. At night the bricks are lit with LED strips that can change to any color desired for whatever effect they have in mind at night. It is pretty during the day with the sunlight glinting off the facade. Since it never gets dark this time of year, we probably won't get to see the full effect.
The interior is striking with the hexagons forming the ceiling in the lobby and balconies going every which way. The ground floor is open to visitors. There are several shops, a cafe, and an information and ticket counter. There are tours of the building offered every day, but we didn't find out about it until after we left. There are no signs on site advertising them that we saw.
Adjacent to the building is an unfinished construction site that we learned later was supposed to be a 250-room luxury hotel project. Apparently the developer backed out and the city just sold it to someone else. The promise is to build the hotel and turn it over to a "global operator" to give the city a more international presence. At the moment, the Hilton where we stayed upon our arrival is the only international brand represented in Iceland of which we are aware.
It is past our 2:00pm lunchtime (as though we ever meet that schedule), so we're running on low energy. We didn't start off being very motivated, so we're really dragging now. We wandered through a small craft market (yawn) and then followed the crowds back to the shopping street. It is easy to find the tourist destinations in town. Just walk straight up the street that leads up from Harpa and watch where everyone else is headed.
We walked up the street vowing to stop at the first restaurant we could find for lunch. That's easier said than done because we ended up back on the corner where we'd turn to go back to our apartment hotel. We finally went to the Scandinavian Sm°rrebr°d place we saw yesterday. Click to view the MENU. Dave ordered the Scandi Burger and the waitress pointed out that it is not made with beef as the menu states, but lamb. Dave said he can handle that. Bill ordered the Beef Sandwich. Neither were anything above average. Based on the menu description we expected more interesting food, but both sandwiches were very run of the mill and we wouldn't go back to this place.
We got slightly lost on the way back to the hotel, but this isn't New York and we re-oriented ourselves quickly. If you can find the shopping street, you can find just about anything from there.
Our hope is that we have been out long enough to avoid the maids at the apartment. We're not 100% sure there actually is daily maid service, but the reviews always mention it. We stopped at the Bonus Supermarket on the corner to pick up some food for breakfast. We got some bananas, a big tub of huge blueberries, a different cereal (corn flakes...all they have is corn flakes, Cheerios, bran flakes, Special K, and Coco Puffs), more bread and a jar of mixed berry jam. It only cost about $24 total. We're not sure if we've mentioned this before, so forgive us if we have, but you have to buy plastic bags and put your groceries in them yourself. We haven't seen anyone show up with pre-purchased bags though. We bought a couple of their big heavy-duty bags previously to use in the car.
Finally back at the room, no maids have been here (it is 3:30pm), so we're fairly sure that none will show up. Bill decided to nap, but first he propped open our front door and hung up some laundry to dry. Of course, the moment he laid down a maid knocked on the door and asked if we want clean towels. Figures, doesn't it? Dave gave her our old ones in exchange and she went to clean the apartment downstairs. That racket went on for another 30 minutes with the two maids yapping the entire time while running the vacuum and generally making a ruckus. That on top of the general noises of living surrounded by apartments that are literally on top of one another doesn't make for a quiet afternoon around here. That's not the management's fault. We haven't heard anything from their apartments, but we are in front of a junky alley where there are maybe ten small apartments/houses and all of the accompanying noise. It is kind of fun for a while, but we wouldn't want to live here.
Later in the day someone nearby started playing the bongos. Who plays the bongos anymore? We should have sat out on the landing snapping our fingers and smoking to look cool.
Around 7:30pm we pulled ourselves together and went out in search of food. We turned left toward the city center looking for something we haven't already seen. Across the street that leads into the city from Harpa, there are a number of restaurants. However, the three we stopped at because the building is attractive had astronomical prices. We aren't hungry enough to pay $65 for an entree tonight. We ended up at a pub sort of place called Hressingarskßlinn. The menu is mostly bar food such as burgers, pasta and things like that. Dave ordered a special from the blackboard called "Chicken Tanderloins" and Bill ordered Lobster Pasta. The waiter came right back and said they are out of tenderloins, but they have chicken breast. OK, that's fine.
Both entrees were huge portions. The chicken said it came with a satay sauce. That's usually peanut based, but this was more like thick soy sauce or possibly hoisin. The chicken already had too many flavors going on by itself. It was topped with what looked like pesto. It came with mashed sweet potatoes that sort of tasted like baby food. The vegetable salad with mozzarella balls in it was pretty good. There were three half breasts on the plate covered with dry weeds of some sort that were completely unnecessary. Bill's pasta was also almost good. The lobster portion was very generous. Icelandic lobster is more like a big shrimp, but it tastes good. The pasta part had a curry-ish sauce that was semi-interesting. Again, almost good, but not quite there. We didn't order dessert and we wouldn't go to this restaurant again. We read online that it has been in business since 1932, but surely the menu has changed.
When we arrived back at the apartment around 9:30pm, Dave had to wash out his shirt because he spilled the "satay" sauce on it. So, why not wash everything else, too? You can't use the hot water to rinse things out because it smells like sulfur and so will your clothing. The cold water is FREEZING cold. It isn't any fun either way.
That chore done, we split one of the huge apples we bought a month ago and called it a night.
Day 33: Tuesday, June 2 - Reykjavik - Reykjavik4you Apartments Hotel
There are a few more clouds in the sky today than yesterday, but otherwise the weather is very nice.
After our makeshift breakfast, we lounged around until just after noon before finally making a move to go for another walk around town. We'll head for the lake that is in the center of Reykjavik for a scenic stroll. Then we'll see what kind of mood we're in before deciding where else to wander.
When we stepped outside we were surprised by the strong wind. It is also very cold as a result and we're not dressed for it. We figured it is a fluke and will pass, so we kept walking toward the lake. We took a different route from the hotel so we could see some new neighborhoods. There are some very interesting old houses in this city. We walked by one with an ornate onion dome turret. This is a regular block, nothing particularly fancy or out of the ordinary.
Upon arrival at the lake we realized quickly that the weather is turning nasty and fast. It is extremely windy out in the open with small waves blowing across the lake. Nevertheless, we kept walking. The modern city hall is at the downtown end of the lake. On the other side are some very upscale old houses. There is a big art museum facing the lake next to a church. We don't do museums although it is cold enough that we almost went in anyway.
We kept walking around the perimeter of the lake. It is almost too windy to walk upright, but we managed. Did we mention it is freezing? There is another ugly sculpture in a small park at the corner in front of the fancy houses. These things look like Soviet work projects from the 1970's. From this side of the lake we have a nice view of the area where our apartment is located and the church beyond.
The area where city hall is located provides some respite from the wind. We didn't go inside, but the front of the building has an interesting mossy water feature that drapes the walls.
It isn't far to a small downtown square that is the epicenter of dining in the city. Every other building is a restaurant or souvenir shop. We prefer the area where we are located, but if you want to be right in the middle of a million dining and shopping options, this is the place to be. These are some of the oldest commercial buildings in the city and there is quite a variety of styles. One big building sports an amusing gargoyle on the corner above the entrance. Some of the oldest have been repurposed to house restaurants and hotels.
We attempted to walk to the newly redeveloped port area where there are some attractions we want to see, but that is easier said than done today. We tried twice to walk in that direction, but the wind is so strong that it is impossible to make any headway. No exaggeration. Besides that it isn't any fun being sandblasted by gravel from the highway every time a car goes by. And it is freezing, remember? We gave up and started walking back toward our apartment at around 2:00pm.
The skies over the fjord are getting very dark and threatening. If this storm is coming this way we had better get off the street because we're not wearing our waterproof jackets. Silly us thinking that if the weather is nice in the morning it will stay that way.
We checked out a few lunch spots and decided to try LŠkjarbrekka. It is one of the places we skipped the other night because of the high prices. Lunch is much more reasonably priced, so it is a good chance to try it. The house was built as a dwelling in 1834, by an influential Danish ship owner and merchant. He also built a bakery and a turf house on the same property and brought a Danish baker to Iceland to practice his trade here. Click to view the MENU. Bill had the Seafood Salad; Dave had the Tomato & Chicken Tagliatelle. The waiter offered free vegetable soup. It was OK, but nothing to write home about. The bread wasn't anything special either which is disappointing under the circumstances. Both entrees were good, but the pasta dish probably stood out the most. We wouldn't necessarily order either of them again, but they were OK for lunch. The price was actually fairly reasonable considering how fancy this place is. However, we didn't like it enough to consider going back for dinner.
During lunch the storm over the fjord became so fierce that the mountains across the water disappeared. Luckily the rain never reached the city itself, but it is still very windy and cold. It is the wind that really takes the energy out of us. We can handle the cold (when we're dressed properly), but nothing can stand up to the wind around here. We gave up and went back to the apartment at 3:30pm.
We stopped at the bakery across the street from the apartment that everyone in online reviews raves about. Bill bought two cookie-type things and Dave got a big meringue something-or-other. Everything looked nice, but as usual the flavor didn't live up to the appearance. The meringue has chunks of licorice candy in it that don't go with the texture of the meringue. The favor is interesting though. Bill's cookies are so hard that he could barely break them, although they did taste OK. Again, we're obviously not in Denmark because we've yet to have a bread or pastry worth the calories.
We surprised the maids who were just finishing up. All they do is replace towels and make the beds, but that's plenty and more than we expected. They're both very nice. We have enough towels for four people and we started out with six rolls of toilet paper. Point is we're not likely to run out of anything important if they miss a day.
Dave made the mistake of getting in the bed thinking he would nap for a few minutes. The bed was cozy and the room was freezing, so that led to napping off and on for two hours. That's usually Bill's gig, but he managed to stay awake in the living room because the sofa isn't comfortable to sleep on.
At 7:00pm or thereabouts we walked back across town (which is less than a mile, by the way) to the restaurant zone to find a place for dinner. After checking several menus we ended up at FiskfÚlagi (Fish Company). It is hidden down some steps, but we saw some people looking at the menu and went to look at it also. A man standing there told us it is very good and they had just eaten there. We took his word for it and went in.
This place is highly rated and it is very busy tonight. We were seated without a wait though. The restaurant is bigger than it looks from the street, taking up the entire basement of the building it is under. The decor is dark and cozy even though it is very crowded. Click to view the MENU. The service is extremely friendly and informative. All of the servers really seem to know what they are selling. We wish we were hungry enough for starters, but no such luck. We skipped right to entrees. Dave had the "Faroe Islands" deep-fried skate and shrimps; Bill had the "USA" salted cod. First of all, the bread was good, so that might bode well for everything to follow. It was served with two flavors of butter and a pile of salt mixed with seaweed to add to it. The salt idea is cute, but didn't add anything. The butters were tasty. A waiter brought a complimentary amuse bouche that was a thin rice chip topped with spiced mayonnaise dollops and mussel dust. Yes, you read that right. It was interesting and very light. We're not sure what the mussel dust added, but whatever, it looked nice.
The entrees were OUTSTANDING. Finally and meal worth talking about. The fried skate doesn't look like much, but there is a lot going on under those fried fish pieces. There are tiny marinated shrimp and scallops, little sautÚed potatoes, a skate chip (looked nice, but didn't eat it), all placed on top of a light mustard sauce with grated horseradish. With that many flavors involved a dish like this could go very wrong, but it all worked together and was fabulous. Some people might consider the fish overcooked, but Dave likes deep fried fish to be very crispy, so he loved it. Bill's cod was also amazing with a perfectly seasoned crispy exterior and fluffy moist interior.
There was some sort of issue in the kitchen after we got our meals and the food stopped coming out. The man next to us was very annoyed and the waitress telling him the delay is because a more important group arrived didn't help any. What she said probably just came out wrong, but we would have been annoyed at the excuse also. The place is packed, so the most probable reason is that the kitchen got overwhelmed and they need some time to catch up. It became very warm in the room such that people were starting to fan themselves with napkins. We'll give the staff credit for noticing and actually doing something about it without being asked first. A waitress turned on the air conditioning the moment she saw a woman fanning herself.
With entrees this good we had to try the desserts. Bill had the North Pole-Snow; Dave ordered Iceland-Spruce. OMG!! These desserts are the most innovative and flavorful concoctions we've ever had. Yeah, sure, there's a gimmick of sprinkling nitrogen-frozen lemon snow over Bill's bowl, but it actually added a flavor and wasn't just for show. Dave's dessert had an interplay of flavors that was simply amazing. We'd go back just to have dessert it was so incredible. At least we found a restaurant we can recommend.
Dinner service took so long that we didn't leave the restaurant until 10:00pm. We've never been out this late, so we don't know what goes on at this hour in Reykjavik. Well, apparently that involves going to bars (which are hopping) and "gentlemen's clubs" since we were given discount cards by two "ladies" walking down the street. There are still a lot of people out walking, so it isn't much different from being out during the day.
Speaking of "day", the sun is still shining at this hour. As we reached the street where our apartment is located, we had a fantastic view of the church all lit up in the sun at the end of the street. We can confirm from looking outside at various hours of the night and morning that it never gets completely dark. The darkest it gets is maybe twilight. The streetlights only stay on for about an hour each night.
Day 34: Wednesday, June 3 - Reykjavik - Reykjavik4you Apartments Hotel
OK, let's try this again...the weather is beautiful with not a cloud in the sky. Will it stay that way? Can we make it to the portside attractions? Will we join Dorothy and be blown away to Oz? You can bet that we'll have the appropriate clothing on today just in case!
We're taking it easy these days and not bothering to rush out for the day. We can't get into the habit of sleeping in though because we have to start this free breakfast time limit thing again in just a few days. But, for now we're lolling around until noon before venturing out.
We headed back to the hub of downtown and to the Old Harbor area looking for today's destination. There is a lot of construction around the harbor, so getting around is a bit convoluted, but once on the water side of the road it is fine. It isn't windy today, so the walk is pleasant.
There are nice views of the boats in the harbor, a huge boat pulled up out of the water for maintenance and the usual accoutrements you'll find at a working harbor. In the center of all of this is a long pier lined with ticket booths selling every possible option for whale/puffin/whatever watching. If you are so inclined, this is the epicenter of waterborne tours.
To get from this area to the other side of the harbor we have to walk between the water and a construction site for an addition to the Icelandair Hotel Marina. It looks like they are adding a wing of suites that will resemble old warehouses. There are snarky signs up saying things like, "We're adding on for the convenience of future guests, but we'll probably inconvenience a few of them first while we're making the improvements." At least they are honest. We were amused by a big sign at a smoking area. We're not sure why they bother to designate a specific spot because people walk along the street smoking all the time.
The newest part of the Old Harbor redevelopment is where the larger fishing boats are docked. There is a Maritime Museum here and several restaurants. At the moment we wouldn't call this area an attraction, but in a few years it might have a lot to offer. Our intended destination is on the other side of the museum the very end of the port area.
Aurora Reykjavik is intended to give visitors a taste of the Northern Lights if they can't see them in person. The location is off the beaten track, so it is no wonder that we are the only visitors today. The one person working there was very pleasant. This place is pricy for what it is at around $12 per person. You walk through several displays explaining what various nationalities believe the lights to be, and then you are turned loose in a room with various interactive displays to play with. They worked, but we wouldn't call them thrilling particularly. There is a short video explaining how the aurora works and why, which is interesting. After that you walk down a dark corridor and end up in a room where there is continuous widescreen video of the aurora projected on the entire wall. It is relaxing to sit and watch the whole thing. We didn't have anything else to do, so we watched all of it. It is about 20 minutes long with soothing musical accompaniment. Don't go if you are tired because you'll surely nod off. There is a gift shop at the end where we were offered free tea or coffee by the same woman who took our admission fee.
Bill wanted to go to a gallery he saw in a magazine, so we started walking back toward the church. Supposedly it is a 24-minute walk from the apartment. As we have mentioned before, there are murals on many of the downtown buildings. These are certainly better than the graffiti that would be there if the mural was not.
We walked, walked, and kept on walking...for an hour. The map wasn't quite accurate on the time estimate. Too bad Bill didn't know about this when we were staying at the Hilton because it is only about four blocks from it. Oh well, live and learn. The gallery has some nice things, but nothing that jumped out and screamed, "Buy me!" to us. There was no way we were going to walk up and down all those hills again, so we headed vaguely in the direction of the waterfront. At least we know the walk along there will be flat. There is a ton of new construction going on all along the water end of town. There is a brand new high rise FossHotel and a slew of modern apartment blocks.
The walk back along the water seemed a lot shorter than the in-town route we took, but maybe it is just that we know we are headed back and where we are going. The only thing of interest during the walk was a helicopter practicing rescue maneuvers with a boat in the harbor. A crew member lowered on a rope from the helicopter, and then they started hoisting up fake victims from the boat. Wasn't that exciting?
We decided to skip lunch today and have a nice dinner tonight. We got mini-lost on the way back to the apartment, but we needed to buy milk anyway and we found a market on the corner not far away.
We arrived back in the room at 3:30pm, but the maids haven't come yet. We snacked on food we have on hand as a substitute for lunch. The maids showed up at 4:00pm and did their thing. We think they actually cleaned the toilet and sink today. We always get new towels and they make the beds, but until today they haven't done any cleaning. We're pretty sure that if we left dirty dishes out they would wash them for us, but we always clean up after breakfast and put everything in the dishwasher.
Bill napped while Dave forced himself to stay awake. He doesn't want to repeat his mistake of sleeping for hours in the middle of the day. We have to get up early on Friday to check out by 11:00am. We're still trying to figure out what to do to kill time before our flight back to Denver. Knowing us we'll sit in a lounge at the airport, but we're kind of hoping to find something to do to waste an hour before doing that.
By the way, the weather was sunny and in the mid 50's all day. It became overcast later in the day, but we were back in our room by then.
Around 7:30pm we ventured out to look for a restaurant. There are two that are highly rated, so we tried those first (Grill Market & Apotek). Both had no tables available "until later". Again with the turning away of guests just because they can. Honestly we didn't get a good feeling from either of them, so maybe it is for the best.
We walked back toward our side of town and decided to try a place that is sort of down an obscure walkway behind the place we had lunch yesterday. It is in another old house and looks nice (and expensive). We were greeted promptly by a young man who was very pleasant. That's where the niceties ended unfortunately. The place was nearly empty which should have been our first clue, but it is nice inside. A terribly pretentious man waited on us and we immediately started getting bad vibes. He wasn't rude or anything, but his phony sophistication put us off. Another waiter was a bit less off-putting, but he insisted in addressing the men as "monsieur". This isn't a French restaurant that we are aware of, so what's the deal?
A couple seated near us who arrived after we did had their order taken first. Eventually the snooty guy came back and asked if we are ready to order. Click to view the MENU. Dave ordered the Cream of Langoustine appetizer and the Beef Rib-eye entree. Bill didn't want a starter and ordered the Horse Filet for his entree. The soup was to be the test because Dave has had it several times along the way. It was very good, as was the bread served with this course. The soup was delivered dry and the cream broth poured over it from a silver pitcher (yawn...been there, done that). An amuse bouche was dropped off with much fanfare and explanation (chicken liver pÔtÚ with currant jelly). Dave immediately threw his at Bill...he can detect liver from a mile away and he doesn't want it anywhere near him. Bill said it tasted like the jelly and nothing else. Everyone in the room seemed baffled by it. At least we know what an amuse bouche is. We have been around the block a few times.
As the room filled up we became even more invisible to the staff as they fawned over Icelandic people and ignored everyone else. Eventually, and we do mean eventually, our entrees arrived. They look nice and the portions are generous, but the beef is way overcooked to the point of being dry (and Dave likes medium-well beef). The horse "filet" is sliced thinly to disguise the fact that it isn't a filet, but a steak. It is too tough to be a filet. Big fail on both entrees. By the time someone finally came around to ask if we want dessert, all we want is to get the hell out of this place. Talk about a bad vibe. Sheesh. The semi-friendly "monsieur" waiter brought a couple of chocolate truffles with the bill, so we did get a free sweet out of the deal.
We made it back to the room by 9:30pm. No one solicited our business for the gentlemen's club tonight, but we did pass by one with a bouncer at the door earlier. Funny how the seedy underbelly starts to show itself if you stay in a city for any length of time.
We pre-ordered our meals for the return flight on the Icelandair website. Click to view the MENU. We both chose the beef. Hopefully the food is better flying from Iceland where the airline prepares its own food. The option to pre-order a meal wasn't available for flights to Iceland.
Day 35: Thursday, June 4- Reykjavik - Reykjavik4you Apartments Hotel
It is raining lightly this morning and we expect it to continue for most of the day. All we're doing today is souvenir shopping and trying to figure out how to cram everything back in our luggage.
Bill overflowed the shower and had to give up finishing, so we went to the office to report it. Dave handed over a bag of hand warmers we didn't use. They worked fine, but we found them unnecessary except on the few days when it was extremely windy. The guy at the desk hadn't even seen them before, so apparently Icelanders aren't as wimpy as we are. He said they will have fun with them in the office if nothing else. Dave suggested handing them out to guests on cold days.
We went shopping around 12:30pm. We already know where all of the shops of interest are located, so it didn't take long. We were hoping to get everything at one big store to get the tax refund, which we pretty much accomplished. There is a small Christmas shop we wanted to go in, but kept forgetting, so we finally had a chance to go there. Bill commented that this store is much better than the one with the unfriendly staff downtown. One of the clerks heard him and said to repeat it to the owner, so he did. She came out and was very happy that someone recognized the fact that she is selling many items made in Iceland rather than from China. She said that Icelandic people buy the Chinese stuff and tourists buy the Icelandic things, which makes sense. Anyway, we seem to have made her day by being complimentary.
The sales clerk at the Christmas store pointed out something regarding the tax refund that we are not aware of. There are two different companies offering this service. One has pink envelopes and the other is blue. She said it is easier to just drop the envelope in the box at the airport, but our intention is to cash them in at the office there (you get an instant credit to your credit card). We never noticed there were competing companies doing this, so we checked all our receipts and sure enough we do have one blue and the rest are pink. The same place at the airport redeems them, but if we had dropped the envelope in the box we'd be screwed.
Bill spotted an interesting building down a narrow alley. We're not sure if it is a movie theater or a concert hall. The location is very obscure, but if you live here you probably already know where it is.
We arrived back at the apartment just after 1:00pm and found they had already cleaned and supposedly fixed the shower drain. We'll find out later if they actually did anything to it.
Our luggage was successfully re-arranged to fit our purchases along with our clothing. Whether it zips closed remains to be seen. Dave threw out one of the heavy shirts he has been wearing for weeks. It's ugly, OK? It served its purpose, but its time to say goodbye. Unloading the packs of hand warmers helped, too.
Around 6:30pm we walked to the Italian restaurant we liked so much, Rossopomodoro. We're tired of expensive and not usually very good Icelandic food. We ordered a couple of different things than the first time. Dave had the Bruchetta Caprese again because it is too fabulous to pass up. Bill had a gigantic salad as a starter. The dressing was a simple balsamic vinaigrette, but it was delicious. Dave had good ol' Spaghetti and Meatballs; Bill had a pizza. OMG, this is the best Italian food we've ever had. No joke. Who knew you have to go to Reykjavik to find perfect Italian food. Since when is spaghetti and meatballs anything? Well, here it is. As we said, OMG! The service fell down after dinner and it took forever to get the waitress' attention so we could order dessert. Bill had the ice cream assortment he had the first time; Dave ordered the apple cake the server talked him out of before. Needless to say, the cake was as fantastic as the rest of the meal. This place is a definite must-eat if you are ever in this town.
By the way, it rained all day, so we're glad we didn't have to do anything major outside.
Day 36: Friday, June 5 - Fly from Reykjavik to Denver - Reykjavik4you Apartments Hotel
We can't believe that our time in Iceland has come to an end. Time flies when you're having fun, right?
It is never any fun trying to cram everything purchased during a month-long road trip back into luggage that is already full. But, we managed. Bill expanded into an extra small carry-on, but he could have fit it into the other bags.
We hauled our stuff down the stairs which is quite a feat at this place. Then we have to roll them all the way down the sidewalk and around the main building to our car. Dave reported the shower again because it wasn't fixed yesterday. Hopefully the next arrival won't flood the bathroom.
We hit the road toward the airport around 10:45am, but we have a few sightseeing stops planned to kill an hour or so.
Our final thoughts on the Reykjavik4You Apartment Hotel: We liked it. The location is perfect. The other side of town is more downtown-ish with bigger buildings. This area is more residential. We're only a block from all the shops and restaurants and when we did want to go downtown it is within walking distance. The apartment itself is spacious and nicely furnished. The bathroom is large, but, as usual, poorly laid out. At least it has a door so we don't have to shower with a view to the street or anything. There's probably somewhere in Iceland where that is happening. The price we paid here is significantly less than we would have to shell out for a hotel room anywhere near this nice. We didn't ask the staff anything, but the few times we did deal with them they were happy to help. Free parking is a nice benefit of staying here, too. We'd recommend this place and would choose it again.
Our final thoughts on Reykjavik: This is an eclectic, vibrant town full of restaurants and nightlife. There are always people out on the street and it is safe to walk around. The graffiti is off-putting and we find it odd that it isn't cleaned up, but maybe it adds to the edgy vibe or something. It would be possible to stay here for a week and do some day trips to the Golden Circle and Glacier Lagoon for a nice getaway trip. We'd recommend staying longer in the country to see more, but if you only have a week we say go for it and come to Iceland.
There is a geothermal area between Reykjavik and the airport, but we have to take a bit of a detour to get to it. A short part of the road is gravel and it is raining slightly (and heavily a few times), but it wasn't any problem. We made a scenic stop at a lake along the way. Anything to kill more time is worth it. Across the street from the parking area for the lake are some interesting wavy lava cliffs that look like they were carved by water or perhaps the wind.
Shortly after the lake we arrived at our intended stop, the Seltun Geothermal Area. This is a natural geothermal spring part of the hillside, but it has been enlarged by explosions caused by the drilling of wells years ago. The main one that exploded left a huge steaming crater. There are other abandoned wells that are still steaming. You know this is an important sightseeing stop because there is a restroom.
The first feature from the parking lot is a simmering spring, which is followed by the aforementioned explosion crater. There are several small cracks that are hissing along the boardwalk. There are bubbling mud pots, steaming mounds that look like they were painted by an artist, and a couple of deep crater filled with plopping grey mud. It was raining most of the time we were at this stop, but not enough to be a problem.
From the geothermal area we continued on until finding another turn off for viewing a lake fed by a geothermal spring and the manmade ones drilled in the area. After leaving here and getting onto the road toward the airport it started to pour rain. We felt almost sorry for the people riding bikes in it. However, most guide books warn that biking in Iceland might not be the best idea.
Since we came around the back way to get to the airport we passed by the Blue Lagoon. This is probably the most famous place in Iceland and by the look of the parking lot filled with buses, taxis, and cars the marketing sure is working. By the way, the lagoon now requires a reservation if you want to swim with 5,000 of your closet friends. The lagoon is not natural. It was formed by the runoff from the nearby geothermal plant. When it was discovered that the water helps relieve psoriasis, it became a world-renowned treatment center. The rest is history. In our opinion it is overrated. There are smaller, less commercial lagoons near Akureyri and every town has a geothermal swimming pool.
All of this laborious sightseeing killed about 90 minutes, which is better than sitting in the airport for four hours. We followed the instructions from the car hire guy that we got when we arrived: Park in the long-term lot, put the parking ticket on the console, hide the keys under the seat, and leave it unlocked. We went a bit further and emailed him the location of the car which he acknowledged immediately.
There is a strange sculpture in front of the airport, but what else is new? We decided that it signifies rebirth after a lava flow since it looks like a seed sprouting. You can use your imagination, if you prefer.
The airport is as incoherent as Icelandic bathrooms, so good luck figuring out what the heck you are supposed to do first. There is the usual lack of signage that makes any sense. There are zero signs on the outside doors saying which way to enter for departures. Luckily it isn't busy, so it isn't like LAX where you have to make a fool of yourself in front of thousands of people.
Inside the door we chose correctly as the departure area, we found probably fifty automated check-in kiosks with nobody using any of them. Hey, we're game. Strangely enough it actually made sense and it was no problem to print out luggage tags and boarding passes. We then followed a sign pointing at luggage drop-off, but never found it. The only thing around the corner to which the sign points is Icelandair's check-in counter. OK fine. They took our luggage and they acted like we did the right thing, but it would be easier to make it clear up front, wouldn't it?
Bill's check-in person told him about the Saga lounge we are entitled to use. Dave's only told him it is too early to know the gate assignment, so look at the board in the terminal. She did realize that she forgot the Saga information after the fact and told Dave to ask Bill about it.
Now comes the fun part...trying to figure out where the heck you are supposed to go! Signs, what? There is one big sign vaguely pointing up an escalator, but we're looking for the bank to cash in our VAT refund and change money. The airport information says it should be on the lower level, but it isn't anywhere to be found. Oh well, up the escalator and straight into the security check-point.
We're both sinister looking enough to be told to take off our shoes, but the security agents were extremely polite and friendly. They're nothing like the surly TSA agents in the U.S. There is only a metal detector to walk through; no body scanners or anything. Dave forgot and left eye drops in his stuff and nobody noticed.
By some freak of nature we found the bank to handle our transactions after passport control. The VAT refund requires turning in the receipts already filled out with your credit card number. A refund is processed in a few weeks. If you want cash up front there is a commission fee. It isn't enough money to concern us anyway, so we'll take our chances on the credit card refund. Besides, after all this time in Iceland the one card we've used for almost everything is up to almost $7,000! Yikes that food was expensive. Remember, our airfare and car rental were paid before we left. Those charges are only for food, gas and a couple of hotels. We're not big on shopping, so that's a very small part of it.
When Dave tried to change Icelandic money back into dollars it shouldn't have been a problem. And it wasn't until the clerk handed him $65.00. The amount should have been over $700 (we started with about $900 in ISK, but we spent some of it). Dave asked, "Are you sure that's correct?" With a straight face she said, "Oh, maybe not. I forgot a zero at the end." Back to the computer and she doles out $665 instead. Dave sees the receipt and that's what it says, so he takes it and we wander off to look for the Saga Lounge.
It isn't far down the confusing corridors to the lounge. By the way, you have to walk right through the middle of a duty-free shop to get to the gates. If you want to shoplift you can sure get away with it here.
We found the lounge and checked in. It is probably the nicest, most comfortable airline lounge we've ever used. Too bad their airplanes aren't as fancy. There are big loungers all around with electrical outlets and USB ports between each seat. There is real food on a buffet: Meatballs, fruit, cold cuts, stuff like that. They have full bottles of alcohol just sitting out to serve yourself, plus a fancy coffee machine, and another buffet of desserts. None of the food is great, but there is lots of it.
Dave happened to look carefully at the money exchange receipt and noticed that the amount shown as the payout is Ç665, not dollars. Hm, what's up with that? He thought it should have been more dollars. Back to the bank he went and lo and behold the clerk admits it is wrong and coughs up the correct amount without question ($775). Apparently she's having an off day, but those are some whopper mistakes. Moral of the story: Be sure to check and re-check your transaction at the airport bank!
The free internet in the lounge is very fast (there is free internet in the entire airport, as well). Dave received an email through Tripadvisor from the owner of Torfan Restaurant...the one with the snooty service and dry beef. He wanted to know when we dined there so he could look into what happened. That's very commendable of him. He said that isn't the kind of service or quality he wants to have and he wants to get to the bottom of it. Dave answered him and gave him the information he asked for. Quickly thereafter he wrote back offering a refund of ISK15,000 and telling Dave that his review will result in the waiter in question being fired. Apparently he has been "talked to" about his attitude before and this was the last straw. We don't like to be the cause of someone losing their job, but this guy is ruining the reputation of this restaurant. Dave isn't the only one to mention him in a review. By the way, Dave declined the offer of a refund. We did, after all, eat the meal and it wasn't the food that was the main issue. We have to commend an owner who cares enough to follow up on a bad review. We'd be willing to give that place another shot if we ever come back to Reykjavik.
Our boarding passes show boarding begins at 16:05 (departure 16:45), so we started walking to the gate. Again, this airport is very incoherent. The narrow corridors are lined with gates on both sides with communal waiting areas sprinkled around. There are nowhere near enough seats for everyone because six flights all leave within five minutes of one another. And, of course, they all leave from adjacent gates. Our gate is at the end of the corridor and there is a separate waiting area beyond the counter. It isn't open.
The sign changed to show a departure time of 17:00. Around 16:30 they started checking boarding passes and ID's. Then we were in the lounge area to wait again. Eventually they herded everyone up an escalator to the ramp onto the plane. No announcements about boarding were ever made, so it was a free for all.
Once onboard everything is fine. We have the same bulkhead seats with the wide legroom that we had on the way to Iceland. This aircraft is a bit newer, but it doesn't have Wi-Fi like the older one did. Go figure.
We did indeed take off at 5:00pm. The weather is clear now, so we had a nice view of the "Journey to the Center of the Earth" volcano we drove around. So it is goodbye to Iceland and hello to Greenland in the first hour.
About an hour into the flight we were served warm, um, granola? Birdseed? We're not sure, but it had dried cranberries in it. It was impossible to pick up because it was literally the consistency of birdseed. At least it was healthy. After that we were handed wine lists and dinner menus. However, no one was asked for their dinner order because apparently everyone pre-ordered in advance. Why the menu?
Our meals were delivered, but they're not at all what is pictured or described on the menu. However, it is much better than what we were served coming from Denver. We got sliced, cold roast beef topped with toasted onions and pickles. There's a small ramekin of something yellow that goes with the meat. There is a small amount of tasty potato salad, some God-awful sunflower bread, and two cold scallops on "celeriac paste". We could have passed on the scallops, but we ate it anyway. Luckily we were given warm breadsticks twice, so all was not lost. A sort of filled cookie thing was served for dessert. All in all, better than on the way here, but still on the low end of the totem pole for airline food.
The flight was mostly smooth until about three hours before landing when it was slightly turbulent off and on for about an hour. It was rough again during the last hour because of thunderstorms over Colorado, but it wasn't anything unusual. A snack was served that consisted of four cold cuts, two dry melba toast pieces, four olives, and 4 tiny cubes of cheese. Better than nothing, but the food budget for this airline must be $1 per person.
All in all, the flight was fine. The seats are OK and the entertainment system works. The time went by quickly enough, too. We prefer flights like this where they don't force you to pretend it is nighttime and turn all the lights off.
This adventure continues with our High Country Road Trip.
Iceland is a wonderful country well worth a visit. Even a short trip can be worthwhile as there are many things to see within an hour's drive of Reykjavik. Icelandair offers free stopovers on the way to and from Europe, so it can be a good deal, too.
At the time of our research, Icelandair offered the best fares to and from Iceland. If you travel in the shoulder season the fares are very reasonable. It isn't a fancy airline, but the service is fine. We'd fly with them again.
When to Go
If you don't mind that some museums and tours are not operating we suggest going in early May or late September. Iceland's high season is from mid-June to the end of August when the tourists evaporate. Shoulder season is the least expensive for hotels, transportation and tours. You'll have to be prepared to be flexible because the weather can turn nasty without warning, but we only missed one thing because of closed roads. But, be prepared to quickly adapt and change your itinerary on the fly.
The high season is overrun with tourists, but the weather will be more predictable and all of the roads will be open. You'll have tours to choose from everywhere and to suit every desire. Book hotels well in advance because the demand far exceeds the supply in most towns.
The best way to see the country is with your own wheels. Most guide books will tell you that you don't need a 4-wheel drive because the roads are fine. In essence, that's true. The ring road is paved most of the way around and gravel roads can be navigated in a regular car. However, the gravel roads can be rough and filled with potholes, so an SUV will be more comfortable for sure. You cannot drive a regular car on any "F" road, but we only used one of these once to drive on a beach. If you want to go inland to the highlands you MUST have a high-clearance 4-wheel drive SUV and be daring enough to do river crossings. We recommend getting a small SUV for peace of mind and the higher vantage point you'll get from it. We were very happy with our rental from Auto Car Rental in Iceland. The orientation we got from the man who met us at the airport was invaluable. Their rate was significantly less than the others and included a GPS and all of the insurance. Do not rent a car without taking the extra insurance for gravel/sand, etc.
Driving is on the right the same as in the U.S. There are no unusual laws and traffic is light except in the center of Reykjavik. The Ring Road is paved and in good shape except for a few stretches in the remote eastern part of the country. Unless the road number starts with an "F", the road is navigable in a regular car. But, take our advice and rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. You'll be glad you did. Trust us on this one. Gasoline is very expensive and you MUST have a credit card with a PIN in order to purchase gas. All pumps are automated and very few offer the option to pay a live person. Better yet, get a card with an IC chip. You'll still need a PIN, but the chip cards are accepted everywhere while the magnetic stripes are being phased out.
All roadbeds in Iceland are raised so that the snow will blow up and over the road rather than collecting on it. That means that a moment of inattention can land you in a serious situation. It is easy to stray slightly off the road and flip over into a field, or worse, off a cliff. There are no barriers to prevent this anywhere in Iceland. You are expected to take care of yourself.
If you get stranded somewhere on an "F" road you will have to pay for the cost of your rescue, by the way.
Iceland is a credit card user's dream. Everyone uses credit cards for even small purchases. We only paid cash twice and that was at a food truck in the middle of nowhere. He had a credit card machine, but it was out of range of reception. You MUST have a credit card with a PIN to buy gasoline. There is no way around this as most pumps are automated. Better yet, get a credit card with an IC chip so you can use it like the locals do at all outlets. Swiping the magnetic strip is so yesterday, you know. You do not need a PIN for regular purchases. As an estimate, we'd say that $100 in Icelandic currency is more than enough to get by. That's about how much we spent in cash during our entire time in Iceland.
You know from reading the blog that Icelandic hotels can be very unusual. Be prepared for anything and everything. Iceland is like a designer's fever dream. There is no need to tip anyone in an Icelandic hotel.
Here's what you can expect at Icelandic hotels:
What Clothing to Bring
Bring clothes for every possible weather condition no matter what time of year you visit. Be sure to dress in layers and be prepared for sudden snow or cold, windy weather. You will need rain gear and a windproof jacket, too. An umbrella is useless because of the wind; bring a hat that you can tie to your head instead. Waterproof shoes/boots are a must if you are doing anything except the most basic sightseeing. Even the popular attractions usually require walking/hiking over rocks, mud, and gravel to get to the viewing area. You will need enough clothing for your entire trip or things that can be washed in the sink that will dry overnight. There are NO self-service Laundromats in Iceland and only a handful of hotels offer laundry service. If it is offered it will be extremely expensive. We're not exaggerating about this...BRING ENOUGH CLOTHES FOR YOUR ENTIRE STAY.
In general, the food is fresh and of high quality. You'll find lamb on almost every menu in some form or another and it is usually the best choice. Other staples include Arctic Char (similar to salmon), Cod, Chicken and Horse. For casual meals, stick to pizza and burgers. We had the best pizza we've ever eaten at an obscure restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Iceland is famous for its hot dogs. You'll find these at gas station grills and kiosks. The latter will usually have a long line. To eat like a local order your hot dog with "everything".
Everyone eats finger foods with a knife and fork. Even teenage boys eat pizza and burgers with a fork. If someone picks up a sandwich to eat it, they are a foreigner. Nobody will ridicule you if you do pick up your food, but if you want to look like a local use a knife and fork for everything. Try it. We decided we like it so much we might keep doing it from now on.
Outside of Reykjavik, you will never be presented with a check at the end of the meal. You are expected to go up to the cashier who will determine what you ordered and calculate the total. It makes no sense to us, but that's how it is done. If you want to split the bill with friends it is not a problem. We were asked every single time if we wanted separate checks. You'll probably be stunned by the prices for restaurant meals even in pizza places. Getting a meal of any kind for less than $50 per person is almost unheard of.
In general, there is no tipping in Iceland for anything. At some very fancy places in Reykjavik you may see a place on the credit card bill to add a tip, but it is never expected. You won't offend anyone by offering a tip, but the recipient may be a bit embarrassed by the offer.
Don't worry about communicating. 99% of the people you will deal with speak perfect American English without an accent. The few who don't will still be able to get their point across. If you stick with hotels, restaurants and shops that are used to tourists you can guarantee the staff will speak English. Not just rudimentary English, but they'll speak it so well they'll get your sarcastic humor. The only people we found who didn't speak any English (usually) are the cashiers at supermarkets and very old people working in shops in remote villages.
Iceland is a very safe country and crime is not a concern to the casual tourist. What is a concern is your personal safety at cliff edges, waterfalls and such. There are NO barriers to prevent you from falling hundreds of feet off a cliff. In fact, there will usually be no warning at all that you are nearing a sheer drop off. You are allowed to walk or wade to the very edge of raging waterfalls, if you choose. Always be aware of your footing and where you are. It is almost always extremely windy. One moment of inattention could land you in a hospital or worse. And, as with driving in the interior, if you are injured or require rescue, you will be charged for all of the costs involved to save you.
Iceland's water is some of the purest on the planet and all tap water is safe to drink.
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