Iceland Anniversary Trip – Days 13-16

May 31st

Today we are headed to spend our final few days in Iceland in its capital city:  Reykjavik.  As we will require a negative COVID test to enter the United States, we have booked an appointment online – easy peasy and will do that the day before we fly.  Like our entry test, results will be available within 24 hours.  This test however, we have to pay for ($56 each).

If you recall from our first blog post on Iceland, the city of Reykjavik was settled by Ingolfur Arnarson, upon finding his two pillars ashore in this “smoky bay”.

For centuries Reykjavik remained just a simply collection of farm buildings. In 1225, a monastery was founded on the offshore island of Videy although it was destroyed three centuries later.

During the 17th century, the Danish king imposed a crippling trade monopoly on Iceland which left the country starving and destitute.  The Sheriff of Reykjavik found a way to bypass this embargo by starting weaving, tanning and wool-dyeing factories which became the foundation for the city.

In WWII Reykjavik really boomed which it became the location for both British and American troops stationed in nearby Keflavik (where the airport is now situated).  It continued to thrive until 2008 when it suffered terribly after the global credit crisis.  When tourism began to boom, the city began to grow once again and continues to thrive.

Doug had booked a guesthouse in Old Reykjavik but as we couldn’t check in until the afternoon, we decided that since we had time (three full days) here, we’d do the hike out to the erupting volcano today.

As the world knows, Fargradalsfjall erupted on March 20th this year, and continues to put on a show.  We’ve seen erupting volcanos before so this was not our list of must-do’s but we have more time than we need in the city due to bad weather cancelling a few attractions in the past few days  (we had planned to do the hike to Gymer yesterday but the weather was far too wet and the recommendation is to do the hike after mid-June so we didn’t want to chance encountering snowy, muddy trails) we added this attraction to our list.  We’d met a few tourists in the past two weeks who had done the hike and really thought it was amazing.

We had to drive right past Reykjavik and head towards the airport, cross the Reykjanes Peninsula that we’d already toured (past the Blue Lagoon) and upon hitting the southern shore, find the parking area.  As this is a brand new tourist attraction, a couple of parking lots have been created and here you pay 1000ISK to park using their app online.

After parking, we dressed warmly as there was a very strong, cold wind although it was partly cloudy and dry (for now) and we grabbed our cameras,

It was about a 4km / 2.5 mi one way walk on a well-established trail.  As we approached the site some areas were roped off but of course, we saw people go beyond those tape barriers and even some tape was completely torn down  (there’s always a few who spoil for the majority)

It was super, super windy up at the view point atop a hill and at times we felt we were going to get blown; it made it hard to hold the camera steady at times and the wind is very loud in our videos.

We stayed up there about an hour in total, moving to different vantage points (but not beyond the tapes!) and enjoyed several showings.  It seemed to be erupting approximately every ten minutes.  This hike was WELL worth it and we are very glad we decided to do it.

Upon returning to our car it began to sprinkle so we’d time it well.  We drove back into the city stopping at what was claimed to be the best hotdog food truck in the city.  Upon seeing that they actually looked exactly like the ones we had at gas stations, we passed and went elsewhere for lunch.

We then checked into our guesthouse, got settled in and before our homemade dinner,  went for a walk to check out the area, the harbour in particular.   We saw some historical signboards with interesting tidbits along the way until we got to the Amnesty International signboards near the central park about the work they’ve done around the world.  We made our way towards the harbour where there were more signboards about various ships.

The Refurinn Guesthouse was being renovated so a couple of rooms were not available but the place was once again, not full.  We had twin beds, a table, 2 chairs and our own sink for washing up.  There were two full bathrooms across the hall and it was very quiet.  Like us, most people are at the end of their vacation or the very beginning.  Our room was the one to the left of the entrance.

Weather today – mixed with strong winds

 

June 1st

Tuesday, was a rather chill day; there were a few sights we wanted to see around the city and Fran found a “free” walking tour that encompassed most of them with a few extras but we only had about ten minutes to get to the starting point which was only a few blocks away.  Upon arrival, Martin greeted us and there was another couple from Germany there.  By the time the tour got started there were about six others that joined us – all Americans.

Martin told us some history to begin the tour and of course, more at each stop as well as some local legends.  The tour began in the main park and lasted about 2.5 hours.

Vik Churchyard Park – previously the location of a church with graveyard from 1000 AD for about 800 years:

Oldest building – dates back to 1762:

Basalt column commemorating Ingolfshur Arnason (there’s supposed to be steam coming out of that tube on the right but it’s not functioning today):

Ingolfshur statue:

At this stop, Martin spoke to us about the Book of Iceland Genealogy.

Because written records in Iceland go back to the settlement of Iceland, there are complete family trees in existence that date back that far.  Since Iceland is such a small country, it can be difficult to meet “that someone special” who is not closely related to you.  There is an app (yes, an app!) where you can enter an person’s name and see how far apart your familial relationship might be.  Fran gave Martin our friend, Alyssa’s name, and lo and behold she was recorded in there and she was five degrees of separation away from him.  Apparently, they are fine with dating someone who is at least three degrees of separation from themselves.  Fun fact:  the use of this app increases dramatically on Friday & Saturday night as young people meet each other in bars! 

Old stone pier – uncovered during construction in 2018:

Lake Tjornin – locals call it the Pond ; ice rink in winter:

Parliament – present building; a new one is under construction next door:

Harbour – touristy, restaurants and shops:

outside a restaurant

Harpa – concert hall:

Elf rock – said to have “powers” :

The story goes that every time there were attempts to move the rock to build a road, a series of “mishaps” occurred squashing such plans.  The rock was said to be an elf church and a local self-declared seer spoke to the elves and it was agreed it could be moved if it was taken to a peaceful spot so that it how it ended up in this small green space. 

At one point in the tour, the large Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja, was visible looking up the rainbow street:

The tour ended at the lakeside and we made our way up to the church.  Right out front of the church is a statue of Liefur Erkison, the Viking explorer we all learned about in elementary school, on the bow of his ship:

As you can see the concrete is set in a way to resemble the basalt columns found all around the country.  The State Architect Guojon Samuelsson’s design of the church was commissioned in 1937. He is said to have designed it to resemble the rocks, mountains and glaciers of the country’s landscape.   Sadly he didn’t live to see its completion. 

It took 41 years to build the church: construction started in 1945 and ended in 1986, but the landmark tower was completed long before the whole church was finished. The steeple and wings were completed in 1974, and the nave was consecrated in 1986. At the time of construction, the building was criticized as too old-fashioned and a blend of different architectural styles. The church was originally intended to be less tall, but the leaders of the Church of Iceland wanted a large spire so as to outshine the Catholic cathedral.

This is the highest point in the city and one of the tallest buildings in the country.  From the top of the 74.5 m / 244’ tower, you get panoramic views of the entire city and surrounding area. 

 We paid a small fee to go up the tower.  You take an elevator up and then one flight of stairs to reach the very top.

Here are pics of the views we saw:

Upon returning the guesthouse we had our late breakfast (trying to get back in our groove of 12 hour fasting) and hung out for a couple of hours. That night we decided to eat out and try some of the famous fish and chips we’d heard about.  The place that was highly recommended was not opening until June 1st so we tried another one with high ratings only to discover that as they close at six (we got there at five knowing they closed early), they were no longer cooking full meals!  A local suggested trying a warehouse down the road two blocks that has a food truck stop/food court inside.

There we found one food truck indoors and a few take-out places around a seating area with a view of the harbour.  We did find a fish and chip place and decided to just order one plate to share.  Our order was for two pieces of halibut and chips with a small side salad and two beers – cost was just over $40.  The fish was very good and the fries were excellent.

We walked back to our guesthouse and chilled for the night.

Weather today – started out sunny and then was quite mixed.

 

June 2nd

For our second last day in Iceland, Doug had booked us a snorkel tour in Thingvellir National Park not far from the city.

Thingvellier National Park is one of Iceland’s most important historical sites.  As we’ve mentioned before the world’s first parliament was held here in 930 AD.  The area has a superb natural setting with the fissured rift valley, rivers and waterfalls. 

We had to be there by 9 to check in wearing clothing suitable for under a dry suit.  On our drive we had views of the Pingvallavatn – Iceland’s largest lake.  It is fed by pure glacial water filtered underground for 40 km / 23 mi before entering the lake.  Apparently the lake is full of Artic char that have been isolated here so long, they have formed four different subspecies!

As we arrived early, after paying for parking, we went to see the little church with a very small cemetery that was nearby – one of the first in the country.

Pingvallarkirkja was originally consecrated in the 11th century but the current wooden structure dates from 1859.  Inside are several bells from earlier churches and a 17th century wooden pulpit as well as a painted altar piece from 1834.  (Due to COVID the church was not open to see this.)

Nearby we spotted some kind of loon maybe and a family of graylag geese:

On our drive through the park we could see the wall of the North American plate and the expanse of the rift itself – over 3 km!

When we arrived at the meeting point for the tour, it turns our guide, Luis from Adventure Trekking was from Mexico!  He was a dive instructor from Cancun who took a two year contract to snorkel/dive here in the frigid waters of Iceland.

We were six in total, a couple from Colorado on their belated honeymoon and two single American men.  We were going to snorkel the Sifla Fissure (which means silver) , one of the cracks in the rift valley of the continental plates.  This was high on Doug’s list of must do’s which is quite surprising when you consider he hates cold water!

We were given the option of wet or dry suits – both have advantages and disadvantages.  With the wet suit you can dive deeper but you get wet and the dry suits means you stay drier but mostly float.  We and the new bride in the group opted for dry and the others went for wet.

It took a while for us all to get suited up with Luis helping us all at some point or other in the process (mostly with hoods and mittens).  Doug and I were wearing a couple of warm layers (long underwear as a base) and although not the most comfortable things to wear mostly stayed dry.  Of course, your face gets wet putting it in the water but other than that, only our hands actually got wet despite wearing neoprene glove/mittens.

After donning all our gear except flippers, we did a short walk to the put in point across the road down a short path to a set of stairs leading into the water:

Luis had us put on our flippers at this point, walk down the stairs and get into the icy water.

Doug

Fran

All six of us

We had about 30 minutes in the water mostly just floating with the current.  We could see the “crack in the rift” floated through a larger opening called the “cathedral” and then on into the shallow lagoon area where  you could see fissures in the bottom.

Luis had a GoPro and took pictures through but Fran too had our underwater camera for a few more.

Fran

Doug

The crack – so blue!

Us over the crack in the rift

Just before beginning to float downstream to the lagoon

The shallow lagoon at the end

fissure

the only plant life we saw

Despite the water being so cold, we had a great experience and would recommend it highly.  After walking back to the parking lot, we were treated to some hot chocolate after changing and then went to explore a few more spots in the park.   The first was to the waterfall, Oxarafoss.

The pool here at the base of Oxarafoss named Drekkingarhylur, used to be used drown woman found guilty of infanticide, adultery and other serious crimes.

GOT Fans:  In this park is where you’ll find the location for The Bloody Gate – at the waterfall where Brienne of Tarth and Podrick run into Arya and the Hound,

Then we drove around to the other side of the “wall” to park at the Visitor’s Centre to walk to the view points along the wall itself.  Doug really enjoyed this part.

In the distance you can see a black line – that’s the European plate wall

We returned to the city too early for our 3pm COVID test appointments so first we went back to the guesthouse and had a late mid-day meal.

We drove to the Health Clinic and showed our bar codes; we were sent immediately to a room down the hall where we were seated each with our own nurse and within fifteen seconds they’d scanned our bar codes once again and swabbed our throats and noses and we were on our way.  We received the results that evening and were good to go for our flights back to JFK tomorrow.

We hope that these results will be accepted in two days when we cross the land border from the US into Canada as they will be within the 72 hour time frame allowed.

Weather today – mixed in the morning, sunny in the afternoon

 

June 3rd

Our last day in Iceland.

We packed up and checked out of our guest house after a final breakfast (this means dropping the key back into the lock box) and got everything into the car.  For today we’d booked the Blue Lagoon as our last attraction before our late afternoon flight.

We arrived a bit early and made a stop at a pull out along the road where we discovered a small lava tube!

As we left the lava cave we could see the steam from the Blue Lagoon:

After you turn onto the road entering the site, you see this on the south side of the road:

It’s not something you want to get into; it’s very shallow with lots of lava rocks in it.

It had began to sprinkle and we waited in the car at the Blue Lagoon parking lot for it to be ten o’clock as there was no outside covered waiting area.  At about 9:50 we walked over and were asked to wait in a line just inside the door – we were first in line.

They called us forward just before 10 and we showed them our tickets on Fran’s phone.  We were given a bracelet to wear which opens and locks your choice of locker and on which you can charge drinks/food, massages, etc.  We got the basic entry which gives you access to a locker, towels one facial silica mask and one drink.

After you change, you can enter the pool area via or doors a watery tunnel into a cave – which of course, is what we did!

The Blue Lagoon has a lovely setting in black lava rocks and has the same lovely light blue water as the Nature Baths at Myvatn.  It too is not very deep but the temperature is soothing and there are “hotter spots” you can find where the water enters the pools.  There are a number of pools separate with little bridges that you can walk under to access the other pools.  There is an upscale restaurant here as well as a fancy hotel/spa on the premises as well with its own access and parking area.

The water is at least 38C / 100 F and comes from 2000 m / 6562’ underground.

Main pool

power shower, sauna and steam room are beyond that bridge

one of the bridges to a lesser pool

There are several “lifeguards” walking around (in parkas today!) and they are more than happy to take photos and chat with you.

We enjoyed two and half hours here, chatting with the some other tourists and availing ourselves of the services available to us.  We tried the silica face mask:

the waterfall shower:

We also went into the steam room but didn’t stay as it wasn’t that hot and finally we enjoyed a beer at the swim up bar.  Here we again chatted with an American couple, Laura and Juan, who told us of their “adventure” of travelling at the beginning of COVID when the US government still said it was safe to travel.  They were among the guests on the Zaandam Cruise ship that had trouble finding a port to disembark.  Laura actually wrote a book about their experience which Fran has since enjoyed reading entitled 19 Sunsets in a Gilded Cage available on Amazon.

While the Blue Lagoon was lovely, the weather did deter a bit from the experience especially after the wonderful experience we had in Myvatn with full sunshine.  Although we’d have to say the setting here is more magical with much more surrounding lava rocks (although the glaciers in the distance at Myvatn have their own beauty).  Since it was misty rain, we can’t tell you whether the further out surroundings add or detract from the place.  If you only do one silica pool, pick a sunny day if at all possible and either will be well worth it; no regrets about doing both, but it’s not a must.

At 12:30 we dragged ourselves out of the pools, showered again, and made our way back to the airport.  Our flight is not until 5pm but we have to return our rental by 1pm.  Drop off was simple and as it had begun to rain once again, we waited about fifteen minutes for their shuttle to take us to the airport.  Due to COVID nothing was open at the airport pre-security, so we were rather hungry  – we’d only had a beer at the Blue Lagoon!  Check in for our flight did not begin until just after 3 and when we got through security, we headed for the one cafeteria style place that was open to grab some food.

Before boarding our flight we also had to download an app for entry into New York State – it was a questionnaire and you had to leave contact info for any contact tracing that may be required.  We had to show this upon landing at JFK.

Our flight left on time and we landed on a little early at JFK but had over two hours until our flights to Buffalo so we found one of the few sit down restaurants that was open and enjoyed dinner and beer before boarding.  Our flight landed a little early and we grabbed an Uber back to our trailer (by now it’s nearly midnight which felt like 4AM to us!

 Weather today – cloudy with drizzling rain most of the day

Once again, there are plenty more photos in our galleries to check out.

 

Fun facts about our trip:

  • Number of km/mi we drove:  4,320 km / 2685 mi – that’s a heck of a lot more than just the 825 mile ring road!
  • The warmest temperature we experienced was 17C / 63F
  • The coldest temperature we experienced (without the wind chill factor!) was 3C / 37F
  • MPG we averaged:  35 mpg / 15 km per litre
  • Price of nightly accommodations ranged from €42 to 103 ($50USD to 123) – no hotels – all guest houses or hostels
  • Number of potholes we encountered in the entire country:  less than ten!
  • Speeding tickets: one
  • Number of times we ate a meal out:  three (one lunch, two dinners)
  • How many bottles of water we bought:  zero
  • How many cold showers we had:  none  (you overlanders will appreciate that!)
  • Number of “hot pots” we dipped into:  five
  • Coldest water we went into: 2C / 35F for our snorkel
  • Waterfalls:  countless
  • Glaciers and snow:  a lot of the first; and more then we expected of the second
  • Number of Puffins:  hundreds
  • COVID tests: two – one on arrival and one before departing
  • Amount of actual cash spent:  approximately $125 as most things are credit or online (btw ATM fee was $1.22!)
  • Memories: priceless
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