Iceland

An Icelandic Journey

Iceland.

I can tell you that I never thought about Iceland as a travel bucket list item nor have I ever given it any thought of travel. In fact, before I went to Iceland, I couldn’t tell you a lot about the dang island.

So when my travel-in-shenanigans-partner-in-crime Amy asked, “Wanna go to Iceland with me?” I of course said “Yes.”

Why wouldn’t I go? New country. An island. Why not?

My main goal was to finally see the Northern Lights. I never got to see those pesky lights, but what I did get to see was just as breathetaking and stunningly beautiful as I imagined the Northern Lights would have been.

Iceland doesn’t have a motto, but it should be: “wait 5 five minutes” or what Amy and I basically asked about every village/city/town/national landmark/etc “how do you pronounce this”?

For the “wait 5 minutes” it is a reference to weather. It honestly does change every 5 minutes and though 5 minutes might seem a bit exaggerated, it is not. Rain one minute, snow the next, sunny skies, gray fog, winds that can knock you down and whatever Mother Nature felt like showing off. The weather is moodier than a woman at that time of the month. The weather doesn’t stop anyone though. Add a layer for rain, take off a layer for the sudden warmth. You just carry on doing what you do.

As for the “how do you pronounce this”, Iceland I owe you a sincere and heartfelt apology. I didn’t pronounce anything right and in the end made up my own names for your fine country that were not remotely close to anything you named it. I loved every aspect of your country, but you could you add a pronunciation next to your maps/markers/etc? I’d greatly appreciate it and it would stop me from butchering the Icelandic language.

Here is my cliff notes version of my Iceland Journey: (*note foss = “waterfalll” and jökull = “glacier”)

Day 1 (October 20)
– Arrive in Iceland (5:55 am Iceland time, 1:55 am US east coast time) in the dawn of morning. Actually that’s a complete lie. It was still dark as if we landed in the middle of the night because t was raining and it was chilly. Not chill you to the bone, but cold enough to need something more than just long sleeves. 
– First stop Rjukandi at Kaffi Rjukandi Vegamot. I needed coffee and what I received was the world’s strongest espresso shot known to man, but it was also served from the nicest Icelander on earth who attempted to give us a crash course in Icelandic but I failed to retain any knowledge in my sleep deprived mind. I also realize where hipsters got their clothing inspiration from…ICELAND. I can say this with confidence because let’s be honest, it’s Iceland and it’s wedged between the cold waters of Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. They own wool sweaters, suspenders, pants, and boots like it’s nobody’s business. In the US, the hipster chic we all think we’re rocking pales in comparison to those who truly rock that gear and rock it right and without snobby prejudices of others. People of Iceland, you kind of rock.
– If you want the best asparagus soup on planet earth, then you must go to Skurinn in Stykkishólmur. We popped over to this town to see the street where they filmed a part of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY with Ben Stiller and because we were hungry and needed food and felt compelled to drive in more rain because hey, who doesn’t love rainy weather! (I kid…but not about the hungry part.)
– The first stay of Iceland is at Hotel Frames in Grundarfjörður and it’s situated on a dock that overlooks the water and it even has a wake up call for the Northern Lights. How freaking fantastic is that? Okay, maybe not for some who don’t get the whole beauty of the night sky and space, but for star gazers and watchers of the night sky, that is amaze-balls. Sadly, no wake up call happened though. The rain turned into snow that night.

 

Grundarfjörður, Iceland

Morning in Grundarfjörður, Iceland. Hello gorgeous!

Day 2 (October 21)
– The Snæfellsnes world tour begins. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is located in western Iceland and was butchered name wise by the 2 Americans on the trip as Snuffaluffagus Peninsula (Icelandic people, please see apology above).
-We hit Kirkjufellsfoss (waterfall) and Ingjaldsholl Church the oldest church in the world according to the link or the 1st concrete church in the world according to the guide book. Either way, it’s historic and downright cool to see something this old and simply beautiful sitting in the middle of nowhere on an island that sits in the middle of nowhere. It’s also a setting in The Bárðar Saga…the Icelanders love a good saga as I would discover on this day.
– There is a clear and giant sign at the entrance to Snæfellsjökull National Park but it is no traditional national park like one thinks of here in the US. There’s not a damn tree in sight but there are miles and miles or should I say kilometers and kilometers of lava covered mounds to stare at. It’s unearth like and foreign at times but interesting and oddly beautiful. If you were a Viking drunk on mead and walking through this area in a dense gray fog, I too would believe 110% I was amongst the elves and trolls of the world. (But let’s be honest, if you know me, you know I don’t need to be drunk on mead nor walking through moss covered lava rock on a rainy day to believe in elves or trolls. I believe without all that.)

-In Ondverdarnes, we hit Skarðsvík which is their “golden” beach and visit a viking grave. The “golden” beach was the only one we saw as most of Iceland’s beaches were black sand and I was super bummed the viking grave wasn’t an actual grave but just a marker where said viking had been buried before he was uprooted and moved or buried beneath a flow of lava from one of the many volcanos in Iceland. Not that I wanted to pillage his grave or anything, but I wanted a Goonie skeleton scene and all I got were rocks. Despite that, this stop kicked #EpicGoonieShit into high gear. I’m not quite sure Amy was ready for me to regress into an 8 year old Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn-Mikey Were’s The Gold kid, but she joined me in my hunt for elves and #EpicGoonieAdventures and that’s one of the many reasons we are friends.
-Speaking of #EpicGoonieAdventures, we climb Saxholl Crater. What!?! A crater! I. AM. IN. (Did I mention, I regressed into an 8 year old?) This is also where I discover Amy’s fear of dying on the side of a mountain. Half way up, we split up. She goes back down, I continue up. It’s windy as hell and drizzling rain. The kind of drizzle that is just strong enough to make you want to punch things but I make it to the top a. The view is amazing and if it hadn’t been so windy and raining at this point, I would have climbed into the crater to be a kid again, but I also realized that if I broke my leg climbing into the crater there was no way to signal for help because I had no working cell phone, that there was no way in hell Amy was coming to check on me, and I wasn’t sure if anyone would find me as we hadn’t seen a soul on the road for a while. Saxholl Crater, I’m coming to visit you again, and the next time I will climb down into the crater!! From the picture below you can kind of see the Neshraun Lava Fields as well.

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Pano shot from the middle of Saxholl: left side view of the bottom and right side view of the top

– From Saxholl we go to Laugarbekka to see the statue of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir (if you wiki her, look up Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir) who I deem my Norse soul sister as she apparently had a bad case of wanderlust and traveled to Greenland and Norway and is reported to have the first born European in the Western Hemisphere. Go Gudrid Go.
– In the town of Hellnar, we stop for lunch at Primus Kaffi. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the band. It does however give me my first taste of fish soup. I was reluctant to try this, but I knew in my mind, I was going to try everything native to Iceland I could possibly try. Fish soup, lamb soup/stew, and fermented shark were on the list. Might as well start knocking the to do list off while I was there. The soup was delish. I could have eaten several bowls of it. While in Hellnar we also visited the Gestastofa Information Center which is conveniently attached the cafe. Score one for laziness on our part. We also visit the Church of Hellnar too. Iceland really loves a church and did I mention they love a good saga? Oh, and elves. Can’t forget elves. Seriously, Iceland, I do kind of love you.
– Next on our stop would be
 Lóndrangar (rock pinnacles). Honestly, if I had the doubloon Mikey had in Goonies, these rocks would have fit in. I never did find that doubloon on this journey, but I sure did have fun trying! You can see them from the road and it’s one of those, what are those and can we get there moments.
– A stones throw from Hellnar is Arnarstapi and when I say a stones throw I am not joking. These two should be combined into one village. We pay homage to the Jules Verne monument there. It was were JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH started after all. I mean, as a person with wanderlust in their soul and a writer, it would have been sacrilege to not go. We also visit the monument in ode to Bárðr who was part human/troll/giant. It’s a giant rock statue and there’s just something fascinating and looming about it. I definitely felt the presence of magic there. (I also fell in love with this tiny little village. I would move here and live in the countryside if Australia doesn’t work out.)
Songhellir Cave aka Singing Cave was a forever and day hike (slight exaggeration…it was only like 30-45 minutes and we hiked because we weren’t 100% Dusty the Duster could make it up the road) but it was totally worth braving the cold wind. We searched for the home elves as we hiked, didn’t see any like the guide book said we would, but we did sing in a cave and I did yell, “Andy, you Goonie” and “Echo, whoa, whoa” whilst in the cave and that my friends is the point of being adventurous. If you don’t sing in a cave known for singing while in Iceland. You are doing it wrong. There’s also graffiti aka markings/carvings on the wall from various generations of people and that is also cool. If you go, take a flash light, you’ll need it. The cave is small and dark.
– After singing in the cave we hit Búðir Church, revisit our first stop Rjukandi Kaffi and head to Hotel Anna who is named after Sigríður Anna Jónsdóttir, a dairymaid who traveled the world. I also deemed her my soul sister too as her case of wanderlust was inspiring and mind-blowing. The places she traveled to and the things she accomplished in her time puts most of the things we do as humans to shame or at least puts the things I’ve done in my time to shame.

Day 3 (October 22)
– We visit the iconic Seljalandfoss. It was misting rain but as you get closer to the waterfall, I couldn’t decide if it was rain or mist from the waterfall. This is a touristy spot and is the first touristy spot we’ve hit on our journey. I won’t lie, I rather enjoyed our previous day adventures and being the only people around. I also think that the western part of Iceland doesn’t get the love it should and probably isn’t visited as much as the waterfall areas of the country are. You can walk behind Seljalandfoss and hike up to the top if you’d like. We choose not to hike as we had a lot of ground to cover aka things we wanted to see.
– Next waterfall stop is Skógafoss, one of the largest waterfalls in the country. It’s also another waterfall you can hike up to the top. We again choose not to hike. Things to see people. Things. To. See. (Besides, I’ll go back to Iceland and do all the hiking in the next year or so.)
– After Skógafoss we hit the area of Eyjafjallajökull, (listen to pronunciation here). Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 and nearly decimated the Þorvaldseyri farm which is now also a Visitor Centre.
– Sólheimasandur Plane Crash. 1st a history lesson – on Nov 24, 1973 a US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane crashed onto Sólheimasandur beach. It was said the plane ran out of fuel and didn’t know there was a 2nd fuel tank and some say it was forced to land after severe icing (more like icing in hockey, less like icing cupcakes). Whatever the story is, everyone survived and wreckage was left on the beach. On the day we visited, it was drizzling rain. Gray skies, gray fog, and black sand beach left me thinking I had taken all my photos in black and white. (See it in color here) I had to look down at the teal in my shoes to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. There is something hauntingly beautiful about this twisted piece of metal sitting on the black sand beach with the roar of the ocean a walk away. There’s a certain howl the ocean makes that echoes the sadness of the plane. It’s beautiful and haunting and definitely should be respected. (Looking at you, Justin Bieber, skateboarding down the wreckage should have gotten you a slap in the face with a volcanic rock.)

Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage

Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage (not a black & white photo)

Dyrhólaey was our next stop where we visit the Dyrhólaey lighthouse and walk about on the cliffs of Dyrhólaey. Sadly no puffins were spotted here, but the view is nothing short of breathtaking.
– We stop for a photo at Loftsalahellier cave that was used for council meetings in Saga times. (Consider saga, the soap operas of ancient times.)
– At Kirkjufjara we spend more time than we thought we would. Pictures do not do this spot justice. I run around on the cliffs and climb rocks like I just found a treasure map. (The header image to this site was taken there. Thanks to Amy for capturing me just watching the waves!) The waves here are no joke. They show how violent Mother Nature can be even if they are absolutely beautiful.
– At the black sand beaches at Reynisfjara we stare in awe at the Reynisdrangar basalt columns. The story goes that the Reynisdrangar columns were 2 trolls frozen in time. They are fantastic and so is the area.
– In the actual town of Vík í Myrdal aka Vik, we visit the Church of Vik, visit the Víkurprjón wool factory and have dinner at Halldorskaffi before retiring at my favorite of the entire trip, Volcano Hotel.

Day 4 (October 23)
– We drive out to Hjorleifshofoi and around it. It’s a giant piece of Mother Nature sitting on a black sand beach. When you see it from the road, you just want to drive to it. 
– We stop at a monument for Pykkvabæjarklauster. In 1168 an Augustine abbey was founded there and in the 14th century, Brother Eysteinn lived in the abbey. He was a disobedient monk that was punished by being placed in irons. He wrote the legendary and sacred poem “Lilja”. Apparently the monks here and the nuns at Kirkjubær had inappropriate relations. (for shame!) From the top of the landmark you can see Alftaver and the cone groups of lava which look like giant ant hills.
– At 
Laufskálavarða, a lava ridge that is surrounded by stone cairns all travellers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time are supposed to pile stones to make a cairn, which would bring them good fortune on the journey. Here we also see 2 things: a double rainbow and the sun. There is something magical about this place that I cannot explain.
– In Kirkjubæjarklaustur, we stop and visit Systrafoss (Sister Falls), drive through Foss á Siðu and check out their waterfall, and stop at Dverghamrar (Dwarf Rocks). Legend has it that a young girl heard singing of dwarves here.
– We now have hit Skeiðarársandur, the outwashed plains of Iceland. It’s been called soul crushing out here, but I found a serene beauty about it. A peace of mind though I understand if you were on foot and walking across the barren plains you would be crushed. It’s almost as if you are on parts of the moon.
– After making it through the Skeiðarársandur region, we hit Svínafellsjökull Glacier (Christopher Nolan filmed parts of Interstellar here). It is surreal to be standing a a sheet of ice older than you can possibly imagine and it reminds you what is important and what is not important. A pair of hikers went missing and this plaque is bolted to a rock in their honor. It’s message is written in German, but translates to: “you are no longer there, where you were, but you are everywhere where we are”. It beautifully sums up how I felt while standing there.
– Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is fascinating. You are in a glacier lagoon!! You are floating in water that happens to have icebergs floating their way out to sea (or at least trying). The sun decided to show up for this adventure and I’m glad it did because the contrasting blues between ice, water, and sky were amazing. My pictures do not do the beauty of this magnificent area justice.
– Before crashing at Guesthouse Gerði we visit the Þórbergssetur Museum.

Day 5 (October 24)
– On this day, we head back to Reykjavik but stop at Jökulsárlón one last time and Reynisfara for lunch. It was a day of driving, stopping in random parts of the countryside to capture the ever elusive perfect sheep photo and place stones aLaufskálavarðaReykjavik is the capital of Iceland and is bustling with activity. It also has a stench which I didn’t notice before. Sulfur…hard boiled egg smell. You get use to it relatively quick but it’s an odd smell when you’re not expecting it. Iceland gets most of their hot water that’s heated from the volcanos below and while further out of the “main” city you don’t notice the smell at all, but huddled all together in the city, it’s a little pungent. While here, we are complete tourists, visiting shops, and trying the iconic fermented shark which wasn’t nearly as terrible as I imagined it would be and Brennivín (an unsweetened schnapps) and well, that is the most horrible thing I’ve ever had the displeasure of tasting. It’s also called “Black Death” and I fear if you drank more than a shot you would surely die a slow and painful death. This is the last full day/night in Iceland and it was fun being a tourist.

Day 6 (October 25)
– Brunch in Reykjavik and then drive to the airport in Keflavik. Sadly return to the US via Boston then Charlotte…

Here’s what I know about Iceland…I love that place and cannot wait to go back in their summer and spend a few months camping and hiking and looking for elves and trolls and the ever elusive Northern Lights.