Our Iceland Adventure – Day 4

The time has come to share our last day in Iceland.  We took it easy with some sightseeing to try to make our relaxing vibe from the Blue Lagoon the day prior last a little longer.  I’m a fan of lighthouses and with miles of rocky coasts Iceland has many.  Garður light house isn’t the most impressive but it looked interesting in the pictures I’d seen online and it was a short drive from where were were staying near the Blue Lagoon so we decided to check it out.

It sits out on a long jetty with it’s bright colors in contrast to it’s surroundings. We learned that it was once considered the best lighthouse in the country because of it’s low statue so mist wasn’t a problem.  But it was often damaged by the surf in this location so they later built a second taller lighthouse a bit further in from the point.  The bottom room of the  old lighthouse has since been converted into a small pub, but it’s only open in the evenings and we weren’t staying that long.

The newer light house looked like it had been transplanted from New England and reminded me of the many lighthouses along the eastern seaboard of the US.  As we were investigating the base of the light house we noticed some signs in the small entry way.  The signs were thanks from the US Coast Guard for three local fishing vessels who helped rescue the crew of the USCGC Alexander Hamilton when it was torpedoed and sunk while assisting the disabled Navy supply ship, the USS Yukon south of Iceland in 1942.  It was amazing to travel half way around the world and discover a USCG connection after the Hubs had retired from the Coast Guard just a few years earlier.

We wandered the shoreline taking in the old light house from a distance as a storm brewed off the coast.  And almost as if to signal that there are still guards on watch, an Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter flew over head.

As we left the point, we spotted this cute little farm, with simple architecture and an amazing view of the ocean.  There’s not many places where you can live on a farm with wide open spaces and still be next to the sea like this.

A bit further we spotted a church and pulled in to check it out.  There was this building in front of the church which was being remodeled inside.  The trim work on the outside of the building was quite ornate and it’s proximity to the church made us wonder what the building had been used for.  We soon found a sign that explained it had been the residence for the church leader, and was used for special functions.

Beyond the church we spotted a trail leading by a field of horses and decided to investigate.  The horses weren’t much interested in us since we didn’t have any treats for them, but they were still willing to pose for some lovely portraits.

The walkway out near the coast was well manicured and had obviously been designed to encourage enjoying the view along the coast line.  I walked back toward the light houses for a bit, but we were getting hungry so we decided to head back to the car and head out.

As we were leaving town we spotted this strange rock garden, which had several uniquely carved and decorated rocks.  We didn’t find any signs to describe what the place was used for but there were several electrical stations so we assumed that it was a spot for outdoor concerts and performances.

We made the short drive back to Keflavik where we would spend the night and fly out early the next morning.  We both got a kick out of the construction trucks that were driving in this area and how different they are from the bulky American rigs we’re used to.

We paused at the pull-off near the airport to get a shot of the rainbow structure.  It’s amazing at night when it’s all lit up.  I didn’t get a chance to get that shot due to weather but it was still interesting to see up close.

We ended up in the heart of Keflavik along the coast and found a nice Thai restaurant for lunch.  After lunch we looked around a bit and found these large ogre statues guarding the shoreline.  The Icelandic people are fairly superstitious and have several of these figures throughout the country.  There was a sign about the history of these figures and how a local kindergarten class had pushed to build an area where visitors could come up and see the ogres up close as well as see the view they were guarding.

Down the shoreline I spotted this interesting looking structure and decided to wander down to see what it was.  I was imagining all sorts of options as I rounded a small marina to get to the building.

Then I saw these giant foot prints on the walkway leading there and was even more intrigued.

As I got closer I realized just how big the structure was and noticed a sign next to the door indicating this was Giganta’s home.

Still not sure what to expect I stepped inside and found out Giganta is a large ogre who apparently loves children.  Many of the signs in the house were in Icelandic so I couldn’t fully understand all the details of her being here but I did gather that a local author had written several stories about Giganta and her friend who convinced her to move from the mountains to Keflavik.  Giganta apparently loves children, and not because of how they taste.

Giganta sat sleeping in a large rocking chair behind a wall.  She snored and tooted a bit but didn’t seem to stir at all as I took in her home.

There was a small tree nearby that had been decorated with pacifiers for some unknown reason but they were certainly a pop of color against the dark stone walls of the cave.

I bid farewell to Giganta and headed back toward the ogre statues where I’d left the Hubs with the vehicle.  Along the way I spotted this whale fin bone and anchor.  I’d seen whale vertabrae in gardens before but never the fin used this way.

We decided to find another nearby light house, which required investigating some industrial areas along the coast, but we finally found our way to it.  It wasn’t as impressive as the Garður light houses and there wasn’t anything else to see here so we decided to head to our last stop – the Viking World museum.

Along the way I made the Hubs pull over so I could get a shot of the Icelandic version of Walmart, called Bonus.  We saw this funny inebriated pig’s face everywhere during our stay and chucked every time.

In the same parking lot were these fun light figure poles.  It took me a second to spot them but once I did I had to smile.

Along the way to the museum we spotted another group of ogres watching over the city.  We couldn’t find a way to get closer to these ones so I settled for a shot from below their hill.

As a fan of the show Vikings I knew I wanted to make a stop at Viking World.  The main attraction is a full size viking ship that was recreated and sailed on a voyage to celebrate the millennial celebration of Leifur Eiríksson’s journey to the New World.

The ship is raised above the main area of the museum, so you can see it from all angles and you can even go aboard by walkind down a ramp from the second floor.  Having worked on ships the Hubs was quite impressed with the design and craftsmanship.  I was in love with the look of the textures in all the little areas.

My favorite feature was the carved dragon head at the front of the boat.  It reminded me that we were heading to Scotland the next day and had Loch Ness on the scheduled. 🙂

I’m a fan of Greek and Norse mythology so I also enjoyed the exhibition about the Norse Gods that depicted the major story lines of the characters and how the Vikings worshiped them.

There were several other exhibits about Viking life and travels.  The custom to bury their dead by boat pyre has always intrigued me because it seems so romantic and symbolic.  Getting to see a display of such a scene was pretty cool.  Honestly if that was an option today I think that’s what I’d choose for myself.

It was also interesting to learn about how the Vikings had interacted with the Inuit people during their travels.  I never really thought about those two groups meeting because I always think of Inuit in terms of Alaska and forget that they spanned the arctic circle, including the north eastern coast of North America.

There were carvings on display from the various Inuit tribes that were very similar to the ones we see from the tribes in Alaska.

As we left the museum, we spotted  another ogre statue across the harbor.  It seemed fitting here guarding the entrance to the area near the museum and the Viking vessel.  Mixing the old traditions and beliefs with the new and modern is something  Iceland seems to do quite well.

The last must see item was the Viking sword statue.  I wasn’t sure exactly where it was but knew it was near the museum, so we drove around a bit and finally spotted it in the middle of a roundabout!  I had the Hubs pull into a neighborhood so I could hop out and get a shot of it.

We found dinner in town and then headed back to the guesthouse hotel near the airport to rest for our early morning flight to Scotland.  It had been a wonderful few days of unique sights and exploring Viking country, but we were certainly ready for castles and highland life I love from Outlander.  I’ll be sharing those adventures soon so check back next week to hear about them!

Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 4.  Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 3

Day 3 was all about the Blue Lagoon, which is a must experience for anyone traveling to Iceland.  The lagoon is filled with geothermal water that gets it’s blue color from the silica and other minerals on it’s way to the surface.  Having read reviews that the pools get more crowded as the day goes on we decided to make our reservation for when they first opened and not knowing exactly where to go we arrived a bit earlier.  That turned out to be a good thing in a couple of ways.  The first was that we weren’t stressed before our big spa day and the second was that we misread the signs and ended up at the Blue Lagoon hotel rather than the lagoon itself.  The hotel is surrounded by this unique landscape of lava rock and moss.  Since we had a little extra time I explored the trail near the hotel briefly taking it in.

There were several signs directing guests to stay on the trail as the moss is very fragile and that no smoking was allowed because the moss is also very flammable.  I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I’m guessing it has to do with the sulfur in the area.  There was a distinct smell of sulfur in the air through out the valley where the lagoon is located, reminding you of the natural geological processes at work.

The hotel had a modern design that contrasted the uneven texture of the landscape.  It’s what I envisioned a colony on the moon looking like – if the moon had vegetation that is.

Across from the hotel is an area that is being developed to expand the lagoon and create private areas for hotel guests to enjoy.  The construction on this area will continue through 2018.

We got directions from the hotel staff and made our way down the road a bit further to the actual lagoon entrance.  This large sign off the parking lot marked the pathway to the lagoon so we knew we were in the right spot now.

At the end of a short trail through a canyon of lava rock was the spa.  While also modern in design it seemed to fit right into the landscape with complimentary colors and textures.

Inside we found the correct line for our reservation and had a little time to take in the facility.  Beyond the check in counters was a cafe and to the side of the registration area was a gift shop packed with all sorts of creams and masques.

Through the large windows behind the registration desk you could see the lagoon.  The sun was still rising over the nearby mountains and the steam floated over the water, giving it a magical feeling.

Since we were visiting in the fall the outside temps were quite chilly.  We arrived in coats and boots, but pared down to swimsuits to get in the lagoon.  The short distance from the locker rooms to the water was quite cold, but once you’re in the water you don’t even notice the outside temperature.  Most of the lagoon is about waist deep so we wandered about keeping our knees bent so we stayed under water from our shoulders down.  There are also several areas with built in benches which were a great spot to sit and relax as you soak in the experience.

Because the water is filled with silica and minerals the staff advise you to take breaks from the water and stay well hydrated.  After an hour or so we took a break in the guest lounge where we had a bird’s eye view of the lagoon and the expansion area beyond.  We had a light meal and relaxed a bit.

The break from the water gave me an opportunity to get a few more photos since we had both decided to leave our phones in our lockers and enjoy the experience as it happened rather than try the dry bags we saw many people using.  Everything for your reservation is loaded to a wrist band that you wear the whole day.  You just hold it up and the staff scan it to validate your selection.  It’s also connected to your credit card so you can pay for additional items without having to leave the water or carry payment.

There was this cool grotto created out of the natural lava rock to the side of the main deck.  It was a good spot to get out of the wind and was nearby the silica bar where guests can enjoy facial masques, which is the white stuff you see on several faces in these pictures.

To give you an idea of what the outside temps really were I had to get a shot of the lifeguards.  It was pretty funny to see them insulated from head to toe in winter attire while the rest of us bobbed in the water in swimsuits.  Beyond him you’ll notice the power plant that helps generate the geothermal water for the lagoon from underground.

The Hubs and I did explore the whole area of the lagoon, but found we liked this corner near the bar the best.  There were benches along the boardwalk around the rock formation where the life guards patrolled and the rock acted as a natural windbreak, keeping this area a bit warmer.  There were also spots to stretch out and lay back on the sloped entrance to the pool along the handrail you see to the right with a great view of the surrounding hills.

Our reservation included a drink of our choosing at the bar.  Since we’re not big alcohol drinkers and we didn’t want to add to the dehydrating qualities of the lagoon we both opted for the Skyr smoothies, which were so delicious I had several.  Later in the day the Hubs decided to try their version of a slushie which is called Krap.  We got a good giggle out of that!  I forgot to get a photo of the cups when I was out of the water but I did see them advertised with an added i at the gas station that evening when we left the lagoon.

I opted to book the additional facial masques at the silica bar and an in-water massage.   I wasn’t sure exactly how getting a massage in the water was going to work, so I peeked over the rock wall to the massage area when we were exploring and saw earlier appointments floating on foam mats just under the water.

When I arrived for my appointment I was introduced to my masseur, Alexi who was most certainly descendant from the Vikings who first inhabited Iceland based on his broad and solid build.  He had me lay on one of the floating mats and covered me with a towel to keep me warm while above the water.  Throughout the massage he also would occasionally dunk me under the water from the neck down to ward off the cold from the wind.  The only thing I didn’t care for during the experience was that while floating on the massage mat the water surface is right at your ear level so there is the sensation and sound of water lapping against your ear.  It was a bit distracting and made it hard to hear Alexi when he was describing the next portion of the massage with his accent, but it was unavoidable and not something that would keep me from doing it again.

We had also made a dinner reservation at the spa’s restaurant, Lava.    We got cleaned up in the locker rooms and headed to the restaurant which get it’s name from the large lava wall that runs along the back of the dining room.  Our reservation included a complimentary glass of their specialty wine.  Since the Hubs was driving, I got to enjoy both his and mine! 🙂

It was still fairly early so there were only a few other guests in the restaurant, which overlooks the lagoon.  I snapped a picture of the whole space when I went to the balacony to go to the restroom.

We both ordered the grilled beef tenderloin, which was topped with wild mushrooms, crispy potatoes, onion jam and dijon mustard.  We both declared that it was delicious.

And after dinner we shared creme brulee, with the cutest lemon shaped scoop of lemon ice cream!

It was a perfect relaxing day after our adventures the day prior.  We opted to stay at a hotel in the town about 10 minutes away rather than the lagoon’s hotel which was much pricier and is often full.  It was no surprise that we both crashed and slept soundly soon after checking in.  I’ve got one more day of Icelandic adventures to share and then it will be on to our Scotland experiences, so stay tuned!

Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 4.  Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 2

Day 2 of our Icelandic adventure was all about waterfalls, black sand beaches and beautiful countryside.  Get comfy because this post is going to have A LOT of pictures!  We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, where I discovered I really love Skyr – Iceland’s version of yogurt before hitting the “ring road” further out into the country side.

The sun peeked through the drizzly rain every so often, creating a lovely golden effect on the expansive fields along either side of the highway.  We spotted our first stop, Seljalandsfoss from the highway and had to stop to get a shot of it from this vantage point.  While Iceland boasts numerous waterfalls, this one is special because you can walk behind it.

When we arrived the clouds had begun to let loose a misty rain that soaked everything including us and the other tourists.  Having lived in Kodiak we were used to adventures in the rain so we made our way up the trail toward the ledge behind the waterfall pausing every so often to watch the water pour over the cliff into the pool below.

The view was like something from a movie, which is exactly why so many epic films and shows have filmed in Iceland, including Game of Thrones and Tomb Raider.

It was a truly unique experience to stand behind a waterfall and listen to it’s roar.  The trail behind the falls was fairly narrow and undefined so it was a bit precarious, especially when everything is wet and slippery but it was well worth it.

While the view looking out was amazing, I also appreciated the view up, where you can see the edge of the cliff as the water came over.

And when I say we were soaked I mean it.  There was even water in my boots at this point because my pants were so wet they had started soaking down toward my socks!

As you exit the side of the falls, there’s a rocky ledge that has become a trail of sorts to a higher vantage point on a small rise next to the falls.  You can see people behind the falls, where I had just been for the photos above to give you a scale on the size of the falls.

We spotted some people atop the cliff next to the falls.  We weren’t sure how they got up there but were certain it involved some intensive mountain goat style hiking – something we didn’t plan to do.

Coming back down from the rise next to the falls, you can really see the pool it spills into and the river it creates.  The trail you see to the right is the one we took to get behind the falls.

After we had seen every view along the trail we headed back to the car to warm up and  drove down the road a bit to see the two neighboring waterfalls.  This one was partially hidden by the rock formation in front of it and is appropriately called Gljúfrabúiis, which translates to “Dweller in the Gorge” – an appropriate name for it’s position.

Next we headed further down the ring road to Skógafoss, which is a massive waterfall.  I was excited to see it in a recent episode of Vikings and think that I had been there!  Like the other attractions along the ring road, there were large numbers of tourists here too.

I made my way down along the river and got to stand next to the pool for several minutes just taking it in.

Above the falls is a viewing platform which is accessed by a very long set of stairs.  Since we had limited time to see everything on our list for the day we didn’t go up but hear there is a troll along that path who enjoys visitors.  Learn more on this blog which provides a bit more local info about the three falls we visited.

There were farms on either side of the falls and sheep dotted the hillsides as they peacefully grazed.

There was also a large herd in the field next to the falls who seemed completely oblivious to the masses of tourists passing their pasture to see this magnificent natural wonder.

We were about to head out to go see the oldest turf house which is nearby when we spotted a museum behind the farms with these lovely turf houses behind a stone wall and decided to investigate.

We paid a small admission fee and were able to tour the turf houses and other historic buildings in the open air portion of the museum.  The insides of the turf houses were simple and functional, with space for storage of farm equipment and stalls for livestock.

I’m not sure if these stalls were intended for horses or sheep, but since the Icelandic breeds of both are more compact I could see both fitting.  One of the structures looked like a hobbit house, with just a curved entry supported by stone on either side and the entire thing covered in turf.

Inside you could see the structure a bit more.  The timber rafters were layered with stone which had then been topped with the sod that made up the outer layer of the building.

Many of the other buildings had stone walls and low pitched roofs as well.  Some were quite rustic and were staged as a working pantry space, storage and livestock shelter.

I was particularly intrigued by these wooden pegs we spotted in one of the storage areas and wondered what they could be.  We later discovered that they were property markers for items that couldn’t be branded but that might leave the farm.  Each had particular carvings on it to indicate the owner of the property, similar to a brand.

Some of the structures were finished to look like other frame buildings.  This was obviously a home, with a dining room, bedroom and kitchen area.  I wasn’t sure if the other buildings were supposed to be like outbuildings to this but assumed that at some point it was just the outbuildings and then as progress and profit came the nicer section would have been added.

Some of the structures were large enough to have an upstairs, where the beds were typically located, all together.  So much for privacy, but it probably helped conserve heat with everyone in the same area. I loved the overlap of the roofing structure, although I noted it didn’t provide for insulation beyond the sod on the outside of the structure.

There were some old items staged on the desk under the window and I loved the look that someone long ago had received a letter and left it to head outside and tend to the animals.

There was a small side room in one of the structures which seemed to be a more private bedroom.  There was a separate desk in this space and a small crib for a child.

A little further from the main building were more historic buildings.  These had been a farm house and outbuilding on a nearby farm that were moved here for preservation.  The black building was a livestock barn and was connected by a small stairway to the house, which had several rooms, including a shared upstairs bedroom space.

Nearby was a historic church that had also been moved here from another location.  There were several stories about the history of the church, which I can’t remember as I write this post.  I was expecting the inside to be a simple as the exterior but was quite shocked to  find quite ornate scroll work and design in what had been a country church.

Toward the back of the open area was this building, which had been another homestead nearby.  It was obviously more modern than the previous structures, having been build out of mainly timber framing.

Upstairs there was another shared bedroom space, with the same overlapping roof structure we’d seen in previous structures.  While cramped for today’s standards it was quite cozy and I could imagine families gathering together to talk about the day in the evenings in a space like this.

The kitchen in this structure was also more modern than the turf homes and showcased a variety of unique tools from the time period.

On the hillside above the modern house I spotted these little fairy houses.  Icelandic people are very superstitious and build these small structures for the “fairies” to live in.

There was also an old school house on the property.  I can just imagine little bottoms on those hard wooden benches learning topics like history, math and music.

The entry way to the school house was lovely with the leather satchels hung above the piano.  It looked like it could have been styled for a farmhouse decor magazine!

There was also a large metal building with a book store, restrooms and a cafe.  We wandered the displays soaking up Icelandic history.  I took photos of many of the exhibits, but here are just a few of my favorites.

A variety of buckles, bits and spurs were in a case across from a display of saddles, including several ‘luxury’ side saddles.  Further down were handmade horse-drawn sleds that had been used to gather ice and displays of the iconic Icelandic horses being used to transport crops and supplies.

There was also an exhibit about the Icelandic Coast Guard, which we found particularly interesting given the Hub’s service in the US Coast Guard.  Due to the rugged and remote environment of much of the country this service is much needed just as it is in Alaska.  They also have a high demand for emergency rescue in remote locations due to the glaciers, volcanoes and storms, so there are technical programs that train youth these skills.

Given his heavy equipment knowledge, the Hubs was intrigued by this antique grader, which had an open floor and required the operator to stand on a platform just above the blade to operate it.  The signage indicated that this was one of the first graders available in the country and was a huge step forward in technology.

There were also several vehicles on display that had track systems or skis, or both.  I liked this early Ford SUV model that was equipped to transport passengers in the snow.  The other track vehicles were similar to modern snow cats, but obviously were antique versions.

Back in the first building of the museum we followed a tour group to learn a bit about the costumes that were on display.  This was a wedding outfit from the early days of the country – I can’t remember the exact time period.  The elaborate embroidery and the length of the belt was a sign of her wealth as ornate metal work was expensive to produce.

The other outfits on display show the progression of fashion in the country and the various influences of visitors and politics.

Toward the back of this building was a huge display of antique farm equipment that both the Hubs and I enjoyed looking through given our experience with livestock and ranches.

When I spotted these vintage grain sacks I wanted to find more to take home for projects!  I loved the simple patterns and texture of the fabrics. Then I spotted amazing horse hair braided ropes behind them and fell in love all over.  They would have looked great in our farmhouse style decor!

We decided to skip the cafe at the museum and head out to our next destination – the black sand beaches of Vik.  We were getting pretty hungry after all of our exploring during the morning and stopped at a small cafe on the hill overlooking Vik.  It had a perfect blend of modern and rustic style.  We opted to get a light meal so the Hubs ordered chowder and I got mozzarella sticks.  Both were fresh and delicious.  I did find it interesting that they served the mozzarella sticks with salsa rather than marinara sauce!

After lunch we headed over to check out the church that overlooked the town.  I got to peek inside as well thanks to some staff being on-site.

The view from the church was very reminiscent of some we’d had in Kodiak.  Jagged cliffs, green hills, black sand beaches and rivers rolling out to the sea.

There were several cool rock formations just off the coast.  I’m sure they’ve evolved over the centuries as the waves have shaped them with unending pressure.

We headed down the hill to make our way out to the beach where the waves crashed down the long dark shoreline.

As I headed out toward the area where there were large rock formations in the water, the skies opened up and began to pour.  The sun shining through the rain was absolutely stunning.

And as I looked back at the town I spotted this rainbow just over the church where we had just been!  It actually extended all the way down the coast toward the other end of the beach.

I knew there were basalt formations somewhere nearby, so we check our maps and headed back the way we came to find a turn off for that area.  The sun had come back out and made the pillar formations seem like giant guards along the shore.  They also vaguely reminded me of Quebert, that old Atari game with the fuzzy little creature who hopped from one cube to the next.

There were several groups of tourists exploring the formations and posing for photos at the various levels.  You could see the same rock formations we’d seen in Vik from this spot, just from the other side of the cliff.

I asked the Hubs to get a shot of me sitting on one of the lower levels with the ocean in the background.  He did a pretty good job. 🙂

That was apparently his practice round because then he offered to take a photo for this energetic group of travelers!

Across the bay from the basalt forms was a sea arch, similar to one we’d seen in Hawaii.  No doubt it was formed by the force of the pounding waves these coasts see.

As we drove back toward the ring road, we spotted this rogue sheep who had escaped the fencing and was grazing right along the side of the road.  We stopped so I could get a shot of him from the other side of the ditch that ran along the road.

And as I headed back to the car I spotted this amazing golden landscape.

The drive back to our hotel took us through rural farm lands that were dotted with old stone structures similar to the ones we’d explored that morning.

This farm was a bit more artistic than the others, having carved a star on their hillside out of the grass.

We also spotted several glaciers from the road, making us feel just like we were back in Alaska.

We had spotted this cliff house on the way out but there were several tour buses stopped so we decided to wait and investigate it on the way back.  This one was on a personal farm, which welcomed visitors to stop and see the structures in exchange for a donation to a preservation fund.

It was  cool to see how the buildings had been built into the rocky face of the stone formation.  Being a portrait photographer I was totally wishing I had a beautiful model to accent the scene!

There were several buildings as you made your way around the large stone formation.  Some looked more modern than others and I’m sure were additions as the farm grew and needs changed.

It was an amazing day of sights and new experiences and we were exhausted.  We made it back to our hotel just after darkness fell and enjoyed dinner in the little cafe.  While we were eating another guest at the hotel who could have been the Viking King Ragnar Lothbrock’s twin sat down a few tables away!  Right down to the braided mohawk hair cut!  I didn’t have the nerve to ask him for a photo because I’m sure he’d think we were crazy tourists so I don’t have any proof but I’ll stick to my story that I ate just feet away from Ragnar. It was an epic ending to a fantastic day!

Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 1, Day 3, and Day 4.  Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 1

I’m finally finding time to sort through and edit the hundreds of images from our trip to Iceland and Scotland back in the fall.  We took the trip because I won a contest on another blog which included airfare to Iceland and a cash prize for accommodations.  We decided to add Scotland to the trip since it was nearby and held interest for both of us.  We planned the whole trip around my nephew’s wedding in Virginia since we had to fly out of an east coast hub and the timing worked for both the Hubs and I to be gone for a long stretch during that time.

Fall in Iceland is very similar to fall in Alaska – cold and often wet, but filled with amazing scenery.  We landed in Keflavík early on a Saturday morning thanks to a red-eye flight.  The airport had very modern architecture and reminded us of an IKEA store with a maze of shopping areas, resturants and gates to navigate.  We picked up our rental car and headed straight for the capital city of Reykjavik, which is about 40 minutes away, for some sightseeing.  The first stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish, which is the city’s main landmark.  It is also the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country.

It was an overcast, rainy and windy day so the church’s smooth grey basalt stone blended into the sky.  Because it was so early, nothing was open yet, so we wandered the grounds around the church noticing it’s details, like the statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the church, which was a gift from the US commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament and the modern clean lines of the clock at the top of the tower.

Iceland has seen a huge boom in tourism in the past several years so it’s often crowded at attractions like this, but the weather and early morning kept everyone at bay and we practically had the place to ourselves.  I was a little bummed we couldn’t see the inside and the massive German organ which has been used for a variety of famous recordings, but we couldn’t stay long as we had a full schedule of things to see in the couple of days we were there.

Having seen all of  Hallgrímskirkja that we could, we wandered the nearby streets taking in early morning life in Reykjavik.  A few blocks away I spotted this cute little pub with classic Icelandic style including a turf roof and rustic but modern vibe.  I wished they had been open so I could sample their fare – or get a warm drink.

Across from the pub was this public water closet, which required payment to use.  We’d never seen anything like it but thought it was a smart concept given the masses of tourists the city sees each year.

We got back in the car and drove down to the city’s waterfront in search of the Solfar Sun Voyager, a modern culture of a viking ship.  I’d hoped to catch a shot of it at sunrise, but obviously the weather had other plans. We met a Taiwanese tourist there who was by herself and obliged when she asked if I’d take a photo with her.  I’m pretty sure we both looked like drowned rats, but it was fun to experience another culture taking in the sights.

We had planned to check out a weekly swap meet where the prices were rumored to be the best, but weren’t able to locate it despite several laps of the city.  During one of those laps I spotted this church and asked the Hubs to stop for a few minutes to let me investigate.

I discovered that it is Landakotskirkja, the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.  You’ll notice that bot churches have “kirk” in the name.  We quickly learned that was a standard throughout the country, just as “foss” is part of all waterfall names.

The classic architecture make it seem much older than it’s 1929 consecration.  The only Catholic school in the city was located right next door and featured charming cottage style buildings.  I was drawn to the ornate door of the church, which had a unique handle that the door had been modified around.

Since most attractions wouldn’t open for a few more hours and we had time at the end of our trip to visit Reykjavik again if we wanted to, we decided to head out into the countryside toward our hotel for the evening, which was a couple of hours drive away.  As we left the city, the scenery quickly changed to wide open expanses of mossy landscape, dotted with structures, the occasional farm and power lines to feed the other side of the island.

We stopped for lunch along the highway at a lovely little café, where we enjoyed baked brie sandwiches, the BEST mushroom soup I’ve ever had and a wonderful hot chocolate for dessert.  We encountered several interesting vehicles on the road which we assumed were operated by the local wilderness or extreme adventure tour companies.  We’re accustomed to large vehicles accessorized for wilderness travel and the situations you may encounter doing so, but these rigs took it to a new extreme with massive tires and a variety of extra lights, even for us Alaskans.  But it’s better to be prepared when in the back country, especially in remote areas where help may  not be able to easily reach you and it’s certainly a new experience for tourists who likely only encounter small scale vehicles.

By late afternoon we arrived at Stracta Hotel in Hella, where we would be staying for two nights.  I was delighted to discover there was a small herd of Icelandic horses right across the street from the hotel.  Seeing this special breed up-close was at the top of my list for this trip and this was the perfect opportunity to spend a few minutes petting them.  They quickly realized we didn’t have any treats for them and lost interest in us, but I stood in the rain for a while longer admiring their unique features.

After checking in and getting our bags to the room, we explored the hotel’s café and gift shop before hopping on the wi-fi to check messages.  Jet lagged from the overnight flight and weather, we decided to take a quick nap to recharge.  Refreshed from our rest, we headed back to the café for a delicious farm-to-table style meal over candlelight and discussed our plan for the next day including more country side driving, waterfalls, a historic turf house and the black sand beaches and basalt pillars of Vik.  We called it a night soon after so we could further acclimate to the time zone and get an early start in the morning.  I’ll be sharing those adventures next so be sure to stop back by to see them!

Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.  Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.