lish (lishd) wrote,

iceland 2017 - part 2: southwest iceland

Iceland Glacial Exploration & Auroras
part 1 | part 2 | part 3

Thu, Mar 30 - Day 3. Reykholt
Borgarafjordur Valley and Langjokull Glacier

Today, explore the Borgarfjordur valley region and nearby areas. If you're interested in culture, visit nearby Reykholt, home of a medieval chieftain who penned some of Iceland's greatest Sagas. You can also visit scenic Husafell and stroll on paths with colorful stone paintings created by a local artist.

Approximate driving distance: 31 miles
Hamar Icelandair Hotel

the breakfast buffet had fewer interesting things, but we still enjoyed eggs, bacon, beans, bread with jams, & dense silver dollar pancakes with ...maple syrup? it didn't taste quite like i'm used to, so maybe it wasn't maple, anyhow. now is a good time to point out that icelandic coins have fish on them! & there's a crab on the 50 krona coin. jon was pleased that "they're covered in fish & not dead white men." X)

we shopped for some snacks in the area, ran into alex & krystal at the grocery (we'd planned to join up later, so that was amusing), then headed back to the settlement house where we had dinner the previous evening. i bought a bottle of crowberry syrup at the gift shop because what the fuck is crowberry, then joined jon on the hour-long self-guided audio tour. the tour was in two parts & had some moving parts & buttons to press, which was cute; the first part was some history of iceland & how it was settled (it was originally called ísland because it's a fucking island, & that turned into iceland. so lazy), but the second half was all about the crazy murderer egill skallagrímsson. it was surprisingly gory for an audio tour under a historic center, & worth what i'd originally thought a pretty steep price at 2500kr (25USD). we weren't supposed to take photos, but jon stole some anyhow. my favorite part was the SCORN STICK, aka the CURSE POLE, which was a horse head - not just a skull, but the entire bloody horse's head - on a long staff & used to, well, curse your enemy. (xref nithing pole on wiki.) also of note was that this guy was regarded as one of the greatest poets, but the example we heard was something like "my third leg droops & drips & never shall i be happy" which is vogon-quality poetry in my esteem.

jon & i then drove the half hour or so to see hraunfossar (lava rock waterfalls), & barnafoss (children's falls, so named because it's said two kids died there by falling off one of the natural stone arches. nice!). we drove around a bit of reykholt, but couldn't find anything much to interest us (besides an ice cream cone i enjoyed), so we decided to head back the hour or so to reykjavik & attend the phallogical museum. it was fine; interesting once i adapted to being generally grossed out by all the severed dicks in jars.

we went to sushibarinn for dinner because it was a perfect compromise: they had a vegan sampler plate that jon was excited about, & i got to try arctic char nigiri (i love cooked arctic char, but never had the opportunity to try it raw) & whale tataki (OMG okay clearly whale is now one of my favorites 'cause i love it in every preparation), plus their crunchy lobster roll & monkfish+lobster grilled stick (like a kebab) - remember "lobster" here means langoustine. they were out of the reindeer grilled stick, but oh well. it was exceptional & i'd go back in a heartbeat.

on the drive back to our hotel in borgarnes, i got some good sunset pics, & jon & i bonded over bad jokes. it was pretty clear when we got back, & indeed we received an evening call for northern lights around ten pm. we rushed outside, & spotted a few dots of green in the distance... then suddenly THEY WERE CRAZY BRIGHT & GREEN & PINK & MOVING AROUND LIKE MAD & IT WAS THE BEST THING. i got some decent pics, jon got some better-than-decent pics (he was even good enough to get stars), & i learned that: a) they're visibly colored sometimes, not always grayscale like last night; & 2) i thought the videos of them i'd seen of them were time-lapse, but boy howdy were they not. the auroras were totally dancing all over the sky, directly above us, shifting & changing faster than pouring cream into coffee. please go watch videos of them like now.

my research said the northern lights are likely to show up at least once in any given week, so i figured we stood a good chance on this trip... but how wonderful to see them that well on day 3. if it turned out cloudy the entire rest of the trip, i'd still've been satisfied over the number-1 non-food thing i came to iceland to experience.

Fri, Mar 31 - Day 4. Reykholt - Southwest Iceland
The Golden Circle: Thingvellir, Gullfoss, Geysir

Today, visit the must-see sites in Iceland! Start with Thingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), famous for its history and geological wonders, located by Iceland's largest lake, Lake Thingvallavatn. The beautiful canyon running through the park is actually the meeting point of two of the earth’s tectonic plates!

Then move onward to the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall, formed by the waters of a glacial river. Here you'll see thousands of tons of icy water thunder majestically down in double falls into a deep canyon. Continue to the Geysir hot spring area where bubbling hot springs and geysers are abundant. Here you'll find also Strokkur, the most active geyser in the area, spouting up to 80-100 feet.

Approximate driving distance: 140 miles
Check In - Hekla Fosshotel

after breakfast we drove on the worst unpaved road our gps could find to direct us to, & across a bridge so tiny we couldn't have opened our doors if we wanted to. we saw a glorious random waterfall (with a frozen bit?!) & stopped to climb around on it. & then we came to a barrier marked "ófær impassable". we consulted the gps that hates us, but she said there were no detours available & to proceed on the current route. so, uh, we did. there are grates & gates on both ends of some roads here that we figured could be blocked off to stop traffic when shit's really fucked, & the gate was open, so maybe the warning signs just hadn't been cleaned up yet? jon & i agreed that we'd probably be just fine, but i noted that this is how horror movies start.

the road definitely wasn't impassible, but there were several sections covered in snow that made us grateful for having a 4wd vehicle. i thought we were going to get stuck in one particularly deep area, but the car kept moving slowly, gripping with at least one wheel at a time. it easily took us an hour to go some 30km, but we survived & didn't end up stranded on top of a mountain in iceland.

we drove on to Þingvallir (the Þ is called a thorn, & it's pronounced as th, so this town is pronounced & written as THING VALLIR which is really cute to me?) & walked up to another giant waterfall. fearing a lack of restaurants in the area (which ended up accurate), we ate lunch at the visitor center nearby - i had a chicken/bacon/avocado sandwich with "mango sauce" that was surprisingly good for a pre-made thing - while enjoying the view overlooking where the original iceland parliament used to meet. it was lovely.

next we visited the geyser named Geysir, basically the first geyser that was well known, & from which the english word geyser was born. (we referred to it as "the geyser named Geysir" the entire trip because we are adorable.) Geysir was bubbling away, but rarely erupts, but Strokkur nearby goes off every 3-10 minutes. so we saw Strokkur erupt four times - the first of which soaked a bunch of morons in egg-scented mist because they didn't realize that it's a bad idea to stand where the ground is all wet in front of an active geyser - & got some pics. the gift shop had some amazing pelts for sale including a dyed red finn raccoon scarf thing i reaaaaaally wanted but didn't want, & some delicious black currant sorbet which i really wanted & indeed consumed. there was also a pretty gay sculpture outside. (of course i mean that with all the love for my homosexual friends... but really, it was supposed to be something about wrestling? just look at the pics. that is not "wrestling", that is a guy carrying another guy off to bed. the mustachioed guy being carried has his fingers curled into his boyfriend's underwear?!?@ come on, iceland; you're not fooling anyone.)

on the way to yet more waterfalls, there were pony noses to be petted - a big sign said "icelandic horses, we are friendly" or something along those lines, & they had "horse candy" for sale (which i'm fairly sure was to feed the horses & not made OF horses). they were so lovely. they're just EVERYWHERE in iceland, & you know that's a-okay by me. gullfoss (golden falls) were huge & gorgeous, & their gift shop had the best prices yet.

then we stopped at our hotel, hekla fosshotel, & checked in (our room had a crazy collapsible shower to save space in the bathroom!) & grabbed towels & bathing suits to head out to the secret lagoon. they're the oldest "swimming pool" - aka enormous hot spring - in iceland, & you have to reserve your spot in advance because they're cautious about not letting it get too crowded. (we'd skipped the super popular blue lagoon for that reason.) the secret lagoon was pretty wonderful, aside from having to shower naked with strangers beforehand, & some of my still-pony-sore muscles eased up a bit. the water had lots of algae floating in it, & a natural rock & sand bottom, & afterwards we walked around the perimeter taking photos of the multitude of geysers with boiling water that fed the pool. the one we'd sat closest to kept erupting adorably in like an 8" spout, so we waited for a pic of that before heading to dinner.

there was almost no food around, definitely no icelandic food for vegan jon, & barely anything interesting in my book either, so we went to the minilik ethiopian restaurant. it was owned by what we're pretty sure was a married couple - an ethiopian woman & her icelandic white husband who hardly knew english & sort of beeped at us when trying to converse. like "meep beep water?" & "beep hee hee number 19?" jon & i made up a backstory for them & the food was delicious.

back at the hotel, there didn't seem to be any northern lights to see, but the beds were comfy (& actually separate for once). i ate a bit of a "daim" candy bar, which is basically thin heath, while making jokes about it being named "daaaayyyum". & i pouted over finding out that another candy bar i bought, which i thought was chocolate over cookie & mint, turned out to be chocolate over licorice & coconut. what the fuck, iceland. they have a real thing for licorice here. it's everywhere - plain, with cookies, covered in chocolate, & even as a rice-grain-sized topping at the gelato place. blech.


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