Adam took the window seat and I took the middle one, with a quiet guy on the aisle next to me. We were offered snack boxes and one round of water, I was glad that I'd planned ahead on food and drink. I tried to sleep, at least they gave us all blankets and pillows. A guy a few rows back had a seizure, yelling and sounding like he was in a lot of pain. :( His travel companion assured people that it was half expected and the flight attendants were warned, but it was a bit heart breaking to hear his distress. I couldn't sleep very deeply, Adam said I dozed on and off for about 3 hours, and I ended up reading as dawn was breaking.
We went across the street to Cafe Paris to get a full meal. I had the full brunch with silver dollar pancakes, and we had timed it well to arrive just before the noon rush. The tea I'd ordered had berries and ginseng in it instead of actual tea leaves, so I had more tea as I was wandering the city. Adam was wearing a pedometer and at the end of the day said that we'd walked 8 miles. We meandered around downtown to see some statues, then up the hill to Hallsgrimskirkja. I loved the concrete vaulting inside, functional and beautiful. Then we walked down to the harbour to see the Sun Voyager where we took some timer pictures with both of us in front of it. From there we went to one of the sites of the Reykjavik Art Museum, Kjarvalsstadir. Adam wasn't a huge fan of the Tapies exhibit but I liked the body parts in multimedia (honey was sticky, bones were made out of volcanic sand). I had a cup of English Breakfast tea at the cafe there, the weather was a bit chilly and overcast. We mapped out more walking as it was only 1:45pm. :)
We skipped the lookout point since a heavy mist was coming down. We walked back down by the church, and since my stomach was complaining due to hunger, I popped into a convenience store to get a snack. I came out with a pear, gotta love healthy snacks being easily available. :) There was a ceramics gallery across the street and down a bit of an alley, with pieces made from clay and volcanic rock, very pretty. We meandereed to the other art museum location, in the Harbour House, Hofnarhusio. It's a very modern looking building, rectangular and white. The Erno and the ceramic tea pots (pots that will hold dry tea, I was a bit surprised since I was looking for pots to hold and pour liquid tea) were neat. The latter had comics and artist inspired transfered onto custom made ceramic tea tins. We walked to the old Cemetery and meandered through it for a while. We saw lots of moss overgrown stones, very few crypts, and a random group of teens climbing a tree. :) I bet it would be really eerie at night. Then we gave into more insistent hunger pains and stopped for Indian food at Shalimar Garden. We were over charged and I got different food than I actually ordered (I'd mentioned two dishes, and got my second choice), but the food was good. The mango lassi was very yoghurty. We dropped into a book store to look for road maps, but they were 2000Kr/$20. Then a wine store called to us, they had gin in the 6700Kr/$67 range(!), putting paid to the idea of keeping some alcohol in our hotel room. Next up: the supermarket, we picked up water, bread and peanut butter for road snacks tomorrow. The hotel gave me a map and parking directions (free after 1pm) for when I picked up the car. We went up to the room and Adam took a nap while I wrote. My phone can see the wifi signal, but the date and time are not updating. Our plan was to go out for happy hour for a drink at 7pm. The sun started peeking out, very exciting! :)
The Ersa bar (next to the genuine Icelandic bar) was pretty swanky. There
was a long skinny bar taking up the space along the windows, where we sat
at a small table, and then the back room was closed off. The regular price
for drinks was 1800Kr (or 2100Kr for a long island ice tea) per drink, so
half off was perfect. I had a Sweet Charlie with mango vodka, amaretto,
something else, and sprite, it wasn't too sweet. Then since Adam was
having another, I had a Tanqueray and tonic and it was perfect. We got a
bit philosophical in our discussion and then left just before 8pm. We went
two doors back down to our hotel and up to the room so Adam could iron his
evening shirt and I could do my makeup and change into something slightly
more dressy for our
Friday night on the town. I wore my legging style pants, a button down
shirt and a vest, all in black of course. Adam wore a black suit and shirt
and a blue tie. We packed stuff up for tomorrow's road tripping, planning
to get a pastry breakfast, pick up the car and then head off.
The hotel concierge suggested Bar 5 next to the 60 degrees North store, we hit that first for a couple of drinks, taking turns to pay for pairs of drinks. The staff and customers at Bar 5 were all very attractive, but the night was just getting going (they were setting up the DJ table as we were perched at a bar table) and it was pretty sparse in there. We meandered out and down the street to Koffin, more homey, downstairs from street level, more wood. We were on a comfy couch, but the place was crowded enough that we were in the way when people had to go down the hall to the bathroom. I think we went to Vegaton next where we had good mojitos (fresh fruit, they were out of some of the flavours), and Naesty (which had cheap 1000Kr mojitos, and a cheaper nightclub vibe rather than a bar). I was fairly tipsy by this point and jet lag was killing us, so we gave up at around 12:30 to head back to the hotel and crash.
We had the alarm set for 8am, it wasn't too hard to get up. We ended up having breakfast downstairs for 2500Kr or so. :/ for the price, but the convenience couldn't be beat. Very nice restaurant at least, and they had good smoked salmon and tea. The front desk called Budget for us, the office is right by the BSI central bus station, but someone agreed to come and pick us up at 9am (I had to run up to the room to grab my hiking poles and an audio cable to play music through the car). A quick drive over to the rental office, and they upgraded us to a 4WD SUV since there weren't any automatic sedans left. It was easy to get onto route 1 (the highway that goes all the way around the island), then onto 35 to follow signs for Thingvellir. Driving was easy, there was a bit of mist and then just clouds. The speed limits are low, so I relied on cruise control to keep me under the limits (I had read lots of warnings about driving in Iceland). We stopped at one rest area just before dropping down from a plateau and hitting the lake on which Thinvellir sits, starting our meetings with the same set of tourists that we kept encountering on our roll your own Golden Circle tour. There was a destroyed picnic table there and lots of piles of volcanic rock.
The view from the top/parking area at Thingvellir was good, but it was awesome to get down below the rift. We saw the Law Rock last, the signs weren't very good. Saw the ell measurement sign by the church. The sun peeked out while we were there so we saw some shimmery water, streams and waterfalls. The pool in which they drowned criminals (mostly women it seemed) was a bit disturbign, since it looked so pretty as we first saw it and before reading the informational signs. I was interested to see the info on the Holmgang, where they would fight on islands between water channels, with the spectators arranged on bridges. We had a picnic on a table by the parking lot at around 1pm, and then headed off toward Geysir.
Geysir is a small site, easy to walk around in a few minutes, but Strokkur errupted a lot while we were there, every 5-8 minutes or so. I loved the bright blue pool we found as we walked up the hill. We went all the way up to the sundial. Geysir itself wasn't erupting and hasn't for a few years. Back across the road to the parking lot and the cafe/visitor center. I made a bathroom stop (road trips are fun for bathroom surveys ;) ) and then ordered some tea to take the chill off. From there, it was a short drive to Gulfoss.
Adam and I had both been to Iguazu falls in Argentina, and we were a bit underwhelmed by Gulfoss in comparison, but it was still gorgeous (and different in that it was more icy than lush). We walked all the paths, both low (climbing across a chain with a sign saying that it was closed due to winter conditions, getting easily past a snow drift, then enjoying the unfettered view of the thundering water with only a low chain fence to mark the safe edge) and high (climbing up some fairly steep stairs to get the top view of the falls, and spotting the couple with the woman wearing the Canada goose down jacket that we'd seen at our last two stops). We stopped in at their cafe as well, getting a muffin and some skyr (why can't I get Icelandic yoghurt in the US? *pout*). We drove to Snellfos but found the "wrong" waterfall.
We drove back to Reykjavik and it was easy to park the rental car near the hotel. It was free until 10am on Monday! We pretty much went right into happy hour at Ersa again, I got a Hendricks martini at 7:30pm to transition into our evening. :) Adam (who has a much higher tolerance than I do) got another long island ice tea, a mojito and a rum and coke. Back to the hotel to sort out dinner options. We had tried to find the restaurant Salt as mentioend in my guidebook, but no luck. The desk guy got us a reservation at Taps House for 9:45pm. I took a quick shower and changed into my polka dotted dress, and we walked over through the dark misty streets. The restaurant was a bright oasis of warm and delicious food, we were seated at a table for two upstairs and proceeded to cover it with small plates. The servers were cute, they ran up the stairs and then slid down the bannisters. After dinner, we popped into the grocery store (still open, might have been 24 hours) near our hotel for snacks for the next day, and then back to the hotel to crash at midnight.
The alarm at 7:15am was hard to get up out of bed for. We got dressed and out of the room, and asked the hotel desk clerk about breakfast places. We got to the cafe at 7:50, the sign said that it opened at 8am, so we loitered. When the woman came to unlock the door, she told us that the food hadn't arrived yet. I ordered a tea, but found a dirty fork at my table, a plastic piece in my tea cup, and there weren't any towels in the bathroom downstairs (white spiral staircase was kind of neat though). It was kinda sketchy. There were lots of leavings from last night in the street, paper and containers and hot dog debris lightly coating the streets. The car was still safe where we'd left it, and we were soon out of the city. There was heavy mist as we left Reykjavik. We stopped in Selfoss where Adam paid for gas to top up the tank and I ran into the store to get a muffin top pastry. It was bitter sweet, and turned out to be ginger, blech. I did all the driving that day, about 700km all told.
We made an unplanned stop before getting to the Vatnajokull glacier when we spotted a brilliant white waterfall from across a flat plain of solidified lava and glacial debris. The landscape was amazing, vast open spaces, with bright green moss on black stones, then plains of dark silt. Then we edged around the upthrust mountain range that was cupping the glacier, and contained the volcano that had erupted to the disruption of airplane traffic for so long a few years back. The waterfall that we'd seen ended up being a popular attraction just off the ring road (highway 1), called Seljalandsfoss. A tour bus came into the small parking lot as we were finishing up, and a few small groups were there as well. I could see the mist being blown off the waterfall from where we parked, so I dug out my rain pants and put up the hood on my rain jacket. That was a good idea, it was damp on the walk up to the falls and behind them. It ws really neat seeing the waterfall from behind, in a shallow cave where the water came across a lip above us. The curtain of water would shift and part a bit as the wind caught it. Continuing on, the landscape kept fascinating me. There were rivers between berms of rock and sand, a pierced rock, more waterfalls, and lots and lots of solidifid lava. We saw lots of ponies, one with a rider on a track by the road, a few sheep and cows as well. Not a lot of human habitation, it reminded me a bit of the pampas in Argentina. The weather was unsettled and changing, we got mist, heavy rain, some hail, sun, cloud, and then snow past Skaftafell to the iceberg lagoon at Jokulsarlon. I seriously considered turning back, the road was slippery and the snow was building up, and the road was so narrow between the lava fields that there was no place to turn around. Then we had a change in elevation coming down off a plateau and the roads cleared up again, so I kept going.
We crossed a single lane bridge over the outlet from the lagoon at the face of the glacier, where the water met the sea, it was choked with ice bergs. There were lots of kids at the lagoon, throwing rocks in the water and at or onto the ice floating near the shore (big tour buses in the parking lot, not sure why I couldn't find a tour that would take us there, this location was the main reason we rented the car). Seals watched us from the water and would swim along parallel to the shore as we walked. A group went out in zodiacs to float among the ice bergs. Saw lots of inukshuks, and built one of my own when Adam went for a quick foray out further along the shore, toward the glacier face. The land was deceptively open, things looked much closer than they really were. The gift shop/cafe was modelled after a traditional Icelandic farm house, with the multiple peaked roofs. The sun came out a bit while we were there. Lots of morraines as the glacier had receded quite a bit. I had a big bowl of tomato soup and some tea before we hit the road again.
We had light snow on the road to Skaftafell, I think we got there at around 4:45pm. We went out along one hiking path there to Hundfoss and climbed up to see another higher fall, but not as far as we could have gone. The gorge with the rushing and falling river was pretty steep. We saw ptarmigans on the path, very fluffy feet. :) I think we finished with the waterfall hikes at 5:45, and decided to try and hike up to the glacier overlook point. I put on my knee braces and grabbed my hiking poles for the more challenging trail. We were counting on a late sunset, but still set out planning to turn back if it got too dark or the weather turned. It was very pretty though rocky. Very very light snow started falling, and we had 3 ridges to go at 7:30pm before we'd reach the glacier overlook, though we'd come up over the tree line. The mist/snow was obcuring a lot of the glacier face as well, we could get a sidelong view from lower on the trail. We made the decision to turn around and head back to the car (which looked very lonely all by itself in the lot). The washrooms were still open in the visitor centre (though nothing else was) and I think there was one light on where a ranger or staff member was up, but it was kind of eerie how deserted it was. Also knowing that we were still about 4 hours from Reykjavik and the sun was going down and the snow was starting wasn't helping. I took a deep breath and began the drive back to the big city. There was pretty bad snow for a long way, and the single lane bridges that had poor visibility weren't helping my mental state either. At one point a snow plow threw up slush onto the car and I had to slow to get the windshield clear. Luckily there wasn't much traffic, just enough not to feel dangerously isolated. Then we had gas woes, the tank was getting to a quarter full and the automated gas kiosks weren't taking our American credit cards (it might have worked if either of us had our PINs for cash advances). We finally stopped in the only town of any size (Vik?) and I got cash from a bank machine, and then sweet talked a young man we ambused at the automated pumps into using his card for cash, giving him the cash before he started pumping (10000Kr). There was a bit of a language barrier and Adam pointed out that this could have been a scam, but I thanked the poor guy profusely and we were able to get enough gas to make it back to Reykjavik. Made it to Snellfoss again, grabbing some more skyr and a drink. The fog coming into the city wasn't too bad, but icky after the long drive. I hydroplaned once, and slewed in the snow a bit. Still glad I was driving rather than the guy who lives in California though. ;) Got back to our hotel at 1am, only the last hour of driving was really hard on me (tired). Parked across from our hotel, in a spot that would be free until 10am.
The alarm at 9am came way too early. I ran out and put 200Kr in the parking meter to last until noon or so, and then we walked up to Graukitten (grey cat) for breakfast. I had 2 solidly good pancakes with cheese and jam and syrup. I was also given a big pot of water and a mug for my tea, with leaves in a strainer that I poured the hot water through. Adam had their big breakfast. It was a two part cafe with dark wooden tables, and there were lots of kids in there (three near us with their mom, 1 across the way as well). It was pretty small, there was just one other table of ladies and maybe 2 guys. As we woke up and got calories in our system, we planned out our last full day in Iceland. We decided to hike on Mt. Esja before going to the Blue Lagoon, so we headed back to the hotel so I could change into hiking pants from the city skirt I had on. Adam dropped by the grocery and picked up some more water and a couple of apples (I ate one of the fruits during the hike).
We had a quick drive out on 1N to the edge of the range that extends to Thingvellir. We parked midway along the ridge and used the portaloo next to a closed up building before starting up the trail. We took the sign posted route instead of plan A (the route grandfathers would take with their grandkids according to my guide book) or B (the easier of the 2). The weather was gorgeous, clear blue sky with some clouds, and lots of sun. We hiked up along a stream and then over it on a bridge, and through some large expanses of snow still covering the trail (following the footprints of previous hikers). We cleared the tree line and the trail became harder to see/find. There were a few other hikers, going both up and down. We had great views over Reykjavik and toward Keflavik and the sulpher mountains. The inlet was gorgeous, sparkling in the sunlight and ruffled by the wind. The sky was clear but the wind was cold (the wind chill made it feel below freezing). We made it to point 5 on the map posts, but didn't sign the guest book in the box there. We turned back since the route to the top went through a very steep section (we saw one well equipped hiker turning back) that had a lot of snow on it still. We went a slightly different way down, trying to follow a new trail but mostly tracking a guy with a wood staff, though he out distanced us quickly. It took us about 2 hours to climb up, and 1 to get down. It was muddy and boggy in places, my boots were a mess by the time we got back to the car. We made up blueberry sandwiches to fill our bellies and then headed back to town at around 3pm.
We changed and showered (we sweated a lot on the climb despite the cool temperatures, since we gained quite a bit of elevation) and then took the car the short distance to the veggie place, Gardin, for lunch. I had an awesome tomato soup (tomatoes are one of the few things that are grown in Iceland) and I loved the couscous with Moroccan spiced curry. I managed to resist the chocolat cake but barely. We drove right from lunch to the Blue Lagoon. It was still clear so we saw all the lava rocks and coastline that we missed on the drive from the airport. There was a plume of smoke that we followed off of the main road toward the spa, it turned out to be a geothermal plant near the lagoon I think. The parking lot at the Blue Lagoon was pretty empty, but it was busy inside from bus groups (lots of UK students). We each got a bracelet for 9900Kr for the two of us, and split up to take our stuff to the locker rooms. I had to take a naked shower and then struggle into my bathing suit before I could go out. I did a very fast walk with frozen feet to a rack where I could hang up my towel and then rushed into the pool to join Adam. I found a hot spot in the water and floated for a while to keep my feet out of the somewhat slimy algae along the bottom. The bottom of the pool was very uneven, and at one end there was a formed place to sit (sometimes I was crab walking or on my hands to keep under the water, other times I barely had to crouch). We did the silica mud face pack, slathering it on from a box that the staff would occasionaly replensih, letting it dry on our skin and then rinsing it off in the water that we were soaking in (pretty sure it was the same stuff we were walking on). We stood under the strong waterfall to pound the knots out of our shoulders/backs. There was a round rocky cave like steam room but my lungs prefer a dry heat so I stuck to the sauna after popping my head in to see what the steam room was like. Then back into the waterfall for more massage. The surface of the water was giving off steam, so you couldn't see very far. We eavesdropped on various conversations, and explored the perimeter of the pool, finding the swim up bar. Adam went to grab his waterproof camera to take some shots (the sun was setting and the sky was gorgeous as well). Then I did the sauna and waterfall yet again. We stayed from about 6pm-8pm (when it was closing down), and the water was just the right temperature(s) that I never felt like I was going to pass out from the heat. The water was really neat, very opaque, you'd lose your fingers under the milky surface after barely an inch under the water. The black rocks were mounded up around the pool, but where white under the water, and edged with rings where they intersected with the water. I had a lesuirly shower and changed, then ran out without shoes to snap some pictures with my camera of the lagoon. We had a sunset drive back to the city, feeling a bit tired, but happy to have soaked out the muscle soreness of the hike so well.
We parked in the big lot fairly close to our hotel and checked out a few dining options on our walk back to our room. Our Plan A to eat at Carpe Deim was foiled, that restaurant was gone as well. We drove out to try and find Commons (?) in a hotel, but it was closed on Monday. The hotel clerk there gave us directions across the street to Madonna, an Italian place. We sat down to eat at 9:45, almost Argentinian of us. :) We were seated right away, but my first two menu choices weren't available (they were close to closing as well). There was no more chicken at all, no veggie lasagna, but the lobster pasta that I did get was divine. I think we shared the wet chocolate dream for dessert as well. I was feeling a bit cold. I drove us back to the hotel and got a spot to park along the street perpendicular to ours and we cleaned all of our stuff out of the rental. I think it was a crossover, it was perfect for this trip. Up to the room to wash out my muddy hiking pants, rinse my bathing suit, and pack. Went to sleep at 12:30am or so, with an alarm set for 8:15 so that we can return the car and check out. Hope to hit the national museum tomorrow before heading to the airport. Adam helped get some painful knots out of my calves, I have to remember to stretch more before and after hiking.
We walked along the lake from there to Mokka for breakfast - I had a waffle with jam and whipped cream; plus lovely hot chocolate. It was dense waffle, but good. Downstairs next to the bathroom doors they had a poster mounted that showed a bunch of world wide cafes in which you could hear yourself think, Mokka being one, but 1369 in Cambridge was on there was well (hah, it's always packed whenever I go in). We ate at around 10am, and the gallery wasn't going to open until 11am. We meandered along the main shopping street, heading back up to the church for Adam to get a picture. We went back into the clay gallery that we had found, this time to buy things. Adam got a few presents, and I picked up a simple vase, white and black, reminding me of the mountains we'd seen and climbed. Adam decided that it was worth it for him to get the VAT refund on his purchases at a kiosk further downtown, but I was able to get it right away since I used cash for my purchase. While he was trekking off to get his money back, I looked around in Stella for neat tights (so many women were wearing skirts and most of them had really cool tights on). The bone ones (looked like black velvet bones on black translucent tights) were over 4500Kr, the galaxy printed ones were cheaper but didn't look as bright as I wanted when they were stretched out on the mannequin legs. I went to meet Adam since I wasn't sure how far up the other tight store was, and met him walking back from the refund place. The window where I'd spotted the neat tights turned out to belong to a pharmacy, and prices on the ones I liked there (criss cross, chevron, and reverse polka dots) maxed out at 2400Kr. I picked up the VAT receipt to redeem at the airport if I had time. We also popped into an art supply store and I picked up two lines of volcanic rock beads for about 2500Kr (much much cheaper than buying a pre made necklace or bracelet, I ended up making one for a friend with some shiny black rocks and some white beads once I got home, still have to make one for myself).
There was a bit of rain coming down, so we went back to Gardin again for some chocolate cake, I'll definitely keep that cafe on my to-visit-again list. We went back by the gallery to see the flag dress we'd spotted in the window, and Adam steered us past the hot dog stand so that he could finally get a pair of street dogs (perfect picture with his shopping bag :) ). Then we went back to the hotel and sat in the lobby with our bags waiting for our airport pick up. A small bus took us to the big bus to the airport. It was still clear so I was able to take some pictures during the bus ride, capturing the lava field that the mist had obscured on the way out. I finally spotted the bag drop station from the check in line, so ducked out to get my boarding passes printed and drop my suitcase. Adam had problems getting his passport to scan, but the second machine worked. Easy security again, I had to take my shoes off but just went through a metal detector. The duty free store tempted me, I picked up a bottle of Icelandic juniper schnapps and a small bottle of Fernet Branca, and kicked myself a bit when I saw that they had more tights there and for less. I was able to get my VAT refund easily, though they took a 150Kr processing fee. I used the refund to get a salmon sandwich and some water (having to borrow 35Kr from Adam when I miscounted my handful of change). We were at our gate a bit early, no announcements, we just had our boarding passes taken, then sat in a holding area for a bit, then went up some stairs and to our plane. We had a smooth take off, into the clouds. I couldn't see much texture in the lava fields from the sky. 5 hours to Boston, direct, totally easy, though hard to leave. :)
We shared a taxi back to my place, and then walked over to Bergamot for
dinner. Adam got to do the first and second choice selection dance this
time, and he covered my dinner as thanks for letting him crash at my
place. It was nice to ease back into life in the USA with my travel
companion. His flight was stupid early the next morning, I think I just
said good night and safe travels to him that night and didn't quite come
fully awake to say good bye when I heard him stirring in the living room
the next day.