Destination: Iceland, June 15 – 23, 2006

1 USD = 75 Kroner

After a crazy week of getting the NZ house prepped for renters and all our gear locked up in storage, the long flight to San Francisco, and a quick 36 hour layover, I found myself back at San Francisco Airport in a bar with seven of our friends waiting for the overnight flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. I wasn’t quite ready to be thrust back into this level of socialization and revelry. Thank god we were able to get some sleep on the plane, albeit, in THE most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever had to endure on an international flight!

We landed mid-afternoon. It was cold and wet. Ughh. I just left cold and wet in NZ. I was looking for warm and tropical! The closest I got to that was on our first stop to the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s premier hot springs (check out the Virtual Tour, the rest of the website doesn’t do it justice). Set among the volcanic topography, the Blue Lagoon offers waterfalls, spas, and lots of soft clay with which you can pat on your face or pour all over your body. It tingles; it makes your skin feel good.

Next we made the 40 minute drive into Reykjavik. The scenery from Keflavik airport to Reykavik did not impress me; lots of volcanic rock as far as the eye could see. I kept thinking desolation, despair. This is not what I expected.

We stayed most of the week at the Alfholl Guesthouse, located a few blocks from the city center and run by the affable Christian. We had one ‘apartment’ consisting of 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a small kitchen and two other bedrooms located in the main building with several other rooms. Our apartment served as central headquarters for us: a gathering place for tour strategizing, breakfast eating, game playing, and, yes, late night drunken revelry. Rooms ran at 8000 kroner for a double (about $125 USD).

The first few days we stayed in Reykjavik, taking in the sights, perusing the flea markets, and eating & drinking in local establishments. We timed the trip to be in attendance for Iceland’s Independence Day. Celebrated as a full-day festival with sound stages, kids play areas, food stalls, drink galore, and parades, it seemed as if half the country came into town to particpate. The streets teemed with very drunk young people, the women of which, although attractive, somehow didn’t read the instructions on how to use facial self-tanning bronzer, and had faces disporporationately tanner than their shoulders and arms. The day was quite festive and we all enjoyed a night out on the town visiting the local establishments (Sirkus on Laugavegur was the hip bar in town we liked).

We also spent several days touring the countryside. We managed to travel the full southern ring road as far as Hofn and followed the road north as far as the Snaefells peninsula: this allowed us to visit two of the icecaps (and several glaciers) and several national parks as well as enjoy the varied landscape: rocky, volcanic, and mossy terrain; steamy and bubbly mudpots and vents; verdant mountains; gushing waterfalls; and glacier tongues galore. It was beautiful.

Highlights of the trip:

* Day trip to the Golden Circle: Pingvellir pingvellir– a political assembly spot from 930 – 1798; Geysir – THE great geysir from which the term geyser was coined (unfortunately the Great Geysir doesn’t erupt on cue anymore – we made due with the Strokkur geysir which erupts every few minutes); and Gullfoss – a glorious waterfall and one of the natural wonders of the world.

* Glacier tour on Myrdalsjokull: DG decided that for his birthday celebration, he’d like to be on a glacier, so we all piled into the cars for the drive up the mountain to take a 10 am glacier tour. Snowmobiles are the tour norm, but we elected something more milder: being pulled around in an open-aired box by a snowcat. This way we could all be together, safe and silly, taking in the sights while singing birthday songs and passing around the flask. It’s chilly on a glacier and we had to don the proper ‘glacier-tour’ attire – full on ski suit with gloves and head scarves. I thought we looked rather smart. glacier walk The morning was lovely – sun shining, clear visibility. We got pulled along about a 1/2 mile or more where we then stopped and offloaded. Here we were able to have a really good view of one of the glacier tongues which was riddled with large blue crevasses. We also got to see a neat waterfall and play around in the snow. A hour well spent!

* Views of the many glaciers and waterfalls of Vatnajokull and a stop at Jokulsarlon Jokulsarlon: Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Iceland and as you drive around the ring road you see glacier tongues poking out of the mountains every 10 minutes or so – I swear at one point on the road we could see four of them at once! Also right off the ring road is Jokulsarlon – an eerie glacial lake filled with icebergs that are calving off from the glacier. The icebergs take on resemblences of all sorts of things (I saw a duck and one that looked exactly like the Matterhorn in Disneyland) and they very slowly drift along making their way through a narrow channel out to sea.

* Going on the Haunted Walking tour in Reykjavik on the Solstice: We all decided to do a group activity for the Summer Solstice solsticeand the least expensive activity was the haunted walking tour which was going to culminate in a midnight beach burn to watch sunset (midnight’ish) and sunrise (2:30 am’ish). Thirty+ people showed up for the tour which was led by a mid-fortyish Icelandic gentleman and his associate. The tour started well enough (shots for everyone) but quickly deteriorated as we were subjected to disjointed stories about how ghosts were everywhere in Rekjavik (proven by mediums who’d previously been on the tour) as well as the mischievous little people. A participant told me about the little people and how they live in rocks and pastures and in one particular case, caused trouble for the city during some new road construction. The story goes that there was a big rock housing some little people right in the path of the new road. Nary a bulldozer nor crane could destroy or move that rock and the drivers of such equipment all came down with mysterious illnesses. Finally the city decided to let the little people be and the road was built AROUND the rock. Surveys show that 80% of the Icelandic people believe in elves, fairies and little people. Who’s to say? The walking part of the tour was quite enjoyable and we were led to little hideaway spots in town. Finally, nearing midnight, everyone piled into cars and drove out to the lighthouse/beach for the bonfire to enjoy the longest day of the year. Beers were passed around; more stories told. Some of us (me included) were sleepy and didn’t stay for long. Bruce, Ted, Kelly, and Mike stayed to the end with the tour operators and it is said that several of the manfolk stripped down nekid and plunged into the sea in honor of the solstice. : – )

* Day trip to Snaefellsjokull: Me, Bruce, Jim, and Mike took a day trip up to the Snaefellsnes peninsula to drive up the Snaefells mountain. Located about 2 hours north of Reykjavik, Snaefells is actually an old volcano with a glacier at its top. On clear days, you can see if from Reykjavik. Its said to hold magical powers and to be a frequent landing area for space aliens. Cool! snuffelsAlong the route to the top we stopped off to explore the Singing Cave which has the perfect acoustics for song. The road up the mountain takes you close to the top — you have stop right before the glacier. We got out of the car and each went off exploring the rocky terrain – we found a small glacial lake and lots of cool rocks. Both Bruce & I thought we could feel the energy eminating from the mountain. The scenery was gorgeous.

* Boat tour to view the Puffins: Puffin watching is big business for Iceland. Each year 6 million puffins stop in Iceland to breed. They arrive in April and stay till August and during that time one can go on any number of tours to see the cute little things. Two ‘puffin islands’ are located 20 minutes offshore of Reykjavik and you are guaranteed to see thousands of them. You can also see them nesting in the high in the rocks on the black sand beach in Vik.

* Hiking in Skaftafell National Park: VatnajokullWe stopped at the park twice, on the way to and from Hofn and were able to do two short hikes. The first was an hour-long round trip up through alpine meadows to get to the Svartifoss waterfall. The second was another hour-long round trip to the foot of the Vatnajokull glacier. It looks like a pile of rocks, but on closer inspection, you realize you are on a huge chunk of ice. Bruce & Daniel found a little ice cave!

* Stumbling into the Christmas store and finding out about the Icelandic tradition of the 13 Yulemen.

All sound good? It was. Although frazzled at first, I was quite happy to have made the trip. Travel with friends certainly has its up and downs and this trip was no exception. Organizing and mobilizing folks can be a chore as well as dealing with periodic personality conflicts, but, all in all, each individual in our group had a special ‘super power’ which contributed to the benefit of the whole. I am grateful to DG for inviting us to share in his special birthay celebration as I don’t think I would have ever chosen to venture to such a far off destination. I look forward to returning some day.

(More photos in photo gallery)