Monday, June 18, 2018

Iceland - Farewell

Saturday we checked out of the Holt hotel to begin our journey home. We enjoyed Iceland very much. The mountains are beautiful. The waterfalls are breathtaking. The people are friendly. The weather is lovely. Ok, that part was a lie. ­čśĆ We arrived knowing what we wanted to see and do, and were able to accomplish nearly everything. We drove over 800 miles in 4 days and took advantage of the 24 hour daylight to fit a lot into every day. It was a great trip, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Our 2:15 pm flight got out on time and we arrived in Frankfurt in time for a late dinner. We were staying overnight at the Frankfurt airport Sheraton and splurged on an excellent steak & wine dinner in the hotel restaurant. Janet had some chocolate mousse for desert while I sipped a delicious Port.

Sunday morning we repacked for our flight back to the U S. We weren't interested in the hotel's breakfast buffet so we walked over to the airport and brought back croissants and some milk for Janet's cereal.

Our return trip had us making a connection in Houston that was a little tight but most likely doable. We checked in with United at the airport and waited at the gate for boarding. The flight got out on time and was a smooth ride. Unfortunately Janet's breakfast milk may have been off and caused her some gastrointestinal difficulties during the flight. We were expected to arrive early but bad weather in Houston caused delays and we landed late. We cleared customs and immigration and then had to go through TSA before making our way to the gate. Our flight to Chicago also was delayed so we ultimately had plenty of time to make our connection. After a couple of gate change announcements we got settled on board our final flight. Suddenly we were all informed we had to get off the plane. I checked my United app and it told me the new gate for our flight before the gate agents even knew it so we lined up at the new gate and eventually reboarded and this time took off. I heard a flight attendant say the other flight cancelled due to a crew time out.

We got back to Chicago late Sunday night, tired from our travels but happy to be back home.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Iceland - Reykjanes and Reykjavik

We started Friday with breakfast in the Ion hotel (there's no other option ­čśë), then checked out and headed towards the Reykjanes peninsula, southwest of Reykjavik. We got directions from the front desk and were able to avoid the gravel road on the way out. There was a geothermal processing plant near the hotel, and as we drove toward Reykjavik, the road followed a pipeline delivering geothermal energy from the plant to the city.

Geothermal pipeline to Reykjavik
Our first stop was Viking World, a museum that houses numerous archaeological artifacts from the Viking era as well as a Smithsonian Institution exhibit detailing the settlement and history of Iceland. But the main attraction is an exact replica of a viking ship that was constructed and sailed from Iceland to New York. We spent some time among the exhibits and had some fun with the viking costumes.

Viking ship
We left Viking World and headed for the bridge between the continents, or the Leif the Lucky bridge. The bridge is constructed across the continental rift between North America and Europe, and mainly exists as a clever photo opportunity similar to Four Corners. It is a 15 meter foot bridge with signs at each end welcoming you to America or Europe respectively. We heard about it on the travel show "Raw Travel" before we left on our trip and added it to our list of quick fun stops.

Bridge between continents
Continental Rift
Europe on the left, North America on the right

Unique bridge suspension system
From Leif the Lucky, we went to the Gunnuhver hot spring area. The main point of interest is a huge vent that continuously spews superheated steam. The ground in the surrounding area is actually warm to the touch in spite of the cold weather. An interesting side story is that the spring is haunted by a ghost.
Steam vent

Checking the ground temperature

We left Gunnuhver and made our way back to Reykjavik to explore some of its sights. Our route back took us past the Brimketill lava rock pool where we pulled off to get some pictures of the waves crashing against the lava cliff. When we arrived in Reykjavik we stopped at the Perlan Museum that sits on a hill overlooking Reykjavik and contains interesting exhibits about the geology, flora, and fauna of Iceland. We toured the ice cave that simulates walking though the inside of a glacier cave, complete with -10┬║ C temperatures, and also walked around the outdoor observation deck that offers panoramic views of Reykjavik.
Lava rock pool

Waves crashing on the cliff
Perlan Museum
Ice Cave
Reykjavik overlook from Perlan observation deck
Next we drove to the Hallgrimskirkja church. Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran church and the tallest building in Reykjavik. We walked around the grounds and toured the inside but opted against the trip to the top of the bell tower. After the church we drove to the Holt Hotel where we would be staying for the night. The Holt is known for its dark wood interiors and extensive art collection. We got checked in and dropped our luggage in the room before heading out to explore Reykjavik. In a minor mishap, I managed to lock our iPads in the safe without setting the unlock code. We decided to solve that problem when we returned from touring.

Holt hotel lobby

Hallgrimskirkja interior and organ pipes
Leif Erikson sculpture
We drove to a parking lot in the center of town and explored on foot from there. We visited the Cathedral of Christ the King, a small but beautiful Catholic church not far from our first hotel. Next we walked in search of the stand selling the Best Hotdogs in the World, that I hoped to sample. Unfortunately the surrounding streets were closed for construction, and we could not find where the stand was relocated so I had to go without.

Instead we walked along Reykjavik's Sculpture and Shore Walk to its best known sculpture, the Solfar Sun Voyager. The sculpture's placement allows for some dramatic photos if you are willing to wait for good lighting and the children to stop climbing on it. We took our pictures and headed back. Our walk back took us past the Reykjavik Opera House, an imposing modern building on the waterfront. We took the opportunity to walk around inside, and stopped to shop for a souvenir as well.

Christ the King Cathedral
Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture
Reykjavik's Harpa Opera House
It was getting late and we worried we might not make it back to the hotel before the kitchen closed, so we stopped at the Bazilika restaurant in downtown and both enjoyed their fish and chips specialty. I also tried some Gull, a local Icelandic beer. After dinner we walked back to the car and returned to the hotel. We recruited the desk clerk to solve our room safe problem, then wrapped up the evening with a nightcap in the hotel bar.

Bazilika restaurant

Hotel Holt bar

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Iceland - Golden Circle

Thursday we checked out of the Reykjavik Centrum Hotel. We enjoyed our stay there and liked the location. They had a decent breakfast buffet, and were close to shopping and many restaurants. We would stay again if we ever returned to Reykjavik.

Our itinerary for Thursday was to travel Iceland's "Golden Circle". The golden circle is a 300 km popular tourist route that starts and ends in Reykjavik. You might compare it to the Ring of Kerry. There are 3 major points of interest on the golden circle: Thingvellir National Park, the geysers and geothermal area at Geysir, and the Gullfoss waterfall. We stopped at a couple of additional places as well.

Our first stop was at the continental rift valley in Thingvellir. We actually drove past the turnoff for it as we drove through the national park, but stopped at a park information center and got directions back. Iceland sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge which is the division between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Thingvellir rift valley is the result of those plates separating from each other at the rate of 2.5 cm/year. You can overlook the rift, then walk a path through it at Thingvellir.

Iceland's position on the Mid Atlantic Ridge is also responsible for the many volcanoes and geothermal areas in the country. Iceland has harnessed this geothermal energy and uses it to provide heating and electricity. Our next stop on the golden circle was Geysir which has numerous bubbling hot springs and the popular Strokkur geyser that erupts every 5 to 10 minutes. We toured the geothermal field and watched Strokkur erupt a few times. The force of the eruption varies from dramatic to mediocre. It was cold and windy, so after we saw (and smelled) enough geothermal activity we went into the gift shop to warm up and have a bite to eat.

A short distance after Geysir is the Bru horse farm where you can feed and pet Icelandic horses. We stopped there and bought a cup of horse treats to feed the horses while we pet them.

Our next stop was Gullfoss, the most famous waterfall in Iceland. It rivals Niagara in impressiveness. The water cascades over 2 consecutive drops totaling 105 feet (Niagara is 167 feet). It was cold, and exceptionally windy in the canyon by the falls.

Finally we drove to the Kerid volcanic crater which is a huge circular crater with a small lake at the bottom. The lake is a cloudy turquoise blue and the sloped sides of the crater are tinted with colorful vegetation and soil.

From Kerid we drove to our night's accomodations at the Ion Adventure Hotel. The route there took us on a long stretch of unpaved gravel and dirt road that was bumpy and rutted. We had to drive slowly and it took a long time to reach the hotel. The Ion hotel was nice. Its remote location was designed to enhance viewing the aurora borealis in the winter, but in the summer it provides a romantic sense of privacy and seclusion. On arrival we were offered complimentary sparkling wine during check in. Our room was small but had a large comfortable bed. There was an outdoor thermally heated spa pool that we didn't try. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, then ended the night with drinks in the Northern Lights Bar which has high floor to ceiling windows on three sides to facilitate watching the northern lights in the winter. Janet enjoyed some more sparkling wine, while I sipped a unique Icelandic spirit called Brennivin and nicknamed the "Black Death".  It tasted better than it sounds.

Driving through Thingvellir park

Overlooking the rift
Walk through the rift

Geothermal area at Geysir

Hot spring pools

Hot spring pool

Strokkur geyser beginning to erupt

Strokkur geyser
Icelandic horses

Feed the horse
Gullfoss waterfall

Kerid volcanic crater

Kerid crater
Ion Adventure Hotel
Ion hotel

Ion Northern Lights Bar

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Iceland - South Coast

Wednesday we had breakfast in the hotel, and headed out to Iceland's south coast. When we got to the car I realized I forgot to prepay for morning parking (it's free overnight until 9 am) and found a parking ticket on my windshield. I went back to the hotel desk to find out how what to do about the ticket. I was told I could pay it at a nearby bank and that the fine would be less if I paid it the same day. So I found my way to the bank and paid my parking fine. Consequently we got a late start on our sightseeing.

Once we got on our way we went to see the Keldur turf houses which are some of the oldest houses in Iceland. When we arrived we were greeted by a bunch of cows. They mooed at us and I mooed back. We reached the turf houses and were given a brief talk about them then were allowed to walk around and look inside the old buildings. There was also a small chapel with a cemetery. We noticed many of these small chapels around Iceland's countryside. The graves in the cemetery were interesting in that they were all covered by a small mound.

After the turf houses we decided we would drive to our farthest point of interest and stop at the others as we worked our way back. So we drove first to the black sand beach at Vik. This beach was a little tricky to find, but worth it. It's a wide beach of fine black sand, bordered on one end by basalt sea stacks. It was a scenic spot for pictures.

We left the beach and drove next to the Dyrholaey arch and bird sanctuary. The area is supposed to be a good place to see puffins, but we were not fortunate enough to see any. We did see the amazing arch and plenty of other birds. A short distance away from the parking area is a high bluff with a gravel road up to the lighthouse. We saw cars going up and down so we decided to try it. The road was better suited to SUVs and not our Toyota Corolla, but we made it to the top and were rewarded with a fantastic view of the surrounding area, the Dyrholaey arch, and yet another black beach that stretched on for miles.

Our next destination was Skogafoss falls. The drive was amazingly scenic. We stopped at the Solheimajokull glacier and walked up the path to get a closer look. The glaciers are very old, and look dirty from all the volcanic ash they have collected over the years. You can book tours that let you climb the glacier. We saw some people returning from such a tour.

We proceeded on to the Skogafoss waterfall. Skogafoss is huge and you can get as close to it as you dare. I dared to go about 50 feet from the crashing water and got pretty wet just from the spray. After leaving Skogafoss we drove to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. On the way we stopped near the base of the Eyjafjallaj├Âkull volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped European air traffic for 6 days. We took pictures but the top of the volcano was not visible due to cloud cover.

We continued on to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. At Seljalandsfoss you can also get very close, and if you want you can actually walk behind the falls. We saw a number of people do that, but the path behind the falls looked wet and slippery. Lacking good footwear we thought it best to stay on the front side. Although Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss are named waterfalls that are popular tourist stops, we also saw many other beautiful waterfalls just driving down the road.

Our weather had been nice all day but it was raining by the time we got to Seljalandsfoss. We were getting hungry and worried that we'd get back to Reykjavik too late to eat so we stopped at a local restaurant along the way home. I had a cheeseburger that wasn't too bad. Janet's chicken nuggets however were pretty bad. Even I didn't like them. At least the fries were edible.

Friendly cows
Turf houses

Turf houses

Mounded graves

Black sand beach
Beach and sea stacks

Not swimming weather

Looking back towards Vik from Dyrholaey
Small arch near the parking lot

Looking towards the Dyrholaey promontory

Note the huge arch on the left
Cliffs with nesting birds
Miles long black beach
Dyrholaey arch. Ships and small planes have fit thru.

It was windy at the top

Scenic drive

Scenic drive

Scenic drive

Roadside flowers
On the path to the glacier

Solheimajokull Glacier.For size, click the picture and
note the small humans near the water or on the path.

Glacier ice

Glacier Selfie

Close to Skogafoss

Eyjafjallaj├Âkull volcano

Other waterfall
Other waterfall

Kanslarinn Restaurant
We didn't try the special.