Adventures in Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and South Shore

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February 14th 2011
Published: February 20th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Dear Friends and Family,

Ann and I had a fabulous time visiting Iceland. We drove down to Seattle on Feb 8 and managed to find our parking company which was about 5 kms from the airport. We had an empty flight so managed to sprawl out. We lost 8 hours due to the time difference and arrived at 7am the next day to a white wonderland at Keflavik Airport. We caught a bus into Reykjavik, which dropped us right at our hotel. The sun was just starting to rise around 9:30am when we headed out for the day. We walked up a small hill to see the Pearlan. It consists for six decommissioned water tanks that have been upgraded into the Saga Museum, a look out and restaurant. We could see all of Reykjavik and out to Mt. Esja. We then proceeded into town to see the Hallgrimskirkja Church. This is the highest building in Iceland and was designed to look like a lava flow. In front of it is a statue of Leif Ericson, the Viking who is regarded as the first European to land in North America, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. According to the Sagas of Icelanders (which give the history of their culture), he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, which has been tentatively identified with the L'Anse aux Meadows Norse site in Newfoundland.

We visited the Reykjavik habour and stopped at Saegreifinn (the Seabaron) eatery for lobster soup, whale kebabs and scallop. We also visited several museums including the National Museum (where the recently discovered statue of Thor is located), 871 ± 2 Settlement Exhibition (where the oldest remnants of buildings in Reykjavik are located), the National Art Gallery, Nordic House and Culture House (where copies of the 12th century Icelandic Sagas are kept). We visited a flea market, a couple tourist shops and the City Hall (where a large 3D map of Iceland can be seen for free). They keep a special area on the Tjornin Lake in front of City Hall free of ice for swans, ducks and geese. In the evening, we headed out on our free bus trip to see the Northern Lights, but were out of luck. No lights to be found. We were allowed to go as many times as we wanted until we saw them but they were either cancelled or a no-show for the rest of the trip. I guess we’ll have to plan a trip for further north next time.

The next day we awoke at 8:50am to find that our tour group was leaving at 9am. We rushed down and just made it but figured we were ‘that couple’ for the rest of the day as we were always the last on the bus. We embarked on the Golden Circle Tour which is considered a circuit of all the must-see natural and cultural locations near Reykjavik. The day contained a lot of driving as most tours in Iceland do, due to the remote nature of all the most fantastic features. If we had a couple more days we would have been tempted to drive the full Ring Road around Iceland. Our first stop was a volcanic crater lake called Kerith. We were lucky to have the sun rise just in time for photos but were not given enough time for a full walk around. Our next stop was a fabulous waterfall – Vatnsleysufoss. I was really impressed with this waterfall, which was only the lead up for the next one – Gullfoss. It rivals the Foz do Iguaçu and Niagara Falls. We also came across our first observations of the hidden people. The Hidden People are well-respected as bringing good will to Icelandic people and there is even a job that prevents the construction of new buildings that could affect their goodwill. Near Gullfoss is a field of geysers including the very first identified Geyser in Europe. The water temperatures were 80 to 100oC coming out of the ground! We also stopped to see the famous Icelandic horses which have remained isolated from other horse breeds since 1100 AD. They are small but sturdy and good-natured. They are considered the ideal horse by the locals. The last stop on our itinerary was the original location of the world’s first parliament established in 930AD in Thingvellir National Park. That evening we were entertained with stories from Icelandic Sagas at our hotel, hot cocoa and cookies.

We looked around Reykjavik again the next day and waited for Monte, Olenka, Steve and Nikki to arrive. Unfortunately they were delayed due to a big storm in Iceland and didn’t make it to the hotel until the afternoon. We all headed out on the town and had a fabulous meal at a local tapas bar that included puffin meat, monkfish, salmon, scallops, lamb skewers and lobster tails. We also participated in the Annual Reykjavik Museum Night with entry to all the city attractions from 7pm to midnight. We were all up bright and early the next day to enjoy the amazingly diverse breakfast at the hotel and pick up the rental SUV for our self-guided tour of the South Shore. We headed down Route 1 towards the South Shore in darkness, allowing the passengers a couple more hours of sleep. Our first stop was the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall which we could actually walk around the back of! The next stop involved a 5 km drive down a bumpy off-road which was only accessible due to the lack of rain in the last day. We managed to drive within hiking distance of the Solheimajokull Glacier, which is the most southerly extent of the Myrdalsjokull Glacier. We hiked up so that we could view the glacier from above and then had a tricky descent to the surface of the glacier. The ice was so slippery that we could barely stand up, especially with the wind blowing us over! Then we drove all the way to Vik I Myrdal and saw the furthest southern prominent of Iceland and the black volcanic sand beaches at Reynisfjara Beach.

We had spied many cool stops on our drive south and we did a lot more exploring on the way back, including stops at the Skogarfoss Waterfall, the Skogar Museum (with traditional turf-roofed houses), Urithafoss Waterfall, the towns of Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki (unfortunately the cultural exhibits and Hidden People museum were closed during the winter), and Selfoss Waterfall. Due to popular demand, we headed back up to Thingvellir National Park and drove all the way around Thingvallavatn Lake. We went back to the Alphing and viewed Oxara Waterfall and a pool called the Drekkingarhylur where adulterous women used to be drowned. We started back to Reykajavik just as a blizzard blew in from the east. We managed to follow another car through the snow storm all the way back to Route 1.

As this was Saturday night, we wanted to go out on the town for the runtar. Iceland is famous for its nightlife which only starts at midnight and carries on until 6 or 7 in the morning. With no cover charges, we managed to get to three bars before the line-ups started to get long. We tried the Black Death signature Icelandic schnapps and some of their local beers. While four of us made it home together at the end of the night after pizza, two of our party went missing. Fortunately we found them back at the hotel, but sans shoes and coats! Hopefully they picked them up at a later date. We didn’t see them till the next evening for the Northern Lights non-viewing again.

On our last day, we had saved ourselves for perhaps the most famous of Reykjavik’s attractions – the Blue Lagoon. It was a lot of white mud in a volcanic rock setting with steaming hot water. Great for a soak on your way from North America to mainland Europe or vice versa! Plus, there was one more waterfall. Ann took full advantage of it for her shoulders and upper back! Last stop – Keflavik Airport – for the flight back and the tiring drive home with a stop for the Framboise beer and dinner in Bellingham.

Anyone heading to Iceland should be prepared for all weather – rain, snow, hail, sun, and wind. We definitely recommend getting out of the city to see some of the surrounding natural countryside.

Richard and Ann

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