Iceland, Day 4, July 24–Skaftafell on the South Ring Road

We spent the day hiking and exploring the mountain above the glacier…the Vatnajokull National Park is very popular camping area and colorful tents blossomed everywhere.  

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We had gray skies and drizzle, but that didn’t stop our exploration of several waterfalls above the glacier.  You’ve probably noticed, “foss” means waterfall…

 Hundafoss was our first stop.

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At Svartifoss we had a great example of the basalt rock formation common in Iceland.  

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This ancient molten stone is crystalized in a honeycomb formation.  

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We saw a modern interpretation of this at the Harpa Performing Arts Theater in Reykjavik.  More to come on that…

We hiked across the mountain,

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Found an interesting sculture.

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Another waterfall at Magnusarfoss

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With an interesting pattern in the stream feeding the falls

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Before finally reaching the glacier…

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and the great overlook of the ice field from the top of the mountain.

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In the rain, we had a slippery trip down the mountain

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And came to a boardwalk path near the bottom.

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From the hotel, we headed to a final exploration before dinner.

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We found a hidden glacial lagoon with ice bergs…a teaser of what we hope to find tomorrow!

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Plus the wild glacial flowers were beautiful.

The giant Hogweed was everywhere and grew from an interesting bulb on the stem.  Like the Bradford pear, its scented like carrion to attract pollenators…

Flowers-weed_at_waterfall

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Puple gentian amd yellow Alpine Cinquefoil

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Bluebells

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Tiny orchid

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We haven’t talked about the cost of traveling in Iceland…the Kronur exchage rate is better than before the economy collapsed, but purchases were still expensive.  Gas was about $8 a gallon but as I mentioned, we loved driving our own car and setting our own pace.

Our meals were interesting too… a breakfast buffet was included with our rooms.  It was pretty standard throughout the trip, but Skaftafell outdid themselves.

We went to the local grocery and bought fruit and the makings for a light lunch for most days.  We bought a trusty little cooler and used it to keep our beer and wine chilled, too. Dinner most often was at the hotel, since we often were in remote areas with few options. Although we were really off the beaten path, the lamb and Arctic Char were fantastic. The whole trip, we had the best fish ever!  One cost-saver: there is no tipping in Iceland.

Icelandic wool sweaters were sold everywhere, in varying qualities.  Prices never varied across the Island…we didn’t buy any.

Next day we’re off to more icebergs and the Eastern Fjords!

 

 

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Iceland, Day 3, July 23–South Ring Road

As we left our hotel we found a charming park nearby, filled with bird houses and child activities.  It appears Icelanders really love nature and seem to make the most of their time outside.  

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We headed east through southern Iceland, first stopping at the waterfall and black sand– Seljalandsfoss.  We found the site filled with campers–these people seem to love to backpack, hike, camp and hitchhike around a country we found to be very warm and friendly.  Yes, hitchking seems to be an excepted–and safe–practice for young people.  We also experienced a sense of safety and comfort thoughout the country–a bit of Ozzie and Harriet-land, revisited.

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We were now in an area severely affected after the glacial flood that followed the volcanic explosion at Eyjafjallajokull in 2010 (the one that shut down air traffic to Europe.)  The glacier falls, complete with a trekker behind the water, have a story…a treasure is buried somewhere in the falling mist.  

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Wild flowers flourish in the plain covered with volcanic ash.  Water is the curse and life blood of these barren volcanic areas and mist from the falls creates a micro-environment supporting an emerald green oasis.  

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When volcanic activity melts the glaciers, huge water flows occur, periodically flooding areas, carring tons of silt. Huge black mounds of sand and ash are still visible from dredgers opening channels for the water to escape to the sea in 2010.  We learned the road crews often tear up roads to give the flood water a path to escape so they could save their bridges.  One of the most important jobs in Iceland must be a steam shovel operator…they are always in demand!

 As we left the flood plain, the land turned lush, nurished by the volcanic minerals.

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A few miles farther, we stopped at the dairy farm in the valley below the eruption and watched a movie on their life during and in the months that followed…the total devastation of their lives for several months and the help from the surrounding communities to bulldoze and shovel tons of ash that left a thick layer over their land. 

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They were lucky… the glacial flood come down the other side of the mountain, so they “only” had to restore utilities and water then deal with remnants of the weeks of the black tephra clouds raining debris after the explosion.  Their cattle and horses survived in the barns until the earth amazingly rebounded in a matter of months.  They have a poster by the house showing the volcanic cloud decending upon them.

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The family vegetable and flower gardens, grape vines and pastures became lush and green by the end of the season- fertilized by the volcanic deposit.  The valley is absolutely beautiful now…a remarkable testament to survival and rejuvenation.

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From there, we headed east to the 62 M waterfall at Skogafoss, a few miles away.  It was magnificent, nestled in hills dotted with sheep.  We saw a large group of young people visiting–they were high school students from the DC area, a National Geographic tour lead by a glaciologist.  We met up with them again later in our trip and had a chance to chat.  Lucky kids!

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Dual dancing rainbows formed in the mist at the base.

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Next, we headed to the coast, we pasted the Myrdalsjokull glacier with the Katla volcano.  This is overdue for eruption and is expected to cause mass devastation and tidal waves that will probably deluge the city of Vik and their beautiful church.  

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We walked on the VIK black sand beaches

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and chilled our toes in the surf by the 60 M Reynisdrangur Needles.

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 The end of our long day took us across a wide expanse of barren lava fields–these were unusual, rolling not jagged…

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Before reaching Skaftafell, at the foot of the Vatnajokull glacier– the biggest glacier outside of the poles– we saw the true power and devastation of a glacial flood following the latest volcanic eruption of Grimsvotn in 1996.  

This unleashed 3000 billion liters of waters in a few hours, running to the sea.   Crumpled girders have been left as a monument to the force of melted glacial flood water that finally broke free carrying ice bergs up to 200 TONS, the size of three-story buildings. These repeated events have created area the largest sand flats in Iceland.

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From here, the Vatnajokull glacier loomed ahead.

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Our Skaftafell hotel sat with the glacier at our back door.

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We explored a bit before finding a spot for wine and cheese overlooking the glacier.  

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Again, this hotel has a very European feel—small proportions, tiny sink, much like a dorm room, but with a huge window at the glacier-end of the room.  (Emphasis on the important stuff!)

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 Tomorrow, we hike!

 

ICELAND, Day 2, July 22 and the Golden Circle

We begin Day Two by hiking through a geothermal field near the hotel.  Much of the energy in Iceland comes from green resources and almost all homes are heated by geothermal technology.  There are steam vents everywhere.  

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This is way better than Yellowstone… No restrictions.  Iceland seems to treat everyone as adults–if you’re dumb enough, you can walk right up to the vents that can be up to 100 degrees Centrigrade.  Seriously close, no boardwalks, etc., just a rope boundary.

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Off to the geyser basin, we made a chance stop at another great church near Grindavik.

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—It’s not only beautiful, it  happens to have quite a history.  Strandakirkja Church is a simple wooden structure that is said to have been built by stricken seamen who had an angel guide them to rescue on shore.   (“The guiding light of those who sail the sea”).  This is a testament to the dangerous life seamen endure in the often violent waters off the Icelandic coast. 

 

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 People from all over the world still pledge donations to Strandakirkja in hope of help in times of trouble. This wealthy little church (the richest in Iceland) is a treasure and its cemetary is a great stop.

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Next we head through Selfoss for Geysir (gee’ sir) and the geyser field that gave spewing geothermal steam pits their name.

We saw the Strokkur Geyser go off every few minutes,

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and walked over and threw the smoldering mud pots.  

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Again, no real barriers here.  If you take a risk, Iceland expects you to deal with the consequences!  

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I love the patterns made in the bronze geothermal mud by the flow from the geysers.

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As a bonus, just before leaving I spotted my first giant troll…

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And lo and behold, Great Geiser, which has a very irregular schedule, blew minutes later.  Lucky us!  (Maybe there is something to this troll stuff…)

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Geysir

We left for the back country to search for the Langjokull glacier.  Again, we hit a barren, lava-covered landscape along with the Hvita milky glacial river,

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The glacier

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Huge patches of cotton grass

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And some of the most beautiful lupin ever, thanks to the micro-climate created by the river! 

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Ja

We finally made it to the 105′ Guilfoss waterfall,  one of the all-time national favorites.  That’s saying a lot because Iceland has a spectacular waterfall–or 5–at every turn.  It flows from a glacial lagoon through a  fissure in the Hvita river bed.

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Tomorrow we head east toward the iceberg lagoon and other amazing sites…

See you then!

Alberta

 

ICELAND, Day 1, July 21

We made it to Reykjavik, Iceland after an overnight flight, tired but ready to roll.  These postings are a catch up as we continue our RV sojourn.  I wasn’t able to post pictures from my iPad so I’m looking forward to going through the trip again on the blog….

Why Iceland?  Wait ’til you see the whole trip.  It’s so much more than the long weekend trip to the Blue Lagoon!  Iceland is the most western point of Europe and everything here definately has a European flavor.

 One important trick we learned was to stop at duty free on your way out of the airport.  We stocked up on wine and chocolate (two of our basic food groups) then rented a car for our vacation, slowly following the Ring Road around the island.  We learned some basic vocabulary…Takk fyrir or Takk takk (thank you).  Hallo/ bless (bye) , ja and nei.  That’s pretty much all we’ll need. Everyone seems to speak English beautifully- even the European travelers we’ve met.  The airport scultpure depicts a hatching Skua, an aggressive sea bird, in the gull family, that is very common in the area.

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With Susan and John, our partners in crime– and fun–on many of our adventure vacations, we traveled to our hotel in Hveragerol, for a quick bite and a nap.  On the way, we were struck by the geothermal steam vents everywhere in this area. 

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The sauna at the hotel even had a sulphur tinge—heated directly from underground sources.

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At breakfast at the Hotel Ork, we immediately became fans of the yogurt they serve at all breakfast buffets…great on cereal, instead of milk.  We also were introduced to Skyr, a unique product of Iceland, part of their Norse Viking heritage. This tastes a bit like Greek yogurt on steroids.  We looked it up–Internet info lists it as a superfood, high in protein, actually a fresh cheese made from skim milk.  Plus it is available in some stores in the US…we definetly going to look for it when we get home.

Our afternoon adventure begins navigating the Icelandic roads to nearby sites.  We have chosen to rent a Land Cruiser so we can drive the Ring Road ourselves.  We have opted for 4-wheel drive because some of the gravel roads in the Westfjords are tough going (like driving on marbles, we’re told).  We did use a travel agent to book our hotel reservations, but we will be on our own schedule to start and stop as we choose.   Much of this area is volcanic, so large portions are all lava rock with a shaggy moss cover.

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Away from the lava fields, the area is lush.  Green grass and beautiful wild flowers everywhere.  Many of the vistas include fields dotted with round white plastic balls,  Turns out, this is the way they keep hay for the animals in the winter.  We were told they ball up the green feed tightly and vacuum pack it in plastic wrappers so mold, etc, can’t grow.

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One surprise is the huge number of Icelandic ponies- horses and foals everywhere.  Many are lying down in the green fields. The Icelanders seem to have an almost mystical connection to their horses.  There are few barns for over 100,000 horses.  This supports what we’ve heard…although it is on the same longitude as Alaska (Reykjavik and Fairbanks line up perfectly), the weather is relatively mild because the Gulf Stream swings close to shore and gentles the winters.  We regularly see groups of kids, teens and adults riding.  It appears this is a national past time and we are planning to join in!  We’re told Icelandic ponies are unique because they have 5 gaits giving them a very smooth motion.  We’re planning to ride while we’re here–we’ll let you know!

Horses

Finding our way is easy, and our first stop is Eyrarbakki, a charming coastal town with houses in every color of the rainbow.

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 This once was once the main port in southern Iceland.  Now only cement underpinnings and volcanic rock breakwaters remain.  There must be tremendous tides because we saw a beach and shore pools when we visited- no way to dock a ship.

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The town had a beautiful church at its center–a perfect fit with the multi-colored houses.

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Whooper swans, the Eurasean version of the Trumpeter, kept us entertained as they bobbed in the shallows of the Atlantic shoreline.

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We drove to Stokkseyn and had lunch beside another quaint church. They certainly seem to have more churches per capita.  Iceland, the size of Kentucky, only has 270,000 people and 2/3 live in the capital.

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This town, on the southern coast, also was once a major shipping center and is known for it’s troll and ghost museum–apparently trolls, ghosts and elves are a big deal in Iceland.  More to come on that….

Again beautiful flowers are everywhere.  Much like Alaska, it seems the long summer days spark the flowers to colossal sizes during their short growing season.  (This is the land of the midnight sun- sunrise is at 0330 and dusk is after 10 but it never does get dark.)

 

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The people are a hearty lot and they make the most of their summer.  The mercury hit a balmy 15 degrees C (about 60 F) and all the natives were in short sleeves, some in shorts.  While we sat in three layers, we saw a group of kids head down to the water- a few in sketchy wet suits- and jump from the old pier into the ocean.  Brrrrr!  A fun day in the Atlantic.

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Tomorrow we head off on the Golden Circle–to the geothermal steam vents that gave geysers their name and to a world class waterfall, Guilfoss.