Hilton Head Family Reunion & Birthday- August 10-17

Home from Iceland for just two days, we take off on our next trip, over 5,500 miles and almost two months, south to Hilton Head, Savannah and Charleston, then north through eastern Canada, including the Maritimes. 

We first head for Hilton Head on a special mission– to celebrate Great Grandma’s (GG’s) 90th birthday.  A full week of snapshots.  This was fun with everyone coming—that means 19 people and 6 great grandkids ranging from one to 10 years old.   Some will come from a few hundred miles away, relatively local.  Others are coming from the Chicago area, and some a few thousand miles from California.  The undisputed winner will be our daughter’s family, who came back from South Africa.

Obviously, nothing we’ll be doing this week will be spur of the moment, planning has gone on for many months, with giant kudos to Jim’s sister.  Quite a gaggle!  We’ll be staying in a RV park just outside Sea Pines.  Everyone else will either be in rental homes or staying at Jim’s sister’s house.

We all arrive the same day—impeccable planning or just good luck.  Our first destination …DUH..the beach with the kids! 


Great weather and (everything being relative) not as hot as it has been.  This is an introduction to the ocean for our little one from the Great Lakes region.  And it is the first chance the mini munchies from California or Africa will have a chance to enjoy a warm ocean–and WAVES!


Such fun!  This was the first of many trips to the water, a place that seemed to anchor the whole week.  


The kids obviously loved it…learning to boogey board,




building sand castles,


finding shells and sand dollars,


watching the guys shark fishing.  (Yes, they caught a few young sharks, but definitely catch and release!)


The beach really was a magnet for us as well.  We took morning and evening walks with the dogs—when they could run free on the beach.  This is a big leatherback turtle nesting area with many nests marked off, but none hatched on the stretch of beach we roamed during our visit.


One of our first group activities, thanks to Lacey, was a beautiful catamaran ride through the waterways. 


The weekend theme was Maine and lobsters—marking an important part of GGs past. Our son really got into the spirit and wore his lobster hat the whole boat trip!.  


Captured together on the deck, this was a great time for everyone to catch up. 



Boats and water seem to be a great way to mix generations. We found the same thing on live-aboards SCUBA diving with our kids. A gentle beginning that set a great tone for the week to come.


That evening we had the big 90th birthday celebration—continuing with the sea creature theme….never “crabby”, Brian was a hit.


After the cake and festivities,


we got one final shot of Party Central.


The next days we took advantage of the island.  This really is a playground—for kids and adults.  We could bike everywhere.


 We couldn’t pass up pictures at the Harbour Town lighthouse.


And the ancient Liberty Oak.  The shape of the harbor resulted from the determination of the founders to save this tree.


We parasailed.


Grandpa took the grandkids on the pirate ship.


We also made it to the petting zoo, complete with a pony ride. 


Evenings were busy too.

From “championship” jenga matches




OOPS.  Somebody has to pull the last one…


We saw Gregg Russell—that was a great memory.  Our kids had done the same thing with their cousins about 25 years ago.


We hit the Salty Dog. 


And had a great last dinner at the Crazy Crab.


With a beautiful marsh and shrimp boat in the background.


Of course we couldn’t pass up a stop for the home-made Hilton Head Ice Cream.





Jim and I biked around Pickney Island Nature Reserve.  Great unspoiled South Carolina….








The culmination of activities was the group shot.  We never were able to get everyone to the dunes, but we got some great pictures with a perfect South Carolina background.


And harking back to our love of the sea…our last night, after all the kids had flown home, was spent at the peaceful shore.




From Hilton Head, we’ll explore the Old South in Savannah and Charleston before heading north to Nigara Falls then into Canada, to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and points east.

See you for more from the road…






Iceland Days 16 and 17, August 5 and 6, Our final days in Reykjavik

Today we say “Bless” to the Westfjords and head toward our final stop in Reykjavik via the Baldaur Ferry, stopping briefly at Flatey Island, then crossing the Breidafjrdur.


Leaving the ferry, it was a long drive into the capital on excellent roads.  No more sheep or gravel here.  We hit traffic and a big city.  Our tour company arranged for us to stay at Hotel Cabin.  Poor choice, especially for our final stop.  They seem to cater to the big bus tours, with huge room downstairs to feed mega-groups.  While we did have a smaller room on a top floor reserved for breakfasts, it was not a good choice.  It’s located a good distance from the heart of the city so we either walked or drove—and parking was an issue.  Plus, they even charge (and it’s ridiculously expensive) for internet, unlike the superb connectivity we received in the “country.”  Obviously, none of these things were a major problem.  But if you do come to Iceland—and I hope you do—this is just a heads-up so your days in the capital are a bit easier.

In the morning, our last full day, we begin by touring the harbor area.  At the east side we find the Recycled House.




And a great view of the city from the water.


Along the waterfront is a walking-biking path.  We continue to stroll and come to the Hofoi House, where Reagan and Gorbachev met.  No fence, hardly even a sign.


 More waterfront sculptures…



The striking modern image of a Viking ship.


And anchoring the waterfront at the west end is the amazing Harpa Concert Hall. 


 Built at great expense, and completed in the years following Iceland’s economic collapse, this has been the source of great controversy.


First, the external design is unique and reflects the crystal formation found in the pervasive basalt created by the lava flows.  Much like a honeycomb, it’s built with individual glass panels.


While the external design is unique, the internal structure is even more amazing.  It has perfect acoustics in each of its concert halls, with special movable wooden panels designed to support the specific performance needs, European seats that funnel air conditioning into the room through the chairs so blowers do not interfere with the sound, etc.  Truly an amazing gem.

We began our tour on Gay Pride Day—not the typical mono-purpose event we see in the States.  This is a family holiday here.  Everyone comes to Reykjavik to celebrate and have fun—families, kids, teens, young adults, grandmas and grandpas, along with those here for the cause. 


Just a fun day with a big concert down by the harbor,


With all the stores celebrating the day,


Even open-air shopping.  Bustling activity everywhere.


Streets were jammed.  We had lunch outside a café on Laugavegur Street and people-watched, then made our way to the top of the city, to the spectacular Church of Hallgrimur.



True to Iceland’s roots, the church had a statue of Leif Erickson at the front.


Walking back to the hotel we found another fantastic church,  Phateigis kirka.  So many towers….


We also found a unique tablet–not sure we want to know what this one was commemorating


As our final adventure in Iceland, we went to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, about 20 miles outside Reykjavik.  We wanted to go to the one that gets so much press to compare it to our experience in Myvatn. 


This spa was definitely set up to cater to the destination traveller—very high end with a store carrying anything you could want from jewelery, bathing suits and sun block to swim vests for the kids…and the were a lot of kids!  

 The pool area was well done, with bridges connecting pool areas, saunas, cool showers, all set against the black lava rocks.


We were there in the afternoon, so we even saw people sunbathing.  Plus there was a masseuse pool and a swim-up bar serving exotic drinks.


One extra feature was the special mud available at the poolside to give yourself a facial.


Always a good sport, even John got in the act. We all were going to get beautiful!  Ewww.  Guess it has to get worse before it gets better. 


Our final analysis, comparing the two blue holes, was although this one had all the bells and whistles, even a store with wonderful creams and rinses, jewelry, T-shirts, etc, all-in-all it was very commercial.  This was really nice, but having done Myvatn too, I think we all preferred the one in the north.

We again had dinner in town our last night, then Iceland graced us with one last sunset as we drove by the water.


The  morning before we flew out, we drove around the city for a last look before heading to the airport.

We found a beautiful park and homes around a lake.


And we passed The Pearl Restaurant on our way out of town.  This was on our To Do list but we never made it.  Great view–we just ran out of time. 


We left on a direct flight back to the US.  I think we all would love to come back to Iceland one day—it’s just a matter of time and money.  There are so many other place we still want to see. 

One thing I would love would be a quick trip (you sometimes see amazing long-weekend fares) to see a performance in the Harpa Concert Hall.  I’m going to keep that one in my bucket list!

We’re home for 2 days before we head off to Great Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration in Hilton Head—the WHOLE family of 19 will be there!  Then Jim and I are heading to Niagara Falls and Canada (Toronto to the Maritimes) for a month.

Check back to see what mischief we find next!



Iceland, Day 15, August 4–Raudasandur, the Red Beach

This is our last day exploring the back country of Iceland.  This morning we visited the light house at Sellatranes, down the road from the hotel.  The lighthouse looks tiny but check out the white dots at its base–those are the ever-present sheep!


Looking across the fjord, we had a great view of the flat-topped mountains on the other side.  At least 6 copy-cat land fingers reach out to the sea.  The unusual part is they look like someone took a knife and sheared off their tops at the same level.  We could find no explanation for this but it looked wonderful.  (There’s probably some troll legend involved)


Next, we’re off to the Red Beach, Raudasandur, on the other side of the peninsula.  What a trip.  Best beach and worst road ever!  The drive’s no joke; they did tell us to expect a challenge.

 Significant grades—some 12 %,


 Many banked hairpin turns no wider than the car,


 And all overlooking shear drop offs with no rail.  


John did a great job getting us in and out of the area.  If you visit, do make the trip.  It was spectacular…as long as you have a car with 4-wheel drive and a driver with nerves of steel!

We were practically the only people there!  There was a public camp site well back from the entrance to the beach.  At the beach entrance we saw postings, “NO CAMPING ALLOWED.”  The signs said dangerous winds and surf can come up unexpectedly causing life-threatening conditions.  Guess this can be a pretty brutal place in a storm.

The beach was deserted.   Just inside the gate was a collection of whale bones that must have washed up.  This display would be at home in any hands-on museum collection.


The water was cool, not cold.  Wading was fun.


At mid-day the sand was more gold than red, just beautiful. 


The waves created patterns in the sand that would make a great relief. 


 One looked just like a heart…


 And we found wonderful reflections as the tide went out. 


 After our long walk, we climbed the hill at the entrance and had a picnic lunch by a waterfall,


Overlooking the beach (and more sheep), we even found some wild blueberries.


Just to recap…we’ve just spent the morning on a deserted beach at the bottom of a mountain that can only be accessed by an impossible dirt road.   So, we decide we need a little dessert. 

Naturally, we just head off to a French Cafe at the other end of the beach.  No kidding, there was one there, with fantastic chocolate cake and coffee.  How do they have these great places in the middle of no where?  And how do they get supplies? 


Even better, it was beside another beautiful little church, complete with gravestones from the 1800’s. Another Icelandic mystery….how did they live in this isolated place over a hundred years ago? 




This marker is for Kristin Magnusdottir, daughter of Magnus—that’s how people got their last name.  If this had been a male, the last name would have been Magnusson.


 When we had blue skies, they were phenomenal.  This is the blue we saw over these mountains—just this color this time of day!


On the way back to Latrabjarg we kept looking for whales in the brilliant blue of the fjord.  They had seen some recently—but not today.


At the hotel we had wine and cheese on the beach, along with about 1000 Arctic terns.  (If you look closely, you can see Isafjordur on the other side of the fjord.  And to think how long it took to drive here.)


They kept taking flight–not at all happy we were there!


A few brave leaders dive-bombed us, just to make sure we understood we were intruding.


Eventually, we did leave for dinner, but only after Susan and I built our own little cairn as a monument of our visit.  Wonder how long it will last?


We did our best to pack enough into our last day in the Westfjords. Tomorrow we begin the final leg of our trip.  After all this time getting to know Iceland, we finally tour the capitol, Reykjavik!


Iceland Day 14, August 3 – On to the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs

We are getting a bit sad…nearing the end of this adventure.  But we are starting our biggest challenge.  Today we begin the grueling travel we’ve be warned about, heading deep into the rural Westfjords on gravel roads.  These unpaved roads have a reputation for treachery–if you go too fast it can be like driving on marbles.  Every year they have numerous tourists slide off the road.  This can be bad under normal circumstances.  But here, the road is often one lane wide, with many 10 % grades, sheer cliff drop offs, and NO rails on the hairpin turns.  Yee Ha!  The guys will be driving this stretch.


Off toward the famous bird cliffs at Latrabjarg.  We leave in rain, gray skies and cold winds to climb the one-lane gravel road from Pingeyri.  On the positive side, these sheer cliffs and hair-pin turns give us a great view of the remote western fjords.


The Westfjords often aren’t visited by tourists.  They are very remote and the road conditions can be a stopper.  We were excited to have the opportunity.  And signs do a good job reminding you there’s danger ahead.


 As soon as we top the mountain, we see blue skies and sunshine.  YEA.  Don’t think I would do well in the loooong dark winters here.  We stop at the last major waterfall of the trip.  Dynjandi is another of Iceland’s top ten.  


The Westfjords were formed  by volcanic eruptions 14-16 million years ago, laying down layers of basalt and lava slag.  Then a galcier from an ice age 10,000 years ago carved the deep fjords and left rocks of differnt levels of hardness.  This  created the conditions for the Dynjandi waterfall, plunging 186 M to the sea. 


Here’s an mild example of some of the roads in the West…not only must you worry about staying off the edge, but in many cases the edge drops off to the sea.  If you run off the road, you better start swimming!  And those white dots on the hill.  Oh yea.  The open range sheep are EVERYWHERE so you have to play dodge ’em out here too.


A bit further, we found a sign warning of sea monsters in Sudurfirdit as we head to Bildudalur. Don’t even ask!  These towns are so far off the beaten path, everyone’s looking for a tourist draw–ghosties and ghoulies are a natural.


Then we came across a hot cement pool, probably 100 F, complete with cabana, along the road.  There’s a lot of geothermal activity in the West Fjords and even though this was not in the best condition, we were amazed to find a permanent pool constructed in this remote area.  A group of campers were just packing up as we drove in–complete with swim suits drying on the fence.  


These roads put a thick layer of dust on everything. Most of the  N1 gas stations had free car wash capabilities.  A car this dirty is seen as a safety hazard in Iceland.  We became very speedy car washers.


We traveled on a narrow gravel road with an even steeper drop off closer to Hotel Latrabarg.


Around 4 pm we immediately set out for the bird cliffs.  We had seen enough bad weather recently not to take chances on a nice day tomorrow.  These are the most western point of Europe, facing into the open ocean.

The road was again best in a 4X4 with gravel and narrow, blind corners on sheer hills.  The tiny town and campground at Latravik rested on gold sand beaches at the foot of a magnificent cliff.


 We took pictures of the setting through two cairns.  


The cliffs were off the charts fantastic.  First they are a sheer drop over 440 m above the Atlantic, Standing near the edge (I’m not a big fan of heights) I had a sense I was on the edge of the world.



Peaceful, with the wild cacophony of huge numbers of birds; this is one of the largest nesting areas for Razorbill Gulls.  Their sounds struck a magical, soothing chord.

And boy, did we met PUFFINS…inches away.  



They could have cared less about all the gawkers taking pictures and enjoying their antics.  We stayed until almost 8 PM.  That seems to be the time huge numbers came back to their nests, tucked in between the top rocks.  Some probably still had babies in the nests, but we didn’t see any carrying fish.


We often saw pairs preening and small groups hopping about before they scooted in-between the  ledges for the night.



Walking back to our car, we heard an odd “chortle” sound in the grass out in the field.  H’mmmmm.

Dinner back at the hotel was lovely.  It’s an old converted boarding school and the dining room was in the converted auditorium…  Picture a TINY Harry Potter dining area.  


Our hotel owner sat with us a while and described the sound of the Arctic fox that roam the area…he macde a sound just like what we heard on the hill.  He said they are often behind the hotel late at night hunting birds, making that peculiar noise and driving his dog wild.  Little did we know we were so close to them on the cliffs.

We’re off to the red sand beach tomorrow–and the most difficult road we’ve encountered!



Iceland Day 13, August 2 – Riding Icelandic Ponies

Today we woke to gray skies, heavy gusts and sprinkles.  This is possibly our one day to ride Islandic ponies so we headed out to Pingeyri and met Wouter for a ride around the local fjord.  


The skies never cleared but we dressed warmly and had a fantastic ride through streams and moving into their unique tolt gait along the beach.


These horses are fantastic to ride- smooth, great dispositions and known as especially sure-footed.  i love the way he cared for his horses.  What a treat, even if it did begin to rain as we ended the ride!


On the way back to Isafjorfur,  we had soup and dessert waffles in the busy Simbahollin Cafe in Pingeyri.  A converted old house, this was definitely worth the stop, particularly after a chilly morning on horseback.  They had the best kaffi, too!

On the way back to the hotel, we checked out the town of Flateyri, at the foot of a large mountain. It was buried by a snow flood (aka avalanche) about 10 years ago.  We wanted to see the engineering (more steam shovel work!) Iceland financed to prevent further loss of life.  These people are amazing.  They created an earthen dam to divert any future snow floods.


After looking through the shops in Isafjorfur (again disappointing–everthing was off-the-charts expensive and prices seem to be fixed across the country), we set off to a fantastic fresh fish buffet at Tjouruhusi.  


This is one of the 10 Best restaurants in Iceland and it certainly lived up to it’s reputation.  Salted cod, halibut, plaice and ocean catfish/ wolf-fish…all superb with great side dishes and salads.  


It’s appropriately housed in an old fish warehouse, serving the catches of the day.   (You get what you get and it doesn’t get any better than this!)


This was a buffet and you pay your bill by making your way to the register and telling them what you had, including if you had any wine.  Just wonderful. 

Tomorrow we are finally expecting great weather as we head over the narrow dirt road and shear cliffs toward Latrabjarg, Iceland’s largest sea cliff.  The drive is supposed to be a real challenge.  We are hoping for  huge numbers of puffins and other sea birds; we’re also hoping the winds die down so we’re not blown off “the edge of the world.”

Catch you tomorrow.




Iceland Day 12, August 1 – To Isafjordur

We head deeper into the Westfjords, glaciers, more wind, barren landscape and definitely colder temperatures on our way to Isafjordur.

We skirt the water inlets filled with large numbers of birds, including more Hooper Swans.


 As we travel  it’s 10 degrees C (50 F) in strong winds.  We stopped at a sod-roof old farm house the family has turned in to a kaffi and waffle stop.  


They had many of the old kitchen, weaving and woodworking tools used by their family since the turn of the century..1892.  They said the Iceland Museum Association came to them asking to restore and run the old house, to show visitors how settlers lived.

As we had our snack, the grandson also answered some of our questions.


–The drift wood- some huge logs- found all along the fjords in this area are an important source of wood.  The Norwegians stripped Iceland of all trees to build their ships.  The locals build with the huge quantities of driftwood that floats in from Russia.

–He also explained we see churches everywhere because farmers were paid to build a church when Christianity first came to the country…he said many have never been used.


Luckily, as we left, we found a small colony of seals on the fjord rocks down the road. Unluckily, the wind started blowing to about 60 K as we tried to snap a photo. 


We are amazed at the picnic tables perched all along the roads all over the country, even in this area that often has gale-force winds.  The Icelandic people relish their outdoors.

 We hit Isafjorfur on the Shop Keepers Holiday Monday.  Everything’s closed so we walked the town, chilled and planned tomorrow’s adventures.


The town is fairly large and quite modern.


Out our hotel window we see two huge “pipes” in the mountian at the edge of town.  These are roads–tunnels– dug through tons of rock.



We plan to go through one tomorrow as we go to ride Icelandic ponies along the fjord!


Iceland Day 11, July 31 – Our Troll Encounter

Day 11, July 31st

Today we make it to the amazing–and isolated–western fjords.

One constant are the churches beside isolated houses.  Many have graveyards and seating for about 100.  But we’re here on Sunday and we haven’t seen anyone at services!


Tough driving here–the road seems to drop off right into the fjord in some places– up close and personal!  

We took a break at an area that was famous for seal watching–no seals, lots of birds, and I found a big waxy glob at the edge of the water.  Very strange stuff.  Maybe ambergris?  I couldn’t convince anyone in my group so I’m taking a tiny bit and maybe I can find someone who can tell what this is.


The terns were very agitated by our intrusion and proceeded to dive bomb us.


We saw no chicks but heard a lot of chirping.  They were hiding somewhere.  So, we moved on before the parents had a heart attack.  

As we moved along the coast we noticed big logs–nor just driftwood but trees–peppered the shore in this area.  Another mystery.  They were bleached white and obviously had floated in.  But where did they come from since there aren’t any trees here?


We stopped fro lunch in Holmvik and found we had landed in Iceland’s witchcraft central.  A harbringer of things tro come…


Finally, we made it to Hotel Malar Horn in Drangsnes.  A really cute place but I feel like I’m in LegoLand.  The building is put together with tongue-and-groove wood at all the corners.  Pretty ingenious.


We are at the end of a fjord so winds are coming across the coastal ledge at about 60 mph.  The gulls nest in the western cliff and performed aerobatics–banks, hangs, stalls,–to land, not smash, into their nests. We also saw a flock of puffin fly by (they nest on the nearby island).

 Outside our door is Troll Rock…a seemingly innocuous hunk of lava fin.  The story on the marker said trolls were playing in the area when the morning light caught them by surprise and the girl troll was turned into this rock and she now overlooks her ox (oxen can be trolls too?) which became the island off shore.


This town seems to have a very strong connection to Trolls and Elves and they may be a force to reckon with….Most of the homes have tiny troll houses and gnomes- guess they’ve learned not to tick them off!  


I don’t know specifics of these beliefs, but I think one, or both, had a hand in the afternoon’s events…

Jim drove in with the Land Cruiser clicker, then it went missing. This could be a problem in ordinary cars.  Toyota– and the rental car company– have taken this to a new level of disaster.

–  the fob (clicker) is required to unlock the doors

–  we only have one fob as we travel 17 days around the island

–  even better, the fob must be IN the car to engage the push-button ignition

– we only have one fob (guess I already mentioned that)

– oh, and have I mentioned, we’re in the Western Fjords…in the middle of NO WHERE on Shop Keeper’s 3-day weekend.

 Bottom line:  we don’t know where this remote is, and we aren’t going any where without it…as we sit on the edge the world.

So we are trying to figure out how to recover from this…do we lose our next few hotel reservations while we wait for the rental car company to drive a replacement from Reykjavik?

Will this blossom into a missed plane home?

Not to over play the suspense…Jim found the fob at the top of the hill, on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the Atlantic, sitting in the middle of the grass.  It was like a not-so-funny practical joke…Trolls and Elves must have chuckled all night long!  But, all’s well that ends well….


 With keys safely stowed, we toured the town, accompanied by a local black cat (of course) that thought she was a dog 


And found the geothermal hot tubs overlooking the fjord.  


Plus, after all the flowers we’ve seen, we finally found Icelandic poppies.


 Dinner was relatively uneventful…HOWEVER we began the meal with a celebration of our victory over the Trolls’ antics…an Icelandic tradition–dried, salted, putrified shark (Hakari) followed by Black Death…I can tell you (thankfully) I didn’t get sick from this, but I fully expected to unleash my supply of Cipro in the morning…. Want more details?  The shark tasted like a wad of something soaked in ammonia.  Just the worst!  Fortunately, the Black Death chaser was tasty…Brennivin schnapps.  It was amazingly good just by comparison.  Served ice cold in a shot glass, it tasted a bit like caraway.  So now that I’ve painted a bleak picture, I will add:  if you’re in Iceland.  YOU’VE GOT TO TRY IT!