Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Different Looks of a Volcano

We had so many interesting views of the volcano and the landscape it created.  Enjoy!

Volcanic rocks covered with moss

Basalt columns

Basalt Blocks

A cave near the basalt.  They were filming a movie there.


Upon arriving in Iceland, we began to see pictures of trolls and elves.  They were everywhere.  Several articles alluded to the presence of little people on the island, some suggesting that one only needs to look at the hills to see them.

In an Icelandic booklet called What's On, this question-answer explanation appears in the April, 2015, edition:

"Icelanders believe in elves, trolls and other mystical beings.  Even science says so.  There was that one survey that showed more than half of Icelanders do!

Yeeeeaaahhh . . . listen, I read that survey, and the way they got to that number was basically asking 'is it impossible that elves exist' to which half the population would answer 'no.'  That's not the same as actively believing in them though.  I mean I don't believe in ghosts, but I don't want to find out I'm wrong, either!  It's not like the average person leaves out milk and honey at night for the elves."

Well, Don has proof of the existence of trolls on the island:

We also found where the trolls live:

We believe.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Wildlife of Iceland

Because Iceland was not inhabited until 800 AD, and it is a volcanic island, not much wildlife can live there.  A small number of reindeer live wild on the island.  There is little threat to them - the speed limits are low and they have no predators on the island.  For many years, no rodents lived there, no cats either.  That has changed, but not to a great degree.

There are more birds.  Not as many as other places, but some.  We saw hundreds of Graylag Geese, many Whooping Swans (didn't realize there was something other than Whooping Cranes and Whooping Cough), Oyster catchers, and lots of ducks.  We did not see any puffins (I am not certain they had come from the North Atlantic to land yet), but we saw plenty of gulls.  There were also some songbirds, but we could not identify them.

There were plenty of farm animals - sheep, cows, and horses.  I hear there are wild horses on the island, but we would not have known.  They all looked tame to us.  We saw many varieties of sheep - black, white, horned - but the horses are all the same.  They are the purest strain of horses in the world, and they have no diseases.  Once a horse leaves the island, it is not allowed to return; and the horses have never been bred with other horses.

Although the wildlife in Iceland is not particularly plentiful, we found it fun to observe those animals that are there.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


We did not see many large or old churches.  Most of them were family churches, such as that at Hoffstedir, where the priest is there five times a year.

Many have been torn down and rebuilt, making their structures much more modern.

The most impressive church we saw was in Reykjavik, which dominates the skyline.  It took 70 years to build, and one can climb to the top of the tower.  Unfortunately, it was closed when we were available to do so.  Nevertheless, it is an impressive building.

The statue in front of the cathedral is of Leifur Ericsson, the famous Viking.

And not so Leif Ericsson
This was one of the prettier churches in the area, with its stained glass.

The settings of these two are spectacular!

Saturday, April 25, 2015


As we were flying home, we were able to get a view of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean (of the Hudson Bay - not sure which).  It is still winter in this part of the world!

And Don wanted me to include one last picture of the Northern Lights.

The Food of Iceland

We had a number of memorable dishes.  Most of them were fancy renditions of fish, but they were so beautiful, I decided to share some with you.

Salmon and Lamb at Hekla

Lamb Steaks from Vogar Farm, Myvatn
Char at Klauster

Whale, Hoffstedir Guesthouse

Fresh char with all local produce, Hoffstedir Guesthouse

Gourmet Salmon in Reykjavik

Creme Brulee, the best ever

Icelandic Fish and Chips - the lightest breading ever!

Old Houses

The houses in Iceland are sturdy - very sturdy.  They are mostly built low to the ground, frequently of concrete, so they can endure the harsh elements.

On occasion we were able to see some old dwellings - some still being used, some not.  We thought they were quite quaint.

This is actually at a visiting center, but it appears to be old.

Friday, April 24, 2015


I wish Don would have taken a picture.  We were at the fanciest restaurant on Wednesday night, our last night in Reykjavik.  We had gotten used to all sorts of looks, as the Icelandic people are pretty non-judgmental and free and easy about dress, hair styles, and the like.

Suddenly, emerging from the bar downstairs, I saw a six-inch long, two-inch wide wisp of heavily-moussed hair ascending the stairs, standing straight up on the head of a short, round man.  He was wearing a red suit, and had I not known better, I would have thought of him straight out of the Wizard of Oz.  

He was at least in his fifties - as Don said, old enough to know better - and he went out to smoke right outside the window where we were eating.  I so badly wanted Don to take a picture of him from behind, but he wouldn't do it.  Too bad.  It was a sight worth seeing!

Pounding Waves

As we followed the coast into Reykjavik, we noticed the waves pounding the shore and the spray rising high into the air.  They made for such a gorgeous sight, I tried to get some decent pictures.  Here are a few:


They say there are more sheep in Iceland then people.  We did see a lot of sheep, but it seemed there were a lot of horses, too.  Either way, they are frequently grazed similarly.

When the weather is good and the grass greens up, the sheep are let out on the hillside to graze.  We saw them already grazing in the lava of Myvatn, but most of the others we saw were contained.  Around Myvatn, they spend the entire summer in the hills.  When it is time to round them up, at least one person from every farm is required to go on the round-up.  Riding the beautiful Icelandic horses and taking their sheep dogs with them, they ride around the area bringing the sheep in.

Hard to tell this is a separating area, but we love the rock walls
The farmers herd the sheep into one large ring, and then the separation begins.  In the early days, they would walk the sheep around and as one would come to the pen for the ranch to which it belonged, they would send the sheep into that pen.  The sheep pens at Myvatn were still the old ones used in the 1800's.  We loved the walls made of lava.

Toti told us horses are shepherded much the same way, though they are now microchipped for easier identification.  No branding anymore, which is much more humane.  We also saw newer separation pens made of metal bars, but we prefer the look of the old ones.

The First Day of Summer

Little did we know when we booked our trip that April 23 is the first day of summer in Iceland. Schools are closed, many shops are closed, most businesses are closed, and they hold a large race in celebration.  The partying actually began yesterday.  We noticed large groups of young people dressed up in crazy ways - tigers, choir singers, hikers, and many others.  They told us they are graduating high school seniors, so yesterday was their last day of school, with exams beginning next week.

We noticed the revelry all afternoon, suspecting that many of the people on the street were beginning the vacation early.  All night the street outside our hotel was quite noisy with yelling, screaming, and loud music playing.  But by this morning, it was quiet and calm.  We thoroughly enjoyed the walk we took, as there were no cars and few people on the street.  We could enjoy the city in a way that is probably not often done.

By the time we had to leave, the race had started and we were able to enjoy watching the runners take off and finish.

We were told that if the weather is bad on Beginning of Summer, the summer would be very nice.  Well . . . Not to be this time.  The weather was spectacularly gorgeous.  We hope that is not a bad omen for the country.

When we took off, our flight attendant informed us that since it is Summer Day we are being served ice cream on the plane.  Yahoo!

The Icelandic Sense of Humor

I noticed on the plane over that the IcelandAir pocket information had a humorous tone to it.  For example, the menu had such statements as:

If you are bored, try eating your yogurt with a fork.  That will take up some of your time.

Fruit was something we could only get in stores around Christmas.  Now we serve it on airplanes - very cosmopolitan.

Long bread is much more fun than shortbread.  You can use it in many fun ways.  Balance it on your nose or on your head.  Or poke your neighbor with it.  Or just eat it.

"Munnpurrka" is the proper Icelandic word for napkin but it takes a napkin to say it -so the most common term is "servietes."

Hand-cooked and salted gourmet chips. Served in a box you can reuse for wrapping a Christmas present.

The Icelandic doughnut. Need we say more.  It has probably been chewed on at every family gathering since the settlement.

I wish I had written down the no smoking sign verbiage at the IcelandAir hotels.  They warn against smoking, making sure to inform that the 35,000 Krone fine is not worth the opportunity to break the law.

Another story they tell is about the good-looking women on the island.  As they tell it:

We are told that the Icelandic women are the best looking women in the world.  Back in the Viking days, they went to the British Isles and stole all of the beautiful women there and brought them back to Iceland.  This explains both our good-looking women and those in the U.K.  

We also found when talking with Toti at the guesthouse, that the Icelanders are story tellers . . . And it is hard to tell when they are being truthful or not.  I struggled with that.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Icelandic Signage

We did not have much trouble with the road signs, except that we could not read them.  With the universal symbols, however, it was easy to get around. But some of the signs we thought were especially interesting.

Driving along, one sees a number of signs with names on them.  We assumed they went to cities, but there were no cities around.  Then we would see a series of signs:

Norton 1
Norton 2
Norton 3
Norton 4

That's when we figured out that families live together on farms, and each farmstead is noted on the road for those looking for them.

This farm is to the right!

Although this sign clearly is for a waterfall and not a farm, they all look like this.

We noticed, especially in the less populated areas of the country (which is most of it), stop signs do not exist.  Everything is a yield sign.  It makes sense since there are so few cars, and it made the trip go more quickly.  Yes, the traffic was so sparse that we frequently stopped in the middle of the road to take pictures - such as all of the ones on this page and many others!

It took us awhile to figure out the sign below.  We would see this, and then we would see one with a red line through it.  City Limits and leaving the City Limits.

But our most favorite signs were the electronic speed limit signs that were at the entrance to nearly every town.  I could have sworn I got a picture of them, but I cannot find it anywhere.  As the car approaches the sign, it gives what speed the car is traveling, and if the car is under the speed limit, a smiley face appears.  Over - a frown.  It was very fun . . . we liked the smiley faces!

Oh The Places You Go, the People You Meet

For us, one of the benefits of travel is the people you meet.  We had several interesting groups with whom we interacted, but three in particular.

The first occurred when we went to the waterfall at Dettifoss.  A woman came up to us and asked us if we knew where the trail was.  We had scoped it out, and the three of us headed out.  Soon her boyfriend came along, and after we visited the waterfalls, they invited us to go to the crater and then to the bistro with them.  At the crater we had to stop before a pile of ice, as we didn't think our car would make it . . . someone had gone through that day, however, and we wondered what kind of car they had.  More about that later.  Anyway, we walked up the crater and then went into Myvatn for lunch.  Hans is a urologist from Germany who studied in Louisville, and his girlfriend, Karinna, is a graphic designer.  We had a lovely time with them and then parted ways.  We did learn about an Icelandic artist whose works we had seen but did not know what was significant about them.  Now we know!

As we were leaving Dettifoss, a young man told us to notice the snow because it looked like nature on LSD.  He was right, and I couldn't forget him because he had red hair and a red beard. Later that evening, while we were in the Nature baths at Myvatn, three young men, one with a red beard, entered the pool.  I asked him if he was the same person we had met at Dettifoss, and he said he was.  He also said his friends were embarrassed by his comment, but frankly, we thought he captured the sight perfectly.  We spent about 25 minutes talking to them about their start-up company, their education, and their future.  Hans previously mentioned to us that if you meet once, you will meet twice . . . so far he was right.

The next morning, as we went to breakfast at Vogur Farm, who should walk in but the three young men, Chris, Tom and Martin.  We spent a little more time with them and this time, we got their information.  We would like to keep up with them as they join the world of start-up companies!

Finally, when we were in the Icelandair Hotel Klauster, we saw a party of four sitting a ways from us.  We exchanged pleasantries but did not really talk.  Two days later, when we checked in at the Icelandair Herid, guess who was staying on the same floor in the same hall as we were?  Yep.  Meet twice.  We talked a little further about our trip, and the next morning we discovered that in two more days we would be staying at the same Guesthouse.

When we arrived at Hoffstedir, they were already there, and we spent the evening talking about our trip, their trip, and the many wonderful things we experienced.  Lorraine, Judy, and David are siblings, and Ron, Judy's husband, joins in.  They have a wonderful rapport, but the coolest thing was their trip to the Emigration Museum.  We had wanted to go there, but it did not work out.  Their grandparents emigrated from Iceland in 1904, and in their three hours at the museum, they found out where their grandparents' farm was, how they met, what ship they left Iceland on . . . it brought chills to me to listen to the story.  We also found out what kind of car went through the snow - their Ford Expedition.  Judy admitted that she was quite nervous, but the guys were very casual as the car nearly got high centered.  So now we know who the daring ones are!

Don and the guys stayed up late (the women all went to bed), and we had breakfast together the next morning.  Again, we exchanged information, as Judy and Ron live in Calgary.  Sounds like a stop-over the next time we go to Alaska.

We also met a man and his son from New Jersey who had been climbing the glacier.  We were able to help them out when they lost their passport and didn't have any Icelandic money.  We traded them 20,000 K for $146.  We both were happy!  And then there were the many people behind counters or in hotels that we met - not a bad one in the group. 

Traveling is a wonderful thing, and the people we meet makes it better.

One Last Waterfall

Despite the fact that we had lived through a white out and the wind was blowing about 60 mph, we decided to check out the town of Grundafjordur.  It is a small town, but it has a few interesting sites.

First, in Iceland, they talk about elves and trolls and such things, and although they don't really believe in them, just what if?  So in this little town, they have reserved one plot of land for the little people to live.

They even change their house numbers so that this plot has its own address!
Further down on one side of the road, is another beautiful waterfall.  This one has a story to it, just like many of the others.  A woman's two boys were drowned in the waterfall, and she put a spell on the waterfall.  No fish would be caught in the river, and no one would ever drown in it again.  So far, the spell has held . . . or so far as anyone knows.  I was so antsy I walked to the bridge at the top of the falls, but it was quite cold and windy, so I wasn't there long.

Across from the falls is a hill called "Sugar Loaf Mountain."  They say it is one of the most beautiful hills in Iceland, but we thought there were others that were as nice.  I suspect when it is green, however, it might be spectacular.  We were hoping to get some aurora behind it, but as reflected below, the clouds were just too heavy.

We also observed a man riding an Icelandic horse.  They say that because the horses have an extra gait that is smooth, a person could ride and drink a cup of coffee and it wouldn't spill.  We watched this gentleman for awhile, and indeed, he seemed to be riding pretty level without a lot of movement.

Finally, this town must have a festival of some sort, as they have a stage and several other props set up. Don decided to take advantage:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bad Hair Days

Kansas is known for its wind and the resultant bad hair that many of us experience.  But Iceland has Kansas beaten.

Tuesday morning my hair looked better than it had most days.  Don't know why, it just did.  But it was all for naught.  I walked out of the door, and poof . . . 60 mph winds don't do much for hair.

It blew all day and harder at times.  Needless to say, my hair did not look good all day.  Of course, we had had minor issues earlier in the trip, but nothing like this.

Oh well . . . they will never see me again, so I guess it doesn't matter!

The Hot Springs

Well, since we were lost, we decided to make the most of it and visit something we would not have seen otherwise.  We went to the most powerful hot spring in Iceland (and perhaps the world).

The hot spring comes out of the ground at 212 F - boiling and spitting all the way.

It is used to provide geothermal heat and water in two towns nearby, and by the time the water reaches one town, it is 160+ degrees, and the other is 140+ degrees.  That is hotter than our hot water heater!

The water also provides heat for a number of greenhouses in the area, and judging from the lettuce, kale, tomatoes and cucumbers that we have eaten from them, I would say it does a great job!

My HVAC engineer husband thought it was fascinating, and his wife actually did, too!

Getting Lost in Iceland

Since we were lost, we decided we had better make the best of it.  After our Mexican food lunch, easily our worst meal in Iceland, we decided to take a cut-off to see the most powerful hot spring in Iceland.

We had no idea what we would see, so it was fun to find out.

We have seen many hot springs, but we now know why this one is special.  It comes out of the earth boiling and spitting . . . a lot.  It is 212 degrees F. exiting the earth, and it is piped to two towns.  By the time it reaches one town it is 160+ degrees, and by the time it reaches the other, it is 140+.  That is much hotter than any of our hot water heaters!

It also fuels the heat for a number of greenhouses in which many of the local produce is raised.  We had the opportunity to eat much of the local produce - lettuce, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers - and all were quite tasty.  Now we know how they keep their hothouses warm - not dissimilar from those at Chena Hot Springs outside Fairbanks.

This place was especially interesting to the HVAC engineer in the family, but his wife liked it too!

Wanted: Navigator

I have found it hard to navigate here because the words all look like a jumble to me.  The alphabet is different, the words are long . . . if it weren't for the numbered roads, we would be sunk.

We thought we knew where we were going yesterday, so I did not pay much attention to Don's driving - except when he would weave towards the side of the road.  Soon, we got into a blizzard.  Not just any blizzard.  This kind of blizzard:

High winds blew wet snow across the road so hard that we had to use the yellow markers to remain on it.  White knuckle at times, but we made it.  After awhile, however, I thought things just didn't seem right.  Turns out I was correct!

We had totally missed a turn that would keep us on the coastline, and we were going up over a mountain.  Oh boy!  I am glad nothing happened on the way, because there is nothing up there - no farms, no towns, no people, few cars at this time of year.  The good news is, it wasn't that far out of the way, and we were able to get to our hotel and another town in good time.  

The one unfortunate part is that we missed out on some delicious food along the coast.  We stopped at the first town we saw, and at the hotel we went to the restaurant, which is usually very good.  This time, however, we struck out.  Mexican food.  With brown rice.  And a bad salad.  And rather stale chips.  It got us by, but Mexican food in Iceland is not great.

Weather Changes

If the weather will change every 5 minutes in Kansas, then it changes every 30 seconds in Iceland.  They truly have all four seasons within a span of an hour!

For example, Tuesday we were sitting at breakfast with our friends.  I asked what the weather was doing outside.  "It's windy and sunny," said one person who was looking out one window.  "No, it's snowing and blowing hard," said another who was faced a different direction.  The windows were less than 12 feet away from each other.

The one constant seems to be the wind.  If it is windy - and it usually is - it is windy everywhere and it doesn't let up.  No wonder we were told to dress in layers, as we have had to wear our winter jackets and just shirt sleeves on the same day - not much different from some days in Kansas, but this happens every day here.

Blow Out the Candles and Turn Out the Lights

We knew our next hotel was off the beaten path, and we drove by it at first.  The sign was pretty obvious, however, and we were somewhat curious about the Hoffstadir Guesthouse.  Finding the reception area was the first adventure, as it wasn't exactly marked well.  But we guessed that the door with the Welcome Bear in front of it must have been it, so Don went in to check in.

Within a minute, an obviously Icelandic man came out with Don to show him the room.  I asked Don for the key, and he said, "There isn't one."  Love it!  So we moved in out suitcases and went to the dining room for dinner.  And our room was not locked!

There we met some friends that have stayed at two other hotels with us - more about that in another blog.  It was just the six of us for the evening, so while dinner was being prepared, we visited.

The dinner, an exquisitely and simply made Arctic Char, caught just that day was as tasty as any of the fancy dinners we have had.  A salad of Icelandic lettuce and potatoes with cottage cheese and pesto added to a first-rate meal.  While we were eating, Toti told us an evening story about the area around the guesthouse.

He then left.  As he departed, he said, "The bar is here.  Turn out the lights and blow out the candles. I will see you in the morning."  We were all stunned.  None of us has ever had that happen.  So we stayed up for awhile, the men had some more to drink, and then they turned out the lights and blew out the candles.

When they came outside, however, they found they couldn't see anything.  I think they wish they had brought one of the candles with them - ha, ha!

After a lovely night's sleep in the pleasantly cool room, we arose for breakfast.  Toti first served us a plate of whale.  Never had whale before.  It was quite salty and fatty - not bad, but I will keep my bacon, thank you.  Although the remainder was a typical Icelandic breakfast spread, he had arisen early to bake the bread, and all of the jellies were homemade.  With the exception of the bananas and oranges, all of the food was locally produced.  He also told us a morning story.  Fun!

Don loved the whale; I thought it was a bit salty.

When it was time to leave, Toti asked how much we drank last night, added it to our dinner bill, and we were off.  What a memorable experience.

I know this was Don's favorite place to stay for sure.