Gretchen and I met Priscilla and Phil at Dulles International Airport and took an evening flight to Iceland. The security/train complex that was built since our last flight out of Dulles is quite impressive. We were missing Jenny and Jeff as we ate dinner and sampled the libations at a wine bar in the terminal. We all hope the doctors will be able to stabilize Jeff's condition and he will feel better soon. It was an uneventful flight and we arrived in Iceland at 6 a.m.
|See the statue of Lief Eiriksson in foreground|
Gretchen and I caught the 7:30 a.m. flight to Akureyri (ah' ku rare i) and saw our second sunrise! We checked into the Hotel Akureyri and waited for the Olmes' to arrive. How is it possible that we got the early flight and the early birds got the late flight? We decided to book an afternoon trip up the north coast to Siglufjörōur, the "Herring Capital" of Iceland until the stocks collapsed in the 1960s. Herring is still a major business in the town, but it is only a skeleton of what it was at its peak. Tourism is now a major part of the town's economy and with the opening of tunnels through the mountains from Olafsfjordur, it is now year round. There is a ski resort and the Herring Museum is very neat, housed in an original barracks for herring workers. I really liked the building with the boats; you walk around docks with the boats displayed dockside as if they were in the harbor. With one full-time employee for most of its existence, the Museum depends on volunteers and they have done a superb job.
The weather today for the drive north was gorgeous, and the scenery along the fjords and snow covered mountains was beautiful.
I need to note that today was Bolludagur (Bun Day), a day when Icelanders eat chocolate covered, creme filled donuts to celebrate the last Monday before Lent. So, we had to visit a bakery in Akureyri!
|Celebrating Bolludagur akin to Faschnaut Day!|
Following a fine dinner at Rub 23, we headed out on a Northern Light Tour at 10 p.m. We did see the Lights; they were pale green with slow movement but they filled the sky....and folks with long camera exposures were getting good shots!
Today we went on a tour to Lake Myvatn (me vah), a geothermal area east of Akureyri. We drove up the mountain in a snow storm to our first stop at the Goðafoss Waterfall. Our next stop was Dimmuborgir, a lava formation referred to as the Dark Village. It's the home of the trolls called the Icelandic Yule Lads who bring treats to children at Christmas.
Iceland was formed by volcanic action created when the continental plates drift apart along the Atlantic Ridge, which runs through the island. The separating plates (several centimeters/year) can be viewed at the Grjótagjá Rift.
|Grjótagjá Rift with cinder cone in the background|
Close by we also got to see steamers at Námafjall Hverr. The Germans had a sulfur extraction plant here before WW II. The steamers are man made; a remnant of that facility. They were pretty neat with different sounds.
For lunch we did not eat beef but we did eat with the cows at the Cowshed Restaurant. Yep, half of the building was cow stalls, and yes, the smell of good country air was permeating the restaurant.
I tasted smoked char which was very mild, a good traditional meat stew (very mild lamb) and bread (think dark, sweet, dense, moist, cake like) that they cook for 27-34 hours. Eating soup today was appropriate since on Shove Tuesday (Sprengidagur) Icelanders eat salted meat and pea soup. Phil, Priscilla and Gretchen had a great char special. After lunch, we cleared our nostrils with fresh, cold Icelandic air and headed for the Myvatn Nature Baths. Gretchen and I are not enthusiastic hot tub or bath people, but I have to say the baths were a great experience. You run through the cold to the pool, where varying degrees of warm water waft past as you float in the water. The water had a slippery feel but it did not smell bad and was not harsh on our skin. Plus no one beat me with birch branches like they did in the Russian banja!
Tonight Gretchen, Phil and Priscilla went on a second Northern Lights Tour. I passed on it because I was so tired that sleep won out. They saw better lights; green but not as pale and more movement. Gretchen says she checked the Northern Lights off her bucket list! We were wondering if anyone sees the kind of lights you see in photographs. Phil says he saw very bright, colorful, dancing lights in his youth on a fishing trip to northern Canada....in June!
|Photo by Stephanie Freidly|
Gretchen and I flew back to Reykjavik on the EARLY flight. We saw Stephanie and Doug in the Akureyri airport and our THIRD sunrise on the flight. Priscilla and Phil stayed in Akureyri another day to ski. We got settled back into Hotel Natura and waited out a strong snow shower. Then we went downtown. We walked around in snow showers trying to find several restaurants we read about, then stopped in the Micro Bar during "happy hour". We enjoyed a fine stout made by Gædingur Microbrewery; definitely the best beer we tasted in Iceland. We ate a wonderful vegetarian dinner at Grafenn Kostor. It took us two trips to the tourist office before we found this restaurant. The address was definitely not a help!
Kids dress up on Ash Wednesday (Oskudagur) like Halloween in the USA and they visit stores and restaurants where they sing for sweets. The Akureyri Hotel staff dressed in costume to greet the kids! In Reykjavik this afternoon, kids were all over the downtown shopping district, middle school age in groups and young ones with their parents; singing and collecting their rewards!
Phil, Priscilla, Gretchen and I made our way via bus through a northern suburb to Reykjavik's Mountain (Esja). We got off at the Hiking Center bus stop, but there were no signs nor trails to be found. Priscilla and Gretchen walked up to a house and asked, "Where are the trails?" The infomation they gleaned got us to the trail and we walked a bit up the mountain. But it was too steep and snow covered to go very far; particularly since Gretchen's hiking boots were abandoned (dry rotted with soles dangling) in Akureyri. It was a great day in the fresh air with beautiful views of the mountain and of the end of the bay and valley below. It really was a good decision to go for a short hike. Two ladies who got off the bus with us decided to catch the next bus back to the city....which never came. They sat in the cold at the bus stop for over two hours. Luckily, the bus we anticipated, did come and we escaped hailing a taxi!
This evening we had dinner at the Grillmarket. The host said they were booked, but lucky for us he seated us at the bar, which was directly in front of an open kitchen. Watching the staff was like watching a ballet, every one had their job, did it well and coordinated seamlessly with the others. We tasted their whale, lobster and reindeer sliders for starters with a shot of brenavin; an Icelandic vodka-like spirit made from potatoes. It really was good with an herb flavor, not bad like we were led to believe. Phil was the adventurous one ordering horse! Great restaurant!
|Hallgrimskirkja at night|
|Ármann and Eirny'|
Stephanie, Doug, Priscilla, Phil, Gretchen and I went on the Golden Circle Tour today....or should I say quarter circle tour? The winds were blowing so hard, there were white out conditions with cars (15 plus 1 bus) literally blown off of the road.
|Satay gratinated blueling and marinated salmon|
Alas, the day has come to pack up and head home. Stephanie and Doug fly out Monday so they could go on the Golden Circle tour today. They said the weather was perfect and the tour great. Did I mention karma before? Priscilla, Phil, Gretchen and I headed to the airport for the flight home.
Iceland is a country with beautiful, rugged terrain. It was nice to visit in the winter and see all the snow covered landscape. It was not too cold (30-40 degrees F) and the clothing we took was fine. The wind is constant and some days it is really howling.
The people are friendly, independent and everyone under 30 speaks English. A middle school age girl helped me ask an older bus driver some questions and she spoke fluent English!
It was good to get to know Doug on this trip. He really does talk! I guess the few times we have been around him, he just didn't chat a lot; certainly something I can identify with!
Traveling to Iceland in the winter is a unique experience which I highly recommend. The Icelandair package tours are a real bargain, plus every company we booked with did their best to provide a positive experience. Great trip Priscilla, Phil, Stephanie and Doug, we had a wonderful time and enjoyed your company!