Category Archives: Travels

Notes from the Field: 28 September 2015

Reykjavik-Keflavik-Seattle-Anchorage

I had been debating about what to do on my last day in Iceland: more exploration in Reykjavik, a final visit to Reykjanes Geopark (where I began this trip), or some hours at the world-famous Blue Lagoon Spa..? I’d seen most of what I wanted to see in the city already, outside of visiting some museums and I simply wasn’t in a museum mood this morning. The weather was, once again, cloudy, foggy and rainy and I didn’t want to board the plane for 10 hours of flying in soggy, mud-spattered clothing. So, off to the Blue Lagoon. A couple hours in the baths, some mud masks, lunch of Arctic Char and local lamb… Who cares if it’s pissing down rain?

KEF is a madhouse at the international end of the terminal. Every international flight must leave at 1700 +/- 30 minutes. I tried boarding the wrong flight to SEA (in my defense it was the only Seattle flight listed on the board, is the same airline with the same flight number -2, and leaves at the same time) and was redirected along with another dozen or so others to my proper flight, at which time we spent an interminable amount of time in line waiting to get on a bus to take us to our plane. It did seem to take forever but we actually left on time and I had my window seat and I got to see Greenland, icebergs included, en route. All in all I would say it was a successful end to a wet and wonderful three weeks in Iceland.

Notes from the Field: 27 September 2015

Reykjavik

Today was my urban day. All told, I walked about 10 miles around Reykjavik today, checking out downtown, the docks, the Phallological Museum, public swimming pools and bars selling locally crafted brews. Things I learned today, in no particular order: Greenpeace is in Iceland. Most mammals, humans being one of few notable exceptions, have penis bones. Beer in Iceland is uniformly good, and really strong. Public pools are the community center.

Reykjavik is a totally walkable city. The population is about 200,000 and it’s fairily compact, making it easy to get around. It’s clean and has a decidedly European flair, with some interesting public buildings. It is still, for a small city, remarkably quiet like the rest of the country. Going to a public pool today was interesting. Pools are common here in communities of any real size, but I was often outside even those and so didn’t have much opportunity to visit them. Unlike the Myvatn spa where most of the patrons were obviously tourists, this pool seemed to be where local Icelanders go to hang out with friends and family: multigenerational families, fathers with their babes and small groups of college-aged kids were there, all seeming to know one another and moving frequently from the lap pool to the “hot pots” to the saunas and back again.  Instead of the English, French, German and Spanish polyglot I’ve heard for the last two days, most of conversations I heard were in Icelandic.

Dinner tonight was at Sægreifinn, a little hole in the wall on the docks. There is family style seating for perhaps 30 people, at three long and closely packed trestle tables. Customers included quite a few locals, some tourists and a Brazilian film crew eating their way around the world. The menu is simple: lobster soup, fresh bread, and skewered items of your choosing. Skewers available included cod, redfish, salmon, char, Minke whale, vegetables and potatoes. I opted for soup, bread, veggies and yes, Minke. I’ve had mixed feelings about eating puffin, pony or whale but decided my Iceland adventure wouldn’t be complete without trying at least one of those meats. And I have to say, it was pretty damn good. Not so good that I will become an ardent proponent of whaling for commercial food purposes; not so good that I’ll go,out of my way to eat it again… But it was damn tender and mighty tasty.

Notes from the Field: 26 September 2015

Reykjavik-Þingvellir-Reykjavik

Another home-style day: windy with horizontal rain, all day. Not a good day necessarily to be topside but underwater is a different story! Incredibly clear water at Silfra, at least 100 feet and probably way more than that. The water is glacial melt that has gone through miles and miles of filtration through volcanic soils – it’s drinkable straight from the lake, though I didn’t try this as I wasn’t sure how well I’d accomplish drinking a mouthful of water while still managing to breathe with my regulator. Not a whole lot to see but be able to swim in the rift between tectonic plates is just pretty damn neat.

Silfra is in Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, so I spent a bit of time walking through park of the park when I got done diving –  until my feet were squishing in my shoes and the water was wicking up my socks.  I was right next to the edge of the North American plate – I could’ve (and probably should’ve, since my shoes were already soaked) waded across a creek to touch it. The Eurasian plate is a kilometer or so distant – couldn’t see it because of the weather – and the area in between the two is laced with deep cracks and ponds/lakes like Silfra. The two plates spread a bit less than an inch per year.

After a warm shower and some fresh dry clothes I headed to Matur of Drykker for dinner – fantastic meal using all locally grown/caught/collected ingredients, including an Icelandic white ale flavored with thyme, cod chips, cod liver, cod tongue and cod head. Who’d o’ thunk cod parts could taste so good?!

Notes from the Field: 25 September 2015

Giljalandi-Gulfoss-Reykjavik

Ah, this morning was beautiful! Lovely pink-tinged blue skies, alpenglow on the hills and hoarfrost on the ground… Yeah, that lasted about an hour. If I’ve learned nothing else over the last few weeks, I’ve learned that rain + waterfall spray + long exposure = crappy, spotted photos and really wet equipment. But the floorboard of a car with the heat and fan turned up high will dry even the most stubbornly wet camera and memories are sometimes better than any photo.

I have for most of this trip been… Not entirely off the tourist trail but definitely not for the most part in mainstream areas. I’ve met other travelers but they’ve been in ones and twos, traveling independently. Today changed all that. I wanted to hit a couple iconic locations on my drive to Reykjavik today and OMG, was I shocked. I found tour busses today. Lots of them. Some of them opened their doors to reveal screaming pre-pubescent children who, literally, set off on foot races around the location at which they’d stopped. More of them disgorged a slow – very slow – trickle of people who clearly weren’t used to walking in the rain on anything other than concrete. And of course, scads of people had their extendable batons with cell phones attached at the end, the better with which to get their selfies. Ugh…

As I drove from Kirkjubæjarklauster and then west toward Reykjavik, I found the land becoming… Softer? The ground still steams and harsh mountains still abound, but they’re  smaller, there’s more arable land and there’s a sense of life being just a bit more settled, just a bit easier. As mentioned, I hit the tourist trail today, checking out a few of the easily accessible (but still phenomenal) waterfalls and geothermal areas before getting into Reykjavik late this afternoon. Arriving in this metropolis after the last couple weeks of mostly farmsteads and villages is as much a shock as seeing all the tour busses today! There are street lights and traffic, buildings more than two stories tall and a multi-block commercial district. My second-floor flat came with street-parking a lá San Francisco (okay, the hills aren’t really that steep and the streets not that narrow), a pocket bathroom (you think I’m kidding) and a lava lamp.

A pocket bathroom
And behind Door #1 is… A pocket bathroom!

Instead of hearing through my window water, either as river, ocean or rain, I have road noise. It’s not noisy per se, but significantly different from the last two weeks.