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Archive for July, 2013

Before leaving Iceland, Tara and I had one final adventure. We boarded a Reykjavik Excursions bus in the morning for a 4 hour ride to Landmannalaugar – supposed to be one of the most beautiful spots in Iceland. We were on the bus since the road there is semi-rough but also includes a few stream fords that generally require specialized vehicles. Once we arrived we were told there was a big storm coming and we should get our tent up in a hurry. Also, a popular 4-day hut-to-hut route that half the bus riders were planning to depart on was closed.

Despite having a rental tent of a brand that Tara and I had never seen before, we quickly had a shelter erected and storm worthy.

Other couples nearby were engaged in a screaming match while trying to keep their tent from blowing away. Tara did comment that the brand of the tent (Helsport) was a little to close to “Hell spot”, a place she probably thought I’d just brought her.

Regardless, the storm brought some wind but wasn’t on par with a thunderstorm in the Midwest or Rocky Mountains. Once it seemed to have largely passed we took a short hike through the lava field above camp.

I spent the hike trying to figure out which mountains were which and forming some tentative plans for the next day (whose weather was supposed to be better).

Around 4am we woke up and the sky was clearing. Tara went back to sleep but I got up and decided to hike to Mount Brennisteinsalda. The start of the hike was the coldest, as I approached by the side of the lava field following a stream. Higher up at the base of the mountain I reached an active geothermal area.

While the clouds were still hanging around the views were amazing.

After two hours I’d made my way back to camp and crawled into bed for a nap. By the time camp really woke up and we’d had breakfast the sky was much clearer. Tara was game for a hike so we decided to do the closer, but higher peak Bláhnúkur.

The hike up when pretty quickly then we descended the far side of the peak on a rougher trail.

Not wanting to wade through the icy stream, we spent a long time walking upstream to make a route through braided channels and emerge on the other side with mostly dry feet.

Back at camp we lounged around for a while before taking down the tent when it looked like it could rain soon. For shelter we jumped on the bus early with 1000 yard stares finally ready to leave Iceland for the next stage of our trip.

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After leaving Höfn we headed north on Iceland’s Route 1. By now I knew the many dangers of Icelandic driving. For starters outside of Reykjavik the road is pretty much only 1 lane in each direction (I think I saw one passing lane once). There’s no shoulder and a handful of people who seem to think that bike touring on this route would be fun. Sheep will graze right by the road and dart into it when you approach. Many people drive in the center of the road way only moving over when there is oncoming traffic (see sheep above). There are many one lane bridges. Some sections are gravel with grades of 12%. Finally, plenty of people seem to think it’s okay to park on the road and walk away from their vehicle to take photos.

Besides a stop in Breiðdalsvík for lunch I think we spent most of the day driving. By the time we reached our farm house outside of Egilsstaðir we were trying to muster up the motivation to drive out to the coast and see a cute town nestled down in a fjord. On the way out of town we figured we’d been driving too much and we should just stop at a little trailhead we saw and take a short hike.

Dinner was low-key and in a gas station (better than you might think, but definitely not lamb and lobster) and we were just excited to get some laundry done and have the guest house largely to ourselves. On the road again the next morning we drove through desolate highlands (you know it’s desolate when you don’t even see sheep) on the way into Mývatn. We did a short hike through a geothermal area as we came into town then stopped at the Mývatn nature baths – hands down the best hot springs we visited in Iceland.

In town we stopped for lunch at a cafe and ran into the Spanish group again. Then we headed around the lake to the lava field Dimmuborgir to start a hike.

We hiked north to the crater Hverfell, and looped around it’s rim before hiking back.

At over 6 miles it was a long hike for my recently injured ankle, but it held up fine even if I was moving more cautiously and slower than normal.

We then left Mývatn (one of the places that we could have easily spent several days) to the evening’s guest house. Up early the next morning we headed to the northern coastal town of Húsavík for a three hour whale watching tour.

Grey, cold and wet defined our tour and once we hit the swells people started to get sick.

We probably saw as many people get sick as we saw whales (about 6-8 of each), but Dramamine and starting at the horizon kept Tara and I from getting ill.

Still we were both glad to get off the boat and warm up at the end of the tour. We will recommend the whale museum in Húsavík. Then it was back in the car for a drive east across northern Iceland to our last farm stay. On the way we stopped at one more impressive waterfall – Goðafoss.

And one final church in the town of Blönduós.

We stayed at Gauksmýri guesthouse and horse ranch, which was one of our favorites of the trip. Again, we wished we had a couple days to relax here and do some horse back riding. We did at least walk out to their bird hut.

On our final day of driving we stopped in Hvammstangi to buy some food for our next adventure then completed the drive to Reykjavik in increasingly rainy and windy conditions.

Before returning the car we visited the delightfully bloody Saga Museum which gave us an episodic view of Icelandic history.

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After three wet days in Reykjavik, Tara and I were ready to leave town and see more of the country. We’d booked a 6 day driving tour of Iceland through Icelandic Farm Holidays and they’d arranged our itinerary. After picking up the rental car (a VW we promptly called Veronica) and the GPS navigation system (the insistent voice of Samantha) Tara drove us out of Reykjavik initially heading to the north and east. Before long she turned over the driving duties and fell asleep in the passenger seat. This would be our normal operating procedure for the next 5 days – I start driving, enjoying the scenery and Tara falls asleep to wake up whenever I stop the car for something really good.

In this way we drove to Geyser – a geyser so famous it gave its name to all other such features. Unfortunately, it irregularly erupts these days but the neighboring Strokkur was more obliging.

Then we continued to one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls (and that’s saying something in this country), Gullfoss.

After being sufficiently awed by the scenery, we returned to the rural roads to reconnect with the main ring road (Route 1). More waterfalls awaited.

In a few days it would take a really impressive cascade to make me stop the car, otherwise I might have taken several extra days to complete our route.

This evening we’d have our first farm stay, where we were entertained by a group of Spaniards traveling nearly our same route (we’d first seen them at the Skógafoss waterfall earlier in the day).

To start the second morning of our trip we headed toward the town of Vik, stopping on the outskirts to do a short hike to the shore and a view of some sea stacks and arches out on the coast. The nearby basalt columns were also interesting, but watch out for the occasional wave!

We passed up the popular Skaftafell national part for a tractor ride out to the Ingólfshöfði peninsula (the first spot settled in Iceland). After riding across the tidal flats we hiked up a sandy slope for a short loop around the tip of the peninsula spotting thousands of puffins.

Back at the tractor we spotted a seal watching us from just off the beach.

The hike around the Ingólfshöfði peninsula turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Our next stop was one I had high hopes for – Jökulsárlón, a lake that receives the terminus of a glacier and is filled with floating growlers, bergy bits and other ice formations. The light was a little flat and the ice chunks further from shore than I was hoping, but still it was a pretty amazing stop.

Still, the fish soup at the cafe was excellent. We finished up our drive to the night’s farm but after checking in decided to head to Höfn, on the extreme southeast of Iceland, for dinner. We’d just missed their lobster festival, but still dinner (lamb and lobster) was fabulous, and I had my favorite Icelandic beer of the trip there.

We also visited the local pool/hot-springs in Höfn, which was quite nice. Then it was back to the farm for the evening.

The next morning we repeated the drive to Höfn, then finally turned north to explore new territory on the east and north of the island.

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Because we didn’t already have enough to do after our wedding I went out for a trail run two days before we left for our honeymoon and nearly broke my ankle on a rocky descent. A two mile hobble back to the trailhead, following by swelling and bruising and x-rays really tested the “in sickness and in health” clause of our nuptials. Confined to a large boot my packing got easier as I’d only need shoes for my right foot.

Despite the lack of mobility we made it to Reykjavik, Iceland on schedule and jet lagged. With a couple days to explore the city and get used to 21 hours of daylight (actually, I never saw darkness the entire time we spent in Iceland) we hit some of the standard sights like hot springs, churches and museums, especially the odd Icelandic Phallological Museum.

We’d both signed up for a short urban sprint orienteering race and set out to badly represent team USA against the favored Scandinavian athletes. I moved down to a course designed for 10-16 year olds and first timers, but it seemed more suitable to my current gait. At least the sun came out and lit up the town from the finish area at the University of Iceland.

Despite fearing that I’d never sleep given the lack of night, I found that without any real sunrise or sunset I was able to sleep 9 or more hours a night. I pondered the idea of moving to Iceland while Tara wondered when we’d see temperatures above 50F.

I had been given a special mission before this trip, to seek out and taste Hákarl – essentially rotten shark, which Anthony Bourdain called “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he had ever eaten. At Saturday fleamarket we located a small taster of shark bits and Tara armed herself with my camera in burst mode to capture the reaction. The first bite had a firm texture and wasn’t awful. Maybe like a really strong, if somewhat fishy cheese. I mistakenly went for a 2nd bite and got something mushy and really rotten.

It would be hours until I’d get kissed again, and required a cleansing of gum, coffee, 2 meals and a few sessions with a toothbrush.

Mission accomplished we went horseback riding with Eldhestar for the afternoon.

After cleaning up at our guesthouse (the Alfholl – Elf Hotel), we headed out for a wonderful dinner.

Actually, almost all of our meals in Iceland were amazing (maybe it’s the mass quantities of butter everything gets cooked in?). But the Við Tjörnina was one of the highlights of our trip and made up for the country also producing rotten shark for consumption. The Við Tjörnina might have been even quirkier than rotten shark, at least in their decor.

Finally, we finished of our last night in Reykjavik with a soak in the hot springs in town and caught some evening sun.

The next morning I woke up semi-early for a couple long-exposure photos around town before we picked up a rental car to explore the rest of Iceland.

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Big thanks to David Veit for taking the following photos of my wedding to Tara. Additional thanks to Pastures of Plenty for hosting and catering the event.

Rehearsal dinner:

Wedding ceremony:

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