Friday, September 12, 2008

our trip to iceland!

It took me a while to get all the pictures up from our trip to Iceland - but I did it! Finally, for your viewing pleasure - Anthony and Heather's Iceland Adventure!

We left Sunday August 31st, and that entire day was pretty much spent on travel. We were delayed multiple times (thanks Delta) before and after landing and finally checked in for our Icelandair flight just after 6pm. It's a really good thing we had a 5+ hour layover at JFK - any less and we would have missed our flight. Ed, Melissa and Marilyn came to the airport to visit with us before we took off. They brought presents - beer, meat pocket and gushers! The flight was uneventful and just over 5 hours. We watched some tv shows and napped.

We landed Monday Sept 1 around 630am (4+ hour time difference). We hopped on the bus which took us into the city and capital - Reykjavík. We easily found our first guesthouse and were able to enjoy some of their delicious breakfast. They have cereals, fruit, meat, cheese, bread, jam, coffee and tea - lots to choose from. Breakfast was one of my favorite parts of each day, it was so delicious everywhere we went. The first day we spent walking around the city and learned about Iceland's history. We went to a few museums and went shopping down the main street. We found a fake geyser, chased a lot of ducks/birds and were really glad when it was time for bed.

Tuesday Sept 2 our travel agent had arranged a private tour for me and Anthony with "Highlander" around the Golden Circle. He was born and raised in Iceland and told us a lot of stories about the land and the people. Our first stop he took us to see a topographical map of Iceland that was hand made. It was GIANT and it was neat to see all the mountains and how large the glaciers are. We drove next to Pingvellir (p said like th) where he took us to the fault line. The American and European plates are slowly pulling apart from one another and have created a crevice pulling the American side down and lifting up the European. We hiked around the fault line and also found a hidden waterfall. We stopped along the road to fill our water bottle with fresh spring water. It was incredibly cold and delicious. It's amazing that you can drink from almost every fresh water source. We were excited, to make up for the fake geyser - we got to see real active geysers! There were a few spots that were boiling with water, like a pot on the stove, and one that would erupt every 5 - 10 mins. Before we stopped for lunch (mmm meat soup!) we hiked around a giant waterfall Gullfoss. We were very cautious while jumping around on the rocks around the falls, but took a lot of pictures. It was really windy, wet and cold. The drive back was filled with amazing landscapes and more stories from our guide. The last stop on our tour was at a giant crater. Many many years ago there was a volcanic eruption and the result was a giant crater. Once we were back in the city from our day long tour, we decided to go to Icelandic Fish and Chips for dinner. It was THE best fish and chips I have EVER had. (and yes I have had fish and chips in London) The fish was so delicious and not too greasy, and each plate came with a different side - we shared seasoned potatoes and vegetables.

Wednesday Sept 3rd we left our guesthouse and picked up our rental car and set out to explore Iceland on our own. The landscape was beautiful and I have never seen anything like it before. It changed often, but it was always vast land with few farms, lots of sheep, horses and cows. Our first discovery was a waterfall (sefjatundsfoss) not too far from our second guesthouse. We were able to walk up to it AND behind it. It was very wet, but luckily we had rain jackets to wear over our coats to keep us dry. It was an exciting start to our road trip. We tried to check in to our second guesthouse, but no one was there, so decided to drive further and see what else we could find and explore. We drove to Skoga and in this small town of less than 300 people, there was a giant waterfall - skogafoss. Anthony went as close as he could to the falls without actually getting into the water. He got pretty wet getting so close. Along the right side of the waterfall there were stairs (383 stairs to be exact - they were very tiring to climb!) that led up to the top of the falls. From there you could see out to the ocean. After climbing back down the many stairs, we drove over to the largest folk museum. It was late in the day and they were closing, but at the door we were greeted by an old man. He was very friendly and seemingly excited that we were Americans. He brought us through the museum and told us to quietly join the end of the tour group - free of charge. There were a lot of very old artifacts from the vikings/settlers daily lives. The museum also had a mock settlement outside. We ran around and played inside each building, taking fun pictures. The nice old man was also outside. We started seeing him around randomly throughout the settlements and also inside the settlement church where he was playing and singing at the organ. The next day we even saw him driving around in a car! Once we were done playing "viking" in Skogar we hopped back in the car and intended to go to Lava beach. BUT we were diverted and saw a sign for a path that led to hiking at the glacier solheimajokull. After a bumpy 15+ min ride down a dirt/rock road we parked and hiked along towards the end of the glacier. It was really dirty, but amazing to see. There was even a natural glacial cave carved in part of it. We tried to cross the glacial river to get to a larger part of it, but found the sand very wet and not a good idea. My left foot suffered the consequences of cold glacier water and volcanic mud. Apparently, I can't jump as far as Anthony - who knew!

Thursday Sept 4th we left the guesthouse nna and our first stop was Lava beach. There were a lot of rock formations and it was the first beach I'd ever seen that had black sand! We also played around in a cove for a while, but the tide was coming in fast so we didn't stay down there long. We did manage to get a bunch of nice pictures before we had to escape the rushing waves. We climbed around on rocks and collected a few very smooth black smaller rocks. It was a longer drive from the guesthouse anna and all the sights we found before our final destination of skaftafel weren't marked on our map. There was a place with thousands of rocks piled up high, that was meant to offer good luck to the farmer who used to own that plot of land. Many years ago a volcano erupted and destroyed most of his land. All who pass by the first time place a rock to offer good luck. We added a rock to the growing collection. We also found a giant gorge that had been carved out from a glacial river, that now barely exists. We were able to climb to the top of the gorge and run around, but the edges were very steep and Anthony didn't feel comfortable with either of us getting too close to the edge; it had an amazing view from the top. Continuing on we found another settlement that had been restored and I wanted to walk around. Anthony believes that if you've seen one settlement - you've seen them all. Which is true - they are all pretty much the same thing. Most of the southern part of Iceland isn't inhabited. You can see the largest glacier from the ring road and miles and miles of sand. In 1996 there was a volcanic eruption under the glacier and it wiped out the main bridge for the road. They had a piece of the old bridge with a sign about the event.

We reached Skaftafell late in the afternoon, but still had more than enough daylight to go hiking at the national park. (the sun sets around 10pm or later usually) We decided to hike along the lower trails first, to see a few of the smaller waterfalls. Then we hiked to svartifoss - the largest of the waterfalls in skaftafell. The waterfall was formed in a half circle and the rock wall looked like lego blocks. We played around and took many pictures before we decided to continue on and hike to the top. The view from the top was just amazing. I really can't describe most of what we saw during our trip, everything was breathtaking. The trail map we had wasn't the best and didn't really have a lot of the trails we ended up taking. We managed to figure out our own way down back to the visitors center. A lot of the hotels and restaurants in Iceland are overpriced, and for dinner that night we ate at a gas station. I know what you're thinking - but it was delicious. That night we played multiple card games (I won a lot of the games) and enjoyed a delicious bottle of wine. We watched an old Steve Martin movie (yay for one tv channel) and slept soundly.

Friday Sept 5th we explored the south east part of Iceland and played near the largest glacier. On our way to Jökulsárlón (glacier lagoon) we found our own little lagoon. It was just off the main road and there wasn't anyone else around. It was gorgeous. You could see more details of the glacier and there were giant icebergs floating around. They were blue and white and very large. We threw some rocks at the ice, skipped some stones and threw smaller pieces of ice into the lagoon. There were a lot of colorful red, green and yellow rocks too. We played here for a while before getting back into the car and headed to Jökulsárló. At the actual lagoon we hopped on a boat/car tour and drove into the lagoon. We were able to take up close pictures of the icebergs and hear some fun facts about the glacier, the lagoon and area. We took a path down to the beach and followed the river from the lagoon to the ocean. There were giant pieces of ice that were stuck en route to the ocean and more black sand. We played with some of the ice that had washed on shore and even saw a seal! He was swimming very happily and checking us out. We decided after the lagoon and lunch we would head back to Skaftafell National Park and do some more hiking. We had only hiked about 3 trails the day before and there were a lot more we wanted to explore. The terrain changed with each trail and we had a lot of fun. I think that hiking is definitely one of my top moments of our trip. We got to explore and see an amazing view and while we hiked we had uninterrupted conversation and stories.

Saturday Sept 6th was our last full day before coming home. We spent most of the day driving back along the ring road to our next guesthouse destination. Luckily it was actually sunny on Saturday! It had been sunny the first two days, and the rest of the week was generally overcast and foggy. But Saturday, the sun came out to play! We passed spots and waterfalls that we had seen before, but this time we had a different view of them. We could see the tops of mountains and we specifically returned to Skogafoss to see the waterfall with sunshine! There was a beautiful rainbow by the falls and the view was amazing. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Anthony took a lot of pictures at the falls; these are definitely some of my favorites. After we checked into our next guesthouse we decided to wander around the town. Directly across from our room there were hot springs! We could see (and smell) them from our balcony. There was a hiking trail up to the point of the hot springs where each pool of intensly hot water (and mud) was bubbling and in some spots it was erupting, but not like geyers. Afterwards we enjoyed a warm dip in the hot pot (hot tub) next to the room and a river. That night we watched a European dance competition, while playing su do ku, and cuddles.

Sunday Sept 7th was our last day, but we had one more exciting morning and afternoon planned! Before our 6 hour flight back home we went to the Blue Lagoon. A natural mineral pool, that's heated by the steam from the earth. It was gray, rainy, windy and the coldest day we had experienced. Even though the Blue Lagoon was outside, the water kept us very warm. The water was an amazing blue color, completely unexpected. We tried to take pictures but it was much too cold to get pictures of us in the water together. We hung out in the lagoon for almost 3 hours before we had to shower and get ready to catch our flight home.

Iceland was an amazing trip that I am so incredibly happy we were able to take. Every time I run through the pictures I remember every moment, activity and exploring we did and the fun we had together. We saved anything and everything we did on our trip and I plan on making a scrapbook for us to remember our trip together. Each day Anthony would get more excited about contributing to the scrapbook and gathered more maps, pictures and brochures for us to include. It is definitely a week with Anthony I will remember and cherish always.