Monday, October 17, 2016

Day 5 and 6: Waterfall, Geothermal Plant and Home

After breakfast and lots of complaining by the women about lack of hairdryers at Hotel Hella, we were off again in the rain. Our first stop was at an overlook for some fantastic waterfalls on the longest river in Iceland. The energy once again of the water was wonderful and helped to wake us up and refresh us. Neither Larry nor I got a good night's sleep.

The drive between stops was long on our way back to Reykjavik. Next we enjoyed a very interesting visit to the ON Geothermal Power Plant. Iceland uses 90% geothermal to heat its homes, businesses and water. We took a look at the turbines and the engine room. Then we watched two very informative and interesting videos about geothermal energy in Iceland and new projects by the company to reinject unused gases back into the basalt rock. A young woman lectured us about the history of geothermal energy in Iceland and it was very informative. The souvenir shopping was also very successful. I bought herbs, jams and silica for my osteo issues.
Marco and Eythor

Model of a turbine
We had lunch at a brewery bistro in Reykjavik that was also delicious. Larry had a fish dinner while I just had soup with salmon and shrimp. I wasn't very hungry.

Lutheran Churc

We then visited a Lutheran church on the highest point in Reykjavik. The architecture was very interesting and unique. Inside the church had beautiful artwork and a huge sanctuary. It was just lovely with very large organ pipes on the back wall.

Our FossHotel Reykjavik was another nice and contemporary hotel. We had a very comfortable room and got two hours twenty minutes to shower, rest and get ready for the best meal experience of the trip.

Our last supper.
Again, we went downstairs to a private room where we were treated to a free drink, several delicious appetizers, a lamb entree and a delicious dessert. It was our last night together, and I was moved to make a speech. I clanged a glass with my knife like we do at weddings to get everyone's attention. I thanked all the tour guides for the great job they did and told the group how much I appreciated meeting them. I ensured the guides I had a great time. They all really appreciated it.

The next morning we were on our own after breakfast. Larry and I went for a walk along the water. Our goal was to go to the Viking museum, but my foot was really bothering me. Along the way, we met Teresa and Harry Cavanaugh from Mayo, Ireland. Teresa was taking a picture and Larry thought she was taking a selfie. He offered to take it for her, but she told us she was fine. We chatted, and shared our stories. I told her of going to Ireland a month before and my experience. She said her husband, a Dublin man, did the same thing recently. We chatted like old friends. She introduced us to Harry who took a picture of me and Larry in front of a sculpture that looked like a Viking ship. When we parted, we kissed and hugged like we'd know each other all our lives. She said to me, "You really have a lot of Irish in you. You are so friendly!"

Later, Larry and I were in the Music Hall which Hellman said had the best souvenir shop in the city. The building was huge uneven cubes of glass panels that lit up at night. It was pink for breast cancer awareness while we were there. While we browsed the shop, I looked up to see Teresa and Harry waving like maniacs through the window with huge wide grins on their faces. They were so cute!

A yard in the city.
We didn't go to the Viking Museum because it was farther away and my foot hurt. Instead we found our way to the Christmas shop we saw on our first day so I could get ornaments, then climbed a small hill in a park with a Viking statue on top. We meandered through neighborhoods on the way back to the hotel with an hour to spare before we had to board the bus to head to the airport. We had checked out of the hotel before venturing out so we wouldn't be hindered by time. We noticed that all the architecture has a Viking influence. Vikings are very strong here.

Music Hall at night


All in all, we had a marvelous trip and would highly recommend it to anyone. We learned a lot about Iceland and its history. We learned that people mostly are Lutherans, but don't go to church much anymore. There is no Santa Claus, but a tale about thirteen trolls. If a child has been good (s)he leaves a shoe on the window sill and gets a gift. If they have been bad, they get a potato. The government owns all the power plants and public lands. There is universal healthcare but fees are paid for emergency room care, for example. Day care for children is free. The income tax is from 36%-42% and property taxes are about 28%.

A geothermal hot tub was first used in the year 1200. It was considered evil before that. It was brought indoors for the first time in 1930. Now 95% of homes and businesses use it. There is a 3,000km pipeline under Reykjavik to bring geothermal power to the city. Many city streets and sidewalks are heated. The tap water is delicious. There is no military and they have a three-ship Navy. Their language is the same as the Vikings.  Advanced education is received in Denmark or the United States. The arctic fox is the only wild animal. We saw an earthworm and a regular worm in the wild. There are birds, sheep, cows and horses. We saw five dogs and two cats in six days. Hydroelectric power is also used. Renewable energy abounds. Recycling is rampant. Everywhere we went was clean and the people were friendly. Reykjavik is the only city on the island. It is quaint, yet sophisticated. The rest of the island is comprised of open space and remote farms. It is a beautiful place and we are glad we went. We never saw Northern Lights.

Thanks for reading.

Day 4: Walk to a Glacier

Breakfast was another nice surprise with scrambled eggs, meats, breads, fruit, cereals, and cod liver oil again. Some definitely took advantage of this. I did not. Neither did Larry. Our first stop included a one-kilometer walk to the glacier We passed by this glacier on the bus, so now we were getting to see it up close and personal. Again, I was happy for my rain gear. My foot has been bothering me, even before this trip, and all this rain was making its discomfort and my arthritis act up. I took lots of Ibuprofen twice each day. It was pouring rain again today. I laughed because at home, I'd never venture out like this in pouring rain. All the walking trails have been easy and formally maintained. I was grateful.

The scenery leading up to the glacier was just beautiful. Golden grasses with other foliage and small plants of reds and oranges added lovely color to the volcanic landscape. Small birch trees and other shrub plants added texture as well. On one side a mountainous wall with many beautiful waterfalls greeted us as we walked along. When we approached the glacier itself, one of our group members suggested climbing a small hill for the best photograph opportunity. We did and it was!

Afterwards, we ventured further down the path to the glacier and its lake. I thought the lake looked pink, but Eythor wondered what lenses I was looking through. "It's brown", he said emphatically. With the blue glacier, the pink lake the pink hugh to the clouds lying low over the dark mountains with waterfalls, it was a magnificent place to be. Nancy went all the way to the beach, but I didn't feel like I needed to do that. Frankly, my foot wouldn't allow me to climb down a small hill, so I settled for being close enough for me.

The walk back to the visitor center was very painful. I couldn't wait to sit down on the bus. I was wet and feeling a little whiney.

Our next stop was the mossy lava "egg" field we passed on the bus earlier. I was grateful to be able to get out and feel the moss. It looked so soft and had a beautiful almost lime green color that went on for as far as the eye could see. Close up, I saw that it was brown at the base. I pushed my finger down through it to the rock to see how long it was. It covered my index finger and was soft to the touch. There were other very pretty little plants growing there as well. The landscapes here are just beautiful. Some were haunting, especially with all this glacial fog and low-lying clouds and rain.

Eythor wanted us to experience the drama of the sea, especially in this rainy weather. We stopped at a place with lava rock arch formations and large walls of rock with holes in them that the sea can slam into and through. The waves were high and loud. The sea looked cold and angry. It was very windy with strong gusts, and the energy of it all was so rejuvenating! I loved it. Larry didn't, so he headed back to the bus. Eythor pointed out a flat area on top one large hill where Puffin roost. I regret we never saw one. They had already migrated elsewhere.

We then went back to Vik for lunch and more shopping at the mill. Caitlin, the Whaling Museum Rep, and I shared lamb goulash and chicken curry. The lamb was better. We had a nice chat. She is a very nice person. All the guides were. Young and very nice. The tour was well planned and paid close attention to detail. I watched each day as the guides gathered to discuss how to deal with the weather and our itinerary. They were very flexible and tried their best to make this a great trip. They succeeded!

I found a couple more things to buy at the woolen mill and then we were off again. Our last stop was a huge waterfall that we could climb steps and stand in a cave behind it. The climbing looked easy, but my knees had a little trouble. There were rocks to walk on and over, so I asked for assistance when I felt insecure. I was so happy I got to stand behind this waterfall. Being in the cave made me feel like a kid again. The waterfall was very loud and powerful. We loved it.

The wind was so strong as we walked back to the bus, I almost got blown over a couple of times. Larry's hat got blown off once. The power of nature abounded at this site. We all welcomes our funky 1950s Hotel Hella after this day. Nancy and Susan asked for a hair dryer. They used it and gave it to me. It died before I even got very far into drying my hair! It didn't work the next day either. It started to work, and then died again. I gave up.

We went back to Hotel Ranga for dinner. Once again our salmon appetizer and chicken entree were delicious. The flavors are so different and I love the combinations the chefs choose. The food here was just delightful. All the presentations were artfully done and the entire trip, except for Hotel Hella, was a five-star experience. The guides tried to find ways to make it up to us. We didn't mind. We all just enjoyed every moment. This was such a nice group of people.

I was swollen and tired for the first time all this trip. I couldn't wait to get to bed and get off my feet. My right arm was bothering me too. It still is. I must have pulled something. My swelling wasn't as bad as on the Ireland trip a month prior, but enough to make me somewhat uncomfortable.

We really hoped and prayed for Northern Lights the next night. Predictions didn't look promising.

Day 3: The Coast

After a perfectly adequate breakfast at Hotel Hella (although they were always running out of coffee), we boarded the bus on another rainy, cloudy day. Our tour started with a very long drive along the east coast past remote farms with lots of sheep and horses. The largest farm in Iceland sits at the base of the volcano that erupted in 2010. The upshot of that event was that the farm experienced very fertile soil, so they did not require fertilizer. The land is volcanic and hard to work, so long, narrow plots of land are created with four-foot trenches in between for drainage. We learned about the flooding that the eruption caused. One large river rose one hundred percent above normal! We drove over that river and saw the difference one day of rain makes. It's pretty amazing how full it was.

Me and Nancy
We drove past beautiful mountains and crawling glaciers. Flat lands were covered in golden grass, and volcanic rock fields were covered in green moss. We stopped at one such field on the way back, and were able to feel how soft the four-inch thick moss is on the lava rocks. We learned it takes seventy-five years for it to grow back if a thoughtless human picks it. There were also black sand fields as far as the eye could see that was "good for absolutely nothing", according to Eythor. He stayed with us for the entire week and was very knowledgeable with good humor.

Nancy Beachcombing
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at a really large waterfall. It was surrounded by mountains with farms, sheep and a river. The water was clear, clean and cold. The waterfall was sixty meters high and was created by runoff from a double glacier we couldn't see because of the cloud cover. There were 527 steps to the top of this waterfall, but we didn't venture up. Instead we walked toward it along the river collecting stones as we went. Nancy and I got close enough to get good and wet, and we yelled at the top of our lungs and hooted and hollered like crazy women. It was really fun. We laughed hard at our antics. I was so grateful for my rain suit. So was Larry.

Our next stop was the black sand beach. What a magnificent place! Huge volcanic, very phallic-looking rock formations were in the ocean and basalt rock walls with tall columns surrounded the bay that people climbed a little way to take pictures. A large, shallow cave lent interesting texture to the area as well. We were warned not to get too close to the ocean as large waves can sneak up and suck you in. Eythor chuckled to Marco to bring the video camera to watch the tourists go into the water. Obviously,  not everyone heeds their warnings. The basalt columns reminded Larry and I of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. The color of the columns resembled molten silver.
Church in Vik

We had lunch at the Black Sand Restaurant on the beach. Hot meat soup with lamb, onions and carrots was a welcome meal. It was all we could eat with bread. I also tried the homemade rye bread topped with pickled herring and hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise. It was really delicious. A Viking beer and espresso rounded out my meal. It was just delicious.

Washstand in Vik
Homemade woolen sweaters, hats and gloves were sold there. I bought a sweater. It was made by the woman who owned the restaurant and her sister. I love it and it is very warm. I love that it has no tags.

The end of the line was a visit to the icebergs. We climbed atop a small hill to get a good view of the beautiful blue icebergs. They really are a beautiful blue color. Some had stripes of black through them. They were huge! Smaller icebergs floated past while the large ones didn't seem to move at all. We were told seals roosted here, but we didn't see any. It was a pretty amazing site. Larry and I warmed up with a coffee at the cafe before boarding the bus again.
Iceberg Tour Boat

We stayed at another lovely, new and contemporary hotel. It just opened in June. It was the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon for just one night. We once again enjoyed dinner in a private room. A salmon appetizer was served and then a wonderful cod entree with picked onions and mashed potatoes. No green anything was served! Dessert was blueberry Skyr with lemon sorbet. It was wonderful.

We also made a stop this day in the village of Vik before we ventured to iceberg bay. There was a woolen mill there, and I bought two more sweaters. My goal is to donate old sweaters I don't want to wear anymore and replace them with new ones. I also got very warm slippers. The village has a lovely church atop a high hill: a white building with a red roof. The parking lot had a cute outdoor washstand with carved birds on either side atop the mirror. Volcanic rock formations in the ocean behind them made a good backdrop for an artsy photo shot.

The major thing hanging over our trip this day was whether the rain would stop. Thursday was the night predicted to be the best for viewing Northern Lights. Larry confirmed through a web site he knows that there was an event on the sun and it takes three days to reach earth which would cause Northern Lights. We all waited with anticipation to see what would happen.

Day 2: Gulfoss and Geysir

Our next stop was at an amazingly huge waterfall, Gullfoss. There was a walking path to a large ledge that looked directly over the falls and allowed brave souls to feel spray on their faces. There was no fence or railing along the rock, and our wonderful Icelandic Guide, Eythor, told us that, "In Iceland, we expect you to take care of yourselves." We all laughed.

Larry and I chose to avoid getting that wet, Nancy did not. We walked up the 103 steps to the top of the cliff overlooking the falls and the river that feeds them. There was a nicely formal walkway to a good viewpoint and we got some great pictures up there.

Larry walking the cliff.
Once everyone was rounded up, we headed to Geysir. Once we got off the bus the most active geysir sent a blast into the air and I caught my first picture. We walked around the little park and had fun looking at boiling pools of water and mud and watching people yell as the geyser sent a huge spray towards the sky. It was quite entertaining.

Al, Carol and Marco.
We went to the gift shop and I bought a few things for our grandson, then we adjourned to the cafe for an espresso and a hot chocolate. It was very relaxing.

Our hotel this night was an embarrassment to our guides. Hotel Hella was a throwback to the 1950s, and was very funky. The rooms were small, there were no hairdryers (our second night, Nancy asked for one and got it), and our toilet ran all night. We just laughed about it all. We ate dinner at Hotel Ranga, a much nicer hotel, that was full, so we couldn't stay there. We decided that since our original flight to Iceland was changed, our various reservations also got changed or cancelled.

Once again, we had a private room upstairs and enjoyed a delicious meal. We began with an appetizer of cured beef (read that raw and delicious) with garnishes. It was very tender. Arctic Char was our entree and was also tender and delicious served with a pesto sauce, mashed potatoes and grilled cauliflower. The bread and butter was also excellent. I had a Cosmopolitan cocktail delivered to me at our table after seeing Anne, another of our group, with one. It had a slight grapefruit flavor, but was very good. Once again, gluten free bread was provided. Now the guides knew who needed it, and it just came to the table with our meals for the rest of the trip.

We had another rainy day, but we held out hope to see Northern Lights. The plan was that if they appeared, we would get roused around midnight and shuttled on the bus back to Hotel Ranga, where it was very dark, for the viewing. The Lights never materialized and we were all disappointed. Clouds and rain persisted each day.

Shadow Selfies
As a side note, Marco told us that Scotland banished its criminals to Iceland before the Vikings came. Then the Vikings brought brides from Ireland to settle with them. Interesting, huh? Keep in mind that this was all before 824 AD.