Our Iceland Adventure - 25 July to 6 August 2014

Alex and I just returned from eleven full days in Iceland (plus one full day traveling each way... five-hour layovers at JFK in each direction). The first week was spent with three friends sharing a cabin in a rural location in the south of Iceland; we had a rental car (SUV actually - the cabin was 15 km away from the main road, on gravel/dirt roads) and made day trips up to 2-ish hours east and west of the cabin. (Two of our friends, C and R, had already been in Iceland for two weeks before our group week; they explored the entire west and north of the country on their own. The third friend, M, was on the same flight from JFK with Alex and me.) After eight full days of group activities, the others returned home (Stockholm for two of them, the other to Dallas), and Alex and I moved on to the city. We had a cozy attic apartment in Reykjavík as our base for the next four nights. The details of each day's explorations are below, but first I wanted to share some general notes and observations.

Iceland is beautiful and exotic in a way I hadn't quite expected. Sure, I knew there would be volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, puffins, and a *lot* of moss-covered volcanic rock/gravel, but I hadn't expected it to be quite so enchanting. At every turn was a new tableau for the eyes to feast on. Visually stimulating though it was, I know that if I spent any significant amount of time there, I'd miss trees; the largest trees we saw were maybe 15 feet high, and they were either in the city (and possibly non-native species) or few and far between (in one instance, they were in a row possibly designed to protect a house from falling rocks). There are essentially no living perils, no bears or snakes. The arctic fox is the only land mammal native to Iceland; occasionally a polar bear makes its way to Iceland, but those intruders are summarily eliminated, we hear. In Iceland, the true danger is more earthly, i.e. volcanic and geothermal, in nature. The ground - and stuff beneath it - are what one must worry about. Still, eruptions happen infrequently enough that day-to-day life and tourism are rarely affected. For natives, of course, volcanic activity causes many serious and problems when it does happen.

I am very glad that we got to explore the geological wonders of Iceland as we did. Many people seem to base their visits in the city, and do excursions from there. Even though there are a good many sights to see on day excursions from Reykjavík, those are mobbed with tourists and not "wild" like the stuff we saw further out. So I am very appreciative of the fact that our friends C&R are so knowledgeable and such great planners; thanks to them I got to see Iceland in a way that probably wouldn't have come naturally to me.

Iceland has a population of about 325k; the vast majority, about 200k, live in the capital area. Reykjavík lies in the west-southwest-ish part of the country. The interior of the country is largely uninhabited. The number of tourists in Iceland, especially during the summer months, is far greater than the number of natives. As such, in the city, it can be hard to find any locals except those who are working. By the middle of the week in the country, I found myself really itching for social contact and cultural context. One of our group days brought us to a farm museum near the cabin, which was also the site of some important Saga events. The docent there was a stout Icelandic polyglot who wore a gorgeous green wool sweater (visible in the photo further down on this page). After she gave us a little tour (interrupted by other guests joining us - she was a one-man show!), we were outside exploring on our own in the drizzling rain. I saw her walking toward the main house and took that opportunity to ask her some questions. My hunch that she'd knitted the sweater herself was a good one, and when I asked her response was sort of "Of course I knitted it myself!" She is a craftsman, she said, and also weaves and sells her wares. She works for the national museum and has been the main docent at that site for seven years. She was fascinating but also seemed tired, and so I didn't keep her long. But talking with her had whet my appetite for learning more about the history and culture of the Icelandic people, now that we'd seen so much of the geology.

We had heard that Reykjavík is a very safe city, and indeed, there were many bicycles leaning unlocked against buildings and in the tiny front yards that accompany many of the old row houses. The stray cat population is supposedly very high, and we did see a lot of cats, though all the cats we saw had collars. We saw no stoplights outside of the city; all the towns we drove through had roundabouts.

It may seem ironic, but I experienced some light sensitivity on my first day back from Iceland. Yes, it's summer and the 'nights' are only four hours long and not very dark. But the sun's rays here in Texas are much more direct, and it's hot, so maybe that's why they bothered me; I had to block the light some when sitting in my living room this morning, even though the indirect light through my windows normally doesn't bother me. Putting the temperature difference into context is easier using Celsius: whereas the peak temp during our time in Iceland was about 16 or 17 degrees, the temp in Austin now is 36 or 37. So now we're melting!

This blog may seem wordy, but I promise you, this is a succinct account of events. We've left out several thousand photos, and many more thousands of words. If something strikes your fancy or makes you curious, please ask, especially if it's in person! The telling is way more fun in an interactive way. That having been said, I invite you to read on for a summary of our Icelandic adventure.

Friday 25 July 2014

We left home in Austin at 10 am for the airport, excited and nervous, one of us well-rested and the other quite sleep-deprived. We had a 1pm departure from Austin, and after a 3 hour-ish flight to JFK, had five-hour-plus layover there. My brother, who is in the know with regard to all things aviation and architectural, recommended that we get out of the terminal and check out a special terminal, the JFK terminal, which is now on the National Registry of Historic places. There was some confusion as to what terminal our flight to Iceland would depart from, and we thought we'd have to go through security anyway at the other terminal, so we rationalized exiting the arrival terminal. Turned out we were departing from the same terminal into which we'd arrived, so the security experience (longer line than Austin by far, but quicker processing/more through-points) upon terminal re-entry was unnecessary, but the exploration mission was worth it. The recently renovated JFK terminal looks like a spaceship or alien or reproductive system. The public isn't allowed in but we did chat with the security guard. Interestingly, there is a digital flight arrival/departures board inside which is fully active and current. [insert pic] Once we'd reentered the actual terminal of our departure, we still had a few hours before our 11:30pm departure. We settled in at the gate, and soon M joined us. M is a friend of R's whom we had met once at C and R's wedding back in 2009; she lives in Dallas, so had a separate flight to NY, but we were all on the same flight to Reykjavík. Departure was somewhat delayed; there was a passengerless bag on board somehow. Also worth mentioning is that the flight was overbooked, so Delta was offering serious cash (or Delta dollars - unclear which - over $1300) to anyone who would give up his/her seat and delay their departure until the following evening (accommodations also paid - not a bad deal!).

Saturday 26 July 2014

After two very closely spaced (it was only a five-hour flight) meals on board (quite yummy, we all agreed) we landed in Reykjavík just after 9am local time. Our bags were out within minutes of our arrival, and after a very short wait to have our passports checked and stamped (our current passports' first stamps!), we headed to customs, which... didn't exist. Nothing. No forms, questions or agents. In the lobby we found C and R waiting for us. They'd been in Iceland for two weeks already, camping and exploring the two-thirds of the coastline (keep in mind that the 'interior' of Iceland is largely uninhabitable and unnavigable by normal car) that we would not be seeing as a fivesome. Our group time together would focus on the southern coast, with one final day in the area just east of the capital called the Golden Circle.

[the five of us]

Our first order of business was a visit to the Blue Lagoon, a luxurious hot spring and spa created by effluent from a geothermal power plant. Alex and I were initially against going there, since we'd be visiting several natural hot springs laster in the week (less sculpted environments, for one, but also free, which Blue Lagoon is not. Entry is 40 Euros!) but after the long flights, we were glad to soak in the milky blue water. The silty particulate, a silicate of some sort, is said to have some magical powers (but also makes hair feel pretty dry).

After a few hours of soaking and a quick picnic lunch (C&R had thoughtfully picked up some provisions for us), we made our way eastward, toward the cabin, roughly a two-hour drive. Our cabin was about 20 km from the Ring Road (the main loop around Iceland's perimeter), requiring travel on some bumpy dirt and gravel roads. Our rental car was an SUV, so that we could fit five people and gear in one vehicle. R was the only driver on the insurance, so she valiantly and ably chauffered us around the entire time. She deserves many chocolatey things as a reward!

We reached the cabin in early evening and got moved in; it was small and tidy, with some interesting effects here and there (books and an atlas and CDs in Icelandic; also some creepy dolls on shelves (the owners appear to have two young girls)). The three bedrooms were very small, just big enough for the double bed and a small dresser. C grilled up some delicious lamb chops and veggies. We were all pretty tired: C&R had shared a campground with some aspiring karaoke singers the previous night, and Alex had been up for nearly 48 hours straight by this point.

Sunday 27 July 2014


Having looked at the weather forecast, we determined that our first day excursion should be the longest of our planned hikes, to take advantage of favorable weather (rain was predicted for most of the rest of the week, but we did discover that the forecast - and the conditions themselves - change quickly in Iceland). So we got out early (8:30am?) and drove east to Skaftafell, which is part of Vatnajökull National Park. "Jökull" is the Icelandic word for glacier, and Vatnajökull is an enormous glacier, dominating the southeast corner of the country. The hike was lovely, with varying terrain, the shrubs disappearing quickly into very low ground cover, and then just moss in places. Throughout the week I was continually amazed by the tenacity of the mosses, plants, ferns and wildflowers, which cover surfaces of every orientation. Some of these plants are like the honey badgers of the floral kingdom! We picnicked on a heath overlooking the glacier, and probably with a volcano in view. This combination of geological forms seems to be everywhere in Iceland, and it's pretty impressive. On our way back down, we took a different route that brought us by two waterfalls: Hundafoss (Dog Falls) and Svartifoss (Black Falls). The latter is famous for its dark basalt columns, which inspired a church in Reykjavík. These two falls were the first of many we'd see up close over the coming week (and we saw many more from afar - this land is riddled with waterfalls). After a long day of hiking and driving, we returned to a lovely meal of smoked salmon and omelet prepared by C. Yum!

Monday 28 July 2014

Despite this being the rainiest day of our visit, we soldiered on with another fun excursion to several destinations ~1 hour east of the cabin. We visited Seljavallalaug, a natural hot spring. The spring was was said to be a minimal hike from the parking area, but because of the rainy/muddy conditions, it took us probably close to half an hour to walk each way. We forded several streams, and braved mud to great reward: a secluded hot spring (with manmade concrete structure including two changing huts) in a vale with 17+ waterfalls visible. The water was a bit murky, and the spring itself not all that hot; given the cool, rainy conditions, we only soaked about 30 minutes. We did take lots of photos, and were very glad we'd made the trek to this magical place.

[] []

Then it was time for another waterfall, Seljalandsfoss (yes, 'foss' means 'falls' in Icelandic). One can walk behind this waterfall, and we did. Very cool.

Video: Inside Gljufurarbui.

We walked a path along the other side of the fall and found more little falls. We were quite in awe of Iceland's many waterfalls (as you can probably tell). The guidebook mentioned another falls, Gljufurarbui, just a few hundred meters down the road, so we got in the car, and found the sign for this waterfall, which was behind a campground. I stayed behind a bit in the car, wanting a few minutes to rest and collect my thoughts, and when I left the car, I wore only my fleece jacket, not my rain jacket. I found my friends within an enclosed cylindrical space, open to the sky at the top, with the waterfall inside. It looked enchanting but it was so misty that I was very ill-equipped to enter so I stayed outside. I was feeling tired and resigned to the fact that I'd missed seeing this particular falls, but Alex wouldn't let me. Upon exiting, he implored me to take his jacket and go on into the recessed area to see for myself. It is an understatement to say that I'm glad I didn't miss seeing this. Unbelievably magical... a hidden falls inside an alcove covered with moss and ferns, with a little jewel of sky visible above. So amazing.


C had suggested that we each make one dinner plan during the week. On our way home we stopped at the grocery store, so I acquired the ingredients to make split pea soup (the store didn't have lentils). It turned out well and was the perfect fit for the rainy, chilly evening.

(On a side note: the split peas were a brand from Colorado, USA. I guess there aren't legume farms in Iceland. Many foods here are imported and thus more expensive and with limited offerings, but local things such as milk, yogurt, cheese, meat (lamb and fish especially) and bread are delicious and reasonably priced.)

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Day excursion to Landmannalaugar in a 4WD bus; the vast interior of Iceland is largely uninhabited and not accessible by regular vehicle (and definitely not a rental car). We booked ourselves on a bus excursion departing from nearby Hella; the two-plus hour bus trip brought us over large streams and into Landmannalaugar. Once there, we did a hike that turned out to be a bit more epic than we'd planned for. For me personally, the hike was complicated by the fact that I'd forgotten my rain jacket/windbreaker. This was a pretty dumb mistake, and while I was beating myself up about it, Alex was busy being awesome and working out an emergency solution. He managed to procure a very hefty trash bag from the ranger's office. We cut out holes for my head and arms, and then we were off on our hike. The wind protection and heat conservation provided by the bag were essential, and though I was still a a bit chilly, I was glad that I could still do the hike. Conditions changed quite a bit throughout the hike, and the wind was pretty strong. I remember thinking that we should have goggles; the particulates in the air posed a challenge.


Still, we made it to a nice peak, and refueled there with our picnic of crackers, cheese, salami, trail mix and skyr. There may also have been chocolate. The hike down was quicker but in some ways more challenging (at least that's how I feel about down versus up!), and we were all looking forward to soaking in the hot springs at the base. The natural springs at Landmannalaugar turned out to be the loveliest spring we visited during the week. The water was clear and the rocks at the spring's bottom smooth and easy to navigate. The temperature of the water varied a bit because of inflow and mixing, so one could move around the pool to suit one's needs. There was a platform deck nearby, where all the bathers left their stuff (and many bathers changed in and out of their swimsuits there), and a real community feel. The air was somewhat brisk and the sky overcast, and soaking was such a treat. Even the chilly minutes hurriedly changing back into clothes added to the charm of the experience. We got back on the bus just in time for the two hour drive back to Hella, seeing lots of interesting terrain on the way, including the volcano Hekla, which was also visible from our cabin. Once in Hella, we hit the grocery store for more provisions. That night it was my turn to contribute to the meal plan: I cooked up a pot of split pea soup for our dinner.

[] [] []

Wednesday 30 July 2014

After a 90-minute drive, we arrived at Reykjadalur, where we hiked about an hour and a half each way to a hot river. This was a busy spot, with hikers of all ages (and some kids and dogs) soaking in the sun; we took our time on the way, with many folks passing us, but there was much to see (and photograph). We picnicked on the hilltop and lounged for three-plus hours before the hike back. It was the sunniest, warmest day of our visit (probably 15°C) and I got my first and only Icelandic sunburn. It was very minor, disappearing by the next morning and not painful at all, but it amused me in a certain sense - had I been out without sunscreen on my body (I did use it on my face!) for so long in Texas, I'd have been quite seriously burned and in a lot of pain. After the hot river, we visited a geothermal park in the town, which was a huge disappointment after all of the amazing (and free) hot springs we'd seen.

[] []
Hay bales, sealed in plastic, dot the landscape,
looking like marshmallows or sheep.

Dinner was grilled salmon, expertly prepared by C. Then we played games (Farkle, Hearts). Much fun was had!

Thursday 31 July 2014

This was our one at-the-cabin lazy day, and we luxuriated in our various ways. I was up quite early, and woke Alex so that he could join me in the hot tub. The others slept in until late morning. Much hot chocolate was enjoyed on this day. In the afternoon, we did make a short trip (only a few kilometers down the road) to Keldur, a medieval farm/museum. As we approached, we observed a man trimming one of turf roofs. The main docent wore a beautiful cardigan of Icelandic wool and knew much about the history of her land and its people. The house, which we were allowed to enter only after wearing protective (for the house, not our shoes) shoe covers, shows the architecture and influences of both the Norwegian settlers (wood construction) and native Icelandic (stone, because wood was a very scarce commodity). A tunnel was discovered leading away from the house, which is thought to be the one written about in Njál's saga). On our way home from Keldur, we visited the site of one of the battles written about in Njál's saga, marked by a very large rock (Gunnarssteinn); this was only about half a kilometer from the cabin, and was furnished with the placards found at all important and historical sites in Iceland.

[] [] []

After a late afternoon teatime, I indulged in a nap. Dinner was oven-baked fish balls, which probably would be called croquettes in the U.S. Delicious orbs of homogenous consistency containing fish, potato, egg, spices. They were quite delicious.


Friday 1 August 2014


Beach day! We went to Vík, and finally saw puffins! and terns and other birds. Many interesting geological features appear here, such a basalt columns like those at Svartifoss. The columns are natural rock formations which result from the rapid cooling of lava; unweathered basalt is black. The sand is also black, the size of chia seeds (or even tinier teff (the world's smallest grain)). A visit to Skógar (the town) and Skógafoss rounded things out. Skógafoss is quite a high waterfall, and we climbed a long, steep stair to reach a platform at the top. Lots of tourists at this particular falls. I had begun by this point to be aware of how lucky we were to have experienced so much of Iceland without the buzz of touristry. Sure, we were tourists, but the way were were seeing the country was on our own. (Again, this is thanks to C and R's amazing planning and expertise - they are seasoned travellers of a very particular sort, avoiding the beaten path an concentrating on natural wonders).

[] []

Dinner was sausages again, along with grilled zucchini and mushrooms. Yum! After some more games, then packing for our early morning departure, we put the hottub to good use. Even by this time in the trip, I still wasn't quite accustomed to how light it was even late in the evening; it seems that the level of darkness contributes to my perception of fatigue. So when it's still light out, my body and mind rally to keep up appearances, even if I'm really exhausted. It's not a particularly healthy trait to have when spending a week and a half at such a high latitude, but I managed. The novelty of the four hour-long nighttime had not worn off.

Saturday 2 August 2014

After a very short night, we departed the cabin at 6:15am, heading west for the airport. We got M there by 9am, in time for her 11am flight, and then headed to our first destination - a cafe in the visitor center of the.... This was the first stop in the so-called (and very popular and well-known) set of attractions known as the Golden Circle. It's all doable in one day and near Reykjavík, so this day was the most touristy of all our activities. We saw Þingvellir, the site of Iceland's council meetings (for nearly a millennium, until the government came to be seated in Reykjavík)...

[] []

...Gullfoss (Golden Falls), an enormous, majestic waterfall rivaling Niagara in its scale)...

[] [] []

...and Geysir, although Geysir, the geyser after which all geysers are named, is actually no longer active, possibly due to spectators throwing too many rocks in during the 1950s. A second geyser called Strokkur is only a few dozen meters away and is very active, spewing every few minutes.

Videos: Have patience! // Size matters! // Lítli-Geysir

[] [] []

Our last destination was a natural hot springs, where we soaked for several hours. The air was a bit chilly, and it was drizzling on and off, so it was perfect and a wee bit adventuresome (as in traipsing to/from the car in just boots and jacket). This particular springs is not in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but does appear on a best 5 hot springs in Iceland list online; we went to three of those five springs this week!

Video: Awesome mist at Gullfoss
Video: Magestic Gullfoss
Video: Rainbow number one
Video: Gullfoss is huge!

After a failed attempt at dining together in the city (the bread-bowl soup cafe was out of bread-bowls and without, apparently, any other vessels in which to serve soup; a Greek place had us seat ourselves and then ignored us for long enough that we realized that we wouldn't have sufficient time), C&R dropped us off at our Airbnb place just before 9pm. They needed enough time to return the rental car and then get to the airport for their flight home. After Alex and I met our proxy host (it seems *really* common for Airbnb hosts to have friends/neighbors meet guests; our hostess was off leading an overnight hike in the interior, but her friend was here to meet us), we went off to find food. Our place is only a short walk to the city center, and close to the pier/harbor. We happened to pass by the Hosteling International hostel, and popped in to ask for food recommendations. We ended up at the Sea Baron, a little hole-in-the-wall type place just blocks away. I had known that my friend Allison, who moved to Lyon, France at the end of last year, would be in Reykjavík during our stay here, but we hadn't made arrangements to meet up. Lo and behold, just as Alex and I were about to leave, Allison and her friend Rebecca sat at the bench in front of us. I love it! The food at Sea Baron was delicious; you order your food at the counter, picking out a skewer (various fish and veggies) for them to grill, and pay. You seat yourself at one of the three long, narrow tables, sitting atop one of the narrow barrels that serve as seats. Pitchers of water and plastic tumblers are available for you to hydrate youself, gratis. They bring your food when it's ready. Alex had ordered a lobster soup, and I chose a skewer of catfish/wolffish/onions; we also chose to try a 'sample' of whale.


They brought us a plate of bread and butter (I love Icelandic butter! It's yellower than butter in the US. So delicious!) and then the soup, which was rich and lovely, with probably five large chunks of lobster ("humar" in Icelandic). About 15 minutes later, the skewer and whale sample showed up. The fish was amazingly delicious and moist, and the whale, too - like, but just a wee bit richer than, beef. We felt a bit unethical eating it, and don't intend to make it a habit. The soup, whale sample and skewer came to about $35 total, but it was worth it. No frills but very high quality. After the Sea Baron, we found a 24/7 supermarket and gathered some provisions (salami, skyr, spinach, cheese, eggs, milk, bread) before heading back to our Airbnb place for the night.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Even though it had been days since our longest hike, Alex and I were both feeling a bit run down and in need of a lazy day. We spent the morning and midday relaxing at home, and then planned some activities and sightseeing. We walked into the city center and found the tourist office, and continued to one of Reykjavík's most well-known landmarks, the Hallgrímskirkja, a tall church inspired by the Svartifoss (Black Falls), one of the waterfalls we'd seen on our first hike.


The basalt columns of the falls are mimicked in the church's exterior. There was a statue of Leif Ericson outside, a gift to the people of Iceland from the U.S. (Of note, on the statue's plaque, his name was spelled "Leifr Eiricsson". Did the engraver use a local spellchecker?) We hadn't intended to visit the Phallological Museum, but when we walked by, we were curious, and decided to do a proper visit; it is the only one of its kind in the world, and it was pretty interesting. The (large) specimens from whales are quite striking. I especially liked reading the letters/documents from still-living human donors (organs to be donated upon their deaths, though IIRC there was one guy wanting to donate while alive...). There was one human specimen already in formalin, from a native Icelander. The gift shop had some really funny stuff, as you can imagine.


After the penis museum, we visited the Harpa, an architecturally-interesting sort of cultural center on the harbor. We walked along the harbor a while, and saw another landmark I had on my to-see list: the Sun Voyager, a sculpture which looks like a cross between a ship (with oars) and a skeleton. There was a nice, though dark, given their content, display of shipwrecks over each ten-year period in the last century. Yes, the waters around Iceland are quite dangerous, though the number of lives lost seems to be declining.

Monday 4 August 2014

After a good night's sleep, we ventured out to explore the National Museum, with a detour to the bus station in order to research and plan for our departure two days hence. The National Museum included a photography exhibit, which, coincidentally, featured a collection of photos by Ron Rosenstock, who was at my university and with whom my brother studied photography. Neat coincidence. The main reason we visited the museum was the display about the history of Iceland, which was quite excellent. (One note: one of the displays included text that "Humans had been on the planet several thousand years before Iceland was discovered" or something like that. That 'thousands' didn't seem quite accurate to me, given what we know about evolution, and when I pointed this out, Alex immediately thought that the text might have been written thusly to assuage fundamentalist Christians. I'm not so sure that explains it, but the content didn't seem right for a museum. Sadly, we did not take a photo of the display, so are having to go on memory.) This country is young but has a very interesting history. I saw too much to go into detail, but suffice it to say that the settlers (and all inhabitants through the middle of the 20th century, I'd say) were very tough, indeed. After a few hours in the museum, we headed out to Eldsmiðjan, a pizza place in a quiet residential neighborhood near the city center; there we would complete our mission to eat pizza in Iceland. After ordering, we played a game of Quiddler while we waited. It was late afternoon, in between lunch and dinner, so there were few other patrons, and we had a nice, cozy spot on the second floor. Our pizza was excellent: half fishy stuff (smoked salmon, shrimp, broccoli) and half with ground beef, green peppers, mushrooms. Icelandic pizza (based on our one sample, that is) appears to be quite thin-crusted, and with much less cheese than American pizza. Delicious, in any case; the wood-fired brick oven helped, no doubt. After our late lunch, we ambled through the center of town back to our lodging, stopping to stock up on salad greens for our DIY dining. We lounged a good long while, then headed out for a walk to see the sun set. We are just two blocks from the sea, and at the western-facing edge of the peninsula on which Reykjavík sits, so we were in a good spot to see the sun set. The sun set at 22:22 this evening, and will be up again before 4:30am; due to the latitude, the nights are noticably longer than when we arrived only nine days ago (the sunset on our first day here was around 11:40pm, I think!). Day length changes less at lower latitudes. During our walk we encountered no less than five cats; Reykjavík has a *lot* of cats, many of them stray, we've read. All of the cats we've seen have had collars, but they certainly don't seem tethered to any one yard. One orange and white cat followed us during most of our kilometer walk, across several large intersections.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

We began our last full vacation day with an appropriately relaxing morning. Once we were fueled up, we headed to the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, where we saw an excellent exhibit by Ragnar Axelsson. RAX, as he is known, is a native Icelander, and focuses on the northern climes (oh, and Antarctica, so - cold places) and their people and ways of life. Several of his photographs brough me to tears. A documentary film about him was also playing in a side room, and we watched about half of it. Next we headed to the Handknitting Association of Iceland, specifically to the one location that sells skeins of wool yarn (instead of just premade garments). There we ran into my friends again (small city!), and I picked out some wool to make myself a crafty souvenir.

[] []

Next we visited Cafe Loki, about which I'd read good things; despite being in what might be a tourist trap (a stone's throw from the Hallgrimskirkja), they have authentic and lovely food. We absolutely love the dense, thinly-sliced rye bread (similar to the German sprouted breads), the open-faced sandwiches we ordered really hit the spot (one topped with ham, another with a leek and potato mixture, and another with smoked salmon). The platter we ordered did include a small sample of hákarl, which is fermented shark; at first, I thought it tasted okay, but the aftertaste was just vile. The real surprise was rye bread ice cream, which was amazing. The small ramekin was just enough (that didn't stop Alex from ordering seconds!); it reminded me of Grape Nut ice cream, which seems to be a New England thing. Well-fortified, we headed to the Kringlan shopping center. Yes, the mall. I'd mentioned that we were hungry for some more cultural context, and it turns out that the mall (there was a much higher concentration of locals there) fit the bill. There we visited the state-run liquor store (Vinbuð), and found an employee who seemed happy to chat with us for a bit. We left with a bottle of stout beer to drink later, as well as a tiny bottle of wine to drink in the cinema. Yup - we went to a movie! Guardians of the Galaxy, to be specific, in 3D. The tickets were actually slighly less than they'd cost in the US. Most films are shown with Icelandic subtitles, because so many people here speak English anyway, and it would be cost-prohibitive to dub them into Icelandic. After the film, we had a nice walk (4.5 km) back to our Airbnb place. We spent the evening relaxing and decompressing (and packing) in advance of our long travel day.

Wednesday 6 August 2014


Our flight from Keflavík airport left at 10:55am, so we took the 7:30am bus from the main bus station, a 30 minute walk from the Airbnb. To play it safe, since we would be walking with all our luggage, we left just after 6:30am. I'm pretty sure that on this walk we were the warmest and sweatiest we'd been the entire trip; the temperature was the highest we'd seen (17°C, or 63°F) and it was quite muggy. We were at the airport by 8:30am, and had some breakfast and tea. It's a really small airport, with some nice cozy spaces. Still, I'm glad that we didn't have to hang out long. Our flight to JFK was followed by a weird sequence of ill-defined steps and maneuvers to clear customs and reclaim, and then recheck, our bags. I won't bore you with further details, but suffice it to say that one could get very confused with the whole process (I can't imagine a non-English speaker or an elderly person doing very well with the conditions). We were able to navigate things without any issue, and having such a long layover (five hours) allowed us some leeway. Our flight to Austin left around 6:45pm, and we were back on the ground in Austin by 10pm. My car was where we'd left it, and we ventured home, glad to have had such an interesting trip but looking forward to settling in again. Turns out that we had essentially no jetlag; it's just as if we had a really long day (of travel) and then crashed, and then the sun came up again. The light itself, however, is hard to get used to. The directness of the sun's rays is pretty shocking, and I had a pretty strong reaction to them on my first morning; even though I was indoors, and my living room gets only indirect sunlight, I had that brightness etched into my eyes for a bit. The effect subsided, though, and I'm back to normal now.

So, what will our next adventure be?