September 2016

Homeward bound

 

September 10 – My bag was packed and breakfast eaten. Carrie had pointed out that the Iceland Phallic museum was very near where I was staying and I considered taking a tour before heading to the airport. I had some time but I needed to check out of the airbnb so I would have had to pack along my luggage so I opted to skip it.

I walked to the bus station to get a shuttle to the airport. Since I’d gotten an early start I leisurely made my way through security. I was lucky enough to find a café that had a place for me to see that included a power outlet. I synced up my phone and computer then spent some time catching up on the blog. I did a fair job of keeping myself occupied until it was time to head to my gate.

While I was sad my grand adventure was coming to an end I was looking forward to returning to familiar faces and routines.

Iceland’s South Shore

September 9 – Back on the same road for the third day in a row. Next time I’m definitely going to need to go north instead. The “South Shore” tour was taking us to Vik and back with waterfalls, beaches, and glaciers along the way. It’s officially the last full day of my crazy European adventure, I wanted to make it count.

My friend, Carrie, happened to be in Iceland as well. She had arrived several days before me, rented a car, and had spent a fair amount of time at the north end of the island. Our hope was that our paths may cross in Vik.

Our first stop was at Skógafoss. You can walk right up to this immense waterfall and feel its power. There is a staircase that leads to the top of the falls that apparently includes 527 steps. Our stop was too short for me to attempt that climb. I’m sure the views are stunning on a clear day.

We caught glimpses of the Myrdalsjokull Glacier on the way to Reynisfjara Beach. The conditions weren’t safe and the road closed so we hope to get to the glacier on the way back.

Reynisfjara is a black pebble beach and features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid, which is called Hálsanef. Out in the sea are the spectacularly shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. We had been warned that the waves at Reynisfjara are especially strong and unpredictable. The guide asked us to not go any closer to the water than he is. Of course some idiot went too far and nearly got dragged out to sea. Close call!

Just around the mountain sits the town of Vik where we stopped for a lunch break before turning back to Reykjavik. I grabbed a drink and sandwich then found myself a spot on the beach to eat.

I was standing outside of the gas station reading the tourist map when I heard a familiar voice call out my name. It was Carrie! It was so strange and fantastic to see her there. I was a bit surprised she found me with so little effort. Hooray! We visited briefly as it was nearly time for me to return to the bus. We talked about the rest of my tours itinerary and made a plan to meet up closer to Reykjavik. She still wanted to look around Vik, the beach, and be able to make photo stops along the way.

Back on the bus we learned the conditions had improved and we would be making stopping by Myrdalsjokull Glacier. Myrdalsjokull is the country’s fourth largest glacier and covers the volcano Katla. It was pissing rain and man it was cold. Still worth it. It was only about a 10 minute brisk walk from the parking lot. The pictures could easily be mistaken for a bad Photoshop job, but I swear I was there…lol.

From here we visited Skógar Folk Museum to get a taste how Icelanders lived in past centuries. They had a fascinating collection of tools, boats, leatherwork, and buildings. It was fascinating learning about how they survived such a harsh environment before the modern conveniences.

Having an uncanny sense of time I was walking from one building to the next as Carrie pulled into the parking lot. Another brief visit before it was time for the tour to move on. This time Carrie followed us to the next stop, Seljalandsfoss.

Once at the falls we made jokes about her stalking me as we admired the falls and took a short walk. There is no shortage of stunning waterfalls in Iceland. I fear I’ve only enjoyed a small percentage of them.

With the drivers blessing I left the tour and continued on with Carrie. We had reservations at the Blue Lagoon. I was so looking forward to warming up and relaxing.

We arrived before our scheduled time so we sat down for a nice dinner at the resort. It was delicious. Soon the time had come for us to hit the lagoon. It was sooo nice to be able to get into, and out of, the water without having to leave the building. The air was plenty chilly. It was an incredibly relaxing evening. I had 2 regrets. First, I’m sad we didn’t schedule an earlier time because I could have spent the day there. Second, I’m sad it wasn’t possible to schedule an in-pool massage. The Blue Lagoon is a must-do in my opinion. I was pleased to learn they are working on more hotel rooms at the resort. Something I’ll definitely keep in mind for future visits.

Carrie returned me safely to my airbnb and we said our goodbyes. I’ll see her in a week or so when we’re both back in the Seattle area.

Diving the Silfra Fissure

September 8 – Scuba diving between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at the Silfra fissure had been on my dive bucket list for quite some time so when it came time to plan my trip to Europe having a layover in Iceland just made sense.

I was on my way back to Thingvellir National Park. I had noticed the parking lot full of vans while walking the trail the day before. I was excited and a bit nervous as we got geared up. I’ve not been diving with a dry suit before, they’ve given plenty of warnings about it being a strenuous dive, and I knew there was a fair amount walking to be done in full gear.

We made our way to the entry point. There was a group of snorkelers going in so we waited in the cold for our turn. Not an exciting prospect when you’re getting ready to plunge into frigid waters.

It was our turn so we made our way down the stairs and into the water. It didn’t take long for me to feel some significant differences between being in a dry suit as opposed to my usual wet suit. It was nice to not have that flooding of cold water, but I also felt a bit out of control. I kept getting uncomfortably inverted, feet over my head and dropping. That’s a terrible position to find yourself in and I didn’t have enough dry suit experience to know how to correct it. After struggling through several attempts and feeling my anxiety level climb I signaled our dive master to surface. I regained my composure and let him know I was going to follow along with the group but would be staying toward the surface where I felt more comfortable.

The water was crystal clear so I could still see the fissure between the plates and the rest of the divers. It was amazing and I certainly wish I would have taken the time to do the dry suit class before my trip. Moving my body and all the gear through the water on the surface was likely more work than it would have been at depth. By the time we got to the end of the short dive I was exhausted.

It was quite the hike back to the van. Our dive master suggested I drop some of my gear and he’d make a second trip to gather it for me. While I appreciated the gesture there is no way I was going to stick him with that. I knew what I was signing up for, I will get this done eventually. Hot chocolate and cookies awaited us when we got to the van. It was a nice treat given the weather.

The tour included 2 dives but considering my issues during the first dive I opted out. I was exhausted and didn’t want to take away from the rest of the groups enjoyment. I changed out of my dry suit as they geared back out. I walked with them and hung out at the platform until it was their turn. I took this little video as they descended. The water is so clear you can see their fins for quite awhile.

With their second dive complete everyone got changed and packed all the gear in to the van. The heat was on full force as we made our way back into town. We were chilled but all head a great time.

I had rebooked the Northern Lights tour for the evening but again, the
weather made for poor viewing conditions.

Iceland’s Golden Circle

September 7 – I arrived in Iceland knowing I wanted to dive the Silfra fissure and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Beyond that I hadn’t done much research or planning so I found myself booking a tour because sometimes its just the smart and easy thing to do.

The shuttle picked me up from the hotel next door to my airbnb. I was looking forward to the Golden Circle tour through Reykjavik Excursions.

Our first stop was at the Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation centre. Here we got to learn how they are growing tomatoes and cucumbers with the aid of the geothermal heat. Tomato plants as far as the eye could see! The owner gave a brief talk about how the process and how they “employ”, no doubt undocumented, over 600 bees inside of the greenhouse. We were then treated to a nice breakfast of tomato soup and traditional bread which I paired with coffee although I think a Bloody Mary would have been nice.

The owner also raises Highland ponies so I broke from the group and took a quick wander through the stable and made a new friend.

The next stop in our tour was Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall. The falls are created by the river Hvítá, which drops into an impressive crevice. There are several paths that give great views of the river, falls, and surrounding area. If you look closely at some of the pictures you’ll see people on the left hand side. It helps give a bit of perspective of how big the falls are. Here are a couple videos from the upper and lower trails.


After a nice little walk in the cold, grey weather we boarded the bus and headed to Geysir hot springs. Our driver and guide gave us a brief talk about the area then sent us out for some free time. Rather than join the crowd at the Strokkur geyser I headed up the hillside for a broader view of the area. I still got a good view as the geyser shot a column of water up into the air. I stopped at several of the more dormant geysers and a little bubbling pool then crossed the street to get some lunch and see the visitor center.

We made a delicious stop at Efstidalur II for ice cream. The ice cream barn has a window that lets you look in on some of the farms cows. What I didn’t recall about this place until now is that the farm includes a hotel, bed & breakfast, and restaurant as well as the ice cream barn. Delicious!

Our final stop on our way back to Reykjavik was the Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Not only is the park where the American and Eurasian tectonic meet, but it is also a historical assembly point. Fascinating history and beautifully rugged terrain. Not to mention a bit chilly, even in early September.

Back in Reykjavik I had made plans to stop by the dive shop to make sure they had a dry suit that would fit me. I was booked on a dive excursion the next day. Being an unusually large and curvy diver I wanted to make sure they had equipment that was going to work before heading out. I snapped a few pictures of unique things along the way back. I also took advantage of an opportunity to get myself an Icelandic hot dog. It was a better than average hot dog but still a hot dog.

I was booked for a Northern lights tour later in the evening. Unfortunately there was too much cloud cover for decent viewing. On a positive note the tour company lets you know in advance, and they give you the option of rebooking for another night or getting a refund. I opted to try again tomorrow.

 

Glasgow to Reykjavik

September 6 – There wasn’t much to this day but making my way from Scotland to Iceland. I snapped a few pictures on the way to, then on, the bus to the airport in Glasgow.

Then on the bus from Keflavik International Airport into Reykjavik.

I got settled in to my Airbnb with little time to spare before my work day started. Later in the evening I did venture out for a quick walk along the water front and a stop at the grocery store.

Had I planned better I would have taken the day off and booked an evening Northern Lights viewing tour.

Applecross and the Wild Highlands tour

September 5 – We were signed up for another tour taking us out into the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. With everyone collected at the meeting point the bus drove the same route we’d taken the day before. After our “comfort stop” we turned down a different way and headed toward the Applecross Penninsula.

We made another stop in Ardarroch. Our driver suggested we get lunch stuff because our actual lunch stop had fairly limited options and it was better to be prepared.

Our tour continued with a climb over the Bealach nam Ba (the Pass of the Cattle, in Gaelic). The Pass is the third highest road in Britain and climbs to over 2,000 feet. They are pretty excited about this altitude gain but being from Colorado wasn’t too big of a deal. It was still lovely and a bit breezy at the top.

We stopped at the summit for what should have been breathtaking views across to Raasay and the Isle of Skye but the weather was pretty stormy.

From there we descended to Applecross Village where we made a brief stop at the local heritage center.

We made our way along the banks of Loch Torridon to Shieldaig then travelled through the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. Unfortunately the only “wildlife” we spotted on our journey where some sheep and Highland cows lining the road.

From there we made our way back to Inverness. This was my last full day of Scotland and where Jennifer and I parted company. We made our way back to the B&B, I collected my bags then made my way to the train station for my trek to Glasgow.

The Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle

September 4 – Any doubt of my Scottish ancestry vanished as we made our way through the countryside. Seeing the “naked” mountains of the Highlands covered in peat and heather felt strangely like home. I can’t wait to go back!

I apparently took 10 pictures of everything and its been fun (and a little exhausting) sorting through and picking some highlights.

We left Inverness bound for the Isle of Skye. We made quite a few stops along the way. I unfortunately I don’t recall the name of all the different lochs and stops.

We crossed the Skye Bridge onto the little island Eilean Ban then through the stunningly beautiful Cuillin Hills on the road to Portree. It is an adorable little village with a colorful harbor and fun shops.

More amazing views were in store as we made our way to Scotland’s most iconic and picturesque castle; Eilean Donan. Be still my heart! I could have stayed there forever. I spent quite a bit of time just standing along the outer wall enjoying the serenity. Eventually I did get inside for a tour. Very interesting history that you have to see for yourself, they don’t allow photos inside.

There were a couple more stops in store for us on our way back toward Inverness. We stopped at the little village of Invermoriston, where we saw a ruined bridge which was designed by Thomas Telford, the same engineer who created the Caledonian Canal. From there we carried on to Loch Ness. I was a bit disappointed that by the time we’d made it to Loch Ness it was getting a little dark for monster spotting. I think Nessy had given up hope of seeing me and retreated to the depths. I’ll have to go back for a proper visit.