A FEW DAYS in ICELAND
Friday, September 11, 2015.
Conveniently, I was on a business trip to Washington, DC, so I took the Metro to Roslyn, Virginia, then caught a bus to Dulles Airport, arriving there about 4:15 p.m.
My flight, Icelandair 1644 was scheduled to depart at 8:35, so I had lots of time to think about my trip and get excited about it.
I found my flight didn't offer a free dinner. That was a surprise. I decided to buy a bowl of mac and cheese to eat before I boarded the plane.
All afternoon, my flight was designated "On time," but we didn't even begin boarding until after 8:35. That was probably a good thing, though. When we landed, it wasn't quite as early in the morning as it would have been otherwise.
Saturday, September 12, 2015.
For this trip I decided to take lots of short video segments to make my trip video more interesting. I took a video of the Dulles terminal, of everybody boarding the plane, of everybody getting off, of the line of people waiting to get through Customs. When a customs inspector checked my passport, he looked at me sternly. "No photographs are allowed of this security area," he said.
"I'm sorry!" I replied with chagrin. Had I thought, I would have known that was a no-no.
I took a Gray Line bus from the airport into Reykjavik. Much of the scenery along the one-hour route was desolate: nothing more than large stretches of lava rock of all imaginable shapes and sizes. The bus pulled into a parking area and stopped, and we were transferred into smaller vehicles for our rides to our final Reykjavik destinations (hotels, motels, apartments).
I got to the Luna a little before 8:30 a.m. Finally, I was at my hotel! Well, actually, no, I wasn't. I found Luna consists of a number of apartments in three different city locations. Where I had been dropped off was just the Luna office. None of the apartments was nearby. I turned the handle of the office door to go in. It wouldn't turn. I looked through the windows. There was no one there. The place was empty. A sign on the door said business hours started at 9:00 a.m. I had a half hour to wait.
To pass the time, I walked around town dragging my roller bag and carry-on bag. I planned to get back to the office at precisely 9 o'clock so I could get checked in. That plan ran into a little trouble, though, as I found myself lost for ten or fifteen minutes.
After going through the paperwork at the office, Omar, the man behind the desk, said, "Well, I have some good news and some bad news. First the good news. You've been upgraded to a better apartment." The bad news: "Your room won't be available until 2:30 this afternoon, maybe later." Omar suggested I walk around town, eat breakfast, get on-line with my I-pad, and otherwise, just take it easy for five-plus hours.
That sounded like a good plan, but it turned out to be easier said than done. I couldn't find any of the restaurants Omar recommended, and the restaurants I did find weren't open. It seems most businesses don't open their doors until ten o'clock in the morning, sometimes eleven.
I finally did find a restaurant, Le Bistro (photos, below), and it was pretty good. I enjoyed my first meal in Reykjavik. But the restaurant's "hot spot" for my I-pad apparently wasn't quite hot enough. I couldn't get on line.
There was light rain off and on throughout the day, it was a little chilly, and after three hours or so walking around town, I was done in. Moreover, I hadn't been able to get a whole lot of sleep the night before on the flight from Dulles, so at about 12:45 I decided to return to the office, sit down, get warm, and log onto the Internet there. Besides, I hadn't used any bathroom facilities since Dulles, and I needed to attend to that little matter as well.
I made my way to the office, looked trough the window, and once again, no one was there! The door was locked. I was too tuckered to do any more walking. Besides, I didn't know where to go anyway. So, I set down my bags and umbrella, leaned up against the wall, and waited.
I thought I remembered hearing Omar say he might be gone for a while, then come back around 2:00. I hoped he would be back a whole lot earlier than that.
But he wasn't. He rolled in at just about exactly 2 o'clock.
He drove me to the apartment (photo), which was very nice, but I felt a little disconnected. Although the wi-fi worked, I wasn't able to send any emails (that sometimes happens with my I-pad), so I had no way to get in touch with anyone except by phone, and as experience had already shown, Omar was sometimes not in his office when I needed him!
In my apartment, I had a lot of preparations to make for my tour Sunday, so I had to get hopping. First order of business: unpack. Then, get some groceries for my upcoming breakfasts. Then eat. (I didn't want a big meal, so I found a bar where I was able to order a couple of tacos and some ginger ale.) Then, prepare for the Sunday tour: get out the voucher, check my camera, make an entry in my log, and prepare for cold weather (undershirt, shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, heavy winter jacket, scarf, gloves, regular pants, sweat pants, and a double pair of socks).
I'm not sure when I got to bed, but I am sure I fell asleep in a hurry.
Sunday, September 13, 2015.
I was picked up outside my apartment shortly after 8:30 a.m. and taken to the Gray Line bus terminal, where I transferred to the bus for the Extreme Iceland "Into the Glacier Extended Tour." (description.)
The scenery along the route we took was beautiful, sometimes breathtaking. Particularly stunning were some of the mountains, the rich green grass, patches of snow tucked away in corners here and there, numerous tiny communities, and various lakes and streams.
We stopped briefly at Deildartunguhver (a geothermal hot spring) and I took some pictures. Steam was rising from the spring, but a few steps away the temperature was cold (thought not extremely cold), but the wind was whistling and swirling. Geothermal energy provides more than half of Iceland's primary energy needs.
We drove on to the Hraunfossar waterfalls and had a chance to walk around for a half-hour or so. Of course I was taking pictures like crazy.
The highlight of the day, however, was the glacier Langjokull, the second largest glacier in Iceland. We got off the bus, waited a half-hour or so, then boarded a monster truck (photo, below) for our ride on the glacier. The tires of the truck were specially designed so they could be deflated (along the way) up to 90 percent for traction on the snow. What a thrill!
Slowly, the truck crept across the glacier. The further we went, the poorer the visibility. Fog closed in around us and in a short time, we couldn't see a thing.
Fortunately, the vehicle had GPS, so the driver could find our destination: a hole in the glacier at close to the glacier's peak.
We exited the truck and walked down a ramp into the hole (photo). An actual cave had been dug out of the glacier and we were about to explore it (photo).
But first, we were each issued a set of crampons. We put them on our shoes (photo) and followed the guide. It was incredible!
We were actually walking around inside an enormous glacier. Lights had been installed so we could see where we were going. Several rooms had been carved out of the snow, and along some sections of the cave we could see giant crevasses that had formed over perhaps hundreds of years. (Notice that the layering of the snow is visible in the photo above.)
The cave was more snow than ice and because of that, any rain that had fallen outside could and did easily drain right through to where we were walking. Sometimes the flow was significant.
Of course the glacier was moving, albeit very slowly, so all the snow was shifting and settling ever so slightly. That meant there could be a collapse without notice, and that certainly added to the excitement!
We spent maybe 30 minutes inside the glacier. It was amazing! Such a thrill!
Then we exited the snow cave (photo) and got back into the monster truck for the drive back to our starting point. What a unique and awesome experience!
Back on the tour bus, we headed for Geysir (two photos below), a geo-thermal area, and spent some time looking around. I stopped in the restaurant there and had a bowl of lamb meat soup for supper. Very good!
Then as the sun was setting, we drove to Gullfoss to see the falls. And finally we headed back to Reykjavik.
It was about 10:30 when I got back to my apartment. Oh, what a marvelous day!
Monday, September 14, 2015.
There was some confusion about the 9 a.m. pick-up point for today's Extreme Iceland "Quads and Caves ATV Tour" (description.)
I understood that if I didn't hear from Omar by Sunday evening (and I didn't), I should walk to the Luna office to be picked up for the tour there. So I did just that, walked to the office, got there about 8:45, and I waited. I figured if there was a problem, someone would be at the office at 9:00 to help me, so everything could be sorted out then.
But it didn't turn out quite that way. There was no pickup vehicle at 9:00, or 9:05, or 9:10, or 9:15. But worse, there was no one in the Luna office either!
Finally at about 9:20, a tour vehicle stopped, but to pick up two young women who were waiting on the street corner diagonally opposite where I was standing.
I went over to talk to the driver to see if I was also on the pick-up list. He asked my name. I told him. "Nope," he said, I wasn't on the list.
Fortunately, I was able to glance quickly at the list myself, and two-thirds of the way down the sheet I spotted my name. "There I am," I said, pointing to his paper.
"That's not right," he said. "I'm supposed to pick you up at your apartment."
What a stroke of good luck! The driver just happened to pick up two others at the very corner where I was waiting!
I think I must have misunderstood the tour description. It was titled "Quads and Caves ATV Tour," so I thought that meant I'd be riding a quad bike into one or more mountain caves. Perfect!
As it turned out, the tour wasn't a single tour at all; it was two tours, one where we crawled through lava tubes, another where we rode ATVs off-road up to the top of a couple of small mountains.
So, the next thing I knew, our vehicle had stopped along side an enormous lava field, steel helmets and flashlights were passed out (I'm in the photo), and we were making our way to an opening in a lava tube (photo, below). Actually, the entrance is just a section of the tube where the roof had collapsed, allowing entry.
I made my way down the sharp and sometimes slippery rocks to the cave itself. I noticed quite quickly that the others were scampering over the obstacles like ants running around an ant hill. I was negotiating the jagged rocks at a much slower pace.
Inside the tube it was even worse. The ceiling was low, so in many places I couldn't stand up, the floor was littered with rocks that had to be crawled over, and it was dark, pitch dark.
The beam of a flashlight was the only means of illumination. I bumped my head a couple times on the ceiling.
Once again, the others were making their way along the tube like it was a stroll in the park. I was finding it harder and harder to negotiate the obstacles.
We finally got to the end of the tube (actually, fallen rocks prevented us from going any further) and the guide asked us all to turn off our flashlights. The darkness was penetrating.
When it was time to retrace our steps, I found I had used up much of my energy supply. The going was grueling.
Fortunately, our guide was very thoughtful and accommodating. He assisted me along the route, helped pull me through tight spots, and was very encouraging.
I then realized the others were all young whippersnappers. They were in their 20s and 30s. They hadn't even worked up a sweat. I was huffing and puffing, and my glasses were fogged over making it even harder to see.
The guide guided me back along the route we had entered until I once again emerged into the daylight. Then he went back into the tube to lead the others along a route even more difficult and challenging. Apparently, that route required crawling on hands and knees and even on stomachs.
Aside from the embarrassment (which the guide tried his best to minimize), it was a wonderful experience. And to have made it out alive is, I guess, some accomplishment for someone with so many years in his rear-view mirror.
Back in the tour vehicle on the way back to Reykjavik, we turned off the main road to see numerous wooden racks where countless cod had been hung up to dry. It's a traditional method of fish preservation, simply allowing the cold wind and sun to dry the fish.
I was driven back to the bus terminal, where I waited to be picked up for the quads bike tour. It was only a short 15 or 20-minute wait before a Jeep arrived to take me to Safari Quads. The driver of the Jeep turned out to be our guide. With two young ladies, we were a group of just four.
I owned a motorcycle when I lived in North Carolina, so I assumed driving a quad would be a breeze. I wasn't so sure the ladies had any bike experience at all.
We were issued gear (helmets and wool-lined outfits), shown our vehicles, and given two or three minutes of instruction: the squeeze bar on the left handlebar was the brake, the slide-lever (controlled by the thumb) on the right handlebar was the gas. That was it!
The only other instruction: hang on for dear life! (That wasn't a verbal instruction; it was learned very quickly from experience.)
I'm all ready to go.
I thought a couple of practice spins around the driveway would complete the training. For us, that step was bypassed. We got on the bikes (the guide on one, both ladies on one, me on one), and off we went! Single file. Right out onto the highway!
I assumed the ladies' would be a little timid and would want to start off cautiously, so that would give me time to get comfortable with the vehicle. Wrong!
They zoomed out of the gate like it was a motocross race. The guide sped up and the gals sped up as well. I was in the rear, trying to keep up. (After a while, I was able to get comfortable with the controls and idiosyncrasies of the ATV, and then I had no trouble keeping up with the others. But we certainly didn't dilly-dally.)
It was great fun bouncing along the dirt and gravel paths. There were big pot holes to navigate around (or into), good-sized boulders to avoid, and once we even drove across a stream.
I was surprised the vehicles were able to take so readily the punishment we inflicted on them.
We bounced our way up one mountain and stopped to see a beautiful vista of a lake and surrounding countryside, then we bounced our way up another mountain and stopped to see the entire city of Reykjavik spread out before us. The sights were spectacular!
Shortly after I got back to the apartment (about 4:30), I heard a knock on the door. When I opened it, I saw two young ladies standing there. "Cleentles." one of them said.
"Ah, clean the house?" I asked.
She repeated herself: "Cleentles. Cleentles!"
"Are you here to clean the apartment?" I said, fearing we were at an impasse.
After a few more moments of misunderstanding, I finally got it. The ladies were there to give me a a new set of clean towels!
Following that little incident, I went looking for a place to eat supper (I had missed lunch). I decided to go back to where I had my late-morning breakfast Saturday: Le Bistro. I had a Bistro Burger and a Sprite. The burger was interesting; it had a slice of ham in addition to a beef patty. Nevertheless, it was quite tasty.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015.
Today's tour was Iceland Travel's "South Coast & Jokulsarlon Tour" (description.) Pickup was shortly after 7:15 a.m. in front of my apartment.
I think there were close to 50 of us on the bus. Olga was our guide. She pointed out all the sights to see as we were driven along Highway 1 through Hella, Holt, Vic, and a number of other little communities along Iceland's south coast.
We stopped to see Skogafoss, one of Iceland's biggest waterfalls and it was magnificent; a tremendous amount of water plummets 200 feet straight down, causing an enormous cloud of spray.
When we were there, the sun was at just the right angle to produce two concentric rainbows (photo). It was a very impressive sight.
The highlight of this day's trip was a visit to Vatnajokull Glacier -- Europe's largest -- and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
The trip included a boat ride on the lagoon, but before we got there, winds had picked up and become so strong, all boat rides were canceled.
That was certainly disappointing, but it allowed more time for picture taking, and it was wonderful to walk along the shore and see so many glacier fragments -- some multi-colored -- float by.
There are hills immediately adjacent to the lagoon and they afforded excellent vantage points for views of the glacier and lagoon. I wished we had more time to spend there.
On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped for supper (I had lamb meat soup -- again -- and it was delicious -- again), then stopped to see the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. However, several delays up to that point had pushed back our schedule, and we didn't arrive there until 8:45, and by then it was nearly dark. A light was shining on the waterfall, but it was useless. There was very little to see and absolutely nothing to photograph.
Further along the route back to Reykjavik, our driver spotted northern lights in the sky, so he stopped the bus for us to take a look. They were not as dramatic as some photographs show, but I could see a slowly dancing greenish hue in the sky.
About an hour and a half from Reykjavik, one of the passengers told Olga she was motion sick. Olga knew just what to do: put her in the front seat of the bus so she could have a better view of the highway. This would allow her to look towards the horizon in the direction of travel and re-orient her sense of balance by providing visual reaffirmation of bus motion.
That's all well and good, but it turned out I happened to be seated right next to where the motion-sick young lady sat down.
I watched her out of the corner of my eye. She looked tense and uncomfortable. I wondered what the outcome of this little scenario would be. I didn't like the various possibilities.
I knew we weren't going to make it to Reykjavik without something happening. Her left hand twitched. Something seemed imminent. She fanned her face with her right hand. Then she leaped up out of her chair and said something to Olga.
The bus stopped immediately, the door was opened, and the woman jumped out. Although we couldn't see what transpired in the darkness, we could certainly hear what happened. I don't know how many times she upchucked, but my guess is a half dozen.
After a few minutes, she re-boarded the bus. And sat down right next to me once again. Was the incident over? Or was it just the beginning? What would happen next?
As we drove along, I was counting off the minutes. 80 minutes to Reykjavik. 70. 60. 50. Were we going to make it?
We did! Without further incident! I was amazed. The poor woman. Feeling sick is bad enough. She also had to deal with a heavy load of embarrassment.
When we got back to the bus terminal, we transferred to smaller vehicles for delivery back to our individual hotels, motels, and apartments. I was let off at the Luna office! So I had a 15-minute walk to reach my apartment. I got there at 11:30.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015.
There was no pickup at my apartment today. It was up to me to take a cab to the city airport for my "Nordurflug Helicopter Tour" (description). Fortunately, cabs lined up just a couple of blocks from my front door, so it was easy to get transportation to the Nordurflug office at the airport.
I arrived there about 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes before my 8 o'clock scheduled flight. I turned the handle of the office door. The door was locked. I looked through the window. The office was empty.
I surmised helicopter activity didn't begin until 8:00, so I walked around and waited. Then I checked my voucher again and discovered I had misread the departure time. It was 9 o'clock, not 8.
After perhaps a half hour had passed, I checked the office again and the door was open! I went in and said I was checking in for my 9 o'clock flight. A representative behind the desk said, "Oh, we've been trying to get in touch with you. There weren't enough passengers for your flight, so we had to cancel it. Can you come back another time?"
I explained this was my last full day in Iceland. "Could you come back at 3:30 this afternoon?" the representative inquired. Well . . . yes! Absolutely!
I took a cab back to my apartment, wrote some postcards, and took them to the post office for stamps. I tried to open the post office door. It was locked. Hmm. There seems to be a pattern here.
I spent much of the morning and early afternoon walking around town taking pictures. Picture opportunities were plentiful and the weather was wonderful for a walk.
I was back at the airport a little after 3:00. Two other helicopter passengers arrived shortly thereafter, then our pilot appeared and introduced himself to us, and we were on our way. (I must note it was sort of unique to be able to board a flight without first waiting in long lines and going through security checks.)
The two other passengers sat behind the pilot and me (photo). We were all buckled in, we put on our headphones, and the engine was started. Slowly, seemingly effortlessly the helicopter lifted off the tarmac.
We rose gradually into the air and headed northeast (I think). The sun beat down beautifully on the city below us (photo above), but in what seemed like no time, we were flying over rocky, lava-strewn, uninhabited land.
Billowing clouds of steam rose from the ground in the distance. As we flew nearer, we could see they were from a geothermal power plant about 20 miles from Reykjavik. We circled the plant, then moved maybe a half-mile away and landed on a flat, grassy spot next to some geothermal pools that were bubbling and releasing waves of steam.
We spent about 20 minutes walking around, taking in the scenery, and snapping pictures, before getting back in the helicopter for our flight back to town.
Our trip was pure delight: impressive sights to see, perfect weather, and a smooth, comfortable ride. Oh, what fun!
It was late afternoon by the time I got back to my apartment. Since I hadn't had many opportunities to enjoy Reykjavik restaurants, I decided to have an early, leisurely dinner. Where would be the perfect place to eat my last big meal in the city?
Many restaurants are very expensive, and I didn't want that. I certainly didn't want to eat at a U.S. chain. What would be my last taste of Iceland?
The answer came quickly. Italian! I had an absolutely delicious (!!) lasagna at the the Hornid Restaurant (description.), then I had Sukkulaoikaka (ice cream, chocolate cake, and whipped cream -- also outstanding!) for dessert. What a great ending to a super great day!
Thursday, September 17, 2015.
I slept in a little this morning, took a shower, had my usual breakfast (red orange juice and a couple of breakfast bars -- Nature Valley Oats & Honey, and a chocolate and coconut Corny Bar), and began to pack up my belongings.
During this process I heard a rattle at the front door. Before I could open it, the door opened, and in walked Omar! He was as surprised to see me as I was surprised to see him. "Oh," he said, "I thought you checked out yesterday."
"No," I said, "I'm not scheduled to leave until 12:15 this afternoon."
"There must be a problem with my computer scheduling," Omar said quickly. "It's okay. The new tenants can walk around town for a while until the apartment is cleaned and ready for them."
With a little free time before 12:15, I decided to take one last walk around town myself. I enjoy looking for pictures to take. There were lots! And I took lots!
I was picked up shortly after 12:15 and taken to the bus terminal. I transferred to the one o'clock Gray Line bus for the one-hour ride to the airport.
The six-hour flight from Iceland got me to Dulles about 8:00 p.m. A bus ride and then a Metro ride got me to my motel in Crystal City around 10 o'clock.
Friday, September 18, 2015.
I took the 7 a.m. shuttle from the motel to the airport (Reagan), then an 8:30 flight back to Orlando. I was home in Winter Garden before noon.
It was a super-duper visit to Iceland -- thrilling, challenging, a few times frustrating, but overall greatly rewarding! What an incredible trip! It far surpassed my expectations!