Take the Long Way Home

21 06 2017

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It is not as easy to wake up this morning as it has been. Guesthouse 1X6 has actual “black-out” shades. What a difference to sleep in darkness. We are up and out by 7:00am for our 10:00am flight to London. I used to scoff at the “be at the airport 2 hours early” B.S., but I am now a believer and we even try to be there with more time than that. It seems lately that lines are longer and proceures take forever at the airport. It is always better to have extra time and be able to relax in the lounge than to be stressed thinking you may miss your flight. (We found out that there is no lounge at this airport – bummer).

It is not so difficult to end our Iceland vacation on a day like today. Once again it is very windy, rainy and cold. I would not want to be starting our trip on a day like today.

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We return our rental car with ease. Have to give a shout out to Blue Car Rental The entire car rental experience here was super easy. These guys know how to do it. They have enough agents working and are very efficient. Thanks!

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Furiously blogging before our flight (no lounge in KEF – we have to be with the riff-raff)

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Upon our arrival in London we are met with a long, long line at Border Control. Since we flew Business Clas we are given Fast Track passes, but the agent correctly tells us that she things the regular line might be faster. We snake through the mouse maze for about 45-60 minutes. Good thing we don’t have to connect to another flight.

Transportation to our hotel is easy once we figure out how to purchase tickets for the Underground. There is only one line – Picadilly – and 12 stops before Earl’s Court in Kensington where our hotel is. When we step out of the Underground we are hit with the record HEAT than London is having today. It is over 90 degrees F – quite a shock to us after swimming in 2 degree water yesterday! Oh well – should be a good introduction to what we will face when we return home. We hear Phoenix is having an intense heat wave…

After a couple blocks of walking we arrive at the Premier Inn Earl’s Court. This hotel is nothing to write home about – just a clean place to stay convenient to the airport. We are met with a less than warm reception at RECEPTION (what part of “reception” don’t they understand?)

(On a good note, I am happy to see that this hotel is housing residents from the recent tragic Grenell fire which is only several blocks from here.)

All we want is a nice pub where we can sit and have a beer before our dinner reservation at the Blackbird Pub. Rich chooses the Courtfield – about a 2 minute walk away. The Courtfield is a typical British pub and we enjoy the atmosphere. Rich orders a couple of beers – a draft IPA for me. The IPA is horrible. Seriously nasty. I must leave it. I go up to the bar and order a Speckled Hen. Much better.

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We sit and rehash some of our escapades.

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Our reservation is at 7:30 and we are hungry. The Blackbird is heavily reviews and supposed to be really good. I am eager to check it out. After walking for about a minute we are there. The hostess greets us and informs us that they are not serving ANY food tonight! Seems there is a problem(?) in the kitchen. Damn. We really don’t want to speculate too much on what that problem might be… She directs us to their sister pub – The King’s Head.

King’s Head is down a quiet side street and Rich easily finds it. We get a table in the dining area beside an Aussie couple. As soon as I order a special Gin and Tonic, the Aussie woman starts chatting us up. They have been traveling for 9 weeks and have been loving their time in the UK. We have a great time swapping stories. They tell us all about where we should visit in Australia. We put it on the list.

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My huge Williams Chase G&T was great!

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Dinner is fine – not great, but fine. Pub food. Comforting.

I am glad we had to make this stop in London. It has provided a nice buffer before we take off for home tomorrow. Back at the Premier Inn with the alarm set for 6:00am Rich blogs, I sleep.

 





Last Day in Iceland

20 06 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Today is our last full day in Iceland and we awaken to find cold, rain and fog. We feel lucky that we had a couple of stellar weather days. I am not sure that Iceland would be as much fun if you were constantly wet and cold.

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After another wonderful breakfast at Mengi Kjarnholt we must check out and move on. Before we leave Jon shows us a video of a couple of Asian tourists last winter who was driving along an icy road and filming as they drove. Out of nowhere there appears a Mercedes coming the other way and he has lost control of his vehicle. The Mercedes smashes into the tourists’ rental car. Very scary video. (Jon tells us that everyone escaped without serious injury). I don’t think I would want to drive here in the winter. Obviously, YOU may be ok driving in those conditions, but you never know about the other drivers.

Today we will be visiting Þingvellir (Thingvellir) a historic site and national park in Iceland, east of Reykjavík.  The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates and that is precisely why we are going there. We will be there for one (stupid?) reason and one reason only – to snorkel between the Tectonic Plates in the Silfra fissure!

The Silfra fissure, is known as one of the top dive sites in the world for two main reasons.First, the Silfra fissure is actually a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents, meaning that you dive or snorkel right where the continental plates meet and drift apart about 2cm per year.

Silfra is the only place where one can dive or snorkel directly in the crack between two continental plates.Secondly, the underwater visibility in the Silfra fissure is over 100 meters, which creates an underwater experience that will rarely, if ever, be surpassed. The reasons for this astounding water clarity are twofold: the water is cold (2°C – 4°C year round ) as it is glacial water from the nearby Langjökull and this water is filtered through porous underground lava for 30-100 years until it reaches the north end of Thingvellir lake, seeping out from underground wells. The Silfra water is as pristine as water can get and you can drink it at anytime during your dive or snorkel.”

This is another of my hair-brianed ideas that sounded really good from the comforts of home. We driving into the National Park and I am following directions on Google Maps to get to P5 (parking) where Dive Iceland has instructed us to meet them. When we arrive where Google tells me, something doesn’t look right – we are at P3. Rich thinks we passed our turn-off, but I insist that this is where we are supposed to be. I suck it up and go into the Visitor’s Center to ask. Oops – Rich was right (pains me to admit). We turn around and finally find P5. Thanks a lot, Google…

We arrive to find a small area with vans from several dive companies and easily locate the Dive Iceland van “Changing Room.” It is very windy and I am cold already. Now I am supposed to snorkel??? There are 6 snorkelers in our group and we are given a brief intro from Dan, our guide. Eveyone changes into a thermal jumpsuit. We are told to keep on only a thin layer of thermals underneath.

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Changing into the jumpsuits wasn’t bad. But then we need to put on our drysuits. Rich and I are both very experienced scuba divers, but we have never dove with drysuits on. They are a completely different beast than wetsuits and take a lot of maneuvering to get on. Everything (armholes, ankles, cuffs, and especially neck openings) must be sealed up completely so that no water can get into your suit. My suit is super tight and requires assistance. Rich’s is not quite as tight and he must use the extra “tight collar strap” to cinch up. Can we still breathe?

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Do you see the neckhole where my head is supposed to fit through???

I am completely worn out by the time we are suited up! As we are given our masks/snorkels and fins we see a group of snorkelers who have just finished their tour. They are not smiling. They appear frozen. OMG What in the hell have I gotten us into. (It is worth noting that if you are 60+ years of age you must have a physician’s note to participate. I brought one from home. Rich does not need one…)

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Ready?

Our group of 6 plus Dan trudge (seriously, trudge is the right word because you can barely walk in these things) across the road to get to the entrance of Silfra. The water is mega-clear and about 2 degrees F. Only our faces are exposed. We are told that our gloves aren’t actually waterproof and our hands may get cold. Dan tells us not to move them around in the water too much – let’s in the cold water.

Time to go! We enter down a platform and some steps. The suit is suprisingly waterproof (what did I expect?) and I don’t feel immediately cold. Even when I put my face in, it is not too bad. Dan tells us we should take a sip of the water – some of the most pure in the world. It is great!

The remainder of the pics from Silfra are taken by Dan (our guide).

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The drysuits make you completely bouyant so you just kind of float (with the current) and peek around. Absolutely gorgeous colors from the rocks and algae are all around.

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After about 15 minutes my hands begin to feel numb and are stinging. I have to pee. The complete tour is supposed to be 35 minutes. I hope I can make it.

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Dan briefed us that we would be making a left turn into the lagoon where we would be disembarking. I will admit, that I was really happy when we began to turn left! I am the first one out of the water (not that it is any warmer out there). Dan asks me if I am a “swimmer.” He tells me that I am very good in the water. Little does he know.

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I wish we had some photos of us getting OUT of our drysuits. I feared it was going to be an ordeal. It was. When we walk back to the van we are freezing and our hands no longer function. How in the heck are you supposed to pull off this super tight suit with no fingers? Dan obliges and helps me to “disembark.”

I am sure Rich (and everyone else) got a big kick out of seeing Dan try to peel me from my suit. What goes in must come out. The hood is easy enough but then comes the “head hole” with the super, super tight neck. He encourages me to hold part of it and try to stretch it. He pulls. I stretch. He pulls more. At one point I was bent over with my head actually stuck in the neck hole. Almost couldn’t breathe. I was figuring that I would have to spend the rest of my life in this thing.

Dan gave a final tug and my head came out with me making a very loud exclamation of “God Bless America!” Wow. Free at last.

Rich’s neck strap is so tight that he needs me to help him open it. My fingefrs barely work, but I manage to undo him from his leash. Ahhhh. So basically we had 1 1/2 hours prep for a 35 minute tour…

We duck into the “Changing Room” to remove the jumpsuits and put on our regular clothes. I do it in record time and run to the bathroom. Oh man – the bathroom is the place to be. There is a HEATER in there! I manage to tear myself away and join the group for a much deserved hot chocolate and cookies.

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Brrrr!

This experience was amazing and I really can’t believe we did it. Did I love it? No. Would I do it again? Not for a second time. Am I glad we did it? YES!

There are absolutely no plans for the remainder of the day. It is rainy, windy and cold so we are not really keen on trying to see anything else. Besides that, we are wiped out. I am sure we burned thousands of calories just trying to keep warm. We drive on and head towards Keflavic and our guesthouse for the last night in Iceland.

The scenery on this part of Iceland is not nearly as spectacular as what we saw in the South. I can’t believe the contrast. Up here it is more flat “ranch-type” land with horses and sheeps. I think that many tourists land in Keflavic, go to Rekjavik and then take the “Golden Circle” tour which is the National Park, Geysir and Gulfoss. They never make it down South. Pity. We are wondering what it would be like to do the entire Ring Road – probably spectacular. We probably should take a little jaunt to Rekjavik, but we are not in the mood.

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Guesthouse 1X6 is easy to find in the cute seaside area of Keflavik (that is where the airport is located, not in Rekjavik).

Andi greets us with a warm smile and shows us around. Guesthouse 1X6 gets fantastic reviews on TripAdvisor (why it was chosen for us) and I can see why. It is super cute with lots of nice details and warm touches.

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Andi and Yuki invite us for a coffee and proudly shows us his awesome Italian Gaggia espresso machine. I admit this is of the best Cappuccinos of the trip for me. Rich impresses by ordering a “Cortado.”

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Notice the hanging pot chandelier

We are told there is a hot tub out back, but everyone is required to shower before entering. There are no chemicals in the water. We follow instructions and then head out back in our bathrobes.

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READY!

OMG. This has to be the best hot tub we have ever seen. It is a huge, rock-lines structure with carved Tiki men all around. The water is the perfect temperature. And to top it off we have it all to ourselves. This is just the ticket to cap off the day.

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Cold getting out!

After a nice long soak we head over to the neighbor town Sandgerdi for dinner at Vitinn.

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The special Crab Soup is ordered for both of us. We ordered the starter portion and should have shared. The bowls were huge! The soup is wonderful, but we don’t eat it all because we have main courses on the way. Rich chooses the Redfish and I the lamb.

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We make the short drive back to 1X6, packup and set the alarm for EARLY.

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Back at 1X6

We will be flying to London tomorrow to spend one night before heading home. There were no flights where we could go the entire route in one day. That’s ok. We are looking forward to a laid back afternoon in London and a nice relaxing pub dinner.

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Good night from Iceland

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On Top of the World

19 06 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017 – Rich here again…

Jon puts out a wonderful spread for breakfast, which includes some of the best muesli we’ve ever tasted. It’s got a nice toasty brown-ness to it, blending perfectly with milky yogurt Súrmjólk on top. Jon makes killer breads too.

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We’re blessed with another beautiful sunny day, blue skies and puffy clouds. Our quest for this morning takes us first to well-visited Gullfoss about 30 minutes drive. Tourist buses populate the place and bodies are everywhere. We resist the urge to visit the falls and instead wait to rendezvous with guides for a more special “secret” activity.

Linda’s actually already told me what we’ve got in store – I think she wants to share the anticipation. We’re both excited about it.

We board a van that takes us northeast and through road signs that declare 4-wheel vehicles only. The terrain becomes amazingly barren, like a moonscape strewn with rocks.  I’ve even read that Apollo 16 astronauts Ken Mattingly and Neil Armstrong trained for moon missions somewhere in these parts of Iceland.

Our guide cites a few interesting things on the way. Among them, the millions of gorgeous lupines we see were actually introduced from Alaska. Apparently it was thought that they would provide good soil conversion so other plants and trees could take hold, and it was thought the lupines should grow well here. Just how well no one could have guessed – they are EVERYWHERE. Some towns even have “lupine control” groups that eradicate them.

We reach a base camp to get suited up. For what activity? SNOWMOBILING (of all things)! On top of the Langjökull glacier!

We are issued jumpsuits, gloves, goggles, and helmets that make us feel like astronauts, or maybe more like crash dummies. I’ve never even sat on a snowmobile before. How hard is it? Is it easy to wipe out? And how fast do these things go anyway?

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From the base camp, we all board a monstrous vehicle they call the “super truck”. Its wheels are nearly as tall as Linda. During other seasons, the tour can start here at base camp, but in summer, we’ve got to continue up the mountain another 10-15 minutes to reach snow.

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A line of sleek-looking Ski-doo and Lynx machines awaits us. We all get a brief operating lesson plus a few instructions about staying in line and following the guides. More than half our group ride in pairs, but Linda has booked us to each ride our own machine.

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Nervous but ready

And off we go! Linda and I were actually thinking this might be a head-to-tail affair where we’d be modestly plodding along. Wrong-o. These machines are pretty fast and we go blazing out onto the slushy powder with little introduction. At first everyone dutifully stays in the tracks of the machine in front, but some of us soon find that the fresh snow rides much better.

I slightly cut off a curve, gunning my mount, and the guides wags his finger at me. Fortunately, they’re not overly restrictive, and the line actually moves at a brisk clip. So much fun! One soon learns to steer the machine mostly with body weight, and to use the legs as a cushion over bumps. In fact, when you see a bump ahead, the best thing to do is rev up the machine and fly over it!

Linda also breaks free from the line and starts passing others full throttle, only to get scolded by the guide back into line. We can’t help ourselves – it is too much fun!

All riders stop for photos and selfies, and we are told we’ve reached the edge of the glacier – so far we’ve been riding on snowy mountain. When we do head up over the ice, I actually can’t tell much difference – it is all snow covered and feels similar.

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What I do feel is as if we are riding at the top of the world. The air is crisp and fresh, the sky a deep blue and the snow brilliant white. Linda has been saying it over and over but we just can’t get over where we are.

We stop again and are shown an ice cave. It’s made of glacier ice over 600 years old, and we’re told this is the last tour this year that will be allowed inside, due to hazards from falling rocks. In fact, we’re told to go single file inside and to scoot through the entrance without lingering.

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Inside the cave it looks like a Hollywood movie set. Light streams into either end and beautifully lluminates blue and brown strata in the ice. The guides are kind enough to snap a few pics of us.

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Back onto our machines again. After 40 minutes of riding, most of us are starting to get the hang of the machines, and the group moves even faster with more meandering. Nobody gets the wagging finger this time. What a complete blast!

A duo in front of me nearly wipes out on one slope. Linda and I decided later that riding a machine single is easier (albeit more expensive). Much easier with better weight control.

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Back at the super truck, we reluctantly give up our machines. The MP (ahem AMP) has once again come through with flying colors. Fantastic!

Coffee and hot chocolate await at base camp, where everyone visits and shares their experiences.

On the trip back, we learn a few more Icelandic tidbits. Artic foxes live here, brown and grey during the summer and beautifully white during the winter. Minks also live here, having escaped captivity. They are scorned, in that they often kill other animals without eating them. Polar bears sometimes make it all the way to Iceland too, but they are feared. If a polar bear is successful in reaching here, it is often very weak and dangerous.

We are deposited back into the tourist throng at Gullfoss. We might as well go down to see what the fuss is about. Dodging our way through the shutter-happy masses, we make our way to the falls, which are both huge and breathtaking, replete with rainbow. The walkway allows you to get really close too.

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We grab a tourist baggette sandwich and a couple of waters, which sets us back around $40. Oh yeah sorry – no conversions allowed – almost forgot. We make a quick decision for our next destination. Well…let’s play some golf!

The Geysir Golf Course is not far from our guesthouse, so we head over to check it out. It’s a nine-hole layout, they have rental clubs and pull carts – no sweat. We ask about balls, and there is a jar full of craptastic lightly used Wilson Staffs for $200 ISK each. We ask how hard the course is, and the pro answers, “Hard.” We buy 3 balls each.

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Sorting through the used Wilson Staffs

He’s sorta right. The layout is challenging with narrow fairways and lots of carries over a river that winds its way throughout. In the distance, the Strokkur geyser is visible and we see it erupt often. Linda and I both hit the rental clubs surprisingly well, and I can tell Linda has been missing it.

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On the 5th tee box, my tee states 142 yards. The green is on the other side of the river. I look at the flag stick and decide, nah, it’s shorter than that, pick up a wedge, and plunk it onto the left side of the green. We walk to Linda’s box. As she is sizing up her shot, I interrupt – hold on, wait a second. I can’t see any bridge or pathway to get to the green. It is only then I take a good look left to see the REAL 5th green on our side of the river. Chalk up 1 lost ball.

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Playing to the wrong green

We finish up with a whoop as Linda sinks a snake on the ninth green to par the hole. The most expensive 9 holes we’ve ever played (I won’t say how much) but a fun activity. I’m sure it’s replenished Linda’s golfing soul, a little bit anyway.

We give back the 6 balls to the pro (we found one out there) and he seems unduly grateful.

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Wow, what now? We need to eat. Linda read somewhere that a diminutive pizza place is nearby, and we find it next to a tent campground. Inside is a cozy rustic bar. We like the place right away, especially a small chalkboard sign behind the barmaid.

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Two draft Tuborg Golds for us, and we find seats outside among the backpacker set. The weather is still remarkably nice – blue skies, light winds, and 60F. We’re soon discussing all sorts of topics with the young camping set, who hail from Sweden, Denmark, Boston, etc. You know, topics like Icelandic tourism, global warming, Brexit, the States, Scandinavia, camping details, and of course, the seemingly ubiquitous topic of Trump. We love to hear their perspective on things, and I think they actually like hearing what a couple of slightly-more-than-middle-aged Americans think too. We spend a wonderful 2 hours with beer, pizza, and friends.

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What a day. I’ve been missing an afternoon nap every day but there is not much choice – too much to see and do here. We’ll just have to catch up when it’s all over. Back to the Mengi Kjarnholt guesthouse.  Linda snaps a photo of these sheep at almost 10pm.  It’s amazing how light it stays all day here.

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Another Fantastic Day in Iceland!

18 06 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Today we awaken to see what appears to be an actual sunny day here in Iceland!  Backtracking a bit on the Ring Road to see some things we missed before moving Northward is on our agenda and we are happy to think we might even stay kind of dry.

The breakfast buffet at Hotel Laki is outstanding:

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. Enjoying the Icelandic yogurt – Skyrr. It is super yummy!

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Beautiful morning at Hotel Laki

Our route today will include a bit of backtracking on the Ring Road – Hwy 1.  There really is no other option unless you go off-roading.  On our first pass we left a couple of sites that we plan to cover today before we make a right turn and head North into new territory.

Hotel Laki, Efri-Vik, Meðallandsvegur to Mengi Kjarnholt - Google Maps

With the sunny, clear skies the scenery looks different than it did a couple of days ago.  We can actually see many things that were covered in fog previously.

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Still trying to get a horse picture…

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Wait!  Stop the car!  There are horses right by the road and I am so excited.  Rich obliges.

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(Got my horse pic!)

The town of Vik comes up and we need to get gas.  Driving into town I am stunned to see what appears to be a golf course built into the mountains.  Rich turns in to investigate.

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Sure enough, there is a 9-hole course and a little “pro shop.”  There are two golfers out on the course and absolutely no one around the shop.  We go in the unlocked door to find 2 sets of clubs and a notice to put your green fee ($25!) in the yellow box. Oh man – I didn’t really think I was missing the golf, but this looks too good to be true.  I try to convince Rich that the sets of clubs are for anyone to use and we should just go ahead.  He agrees, but there is one really huge problem.  No BALLS!!  A feeble attempt is made to scour an area of the rough for balls, but we come up empty.

Damn.  Let’s get gas and just see if the station might have some golf balls.  They don’t.  But there is an Icewear store next door (they sell Icelandic clothing and gifts).  Sure enough the do have “commemorative golf balls! However they are $8 EACH (!) and even I can’t do that one.  Oh well, good try.  We move on.

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Church in Vik

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One of our actual planned stops for the day is Reynisfara Black Sand Beach.  It is just outside of Vik. This place is highly touristed and for good reason.

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The basalt sea stacks that rise out of the sea are called Reynisdrangar. “Legend says that the stacks originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight broke they became needles of rock.”

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The waves are super strong here and at times have proven to be deadly.  As recent as January a tourist was swept out to sea here.  NEVER turn your back on these waves!

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What an incredible spot.  This is definitely one not to be missed (well, that is true of pretty much everywhere here…).

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Happy that we are not traveling like this…

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All this photo snapping has made us hungry and I know just the spot.  I had read about a little Fish and Chips Food truck nearby.  I read it was the “best fish and chips in the world.” The truck is actually supposed to be parked near Hotel Skogar (our first hotel) and I think I saw it then, but it was closed up.  We will give it a try.

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YES!

There was only one other group of diners when we arrived.  We have figured out that if you try to eat outside of “normal” hours you will have no problem.  It is almost 2:00 – perfect lunch time.  Order up.  The choice here is “fish and chips” or “fish and chips.”  Two, please.

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Yep. Super delicious. Fresh, hot and crispy. We devour.

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Different kinds of Sea Salt for seasoning (the Thyme is my favorite). Also served with a sweet/hot chili sauce that is killer.

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Two thumbs up!

Are you concerned about the prices here?  We were at first, but now we are not.  After the initial sticker shock we have decided NOT to do the currency conversion or even look at prices.  It is best if you just don’t know. Vacation $ is different, right? Good thing we are only here for a few days.

Now that we are refreshed and fed it is time for a little adventure hike.  I have a special place scoped out and am curious to see what it is all about. We head to find Seljavallalaug – a hidden pool deep in the mountains.

“Seljavallalaug is a protected 25-metre outdoor pool in southern Iceland. The pool is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland and was built in 1923.[1]

Seljavallalaug is located not far from Seljavellir. The construction was headed by Bjorn Andrésson Berjaneskoti, who received the Ungmennafélagið Eyfelling for the work. Courses in the pool were initiated as part of compulsory education in 1927. The pool is 25 metres long and 10 metres wide and was the largest pool in Iceland until 1936.[1]

In 1990, a new pool about 2 km closer to the valley was built, but people can still go swimming in the old pool free of charge, but at their own risk. The pool is cleaned once every summer. Prior to that, it is often covered with thick ice, requiring care.”

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In my Iceland research I came across Seljavallalaug and knew that we would want to try and find it.  It is a “hidden” swimming pool – one of the oldest built in Iceland (1925).  It is no longer maintained by the country, but by the folks who visit it.  Could be worth a hike in. Neither the road nor the path in are marked, but we followed our noses and the few other lucky souls who are seeking out this magic.

We have to cross a river a couple of times and it gets a little “hairy.” Wonder if it will be worth it or if this is a boondoggle?

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Sure enough we finally see a small building (changing rooms) attached to a concrete pool. There are a few folks enjoying the warm, thermal water and a few folks changing back into clothes (they look cold). I had packed in our swimsuits, but really didn’t know if we would actually get in the water. What the heck? We made it all the way here – might as well go for it.

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The water feels amazing (the bottom does not – it is algae-covered and kind of slimy). We are giddy just thinking about where we are and what we are doing. At one end there is a pipe where the water streams in – it is very HOT.

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Look at the guys bundled up in the background!

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We are maneuvering carefully with our cell phone camera trying to keep it safe and dry.  Wonder how many cell phones have been dropped too the bottom here?

There is also a tiny stream of a waterfall coming down the mountain that is especially nice and warm.

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tiny warm waterfall

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Now comes the hard part – getting out. Being the MP that I am, I have packed in beach towels all the way from home just for this moment. I questioned that move several times along this trip, but now I am so happy that I lugged them all the way here. I consider it an “Advanced” Master Planner move… Rich says we could have sold those towels for at least $50 each right here!

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Time to head for our digs for the night. We will be staying further up north at Mengi Kjarnholt – a small guesthouse that I found online. It got fantastic reviews and I am eager to check it out. The guesthouse way off the main drag down a gravel road and feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. We haven’t made dinner plans, but had figured we would find something “in town.” Hmmm – what town? We will have to play this one by ear.

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Mengi Kjarnholt – our home for the next 2 nights

We pull up to find that our place has horses!

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Jon (the owner from Sweden) comes out to greet us with a huge smile. He is very welcoming and invites us to remove our shoes and come on in. The entire place has a Swedish feel of beautiful minimalism – super clean and nice.

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Our room is on the top floor and looks out towards the Geysir Hot Spring area where we can see the eruption of Strokkur every 10 minutes through our window. There are shared bathrooms (yes, I was a bit concerned about that when I booked) that are squeaky clean (no more worries and I get used to it very quickly).

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Jon meets us again downstairs and shows us that there is a “bar/lounge” in the stables! Just take what you want and write it down. He also asks us if we want to have dinner at the guesthouse. He will be serving Lamb Stew from his grandfather’s recipe. YES!

We settle in at the bar with a couple of local beers and wonder exactly where we are.

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Just so you know, you absolutely can NOT worry about your hair when you are in Iceland.

The sound of the horses running around outside encourages us to go take a look. They are very high-spirited and are chasing and teasing each other. Jon tells us later that 3 new horses have been introduced just yesterday and they are all scrambling to establish dominance.

When I go to the fence, I am so excited to see that they come to greet me.

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Time for dinner and we are starving. There are already 3 guests from Denmark and Norway at the table. Their English is great and we enjoy mixing it up with them.

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The Lamb Stew is amazing – off the charts. So happy we did not go into town for dinner. A Swedish family with 2 boys joins the group. The boys are so well-traveled and delightful. We compliment them on their English ask the if they speak English or Swedish at home. Neither. They speak Serbo-Croatian at home! That is where Dad is from. They also both speak Spanish. It was truly a pleasure chatting with the boys (and the parents). What a fantastic family!

We will be staying here for two nights.  Feels good to actually have a home base for a couple of days.  We can “explode” our belongings and stretch out.

Time to call it a night. We have big plans for tomorrow that I have only just told Rich tonight. You, dear readers, will have to wait to find out!

 

 

 

 

 





Touring Southern Iceland

17 06 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017

We arise early this morning in order to take a hike to “our” waterfall without any crowds.  The sun is out (of course it has been out all night…) and so far we are dry.

20170617_073034Hooks in the rooms where you hang all your wet gear – I fear this will be a trend.We strike out from Hotel Skogar for the 10 minute walk to the falls.

There is a really nice campsite at the base and quite a few tents are set up.  Janel and Isam are considering an Iceland camping trip so we are taking notes.  Looks like it could be fun, but I will take a warm, dry bed and a clean bathroom thank you very much.

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Skogafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland with a drop of 60 meters and a width of 25 meters.  There is a set of 527 steps straight up to reach the top.

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We check it out from down below and the start to make the ascent.

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Long way up – look how small the people on the ground look!

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Made it!

This is quite the morning workout and we are richly rewarded for our efforts especially to be up here alone.

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The hike continues farther beyond, but we don’t carry on too much farther (breakfast and the road are waiting). Oh – and it begins to pelt us with rain…

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This hike continues along the river – I don’t know how far you can go, but it looks amazing.

Breakfast back at Hotel Skogar is nice enough.  I even try the pickled Herring.  It is pretty good, but too sweet. We stock up for the day ahead.

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Packing up is quickly accomplished (even I have become good at not “exploding” my articles in a one-night hotel room) and we hit up my trusty iPhone for Google Maps.

BIG road trip today.  We don’t really have that many miles in total (225km or 140miles), but there is so much to see along our route.

Our end point for sightseeing is supposed to be Jokularson Glacier Lagoon, but there are several stops between here and there that are not to be missed.  The plan is to make all those “extra” stops on the way back so as not to deter us from our end game.  However, we quickly learn to go with the weather.  When the sun is shining you should take full advantage.

 

Hotel Skogar, Skógarfoss to Hótel Laki Efri, Kirkjubæjarklaustur - Google Maps-edited

 

The sun is definitely out this morning and things are looking pretty clear.  We make the wise decision to stop at Dyrholaey Lighthouse first. At Dyrholaey we might have an opportunity to see Puffins!  Evidently in the spring and summer Iceland is home to 60% of the world’s population of Atlantic Puffins.  (The following photo is not ours – I wish it were):

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Just the drive to the tip of the peninsula is stunning.

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We smartly grab our binocs and start Puffin hunting.  There are literally hundreds and hundreds of birds nesting all over.  The Arctic Terns are especially bold and swoop to “attack” when trying to protect their nests.  It is an awesome scene.

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Just when I am figuring that the Puffins aren’t out to play I spot one on a huge rock outcropping out in the sea.  No attempt is made to get a photo – they are too far away.  We can see 2 Puffins clearly through the binocs.  Yay!

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This is as close as I will get to a Puffin:

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I do some clowning around for Levi (my trainer in AZ).  YES – it is cold!

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We take more selfies than normal for us, but seriously – you can’t help it!

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Back on the road. At one point we see a pull-off and a little sign with some very strange rock formations.  Of couse, a stop is made.

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What the …?

Fortunately, there is a sign that explains the cool rock piles.

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Two more rocks added to the piles:

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As we motor on, the scenery becomes even more strange and beautiful.  We stop at an area with miles of moss-covered rocks.

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As the road continues there are huge cliffs rising from one side of the road and then we begin to see waterfall after waterfall.  Seriously.  Who knew?  I finally realize that we are on one side of the Vatnajokull Glacier – “Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe covering 8% of the island of Iceland. Vatnajökull National Park – which encompasses the earlier national parks of Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur – is the largest protected area in Europe and believed by many to be the most beautiful place on earth.”

Here you can see it from space:

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I have been trying and trying to get a good photo of the beautiful Icelandic horses, but so far I have come up empty.  Hopefully there will be another opportunity. But the waterfalls are cool…

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When hunger strikes we are seriously in the middle of nowhere.  Finally a place that appears like it is a last resort crops up.  We have no choice. I can’t even describe how unassuming this little building/restaurant/store is.  I also can’t describe how delicious their Icelandic specialty  of Lamb Stew is!

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This is especially true when accompanied by two Vatnajokull (remember the name of the glacier?) beers! This brew is made with glacier ice and local thyme!!

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Little gem of a spot – off the tourist beat!

As we drive onward  we can definitely see snow-capped peaks and can also glimpse the huge glacier between the cliffs.  I am anticipating what we might see at the Jokularson Glacier Lagoon.  I have seen a few photos online and know that there may be some ice pieces strewn along the black sand beach.  There is a little concern that since it is technically summer, we won’t have much to see.  I hope we haven’t driven all the way out here for a dud.

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As we round one corner close to the lagoon, my heart literally stops. I can’t believe what we are seeing.

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 “Jökulsárlón literally “glacial river lagoon”) is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi). It recently became the deepest lake in Iceland, at over 248 metres (814 ft), as glacial retreat extended its boundaries.] It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.”

This place takes your breath away. It is a photographer’s dream.  (There have been several movies filmed here –  A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins, as well as the “reality TV” series Amazing Race.

We can’t stop clicking the camera and smiling.

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Look at the berg in the shape of a whale behind Rich!

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The berg in front center looks like a Puffin!

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We are really lucky to have hit up this spot when it is sunny and gorgeous!

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Enough pics?  Believe me, we shot tons and tons.  Finally it begins to rain again and the car sounds like a good shelter. This is what you look like when you try to dodge the weather:

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We are so happy to have dragged our rain gear to Iceland!

To get to our hotel for the night will require a bit of backtracking.  No problem, the scenery is just as fantastic in either direction.  On our way to Jokularson we had passed this strange sculpture and didn’t stop.  Now we are curious to see what it is.

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Turns out to be theremnants of the Skeiðará Bridge:

“In 1996, the volcano Vatnajökull, which sat beneath Skeiðarárjökull, erupted, melting portions of glacier and creating massive floods. While the girder bridge was built to withstand a hefty amount of flood waters, there was no preparing for the house-sized icebergs that the floods washed down the plain. A number of these glacial shards crashed into the bridge, wiping it out and creating a gap in the main ring road around Iceland.

All that remains of the original bridge today are two twisted girders by the side of the new road. They form a unique monument to the lovely but powerful beauty of Iceland’s natural landscape. “

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Another lame attempt to photo my horses:

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We also stopped by a place we passed earlier that was a particularly “gurgling”area of water that we had affectionately named the “Bubbling Crude.”

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“Bubbling Crude”

Our hotel for the night will be Hotel Laki in the little hamlet of  Kirkjubæjarklaustur (try saying that one!) We were supposed to be staying in a guesthouse, but the proprietor texted me a few days ago and told me he switched us to the hotel due to some construction at his place.  We are disappointed, but hoping for the best.

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Hotel Laki

As we get closer we notice what we think might be a tour bus and people gathered around.  This garners the infamous comment from Rich: “If this place is filled with those hard-drinkin’ Hüsker Düs, then I am outta there!” (some may remember the Danish board game – Hüsker Dü – from childhood).

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Hotel Laki turns out to be a great choice. We hit up the lounge for a beer and then dinner in the restaurant.  We weren’t expecting much, but our huge home made burgers were fabulous!

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This has been an absolutely magical day in Southern Iceland.  We can’t even begin to believe all we have seen today.  The hotel is thankfully quiet as we reflect on today and dream of what we might see and do tomorrow.

 





An Icy Reality

16 06 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

A painfully early morning in Barcelona – we rise at 4:15 to catch a taxi to the airport.  I had been a bit concerned about dragging our luggage through the morning streets trying in desperation to hail a cabbie.  However, all we had to do was step out, turn onto one of the main streets by the apartment and a taxi came flying by.  It is worth noting that this driver drove like he was in Grand Theft Auto video game.  Kinda scary but at least there was no traffic on the road.

Easy check in and quick 2 hour flight to Heathrow.  We had a long enough connection to visit the lounge, get a bite and relax before our 3 hour journey to Iceland.  The Icelandair flight was surprisingly full.  Icelandair has been smartly running a promotion where you can fly from the US to many spots in Europe and take a 7-day or less stopover in Iceland for no more $.  A ton of folks have been taking advantage of this great perk.

Kudos also to Icelandair for noting upon check-in that Rich was tall.  The agent immediately offered us Exit Row seating.  Thank you!  The flight attendants are throw-backs to the 60’s with their suited uniforms and pillbox hats.  Very cute.  Nice service, too.

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Brrr. We are not in Kansas anymore!

Our car is picked up from Blue Car rentals (super friendly and easy).  For the first time ever we agree to the extra insurance.  They already supply most insurance, but offer a special “Sand and Ash” insurance if you are traveling South (we are).  I read a lot online about how huge winds can blow around the sand and basically sandblast your rental car.  Many tourists have been surprised with a $$$$ damage bill at the end of their trip.  Seems prudent. (We learned on the flight that Iceland is the 3rd windiest place on earth – who knows where are the other 2?)

Today we will be heading for the Southern Coast of Iceland on the “Ring Road” – hwy 1.  Very easy – you can’t get lost. The scenery leaving the airport is not really very pretty and I am already wondering why we thought it would be beautiful here. Hope it gets better. It is rainy and foggy and you can’t see anything anyway.

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Great. Six days of this?

In my reasearch of Iceland I did hear that if you don’t like the weather, just wait 20 minutes.  It is true.  We go from rain to fog to sunshine.  The farther we get away from Reykjavik the more the scenery improves.  Click HERE for our route.

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Gorgeous purple Lupines EVERYWHERE

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The first actual destination on our journey is Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.  It is raining when we arrive but we are not deterred.

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At this waterfall you can actually walk behind the falls – cool!

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It really isn’t as cold as it looks – probably about 40-50F, but the wet conditions make it feel colder.

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We can’t really believe where we are – it is stunningly beautiful.

Our destination for the evening is Hotel Skogar in Skogafoss (“foss” means waterfall).  It is located right by another fabulous waterfall (Skogafoss) and was chosen for that reason.  We plan to hike to the falls tomorrow morning.

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As soon as I step out of the car I realize I need to “suit up.” Thank Heaven for rain gear!

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As with most hotels in Iceland, the rooms are small and simple.  Hotels/guesthouses are not extremely plentiful here.  Tourism is just starting to boom.  I am so happy that I made our arrangements months ago.  Most places are completely filled up.  Also the rooms can be very expensive.  However, it is nice and clean and the bed is comfy.

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It is already getting late – around 8:00pm.  Even though the sun sets around midnight (and rises at 3:00am!) restaurants close relatively early.  We decide to view the falls the neighbor hotel Bistro Bar at dinner.

 

After a quick dry change we walk back over to the Bistro Bar at Hotel Skogafoss. (I am starting to wonder if we will be constantly changing in and out of wet/dry clothes and shoes here?)

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A table looking at the waterfall and couple of $15 beers later along with lamb shanks makes us happy, happy. You can see Skogafoss in the background.

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We have come a long way today and we are both wondering what is in store for us in this beautiful and strange place.

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Update

15 06 2017

Saturday – June 17, 2017

This is a post just thrown in here to let you know that we did, indeed make it all the way to Iceland.  We have been slammed into the cold, rainy weather and it is quite a shock after warm, sunny Croatia and Barcelona. Please scroll back to finish our days in Barcelona.  I promise we will post more from Iceland soon!

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