Iceland- what we did when we weren’t in Reykjavik

This must be the uncool part of the Blue Lagoon.

This must be the uncool part of the Blue Lagoon.

The morning after Withered Hand and Thorir Georg, I woke up feeling rough, having had a bit too much cheer the night before, but we were on the road to the Blue Lagoon just after 10. We arrived by 11, and it was clear even from the parking lot that this is a tourist trap.

Pictures of the Blue Lagoon are clearly all taken facing away from the sauna, café, restaurant, and gift shop. It’s like a mall that happens to have a lake outside. Entry is about £30 if you need a towel. There are many other extras, such as a robe and slippers, but we weren’t interested. We put the mud on our faces and relaxed in the hot water, but, really, it’s just wastewater from a power plant, and there are hot spring pools all over the country.

Me, in the most exclusive wastewater pool in the world.

Me, in the most exclusive wastewater pool in the world.

We paid an extortionate amount for a mediocre cup of coffee before driving into Grindovík, so Craig could watch a soccer match. At 6˚ C, it was too cold for me, so I hung out at a pizzeria. Once again, I didn’t hear any Icelandic. Everywhere we went, we heard lots of English and German, but very little/ no Icelandic. Next time, we’ll have to find out where the locals go.

Even the locals needed to warm up at half time.

Even the locals needed to warm up at half time.

After the game, it was finally time for some hiking. We (Craig) had found an 11-mile trail starting in Grindovík in our (Craig’s) pre-travel research. Unfortunately, we had the little problem of getting back to the car, so we just walked two hours out, and turned around.

The directions to spot the beginning of the hike weren’t clearly written, but we saw a marker and followed it to a good place to park. All along the way, the markers were closely spaced and often next to cairns, so they couldn’t be missed. My kind of hike. The walk was flat (another plus for me), but there were hills all around.

Craig and three cairns. Even we couldn't get lost with markers that close together.

Craig and three cairns. Even we couldn’t get lost with markers that close together.

The ground was moss-covered lava and was either extremely spongy or sharp and crunchy, with very little in between. It really does look similar to the moors, but even more otherworldly, because of the texture and complete blackness of the ground. Despite the flatness, it was hard on my knees because the crunchy areas were basically loose gravel. The “gravel” was just lava instead of another kind of rock.

Sunday morning, we were on our way north to Grundarfjörður by 8AM, so Craig could watch a 4th division game. The scenery was beautiful: mountains, craggy fields of moss-covered lava, lots of horses, some sheep, flocks of seagulls, and a lone puffin walking down the street. That was the only puffin spotted the entire week, and I missed it, because I was looking at a (completely run-of-the-mill) house.

How can they watch the ball with scenery like that?

How can they watch the ball with scenery like that?

The 2.5-hour drive followed the coast, but we only saw a few towns. Two-thirds of Icelanders live in Rekjavik, so the rest of the country is isolated and sparsely populated. Grundarfjörður is a whale-watching destination, but we could only find one place serving lunch on a Sunday in the high season. We paid over 5000 KR for a light lunch, further reinforcing my belief that only tourists go to restaurants. Again, the only other language I heard was German.

Monday was a busy day, so we had another early start. We drove to Kerið, a small crater lake, then to Geysir, followed by Gullfoss, before finally arriving at our second apartment, in Laugarvatn, a small town which seems to exist because of its location in the Golden Circle.

Kerid Crater. I think it was formed by a penny dropped from a helicopter.

Kerid Crater. I think it was formed by a penny dropped from a helicopter.

Kerið was indeed quite small. We (and everyone else we saw) had a quick look and were off again in about five minutes. If it weren’t right on the way to Geysir, it wouldn’t be worth seeking out. Even being on the same road, it’s just a good chance for a quick stretch of the legs before continuing on.

Geysir is actually two geysers: one big but irregular one, and one smaller one which spouts at 8-10 minute intervals. We arrived just at the tail end of an eruption from the smaller one, so we watched the water bubble for 5-6 minutes before the next one.

If you spray yourself with water as you pan from left to right, you can feel like you were there.

If you spray yourself with water as you pan from left to right, you can feel like you were there.

It sprays water about 20-30 feet high, then the water is sucked down before a second blast. We thought that was a pretty good show, so we decided not to stand around in the cold hoping the big one happened to erupt while we were there. Last on the agenda for the day, Gullfoss is the biggest waterfall in Iceland. It’s not very high, but it has a lot of water and flows through a deep crevice. Live’s video, Heaven, was shot there.

Interesting factoid: the Hvítá River, which Gullfoss is part of, was once privately owned. There is a memorial at the falls of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the former owner’s daughter, because, legend has it that she threatened to throw herself into the falls if plans to build a hydro station went through.

It's really much better in real life.

It’s really much better in real life.

No one was threatening suicide while we were there. The entire day was sunny, but with freezing gale-force winds, which made standing around being sprayed with water pretty unpleasant. In warmer weather, we probably would have stayed a bit longer at each site. As it was, we had a quick look, took some photos, and headed for cover.

On Tuesday morning, Craig was finally able to sleep in. The places we stayed weren’t furnished with blackout curtains, so Craig was up and moving by 4AM at the latest most days. We had a very lazy morning, and we finally got moving and started walking around Laugarvatn Lake after lunch. Within 15 minutes, the land had turned marshy. Stepping ankle-deep in icy water ended the walk for me. So, Craig went to a women’s football game in Selfoss, and I lazed around the apartment wishing we could get more than four channels on TV.

On our last full day, we headed back to Reykjavik by way of Þingvellir, the historical ancient meeting place of Icelandic chieftains. It’s a massive rift valley where tectonic plates meet. You can walk along it from the top or bottom. We chose the bottom, and walked along for about 45 minutes. The busloads of tourists all stayed topside, so we had the valley to ourselves.

At the bottom, far far from the tour buses.

At the bottom, far far from the tour buses.

In the end, the path petered out a bit and became more difficult to maneuver than I felt like dealing with, so we found a good place to scramble up, and continued following the path until it started raining. We turned back to the parking lot and went up to the top to get a good view of the waterfalls.

As hikes go, it wasn’t much, but it was a good end to our trip. We got to see a place of both historic and geologic significance and enjoy it away from all of the crowds. My only gripe is that there were so many people with tripods set up that we had a hard time getting a decent photo of our own. So, here’s a picture of an underground house we walked past.

The house would be much harder to spot, if there weren't a flag on top of it.

The house would be much harder to spot, if there weren’t a flag on top of it.

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