Woke up amazed to find myself in the dreamland of Iceland, excited to start the day. Kris was acting grumpy-pantsed, unclear why…
We had a chance to catch breakfast from our host Snæbjörn in the flesh. I found our host accommodating but ambivalent about his home. He seemed not to like his area, but maybe because his girlfriend was in Bristol, and he’d been woken at 2AM by a drunk neighbor-friend last night. When asked if Icelanders liked to party (I’d heard they had a reputation for it), he retorted no, and that visitors seemed much more prone to drinking extra. Breakfast was toast, jams, salami, cheese, nutella, butter, coffee, and home-cooked heart-shaped waffles. We sat across from some young honeymooners from Korea. The wife was so delighted when I took a photo for the two of them, lol. Later we were also offered some caviar out of a metal tube like toothpaste. Fancy.
I’d heard of a neighborhood thermal pool in the hills nearby and we headed over. Grumpy K was not happy with the pot-holed dirt road, lest we get stuck – and even less impressed with the van of visitors when it pulled in next to us.
I tried to make the most of his mood and soldier on through overcast skies toward unknown horizons. We arrived at Seljavallalaug, loping ahead to beat the van –a photography tourism group– to find two guys in a long rectangular pool, wearing winter hats. The free pool’s changing rooms were GROSS, with discarded swimsuits and less savory sundries, empty beer cans and other refuse strewn about. I gamely changed, got in, and located the one corner with modest warmth.
The tourist group did not join us, but stood snapping photos all around. It was scenic, and a unique feeling – that uncertainty of whether you’re the unwitting subject of a photo, or the disruptive element in careful landscape framing. It was cold enough neither of us bothered with the effort of a selfie in the water. I imagined this pool might be fun in the height of Summer. It was originally built for the locals to have a place to learn to swim (um, in the…40’s?) Loping back the one mile “hike” of our misadventure, we swapped moods.
The weather turned from overcast to drizzle. We drove through what felt like a scenic car commercial, of gentle, swooping roads until they curved to Reynisfjara, famed black sand beaches of basalt columns.
This is the first installment of my #100DaysofAllThingsWater per Day 1/100 of the the #100DayProject kickoff. I’ve got some ideas jotted down, but am working first on the long-procrastinated scribing of my backlogged travel adventures from Iceland. Water-related, per the name, and the landscape. I’m setting a minimum of 5 minutes a day to work on this and post something related on Instagram. Follow me there to get more! fresh! content!
Sunday Morning. We arrived bright-eyed but sleep-starved, at 6:30 AM on a Sunday. The forecast had been for overcast sky and drizzly rain all week, which wasn’t a step down from Autumn in Seattle. I had red that it was a strange land, but being there was still a whole other reality. The sky lightened and the sun rose, but through some cosmic joke, that white orb stayed floating across the sky around 45 degrees, as though uncertain we were worthy of more. Then, gradually, she would sink back down around six. At least for now, it was dry, and not too blustery. We count ourselves lucky for what sun there was.
After a stroll outside to a lengthy line of uncertain-looking new arrivals, we beat the twenty-odd other travellers to the desk at Gold Car/Blue. The two employees at the desk seemed conspicuously lacking in that friendly, reflexive smile often associated with customer service, until I remembered we were not in the U.S. They apologized repeatedly for the wait and explained and re-explained to each new customer in soft, stoic, tones.
The driver orientation was both alarming and fascinating. I felt smug that we had reserved an all-wheel-drive vehicle, daunted by the various sheep and one-lane-related signs, yet adventurous enough to add myself to the driver’s list. The offers of rock chip coverage and warnings not to off-road were plenty. After more waiting, we were off and cruising out of Keflavik, stopping for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, and on the road out of town toward Thingvellir.
1] Iceland logistip: we’d been warned car rental in Iceland would be a substantial part of budget, renting a All-Wheel-Drive/4WD with a local car rental agency was definitely cheaper than it would have been. As of 2017, it was $79,185 Krona, a little under $800 USD. We had a good discount via large corporate employer affiliation [$145], so estimate just under $1k for budget of 8 days.
Reykjavik Roasters was in the university area of town. Early on a Sunday, it had a hushed but not unfriendly atmosphere tinged with a hipster coffee shop vibe familiar to Seattlites. My oat pudding breakfast even had chia seeds served in a mason jar.
As we drove out of town, I was at first struck by the prevalence of blocky buildings.
I felt a vague awareness I was supposed to find them ugly, surprised instead to find a quiet calm in the uniformity of seeing so many blocky buildings set side by side. Perhaps they were built by a somewhat boring but practical people.
The sky continued to lighten, and we sped out of the city. Multi-lane roads narrowed to two, to one. The horizon expanded to vast sweeping vistas of moss-carpeted rocks, wandering rivers, distant mountains. The disorientation of travel lasted much longer this time. Was it the sun? Was it the rare cell service accompanied with my phone showing full bars? Was it the surprisingly unsuccessful pre-download of offline maps? Was it my Icelandic illiteracy blurring and mingling any place names longer than four syllables (i.e. almost all of them) as they whizzed past on the sweepingly dramatic, distractingly breathtaking vistas?
Was it the sleep deprivation?
Yes. All of it.
This disorientation seeded our discontent. One felt an urgency to see natural sights lit by day. The other, the navigator, directed the rental car in what turned out to be circles, still grappling to get her bearings.
Where was Þhingvellir (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’), o famous of 1,000-year democratic gatherings of Vikings?
At the second information center, we finally acquired a physical map, and were helpfully informed we had found Þhingvellir –it was all around us. We had been driving and standing in it.
Seen at Þhingvellir:
Lögberg (law rock): on which laws in Iceland were proclaimed annually, 1,000 years ago.
Scuba divers, hopping into water between the two..
Continental_plates! Slowly separating North America and Europe, 1-1.8 millimeters per year, and..
Nothing like geologic time to make you feel a serene and measured pace, and perhaps some great feeling of insignificance and obscurity, calming?
Seen on the Ring Road:
Bruarfoss: an off-road stroll to a charming falls.
Geysir: the one all the other ones in the world are named for.
Break for: a practical and warming soup, plus side dish of sticker shock from high food prices.
Gulfoss: big, mighty, famous, full of other people looking, history of first Icelandic environmentalist act.
Skipped: hothouse tomatoes due to chasing sunset.
Sheep crossing(!) near Eyjafajajo…j…
When we arrived at the first AirBnB on a horse farm, it was like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast (especially the early black and white French version), we drove up and walked through the front door, hosts unseen but everything arranged. Our fellow travellers were two sets of honeymooners. A good dinner was had, with extra flavor from hunger. We cooked a simple spaghetti meal with ground meat and pasta sauce straight from the jar, compliments of Chef Jonson.
I took some time late in the evening to orient myself better with our itinerary sketch, downloaded the Kindle version of Lonely Planet Iceland, and re-adjusted to new plans to dayhike the next day, the better to leverage the sunshine. (Surprise: K thought we were staying in Reyki’ the first night!)
Then the aurora-crazy kicked in
I took a look outside and saw nothing, looking Northeast of the horse farm toward Eyjafjallajökull (a glacier).
Parents called from Central Standard Time, U.S. at 1:30AM:
Baba (my father): “What?! You were in an ACCIDENT?!”
Me: “no, I’m in ICE-LAND.”
Baba: “AN ACCIDENT!!?”
Me: “No, Ice land, the country. It’s 1:30AM here. Happy birthday to Mama.”
Baba:” oh, OH! ICE-LAND! Okay, go to sleep, call us when you’re back.”
Me: “Okay.” <click>
I was up anyway, so checked the MyAurora app  for likelihood and went outside. It was there, but faint enough in a dull fog-white way that I doubted. Woke a bleary Kris, who tried taking photos – which confirmed by coming out green. Finally! 💗 Zzz.
Back to those blocky buildings…
It was here, as I fell asleep gazing out the large picture window from a bedroom, that I realized, who needs fancy architecture when nature provides such scenes beyond compare?
 Guidebook map was not detailed enough for driving purposes, a road map was much better.
 Data citation: Lonely Planet Iceland (I recommend the hard copy of a guidebook vs kindle version I got. Too hard to flip through and mark things, but it might just have been certain luddite habits and spotty wifi).
Iceland standard tip: food and drink are expensive.
 Check out the MyAurora App to save on shivering unnecessarily outside at all hours of the night, peering at the sky! I still have it on my phone now. You know, for Aurora Borealis Emergencies..