Thursday, June 30, 2022

ICELAND Days 6 and 7: Horse Fail, Whale Win, Waterfalls Forever

The travelblogging continues, faithfully and laughingly retailing every high and low of our adventure...

Day 6: Northern Iceland

Ah Day 6, the day we were reminded that Iceland in summer is still ICEland. After making breakfast and packing lunches (and everything else) in our beautiful Akureyri cottage, we headed even further north to Húsavík, whale capital of Iceland! The weather was clear in Akureyri, but the further north we got, the darker and rainier it became.

Undeterred, we pulled up to the lovely Saltvík Farm for our “Seaside Horseback Riding Tour” offering “an excellent ride along the coastline near Húsavík with a fantastic view over the bay of Skjálfandi.”

Except no. It was *freezing,* super windy, cloudy, and alternating between heavy rain and light snow. Eternally optimistic travelers, we put on all our jackets and walked into the stables where we were greeted by the equally optimistic Icelanders who never doubted the tour would proceed.

Our stalwart Icelandic horses were duly saddled and we mounted up and headed out.
And… it was even worse than expected. Claire’s horse immediately took 3 quick steps off trail to bite a flower and Claire let out a blood curdling scream and started sobbing, genuinely certain she was going to be bucked and trampled by this placid horse who only wanted a pre-ride snack.

Perhaps not a confident horsewoman

Back to the barn we went, so Claire could now be led by hand by our sweet guide who walked the whole route beside her.
And so we rode, heads bent and resigned, through the pastures and along the ocean in pelting rain and high winds.
I have skied in -20 degree weather and I have NEVER been as cold as I was on that black sand beach that day.
Cora, who was a pro at handling her own horse, started crying at the very end when she couldn’t feel her hands or feet and I was like, girl, same. Landon didn’t change his neutral (frozen?) facial expression for the whole two hours and 20 minutes after we finally returned to the barn, he moved his mouth enough to say, very clearly, “I did not enjoy one minute of that.”

Steadfast resignation.

Not every plan works out. But the guides were lovely, the horses were willing, and I'm sure the views are beautiful when you can actually see them!

So fun. Please ignore the full body shivers I'm experiencing. I'm just having so much fun.

Luckily next on our list was the gorgeous Geosea Geothermal Sea Baths!


Super hot water (preceded by a super hot shower), spectacular ocean views, a swim up bar, and the rare opportunity to wear a wool hat while swimming.
It was the perfect follow-up to our near frostbite and the sparkling rosé didn’t hurt.
James attempted a swim practice and the kids playe game.
And we all just really enjoyed the novelty of swimming in freezing temps, intermittent rain, high winds, the occasional bit of snow, and the North Atlantic Ocean spread out before us. What we could see of it anyway. Thank you volcanoes!
Next up was supposed to be a whale watching boat tour, which seemed like an increasingly terrible idea not even we could muster up enthusiasm for, and frankly I was thrilled to get a call from the boating company while still soaking in the geothermal bath that the captain felt the high winds were a capsizing risk so they recommended we cancel. "YES!" I practically yelled in agreement, and we quickly scheduled a tour for the next morning that we would be happy to backtrack our road trip for.

Now that we were going to head back to Húsavík in the morning, we added a few stops in the Lake Myvatn area near our hotel that we were originally going to do the next day. First up was a stop at the Námafjall Geothermal Area, under the Namafjall mountain that belongs in the Krafla volcano fissure zone, where sometimes the ground just smokes. This is totally normal.
As are the bubbling acidic mud pits and rotten egg sulphur water that comes boiling to the surface at nearly 400*F.
James ventured further into the rotten egg mists than we could manage, but not even he lasted long.
Next we explored Dimmuborgir, a large lava field full of caves and crazy formations from a volcanic eruption a couple thousand years ago. As Landon noted, it's just like Utah, if all the Utah rocks were black and spiky.
Basically everything you see here is because of a nearby volcano.
We checked into our hotel by the lake and of course the weather cleared up completely just as we were done for the day. The view off the sod roof of the hotel was just gorgeous.
We had our best meal yet at Vogafjós Farm Resort further up the lake, even if it was mildly disturbing to eat beef while cows watched you through the windows. But everything was so incredibly fresh and delicious, I'd have everything we ordered again if I could.
Once back home, we tried to go to bed early (and largely failed, it's so weird when it's broad daylight) so we could head back to Húsavík to try again with the whales in the morning!
Day 7: North to East

On Day 7 we woke up at 6:30 am (which is 1:30 am US central time, which I am still inexplicably somewhat on) to drive back north to Húsavík for our redo with the whale tour.
We got to see the snow capped mountain range we were supposed to have seen from our horseback ride, but never did.
And, as a reward for the backtracking due to the terrible weather the day before, ALL the whales came out to greet us.
We saw at least a dozen majestic humpback whales, smaller juveniles and giant adults, feeding and flipping their tales, some coming so close they touched the boat.
It was extraordinary.
What huge, beautiful creatures they are. We also saw white beaked dolphins, a pair of Humpback whales fishing together, and puffins(!), which are exactly as adorable as promised.
It was cold and it absolutely rained on us, but it was all worth it, and the hot chocolate and cinnamon buns didn’t hurt.
(Funny story: the overalls made everyone look the same and I kept "losing" Landon because I didn't recognize the adult form in front of me as my baby Landon. I called out his name from directly beside him multiple times.)
After the cruise we had a great lunch in Húsavík and continued our drive east, with a stop at the east banks of three waterfalls. At Hafragilsfoss we had a fjord, a waterfall, and an old married couple in the picture.
The weather was clear at Hafragilsfoss, but the fog was definitely descending as we approached the thundering Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
The boys tapped out, but the girls and I continued on the 1 mile hike through a rainstorm to get to the beautiful Selfoss.
Who run the world?
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving east across Iceland in crazy fog to our 3-bedrooms apartment in Neskaupstaður for the night.
An apartment that should have spectacular mountain and fjord views but instead just has fog and rain. Every Icelander has commented on how unusual it is for it to rain this continually but 🤷‍♀️, at least we all have rain jackets.
We ate dinner at a cute pizza place down the street and hoped the rain would lift at least a little in the morning for the lovely view we were supposed to have from our apartment windows and balcony and for our drive down the eastern fjords in the morning. The adventures continue!

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

ICELAND Days 4-5: Trolls, Akureyri, and Summer Swimming

We are in Day 8, hanging out in our hotel, the Brunnholl Guesthouse, where we can allegedly see a glacier from our window, but the fog is so thick, a pod of dinosaurs could be over there and we wouldn't know. So I'm taking a few minutes to blog- back to days 4 and 5 we go!
Day 4: Tröllaskagi Peninsula to Akureyri

Today we woke up late in our beautiful seaside cottage in Bjarg, ate a tasty breakfast, and then collected our children from the bouncy ground balloon a few yards away. Today was a big drive day- heading north and starting to cut west to Akureyri via the Tröllaskagi peninsula. But first, a stop at Hvítserkur Sea Stack, aka The Troll of Northwest Iceland!
There’s a viewpoint, but obviously we took the hike down, along a waterfall (also "of course," there’s a waterfall every 3 feet in Iceland, it’s ridiculous), to the rocky black sand beach below.
The kids explored the beach, uncovering beached jellyfish, pretty rocks, and the occasional broken shell.
Once we were ready to hike back up, we decided to try a different path, missed the path, and were taught the error of our ways by some VERY angry nesting birds.
Luckily, in running away from them, we found the path back up!
As we neared the top, a baby sheep came by to bless our journey and we knew we were on the right path.
Iceland, like hiking and driving your way through a video game.

From there we began traversing the coastline of the Tröllaskagi peninsula. Wide ocean expanses, tall snow covered mountains, long rolling hills, high roaring waterfalls, often all in one view.
The single-lane many-mile-long tunnels were quite an experience we never need to repeat, as were the narrow lanes hugging cliffs down to the sea below.
But we loved Hofsós, a 16th century trading post and historic fishing village on the northern coast, with its waterfall (OF COURSE), expansive sea views, and big lava rocks to climb.
We ate lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant with another trampoline at a park around the corner.
Eventually we made it to Akureyri and the stunning cottage that is our home for two nights.
Three bedrooms (though of course the kids are all piled together into one), 2 bathrooms, large kitchen, hot tub with a view, and most elusive- a washer and dryer!
We ate dinner at Strikið in downtown Akureyri and it was our best meal so far on the trip. Grocery shopping afterward was an adventure; with everything in Icelandic, we would find out later if we'd bought what we thought we did. The kids thought a jacuzzi with a view before bed sounded just right and then we tried to make ourselves believe it was bedtime in broad daylight around midnight.
At 1:40 am the sun was still shining, what a crazy wonderful place this is.
Day 5: Akureyri!

A full day in Akureyri and our wonderful cottage.
We enjoyed a lazy morning, made breakfast (Landon declared the Icelandic waffles the best he’s ever had), and decided to act like locals and head to the nearby public pool.
Public pools here are *amazing*. (As are the traffic lights, which have red hearts when you stop.)
Every town has a public pool, and they all have lap swimming, multiple water-park-level slides, multiple geothermal heated hot tubs at varying temps, cold plunge pools, saunas, water playgrounds, and more. Children learn to swim as a class in school and Icelanders swim nearly every day year-round. You have to shower down (naked, communally; the girls were scandalized) before and after, the locker rooms were *spotless* and completely dry, and it was the best way to spend 2 hours and a grand total of $20.
The slides were amazing- a heated glass column surrounded the spiral stairs up, lights followed you all the way down, and one ended in a giant funnel that whipped you around until it spit you out in the heated pool below. We had just the best time.
We stopped at a bakery on the way home and ordered almost everything (the big fluffy chewy pretezels were the best) and then made lunch in our cottage kitchen before heading back out.
This time to visit the Goðafoss waterfall!
The drive was beautiful, as they all are, and after seeing approximately 1,000 waterfalls already on this trip, this one was definitely special. Goðafoss is big and loud and gorgeous.
We all climbed down and around it (obviously) and lost Landon for a bit when he decided to climb an old bridge pillar.
We spent the late afternoon exploring downtown Akureyri, eating “the best ice cream ever” while James stopped at a lasagna stand for his afternoon snack, and then made a delicious spaghetti dinner in our own cozy cottage kitchen.
After dinner the kids tried to hike into the cloud behind our cottage and were disappointed to discover that being in a cloud is really just being in fog. You can't even see Landon behind them.
Our next day was full of excursions (or was supposed to be, stay tuned), so we were grateful for a lazy local day in the middle of our big road trip!
(Eating ice cream cones in hats and gloves while pedaling in a circle, as you do. If there is a park, we will find it, and we will play on it. Thankfully Iceland is FULL of them.)