Jason and Danielle Åke

Joined April 2016
  • Day16

    Wrapping Up

    October 1, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ 🌧 6 °C

    Days 16-17:

    After a hearty breakfast, in one last effort to show us her power, Iceland set us up with a nice mix of rain, snow and high winds on our way back down to Reykjavik. It's so interesting how the impressive landscapes have become so familiar to us over the past couple of weeks that the 3 hour drive was fairly uneventful. No surprising animal encounters, save for some tattered sea birds, leaving a 6 km tunnel under a fjord as the most surprising part. With nothing specific planned for the day and a beautiful corner apartment with a view of the harbor, we settled in pretty early. Under some light rain, we visited the shops around town, witnessed a blatant shoplifter, then chose a nearby fish restaurant to be our final dinner in Iceland. Baked ling, arctic char, cod, mussels, and freshly baked bread... we have no regrets on our choice. With the rain subsiding as we returned from our walk, a rainbow stretched across the entire harbor, really hammering in the bittersweet feelings of a waning vacation.

    Expectedly dragging our feet in the morning, we had a small breakfast at a strange little bistro, packed up the car that served as our Icelandic home base, and made our way to the airport. Our final half-day was uplifted a bit by finding out that our long flight for the day had been upgraded, so we knew exactly where we would go after arriving super early to the airport... the lounge. But first, we had to soak up the last bit of clean, chilly air before returning to the sweltering heat of Southern California in October... Dressed a bit like John Candy's polka band in Home Alone, we settled in to the lounge, charged our phones, ate some hors d'oeuvres (which would turn out to give Jason food poisoning), drank some drinks, and waited for our flight to board. Being an entirely daytime flight, no Northern Lights were seen, simply stunning views of the seemingly uninhabitable Greenland. At that, our little autumn vacation is over.

    **It is never an easy expectation for a group of adults who have their own lives, feelings, desires, limitations and interests to spend 24 hours a day with one another for a long period of time. There will always be ups and downs since none of us are perfect, but it needs to be stated that we are so grateful for one another. Parents and their children wouldn't drive each other crazy if there wasn't love binding them together**
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  • Day15

    Trolls, Jules Verne, and an Arctic Fox

    September 30, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    Day 15:

    Today started off as the coldest day of our trip at -3°C at about 9 in the morning. Luckily, we had a way to drive before our first stop in Búðir, a small fishing town that was all but abandoned 200 years ago. The only remaining buildings are a recently rebuilt hotel and the reason for our stop: Búðakirkja, or the Black Church. One of our more iconic stops, the Black Church has a pretty eerie vibe to it. Perched on a rugged hill in a lava field overlooking the ocean, complete with old gravestones, the minimak Danish designed church is a stark contrast to its surroundings. The area was absolutely CRAWLING with millennial "photographers", who we of course mocked, but it was nonetheless a very fun spot to stretch our legs and get a nice view.

    Next on the list was Lóndrangar, a pair of basalt pinnacles. A short walk down a hillside brought us to some pretty spectacular views of the towers, enhanced by the sound of waves crashing on the rocks below. Now these pillars may or may not be trolls turned to stone, but this one get VERY hazy on the relates mythology, so they'll be presented without specific order... 1. They may be a troll king and his lover staring deeply into each others eyes. So deeply, in fact, that they didn't notice the sunrise. Doesn't sound very legend-like, but hey! 2. The trolls in the area were way cooler to humans than in most of Iceland. When the Vikings landed in the area, a few walked by a troll sitting on the taller stone, but the troll neither said, nor did anything. Boring, but okay. 3. (Favorite) A famous folktale poet had a duel with the devil at Lóndrangar. The poet banished him to hell by rhyming something with the Norse/Icelandic version of the word orange... awesome. 4. This is elf territory. Farmers legitimately never have and never will (now due to National Park status), grew crops up to the edge of the cliffs because this area belonged to the elves and you don't mess with the elves. Back in the real word, lava cools in strange ways and the waves shape everything in their path, but that is was less colorful than the stories people come up with!

    A whopping 2 minutes down the road, we went into the underworld in the Vatnshellir lava cave. Now this is a really nerdy one, from science to science fiction to mythology, hold on to those pocket protectors... Starting with the dry stuff, it is estimated that the cave was created 8,000 years ago after a volcanic eruption sent lava creeping down to the sea. The top of the lava flow, of course, cools first, creating a sort of crust. Still liquid, the inside drains out through paths of least resistance, leaving innumerable shafts between the newly-formed crust and the previous surface. So the lava field on Snæfellsnes is potentially riddled with tubes like the one we went through. This fact is particularly interesting, considering that Jules Verne revealed in The Journey to the Center of the Earth, that the entrance to the center of the earth was located somewhere in Snæfellsjökull, the glacier on the peninsula. We may have only gone 35 meters under the surface, but the possibilities are apparently endless! For mythology, back to the cool trolls of the area... Bárður Snæfellsás was a half troll-half man who protected the area. He and his troll buddies would get together in the circular upper portion of the cave to chat. Not the most exciting location for ol' Bárður, but walking in the steps of a troll is pretty neat ; )

    Our next easy-to-pronounce destination was a double for some of our group and a triple for others! Djúpalónssandur, Nautastígur, and Dritvík round out the trio. First, Djúpalónssandur is entirely black volcanic pebbles, not broken down into the fine black sand of other beaches. Glad to be up on our tetanus shots, we checked out the rusted remains of a British fishing boat that was wrecked in the 1940s strewn about the beach. Another fun feature was an old test of the strength of fishermen, lifting stones. The sign stated that there were 4 stones, weighing 23, 54, 100, and 154kg, respectively. However, 5 stones were present so we're not exactly sure what happened there... tourists ruin everything. Either way, Jason knocked out the Amlóði (useless) and Hálfdrættingur (weakling) stones with ease, then moved on to Hálfsterkur (half strength) or an uninvited pretender, we will never know. Half strength achieved, he moved to either the real Hálfsterkur, a fake, or Fullsterkur... again, we will never know. The fourth stone was awkwardly lifted, but the jury is out on whether he'd be invited on the ship or be left on the beach... Stone number 5 looked to have been lifted there by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson himself, so it sat untested. Nautastígur is a collection of rock formations leading down to Djúpalónssandur and included incredible views of both the glacier and the ocean. Being in the path was another otherworldly experience, plucked straight from a fantasy or science fiction movie. There have to be some stories around this place other than bulls being led to water and our friend Bárður bopping around, but it is proving hard to find! As one duo made their way back to the safety of the car, the other headed down to Dritvík, a 17th century fishing cove. The name comes from the steep drop of the sea floor from the beach, making it a prime place for protected fishing. One of the rocks protecting the cove is said to be the church of the elves and it is said that at times you can hear the elves singing! No hymns were heard, but the day was waning, so we made our way to our final stop.

    Right before leaving the Snæfellsjökull National Park, we were lucky enough to see an arctic fox run across the street! The adorable little one still had his or her summer grey coat and was really moving, so no pictures could be taken in time. As the only land mammal on the island when the Vikings arrived, these are some hearty survivors! Anyway, Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain, is the most photographed mountain in Iceland, largely due to its appearance in Game of Thrones... Admittedly, it is pretty cool. What we were interested in was the waterfall across the street with the mountain as its namesake: Kirkjufellsfoss. While everyone was getting "the shot" of the waterfall in the foreground of the mountain (literally 25+ cameras set up for the same picture), we checked out the lower falls and enjoyed a little bit of privacy provided by the draw of the crowd to the top!

    Grundarfjörður is our home for the night. It was a French-settled fishing village, still alive with a harbor full of boats, but nice and sleepy on a Sunday night. Tomorrow we make our way back to Reykjavik for our final night in Iceland. Bittersweet, as always, but we will be happy to be home!
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  • Day13

    Mud and Mom Powers

    September 28, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    Days 13-14:

    Friday started off pretty slowly due to the light drizzle and the fact that approximately 8,364 trucks drove through what sounded like the front lawn the night before. Once we got moving, our first stop was Kolugljúfur, a hidden gem of a canyon! A dirt (read: mud) road led out to a tiny bridge and some semblance of a parking lot, and from there we just started exploring with help from the "don't go here, you'll fall and die" signs. On the south side of the bridge was the cascading little waterfall called Kolufossar, leading down into the canyon. The Kolu in both of the names refers to a salmon-loving giantess or troll, depending on the source, who used the canyon as her own personal fishing hole. Let us tell you, she made quite the pick. Cool green water, steep volcanic cliffs, all covered by moss... absolutely incredible.

    Next stop was Hvítserkur, a rock formation on the east side of the Vatnsnes Peninsula. It seems that everyone has a story about this formation, but as always, the legend version is the best... Apparently there was a troll who lived in the Westfjords who heard bells ringing at Þingeyrakirkja and being a good pagan troll, walked over to tear them down. Like many a ill-meaning troll around here, he was turned to stone at sunrise before any bells were torn down. Best story. Next, many believe the rock formation is a dragon bending down to drink from the sea. And finally, the less appealing reason for the actual name... Hvítserkur means "white shirt" and let's just say that birds do the painting.

    Now it was failed to be mentioned, but these stops were quite a distance apart, the roads were all dirt, and it had begun to rain with a pretty violent fervor. This was no ordinary rain, it was accompanied by 35 km/h winds, which negated all of the cleaning properties of rain. By the time we got back to our apartment, our car was bumper to bumper, undercarriage to roof racks, COVERED in mud! Unfortunately, we didn't snap a picture at its worst, but the attached gives an idea where it was headed... Not wanting to brave the elements much longer, we tucked in with a nice lamb and potato dinner and ended our day on a particularly tasty note.

    Saturday began with a long country road south, down to Deildartunguhver, the most powerful hot spring on Europe. Every second, 180 liters of 100°C water is produced by this thing! To 'muricanize it, that's the equivalent of 507 Bud Light cans at boiling temperature every single second. It is such an absurd volume that there are 2 pipelines that carry the hot water 34 and 64km, respectively, to provide heat and hot water to homes. A little stinky and thoroughly impressed, we made our way to a waterfall duo to the east.

    Next up was Hraunfossar, or lava waterfalls. This impossible to effectively photograph collection of falls is the result of glacial runoff pouring onto a lava field and finding it's way to Hvíta, the White River. The river is named for the aforementioned milky white color of the mineral filled summertime glacial runoff. The falls are impossible to describe, so trying is genuinely useless...

    A 5 minute walk from the Hraunfossar viewing platform is Barnafoss, the waterfall with the most tragic name. Barna- means children's, so its east to see where this is going... According legend, 2 boys were told to stay home while their parents went to Christmas Eve Mass (an inordinate amount of legends here include something about Christmas Eve Mass...). The boys of course grew bored, snuck out, attempted to cross the natural bridge over the falls, and somehow slipped into the falls and drowned. The mother traced their steps to the falls and put it together from there. She then put a spell on the bridge, since any ol' mom can whip one of those up here, which brought the bridge down in an earthquake. Don't mess with mama.

    Having a shortened adventure ability the closer to the end of the trip we get, we found our way to tonight's Airbnb. Let's just say, we're pretty blown away. It's a small old barn that has been converted into a Scandinavian modern little 2 bedroom apartment. Absolutely adorable, and the perfect place to get a good night's sleep before heading into a full day on Snæfellsnes peninsula!
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  • Day11

    The Slow Road West

    September 26, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    Days 11-12:

    Wednesday started off with breakfast at a nice café downtown, then strolling around through the shops into the afternoon where we found some lovely trolls working in one. Along the way, we noticed small statues on stone bases and upon closer investigation, they represented the sister cities of Akureyri. These include Västerås, Sweden and Ålesund, Norway, two cities we have ties to! Most of the last Winterströms in Sweden live in Västerås and there is a statue representing one of Mama Bear's ancestors in Ålesund. We visited Akureyrarkirkja, another relatively newly built cathedral on our way back to home base. The stained glass windows each had a biblical story along with an Icelandic story, like the pagan idols being thrown over Goðafoss. That pretty much completed the amount of effort we were willing to put into the day and we were more than happy about it!

    Thursday was a planned travel day, but we did have some exciting events! Along the drive, there was some light snow through the mountains, which is a HUGE deal for Californians... Once we made it through our intense meteorological experience, we stopped in Glaumbær to see the old turf houses. This type of construction was a way for early settlers to insulate their homes. The land would be prepped with large stones, then a strong wooden frame would be built and finally, layers of sod blocks would be stacked on. And since keeping up appearances apparently was a thing even when living in homes made of dirt, the blocks would commonly be set in a herringbone pattern. Grasses would grow over the tops of the homes, further insulating them. As the turf homes evolved over the millennium they were used on Iceland, they split from a longhouse style to interconnected individual homes, windows were added and the entrances developed from small doors into full wooden fronts. It's a pretty neat design and really shows the ingenuity needed to live and thrive in such a harsh and ever-changing environment!

    We continued to the village we will be staying in for the next two days, Hvammstangi. It is a tiny little place on the Vatnsnes peninsula with a population of about 580, held together by shrimping, a wool manufacturer and of course, a blossoming tourism industry. A little to early to check in to our next home, we stopped by the wool factory because it's Iceland and wool is everything here. A short tour through the factory gave some insight into how machine made wool products are created on the island. Although they may not be traditionally handmade, the raw materials are Icelandic and the work is all done in Iceland, so that seems good to us! That being said, of course our eyes were drawn to the only thing in the shop that was, in fact, handmade... A local woman tans sheepskin and a one in particular tickled our fancy. As animal lovers, we did consider that all of the sheep here are free grazing and seem to have enjoyable lives, so we were happy to support the sustainable practices.

    Next up, we had lunch overlooking Miðfjörður, the little fjord that Hvammstangi is located on, and the uninhabited peninsula on the other side. Seafood soup was of course the dish of choice for the shellfish lovers amongst us and a lamb burger for Papa Bear. It's safe to say that we will greatly miss the seafood and lamb when this trip is over! Having not spent enough time wandering yet, we drove out along the west coast of the Vatnsnes peninsula, expecting to see a few of seals that it is know for. Instead, while bumping along the unpaved road, we started seeing the trademark misting breaths of whales in the bay. Not one or two like we saw on our whale watching tour, but numbering into the double digits. With our refreshed whale knowledge, courtesy of the tour a few days ago, we tried to figure out what kind of whales would be in a pod in this area. Semi-safely to the side of the road with telephoto lenses out, we were able to pretty confidently identify them as humpbacks. Since humpbacks are definitely not supposed to be in a pods, we are still a bit puzzled by it, but we won't complain. We spent a good hour looking a full kilometer out in the bay at the whales breaching, tail slapping and diving (the attached picture includes one whale tail slapping). It was a completely unexpected experience and another lucky part of our trip! To top off our unplanned coastal drive, we saw the Skarðsviti Lighthouse, which we know nothing about, but is absolutely stunning with a view of the Westfjords in the background.

    Tomorrow will be spent just milling around the Vatnsnes Peninsula and staying in our tiny little town until Saturday when it's back to thermal springs and waterfalls!
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  • Day10

    Whale Tails

    September 25, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ 🌧 3 °C

    Day 10:

    Today we woke up, packed the car, and went straight to the harbor in Húsavík to head on our whale watching tour. Our boat was named Garðar after the Swedish Viking who first settled in the region. After climbing aboard, we put on giant jumpsuits to save us from the cold ocean breeze. In no time, we were on our way out to Skjálfandi Flói, the shaky bay. Named thusly due to the high volume of earthquakes in the area. We sailed past a rock that is home to 10,000 puffins in the summer and into the wide bay. After nearly an hour, we reached an area where the captain believed we would see some whales and he was right! We saw probably three different Humpback whales surface a few times each. For a couple of us, that was our first experience seeing whales in the wild! They would come to the surface every 30 seconds or so for a few times, then lift their tail out of the water and dive for 10-15 minutes at a time. The rain really started to come down as we were out on the water, so we added on bright orange rain jackets on the outside of our jumpsuits. We really looked like giant traffic cones. The smooth rocking of the boat on the way back just about put our wet, frozen selves to sleep. Once back on dry land, coffee and a nice heater were needed before even thinking about going anywhere else.

    After a good hour of defrosting, we hit the road to Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods. Legend has it that after Iceland adopted Christianity around 1000 AD, a lawmaker named Þorgeir threw pagan idols over the falls. It may be named after discarded idols, not its beauty, but nonetheless did not disappoint. Despite snow on the ground, it was a pleasantly warm stop and the sun was shining behind the falls. Beautiful. We can also tell that we are making our way beyond the standard tourist trip, as the amount of tour buses at our stops has greatly diminished as of recently.

    The last stop and home base for the next 2 days was Akureyri, the so-called "Captial of the North". We're staying in Höepfnershús, an over a century old wooden house with a view of the fjord. That is about 30 years prior to Iceland's independence! Fish stew for dinner, and it's time to knock out for the night.

    We will be staying in town and taking a bit of a break tomorrow, but our next stop will be an old turf house, then a village of less than 600 people!
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  • Day9


    September 24, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Day 9:

    Leaving another lovely ranch, we headed up through the tundra with only one stop and a lot of driving in the plan. Despite the fairly mundane itinerary, this was one for the books almost entirely for one reason... we saw 2 reindeer! During the drive, we were enjoying more waterfalls and river carved canyons, then right when we were driving through the highlands, we slammed on the breaks when flippin' Sven and Rudolph popped into view! Considering that only about 3,000 of these live in Iceland, we are EXTREMELY lucky to have seen them! *note the overuseage of exclamation points.

    Snow covered mountains abound, we made our way to our one stop for the day, Dettifoss. This is known to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe in terms of how much water flows over the edge and how far the water drops. It is an impressive sight to behold, but we had to earn the view, so a little backtrack is needed. We pulled up to a snow covered parking lot, complete with rain and a nice bit of wind. Nothing we hadn't experienced before. Within an earshot of the falls, the trail became... different. Deep, yellow mud covered the path and made for slow progression. Once at the falls, the path between the two viewpoints honestly looked like a mixture of baby poo and yellow curry, but somehow was more gross. The less than 1km hike took more out of us than a 5km hike normally would. Exhausted, we finally arrived and right as we were admiring the beauty, as if by the power of some ancient Nordic god, the sun peaked out from behind the clouds and displayed a brilliant rainbow in the mist from the falls. Then, of course, the trudge back to the car, but this time with an extremely cautious pep in our steps.

    Layers stripped off and weatherproof flooring thanked, we set our sights on the old fishing town of Húsavík. After arriving in the adorable little town, we went to dinner at a tiny little yellow house called Naustið. We tried the national dish of Iceland for the first time and it was an interesting experience. The fermented shark has a tough texture, but tastes like a fairly bland fish for the first 5 or so seconds. Then comes the ammonia flavor. It fills your mouth and your sinuses and is a bit overpowering. We're definitely glad we tried it, but once is enough.

    Tomorrow, whale watching and the waterfall of the gods!
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  • Day8

    Into the East

    September 23, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ ☀️ 3 °C

    Day 8:

    We've hit the midway point and it feels like this trip is moving way too quickly! These days have been stacked with sights, activities, and short nights. We're all ready for the slower pace of the East and North to recharge us.

    Along the coast, we stopped a few times to look at the serene coastline on our way to our first stop, a tiny little fishing village called Djúpivogur, which sits at the mouth of three fjords. It may be tiny, but the town has an extremely interesting history. First and foremost, there was a man named Hans Jonatan, originally from Saint Croix, who was taken as a slave in Copenhagen. He escaped slavery, joined the navy and was a war hero during the early 19th century, so Danish royalty granted him freedom. The woman who "owned" him, sued to get him back as her property, despite the fact that slavery was and had been illegal in Denmark. Basically, the legal outcome of the case was that he was to be sent back to Saint Croix, but he escaped again and nobody knew where he was. Turns out that he made his was to Djúpivogur, where he became the first person of color in Iceland. He owned farmland, was an incredible guide and helped map the rugged terrain of Iceland, ran a trading post, and was married with children. This year, almost 200 years after his death, researchers were able to isolate his genome from samples taken from his descendants. The first time this has been done without remains. So he was AGAIN the first at something. Simply incredible.

    The early 20th century saw the addition of a tiny orange lighthouse called Æðarstein, which is ridiculously adorable. In more modern history of Djúpivogur, an Icelandic artist named Sigurður Guðmundsson created large granite replicas of the eggs of all 34 bird species that nest in the area. The town is also the only in Iceland to join an Italian movement to slow down the pace and improve the quality of life. Overall, it's a pretty neat little town.

    After a stop for coffee, we made our way up through a winding, gravel, mountain road. This was our first sight of snow, not glacier, on the trip. Snow covered mountains and grasslands, absolutely full of streams and waterfalls. It wasn't the easiest road to drive, but it was a lot of fun to see everything and make pullouts when we could.

    The next point of interest was Hallormsstaðaskógur, a large national forest, which is a big deal in Iceland. As previously mentioned, the Vikings and their sheep decimated the trees that had covered about 40% of the island, so giving the native species a place to grow and reestablish themselves is extremely important. To be honest, we didn't do much here, namely because there isn't much to do.

    Within the forest is Lagarfljót, a large lake with its own little bit of folklore. According to local legend, Lagarfljótsormurinn lurks under the surface. This lake monster is obviously not as well known as Nessie, but why not look over the lake for the "Lagarfljót Worm"?

    Our last stop in the forest was Hengifoss, or more accurately, the tiny falls beneath Hengifoss. We could see the top of Hengifoss, with its layers of black basalt and red clay, but the uphill hike was too much after a night of little sleep. Luckily, there were sheep and an adorable little waterfall at a lower altitude for us to enjoy before heading to our accomodations.

    We stayed at a dairy farm and horse ranch in the middle if nowhere, which is right on pace of what we were looking for! Snow covered mountains to the east, a stream going through the property to the south, Lagarfljót to the west, and farmland all the way to Egilsstaðir to the north. A hearty dinner of fish and potatoes, and we were ready for bed. Then a knock came at the door of our host letting us know that the Northern Lights were out. The third night in a row for us! They stretched across the wide open sky, still not powerfully bright, but experience is indescribable nonetheless.

    Up next, the loooooong drive to the north!
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  • Day7

    Glaciers, Waterfalls, and Black Sand

    September 22, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    Day 7:

    Another full day of travel in the books and the number of amazing sights just keeps stacking up. Although its a small country, it is quickly becoming apparent that it would take a lifetime or more to really see everything this place has to offer. In summing up each day, we find out more and more that we "missed". The biggest, best, hidden and most impressive are still out there and that really fills you with a hunger for more travelling. Its right on the border of maddening and inspiring... kind of like Hemingway.

    Okay, our first stop was a bit of an unplanned one, but is well known from all of those Instagram travellers and of course... Game of Thrones. Fjaðrárgljúfur. That's Icelandic for "please have an easier to pronounce language". But seriously, its Fjaðrá Gorge, still difficult. Painfully beautiful, painfully screwed by tourism. Its one of those "you've got to come see this, but please don't" type situations... The gorge was cut out during the Ice Age and genuinely looks like James Cameron made it up in a studio. Walking down the canyon like our boy Jon Snow is strictly prohibited now due to the degradation of the landscape, yet somehow dozens were still down there... We chose the the mile-long uphill path was available for our enjoyment, complete with a viewing deck! Absolutely stunning. We had the opportunity to see it when it was cloudy with a little bit if rain on the way up and sunny and clear on the way back, which made the gorge look completely different!

    Just 20 minutes down the road, we popped to the side for a minute to check out Foss á Siðu, a little waterfall situated on private property. It wasn't hugely impressive in terms of Iceland, but it is fun to see a waterfall from the road and stretch our legs a bit after some backroads driving at the last stop.

    As we made our way to the next stop, we turned off the road to get a better look at Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Also included in our pull off was a show of the power of glacial runoff... there were mangled pieces of a bridge that once crossed the river Ölfusá before a particularly high volume of water widened the river and made quick work of the man made bridge.

    The next stop was one that we were all really excited to see... Svartifoss. Partially because we could easily translate it, but mostly because of the impressive basalt stacks that serve as a backdrop to the falls. It is located in Skaftafell, which used to be it's own national park, before joining the expansive Vatnajökull National Park. A decent hike later, we made our way to the falls and aside from being a bit smaller than we expected, the Black Falls did not disappoint. Unfortunately, there was a little Eastern European kid jumping on the viewing platform so the pictures we captured are a bit shakier than we would like, but those are secondary to hearing and feeling the falls. The basalt stacks were actually the inspiration for the wings of the Hallsgrímskirkja, clearly evident by the hexagonal shape. These columns are breaking off from the bottom, so the shape of the falls is ever changing and quite dangerous, but that may add to the allure of the unique waterfall. We realized that we should have cut out time to hike to and possibly on the glacier, but rain and tour buses coming in gave us good excuses to move on and add it to the "next time" list.

    Another unplanned stop caught our eyes off the road, Fjallsárlón. We deduced from our next planned stop that "sárlón" meant something the the effect of a river lagoon, and the glacier coming up to the water's edge made it an a tempting stop. Let's say it did not dissappoint... large bits of blue glacier were floating in a frigid pond with the backdrop of the massive glacier. They offered boat tours, but we opted for the views from the rocky beach. Touching the glass-like pieces that floated to shore was another experience like no other, but we knew that more of this was in store for us at the next stop.

    Jökulsárlón is one of those places exploited by Hollywood over and over, but it's again understandable due to its otherworldly look. Overall, it can be described in the same way as Fjallsárlón, but the chunks of glacier were much larger and there were dozens of seals swimming amongst them. Pictures will never do this place justice, but of course we still tried!

    Across the street was the so-called Diamond Beach. A black sand beach where the pieces of glacier from Jökulsárlón make it out to sea, then are tumbled back onto the beach. The black sand really makes the chunks of ice stand out, whether crystal clear or frosty with a hue of blue. We spent a good amount of time here, almost in a daze of wonder. We realized that 3 of us had never touched the Atlantic Ocean, so we thought the calm ripples would be the perfect place to do so, far from the sneaker waves of Reynisfjara. One of us, cough... Tom ...cough! Didn't quite time out the set well enough and got soaked by the ice cold water. Hilarious? Yes. Fun? Less so.

    One last hour of driving and we arrived at our little cottage in Höfn. We again lucked out in seeing the Northern Lights! This time they were significantly brighter and spread across nearly the entire sky. Simply amazing!

    Next up, from the Southeast to East Iceland!
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  • Day6

    South Coast

    September 21, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    Day 6:

    The theme of today is waterfalls and we're sorry to TLC, but we definitely went chasing... it was a full day, so we got started early with some coffee and pastries, then hit the road. We stopped along the way at another wool shop and were able to snag up the last handmade wool blanket of the only four from the summer! We've learned that those are a serious rarity here. Everything else has been machine made and even those made in Iceland are uncommon. You know, supporting local artisans and traditional trades and all... Anyway, back to the actual trip.

    First stop was Gluggafoss, which is actually called Merkjárfoss after the river that forms it, but the common name comes from the several "windows" formed in the rock. Basically, it was our own private waterfall, since we saw maaaybe 5 other people during the better part of an hour we spent adventuring there. We were even able to sneak behind the lower falls! It was about the best start to the day we could ask for.

    We drove across a gravel road, stopping once for a few wool toting pedestrians, to meet back up with the ring road and continued over to Seljalandsfoss. This was definitely not a private waterfall, but was fantastic nonetheless. On the path up to the falls, we could hear and feel how surprisingly powerful the little waterfall was, with water pounding into a small pond at the base. The part that sets Seljalandsfoss apart from others is the path that loops completely behind the falls. With the wind ripping against the cliffs, we got absolutely soaked, but laughed our way through it all. As if we didn't expect the result we got, we dipped our hands in the pond and guess what... it was cold. There were several other waterfalls on a path to the west, but with more on the list and a hankering for a hot cup of coffee, we skipped the hike and kept on down the road.

    Next up was Skógafoss, which according to legend, is home to a treasure buried by a giant viking. We didn't find any treasure, but we re-soaked ourselves in one of the biggest falls on the island. It is really shocking how so much water flows down these coastal falls, but the rivers at the bottom of them are almost always very calm. Strange, but it really allows you to get up close and personal with them, which is really fun ...hence the getting soaked. We went up a neverending staircase to the top of the falls and got a phenomenal view between 35 mph wind gusts! After making our way back down, a warm meal was absolutely necessary. Then back in the car, which has somehow tried to name itself Miles despite definitely being named Landon, to scoot down the road to our final stop.

    Finally, we reached the Dyrhólaey nature preserve. This sweet little promontory is closed off during summer as a migratory bird breeding ground, but now only feathers, eggs shells, and incredible rock formations are left. On our way up to the viewpoint, we witnessed a few of the "thank your lucky stars that survival of the fittest doesn't apply to modern humans" types attempting to drive compact cars up a steep, gravel, 4WD-only road... a nice blend of funny and terrifying. Once at the top, we had an amazing view of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the north, a vast black sand beach to the west, Reynisdrangar to the east, and the Dyrhólaey Arch in the water to the south. With so much to stare in amazement at, our tired selves spent a good amount of time trying to soak it all in. Mýrdalsjökull is the fourth largest glacier on the island and sits atop a volcano that is about 20 years past due for an eruption. That pretty much sums up why Iceland is the land of fire and ice (calm down GoT fans, we're not there yet). The Dyrhólaey Arch (GoTers may freak out now) may look familiar, as it has adorned many a waiting room wall. Historically, the arch was a great navigational point for sailors, who called the area Portland because of the porthole-like opening in the lava. More importantly, the puffins (who have all gone out to see for the winter by now) absolutely love the steep sea cliffs. Reynisdrangar is a collection of basalt sea stacks, formed by lava and shaped by the unrelenting Atlantic. Of course, that's not the whole story according to folklore... it seems some trolls were up to no good, trying to pull ships out of the ocean onto the shore, when they lost track of time and the sunrise turned them to stone. I like that story better... but in a somehow darker reality, Reynisfjara Beach is known to have "sneaker waves" which, out of nowhere, send a massive wall of water significantly further up the beach than any of the previous waves and carry a powerful undertow that can carry a person far out to sea. Tourists die creepily often here, but that sort of power really goes to show how the amazing columns were formed. Pictures, of course, can never imitate the feeling being in a place like that gives you. Bitterly cold, we peeled ourselves away from our little heaven to head into Vík for the night.

    After getting to bed in an actual hotel, we received a call from the hotel staff, letting us know that there was some faint Northern Lights activity! As a sort of once in a lifetime experience, we'll take faint. The best way I can describe it is as if someone were painting those wispy nighttime clouds in the sky. Sometimes a line would move quickly like whipping the brush, other times it would develop slowly in a small area... the bright colors we all associate with the dramatic pictures of the Northern Lights weren't there, but it still had a sort of magical feeling to it. The summary comes down to the fact that they're indescribable and we all accept how fortunate we are to have experienced them, no matter how weak they were.

    Up next, more glaciers and black sand heading to the southeast!
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  • Day5

    Skalholt, Keriđ, Hveragerđi

    September 20, 2018 in Iceland ⋅ 🌬 5 °C

    Day 5:

    Leaving our lovely horse ranch in the country, we headed straight south to join up with the Ring Road. Our first stop along the way was at Skálholt Cathedral. Another relatively large cathedral compared to the tiny churches dotting the landscape elsewhere. This is the 10th church on the same spot, spanning over 1,000 years. I'm not exactly sure what terms like "diocese" and "suffragan" mean, but it's definitely a significant location for the Church of Iceland. Not to mention, its location is stunningly beautiful!

    Next along our journey was Kerið, a volcanic crater. It was believed that Kerið was a result of a volcanic explosion that blew the top off, like Crater Lake in Oregon, but it turns out it was most likely a slow flow of magma leaving the reserve and collapsing the cone. Not the "pew pew 'murica!" way, but the result is nonetheless incredible. We walked the ridge, then made our way down to the water inside (which isn't due to rainfall, but rather the crater reaching the level of groundwater in the area). The volcanic rock is red instead of the black color we come to expect, which makes for an otherworldly look to the whole area.

    We made our way down to Selfoss for a famous Icelandic hot dog lunch (not a joke, they love hot dogs!) and to check out a handmade wool shop where we picked up a couple of knit goodies. In Selfoss, the same river from Gullfoss changed names, widened, and meets the ocean. It was pretty neat to see that progression!

    Our final stop for the day was in Hveragerði, a town that has changed a lot over the past of decade. The whole town sits on top of a geothermal spring and in the middle, there has historically been a geothermal park gated off where people can check out different springs and such. But now those springs are all dried up after a massive earthquake in 2008 shifted where the hot water ended up making its way to the surface. New springs popped up and old ones dried up... Iceland keeps you on your toes. Anyway, up the hill from the town is a steaming river where keen bathers can take a dip. It's quite a hike to get up to it, so only half of our group made it. And of that duo, one is pregnant, so we only dipped our hands in the river, but it was quite the spectacle! Barely above freezing temperature outside with a bunch of half naked tourists laying in a stream... strange.

    On to the next, the south coast!
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