Thursday, July 20, 2017

Iceland: Golden Circle Tour

One sure thing about Iceland is that the weather is very changeable, so even though we could see rain in the distance as we started the Golden Circle Tour, there was also blue sky. 

Golden Circle is the name for a day-trip that all the operators offer, going to Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir (Thingvellir). Lasting about 8 hours, the trip can also include other sites, depending on the guide/driver's interests and on tourists' agreeing and complying with returning to the bus after a certain pre-determined interval at each stop. Tourists enjoying themselves often are noncompliant and oblivious of time. It's sometimes hard to turn away from these awesome places! Wendy and I, by the way, were completely compliant (smug smile)

Our first stop was in the tour guide's current hometown, Hveragerði (don't ask me to pronounce it - it doesn't sound anything like the word looks!) The guide was English, from Newcastle, but has lived in Iceland for nearly 20 years and is married to an Icelandic woman. He's also an expert at saying "Hveragerði".

Hveragerði is known for being very near the epicentre of a 6 magnitude earthquake in 2008. There were no deaths other than some sheep, but quite a few injuries and a lot of freaked-out people.

This building has a couple stores, a bank, a post office and an earthquake exhibition and simulator.

A few of the local folks had their earthquake story on the wall.

Iceland is well known for its huge number and variety of waterfalls. We visited two of them today.

This is the Faxi waterfall.

It has a fish ladder.

The guide told us that many of the trees and shrubs in Iceland, though very small, may be extremely old. Cold soil/permafrost = slow growth, similar to that of the Canadian North and Alaska.

We next visited Geysir, hot springs where you can walk right next to bubbling hot water in the ground, smelling like hydrogen sulphide. Water spouts out in a couple of places on a regular basis.

After lunch at Geysir, we hopped back into our small van with too many other people - a bit cramped, shall we say - and headed to Gullfoss, another waterfall, named after its often gold (gull) colour when seen in the sunshine.

It is pretty impressive!

Last stop on our day trip was Þingvellir National Park, the birthplace of Iceland and revered by all Icelanders. Not only of historic and cultural importance, the area also has geologic significance since it lies on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, dividing the North American from the Eurasian landmass. 

The Park is located on the north shore of Iceland's largest lake, Thingvallavatn, and comprises a large flat area where meetings were held and where Icelanders gather in modern times, camping en masse, to celebrate historic events.

The national Icelandic parliament, the Althing, was established here in 930 AD and yearly sessions were held here until 1798.

We saw so many wonderful sights on our tour. 

I even loved this signpost. Hiking in Iceland might be a challenge.

Another highlight of the tour was seeing Icelandic horses. I was surprised to see so many. Beauties - hardy animals with friendly dispositions, just like the rest of Icelandic inhabitants ;)

In doing a bit of research on the Icelandic horses at home I've discovered that they are a 5-gaited breed, sure-footed and able to cross rough terrain.

Our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017

On the blog:

Day of Arrival
Golden Circle Tour: Thursday, July 20
A Walking Tour of Reykjavik: Tuesday, July 25
Whales and Puffins: Thursday, July 27
Last Morning: Tuesday, August 1

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Iceland: Day of Arrival

A year or so ago when we started putting together plans for our walking trip in England we decided to take advantage of the Icelandair stop-over offer on the way home. To be perfectly clear, since these blog posts are showing up in July, our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017.

Iceland has become a popular stop-over for vacationers on their way to or from Europe and for a small country, they have a good handle on "doing tourism". From an efficient airport to easily-booked bus services and taxis, restaurants and tours with plenty of choices, it was obvious that we were in good hands. (Easy for me to say - Wendy made all the Iceland arrangements, including booking a stellar Airbnb)

Just to express the size of the country from a Canadian point of view, the island nation of Iceland, at 103,000 Sq. Km is a quarter of the area of Newfoundland or twice the area of PEI. The population is about 320,000 people or equal to the number of immigrants to Canada in 2015. The size of, say, a city smaller than Halifax. About 2/3 of Icelanders live in Reykjavik and surrounding area

We had a busy 3-full day, 4-night visit to Iceland. The adventure began on the Icelandair flight from Glasgow with Elfis hosting a tourism video. I took a shot of the screen.

then, once home, found an Elfis-hosted tourist-aimed driving safety video. Seems to me a video like this would be useful in Canada too. 

Our guide who met us at the airport was wonderful, a Lithuanian man, who gave us many useful tips about our visit. Maybe the best one was that Icelandic restaurants are expensive but serve a huge amount of food so plate-sharing and doggie bags are common. Sharing was so perfect for Wendy and I. All we had to do was agree on what to eat and that part was easy.  

The following day we found a great restaurant just around the corner, Bergsson Mathus, with excellent fresh fish on the menu, not too expensive and served with tasty sides. 

Each meal came with a bread basket and we fell in love with the artisanal bread served with basil-infused olive oil and Icelandic sea salt. We loved our first dinner there so much, we went back 2 of the next 3 nights. The only night we ate elsewhere was at the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant where Wendy tried the fish and chips and I went for the iconic Icelandic meal of plokkfiskur, fish stew - fish and potatoes mashed together and baked in an au-gratin dish. Yummy! 

Another time we sampled (snack) what is an extremely popular (with Icelanders) snack/lunch: a hot dog, made from a mixture of organic lamb, pork and beef, served on a warm bun and topped with raw white onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, a local sweet brown mustard called pylsussinep and a remoulade of mayo, capers, mustard and herbs, that's if you order it "with everything". 

The famous stand we went to near the harbour has been serving hot dogs since 1937 and there's always a line-up. When we were there, the weather wasn't great and it seemed to be in the middle of a construction zone but business was brisk. Did we like it? was ok. The wiener didn't really taste any different from a Canadian wiener and the sauce was a little overwhelming. I'm not a hot dog fan usually and I wouldn't bother getting another one. 

Anyway, that was all in the future. To get back to our arrival day, the guide from the airport dropped us off right at the door of our B and B, our home for the next 4 nights. The top 2 floors of the home are occupied by the owner and family. The mother-in-law has a 1st-floor suite and the apartment is in the basement which is partly above-grade. 

The house, located right at the edge of the historic district of Reykjavik was within easy walking distance of everything. 

This was our street

and the house

We were so comfortable. There were 2 large bedrooms. Mine had two beds and with two windows the room was so was bright and welcoming. Somebody had thoughtfully left (or forgot? - it wasn't mine anyway) a plug adapter in the window

There was a very well-equipped kitchen and the host left us with some cereal, coffee and milk. He even drove us to the nearby grocery store for the few things we thought we might like for breakfast - fresh fruit and Skyr, the Icelandic yogourt which has become popular here in Canada too.

There was a spacious and bright living/dining room

and a generously-sized bathroom with tub/shower and clothes washer which we were extremely happy to see. 

There was a ton of reading material, mostly tourist stuff and a TV which never got turned on during our visit.

We were pretty happy with this apartment and would have been comfortable in the long term, but alas, were only there for a few days.

By the way, did you know that the Icelandic First Lady is Canadian? Her name is Eliza Reid, from the Ottawa area and she's the wife of Gudni Th. Johannesson, a historian who took office in August 2016. They met when they were both studying history in England. 

By the time we arrived from the airport and walked back from the grocery store it was late afternoon, so we did a short walk into the old part of the city to orient ourselves a bit, then had dinner and retired early so as to be ready for our first full day of Icelandic adventure.

Our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017

On the blog:

Day of Arrival: Tuesday, July 18
Golden Circle Tour: Thursday, July 20
A Walking Tour of Reykjavik: Tuesday, July 25
Whales and Puffins: Thursday, July 27
Last Morning: Tuesday, August 1