Jul 29, 2006

Jul 28, 2006

My Sadness at Saying Bless

Our last day; so sad. Early this morning the boys receive an email sent to the hotel from some Icelanders/Minnesotans they met last night(!). Bright and early, John and I walk into town to do a few errands and a little bit of shopping. We purchase: some Icelandic playing cards, two wool hats, and a book. My gift to myself: a cool bumper sticker.

We spend a lot of time in the jewelry shop of Mariella--by far my favorite jewelry designer in Reykjavik. Maria Langenbacher's designs feature Icelandic stones, horsehair, lava, pearls. Her designs are very unique, and she is happy to explain the inspiration for each piece, and where she discovered many of the stones and items she works into her creations. Her shop is at Skólavörðustígur 12--check it out!

Then we meet Thor Lawrence on Laugavegur for talk, and coffee, and talk. I give him a replacement map for the one he lent me, that we wore out. As usual he has great ideas. One was to purchase a book for me. The bookstore was out of that title, but as it happens, I have read the book and it is one of my favorites--he knows me well already. Thor shows us where to find a birthday present for Peter--a silver representation of...Thor! It is really nice.

John heads off to the Culture House (the Old Library) to see Saga manuscripts. Can you believe it--one of the few museum stops this entire trip. Another reason to return.

Much as I'd love to see the Saga manuscripts it's my last chance to spend time with Thor and Gunnella, whom we meet for lunch at a great pizza place. Somehow I never expected to have really good pizza in Iceland. So we "sandwich" pizza in between yet more talk. My sadness at saying goodbye is mitigated somewhat by Thor inviting us back, and Gunnella promising to visit us when she visits the U.S. in '08 for a folklore conference. (Well, she practically promised.)

I have never liked saying goodbye. John will tell you, as his eyeballs roll around in his head, that I have difficulty saying goodbye to people that I will be seeing again tomorrow. This disability of mine can be inconvenient for my family. AND SAD, for me!

Back to Three Sisters, where Gabe and Pete have returned from a downtown trip of their own, without the shopper's success we had. We pile the guys and the luggage in the car, Bye Sonja and Thor we'll miss you!, and off to the airport.

Quiet Keflavik airport is CRAZY! People in long lines everywhere! Too many tourists, not enough worker-people. I had hoped to purchase my last gifts at the duty-free shop, simply because I wanted to shop at the airport, when there is nothing better to do, rather than in town, where there are people to see and things to do. I had in mind smoked trout, salted lamb, and other treats. Mistake! We fear we might miss our plane, and I have a crucial decision to make. Dash into Duty Free and purchase Brennevin ("The Black Death") for my friend Linda, and risk missing the plane, or...

Linda wins. Linda traveled to Iceland two years ago, and helped me a great deal with my planning. Maps, travel books, what to pack: Linda gave me excellent advice. Thanks in large part to her I had realistic expectations of the weather and the costs. So I get Linda's Brennevin, and a tiny bottle for John and I. Tiny should be more than enough :-) We never tried it here in Iceland; we'll try it at home.

We board the plane sweating and stressed, but thankful not to have missed it. Then we wait another hour before leaving. Hmmm.

My last glimpse of Iceland through the plane window is brief, as there is a lot of cloud cover. But we have spectacular views of Greenland's glaciers, peaks, fjords and lakes. We arrive an hour late to Baltimore, but customs is a breeze. They don't even glance at our luggage. John implored me not to press our luck by bringing in possibly illegal Iceland rocks. But I did tuck 3 or 4 tiny lava rocks from special places we visited, such as Drangey, into my purse. Yea!

We are all so tired that we have to alternate drivers on the way home. We are also very hungry. Dinner consists of salads purchased at Starbucks. But what salads! These salads are huge, monstrous even, fresh, full of lovely green vegetables! We marvel aloud at such huge plates of fresh greens. The other customers marvel at what weirdos we are.

Our house seems unfamiliar. The next evening I fall asleep on the couch, and wake up with no idea where I am. I look around and finally recognize some of the furnishings from our family room, but can't understand why they are in Iceland! After quite some time it dawns on me that the furniture isn't in Iceland--and I am not in Iceland either.

I hope to be there again, someday.

All worn out

Jul 27, 2006

Views of Snaefellsjokull

Trying not to think about this being our next-to-last day in Iceland. But...we can see the elusive peak of Snaefellsjokull today; surely that must be good karma. That must mean we're coming back!

On the good karma scale: the weather has cleared up, and no rain means we can go horseback riding; we have only lost one thing this entire trip (Pete's swim suit got left behind at the hot springs pool yesterday); we all are in possession of our passports.

On the bad karma scale: horseback riding here costs a lot more than on Heimaey; our guides are a little more cautious for our safety, which means a slower pace; we can't visit Litla Hruan/Little Lava. Oh, and John is about to lose his wallet.

It's a great day for a two-and-a-half hour horseback ride. This is Peter's second horseback ride in his life! It is cloudy and cool but the cloud cover isn't low, which means we can also see the Eldborg volcano and lots of other interesting sights. I have a horse that is "go-ey," a term that means active. Our guides are Emma (whom I met yesterday) and Sara. Emma is a horsewoman from France, and Sara is an Icelandic college student; both of them are working here for the summer. I ask Emma if she misses French wine, and she replies no, that she doesn't drink. I ask her how she enjoys Icelandic food, but unfortunately she doesn't enjoy much of it: she's vegetarian. Hmm, not eating fish leaves you with few options in Iceland. I ride next to Emma and learn a lot about Icelandic horses and their unique gaits, dressage, and all kinds of things pertaining to horses.

Pete, Sara, Emma and horses

Back at the cabin we enjoy the steamy hot tub. All of our muscles are relaxing in the heat, except John's. John's muscles are not relaxed. John's muscles are very tense. While John was tolting around the Icelandic lava fields his wallet s-l-o-w-l-y worked it's way o-u-t of his pocket! John doesn't admit defeat easily, let me tell you. He goes to look for his wallet, conscripting Pete and Gabe to help him. They end up retracing the entire horseback ride, on foot. When I see that they have returned 1) without smiles, and 2) without the wallet, I refrain from asking them if they tolted all the way.

Quote from John:
There was something out there. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was trolls who stole my wallet. I'll have to find out and write a saga of my own.
Oooh ooooh! Sounds like...another trip to Iceland! A discovery trip! John finds out if huldafolk have his wallet, and that he must bargain with them to get it back! Will he sell his soul? His wife? A hint: in the upcoming series, John bargains with the huldafolk by promising them...his two cats and his joint-custody dog Foo! Uh oh, is divorce on the horizon? Will Darien permit family members to be sold off in this callous manner? Tune in...

We drive back to Reykjavik, after a stop at a police station in Bogarnes to report the missing wallet (they weren't too interested...they also weren't wearing policeman uniforms...definetly the casual look in Iceland). Three Sisters has room for us again tonight! It feels like coming home to be chatting with Thor and Sonja, and back in our "old" room. We haven't had many meals out lately, so we treat ourselves to a very special meal for our last night in Reykjavik. The restaurant we select is near Wincie's cathedral, in the old part of town.

Vid Tjornin is a charming place (Tjornin is the name of the small lake in the center of Reykjavik, nearby), and has a casually elegant charm: floral wallpaper, lots of vintage china, old photos, a nice view from the windows. Peter says he has never eaten in such a fancy place, and that he is glad his job at Bottega has taught him how to! Tonight is a record for the trip: $275. USD--that is with three entrees for four people, and two desserts shared among four. No wine. It is worth it though (especially since we are under budget for the trip).

The table next to us has a mix of people from Iceland and visitors from various European countries. The hosts treat one of the men to hakarl (putrefied shark, aged for 5 months or so), washed down with Brennevin (liquor made with potatoes and caraway). Gabe, Pete and I are very eager to treat John to this national delicacy, but he declines our offer. Darn, now that would have been entertaining.

I call Gunnella and her Dad Thor and make dates for tomorrow. The "boys" hang out until 3 or 4 am, meeting up with various groups of young people and perfecting the Icelandic words Ja and Nei.

Meanwhile, John and I walk around the city until late in the evening looking for Skarphedinsdottir's gallery, but it has moved. We hear live music several places: good jazz, and blues in Icelandic, which is kind of weird. Late night, good weather, people young and old wandering all over the city. Too bad the evening has to end!

Jul 26, 2006

Gabe as Centerfold Idol

Time to hit the slopes! The slopes of Snaefellsjokull, to be exact. That would be the same glacial mountain that Jules Verne used for the basis of Journey to the Center of the Earth, as well playing a prominent part in Laxness' Under the Glacier. Snaefellsjokull is also considered a holy place, or a "power center," and New Age folks congregate in its vicinity.

Unfortunately the weather today is cloudy, and the cloud cover is low: we can't see the peak of the glacier at all. Nonetheless, Gabe and Peter are ready to go snowmobiling to the summit of the glacier--with a group, of course. Not a good idea to go straying off the trail in the fog, and descend through a crevasse into...the center of the earth!

We drive quite a ways up an unpaved road until we reach the snow line. Here are the other tourists, the guide, and a fleet of snowmobiles. Also a trailer with jumpsuits, helmets, and other manly gear. Gear for females, too; ones with a stronger desire for adventure than me.

Riding off to the peak of Snaefellsjokull

Gabe as Centerfold Idol

Luckily I have company while the boys are tearing up the glacier. John and I wave them off, and then go for a hike on the mountain, through spongy moss, lots of lava rock, and up the side of one of many volcanic craters.

When we go back to retrieve the guys I ask Gabe if the ride was long enough, and if it was worthwhile (since they didn't get any views from the top of the glacier due to the low clouds). He says the ride was about two hours too short! So I guess they had a good time. On our way down the glacier we stop at Songhellir, where a collapsed crater has created a series of lava caves. This happened some time ago, as graffiti from the 18th century can be found within. Our cave exploration is somewhat limited due to a lack of torches. John and the boys speak with the dwarfs that live in the cave and whose voices can be heard singing. They do not relate the subject of the conversation to me.

We stop in a nearby village, Hellnar, to eat lunch at Fjoruhusid, a tiny cafe that once was a fish salting shed. It is right on the water, next to craggy cliffs teeming with birds. You can sit indoors or out. Either way the view is lovely. The building is very simple, but lovely in a French country sort of way, with whitewashed walls, long windows and a gable. The walls are hung with prints by an artist called Adalheidur Skarphedinsdottir, and we really like her art. Her work has a magical, folkloric feel to it--the closest thing I can think of are Chagall paintings. We pick up one of her flyers, in hopes that we can contact her or visit her gallery later on.

The location, building and art are all lovely. The food is even better. This is one of the best meals we've had in Iceland (have I said that before?!). We enjoy fish soup, delicious homemade bread, wonderful quiche, excellent coffee and hot chocolate, and fabulous chocolate cake!

We drive around the penninsula and Snaefellsjokull, but it is still too cloudy to see the glacier peak from below, just as it was too cloudy to see "below" from the top this morning. We stop at a market to get groceries for dinner, and John selects some sausage that is a deep orange/red in color. I ask him what kind of sausage it is, and pointing at the label he says, "Stoth." When pressed, John confesses that he doesn't know what that means. I suggest that he ask the clerk, and when he does he discovers that it is horsemeat! Now, there is nothing wrong with eating horsemeat. But apparently John doesn't want to...he buys another kind of sausage, which he first clears with the clerk.

After circling Snaefellsjokull we come to a hot springs pool that I have been longing to visit. It is Lysuhollslaug, located at a school. There are nice changing facilities, and once we venture outside we find a large swimming pool and a small "hot pot." Unfortunately, the hot pot is so hot that I can't even get in--I would feel like a lobster being readied for dinner. Gabe is the only one of our group that finds the pain pleasurable. There are a few other hardy souls who join him, but most people are like me: they stick their feet in, try to get accustomed to the temperature, and quickly give up. The large pool has clumps of algae floating around in it, but that doesn't bother us. And...the water is naturally sparkling/effervescent. It is a lovely day at the pool: mist falls down on us as we swim in the warm, fizzy water.

As we leave I ask whether we can purchase spring water to drink. We are given directions to a family farm, and begin an epic journey in search of this farm. After several visits to farms that don't have spring water, we finally end up in the right place. Olkelda has two spring pumps, and Onnur, a girl who attends school at the place where we swam, shows us how to get the water. We fill all of our water bottles, and I'm pretty excited about scoring all of this healthy, sparkling spring water. We say thanks and wave goodbye to Onnur, and then begin drinking our water....aughh! It has high sulfer content! It tastes terrible! But we know it must be very healthy.

Our next stay is at Snorrastadir Horse Farm. Looking at the map I realize that it is just 5 km from Litla Hruan (where the book Summer at Little Lava takes place). I would love to see Little Lava in person but the only way to get there is to walk or ride horses across the tidal flats; there is no road.

We have a large, lovely two-bedroom cabin, with every inside surface finished in smooth pine, a hot tub on the deck and beautiful views. When we check in I talk to Disa and Emma (who sports a "Viva los Zapatistas" tee shirt, and snake tattoos) about horseback riding tomorrow.

We receive a visit from Trin, a man from Amsterdam who is staying at the cabin next to us. He graciously gives us technical assistance on operating the hot tub. He tells me he hasn't read the sagas because they haven't been translated into Dutch (!). He is vacationing in Iceland for the third year in a row, each time concentrating on a different area in depth. That's what I'd like to do next!

Jul 25, 2006

Goodbye Hofsos and Holm

John and I have an eventful morning while the boys sleep late. I had a great idea last night, just before I fell asleep. I was thinking about the hours Gabe and Pete have spent kicking rocks (acting like the rocks were hacky sacks or soccer balls). I figured that I could find a ball at the market, and it would be overpriced and poor qualilty, but it would get a lot of use. So John and I venture out, to the laundry, the bank, the post office and the market. Along with the obligatory pastries we buy a soccer ball! Just what you'd expect for the equivalent of $10. USD., but a very worthwhile investment-- by the end of the trip the soccer ball will be completely worn out!

After breakfast we walk along a little path down to huge basalt column stacks, hexagonal in shape, along the shore. John stops to sketch them, naturally.

We walk through town to the Icelandic Emigration Center museum, which is a wonderful place for kids and adults alike. It focuses on the Icelanders who emigrated to the U.S. and Canada, primarily at the end of the 19th century. What is so great about the museum is that it provides lots of personal histories with pictures, letters, newspaper clippings, and objects from people's daily lives. All of the exhibits are done in a very tasteful manner: not slick, but artistic and professional.

John notices Bill Holm outside talking to someone, so I go out to see him. I realized last night that during our previous conversation I never told him that his books were the impetus for my reading Icelandic literature, and that he was directly responsible both for my passion for Iceland, and our being here on this trip! I am able to convey my heartfelt thanks for the way in which his books have led me on a path to where I am right now. I confess to disappointment that I don't have his books along so that he can sign them (Antonia made me take them out during our "Take Out" packing party), and he tells me to send them to him in Minnesota to sign. Thank you, I will!

We talk some more about the book he is working on, Icelandic horses (his next chapter--I tell him about my Shih Tzu/tolt theory, and he is unable to confirm it), and he confesses amazement that we'd gone to Drangey yesterday in the fog! He is a little put out that Hofsos has been foggy every day for weeks. I am enjoying Hofsos anyway, but I can imagine how stunning the view must be when you can see across the fjord to Drangey and the snow-capped peaks beyond. Bill recomends that we visit Holar, Siglufjordur, the Icelandic Folk Music Museum and the Herring Museum--all places we want to go, but which will have to wait for our next trip. We have a hug and kiss goodbye; alas, John isn't around to take my picture with Bill Holm. I have great memories, though, of meeting the man whose words introduced me to Iceland.

We head back to our house, Karastigur, to eat lunch with the boys and pack up. Just as we sit down to eat there is a knock at the front door. Who can it be?

I open the door to discover a bank officer! There was a little misunderstanding at the bank when John signed over two traveller's checks (in the wrong place) resulting in this personal visit by the banker, who politely requests that we stop by to rectify the matter. Only in Iceland would a banker pay a house call!

We pack up and, after a phone call to the owners, we simply leave our payment on the table, door unlocked (we never had or needed a key). Outside of town we stop by the little turf church at Grof where Gunnella was baptised. The picture doesn't convey how little--it seats just 20 people, and those people had better be careful when they stand up! Even shorties like me will bump their heads on the low rafters.

Next stop is the Glaumbaer Folk Museum, which features a large complex of 7 or more turf houses once owned by a wealthy priest named Snorri. The adjacent church has flowers and bushes planted on top of the graves, and inside the church is an organ made entirely of pine--keys, pipes and all.

In Blonduos, where Gunnella once lived and taught school, we stop at an Information Center and we meet a very gregarious young man who tells us about his trip to Drangey: how his friend pushed him off Jon's boat into the water, and how he exacted revenge.

The rest of the drive to the Snaefellsness penninsula is through lovely, scenic areas where many of the saga stories took place. We arrive at Arnarstapi late--too late for dinner, due to an infestation of Danish tourists and the fact that it is so remote that there is no alternate place to eat. They agree to fix us sandwiches, however, so that we don't starve.

The dining area is a lovely turf roof building with clean, light pine walls and ceiling. The building we are lodging in, however, is the most institutional of any place that we have stayed, resembling dorm rooms. But there is a very pleasant common room with a remarkably well-equiped kitchen for all of us to use.

We follow our light dinner with a late evening walk in the longlasting twilight, a walk fraught with peril due to the kria. Kria are birds that are fiercely protective of their nests. Unfortunately, they are well equiped to defend with their long, curved, sharp beaks. The birds screech while dive-bombing any intruders. Their intimidation techniques are very effective: smart people steer clear of their nesting areas. As we walk out to the huge rock statue of Barthur, guardian of the area, we meet a mother who tells of being on a golf course where kria attacked her head and drew blood!

Enough excitement. Time for sleep.

Jul 24, 2006

An Epic Climb

Up early, with butterflies in my stomach. John and I go to buy groceries, and process some more laundry. While in Hofsos we wash 5 loads, driving the car back and forth from our house to the apartment with the laundry facilities. It would have been much more practical to have had the use of a bicycle for going back and forth...Hofsos is so small, and the locals must be hard pressed to think of an explanation for why these crazy foreigners could possibly need to made so many shorts trips in a car, right in town!

Still foggy. With a growing sense of relief I call Farmer Jon. (Why is he called Farmer Jon, when he is a boat captain? That's because he owns a farm on the fjord, an ancient one called Fagranes, where the body of Grettir is supposedly buried. Grettir's head is elsewhere.) Farmer Jon, his sons, and other assorted relatives man the boat when it goes out, in addition to farming. Similarly, Valgeir's daughter got us settled in our lodging because Valgeir and Gudrun, her parents, were out on their farm doing end-of-summer farm chores.

I ask Farmer Jon's son if our trip will be postphoned due to the fog. "We will go, absolutely," he says. We quickly pack our warm clothes and lunch, and drive around the fjord to the harbor, in such a rush that there isn't time to worry. We pull away from shore in a small boat with about 20 other people on board.

The trip is windy, cold and wet. Water splashes into the small craft; my jeans are soaked before we even arrive at Drangey. The trip takes a little more than an hour. I am feeling really keyed up, between excitement at seeing the sight I have longed to see the most in Iceland, and a great deal of nervousness regarding the dangerous climb ahead. Gabe and Pete compare notes along the way.

First we glimpse the tall escarpment next to Drangey, then Drangey itself rises majestically out of the mist. We hear an incredible din...the sound of millions of birds swooping and calling. The cliffs of Drangey are whitewashed in huge swatches. After sailing alongside a number of craggy inlets our boat pulls up to a dock, where we are dwarfed by the vertical cliff at our side.

Our guides up Drangey are Farmer Jon's son and his nephew. Jon himself is about 75 years old, and has made the climb thousands of times. He may be old enough to enjoy staying back on the boat this trip, but he is still "frisky," as Bill Holm describes him...after all, he has a son who is 20 years old. We thought Steinn was Jon's grandson but Holm enlightened us: "that's his son, the sly Fox!" Steinn and Ajalti shepherd us up the cliff, carefully providing assistance or confidence to those of us who are feeling less than heroic.

John describes the path:
...daunting, but not as frightening as we had feared. The slope is steep, and wooden boards are dug into the earth, or primitve stairs, switchback up. Ropes are fastened to poles a good way to give some security. An iron rod is driven into the cliff at one tight turn to grip. The last 40 or 50 feet take us up a steel pipe ladder that is vertical.
A short way into the climb we encounter a little alcove/altar in the rock, with a large bronze plaque that has the Lord's Prayer in Icelandic. One of our party is a baker from Reykjavik--the only supplier of natural sourdough bread in Iceland--and he drops to his knees and crosses himself as he prays (he has completed this climb previously, so presumably knows the need for divine intervention). I ask Steinn if it must be prayed in Icelandic and he reassures me: "I think He speaks many languages."

We arrive at a large meadow. All of the island is covered in lush green grass that you sink into up to your knees. Wildflowers and colorful mosses are everywhere. To our surprise, it isn't just one or two meadows atop the huge cliffs: it is one followed by another which you reach by climbing little hills. There are about five meadows in all, but in each one you can see just the one that you are in. I had thought that the best view of the day would be arriving back at the harbor alive, but I was wrong. The best views of the day are on Drangey!

The group of us wanders from meadow to meadow, and we gradually regroup in the grassy area that contains the rocky remains of outlaw Grettir's abode. A plaque informs us that here he lived, and died in the year 1037. We sit or lay down in the grass and listen to Steinn relate the story of Grettir.

Steinn is an art student who wears Buddy Holly-style glasses. (Cousin Ajalti is an appealing 15-year old, following in Steinn and Jon's footsteps--fast becoming a competent guide and storyteller himself.) Steinn's sense of humor is dry, and his descriptions are sometimes quaint. When he talks about Grettir's half-brother being put in prison, he calls it a "dirty basement." He refers to the bewitched log with runes that was Grettir's undoing as "bad wood." Steinn is competent in 4 or 5 languages, and easily switches from one to another as he tells the story in 2 languages, with asides and explanations in several others. I sit rapt at his feet. I know the story and anticipate each event as he relates it. It completely chokes me up to find myself here, in the place where Grettir once lived, hearing his story told in person by someone who grew up climbing these cliffs and hearing this story. Steinn does the tale perfect justice in his telling of it.

As we continue our walk along the periphery of the island I think that it would be impossible to be any happier than I am right now. The clouds are low, so that we can seldom see the water below. While it is unfortunate not to see the 360-degree views of the huge fjord, it is wonderful in a different way. The height isn't so scary, and we feel warm, cozy and enclosed in our own little world on the island.

We see Haering's Hlaup, and as we sit in the meadow to rest and eat, John sketches the Hlaup, or Leap, where Haering escaped Grettir and found death on the rocks below. Steinn compliments John's art. In return, we teach Steinn and Ajalti cool US slang such as "the Whole Steamboat" and "Boy Howdy!" No doubt these will come in useful for them when they want to impress female tourists.

At one point Steinn reaches in a little hummock where birds nest and pulls out a baby fulmar, all white. "He spits a vile-smelling vomit on you," he informs us. When we ask if the mother will return to the nest after he has handled the baby, he gives a philosophical "who knows" shrug.

Ajalti is spending the next week on the island with his father, puffin hunting (which they do with nets at the end of long poles, catching the birds as they fly). They will stay in a little hut on one of the meadows, which has several bunks, a kitchen and a loft. Everything must be hoisted to the top of the cliffs via a winch and long cable from the dock. There is a guest book, which we sign. We get much closer to puffins, here on Drangey, than we ever imagined that we might. They are everywhere here, by the hundreds of thousands.

The descent is worse than the ascent, but not by much. We see seals on our boat trip circling the island on the way back, and more birds.

When we get back to harbor in Saudarkrokur, we feel we can't miss the opportunity to drive 20 km up the coast to Grettir's Laug, or pool, which is a natural hot spring. It has been nicely fixed up with stone benches inside and out. It is right on the edge of the shore. After Gabe and Peter get steamed in the pool, they actually get into the ocean to cool off! (Not for long, though.) There are two sod roof cabins with bathrooms, kitchen, and changing areas as well. All this, out in the middle of nowhere!

We call back to Solvik restaurant in Hofsos, afraid that we will arrive too late to be able to dine there. They assure us they will stay open to await our arrival. We don't want to miss Bill Holm's recommendation of the best fresh trout around. We aren't disappointed: it IS the best fresh trout around, and probably one of the best meals we will have in Iceland.

A perfect day. The reason why I came to Iceland. Heaven!

Jul 23, 2006

We meet Bill Holm

Sunday: Part 2

Hosfos is small. We wander along the historic area, thinking to find our lodging. Crossing a bridge, we see a woman walking towards us, waving excitedly. "Hi!", I say, "are you looking for your little lost lambs?" [Gabe, Peter and John groan inwardly...but I'm thinking that this is the woman who is renting us lodging, that she was expecting us, and that she has found us!] The woman looks at me quizzically, and gently explains that she is greeting her friend--who is walking right behind us. Augggh.

Not having happened on our lodging, we decide to take a more scientific approach. We call the phone number, and are directed to a small shop where Solveig, the daughter of Gudrun and Valgeir (owners of the guesthouse), awaits us. She takes us to our lodging, which is an entire house, about 30 years old. It has a somewhat cheesy, '80's decor, and is very clean and comfortable, with 4 bedrooms, a bath, a large kitchen, and a sitting room. It is huge, by our recent standards, and less than what we paid for last night's tiny, bathroom-less cabin! It is about 9 pm so the market has closed--we'll get groceries tomorrow. In the meantime, laundry is a priority. Solveig shows us where we can do some laundry, at one of their other houses, and after we get our laundry underway I decide to go in search of Bill Holm.

[Special laundry update: a number of times during this trip we asked where a laundromat might be. This was the wrong question. The question should have been, "why are there no laundromats in Iceland?" Entrepreneurs, this is your hot tip.]

Holm, you may remember, is the author of Eccentric Islands, Coming Home Crazy, and a number of other books I have enjoyed. It was Bill who sparked my interest in Iceland. He is a Minnesotan of Icelandic ancestry. As I read his essays that mentioned Iceland I thought I should familiarize myself with some Icelandic literature, never having read any. I started with the sagas and with Halldor Laxness, and was immediately hooked. Bill teaches two, one-week writers' workshops in Hofsos each year (along with other authors). He bought an old fisherman's cottage in Hofsos, and stays here most of the summer to write.

Solveig had pointed out Bill's cottage to me, so I head right up to the door and knock. No answer. It doesn't take much thinking to come to the conclusion that there is only one place that anyone could be in Hofsos at night, if they are not at home. I make an about face and walk a few yards to the Solvik Cafe...a lovely old building with a broad porch. I look in the door and sure enough, Bill is there dining with friends. How do I know it is him? Well, no one looks like Bill Holm but Bill Holm.

I don't want to interrupt his dinner, so I walk back to his cottage, and leave a note in the book I have brought him as a gift (Brighten the Corner Where You Are, by Fred Chappell). In the note I remind him of my phone call some 5 months before, tell him where we are staying, and say I'd love to meet him if he has time.

John and I go back to tend to the laundry, and by the time we return to our house guess who is standing in the driveway with Gabe, Peter, and an unfamiliar woman? Meanwhile a lot of confusion ensues regarding two women staying in a renovated garage on our property, a lack of hot water, and Bill trying to help them with his cell phone. It all gets straightened out, the woman returns to her cold shower, and we invite Bill into our kitchen.

It is fun talking to Bill, for I feel as if I know him already, having read so many of his thoughtful, funny, autobiographical essays. Gabe, Peter, John and I all sit around the kitchen table with Bill Holm as we chat about politics (the Alcoa plant, among other things), literature, and places to see in Iceland. Peter keeps Bill's water glass filled, in a most host-like fashion, that being all we have to offer. Only after Bill leaves does it occur to me that we could have offered him coffee! We find out that Bill is currently at work on two books, one of which will be called "Windows of Brimnes," the windows being those of his fisherman's cottage, Brimnes, here in Hofsos. I am really eager to read this book when it is published! Here is his "window":

Bill complains that the weather hasn't been good this summer, and that Hofsos has been foggy for weeks. Tonight, for example, you can't see across the fjord (Skagafjordur), and you can't even see Drangey Island. You can't see at all.

This comment, however, plants an idea in my mind...

I was really scared when we climbed Mt. Eldfell in Heimaey, and I have been worrying, increasingly, about climbing Drangey. The island consists of sheer cliffs that are nearly 700 feet high. I have seen pictures of the trail up the cliff, and it is daunting...terrifying, even. On the other hand, Wincie has climbed Drangey, Judith has climbed Drangey, Bill himself has climbed Drangey. When we asked our youthful hostess, Solveig, if she had climbed Drangey (remember, she has lived in Hofsos all her life), she replied that no, she is scared of heights...

As my worrying has increased, and as I have verbalized it more, John has started to worry as well. So the idea Bill plants is that possibly it will be too foggy to go out to Drangey Island. Granted, this is one of the top three things I longed to do while in Iceland. And I have already phoned "Farmer Jon" (who is the boat captain and honorary "Earl of Drangey") to place our reservation for the trip tomorrow. But, if it is too foggy for the boat to go out, then it is out of my hands...

After Bill Holm leaves, and a perfectly wonderful day comes to a close, I go to sleep asking myself, "do I feel lucky?"

Driving through northern Iceland

Sunday: Part 1

We get going early--this campground isn't our favorite. Cabin too small and too expensive; bathrooms too far; campground too crowded; not convenient to food. John completes his "sketch of the day" before we leave. He is becoming more smug each day that he draws and we don't. We put up with this attitude because we love his drawings! (Just kidding, John.)

We take a dirt road to the waterfalls in Jokulsargljufur National Park, which includes Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe. It is a very powerful waterfall, full of grey water with lots of sediment in it, roaring over rocks. We follow a rocky path alongside it, and see people on the far side of the river/waterfall, where the path is very green and grassy. The canyon has the feel of the Grand Canyon in many ways: the cliffs are full of light, shadow and color, the water below changes velocity, direction and color, the landscape is varied. We could spend several days here, hiking and exploring. Time is too short.

We travel farther up the river canyon to a horseshoe shaped valley. This valley, Asbyrgi, was created when Odin's eight-legged horse left his hoofprint here. I am guessing this was quite some time ago. The valley is enclosed by high, rocky cliffs, and in the valley itself are lots of low trees--birch and pine--as well as grass and wildflowers.Continuing on along the north coast, and heading west, we stop at some wonderful overlooks to enjoy the ocean stretching northwards on this sunny day; as usual, the birdlife is extremely varied. We arrive in Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland, and walk around the downtown area before settling on a nice restaurant, Bautinn, for lunch. John says,
Gabe and I are adventuresome and order the whale. It is much different than I expected--deep red meat, a little stringy, a faint tast of fish and beef. It is quite good, and I may never have a chance to try it again.
At expensive restaurants we find that sharing a dish among two people works well, both for the budget and because of the ample portions. Today's lunch/dinner (no coffee, wine, or dessert) is $75. USD with four of us sharing two dishes! Of course we must sample a local coffee shop before leaving.

The weather today is cloudless and perfect--at least 70°F! (To see the actual temp., instead of what I thought it was, look at the end of the posting. I guess by this time I am getting well acclimated to Icelandic temperatures!)

The drive from Akureyri to Hofsos is stunning. A line of mountains to the west of Akureyri consists of 4 or 5 glaciers, so the snow-capped peaks rising up are really impressive. Huge peaks, huge shadows, sunlight behind them, snow...Today was a long driving day, about 7 hours total, made shorter by the lovely views around each bend in the road. Yesterday was an 8 hour driving day. We hope not to drive this many hours again in one day.

The fog is starting to settle in as we come in to Hofsos, one of my most-anticipated destinations of this trip. It is a lovely village that is special to me for several reasons: it is where one of my favorite authors, Bill Holm, spends his summers, and it is our base for the journey to Drangey Island. I have read a number of Bill's stories that feature Hofsos, and this is prime saga country, so it is thrilling to be here in person.

High 56°F Low 41°F

Jul 22, 2006

Lagoon to Lagoon

Today is another sunny day, all day, and starts with a rush of excitement. The huge mountain face behind our guesthouse is free of clouds, rising up grandly before us. We are off to an early start for Jokulsarlon, because we want to get on the first boat out on the lagoon. It's a short drive, and I can hardly wait.

We arrive early and find the man in the yellow "lifewest." Thus begins an adventure with many firsts: our first trip on an amphibious vehicle, first trip on a glacial lagoon, first time to eat glacial ice (which happens to be 1,000-1,500 years old).

What we encounter is a nearly 700-foot-deep lagoon with icebergs floating in it. These icebergs are calved, or broken off of the many fingers of the large glacier which meets the lagoon waters. Only one tenth of the icebergs can be seen, while the bulk of them float below the water line. The colors are mystical and beautiful: crystal blues, shimmering whites, black patterns on the ice caused by lava sand. The deepest-blue 'bergs are ones that have turned over. Seven years from now the largest of these icebergs will finally have melted.

A young man in an inflatable raft-boat with an outboard motor follows behind us. His role may be to help our larger craft find the safest route through the icebergs, to pick up any tourists that fall overboard while leaning out to take photos, or to practice trick maneuvers...possibly all of the above. Our guide hands us a chunk of glacial ice which the raft guy has retrieved for her. We pass it around, examining it, and then she hammers it into pieces for us to breakfast upon. The ice is incredibly dense and clear, with no air bubbles in it...move over, Culligan! The photo opportunities are overwhelming, both from the boat as well as walking alongside the lagoon. We imagine that our friend Gunnella would need an entire day here with her camera.

If you want to see this ethereal sight for yourself, check out one of these James Bond films: A View to Kill, or Die Another Day.

Gabe is already out of film and wishing he had brought more with him. He purchases some at the gift shop, and after much picture-taking we continue counter-clockwise along the Ring Road. We arrive at the town of Hofn, situated on a large harbor with a fabulous view beyond of 4 or 5 glacial fingers reaching down from the massive Vatnasjokull glacier. We get gas and groceries, then reward ourselves with pastries and coffee--a developing ritual.

Now we head up into the East Fjords and, impossibly, the scenery becomes even more spectacular. Each fjord has its own unique characteristics, featuring towering, jagged peaks, sun-sparkled water, deep tunnels through mountains and road surfaces that change from paved to gravel and back. When we stop the car to get out and admire a view, it's a feast for all the senses: mountains and water as far as you can see, birds calling, warm sunshine, and a slight or strong breeze bringing a crisp, clean, fresh smell that you want to breathe in forever. It's sensory overload of a huge, peaceful kind; it's religion; it's Iceland!

Lunch is an enjoyable interlude at Cafe Margret, a German restaurant/chalet/inn across from Breiddalsvik. The chalet is filled with paintings and drawings, antique furniture and china, and every surface, walls, ceiling, and floor, is smooth Finnish pine. Gabe and I share a dish of fresh cod with horseradish sauce, lime, potatoes and salad. It is very ample for the two of us, and is the best meal I've had in Iceland (so far). There are other discoveries here as well: a small inn upstairs, with cozy sitting rooms, overstuffed chairs, windows and skylights, balconies. A double room costs about $120. USD--I would love to return here and stay the night!

After lunch we investigate some of the outbuildings and discover the ultimate chicken house, complete with a boot functioning as a flower vase, a turf roof, and typical scandinavian wooden cross-bars (there must be a name for these) with chicken-head motifs. We take pictures so that Antonia can use the design as inspiration for her as-yet unbuilt chicken house.

Back in the car, many more fjords await us. We could eliminate a lot of snaking back and forth, and shorten the ride, but that would require traveling over large mountains with scary curves, no guardrails, and gravel surfaces. How can I enjoy the view if I'm so terrified that my eyes are closed? The occupants of the car indulge Mom and we take the long way.

The long way gives us the opportunity to see one very hot potato of a fjord, where divergent Icelandic political views focus on an Alcoa aluminum smelting plant. We can see the huge, sprawling plant across the fjord in the distance. What we can't see is what is being planned to power the plant: the damming of some of Iceland's wildest, largest, most pristine glacial rivers of the interior. This is a huge environmental controversy, and you can get a taste by looking at Saving Iceland.

Leaving the Alcoa site at Reydarfjördur we travel inland to Egilsstadir. We stop at a gas station adjacent to an outdoor soccer field that is ringed by rocks and...trees! We stop to enjoy an agressive game of soccer by two girls teams.

We continue our drive across the highlands, encountering lava deserts, sheep, fantastic rock formations, steep ravines and the unvaryingly spectacular scenery that you can't escape in Iceland. Our destination is Lake Myvatn, a favorite vacation spot.

Driving down to the lake we pass a plant where geothermal energy is harnessed to process diatomaceous earth that is dredged or excavated from the nearby lake. The word diatomite is familiar to us, but we are very surprised when we later look up the word and are reminded of its many uses! Check it out!

The diatomite plant is eerily beautiful at early dusk, with clouds of steam above aqua blue water ponds, in a stark landscape. We read in our guidebook that there is a hot springs lagoon area, part of the plant, where the public can bathe. We can't wait to go...before bed, tonight!

Lodging is a tiny cabin in a campground. Really tiny...nothing but bunks, a little table, and a little porch. We share the bathrooms, showers and kitchen facilities with the tent campers. Our cabinette is on the shores of the lake, the shores themselves being immense, ridged lava fields. After unpacking and having a picnic ("snack") dinner, we jump in the car, excited (some of us, anyway) about our upcoming mineral bath.

We don't know what to expect. The guidebook described how people used to bathe in geothermal ponds used by the diatomite plant, and how that was not necessarily very safe. Then the plant opened up an area specifically for the public to use. Would it be a pond in the middle of an empty lava field? Would other people be there? Would it be clothing optional? We figure that, worst case scenario, we could change into our swim suits in the car and wear our sandals to walk to the springs.

What we find is a small, not-very-commercial version of the Blue Lagoon. Although not nearly as large as its touristy cousin, this lagoon is still large, on a hill overlooking the lake. The bathing lagoon itself has the appearance of an "eternity pool" extending out to the skyline. There is an attractive, new building with a cafe, changing and shower facilities. It is a very chilly dash from the building to the lagoon, but the pool itself is hot enough to be nearly painful. Oh joy! From the surreal, steaming blue waters, perched on black lava rock seats we watch the sun dip past the lagoon, the lake, and the horizon as it approaches midnight. Sulphuric smells arise with the steam, and the water has an extremely soft, silky, alkaline feel to it--it is supposed to be very good for skin conditions. Gabriel is frustrated to be without his camera. He is willing to dash inside through the cold to retrieve it, and to risk ruining his 35mm antique (my Minolta from 1969) by taking it into the lagoon to document this event. Thank you, Gabe!

We sleep well in our mini-cabin, totally relaxed.
High 60° Low 46°