Land of Ice

We had a few stupid travel days.  On Monday, we flew from Eugene to Seattle, waited there a few hours, flew overnight to Reykjavik (seven hours in the air, seven more hours of time change).  On Tuesday, we drove around but were jet lagged, and had to take a short nap at one point.  Wednesday was a nice travel day, driving around.  And Thursday is another stupid travel day, getting up at 5am to fly to Copenhagen and then on to Venice, hopefully arriving at our hotel before dark.

Monday, August 28, we arrived at the tiny Eugene airport to no lines at all.  The Delta agent did a bunch of typing and determined that yes, she could check our bag all the way to Reykjavik, even though it was on a different airline and a different itinerary.  So nice not to have to stand in another baggage check line in Seattle.  

A sign on the outside of the Icelandair plane by the boarding door identified the plane as “Grabrok”, a “friendly volcano” that kids climb up.  Icelandair still seems like a good airline except that now they charge for food.  We managed to get a few hours of sleep on the flight.  By then it was Tuesday.  The tiny rental car place upgraded our “compact” to a “station wagon” that was really a “hatchback”.  Perhaps if we’d taken their offer for a “jeep” it would have been an “SUV”.  We went to a generic chain bakery in Keflavik and paid $14 for someone to press the Latte button and the Hot Chocolate button, and serve a couple pastries.  Premium Mediocre.  Then we drove into Reykjavik (about 45 minutes), got some tips from Tourist Information, including a better coffee place, where we paid $14 for some light-roast yuppie coffee, some yunnan tea, and a nice bagel with salmon and cream cheese.  That was more like it.

The weather in Iceland was fine:  it seldom rained, but was unfortunately too cloudy to see the Northern Lights.  We drove up the coast.  At one point we found ourselves entering a tunnel that was six km long under a fjord.  The first four kms were a moderate downhill, and the last two were a steeper uphill, with a climbing lane; the shape of the fjord bed must be like that.  When we got out they asked us for 1000 ISK ($10), not that much more than the Bay Bridge.  We reached the central western peninsula, and stopped for some more precise tourist information and had a nap.  That information led us to a very nice place on the coast to watch harbor seals and gray seals, a large colony of ducks, and a few other seabirds.  Further along we found a tiny canyon to hike into, walking between the walls on the rocks in the creek.  Several lethargic gulls were sitting on the ground.  Maybe they were sick or injured.  We continued driving through the national park by the volcano, and stopped at a lava field coated with lichen, with a large patch of wild blueberries.  Finally, we found our Welcome Apartments in Olafsvik, and ate at one of the two restaurants in town.  We had a serviceable apple chicken salad, and “fish of the day”, fried cod with vegetables.  Only $50 or so, still a bit premium mediocre.  The fish in Iceland is considerably cheaper than the vegetables.

Wednesday we headed east, stopping to see a waterfall and a lava field.  The first waterfall was next to a mountain whose perfect shape the locals were very proud of.  The river had a curse on it that there would never be any fish in that river and nobody could ever swim because somebody in the mythic past had drowned there while fishing.  Fair enough.  Then we went to see the Hraunfossar, a most interesting formation where snowmelt flows underneath a gravelly lava field (“Hraun”), and leaks out into a river in a row of springs over the length of a thousand meters or so.  At the upper end of this is a torrential cut through a narrow twisted canyon.  It shares one property with Victoria Falls — no good vantage for a photograph.  There are some drone movies showing a traversal of the length.  I suppose somebody must have posted drone videos along the Zambezi as well.  We then visited Grabrok, our plane’s namesake volcano, which indeed was friendly:  stairs made for a very easy climb into its crater, from whose edge one also could peek into the crater of the adjacent volcano.  The Garmin said that the walk up the volcano, around the rim, and back to the parking lot, was only about 1300 meters.

It was starting to get late, and we headed back toward Reykjavik.  We stopped at Costco for gas, where they honored my US membership (though someone came out and helped with scanning the barcode), and checked out prices in the warehouse, which were obscenely high, though probably still a bargain for Iceland.  Apparently 1 out of 4 Icelandic adults are Costco members, and it only opened in May of this year.  Then we went to Matur og Drykkur (“food and drink”) , a delightful little restaurant.  The combination of the two tasting menus started with five plates involving chips:  a chip made out of dried fish, one made out of lamb, one made out of lamb testicles, one holding very-smoked trout (smoked in sheep dung among other things), and seaweed chips served with roe.  The main courses included a nice piece of lamb, and an enormous flambeed cod head, not much smaller than our own.  We got to our airbnb near the airport pretty late but the guy didn’t mind; he was just on his way to pick up one of his other customers from his arriving flight.