If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are a thousand pictures worth?

As of this very moment, Kathy has taken over 1,000 photographs. And I can’t blame her, it’s really quite an amazing place to see. But the woman is a machine (and so is her camera).

You know the saying you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone? In some ways, today was kind of like that. We saw some outstanding places and things (and I’ll get to that later), but unlike yesterday’s small group in the super-Land Rover with the interesting tour guide from Iceland who was well read and an adventurer himself, today we had John (sadly, originally from Canada) who’s been a tour guide in Iceland for almost 50 years, and yet can’t string a story together to save his life. And instead of riding in the intimate jeep, we were on a huge charter bus with many people who couldn’t seem to follow the simplest of instructions…we will get off the bus here. We will take photos of this incredible thing, then we will walk down here and catch the bus at point B. How many people went back to where the bus let us out, and wondered where the bus went…more than I can count…

To be absolutely fair, if yesterday’s tour wasn’t included in our package, it would have cost over $200. Today’s tour, the same length and probably covering the same distances, was $78. You kind of get what you pay for.

The Golden Circle Tour is one of the most popular in Iceland, and really gives a good highlight of that particular region. We saw the Gullfoss Waterfall — incredibly amazing but with winds so high Kathy and I thought we might be blown right off our feet and into the waterfalls. And the full on protection between us and certain death in the falls — a flimsy rope barrier with a sign that said something like, “barrier is not secured”. Basically, don’t count on this, you’re on your own, buddy…

It's windy!
It’s windy!

We also went to the Geysir hot springs, which is the geyser that all other geysers are named for, but it doesn’t really go off with any regularity any more. The most active one is Strokkur, which regularly shoots up to 30 m in the air. And it’s not nice water — it’s water that smells like sulfur with a temperature between 80-100 degrees. It’s impressive, but gives no warning before it’s about to erupt. All I could think of were the first unsuspecting Vikings who came across these hot pots of water, possibly thinking they might be able to use the water for cooking or, after cooling it down a little, bathing, or something useful and then all of a sudden BANG, it shoots into the air! If you didn’t believe in trolls or little people or Norse gods before, you might just be converted after Satan himself spews forth from the earth. OR, you might be instantly boiled, in which case it would be the next Viking guy’s opportunity to figure out what the heckla was going on…(note the Icelandic reference from the last entry…10 points to those who were paying attention…)

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Looks just like a nice bit of warm water…
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Then BOOM! Geysir!

Oh, total non-sequitur… in Viking, a slave is called a thrall. So to be enthralled is to be enslaved… think about that the next time you’re captivated by something…okay…lingual geek-out finished….

Back to the day of on the bus/off the bus…We visited Thingvellir National Park which is the site of the oldest continuous parliament in the world… since 900 something. And there is still a Minister of Althing in Iceland, who is, I guess, in charge of this. We wouldn’t really know though, as we had the most vague travel guide in the world…. It’s all very lovely and we got to see it from on high. No sense letting the people on the bus get too close in case they muck everything up…

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Thingvellir National Park. 

Our final stop of the day, after a quick jaunt to an inactive volcano crater and a really old church…but not the original church…then one that was built on a different site, after the older, larger, more impressive church burned down… was the geothermal plant. Call me a stick in the mud, but after 7 hours of taking in the sites, I just didn’t have it in me to go in, pay 600ISK for a tour, and pretend to enjoy wandering around a plant. I appreciate the green energy that is geothermal…but do I really care how it’s made…nope. But it was like we were doing something wrong, people gave us the evil eye. The annoying guy behind us who knew everything demanded to know why were we staying on the bus. But we protested by steadfastly staying on the bus. Well, after a while we did get off the bus, but only because we noticed a nice gift shop inside the geothermal plant main lobby…we will get off the but for a shop-portunity…

Speaking of shopping, it’s a good thing I’m not dying for one of these Icelandic sweaters we see everywhere. They are 100% wool and could not be more itchy. I can’t imagine how the Icelanders can stand wearing them. I said something to that effect to an Icelander, and he said, with a totally straight face, that Icelanders who were allergic to wool died off years ago. No doubt. I would be a scratchy, boily, mess. So not pretty. So not getting me a Viking husband in the time of the Sagas.

I will say, however, that I am totally in love with the geothermal system here. I will miss, more than anything, INSTANTANEOUS hot water, and INSTANTANEOUS cold water from any tap. It’s genius.

We finished off today by taking a cab into the centre of town and indulging in a little micro-brew pubbing in town. Icelanders make some very nice microbrews….but at 950 ISK ($8 a beer), they better be good!!!!

And now it’s 1 am. We are about to have our last Icelandic sleep (and I’m pleased to report it’s actually finally dark outside) and tomorrow we head for warm, healing geothermic waters of The Blue Lagoon before making our way to the airport and saying good bye to this amazing northern country.

The Blue Lagoon 1 The Blue Lagoon 2
It’s been a whirlwind trip. We’ve seen so many highlights and travelled such long distances in this young volcanic country. We’re exhausted, enthralled (there’s that word!) and still processing everything we’ve done and seen. Because as of right now, I think we’ve been here for something like 72 hours.

In Sweden they don’t say go to H$%L, they say go to Hekla…it’s a volcano in Iceland…

Wow. What a difference a good night’s sleep makes. When the gentle iPhone alarm went off this morning at 6:30 am, I was good and ready to get up. Feeling refreshed and ready to face the day (thank you Starbucks VIVA instant coffee packets, which I’m absolutely certain is of infinitely better quality than the Bonus No-Name Freeze Dried Coffee provided with the in-room kettle), Kathy and I headed down to the lobby for 8 am to join the glacier/waterfall tour.

And who was in the lobby but the absolutely horrible woman who was the problem at check in yesterday. Kathy and I began our agnostic prayers that she wasn’t in our super jeep group for the day.

But then karma bit her in the butt…she said something that we didn’t hear to her mother, who immediately erupted with, “you humiliated me in front of all these people yesterday…”

Kristiejen brought us to his Land Rover Super Jeep (outfitted with ginormous tires, which came in handy later on in the day), and we were joined by Hugh and Vinny from New York, and a couple from Virginia, who told us their names, but they were basically such beige people that we immediately forgot them.

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Super jeep!
Prepping for some off-roading
Prepping for some off-roading

Basically, in just one day, we’ve experienced some of Iceland’s contrasts, from powerful volcanic forces to the frozen world of glaciers (and glacier trolls!) to vast black sand beaches, from off-roading in a fabulous super-Land Rover (the people in the Nissan kept getting turtled on the ridges ..oh that fabulous British Empire engineering) that had to have the tires deflated at one point so we could traverse these rushing rivers dissecting the valley, to ice hiking with the lovely Margaret as our guide…it was a day to remember.

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Glacier hiking…nice ax!
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Geothermal makes Iceland toasty warm.
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It’s damp under the Seljalandsfoss (waterfall)!
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I thought the glacier – called Solheimajokill –  would be blue ice…the grey is volcanic ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallakokull, the volcano that erupted in 2010, closing down most of Europe’s airspace.

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And even more impressively, Kathy has learned to say the names of all the places we went in flawless Icelandic — go ahead and try this at home… Eyjafjallajokull (that’s the volcano that erupted in 2010 that closed down most of Europe’s airspace), Solheimajokill (that’s the glacier) and Seljalandsfoss (the waterfall). I can barely say any of them, let alone attempting to say it out loud…in front of other people…

I’m rarely at a loss for words (surprise, I know.). But this I can say, it’s hard to put into words what we saw today. Maybe this will explain it — Kathy took 415 photos (I took fewer than that…)

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We’ve been reviewing the photos and they are truly unreal. It’s like Disney came to this country and painted it with it’s magic brush. Idyllic sheep and trotting Icelandic horses (and it’s spring so there are baby sheep and foals everywhere), volcanoes and waterfalls, glaciers  and a very cool black lava sand beach.

For future reference, turns out hiking on a glacier is warmer than you might think. I didn’t need my gloves or hat, and really I was wearing too many layers. I was thinking Ontario in the winter cold. Wrong. I was sweating, wishing I had left my coat behind in the jeep.

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Black sand beach. Don’t go adrift, from Iceland the next landmass south is Antarctica

One of guides driving another super jeep stripped down and threw himself into North Atlantic for little swim. We all applauded, but stayed on land. The water was just above freezing, and he stayed in for a while.

Tonight we pub — in the most expensive country in Europe. Apparently Icelanders party like it’s 1999 from Thursday to Sunday every weekend.

In Iceland They Believe in Elves

Most Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. After having been up for about 24 hours, with a short nap or two thrown in, I think I may have seen an elf or two.

Kathy and I landed in Reykjavik at the Keflavik airport at about 6:55 am (or about 3 am TO time), and were immediately stunned by the airport. It was like the whole place came flat packed from IKEA. It even smelled like an IKEA…all that blonde wood and sleek lines…I almost expected to see a blue arrow on the ground directing me through customs or to have someone hand me a allen key…. They are so efficient here that we got off the plane, got through customs and arrived at the baggage claim within about 10 minutes of landing. And to my incredible surprise, our luggage was already going round the belt line.

We got on our transport bus, and then the efficiency ended. It took ages to get to the hotel — and the landscape outside the city is truly a moonscape. I couldn’t really wrap my head around the fact that it was real and not a movie set. And every so often, apropos of nothing, there would be a park bench by the side of the road. Is it actually possible that people get out of the car for a nice picnic lunch in this Mars-like place?

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Oh the rush hour traffic…not. There are only 320,000 in the whole country. Granted, most of them live in Reykjavik, but still. It’s a bit eerie to have all these buildings and facilities and no body really around.

We did finally arrive at the Hotel Natura, although it took a little while as there seems to be a fair amount of daily turnover in this hotel. There were some very grumply people in line (and not us, we were just resigned/tired, except when the grumpy people were being jerks.) We seemed to be plagued by people in front of us asking endless questions and pestering staff about prices… after they’ve already read all the details months ago. It’s a package people, say thank you and check in. Some of us needed a shower. And breakfast. Which was good, and some of the Icelandic breakfast dishes were particularly good — like the skyr, which is like greek yoghurt, and this barley oatmeal like cereal, and the bread, oh the bread. I took a pass on the herring, the caviar from a tube, the small shot glass of cod liver oil, and the maple syrup flavour pancake goo. I”m Canadian, I know maple syrup people, and that ain’t it.

It’s not that cold, but the wind is UNREAL. We are going to have bad hair in all our photos, all week long.

We got bus passes from the hotel so after a shower and breakfast, we took ourselves into town for a wander around. It’s a really nice little city, very much a harbour town and a small town vibe. Easy to navigate (apparently) although Kathy is already stunned by my directional incompetency. She just laughs every time I say, oh yeah, I’m sure it’s that way…then she walks in the right direction.

It’s kind of amazing to be in a place where every sign is totally unpronounceable. I see a shop, read the sign, and have no idea what’s for sale inside.

Everything is so incredibly expensive, but we did go to the Bonus grocery store for some supplies. Why the Bonus “mascot” is a fairly drunk looking pig is a mystery. Lots of strange packaging — why the cat with the big muscles, wearing a where’s waldo striped t-shirt on the chocolate milk? The white milk is easy to spot. It’s called Muu.

We’re back at the hotel, we;ve used the spa (sauna, steam room, pool, hot tub), which is an experience in itself. Let’s just say the Scandanavian culture takes a different view of public nudity than say we North Americans…. You can tell which side Kathy and I play for…

After 24 hours, I’ve finally taken my contact lenses out (my eyes can breathe again!) And we’re preparing for an early bed tonight (I just realized that for all of you it’s only 1:43 pm), so we can be up and ready for our glacier tour tomorrow at 8 am sharp.

More tomorrow after our adventures with volcanos, glaciers and waterfalls. In the wise words of my 6 year old nephew, we will not be walking on the ice fields if it’s very hot out. It’s not safe.

All for now from the land of white nights, Lief Eriksson and fermented shark snacks….