Monday, December 29, 2014

Northern Lights-Iceland: Round the World Leg 4

After flying to Thailand (via Hong Kong) and Nepal (via Doha) our flight to Iceland was a piece of cake! Nonstop from our very own Philadelphia airport was only about 5.5 hours on Icelandair. The flight, decorated for Christmas and full of (Icelander) locals, was uneventuful. It felt like we were barely settled in from our 7:55pm take off when we began to prepare for our 6:35am descent into Reykjavik!

Nothing to note upon arrival except this:

A baguette on the baggae belt.

As always, we had researched endlessly for the best overall car rental company. So, a blend of reliability and cost. We chose SADcars: "We are the cheapest Iceland car rental offering good solid cars at the lowest possible price from Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik downtown. Our rental cars are used cars with experience but are very well maintained!" Note: ice scraper not included! (We learned there was not an ice scraper when we needed an ice scraper.) Restrictions on rentals in winter include F roads which are closed and are drive at your own risk; they are not plowed or maintained. An excellent resource for road conditions in Iceland:

SADcards met us at the airport-they waited in the arrival hall for us with a sign.  Younger guy, not overly warm, did not help us with our bags, led us through a snowy icy parking lot to his waiting van-which was nice and toasty so very appreciative of that! Our driver warmed up a bit as I asked for his help with some Icelandic pronunciations (: And it was a minute or two into the drive until we realized there was another couple in the dark van behind us! Dark because December in Iceland the days are short with sunrise being around 11:30am and sunset being around 3:30m. 

We learned the other couple was only there for a couple of nights but had researched every moment of their stay-which normally I can relate to! This trip, however, was solely about the Northern Lights and there was little we could do to "plan" for them! Still dark as we depart the SADcars lot in our blue AWD 2000ish Subaru Legacy GL wagon, we set our GPS for our first lodging in Hella about an hour southeast. Along the way, our fatigue and the dark snowy peaceful landscape got the better of us and we pulled into an empty store parking lot.  Fast forward a couple of hours later: It is now daylight and the lot is packed. We are surrounded by people who look in as we unrecline our seats, look around, and rub our eyes-totally expecting the next sound to be a policeman tapping his flashlight on our window asking us what the hell we are doing (luckily this doesn't happen).

Getting out first glimpse of the breathaking landscape that surrounds us I can only think cookies and cream!

We shove off: destination Hotel Ranga!

Hotel Ranga is a top hotel in Iceland and has an excellent reputation for seeing the Northern Lights. Our first impression is that it is "nice" but not four-star nice. For example it would be an improvement to have a welcome drink, an offer to help with our bags, an escort to our room, a tour of the grounds, and some complimentary Icelandic snacks. But we say to each other maybe that's just not how it's done here. And really these are just nits.

The service otherwise we were really really pleased with. The bar who happily prepared me an Icelandic French 75-thanks Lukas! The dining room who effortlessly (and accurately) catered to my vegan diet and who plated each dish as a stunning work of art. And the hotel manager who after just a single conversation totally "got" us and agreed whole-heartedly in our decision to skip the Blue Lagoon.

Let me show you around.

Our room faces the north so we won't have to go outside if we don't want to!

On the nights leading up to Christmas, Yule Lads such as the Sausage Stealer visit our room in Ranga leaving goodies. Namely, licorice. Lots and lots of licorice. Icelanders *love* their licorice!

Iceland’s beloved folklore adds to the mystique and thrill of the Christmas Season with no less than 13 mischievous Yule Lads, or jolasveinar who are supposed to be descendants of trolls or elves. They live in the mountains with their terrifying ogress mother Gryla and her giant black cat, which eats all the children who don’t receive new clothes for Christmas.

Instead of bringing gifts, the Yule Lads take turns sneaking into town during the 13 days before Christmas to create mischief as Icelandic families prepare for the holiday festivities. During this time 'Window Peeper', 'Bowl Licker', 'Door Slammer' and their 10 brothers do just what their names suggest.

But these playful lads aren’t all bad, they often make appearances at holiday gatherings to sing and dance around the Christmas tree, and they do leave a small present in the shoes of children who leave them on windowsills for that purpose.

After Christmas, the Yule Lads head back to the mountains one at a time until they’ve all gone. On New Year’s Eve things get really interesting when, according to local folklore, elves become visible, people come out of their graves, seals take human form and cows develop human speech. Needless to say the holidays are not a dull time to visit Iceland!

I ask in the lobby, "what are these?" and point to a grouping of firefighter uniforms hanging on the wall, wondering the reason for increased risk of fires to necessitate the easy-access of these fire suits. "Oh those are brand new" reception announces proudly. They are actually snowsuits!! I have never ever seen such heavy duty professsional looking gear! These are for guests use to keep warm when going out to see the lights! Technically they are to stay in the lobby but she says, "Go ahead, take two to your room so you are sure to have them!"

Reception displays right on their counter a list of room numbers to mark off whether you'd like to be notified via a phone call if the lights come out at any point during your slumber. Um, YES PLEASE! YES! YES! YES! I have excitement chills now as I write this remembering exactly how I felt that night! We take a warm bath, lay out our clothing to put on "just in case" a call comes, and get into our toasty bed-Chris of course asleep within minutes (it's a gift). I lay there reading, looking out the window every other second and trying like mad to stay awake as long as I can (See Galkadawala). a child on Christmas Eve...I to...RING!  I laugh now but I am telling you I can say with *absolute certainty* we have never moved so quickly in our lives. With the speed and agility of firemen leaping to action to save the lives of babies and puppies we spring from that bed. Instantly I am at the window. I am literally shaking with excitement. "Where?!" I yell. "Where where where??" I can't see anything? I turn to get dressed and Chris, in the most urgent tone I think I've ever heard him use, calls me to the window.  Oh my gosh... there they are.

Dream come true <3

We fail miserably at trying to adjust to the change in time and daylight and a few instances find ourselves waking up after the sun has already set! We explore Iceland by day and wait for a sky full of those amazing lights by night.

Iceland is the first and only time in our RTW journeys we are ever mistaken for locals; pale white, we fit right in (: Store clerks without a second thought speak to us in the local language and, like all our travels, I do my best to respond in kind. Early-on, however, it becomes painfully obvious that despite having a decent handle on Spanish, Thai, Nepali, and even Arabic, I am not going to be able to communicate in Icelandic-it is a very difficult language! It becomes the only one I just couldn't grasp on our journeys!


Let's take a drive around southern Iceland!

Snowed-out signs like this make me laugh.

Churches are everywhere and they all look strangely but quaintly alike with red-rooved white buildings with a cross-topped steeple. 

Chris: I wonder if they take turns laying down (single tiny patch of green if field of snow). I would've thought "dead horse" but I could see his warm breath billowing from his nostrils into the cold air.

Along the sides of the road you'd see steam rising and signs warning you of boiling temperatures!

I love these "friendly" traffic lights in Selfoss.

Something else prominent in this country: folklore.

Iceland’s unique environment is respectively matched by its distinctive folklore which is rich in tales of aquatic monsters, ghosts, spirits, elves and trolls. During the long dark nights of Icelandic winters, storytelling was the chief form of entertainment with each region having its own treasure trove of colorful legends passed down over the centuries through the oral and written traditions.

Despite today’s globalized world of modern age technology and electronic media, there are ancient folklore beliefs that are alive and well in Iceland. Surveys show that more than half the nation believes in elves and ‘hidden people,’ or at least don’t deny their existence. (It’s considered bad luck to do so!)

The 'hidden people' or Huldufolk are believed to be living in the lava rocks and include elves, trolls, fairies, tiny sprites and other supernatural beings.  According to legend, Eve hadn't finished washing her children when God came to visit, so she had to hide the unwashed children away, and they were destined to remain forever ‘hidden.’

The elves of Iceland are considered benevolent beings but are fiercely protective of their homes. Traditionally, great harm has come to those who disturb an elf’s dwelling. Respectful of their elfin neighbors, Icelanders go to great lengths to avoid disturbing rocks where elves are said to live. There are several cases where the highway department has consulted local ‘elf experts’ who recommend where new roads will do the least harm to the Huldufolk.

Elves are invisible to nearly all humans, but are most likely to be spotted on certain days of the year: New Year's Eve, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night and Christmas.

Trolls are equally elusive members of the Huldufolk, only lurking after dark because if they are caught in sunlight they turn into stone. The Icelandic countryside is scattered with oddly shaped lava formations which are said to be the bodies of petrified trolls, trapped in stone for all time.(

Also prominent in Iceland is cleanliness. It is worth noting that Iceland is the cleanest country we have ever seen. Even the gas stations are absolutely spotless.

We take a wonderfully scenic drive to Iceland's southernmost village of Vik to experience what has been noted as one of the ten most beautiful beaches on earth.  Giant black mountains tower in greeting as we approach the tiny town and if you are not careful you might miss the main attraction as we nearly do. We slowly motor into the village admiring adorable homes and the quaint church perched high atop a hill and then in the  blink of an eye slowly motor right out of it. 

We find ourselves on a long narrow road hugged on the left by grand towering rock and on the right by the sea.  We want to get a better look.  A great stretch of black sand dotted with dunes as tall as I separates us from the water.

We pull the car to the side but "to the side" means as soon as you are off the pavement you are on the sand. Inching further, further, but not too far we abandon the car and begin our exploration. It is otherworldly. The sand is quite wet like walking on very moist cake and many steps we take sink us to our knees-I can't lie visions of us sinking to our suffocating deaths does cross my  mind.... (see Silent Passenger, Berdoo Canyon, Joshua Tree).

Thankfully, we make it safely to the water's edge but are utterly stunned with the force at which the waves crash to their terminus. Turns out there is not a single piece of land between this beach and Antarctica to slow or weaken the waves.   It is literally like raw anger, pure rage personified. This is an Immensely. Powerful. Moment.  When you see things like this it really reminds you just how unforgiving nature can be.

Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjall
As amazing as our secluded black sand beach is we are quite excited to investigate the tall phallus-like structure erupting (pun intended) from the sea.  We take the long narrow road back to town and make a failed attempt to navigate the heavily snow-covered routes that seemed might lead us directly to our goal.  Plan B: back to the main road, leave town, take the first exit.

After rounding a bend that houses another church and a small cemetery we drive towards the front of the mountain and dead-end at a lovely little restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. We park here and follow the pathway down to the beach.

Behold, Reynisfjall!

An immense display of basalt columns. I just know from the top of my head that "basalt columns are natural rock formations created by the rapid cooling of lava on the earth's surface millions of years ago." As to why they are shaped like long rectangular tubes:

During the cooling of a thick lava flow, contractional joints or fractures form. If a flow cools relatively rapidly, significant contraction forces build up. While a flow can shrink in the vertical dimension without fracturing, it can't easily accommodate shrinking in the horizontal direction unless cracks form; the extensive fracture network that develops results in the formation of columns. The topology of the lateral shapes of these columns can broadly be classed as a random cellular network. These structures are predominantly hexagonal in cross-section, but polygons with three to twelve or more sides can be observed. The size of the columns depends loosely on the rate of cooling; very rapid cooling may result in very small (<1 cm diameter) columns, while slow cooling is more likely to produce large columns (wikipedia).

I am in the above picture can you see me?

If you follow the beach beyond the large basalt cave you'll get a closer look at Reynisdrangar, a cluster of 3 large basalt stacks protruding from the sea.

According to legend, the 3 formations are the remains of two night-trolls who tried to pull a three-masted ship to land but they were caught by the dawn and when daylight broke they turned into stone. Sounds reasonable? There is a fourth lone stack-our phallus. You have to be careful as at high tide the ingress/egress to the columns becomes completely impassable by the angry raging sea discussed above.

We sprinkle in some points of interest, barely scratching the surface, from the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in South Iceland. (Ring Road is a perimeter route of the whole country and something amazing to exprience in warmer months.) The Golden Circle offers the opportunity to see a roaring waterfall (Gullfoss), a spouting hot spring (Geysir), and a meeting-point of the continental plates and site of the ancient Icelandic parliament (Þingvellir). (lonelyplanet)

Climbing the hundreds of steps to the top of Skogafoss waterfall rewards visitors with an awe-inspiring view out over southern Iceland’s coastline. Standing at 197 feet tall, the heavy veil of water is impressive and walking close enough envelops visitors in a cloud of spray, sound and refracted light. Legend has it that a Viking named Thrasi hid his hoarded gold under the falls. (  We did climb the steps. In December they are completely covered with snow and ice. At times there are no handrails and only a rope to grasp to keep from falling off the steep cliff. One woman got stuck on her way down and was wailing in fear and refusing attempts from her group to press on as we stepped over her.

At the top we met up with two other local couples who invited us to climb with them over a stepladder in a fence to access additional falls. I think maybe at a different time of year the views might be worth it for but for me this was another Brugge moment. 
And yes, coming down was scary.

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most popular waterfalls and natural wonders in Iceland. The waterfall drops 60 meters and is part of the river Seljalands-river that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajokull. One of the interesting things about this waterfall is the fact that visitors can walk behind it into a small cave (wikipedia). We saw but did not enter the cave as the pathway was entirely iced over.

Gullfoss (Golden Falls)

These falls are located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. On a sunny day shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls ( Sadly, we do not see these falls on a sunny day. Or even during the day. We arrive after dark and though we make our way down some of the steps and can see the outline of the falls we do not go far as the pathway is not lit and slipping to our death is not on our itinerary. Standing there though hearing the force of the water rushing forth under the starry sky reminds me how nature can be beautiful yet unforgiving.

Today we head to Geysir first stopping at Kerið, a volcanic crater lake, which looks like snowy hole in winter but a colofrul display in warmer months.

We continue to follow our GPS down a narrow road towards signs to Geysir. In a landscape of beautiful snowy nothingness busloads of people are a sure-sign of an attraction. I see a visitor center and as we pass I turn around to watch tourists crossing the street to what I presume is the geyser area. Still looking out the back window I say "I think that's it, we passed it." What happens next, how do I even describe this.... Chris says, "Ok, hold on." He speeds up a bit and yanks up the handbrake with full force. When the car comes to a stop a cloud of white dust from the snow-covered road puffs around us. When it clears I unclench my fists, move the curls from my face, and see we are now facing the visior center. The car has made a solid clean 180 degree spin. "What the hell was that!?" I say, confused but exhilierated. He looks at me and smiles, "A handbrake turn." I am cracking up as I write this. Just watch: handbrake turn.

We park and cross the street. The sun is beginning its slow but steady decline into the horizon and, thankfully, the busloads of people are heading back to their busses. The crowd has thinned as we follow a footpath shouldered by bubbling waters-nothing separating us from a boiling death but a thin barrier of rope. We wonder, "How hot is it really? What if we touch it?" And as if in response we see, "Do Not Touch 80-100 celsius," (176-212 farenheit). The sky above is dusky blue with streaks of firey firey orange. It is very cold and silent. So peaceful. We continue along the path towards the geysers. Which, note: the footpath but *especially* the viewing area around the geysers have large areas of solid ice.


Strokkur, Icelandic for "churn," is a fountain geyser located in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík. It is one of Iceland's most famous geysers, erupting once every 8-10 minutes. It's usual height is 15-20 m, although it can sometimes erupt up to 40 m high (wikipedia).

Geysir, sometimes known as The Great Geysir, is a geyser in southwestern Iceland. It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The English word geyser (a periodically spouting hot spring) derives from Geysir. The name Geysir itself is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, "to gush", the verb from Old Norse. Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south (Strokkur, Icelandic for "churn," is one of the very few natural geysers to erupt frequently and reliably, every 8-10 minutes)Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions may be infrequent, and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time. (wikipedia.)

Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel
After Geysir we  head to our next lodging about an hour away in Nesjavellir.

After seeing a picture of the Ion online with its contemporary luxury standing in such stark beautiful contrast to the raw unforgiving nature surrounding it, I knew it had to be mine. As we check in I ask reception, "Do you call us in the night if you see the lights are out!?" "Yes," they say. Cool! Until we walk into our room and see there is no phone /:

Some other amazing features of this hotel that caused me to choose it are the Northern Lights Bar, a floor-to ceiling glassed swanky but cozy viewing area, and the Lava Spa, which offers an outdoor heated pool partially exposed to the stars and, if you are lucky, the northern lights! The Silfra Restaraunt has excellent service, a view of lighted trees out the windows, and despite a limited menu prepares a lovely vegan dish. The pool has closed, however, reception is beyond kind and offers us access. We have the space to ourselves and spend the next few hours in the warm water, surrounded by snowy mountains, under a starry sky, excitedly watching for the Northern Lights to make an appearance.

Icelanders take Christmas very seriously. Like Germany, every inch of the country is decorated for the holiday and, I love this, every person says "Merry Christmas!" We learn December 23 is a main event in Reykjavik! We drive to town early to spend the day exploring the city before the festivities begin. We have considerable trouble deciphering the parking meter and a friendly local informs us we have paid for 24 hours. Ha. We have no real plan just going where the road leads.

As the sun sets we come across a beautiful cemtery on a hill dotted with twinkling candles.

We head back to town and it is so alive! Just buzzing and full of holiday spirit! Musicians, vendors, locals with armfuls of packages...tied up with string (I couldn't resist)! We have dinner at vegan Glo in the heart of town. Again, full of people-but not in the annoying way. Afterwards we pop into various stores and even grab a soy hot chocolate. BBC approaches and asks to interview us, in particular why we chose to spend Christmas in Reykjavik. We motion around us: THIS!

At midnight the stores close and the crowds head out. We take our preferred northern route (36) which is longer and more remote-always in an effort to maximize our chances of you know what. And tonight, we get it: the most amazing sky full of northern lights.

It is very late and we spend a good amount of time watching the lights dance in the sky above us-which, having never seen the lights before Iceland, I had no idea would be the case. "Pictures" of the lights make you think they linger like clouds when REALLY they move, and with considerable speed, sometimes like piano keys. It is absolutely breathtaking. Here is a (not ours) good video-not the best quality but the most representative of our experience: Northern Lights Real Time.

So, despite the late hour and despite the fact we were on an infinitely straight strech of highway and hadn't seen a single car for the pretty long amount of time we'd been watching the lights, Chris decides it'd be prudent to "move the car off the roadway." Let me say here that I say ten different ways how this is "completely uncessary" and "who knows whats under the snow off the roadway." (see Berdoo Canyon.) I lose and he moves the car off the road down a slight incline of the embankment and immediately sinks in the snow. After spinning wheels fruitlessly he decides to move further forward, to perhaps gain momentum going further down the incline to then pull the car up and out (like a semi-circle). Yeah-this fails. And we are left even further off the road and even further sunken in the snow.

So allow me to set the scene. It is the middle of the night. Not a house or car or sign of life in sight. No way to contact anyone. So far down the incline you can't even SEE our car from the roadway. Under a beautiful green sky alive with northern lights. On our hands and knees we furiously dig the snow from around each tire but it is piled up and forzen solid beneath the undercarriage. The car is going nowhere. We are digging for over an hour when a car finally drives by and stops on the side of the road a few hundred feet up. We watch from a distance but keep digging. Then a tractor trailer approaches and stops by the other car. We begin to trudge our way from the ditch to the roadway as another car slows and stops. Enter: Sheppy. Sheppy Sheppy Sheppy. I may name my first-born after our hero Sheppy. He exits the driver's door and immediately goes to his trunk, retrieves and fits himself with "firesuit" coveralls just like the ones from Ranga (dude is prepared-he explains you have to be in Iceland). Turns out the first car was a couple who also tried to pull over to watch the lights. By the looks of things their car is barely off the road however they do not have AWD and are stuck. The tractor trailer driver does not have the proper tools to help either of our cars but he does make some calls to get help and then departs. Sheppy also makes calls. Eventually, in response, a Hertz Rental Car Associate arrives with a Hertz pick-up truck and proper equipment to retrieve both cars from their distress, first the other couple who went on their way then us. We insist he accept compensation for saving our day in such a *huge* way but he does not accept. His reply, and I will never forget this and as I write this now I tear with warm gratitude and with love for the kindness of strangers and with unwavering belief there are good people in the world: "You can thank me by enjoying your Christmas in Iceland." Our gratitude was the only thing Sheppy and the driver would accept <3

We sleep in the next day, Christmas Eve, and then head to our next lodging in Grimsnes.

Hotel Grimsborgir
Hotel Grimsborgir is classic timeless tasteful luxury and feels more like staying with family than at a hotel. The property is large and its many building clusters are nicely spaced. Though there are several rooms in each building we only catch a glimpse of other guests. Several hottubs outside under the cover of sky are easily accessed and, again, we see only the occassional wet foot prints leading into the building but never people.

Tonight we head into Reyjavik for Christmas Eve service at (Lutheran) Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland and designed to reflect the basalt columns of Iceland's landscape. 

Chris recalls we heard this Christmas song countless times on the radio during our explorations of Iceland and hears it again as we walk into church tonight, Nóttin var sú ágæt ein by KK og EllenThough the service is, as expected, in Icelandic we are certain we feel the cadence of the telling of the story of Jesus's birth and the undeniable fellowship taking place in the church on this special night. Tonight, it snows.

Christmas Day
Merry Christmas!

This morning we drive to visit Tjörnin (The Pond), a small lake in central Reykjavik. We'd seen this lake earlier in our explorations and figured it would be such a serene start to our special Christmas day. The shallow lake is nearly entirely frozen and covered with snow-a sight to see in and of itself. But what draws us (me) is one corner of the lake near the shorline that the town heats with hot water to give the ducks and geese and swans a place to hang out. So, armed with a giant fresh loaf of bread, we arrive to find the space is packed! And not just with birds! Seems this is a popular place to be on Christmas morning (: So not the quiet and peaceful and nature-filled morning we had imagined but no matter we still had a good time feeding the birds.

We were warned: everything shuts down in Iceland for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Nonetheless we did experience a slight freak-out. We needed gas. The pumps are open but the stations are closed. Which wouldn't be a problem if we had a European credit card with chip and pin. Sitting in the probably tenth gas station we'd driven to (hoping to off-chance find one open) we concoct a plan to ask a local to accept our cash (plus a little for their inconveneince) to use their card to fill us up. We have no other choice! We get out to approach someone together when I see on the pump "Debit" and say to Chris: can't we just use our bank card? Crisis averted.

For the main event, we saved something super special for Christmas Day. Iceland has countless "hotpots" which is a term broadly applied to naturally heated swim areas. These areas can be concrete like a traditional community swimming pool or can be very rustic like a few rocks built into a mountain side. We, of course, wanted the most remote and most natural and most amazing hotpot experience in the accessible region. I had done a ton of research and was considering Secret Lagoon (a natural hot spring and Iceland's oldest "swimming pool") which looked cool but was closed Christmas Day. So time to turn our attention to an even more remote and more unique option: Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring.

Not something that "comes up on the GPS," we followed instructions we had found online. The spring is privately owned and I'd read a few times that tourists had been allowed to use the space but that vandalism was making the owners leary of allowing further use. I made an executive decision to risk it and find and enjoy this amazing piece of nature since I knew no way would we harm or disturb a single thing.

Following the road a car passes us and begins making the same turns we intend to make. We are so far away from civilization I get the sinking feeling they must be going to the same place. As we arrive at our destination my fears are confirmed. Four people pile out of the car and I feel, admittedly unjustly, anger and disappointment that they are intruding on our peaceful special experience.

But. I learn a valuable lesson. Because if they hadn't shown up I am not sure we would've been able to find the spring (: Go down the incline, cross the stream (how did they know where the stream began/ended? it was covered in snow), round a corner and voila! Turns out three people met at a hostel in Reyjkavik and hired a guide for the day who took them around the Circle and ended the tour with a dip in this exclusive natural hot spring.

So we followed the guide and his group to the spring which has a small hut for changing. He allows the group to go in and change leaving me, Chris, and him standing outside in the cold. All I can think is "I want to sit in that spot" in the spring. In order to ensure I get it, I have to be the first one in. So I begin to take off my clothes. The guide exclaims with some surprise: WOW! A TRUE VIKING! unaware until many layers later that I am wearing my bathing suit underneath (:

So, was the experience what I had built it up to be in my mind? Certainly not. Especially since the guide no kidding brought a boom box and played music the entire time. And not like zen spa music but like Rolling Stones and shit. And was "the tour group" loud and obnoxious and annoying? Sort of. But nice enough and we all talked and got along. I did think it was funny when the female was the first one in and she asked where we were from and I asked where they were from. She said, "where does it sound like we are from?" And I (indescribably horrible with accents) say, "Australia?" She laughs, nearing the level of offense, and says, "No! GERMANY! You think we sound Australian!?" Then her male friend joins us in the spring and after a few niceities says to Chris and me, "You guys must be from Australia?" Hahahahahaha.

The hot spring was definititely hot-so much so that we occassionally rub snow on ourselves to cool down!

In sum, I think in the end it comes down to I am glad we got to experience the spring under less favorable conditions than not have had the opportunity to experience it at all. It is still a special memory that I hold dear and will never forget the very unique way we spent that Christmas day!

For Christmas dinner the Grimsborgir restaraunt offers a buffet, however, there are few animal-free options. Our hostess goes above and beyond and creates an Elaine Benes "big salad" using a variety of fruits and vegetables and greens and legumes. Really, it was fresh and perfect. And, for the record, the hotel charged me only half the cost of the buffet price. I appreciate that; it shows they are thinking "whole-picture" with their guests.

The cloudy sky negates any chance of seeing the lights tonight but brings us soft snowflakes that fall around us as we end our special night in the hottub.

Pronounced THING-vuh-leer. A UNESCO World Heritage Sight, Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is the National Park where the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws - seen as a covenant between free men - and settled disputes. The Althing has deep historical and symbolic associations for the people of Iceland. The property includes the Þingvellir National Park and the remains of the Althing itself: fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone. Remains from the 10th century are thought to be buried underground. The site also includes remains of agricultural use from the 18th and 19th centuries. The park shows evidence of the way the landscape was husbanded over 1,000 years. (

Aside from the northern lights Þingvellir gives us my favoirte photograph of our time in Iceland.

Tonight we again experience an amazing display of northern lights!

Hint of color over Reykjavik above.

Our last day in Iceland we experience the most brilliant sunrise we have ever seen in all the world.

We return to Reykjavik to pick up some souvenirs and check out a little coffee house I'd read about online but that had been too crowded on the 23rd: Mokka."The oldest coffee house in Reykjavik known to have served the first espresso on the island. The shop opened in 1958 and has changed very little since then. The little café is filled with a nostalgic atmosphere and is decorated in an art deco style with vintage wood paneling, red carpets, and brown leather booths." ( Such a warm and cozy way to end our time in Iceland. Seeing the northern lights had been a dream since I was a child. Thank you Iceland for making it come true!

lífið er fallegt!

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