Iceland, Reykjavik, Golden Circle Tour, South Coast Tour, Lava Cave Tour.
11.09.2016 - 20.09.2016 44 °F
Sunday morning. I had my oatmeal, then we took Holly for a long walk. After the walk, I took a quick shower and went over my final packing list. I am packing very light so I am leaving my laptop and most of my clothes with Steve. WOW Air only allows 1 carry-on for free, max 5 kilos. I am going to wear all my cold weather clothes on the plane to stay under the 5-kilo limit. About 40 minutes before the train departure time, Steve drove me to the train. We had time to chat before the train to Boston pulled in. He was going to keep my van and possessions until my return from Iceland. I got on, found a seat and bought a ticket from the conductor. It was $7 for seniors to Boston North Station. I asked her about getting to Logan from the train station. She was kind enough to write down the route for me. Once at the North Station, I walked to the subway station, bought the Charlie Pass. I had to transfer once but it stops right at Logan. The shuttle bus takes you from the subway station to your airline. I found WOW Air check-in and gave them my passport, flight details. They do weigh your carry-on but I was close enough to 5 kilos that she let it go. I was there early so I bought a sandwich at the airport, found the right gate, read my book, ate and waited. An announcement tells us that our flight was running an hour late to Reykjavik. Nobody cared as the flight usually gets into KEF at 4:30am. Now we would get there at 5:30am. Not a big deal as nothing in Reykjavik is open until 8am. It was a decent flight, no complaints on my part. Of course food is extra but I had my granola bars so did not feel the need to order anything. The prices were not that bad if you did need a snack. Landed in Keflavik around 6am and we lined up for Customs & Immigration. Iceland gives US citizens 3 months on arrival so it went very quickly. I only had a carry-on so I made my way to the exit. You have several choices on transport to Reykjavik. Flybus is very big in Iceland but I chose Grayline Tours as I had a good experience with them in NYC. Same price for both companies. About $32 USD round trip. I paid cash so I could get some kroner back. On the bus and less than an hour later we were in Reykjavik. It was dark, cold, light rain falling. They let you off right next to their tour office, but it was closed until 8am. I found a bakery close by and had hot tea and a bun. At 8am I walked to the tour office to ask them about tours. I was the first one into the office and glad to get out of the rain. I had the girl look up the weather for the next several days and she confirmed what I found out in Mass. The 12th and 13th were going to have better weather than the rest of the week. I was tired from the flight but booked the Golden Circle Tour that leaves at 9am. Pulled out my credit card, about $100 USD. They shuttle you from their tour office to the Grayline main bus HQ. I went inside to chat with the tour people. I decided to book the South Coast tour for the next day. The weather was going to get worse on the 14th, 15th, 16th so why wait?. Dinged my credit card another $120 and waited. Grayline is very professional and I would use them again. They call the Golden Circle tour and we troop over the bus and got on. The tour guide was fluent in both English & French and he went back and forth on what we would be seeing and doing. First stop was an overlook of the geothermal heating system that Iceland uses to heat their homes and businesses. Iceland has 5 geothermal plants that produce 26% of their electrical power and 87% of their hot water & heating needs. Because of the abundance of geothermal and hydroelectric power, Iceland is one of the greenest countries on the planet. Next up was the Pingvellir National Park. This is where the North American & European tectonic plates meet. Whenever you have tectonic plates grinding against each other, you have earthquakes and volcanoes. This why Iceland is the land of fire and ice. Far enough North for glaciers, it also has volcanoes because of the fault line running thru the country. Pingvellir NP is also where the Alpingi Assembly met in historic times to dispense justice. It was cold and windy when we were there and everyone headed for the bus as soon as possible. I forgot to bring my ski cap and sure needed it at Pingvellir NP. Next up was the Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is a very impressive sight and all of us walked the trail for better camera angles. You can get close enough that the spray from the waterfall can get you seriously wet. On a cold, windy day, that is not a smart move. After everyone trooped back to the bus, we drove to the Gullfoss Cafe and gift shop for warmth and food.
After lunch we stopped at the 'Great Geysir' area. This geysir is where all geysers got their name. The Stokkur Geysir is like Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP. It goes off every regularly, usually between 4 to 8 minutes. We were there long enough for several rounds of eruptions. After we all had enough of geyser action we headed back to Reykjavik.
Our tour stops at a church and we all pile out. The weather is not too bad for Iceland, but getting inside the church is still a good move. I get some photos and back on the bus.
Our last stop is at the Icelandic Fakasel Horse Park so we can see the Icelandic ponies. This was a hit with everyone. The ponies have numerous tour groups stop every day so they have become conditioned to visitors touching them plus they seem to pose for photos as well. I heard several of my tour group talking about coming back so they could ride the ponies the next day. We all got our photos and it was time to head for Reykjavik.
It was dark by the time we hit the Grayline HQ and transferred to vans. Grayline will take you to your hotel. I told them I was close to the Viking Hotel out in Hafnarfjorour. Of course I was last to be dropped off but got lucky as our guide was driving the van. I showed him the address to the airbnb room and he used his GPS to drive right to it. I tip him a 1000kr note then followed the instructions on how to get into the room. It was cold and raining and I could not get the lockbox open for the door key. I banged and the door and one of the other guests opened the door and showed me to my room. He also showed me how to use the box and get the key. You are instructed to open the door, put the key back in the box. Several others are using the same key. My room was small, but had a bed, TV, small kitchen. There were enough pots & pans for my oatmeal, eggs, toast, so I was OK with it. Small fridge for milk, yogurt, jam. I was going to have most of my meals in the room so needed to find out how everything worked. The other guy told me how to get to the nearest store. It was about 7pm but needed to shop before I could have dinner. Put on hat and coat and walked to the Kronan store in a light rain. 10 minutes of walking in the cold & rain, I was shopping for my PB&J, eggs, oatmeal, bread, milk, bananas, apples, hot chocolate and headed back. I fired up the hot plate, toaster and had hot chocolate, toast & oatmeal. I add a banana and half an apple to the bowl of oatmeal. I get a lot of bulk and nutrition for not many calories. I have oatmeal almost every morning at home so try to do the same when on the road. Had a shower, read until tired and turned off the lights. It had been a very long day and I was ready for some sleep. I don't sleep very well at home, so I did not expect to get a very good night's sleep on a small, fold-out bed. Up early the next morning, I did my stretching, sit-ups before fixing oatmeal & toast. I walked down to the Viking Hotel as that was where Grayline would pick me up for the South Coast Tour. The van took me back to the Grayline HQ, I checked in and had enough time for some tea and bun at the bakery next to their office. At 9:30am, we all board the bus for the South Coast Tour. As we got out of Reykjavik, the weather got better. Not exactly blue skies like Las Vegas, but at least not raining as much. We are passing dramatic scenery as we headed for the first waterfall. The driver did not stop, but I hoped that we would have other chances for scenic vistas. We all pile out at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. and walk towards the waterfall. Our driver tells us we have an hour to explore the area. Seljalandsfoss is famous for having a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall. I decide not to walk behind the falls because I did not want to get wet or jeopardize my camera by the spray. I talked to others after they had gone behind the falls and they said they did not get that wet. Oh well, too late to do it now. I did walk down past the falls and got some shots of smaller waterfalls plus was rewarded with a beautiful rainbow. After we all got back to the bus, we headed for our next stop.
After we all were back on the bus, we head for the volcanic beach at Reynisfjara and the village of Vik. There is a small store and restaurant at Vik and this is our lunch stop. After walking to the black sand beach and getting all the photos I wanted, I decide to sit outside and have my sandwich & fruit. After everyone has finished lunch, our guide takes us to the Gardar section of the black sand beach. This part of Iceland has many volcanoes and over the millennia, the lava has cooled into columnar jointing. Devil's Postpile in Calif. is another place to view columnar jointing. Gardar is a unique display that is certainly worth the walk. Every South Coast tour stops here and there are hundreds of people walking the beach and climbing the columns.
After the Gardar columns, our guide decides to take us up a steep dirt road to an overlook. He told us they don't do it when the path is too muddy or slippery. We were lucky the weather had improved as the day progressed. By now it was partly sunny, not bad for Iceland. There are great views from the top of this cliff and we all walk along the edge getting our photos. After everyone is on the bus, we head back down the steep road.
Next up is another waterfall. This is Skogafoss, 196ft (60m) tall and 80ft (25m) wide. A tremendous amount of water is flowing over the fall giving off a constant spray and there is a good chance of another rainbow. There is a path leads to the top of Skogafoss and I see plenty of people heading for the top. I am told there are 527 steps to the platform and quickly decide to pass on this option. After our allotted time, we all get back on the bus for our ride back. The weather was decent for Iceland and it turned out to be an enjoyable day. I was glad I listened to the Grayline personnel at the tour desk. Our driver does stop for scenic views of the Eyjafjallajokull & Hakla Volcanoes as we head for Reykjavik.
Once back at the Grayline HQ in Reykjavik, I again transfer to the smaller van to the Viking Hotel. There is a Subway shop close to the Viking so I bought a veggie delight and walked to my room. Not much to do in a small room but do my stretching, sit-ups, some TV, read, shower and time for bed. I had no plans for the next few day so took my time in the morning. About 10am I poked my head out the door and saw that it was raining, cool, windy. I packed my day bag and headed for the bus stop. In Hafnarfjorour the bus stops at a mall so I went inside to check prices on food and ski hats. As expected, pricey. Kronan's has better selection and prices. I caught the #2 bus, 420 kroner. You have to have exact change as the driver won't make any change. Almost all locals have fare cards, student cards something because I was the only one that put cash in the hopper. I got off at the bus terminal in Rey. and walked to Laugavegur St. their main shopping street. Part of it has traffic and part is pedestrian only. I found the Red Cross store and asked about hats, gloves. I had both in my van but they did not get into my carry-on. They had some decent gloves and they lady agreed to 1,000 kr, about $8. No caps worth buying. I went into Lundinn Souvenir Store and found a cap with Iceland on it for about $15. Nice reminder of being in Iceland and will keep my head warm as I walk the streets of Reykjavik. It was not great weather, cool light rain. I walked up the Hallgrimskirkja Church. The tallest building around and has a statue of Leif Erickson out front. According to the plague, he was the first to land on the North American Continent. It certainly was not Columbus as he hit several of the islands in the Caribbean but never made landfall on the Continent. I went inside to get out of the rain and warm up. I took some photos and headed back to Laugavegur St. I decided it was not worth walking around downtown Reykjavik anymore and headed for the bus. Another 420kr, 30 minute ride and I was back at the shopping center that is the end of bus #2 route. I walked back to my room, hot shower and changed into my room clothes. Hot chocolate and my PB&J for lunch. The next day was the 15th and raining even harder than the day before. I walked out to into the street to see if there was any break in the clouds/rain off in the distance. No such luck so decided to spend the day inside. Got my sit-ups and stretching done, oatmeal, toast, tea then killed the day with TV, reading, bringing my daily journal up to date. The guys down the hall came home from work around 5pm. They are from Bulgaria and are renting by the month. According to them, finding an affordable place to live is not easy in Reykjavik. And many other cities around the world as well. Next day was cool and raining again. I was out of bananas, apples & bread so I bundled up and walked to Kronan's. It was going to be my only exercise that day so took the long way there, about 30 minute walk each way. Oatmeal, toast for BF, hot chocolate with PB&J during the day, eggs, toast & tea for dinner. The next day was less rain so I took the bus to downtown and walked for several hours. I got better photos of the graffiti that seems to be everywhere. I asked several shop girls and they said most consider it art so it is not removed. Graffiti that is deemed obscene or racist is removed. I walked to the waterfront and got photos of the sculpture that is in the harbor and over to Harpa, the Convention and Performing Arts Center. They have a tour of the building and decided to take it.
When I was tired of walking, I headed to the bus station, got the #2 bus back to Hafnarfjorour. Home, shower, tea, read, TV, dinner and bed at 10pm. The next day I walked back to Kronan's as I did not have enough eggs, jam, hot chocolate, to make it to the last day. Home, lunch and then decided to walk over to the Viking Hotel and book another tour. I chatted with the front desk girl and decided on the Iceland From Below Tour, $100. This is a tour of a Lava Cave. There are other options but some of them are stupid expensive. $240 to walk on a glacier, $250 to go into an ice cave. I paid at the Viking Hotel with my credit card and was told when they would pick me up across the street. I wanted to soak in a hot tub, but the one at the Viking was for guests only and the ones within walking distance were really just swimming pools heated by steam. I read my book and chatted with some Brit guests that sat down at the table I was using. Walked back to my room in the rain and killed the rest of the day. Same routine in the morning, then I walked to the Viking Hotel to wait for the Grayline bus to pick me up for the Lava Cave Tour. The weather was better so I got some photos of the hotel before the bus arrived.
It was not that far to the Lava Cave, maybe 30 minutes. They provide overall, hard hats with a light, gloves. We all get suited up and walk to the entrance to the cave. It was not an easy path into the cave and it only got worse. The ceiling was a bit over 5 ft, (1.5m) so everyone one taller than that had to bend over to avoid banging your head on the lava ceiling. A couple of the guys were taller than I am, but they were much younger. They could duck down enough and still make good progress. I quickly was the last one, trying to keep up with the group. I banged my head numerous times and then stumbled on the broken lava rock floor. I banged my right shin on a rock and got a pretty good jolt of pain. At this point, a Chinese couple asked me if I was OK. I told them "NO", I am having a tough time walking while crouched over on a broken rock floor.The man took my lead hand and the lady my other hand and tried to help me stay with the group. At one point in the cave, the ceiling comes down so low that you have to crawl thru about a 3 ft (1m) high opening. I realized I just could not keep holding up the group and decided to stay right there. I did not want to crawl thru that opening then back again. I asked the man to find out how much further the cave continued. It was only about another 50 meters to the end so I told the couple to join the group and I would wait for them to return. It was only about 10 minutes before the tour guide came to me to find out if I was OK. There is another branch to the cave and she asked the group who wanted to take it. I wanted out but everyone else wanted more cave experience. She got me to where I could see daylight and told her I could make it back to the van from here. She gave me the key and said they would be about 20 minutes behind me. I took my time and got out of the cave w/o any further damage. Once out of the cave I could see the blood stain on the coveralls. Once back at the van, I could see that my pants and sock were soaked in blood. I waited for the group to return and then showed our guide my injury. She got out the first aid kit, cleaned the wound and put a bandage on it. I have never felt so old and clumsy as trying to negotiate that lava cave. Your brain and heart say "go, you can still do it", but in reality, you can't. There is one stop on the way back for a fish drying rack. Until just last year, fishing was Iceland's most important industry. Now it is tourism. I doubt fishing will ever overtake tourism as the most important source of revenue again.
It was only another 30 minutes after the drying racks that the bus dropped me off at the Viking Hotel. I limped back to my room and looked at my leg wound. My plan was to go to the Blue Lagoon on my last full day, but there was no way I was going to get into a public bathing pool with my would. I ended up just staying in my room and tending to my injury. The day of my flight arrived and I cleaned the room, put my sheets, towels in the box for soiled items. One last check to see if I had everything and I walked to the Subway shop. I bought a veggie delite and over to the bus stop. One last time I took the #2 bus to downtown Reykjavik. It lets you off very close to the Grayline tour office. I show them my return ticket and the shuttle me to the Grayline Bus HQ. After a short wait we all board for the trip to the airport. I am wearing all my heavy gear and hope I am under the 5 kilo carry-on limit. I check in and the WOW lady does not even bother to weigh my carry-on. Great, don't have to deal with that issue. I ate half of my Subway waiting for my flight to be called. We all board according to our row number and off we go for Boston. An eventful flight and I retrace my steps to get back to the train to Leominster. I fire up my mobile phone and tell Steve I am on the train heading his way. Steve was waiting for me when I got in and back to his house. I met his wife Katie and we chat for a few hours. I had a quick meal in North Station waiting for my train. I played with Holly and it was time for a shower and bed.