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Akureyri and the North: winter is coming

Akureyri and the North: winter is coming

Iceland: Day 11 – the North coast and the Shire

I titled this one ‘Winter is coming’, but actually I was only partly kidding.

As it happened, the Ísafjörður Tourist Office hadn’t been exaggerating when they told me that the 61 to Akureyri was a much easier drive than the 60 into Ísafjörður had been; while there were some unsurfaced stretches, and the wind was still up, by and large the road was much better, and a lot more sheltered, to the extent that I even braved a scenic long-cut to hug the North coast and didn’t regret it at all.

Like the south road, the 61 follows the Westfjords coastline a lot of the way on its trip to meet up with the 1 road, and the combination of clouds and strong wind created a lot of brief rents in the weather letting patches of light pick out areas of the fjords and the mountainsides.

After the past two days, there were patches of snow on the upper levels of several mountains along the route; none near the roads I was using. In fact, I passed through a series of inland valleys where not only was there no snow, but the weather took a break and it looked like mid-summer for the better part of two hours. For want of the actual name, I christened that stretch The Shire.

I got into Akureyri in good time for tea (this time, Google had managed a semi-realistic trip estimate), and even managed to snag a parking space right outside the hotel (did I mention how much I love visiting Iceland off-season? Even with the risk of the occasional gale, the absence of huge crowds is awesome).

Iceland: Day 12 – Akureyri

Thursday was the day that the forecast predicted everything from snow to gales, so I opted to explore town. When the weather lifted for a bit, mid-morning, I took a photo (header image), of the mountains I’d driven around the previous day. The snow had made some serious progress overnight.

Despite a very welcoming staff at my hotel, and an excellent hotel room, I didn’t find that Akureyri had quite the same happy flair that Ísafjörður had had. For some reason that may have been simply down to the weather, the whole town felt weirdly depressed. There were no insane kayakers, and no-one in the Tourist Office who could have done extras work in a Viking movie laughing about tourists and first-time experiences in one-way tunnels. Instead, there were a lot of big, empty roads full of puddles, and a lot of museums that had either been lifted into another dimension, or which were present in this dimension, but closed.

I resorted to the Café Laut on the

Iceland: Day 13 – Winter is coming

My original plan for Friday had been a Super Jeep tour with Arctic Adventures to see Askja and Mývatn. That plan had been officially de-railed by bad weather, so because sometimes I get silly ideas, I hopped in my muddy 4x4 and headed East to see as much of the planned sights as I could without straying onto Iceland’s infamous F-roads. (Pretty much everything except Askja and Asbyrgi, as it turns out.)

Goðafoss Waterfall

Goðafoss Waterfall.

My first stop was Goðafoss Waterfall (the waterfall of the gods). Legend has it that when Iceland converted to Christianity in the 1100s, a local ruler threw his idols into the falls here. Either way, they’re a beautiful stop, especially if you ignore the big tourist viewing platform and opt for the other side, where you walk out towards the falls pretty much across the rocks of the falls themselves, with off-run from the falls washing the mud off your boots. (Take boots.)

I imagine it looks even better under sunlight, but I thought it looked pretty awesome even in wintry weather.

Lake Myvatn

Lake Mývatn – door into autumn.

The second stop of the day was Lake Mývatn, and the nature baths there. The baths were a stop I’d half-intended to cut short, since it was snowing by the point I completed the circle road around Mývatn, but in the end I went in. I spent a happy hour basking in the geothermally-warmed pools of mineral water, watching the snow blowing across, and poking rather disbelievingly at the lava rocks along the edge of the pool, and come to the conclusion that it would have been no less than irresponsible of me to visit Iceland twice and miss out on the famous geothermal pools both times.

Nice and warm and feeling smug, I decided to stretch my luck and try to push through to Dettifoss. It was the last stop on my planned tour for the day, and I was feeling my oats after an hour of being completely warm and lightly steamed. Despite the safetravels.is site noting that the roads East of Mývatn were under a winter conditions advisory, I headed out. Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and it also shows up in one of my favourite Desmond Bagley thrillers, Running Blind. In the event, the first part of the drive lulled me into complacency.

Hverir

It looks like nothing on Earth, and smells of men’s urinal.

I pulled off at Hverir, because I have a weak spot for Iceland’s steaming hillsides, and especially when they’re stained every shade from yellow to ochre with sulphur and other deposits.

Hverir

Goodness gracious, great pools of mud.

Like its smaller cousin in Reykjanes, Seltun, Hverir features geothermal activity, multi-coloured earth, and some impressive fumaroles. Unlike Seltun, it’s much larger, and while there’s a sizeable car park, it hasn’t yet been completely idiot-proofed, so you can get up relatively close and personal with the bubbling mud pools.

They’ve also stuck a couple of cairns over the most active steam vents to prevent people from parboiling themselves, but you’re welcome to walk right up to one of the cairns and stare at it with your head on one side. (Yes, I did.)

After that, I pulled back onto the road, narrowly missing a large inbound coach, and headed on to Dettifoss. It was copacetic until I hit the 862 out to the actual waterfall; it said 10 km, but I swear to god I drove an hour long an increasingly-snowed in road to get there. Luckily I did have a 4x4, because I passed one hatchback who had somehow managed to come right off the road and was sitting out there in the snowfield looking less than amused. Luckily for them, the road patrol is well-aware of the likely preparedness of tourists, and sent along a snow-plough team.

Dettifoss

Dettifoss itself – with snow.

Dettifoss itself was awe-inspiring, but if I’m completely honest, it didn’t make my top 10 favourite Icelandic waterfalls, as Dynjandi immediately did.

Part of that may have been the utterly grim weather that had the area firmly in its grip by the time I got there, but overall it didn’t inspire me to overload my photo memory trying to capture it.

Despite the weather, it was also surprisingly busy, and since the path hadn’t anticipated snow and hundreds of tourists, it was basically an ankle-deep river.

I’m glad I saw it, but I probably won’t bother making a return visit. Mývatn, now, I could be persuaded to revisit any time, especially off-season, as I got a substantial section of pool completely to myself to float in.

Into the Westfjords

Into the Westfjords

Iceland: Day 8 – on which I rested

I said my goodbyes to Gröf in the morning and was back in Reykjavik by lunchtime, sorry to see the end of my riding trip but secretly looking forwards to some less social time after the big riding group (yeah…introvert problems).

Reykjavik Botanical Gardens

An unexpected turf house in the Botanical Gardens.

Since my overnight hotel was further towards the outskirts of Reykjavik, I was also within easy walking distance of the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens. I was thinking rather more in terms of a quiet walk than anything else, but in actual fact the gardens were well-worth the time to visit: I can only imagine it’s a labour of love keeping everything alive through an Icelandic winter.

There was also an expected bonus to my walk: a turf hut that frankly looks as if it was in use as a storage house, with strong overtones of Edoras. I’m pretty sure that’s not what I was supposed to be photographing in the Botanical Gardens, but it is, nonetheless, what I photographed.

Iceland: Day 9 – Into the Westfjords

My destination for day 9 was the town of Ísafjörður, the largest settlement in the Westfjords. Google indicated somewhere around six hours’ driving, which is a short day by my standards and left plenty of time for stops to drool over the scenery.

Iceland

Somewhere on the road North.

Icelandic roads are mostly one lane either way, and because of that, they prefer that you don’t just stop your car wherever you happen to be to take photos. Sadly, this is a losing battle against the hordes of tourists infesting the roads, but usually a dodged tourist reveals a perfectly good pull-over space no more than a kilometre on; the Icelanders know their scenery is liable to instill an itchy photo-finger in most people.

I headed out of Reykjavik – actually not in the first car that Nordic Rentals tried to give me, because not only was it beat to hell but the engine wouldn’t start. (Agent: “It’s a manual transmission. You have to put the clutch down.” Me, in irritation, having done just that five times: “My own car is a manual. I know how to drive one. Your car won’t start.”) The second one started on second try and the driver door wasn’t falling off, so I cut my losses and hit the road in a beautiful sunny morning. The road got more spectacular the further North I got, although as I headed up into the highlands, the weather began to close in.

As I hit the Westfjords proper, I turned off the main road onto the 60, billed as a slightly-less-main route along the South edge of the Westfjords to Ísafjörður.

Fjords. Waterfalls. Scenery. It sounded like exactly what the doctor ordered for a vacation drive, and actually I can well believe that in clear weather it would be a really beautiful, if technical drive. You meander along the edges of fjords, climb up to passes cut through with little streams and lakes full of swans, and aside from the occasional intrepid camper van or local (you can tell who the locals are, they pass you at +30kpmh), the road is largely empty.

Dynjandi

More Dynjandi, because you really can’t do it justice without visiting…

However, what the map doesn’t quite make clear is that a few kilometres into the Westfjords the road loses its surface. No worries, I’d hired a 4x4 (SUV for my North American friends), so I had the clearance and suspension to deal with most of the potholes, and happily my guesses on which ones I could safely put my nose into without bidding a fond adieu to my axles were good ones.

Less fortunately for me, the weather decided it had given me enough of a free ride the previous week, and within an hour of hitting the unsurfaced part, I was in torrential rain (which turned my road into a mud track), cross-winds quite capable of staggering a big 4x4, and very variable visibility. I’ll colour in the picture a bit by adding that my muddy track in many places had a sheer cliff up one side and a sheer cliff down the other side into a fjord, and long stretches of hairpin climbs up the sides of passes where there was nothing at all to stop the wind…but at least the cloudfall meant I couldn’t see just how far down a misjudgement could send me.

My track, however, had one major advantage, and that was that it led directly to a spectacular waterfall, quite literally 500 metres off the main road: Dynjandi. I was very ready for a stop by that point, even if it took me a moment to pry my grip off the steering wheel, and so I went to explore.

Dynjandi is actually the big fall at the top of the trail, but there are four or five minor falls on the way up there in the space of maybe a kilometre and half walk, and some of them, while smaller, are equally beautiful, with white spray, black rock, and some of the greenest moss I’ve ever seen. After 45 minutes wandering around and staring at water having fun, I felt equal to getting my ass back on my track and getting to my hotel. (Google, by this point, had conceded that six hours’ driving time was wildly optimistic, and upped its total trip estimate to 8 or 9 hours.)

After another couple of sea-viaducts, where intrepid people have built a road short-cut right across a fjord to save time (the wind loved these sections), I was in the last 12 km to Ísafjörður, and breathed a sigh of relief when I got tarmac back under my tyres. It was a trifle premature. The next road sign was for a tunnel. OK. Look on the positive side: no way in hell was there going to be a storm-force crosswind in there. I drove on my merry way (no need to turn the headlights on, I’d been relying on those suckers for hours by then…). About 500 metres into the tunnel, there was a single track road sign. I may, hypothetically, have made some comments. While I was still expressing my opinion on one way freaking road tunnels, I saw oncoming lights, and realised in very short order that I was in a one-way tunnel, and I had nowhere I could pull over. My reaction put even my previous commentary in the shade.

My car

After another couple of days of high-velocity rain, my car looked much cleaner.

However, at some point in every abject clusterfuck, you realise that going back will be more painful than going on, so I prayed my oncoming wasn’t a tourist, and kept going. After all, someone, somewhere, must have put a pull-over somewhere…right? Sure enough, 300 metres past my come-to-Jesus moment, I passed a car politely tucked into a pull-out, and realised that northbound (me) had right of way, and southbound got the pull-outs.

Luckily for me, my hotel was clearly used to people showing up late, and equally used to cars plastered a uniform shade of brownish-orange. I got a grin and my key, and an off-hand comment that the restaurant was serving and hotel guests got 10% off. All this sounded good to me.

It wasn’t until I got up to my room and realised that my hotel had concrete walls half a metre thick, what looked like four layers of glass in the windows, and some of the gusts were still making the lights flicker that it came to me I hadn’t just been over-reacting to the road conditions.

Iceland: Day 10 – Ísafjörður

Isafjordur

Ísafjörður from a trail above town, looking NE towards the mouth of the fjord.

I’d had some plans to drive out from Ísafjörður and see puffin nesting sites and shipwrecks and whatnot, but morning the next day indicated that the weather had settled in for some fun, and I wasn’t tempted to try my luck on the back roads again. (My decision was solidified by an email from the Super Jeep tour organisers I was supposed to be visiting Askja with a couple of days later, politely notifying me that the forecast was so bad that they were cancelling that day.)

Instead, I put on my rain gear and went to explore Ísafjörður, which was actually thoroughly worth the time. I hit the tourist office first, since it was across the parking lot from my hotel, and got a wide grin and a ‘Yeah, we keep thinking we should add some signage to that tunnel, but we’ve never quite got to it.’ from the staff. Fifteen minutes later, armed with a town map and a comprehensive inventory of walks suitable for the weather, I got started.

Ísafjörður harbour

Westfjords Heritage Museum at Ísafjörður.

The oldest part of Ísafjörður is built on a low-lying spit that pushes most of the way across the fjord, but the town now stretches back quite a long way along the edges of the fjord, buttressed by some of the biggest anti-rock-slide / snow-slide defences I’ve ever seen. It would take a tank battalion some time and effort to blast through. I’m standing on one for that photograph of town, above.

Operating on habit, my second stop of the morning was the harbour, populated by some very business-like looking trawlers, and much to my surprise, some yachts. Between the tunnel and those yachts, I was seriously considering finding the local office and turning in my ‘crazy’ stripes. Five minutes after that, I came across a group of people in drysuits (which actually made sense in that weather). I watched them for a few more seconds, and realised that they were planning on sea-kayaking. It’s official. I’m not crazy.

I headed back into town and repaired the damage to my ego in the Gamla Bakaríið, which was a very good brunch stop, and, especially for Iceland, very reasonably priced.

I decided not to try the scramble up to the Troll Seat above town; not only could I not see a clear path up, but the Troll Seat itself was only intermittently visible from sea level. Instead, I walked inland along the top of one of those rock-slide defences I mentioned, and got a feel for the layout of town while stretching some of long-distance driving kinks out.

By the time I got back into the town centre several hours later, it was dinner time, and if anything, the wind had got up. I’d been assured by the tourist office that if I’d survived driving the 60 the previous day, the 61 out of town to Akureyri would be a cake-walk, and I’d believed them…right up until I saw that squad of sea-kayakers.

I wandered off to the Húsið restaurant for dinner, and got the kind of hot chocolate that brought a tear of appreciation to my eye after a day walking in the cold, and a window seat. By my window seat were flag poles. There are all kinds of formulas for amateur sailors about how you calculate wind speed by the average angle of flags in said wind. As these were straight out and vibrating the very sturdy poles they were attached to, I took a flyer that even the less experienced sailor would probably agree with my estimate of wind pushing 60 knots.

In fact, Ísafjörður looked as if that kind of weather was exactly what it was designed and built for. I didn’t get more than a glimpse of it in sunlight, but I’m actually weirdly glad I saw it in a storm – not least because there was a trio of ravens doing their damnedest, when I walked along the seawall, to land on the top of a radio aerial in the teeth of the gale. I’ve never seen a raven grimly hanging onto a landing spot with its beak while trying to get a grip with its claws before.

Icelandic horses and Snæfellsnes

Icelandic horses and Snæfellsnes

Iceland: Day 4 – Into Snæfellsnes

Whales

Watching whales and chasing rainbows.

My fourth day in Iceland was full of surprises. The stable wasn’t due to pick me up until afternoon, so I spent the morning aboard the Andrea, watching whales, dolphins, porpoises, seabirds and shoals of seriously motivated mackerel in the bay outside Reykjavik.

While I’ve come across numbers of dolphins, several sharks, and even a couple of whales in my sailing years, I hadn’t quite got my head into the Icelandic idea of whale-watching. Generally, whale-watching involves a lot of watching and not a lot of whale. The marine biologist aboard promised us there would be whales at the end of the rainbow, and he wasn’t kidding. There were many, many whales, possibly because of the presence of the aforementioned mackerel. As the conditions amounted to a glassy calm day (on the North Atlantic in September???) they were also very visible whales.

Snaefellsjokull at sunset

This was the view from my window at the stable: Snæfellsjökull.

My second surprise of the day was the bus station. The stable set the pick-up point in Reykjavik central bus station. I’ve had the dubious privilege of spending time in various bus stations around the world, and Reykjavik failed to live up to my expectations. For starters, it was clean. There was even a guy cleaning the windows. The bathrooms were functional, and not littered with multi-species feces, used needles, or vomit. There was actually soap in the soap dispensers. Taken aback by all this, I pulled out my phone and found actual, functioning WiFi. Rather broken by this reversal of normality, I sat quietly, updated my social media like a good author, and waited for my pick-up (which was on-time, and was even expecting me).

My final, and possibly even best, surprise of the day was that after a very scenic drive along the West coast to Snæfellsnes, my room in the guesthouse looked out at Snæfellsjökull, the setting for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. That and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea were childhood favourites. I’m fairly sure I still have copies somewhere. And there was a window seat in that window. I did get some reading time to spend in it, but if I’m honest I spent more time gawking at the view than reading.

Iceland: Day 5 – Icelandic Horses!

Coastline at Grof

From the waterfall South towards Gröf.

Because rides from Gröf make full use of the wide stretches of beach exposed at low tide, we actually had most of the morning free to explore the countryside on foot, including the waterfall cave just above the stables.

To give you some idea of the scale of the land, the rise I’m standing at the top of looked like a small hill from the car park at the bottom (yep, it’s there. Just really small.) As you can tell from the tourists I’m using for scale…it’s not a small hill. The air in Iceland is almost completely pollution-free, and there are very few large trees, or buildings, or most other things that my brain uses for guess-timating distance, so I spend a lot of time in Iceland headed towards something I’d’ve sworn I could reach out and touch when I started. Another fun fact about Iceland? You can fill your water bottle from the waterfalls. I can’t even think of any other country I’ve been in where that would be safe without filters, boiling, and probably an exorcism.

Icelandic horses meeting riders

Icelandic horses meeting the riders. Image credit Dr. Andreas Putz.

After lunch, we headed out to meet the horses. Icelandic horses look ridiculously small to be able to stroll off with a full-grown adult aboard, but in actual fact their comfortable weight tolerance is, on average, 80 kilos. They’re also gregarious, highly intelligent, and, dare I say it, really cute. They’re one of the oldest breeds of horse, having been bred pure since the Icelandic Althing passed a law prohibiting the importation of horses into Iceland in 982 AD, which is still enforced today (and, in fact, that law is the reason that ‘Lord of the Rings’ ended up being filmed in New Zealand, not Iceland…true story).

We headed down to the beach, and spent a happy few hours admiring the horses, the scenery, and practicing the Icelandic horse’s unique gait: the tölt. Icelandic horses can and do trot when they’re not under saddle, but with a rider aboard, your choice of gears is walk, tölt, canter, and gallop. Tölt itself has at least two speeds; a pace barely above a walk, which feels like riding a flying carpet, and the considerably faster flying pace, which can easily keep up with a canter if you know what you’re doing. The faster tölt can also be very comfortable if you’re in on the vital secret, which is to put your saddle about 20 cm further back than you would on most European breeds, and then sit yourself well back as well. The reason, as I found out this trip, is because the power of the tölt comes from the hind legs; the further back your weight, the easier on the horse, and, not at all coincidentally, the less your tailbone imitates a jackhammer.

Iceland: Day 6 – Horses and lava fields

Horses and a lava field

Icelandic horses have no objections to rough country. Image credit Dr. Andreas Putz.

Day two of riding is always a handy reminder that you use a surprising number of muscles riding despite the horse doing most of the work, and also that there are apparently muscles you only use when riding. We picked up our horses from the pasture they’d been enjoying overnight, and began to circle back towards Gröf…across a lava field.

Icelandic horses are, I’m convinced, the only successful outcross of a horse and a mountain goat, because there were entire sections of that track across the lava field where I would probably have broken my neck if I’d been on foot. Icelandic horses (with a rider aboard, mind you) simply take a really good long look and get it done. Even shod in metal shoes that offer very little traction, they happily walk off across bare rock, skirt massive holes where ancient lava subsided, and scramble up and down steep bits – and barely ever stumble or slither doing it. I was probably sweating more than my horse after a couple of hours of that.

As you can see, the weather was clear and nice – I managed to sunburn my nose, to the complete non-amusement of my colleagues when I got home again.

Iceland: Day 7 – Arnarstapi

Thor

The Horse and His Author. Image credit Dr. Andreas Putz.

On the third day, we headed further west, to Arnarstapi, along the top of the coastal cliffs. I was doing my best not to gloat too much that day: the horse I’d ridden on day 1, Þór (Thor), and I had taken a liking to each other, and I was lucky enough to get him again on day 3. That is to say, I thought he was awesome, and he apparently thought I made a great head-scratching post, even barging through the group during a rest-stop the day I wasn’t riding him to rub his head all over me.

Iceland has a lot of rivers and streams, and when they hit sudden changes of altitude in the terrain (Icelandic geography does that a lot), they turn into waterfalls. We rode across several waterfalls that morning, and quite often the horses paused to have a quick drink with the fall only a couple of metres off to one side. It was very much like riding out of the 21st century and into an ancient story, and the views were breath-taking.

Arnarstapi

The Arnarstapi Arch. Image credit Dr. Andreas Putz.

Arnarstapi itself was well-worth the trip; poised on basalt cliffs over the North Atlantic, it used to be a fairly important trading post. By and large, these days, it’s summer houses, but there is still a small harbour, and a beautiful walk along the coast past the Arnarstapi arch.

On the way back to Gröf, I got further proof that Icelandic horses are sure-footed. Our guide reined off the path and headed towards the edge of the cliff, and the rest of us, like good little lemmings, followed him. We’d been taking fairly frequent rest-breaks to let the horses take a breather and to admire the views; I suspect most of us assumed that we were headed for another one. Nope! Viður vanished progressively down a track on the slope towards the beach that I’d’ve thought twice about trying to climb down, and the first of the group in line followed after him, a rather fixed smile on her face.

Lucky me, I was third in line. Also lucky me, Þór had no hang-ups about his ability to walk on air if that was what it took, and strolled cheerfully off the edge in turn without flicking an ear. Shamed by my horse’s unruffled calm into at least pretending that I was cool with Spiderman imitations, I let him take care of the technical bits and concentrated on staying on. Sure enough, we reached the bottom in good order and were able to watch everyone else coming down.

It was a fantastic three days. We all wound up in the main common room of the guesthouse to enjoy a very good final dinner and listen to one of the group trying out Viður’s digeridoo, and I had one of those awesome moments of realisation that I was a Gibraltarian sitting in an ex-sheepbarn in Western Iceland, listening to a German musician play the didgeridoo. Every so often, you simply can’t make it up.

Header image credit: Dr. Andreas Putz

To, Through, and Around Iceland

To, Through, and Around Iceland

Iceland: Day 1 – Jet lagged in Reykjavik

Whales of Iceland

I wouldn’t care to get this close in the water.

Someone once told me that the best cure for jet lag is to stay awake as long as you can, so arrival in Reykjavik included as much coffee as I could find on short notice, and a trip to the Whales of Iceland museum. While it’s not a cheap stop (not a lot of places in Iceland are), it was quiet and interesting enough to keep me awake.

I’d been planning a visit to Café Loki (an eating place named after the god of, basically, mischief? Count me interested…) since my last trip to Iceland, and happily for me, the whales exhibition had brought me to pretty much lunchtime.

Full of mashed fish and rye bread icecream (seriously, let Café Loki convince you that that flavour combination works), I strolled off to the National Museum. (By this point, the jet lag remedy was working, but mostly because I was so tired I’d forgotten what time it was in either country.)

Luckily, like many public venues in Iceland, the National Museum includes a place exchanging coffee for currency, and duly fortified, I headed into the exhibits. There are a few really fascinating artifacts from the early settlement era, but the bulk of the information concerned the conversion to Christianity and church artifacts. There was also a saddlery exhibition which I spent significant time nosing through; side-saddle isn’t my thing, although there were some beautifully-worked examples on display, but I have an extensive soft spot for Icelandic horses.

I’m pretty sure I had plans for supper, but they got ditched in favour of the noodle place opposite my hotel, which had the advantage of the minimum possible delay between a meal and falling flat on my face for twelve hours.

Iceland: Day 2 – Into Ice and Lava

Into the glacier

I’m told these trucks weigh 22 tons. They can also deflate and re-inflate their tyres for the ground conditions.

This involved a (relatively) early start. Since my bed had drawn the chalk circle and successfully performed the summoning incantations by six or seven the previous night, this wasn’t as painful as it sounds. I hopped into a Reykjavik Sightseeing minivan and headed North to Langjökull glacier, the second largest in Iceland. As it so happened, I would have been impressed no matter what, since it was the first glacier I’d ever met socially. Generally I prefer my ice in my drinks, but I have to admit that this one looked very dramatic.

Into the Glacier

One fully-functional chapel, under metres of ice.

Langjökull boasts a man-made ice cave, including a chapel (nope, not kidding, they celebrate weddings there and everything). The ice cave (and the 22-ton modified glacier truck that hauled us out there) are run by Into the Glacier, and if the one doesn’t impress you, I can pretty much guarantee the other will. I was lucky with the weather; it was only freezing in the caves, and only very slightly less than freezing outside when the wind blew, and we got some fantastic clouds and fogs giving us a spectacular peep-show of the surrounding mountains.

Unfortunately, I was walking on and through history all morning; by current projections, Langjökull  and its cave will have vanished from the face of the Earth by approximately 2065 due to climate change. I’m grateful I had the chance to see it.

Vidgelmir

The end of the walkway…not the cave.

The second stop of the day was Víðgelmir, the largest lava tube cave in Europe (I wasn’t just being a smart-ass author when I said ‘through’ Iceland…). While the cave and the surrounding lava field are absolutely worth the trip, I was having to prevent myself from tipping our guide off the walkway by the first five minutes of the tour. His speeches were pre-canned and gave the impression of being geared for idiots or pre-schoolers, which was a shame because the cave really has plenty to talk about without needing a side-show.

Apparently it also served as an outlaw hideout shortly after its formation sometime between 1000 and 1100 AD; in 1993 a leather pouch and sundry other items were found on a ledge. They’re still looking for the remains of the owner. Happily, we didn’t find them either, especially as Icelandic tour guides are fond of encouraging their groups at some point in a tour to turn off all light and experience absolute dark in lava caves.

Iceland: Day 3 – Around the South coast

Reynisfjara

One volcanic extrusion. Feel free to try for a joke that hasn’t been made already.

The South coast of Iceland isn’t a short trip (this tour was pushing 18 hours by the time we got back), but I had one day to spare before I headed into Western Iceland for a multiple-day riding trip, and I badly wanted to see the basalt columns (the real-life inspiration for the design of the Hallgrimmskirkja) and Jökulsárlón. Enter Arctic Adventures, who ran a tour last summer along the coast to Vik, two of the major waterfalls (there are several hundred along that coast), Reynisfjara, and the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón.

Iceland Jokulsarlon

Jökulsárlón. Many icebergs and a couple of seals lower left.

Much as spending that many hours in a minivan wasn’t comfortable, it was the only way I was going to get to Jökulsárlón this decade, so I sucked it up, and it was well-worth the ass-aches. Among other highlights at the lagoon were some incredibly enthusiastic seals. Either the basking is just that good there, or shoals of tasty fish get lost up there that often, or (my theory) enough half-witted tourists fall out of the boats that the seals can feast.

As you can see, I beat the snow there by a few days, but it was still surreally stunning in that way that leaves you sneaking looks at the scenery to see if you can spot the special-effects teams sprinting around. Like a lot of Iceland, and one of the reasons I like the place, Jökulsárlón really doesn’t let you miss the fact that you’re a long way from home. (One of the other things I like is the option of pickled fish for breakfast. Don’t judge until you try it.)

Author on vacation

Author on vacation

Even when an author is on vacation, they’re rarely actually on vacation. They may be physically at the beach, but mentally most of them will still be happily playing with their latest book.

However, a semi-reliable antidote is to go somewhere, like Iceland, where the scenery is so amazing it’s very difficult to concentrate on anything else.

…actually, I’m going to Iceland. Again. Because, well, wow.

Last time I went was in 2016, and I explored in and around Reykjavik, which was spectacular and I bombarded everyone with photos of waterfalls, geysers, and sulphuric mud.

This time, there’ll be a few days based out of Reykjavik, with a couple of day-trips to Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Reynisfjara beach, as well as spending a day exploring one of the biggest lava caves in the world near Langjökull glacier. There’s rumours of a whale-watching trip, too, and no visit to Reykjavik is complete without a trip to Café Loki. (No, I’m not feeling masochistic enough to try hakerl…I have a personal philosophy to never try ‘local delicacies’ that all the actual locals apologise for.)

After that, it’ll be time to head West into the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and spend four days there exploring on horseback (because Icelandic horses are ridiculously cute, and a lot of fun). I’m pretty sure by the morning of day 2 I’ll be regretting my life choices and walking funny, but hey, that’s what Advil’s for, right?

After that, I’ll be taking a 4X4 (SUV for my North American friends) North into the Westfjords, which should be a spectacular drive along the West coast, and spending a couple of days there hiking and making ‘oooh’ noises at the views. It’ll be too late for a trip into Hornstrandir, but there’s always next time.

After that, the plan is to drive along the North coast of Iceland to Akureyri, and base there for a few days while exploring; currently, Askja, Myvatn, and Dettifoss (biggest waterfall in Europe) are up on the docket.

I’m looking forwards to it. Also, in the spirit of fair warning, there will be a lot of photos going up on Facebook and Instagram.

Ancestry of an author

Ancestry of an author

Ancestry – I’m curious

Somewhere in either my nature or nurture, there’s an unhealthy dose of curiosity. I’m inclined to blame both, myself; I know for a fact that there are more baby photos of me and our family cat (the cat looked bigger than me for quite some time) than of me and my parents, so quite possibly curiosity rubbed off.

I tend to try new things, as long as they don’t involve too much peopling. I have a tattoo largely because so many people told me not to get one that I got curious. …well, I’ve heard worse reasons for getting one, including ‘What tattoo? I don’t remember getting a…oh.’

Now I’m curious about my ancestry.

I’ve been intermittently researching it for about six years (if I’m honest, researching it actively for about two years, paying Ancestry.ca fees and doing absolutely bugger-all with the information for the last four). While I sincerely doubt I’m going to turn up any (more) unknown relations, I am interested to see if an Ancestry DNA test will finally confirm or debunk a running family discussion as to whether or not my paternal grandfather’s wife was actually Peruvian, or an American / other colonial import.

Why now? The legislation around DNA test and protection from any negative consequences of having one is still patchwork, even in Canada, etc., etc. I could have held off.

Well, I’m doing it now partly because I got 40% off. There’s the Scots ancestry at play; I love finding a deal on something I wanted to get anyway. Also because given family examples, I doubt there are going to be any really nasty recessive surprises in there that would prevent me ever getting health insurance ever again.

And because I was standing in line in the supermarket last week, and an older gentleman came up behind me, and completely out of the blue, asked me if I spoke Spanish. I told him no, which is, I’m sorry to say, only partly true; I do speak it, I’m just really rusty and didn’t feel like making an ass of myself in the grocery line. He explained that he’d asked because I looked as if I might be South American, and as he did have a lovely Spanish accent, I suspect he was either South American or Spanish.

Joys of being an intuitive personality type; sometimes I do impulse-buy. Usually, once I have the shiny in my grabby paws, I figure out that my subconscious has actually been playing with the idea of said shiny for some time, and it was in fact either something I *really* wanted, or something thatI hadn’t figured out I needed, but which makes my life much easier or nicer once I have it. Often I’ve even done market research on it under the guise of boredom browsing.

This time the shiny is an Ancestry DNA test. I know about the English and the Scots; I’m a little curious to see what else there may be.

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