Sunday, July 18, 2010

Headed Down the South Coast...

WARNING: VERY photo heavy post ahead...

The next day, we drove along the southern coast road. As you might be able to see from the photos, it was rainy. And misty. And foggy. Not the best of days to take photos, but a really good day to see waterfalls!

This particular one was glacier fed, and was cascading off the side of Eyjafjallajökull. COoooOOOoooold. Very very very cold. Apparently, as cold as a million ice cubes, according to Mr. Munchkin.

So, when we climbed behind the waterfall, we only stayed long enough to pick up a rock for Mr. Ninja's ever-growing collection. Of course, it was muddy and the boys rinsed it in the little stream flowing from the waterfall, screaming the entire time about how cold the water was. Yeesh.

We continued on our merry way, and while driving along, the rainclouds began to rise. This treated us to quite the view.

The notorious volcano.

And the valley beside it, still covered in ash.

The difference between the field that had been cleaned and those left fallow was remarkable.

At one point, I made Mr. Ninja stop the car so that I could hop out and grab a bag of volcanic ash. I don't really know why I wanted some, it was just an impulse. It's got the most peculiar texture to it...almost granular. The bag is happily living in an Icelandic cheese box. Don't ask. It's got vikings on it, 'nuff said.

Kept on driving, and we passed this abandoned house that was built into the volcano.

I tell you, whoever built this place either had cahones the size of boulders, or was really really dumb. But dude. Respect. (Said in an Ali G voice.) It's almost like the builder was taunting the volcano, telling it that it smelt like elderberries...

We arrived at Skogar next - home to another gorgeous waterfall, and one of the best folk museums I've even been in. Why, you ask, is this one so special?

You can see that there's a video documenting this moment. If you watch the movie, my jaw drops wiiiide open, and my pupils dilate. But you knitters understand...right? It was called the knitting and spinning room, and it was incredibly hard for the rest of the crew to drag me out of there. I vaguely remember some kicking and screaming and clinging to the door jam...might have been me. Dunno. Things got a little hazy once I saw the looms.

The museum also had some preserved buildings that had been moved onto the grounds - most of them were of the traditional turf house type. You might think that they would be damp, dark and rather unpleasant, eh?

But this particular one was almost hobbitish - a very sweet place to call home, I imagine.

Back on the road, on our way to Vik, I saw this farm and rather liked the look of it. Looks like a nice place to watch the grass grow, and to count your sheep.

A short drive later, we were on the beach. The very very cold beach.

Look! Black sand!

The three stone columns in the surf are supposedly trolls that turned into stone when daylight struck them. The kids kept themselves busy, stomping up and down the beach to stay warm.

We stayed for quite awhile, but the novelty wore off (we do live in Nova Scotia, after all - where there are WARM beaches) and we headed back to the cottage.

After all, when you have this to come back's almost a shame to leave the hot pot in the first place.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Golden Circle Time...

So, the Golden Circle tour is the one thing that all tourists seem to do in Iceland. Makes sense - it's only a day trip, but it takes you to very beautiful and iconic places. First up, Gullfoss.

I do like waterfalls, and this one is pretty cool. However. The midges were enough to drive you off the cliff and right into the water. They weren't biting insects, but they certainly liked to swarm. I had one even get between my camera lens and the lens cap, at one point. Yuck. As you can see, someone else was also highly unimpressed by the maddening bugs.

But he cheered up once we told him that we were going to see superheated explosions next.

Geysir (yup, it's the one that all the others in the world are named after) is a short drive down the road from Gullfoss, and we saw quite a few cyclists while making the trip between the two. Apparently, it's quite a big thing to cycle through Iceland. Personally, I felt bad for the looked like no one told them that the rain in Iceland is pretty much constant, and they were very soaked. But I bet they dried off pretty quickly once they reached the steamy grounds of Geysir.

Nifty, eh? This is actually Strokkur, another geyser close to Geysir. Geysir's been blocked up by rocks thrown by tourists in the 50' it doesn't go off that regularly. But Strokkur's pretty reliable - every five minutes or so, it goes off with a biiiiig whoosh.

After some time oogling the pillars of water and steam, we hopped back in the Jimny and made our way over to Þingvellir. We did make one side stop, though.

This is a cave that's been in use since Viking times. (The yellow and blue smudges are Mr. Ninja and Mr. Munchkin, respectively.) Used as a temporary shelter for shepherds and travelers, it was used as permanent housing by a few families at different times during the 1900s. But the neat thing about this place is that it's also inhabited by elves. Yeah, hokey, I know. But I think that if there's any place that there would be elves, trolls, dwarves, and so would be Iceland. After exploring the cave (which was filled with the poop of half-wild sheep), we continued onto Þingvellir, home of the Althing.

I should mention that it was on this "highway" that I apologized to my husband for being skeptical about the need for a 4x4. We would pass rental cars that were driving the other way, and you could see the white knuckles of the drivers through their windshields. The road was closest to being a rough gravel road, and when driving on a sharply inclining road that is barely hugging the side of a mountain...let's just say that I was glad that I packed Gravol in my bag that day. In the end, it was worth it.

We wandered around the park for a good three hours or so, then made ourselves a picnic at the top of the mountain. Since everyone was pretty much wiped out at this point, we headed home for more hot pot soaking. Oh, but I have to show you this:

There were beautiful purple lupins EVERYWHERE in Iceland.

And sheep.

Fluffy, tasty sheep. Baaah.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Beauty of Þjórsárdalur...

Next day, we escaped the city and drove to our cottage in the Þjórsárdalur valley.

I can't even begin to describe the peace and quiet of this place - despite being close to the main road, there were maybe five cars an hour that would drive by. Once we arrived, we decided to climb the rock formation directly behind the cottage. I made it up half-way before Miss E wanted to go back down, but the boys went all the way to the top. And were rewarded for their efforts by Eyjafjallajökull itself.

See? Just a friendly little puff from the volcano in greeting. Relax, it didn't do anything else the entire time we were in Iceland. There were three volcanoes to see from the cottage - Eyjafjallajökull, Hekla and Katla.

After a loooong soak in the hotpot, we drove down the valley towards Stong, an excavated viking longhouse. Unfortunately, due to some toddler temper tantrums, we weren't able to make it to the actual site. (Excuse for another trip to Iceland? Yes, please!) But on the way there, we stopped at a very pretty waterfall called Hjalparfoss.

Check out those wild rock formations! If you're at all interested in geology, Iceland is a very cool place to visit. And on the way back, we had to ford a river. Twice. (Yes, we got slightly lost despite having the GPS with us. But apparently the GPS didn't like being in the middle of nowhere...) Needless to say, Mr. Ninja was delighted and exhilarated. The rest of us ranged from slightly traumatized to very relieved that we didn't need to push the 4x4 out of the middle of a raging river.

Back to the cottage, more soaking in the hotpot and dinner. That's Hekla in the background.

The best part of the day came at the very end. The sun was finally setting at midnight, and the kids were still loopy from jet lag and the constant light.

So, we all went back into the hotpot. While we were in there, a rainbow appeared.

Since the valley is so huge and free from obstruction, I saw both ends of the rainbow, for the first time in my life.

The Norse believed that a rainbow was the bridge to Valhalla. And after seeing the rainbow in the hushed midnight air of the valley...I'm inclined to believe that we sampled a little bit of heaven. (Yes, cheezy, I know. But you have no idea how close this cottage is to my personal incarnation of paradise.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The next day was filled with Vikings, both real and make-believe. We started the day by visiting the National Museum. Located across from the university, it's a very pretty building. It's not a big museum, but it's filled with all sorts of interesting things.

Like ancient spindles.

Sock blockers! And the mittens are really cool too - they have thumbs on both sides so that they're reversible, thus wearable on both hands. Myself, I think I prefer a side gusset...but it's kinda nifty to see the evolution of the humble mitten.

There were the most beautiful weapons, the Eyarland statue, and carved drinking horns galore.

But as fascinating as the artifacts were, the kids (and husband) liked the Hands-on room the best. They were given the opportunity to dress up like a Viking, reconstruct a burial site, or figure out which rune to use to make a maiden fall in love.

The entire trip through the museum took about three hours, and we really took our time in there. So, finding ourselves at a loss, we decided to take a trip down to Hafnarfjordur. Found the local swimming pool, luxuriated there for a few hours, and then went to the Viking Festival at the Viking Hotel.

This place was an absolutely delicious tourist-trap. And the festival was essentially an alleyway lined with stalls, and crawling with people in full Viking regalia. I didn't take many pictures of people (I don't really like to - it seems a bit rude to take photos without permission), but I did get one of the blacksmith.

I wish I had taken a pic of the seven whole lambs roasting over a fire. (As part of the admission fee, you got as much lamb and beer you could drink.) The whole thing was pretty damn cool, and we did a little bit of souvenir shopping while there. Mr. Ninja picked up a silver pendant of Thor's Hammer, Mr. Munchkin chose a sword and shield (which you'll undoubtedly see in later pics), Miss E got a cute bird toy that whistles, and me? My souvenir came in the form of yarn.

Yup, I finally succumbed to the siren call of the Lopi. I have no idea what the label says, but I think it's about a DK weight, and there's a LOT of it in one skein. No idea what I'm going to do with it yet. Oh, and I also picked up my first shawl pins. Pics next time though, as I'm going to have to find them first.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I'm home!

Boy, what an adventure that was.

I can see why such a high percentage of Icelanders believe in elves - the terrain and light there is absolutely wild and completely haunting. And the fact that there are sheep EVERYWHERE doesn't hurt its ranking in my personal favorites, either. Photo-heavy travelogue coming up - Reykjavik first. Then the Southern route after that. And finally, Germany.


We landed in Keflavik at an ungodly hour, after a rather odd flight. The idea was that the kids would sleep through it all, as it was an overnight trip. That SO did not happen. As I have said before (and clearly forgot), toddlers do not get jet lag. They simply keep going. And going. Picked up the rental car (Suzuki Jimny 4x4) after some complications, and drove into Reykjavik.

I LOVE Reykjavik. If it wasn't for the fact that the Icelandic language is completely nutter, Reykjavik would have my vote for a future sabbatical location. The houses in the downtown are very interesting, architecturally speaking. Apart from the shantytowns of South Africa, I've not seen anywhere that uses so much corrugated aluminum for siding and roofing materials. And the Icelanders use it so well - the houses were sweet and tidy.

We stayed in a rental apartment in the downtown core, which I would highly recommend. Waking up each morning, walking across the street to a lovely bakery and eating fantastic pastries on the balcony is a great way to start any day, imo.

The first day, we did the usual touristy stuff. Ate legendary hot dogs, walked around the downtown core (it's a very compact city, we crossed the entire downtown in about an hour of strolling), visited the cool church in town, went up to the top of the church tower and took photos of the city (and managed to get there just in time to have the bells ring on top of our heads), and went to a swimming pool.

Oh man, the swimming pools.

Geothermally heated, very modern amenities, and a fantastic way of life. There are some major differences between most North American pools and Icelandic pools which you should know about. There is minimal chlorine in the Iceland pools, so you're required to strip naked and shower BEFORE entering the pool and also after using the pool. That means there's a lot of nudity in the changerooms, but it's cool - since everyone else is naked too, it's hard to be uptight about your own naked arse. The other thing is that the pools are mostly outdoors. But since the water is so warm, it's very comfortable even when it's 14 degrees Celsius outside. I'm going back to Iceland again someday, just for the pools. Here's a pic of the pool that we went to (Árbæjarlaug), but it's a bit different from what I remember, as darkness never really came during the entire time that we were in Iceland.

Of course, it does take a bit of time to adjust to the eggy smell of the water - all of the water in Iceland has a bit of a sulphuric taste to it, even the Coke has that taint. But you stop noticing it pretty quick. In my case, I may have been distracted by the half-naked Viking descendents lounging around. I realize that I have a bit of a Viking fetish, but the men in Iceland are ridiculously good looking.


Getting back to crafty things, the other reason that I'm going back to Iceland is the wool. I stopped in the Handknitting Association of Iceland's retail store on Laugavegur (the main shopping street), and was greeted by this:

Uh huh. I managed to get out with minimal damage to my wallet, amazingly. I think that I'm actually not a huge fan of the's too itchy for me. But when it's felted, it's amazing stuff. I picked up a pair of fingerless mitts with "mystic runes" needlefelted onto them.

I think the runes are a little hokey, sort of like people tattooing asian characters on their shoulders and then finding they've written something like "I screw dragons" on their epidermis. But who cares, my mittens are very comfy, and the blue is my favourite shade. I also picked up this,

this nifty hooded scarf in natural lopi(which is super itchy and will have to be lined with microfleece),

and this little guy.

No lopi yarn yet, but there will be some in the next post, I promise!