Jim is up at 03:30 Friday morning June 8 and out the door at 04:00 for an Uber expensive ride to Gatwick. The Uber cost more than the subsequent flight. The only public transportation before 05:00 is buses and he would have had to leave before 02:00 to make his flight to Keflavík where he is meeting daughter Emily for a father/daughter 38th birthday weekend. Emily arrived a couple of hours earlier and had the rental car and snacks all ready to go when she picked Jim up at 09:15. Keflavík International Airport is over 30 miles from Reykjavík, the Capital and largest city of Iceland. They are located in the southwest corner of Iceland on a peninsula sticking out into the North Atlantic Ocean.
Emily has planned four days of activities, rental car and accommodations, I am just along for the ride and the father/daughter bonding. First stop is Reykjavík where we stumbled onto the main street of the old town and park the car to wander this small city. Architecture is eclectic with some older clapboard, some corrugated steel and some modern concrete 2-3 story buildings.
There is an interesting modern concrete church at the top of the town, Hallgrímskikja Church whose distinctive spire can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
After taking in the church and listening to organ practice on the beautiful pipe organ we ended up at the waterfront and took a walk through Harpa Music Hall & Conference Center.
Emily knew about Icelandic hot dogs which Jim & Sandy first tried at the Hammersmith Street fair a few weeks ago. Sandy declared it “the best hotdog she ever had”. It is a very good hotdog in a bun with raw and dried onions, honey mustard and garlic mayonnaise. Emily had researched where to get the best one in Reykjavík which we found for lunch. Next on Emily’s list was finding a natural hot spring to soak in. We drove an hour southeast to ‘hot river’ and then hiked 3.5 miles through steaming volcanic cauldrons and blowholes till we reached a warm flowing streambed with changing corners and a boardwalk.
Our experience with Iceland weather was very low heavy cloud cover, misty, windy and 50 degrees. Imagine getting undressed in that. The warm, shallow, rocky stream felt very good but at some point we had to get out and face the cold misty wind with bare wet skin, brrr! It was actually quite refreshing and fun. We then drove to our Airbnb barrel house and went out to a delicious oceanside dinner of local langoustine soup and steamed langoustine tails with new potatoes and other side dishes, a recommendation from our airbnb host. Definitely our best meal in this country.
Day two was spent mostly driving with an early morning walk in the mist behind a waterfall.
On our drive east from there we actually saw some blue sky and an occasional glimpse of the sun with a high temperature reading of 56 degrees. We drove about four hours to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon with huge chunks of blue, white and black ice floating around. They said that 90% of the iceberg is below the surface. Diamond Beach is a beautiful adjacent stretch of fine black sand littered with chunks of clear ice.
We did not walk out onto the glaciers as it is not safe to do so without a guide. We spent a lot of time driving and experienced the different landscapes of southern Iceland.
We also picked up hitchhikers, one on the way out and another on the way back, the first from The Czech Republic and the other from Ukraine. We enjoyed exchanging ideas about what to do in Iceland. Emily informed me that tourists outnumber locals in Iceland by a ratio of 5/1.
Day three we took an early morning hike to another hot spring to soak in the shallow warm pool with a nice black sandy bottom.
We then took a 10:30 bus to The Volcano Huts in Thòrsmörk which is the home base to the best hiking trails in Iceland. It is the end of the Laugavegur Trail, which Emily was originally planning on doing but with a late winter in Iceland this year, the timing wasn’t right. We had to take a bus as our rental car was unable to ford all of the rivers on the way in.
This outpost provides a range of accommodations from a place to pitch your own tent, glamping in one of their tents, dorm rooms, private rooms or a private cottage. We had a private room with a bathroom down the hall and showers across a grassy quadrangle. After having a light lunch we set out about 13:00 on a 12 mile five hour hike which took us up steep trails initially to the top of a hill which gave us a panoramic 360 degree view of the Thòrsmörk valley and surrounding mountains.
We then descended back to the river valley where Emily provided us with a great snack of flatbread, cheese and pastrami after which we started a second loop which took us up a wooded trail along a creek to a high mountain ridge where we hiked along the edge of a precipitous drop off on loose shale and dirt with no protective devices of any kind to keep us from sliding down the mountainside.
At the end of the outgoing loop we turned back toward the river valley climbing a high barren tundra to another mountain peak. At one point on the way back we had to walk across a high knife edge ridge with precipitous drop offs on both sides.
By the time we reached the river valley again I was quite tired and it was a long slow trudge home. We covered 14.8 miles for the day including our morning hike. I was quite proud of myself for having the balance, dexterity, strength and stamina for such a hike (as was Emily)! The following morning we did another seven mile hike in a different direction which was much less demanding but this time we had to wade across rushing glacier melt rivers.
On returning from this hike we took a sauna and shower before our 16:50 bus back to our car. We drove back to Reykjavik for a final birthday dinner on the beautiful harbor. The following morning Emily dropped me at the airport at 05:00 before returning the rental car. She then met her mother coming in from Boston as they are going on together to Norway and Sweden. I returned home to London for a beautiful reunion with the love of my life who has been enjoying London with our friend Donna Quirk.
In summary, Iceland is a beautiful volcanic tundra with somewhat dismal summer weather. The sun supposedly set at 11:30 and rose at 03:00 but it never got dark and we didn’t see the sun enough to truly know if it was up or down. There are hordes of tourists, but it is so large that it doesn’t seem crowded. It is quite expensive but not quite outrageous compared to the rest of the world. Our one big disappointment was not connecting with locals in any significant way. We picked up hitchhikers hoping to connect with the locals but instead we connected with more tourists.