July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015

Iceland, Day 4: Whale Watching and the Blue Lagoon

Because we had full daylong tours scheduled for days 3 and 5 of this Iceland trip, we took it a little easier on day 4. In the morning, we went whale watching (not to be confused with "whale eating," which I did on day 2).

As we walked to the dock, we were happy to see that the weather was finally—FINALLY—going to cooperate. Blue skies, sun, and temps in the 50s. Downright BALMY.

Iceland doesn't have an Army, but it does have a 3-ship Coast Guard. Ooh-rah.

We boarded the whale watching ship (one of several, hashtag capitalism), put on ridiculous coverall outfits for warmth, and headed onto the bay.

I will never look more outdoorsy than I do here.

Reykjavik, lookin' good.

We tooled around for a bit, looking for puffins, dolphins, and minke whales. We ended up seeing all three, though the fact that they were moving quickly and in the water make picture-taking very tricky.

Pretty much my best shot. You had to be there.

After a quick lunch at 10-11, the Icelandic version of 7-11, we hopped on another bus and rode to the Blue Lagoon, Iceland's most-visited attraction.

Not to be confused with the Blue Lagoons of other countries.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa. Its pools are made of mineral-rich wastewater from the nearby geothermal power plant (not as gross as it sounds). People can pay to swim, get covered in mud, and all the other sorts of spa-ish (spa-y?) things people do at spas. We saved ourselves hundreds of dollars and just walked around. The unnaturally opaque blue water combined with the rocky landscape were surreal.

Once we got back to Reykjavik (the Blue Lagoon's near the airport, so it's a 50-minute ride to town), we went back to Hallgrímskirkja to get pictures with blue sky rather than the grey sky of day 1.

Not too shabby.

In Day 5: A fjord, Snorri, and a return to Þingvellir.

July 13, 2015

July 13, 2015

Iceland, Day 3: The South Coast and Jökulsárlón

The third day of our trip was (alas) cloudy and damp. On the itinerary: an all-day tour of Iceland’s south coast, highlighted by a visit to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. An overview of the route we took:
See that big white blob? That’s the Vatnajokull glacier. It’s GIANT. More on that in a bit.

As you can see from the map, it takes a bit of driving to get to Jökulsárlón. We passed a lot of farmland on the way, which honestly started out pretty comparable to the farmland you’d see in America, plus or minus a volcanic hill or two.

Fields, sheep, trees? Could be Minnesota.

We got to visit the Skógafoss waterfall, which is probably delightful in good weather. In rainy weather, it’s pretty much “I get it, universe.”

Umbrellas pulled double-duty.

After lunch in the town of Vik—I was unable to confirm whether residents refer to themselves as “Vikings” but DEAR LORD I hope they do—the landscape started to take a distinct turn and feel more like something out of a Ridley Scott film.

What happened to the grass? Have we gone Interstellar?

Then the grass would come back along with snowcapped mountains and you’d be fine:


Then you’d be all “O HAI GLACIER.”


That was my introduction to Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier and Europe’s largest by volume and second-largest by area. It covers 8% of Iceland and averages 1300 feet thick. It’s a lot of ice, and famous ice at that—it was the set of the opening of Bond film A View to a Kill and some Game of Thrones action. My next steps were obviously to figure out if I could touch and/or lick the glacier.

Turns out, I could, thanks to Jökulsárlón. It’s Iceland’s deepest lake, and was formed when the glacier receded from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also filled with icebergs of all shapes and sizes.

Many of these icebergs auditioned for Titanic.

I got on the nearest amphibious boat, pulled on a life vest, and (figuratively) dove in. Pressure, temperature, and volcanic ash make the icebergs a weird combination of blue, black, and white. Even on a grey day, it was transfixing.

Midway through the ride, our guide whipped out a small glacier, chiseled off bite-sized pieces, and handed them out. It was like free samples at Costco and I was ON BOARD.

We also saw a lot of birds and one saucy seal.

“Come hither.”

The drive back to Reykjavik offered one more surprise: Seljalandsfoss, a 200-foot waterfall that you can walk behind. Let me tell you: it was treacherous. Wet, steep, and not at all ADA-compliant.

Once I got back there, though, the noise and motion were the absolute definition of “majestic.”

It was a big day, made even bigger by my discovery at the Vik service center where we had lunch of an I  Iceland Hello Kitty. WHO KNEW?

The beginning of a beautiful friendship. I call her "Hâllo Kitty."

In Day 4: Whales, dolphins, geothermal runoff. Y’know, the usual.