27 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Ring Road

Day 1: Reykjavik to Arnarstapi (Snaefellsnes Peninsula) 185km

Okay. Time to get serious. This is the meat and potatoes of the Iceland experience. We chose to drive the Ring Road—a mostly paved highway that, as its name implies, circles the entire perimeter of the island—in a clockwise direction. YMMV.

In January, I began calling and emailing rental agencies. We wanted to rent a mobile home, an RV, with a shower and toilet and small kitchen. They were already all booked for our August trip so I scooped up a camper van that supposedly sleeps five people. It had a small cooler, a sink connected to a refillable water tank, and two small propane rings. We were anxious about "facilities" but were pleasantly surprised to discover that Iceland has a terrific camping infrastructure: close to 200 campgrounds, most of which have hot showers and very clean toilets! Practically every night we had a choice of places to stay, and every one we chose was terrific. Because we are not small people, the sleeping arrangements were tight, but fortunately Wesdom brought his Eno hammock, and we were able to string it up diagonally on the van's support posts. Otherwise, it would have been uncomfortably tight.

On Saturday, 12 August (my birthday—best ever? No, but very close.), I picked up the van in the morning, we stocked up on groceries and supplies, and we drove the three or so hours out of Reykjavik to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This and the Westfjords are technically not on the traditional Ring Road circuit, somewhat off the beaten path but are highly recommended if you have the extra days—you'll see why. We drove at a leisurely pace and stopped when we wanted for pit stops and picture-taking.

We found a small village called Arnarstapi with a lovely, expansive campground nestled into a long finger of mountains that come right down to the sea. It was one of the few which didn't have hot showers. Next to the campground was a roped off field populated with nesting Arctic Terns—hundreds of them. They were noisy and busy coming and going, and if you got too close they would swarm and dive at your head. They have sharp beaks! The terns lay their eggs in the field—no nests, no predators—and each tern looks after every nest. It's a collective!

Our home for eleven days! Appropriate Led Zepp motto to boot!
Pit stop on the road to Arnarstapi. The light is amazing! Oh, and the views!
View from the campground at Arnarstapi across the Arctic Tern nesting grounds.
Arnarstapi. See that cone? We climbed 1/3 (Wisdoc and I) and 2/3 (Wesdom) up it on a whim. Because it was there and because we could! This sort of late afternoon, early evening adventure walk became a pattern. Glacier in the distant background.
Our lonely camper van in the shadow of the mountain we climbed.
Hiking up the rubbley hillside before dinner ~7:30 pm overlooking the Arnarstapi village and the North Atlantic. Campground is in on the left there.
Sea arch Hellnar seen from after dinner hike along the sea cliffs at Arnarstapi—approx. 10:00 pm.

17 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Golden Circle

I learned this summer that if you fly IcelandAir to Europe (and it's one of the least expensive carriers), you can opt to lay over up to seven days in Reykjavik at no additional charge. The country of Iceland is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Ohio. It would be difficult to drive the around the entire place in five or six days and see everything you want to see (Heck, we were there 14 days and absolutely NEED to go back). However, a stay in Reykjavik for a couple of days could be a lot of fun.

One of the things—no, THE thing—to do if you only have a few days is the so-called Golden Circle. It's a full day trip—roughly 300 km. There are tons of tours, guided and no, that make the trip daily. We rented a car for our three and a half days in Reykjavik, and I made the trip twice due to the family's staggered arrivals. And just WOW! Would/Will do it again. (As always, click pics to embiggen.)

First Stop: Þingvellir National Park, home of the Viking legislature ca. 930 CE
Þingvellir National Park, Largest lake in Iceland
Þingvellir National Park: Did I mention that the light here is incredible and changeable?
Þingvellir National Park: Still a vital part of Icelandic culture. When the country declared independence in 1944, the largest ever national gathering took place here
Þingvellir National Park: Plan to spend several hours here walking, exploring, absorbing, gaping!
Þingvellir National Park: There's also a waterfall!
Þingvellir National Park: The tectonic plates meet! European plate on the left, North American on the right! Rift runs the length of the North Atlantic Ocean. Wisdomie and Wisdil scuba dived here last year. You can actually touch the two continental plates in places.
Next stop: Geysir and Strokkur! the geysers at Haukadalur. Underground geothermal activity heats the surface water and it explodes irregularly, but frequently. Watch for the blue bubble. (And yes, I'm aware of the 'no vertical videos' rule, but you'll see why I had to make an exception here.)

Did someone say 'waterfall'? Gullfoss. The only point of reference I have is Niagara Falls.
Gullfoss: The largest waterfall in Europe. And yes, you get wet from the water vapor.
Gullfoss surrounded by basaltic rock cliffs.
Gullfoss: The Golden Falls at the top. 
Rainbows whenever the sun shines and the angle is right.
Grinning troll photobombing Gullfoss.
Geothermal activity in the highlands on the way back to Reykjavik. (We chose to go the clockwise route). You see a lot of this in Iceland. There is enough geothermal energy to power the entire country several times over. (Not to mention the hydro...)
Misty mountain top, moss and lichen covered lava fields beside the highway back to town.

13 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Reykjavik

I have few frames of reference for Iceland. Arriving at Keflavik Airport and driving the 40 or so miles into the capital city, you drive through vast lava fields that are reminiscent of the Big Island Hawai'i. Except, of course, for the weather. Though it was early August, the temperature was in the 50s Fahrenheit, rainy, and foggy. It felt auspicious, but of my 14 days in Iceland, only three were similarly inclement. The weather was mostly mid-50s to mid-60s and partly sunny during the days and mid-40s at night. If you go, bring ~4 layers!

Reykjavik itself, or at least the area where our AirBnB was located in the heart of the downtown, reminded me of nothing more than Park City, Utah, a sort of resort area with lots of touristy shops, pubs, and nice restaurants. Others of our group stayed in a lovely residential area about a 15 minute walk away, near the university.

Iceland in general is expensive—more than say Honolulu or NYC, but there are ways to control costs. For example, our flat had a kitchen, and we ate breakfasts there and found neat, inexpensive ramen shops. We shopped at the local supermarkets as well. When we ate in restaurants, we were surprised to find items such as whale, reindeer, and puffin on the menu. Iceland is one of only three countries allowed to hunt and butcher whales legally—Norway and Japan being the other two. Fish and lamb are the main protein staples. But seriously folks, you don't go to Iceland for gourmet dining (though you can find it there).

The city itself is, like the other Scandinavian cities I visited, tidy and clean. The air was incredibly fresh and the water, pumped in untreated from the glaciers, tasty, though when you first turned on a faucet that had been unused for sometime, you got a whiff of sulfur from the underground volcanic activity.

The family converged on Reykjavik from three separate directions, so we spent three nights here getting our bearings and adjusting to the time difference (10 hours for the Hawai'i crew) and the midnight sun. We rented a car for the time in the city, and I made the Golden Circle trip twice with two separate crews (more about that in the next post). (As always, click pics to embiggen.)

Statue of founder Leif Erikson (donated by the US in recognition of Viking discovery of North America) in front of Reykjavik's iconic cathedral.
Reykjavik Performing Arts Center
Woo-hoo! Did not expect that!
Exploring Reykjavik's walkable downtown.
You guys go on ahead, I'll be in here for awhile.
Pretty much says it all.
Reykjavik from the top of the cathedral. 
Reykjavik street troll and some costumed stuffed dummy.

06 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Stockholm Archipelago

In my last post I mentioned "must do's". The Stockholm Archipelago was the number one must-do on our list. The Archipelago is a chain of some 30,000 islands in the Baltic Sea. Most are granite or volcanic rock. Many Stockholm residents have their summer cottages here, but many of the islands are an easy day trip by ferry from the center of town.

Sandön, or Sandhamn Island, is the last island before the open Baltic for the overnight boats to Helsinki. It is about a 3 1/2 hour boat ride from downtown. Our boat served coffee and pastries, lunches, and snacks and beer. Wisdaughter and I spent a lovely day walking around the small island, enjoying a lunch of crawfish and halibut on the harbor. (As always, click pics to embiggen!)

Wisdaughter. Setting out from Stockholm.
Soaking in the vibe. (h/t Wisdaughter)
Island summer cottage in the Archipelago.
Arriving Sandhamn. Reminiscent of Maine. (h/t Wisdaughter)
Sandhamn Harbor.
I'm told Strindberg slept here.
Snapping the next pic below. You mean to tell me that guy has run more than 50 foot races and 2 triathlons on THOSE calves?! GTFOOH! (h/t Wisdaughter)
The beach on Sandhamn!
Beach cottage, Sandhamn.
Need to borrow a bathing suit top?
Summer flowers. Summer cottage. Sandhamn.
Barn on Sandhamn.
Imposing cottage, Sandhamn.
The Museum at Sandhamn Harbor.
The return. Marshy, reedy narrow passage.
Summer cottages. Stockholm Archipelago
Pleasure boat harbor and rocky outcropping. Stockholm Archipelago.
Returning to Stockholm.
Giraffe crane. Stockholm.
More sky drama. National Museum. Stockholm, Sweden.