Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Iceland - Sioasta Avevintyri

I began to have second thoughts about leaving Dublin, flying to London, passing through immigration, retrieving bags, go through customs, find the Icelandair counter, check bags,  check in, go through security and still make our flight connection to Reykjavik all within an hour and a half and thats if the flight would remain on time. What was I thinking? You would assume after five months of travel I would have given some consideration to the fact we were flying international and switching airlines I would have allowed at least two hours to complete the connection exercise. I knew it would be close timing but I had confidence we could make it though to ease our curiosity, we checked at the Air Lingus counter at Dublin airport to see if we could change our flight to one an hour eariler. Yes we could do it but the up charge would be over $500.00. With that I had all the confidence in the world we would make our connection in London to Reykjavik, Iceland and in fact we did with an hour to spare.  Yes we are that good! 
No Problem from London to Reykjavik to New York City

Both of us looked at each other on the plane to Reykjavik and asked the same question to each other…what do you know about Iceland and what do you expect to see? Neither of us had much response other than it was our last stop before stepping upon US soil. Iceland was our swan song of our journey and I didn’t know how it could compare to the outstanding experiences we were treated to in Ireland. A couple amazing items I knew about Iceland was they had recent volcanic eruptions that interrupted air travel causing incredible havoc across Europe and then they have a place called the Blue Lagoon where you can sit in geothermal pools that looked really cool. We obviously had a lot to learn during our six day touch down before leaving this island.

The Keflavik International Airport in Iceland is a 45minute moonscape drive from Reykjavik.  The current total population on this island that borders the Arctic Circle is about 318,400 which is up from the 317,640 last year but is far less than the population of 5 million in our state of Arizona. Two of the cities house most of the residents and the remote countryside and fishing villages are sparsely developed but what is built has a definite Scandinavian influence. Most buildings are tastefully designed, painted, and engineered with a strong sense of contemporary flair.
Unmatched magnificence touching the Arctic Circle

We arrived about 3PM, rented a car and drove from the airport to the capital city nestled along the southwest Atlantic coast. Upon arrival I couldn’t understand or appreciate the landscape all the way to Reykjavik. The city didn’t thrill me at first either but the more I saw and the more I explored this place it rapidly began to peak my interest. We were again faced with cold temperatures that can be a bit of an issue with me especially since I didn’t have the correct clothing and the chilling temperatures definitely weren’t favorable to Sharon.

Within minutes we found a very nice hotel directly on a square in the central area of town, settled in and sought out a “sushi” restaurant I had read about on our flight for our first meal in Iceland. I thought it should be good since this island is known for pulling in tons of fresh fish daily. We found out these people may have had the ingredients but didn’t quite have full knowledge of  preparing Japanese cuisine. And this rang true most of time while in Iceland. If you are a foodie…Iceland is not exactly your holiday destination but what they lack in the culinary arts they far in a way make it up in contemporary design and natural beauty. The Icelanders are a hearty attractive bunch having deep Nordic roots in craftsmanship, fishing, language, poetry and the arts. The earliest settlers most likely were Celtics but the Vikings quickly claimed this amazing country for their own and boast of having the oldest democracy in the world. Economically, the class distinction is tastefully minimal.
Gottfoss waterfall

Two things struck me in Iceland, first it never gets dark...I mean it gets like an early dusk beginning around 1:AM for three or four hours and then the skies begin to brighten. Second, the skies always seemed so low I felt like ducking while hiking but the vastness of the northern mountains, the rushing rivers and waterfalls, and the volcanic and geothermal phenomena is beyond compare. We  hiked into some of the most outstanding landscapes reinforcing my belief this planet is still truly magnificent and if God is hiding out on earth, it would be Iceland where he could enjoy his most creative work in peace and tranquility. The air is so clear and refreshing especially being on a sailboat whale watching on the Arctic Circle riding the swell of the Greenland Sea. Yes the cold air bit my face but that didn’t derail my sense of true freedom when the sails filled with the wind.
Looking for whales in the Greenland Sea

After the whale watching and visiting the Dettifoss, the largest waterfalls in Iceland, we motored our way to Lake Myvatn, the largest lake in Iceland, and checked into a very sweet and caring hotel close to the lake situated at the base of one of the hiking trails we planned to use.

The next day we boarded a bus at the tourist center near our hotel to shuttle us to the top of Mt. Krafia, a volcano topped peak, where the driver let us off in thick fog at the end of the road and as I stepped away from the craters edge the bus disappeared quickly into the gray soup leaving us laughing at how ridiculous this was being so unprepared in such in climate weather. Our spirits didn’t dampen nor the excitement to venture off on our 16 kilometer trek through the dangerous thermally heated ground hot spots and miles of lava beds with only 12” high wooden trail markers sparsely placed guiding us back to civilization. During our hike we encounterd less than a half dozen other hikers. At first the fog and thick low clouds created a mystical atmosphere but we began our descent off the mountain and soon the sun broke through leaving us a perfect day to complete the last 10 kilometers of this natural carnival to our hotel.

Along the way we placed a Kate Wilkerson glass bead and a John Gallaher Mobius charm in among the dormant lava flow and had lunch next to large lava tubes. This hike I would rate in my top ten hikes of my life because the formations and the vastness of this country delivered a pristine oddly formed beauty rarely found anywhere.  About three hours later Lake Myvatn came into view and within an hour we walked into our hotel and asked for our room key.

Nothing like a soak and a white mud facial
Leaving Lake Myvatn on our way back to Reykjavik we took one more short hike and decided to stay the night out of the big city near the airport that happened to be in the Blue Lagoon area. I remembered seeing a small hotel next to the turquoise thermal pools so we first soaked in the naturally heated waters of the Blue Lagoon, slapped on some of that white mud on our faces, rinsed, took a sauna, soaked some more, had some dinner at the restaurant and drove the five minutes to the hotel tucked in amongst the black lava landscape. The sharp contempo design under stated hotel had a room, which was pricey (everything in Iceland is expensive…really expensive) but it being within 15 minutes from the airport was a real plus since our flight left for New York City at 10:30AM the next morning.

The morning sun rolled off the horizon while we packed our funny little duffels with our thoroughly dirty clothes and treasures knowing our five and half month journey into a string of foreign lands was about to end filling my emotional bucket with a mixture of anticipated excitement and sadness though I harbored a sense of our accomplishment together. I could feel our experiences gleaned from this trip were kindling to future adventures. Sitting at the airport waiting for our flight to New York Sharon asked "Are you excited to get home and settle in for a while after being gone for so long?" I smiled and replied "For me it's just a layover before I leave for Antarctic."

I realize I couldn’t have asked for a better travel mate. Thank you Sharon for being so brave, flexible, daring, and understanding while leaving a sense of love and happiness to everyone we met. Namasta'

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