Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Iceland, Day 2: Reykjanesbaer

After a day of driving, we decided to spend our second day closer to where we were staying in Njardvik, namely on the Reykjanesbaer peninsula.  I became intrigued while looking at a map I found in our accommodation showing the sights on the peninsula:  some geothermic spots, craters, a place where 2 tectonic plates meet, the Blue Lagoon.  All in all, it wasn't as boring as I'd previously assumed.  I thought there wasn't anything to see nearby, but was pleasantly wrong!

The first sight of the day was this, outside the supermarket where we picked up the bread, cookies and treats we'd need for the day-and boy, did we need them: 

I found this mildly amusing, in particular the poor spelling.  Just what language was the writer a native speaker of, anyway?  Probably not English, despite their impressive vocabulary. 

Even more pleasing than badly spelled insults, however, was this find at the grocery store checkout:  my initiation into the wonderful world of chocolate covered licorice!  This was one of those things that I saw and thought, "It's either going to be wonderful or horrible, with no in between."  I was right:  it was the most wonderful form of licorice I've ever tasted!  This was sort of my gateway licorice, later in the day I became overwhelmed with bulk licorice, which I've already posted about. 

After shopping, we went back to our little cabin, made some coffee, had some breakfast, packed some sandwiches and were on our way. 

 Much of the peninsula looked like this, which didn't make me very optimistic about having an interesting day, but things picked up later.

I enjoyed the patches of lupines, which added a touch of color to the otherwise rocky, mossy landscape.  Apparently these natives of northwestern North America were imported from Canada to help stop erosion, but they've spread so quickly and so well that they are practically weeds in some areas.

 It was kind of neat to see the place where two of the Earth's tectonic plates meet.
 Here I am between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate, a line I've been treading for quite some time now.

Now I'm back in Europe.

This was the tourist stop, with nice signs and paths.  On the way here, we noticed a gravel road going in the opposite direction, toward the ocean.  We decided to take that road, likely the one less travelled, after making the official tourist stop.  It turned out to be quite the experience.  We probably should have read this sticker in the car before doing so:

 But that's why we rented a four wheel drive!  We ended up doing a couple of these things.  We drove on road 35, which was no problem at all, it was just a dirt road.  Perhaps it's problematic in the winter.  The more questionable decision, however, was driving on a track with no road number.  But you'll see more of that below.
The thing that lured us back in here were the cool black sand dunes, which I would have liked to have walked on, but then I got distracted.
 Here's a view of the beach and the Atlantic ocean, it really was lovely!
 More of the dunes, and someone else drove in here, so it should be fine...

Oops.  We had a little trouble driving along the beach, it was slow going, but at one point the drive was over.  We just sank right in.
Fortunately there was a gracious family farther down the beach who had a bigger 4x4 than we did, so we ran to them and asked for help.  They didn't have a rope, but we did.  We'd found a big, thick rope that had washed up on the beach, it must've fallen off a ship.  That's the whole reason we drove out onto the beach, we wanted to take the rope home and had been carrying it, but it was kind of a pain in the neck, so drove out, and, well, you can see what happened next...

So we got down on our hands and knees and started digging out our tires.  You can't really see it in the pictures, but sand was all jammed up under the car and even up in it, so we worked on clearing it out, and slowly, slowly pulled it out, all of us taking turns driving the cars and pushing BOTH cars, because later on we managed to get the Jeep stuck, too.  The poor guy had just put his summer tires on, and on that sand winter tires would've definitely been better!

Many push marks were left on the car after that little 2-hour adventure.  There was more to our tour of Reykjanesbaer, but I think we all need a rest after that.  Quote of the day:  "Now this is like vacation!  It's getting fun now," said 100% irony free, and not by me.

Iceland, Day 1 continued: Dritvik

On our day tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula we made a quick stop at the beach in Dritvik, where you can view the remains of a shipwreck from 1948.

All that's left on the beach are some metal remains, not surprising after 66 years!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Iceland, Day 1: Snaefellsnes

On our first full day in Iceland, we followed our friend Patrick's advice and went on an excursion to the Snaefellsnes peninsula, approx. 230 kilometers from where we were staying in Njardvik. In hindsight, it was a bit much for the first day, but with such limited time in Iceland, it was an optimum use of our time!

We'd landed the night before at about 11:30 pm, got our rental car after waiting a while for the agent to show up at the airport, and finally got to our accomodation in Njardvik sometime after 2:00 am.  It took us a while to find it, the navigation systems and phone were not working, and finally we ended up going back to airport, getting a printout of a map from a different car rental agency and finding the place.  Needless to say, on our first day we were running on little sleep and even less coffee.  I was okay with it, other members of our party were not. 

Our first stop was in Reykjavik to find Patrick and Thor on what we later learned was Reykjavik's hardest-to-find street:  a tiny street nestled among one way streets and construction sites.  But we found them, stopped at the store to get some sweets and soda for the drive (highly recommendable: Appelsin orange soda, not so good:  malt soda) and were off.  First destination:  Borgarnes.  We reached the town after driving almost 6 kilometers through the tunnel under Hvalfjördur (Whale Fjord), which apparently was a great place to catch whales and I've read that it is still home to one of Iceland's biggest whaling stations.  I didn't learn much about Borgarnes, except that there is a saga museum, the Settlement Centre, there which has an excellent restaurant.  We didn't go into the Settlement Centre, but opted for their delicious vegetarian lunch buffet instead.  It included, among other things, homemade bread, broccoli soup, red cabbage salad, barley salad, sweet potato salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, green salad, all I could wish for and more!  The sweet potato salad was a funny coincidence, because I think I've had sweet potatoes about five times in my whole life, two of those times being with Patrick:  once on Cape Cod, this time in Iceland!  The other three times were Patrick-inspired sweet potato fries from my home deep fryer, which I only fire up on special occasions.

Road 54 stretching in front of us, Snaefellsjökull in the distance.
 The long drive north to the Snaefellsnes pensinsula continued along relatively flat, uneventful, but very tranquil roads.  The road is perfectly set between the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other, with just the occasional house and waterfall to break things up.  As we approached the peninsula, the scenery became more varied, with Snaefellsjökull becoming visible, along with some more hills and a giant crater.

Our first scenic stop was to pay a visit to the Deity of Mt. Snaefell and then for a walk around the lovely basalt cliffs of Arnarstapi. 

Careful out there, the cliffs have cracks!  If you go too close to the warning sign to make it out, you may fall in!

The cliffs were just crawling with birds, much to my dismay.

I did like the vegetation, though.

This was a neat bird.  I can't remember which kind it was, but it was much more pleasant with its non-threatening long beak as opposed to the pointy-beaked and aggressive arctic terns, which we were to meet on every day of our trip, diving at our heads and pretending to pierce our skulls.

Next we paid a quick visit to Dritvik, a black stony beach with an old rusty shipwreck, and finally attempted to cross the mountain pass, to no avail.  Snow stopped us.  25% of our party wished to attempt to cross the snow, but was vetoed by the other 75% of us.  It was probably better that way.  You'll see why when you see what happened on day 2.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Iceland, Day 1 (Or, better said, Night 1)

As crazy and inappropriate as it sounds, I decided to take a long weekend in Iceland.  I'd love to have at least 2 weeks there, but 2 weeks were simply neither in my budget nor in my work schedule this year with 4 weeks in Michigan coming up and hopefully (I hope I hope I hope) a couple weeks on the Canary Islands this winter.  I did this over the Pentecost weekend, from June 6-8, with Monday off as a public holiday to recover.  We absolutely lucked out, and everyone told us so:  the weather forecast when we booked the flights called for temperatures of about 15°C/59°F, but in reality we had sun and about 21°C/approx. 70°F the whole weekend.  Initially I'd just planned to kiss fun in the sun in Germany goodbye for the weekend and have fun visiting my great writer friend Patrick (, but as luck would have it, we even got into some trouble on a beach and got sunburns!

But let's go back to the beginning: midnight sun! 

I hadn't even thought about there being nearly 24 hours of daylight in Iceland in June, but there certainly are!  I was completely excited when, after having left a dark Germany around 9 pm, it just kept getting lighter and lighter as we neared Iceland.  Just as we could see land again, we could also see the sunset at 11:30 pm.  It never got really dark after sunset, there was just a little touch of twilight, and a couple of hours later, the sun came up again.  Despite being completely exhausted, my body just said: "Keep going!  It's light outside!"  We even saw people going about their daily business, such as working in their yards and gardens well past midnight.  And that for 3 days.  No wonder I fell into a sleepy coma upon our return, dozed for a full day and am still a little bit fried.

We got hopelessly lost searching for our tiny hut (in German it was something like a 12m² Gartenlaube).  It was actually only about a ten minute drive from the airport, but it took us about 2 hours and a trip back to the airport to find it.  The directions were less than thrilling.   But before we embarked on the search for our tiny hut in someone's backyard, we got the ride of our lives in the car rental bus.  We'd rented a car from the cheapest car rental in Iceland, I believe, and it was not only cheap, but also highly entertaining.  A chubby, rosy-cheeked young man who appeared not over 20 arrived at the airport at least a half hour after our plane landed, after everyone had fetched their luggage, and after several people had called the office.  He seemed a bit flustered, tried to round everyone up and have them wait in a quiet corner of the exit hall at the airport, but no one was having any part of it.  Particularly the couple travelling with an infant!  This young lady practically jumped on the poor guy and asked if there would be enough space in the van because they were travelling with, and I quote, "an infant, and we have lots of stuff." She repeated her mantra about 50 times, and upon returning to her mate, I was forced to guffaw.  At least half of their "lots of stuff" was a shopping cart full of beer.  A small shopping cart, I admit, but still a full shopping cart.  Apparently they'd also heard that the cheapest beer in Iceland was at the Duty Free shop in the airport.  For the record, we decided to travel light and do without any adult drinks on this trip.  Why waste our time in this wondrous country on liquor?  Silly me, my main concern was getting some milk and cream for our coffee in the morning, but much to my dismay, the Duty Free does not carry these items.  I did, however, witness pilots, flight attendants, and the average Joe stocking up on cartfulls beer for what they seemed to feel was the Apocolypse coming.  Or just a trip to Iceland.

But back to our very, very sad car rental.  The young man driving the pickup van was not fazed by the young mother and her infant, he nonchalantly said, "Well, you could just wait for the next bus."  I wish I could be that cool.  In the end, she sent her mate to get the car, and boy, did he seem upset the whole time.  On our whole entertaining ride to the Quonset hut that housed the car rental, he didn't speak a word, and upon arriving, he was the first to get a car, wordlessly pointing out the countless flaws on that sad, sad car.  Then he sped off to pick up his beer, infant, and maybe even his wife.  I'm getting ahead of myself, though, the ride to the Quonset hut, while only a few minutes long (at normal speeds it may have been 10 minutes) was one of the most entertaining rides of my life.  The young, rosy-cheeked fellow squeezed us all into the rusty, dented van, hurriedly clearing seats of jackets and papers to accommodate everyone, and once we were in, he sped off.  He was driving well over the speed limit, while not looking out the windshield, but out the side window, admiring the pretty fog rising from the fields.  "Do you see that fog?" he asked us.  "It's kind of cool."  As much as I hate drug clichés, I started wondering just what this guy was on.   We were quickly approaching not only a roundabout, but also a much slower car ahead of us.  My husband, renowned fast, crazy driver on the famous, partially speed-limit-free German Autobahn, had white knuckles and nearly started hyperventilating.  I was cracking up the whole time, this was one heck of a start to a ridiculous trip.  Our rosy-cheeked driver tried to make some small talk with the passengers, but for some reason everyone was silent.  He pointed out the town of Keflavik, and while no one was interested, I asked him if it really was known as "Little America", as a friend had told me.  He had never heard of this, but went to tell of the unemployment, crime, and drug problems there.  He'd grown up there, much to my surprise, because I'd actually thought this guy was American.  His English was incredible!  But I suppose due to the long military presence in Keflavik and the plethora of English language entertainment options, it probably shouldn't have been such a surprise that he spoke flawless English; in fact, everyone we met in Icleand did.  During our conversation, I also registered some comments from my husband to the effect of "I hope he doesn't roll the van."  Oh, come on.  The guy must have some idea of what he's doing.  Or maybe I was just hoping not to be the first tourist he killed with his driving skills.

During the ride, he told us some of the rules of their car rental agency.  For example, you get the car with an empty tank and return it with an empty tank.  On the keyring were a couple of chips, these entitled us to a discount at a couple of the gas station chains, one of which he pointed out on the drive, but it was just a shimmer, or maybe a blur describes it better.  Finally, after the ride of our lives, I was thrilled to be milling around outside a Quonset hut, home of the rental agency; we were, after all, on a former US military base.  Of course there were Quonset huts!  After waiting for the Asian tourists to get their car and figure out how to drive it (it did take a moment, I'm not being catty here), it was our turn.  The rental agent came out and proudly escorted us to their newest car, a 2002 (this is 2014!!!) Honda CRV.  It paid off to go for the 4-wheel drive and request an automatic transmission after all!  The bumper was interestingly cracked and crooked, and missing some small components, of course there were dings and scratches, and then the doors didn't open!  "This doesn't make me very happy," said the rental agent, "Maybe it's because I locked it today."  I told him it doesn't make a difference to us, all the doors on our car at home don't open, either!  After some fiddling around, we did somehow manage to get the doors open, throw in our suitcase, and take off.  The engine was making a kind of ticking sound, sort of like our old Ford Scorpio after someone (not me!) never once checked the oil and it turned out that there was no oil left in the motor, and sometimes it didn't really want to shift into gear, but hey, who cares?  It got us through our 3 days.  And left me with a great story!

Oh yeah, and while we were getting our car, the Asians returned, looking puzzled.  The driver hopped out of the car, pointing at the gas gauge.  Yes, the car was nearly empty. But it's supposed to be that way.  Apparently they hadn't been listening (maybe they'd been hanging on for their lives and praying to somebody or other instead) when our rosy-cheeked young driver informed us, "You get it empty and return it empty." 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iceland and whales

I am a vegetarian, but not for ethical reasons, I simply don't like the taste of meat.  That said, I am not going to protest about people eating meat, whatever kind they may choose.  Iceland does commercial whaling, and has for a long time.  A lot of people are against whaling, I know this and respect it, but found it fascinating that no one batted an eye when asked "Where can I get a whale steak?"  Of course I was not asking this question, because I am not interested in meat .  Anyway, no one batted an eye, they were much more likely to whip out their smartphone and start searching for a whale steak for you. 

We ended up at Seabaron in Reykjavik right by the harbor.  They seem to have had the most affordable whale steaks, and even veggie patties and veggie skewers, all prepared on a grill.  And free ice water!  You get free ice water wherever you go in Iceland, of course, they are very proud of their water and every restaurant or even Taco Bell will happily offer you a glass of free ice water and a smile.  But back to the whales.  You can eat them.  And many people did, and do each day.

You were actually allowed to choose your food right from the fridge:

There's the whale on the plate:

I'll stick with the ice water!

Right around the corner from the restaurant, you could see this:

Quite a mix of different standpoints.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Luscious licorice from Iceland!

After a year, the white rabbit is back!  It's been a while due to our move to the Floßhaus, and if you're interested in our crazy old house, please do visit us at  I'll continue to use this blog for anything and everything unrelated to the house, which has consumed my life over the past year. But finally we went on vacation again, albeit a short one, to Iceland!  I've been wanting to go to Iceland for some time, and when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn't resist.  One thing that completely fascinated me were all the licorice sundries available in this wondrous land.  Here we go on our licorice tour!

There is a giant Bonus Supermarket (or was it Hagkaup?) in Reykjavik that has bulk candy--this was the first time I've seen bulk candy in a long time, bulk foods are not a big thing in Germany--and better yet, it's 50% off on Saturdays.  The moment I heard this, I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to "Candy Island".  It was crazy, and as big as a bulk candy section in a Meijer store in Michigan, if you've ever had the pleasure.  I'd estimate that there were at least 100 bins of candy, and people everywhere packing their bags full of it. I jumped in to do the same.  Most of the people there seemed to be experienced in their quest for half off candy, and made a beeline to their bins of choice.  I, however, was a newbie in this wonderland of candy, some of which I recognized, and some of which I could only guess what it was.  Some kinds I knew from the United States, for example blue gummy sharks, but these were not my focus. I'll be able to get plenty of those in 6 weeks.  No, I was there for the exotic licorice.  There was licorice in all forms, from sweet to salty and spicy.  Some was gummy, some was covered in chocolate, some was in ball form somewhat like a jelly bean without the jelly. Some was even like caramel!  I couldn't read what was what, and could also not even get an inkling of what kinds of licorice these different items could contain because I haven't got a clue about the Icelandic language, nor do I have any experience with related languages. So I was lost in a sea of licorice.  Here's what I ended up with:

 Licorice shark...
 ...colorful licorice octopus...
 ...chocolate filled licorice tube...
 ...licorice/cherry chewy smily guy...
 ...super strong licorice skull...
...licorice pistol...

...and there was more:  a super strong spicy (like chili) licorice guitar for example, or bean shaped things filled with caramelly licorice, it was all pretty exciting.  

To top it all off, we even came across some black licorice ice cream in Reykjavik!  What a trip!

One member of my party couldn't help but ask, "What's up with the concrete-colored ice cream?", but when informed that it was black licorice, got all pouty and wanted to trade.  Because I didn't want to ruin our trip, I did.  But it was difficult, because this stuff is great!  When ordering, I thought it was either going to be horrible or was more than wonderful!

OK, just one more licorice treat:  a bar of licorice covered in chocolate!

Please be patient, dear readers...more about my 3 days in Iceland is on its way!