On The Road To Thingvellir

May 4:

I awoke at 10am without waking up once all night! I was thrilled I had enjoyed my first night of deep, comfortable slumber all week. The new blanket was toasty warm and realizing I’d be fine in the car from here on out raised my spirits. When I noticed the car windows were completely fogged over my first thought was, oops! But then I realized it was the perfect window covering so I could change into my clothes. Bonus!

After I changed I went into the house to use the bathroom and then gave Sigrun a big hug and returned her key, and I hit the road.

I headed South towards Selfoss because Joanna had recommended I take the Ring Road counter-clockwise to make sure all roads would be open when I got up North. Sounded like a wise plan.  But first, I stopped at Hagkaup in Skeifan, which is the only 24 hour grocery and sort of like our Walgreens for some groceries and supplies. I had bought a camping stove in Reykjavik and decided a few soups, teas, and instant coffee would be fun, and then I got several nuts, dried fruits, apples and crackers that will last me a week or two in the car. I also bought a 3 pack of spoons (I LOVE that disposable silverware doesn’t seem to be a thing here) and a little white mug for my morning instant lattes. I also bought a litre of Coke because I remembered how much I love European Coca-Cola. Did you know Coca-Cola uses a different recipe depending on where it’s shipped in the world? European/North African is my favorite, and I have to restrain myself from chugging it like a greedy 6 year old.

I headed South-East, following the Lonely Planet guide book my hosts had lent me (yes, I’m also wishing I’d have just dealt with the weight of the amazing and thorough guide book a friend back home had loaned to me. I didn’t bring it because it was too bulky and heavy, darn it). The LP guidebook has been wonderful, and it had a preplanned 3-4 week path they recommend so I thought I’d give that a shot and take my own detours along the way.

Once on the road I noticed how I had a fairly decent phone service so I thought I’d give my momma a call and check in. We chatted for about 15 minutes before I remembered I had to pay by the minute if I wasn’t using Skype so we agreed to use that next time. I continued on and drove to a small sea town just West of Stokkeyri where I walked out to the crashing water and stood in awe of the power of the ocean.  The smell of the dense sea air was amazing. There were flocks of seagulls and little noisy birds holding court nearby and their calls nearly drowned out the crashing of the ocean. I finally felt like I had found my groove. My worry and discomfort began waning and I was starting to feel more adventurous again.

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After catching another chat with Jason while enjoying a snack of Sykr, an Icelandic creamy yogurt-type favorite, and chocolate milk I followed the guidebook to Stokkeyri and then the first thing I did, in my usual style, was to change my mind and buck the system and take a detour back up to the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is the easiest, closest group of sights to see all crammed into a single day trip. For some reason the guidebook didn’t think they were worth seeing if I had 3-4 weeks in Iceland ….which makes me very excited to imagine what’s in store for me down the road!

Around 2:00 I landed in Thingvellir National park and learned that the campsite next to the visitor center was closed. Bummer! I asked where the next open campsite was and the girl stared at me blankly and said “you can use the campsite, it’s just not open.” This, I learned, just meant the showers and laundry service weren’t available, but I was welcome to stay for free. BOOYAH! So I set a waypoint on my GPS so I could find my way back here after playing in the park all day.

I headed down to Thingvellir, which is the council site of the founding Icelandic Vikings and continued to be so until only a couple hundred years ago. Once a year, all leaders, representatives or those with a grievance needing to be settled would trek across Iceland from their hometowns to join in this massive coming-together where all external vendettas were set aside while matters would be discussed and settled. There are waterfalls, a large council rock, one of the oldest Christian churches (if not the oldest) in all of Iceland, and amazing views in 360 degrees.

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I took my time and read all the info signs, barely comprehending them due to feeling so overwhelmed by the fact I was standing in this incredible place from human history. I kept picturing hoards of fur-cladded men and their small, tough-as-nails Icelandic horses crossing between the snow-capped mountains on all sides, and navigating the cliffs and crevices that crop up everywhere to come together and perform one of the most civilized governments of the era.

I learned the reason there are so many crevices and rock upheavals in the area is because this is also the fault line between the North American and European continents. That fact pretty much blew my little mind. If you think about it, the whole reason Iceland is even above water is because the Earth is spewing out churning lava through the cracks between the continental plates. Blammo. Now your mind is blown too, yes?!

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I’ve never felt so small and insignificant as I do here in Iceland. Though, I also have a new appreciation for the ingenuity and tenacity of humans since we have not only been able to survive but thrive in such a volatile world.

As I walked around I noticed everything is still very brown and wintered. Every once in a while I can see grass, moss and a few crocus-looking flowers trying to emerge. I had the privilege of watching the trees unfurl in Reykjavik and by the time I left they were all covered in lime green spring leaves. I hope I will get to see more lush spring green while I’m here. Green makes for much better photos.

I also had run-in’s with a few rude groups of American tourists whichI feel I should apologize to the world for. I don’t think these folks understand what a bad reputation they’re giving us when they go abroad and behave like they own everything. I also scolded a Russian man for disturbing a beautiful mother sheep with her two tiny lambs. Several of us tourists had all been keeping our distance and enjoying how lovely the moment was, when he just went charging up to her with his young son, talking loudly and waving his arms. I couldn’t help myself, I loudly tsk-tsked him and shook my head. His wife called him back and he was very grumpy that we had ruined his fun. Poor baby, he’s right, it would have been fun to see momma goat head butt him 😉

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I’m a bit torn about whether my decision to come to Iceland so early before the tourist season was the right thing to do or not. On one hand, I have my choice of parking and camping sites, and the attractions and cafes are quiet, empty and relaxing; but on the other hand, there is very little greenery yet and many places are closed until June 1. Perhaps I should have aimed for the end of the tourist season when the weather is worse but it’s still at it’s photogenic peak. No matter now 🙂

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Once the sun started to get low in the sky I figured I had better head back to camp and get situated and have some dinner. I looked at the clock and it was already 9:30pm. Doh! Oh yeah, midnight sun.

Once I circled around the campsite and picked out my parking spot, which was a bit humorous because the site is a huge empty lawn and it was only me and one other couple brave enough to camp here so early in the season, I made my bed in the back of the car and had a banana and the last of the rich chocolate milk. I wrote up my blog post in a text document and loaded up photos, but didn’t have the energy to edit. Said good night to Jason and to the massive, snow-covered giants surrounding me and nodded off to sleep.

Iceland: A Looong Day 1

If it’s not scary, it’s not worth doing.

I certainy have to keep reminding myself of that. I even stuck a note on my laptop screen with that statement to keep it fresh in my mind.

I’ve been looking forward to this adventure for months and now here I am, completely exhausted, lonely, out of my comfort zone, a little lost, and a lotta homesick already. But it’s guaranteed that’s how every proper adventure starts, right? You have to rip yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow and be changed by an experience.

April 29, 2014: The plane ride was smooth and safe, though there wasn’t much sleeping thanks to a wailing baby and some men who talked and laughed loudly any time the baby wasn’t crying. This morning at 7am I retrieved my rental car then drove along the coast in Kevflavik seeking any attractions my GPS pointed out. It was lovely enough, but for some reason I didn’t feel a connection with the area and wondered if I’d made a mistake by expecting too much too soon. Today was bitterly cold; the kind of chill-you-to-the-bone ocean wind cold. And gray; the kind of I-may-never-see-sunlight-again gray; and drizzly; and the kind of windy that makes me understand why the girls in Iceland wear braided locks so often. I visited a marina and watched a fisherman fold his nets for the next run. I saw the viking row-ship replica that was built exactly like one that was excavated in the 1800’s. This repica actually made a safe voyage in the 1990’s from Iceland to Greenland, Newfoundland and then America.

Once I finished at the Viking museum I tried to nap in the car but was too cold and tired to relax. I needed a pick-me-up so I checked to see if my sweet hubby back home would be awake yet and after a short Skype call where I blubbered like a nincompoop and he reminded me how I told him I’d probably do this for the first week or two, I decided to head up the coast to Reykjavik and see if I couldn’t find my couch-surfing host’s place and a cafe with wifi so I could start writing.

Now in Reykjavik (WRECK-a-vec) I’m even more grateful I wound up with a GPS unit though I hadn’t requested it. I would be so panicked in this city without one. The driving style here is as if each driver, including the monster semi trucks meant for snow, is driving a zippy little bumper car that only goes one speed: fast.  If you’re in the way they either roar around you at the last minute instead of rear-ending you or lay on the horn. I actually sightly enjoy it, it reminds me of how Californians drive, but when I don’t know where I’m going and every other street is a oneway it can make a girl razzle-dazzle-frazzled in no time.

My hosts wouldn’t be home until 8pm, and it was only 3, so I parked on the correct street and hoped I was close to their flat since I couldn’t find it. I took a few deep breaths (I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours now) and packed my day bag so I could start walking toward a massive church I’d driven past earlier. I figured they had  to have a water-closet I could use.

It was a fairly relaxing afternoon. I visited the church and went up into the bell tower (but no bathroom?!?), wandered around and forced myself to get lost while shooting some street art (though I was so tired and the sky was so gray I had little desire to do so), and bought a warm, green, second-hand wool hat since my own pitiful hat was worthless in this Icelandic wind. This new hat lifted my spirits a lot – it’s funny how just being a little warmer can change my entire outlook on the day. I found a cute little corner cafe called “C is for Cookie” and quickly learned it was one of Frommer’s top rated places in all of Iceland. My latte and brownie were absolutely divine though I couldn’t finish either thanks to my stressed out stomach.

The smells in Reyvjavik are beautiful and distinct and strong. It’s like the air here carries more scent than back home. Briny sea breeze, eggy-sulfer from the hot tap water that is funneled straight from geothermic locations, mouth-watering dinners being cooked in the many unique food joints, and an odd burned toast smell I keep noticing when I’m not even near a bakery. I’ll have to ask my hosts what that is. I started to wonder if I was having a mini stroke… 😉

While walking down Hverfisgata the day took a turn for the eventful. I heard a man running and looked to my right just in time to see him come running/stumbling out of an alley, miss the curb, and land on his face with a sickening thud in the middle of the street. He didn’t get up. A few cars swerved around him and kept going. I and several other pedestrians jogged over to him and he was still not moving. A man shouted in Icelandic to the nearest driver and made the universal finger-phone sign for “call for help!”. The nearest driver who would have hit the man if he hadn’t noticed him, jumped out and started the call. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I think they were discussing if they should move him out of the street. Blood was beginning to pool around the unconscious man’s open mouth. Cars in both directions were honking and trying to speed around the caller’s stopped car and narrowly missing our little group surrounding the man. We all held our hands up to signal there was something going on in the road. One car even drove completely up onto the curb to get around the scene.

A new man got out of his Audi, a very slick looking businessman, and started talking to and shaking the unconscious man as he started to stir. The phone man and Audi man then helped pick up and move him to the sidewalk so cars could pass.  Finally the injured man tried standing up and the gentlemen helped him. He was either extremely drunk or still reeling from the fall. His face was dripping blood and I couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from but it looked like his lips were split from chin to nose on his left side. His left cheek was massively swollen and yellow and purple. I looked back at the puddle of blood that was now being picked up by passing tires. When I looked back, the man was staggering and trying to walk away though the others were saying he should stay. I decided I wasn’t being of any help and so I decided to it was time to go. I looked back as I turned the corner and watched the man stagger into the street again, cars honking, and off into another alley. I heard the ambulance and as they rounded the corner I flagged them down and told them which direction he was moving in and off they went.

I was a little disappointed in myself that my first reaction to the scene was to take photographs of instead of helping the man, though I resisted. I was the third person to reach him, and thus couldn’t help any further, but I still felt ashamed that I wanted to document it. I suppose that means I’d be a good war photographer? Ick, I prefer not to analyze that any further…

That event shook me up a bit so I decided to walk back to my car and see if I couldn’t sleep. It was 6:00pm. I was too cold and shaken up to sleep so I looked over my maps, tried to catch up on FaceBook (thank the heavens for TMobile’s free international 3G data) until 7:45 when Sigrun emailed and said she was home. I packed a night’s clothing into my day-bag and went to meet her. She is tall, blonde, lovely, and extremely kind. She is a teacher’s aide at a local elementary school and loves painting and music. I was so happy to finally meet her and have a warm place to stay that I hugged her immediately. I showered then we chatted while she made a tasty mushroom, onion and pepper pasta dish and then we went for a walk and she showed me more around town.

The sunset in Iceland right now comes around 9:30pm and is incredible. The vibrant colors that last barely 5 minutes in Colorado last almost an hour. The sun came out for the first time since I’d arrived and painted the clouds in a soft salmon color. There is that famous Iceland lighting!! We walked through the bustling streets until almost 11pm. My feet were so sore from walking as briskly as we did but the warmth from it felt very nice.

When we came back to the flat I got to meet Sigrun’s boyfriend, Andy. He’s wonderful and kind too. He’s from the UK, is a kindergarten teacher and studying to get Icelandic residency.

I finally dropped into my sleeping bag around midnight, texted Jason a goodnight or two and let the hum of the refrigerator lull me to sleep, a mere 36 hours since I last slept.