Into the Looking Glass and Out to the Garden

By September 10th, 2022

Some places you visit once and check off your list without another second thought. But, once in a while, you visit a place that captures your heart and calls you back again and again. This is Iceland for me. I first visited in 2017 with a bunch of friends and I have come back twice more since then. This trip will be iteration number three.

You have probably (or probably not) read the series about my last visit to Iceland. I had gone by myself and drove the Ring Road, Iceland’s main highway that circles around the country. I saw and photographed many beautiful sceneries along the way, and was blessed with nature’s amazing light show towards the end of the trip. That was my last international trip before the pandemic that changed the world and how we travelled.

Now that things have settled into a new sort of normal and travel restrictions have began to ease up, I felt safe to go abroad again. The original plan was to hike Scotland’s Western Highlands over 10 days. Unfortunately, things could not conveniently fall into place for me. But, I had my vacation approved and the travel itch had hit me like a freight train. Iceland became the perfect plan B. I still had sights to see and things to do.

I already had experience booking a road trip from my last visit so planning was much easier this time around. Also, as it happened, one of my previous travel buddies found out about my trip and wanted to tag along. She seemed the type to be up for the same sort of adventures so I brought her along this time.

Travelling alone versus having a travel companion, despite how similar your personalities seem to be, is quite the contrast. You can’t be as spontaneous as you like, especially when they are dependent on you for transportation. Dinner plans take a bit more discussion. Fortunately, we both share the same interest in food and she is just as adventurous with local cuisine as I am.

Our first day was spent getting ready for the drive, buying supplies (aka road snacks), and recovering from jetlag. We did not do a lot of adventuring around the city but I was lucky enough to score a room with a decent view.

Like a looking glass into the garden

After a not so quick stop for groceries, we holed up at our hotel for the day. It was raining so we did not feel like exploring the city just yet. Instead, we spent the day looking up places to visit in the city after our roadtrip. We did, however, try out the local versions of vietnamese food and mexican fare for lunch and dinner.

So good I ate it before I took a photo

Day one for this trip feels like a prologue to the main story. This time around, we will be driving the Ring Road clockwise and will start with Snæfellsness and spend the night near Kirkjufell with a plan to do some night photography of the mountain. Hopefully, the gods will grant us some good weather. In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the plane ride over the Arctic.

Mountains, Gandalf!!!
The sun rises for our latest adventure
Rolls Royce jet engines over the Arctic
I finally had tacos!

Chapter 8: Howling winds, darkest nights, and a surprise of a tunnel

By February 19th, 2021

Today began much like any other day this week except the room was comparatively nicer than the ones I have stayed in although the bed was just as comfortable as ever. It will be my last day before returning to Reykjavik, back to the hustle and bustle of city life. Today is certainly going to be filled with adventure way after the sun goes down.

I never thought I would ever miss hotel buffet breakfast. This would be my first time in a week. The fare is still similar to what I have partaken in the past week. The plates were a lot fancier, I suppose. There’s a bunch of folks who seem to be from a tour group congregating on a table nearby. At least I get to people watch while I eat.

After breakfast, I pile my stuff back in my trusty rental, crank up the tunes, and set my course for the next stop: Snaefellsness peninsula. I plan to drive the main road going around it and stop at the tourist spots. Hopefully, I can get there early enough before the tourist throngs overwhelm the place.

As is typical of this adventure so far, I start the day with a waterfall. And oh what a waterfall it is. From the road, I can see the stream of water coming down from the edge of a cliff at the top of a mountain. It cascades down several stages, winding this way and that before turning into a peaceful stream in the middle of the grassy field.

The grandeur of Bjarnarfoss

It’s a short hike from the parking lot to a spot in the field where I could safely set up my gear and take some pictures. As I am getting to the middle of my photo shoot, a couple show up in a car at the parking lot. I watch them hike up the trail while I wait for my camera timer.

The wind is brisk today, just as the weather app on my phone predicted yesterday. I am bundled up warmly. I came prepared… I hope. I have been told that weather in the peninsula can get quite unpredictable. In any case, I have plenty of layers in my car should the need arise.

There is a tiny chapel just across the way from the waterfall. A short drive up the road and I get there just as a busload of tourists show up. I don’t mind the company. I am painfully aware of how close this place is to the capital. The church itself is also quite well known on social media so I am not at all surprised that it gets all this attention.


My third stop for the day is yet another tourist stop. There does not seem to be much to see from the parking lot other than an overpriced cafe. I need to make a pitstop so I buy a bit of lunch so I can use the restroom. The soup is not all that bad. It helps me warm up and the bread was filling. Sitting at a table by the window, at least I have a view of the Atlantic.

There is a profusion of trails in the area. Some lead to rock formations erected hundreds of years ago by men long dead and forgotten. Some lead towards the cliff edge where you could see the ocean below. I opt for the latter.

There is something to be said about the power of water and its persistence. If one were to upgrade the game of rock-paper-scissors and added water, I’m sure it would beat all three. Time and the incessant ebb and flow of tide make the most wondrous rock sculptures.

One of the amazing seaside rock formations in Arnarstapi

After enjoying the ocean view for a bit, I decide to explore the other trails. I find one that leads up a hill to a man-made rock formation. I stop to read the plaque for my daily dose of Icelandic history and the usual photo op.

Bárður Snæfellsás looking over the peninsula.

Getting back in the car away from the whipping wind, I set up directions for the next stop. This one is a waterfall that seems to be a bit out of the way. The drive to the coordinates for the “parking area” feels a bit sketchy. The road is just wide enough for my rental and full of loose rocks. I doubt a tourist bus makes it this far. I look up at the sky and I am noticing it slowly getting darker. I check on the car snacks. It looks like I have at least enough to last me the night should I get stuck in bad weather. I touch my gps device with the built-in SOS button for reassurance.

It takes me a while to figure out where the “parking area” is. As it turns out, it is nothing but a wider notch on the rode obscurely flanked by a nondescript picnic table. I pull up on my rental and angle my car to make sure I don’t block the road. There is a faint walking trail notched into the hill with moss-covered rocks on either side. From the map, it looks like the trail should end just before the waterfall. With a twinge of trepidation as the sky slowly begins to look menacing, I set off and follow the trail.

I find the waterfall with little trouble after about 20 minutes of trudging uphill over loose gravel and the occasional mud puddle. I do my best to avoid stepping on the moss flanking the narrow trail. I am rewarded with having the place all to myself for a few precious minutes. A little while later, another hiker shows up with his camera. He is nice enough to set up his gear across the way from me and even asks me if he is in the shot. We spend a few minutes in companionable silence, each engrossed in our own photo shoot.

Klukkufoss, if you can find it.

I hike back to the car and trundle down the rocky road back to the main highway. My next stop is going to take quite a bit of driving. At least the view out my car window is not all bad. The sun is also starting to peek through the clouds. A few minutes away from my next stop, I spy a waterfall in the distance. I did not notice any signs on the road pointing to it. I pull over to the side of the road and notice a car in the distance driving past it. I follow it with my gaze to where it turned to get on the highway and make a mental note. I start up my car and head for the turn out and make my way to the waterfall as close as I can get.

Svödufoss from afar

The road runs between some farms and I see a few horses just hanging out by the fence. At one point I drive by a couple with their car parked at the side of the road. The girl is having her photo taken next to one of the horses who managed to get their head through the fence for some human attention.

I find a small parking lot near what appears to be a small park close to the waterfall. I could not see a trail I could safely walk in to get closer to the waterfall and the wind is beginning to pick up. I have to be content with appreciating from afar.

As I am driving back to the highway, I notice a bunch of horses huddled together. I find a spot to park my car off the road and take a few snaps. This one looks like it’s vamping for my camera.

Work it, horse

My last stop in the peninsula is one of the more popular ones so I steel myself for the throng of people that will likely be there. It’s already late afternoon and the stop is not too far of a drive from the capital. Thankfully, it is just past a small town. I need to make a quick pit stop, replenish my car snacks supply, and gas up. After some convenience store shopping, I get back on the road and head for my final stop.

Majesty comes in threes

The numerous photos online and on social media hardly do the place justice. Despite the crowds, it is still a majestic place. The mountain gracefully arcs in the distance over a meandering stream cascading down the hill in several levels. The fall colors bring warmth to the eyes despite the gray skies and blustery wind. A nice end to my week-long adventure before rejoining civilization.

The lower falls are also nice

After spending about an hour taking in the rugged beauty around me, I get back in the car. Music blaring, coordinates set, I head off to Reykjavik. As I get closer to the city, I am seeing more cars on the road. The google maps app is telling me I will be at my destination in the next half hour or so. I begin to get confused. From my car I can see a big body of water between me and the city. I do not know of any ferries in the area nor do I see a dock or large boats on the shore. As I kept driving down the road, it dawned on me like an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist. There is a tunnel. Underwater.

I stamp down the rising panic in my head. There is no way I can stop in the middle of the road. I must keep driving. Down into the tunnel I go. I try not to think about the millions of gallons of water on top of me separated by nothing but concrete and the miracle of human engineering. I can’t drive fast enough to get out the other end of the tunnel. There is a speed limit and everyone else is abiding by it.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief as I finally make it out of the tunnel and back into the waning afternoon light. Eventually, I make it down the highway and find myself downtown. I am able to find a parking garage a block away from my hotel. Lugging my stuff down the street, I head for the hotel and check in. As soon as I settle in to my room for the day, I am left with only a few minutes to grab something to eat before I need to be at the pick up point for the final part of my adventure. Packing my gear into my backpack and bundling myself into my winter jacket, I head out. After a quick stop for a hotdog dinner from the street, I find my way to the pick up point and wait.

The Northern Lights tour involves the most impressive all-terrain vehicle I have ever had the pleasure of riding in. Imagine if a shuttle bus and a monster truck had a baby. The wheels on this behemoth can probably get over anything. The best part, however, is the inside is nice and warm and cozy.

After about a half hour on the road listening to some dad jokes and the occasional history lesson from the tour guide, our group find ourselves in the middle of a farm with the lights of the city twinkling in the distance. I start setting up my camera gear and aimed it at the sky above me. Suddenly, colors start bursting from the horizon. Wave after graceful wave of blues and greens punctuated by occasional bursts of red and orange. The sight was overwhelming. I was thankful for the darkness. I prefer ugly crying out of sight. After I manage to compose myself enough, I finally start snapping away. As my camera fired one timed shot after another, I just stand there, breathless and overwhelmed by so much wonder.

Words fail me.

Chapter 7: Old Churches and Sea Dragons

By January 4th, 2021

The rural air is certainly doing wonders to my sleeping. I have been waking up feeling more refreshed each morning this week. There was breakfast prepared by our kind host today. I will be sharing the repast with two other guests, a couple from South Korea who are also doing the same adventuring that I was along the Ring Road.

After breakfast, my next stop was going to be one of the oldest turf churches in Iceland, Grafarkirkja. It was maybe a half hour off the main highway in the middle of a field. It faced north into the Norwegian Sea and behind it you can see rolling hills and mountains of Iceland’s interior. It was indeed a very contemplative place.

If I had views like this, I would probably root myself here as well and grow moss.
The view north from the church

After visiting the church and maneuvering the process of driving up to the gate, getting out of the car with the engine running, opening the gate, running back to the car to drive through the gate, and repeating the process to close the gate behind me, I was finally back on the road. This time, I was on the hunt for something other than turf churches and waterfalls. I am off to find a sea dragon.

The sea dragon in question is called Hvitserkur. It is a rock formation found on the northern shores of Iceland that resembles a stone dragon (or a warty rhino, depending on how you look at it). There is a low cliff you have to maneuver down from the lookout point to get to the shore. It was especially challenging since most of the steep slope has eroded and the soil is the sort of loose rock that cannot be trusted. I had to ungracefully lower myself down the steep slope with my butt on the ground. My broken ankle did little to help my progress. Eventually, I managed to make it down to the shore. I am hoping it will be easier climbing up than it was to climb down.

Chessy wanted to prove he saw a dragon
Last shot before packing up my gear to escape the incoming tide

After taking photos of the dragon to convince myself it was real, I began to notice the tide slowly starting to come in. I have been often warned by locals about tricky waves that can suddenly pull you into the ocean if you are not careful. I hastily packed my gear and began the climb back up the cliff. Thankfully, it was easier going up, albeit no less ungraceful. On the way back to the car, I ran into the couple from the horse farm in Akureyri. I barely recognized them being all bundled up in their thick jackets and hats and scarves. We said hello and I made my way back to my car. I had a quick lunch before heading out to my next stop.

Kolugljúfur Canyon is an amazing stop on the way to the Snaefellsness peninsula. There is a meandering river that passes by pastoral farms and cascades down into a gorge. The water has done wonders with carving through the basalt turning it into a canyon that fantastic beasts of imagination could call home. I would not be surprised if a dragon lived down there (or a warty rhino).

Rock may be harder than water but water is persistent

I was initially planning to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Snaefellsness Peninsula before bedding down for the night in Borgarnes. However, I wouldn’t be spending as much time exploring the peninsula as I did not want to be stuck out there or on the road in the dark. I had been told that the weather on the peninsula can be quite intense and unpredictable this time of the year. I decided not to chance it. I can always retrace my route north and do a loop of the peninsula the next day. Reykjavik was less than an hour away from Borgarnes so I could easily make it there tomorrow after a full day of sightseeing in the peninsula.

My accommodations in Borgarnes were beginning to phase me back into city living. This was far different from the quaint and cozy farmhouse cottages and hostels I had stayed in all week. It had all the feel of the typical hotel room. Also, it felt nice having my own bathroom for a change.

I feel like the Walrus AND the Carpenter
Lamb over frites with a salad afterthought

For dinner, I had mussels for starters. I had not had shellfish in a while so it was quite a treat. I mopped up the juice from the mussels with fresh bread. Main course was lamb chops (of course) on fries with a side salad. I washed everything down with the local brew. I had a long day tomorrow so I decided to turn in early. Also, there was a tv in my room. I did not realize how much I missed having this modern amenity.

I was about to start winding down for the day when I began hearing a commotion in the hallway. I had seen in my phone app that the northern lights had a high chance of showing up today. I decided to get dressed and see for myself. The hotel grounds was swarming with noisy excited tourists with their cameras incessantly flashing so I decided to walk around town to find a nice quiet spot to myself.

I found a spot just a few feet from a row of houses. It was a nice dim place with just enough light for me to set up my camera. Unfortunately, the northern lights were not as bright as I hoped so I did not get any good pictures. It was still good practice for when I go on the group tour tomorrow. It was pretty cold and windy outside so I decided to go back to my hotel room and rest. On my way back, I found a new friend.

Also, just relieved that moving black shadow in the middle of the road was not a skunk.

I never pass up an opportunity to pet a willing cat, especially one as fluffy as this one.

Chapter 6: Through the time travelling tunnel I go

By November 30th, 2020

After the usual breakfast fare of bread, dried meats, egg, and coffee, I packed up and headed out to my next waterfall.

One wonderful thing about Iceland is there is phone coverage everywhere. I relied mostly on my phone for driving directions since day 1 and even in the seemingly middle of nowhere, I was able to find a phone signal with a decent data speed. It has been really handy especially when trying to figure out where the next gas station is.

My waterfall of the day, Godafoss, was quite the package deal. Aside from the big waterfall, there were smaller ones downstream that were also worth seeing. The area was a web of walking trails and you could spend half the day just traipsing about up and down the paths.

Godafoss’s main waterfall
One of the smaller falls seen from the bridge

I was able to find a path going down to the main waterfall that I could get close enough and be right by the water. Just as I got there, I got a video call from my mom. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and ever available cell service, I was able to show her around and gave her a courtside seat to the waterfall.

Smaller ones also dot the trail
Thundering waterfalls

I was able to hobble a little better on my ankle but after a couple of hours walking the trail, it was beginning to ache so I decided to rest in the car. It was still too early for lunch so I decided to forego the nearby restaurant and drive to my next stop. I could probably just live off of my car snacks until I got to Akureyri.

On the way to Akureyri, you have two choices. You can take the long way around the mountain or you can take a shortcut under it. The GPS, being in the habit of guiding me down the shortest path from point A to point B took me under the mountain. It was quite a long tunnel and took me a few minutes to get from one end to the other. I didn’t find it unnerving until I got to the outskirts of town and sat down and found a map that made me realize where the tunnel went through. I have finally decided I do not like long tunnels at all.

It was lunchtime when I got to Akureyri so I decided to fill up the car and grab something to eat. I was also able to find that a nearby museum was open so after having lunch, I decided to visit it. There is also a historic tourist stop close by that I have been reading. Before heading down there, I found that there was a turf church about a half hour’s drive from town so I decided to head there.

The turf church

Saurbæjarkirkja is a turf church built in 1858 in the Eyjafjörður region of Iceland. It is one of only six turf churches still in existence in Iceland today. There is a small cemetery right next to it. Across from the church, there is a compound with a few buildings that look like something you would find in a sheep farm. The area appeared to be a bit isolated and was giving off a “Silence of the Lambs” vibe for me so after taking a few photos, I decided to head back to town. There’s a local museum I was hoping to see before it closed for the day.

The church and the building across the way.

The museum was an interesting one. The upper floors had modern art installations while the lower floors and basement were dedicated to the town’s history and seafaring articles. I am not a big fan of modern art so after I did my regulatory passing glance of the upper floors, I headed down to the history section. There was a lot of interesting things to see.

Monopoly gameboards were a lot more interesting back then

Seafarers back then (and probably some folks these days) were a superstitious lot. They believed the ocean was filled with enormous sea monsters, each one more scary than the next. As if the constantly rolling sea, bad weather, and even worse food from the galley weren’t enough to make life at sea unbearable, there is also the daily threat of being eaten alive by a kraken. The stress would probably drive me to drink on a daily basis.

Mermaids were supposedly a lot less Disney-esque in real life

Life on land was no less interesting. Judging from the display, town life had its struggles as well. I always found it interesting how people were able to thrive without today’s comforts. Despite being a bit removed from the rest of Iceland, Akureyri flourished into a bustling seaside community.

Chessy wanted to play general store
Waiting for the mad hatter and the rest of the gang

Entrance to the museum also included access to the nearby Nonni’s house and the chapel. The house was very interesting. There were no other tourists around so I had it all to myself for quite a while. Going through the cramped rooms and tiny hallways I was able to get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s. I could only imagine living in that house in the winter with no central heating, no insulation in the walls, no Amazon grocery delivery, and only the heat from the stove and layers of scratchy wool clothing to keep you warm. It makes me appreciate the creature comforts most of us take for granted on a daily basis these days.

Nonni’s house
Mornings were for coffee and… basically the whole coffee process took all morning

The chapel was a small one, perhaps just the right size for a tiny community back in the 1800s. It was a nice, quiet spot for contemplation. After a quick photo op, I spent a few minutes sitting inside and enjoyed the solitude before heading out to my accommodations for the night.

Spending a few minutes in quiet contemplation

It was still a couple of hours before check-in time so I looked for a bookstore or cafe to hang out. Luckily, there was a place that had both. I bought some books and spent the afternoon at the cafe with a slice of cake and some coffee to stave off the afternoon slump while reading a paperback.

Cake, coffee, and a good book. What more do I need?

Tonight’s bed is in a guest house that is part of a horse farm. It’s about a half hour drive from town in the Skagafjörour region. As I was getting out of the car, I was greeted by the owner’s adorably friendly dog. There were no restaurants nearby so I figured I would spend the late afternoon exploring Akureyri and have dinner in town before turning in for the night.

Pre dinner onion rings
When in a fish town, you order fish

Dinner was at a gastropub I noticed while I was at the bookstore. Seeing as it was a seaside town, I figured I would try the local fish. Food was scrumptious as usual. I would have loved to have a second beer with dinner but since I will be driving back to the guesthouse, I decided against it. I figured the day’s adventures would be enough for an easy send off to dreamland.

Chapter 5: Halfway ’round the bend and I missed the pancakes by two days

By October 27th, 2020

There was no breakfast buffet this time. At least there was hot water for my thermos and for my morning coffee. Luckily, I had come prepared. Breakfast was spent in the car after parking by the church for one last photo op of rainbow lane before the tourists start waking up. Also, I wanted to leave some room for pancakes and coffee from a turf house in the middle of nowhere. I hear it’s a special experience.

Good Morning Rainbow!

I had spied a waterfall on the way down from the pass driving into town. I planned to make the stop there on my way over. I was the first car parked there so I was able to enjoy a little bit of solitude and had the waterfall all to myself for a good half hour before other folks began to filter in.

Random roadside waterfall

From the waterfall, I made my way to a seemingly random left turn along the main road to a 20 minute trip down a dirt road with something special at the end. Along the way, I passed by a two-for-one special on waterfalls. It was quite a bargain so I decided to make a stop.

Two-tiered special of the day
lower falls

Back on the road, my phone somehow managed to find the correct turn-off from the highway. It was an interesting drive down a rocky road with nothing but more rocks on either side of the road. every crest of the hill promising something just beyond it. After 20-plus minutes of bouncing around, I came to a small farm by a lake. I could see two little turf houses and a couple of sheep grazing by it. Unfortunately, the sign informed me that I missed pancakes and coffee by about 2 days. Summer season was officially over so the residents have closed up shop for the year. Well, I’m here already so I might as well explore a little bit.

Looks cozy

I found a guy staying at one of the turf houses and he told me in heavily accented, slightly broken English that he is renting the turf house for a few weeks. He found it through one of the homesharing sites. I figured that would be a great idea for my return trip.

Missed the pancakes. Try again next time?

There were no pancakes but there were two very placid sheep munching along. I slowly approached one and propositioned it for a photo shoot. It was very obliging. I decided I would perhaps risk life and limb and pet it. If I got injured, I hope my Garmin emergency service could airlift me out of there to the nearest ER quick enough.

one sheep
two sheep
Making friends in the most random places

The lack of pancakes was a letdown but petting my first Icelandic sheep made up for it. I decided to motor down to the next town and gas up my car and perhaps grab lunch before heading to my next waterfall.

Thankfully, I had managed to get a decent brunch before getting back on the road. It turns out the road to one of the viewpoints for Dettifoss was going to be an ordeal. From the turn-out, it was 45 minutes of bone-jarring driving along a rocky and muddy road riddled with enormous and deep potholes. Thankfully, the rental was up to the task even if I could not say the same for my back.

Detiffoss side A. Saving the B-side for next trip

I decided to forgo visiting the viewpoint on the other side of the waterfall. It was promising to be another 30+ minutes down another rocky road and I had a hot springs reservation I wanted to make sure I could get to. I decided to head to Myvatn. I still had a couple of stops to make before my reservation at the hot springs and I was beginning to feel lunchy after the 90 minute F-road ordeal.

Lunch was a lamb burger at a cafe next to a tourist attraction. Dimmuborgir is a maze of trails winding around amazing lava and rock formations. Unfortunately, all the jostling from the road to Dettifoss left my injured ankle sore so I had to forgo the hike and sat down to lunch instead. At least I could see some of the park out of the cafe window.

yet another lamb-burger
enjoying the trail from the window

There was also a little cave with an underground hot spring that I had been hearing about so I decided to make my way there. The road going to the cave was a nice drive through some interesting rock formations. The cave itself was tiny and the much-hyped underground spring was a bit underwhelming. There were signs discouraging tourists from taking a swim (dangerous!). Also, the cave being tiny, the many tourists milling about made it feel more unpleasant. Besides, where I was going promised to be way nicer than this one.

It looks so much better than it smells.

After checking in to my quarters for the night and charging my equipment, I decided to recharge myself before dinner and headed for the hot springs. It proved to be a lot less crowded and a lot more pleasant than the Blue Lagoon. Since it was a further drive from the capital, fewer tourists make it there. Chessy and I had a good soak and relaxed in the water for a bit. I actually had to fight to stay awake in the water since it was putting me in a mood to nap.

Chessy getting ready for a relaxing dip
Getting wet and not too wild

After the relaxing soak, I headed back to my room to check on my equipment and get ready for dinner. The guesthouse staff recommended a restaurant down the road. I also noticed it was close to a church. Maybe I could do another photo shoot before turning in for the night.

Dinner did not disappoint. I had a starter of some smoked fish on local bread, the soup of the day, and a fish entrée that was delightful. Just as I was finishing up dinner, one of the diners just coming into the restaurant announced that everyone was missing the amazing sunset outside. I was able to capture a shot just as the sun was disappearing into the horizon.

Course 1 of 3: smoked fish on local bread and a healthy slather of butter
Course 2 of 3: Lamb stew aka soup of the day
Main course: Fried local fish with potatoes and fresh greens
catching the last sunset of the day

I decided to make a quick stop by the church while the light was still good. It was peaceful and quiet apart from the whinnying of a horse in the distance. One could not help but feel a little contemplative. I said my thanks for another wonderful day before heading back to the guesthouse for the night. After the relaxing soak and the good food, I was ready for bed.

evenings are also for contemplation

Chapter 4: Mysterious Eggs, Lighthouses, and more Waterfalls

By September 27th, 2020

Waking up to the morning light filtering through the window and the sounds of farm life is not so bad. I rested well last night and had no trouble from my ankle. It might have been the delicious dinner washed down with beer.

I started packing up for the day and realized my sweater matched the bathroom shower curtain. I just had to take a picture for posterity.

Just blending in with the local color

The day’s plan was pretty loose today. I thought perhaps I would spend the first half of the day in Vestrahorn. I read there were a lot of interesting things to see there.

The weather was not up to being cooperative. Everything was foggy and it was drizzling on and off. However, I was determined to find a few waterfalls on the way to Seydisfjordur. This time, I thought maybe I would throw in a few lighthouses along the way.

Whale bones collected from the coast through the years

Vestrahorn is the perfect place to see just how raw and beautiful the landscape is in Iceland. The jagged peaks bathed in low clouds and fog are calling to be climbed. However, I am not a climber of mountains. I hurt my ankle climbing a wall not even 10 feet from the ground right before the trip. Those peaks will have to wait for another day.

The Peaks of Vestrahorn

I was able to get to a parking area close to the Stokksnes lighthouse. A short walk to the rocky shore rewarded me with an amazing vantage point. I could watch the Atlantic waves crash onto the rocks below. The wind was brisk and cold so after I snapped a few photos of the lighthouse, I did a little bit of exploring among the rocks before I sought shelter in the car. Other tourists were beginning to filter in as I was leaving the parking lot.

Stokksness Lighthouse

Next stop in Vestrahorn was the Viking Village. Most articles I have read of the place say it was a bit “staged” and not worth the trouble. Fortunately, I have a habit of ignoring reviews. I figured if I was to be underwhelmed, I might as well be there for it.

Viking home with waterfront view

It was not as bad as the online reviews claim. It actually felt like taking a trip back in time. I was expecting to even run into a few gruff, bearded vikings while walking around. As long as you don’t squint too hard and look too closely, you might just find it magical.

Manning the gates
Hold the door

I read about a town that had stone eggs by the seashore. It sounded interesting so I decided to check it out. Along the way, I stopped at the Hvalnes Lighthouse. I suppose if I were a sailor in the daytime, the orange paint would be hard to miss.

Hvalnes Lighthouse

Eggin í Gleðivík is Icelandic for “eggs in Gleðivík”. There isn’t really much other than a row of concrete eggs lined up along the shore with plaques to read on each pedestal. In better weather, it would look more dramatic with the mountain peaks from the fjord across the water in the background.

Stone Eggs. Dragons?

After several waterfall-less stops, it was time to get back to the chase. Sveinsstekksfoss was the next stop. Also, the coffee and constant rain was beginning to get to me. Time to find a pitstop. Thankfully, there is a porta-potty station close to the waterfall viewpoint.

Lower falls

After a quick potty break, I went exploring by the falls and snapped a few photos. I had to find a way through the rocks without getting my socks wet in the water. My ankle was finally beginning to feel better so rock-hopping wasn’t as arduous.

Lunch break with a view

After spending my lunch break among the rocks, I followed the road up the hill to get to the viewpoint and was rewarded with an amazing view.

Sveinsstekksfoss from the viewpoint

The highway wound by coastlines and along cliffsides. When I got to the junction for 939 just past Folaldafoss, Highway 1 was closed and there was a sign for a detour through 939. Since I was heading that way anyway, I wasn’t too worried. I figured if I got lost, I could just look for the nearest town and find a place to stay the night. It was only early afternoon but it was getting pretty dark.

Folaldafoss on the detour

Sometimes, detours give us the best surprises. The road through 939 was quite rough but the rental was up to the challenge. It made me miss driving my FJ cruiser back home.

The detour eventually brought me to Egilsstadir. I was running low on car snacks so I decided to make a stop for some supplies. There’s a museum I was hoping to visit in town but it was closed by the time I got there. After a fuel stop, I decided to head for my accommodations for the day in Seydisfjordur.

The drive to the fjord past Egilsstadir winds uphill. I do mean UPHILL. The road switchbacks up the mountain and the peak was pretty foggy in late afternoon. The limited visibility all around made me feel like I could be driving down a road with steep drops on both sides. For a girl who is afraid of heights, it’s not a lot of fun.

After checking in at the hostel for the day, I took the rental car around the quaint little town and did some sightseeing before dinner. Other than the usual lamb dinner, I also tried the reindeer croquettes.

Reindeer croquettes. Cue the “other reindeer” jokes

After dinner, I figured I would take some pictures of the iconic church and the colorful close by. A little walk along the town center also rewarded me with a memorable “good night” photo before turning in for the day.

Good night Seydisfjordur

The Ring Chapter 3: The lambs were not so silent

By August 24th, 2020
Morning light over Vik

The morning light filtering through the window woke me up. I packed up my stuff and loaded my bags back in the car. There was breakfast this morning. It was typical Icelandic tourist breakfast fare similar to yesterday. As usual, I loaded up on the breakfast buffet and even managed some hot water in my thermos for some coffee on the road.

Breaking fast like a hobbit

My next stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. I have never heard of the place and had no idea what it was going to be like. However, at this point, any place I have stopped has been gorgeous. This one involved some driving on rocky roads down lush green meadows. The day was becoming quite drizzly but this time I was a bit more prepared. I managed to find a grocery bag to keep my camera dry. Today is off to a good start.

Parking at the bottom parking area that my saved directions led me to meant there was some uphill hiking. Thankfully, my ankle was beginning to feel much better. My hiking shoes were helping keep it steady as I ambled up the trail. The Aleve I took after breakfast was also beginning to kick in. Making it to  the top of the canyon, I was rewarded with an amazing sight. I could see across the canyon and could spy a waterfall somewhere among the cliffs. Everything was covered in green. Rock formations reminiscent of secret caverns leading to fairy lands made me feel like I was in a scene from Lord of the Rings. I was half-expecting to run into Arwen or Elrond or even Tom Bombadil.

Secret doorways to the lands of faerie
Were I a braver soul, I would stand on the earth’s edge and look down below

After I walked around the trail at the top of the canyon, I decided to head out to my next stop. I stopped at the nearby down to gas up and buy some road snacks and drove through the foggy morning to Vatnajokull National Park. Along the way, I drove through miles and miles of lava field on both sides of the road. Lava fields covered in moss and fall-colored foliage. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. Despite the thick fog , I could still see enough to appreciate how even a seemingly empty expanse can be so beautiful.

A peek of the great glacier tongue

Eventually, as the day grew warmer, the fog burned off enough that I could see the glacier from miles away. I managed to find a roadside stop where I was able to park my car and snap some photos.

Stopping for another snapshot

When I got to the park, it turned out that from there, it would require a bit of hiking to get to the more interesting spots. The maps at the park showed trails to breathtaking waterfalls and rock fields. Since I felt I did not have a whole day to spend here and there were still a few stops to make before tonight’s bed, I added the stop to my list of places for my next visit. I did, however, peruse the selections at the information center. I managed to buy some books I know the kiddos will love.

I did not manage to get up close and personal to Vatnajokull but I managed to find a F-road that took me within a short walk of Svínafellsjökull glacier. There’s a plaque commemorating a couple of adventurous souls that went missing in the area a few years back. I paid my respects and vowed to be careful. There was barely any tourists in the area so I was able to enjoy some quiet moments and had the glacier to myself. I even managed to hear it calving in the distance.

Just me, Chessie, and a lot of ice

After meditating on the beauty of nature, I got back on the road and decided to do a different kind of soul searching. I headed for Hofskirkja in the tiny town of Hof. It’s one of the turf churches scattered all over Iceland. The wind was beginning to pick up but it was still nice and sunny. I managed to have the area to myself for a few minutes before other tourists began to trickle in. It was beginning to get a bit windy for my comfort so I figured I would hole up in the car and have a quick lunch before heading for my next stop.

Chessy on a meadow by the turf church
I wonder what they used this stone for

Jokulsarlon Lagoon is another popular tourist stop. The parking lot was full of cars when I pulled up. I was beginning to feel a bit peckish so I bought a hotdog at the parking lot food truck. The lagoon was a nice stop to watch seals playing in the water. From there, it was a short walk to Diamond Beach so I decided to leg it instead of driving the car down and hope for a parking spot. The seashore was littered with ice in all shapes and sizes. It looked like a giant spilled a bag of diamonds on the beach. I’m guessing that’s where the name came from.

Shine bright like a diamond

Today did not involve a lot of stops but I had spent more hours on the road than the past 2 days. It was late afternoon by the time I made it to the guesthouse I was staying for the night. The guesthouse turned out to be a sheep ranch. Driving through the farm to the guesthouse in the slowly darkening afternoon reminded me of the sheep farm from Clarice Starling’s origin story in Silence of the Lambs. I hope the rooms are cozy… and soundproof.

That approach is one way to set the scene

The farm turned out to be quite adorable. My room had the modern amenities and the bed was quite comfy. This definitely made it to my “must visit again” list. It felt nice to have my own bathroom and shower and be able to lay around in so much space.

I’m afraid I was unable to save this lamb.
… or this slice of chocolate cake.

Dinner was amazing. I ordered the lamb (of course), washed down with beer, followed by chocolate cake that the guesthouse owner made earlier that day. It was nice listening to my fellow guests talk about their adventures. Just as the beer was starting to send me off to sleepyville, I headed to my room for some much needed sleep.


Of Cannolis and Creme Pies

By May 25th, 2020

If these old building walls could talk, they would probably be chattering with the headstones across the street. Boston has certainly aged quite well, all things considered. We were visiting for a multi-day conference. The plan was to soak in some learning by day and check the local color afterwards. I, however, had other plans.

History was my least favorite subject in High School. It was always all about remembering who did what when and where and there was always so much to remember. I was (and still remain) not very good at remembering things I am told to remember. Or perhaps I am just bad at doing what I am told to do.

Many famous speeches made from that balcony.

However, I like old things. Work had a certain enduring quality back in the day when artisans and craftsmen poured their heart and soul into their product. To them, it was not just one more object out of thousands churned out to supply the needy public. It was their legacy, something that will endure and prove their existence long after their bones have been relinquished to the earth.

Pretty, old buildings are still pretty

I love old buildings most of all. I could imagine those walls bearing witness to the bygone days, watching the constant march of progress. I would give anything to hear all their stories.

Most every parent dreams of their progeny going to Harvard or some ivy league school and mingle with the cream of the crop. I certainly would be proud to say my child went to Harvard. So on a free afternoon, my friends and I stole off to Harvard. I heard there’s a really good cannoli place near the campus. Also, if in Boston, one must partake of seafood. So after walking around the campus and feeling not much smarter than I was when I woke up this morning, we proceeded to have dinner at the nearest oyster bar. I was downing oysters like a greedy walrus. It was a good day.

Leave the gun, Paulie but don’t forget the cannoli.

The next day, I played hooky towards the end of the day and caught the trolley tour through downtown. My compatriots decided to ride along. We went to some historical spots to blend in with the tourist crowd. We visited Paul Revere’s house, a preserved wooden ship, the bar from Cheers, and walked across the park back to our hotel room to work up a healthy appetite.

That famous guy yelling from a horse…
I think that is a bullet hole
Shocked to learn they DID NOT know my name.

We were staying in the hotel whose claim to fame was inventing the Boston Creme Pie. I had the rabbit for dinner. It was delicious. I had the famous dessert as well. The dinner was well worth the splurge.

Look away, Mr. Rabbit. This might be disturbing.
Charles Dickens’ old hotel door. I wonder what’s on the other side…

Day 3 was our last full day in Boston. Most of the conference sessions were repeat performances so I decided to take a lunch break somewhere else. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city and headed for the highest building I could find. Sunset shots of the city on my last evening of the trip are going to be my thing from now on.

Old bricks mix with new concrete.

Early morning the next day, we caught the plane home. It was a nice trip down history lane. Perhaps next time I can visit again. I still have rabbit holes left to explore and a few places to revisit. And, of course I tried the lobster roll. It was worth the near-death experience.

Hanging out with the locals.

Adventures at home

By February 29th, 2020

I am a habitual payer of attention to random details when sojourning beyond my front door. I notice the guy in the black hoodie across the street who stands in front of the Masonic Lodge smoking cigarettes at almost the same time each morning. I realize there is a new sticker (a smiley face with dead eyes) on the pole of the bus shelter. I also realize that it has been over a week and the same plastic cap from a bottle of Mountain Dew is still stuck in the same sidewalk crack. As I ride the bus to work, I see a fellow bus passenger’s snazzy looking purse or another fellow passenger’s expensive looking leather shoes and how it complements his well-tailored jacket and pants.

“Good sir, is that a… lion pup?” I asked, confusedly.
A glimpse of a church down an alley with a side of graffiti

Both good and bad catch my eye: crude graffiti, tasteful mural on a building, homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk, a shiny black Jeep Rubicon with a monstrous set of wheels. My local city is an urban adventure indeed, if you know where to look.

When you get to the corner by the golden pig, turn around.

It is now Friday, a bit past noon. My boss keeps asking me why I am still in the office. I am rushing to finish sending a few more carefully worded emails to the higher beings and string pullers at work. I am confident they won’t even notice my missives until Monday morning, 9 am at the earliest. No auto-replies so far telling me they have left town for the time being and will be back soon. After 37 emails sent today, Outlook hasn’t decided to take the rest of the day off. It must be my lucky day.

It’s the day before my birthday. My mom is still in town, staying with me. I promised her we would go exploring downtown. She loves taking the water taxi across the Puget Sound to our neck of the city. I do too. We decided to meet downtown a few blocks from my office. She is having coffee with her new friend at one of the ubiquitous coffee chain cafes. They are to wait for me and we will grab some early dinner at the boardwalk before catching the water taxi home. We might also catch one of the pretty sunsets on the way.

I could almost hear the clopping of a horse drawing a carriage

Walking the few blocks to downtown is an adventure in itself. Nowhere near the green, forested trails and mountainsides I enjoy traipsing in but charming and interesting, nonetheless. Despite all the new construction for skyscrapers popping up everywhere like mushroom on a fallen tree, the old grandeur remains.

A sky scraping skyscraper with all the romantic details

Here and there, you can catch a glimpse of the city’s history. You can sometimes walk past the old building facades and, looking in through the window as you walk by, imagine yourself transported decades into the past. Seattle may be a modern city but it has certainly managed to hold on to its bygone-era charm with a steel grasp.

Alice and Mom hanging out with Mr. Haglund and his buddies

Ivar Haglund opened Seattle’s first aquarium in 1938. To feed the hungry visitors (and the seagulls who hung around the area), he opened a fish and chips shop next door. The statue depicting Ivar feeding the seagulls was commissioned by his friends, whose names are engraved on the back of the statue’s chair.

As close to feeding the seagulls as Mom will want to get
Not quite acres of clams but these will do nicely

Mom and her friend had fish and chips (fries, actually). I had the fried clams. I did not receive an acre of clams, just enough to fill a cardboard tray. There were plenty of gulls hanging out on the pier and a sign saying it is okay to feed them.However, seeing as my pudgy fingers could easily be mistaken for a chubby worm, I decided it might not be the best idea.

Silver bells, cockle shells, and… seagulls all in a row

Standing in line to board the water taxi, waiting for the sun to set and bathe the water and the city skyline with that gorgeous orange fire is not such a bad thing to do. I was in good company, a full stomach, about to end my work week and wind down for a nice weekend break.

“catching” the sunset
The wasp-waisted queen holding court in a palace draped with glorious shades of dusk

As the sun continues to set and the water taxi jets its way across the sound, I look back at the downtown skyline. I notice the silhouette of the buildings across the sky, the Great Wheel and its flashing neon lights, the wasp-waisted Space Needle seemingly standing away from the megaliths like a queen holding court.

Catching a glimpse from between barnacle-laden wooden piles

The Garden Beyond the Door, the Lights Down Below, and The Land of Lego Things

By April 26th, 2019

There was a very short reprieve before we were off to the next big adventure. I had just enough time to say hello to the duchesses. They seem to slowly fade each time I see them. I always fear that every visit would be the last. I lost a few of the dukes and duchesses while I was on the other side of the looking glass. We swapped stories and refreshed old and happy memories. I hope we have many more visits in the future.

We boarded a late night plane to Singapore: the land of lion-headed mermaids. Since we arrived at Changi airport in the wee hours, we decided to find a quiet place to nap and wait for daylight before we headed to our hotel. Changi is one of the most interesting and nicest airports I have visited so far. There are mobile sculptures hanging from the roof that I could stare at all day long, sparkling clean bathrooms, and food kiosks serving both international and local fare. Their immigration area is very efficient and even during peak hours, I rarely see a line longer than 4 people.

From the airport, we stopped by our hotel to drop off our luggage and took a cab to Gardens By The Bay to spend a little time exploring. The Supertrees were amazing. I’m told that they are even more captivating when they are lit up at night. They are an architectural and biotechnological marvel. Cruising around Singapore, you will also notice little pocket gardens and plant-covered concrete structures. Singapore wasn’t kidding when they decided to turn the “Garden City” into a “City in a Garden”. Despite all the buildings and urban structures, it still felt quite like being surrounded by nature.

The metal trees
Binky and Captain Jack in the Garden
The Captain feigning sleep…
Below: A few of the Garden’s inhabitants.

Our first two days in the city were spent checking out the food places near our hotel. We stayed in the Katong District along the Marine Parade. Apparently, I had inadvertently picked a hotel smack in the middle of one of the city’s epicurean neighborhoods. We even found several vending machines that made orange juice about as fresh-squeezed as any could ever get.

Day 3 was spent checking out the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. All the luxury brands I was familiar with, and some that I have never heard before, are all there. I was never much of a shopper, thankfully. There was, however, a feature in the mall I wanted to take Captain Jack and Binky to: The Digital Light Canvas. It’s an interactive light feature where your steps trigger animations on the floor like a school of fish following you around as you run or walk. I figured I should let the kids burn off some energy so we could all have a good night’s sleep before our big adventure the next day.

Thankfully, instead of mall kiosks, they have sculptures.

I also had a birthday surprise for Binky that day. I booked our group for an all you can eat cheese and chocolate buffet at one of the restaurants atop the Marina Bay Sands. Nothing like gorging on my two favorite things in the world while enjoying the company of my two favorite part-time kids and watching the bay light up below us. The restaurant was also nice enough to bring out a piece of birthday cake for Binky and she got to blow out the candle.

The best way to end a birthday after eating all the cheese and chocolate is more chocolate.

The next day, we got up early to cross the border to Malaysia for the day. We booked tickets to Legoland for the kiddos. Travel time from Singapore to the Legoland theme park, including queuing at immigrations, took a little over an hour and a half so it was about 11 am by the time we got inside the park. It had prerequisite rides for every age so young, old, and those in between were all able to have a good time. There’s also a section of the park with scaled down versions of architectural and landscape features from all over the world all made of Lego blocks. It was a nice break from the rides although since it was summer, the heat dissuaded me from meandering around at a leisurely pace.

Getting back to Singapore from Malaysia at the end of the day, it meant we had enough time to get on the Singapore Flyer. Being from Seattle, I have been on the Great Wheel and it was pretty unnerving. I have a fear of heights that can sometimes take me to the point of ceasing all body functions. I was a bit apprehensive getting on the flyer especially since it does not stop. You have to chase it down the platform as you catch a ride to your gondola. Luckily, it was going at a leisurely enough pace to keep me from tripping on myself trying to get on. The Great Wheel’s pace was actually rather pleasant. I barely felt my heart dropping like it did on the Great Wheel back home. It was just the perfect pace to capture some time-lapse photos of the city lights below.

The lights from high up the Flyer

Day 5 of our trip was spent in Sentosa Island. We had tickets to Universal Studios Sentosa. Binky and Captain Jack had such a good time despite the humidity and summer heat. There were enough of the milder attractions for the weaker-hearted members of our gang as well. After the requisite souvenir shopping, we took the shuttle home for some rest and a dip in the hotel pool.

Bumblebee and the fam.

Our 6th day in The Garden City, we decided to sleep in a bit before we headed out for lunch in Sentosa Island. We ate at Din Tai Fung and the gang enjoyed the dumplings. Even Captain Jack, the ever-picky eater of nothing but chicken-gravy-rice, had a pretty good appetite. After lunch, we visited the S. E. A. Aquarium. The kiddos had fun checking out the marine life. The grown-ups had a nice break being indoors in an air-conditioned place. Despite the crowds, it still felt pleasant and cool.

After the aquarium, we took a cab to the Singapore Zoo for their Night Safari. The zoo is a bit farther from the city. It took us about 45 minutes by cab in moderate traffic. By the time we got to the zoo, the lines were already supremely long. Getting to the zoo at about 5 pm, it was 2 hours before we were finally in the zoo. After about another half hour standing in line for the trolleys that would take us around the zoo to see the animals, the ride itself took barely a half hour. The gang loved it though. I saw animals I only ever see on the Discovery Channel. Being night time, it was also party time for nocturnal animals. It was nice seeing them out and about instead of hiding in the shade like I often do when going to the zoo in the daytime.

One week in Singapore and we still hadn’t run out of things to do. This time, we got day passes for their get on – get off double decker buses so we could ride around the city and look around without having to keep hiring cabs all day. We took Binky to Kinokuniya to shop for school supplies for the coming school year. We then took the trolley to go see the Merlion statue. We also went and ate dinner at Makansutra Glutton’s Bay since it was a short trolley ride away. There was so much variety that even the picky eaters were able to find something to nosh on. Bellies full and legs tired, we headed home to rest.

The Merlion and the giant durian
Ches’s new favorite place to be.

Our last full day in Singapore was spent shopping at the shopping center across the street from our hotel. We checked out of our room and deposited our bags at the lobby. Our flight wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning the next day so we decided to hang out at the mall for most of the day before heading out to the airport.

If the arrivals area at Changi airport was impressive, the departures area was a shopper’s delight. We bought so much candy and souvenirs for the folks back home before it was time to board our plane. 8 days in Singapore left us all tired when we got off the plane and arrived at the house. It was certainly a very memorable, albeit spendy, week.