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.


The Ring Chapter 2: Sometimes all you need is a grocery bag

By July 25th, 2020
I woke up on my second day on the (Ring) road with dawn filtering through the curtains. I slept with the window open and nodded off to the feel of cool mountain air last night. My ankle was starting to feel better. I had less pain with walking. Hopefully I won’t end up hobbling around all day. I did not have very many stops to make and the town I will be spending the night in also has local sights to offer. I packed up my stuff and got dressed for breakfast.
The original breakfast club
Breakfast was a buffet of local breads, cheese, and cured meats. There was also fruit and boiled egg. I filled up on breakfast and pocketed a couple pieces of fruit for my lunch and spent a few minutes looking around in the lobby and reading area. I had explored the hallways of the guesthouse yesterday and inspected the antiques on display all over the second floor. It turns out this place was formerly a schoolhouse. After checking out and loading up my stuff in the car, I was back on the road. Just a little ways down from the guesthouse I came to a bridge. The sun was just beginning its climb. The morning light peeking through the clouds treated me to a beautiful view of the lake where my dinner from last night had come from. I just had to stop and look around. Chessy even had a little photo shoot among the local flora.
Mornings are for coffee and contemplation, and random photo shoots along the road
I made my way to one of the popular falls along the main road: Seljalandsfoss. I had visited the place before with friends as part of a tour we took during my last visit. I wasn’t able to go behind the falls at the time as our stop was a short one. This time, I can spend as much time as I wanted exploring the area. It was still early in the day so there were not very many tourists milling about yet. You can even see the top of another waterfall further up the trail.
Gljuifrabui peeking over the canyon
You can walk the trail up to the waterfall, continue on behind it to the other side, and keep walking further down the trail to the other waterfall, Gljuifrabui, which empties into a canyon, before circling back to the parking lot. The path behind the falls was wet, muddy, and slippery and my ankle is still a mess. What could possibly go wrong? I managed to avoid another injury as I slowly climbed around behind the waterfall with the rest of the early sightseers. I was able to get close enough to the canyon down the trail before my ankle started to protest. I decided to save this one for the next visit.
The struggle of a waterfall chaser: water droplets on the camera lens
Behind the scenes
My second stop for the day was another popular tourist stop so I decided to hightail it over there before the tour buses began arriving in droves. Skogafoss is another well-known waterfall in South Iceland. I had also visited this one before but just like the previous stop, there was not enough time to look around. I was able to get close enough to start worrying about getting my camera drenched with glacier water. I kept having to wipe my lens and tuck my camera under my jacket. Between the drizzling rain beginning to get heavier and the splash from the falls, I was impressed my poor camera survived the ordeal and still works to this day. As I was making my way back to the car, I saw one savvy tourist with a plastic shopping bag around her camera secured with a rubber band. I made a mental note to add a plastic bag to my kit the next chance I get.
I had a closer shot but all you would see would be water
I skipped going to the Skogar Museum and the plane wreck. The former I had already visited before, the latter required a long walk and my ankle was not quite up to the task. A few weeks prior to my arrival in Iceland, part of the basalt columns in Reynisfjara beach had collapsed and that section of the beach was closed to tourists. Since I had also been there before, I decided to skip that one as well. I will make sure not to miss them on my next trip, however.
Brooding is a semi-permanent mood here
I arrived in Vik in the early afternoon. Vik is a quaint little town that is slowly gaining popularity since most of the tour buses stop here for lunch before heading back to Reykjavik. Icewear, the popular purveyor of woolen goodies in Iceland has a factory and store here. There is also a black sand beach here where you can see the pillars off the coast of Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjara. After checking in at the hostel, I decided to explore the town and head to the beach for some pictures. It was still a little early for dinner so I decided to do some shopping at the Icewear store. I hear wool hats make great gifts. Also, I was on the hunt for yarn. I had always wanted to knit myself an Icelandic wool sweater.
Chessy shopping for souvenirs and living their best viking life
A meat and potatoes kinda girl
This certainly is not Olive Garden
Dinner at Sudur Vik restaurant was quite a feast. I had the lamb (of course) with potatoes and the soup of the day. It was all washed down with the local beer. Before heading back to the hostel to bed down for the night, I made a quick stop at Vik i Myrdal Church, also known as Reyniskirkja. I had glimpsed the church on my last visit from afar as our tour group was stopping for lunch and the photos I had taken of it then did not do justice. I needed redemption of another kind.
Reyniskirkja as it watches over the town
Good night, Vik
At the hostel, with the lights down and everyone in my room getting ready for bed, I was able to snap a quick photo of the town below me. The night lights of Vik will do just fine for tonight.

The Ring Chapter 1: Waterfall Chaser

By June 30th, 2020
A lyric from my youth: Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and lakes you’re used to. I was never one to follow instructions when there are more interesting rabbit holes to explore. When I told friends, family, and co-workers I was going to drive Iceland’s Ring Road all by myself, there was a ripple of collective concern. By now I had gone on several camping trips into the woods all alone. I thought it was time I tested my ever-lessening limits as was true to my nature. In the spirit of transparency, however, I will admit that I did not go into this blindly like a meteor hurtling through the atmosphere. I have learned important lessons about the value of preparedness. I have learned the hard way on many occasions. So I booked everything ahead of time, traced a course along the road, read many travel blogs, mapped out and downloaded GPS directions to my planned stops, and bought a GPS device that will track my entire trip.
… and planning on making plans about plans on plans.
Unfortunately, I suffered a nasty fall while bouldering a few days before I was to leave. I had to rest up my ankle so I could at least hobble with some dignity. I guess I won’t be doing much traipsing about during this trip. Lucky for me, by the time I was to leave, the swelling from my ankle had gone down to where I could at least wear shoes. Walking was still painful and I had a significant limp. I reminded myself I had overcome worse things before. So I gritted my teeth, packed my bags, and boarded the plane for an 8 hour plane ride.
Fighting jetlag? Gin helps… a lot!
I landed in Iceland 16 hours after I boarded a plane for an 8-hour flight. Time zone change wreaks havoc on my brain. It helped me ignore my throbbing ankle as I hobbled through the airport to get to the shuttle that will take me to my rental car. After a hazy few hours of trying to figure out if I was on the right shuttle (I was not), figuring out a way to call the rental place with my mobile phone, getting to the rental office, filling in paperwork, sitting through the rental car spiel, and taking a quick moment to figure out how to drive a car that was not mine, I was on the road. First stop was the grocery store. When travelling in a car, one needs car snacks, and coffee. At this point in my life, I will need a lot of coffee.  
The Jeep of the week and my travel buddy.
Reykjanes, the town southwest of the airport and where I picked up my rental car, looked quaintly dreary on a drizzly morning. The mood reminded me of every other Nordic movie I have seen on television. It made you think of floating in a muggy, gray soup but when you open the car window, the air was crisp and cool. I can taste the ocean. It is close, I just know it. Driving south from Reykjanes through Reykjavik made me nostalgic. I was just here with my friends a few years back. That was the trip that made me fall in love with the land and I had since longed to return (and plan to keep returning). I just got here and I am already planning my next trip. My first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Why not start off by seeing 2 tectonic plates in one stop? There’s a visitor center with the requisite information booth, gift shop, and snack bar. The fall colors had just started coming in.  
Fall colors on tectonic plates
Proof of life
Thingvellir is Icelandic for most scenic council-house ever.
Oxararfoss was my first waterfall stop. It is not only a beauty of nature but a wonder of man’s early ingenuity. The Oxara river that feeds the falls was actually channeled by men in the 9th century into the Almannagja ravine to provide water for the Icelandic Althing from as early as the 9th century.
The first waterfall I see, a man-made cataract of majesty. Sometimes, man and nature can make beautiful scenery together.
After a few hours hobbling around the park, I decided to make sandwiches in the car for a grab and go lunch and headed off to Strokkur hot springs to see water that went a different way – up. Geysir is Iceland’s famous geyser as Old Faithful in Yellowstone is the United States’. The sulfur bubbling up from the hot springs filled the air with a smell like someone who had one too many deviled eggs decided to let rip a long one. Don’t worry, the beautiful scenery will help you get over the smell pretty quickly. One lesson I learned: when it comes to geyser-watching, stay upwind.
Either someone ate one too many deviled eggs or that is a hot spring.
I spent a few minutes in the Geysir center shopping for some souvenirs and brought home a wool blanket. I also tried the ice cream. It was the late afternoon slump and I needed a quick sugar fix before I got back in the car. After surviving an 8-hour flight and limping around with a sore ankle, I deserved a treat. Besides, you shouldn’t take Aleve on an empty stomach.
Midafternoon slump? Have some sugar
A side of artwork with my ice cream
My next stop was Gulfoss, my second waterfall of the day. Its a tiered cataract located in the canyon of the Hvita river. There is a story about a lady named Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, who was so determined to preserve the waterfall and its natural beauty from development that she threatened to throw herself down the river. Despite the story being nothing other than propaganda, there is a monument to her somewhere along the trail to the falls.
To be fair, she does look like one not to be trifled with.
After enjoying the view and snapping a few more pictures, I was starting to feel the jetlag. Also, the Aleve was beginning to kick in. I fugured I should probably get to my last stop before I get too tired to drive. I hobbled back to my car and headed for my room for the night.
Some people frolick in a meadow. I would tiptoe-frolick in this reading area.
Heradsskolinn is a schoolhouse turned guesthouse in Laugarvatn built in 1928. It sits by a lake brimming with fish. There is a sign by the door before you enter, reminding guests that it is a shoes-off home. The floor is still the original 90+ year old polished wood. The current owners are determined to preserve its historic beauty for many more years.
I wonder if the radio still plays the classics
The furnishing and decor have been collected and preserved throughout the years. Stepping into the guesthouse felt like travelling back in time. The bookcases lining one of the walls in the reading area are filled with old tomes both in English and Icelandic. While looking around, I could not resist flipping through one of the weathered-looking volumes just to smell that old-book smell. It brought back many happy memories and comforting sensations from my childhood. The smell of yellowed pages are yet to be replicated by the latest Kindle model in the market.
Have a seat and travel through time
Turn up the old Victrola, gonna dance the night away
For dinner, I was thinking of ordering lamb. In a land where sheep outnumber Iclanders, lamb is more of a staple food. However, the restaurant staff were enthusing about the fish. As it turns out, the fish being served tonight, as with every other night, was fished from the lake I could see just outside the window. I am an island girl at heart after all. I cannot pass up good fish. I had to have it for dinner.
If fish and veggies were this good when I was a kid…
Now that I was finally full with good food and good beer, my exhaustion from today’s plane ride finally came knocking too loud for me to ignore. I finally settled in for the evening. Besides, how can I even resist this really comfy looking setup?
Comfy and cozy for the evening.
I am already excited to wake up in the morning to the gorgeous view outside my window. Time to recharge my gear and my self. First day of my first major solo trip down. Tomorrow, more adventures await.
Good night, rolling hill of cooled lava and beautiful greenery.