Sunday, August 14, 2016

Last day in Iceland: Reykjavik

Our Iceland adventure came to an end with an all-day drive from Húsavík back to Keflavik on Wednesday, and flying off our separate ways on Thursday morning. (In theory, anyway. In practice, my mom got to stay an extra night due to airplane engine failure.)

We stopped in Reykjavik on Wednesday evening to poke around a little and eat dinner. The weather was rainy and cold and felt more autumnal than summery. I had found a restaurant recommended by TripAdvisor and dragged everyone off the beaten touristy path through blustery streets to find it. The restaurant was booked up for the evening, and by then everyone was hungry and cranky, so we skipped even walking past the Phallus Museum, which we were quite near, and instead walked back to the main drag for bowls of hot noodle soup.

Mentioning the Phallus Museum is reminding me that I previously forgot to mention that we skipped seeing the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík on the day we drove to Borðeyri. That meant missing seeing a pair of "necropants"--a pair of leggings flayed from the exhumed body of a dead man. According to Wikipedia, wearing necropants brings you an unending supply of money, assuming you make the pants correctly. You must get permission from the man you're flaying before he dies, you have to flay the necropants in one piece from the waist down, and you need to steal a coin from a poor widow and put it in the scrotum along with a special symbol written on a scrap of paper. To keep yourself from going to hell for all that, you also need to find a successor to wear the pants, who will step into each leg as you step out. Seems like a lot of work.

I want to point out that I'm not suggesting phalluses have anything to do with sorcery and witchcraft--although I suppose they might, plus there's the essential scrotum part with the necropants--just that in a country where there's a lot of empty space, there's a surprising number of museums that focus on topics neglected elsewhere. Clearly they're filling a niche.

Speaking of surprises in a country with a lot of empty space, way back in the West Fjords, on the road to Dynjandi, we passed a lookout point, the main purpose of which was to mark a location pertinent to Gisli's saga. Two large plaques detailed how (1) Gisli's wife Auda hits Eyolf in the nose with a purse filled with silver as retribution for trying to bribe her to betray Gisli, and (2) how Gisli slaughters several of his enemies in the brief time between being sliced open with their spears and dying himself. For a country with so few people and an immense amount of open space, folks way back when sure spent a lot of time doing one another in. I suppose that's true across cultures.

Anyway, back to Reykjavik...

Admiring flowers across from the parliament building
 Guess who beat England in the 2016 Eurocup to make it into the quarter finals?

Hallgrímskirkja, Lutheran church built 1945-1986
Obligatory organ photo. Orgelbau Klais (Bonn, Germany), 102 ranks, 72 stops, 5275 pipes.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Iceland Day 8: Botnsvatn take two and whale watching

Our last day in Húsavík, we went back up the hill to Botnsvatn and hiked around the lake again, this time with J and E.

The light greens are mosses; the emerald greens are lupines. Hear the lupines dehiscing here.

We heard loons before we saw them, then spent 20 minutes trying to catch them in photos.

In the afternoon, with much less wind than on our first attempt on Sunday, we went on a puffin-and-whale watching tour out of Húsavík.

Our first destination was Lundey (Lund = puffin, ey = island), where some 220,000 puffins come to nest every year. In mid-August, they collectively head out to sea for the winter.

Click on the photo and squint to see several puffins in the water

Icelandic law requires tourists to wear insulated suits for whale watching. The tour company we went with hasn't lost anyone overboard in their 25 years of operation, but still, 7-10oC water is cold, and it was windy enough that we very much appreciated the extra layers.

From Lundey, we headed across the fjord in search of humpback whales. All of the whale watching boats cluster wherever people see whales; I don't have photos of the clusters, but did get some photos of whales.

Looking south. No whales yet, but a sailboat...

Another sailboat

Another whale watching boat and a humpback whale. The whale is longer than the boat, but mostly hidden under the water.
I learned it is hard to take photos of distant whales and puffins from a rocking boat, so that's all you get to see, dear readers.

After the tour, S and I headed up to Húsavík's geothermally heated outdoor hot pools for a quick soak. Bare bones but toasty and beautiful, especially for the brief time before a tour group descended.

Sunset from the hill where the hot tubs sit. There be whales out there...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Iceland Day 7: Jökulsárgljúfur (Vatnajökull National Park)

On sunny bright Monday, we headed clockwise around Tjörnes, the penninsula on which Húsavík lies, with our destination being Jökulsárgljúfur, the northern section of Vatnajökull National Park.

Looking north eastish from the just-east-of-north tip of Tjörnes
Same as above, but looking ESE
Since we approached Jökulsárgljúfur from the north, we worked our way from north to south through the park. Our first stop was a hike along Eyjan, the "island" inside the horseshoe canyon Ásbyrgi.

Cairns are the graffiti of Iceland
The reward for the hike: view of the canyon from the end of the trail

Next stop: the Hljóðaklettar parking area, for a hike along the "Karl og Kerling" trail. The trail map said Karl and Kerling are trolls; no idea if we saw them or not among the amazing rock formations.

We continued our drive through the park, passing lunar landscapes...

...on our way to Europe's "most powerful" waterfall, Dettifoss (click on the photo to enlarge; seriously, do it)...

...and a short walk away, Selfoss.

We were so tuckered out from the sun, wind, and hiking that we didn't have the energy to stop at Lake Mývatn on the way back to Húsavík. We admired the steaming hills, mudflats, and gorgeous lake views from the car as we zipped through the sulfur-scented air past the scads of tourists. Maybe we'll stop the next time we're in Iceland.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Dehiscing lupines

Lupines are an invasive species in Iceland. They were imported in the 1940s to combat topsoil loss caused by sheep overgrazing. Now the lupines threaten native mosses.

Lupines spread their seeds through dehiscence: the seedpods pop open in the sun. I wouldn't have known this, except that when we took a second hike around Botnsvatn, the lake above Husavik, we heard a startling crackling sound every time we passed a patch of lupines. I tried recording a patch on the north side of the lake. The video captures the radiant green of the plants, but the audio is barely a whisper compared to the real thing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Making pancakes

This is what it sounds like when Stefan makes pancakes in Iceland--kind of like at home, but louder. Great way to wake up the entire building, but it was 8:30am, so it was about time anyway.

Iceland Day 6: hanging out

Our first full day in Húsavík was a welcome no-car day. In the morning, we went for a hike: speedy Elias and Stefan to the top of Húsavíkurfjall, and my mom and I about halfway up.

The hillside had a cultivated patch of an Iceland rarity: trees! Our guide book says there are so few trees in Iceland that there's a joke about them: "What do you do if you're lost in the woods in Iceland?" ("Stand up.") The trees on Húsavíkurfjall are planted in orderly rows with well-tended trails meandering through them. The trees are tall enough that we could imagine getting lost in them, had they covered more than about two city block's worth of land.

After taking the scenic route through the forest, my mom and I found ourselves below the trail we needed to take, so we took the direct route up, following a path alongside a ski lift.

The mosses were shockingly green.

What goes up must come down.

We had planned to go on a whale and puffin watching tour of the bay in the afternoon, but only got as far as taking dramamine (provided for free at the ticket desk!). The weather was gray and windy, and when we went down to the harbor, the guide on the boat told us the water was very choppy, and she strongly encouraged us to wait for a calmer day. We rescheduled, and went to visit the Whale Museum. Along with displays on whale skeletons and whaling history, they had a displays of kids whale art.

Happy whale
Dubious whale
5th graders' art exhibit inspired by Moby Dick. Abbreviated version, but still: 5th graders and Moby Dick.
25m-long skeleton of a blue whale that beached in Iceland in 2010