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View from Cavtat Harbor toward the Hills The owner of Villa Olav & Jo  say their goodbyes Today we left Dubrovnik, fly...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why it's Called 'Iceland'

Wow! We've had a few snow flurries this week, but today's onslaught of the fluffy white stuff was dazzling. We navigated via GPS which took us up on a high plateau of roadway. Driving at one point I stared at the swirling snow, looking like styrofoam-gone-wild in front of me. It gave me an Alfred Hitchcock level of vertigo. My brain momentarily swam in a blizzard of dizziness.


And more ice.
 I think that today is the day Iceland decided to demand our respect for the power of ice & snow. Um... yes, and all I have to say about that is thank heavens I thought to don my long johns this morning.
check out the temperature
Minus 8 degrees centigrade is equal to 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or as they say in Iceland, ' a mite nippy out' (give or take an umlat). Honestly, for all that cold, it didn't seem too frigid to me, aka 'she who sets her thermostat at 55'.

Coming downhill off the mountain, we stopped at a scenic vista parking lot. Below us spread the ironic view of natural Icelandic hot springs in the snow filled, icy plain,
Steam rising from geothermal springs

close-up of thermal springs

Mývatn geothermal springs are famous for their hot bathes, beloved by tourists. The warm waters are around 96 degrees Fahrenheit to 104 degrees (yikes!). We opted to skip the hot springs and even if we wanted to use them, we hadn't made the v. necessary reservations - maybe next time.

Continuing on our way to our evening stop in Akureyri we stopped to look at a short wall composed of volcanic rock. No signage here so no way of knowing 'the tale of the serpentine rock wall.' 
Eyjafjörður Fjord visible in the background
Just behind the lava rock wall is the source of the rocks, the Hverfjal Volcano.
Hverfjal Volcano - awesome!
In the afternoon we visited Goðafoss falls. Icelandic legend tells at in the year 1000, give or take a eon, a heathen badass tribal chieftain hurled statues of Icelandic gods into the frosty waters. The toss symbolized Christianity replacing the old gods. Goðafoss  means 'Waterfall of the gods'.
Goðafoss, a beautiful horseshoe shaped falls
The falls are located on the mighty Skjalfandafljot River.
A little foot bridge crossing the Skjalfandafljot River. 
We left the beautiful falls and headed to our hotel for the night, located in Akureyi. Driving around the curve of a low hill a estuary and mudflats came into view, our target town. An estuary? HURRAH! You better believe I quickly parked on the miracle - a road shoulder - and began to photograph the little birds that scarpered along the mudflats.
Black-tailed Godwit
Common Ringed Plover
Black-headed Gulls
Prowling Eurasian Oystercatchers
Later we entered the town of Akureyi, located in north central Iceland. At the Akurevi Hotel, we were offered rooms on third and the forth floors. As there was no elevator, I whined a bit, then we climbed up the long staircases, up four stories.

Well, bless my lazy arse, that room was worth the climb (I know!). It was large with a vaulted ceiling & a cool, circular window with curtains.

the 2nd window had a lovely view of the Egilsstaðir fjord

This is the most unique and interesting room for this trip, we've has thus far. And although there was only single bedded rooms were, at least the bed was large enough to allow us each enough space to preserve our dignity (feel free to giggle a little).

After we'd hauled our bags up to this aerial room, we took a drive around the town for the hell of it. We were pleased to find some more Icelandic Elf houses, all located in residence yards.

Cute Turf House, 'home sweet home' for an elf or two
Upscale and colorful Elf dwelling
It is a fact that 70% of Icelandics believe in elves. It is argued, that as road building in Iceland is sometimes held up by 'elves' in residence in rocks along the projected roadways, surely there must be elves, otherwise why would the Icelandic central government hold up their projects to appease the mighty mites? While you puzzle that out, I will say that the houses we've seen thus far are adorable, and if I were an elf, I'd live in one. You're welcome.

Akureyrarkirkja - Lutheran Church

Akureyi is the second largest Icelandic city after Reykjavik. It's most striking feature was located near where we had dinner. It's Akureyrarkirkja - a large Lutheran Church, .

Akureyri downtown scenery - ooooh I so love stone paving
The harbor is at the side of the town
The sign on the right reads 'Public Library' in English. What the...?
A little window shopping

We did some of our rare souvenir shopping. I had to turn my back on loads of cool stuff. Did get my
'obligatory' Cloisonné pins because its the law. Sort of.

After strolling about downtown, we were hungry. We scrutinized  menus outside of several of the restaurants. Again, the target was interesting food that is typically Icelandic. With a little luck, maybe there'd be a restaurant serving a lovely cold  Hákarl (rotted shark) salad, some succulent Hangikjöt (smoked lamb) or perhaps a nice bowl of fresh Ábrystir (sheep's colostrum pudding) -  or not.

We saw these menus. Tempting... but I'm not eating anything related to Mr. Ed.

Surprisingly, I turned my nose up at the Grilled Whale. Told it was Minke Whale (not endangered). No crossing the line to the 'dark side for me today.

I tried the Guillemot, which is a wild sea bird. Consider that these birds dive and fly over as well as under water. That means they have oxygenated muscle that yields quite dark meat, in the manner of beef. Here is my dinner. Ila had the same.

Icelandic Guillemot

That, you must admit is one yummy
looking meal. It lived up to its looks.

This is what the guillemot looked like as I attacked it. It might gross some out, but to me that is the look of 'YUM'!

I thought it tasted like beef. Ila - obviously having a more delicate palate than my raccoon-like sensibilities, said the bird's meat tasted of anchovies.

It was later in the evening that I checked on my European birds iPhone app, that I realized that Guillemot is what we in the States call the Common Murre. That info totally horrified me as I adore Common Murres. Had I known that I'd have had the lamb shanks instead. Oh well. Earth Mother forgive my carnivorous heart!

A quick video showing snow on the highway and the Goðafoss waterfalls in action. For the full effect I strongly recommend using full screen here (click on the bottom rightmost square).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Eastern Iceland and a Resplendence of Reindeer

Housing for Icelandic Elves in someone's backyard
v. comfy, not quite finished lodge

Wednesday night Ila and I stayed at a lodge, so new that its owners seemed inexperienced to checking in guests, though they were as ever, Icelandic nice. We had the usual spotlessly clean room and the spot-on breakfast that came with it.

Although the dining room has all the charm of a double wide trailer, the breakfast was ready for prime time: 5 kinds of fresh grain laden breads, Icelandic butter and cream cheese, sardines (I know!), sliced red peppers, tomatoes & cukes, cheeses, smoked salmon and plenty of thick Icelandic yogurts, the ever present muesli, egg souffle, streaky bacon, a half dozen kinds of fruit and yes... good coffee. V. healthy and no rampant sugar as normally found American continental breakfasts.  I wanted to just sit and eat breakfast for the remainder of the day. I wish I could manage such spreads at home.

Quite an Icelandic breakfast feast
Alas - Ila wanted to accomplish something aside from watching me bloat. Leaving the little lodge, we drove down the short driveway and onto the main road. The main road is plainly visible in the photo below. The 'main highway' runs along the fence line at the bottom of the gravely driveway. OK, what I'm sayin' here is, in California we'd have filled that entire valley with strip malls and gated housing.
The fence line runs parallel to the Ring Road, running left to right
Almannaskarð tunnel dead ahead!

This was some tunnel - took so long to drive through, it was a little scary. Were we driving through a tunnel to another dimension? At almost a mile long the tunnel exit put us by a mountain road. That road led to an overlook we'd been told was a must see.

On the hill at Almannaskarð

Ila viewing the distant hill panorama
Saw a lot of wildlife & birds today. There was some nice signage on the topic too.

Cool Icelandic signage, all about the birds
Pretty Black-headed Gulls bathing in ice water. I know!
On the gravely shore, a fat grey seal sunned itself. One look at us and it dove into the river. [UPDATE: didn't recognize the seal was a new species for me, a Bearded Seal. How did I miss that?] 
 Tubby Bearded Seal
 Saw many reindeer (caribou?) thoughout the day. This is the only one that totally freaked at the sight of us.

Snow glazed hills
Not an Elf house, a full sized shed/croft

Today we had many 'side' adventures as we progressed along hwy 96. The days' goal was Egilsstaðir, which is in Northeastern Iceland. The town as well as the Icelandair Hotel we stayed are fairly upscale - I mean, the hotel even had an elevator.
Someone else's photo of Egilsstaðir's Icelandair Hotel 
My favorite thing about this hotel and its friendly staff was this fellow that greets visitors at the entryway.
His smile was a bit wooden, but he seemed friendly enough
Our room was average for Icelandic accommodations, i.e., clean & decorated in clean cut Scandinavian style.

The view out the window was - for me - tops.  The view (below) seems just your average parking lot overview but note the suggestion of white spots in the distance... if you can.

For a birder, only binoculars were required to appreciate the view of the white spots, aka swans and company.
Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese enjoying
their own version of  'hotel accommodations'
We shopped across the road at a genuine 'oh-my-gods-how-I-love-foreign-groceries' store. We got
breakfast foods for tomorrow morning including a packet of unidentified red berries that may be a type of currant. They aren't the least bit sweet.

[UPDATE: the 'mystery berries' are Schizandra Berries, whose flavor is described as 'sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent' All in one berry!]

Once breakfast for tomorrow was secure, we took off for dinner at a nearby restaurant.

We decided to give the Nielsen Café a go. Soon we were seated in the second story dining room. The bottom floor was all about chocolates and pastries for sale.
The Nielsen Café
Smallish & pretty dining room

Rack of Lamb ala Icelandic

The Nielsen Café wasn't the place for such authentically Icelandic fare as svid (head o' sheep). It did have Roast Reindeer, but at 75 krona a pop I instead enjoyed the 47 króna 'rack o' lamb' with all the fixin's. It was pretty darned tasty.

Here are some of today's goo-gobers worth of reindeer with a little music. OK, OK, the music is meant for a moose, but I work with what I have.