The Golden Circle, Iceland

We reluctantly leave paradise discovered for our return trek to Reykjavik.  John and I decide we would have liked several days in Landmannalauger to further explore this unique landscape. Sadly the decision is not ours and we reluctantly board the vehicle.

We bump along the lava highway and gradually return to civilization.  Today we will see the Golden circle.  It is what most people see when they layover in Iceland for a day or two.  It is easy to find and follows a predictable route. The roads are tame, though glutted with tourists.

Each stop is surrounded by gift shops selling their wares for prices that are not fathomable.  We browse, not to buy but to win the game of finding the most expensive/least valued item. The quality is excellent though the stickers leaves us shocked.

We stand in a circle around a large geyser then snap pictures along with the rest of the crowd.   Predictable oohs and awes surround.  We quickly bore of this and try to get away from the throngs in search of something unique, though everywhere we go, more people follow.  We see beautiful waterfalls, though the crowds make pictures difficult.

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We decide there isn’t much to see though we have a generous amount of time to kill.  We peruse the menu of offerings each more expensive than the other.  We decide to have a coffee and a cup of soup and pay $45.00 for this luxury.  The soup is good, the coffee good, though we shake our heads at the cost, savouring every bite and every sip.

We have signed up for a caving experience through a lava tube and have the opportunity to walk the way the lava once flowed.  Others in our group have opted for a snorkelling experience and still others decide to explore on their own.

We don our hard hats and turn our lights on, careful to not look directly at one another with our blinding beams. Kommi leads the way. I stay close behind to hear all the highlights. The footing is tricky and twisting an ankle is a real possibility.

We arrive at a spot and wait for the group to catch up. Kommi notices a boulder perched precariously and encourages quick movement through. The stragglers, oblivious to the danger continue their leisurely pace, taking photos and enjoying the experience without the knowledge.  At this moment it occurs to me that walking through a lava tube is quite dangerous and perhaps a foolish risk. I’m reminded that Iceland is an active volcano and begin to assess the danger,  a little late.  I conclude safety would have me on terra firma above.   There is only one way out and I don’t know the way.   I decide to put one foot in front of the other, and not think.  My feet are on their own as I cannot see them, though feel the uneven ground with the soles of my feet. Each step has careful consideration before its execution.  Kommi asks which way we should go, as we stand at a fork.  I point one way, though am wrong. I think of how terrifying it would be if I were alone searching for a way out.  Panic would reign supreme I decide. My main goal is to shadow Kommi for safety, slow my breathing and not make a spectacle of myself.

We stop and wait for the rest of our group. Kommi has us find a spot to sit. I look over at John and smile, he looks stressed and grimaces in response. I’m puzzled then it occurs to me I’m seeing fear in John for the first time. If John is scared then I’m panicked.   Kommi then has us shut off our lights and we plunge into darkness. I close my eyes slow my breathing and settle myself reminding myself that soon we will leave the earth and the feeling of being buried alive for light.

The exit eventually arrives and we crawl out of the earth and stand on solid ground. John is rattled. We discuss the experience and decide this lava tube is both our first and last and we mentally tick off the experience from our virtual list.

We arrive back in Reykjavik. Predictably, the place looks like different, though I know it is the same.  We have changed for the richness of our experience

Temper your Enthusiasm

We travel and all civilization falls away,  we seem to have the country to ourselves.

We arrive at our lodging for the night, a motel type affair in the highlands. We are advised that we will be two to a room. We are fine with this as we always share a room.   We secure our key, find our room and take a deep breath. John opens the door to a dormitory type affair, two single beds and not much else.   Still, it will only be us tonight.  I’m giddy with the thought of finally getting some sleep.

Single showers and bathrooms are just down the hall though privacy is possible.  We have brought a pack towel, a washcloth sized affair which makes drying ourselves a lengthy venture. Perhaps if we were the size of a small cat this would be more effective?  John speaks to the front desk and learns that we can have towels, bedding and slippers for $50.00 USD each.  We ask if it is possible to get just the towels for a reduced rate.  We are told that this is not possible, it is all or nothing.  It seems extravagant and I tell John my thoughts.  He is adamant and draws his line in the sand, dying on the hill that includes a towel. I relent and we pay the fleecing rate of $100.00 for two thin towels, housecoats, scratchy duvets and nail salon slippers.  The slippers we are told are ours to keep. How exciting, I cattily whisper to John. Still, I decide I will take them home. Normally, I wouldn’t give slippers such as these a second thought, but they are likely the most expensive slippers I’ve ever owned and will serve as a reminder to this extravagance.

We treat ourselves to a hollywood shower and luxuriate in the hot spray.  It is a treat I decide. It is not worth the cost we paid, though at this moment while I dry off and slip into the robe and don the slippers, the experience is a bargain at twice the price. My frugal self tries to justify by deciding it will be our souvenir of Iceland and imagine peppering future conversations with this firm example of the expense of Iceland. The true gift is a reminder of how we take simple things such as these for granted at home and a reminder to be thankful. Money well spent I conclude.

We enter the dining room and discover that a special dinner has been prepared for our group tonight.  It is a sit down meal  and features wine and a variety of courses. The entree is lamb and I quietly advise the waitress that I will be happy with the soup, salad and bread.  She asks if I like fish, I state that I do and shortly a beautiful salmon dinner arrives for me.  This was so unexpected, though such a wonderful treat.

Kommi tells us that tomorrow we will be going deep into South Iceland to a very special place.  He advises us to lower our expectations. He tells us that Icelandic children are taught to have low expectations and are fed a diet of folklore stories passed from generation to generation.  The stories reflect the harsh natural environment that Icelanders face and serve to teach their children how to live in an unforgiving wilderness.  The children learn to respect both the spirits of the land and the natural environment, where earthquakes, volcanos, and extreme weather conditions constantly pose a very real and tangible threat.

This is so different from my childhood experience, where around every corner something wonderful was about to happen.  I still live like this, well most days, the eternal optimist.

I wonder about the accommodations tomorrow that would have Kommi telling us this tonight.  I decide that we will be surprised with something truly amazing and surely he must be kidding with his grim talk.

Kommi tells us a bedtime story to drive home his point of low expectations. Everyone dies, there is no Disney Prince swooping in at the last moment but rather the last bit of hope when the hero arrives,  ends with him killing anyone left. Makes me wonder how the story could be told with no one left standing. Reminiscent of Grimms fairy tale we are left unsettled.

John and I enjoy our glass of wine and retire to our room.  It is nice to have privacy as we chat about our amazing day.  No sleeping bags for us tonight as we snuggle down deep. We decide sheets are a welcome change and we don’t miss the added exercise of getting into and out of the bag. Settled we listen to the quiet, though a few moments later, John begins to snore, making up for lost time when he was kept awake from everyone else snoring. My silence shattered, I sigh and turn on the white noise.

Downtown Reykjavik

We wake early and collectively clean the Airbnb rental, our many hands make the work light.  The property looks better than found and we are pleased to leave this representation of who we are as people.

We venture to downtown Reykjavik, its a small area, though in comparison to the suburbs where we have been staying, its a busy, happening place.

Chaos reigns at the Foss hotel as we arrive en-mass with our too large luggage and too  many questions.  The hotel staff are patient and kind, calmly addressing our concerns and answering our questions.

We opt out of the city tour, culling ourselves from the herd and opt in for time together.  We are giddy with the knowledge that we can explore the city, lingering as desired or speed through the boring bits in favour of what is around the next bend.

We are drawn to the water and happen on the Reykjavik version of, “sealed.”  This is where lovers seal their love with a lock.  The scarcity of locks have it looking like twelve people lost access in stark contrast to Amsterdam where masses  of locks declare love abounds.

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We find a beautiful, octagonal building and join the crowd taking photos of this artistic building, from every angle.  We browse the high priced, tchotkes and the prices decide we are not in a buying mood.

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We amble in and out of shops, browsing.   I choose a too pricey Icelandic pony Christmas  ornament and hand  it quickly over to John to pay before I change my mind.  John is fascinated with the Christmas story of the Elves and we buy a copy for our grandchildren.  It is always fascinating how different cultures celebrate Christmas.  There does seem to exist a commonality in that the traditions all seem to be designed to keep children in line.

We decide to visit the Mariner Museum, John is excited to see ships and artifacts from long ago. We pay our fee, the self directed tour begins in the gift store, odd as it usually ends thus.  We set off.

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Quickly we learn the museum is dedicated to the fishing industry, interesting, though not interested we glance at the items in glass cases and try to get into the tour by listening to the audio.  We both put on a brave face, moving through the museum quickly.  We eye the fish skin shoes and boots, perhaps they have gone too far, I decide.

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The tour ends and we spill out into a restaurant.  We quickly  try to find another way out, we are trapped, the only way out is through. We decide the cost will  break our budget, though wait,   I hear only Icelandic voices and spy a buffet of fish, vegetables–a complete meal. We inquire as to the cost and are surprised by the reasonable price.  The food is excellent, made in small batches and features an array of fish cooked perfectly tender.  We high five our good fortune and pronounce the Mariner’s Museum a highlight of our self directed tour as we sit back and eat like locals.

South Iceland

We wake early with a plan. Our group of eight is a well oiled machine, eating, showering and tidying in shifts. I save time by not coaxing the finicky fancy coffee maker for a beverage. It mocks me, I avoid eye contact and drink out of the community carafe and enjoy my morning skyr.

We venture to a waterfall where we have the opportunity to walk behind the falls. The ground slick with rocks and mud, every step is calculated. It’s a busy, happening place where  long lines snake the route. We stop for photos, jumping out of line then continue nose to tail through the predetermined route.

We finish then patiently wait for our friends as we sip a $10 coffee. We troll the gift store, a kings ransom for nearly nothing. Our new game is to find the most overpriced item. A hat wins, $90.00, it’s nice though not worth the amount.

After a delay our friends arrive. They have ventured to two other falls while we cooled our heels. We are annoyed and I voice our displeasure. We decide on future time limits to keep us all on track.

We set off for the ocean and black sand beach with its amazing cliffs and caves flanking the sides. We have read about sneaker waves and John and I take photos solo while the other is charged with vigilantly watching . The ocean is powerful though some people didn’t get the memo as they climb the rock structures away from land. Its always interesting how people foolishly think there is always a net for them.

We listen to the pounding of the waves, mesmerized. The timing of the waves becomes predictable as we set up our next photo learning to watch the water and soon learning to notice the build of waves before they crash on land.

I look for seaglass though am not rewarded. I suspect it’s there though closer to where the waves break.  I would need to risk life and limb for pretty garbage and decide its not worth the risk, though I spend some time wondering if its possible.

We leave after our predetermined time to our next destination where our car navigates a twisty road. It has no shoulders and barely enough room for two complete with steep drops off on either side. At times we shift forward in our seats urging our little car that it can.

The view is worth the effort as we happily snap photos before beginning the journey down

We arrive in Vik, a small quaint town surrounded by jaw dropping landscapes and spy the sea just beyond. The restaurant, Sudur Vik is predicatably expensive like all food in Iceland. We have had several days to get used to the money we will spend on this lunch.

I open the menu and as always have sticker shock. I have the money, though can’t spend $45.00 for chicken opting instead for a couple appetizers a bargain when compared. John asks if I want wine. I point to the price, he orders me a glass anyway, perhaps I need it I decide. The food is fantastic, though I suspect the high price influences our taste buds.

We leave, tour the town and find a gift store where the prices shock us anew. I buy a small book on Icelandic horses telling myself I deserve this luxury due to my frugality at lunch

We begin the journey back to Reykjavík. Gilles keeps an eye out for Icelandic ponies and I’m touched. We pass many ponies, not enough, too far away. I’m disappointed though not destroyed as I scroll through the beautiful pics I already have on my phone and leaf through my beautiful pony book.

We round a bend and a field of ponies awaits complete with a rainbow, there is something for everyone. Our small group is patient while I snap pictures, pet and shake my head in disbelief as the light intensifies, the ponies appearing golden.  I feed them grass for their efforts.

We leave a crowd behind us who have stopped to spend time with the ponies and return to Reykjavík satiated with all we have seen.

Leaving Amsterdam, hello Iceland

We wake early and begin the process of packing.  I’m always surprised that eventually it all gets into the bags though at the outset it seems like a tall order.  I look over and see John sweating as he forces his kit bag shut, then point to my hiking boots and asks him if he has room.  He looks at me incredulous, smartly says nothing and begins the process anew.

Marieke and Nelda have prepared coffee and breakfast for our last morning and will drive us to the airport.  We are thankful for all that they have done to create a perfect trip to the Netherlands.  We hope that one day we will be able to create a memorable time for them in our country.  It was a leap of faith for them to open their home to us, not knowing much about us save for our wedding photo circulated through the family and a few anecdotal stories about John along with memories of his last visit 20 years previous.  From the first night our fears and hopefully theirs were put to rest as we were talking and laughing as if we had known one another forever.

We haul our too large bags to the elevator and then into their car.  An elderly gentleman rides the elevator with us, then hops on his bike and zips out of the parking lot.  John and I look at each other and shake our heads at a sight that we will likely not see for some time.

We arrive at the airport expecting to be dropped at the entrance, instead we are escorted to the correct airline.  We are touched at this extra effort to ensure that we will not waste time twirling around.  It is time to say good-bye.  Thank you at moments like this always seem inadequate, good-byes sad.  We will miss them a great deal.

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My bag is overweight, though the lovely girl says she does not notice as she slaps a heavy sticker on its side.  Security has me standing on a podium as I am searched for nothing.  John says its because I look shifty as he clears security without a second look.

Our next stop is Iceland and we are excited about this next experience. We will enjoy the first few days with 6 of our friends.  We sit back, relax and smile at the faux northern lights display on Icelandair.

Family Amsterdam

We leave the Van Gogh museum and are shocked to discover that we have spent nearly six hours. Our plans for a return to the Rijksmuseum dashed, we venture to the boats where we can enjoy a canal tour.

The tour is relaxing, we sit back to listen to a history of Amsterdam through our head phones.  The homes are stately, the ground shifting beneath them has my carpenter husband constantly tilting his head to make them square.

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We complete the tour, find the metro station, and wait for the wrong train.  We have learned as John questions our choice, asks a helpful young lady and soon we are on the right train zipping to Nelda and Marieke’s home.

We have been invited for dinner at Aunt Emmy’s home in Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam.  It is a perfect ending to our trip to the Netherlands.  Aunt Emmy visited us in Canada a few years previous and sparked our desire to visit the Netherlands, it is a full circle moment.  Marieke and Nelda have bought sunflowers as a hostess gift, fitting after our day at the Van Gogh museum.

We arrive to Emmy’s bright, cheerful home and are treated to a tour of her cozy home.  She has prepared a wonderful dinner for us.  We begin with avocado and tuna as a mousse and enjoy with lettuce.  The main course, “gourmetten”  has us interactively cooking our own fish and vegetables in small pans at the dinner table.  It is a sociable, relaxed experience.  The food is to our taste as we cook it ourselves adding condiments and spices as desired. This method of cooking is popular at Christmas in the Netherlands, a cozy, family experience  and we are touched that Aunt Emmy has gone to all this trouble for us.

After dinner we enjoy coffee and look at photo albums.  The photo albums have been lovingly created and are shared with all family members by a rotation schedule.  John enjoys seeing photos from the times that he visited the Netherlands as a child and young man and seeing photos of his Dad as a young man. We hear stories about John’s late father and learn more about him.  John finds it interesting to hear a different perspective  about the father he knew and loved and the people who loved him.

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The hours zip by, night has fallen as we begin the journey back to Amsterdam. We speak about the amazing trip that we have enjoyed, all the things that we did, our desire to come back, our hope that many family members will visit us in Canada.  We have been here for only 8 days, though it seems like months as each day filled with family, experiences and love.  We are truly blessed.