Friday, August 16, 2019

Driving in Iceland

According to my dad, who did all our driving, driving in Iceland was easy.

In Reykjavik,  it was like driving in most other big cities, except that I was unable to accurately pronounce most of the street names.

Out in the countryside, it was completely different.

Sometimes, you didn't see another car for miles,

at other times you had to wait a minute or two to get across the bridge.

All the rules of the road were well posted.

As were the warnings. I'm not sure why my camera didn't capture the lights in the sign, but it gave the wind direction, speed, temperature and wind gust speed for the road ahead. In fact, Icelanders can check road conditions, in real time, before they leave home. (Follow the link and then click on one of the little camera icons to see what the road looks like.)

Most of these "Closed" gates were topped with lights. During the summer they are kept covered with tarps, so I was thrilled to see this one near Gullfoss waterfall. It was right where the paved road changed to gravel. (Sorry for the poor picture - I was shooting right into the sun.)

We didn't have a car like this one, so we stuck to the main roads.

Most of the time, I just sat in the car and was amazed by the beauty of Iceland. Something like this was around every turn...

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Sólheimajökull means "home of the sun glacier" in Icelandic. They do that here - name things by stringing words together.

Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of a larger icecap called Mýrdalsjökull in southern Iceland.

Just in case you forgot, Iceland can kill you. And it will if you're stupid enough to climb up on to a glacier, without an experienced guide and appropriate gear. (Which we did see a couple of guys try to do.)

 Luckily, we're not stupid.

Hiking up the side of a glacier has to be one of the most amazing things I've ever done. In my entire life.

Maria, our guide with Arctic Adventures, was amazing. She got us up and down again - safely. 

Plus, while we were there we learned a lot about Iceland's glaciers. She showed the kids how to use their ice axes to chop into the ice looking for rainbows. And she explained why parts of the glacier are black. It's ash from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. (Don't ask me how to pronounce that one, all I know is that it literally translates to "island mountain glacier.") It was the volcano that spewed out so much ash it halted almost all European air travel for six days.

It saddens me to know that scientists predict all of Iceland's glaciers will be gone in 150 years.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant

Iceland just continues to impress me. Every time you turn around, there is something interesting to see and do.

Like the  Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant. It's open to the public - they give tours.

The science behind what they do is really interesting. In a nutshell, they dig down 2 kilometers (about a mile and a quarter), and use steam from the intensely hot fluid to turn the turbines. Then the same steam is used to heat fresh ground water to 86 degrees C (about 187 degrees F), which is then piped to Reykjavik. Next, they remove some of the carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from the steam and reinject it back into the ground. Over the next two years it crystallizes into calcite and iron pyrite within the basalt bedrock - decreasing the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere.

The displays at the plant were impressive and the guided tour was excellent.

It is hard to imagine that the water heading to Reykjavik in these pipes only loses 2 degrees C (about 3.5 degrees F) on its eight hour trip to Reykjavik. 90% of the homes in Iceland use geothermally heated water to heat their homes and for hot water. When you turn on the hot water tap in Iceland, the water is HOT.

About 27% of Iceland's power comes from geothermal plants, and another about another 70% comes from hydropower. Less than 1% of their electricity comes from diesel-powered station, and none from burning coal.

Icelandic Horses

Any time we left Reykjavik and ventured out into the countryside, we saw lots of Icelandic horses. They're everywhere. Most of the time there were out in fields, but occasionally we found them close to the road. So, of course, I asked my dad to pull over so I could get pictures.

Icelandic horses are small and they are the only breed on the Island.

No new horses have come to Iceland since 982, when a law was passed banning their import (to protect the stock.) 982!

Not only is it illegal to being horses into Iceland, but any horses that leave the country are never allowed to return. 

The ones we got close to seemed sweet and gentle.

A couple of times, when we saw them laying down, and K got worried that something was wrong. We watched this horse just stop and lay down for a little snooze, and then get back up again no worse for wear.

We also saw horses in a different place. Now would be a good time for my horse-loving friends to scroll back up and look at the horses happily lounging in the field...

In Iceland, you can buy horse meat at the grocery store.

We saw both "horsemeat" and "foalmeat" for sale. I wasn't 100% sure it was horse, so I asked a lady shopping near me. She explained that horse wasn't nearly as popular as it was when she was a kid.

"When I was small, my mother would boil it and also make mashed potatoes and carrots. But I don't cook it for myself." 

Now days lamb and chicken are much more popular, but horse use to be a staple of the Icelandic diet. In fact, when they converted to Christianity in 1000, being able to continue to eat horse was one of the conditions.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Árbær Open Air Museum

The Árbær Open Air Museum is Reykjavik's version of a little Greenfield Village. Each building on the grounds, save one, was moved here in order to save it.

There newer houses,

as well as much older sod houses.


After all those summers cooking in the Biddle House, that hearth doesn't look like much fun. The interpreter explained to us that in the early days they often stored food in whey - the liquid left over after making butter. (The butter grew mold on the outside that preserved it.) Then, foods could be submerged in the liquid whey where they would get gross, but not unsafe to eat. This method of preservation led to the development of a type of Icelandic food called surmatur, or "sour food." It isn't really eaten anymore - except during a few festivals.

If it tasted anything like it smelled it was the kind of thing you ate because you were desperately hungry. The interpreter had a sample of whey that she passed around for all of us to smell. Just imagine the month-old milk you forgot was in the back of the fridge. You know the odor that comes off as you pour the chunks down into the garbage disposal? Make that smell about 10 times worse and you'd be getting close.

Back in those days, each Icelander owned one of these - an askur. It served as a bowl and plate as well as a place to save uneaten food. Since farm workders were often paid in food, men's askurs were significantly larger.

We enjoyed wandering around the grounds, but really enjoyed the English tour. We've been impressed that every site we've visited in Iceland has been English friendly.

Of course, the kids and I were thrilled to find the museum's  free-ranging chickens.

After exploring the grounds we stopped at the cafe for snack of traditional Icelandic foods:

one bowl of  traditional Icelandic meat soup,

a plate of smoked lamb,

and a slice of marriage cake, also known as wedded bliss. It is said that it is the secret to a happy marriage in Iceland is being able to make this cake for your husband.

Off the Beaten Path

Although I do love visiting famous sites when I travel, I also love getting off the beaten path once and a while. The little fishing village of Eyrarbakki fit the bill perfectly. Only about 600 people live there and lots of the houses date from the early 1900s.

The kids loved exploring the shoreline.

There were a number of interesting places nearby.

The Knarraros lighthouse is just down the shore from the village. It's the tallest building in South Iceland and the first lighthouse in Iceland to be built out of reinforced concrete. Not a particularly pretty lighthouse, but interesting none the less.

The kids and I opted to climb up all the way to the top.

Just down the road is an old dairy. Lots of the original equipment is there and the guide showed us how it all worked. All the machines are still connected to the water wheel. It's adorable and only open on weekends. The guide told us only about 30 people stop in each weekend.

We also happened on Iceland's only high security prison. We couldn't read the signs, but the double layer barbed wire fence kind of gave it away. A quick internet search told us it was, in fact, a prison.