Day 8 Iceland Itinerary-Vatnsnes and Seals – Day 9- Reykjavik
Driving, Driving, Driving Ring Road
We were road weary and haggard after navigating ¾ of the way around Ring Road in 7 days, stopping for everything possible along the way. Most days we were arriving at our accommodations after 10 or 11 p.m. My cousin Lesa and I had spent the night in Hvitserkur and were moving pretty slow that morning.
Take Me to Rhino Rock-Vatnsnes
After breakfast at the guesthouse, we hit the road. The plan was to see the Hvitserkur sea stack and then drive the perimeter of the Vatnsnes Peninsula and then up into the West Fjords. The peninsula is said to have the best seal viewing in all of Iceland. We scored a seal map and were on our way.
Hvitserkur was not far from where we were staying. We hiked down a small trail for a good view. There are times when the tide is out that you could walk up to the sea stack, but today was not one of those days.
We peered out at the 49 foot black basalt formation, sometimes called Rhino Rock. Formed by volcanic activity, the rock stands alone in the water. The contrast of the dark basalt against the blue sea was stunning.
The next stop was Illugastadir, one of the more popular seal viewing locations. We navigated down a flower dotted path with water to one side. There was a strange slimy rock surface we had to carefully cross to get nearer to the shore.
I was hoping to see seals up close… but there were none. There was a rocky bar of land running parallel to the shore a-ways out where you could see their little grey seal body shapes lounging on the rock. It was pretty far out though and I would have needed a better camera or binoculars to get the view I wanted.
We tried out several vantage points along the path and were able to see a couple of little seal heads swimming along.
A Change of Plans
After driving the outer edge of the peninsula for hours, I was feeling a bit worn down and anxious about an additional 4 to 5 hour drive ahead of me. We stopped at an N1 for gas and went inside to use the restroom. I started thinking…the reason we were driving into the West fjords at that time was because we had a guesthouse reserved with a nice hot spring nearby.
“I really wanted to be in a hot spring tonight, but I think if I have to be in the car for another hour or more I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.” I announced as we walked in and I grabbed a coffee.
“Yeah…I’m wiped out…I can’t do 4 more hours.” Lesa agreed.
I quickly used their Wi-Fi and changed my reservations to a guest house in Stadur that was within 30 minutes of where we were. It was only about 6 p.m. but we had loaded up supplies at the N1 and made our way to our accommodations for the night.
A New Day in Reykjavik
The next morning we felt rested and happy for the short break. I am usually not a huge fan of going to big cities and prefer nature when I travel, but I didn’t feel like we could go to Iceland without at least stopping into Reykjavik to see what it was about.
Headed to Hallgrímskirkja
We went past Harpa Concert Hall and then stopped at Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church for a closer look. The building was 244 ft tall and is the tallest church in Iceland. It was designed in 1937 to resemble the rocks, mountains and glaciers of the country and it took 41 years to complete.
Once inside, we were in awe of the immense vaulted white ceiling and the 49 foot tall brass pipe organ.
For a few kronos, we took the elevator to the top for a one of a kind view of the city and the sea. There were little steppy stools at the windows to see out. The cerulean water was a stark contrast against the colorful buildings and had a grey mountain backdrop.
Little Cousins in the Big City- Finding Things to do in Reykjavik
We parked closer to the shopping area and then walked up and down the streets, ducking into shops. The part I liked the best was the full-building art that was prevalent all around the area. Around every corner was a variety of colorful painted images across the sides of the structures.
A Vegetarian Delight in Iceland
We were a little excited about a lunch that wasn’t a gas station sandwich, (Even though they were generally very good) and went into Gló, a vegetarian restaurant I had found online. We ordered several dishes and they were all delicious, especially the eggplant.
This is Not ‘Nam…This is Bowling…There are Rules
Our next stop was the Lebowski Bar. I’m a big fan of the movie so we needed to check it out and have a nice stout. It was complete with bowling pin shaped bar taps, restroom artwork depicting Walter and Maude…and of course…the rug. It really did tie the room together. We spouted off all the Big Lebowski quotes we could think of…
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
“You want a toe? I can get you a toe!”
“This aggression will not stand, man.” And on and on.
‘There is No Chin Behind Chuck Norris’ Beard – Only Another Fist’
We walked around a little bit more and passed a Chuck Norris bar that is exactly what it sounds like. I peeked in the window and could see ‘Chuck Norris is so strong’ lines...covering the walls.
Parliament Fields Iceland – Into the Great Divide
Þingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is Iceland’s 1st national park. In the year 930, it was the site of Iceland’s Parliamentary Institution at Law Rock. In Viking times Iceland was proclaimed independent in this location and many past and current laws were created there. Þingvellir itself means parliament fields and it also was featured in Game of Thrones.
The porous lava rock of the area was separated by tectonic movements centuries ago and created large ravines. Melt water from surrounding glaciers filled areas of the ravine. The extremely clear water is naturally filtered from the lava rock and is popular with scuba divers.
Make a Wish
We hiked to Peningagjá, which is sometimes called the money rift because people toss coins in. The water is so clear we could watch our coin sink to the bottom which is 25 meters deep in places.
The Warrior Pendant- Helm of Awe
We stopped at the visitor center gift shop. There were several pendants with traditional Viking symbols with meanings behind them. Although it was meant to serve a warrior going into battle…the Helm of Awe caught my attention. The Helm of Awe was said to provide mental and spiritual protection as well as physical to conquer fear in one’s own mind.
A viking warrior would press or paint the symbol on their forehead and proclaim…
“I bear the helm of awe between my brows! To be courageous and victorious in battle.”
I would then press my own warrior pendant between my brow proclaiming victory in my emotional battles every time before entering my dad’s room to visit him during his last days…needing to be strong for one of my favorite people in the world when he was struggling. The Helm of Awe to me is a symbol of strength and courage in facing a battle head-on that I still wear today…pressing between my brow when needed.
Guesthouse and a View
It was almost 8 p.m. so we drove over to Héradsskólinn Historic Guest House where we were staying and checked in. The guesthouse is a former schoolhouse and dorm built in 1928, which overlooks Lake Laugarvatn.
The Soak That We’ve Been Waiting For – Laugarvatn Fontana
We dropped off our stuff, grabbed our swimmie suits and headed for the highlight of the day, Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths. After we were given the speech about the required naked showers focusing on the important zones by the attendant, we suited up and headed out in the chilly air.
It was about 48°F. and we speed walked with our sights on the closest pool.
“Hey let’s go in here.” Lesa grabbed the handle of a big wooden door and a puff of white steam billowed out.
Excited for warmness, we ducked inside. It was so steamy in the little room we couldn’t tell if anybody else was in there. We determined we were alone and sat down on the wooden bench. Geothermal steam rose up through wooden slats in the floor. After a few minutes it was almost hard to breathe but we were ready to face the chilly air again.
We opened the door and made it to the 1st pool. I stuck in a toe and knew that wasn’t going to cut it. It was a little chilly and some kids were swimming around, so we kept moving towards a rock lined pool that overlooked the lake.
Checking out the Pools
“Oh holy shmoly this feels amazing.” I breathed, sinking into the warm hug of the water.
“Oh yeah.” Lesa settled in beside me.
There weren’t many people and we had to squat-walk our way through the water if we wanted to stay submerged and warm but there were large boulders near the edges where we could sit. We then checked out the other pools and the raised-up hot tub that overlooked the water.
They sold drinks so we ran to grab a beer with a stop in the steam room along the way. There was an outdoor window where we waited for our order. We hopped around with our wet bodies leaving a steam trail in the cool air.
We had to stop in the sauna to regenerate warmness before getting back in the pool. It was super hot in there which melted our goosies. There wasn’t any steam…just dry heat. There was a small window overlooking the lake. We gathered up our body heat and did quick walking to our favorite rock pool.
Jumping in For Health?
Several people were walking down the pier in their swimming suits and jumping into the lake. It is said that that is good for all sorts of ailments and arthritis. Being out in the cold air while we were wet was enough briskness for me. I like the healing idea but I probably would have died of shock before the healing set in.
Relaxing on the boulder with a beer was more my speed and we did this for quite some time enjoying the nature around us.
After we got dressed, we took the path leading along the springs and against the shore. The fenced off raised geothermal source was surrounded by wooden beams. The mineral streaked cauldron steamed and hissed. My toes checked out the lake water and told my body…’good job not jumping in.’
I drove the short distance back to the guesthouse where we relaxed for the evening and prepared to adventure inside of a glacier the next day.
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