Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Egilsstadir to Smyrlabjorg

Today was a day filled with wonder and a couple of heavy doses of disappointment.

We started off a bit later than normal because I had a glorious plan. This plan started out by heading to the discount store. Nothing is discount in Iceland. Nothing. But here was a discount store. We couldn't pass it up. And stuff was pretty decently priced there. Enough so that we loaded up on chocolate and candies for the kids, some stuffies for the kids, a Buff for Kees (we'd already found one for Sacha and Ivy too), and Sarah got a new bathing suit.

Then it was out to Hallormsstadur, the largest forest in Iceland. It was a beautiful drive and exceptional given the stark absence of trees in most of Iceland. There was much more forest in Iceland upon settlement in the 800s. But not nearly as much as some accounts suggest. And much of it would've been lower shrub and brush, not towering forests like you see in Canada. Nonetheless, there was more, but the settlers hacked it down, the sheep heavily grazed the country, preventing comeback of the forests, and the Little Ice Age came along and diminished forest cover further.

Hallormsstadur lies next to Lagarfljot, a long, deep lake. It is similar in appearance to Lake Okanagan and Loch Ness. And it too has a mythical lake monster, called Lagarfljotstormur, or the Lagarfljot worm. A recent video from 2010 garnered national news attention and over 5 million views on YouTube.

Then we came to Hengifoss. This is supposed to be one of the more photogenic waterfalls in Iceland. It is a rather demanding hike, up over 400m from the parking lot and taking well over 30 minutes. Problem is, there is a nasty cold front all over the eastern portion of the country. Cold front equals low clouds. Low clouds equals heavy fog cover in upper altitudes. Heavy fog cover in high altitudes equals zero visibility of gorgeous waterfall after a 40 minute tough, wet, muddy, slippery hike. I took a picture of the fog and the non-visibility of the waterfall, to give pictorial evidence of what disappointment looks like.

Then came disappointment number two. The whole reason we left a little later than normal is because the plan was to attend a renowned cake buffet at a restaurant called Klaustur Kaffi. I had done my research. This was going to be all the sweeter because we'd just had our asses handed to us on the side of a mountain.

When we got there, things were looking good. It was a gorgeous early-20th century mansion built by Gunnar Gunnarsson, a famous Icelandic novelist who did most of his work in Denmark, but always focused on his home country. He was considered for the Nobel Prize in literature. He was approached by Walt Disney to use one of his stories, The Good Shepherd. However, Disney supposedly suggested that Gunnarsson would be paying him to make a movie from the work. Gunnarsson hung up on him. He was also a proponent of Scandinavianism, the notion of combining all the Scandinavian nations into one larger united nation of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands.

Anyways, it was a gorgeous little mansion and the restaurant was bustling. Then the disappointment. Cake buffet does not start until 3 pm. DAMN IT!!! Oh well, they had a wonderful lunch buffet including lamb stew and reindeer pie, both of which were mind blowing.

The rest of the day was mostly driving but we saw some beautiful sights, including a gorgeous beach teeming with seabirds and incredible hardened lava formations on the shore. An impossibly enormous mountain that was right next to the highway and was basically a giant pile of gravel. I've never seen a mountain made of that much loose rubble. It was rather unsettling. And we saw a glorious number of swans, some of them very close.

Our dinner was in another harbour town, Hofn. It was at Pakkhus, a very busy and obviously popular restaurant built from a converted warehouse. I had langoustine pizza, as the langoustine here is considered the best in Iceland. Sarah had ling cod and roasted potatoes. For dessert we had a Skyr volcano, which was a bed of Skyr covered with various sweets. There were "lava rocks" which were basically dark grey sponge coffee, and pop rocks, as well as another sweet I couldn't identify. Delicious and fun.

Tomorrow we are off to Vatnajokull, the largest ice cap in Europe. There we will go on a boat tour of the glacier lagoon!

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