A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland - Day 7

Reykjavik

overcast 50 °F

So we sort of teased the puffins and have very little to show for it. Oops. But let's start at the beginning. The hotel breakfast was held in the restaurant that is connected to the lobby. There was a nice continental spread in the back room with your typical breakfast foods: cold cuts, fruits, cereal, toast. The week finally caught up with us and we had to nap after breakfast.

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Our puffin tour started at 12:30pm which gave us time for lunch at the famous Icelandic Fish & Chips! Except we're idiots and went to the wrong restaurant and didn't realize it until after we ordered. We did have the wherewithal to split an order instead of gorging ourselves and then go on a boat; which meant we could try the actual Icelandic Fish & Chips when we got back. The place we ended up in was Reykjavik Fish Restaurant...and the fish and chips were REALLY good. They served their malt vinegar in a Misto, which I promptly unscrewed and poured into my dish. So. Good.

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The puffin islands were really close to the harbor - only a ten minute boat ride. We boarded a boat with about 40 other people but it was maybe only half full so it didn't feel crowded. There was also an inclosed lower level if you didn't want to ride outside. As it turns out, puffins are super small; only 10 inches high. That's a hard bird to capture on a cell phone. To make up for the lack of pictures, here are some puffin facts we learned today: the puffin flaps its wings 400 times per minute and dives up to 196 feet but they can only stay under for one minute. Puffins burrow into the island and lay one egg. The mother and father take turns fishing and bring live fish for the puffling to feed on, rather than regurgitating like most birds. After a while, the mother and father dump a big pile of fish in the front of the burrow and say, "You're 18, you're on your own. See ya." They fly out to sea and spend the rest of their time there until it's time to come back and start all over again. The puffling eats the graduation present and when it gets hungry enough, also flies out to sea (at night, to avoid predators) and stays there for four years before coming back to breed. Even though the pictures aren't great, it was an really neat tour and totally worth the cold and wind on the boat.

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When we got back, we were determined to eat at Icelandic Fish & Chips. It gets rave reviews online and most everyone says its the best they've ever had. Turns out we liked the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant better - go figure. The batter at the Reykjavik restaurant seemed more traditional with a little more flavor. The batter at Icelandic was really light.

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After second lunch, we headed to the Whales of Iceland museum; the largest whale exhibit in Europe. The museum wasn't very large (I mean, it was large enough to hold full-size replicas of whales), but we still managed to kill an hour and a half. There was an audio tour that we opted out of and instead looked at the life-size recreations and read the signs. What an eye-opening experience. Where do you get the chance to see exactly how big a whale is?! At a couple areas there were interactive stations to learn a little more about the whales and watch some videos. Also playing was a video about tagging humpback whales. Apparently as a zoologist you need to be a crack shot with a gun if you want to get a promotion. The tag must go into the fin of the humpback whale so when they surface the satellite can pick up the signal. Tracking and learning about whale behavior is a very big deal and starting in January of next year, the whole world will be able to see where the whales are traveling. Interesting article if you want to learn more: http://icelandictimes.com/68362/

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After the museum we walked back to our hotel a different way to see other parts of town. We saw some of the camper vans in town. I forgot to mention that these things were all over the countryside. They are advertised as a budget way to travel and see Iceland. I'm not sure where you park it at night or how you shower - but they sure are popular.

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Everywhere you turn in Reykjavik there is street art of all sizes. Tim has been fascinated with it, and many of the works are quite impressive. On a tip from our friend that we saw here yesterday, we found a small work in a random alley of a residential area. The rumors are that it was done by Banksy, but we couldn't find any definitive info about it so that remains a mystery. So we either saw one of the most valuable works of street art known to man in a random Iceland alley, or there is a really good knockoff artist we can thank for luring curious tourists like us off the beaten path in Reykjavik.

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Tonight we had a late dinner at an Italian restaurant called Italia. Um, how is it possible we had the best Italian meal we've ever had....in Iceland?! Us food-scarfing Americans were finished in no time. On our way back to the hotel we stopped by the Chuck Norris bar. Yes, there is a Big Lewboski bar and a Chuck Norris bar in Iceland. I will quote a review I saw online, "It's like drinking in a Chuck Norris meme." It was awesome.

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The Pens are playing game 4 tonight so we decided to come back and watch the game on the computer (at 12am our time). More fun stuff on the books for tomorrow. I leave you with this: When Chuck Norris does push ups he doesn't push himself up, he forces the earth down.

Posted by juliejakicic 16:20 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Iceland - Day 6

Reykjavik

sunny 47 °F

This morning we woke up and had breakfast, packed up the car and headed to Route 1. We were on a time crunch because we had an appointment outside of Reykjavik, but we really wanted to see Vik's black sand beach. While in Vik we stopped and finally had an Icelandic hot dog - it was delicious. Fun fact, we've yet to see mustard while we've been here. There is plenty of ketchup and some white stuff in a bottle, but after all of the paprika neither of us were brave enough to try the 'white stuff'. After finishing our snack, we made our way to the beach but the wind was blowing so hard and was so cold that we quickly turned around and went back to the car and headed out of town.

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A few days ago the drive to Kirkjubæjarklaustur was foggy and rainy which prevented us from seeing the famous Dyrhólaey peninsula. Little did we know, not only were the arches not far from shore, but there was a road that got you really close to them for viewing. We decided the detour was worth it and were disappointed when we couldn't see the arches that well. As we were leaving we saw a few cars driving up a big mountain. Assuming there was a light house on top, we thought why not, and drove up. We were right, there was a lighthouse....and an amazing view of the arches! The wind at the top was so crazy and you had to be really careful near the edge of the cliff. (Now I understand why the rental car guy told us that if the wind blew the car door in the opposite direction of its hinges, the insurance wouldn't cover it) The lighthouse has been working since 1927.

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Stopping at Vik and the arches/lighthouse put us a little behind schedule so we couldn't stop at anymore pull-offs (ok, I had to pull off to pet a horse...) You could seriously drive through the south of Iceland, stop at every single point of interest and you would be totally satisfied.

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We had really great driving weather and made great time. Our appointment was at the Blue Lagoon and you had to reserve a time in order to get a locker. The lagoon is a geothermal spa that opened in 1992, though the pools formed in 1976 from the wastewater of a geothermal water plant that had just been built there. In addition to the lagoon, there is also an onsite clinic to help with skin issues as the sulfur and silica in the water is supposed to have healing properties.

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The lagoon logistics were a little confusing. The directions for the lockers weren't clearly marked and I felt like you had a lot of steps to go through before you could even get to the lagoon: arrive and take off your shoes outside the changing area, leave shoes there, go to changing room (they don't tell you there are multiple rooms - some on the other side of the showers - so everyone is crowded into one), find a locker that is open, figure out how to unlock and lock your locker (if someone is standing in front of the small instruction plaque you're on your own), remove your clothes, place in locker, hope locker is locked, shower with their products, put conditioner in your hair so it doesn't get ruined by the lagoon, dry off, go back to your locker, put on your suit, take your towel and you are ready to enter the lagoon. You were supposed to shower without your suit before you got in the lagoon but most people showered with it on. I didn't use the conditioner because I wasn't going to get my hair wet in the lagoon.

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When I finally did make it out to the lagoon, Tim wasn't far behind me as he had to wait to use a shower. It was such a sunny day, we were glad we took our sunglasses. The water is a pretty bluish white and boy is it HOT. I thought my toes were going to burn off because they were so cold before going in, but your body quickly adjusts. There are different levels of entrance tickets you can purchase. We purchased a level that got us a towel, a drink and a mud mask. We had done some research before purchasing and were considering the next level up that also bought you the use of a bathrobe but then read that people take them. I'm glad we skipped that, because someone took our towels which means we had to take someone else's towels, and so on. It's not worth the extra money for a bathrobe to get you from the showers to the lagoon only for someone to take it while you're soaking.

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The lagoon itself was amazing. Like I said, it was a bluish color. There weren't a ton of people there so you didn't feel stacked on anyone else and the lagoon was much bigger than we were expecting. Our credit card was attached to our waterproof wristbands. The color of the wristband told the attendants what level we purchased so they knew to ask if we had received our drink. The bar was swim-up, as was the area to get the mud mask. All around the lagoon there were small areas to explore, including a cave with soothing music. Various areas around the lagoon were hotter than the rest. There were also wooden seating areas if you wanted to get out of the heat for a bit. The lagoon varied in depth, from a shallow walk-in area to the center that was about five feet deep (I couldn't stand in it but Tim could). After the pre-lagoon hoopla it was a very relaxing experience. We were able to explore the lagoon, sip our drinks and enjoy a relaxing afternoon after so many days of hiking. We also got some comedic entertainment in the form of tourists apply the mud masks ALL over their bodies - including their hair, as if they were applying soap in the shower. I have to assume there was a language barrier issue - but a quick look around would have also told them that no one else was applying their mud mask in that fashion.

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An hour and a half after we entered, we decided to leave. I couldn't take the hot water any longer and anyone that knows me knows I can't sit still for much longer than that. We left the lagoon and headed to our hotel in Reykjavik, which was about 40 minutes away. Our hotel is in downtown Reykjavik which means small, one-way streets and little to no parking. I was very worried about repeating our trip to Dublin, where we drove around for an hour and a half looking for the hotel. This time we found the hotel right away, but it was located on a pedestrian street so we had to find street parking in order to check-in. Luckily we found parking fairly quickly and we were able to get checked in and then park our car in the hidden lot behind the hotel. See ya on Sunday Hyundai Tucson.

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We think we may have been upgraded as we don't remember booking such a large room with a kitchenette and eating area. Nice! After unloading our luggage we went next door to the Public House, which is an asian-fusion gastropub. They served beer, wine and tapas. We tried the duck breast, beef slider and butternut squash dumplings. Everything was delicious. When leaving the Public House, we came across a random parade of classic cars going by.

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Next we went down a few storefronts to the Lebowski Bar. Yes, there is a bar dedicated to The Big Lebowski. They have various paintings, pictures, and homages to the film. Of course, what Lebowski themed bar wouldn't have White Russians on the menu, and in this case 20 or so varieties of them. We had a few drinks and partook in movie trivia night. Unfortunately we didn't win the grand prize of 10 large beers, but we did get to see a friend who just so happens to be here the same time as us!

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After the bar we decided to call it a night after a long day of driving. Time to rest up and get ready for our next excursion. Did somebody say puffins?!

Posted by juliejakicic 18:19 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Iceland - Day 5

Kirkjubæjarklaustur

semi-overcast 45 °F

I'm not sure how one day can top the next, but it has! Our travels took us east to Jökulsárlón for a glacier lagoon tour. Before hitting the road we had to make our obligatory Red Bull stop at a local store (Tim is SO happy Red Bull is readily available here). While checking out, the cashier starting speaking to Tim in Icelandic. Tim of course did not know how to respond, just slid his card. When the cashier handed Tim the receipt he again spoke Icelandic to which Tim responded "Thank you." The cashier seemed surprised replying, "Oh, yes thank you." I guess his beard has officially reached the nordic look.

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The glacier lagoon is at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier right along the beach. We arrived at the lagoon early in the day because the tours were first come first serve. We secured a spot at 1pm, which left us about an hour and a half to walk around and take pictures. The tide was going out at the time and we were able to watch the smaller pieces of ice float out to sea. A ton of Arctic Tern were flying and fishing in the lagoon. They caught herring and took it to shore to eat it while simultaneously fighting off other Tern that wanted the fish.

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The tour boats are the amphibian land/sea kind. We loaded up with about a dozen others and put on giant lifejackets. Which by the way, would in no way save anyone if they went overboard because they were so loose fitting. At least we looked super stylish. We drove off the shore and into the lagoon. Before long, we saw a seal!!!! Neither Tim nor I had any idea there were seal in the area; you can't see them from the main viewing area and the tour company did not advertise it. Apparently they are following the herring into the lagoon. A person in a dingy followed our boat and provided the guide with a large piece of ice. If anyone wanted to hold it for at least 3 seconds, they were granted 7 years good luck. The guide also chopped up some of the ice if you wanted to eat it.

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While on the tour the guide gave us a few facts about the lagoon. He said in 1934 the entire area was frozen over, but due to global warming the glacier is melting faster which created the lagoon at the base. The glacier is melting/receding 442 feet per year. The lagoon is also the deepest section in all of Iceland at 984 feet! On our way back to shore we saw seal lying on a piece of ice floating in the lagoon. Even though tours run every half hour, the seals did not seem too keen on the boats coming near them and slid off the ice as we floated by on our way to shore.

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Being so close to the beach we couldn't resist driving over and walking on the black sand beach. We were excited to find chunks of glacier right on the beach. They float out of the lagoon and the waves push them to shore. The crashing waves slowly break down the ice until they are completely melted. As we were taking pictures of the ice, I glanced up. Oh. My. Gosh. I started screaming, "WHALE! WHALE!" Tim thought I was joking at first but he said he's never seen that kind of joy on my face in all the years we've been together. Yes, there were whale - right off the beach!!! We think they were Minke whales. One breached a couple times and I got a poor photo of it - but proof nonetheless that we saw it. We followed the whale down the beach for a while, keeping an eye on the Tern that also followed it, but all we could see was an occasional fin or water blown from its blow hole. So exhilarating!

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We stayed on the beach for a while and took pictures of the ice before heading back. Earlier in the day, during our drive to the lagoon, we made note of several areas we wanted to pull off on our way back. Below are some pictures of an old barn and a beautiful stream flowing through a lava field right at the side of the road.

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When we got back to town we headed to Systrakaffi, the same restaurant where we ate the last few nights, because I wanted to try the Arctic Charr. Wow - hands down the best meal I've had since we've been here. Tim had a BBQ burger and he said it was also very good.

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I still can't believe we were able to see seal and whales today - an unbelievable day and so far, the highlight of our trip. That wraps up our tour of the southeast. Tomorrow we head back west where we'll be spending the remainder of the trip. Blue Lagoon here we come!

Posted by juliejakicic 14:26 Archived in Iceland Tagged boat ice tour seal whale iceland ducky jökulsarlon glacier_lagoon Comments (0)

Iceland - Day 4

Kirkjubæjarklaustur

sunny 48 °F

You guys, Iceland is soooooo boring ;-) Today we had breakfast in the hotel and they were serving waffles! A variety of cold foods were set out buffet style - including buttermilk for your cereal? Either way, breakfast was good.

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We filled up and drove 15 minutes to Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. The canyon was created by water that has been flowing through the rocks from glaciers for over thousands of years. The front desk attendant called it "Little Grand Canyon". Of course it was beautiful and we got some great pictures. It was cold and windy and started to snow. I'm glad we wore layers and came prepared for all types of weather.

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Not far from the canyon were sheep and lambs, which seem to be a main feature in the southern part of Iceland. These lambs are possibly the cutest things we've ever seen. They chase each other, hop and run around. We could pull over and watch them for hours.

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After Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, we drove an hour in the other direction to Vatnajökull National Park. You don't have to pay to get into the park, but they do charge for handheld maps. We took the Sjónarsker-Sel trail to Svartifoss waterfall. It was an uphill hike with volcanos looming over us the entire time. It started off chilly but before long the sun came out and we were peeling off our layers and putting on sunglasses. Svartifoss is surrounded by lava columns. They are the oddest things. These columns are very similar to the ones in Northern Ireland which we didn't have a chance to see when we visited. I'm glad we finally got to experience them!

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Instead of hiking out and back, we took a trail that brought us past turf homes that were built into the earth. One turned out to be a chicken coop! No chickens though... Unfortunately there weren't any information signs so we didn't know if the turf homes were originals or replicas or their purpose. Some of the homes were open and inside there were signs in Icelandic. I assume during high season someone is there to explain the historical purpose of those particular turf homes. The trail also took us past a few more waterfalls and a couple streams. We were low on water so we filled up in the creek; talk about getting glacier water right from the source!

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After the Svartifoss hike, we took another trail in the opposite direction to Skaftafellsjökull glacier. This was amazing. We saw a glacier up close and personal. I was shocked at how close we could get! The glacier itself is actually not that far from the main road. Taking a flat trail we headed through brush, out onto the black sand beach and right up to the glacier. You could see and hear the glacier melting. Have you ever heard a frozen lake when it's melting? It's the same deep drum sound. I thought the water around the glacier would have been blue and clear. In actuality, it was white and murky. I guess as it moves it picks up sediment in the valley and as the ice melts the sediment travels with it. At least that's my guess.

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Tim figured out that there are small and large pieces of glacier ice floating in the water. They are hard to see because they are so clear and the water is so murky, and unless you are really looking they are easily missed. He took some neat pictures of the ice "sculptures" and said he could have stayed all day picking them out of the water because each one was beautiful and unique.

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We finished at the national park and head back to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Our bodies are getting tired from so much hiking. Thankfully Tim planned this trip that we started out with long hikes and slowly tapered off. My feet thank him. After dropping off our gear we headed back to Systrakaffi, the same restaurant we ate at last night. There are only three restaurants in town and this one has consistently good reviews online so we figured, why not. The soup of the day was tomato, which tasted more like tomato and pureed vegetable. It was delicious. The margarita pizza lacked a bit in flavor, but dipping it in the soup made it yummy.

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Tomorrow we have another exciting day planned. We are going even further east to our last stop on our southeasterly tour. I've already mentioned how amazing the landscape here is, but the most interesting part is how different the landscape varies and seems to be ever changing the further we drive east.

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Until then!

Posted by juliejakicic 15:25 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Iceland - Day 3

Kirkjubæjarklaustur

sunny 53 °F

Welcome to the tour de waterfalls. Guess what was on our agenda today? Another waterfall! After breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and headed east along the coast to Skógafoss. We've been having some amazing weather the past two days. Today the sun was shining and the temperature was 53 degrees. In the south/southeast where most of our travels are, there are a lot of horse farms. These Icelandic horses are so funny - we've seen several of them rolling on their backs in the dirt and more often then not, they are lying on the ground instead of standing. Too cute!

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The southern coastline is breathtakingly beautiful with the sun hitting the moss on the cliffs, random waterfalls, caves - it's hard to capture the beauty in a picture. The landscape only seems to get more stunning the further east we drive.

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Skógafoss waterfall was right off of Route 1, the main road around Iceland. This waterfall is fed by two different glaciers: Eyjafjallajökull (also an active volcano) and Mýrdalsjökull. It's probably one of the most recognizable waterfalls of Iceland. Even though the waterfall is huge, it dumps into a small pool of water and you can get up really close. If you prefer, you can also climb up 400 steps to view the waterfall from above. We decided that sounded like a great idea. It was SO windy the higher up you went. Thankfully they had handrails or I'm not sure I would have been able to do it. At the top there is a ladder over a barbed wire fence if you want to hop over and hike the other side. We had another hike on the schedule today so we opted out and headed back down. On our way down we saw a couple getting wedding pictures taken. This is our third waterfall and our third couple we've seen having their wedding pictures taken. On our way to the car, the couple from the day before showed up too!

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After Skógafoss we had a short drive to our hike near Sólheimasandur beach. Tim did a lot of research on this hike. Our destination was an old US Navy DC-3 plane that crash-landed on the beach in 1973. Supposedly, from all of the travel blogs he read, we'd probably have to park on the road, the "trailhead" was really hard to find, it was 7 miles round trip, we needed to keep an eye on the tides and we had better hope we didn't get lost on our way or stranded once we got there. We were a little nervous but we were determined we could do it and brought a handheld GPS device with coordinates just in case. As it turns out, this plane is becoming so popular that there is now a parking area and it's on Google maps. There is also a wide, flat, sand and gravel road you walk on to get to the plane. The entrance to the road is blocked so tourists don't drive to the beach and get stranded. Since there is no snow on the ground we were easily able to follow the road and find the plane. I see how this could be very difficult in the winter, especially as you're walking towards the horizon with nothing around you but black sand and gravel; it's hard to tell how far you've gone and how much is left. It's a very weird feeling. For the record, it's almost 4.5 miles round-trip. As for paying attention to the tides, the shore was nowhere near the plane, which I am assuming is due to the time of the year. That being said, the wind was crazy. It took us about 45 minutes to walk down and another 45 to get back, but we could have made better time if the wind hadn't been blowing so hard. Do your research before you go and keep an eye on the weather.

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When we finally made it to the plane it was exactly like the pictures. It was so surreal to see it sitting in the middle of a giant black beach. If you're interested in how the plane got there and why it looks like it does now, here is a really interesting article: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/icelands-ghost-fleet. Spoiler alert, everyone on the plane survived the crash, so it didn't feel disrespectful to walk all over it.

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Lunch was PB&J in the car and then off to our hotel. We were supposed to stop in Vik to see the black beaches but it started to rain and the temperature quickly dropped. As we drove through town we made a quick stop at a church to take some pictures and then headed back out on the road towards the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur where we are staying the next three nights. On our way, we drove through miles and miles of flat land and then miles and miles of old lava fields near Laki mountain. These lava fields (which came up via fissures in the ground) were the result of an eruption that occurred for almost 8 consecutive months between 1783 and 1784. Though the mountain itself did not erupt, the volcanic fissure known as Lakagígar did and released enough lava to cover an estimated 14km (approx. 8.7 miles). The poisons released from the eruption killed more than 50% of Iceland's livestock population at the time, which led to a famine that killed almost 25% of the human population. In fact there was so much sulfur dioxide released that is caused a drop in global temperatures and significant damage to other countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Amazing to see.

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We continued east to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, to our Icelandair hotel. It's a cute, small town and the hotel is nice, though we did have to move rooms because the shower didn't work. In our new room the TV doesn't work but we are too tired to complain. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant called Systrakaffi. The had great reviews on their burgers so that's what we went with. The burgers were very good, though our mouths were once again pummeled by paprika. Please. Stop putting paprika on everything.

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Tomorrow we go see.....you guessed it! Another waterfall! But we also have some other sites and more hiking on the books. Until then!

Posted by juliejakicic 14:30 Archived in Iceland Comments (1)

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