Iceland: Strokkur Geysir (yes, that’s the way they spell it)–VIDEO

strokkurIt isn’t Old Faithful but the Strokkur Geysir in southwest Iceland was worth the drive.  It’s eruptions are not as high as Old Faithful but, like clockwork, it erupts every 6-10 minutes (usually 15-20 meters/50-65 feet in height) .  Located a little more than 60 miles from Rekjavik, it was a pleasant drive through the countryside.  There is no admission charge; you can walk right up to it.  There are, of course, the usual tourist souvenir shops near the site.  On the walk up to Strokkur is a small pool that is bubbling like boiling water named Litli Geysir–more a bubbling pool than an actual geysir but pretty cool nonetheless.

Videos of both are below.  Enjoy the eruption…

Litli Geysir (just 13 seconds)


Strokkur Geysir…(Click the lower right corner to make it full-screen–55 seconds–watch the water begin to pulsate in the hole as the eruption nears)

Iceland: Geothermal Pools

rural-hot-springs-icelandBecause Iceland is, in fact, a volcanic island that has risen from the seabed, the water deep underground is hot from the energy of the Earth.  Icelanders use that water to heat their homes and generate electricity, but a side benefit is that thermal swimming pools are just about everywhere.  There were three in downtown Rekjavik, many that can be found out in the countryside along the roads (careful, they can be really hot) where you can jump in for a dip even though the ambient air temperature might be in the 30s (Fahrenheit).  Of course, there is also the well advertised and touristy Blue Lagoon that for an astronomical fee (about €40 or the equivalent of about $43 USD per person), they will bus you there and allow you to experience the heat of the Earth all while lightening your wallet.  The water comes from about 6500 feet underground and, of course, is loaded with minerals.

Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool
Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool

We chose to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the public Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool and for only about $9 USD soak up the geothermal heat.  It was marvelous.  The outdoor temperature was almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit (a little more than 4 degrees Celsius) but once you were in the water, it was wonderful.  The sign posted by the pool indicated the water temperature was 38 degrees Celsius, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

While we soaked in one of the smaller sections of the pool complex, we met two young ladies from Germany who were visiting Iceland, amazingly a young man from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where we lived for 30+ years, and a gentleman from Italy who has lived in Iceland for about 15 years. He told use what we suspected all along when he said, “The Northern Lights tour packages are a marketing ploy to get people to Iceland.  Good luck seeing them!”

We were undaunted in our attempts to see the Northern Lights but, as you read earlier, unsuccessful.  As unnatural as it seems to swim outside in the Icelandic cold, it felt wonderful.  Chatting with folks in the pool from around only added to the enjoyment.

Winter swim anyone ?


Iceland: The Land of Elves…?

Inicelanders-who-believe-in-elves looking at the landscape around Iceland–volcanic, barren, remote, sparsely populated–it is abundantly clear that if ever there was a place on earth where elves could exist, this would be the place.  The landscape is like the setting for a fairy tale…other worldly.  One can just imagine the little “hidden” people, as the Icelanders call them, hanging out in such places and creating their mythical mischief.  From mysteriously halting construction projects (true) to breaking the fall of a little boy from a cliff that surely would have resulted in injuries, ywatch-out-for-elveset he had not a scratch.  According to legend, the boy reported seeing “little hands” reach out to break his fall.  The belief in the existence of elves seems to be more widely accepted than you might think.

No joke.  There are actually road signs to warn you about elves.  If the pie chart above can be believed, 37% of Icelanders think that elves are a possibility, 17% deem them likely, and 8% think there definitely are elves.  That’s 62% that are somewhere in the vicinity of thinking that a trip to Rivendell, the home of the Elf King Elrond in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, is a possible excursion.

elves_by_gargoohThe girls in the picture look like the kind of elves you might find in the hills of Iceland.  Of course, with those ears, they also look like they could be Vulcans, related to Spock, and have just come from a Star Trek Convention.  You’ll have to be the judge or go visit Iceland in search of the little “hidden” people yourself.


Iceland: Northern Lights

A mere representation of the Northern Lights created by Icelandic Elves

Remember your first date as a teenager?  When you finally got to go out in a car rather than be driven somewhere by your parents?  The excitement?  The anticipation?  The possibilities…(maybe more a guy thing)?  You picked up your date, probably went out for a bite to eat, maybe a movie.  Then, trying to act as cool as possible, a little drive.  You found a nice, secluded country road with a pull-off and sat, supposedly, to gaze at the stars but secretly hoping to get lucky.  The windows would fog up from all the “talking” and occasionally you’d have to start the engine and run the heater…

That’s exactly what looking for the Northern Lights was like…kinda.  Thwarted by unfavorable weather all week long, our Northern Lights tour was cancelled (no refunds by the way…what a racket).  We had arrived on Monday, our tour was to have been Wednesday evening but by Thursday it was still overcast with occasional rain.  Major bummer.  We didn’t despair because Iceland has a charm of its own and we were enjoying exploring the island nation and it’s many attractions (the friendly people, hot springs, geysers, volcanoes, geologic marvels, the food, beautiful scenery, elves, etc.).

The Icelandic Meteorological Office produces an Aurora Forecast each day indicating when conditions might be best to see the Northern Lights.   We followed their website like two children gazing at penny candy in the display case at the corner store.  Finally, Friday night was predicted to be clear.  We planned a nice dinner, complete with a few shots of Iceland’s “Black Death,” (Brennivin) to keep us warm, and then set off in the rental car to a deserted stretch of Icelandic highway.

We found a little pull-off area that would get us away from passing traffic and the glare from oncoming headlights, and like two teenagers, we sat gazing at the stars.  We gazed… and gazed ….and gazed some more.  We talked.  We fogged up the windows, started the car and ran the heater.  It’s cold in Iceland at night.

The stars were spectacular.  Without any ambient light from the city to obscure them, the stars seemed like, as George H.W. Bush once famously said, “…a thousand points of light.”  Being at such a high latitude (66 degrees north) and only about 160 miles from the Arctic Circle, the North Star (Polaris) was almost directly overhead–seemed a little weird.  Ironically, to see the Northern Lights we actually had to face toward the south.

But alas, no Northern Lights appeared.  As it turns out, not only must the sky be reasonably clear but the solar activity must also be just right.  The quest to see the aurora borealis was a bust.  On the plus side, I got to spend a few hours fogging up the windows with my sweetie gazing at the stars like two teenagers…

Iceland: Straddling the Continents

Straddling the Continents in Iceland

In 2012 I had the pleasure of visiting Turkey to attend a conference as an invited keynote speaker.  During that trip, I was able to see awe-inspiring sites, ancient ruins from the Roman Empire dating back three centuries before Christ, museum artifacts from millennia past, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the underground Cistern, and the Sultan’s Palace to name a few.  The Turkish people are warm and friendly and welcoming.  It is a trip that I will always remember and hope, one day, to be able to do it again.

Istanbul is a city of two continents.  Part of it is in Europe and part in Asia. The city is divided by the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. In addition to being a key shipping route, the Bosphorus forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia.  As I rode a tour boat up the Bosphorus in Istanbul, I was struck by the fact that I was straddling two continents on that ride.  Iceland gave me the opportunity to do it again.

Looking down the canyon between the ridges of the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the longest mountain chain in the world, is formed by the up-welling of magma from deep below the earth’s surface on the ocean floor.  It creates an underwater mountain chain about 2-3 kilometers high and pushes the continental plates of North America, Europe, Africa, and South America apart.

While almost all of the ridge is below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the rift rises to the surface in, …you guessed it …, Iceland.  We drove to Þingvallavegur, Iceland on the northwest side of the lake where the mid-Atlantic rift surfaces.  As you can see in the picture, I am standing in the rift with ridges on either side.  This is a point above the sea floor where North America and Europe are moving apart at about the same rate per year that your fingernails grow.

I’ve now straddled Europe & Asia in Turkey and North American & Europe (actually the Eurasian tectonic plate) in Iceland.  Now on to the San Andreas Fault to be able to straddle the North American and Pacific Plates… I guess I’m going to need some serious scuba gear to do the rest.

Iceland: Silence of the Lambs

As we drive around the countryside of rural Iceland, we are treated to spectacular views of snow-covered peaks, beautiful clear mountain streams rushing down the valleys, and wide expanses of open fields with not a tree in sight. Evidence of Iceland’s volcanic roots surround us. Vast expanses of black rocks and gravel from previous volcanic eruptions are everywhere. Relatively high peaks with deep gullies down all sides show the remains of lava flows from years long past. Horses casually graze in the pastures and large flocks of free-range sheep roam everywhere.

Although the sheep were bushy and plump-looking with their winter coats of wool that won’t be shorn until spring, the sight conjures up images of those absolutely adorable little innocent lambs that surely prance in those meadows. Their cute faces staring at you in wonder. Idyllic.  I can just imagine holding one gently in my lap, petting its cute head, and nuzzling its soft coat.


…until dinner time!


While traveling, we avoid the touristy restaurants and chains. Rather, because food is so intertwined in a culture, we purposely seek out the small restaurants tucked away off the tourist track that specialize in local cuisine …in this case, Icelandic …where the locals eat.


On Tuesday evening we decided to try a restaurant called Old Iceland, a cozy, casual place frequented by the locals that has only about a dozen tables, but the service was true Icelandic hospitality and the food… Oh, the food!!!  In the USA, I never order lamb–don’t care for the taste.  But, I ordered lamb roast with lamb shoulder and cooked root vegetables (parsips, potatoes, and beets).  The root vegetables were very good, the roasted lamb quite tasty, but the lamb shoulder (the small portion of shredded meat on the right in the photo) was extraordinary.


Not just “Wow, this is good.” extraordinary.  Not “OMG!”  But rather, place it in your mouth, suck on the flavor with your eyes closed for as long as possible, and then chew it until it disintegrates in your mouth extraordinary.  The last thing you want to do is swallow it to end the experience. As many tiny bites as you can divide the serving into–no gulping allowed.


Shots of Iceland’s “Black Death,” Brennevín, a clear unsweetened schnapps considered Iceland’s signature distilled beverage further enhanced our feast.  Brennevín is a fiery drink that detonates in your mouth and throat and spreads like a mushroom cloud to every cell in your body.  It is the antifreeze that gets Icelanders through the harsh winter and made our evening sparkle.


 Tourist traps aside, the food and people are worth the trip!


Iceland: Mack The Knife…

iceland-location-mapTravel is always exciting and it´s the unexpected that most often provides the “good stuff.”  We are traveling to Reykjavik, Iceland, a mere 168 miles below the Arctic Circle, primarily to see the northern lights (aurora borealis).  This is something on Heide’s bucket list, not mine, but I dutifully help carry the bucket!  We left from Baltimore (BWI) on Monday, October 31 and will return on Sunday November 6.  During that time we hope the weather cooperates and Mother Nature actually switches the northern lights on during our visit and the lights will be visible.  No guarantees.

Now for the unexpected “good stuff” to start the trip.  We weren´t even to the ticket counter yet (WOW Airlines…whole other story) when Heide started talking about things she took out of her purse for the trip that weren’t necessary.  Suddenly, her light bulb went off and she realized that she had forgotten about the knife (as in weapon knife) she carries in her purse.  It is not an ordinary pocket knife to clean your nails or open an envelope.  Oh, no.  Hers is a Smith & Wesson Special Ops Knife with a three-inch blade and four-inch handle (7+ inches of cold hard steel and aluminum) including the MAGIC assist open feature (i.e., one-handed spring assisted opening much like a switchblade).   It is the typical knife anyone would expect their grandmother to be carrying in her purse… !  She was in a panic.

sw-ops-knifeI said, “Don´t take it out of your purse and flash it in the airport.  Inform the TSA agent when we go through security that you have it in your purse and ask permission to take it out and hand it to him.”  No surprises.  We knew the knife was headed to TSA heaven.

When we approached the first TSA agent checking our credentials at the security screening, and being the soft-hearted, caring, compassionate husband that I am, I said to the agent, “I just want you to know up front that I have no idea who this lady is and have never met her before!”

He looked at tiny Heide, all 5 feet, 1 inch of her, and said, “Oh boy, I can hardly wait to hear this one…”

Heide presented her passport and boarding pass and, as he was checking her ID, she started to explain.  “In the hurry to get packed for this trip I forgot I had something I shouldn´t in my purse.”  (Stage direction:  TSA agent raises eyebrows.)  I, of course, recognizing the gravity of the situation and trying to be supportive, am practically rolling on the floor trying to not laugh out loud.  She goes on to say, “I have a large pocketknife in my purse.  May I reach in, take it out, and hand it to you.”  (Stage direction:  TSA agent, while still looking at the passport, raises hand and waves another agent over…safety in numbers I suppose.)

The second agent enters stage left and asks what the problem is.  Heide restates the situation.  As she starts to reach into her purse to show him, he said, “Leave it where it is.  It will have to go through the X-ray screening.”  Under watchful eye, Heide is then escorted to the screening area where she puts her backpack, purse, jacket, jewelry, shoes, etc. into the trays for screening.  The Agent, while standing opposite her on the other side of the table, told her to retrieve ‘it´ from her purse and place it into a separate tray provided.  He informed his colleauge at the scanning machine, “We have something here.”   As she goes through the body scan, of course, she is then frisked completely.

I am still standing at the first TSA agent´s desk and, as he´s checking my passport and boarding pass (quite carefully I might add), he said, “Does she always carry that thing.’

I replied, “ Yep.  She is surprisingly one tough little lady!”  (Stage direction:  TSA agent is smiling.)  He said, “My thoughts exactly.” and waved me through.

And that, my friends, is how you start an exciting new trip to distant parts of the world !  More to come from Iceland…