Spring Break Trip to Tennessee: Memphis

As we mentioned in prior posts, we’ve had a recent addition to the family and we’ve learned a lot about how to travel with a baby! We are attempting to visit US states that we haven’t yet been to. So, for spring break we decided to do a bit of a Tennessee/Kentucky road trip, starting in Memphis. We were joined on this trip by Della’s parents Peggy and Wayne.

Packing for a trip with a baby is more arduous than just packing for ourselves and we often end up having a lot more stuff! With this trip, because we weren’t meeting anyone we knew there, we brought a light umbrella stroller, an infant carseat, a hook-on highchair, and a pack n play. It was a short trip, so were able to pack all of our clothes in one large checked bag. It definitely helped having Peggy and Wayne there for carrying all the stuff though.

We followed all our tips for flying and the flight went smoothly! Kiddo slept for only about an hour, but enjoyed looking out the window for the rest of the time. We rented a car (it was cheaper at a location outside the airport so Eric and Wayne took a Lyft over to get it while Della, Peggy, and Kiddo played on the stairs in the airport). We were, it turns out, very lucky to get upgraded to a minivan for free. This ended up making us much more comfortable on all of our drives throughout the trip!

For accommodations, since there were four of us we thought it would be best to book a place through Airbnb. We were able to find a nice two-bedroom house about 10 minutes away from downtown. Having our own kitchen, dining area, and bedrooms separate from the living space were all helpful for making the stay with Kiddo easier.

What We Did

March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel – There is a fountain in the lobby of this hotel which features live ducks swimming around. This tradition began in the 1930s and continues to this day.  The story goes that, in 1940, a bellman who was a former circus animal trainer named Edward Pembroke taught them to march into the pool and out each day! The ducks live in the penthouse of the hotel and visitors can watch them make the march to and from the elevator at 11 am and 5 pm each day. It was incredibly crowded so we only go small glimpses of the the ducks, but it was still kind of fun! Kiddo is currently duck obsessed, so we think he liked it!

Explore Beale Street – We spent one evening soaking up the sights and sounds of this historic avenue. This is one time where having Kiddo join us did cramp our style a little. We didn’t eat at the restaurants because of the longer wait and didn’t really go inside any other music venues. But the general feel, murals, and statues were still fun.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel – We felt lucky that Wayne agreed to stay back at the Airbnb with Kiddo so the rest of us could really enjoy this museum. We found the museum, located at the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., very engrossing with moving exhibits and information about the Civil Rights movement.  The exhibitions were in good chronological order so for those of us who weren’t alive during the time period, it gave us a lot of good context and made us feel the emotions of the time. We found the whole experience quite powerful. 

Rock N Soul Museum – This museum takes you through the musical history of Memphis. It was done via guided audio tour which was pretty cool because there were many snippets of music to listen to. It was really neat to read a bit of history and then be able to listen to songs by the artists described. There was a tremendous amount of information and music and Kiddo was unfortunately getting pretty fussy so we didn’t get to do as much there as we would have liked. This was when we really wished we had made a better stroller choice (see tip 9.)

Pedestrian Bridge Over the Mississippi River – This bridge is apparently the longest pedestrian bridge in the country at almost a mile long! We didn’t go the whole way though. We took a very pleasant walk out to the approximate middle where there is a line to show that you’re crossing into Arkansas. This was a fun place to straddle the border of two states! Kiddo was just learning to walk with support and enjoyed his time on the bridge. It offers some good views of Memphis as well.

Dinner in Mississippi – We mentioned before that we are trying to capture US states that we haven’t been to. At the pedestrian bridge, we realized that we were only about a 15 minute drive from the border of Mississippi. Given we’d never been and weren’t entirely sure when we might be back, we decided to cross the border for dinner! We found a little place pretty close to the state line called Crawfish Haven where we shared jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, and shrimp and grits. Then we headed back to Memphis after the sun went down!

Where We Ate

Rendezvous BBQ – This is a Memphis tradition. It is the birthplace of an entire style of BBQ: Memphis-style dry rubbed ribs. However, we ultimately weren’t too impressed. It was quite crowded and we had to wait for a table. This might not have been too bad because there’s a bar area upstairs with tables where you can drink while you wait, though Kiddo wasn’t really having it. We also found the food only OK. We actually found the brisket to be the most interesting!

Central BBQ – We actually picked up some BBQ to go from here and ate it back at our AirBnB. We enjoyed everything we got here!

Traveling with Kiddo (lessons learned)

Kiddo was about 13 months old and about a week away from walking! His biggest challenge at the beginning of this trip was sleep. For some reason, he went crazy the first several times we put him in the pack n play. If we were doing it again, we probably would have had him sleep in the pack n play several times in the days/nights leading up to the trip so he was more familiar with it.

Bringing our hook-on high chair was great for several meals, both out at restaurants and in the Airbnb!

 

 

Ten Tips for Traveling With a Baby

We took our kiddo on his first flight about 3 months after he was born. We continued to travel several times throughout his first year. It was intimidating to figure out how to get back to traveling with a young baby, but here are some ideas that helped us get back on the road.

  1. When you’re deciding on where to travel – pick a place where you will visit family or friends. Extra hands for baby watching are always appreciated! In our experience, family and friends were more than happy to give us a few minutes break now and then to snuggle with our new addition. We were able to even do some traveling type things (go to a wedding baby-less, go on a couple hour segway tour, waterski in a lake, etc.) We have definitely come to a conclusion that the ideal adult-to-baby ratio is at least 3-to-1. 😉
  2. When you’re traveling by plane – less stuff means less stress! We were surprised on our first trips that, if you ask, you can find people at your destination that have many of the baby items you need. For example, on our first trip, which was to TX where Eric’s family lives, they were able to provide a carseat (already installed when they picked us up from the airport), a pack n play for sleeping, and a stroller for any walking we needed to do while there. We were lucky because Eric’s sister has a child and so many of these things were easy to find.  *Of course, we made sure that the carseat was not expired. We were able to do something similar on our second trip to Wisconsin where we also have family. Again, all of the essentials were provided for us! We were surprised because the youngest children out there were considerably older than our Kiddo, but they still had many of the items and were happy to let us borrow them. We took another trip to TX in the fall – no family support this time, but we’re of an age that many of our friends either have children or know others who have children. On this trip, we had to bring our own carseat and stroller, but our friends were able to get their hands on a pack n play for us to borrow.
    (Random note – we have now also been the random people who have a pack n play in our town for borrowing when friends’ friends come in to town!)
    Regardless, if you’re going somewhere where you know people, it never hurts to ask! (Many hotels and some airbnbs also can provide a crib/pack n play.)
    On that note, if you don’t need a stroller at your destination- don’t feel like you need it just for the airport! Carry baby in a carrier – it’s much less bulky and is attached to your body – one less thing to worry about!
  3. If you can’t go to a destination to visit friends or family, bring some with you! We started to explore new places when Kiddo was about 7 months old. We weren’t yet ready to face a long flight with a baby. (We realized too late that the easiest time to travel is when they are smallest and are in the eat, sleep, poop phase. By the time they are awake more and almost crawling, it felt like shorter travel times were better!) So, we decided to start hitting US destinations that we have never been. We each have a goal of visiting all the US states at some point, but neither of us are there yet. First on the list: Arkansas! Della had never visited and Eric had some wonderful childhood memories from there, so off we went. Hot Springs, AR is only a 4 hour drive from where Eric’s mom lives, so she drove up to join us (bringing a pack n play and carseat!!) This meant we had an extra pair of hands and less stuff to travel with. Again, baby carrier to the rescue – we didn’t even need a stroller.
    On another trip, we visited Tennessee, Kentucky, (and sort of Mississippi). This time, we brought Della’s parents along with us. We had to bring all the items, but because we had two extra adults flying with us, it wasn’t too bad!

    Grandma support while waiting for rental car!

  4. Schedule direct flights around nap times if possible. As your baby grows and *maybe* starts falling into a schedule, do your best to make sure they sleep on the plane. This is less stressful for everyone. We have literally chosen our destinations based on where we can fly direct (that’s affordable).
  5. Feed baby on take off and landing. Apparently the sucking motion helps with natural ear popping and can help keep baby calmer and in less pain while the plane goes up and down. We live by this rule, though luckily our Kiddo has not seemed to have trouble with the pressure changes. Della found breast feeding challenging and therefore breastfeeding in the confines of an airline seat almost impossible, so we always used a bottle (but many other women find breastfeeding on the plane easy). We start the bottle shortly after the plane starts taxiing. Kiddo normally falls asleep shortly afterwards. Luckily, for many of our trips, Kiddo slept all the way through and we didn’t actually have to feed on the way down. Note: You can take breastmilk, regular milk, formula, and even small amounts of water through security, but plan for them to pull it off and do an extra testing. It takes a bit longer, so make sure you get to airport early! In order to make it go most smoothly, pull out all food or liquid items that you have for baby and put them all together in one bin. In some cases, TSA officers have told us that they need to remove the lids from the milk and other times not. But, they always have do a separate test of all liquid items. This has always gone smoothly for us though it often does take extra time!
  6. Bring some toys! For the plane ride itself, if Kiddo does wake up, we have some favorite toys and books along for distraction. We also now carry a variety of snacks for Kiddo to feed himself if necessary (like Cheerios!) Also, if your destination doesn’t have any, you’ll be grateful for the small breaks they’ll provide you. We always pack in packing cubes and have started to take one medium sized cube full of his favorites when we travel.
  7. Bring a hook-on high chair! If you know you will only be eating at regular restaurants on your trip or that the family member or friend that you’re visiting has a highchair already, you can ignore this one. However, we’ve found that it is invaluable in airbnbs, hotels, at some fast casual restaurants, for picnic lunches, or if we’re visiting friends that don’t have highchairs (or need their own for their own kid!) We have 2 hook-on high chairs, one is called an Inglesina Table Chair. This works great for many restaurants, picnic tables, or counter tops. However, we prefer a very old one that we have (it was Della’s when she was a baby) that hooks on much more easily and also folds up much better. It looks more like this. However, we can’t find any new ones like it! It works much better for tables in peoples’ homes. (If a table has any kind of lip underneath, our other chair simply doesn’t work.)
  8. Use an old device for a white noise sound machine! Our Kiddo uses a sound machine at home to sleep. It is generally just a good cue for letting him know it’s time for sleep, but we don’t want to lug it with us! So, we’ve started to use Della’s old tablet which we occasionally bring for reading purposes anyway. It is so easy to download white noise apps and then play them all night. You could also use your phone – but we tend to want those even after baby is asleep!
  9. Invest in a travel stroller that has a reclining seat. This is something we have learned over time. Initially, when traveling to visit family, it was easy to set aside nap times or when baby was really small, he could sleep anywhere (like in a carrier). When we did our first real sightseeing trip when he was a bit older and had more FOMO it became more of a challenge. First, it became hard and annoying to plan our days around napping – impossible really. That first trip we had a very small umbrella stroller. Kiddo would not nap in it really at all. It was very small and light and therefore easy to travel with, but it ultimately was not the best option. For later trips, we got a bigger umbrella stroller. It doesn’t compact nearly as much, but it reclines and is more comfortable for Kiddo so he can easily fall asleep in it. This was a game changer for sightseeing trips because he can nap on the go!
  10. Find the shortest travel time! You’ll notice that we have talked mostly about flying trips in this post. We found out early on that flying was easier for us than road-tripping even though our kiddo was pretty good in the car and tended to sleep well. The problem was when he woke up! Even if he slept for 3 hours, he was pretty grouchy when he got up and wanted out of the car. Driving anywhere typically takes longer! Of course, flying takes time too, but there is generally a little bit more flexibility. We would find areas in the airport with fewer people and let him crawl around while waiting for planes. He would typically sleep for a few hours on the plane and even if he woke up he wasn’t constrained as much and was able to interact with both of us for entertainment. Also – of course, when they are under two they can fly for free on your lap! We will likely change our mode of travel when he gets a bit older to be much more road trip oriented.

So, there you have it! Some ideas about how to get back to traveling with your new addition! Our travel style has definitely changed and we’re still getting used to that, but it definitely feels good to be back on the road!

We’re Back – But Something’s Changed!

We’re back! It has been a long while! Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed that we subtly announced something special in our Summer Trip to Iceland post quite awhile back. So, yes indeed, we had a baby.

Fear not – our travels have not stopped, but they have definitely changed. And unfortunately, posting about them fell a little bit by the wayside. However, we still want to keep a record of our journeys and share hopefully useful tidbits of information about traveling.

So, we are introducing a new traveler to our family and we have a lot to share about how to travel with a baby and now a toddler! Stay tuned for some upcoming posts about our *mostly* US domestic travels (so far) as a traveling family.

 

 

 

 

Summer Trip to Iceland: Not Just Nature in the North

Due to Reykjavík’s location in the southern part of Iceland, most of the popular tourist destinations in the country are the waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanic features in that part of the country. So, as we continued our counter-clockwise loop around Iceland into the north, the crowds of tourists were smaller, and we were still able to find more stunning scenery while finding out a little more about the culture of Iceland itself.

Goðafoss

Our first stop after leaving Mývatn was another beautiful, glacier-fed waterfall. Goðafoss, meaning “waterfall of the gods,” is named so because after Iceland’s official religion was changed to Christianity at the Alþingi in the year 1000, the lawspeaker threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall.

You can park on either side of the waterfall; we chose the east side. Goðafoss is very pretty, with crystal blue water, but the gnats here were very persistent so we didn’t linger very long. There is a smaller series of waterfalls just downstream that are also worth taking a look at.

 

 

Akureyri

The Ring Road then passes through the city of Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest urban area. We parked our campervan for free near the fancy Hof Cultural and Conference Center. We wandered through the small and cute main part of the central business district, and climbed the stairs to Akureyrarkirkja, the main Lutheran church in town. We found a relatively cheap burger place called DJ Grill and got some tasty burgers for lunch before hitting the road again.

 

 

Tröllaskagi Peninsula / Herring Era Museum

We next took a detour off of the Ring Road to drive the edge of the Tröllaskagi (“Troll”) Peninsula, a mountainous finger of land jutting out into the ocean with fjords on either side. Unfortunately, the gloomy weather didn’t let the area show off its best side, but we did enjoy the views we could see. We also experienced a few one-lane tunnels, which were pretty nerve-wracking to go through! They weren’t controlled by lights at all; instead, traffic both ways used the same lane with pullouts every few hundred meters to help solve the issue of two cars meeting head on. Nerve-wracking to say the least!

 

We stopped along the way in the town of Siglufjörður to visit the Herring Era Museum. In the first half of the 20th century, herring was a huge part of Iceland’s economy. Siglufjörður itself, located on a fjord near some of the best catching grounds, became a boomtown, with thousands of laborers flocking to the town and working in the catching or processing of herring. However, in the 1950s, the herring numbers precipitously declined, and by 1969 they were gone, and Siglufjörður’s golden period ended. Three of the old buildings from the herring era have now been converted into an immersive museum allowing you to get a feel for what that time in Iceland and Siglufjörður was like.

The first building, an old salting station, has exhibits on the history of the herring trade, and then on the upper levels has recreated the dormitories where the “herring girls,” the seasonal workers who came to the town to work in the summer, and the herring fishermen were housed. The second building, an old herring factory, has exhibits and old machinery demonstrating how herring was converted into both meal and oil. The third building contains old boats used for herring fishing set up on recreated piers.

Our visit happened to coincide with a local arts festival, with different members of the community showing off their talents. The boat building had musical acts, including a man playing an accordion, which definitely helped transport us back to the heyday of Siglufjörður and the herring industry.

 

Camping in Varmahlíð

After finishing our scenic detour along the Tröllaskagi peninsula, we rejoined the Ring Road and then stopped for the night in the town of Varmahlíð. Our original plan was to camp in the town’s main campground, but it was packed with Icelandic families and we wouldn’t have been able to get a spot close to the WC. Instead, we headed back to a place we had seen on our way into town that looked more like a private residence but did have a camping sign.

The sign gave its name as Lauftún. There was a large grass field that we just pulled into and picked a spot, then went up and rang the doorbell at the house. An older woman took our camping fee, which was by far the cheapest we paid all trip. It appeared to be a working farm, and Della had fun playing with the horses in the pen nearby. We later discovered a large room with seating and cooking areas that was being used by a local hiking club for their annual party. There was a small bathroom and a hot shower.

 

Glaumbær Turf Farmhouse

We had both been reading the book “Burial Rites” which is set on an Icelandic farm in the 1830s and describes the traditional Icelandic farmhouse made out of turf, so we were excited to get the opportunity to see an example of one in person. Glaumbær is just up the road from Varmahlíð so we made it our first stop the next day.

A farm has stood on the spot since Iceland’s “Age of Settlements” around 900 AD, and the turf farmhouse that you can tour was built in 1876. We used the self-guided tour brochure to explore the different rooms of the house. The walls are indeed made of thick pieces of turf, and the house has very few windows. The rooms are independent units accessible off of a single hallway, so they do not feel very well connected. One of the rooms we were most interested to see was the baðstofa, which served as the main sleeping and living quarters for all of the residents. It would have been very cozy confines during those long winters!

 

Kolugljúfur Gorge / Kolufossar Waterfall

We took a short detour off of the Ring Road to visit a small gorge with a pretty series of waterfalls. We took a short series of trails in either direction from the small parking area to get good views of the series of cascades. Note that there are no services here.

 

We enjoyed our brief time in northern Iceland, seeing more beautiful sights and getting to learn a little more about Iceland’s history and culture. Next, we would again detour from the Ring Road and drive the circuit of the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

 

 

Summer Trip to Iceland: Magnificent Mývatn

The Mývatn region in the northern part of Iceland surrounding a lake (the eponymous Lake Mývatn) contains a large number of interesting geologic features related to the still-active volcanoes in the region. Since there were so many things to do there, we decided to spend a whole day exploring the region.

Dettifoss

Our first activity in the general area is not technically part of the Mývatn region. We approached the Mývatn region at the end of a long travel day that started in the southeastern part of Iceland, taking a slight detour towards the end of our long driving day to visit Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

We took the fairly new well-paved road to a parking lot on the west side of the falls. From there it was about a kilometer down a surprisingly barren path to see the Dettifoss. The water for the falls comes from the Vatnajökull glacier, the same one we had been exploring the day before. At the falls, there is both an overlook and a closer viewpoint.

 

There was an optional trail to Selfoss, another waterfall, but we were feeling tired so only walked far enough to see it from a distance.

 

Dimmuborgir

After getting a good night’s sleep (see below), we were ready to see the sights around Lake Mývatn. We didn’t end up taking the most optimal path between sights, but with our campervan it meant that we didn’t end up wasting too much time.

Our first stop for the morning was the eerie lava fields of Dimmuborgir. We got there at 10 for a guided hike led by a park ranger. With her, we walked through the shorter loop, learning about the geology and flora of the area. We also saw the cave of the “Yule Lads”, 13 elf-like creatures (each with a different personality) that function like Santa Claus, bringing different gifts in the 13 days before Christmas.

 

After the guided walk, we did the larger loop on our own to see the Kirkjan (Church) lava tube formation. All in all, we spent about two hours in the park, but would have spent less if just on our own.

 

Note to future visitors: the bathrooms here require a fee. Also, the small gnats are quite annoying, and do not seem deterred by bug spray. Luckily, they do not bite.

Lunch Break at Vogafjós

While self-catering our meals helped us save money, it did tend to get a bit repetitive. And, we had a hard time feeling like we were getting enough good vegetables. So, we decided to splurge and eat out for lunch at Vogafjós restaurant. It is attached to the cowshed of a local farm! Eric got a lamb sandwich, and Della got a crepe with rice and mushrooms. Both came with a salad with house-made cheese. And of course we had to get the ice cream made from the cows on the other side of the walls; it came with two flavors: geysir bread and schnapps.

 

Grjótagjá Cave

Being fans of Game of Thrones, we had to check out Grjótagjá, the small cave in the area with a thermal spring inside, made famous as the location of an intimate moment between Jon Snow and Ygritte. The cave was smaller than we expected, but the water was very pretty, and we could feel the heat rising off of it. Unlike the characters on the show, regular visitors are asked not to get in the water. We also enjoyed exploring the rift that the cave is formed from, and tracing its path all the way down to the rift we saw in Dimmuborgir.

 

Námafjall Hverir geothermal area

Walking through this area of orange soil, screaming steam vents, and bubbling mud pots made us feel like we were walking around the surface of Mars! What doesn’t come across in the pictures is the strong smell of sulfur that permeates the area. We found the whole area very fascinating and enjoyed taking it all in.

 

 

Hverfjall Crater Hike

After initially thinking it might be too tough, we changed our minds and decided to hike up the Hverfjall Crater which dominates the views around Mývatn. It only took us about ten minutes to hike up to the rim. The skies cleared into a sunny day, so we took about an hour to walk the circumference of the rim and take in the views of the surrounding area.

 

Mývatn Nature Baths

As a literal hotbed of geothermal activity, Iceland is known among other things for a plethora of geothermal pools to bathe in. Some of the geothermal waters have been converted into full-scale facilities that are popular tourist attractions. The most famous is the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík. The second most popular is probably the Mývatn Nature Baths. We visited these baths at the end of our long day exploring the Mývatn region.

Before entering the pool, we followed the local custom of taking a full shower first (in gender-specific bathrooms). We were a little concerned about whether Della could swim in the pool, since she was six weeks pregnant at the time. But, we had read that it was ok as long as the water temperature was at or below body temperature. A constantly updating chart in the visitor center showed that one end of the pool met this criteria, so we spent almost all of our time lounging in the water there. Eric did explore a little bit of the warmer parts as well. The mineral-rich water has a cloudy consistency and left a smooth sheen on our skin. It was a very relaxing way to end out day exploring Mývatn!

 

Camping

The main hub for the Mývatn region is the town of Reykjahlíð, which has a few camping options. We chose the Hlíð campground just outside of town because it was slightly less expensive and less crowded than the Bjarg campsite closer to town. We actually didn’t even take a spot, but instead just “camped” in the parking lot because that kept us close to the bathrooms for nighttime visits. The shared kitchen and dining facility is outdoors, but enclosed in plastic so it was pretty warm.

 

 

We definitely enjoyed the wide variety of activities in Mývatn, and are glad we dedicated a complete day just to the one region! But, after the unique experience of camping in the same place for two nights, the next day we would hit the Ring Road again and continue on to more natural wonders of Northern Iceland.

Summer Trip to Iceland: Grand Glaciers and Incredible Icebergs

After exploring the waterfalls and other scenic sights of southern Iceland, we continued east on the Ring Road. Over the next day, we would have multiple chances to see different pieces of the massive Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland.

As we drove along the Ring Road, we were able to get glimpses of the different “tongues” of the glacier spilling down over the mountains. As we neared one section of the glacier, the surrounding scenery was replaced by a flat plain with very little vegetation. This was the result of a jökulhlaup: a massive flood (filled with icebergs) caused by geothermal events rapidly melting a part of a glacier. The highway was broken up by many metal one-lane bridges that were quite scary to navigate (there are sections in the middle that are two vehicles wide to allow for waiting). This is because parts of the Ring Road had been washed away in a jökulhlaup in 1996. Compounding the stress of driving through this section was the fact that it started raining very hard!

 

 

Skaftafell National Park – Svartifoss Waterfall

We were able to make it through the pouring rain to main entrance of this national park situated at the foot of a tongue of Vatnajökull. We were trying to find the trailhead for one particular trail based on a point on our maps app, but could not actually get there so just went to the crowded visitor center instead. It’s a good thing we did, because that’s where the trail started anyway. It was still raining, so we took some time exploring the visitor center and watching a film about the area, and eating a quick lunch in the car. We then put on a bunch of layers and headed out on the hike to Svartifoss.

The hike was labeled as “easy” at the visitor center, and while it wasn’t rocky, it definitely included a steady and significant elevation gain. We got very sweaty under all of our layers, and it wasn’t even raining much anymore. The waterfall was not as big as the ones we had seen in the previous days, but its background of black basalt columns made for an unique setting.

 

Svínafellsjökull

Just past Skaftafell was a dirt road turnoff for a viewing area of Svínafellsjökull, another tongue of Vatnajökull. This was our first chance to get a close view at a glacier. Just past the parking area is a small trail along the wall of a canyon that contains the massive amount of ice. We sat for a while and tried to take in the sheer amount of ice spilling down from the peaks above into the bay below.

 

Fjallsárlón Glacial Lake

We continued on the Ring Road around the southeast corner of the island and starting heading north along the eastern coast. Our next stop was at Fjallsárlón, a glacial lake made where another tongue of Vatnajökull has formed a body of water and deposits icebergs. It is less well known and visited than the neighboring Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon (although still relatively crowded). We walked down to the shore of the lake and enjoyed the views of the icebergs on the water and Vatnajökull in the distance.

 

We stayed here for about 40 minutes. A note to interested visitors: there is no public toilet here.

Jökulsárlón

Just up the road was Jökulsárlón, the more famous (and crowded) glacial lake filled with icebergs with a small channel connecting out to the ocean. We enjoyed watching as a few big icebergs started slipping down the channel, only to be caught on a shallow part.

 

We followed the channel out the ocean and the black sand beach, where there were small remnants of icebergs that the ocean had pushed back onto shore.

 

To cap off our visit, we walked back out to the main lagoon and watched the big icebergs in the middle, observing their different subtle behaviors. As we were leaving, we noticed a cool effect: the tide had started to come in, so the flow of the channel was reversed, pushing icebergs back into the lagoon.

 

All told we spent over an hour here, and there were public toilets.

Camping in Höfn

We spent the night at the main campground in the coastal town of Höfn. Lonely Planet says the town’s name “is pronounced like an unexpected hiccup (just say ‘hup’ while inhaling)” – gee thanks, that really clears it up! The campground was fairly crowded but we were able to get a spot in one of the areas off to the side close to an ablutions. The main ablutions block with a kitchen area was a little far away, so we didn’t cook there, but we did wash dishes there, take hot showers (fee required), and spend time in the indoor heated area.

 

Driving along the Eastern Fjords

The next day was a long travel day, as there were not any sights that we were particularly interested in seeing along the eastern part of the country. However, the drive was scenic, weaving along the coastline and then in and out of the eastern fjords (with Eric taking his first turn driving the manual transmission campervan).

 

One unexpected highlight was a black pebble beach just off the road, part of Hvalnes Nature Reserve. It was nice and sunny out, which had warmed the smooth black pebbles to a toasty temperature. Della really enjoyed laying on these warm stones and soaking in the heat.

 

By the end of our long driving day, we had bid goodbye to the wonders of Vatnajökull and its associated tongues and lakes, and were back along the continental divide in the magical area of Mývatn, which will be the subject of our next post!

Summer Trip to Iceland: South Iceland’s Stunning Scenery

After touring the Golden Circle, we headed east on the Ring Road along the southern coast of Iceland. When we were making our list of sights to see in Iceland, this area definitely had the highest concentration. We were able to see all of the places we describe in this blog in just a day and a half!

Seljalandsfoss

This waterfall is just off of the Ring Road -in fact, you can see it as you are driving up! There is a path that goes behind the waterfall which we knew we wanted to take, so we made sure to put on our rain gear and snow pants to make ourselves as waterproof as possible. We spent about 30 minutes exploring.

Gljúfrabúi

Just north of Seljalandsfoss is another waterfall which appears hidden from a distance, as you can only see the top part of the falls with the rest obscured by a rock. You can get to the base of the waterfall by walking through a narrow canyon – we were able to do this by hopping from rock to rock. It was quite wet in there but very pretty. We also climbed a steep path on the rock that blocks the view of the falls to see it from that vantage point but were underwhelmed with what we could see from up there.

Camping at Gljúfrabúi

At Gljúfrabúi, there is a campsite right next to the falls. We decided to stop our travels for the day here and enjoy the view of both Gljúfrabúi and the nearby Seljalandsfoss. Again, the campground was mostly just an open field so we had our pick of spot. The campground has a main building that includes a shared kitchen which we used to cook our dinner and do our dishes in a warm environment. We hung out here throughout most of the evening enjoying the cozy environment and free Wi-Fi. There were hot showers at this campground, although you had to pay to use them.

Eyjafjallajökull

The next morning we packed up and continued east on the Ring Road. We paused briefly at a pulloff with views of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano which had a large enough eruption in 2010 that its ashcloud disrupted flights in and out of Europe.

Skógafoss

Our next stop was another massive waterfall, Skógafoss. We first enjoyed the view from the base of the falls, then climbed a path of approximately 420 steps to get a view of the top of the falls.

Sólheimasandur

In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur. Everyone survived, but they left the wreckage of the plane on the beach. You used to be able to drive all the way out to the plane, but the local landowners decided to restrict access. Now, you have to park right off the Ring Road and walk 4 km to the crash. We were nervous that we would miss the parking for this unofficial site, but there was a large parking lot full of vehicles that was easy to spot. We spent about 2 hours total here, walking out, taking pictures, and then walking back.

Dyrhólaey

We then stopped at the Dyrhólaey peninsula, the formation we could see from Skógafoss. Our main interest here was watching the puffins that nest in the cliffs. We also enjoyed the views of the various sea arches ranging from small to massive. We chose not to drive to the top of the promontory where there was a lighthouse.

Reynisfjara

On the other side of the bay from Dyrhólaey is a beautiful black sand beach with mystical basalt column caves. We had a fun time sitting on the columns and imagining how they had been formed. We were happy that there was a bathroom here as there hadn’t been at the previous two stops.

Eldhraun

As we continued our drive along the Ring Road, we enjoyed the views of glaciers in the distance and purple flowers in the foreground. We then drove through the massive lava field of Eldhraun. The lava flows, which are the biggest lava flow in the world resulting from a volcanic eruption in the late 18th century) are now covered with thick, puffy, green moss. We felt like we were in a fairy tale! We first stopped at an official rest area where we could get somewhat close to the lava, and then at a more unofficial pull-off where there was a road through the fields. We were very careful to stay on existing paths/roads as the moss is fragile. These viewing areas weren’t on many maps, so if you are curious to visit, the official rest area is here and the unofficial area is here.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

Towards the end of the day we visited this canyon near the Eldhraun lava field, following the trail along the canyon rim. Our legs were pretty tired so we only went to the first few viewpoints. There was a bathroom here as well.

Camping in Kirkjubæjarklaustur

We spent the night in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in its main camping area. This tongue twister of a name means “Church Farm Cloister” – the locals just call it Klaustur for short. The camping area was probably the most crowded of any camping area we stayed in. Many of the other campers seemed to be Icelandic families there with their children. We enjoyed our dinner outside, but then retreated to the shared kitchen and dining area for some warmth later in the evening.

Kirkjugólf

Within walking distance of the campground was Kirkjugólf, the “church floor”. Here, the hexagonal basalt columns like we saw at Reynisfjara have been smoothed down to ground level. It really does look like a tile-work floor at first glance!

 

Next, we continued on the Ring Road to the southeastern portion of Iceland, where our first glimpse of glaciers was to be had!