Whether I'm trying my best to not fall off an Icelandic glacier, or standing in an ice-cold stream in Austria, or watching a lioness snack on a zebra on the African plains, or (more often) just sitting at my desk overhearing 16-year-old girl gossip, every day's a holly-day for me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day 8-9: HOP!


The kids love pronouncing Hofn and saying it over and over again because the Icelandic pronounciation sort of sounds like “hop” said in an English accent. And they’ve taken to actually hopping as they say it. On Wednesday morning, we started breakfast at 7:30 because Gianluca was leaving at 8:30 to go back to Switzerland. We ate and saw him off and then waited for the plan for the day. We intended to go the local fish-packing plant but when Peter called, we found out that the man who typically gave tours had retired, and he was really the only one who could do it. Calls were made to try to find him, but no such luck. Peter asked if we could come anyway just to take pictures, but he was told no. Apparently, the packing plant had just installed new machinery and it’s the latest and greatest, high tech model. The packing plant powers that be feared that we might be stealing industry secrets by taking all those pictures. Peter pointed out that if someone actually DID want to steal industry secrets in a fish packing plant, posing as student photographers would be an ingenious cover. Sooooo…Plan B was to go to the glacier museum. We called and the glacier museum was closed. Soooooooooooooo…Plan C was to just walk around and see what trouble we could find.

We walked to the harbor, stopping along the way for plenty of photos. Around 11:30, Erika and Peter started scoping out lunch options and found what I’ve determined to be the closest thing to a Sonic in Iceland. Erika first took us to a grassy area near the restaurant and we had a little circle time (actually just to kill some time before lunch), which involved some yoga moves and some dance moves. A tourist bus came by and took pictures of us, thinking we were the local yoga class, I’m sure. When we stood up, three older men who’d been watching from their front stoop clapped for us. We then went into Sonic and ordered hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches and milkshakes. As I’ve mentioned before, the most recommended food in all of Iceland is the hot dog, which they call “pony dogs” – NOT because they are made of horse…believe me, I asked. I’d already had one on the trip, but it was a gas station hot dog and pretty disappointing. I ordered one here in hopes of hot dog redemption. This one came through. The hot dogs are lamb, but you would never know it. A loaded dog comes with raw chopped onion, bacon bits, “toasted onions” – which are basically crunched up fried onions like we put on the top of green bean casserole – a sweet brown sauce of some sort that we can’t quite identify and mustard. I got mine with everything but the raw onion, and it lived up to the Iceland pony dog reputation.

After lunch, we assigned the kids groups of four and told them to go explore the booming metropolis of Hofn. We gave them a photo scavenger hunt to complete and told them to meet back at the hostile by 4:00. The best part of it all…no GPS (b/c it costs too much to use their phones)! So they have to read real, actual, printed maps. Peter and Erika set off for some supplies and roamed around the area in case the kids needed them, and Cathy and I also just walked around and explored before heading back to the hostile for a much-needed nap. I fell asleep in about 30 seconds and woke up an hour later not knowing what day or time it was or what country I was in. It was one of those kinds of naps.

We met the kids in the common room at 4:00, downloaded pictures, worked on blogs and waited for the BIG EVENT OF THE DAY….DINNER!!! Tota was making lobster!! I had been excited about Hofn lobster for weeks, and she had bought 8 kilos of langanstino lobster to grill. She poured garlic butter on them as she was grilling them, and served a cream sauce over pasta as a side, a salad, and tons of warm, crusty-on-the-outside-soft-in-the-middle French bread to go with it. When she announced it was ready, everyone swarmed. I’ve never seen so much lobster in one kitchen. It was incredible…one of the best meals I’ve ever had (and those who know me understand that that’s saying a lot!).

After dinner, we had a critique of the kids’ work so far. I was beyond impressed. They have come SO far so quickly and are really creative in their shots. They’re doing great work. The kids then had ice cream for dessert before heading to the showers and bed. I opted out on the ice cream, knowing I’d had more than enough lobster an hour earlier.

On Thursday, we got to sleep in until 8:30, which the kids (and I!) were thrilled about. We got up, ate breakfast, packed lunches and headed out for a hike. Well, the kids and Peter and Erika were hiking. Cathy and I were waiting for them on the other side of the hike. We’d decided that today would be a good day for the kids to be alone with Peter and Erika and my foot had demanded that I ease up on the hiking. We dropped everyone off at the starting point of the hike and then got back on the bus with Runnar, who was going to show us around the area in the bus while we waited for the kids to come around the mountain in about four hours. He drove us to the site of the former US Army base and told us about life in Hofn when he was a child growing up there. We hiked up some rocks and took photos of the beach, of birds, of the light tower, of whale bones, etc. Runnar basically went off-roading in the bus and drove us right on to the beach where we took pictures of sheep, birds, chimneys from old houses that used to be on the beach, etc. He told us something interesting about beached whales that am going to research when Google is free again. He said that when a whale knows it’s dying, it will purposely beach itself because it would rather die that way than drown…so often, when well-meaning citizens are trying to get beached whales back into the sea, they really aren’t doing them a favor. Sad, and a perspective I’ve never heard.

We stopped at the local Starbucks for a latte (Viking Café), and then Runnar went off-roading in the bus, right on to the beach.

 We set up lunch for the kids and took 637 more pictures of sheep while we waited to see the kids’ colorful jackets to come around the bend in the distance. They finally made it and a few of them even broke into a sprint when they saw us the lunch tables/food set up near the bus. Poor Juan…as he was sprinting to the lunch table, he thought he was going to get ahead of Austin and Erika, but instead stepped into a marshy area and got his foot and pants soaked with muddy water.

After lunch, we drove about a half-mile to an abandoned Viking village that was actually an abandoned movie set. It was built five years ago for a Mel Gibson movie that never materialized after Mel went off the deep end. The set has just been sitting on the beach ever since. It’s a little boy’s dream come true. SO cool and very authentic. I immediately thought about how much money could/would be made just off birthday party rentals alone if this place was located anywhere near civilization! We all had a great time crawling around the set, taking pictures and generally pretending we were Vikings, especially the boys with the catapult. Runnar explained that an Icelandic director (the guy who recently directed Two Guns) is planning on using the set for a movie in the next year or so, sans Mel Gibson. My bet is on Marky Mark (Wahlberg).

We got back to the hostel and had about an hour to start packing, or nap or download pictures before dinner. Thota was making leg of lamb. I didn’t really think there was any way she could top last night’s dinner, but this one was close – maybe even better! We had leftover lobster, so we had that and the lamb and salad, grilled bell peppers and potatoes. I am not usually a huge fan of lamb, but it was reallllly good and with the lobster as an addition, we basically had Icelandic surf and turf. It would be, no doubt, an $80 meal in a local restaurant and worth every penny KRONA.

After dinner, Peter and Erika showed us some of their photography and talked about their college experience, work experience, etc. The kids enjoyed seeing their work. We then edited pictures from the day and got packed up so we could leave Hofn by 8:30, headed for Acureyri.

Acureyri is the second largest city in Iceland and is about 7 hours from Hofn, on the northeastern part of the island. We drove through beautiful countryside, some on paved road, some on dirt roads, up huge hills and around tight curves. We drove through snow-covered mountains and were amazed at the literally hundreds of waterfalls we saw along the way. Some were small, some were HUGE, but they were everywhere, falling from the mountains into rushing streams below. The snow-topped mountains, green pastures, water falls, streams, sheep, horses, and cute little farm houses all along the way looked like a 200-mile long painting.  If I had been driving myself and had stopped every time I wanted to take a picture, it would’ve taken me seven DAYS to get to Acureyri instead of seven hours. We stopped at noon at a gas station with a picnic area and Tota set up our lunch. We had the usual sandwiches we’ve been having but also had lefotever lamb and lobster. I sat at a picnic table at a gas station in Iceland eating lamb, salad and lobster, shaking my head at the whole experience.

Along the way, Austin saw a sign for a car museum and asked Peter and Runnar if we could stop. Austin eats, drinks and sleeps cars, so was thrilled with the stop. It was pretty cool...LOTS of old cars, both European and American, old tractors and lots of other antiques. We stayed about 30 minutes and then headed on our way.

We arrived in Akureyri around 5:00, got settled in and had pizza - Dominoes! - for dinner! The kids were thrilled to see eight pizzas and Coke and Sprite in the kitchen. After dinner, we worked on blogs and editing before getting some rest for another big day on Saturday. 

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