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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 10-12: Aka-ray-ray, AKA Akureyri

Peter and the kids pronounced Akureyri "Aka-ray-ray" so many times  that I forgot how to say it correctly. Regardless of the pronunciation, it is the second largest city in Iceland. It is on the northeastern side of the island, on the harbor and is surrounded by beautiful mountains and streams and the bluest sky I’ve ever seen.  The color in the picture above is not altered...that's really how blue it is! I asked Cathy if she thought the sky really is bluer here or if we just notice it more because we’re on vacation and taking photos. She said she thinks it looks bluer because the air is so much cleaner. I concurred.

Saturday morning, we awoke to a cold, drizzly day and set out at 8:30 for whale-watching in Husavik, a really cute harbor town (I’m starting to figure out that ALL the towns in Iceland are “harbor towns”) about an hour and a half from Akyreyri. We boarded the boat around 10:00, put on some very stylish bright orange rain coats and set out for sea. Within 15 minutes, we briefly saw a humpback whale, followed by two more within an hour or so. We were able to get a few decent pictures, although we weren’t super close to them. The highlight of the trip was seeing a blue whale, the largest animal on earth. Alex was disappointed that he didn’t “jump out of the water and do tricks for us,” but I think we all realized how lucky we were to see one of only 10,000 blue whales in existence. Several of the kids were unable to enjoy the whale-watching as much as others because of sea-sickness, but as soon as we got back to land and had some hot soup and bread, everyone was fine.

 About 15 minutes from the harbor, we stopped at the “fossil cliffs,” an area right on the coast that has a mountain stream running into the Atlantic, surrounded by cliffs that are filled with fossils and rock sediment. The kids ate lunch right on the beach. We could see the layer of rock and fossils throughout the walls of the cliffs, and the kids explored for a while, walking the stream, rolling down a grassy hill and playing with the dogs that belonged to the land owner. An old, abandoned warehouse sits right over the beach, near the stream, and the owner is turning it into a coffee shop and hostel. I definitely want to order a latte there someday.

We left the cliffs after an hour or so and drove for another hour to the largest waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss. It was cold and rainy and a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the falls, but worth it. The falls were ridiculously big and even more ridiculously loud. Erika walked REALLY close to the edge of the falls to get a good shot, and I lost a year or two off my life watching her. I had to look away it made me so nervous.  We didn’t stay long because many of the kids had forgotten raincoats and/or protection for their camera, but I was very happy we’d made the trek to see the falls.

See that tiny dot of a person in the picture above, right on the edge of the rocks? That's Erika!

We made one more stop at a crater/lake area, took a few pictures and headed back to Akureyri. We got warmed up/cleaned up, had dinner and spent more time downloading/editing/blogging before bed.

On Sunday, we drove about 30 minutes outside the city to a beautiful horse farm for a two hour horseback ride. It was, in my opinion, the prettiest landscape we’d seen yet and we had PERFECT weather. It was a bit chilly, but the sky was indescribably blue and the sun was shining. I had a horse named Cokey who was generally an “easy” horse, until we started trotting. He got pretty enthusiastic about trotting, which made me nervous. The ride leader, Miriam, seemed a bit skeptical when I told her I was from Texas but had only ridden horses a handful of times. I explained that not all Texans ride horses and she laughed. Miriam is a college student from Germany and is in Iceland for the summer, working on the horse farm. She and I had some very interesting conversation about our respective homes, school systems, politics, etc. She spoke very good English and explained that she had visited both Kentucky and Maryland as part of a student exchange program. I told her my last name and although she giggled at my pronunciation of it, she explained that it is very common in Germany, although it usually has two n’s on the end. She lives in Minez, which is in the south of Germany and has many “wine yards.” She invited me to come visit, and I told her I would. ‘Hope you were serious, Miriam, because I’ll be showing up on your doorstep someday! Of course, we told her she needed to come visit Texas, as well.

When we got back to the stables, they offered us hot chocolate and pastries and let us take pictures on the property for a while. The kids immediately started a photo shoot with the lambs on the property, as well as the dogs and horses. We didn’t want to leave, but had to get back for lunch and exploring Akyreyri.

Our driver, Runnar...he's a boat captain, an excellent bus driver and apparently,
 a horse whisperer, as well. 

 After lunch at the hostel, we set out to explore the city for a little while. The kids broke into groups of four again and were given a photo assignment/scavenger hunt again, as well as time to shop for souvenirs. Cathy and I went with Peter and a group of kids to 66 North, the Icelandic version of REI, but just clothing. Peter arranged a 30% discount for us, which was much needed. The clothes are awesome, but not at all cheap. I got a $30 t-shirt, which was a bargain. It’s one of the only things I’ve bought the entire trip because everything (clothes, food, cosmetics…) is VERY expensive. A pair of wool socks is usually between $18 and $25. The jacket that I REALLY wanted at 66 North (which was essentially a zip up hoodie) was $160, after our discount. Thus, my t-shirt purchase. We asked Tota if the salaries were commiserate with the price of goods in Iceland, and she emphatically said no. She also reminded us that citizens pay a flat tax of approximately 37%.

We went in several other touristy shops, had coffee in a local coffee shop/hostel and walked back to the hostel in time for dinner and more uploading, caption writing, blogging, etc.. So hard to believe the trip is almost over. It seems like it’s been two months since I’ve been in Houston, but it’s also flown by. We’ve packed in a LOT into 12 days.

On Monday morning, we ate breakfast and then listened to the students present their final assignment for Nat Geo. Each student had to pick one photo and write a complete caption for it. I enjoyed seeing their chosen photos and hearing their captions. They’ve all done great work. We loaded up the buses and left 20 minutes EARLY, headed back to Reykjavik.

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