Monday, April 4, 2016

Iceland - Golden Circle Tour, part 2

Our Golden Circle Tour adventures continued with lunch. Part 1 of our day is HERE. Trouble with a tour starting at 11:30 AM is that by the time we have a lunch stop it is already 2 PM. 

Lunch was at the Froheimer Farm greenhouse and cultivation center. Here they grow 370 tons of tomatoes a year, in other words approximately one ton of tomatoes EACH DAY. Before having some of their delicious tomato soup we had a mini lesson on their place. The farm is built on a hot spring (one that is good for heating, but not swimming). As tomatoes are mostly made out of water, they grow easily in this greenhouse. They do not use pesticides, instead they use "good flies
to kill bad ones." They are picked at 7 AM daily and trucked by 10 AM to grocery stores all over Iceland. They use about 5% of their yield at the restaurant. Each week more flowers grow on the plants, which are pollinated by 600 female bumblebees imported from Holland. 

We started with a piccolo (cherry) tomato to sample. When they are freshly picked they taste like candy!

Lunch consisted of tomato soup, cucumber salsa, and bread. Fresh basil and sour cream were on the table to add to the soup. This is one of those times I was really glad Ashley has become a more adventuresome eater. She devoured everything put in front of her.

Also at the greenhouse were some Icelandic horses. Icelandic horses are smaller

than what we think of. They also seem fluffier. We did not ride any, but have put that on our wish list for when we return some summer.

Our lunch stop lasted until about 3:45 when we piled back in the van to go to our next stop: the Gullfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is fed by Iceland's second biggest glacier (the Langjokull). It goes down 32 meters in two steps into a canyon that is 70 meters tall. Up until this stop we thought we were having a really nice day. Here, it was super windy -- probably the canyon effect, though Max our guide said the weather in Iceland often changes suddenly. The sun was out so
we had a nice view of a rainbow.

There were a couple of trails to explore. Max allowed us time to see both, and even moved the van so we didn't have to walk back to where he let us out. Great service! The area alongside the waterfall was icy so I put on the Yak Tracks I just happened to have in my coat pocket (Don and Ashley had theirs in the van). We all made out fine on the trail. The eight of us met up at the far end and took a group photo (okay, I orchestrated the group photo, you know me). 
Glad my Yak Tracks were handy

Tourists ignore all sorts of signs

The earth is literally steaming
Don's shot of Strokker in action
We walked back and headed in the van for the next stop: Geysir, a 10 minute drive away. Geysir is the first known geyser, and where the name comes from. It doesn't erupt very often anymore, but when it does it is spectacular. It shoots up about 200 feet in the air. According to our guide, it erupted twice this past month. In its shadow is Strokkur, another geyser. This one erupts about every 3-10 minutes. It just sort of happens without warning. A "blurp" is scene then it shoots up about 100 feet into the air. Then down again for a rest. Then up again. The little bit of reading I have done on the subject says geysers are formed by earthquakes. We spent about 45 minutes at each spot -- long enough to enjoy them without feeling rushed. The nice, sunny weather helped (nice being above freezing and not windy).

Where is my family?

My shot of Strokker in action

Too cute for words

We hopped back in the van for a stop at Farm Efstidalur II for ice cream and to meet the cows. How often do you get to meet the animals responsible for your food? Even in New Jersey, it is rare. The farm was started in 1978 by the current owner's grandfather. Just hearing that made me feel old. The owner's husband milks their 40 cows twice a day. The cows produce 230,000 liters of milk each year. They use about 15,000 liters a year at the shop (though that number is going up with the popularity of their ice cream) and sell the rest. Some of it becomes Skyr, which is either really thick yogurt or runny cheese. Skyr is sold in the United States as Siggi's, and is sold in places such as Wegmans. I had salted caramel ice cream, Don had coconut, Ashley had banana chip. Theirs must have been good because I was not offered a tasted.

The ice cream was the perfect treat before our next spot: The Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Spa. Once we got past the communal dressing room and showering naked with strangers (sorry, ick), it was a very nice experience. This was my first time at anyplace quite like this.

The water temperatures ranged from 34C to 40C (93F to 104F), with 64% humidity. Adjacent to the spas was a lake whose temperature was probably just

above freezing. We sort of challenged each other to go in the lake. Fortunately they had water shoes we could borrow (yes, I know -- ick) for the few seconds we were in the lake because the bottom of the natural lake had slimy rocks on it. Ashley and I made it to our ankles. Don did submerge to his waist. Then we dashed back to the warmer spots! Our package included a towel and use of a locker. The area had four spas of different temperatures. Most had tiles, but the one we liked the best had lava rocks. Probably only decorative as it was a man-made spa (unlike the Blue Lagoon), but that added to the atmosphere.

Ashley was a good sport about having to get naked in front of complete strangers and me. 

Note for next time: pack our own towels (so we can tell which one is ours) and flip flops. Rookie mistakes.

After drying off we walked across the parking lot to a farmhouse for dinner (not the same place where we got the ice cream). Dinner options were lamb, fish of the day, or vegetarian. No one at our table had the vegetarian meal. Ashley went with the fish (which was a cross between salmon and white fish), and Don and I each had the lamb. Dinner had a swipe of beets, was served on quinoa, and had half a baked potato with whipped sweet potato on top. The real treat was the chocolate mousse dessert (yes, I had dessert twice in one day for the first time since my diagnosis over a year ago). It was a layer of white chocolate with a layer of watermelon (it somehow worked) and a layer of regular chocolate. 

Yes, watermelon and not strawberry in the center

Wise advice

We lingered for a long time after dinner waiting and waiting and waiting for the sun to set enough to have a shot at seeing the Northern Lights. We were also a bit mellow after hanging out in the spa for an hour. We chided Max on this being a tough life for him. In some ways it can be. We had an easy group. The group that was going in tandem with our trip included four kids -- two of whom were the ones kicking us on the flight to Iceland. We stayed away from them, and so did everyone else. The six-year-old twin girls ran around a lot.

The evening ended with another good sighting of the Northern Lights around 11:15 PM, then started the long drive back to the hotel. Returning to the hotel just after midnight felt like an early night after the first one.

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