Welp. Here we are. The end of this particular story. It has only taken me a little over six months to finish writing about it. Telling the last of the story means the story is over and damn, it was such a good story.
There are many more stories to come, I have no doubt. As I type, I am in the midst of a fresh, new one (enough with the story metaphor, Jess, Geez) but this one was a real page turner, a wild adventure, from start to finish. I’m sure you can understand how it could be tough to part with. Without further ado, it’s time to put a bow on it.
In my last post, we visited Reykjavík and saw many waterfalls as we drove south. When we arrived at Onundarhorn, the name of the property we would be staying at for the next two nights, I was skeptical. The outside looked a little dumpy and I wondered if we were even at the right place. Our host, an eccentric Icelander named Snaebjorn, rents rooms in his home to travelers. He doesn’t particularly care for these travelers being in his home (more on that later), it seems, but the money is good.
As mentioned in my last post, lodging (and food and drink) in Iceland is quite expensive. Even in a standard hotel, it is very common to share a bathroom. We stayed in modest accommodations throughout our travels (overnight on a sweltering, communist era train with no toilet paper for chrissake!) but staying at Onundarhorn with Snaebjorn would be our first (non-train) lodging in which we would be sharing a small space (and one bathroom) with several other travelers.
When we arrived at Onundarhorn, we met a friendly Australian couple who were driving the Golden Circle (which is a famous, 11-day minimum, route that goes around all the island). They were in Iceland on a three week holiday that had been postponed since 2020 and were very excited to be there. They told us that the previous night the Northern Lights had been visible from where they were staying near Reykjavík. We were very surprised to hear this.
It hadn’t occurred to me that seeing the Northern Lights would be a possibility during our time in Iceland as I thought the earliest one could view them was October. I was wrong. The couple had an app to track the lights and special camera equipment to try and capture them in the night sky. They said that chances of seeing the lights that night were slim as clouds were supposed to roll in but perhaps the following night they might be visible from Onundarhorn. Heck yeah!
We asked them about the path to the black sand beach near Onundarhorn that we’d read about in the listing. They did not know about the path and Snaebjorn was out visiting with a neighbor, they informed us.
So, we ate another dinner of sandwiches and apples and decided to go look for the path as we still had a bit of time before sunset. About a quarter mile down the road from Onundarhorn is a posh, 4-star hotel and restaurant where we could have stayed for a mere $500 a night. We strolled past the hotel and the parking lot full of luxury SUV’s and found the path.
We walked down the grassy trail, toward the beach, passing no one and watched the sun sink lower and lower toward the horizon. It was beautiful.
We found a bridge leading to the beach but decided to wait until the following evening to explore it as it would be quite dark soon and was getting pretty cold.
When we reached the house, Snaebjorn had returned and was chatting up the Australian couple as basketball played on a TV in the background. A wiry fellow of 62 years, he was a combo of curmudgeon, braggart, and gossip. He dominated the conversation which volleyed between tales of him being a champion horse trainer, him being a physiological anomaly following a serious car wreck from which he recovered in record time while having a romantic relationship with his sexy nurse, and him telling disparaging stories of the travelers who stayed with him. It was a wild ride. At one point while talking smack about his neighbor’s alcoholic girlfriend, he said he rarely drank. I doubted this as he took frequent swigs from a tall insulated mug and regaled us with stories of his super healing powers and sexual prowess.
We were finally able to say good night, blaming an early waking time. Snaebjorn asked us if, should he see the northern lights (it seemed he stayed up all night and slept during the day), would we want him to wake us in the wee hours. We enthusiastically said yes and thanked him.
Unfortunately, Snaebjorn did not wake us in the wee hours as there were no lights to be seen. We woke up early to use the bathroom before the majority of other guests woke up and were ready to hit the road after breakfast. We knew from the listing, Snaebjorn would make us breakfast, waffles specifically. It could be that he seemed so curmudgeonly because he poured all of his love into his waffles. They were divine. We both had three waffles and several cups of coffee before heading out. We weren’t buying food out and being quite sick of sandwiches, we decided to load up on breakfast.
Full of waffles, we hit the road for our three-hour drive to see a glacier. Jokulsarlon Glacial Lake has small icebergs, calm waters, and a beach full of smooth stones. There are nice viewing points, bathrooms on site, a couple food stands, free parking (score!), boat tours and even kayak rentals. There was a full parking lot and some tour buses, which led us to walk down the beach to avoid the crowds. It was a short walk down and up some small rolling hills with a path until we reached the lake’s shore.
Across the street from the Lake is the Atlantic Ocean, and a beach they call the Diamond Beach, named as such due to the small to very small iceberg pieces (that shine in the sun) that float up to shore. We ate another meal of sandwiches, apples, and chips as we faced the beach. After that we were on our way back, a three hour journey westward on highway One. We saw a variety of landscapes; mostly either green or yellow grass, pales moss on massive amounts of rocks, hills, and mountains with a few small towns here and there.
Our last stop before heading back was the nearby Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, close to the town of Vik. There is a bit of a winding road to reach the popular lighthouse and it was very windy and cold from up there. We did get a great view of the black sand beach and cool rock formations.
We got back to the b&b for our last sandwich meal before heading down, over the bridge, to the black sand beach. We had it all to ourselves. We took our time, breathing in the fresh, cool air, and reflecting on how amazing our travels had been, how lucky we were to have been able to undertake such a grand adventure, and how we couldn’t believe it was coming to a close. We were even greeted by a seal, who gave us a warm “bon voyage” before she dove back into the cold Atlantic waters.
When we got back to Onundarhorn we packed our things. The sky was supposed to clear up around 10:30 which meant we had a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Shortly thereafter, the Australian couple went outside to set up their camera equipment, ready to catch the Northern Lights. We went out, hoping to see something as they indicated they should be right overhead. We saw some glorious stars in the black night sky but no Northern Lights. We headed back inside and Snaebjorn told us that if the Northern Lights became clearer, we would likely see them outside of our room’s window. He renewed his offer to wake us in the night should he see them. We fell asleep with the window shade open.
Around 2 am, Snaebjorn kept his promise and knocked on our door letting us know the lights were viewable. He made sure to let us know that they weren’t so good that night, no color (sometimes they appear purple and green) but we might be interested. As quickly as we could in our groggy state, we bundled up and went out to look up.
It was amazing. They are hard to describe but it looked like grey-white ghostly shapes dancing, quickly, all across the sky. Phil described it as like a symphony without music. That’s pretty accurate. Freezing cold, with aching necks, we shuffled back inside after about 20 minutes. I tried to capture the lights with photo and video, to no avail. Only days later, when playing around with the photo exposure was I able to make out some of the lights.
The next morning, we awoke groggy, loaded up on more waffles, and made the two-and-a-half hour drive from Onundarhorn to the airport, but we had one final stop to make first. We made an appointment at the Blue Lagoon, the famous geothermal spa within a lava field, that is a must visit while in Iceland. The water is milky blue and warm, and even quite hot in some places.
A very popular tourist destination, the full parking lot and tour buses made us think the place would be packed. While the locker room was indeed a little cozy, they have their system down and once out in the actual pools, there was plenty of space to spread out and chill.
We enjoyed a complimentary sparkling wine and mud masks. Everyone was given a free, white mask with the woman at the mask bar offering various other colored masks with miraculous skin benefits, for an additional fee. We took the glop of mud she plopped into our hands (folks are provided mirrors in which to self apply the masks), spread it around as best we could and found a ledge to rest upon.
After our two hours in the pool, we showered, dressed, and headed to the airport.
After 500 amazing days of living abroad, our grand adventure was coming to a close. As bittersweet as it was, we were ready for the next adventure; boarded the plane, and headed home to the good ol’ US of A. Until next time, Europe, we will miss you!
The End (for now)
Postscript travel commentary coming soon(ish).