It was another sunny, sweltering day in the south when I awoke, and I was glad to have pre-purchased my ticket for Real Alcázar so that I wouldn’t have to be queuing in the heat. I headed over to the Alcázar, which apparently is the oldest royal palace in Europe that is still in use. It’s a striking mudéjar palace and quite unlike any palace I’ve been in. The stone and tile work was ornate and beautiful, with elaborate gold ceilings that I spent much time craning up at. The famed Courtyard of the Maidens, which is perhaps the most representative image you’ll see of the palace, was beautiful–though unsurprisingly well-trafficked by the throngs of tourists. I strolled through the various halls, enjoying the interesting mix of elaborately decorated and striking simplicity.
I eventually made my way out to the gardens, which were lovely and relatively peaceful to walk through. I loved how common bougainvillea is here, as it just adds a gorgeous blast of colour. Sara was mentioning that these places are free for Sevillan residents to enter, and that she often comes to just relax in the gardens. I could see that being a nice way to escape from the heat. I wove my way through the well-manicured hedges, past fountains and tour groups, and took one last look through the palace before heading out.
I was just around the corner from the old Jewish quarter, which I had walked through briefly while on my food tour, so I thought I’d take another jaunt through to see if I’d missed anything. By chance, I happened to pass right by another one of the spots on my list, Hospital de los Venerables, which I’d read could be difficult to find and hard to catch when open. I took the opportunity to pop in, paying the rather steep entrance fee (it was only a euro or so less than seeing the Alcázar!). It was blissfully empty, and for a time, I was able to enjoy it in peace. A former residence for priests, the church of Venerables was the real draw, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I don’t think I’d ever seen a church painted with such elaborate, colourful murals. The churches I’m used to are much more like Seville Cathedral, all somber stone and gold leaf. I sat for a time in one of the pews, soaking in the silence, before continuing my explorations. Ultimately, there wasn’t a whole lot more to the place, with the exception of a small Velasquez exhibit, so it wasn’t long before I was on my way in search of lunch.
My Devour food tour was nice enough to send home with us a little restaurant guide for the city, with a few of their recommended spots, so I decided to head off in search of one of them, ConTenedor. It was about a 25 minute walk from my apartment. I was definitely feeling the heat at this point, so I kept to the shade as much as possible. I did enjoy meandering through the relatively quiet streets, as I got further and further away from the tourist centre of town. I managed to arrive just as the restaurant was opening for lunch (about 1:30 pm!), so I was their first customer of the day. The place was charming–had a kind of hipster, eclectic vibe. They didn’t have menus but portable blackboards with the selection of dishes (which my waiter was kind enough to go through, as it was all in Spanish). I was surprised to learn that they didn’t really do tapas but was more of a traditional style restaurant. I ordered myself some nice Iberian pork with sweet potato and apple puree. These days, I don’t tend to make pork very often at home (not really sure why), so I was relishing all the delicious pork I was eating in Spain. The meal was very good, though I was reminded how much I love the sizing of tapas, as it was a big portion to get through. I ultimately caved and ordered an apple cheesecake dessert, per my waiter’s recommendation, which was also excellent.
I didn’t have any major plans for the rest of the day, and I was waiting to hear back from Sara as to the possibility of meeting up later in the evening. So I headed back to the AirBnB for yet another blissful siesta. I do sometimes have to remind myself that when on vacation, I don’t actually have to be out on the go all the time. I remember I use to feel guilty if I were just lounging around my hotel, watching movies, doing things I could just as easily do at home, instead of being out and exploring a new place. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to slow down and strike a balance between relaxation and exploration. I eventually heard from Sara who invited me to see a free circus performance around 9 pm on the riverfront, not far from my apartment. Before meeting her, I walked across the river in search of a bite to eat (I’d actually hoped to visit the Mercado de Triana, but they had closed for the afternoon). I downed a split of cava and some croquetas and baked goat cheese before walking down to the Torre del Oro to meet Sara. She eventually came whizzing in on her bike, and I was happy to be re-united with my newly-made friend. It was great to have someone to hang out with for the evening (one does eventually get tired of one’s own company). We managed to snag a couple seats at this circus event, unsure of exactly what to expect. With the sunsetting behind us, we were treated to a avant-garde, Tim Burton-esque performance. It was a bit slow to start, but eventually there were amusing and impressive feats (juggling and balancing and all that good stuff). Certainly enjoyable for being a free show!
From there, we grabbed a drink at a nearby outdoor stand, exchanging life stories, tribulations and adventures. We slowly walked towards La Alameda, where we’d be meeting friends of hers and where she lives. I got the impression La Alameda has a kind of Brooklyn feel–young, hip and up-and-coming–with lots of bars and restaurants. It was after 11 at this point, and the square in La Alameda was alive with people. I met her friends, who were lovely and welcoming. I even got to practice the traditional 2-cheek kiss greeting, a practice that is very foreign to me, but I was happy to play my part and make like a local. We stood on the outside patio, enjoying our drinks, people-watching (everyone seemed to know Sara, coming up and greeting her effusively), and conversation, which was a mix of English and Spanish. As the hours passed, Sara talked about wanting to go dancing, and there was some debate amongst her and her friends as to where to go. One place that her friends wanted to go to was relatively close, but Sara was reluctant because she wasn’t a fan of the music. When she asked if I’d come along, I said was game for anything, so she decided that we’d head over to a farther spot (which had music more to her liking).
Since she only had the one bike, and it was a bit of a hike, she convinced me to ride on the seat while she pedaled. It was a giggly and rather ridiculous ride (I at one point temporarily lost my shoe), as I was clinging on to her, trying not to slide off the seat. Mercifully, we made it intact. Now, I haven’t gone dancing in a night club in close to a decade, so it was kind of surreal to be entering a darkened club, feeling the music thumping in my chest. But, as anyone who knows me will know, give me music and a dance floor, and I will dance my heart out. It wasn’t super packed when we arrived, much to Sara’s dismay, but it eventually filled up. After a good deal of dancing, it was about 4 am when I decided that sleep would be a good thing. I was amazed at how late a night out typically goes here (apparently the club closes around 6 am), and that at 4 am, things were as lively as ever. Saturday night Spaniards are troopers apparently! But I also had a flight the next day, so Sara kindly found a cab for me, and we made our goodbyes with promises to keep in touch. It was a truly wonderful evening–such a great opportunity to meet new people and get a sense of a place and a culture as it is really lived by locals. A perfect send-off for a fabulous 3 days in Seville!
My apartment was so well-appointed that it even had a stationery bike in one corner, which made my morning MPC workout all the easier. It also had a handy beam to which I could easily affix my resistance band, so I was all set. Workout complete, I freshened up and headed out for the day’s adventures. I’d thought to try and see the famed Alcazar in the morning, but while waiting in the considerably long line, decided to purchase tickets online for the following morning instead. The other sight I was interested in checking out, which had actually not been on my list until Sara my tour guide mentioned it, was the Plaza de Espana. It was a bit farther from the main area in town, but it was a gorgeous day for a walk. I meandered my down the shaded, tree-lined streets until I came to the unobtrusive entrance to the Maria Luisa park. It was just a short walk before coming upon a breathtaking sight.
Set on a large square, Plaza de España, the massive red-bricked pavilion building was certainly a sight to behold. Apparently, it was built in 1928 and is a mix of Renaissance Revival, Art Deco and Moorish Revival styles. I couldn’t help just wandering around marvelling at it, and that it was relatively quiet. There were certainly a goodly number of tourists about, but not the crush of people like at Alcazar. I also couldn’t believe that it was free to see! You could go up to the second floor and look out over the square from the balcony. There were even paddle boats available if you wanted to paddle down the little river. The building was lined with beautifully-tiled alcoves, one for each province of Spain. It was a surprisingly peaceful, and I was reluctant to tear myself away.
But it was time for food, and I’d had my eye on one of the best places for tapas in town, Eslava. It would’ve been a considerable walk from where I was, so I figured I’d find a bus. After some confusion with Google maps/bus direction (including me getting off what turned out to be the right bus and waiting for another), I was on my way and soon wandering through the San Lorenzo neighbourhood in search of the restaurant. A quiet, residential area, I liked that it was off-the-beaten tourist path. I managed to snag a seat at the bar, and it wasn’t long before I was perusing the menu, glass of cava in hand. I ordered salmorejo (cold tomato soup), slow-cooked egg on boletus cake with caramelized wine reduction, foie-gras and pork tenderloin with cabrales cheese sauce. Everything was absolutely superb and artfully-arranged. I was surprised at how many tapas places I’d been to where such care was taken in the presentation, even though the item may only have been a couple Euro.
Full of deliciousness, I walked back to the AirBnB, through charming, colourful streets. The heat (40 C) mingled with a full belly was sapping my energy considerably, so I enjoyed the luxury of a siesta in the air conditioned confines of my apartment. After a few hours of blissful, cool sleep, I dragged myself out of bed and went in search of a place to eat for dinner. I ended up walking back to Plaza de la Encarnación, where I discovered you could actually go atop the giant mushroom structure for views of the city. It was a bizarre juxtaposition of new and old, looking out over the undulating wooden structure out at cathedrals and buildings centuries old. The price of admission included a glass of wine (gotta love this country), so I lingered over my wine whilst searching for a dinner spot.
La Brunilda looked to be highly recommended and only a few minutes from my apartment, so I headed back in that direction. I ended up getting there just a few minutes before it opened and waited in the queue of people already lining up for it (a good sign). I grabbed myself a high top table, as I wanted to actually have a back to my chair after all the meals I’d eaten on backless bar stools. Because I seem physically incapable of not ordering them, I grabbed croquetas, as well as mushroom risotto and their roasted chicken with mushrooms and polenta. It was divinely good–especially the risotto, so creamy! That’s what I love about tapas: because the portions are small enough you can sample a variety of things. This is particularly important as a solo traveler, where sharing a couple of things is not an option. Yet another delicious day in Seville!
My flight out of Barcelona was relatively early (8:30 am), and I had grand intentions of waking up early enough to take public transit to the airport. I did wake up when I’d planned, but then dozed off again (as I’m wont to do), so taxi it is! I think this was my first flight with Ryanair, and it was, thankfully, uneventful. I arrived in Seville and was pleasantly surprised to find that getting into the city centre was an easy busy ride. It was perhaps a mere 5 seconds after disembarking that I was made very aware of the fact that I was now in the south of Spain. Heat! Mercifully, it was a short walk to my AirBnB, where I met my AirBnB host. She spoke essentially no English, so we rather amusingly communicated via Google translate (though she had several pre-translated pieces of information to what I assume were common questions). The apartment was a charming, well-appointed loft, the perfect size for just me. After I’d settled in, it was time to explore a new city!
My first stop was Seville Cathedral, just a short walk from my apartment. It was certainly not hard to miss it. Holy huge! It was absolutely massive. It is in fact the largest Gothic cathedral (and third largest church) in the world. Something of that scale really takes one’s breath away. The ornately-carved ceilings just soar, and the giant stone pillars stand like redwood trees. The cool, calm respite of the church was welcome, and I made my way through, craning my neck to see everything. I especially loved the beautifully-carved organs that seemed be as tall as the church itself.
I passed the many chapels until I reached a dramatic coffin, which I later learned houses the one and only Christopher Columbus, or at least 200 grams of him. Apparently, his body has been moved around to different countries throughout history, as a result of various wars and conflict, so many have claimed to have his body. Ultimately, they did a DNA test (as they definitely have his son’s body) and determined that he is in fact in Seville Cathedral, but only 200 grams of him.
I felt myself wanting to linger longer, soaking it all in, but I finally made my way out, through the orange orchard. I was a little sad that the Giralda Tower was closed for maintenance, as it’s supposed to afford a beautiful view of the city. Alas, a little something for next time! I strolled through the adjacent plaza, marvelling at its colours and vibrancy. I was also sweltering, but it was thankfully only a short walk to a gelato spot–the perfect respite for a hot summer day. I enjoyed my gelato on what turned out to be a formerly sun-warmed stone bench before wandering down to the riverfront.
It was certainly a picturesque walk, passing the impressive Torre del Oro and the multi-coloured buildings across the river. The shaded riverside boulevard provided a welcome relief from the sun and heat, which made for a pleasant walk back to the apartment. I definitely now understand the concept of a siesta now, as the heat saps you of your energy (particularly if coupled with a glass or two of wine), so that all you can do upon entering your apartment is flop ungainly into bed and sleep for several hours. I normally abhor daytime naps (I usually feel groggy and headachy afterwards), but evidently this type of nap in the hot Spanish summer is a necessity.
Since it was my first night in Seville, I thought an excellent way to learn about all the good foods by taking a food tour. I set out to meet my Devour tour guide at the Plaza de la Escarnacion, under the shade of a gigantic modern mushroom-like structure, bizarrely incongruent with the architecture of the square. It wasn’t long before I was met by the lovely and effervescent Sara, who’d be my guide for the evening. We chatted while waiting for the other couple who’d be joining us, and I was happy to learn we’d be a small group. The tour was a combination of history and food, so we first learned about the different groups who had colonized the area and subsequently influenced the food and culture as a result. Our first food stop was Bar El Comercio, a charming old-man bar where we enjoyed slices of Iberian ham and vermouth on ice. I learned that vermouth over ice is a) not at all like the vermouth we use in martinis and the like back home, b) a very common aperitif in Spain, and c) super tasty! From there, we wandered through cozy plazas, learning little nuggets of history, and eventually through the courtyard of El Divino Salvador. Built on the site of a former mosque, it was interesting to see the remnants of Moorish culture still lingering in the architecture and ponder what it means to dominate another culture (either by destroying their sacred places completely or absorbing them).
Our next stop was a tiny hole in the wall where we feasted on manchego cheese and Iberian pork belly while sipping on sherry derived from oranges (from a recipe that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years). From there, we meandered our way past the Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower (another example of a formerly Moorish structure that was taken over by the Christians, whereupon they added additional floors and an Athena-esque statue on top). Another form of dominance, evidently, is just sticking things on top of someone else’s things. We made our way through the Barrio de Santa Cruz (old Jewish quarter), learning about its, unsurprisingly, tortured history, including a rather gruesome, Romeo-and-Juliet tale involving love, betrayal and decapitation. Our next food stop was at a former wine merchant’s shop, which still housed the giant, ceramic vats that used to contain wine. We enjoyed a very dry sherry wine with our tapas–a chorizo-like sausage as well as cod topped with salmorejo (super tasty). We chatted about our travels and where we were from (the American couple lived in New York), and it was nice to spend an evening talking to other human beings–an uncommon feat as a solo traveler.
Sara was a lovely guide, filled with interesting anecdotes and an adorable book of slides that she’d use to illustrate various historical points. The American couple had just come from Morocco, and Nicole had been recovering from some stomach problems. Unfortunately, they came to a head at our fourth stop, and she was not looking happy. They ultimately decided to head back to their hotel, which left me to have essentially a private tour. I enjoyed salmorejo, a Spanish cold tomato soup originating in the south, garnished with ham and hard-boiled egg, as well as fried zucchini stuffed with ham and cheese. I also tried tinto de verano (“red wine of summer”), which is red wine with lemonade, and was suitably light and refreshing. Sara suggested this over sangria, as apparently the latter is not really commonly drunk by locals and has become more of a tourist drink. Our final stop was just next door, where Sara, who seems to know everyone, was greeted effusively by the waitstaff. They brought us many delicious tapas, including lamb with couscous (showing its Moorish history), pork cheeks and cod fritters. I sampled two different types of sherry wine, a sweeter and a drier one, and basked in the warm glow of good food, wine and cheerful company. It no longer felt like a tour, but just two friends chatting amiably.
There are advantages to being chummy with the staff, as they slipped in an extra foie gras tapas (it’s like they know me!), and rather endearingly showed me the photo they took with Harrison Ford when he visited. As our night wound down, Sara kindly invited me to join her and her friends for a night out on Saturday, and I was happy to accept the invitation, not willing to pass up the opportunity to not only hang out with a new friend but also experience how locals enjoy their Saturday night. Contact information exchanged, we parted ways, and it was a blissfully short walk by to my AirBnB apartment. A thoroughly successful first day in Seville!
The weather forecast was threatening rain, which was unfortunate given my intentions to see Park Güell today. Nevertheless, I awoke at a relatively respectable hour, pulled on my running shoes and (somewhat amazingly) completed my MPC workout for the day. It was actually quite interesting to go for a run—made one feel a little closer to being a local. It also was just another chance to see an area of the city I hadn’t been in before. It wasn’t a perfect workout (my distance intervals weren’t super precise), but I was pleased to at least have gotten it in. I borrowed one of the B&B’s umbrellas (just in case) and headed off for the day’s adventures. My first stop was actually the Mercado de la Boqueria, This large covered market has its origins dating back to the 1200s, and had been a pig market and then a straw market and a goat market. I love going to markets–even though I typically don’t have any interest in buying anything. Walking by the stalls, seeing their displays, makes me feel, just for a moment, apart of the city…like I am living there and shopping for my daily food. There were an abundance of colourful candied fruit and meat shops. Unlike most markets I’d been to, many of them very handily had small cones filled with an assortment of their product (be it meat or fish or whatever) for people to take with them and eat, and proved a nice way to sample the product. I grabbed myself a cone of manchego cheese and pata negra, both of which were delicious and hit the spot nicely.
From there, I transited my way over to Park Güell, which was a little ways away from the city centre. To my disappointment, I discovered upon arrival that I should have booked tickets in advance to see the “monument zone”, where Gaudí’s sculptures are held, as the next available showing was a good 6 hours later. I would’ve come back but I’d already bought a timed ticket for the Sagrada Familia for around the same time. Thankfully, the rest of the park was open and free to the public, so I meandered my way around. The park afforded some panoramic views of the city, though the cloud cover diminished the view somewhat.
After I’d had my fill of vegetation, I decided that some tapas was needed. One of my colleagues had recommended a place, Alta Taberna Paco Meralgo, so I hiked on over. The place was still bustling at 3 pm, but I managed to snag a seat at the bar. Requisite glass of cava in hand, I ordered veal carpaccio with foie gras shavings, a melted brie montadito, and (because I physically can’t resist) foie gras on nut bread. All of it was superbly good–the veal carpaccio was especially tasty–and I once again was in my happy place, ensconced in a veritable bear hug of deliciousness. I chatted with my American neighbours for a time (they celebrate their wedding anniversary every year by coming to Barcelona) and capped off my meal with dessert, a giant profiterole drizzled in warm melted chocolate.
I walked back to my B&B to relax and pack things up before my appointment at Sagrada Familia. The church was thankfully quite close to my B&B, so it wasn’t long before I was gazing up at the striking insanity that is Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. When he died in 1926, the building was not even a quarter finished, and the expected finish date is projected to be 2026. Its facade is incredibly ornate, intricate carvings covering its entire surface. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting upon entering, but its interior is no less breathtaking. I’ve always thought that the giant pillars inside cathedrals look something like tree trunks, but apparently Gaudí intended the pillars to really look like trees, branching off dramatically at the ceiling. The rainbow of stained glass windows cast beautiful colours onto the stone. The place was packed, which wasn’t surprising given that it’s apparently the most visited monument in Spain. But the nice thing about its massive size is that you don’t really notice the crowds–that and you’re always craning upwards at the ceiling, so the buzz of the tourists sort of dies away.
I don’t think I’d ever been in a church quite like this one–something so modern and avant-garde. I loved how different it was to anything I’d ever seen. I had also bought a ticket to go up one of the towers, so I waited in line for the elevator (which you only took up. You had to walk back down the 400 or so steps). You were let out onto a very small bridge area and peered through the metal bars to glimpse at the city and the construction being done on the church. It was actually more interesting going down the spiral staircase, peeking out the windows on the way down. After lingering outside, staring up in awe–there’s just so much going on, it’s hard to take it all in–I made my way to the metro and headed off.
My sister, being the stained glass aficionado that she is, recommended that I check out the Palau de la Música Catalana, as it apparently has a pretty epic stained glass ceiling. As it was a somewhat spur of the moment stop, I hadn’t done much research on it, so I when I arrived I learned that guided tours of the place ended several hours earlier. I was feeling determined/spontaneous, so I decided what better way to see a theatre hall than to see a show. There was a showing of Gran Gala Flamenco later that evening which seemed like the perfect opportunity, plus music and dance–two of my favourite things! I needed to eat something for dinner, so I checked out one of the recommended spots on my food list, El Xampanayet in the Gothic Quarter, which opened in 1929. The tiny place was packed, and I squeezed my way into a spot at the bar. One definitely had to jostle to maintain one’s position. They’re known for their cava, and I probably downed three delicious glasses in less than an hour (’tis the danger of cava). I enjoyed my tapas–salmon, bacon, Spanish omelette, all good things–before heading back up to the B&B. I didn’t have my glasses on me, which I would need to be able to see the show. I took the opportunity to change into something a little more “going to the theatre” before bolting back out the door.
I’d read that Palau de la Música Catalana is considered to be one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. I’d have to say I’d concur with that assessment. It is truly breathtaking upon entering–you can’t help but just gape at the gorgeous stained glass ceiling and windows that line the hall, along with dramatic carvings emerging from each corner. I was giddy at the sight, pleased at my spontaneous decision to see a show and the inside of the theatre. The performance itself was great–fantastic dancers and musicians. The show was marred only by the pair of people sitting in front of me who were quite restless (I think because of the heat), and would often make it hard to see. Nevertheless, I’d never seen flamenco dance in person, and I was captivated. Speed and sass! The speed of their footwork, which reminded me a bit of certain moves of tap dancing, was amazing. As I always seem to after seeing a new dance style, I found myself wanting to learn its secrets and try it for myself. Next time I’m in Spain! Gracias Barcelona, you treated me well.
Given how little sleep I had gotten, it was perhaps not surprising that I slept in the following morning. Thankfully I had not missed breakfast and enjoyed the fresh and healthy breakfast buffet that had been laid out on the terrace. But it wasn’t long before I was out the door and on my way to see the sights. My first stop was Plaça Reial (Royal Plaza) in the Gothic Quarter, which was a beautiful, palm tree-filled square, lined with restaurants and bars housed in historic buildings. From there, it was a pleasant walk through winding, colourful streets over to one of Antoni Gaudí’s fine works, Palau Güell.
It was one of many commissions he completed for the wealthy industrialist Eusebi Güell. I loved the whimsical nature of the Catalan modernist’s style–curves and colour punctuating the relatively austere interiors (there wasn’t much furniture left in the house, so it was predominantly empty rooms). The stunning receiving room was meant for receiving high class guests and had little windows on the upper floors, which could be used to get a peek at what the guests were wearing when they came in (and allowing them to make any sartorial adjustments as necessary). It wasn’t a huge mansion, so it was relatively easy to get through.
The rooftop made a particular impression, topped with what looked like bizarre cake pops, with colourful ceramic pillars. I basked in the sun for a bit, admiring the weird little sculptures, before making my way out. I figured it was high time to indulge in some tapas, and I made the walk down to a renowned tapas bar, Quimet & Quimet. It’s tucked in an out-of-the-way neighbourhood and looks like it could actually be a wine shop, at first glance, as its walls are lined with bottles. Opened in 1909, it did originally start out as a place to sell wine. They often served it with a small bite like anchovies or olives, as a selling point for customers. Four generations later, it’s still in the family (I believe I was actually served by the current proprietor, “Quim”).
It’s a tiny, standing room only kind of place, so I grabbed a spot at the bar (one of the pleasures of solo travel is it’s relatively easy to squeeze in and get spots at restaurants, since they only have to accommodate you). I perused the lengthy menu while enjoying a glass of sangria and ordered foie gras and mushrooms (naturally), anchovy and cheese, blue cheese and red pepper, salmon with yoghurt and truffled honey, and mushrooms and cheese. Most of these were montaditos, which are tapas served on a baguette-like piece of bread. Being at the bar, it was great to watch them prepare each one fresh, and they were all divinely good. I am now fully in love with tapas…relatively cheap and super delicious. I’ve said before when eating out at a restaurant that the appetizer is often my favourite part of the meal, and that I’d be happy to just eat a meal of appetizers. It’s a smaller portion but often packs a bigger flavour wallop than a main course, and a place where chefs can be a bit more inventive and take risks. Tapas is my meal of appetizers! I happily munched on my foods, washing them down with plentiful, inexpensive sangria.
From there, I hopped on a bus and made my way over to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. I wasn’t actually planning on seeing the art but rather just admiring the building. I’d spotted it getting off the metro when I first arrived in town, but as I was laden with luggage, didn’t have the chance to really investigate. It’s definitely an imposing building, perched atop Montjuïc hill. Despite the availability of escalators, my MPC training kicked in, and I opted to take the many stairs up the hill (my health app later informed me that I climbed a total of 26 floors throughout the day. Huzzah for working off those tapas!). I wandered around the shaded grounds and admired the stunning views of the city from its promenade.
I made my way back to the Gothic Quarter and over to the Basilica de Santa Maria. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there is actually more than one Basilica de Santa Maria. I saw the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, which was lovely enough, if not fairly simple (by my fairly lofty cathedral standards). The well-known cathedral, however, is Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Alas, something for the next time I visit!
Per the recommendation of my host, I’d made reservations at a restaurant just a block away from my B&B, called 9 Nine. My “early” reservation of 7:30 pm meant I was the first diner to arrive. The menu was actually a prix fixe, so I was able to choose 3 tapas, a main and a dessert (that plus 2 glasses of wine and a glass of cava for 33 Euros is pretty good!). Since I seem incapable of not eating croquetas, that was naturally my first choice, along with baked egg with foie gras, and prawns. The prawns thoughtfully came with serviettes to wipe one’s hands off, and I spent a good deal of time cracking and peeling the shells off (handling hot shellfish is not my area of expertise). My main course consisted of grilled Iberian pork with three sauces and actually came with a hot plate (a heated plate-like slab of what could have been cast-iron) so that I could finish the meat off to my taste. It had been cooked rare/medium-rare, so all it took was a few seconds on the hot plate, and it was perfect. It proved to be an entertaining activity to break up all my consumption. To end the evening, my server recommended the chocolate dessert–an excellent recommendation–as it was a heavenly molten chocolate cake. The whole meal was superb, and I had definitely consumed far more than was probably good for me. Mercifully, it was only a short waddle back to the B&B.
I’m not going to lie; one of the biggest joys of my job is the opportunity to travel the world. A language development conference in Bilbao meant visiting a new country for me! My flight with KLM was comfortable and perhaps too entertaining (love when airlines have great movies available), and I didn’t end up getting hardly any sleep as a result. My first order of business in Barcelona was getting a SIM card, which thankfully were available in the airport. 15 Euros seem a small price to pay for the ability to Google map my way around town, particularly considering I’ll be renting a car later in my trip.
In an effort to not be completely extravagant, I decided to take public transit into town, which consisted of an airport bus and a metro. Ah Europe, with its ever abundant staircases and never-ending tunnels between stations. Normally, this is not a concern, but when hauling around 50-odd pounds of crap, one gets sweaty right quick. I finally emerged from my underground travels and made my way to the bed and breakfast I’d be staying at. I experienced a momentary panic when no one answered the doorbell (only to realize I’d punched in the wrong address in Google maps), and so I was soon met by my warm and friendly host. It was a charming apartment and beautifully-decorated—with a kind of rustic/chic vibe. My room was small but comfortable and tastefully-furnished, with high ceilings and outfitted with all that I would need. While settling in and getting ready for the day, I made the rather unwelcome discovery that one of my main lenses didn’t work with the camera body I’d brought. This is the first time shooting with the Nikon V2, and I have a vague recollection of discovering many months ago some weird glitch that rendered this lens essentially useless. Berating myself for not having checked things out before I left, I thanked my lucky stars that I still at least had one working lens (fixed focal-length). It is not unfortunately a wide-angle lens, so I’ll be supplementing my shooting with my trusty iPhone.
The advantage of a morning-arriving flight is one still has a half-day, which is enough time to cover some ground but a short enough period so as to ease oneself in to full-time travel mode. I decided that I would walk in the general direction of the Gothic Quarter. I made my way down one of the main thoroughfares and marvelled at the wide, tree-lined streets, where vast, centre portions of the road are devoted to bicycles and pedestrians and smaller outer lanes given to cars. The buildings were beautiful, with ornate wrought-iron balconies and often with stained glass turrets. I meandered my way down through the winding, narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter until I came across Barcelona Cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century.
This gorgeous Gothic cathedral had every thing that I love about cathedrals–soaring pillars, ornate woodwork and beautiful stained glass windows. It also provided a welcome respite from the throngs of tourists. I learned from my host that it was a bank holiday, which is why there were relatively few locals on the streets (though there were certainly plenty of tourists to fill them up). I noticed a queue growing at one side of the cathedral and discovered it was for the elevator up to the rooftop. The roof afforded beautiful views from the hills out to the sea, and so I loitered for a time, drinking it in while bemusedly watching the different selfie methods employed by my fellow tourist. I made my way back down and through the secluded Gothic cloister, where 13 geese are kept. One of the patron saints of Barcelona is Eulalia, a martyred Roman Christian virgin entombed in the cathedral, who was 13 when she was martyred (hence the 13 geese).
From there, I continued my wandering in search of a tapas bar I’d read about, not far from the water, only to discover that they were closed (presumably because of the bank holiday). However, Isla Tortuga, which happened to be next door, was open and so I sidled on up to the bar and ordered me some tapas. Before planning this trip, I knew very little about Spanish food, but made it a point to try a couple Spanish restaurants in Toronto before I left. Of the things I know, cava and croquetas (Spanish croquettes) are some of the best things ever. I am generally a lover of sparking wine, and particularly cava, so I was thrilled to be in cava country. I will often get an amused look at bars in North America when I order sparkling wine, with the bartender often asking if I’m celebrating a special occasion (what, being a Tuesday isn’t enough?), so it’s delightful that I am finally in a city where that is the go-to drink. The mushroom croquetas were super delicious, as were my other tapas.
From there, I decided to seek out a nearby spot in the Gothic Quarter, specializing in gin, called Bar Rubí. I read, much to my joy, that the gin and tonic is an especially popular drink in Barcelona (and my drink of choice outside of sparkling wine). As it was relatively early still, the bar wasn’t busy, and I grabbed a seat, admiring the wealth of gin choices on display. I decided to go with one of the house-made infusions, mango gin and tonic (super delicious). Apparently, it’s customary in Barcelona to serve G&Ts in a a large wine glass–a very large one in my case. I nursed my drink and watched the bar fill up, a good mix of foreigners and locals. After I’d had my fill, I made my way to the metro and took the short ride back to the B&B. I discovered I’d walked 18.5 K steps (12 km) during my half day of meandering, so I figured it might be an idea to save my legs.
After seeing all the Icelandic horses on my journeys, I’d decided to book myself a horse ride with Íshestar. As a kid, I’d done a few horseback riding summer camps and had always enjoyed it, but it had been ages since I’d ridden. There are a number of horse tour companies, but I decided to go with Íshestar because of their strong animal welfare policy. Wanted to be sure that the horses are well-treated!
The tour company’s minibus picked me up near my guesthouse, and we drove not far out of the city to their stables. I stowed my things and grabbed myself a helmet, before watching a short video providing a brief introduction to how to ride. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to my adorable horse (whose unpronounceable name I cannot remember). I successfully mounted my steed and waited in the paddock while everyone else got settled. They explained that we’d eventually split into two groups, slow and medium, depending on whether we wanted to walk the whole time or if we wanted to speed things up occasionally, but that we’d ride for a bit first so we could get a feel for our horse and how comfortable we are. We eventually set off in single file, basking in sunlight, which finally saw fit to grace us with its presence. It was a truly gorgeous morning for a ride, though very brisk.
My horse was for the most part responsive to my cues, but she did have a strong desire to snack (which was rather awkward while I was seated in the saddle, as the reins weren’t very long, so I was pulled forward). Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to join the medium-pace group. We walked for the most part, but we did pick up the pace every so often, and I got to experience the tölt gait, which is unique to this breed of horses. It is an ambling gait that is much smoother than a trot, which if you’ve ridden a traditional horse, you will know can be quite bouncy. We made our way through lava fields and were treated to beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Though I hadn’t realized just how cold it was going to be this morning and found my feet were absolutely freezing. We rode for over an hour, eventually winding our way back to the stables. A lovely way to spend a morning, and I counted it a success that I stayed on my horse. I did manage to dismount in a supremely ungraceful manner (thankfully, I was unassisted so I don’t think anyone bore witness to it). I’d forgotten that one should first remove boot from stirrup before trying swing the leg over, which I remembered mid-swing. I pitched forward and was draped precariously, and rather ungainly, over the front of the saddle. My horse also decided that now was a good time to nibble food on the ground, so I didn’t have anything to push myself back up off of. Thankfully, I eventually managed to right myself and dismount.
After a cup of cocoa in the reception area, I hopped back on the mini-bus and was delivered back to my guesthouse. The weather was cooperating so nicely that I didn’t want to linger too long inside. I was just a short walk away from Reykjavik’s largest church, Hallgrímskirkja, said to be designed to reflect Iceland’s mountains and glaciers. There was a considerable line once inside waiting for the elevator to the top of the tower, so I buckled down and waited. I took the opportunity to admire the church’s interior, which much like its exterior, was austere–beautiful in its simplicity. The elevator only permitted 6 people at a time, but I eventually made it up.
The wind had really picked up at that point, making the viewing room (with its open windows) a kind of wind tunnel. So strong was the wind, that I could barely bring my camera up to my face. Thankfully, this effect was attenuated at the other windows of the viewing room, so I was able to glimpse fantastic city views. The city is a riot of colour, with all its brightly-coloured rooftops and painted buildings. I made a few laps of the viewing room, taking in the 360 degree view (I could finally see all the mountains surrounding the city!) before heading back down.
I had no real fixed plans for the afternoon. There are a host of museums in Reykjavik (including the famed Icelandic Phallological Museum, which I opted to forego), but given that I was relatively short on time, I was happy to just wander the city. I walked through the quiet residential streets near my guesthouse, enjoying the simplicity of the architecture, with its clean lines and bright colours. I also noticed that corrugated metal was used everywhere, from the simplest house to churches and mansions. The roofs were predominantly corrugated metal, and occasionally the siding as well. Apparently, it usage rose in popularity in response to scarce building materials (i.e., wood), city fires and natural disasters.
I wound my way down to Tjörnin, a lagoon in the heart of city, which was apparently a hot spot for all things aviary. Hundreds of birds congregated along the shoreline, happily awaiting scraps of bread from an obliging human. I continued my rather aimless journey onto Laugavegur, one of the main shopping streets in the city. The clouds were moving through, bringing with it a brief spurt of snow. I popped into Thorvaldsens Bazar, when I noticed they sold Icelandic wool sweaters (as I’d been keeping an eye out for one) and that all their profits go to support various children’s charities. A deep blue, short-sleeved sweater caught my eye, and after trying it on, I decided to go for it. It turned out the woman helping me had actually knitted the sweater herself (which she was a bit embarrassed to admit). I continued onward up the street and popped into a few more shops, picking up a beautiful wool scarf made by a local company. When I travel, I tend to avoid knickknack souvenirs (in part because they’re usually just manufactured in China and because I don’t know what to do with them when I get home) and favour supporting local artisans by purchasing art or clothing or something. So I was happy to be able to find a couple things that are representative of Icelandic culture and that I will actually get use out of.
I made my way down to the waterfront to check out Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert hall, which was apparently designed to reflect Iceland’s basalt formations. It’s a gorgeous, modern space–all light and reflections and concrete. It was relatively quiet as I walked around, staring up at the soaring geometric glass panels.
I eventually headed back to my guesthouse to relax for a couple hours before dinner. I’d made a reservation a restaurant recommended in my guidebook (and happened to be 5 minutes away from where I was staying) called Þrir Frakkar. It was a cozy spot with a nice selection of choices on their menu. I asked my server’s recommendation, and she suggested trying Gratineraður Plokkfiskur (mashed fish), apparently a traditional Icelandic dish. It’s basically flaked white fish mixed with potato and an onion sauce, topped with béarnaise or hollandaise and cheese and baked, and served with dark rye bread. I like all of those things–put them together, and it was definitely super delicious. I later learned that this particular restaurant is one of the best places for that specific dish. I’ll have to try my hand at making it when I get home!
Full of wine and fish, I waddled back to my guesthouse, reminiscing on my adventures of the last week. There’s always a part of me that is sad to leave, wanting to see and do more in a new place, but at the same time a bit eager to get home and back to real life. Despite the mercurial weather and how expensive it is, Iceland was truly beautiful and a wonderful experience. I set out wanting to see landscapes I’d never seen before and feel like I was standing on the edge of the world, peering into the unknown. Mission accomplished! And I know that this will not be the last time I visit. As travel often does, it just whet my appetite for more. Until next time, Iceland.
The clouds had rolled in by the time we got to the hotel last night, so I was pleasantly surprised to find in the morning that we were surrounded by mountains. After a quick hotel breakfast, we piled into our van and headed to our first stop, Ytri Tunga, in search of seals. We did spot a few seals bobbing in the sunrise-dappled water, but my attention was largely focused away from the water. For all my desire the previous day to see mountains, I definitely had the chance to drink them in today. The beach was situated next to a breathtaking range of mountains. Though largely overcast, the cloud cover was high enough to actually see the mountain tops, and the sun was just beginning to peek through in places, shining a spotlight on a few glaciers.
From there, it was a relatively short drive to Búðir, a hamlet on the westernmost tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. I was surrounded by stunning vistas, from waterfall-draped mountains to shorelines strewn with chunks of basalt rock. It’s also the site of a charming inn and tiny church–apparently ships and fishing boats had been landing here for hundreds of years. After about 30 minutes of strolling the beaches and drinking in the view, we piled back in the van and headed onwards.
Our next destination was the fishing village Arnarstapi, situated at the foot of Mt. Stapafell and alongside some impressive basalt cliffs. We took the path from the village and followed the coastline, glimpsing striking views including the one below (I dubbed it the Lonely Mountain, which I felt befit my journey).
There were a number of interesting land bridges and holes in the basalt cliffs, where one could peer down into the ocean. Waves would sporadically crash dramatically against the cliff base, usually when my camera was down. Nevertheless, I felt that surge of joy that one gets when traveling, the thrill of seeing a new place and being awe-struck by its beauty.
We eventually wound our way back to the van, where we drove to a nearby cafe for a quick lunch. Quick only because we had a date with a lava tube. Vatnshellir cave was created after an eruption around 8000 years ago and purportedly the entry site that inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Equipped with helmets and flashlights, we met our lava tube guide by what looked like a miniature missile silo but was really the entrance to the cave via a spiral staircase. We learned about the different lava formations that resembled stalagmites and stalactites. The walls glittered with flecks of gold (actually bacteria and basically the only life capable of surviving down there). We descended another spiral staircase into a lower tube, a vast cavern 35m below the surface. Our guide had us turn our lights and electronic equipment off to experience true darkness. It was haunting being in the black, but peaceful. Perhaps peaceful because one doesn’t have to worry about processing stimuli from one of our dominant senses and can just listen to the sounds of dripping water making its way slowly from the surface.
After we’d had our fill of the cave, we headed back to the surface and rejoined the land of the light. It was a relatively short drive to our next destination, Djúpalónssandur Beach. We didn’t go down to the beach right away but instead by a “secret” path along the cliff’s edge. For those willing, it eventually involved some mildly precarious scampering. But it was there, looking out into the mist, that I found the end of the world. Not really, of course, but standing on a lava formation jutting out into the ocean, where one cannot see anything beyond, does make one feel rather dramatic.
From there we made our way down to Djúpalónssandur beach. There was a kind of a beauty to its stark severity, with its black sand and rusted fragments of a long-forgotten shipwreck strewn about. It apparently used to be a major fishing port but has long been uninhabited. I wandered down through the rocks and came across “lifting stones”, a set of smooth, very heavy rocks that were historically used to test fishermen’s strength (weight ranges from 23-154 kg/50-340 lbs). I love the translations of the different names of the stones (“full strength”, “half strength”, “weakling” and “useless”). I was with the English/American group at the time, and one of the guys just had to have a go. Needless to say, he was not successful and, to the amusement of all, split his pants trying!
We eventually headed off to our final stop of the day, the famed Mt. Kirkjufell, which is apparently the most photographed mountain in Iceland. And indeed, when we arrived, there was a line-up of photographers camped out with their tripods (packing some serious hardware that made me feel a little inadequate). As we walked up, one moron had stepped over the rope to set up his gear essentially at the top of the waterfall and was therefore sitting in everyone’s shot (in his bright orange jacket). I commiserated with one of the photographers in the line-up, and he thankfully had the wherewithal to go shout at him to get out of the way. It was a beautiful mountain (I imagine even more so when one can see the top of it). But I was equally struck by the beautiful mountains behind the line of photographers–snow-covered and peeking out through the mist, with Icelandic horses grazing below–I was bemused that they were all so fixated on shooting this one angle, perhaps without noticing or appreciating the beauty behind them.
We drove about halfway back to Reykjavik before stopping at a gas station/diner for a spot of dinner. Night had fallen, and as we continued onward, we gazed hopefully out the car windows, praying for a flicker of light in the sky. But alas, despite spotting a few stars amongst the clouds, it was too overcast to see anything. No Northern Lights for me! I wasn’t terribly disappointed, as that certainly wasn’t my main reason for coming to Iceland. I felt worse for a couple of the girls on the trip, one of whom had saved for years to travel to Iceland and see the Lights. I did have a chance to chat with the folks from the English/American group a bit more. They all met while traveling and continue to travel like crazy (one of them says he travels about 120 days a year). I mentioned there’s a possibility I might be in the UK this year for a conference, and so we exchanged emails with the hope that we’d be able to meet up again. All in all, a very successful day, and certainly my favourite of the trip thus far. Seeing gorgeous landscapes and making new friends–isn’t that what traveling is all about?
I was eager to start out on the second leg of my tour, where I’d be journeying to the west part of Iceland. So eager apparently that I was in the lobby waiting for the pick-up a full hour earlier than the actual pick-up time (I’d mixed up the pick-up time yet again!). I met my new guide, Saga, a Reykjavik local, and the somewhat sadder van we’d be given. Apparently, they had to rent a van, as they were out of their usual mini-buses. This van was more of a traditional style van, and we were squeezing twelve passengers in. Also, for whatever strange reason, the last row of seats had essentially no legroom. Our guide was apologetic and suggested we rotate seats throughout the day. It was largely a new group of travellers, except for the couple from Wales who was with me on the first tour. We had a couple of solo female travellers from China and South Korea and a couple from India, as well as a gregarious group of travellers from the States and England.
The weather was overcast as we drove out of the city. However, we went through a long tunnel and emerged to brilliant sunshine. I’d actually dozed off and was startled awake by sunlight blasting through the windows and gorgeous seaside views. We drove by some truly stunning mountains, and I actually found myself a little disgruntled at not being able to stop and appreciate them. I tried taking a few shots through the car window, but a telephoto lens and moving car don’t work well together.
Our first stop was the village of Reykholt, where we visited the famous Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson’s outdoor bath. I admit I was a bit underwhelmed, likely because my mind was still on those sun-drenched mountains we’d passed. I tried not to fixate on it and just considered it as giving me a preview for when I come back. Our next stop was a set of waterfalls, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Hraunfossar is an interesting series of waterfalls that actually stream out from below a lava field. There were bridges and viewing platforms to get a look at the different waterfalls, and I happily explored the area. The sun wasn’t out anymore, though it peeked out occasionally, but it was dry and bright (which equaled a happy traveller).
From there, we made the relatively short drive over to Deildartunguhver, the most powerful hot spring in Europe, providing hot water and central heating for the area. However, the real star of this location turned out to be the most adorable, very chubby dog that had seemed to have taken up residence in the parking lot. He happily ran out to greet every car and bus that entered the lot–I imagine in hopes of food and/or rubs (I was happy to provide the latter). As we pulled out of the lot, I saw him sitting patiently in front of a (closed) car door, waiting for the driver to get out. What a determined cutie!
After a gas station pit stop for food, we continued onward, pulling over to visit with some sweet Icelandic horses grazing near the road. I was amazed that they just sauntered on over to us, happy to receive our attention and rubs. Saga was quick to correct anyone who called them ponies–they are in fact full-grown horses! They’ve got full, rockstar manes and are hardy animals, capable of surviving Icelandic winters (typically harsher than the one I was experiencing). In an attempt to keep the breed pure and prevent disease, no other horse breeds are allowed into Iceland, and any horses exported are not permitted to return.
Our final scheduled stop was the Gerðuberg basalt columns, which looked like the wall of a medieval fortress. The clouds had rolled in at this point, so it was a wall of grey on grey. Some of the group decided to explore and climb the rocks, while I chose to stay a bit apart and just soak in the silence. We were so far from anything else at this point that there were really no sounds–quite a meditative feeling.
When everyone finally gathered back in the van, Saga mentioned that we still had a bit of light left in the day and asked whether we’d be interested in seeing a secret spot of hers. We were all game, and so drove not far to our mystery site. We hiked about 15 minutes, through a gorgeous, moss-covered lava field, an ethereal layer of clouds shrouding the tops of the mountains. There was a small spring that Saga took us to Rauðamelsölkelda, a natural mineral spring containing carbonic acid (so it bubbles). I had a taste of the water, and it was light and refreshing. We made our way over to a waterfall, tucked between walls of rock. Much scampering and light rock climbing ensued, as many of us wanted to get in closer to the falls. On our walk back to the van, we noticed a few small patches of snow on the ground, where several people jokingly posed to show evidence of the snowy, wintery Iceland they’d expected to visit. I will say that I am definitely a fan of “secret” spots. Off the beaten path, they tend to give a glimpse of a place not typically seen on the usual tourist routes.
It was a relatively short drive to our hotel for the night, Hotel Rjúkandi. It was definitely one of the nicest places we’d stayed on the tour thus far, with stylish, well-appointed rooms. Prior to dinner, I wandered into the little café/bar area and found the English/American group of travellers enjoying pre-dinner drinks. It was in fact a bottle of rum that one of them had bought at the duty-free on the way into Iceland (definitely something to consider doing for next time), which the proprietor didn’t seem to mind them drinking. I opted to sample some Reykjavik cucumber gin (delicious!). At dinner, I couldn’t pass up trying some medium-rare Icelandic lamb, one of the country’s specialties, served with mashed potatoes (which may have also been a motivating factor). A super tasty meal, made better by lively company. The English/American group were a talkative and entertaining bunch, and we covered a range of topics, everything from traveling the Incan trail to American politics. They generously shared their rum with everyone, and we’d finished the bottle by the end of the evening.
We started out before the sun was up (which isn’t terribly early I suppose when sunrise is close to 9:30) and made the relatively short drive to Glacier Guides. The clouds had lifted enough to reveal a gorgeous range of mountains, draped in rugged glaciers, in shades of blue in the morning light. We were fitted for crampons and given a helmet and an ice axe before piling into a large bus to be driven to Falljökull (pronounced something like “fat yoghurt”), which translates to “falling glacier”. We hiked for about 30 minutes to the foot of the glacier, where our guide explained how to strap on and use our crampons.
It was definitely a bit disconcerting taking the initial icy steps onto the glacier. I will say those crampons are an amazing invention, allowing us to walk across ice with relative ease, admittedly with a bit of an odd gait. Our guide entertained us on our hike with facts about glaciers, such as the fact they’re actually formed from compacted snow (something like 30 feet of snow compresses into about an inch of glacial ice) and they move something like 8 inches a day. We hiked up ice stairs that had been carved into the glacier, with the help of rope railings strung along, and eventually stood atop metres and metres of ice, looking out at the lava fields we had just hiked through. It was a sobering thought, as our guide reminded us, that in about 5 years, the ice we were standing on will no longer exist.
We made our way across the glacier and down into a two-level cave below the glacier. These ice caves are only accessible during the winter, as they flood during the summer. The ice was a luminous turquoise (that colour for the same reason that the ocean appears blue) and riddled with bubbles that had been trapped as the snow and ice were compacted. This particular cave was unique because it is actually at the intersection of two glaciers. There’s a spot in the cave where you can put your hand on two separate glaciers!
From the ice cave, we continued upward on the glacier in the rain, eventually stopping at a rivulet of water, where people could fill up their water bottle and enjoy that clean, glacial water. We admired what looked like great waves frozen in time–these soaring, rippled sculptures of ice. Our guide stuck his ice axe partially up one wall of ice and said if people wanted to pretend they were ice climbing for photos, they could (I chose not to partake). We trekked back down the glacier, stopping briefly to say hello to the two resident ravens on the glacier (one of which was named Odin). It’s funny that one is initially very careful when glacier walking, making sure to dig the crampons into the ice, but you eventually forget the craziness of what you’re walking on.
We made our way back to the bus and met up with François again to continue on with our tour and find some lunch. All in all, a morning well-spent–I’d never walked on a glacier before or really even seen one up close. It is definitely a good way to put yourself into perspective, to feel incredibly small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We stopped at a gas station diner to grab food for the road, and I enjoyed a lamb burger, which didn’t taste significantly different from a regular burger.
At this point, the rain and wind had really kicked up. We counted ourselves lucky to have had the weather we had on the glacier. Despite the light rain, it could have been much worse. Per the request of one of our group, we briefly stopped to see the rain-swept moss-covered lava field, dating back to the 700s, that we had driven through the day before. After a thousand years, all that has been able to grow is moss. I understand why François would so strongly encourage us to not stray from the path and trod on the flora. Consider how long it takes for even just moss to grow!
We then drove to our final stop of the tour, Skógafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. Thankfully, the rain had slackened when we arrived, so we only had the spray from the waterfall to contend with. François had recommended going to the top of the waterfall, and so several of us made the steep climb up a seemingly never-ending set of stairs (panting and cursing our guide as we went). Evidently, my climbing 8 flights of stairs twice a day to walk Gizmo had not done much for my stair-climbing stamina. In the end, we peered down at the waterfall from above and took in the view of the nearby mountain before making our way back down.
From there, it was a 2-hour drive back to Reykjavik. The darkening skies and warm mini-bus meant many of us dozed off on the journey back. François had mentioned to me that morning that this was the least favourite part of the trip, as everyone would fall asleep while he drove. I didn’t feel bad though, as this time he was kept company by the French contingent (needless to say, I overheard a lot of French on this tour). Since this was concluding the first part of a 5-day tour, Arctic Adventures had arranged my accommodations for the evening. I checked-in to Foss Hotel, located near the centre of town, popping out briefly to get groceries (cheese/crackers) and have a bite to eat before calling it a night.