29 April 2018

2018 ICELAND Skaftafell 9 - Starry Night at the Glacier

I have never stayed at a hostel, but I'm thinking Hotel Skaftafell in Freysnes is a step up. Rather than one large shared space with bunk beds, here we found small, private but adequate quarters. We were about 200 miles (about 320 km) east of Reykjavik.

The hotel opened in 1989 with eight units, increasing through time to the current 63. The owner's father was a key influence in establishing the nearby Vatnajökull (or Skaftafell) National Park and was the first park ranger there. The family were farmers and sheepherders. Today the owner's son carries on the tradition of raising sheep.

Facilities here include a welcoming lobby, full bar (photo is view from the bar patio), and dining room in the main building. Across the road, they own a store, diner, and petrol station. Everything one might need for a night time pit stop.
After we registered in the main building, we drove around back to a motel-like structure. Each of the small windows below is the entrance to a room.As you entered the heavy door, there was a vestibule, I'm thinking to leave wet boots and outer wear. To the left of that was a bathroom. Spacious and plenty of hot water. It was the only location we stayed that had actual shampoo, a bit of a luxury in Iceland it seems. Every other lodging had a body-scalp-in-one wash. Wasn't the best for my hair, so I'll pack my own shampoo next time.

Then we passed through a second door into an "efficient" bedroom. There were oversized twin beds with nice quality linens. There was a small desk and chair, but no closet (clothes hooks only) and no luggage rack. We managed our luggage by placing them one at a time on the desk or on the bed.
There was a large picture window with a lovely view of the glacier and mountain peaks (really ancient crater remnants). Later that night we would look out for signs of an Aurora Borealis (AB).
After the hike and happy hour at the bar, we four headed to the dining room for dinner. My mouth was watering for lobster. Because of the cold water here, I imagined huge Maine-style lobster. Instead they serve langoustine (Icelandic "lobster"), reminiscent of large crayfish.

On the menu today was a salad with mango and six fried langoustine halves. Each half was one tasty bite. I yearned for more, but was full by the end of the meal. Because of my allergy, I ate around the mango bits.

The others ordered arctic char (from the salmon family) or chicken cannoli. Lamb (huge in Iceland) and rhubarb (a local product) were also on the menu. For dessert we had skyr (Iceland's excellent version of a thick yogurt) mousse and creme brûlée cake.

Back in our room we read and took blog notes until about 22:00 when we got a phone call alerting us to the AB display outside.

We had seen the AB once before in Iowa at the "world's largest truck stop." (Yes, it is true and you can check it out on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_80.) We took lodging in a corner room that had an arrowhead-shaped window arrangement with two sides. We happen to look out and there was a fabulous display of green and gold zooming lights with flashes of blue. It lasted a very short time, but so romantic and quite memorable.

That is what we expected here, but we had a disappointment. The skies were black with many sparkling stars, beautiful in itself. But, instead of a colorful display, there were "brush strokes" of a whitish fog and a minimal amount of movement. We waited for a while, but no improvement.

Back in our room we readied for bed. At midnight we got a second call. Mike said "forget it," but I re-dressed to take another look. It was much the same with a little more movement. Outside, alone this time, it was eerie and ghost-like. I didn't want to run into any mischievous Icelandic elves, so I didn't linger too long.

The next morning was a surprise though when I looked at my photos. For some reason the foggy phenomenon turned out green and yellow in the pix. This is my best shot.
I was pleased, in spite of the lack of color in the real display. At least I could say I saw the AB in Iceland. And we had five more nights and chances for another viewing.

Back in the dining room, breakfast was mostly cold cuts and cheese, pastries, skyr, fruit, and really good coffee. Not as extravagant as the morning before, but it filled us up.

There was also the opportunity for another shot of cod liver oil. Again, we passed.
We definitely recommend this place for a one-nighter. We were miles from "civilization" and close to nature. It was convenient to the highway, had all the necessaries, and was an ideal spot to explore the glacier. Although quaint and small, it suited the situation and we were happy to have a bar and dining room available on site.
An aside: We would see many elf statues throughout this trip. Elves (álfar in Icelandic) are officially named huldufólk or secret folk. I had heard that elves can be any size from wee to giants. I researched in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huldufólk) and there was a LOT to read. It did not mention elf size in Iceland, but on the nearby Faroe Islands elves are said to be large in build.

Snorri Sturluson (we've mentioned him a few times now, mostly because I love his name) wrote about elves in his historical Saga entries. Former President Grímsson explained that in the olden days Iceland did not have many inhabitants, so in telling stories of elves and fairies, the population doubled.

In a 2006 survey, over 50% of the population felt the existence of elves was either possible, probable, or certain.

Building projects are sometimes altered to prevent damaging rocks where elves are believed to live and one should never throw stones because of the possibility of hitting an elf. To learn even more, the Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavik offers five-hour educational excursions for tourists. Maybe next time!

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