We still had one more day in Iceland, and since we had already gone east from Reykjavik, we decided to spend it exploring Snæfellsnes Peninsula to the north of the city.

Along the drive in the morning! So pretty, and a rare blue-sky sighting!

I had one request, and one request ONLY, for our time in Iceland. I wanted to go to a hot spring that wasn’t a swimming pool. I wanted it to be natural in every way, not just naturally heated. Our first stop of the day was a response to my ongoing request. I’d found a few lists of natural hot springs around the country, and one of them, Landbrotalaug, was right along our route. It’s kind of off the beaten path, but there were enough people who knew about it that we had to wait when we got there. Thankfully, we only had one group in front of us, and we didn’t have to wait very long since the water was so hot. There’s only a certain amount of time that you can even stand to stay in there.

Scenery at the hot spring
Personal sized.

We got into our suits and then waited in the car for the group before us to finish up. We were kind of second-guessing waiting, so we asked a couple of girls who were coming back to their car if it was worth it. Without hesitation, they said absolutely yes. Okay, convincing. So, we stayed.

When we saw people getting out, we headed in their direction. I thought that there was only one pool, but it turns out there are two! One is wide but shallow, and the other is deeper but smaller. We went to the big one first, but one of the people told us that we should check out the little one because it would be the perfect size for the three of us. It was so nice!!! It was the perfect size, as promised, and we stayed until we were feeling fully boiled. After that, I was 100% satisfied with our trip. I know, I’m hard to please. The Blue Lagoon may be the famous hot spring destination, but this was way more my style.

Mike and me with the wide/shallow pool
Does this not look like something straight off a postcard? That little pool is now one of my favorite places in the world.
Loving life!

Since we had only a loose plan for the day, Tony and I spent some of the car time scouring the map for other things that people had deemed interesting on google maps. Some of our detour selections were more successful than others, but hey, you win some you lose some. I found a beach (Ytri Tunga Beach) where some of the reviews said you could see seals! I assumed that we wouldn’t see any because it was probably a summer thing, but I was wrong!! They were far away, but I was excited they were there at all! (Mostly because I suggested the stop, so I wanted it to be a good one.)

Can you spot the seals?
If you answered “no” to the spot the seals question, here’s some help.
The actual waterfall is probably the least exciting part of this picture.

Tony found us another stop, this time a waterfall called Bjarnarfoss. The waterfall itself was practically a trickle coming off the top of a cliff, but the rapids that came cascading down afterwards were awesome. Water is seriously the coolest. Mike continued his strange tradition of drinking from every cold water source that we came across… what a weirdo.

Look at the river, snaking so clearly off into the distance.
The mossy walls of Rauðfeldsgjá

We also found a gorge on the map, Rauðfeldsgjá. It, of course, got its name from a legend. This is one of my favorites. There was a dude, supposedly half-man and half-troll, who “lived with his voluptuous and handsome daughters”. That’s a quote from the sign there, obviously only including the MOST important details of the story. The man/troll’s brother and two nephews lived nearby. One day, the cousins were playing together, and one of the boys, Rauðfeldur, pushed voluptuous and beautiful daughter Helga onto a drifting iceberg. No need to worry; she was unharmed and drifted alllllll the way to Greenland. Her angry father pushed Rauðfeldur to his death in the gorge that now bears his name and pushed the other nephew off a cliff which is now named after him. He then disappeared into a glacier and was never seen again. (Questions: Did Helga ever make it home? How do we know she survived? What was the brother’s response to the murder of his two sons? What happened to the other daughters after their father vanished? Why is it important to note that they were voluptuous? How did an iceberg drift all the way to Greenland, and how long did that take? SO many more, but I’ll stop there.)

Can you spot the gorge?
The surroundings

You can hike up into the gorge, and as you go, it gets narrower and narrower. Of course, when we were there, it was also filled with snow. We were already unprepared gear-wise (crampons and waterproof pants would have been helpful), and on top of that, no one even brought gloves from the car. We could have used those for sure… the entire “hike” was just climbing up snow. It probably went on forever. It was super cool, and I wonder what it’s like without the snow. We didn’t make it terribly far because we realized that as far up as we went, we would have to come back down. Down was the much worse direction.

Love this landscape!
Hiking up the endless dirty snow
Nature’s ice sculpture
Mike and Tony… it’s just as steep as it looks
Uphill until the end of time
The view from Rauðfeldsgjá
Mike’s cairn artwork. Look at that intense focus.

Our next stop was a pre-planned one to see a naturally-formed stone bridge in the water, Gatklettur. It’s a nice spot, and the sounds of the waves add to the whole serene vibe that it has going on.

Trying to decide what the old man rock looks like (and eventually deciding old man).

Next along the trek was Snæfellsjökull National Park which covers the end part of the peninsula we were exploring that day. In the park, we first went to see the Lóndrangar pillars… aka these two giant basalt rock formations that look like a horse piñata and the face of an old man (that’s my unofficial assessment). I was fine with just looking at them from afar, but Tony wanted to walk closer. Guess what? Up close, they STILL looked like a horse piñata and the face of an old man. So… not really necessary to walk all the way there, in my opinion.

Lóndrangar rocks from afar
Smooth black stones along the walk to the Lóndrangar rocks
Snæfellsjökull (glacier!) in the background. And Tony in the foreground 🙂
Try to tell me this doesn’t look like a piñata
I know I already had a picture of Snæfellsjökull but can you blame me for putting in another one? It’s crazy!
Malarrif Lighthouse
The steps to the rim of Saxhólar Crater… and Tony and me hating every step

Our next detour was at Saxhólar Crater, another “hmm what’s that? Must be something because there are lots of cars” stop. The trek to the top involved a LOT of metal stairs, and there was a nice view from the rim. I mean, it was no Kerid Crater, but I suppose it was okay… (hehe)

Saxhólar Crater
Bro + sis pic
Some of the rocks at the top of the crater
Me and Tony casually standing on top of a crater
Those colors!

We stopped at one final waterfall, and even though I thought I could never get sick of waterfalls, I was definitely starting to get a little waterfalled out. We all were. Kirkjufellsfoss was absolutely worth a stop, but instead of walking all the way out to it and seeing it from the top as well, we just photographed it from the front and moved on.

Kirkjufell Mountain
Mike, Tony, and me feeling incredibly lazy at Kirkjufellsfoss. This is probably the best view anyway

Along the road back to Reykjavik, there was a nice viewpoint looking towards one of the fjords, Kolgrafarfjördur, with some awesome mountains around it. I think that this was my favorite day for scenery, by the way. While we were driving and during our various walks, it was gorgeous. There were way more mountains than on the other days, and I’m a big mountain fan.

Kolgrafarfjördur. This is supposed to be a great place to spot ocean life during the winter, but we were a bit late for that.

From there, we drove all the way back to Reykjavik. Mike and Tony went to the public pool for some hot tub time, but I opted out. I wanted to get started on packing and showering. After they got back, we went to dinner and then did some snack shopping. I had a VERY long airport day ahead of me, so I was sure to pick out nutritious snacks like mini chocolate chip muffins, Ritz crackers, and apples (1 out of 3 is good enough, right?). Travel day snack shopping is one of my favorite things because little-known fact but calories don’t count on travel days.

Tony enjoying our company, yet again
On the road…

Last weekend, a few friends and I decided to make our own excursion rather than going on the Birthright one because it was just a swimming day at Lake Sevan. We wanted to do something a little more adventurous, you know, because hiking Aragats the weekend before wasn’t enough for us. Carineh found an easy hike between two churches, Saghmosavank and Hovhannavank, and she and I planned to go with one of our other Gyumri friends, Shant.


We met “early” in the morning on Saturday… 10AM… to catch a taxi out to Saghmosavank. It was about a 45-minute ride, and when we got there, it looked like they were setting up outside for a post-baptism party. Good timing for us because we made it there before it started and could explore the whole church. Somehow, no matter how many churches we see, there’s always something a little different in each one. This was the church of nooks. Seriously, there were nooks everywhere. Some were high, some were low, some had floating stairs leading up to them, some had no visible means of access. Maybe they used to have a lot of things to store? I don’t know, but as a lover of nooks, I thought it was awesome.

Floating stairs to a nook with another nook underneath
Nooks on nooks
Inaccessible nook
So pretty! You might even say… gorges… I know, the joke has been made before, but I’m still entertained by it and that’s all that matters

It is also situated in a pretty cool spot. It’s right on the edge of a gorge, and the hike we were planning to do basically just runs along the top of the gorge until you make it to the second church, Hovhannavank, which we could see in the distance. While we were admiring the gorge, we noticed that there was what looked like a decent road at the bottom, and we could hear a river. Then, someone pointed out a vaguely defined path that looked like it led to the bottom from where we were. That was all it took for us to completely ditch our plans and decide to hike down into the gorge instead. Brilliant, except for the fact that none of us were planning for a serious hike and weren’t completely prepared.

The gorge from Saghmosavank
See Saghmosavank peeking out from above the rocks?

We’re all a little bit crazy, so silly little details like that weren’t enough to stop us. I think it ended up taking about 2-1/2 hours to make it down. The “path” that we saw was not quite as helpful or defined as we originally thought. After about the first 10 minutes, any indication of the best way down vanished, and we were left to plot our route as we went. I wasn’t even completely confident that there WAS a way down, but I had no interest in going back up so that only left one option. It took some gravel sliding, rock climbing, and scrambling, but we made it! And as luck would have it, there was a leak in a water pipe right at the bottom, so we frolicked in the freezing cold water spray before continuing down the road.

The well-defined path down
Making it up as we go
Confused by this random cave that basically looked like someone just glued rocks to the wall and ceiling
The final stretch
Yay for roads!

From there, the path was easy. We walked for a bit before spotting a good swimming spot in the river and taking a break to cool down. None of us were prepared for swimming (obviously, considering we weren’t prepared for anything that day), but I don’t even know that I would have wanted to go completely in because the water was frigid. It was enough to just wade up to our shorts and put some cold water on our necks. We also floated our water bottles in the river so that we could leave with some ice-cold water. Genius, I know. One thing we were prepared for was lunch, and after a classic Armenian hiking lunch of lavash (flat bread… kind of like a tortilla), salami, and cheese, we set out again.

Gorge views
Our swimming spot
Thrilled about the water temperature
Taking a minute to cool off on this metal pipe… which I realize doesn’t seem to make sense, but there was super cold water running through, so the pipe was nice and cool rather than super hot from the sun.

The rest of the walk to Hovhannavank was uneventful. I was worried that we were going to have to hike out in a similar fashion to the hike in, but the road we were on started slowly ascending until we were out of the gorge with barely any effort. I’m glad that we started at Saghmosavank rather than going the other direction! I felt a little bit like an alien when we emerged from the gorge and entered into Ohanavan, the town where Hovhannavank is located. We were weary travelers who felt like we had just trekked across the universe, and it’s always weird entering back into civilization.

The farther we went, the more we found these random swimming holes (with water just as cold as the river)

Weird puff ball “flowers”
Selfie that I forced everyone to participate in
Cool, huh?
The road starts going up!

So, there’s the story of how our planned 3-hour hike transformed into a 10-hour adventure. Sometimes though, the unplanned ends up being even better than the planned. I don’t think any of us would go back and do it differently… except maybe for bringing more water and wearing more appropriate shoes. It’s fun to know that I have friends here who are as willing as I am to take the road less traveled (or sometimes completely untraveled) just to see where it leads.

Bells. There’s a pulley system so that they can be rung from the ground
The sunset! The clouds around it looked super cool