Dear Potential Iceland Travellers,
Iceland met or exceeded all of our expectations. The country provided a great diversity of exciting scenery, all manner of outdoor activities, a few good meals, and... it was truly expensive. Our trip was enhanced by generally good weather and on some days it was warm (near 60F) and sunny.
Our overall itinerary. This itinerary involved driving the Ring Road around Iceland. In total we drove 1,796 miles at cost of approximately $500 USD. Gasoline was roughly $9 USD per gallon.
30 May - Reykjavik - Hotel: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica
31 May - Budir - Hotel: Budir
01 Jun - Budir - Hotel: Budir
02 Jun - Saudarkrokur - Hotel: Tindastoll
03 Jun - Akureyri - Hotel: Hotel Akureyri
04 Jun - Myvatn - Hotel: Hotel Reynihlid
05 Jun - Myvatn - Hotel: Hotel Reynihlid
06 Jun - Egilsstadir - Hotel: Icelandair Hotel Herad
07 Jun - Hofn - Hotel: Hofn
08 Jun - Kirkjubaejarklaustur - Hotel: Klaustur
09 Jun - Selfoss - Hotel: Hotel Selfoss
10 Jun - Selfoss - Hotel: Hotel Selfoss
The following is a day-by-day description of our trip. It is followed by a review of the hotels at which we stayed , notes on several restaurants, and some notes on travelling in Iceland.
30 May 2008 - Icelandair Heathrow to London and Hilton, Reykjavik
Icelandair uses a third party Business Class lounge operated by Servissair. The lounge is completely unremarkable. The choice of food at the Servissair Lounge is very limited and they don't even offer free Internet.
The Icelandair flight boarded on time and they pulled back the boarding gate 15 minutes early. There was then an ATC delay on takeoff and a queue to get to the runway.
The airplane was a new 757W - W is for Winglets. This is a new configuration for Icelandair. The seating is 2-2 in Business with leather seats. There is a 12+ inch television display in the seat back and an on-demand In Flight Entertainment (IFE) system. I was surprised to see them switch on the IFE while we were taxing and thus was able to start watching Batman Begins (again) immediately. The seats are rather closely spaced. When the seat in front of you reclines it makes it hard to get out of year seat. For the most part the seating is comparable to US domestic First Class.
Pre-lunch drinks were served in plastic cups. Lunch was unremarkable but service was reasonably good.
Immigration upon landing took very little time. There are no landing forms. There is a duty free store for arrivals where we bought six bottles of wine for our eleven remaining nights in Iceland. We are here for twelve nights in total.
We picked up our Toyota RAV4 SUV - a gas guzzler and made our way to the Hilton. We are on the Executive Floor so we had some wine-beer and munchies at 6 PM. Since we had some time we walked to the Botanical Gardens time zone. At this time of year we are -1 from GMT thus 4 hours ahead of EST.
Dinner was at the Bistro at the Hilton. I had booked a rate that included dinner since I knew that we would not be interested in exploring Reykjavik. Joanne had a Shrimp Salad as a starter and I had Nordic Tapas -- this included Herring, Caviar (fish roe), Salmon, and Shrimp Salad. We both had Lamb Chops that came with Potato Salad and some Shallots. I had a Carlsberg Lager.
To give you some idea of costs - Shrimp Salad was 1,305 IKR = $18 USD. The Lamb Chops - there was a nice stack of four of them - 2,305 IKR = $32 USD. My pint of draught Icelandic lager was 750 IKR = $10.41 USD.
31 May 2008 - Eldborg Crater, Gerduberg, Raduamesolkelda, and Budir
By pressing hard on the schedule we made it to breakfast at 9:30 AM. The Hilton had a very nice selection of juices, fruits, meats, cheeses, and hot dishes. I was happy to see items such as Cod Liver Oil (with shot glasses) and several types of Herring. There was also a nice Liver Pate and Cream Cheese.
Post breakfast we went to a shopping center and bought an Iceland SIM card for the mobile phone and some items for lunch.
We then set off to the north. Our first stop was the Eldborg Crater. Elborg is a circular crater remaining from a volcanic eruption from about 5,000 years ago. We started from a farm, Snorrastadir, that offers pony rides. We hiked across some wonderful lava fields and then up to the edge of crater. The hike in and out was four (4) miles round-trip and it was a 350 ascent to the top of the crater. I might add that the weather was wonderful - partly cloudy but with lots of sun. The surrounding countryside was awesome.
We then got back on Route 54 until we found the road that led to a tin-sided church of Ytri-Raudamelur. The church was not the objective but the most perfect row of square, basaltic rock pillars in the country - Gerduberg.
Further up the road, where it end, was Raduamesolkelda. There was a trail leading to a waterfall but the real highlight was a spring that is very special to Icelanders. There is a spring where naturally carbonated water gurgles out of the ground. The water is said to have healing properties and tastes delicious. An orange flag marked the location of the spring.
We topped up the car at Vegamot - a building in the middle of nowhere with two gas pumps. The filling station is automated. You must have a credit or debit card. The instructions are in Icelandic. You enter how much you want to spend and the pump number.
Our Toyota RAV4 SUV is a gas guzzler. We used a half a tank of gasoline and only drove 130 miles at 55 miles per hour.
Our lodging for tonight and tomorrow is the Hotel Budir. Our room has great views of the ocean, coast, and mountains. All there is at this location is the hotel and the secluded beach - nothing else. Needless to say, we are eating at the hotel. There is free WiFi and television with CNN, BBC, SkyNews, etc. The restaurant is said to be at the top of Iceland's gourmet circuit - we shall see in about 30 minutes.
Dinner was a disappointment. It took over an hour to get our mains after our starters and then they were both lukewarm and undercooked.
We have just completed a short walk around the area of the hotel. The area is a huge lava field with a fantastic coastline. The sun is shining on the Snaefellsjokull Glacier.
01 June 2008 - Snaefellsnes Peninsula
A little after 9:30 AM we got to breakfast. The selection of items was reasonably good - meats, herring, cheese, some fruits, canned juices, hard boiled eggs, and excellent Icelandic bread.
We launched for a day of exploration of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This peninsula includes the smallest of the four national parks in Iceland.
Our first stop was Hellnar where we made a quick visit to the parks visitor center. We asked about good walks and whether we should take one of the F roads. An F road is a four wheel drive road. The young man staffing the visitor center said - he did not think it was open - and... - he would not. We decided if a local said he would not take the road we should pass as well.
Hike 1. We hiked the 2.5 kilometer (2.5 km x 2 = 3 miles) between Hellnar and the village of Arnarstapi. The path goes through lava fields and along cliff tops. When we returned to the start of the hike we stopped at a cafe that is famous through Iceland for its fish soup. Unfortunately we were not hungry but did have a cup of coffee - $4.25 per cup!
HIke 2. We then continued along the road until we came to the parking area for the trail to Longdrangar. The trail led to the Longdrangar Cliffs and some ancient volcanic plugs.
Hike 3. This hike went first to Djupalon which is an area with three features of interest. First there are the four lifting stones ranging from 23 kilograms (50 pounds) to 148 kilograms (325 pounds). These stones were used by fishermen to demonstrate their strength. The other features at the beach are the unusual rock formations and the remains of a British trawler, the Grimsby, that was wrecked in March 1948. We then hiked to Dritvik which was a very dramatic set of basaltic cliffs enclosing a bay.
Hike 4. Our final trek of the day was to the top of the Saxholt Crater. The day had been getting progressively more windy and it was roaring at the top of the crater.
We continued to drive around the peninsula and reached the very small town of Olafsvik. We made a quick stop at a supermarket - which closed ten minutes later - and then had a hamburger and chips at a petrol station. It was 5:30 PM and we had not had lunch.
We are now back at the hotel which is virtually deserted compared to yesterday. Many people came up from the Reykjavik on the weekend. Tonight we will have some sandwiches in our room since we are not interested in a complicated meal. We could go to another hotel but the closest one is 20 minutes away in Hellnar.
02 Jun 2008 - Driving, Driving, Driving... and Saudarkrokur
We got on the road at 10 AM and reached our hotel at 7 PM. We would have been here an hour earlier except for a small detail where we drove the wrong direction for 30 minutes earlier in the day.
Beyond the beautiful scenery our main sightseeing venue was the seal colony at Hindisvik at the most northern point of the Vatsnes Penisula. Unfortunately they closed the area to foot traffic for seal conservation. We continued around to the east side of the peninsula to Hvitserkur which is a 15 meter rock formation that rises from the ocean.
We are now staying in the Hotel Tindastoll in Saudarkrokur where Marlene Dietrich stayed during World War II. They say the room we are in - used by Marlene - is haunted. Dinner choices are easy - there is only one restaurant. The other one burnt down.
03 Jun 2008 -Glaciers, Fjords, Hrisey Island, and Akureyri - Dinner at Fridric V
We had a nice breakfast at our very atmospheric hotel. It was very nice being the only people at breakfast and chatting with the young lady from Eastern Germany that was doing it all - check-ins, check-outs, breakfast, rooms, etc. She gave us a nice perspective of living in Iceland - from a non-Icelander.
After breakfast we set off to drive the eastern side of Skagafjorur. This was an incredibly good decision. We began along the coast and then cut inland on Route 82. This is a road that can be closed in summer due to snow! he interior. We had a largely sunny morning with absolutely fantastic views of mountains, lakes, and glaciers. We stopped often to go on several mini-hikes and to take pictures.
We dropped down from the mountains into the small fishing village of Olafsfjordur where we began our journey down the western side of Eyjafjordur. The scenery was incredible. There was the magnificent water of the fjord and on the opposing side more snow and glacier draped mountains. We continued south and stopped in Dalvik to pick up some more meats and a few bananas for lunch.
Our next stop was the very tiny spot of Arskogssandur. It is from this location that a ferry makes the fifteen minute trip to the island of Hrisey. The ferry operates every two hours during this time of year. We made our sandwiches and ate lunch until the ferry arrived and was ready to depart at 1:30 PM.
Hrisey is the second largest island in Iceland - but it is only 7.5 km long and 2.5 km wide with a population of less than 200 people. The people live at the south end and most of the island is a nature preserve. The island has three hiking trails and we did the longest - 5 kms (3 miles). It was spectacular. There were birds everywhere, water, mountains, fjords, glaciers, a bit of rain, mud, marshes - we had it all.
We stated hiking at close to 2 PM and go back to the village at 4:15 PM with time to stop at the towns only restaurant for some very tasty cups of coffee. It was then back on the ferry at 5 PM for a return to our vehicle and a 45 minute drive south to Akureyri.
Our location for the night is a nice hotel, Hotel Akureyri. Our room overlooks the fjord and mountains and is a short five minute walk to the center of town. The room is small but it does have WiFi (free).
A wonderful day.
04 Jun 2008 - Godafoss, Lake Myrvatn Area
Today was another very fine day. Yet again we have had wonderful weather. At a minimum that would be a day without rain but it gets better - sun and blue skies.
Breakfast at the Hotel Akureyri was standard fare and quite acceptable. I do like making an open face sandwich with ham, salami, cheese, eggs, and tomato - all on good Icelandic bread. A few of those gets you established for the day.
We got on the road relatively early - probably by 9 AM - and headed to Lake Myrvatn. Our first stop after about 40 kilometers (25 miles) was Godafoss. This was our first substantial waterfall. Godafoss means "Waterfall of the Gods". We had a nice time walking around the falls and even watched an Icelandic tourist takes off his clothes and get in the water. Not for me!
We then did four more walks-hikes.
1. Skutusadir. These are what they call "pseudo-craters". These are strange circles which are all that is left from an earlier lake that was vaporized by the same eruption that created the present Lake Myrvatn. It was a nice walk. We took the shorter of the two versions.
2. Kalfastrond. This is a long beautiful peninsula on which we took a 1.5 mile walk. There were lovely secluded areas of the lake, volcanic formations, and several kibonds of ducks.
3. Dimmuborgir. The name means "dark castles" and the area is a forest of black lava pillars. There were several different trails and we took one of the longer hikes. They say the lava chimneys are created by steam bubbles that popped to the surface through the lava and then hardened. This is supposed to be the only spot on earth with these type of formations.
4. Leirhnjukur. The name means clay peak and this was a great area. This is an immense area of lava flow - some of which only occur 20 years ago - which is why the lava is so dark. We spent several hours exploring this area.
5. Viti. This is a steep crater that is filled with aquamarine colored water. Joanne took a peak and hopped back in the car. I walked around the crater.
6. Hverir. This was our last sightseeing stop of the day. The area is a site of blue-grey belching bubbling mud pots. There are locations throughout of roaring steam coming out of the ground.
Lunch was at the legendary Vogafjos Cafe - Cowshed - this is effectively a barn where there is a glass wall separating you from the cows - which are milked twice a day. We both had salads of very fresh ingredients to include feta cheese, cottage cheese, and a local cured meet.
We are staying tonight and tomorrow at the Hotel Reynilid. The hotel is modern and we have a large room. There is CNN, free WiFi, and a bath tub.
05 Jun 2008 - Waterfalls, Walking, Waterbirds, and Whales
After a stop for fuel and some items to make sandwiches we were on the road at 10 AM.
We drove east until we came to the gravel road that took us north to Dettifoss - the largest waterfall in Iceland. We once again had outstanding weather. It took over an hour to travel about 30 kilometers (25 miles). The road was very rough. The road up the west side to Dettifoss was closed.
Anyway, the walk to the first waterfall only took 10 minutes. We then walked another 45 minutes to Selfoss - this is not only another waterfall but a whole series of waterfalls. These waterfalls are not out height or width but more about the power of the water and the beautiful setting. Our final stop was the water Hafragilsfoss - which we viewed from a distance.
After a picnic lunch looking out over the canyon created by the Jokulsa a Fjollum River we headed to an amazing gorge called Asbyrgi. By the way, the aforementioned river is fed by the largest piece of ice in Europe. Oh - the gorge - yet another unique geological feature - found only in Iceland. The gorge is perfectly rounded and has fantastic sheer walls. In the gorge we did several walks and enjoyed some really nice bird life.
Our last stop was Husavik - the whale watching capital of Europe. We got to Husavik in time for a 4:45 departure. The boat was wooden and not very large. There were only eleven passengers - which was perfect. They gave us some great coveralls that were both warm and which protected us from the wind and waves.
The seas and weather were reasonably good - some swells and some spray but in general just great conditions. We spent three hours in the fjord and saw Minke and Humpback whales. On the way back to the harbor the wind came up and the boat got quite wet. We really enjoyed the hot chocolate and Icelandic donuts served on the return leg. Once again we had great weather.
It took 45 minutes to return to home station. We needed to get back by 9 PM since that was when everything in the village closes. We went to a local cafe next to the hotel - Joanne had a hamburger and I had Icelandic meat soup.
What a great day.
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Dear Potential Iceland Travellers,