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Volcanoes! Glaciers! Puffins!! - 15 days around the Ring Road of Iceland

Volcanoes! Glaciers! Puffins!! - 15 days around the Ring Road of Iceland

Old Aug 7th, 2015, 07:32 AM
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July 26th, Sunday

Voladalstorfa
Asbyrgi Canyon
Hafragilsfoss
Dettifoss
Selfoss


Ugh. Sleeping on hard beds is hard. Halfway through the night, I separated my duvet into cover vs. stuffing, and lay the stuffing under me – that helped a bit. But still, ugh.

The breakfast was tasty – the usual suspects plus dried fruit and herring. Today we were doing what is called the Diamond Circle – around the peninsula to several sites in a big circle. After yesterday’s long drive, we needed a slightly lower key day.

It was a misty day, but not rainy. By the time we got to the coast, the sun was peeking through the morning fog. Voladalstorfa is along the coast, where lots of seabirds nest. We looked for puffins and saw some down on the water, but nothing close up. No tourists around until we were leaving, and then just one carload. I think we finally found the less well-known part of Iceland!

Asbyrgi Canyon is in the shape of a giant horseshoe. The legend is that Sleipnir, a giant six-legged horse from Norse Mythology, stepped to make the canyon. Of course, Sleipnir’s mother was Loki. Yes, that’s right – mother. Norse Mythology can get strange.

The steep sides are about 100 meters tall, and you can drive all the way in. Lots of trees, mostly birch and willow, but some pines as well. Legend also says it is the capital city of the huldafolk, the Icelandic elves, who live in the cracks within the cliffs.

We got into the center part and looked around a bit, but a tour bus arrived. So much for finding the less well-known places! Dozens of German tourists disgorged and started chattering, breaking the peaceful forest canyon. We left.

The road to Dettifoss was a rough road. It didn’t SAY it was an F-road, but I’m skeptical. The first waterfall we found was down about twenty miles on this rough road, called Hafragilsfoss. Fairly accessible, you could park on the cliff and see the waterfalls down below. It was pretty big, powerful, and lovely. Not many tourists there. Dettifoss was another matter.

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and has been used in several films, including the opening scene of Prometheus. It is incredible. In order to see it, you had a rather long trek down decent rocky steps. There were LOTS of tourists, several busloads full. We walked down and appreciated the might and magic of this force of nature before returning to our car, snacking on some nectarines, and escaping the crowds once again.

There are two ways to get to Selfoss from Dettifoss. One is a long hike, the other is a long drive. We decided on the latter.

More not-quite-F-road and we found the main road once again, and then up towards Selfoss. We stopped to explore a lava bubble for a while, with a grand view of the surrounding countryside. When we got to the parking lot for Selfoss, we realized it was a 1km hike, and after the bumpy roads, we just didn’t have it in us to take the trip. In addition, there was rain threatening on the horizon, and that sealed the deal.

On the way back out, we found the hot springs again. Remember the ones we didn’t stop for near Namaskard Pass? Yup, those. This time I did get out and explore, and took lots of pictures. That is, when tourists weren’t jumping into my path while I was taking them. Lots of tourists, but a big space so I could escape them most of the time.

Again, people were concerned with the smell, but I rather liked it. Some girls were throwing up. *shrug*

We were hungry, so headed back to Husavik. We set up a reservation for a whale/puffin sightseeing tour with Gentle Giants, and went to eat dinner at Salka. We had a seafood pizza and cheese/bacon breadsticks. It was yummy! Mussels, tuna, shrimp and langostines on pizza works for me!

I tried a fruit beer called Solbert Aldin Bjor. It definitely was a beer, and I don’t like beer (too bitter) but wasn’t too bad. I might try it again someday. Jason tried the Myrkvi Stout

We waited for the whale tour by doing some people watching, and then got into our day-glo snowsuits for the tour. There were about 10 of us in total, on a boat meant for 16, I think, not crowded at all. A Norwegian family sat in front of us, on their 9th trip to Iceland.

First stop was Puffin Island, where we saw hundreds of puffins and other birds. Some were just sitting in the water, others were flying around, others were racing through the air, pumping their tiny little wings madly. They are so graceless when they take off, but they can be very fast!

When we went to look for whales, Jason spotted the whale before the pilot – three times out of five! The humpback whale surfaced five times before we lost him. The fog came in with a vengeance, and we had no visibility at all for a bit. Then the boat took off, fast! We were going about 40 knots for a good 10 minutes before we stopped. Jason was in his element, imagining himself at the prow of a Viking ship, skipping from fjord to fjord. The poor kid in the Norwegian family wasn’t feeling too good about the trip, and was let down into the cabin for a while.

Evidently a local fisherman’s boat’s engine had died, and we were the closest vessel, so we went to do a sea rescue! We towed the boat in for a while until the professional rescue crew arrived. Our own pilot was brother to one of the rescue crew.

On the way back out to find whales, we found a huge area of birds, evidently dining on some fish. Thousands of birds, just hanging out in the mists.

The fog lifted a bit, but we saw no more whales. Then the fog returned, and we decided to end the tour head back. The trip home was in very thick, dim twilight fog, but we were exhausted enough that we slept well, despite the hard beds.
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 05:36 PM
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Thanks for posting! I've enjoyed reading about your trip!

The 939 shortcut from Hofn to Egilsstadir isn't an F road. Neither is the one to Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. We did both of those in a 2WD.
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 07:00 PM
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Ope! The road to the canyon (206) isn't an F road from the ring road, but I bet you were on F206, right?
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Old Aug 9th, 2015, 03:06 AM
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I'm not sure, anymore, Tally. Perhaps they were just rocky roads... I do know the one gave us a flat tire and the second gave us heart attacks
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 05:59 AM
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July 27th, Monday

Godafoss
Siglufjörður
Trollaskagi Mountains
Hofsos


Despite the hard beds and the tiny monks’ cell of a room, we got decent rest. At least the curtains were dark enough to keep out most of the eternal light. Jason wasn’t feeling well, so after breakfast, I did a morning drive to Godafoss, which was a waterfall only about twenty minutes away.

On the way, I discovered a small set of turf-covered cottages that, when the hour was more reasonable, would be a small museum and gift shop. For now, it was closed in the misty morning dew.

Godafoss was very accessible, right off the road, and had several places where you could climb and explore. I parked a little farther down from the main area, and climbed a bit near a secondary waterfall, a much quieter spot. As early as it was, there was already a small busload of tourists at the main place.

Jason was feeling better when I returned, so we decided to try to see the next peninsula over, and cut some time out of our next day’s travel to the Westfjords. The first stop was Akureyri, the second city of Iceland.

Akureyri was a fishing/tourism city, the second largest city in Iceland. It was, by the time we got there around 11am, buzzing with a huge cruise ships’ load of tourists. There was a nice little shopping street, very touristy, and full of people. We escaped off this main drag to a fish-n-chips place for some lunch. I ordered mussels, while Jason got the fried fish, and we shared a bucket of chips. Well, a small bucket, at any rate. As we were eating, three much older patrons came in, two little old ladies and a little old man. They evidently spoke nothing but French, and were trying to inquire if the fish were fresh. Jason said he wished he remembered enough French to have helped them. They must have gotten the answer they were looking for and got their food just as we were leaving.

We drove up around the peninsula counter-clockwise, threading through small fishing villages, farms, and beautiful sun-dappled snow-laced mountainsides. The sky was brilliant blue with fluffy clouds scudding across. That was, until we got to the north edge of the peninsula, near Olafsfjörður. Then the fog rolled in. Incredible fog, thick and white. This was also, coincidentally enough, about when the paved roads ended. Joy.

We had to go very slowly along the fjord-edge roads, and stopped a couple of times just to look out into the ocean, hoping to catch sight of a whale or two. We never did see one, but the views were gorgeous. There was a long tunnel through a mountain on the edge of one fjord, and we were through to the Trollaskagi Mountains.

We decided to see if we could stop in Hofsos for some tea or coffee, but a quick drive through the town turned up no coffee shops that we could find. We did see the pool, and I had noted that they’ve an infinity-style hot pool, but Jason wasn’t up for it, so we continued on. We went down to the beach for a while and explored there, to the consternation of the resident horses.

While the peninsula (I am sure it has a name, but I don’t know it) was lovely, I think we would have been more impressed if we’d seen it earlier in our journey. It was beautiful, but nothing so different from what we’ve seen already.

The road back to Akureyri seemed quite long, and by the time we limped home, we had been on the road for eight hours. The map had said five – it lied! We were beat. My back ached from the drive, and we staggered in and collapsed on the bed. We stretched out for a while until dinner was ready at the guesthouse.

The hostess had said tonight’s supper would be Icelandic Meat Soup, and we were looking forward to it. It was a huge bowl of soup, with tomatoes, potatoes, lamb, lentils and other veggies. A different take than our previous offerings, but still delicious.

We slept early today, as tomorrow would be a long trek, even with the optional peninsula removed from the plan. In fact, I was tired enough that I decided we should remove the second peninsula from the plan as well, and go as straight as we could, with few detours. This would mean I would miss visiting Flugumyri, the Ketubjorg Cliffs and waterfall, and the Kalfshamarsvik basalt columns, as well as the Hvitserkur rock formations, but I decided I’d seen enough of these things for the moment, and just wanted to get to our next stop.
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 06:22 AM
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July 28th, Tuesday

Borgarvirki Basalt Fortress
Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft

We got an early start, breakfasted, and headed onto the road by 7:30am. There was a little bit of rain and mist in the early morning sun, but it cleared away to a bright blue sky by mid-morning. In fact, the wind was low and it was downright balmy, probably near 60 degrees, for most of the day. Yesterday had been warmer as well, at least while the fog wasn’t blanketing us.

We made it to Akureyri (the cruise ship was gone), but we didn’t stop for more than gas and snacks before we continued on Route 1 towards the west. Go west, young man! We did take a small detour towards Borgarvirki, a 1200 year old stone fortress made from basalt on a tall hill, with a rocky dirt road (not an F-Road!) to it. The location was eminently impressive, commanding a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside, and the rock building within the formation was reminiscent to me of the construction at Dun Aengosa on the Aran Islands of Ireland. I clambered around the place for a while in the sun and the midges before I returned.

We stopped a little later at a local Viking handwork shop, bought some books, jewelry, and other local handcrafts. I eyed the small freezer with local lamb and rabbit meat, and regretted not having kitchen facilities. With a sigh, we moved on, but not before taking a photo of a yellow Minion on a yellow toilet on a roof. Why? Who knows.

We finally started to skirt the edges of the Westfjords. I had not originally planned for us to visit the Westfjords. I had time for either that or the Snaefellsness peninsula, and waffled between the two choices. I am glad I stuck with the Westfjords. They are stunning!

While dirt roads are common out there, they were still in decent shape and we made it to Holmavik, a lovely fishing village. We were starved, so stopped at the first restaurant we saw. It turned out to be the only real restaurant (there is a soup/sandwich café at the Sorcery Museum) in town. Café Riis turned out to be a good choice.

The décor was cool – lots of wood carving and Icelandic hex symbols. Jason decided to try the marinated whale meat, while I tried the smoked lamb with blueberry compote and gravlax (smoked salmon). The place was mostly empty when we arrived but, true to form, people started pouring in just after we ordered. Jason had a stout beer while I had a Scottish carbonated alcoholic ginger beer with raspberries called Crabbie’s.

The whale was incredibly tasty. It was served in a savory pepper gravy, and we couldn’t get enough. The smoked lamb was almost black, and worked perfectly with the sweet compote. And I’ve never had bad smoked salmon in my life! We were stuffed and sated.

Our hotel for the night was Steinhusid, but we had to check in at the sister hotel, Finna Hotel. We were still a bit early for check in, so we went to explore the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, which was across the street from Steinhusid.

This was a sweet little place with a storyteller outside, and all sorts of exhibits and information inside. Most witches in Iceland were men, unlike most of Europe, who seemed to have it in for friendless old ladies with black cats. Also, most witches in Iceland were from one or two families. There was a fascinating exhibit of a thing called Necropants. Yes, Necropants. Evidently, if a sorcerer gets the permission of a man before he dies, and then skins him from the waist down and gets it all in one piece, he can wear these pants. He must steal a coin from a widow, and hide the coin in the scrotum of the Necropants overnight while he wears them. The coin will double. It will do that each night, but they get harder and harder to take off. If you die without removing them, your soul is doomed. You must find someone to step into one leg before you remove your other leg to transfer them. There is evidently not a lot to do in Iceland in the winter but create unusual rituals! We bought some stuff in the bookstore, and toddled back up to Finna Hotel.

Despite the fact that road construction made the place look like Sarajevo, check in at Finna was simple. I believe the young lady’s name was Hrafnhulda, and I only saw her the once, but she explained everything. The rooms in Steinhusid were upstairs, about 5 of them. Downstairs was a full kitchen, dining room and lounge, as well as a large bathroom (half bath upstairs). There was a small deck on the second floor you could see the bay from. Our one window had a nice, thick covering, which let in very little light. Yay! It wasn’t a huge room, but certainly bigger than the last.

We met Mike and Michelle, two travelers from North Yorkshire, and I had a nice long chat with them while Jason rested. He is an EMT, while she teaches English, and sings folks songs. We talked of education, history, travel, Game of Thrones, Outlander, Bernard Cornwell books, Vancouver, Ren Fairs, and all sorts of things. Sweet folk! They’d been several times to Reyjkavik and the Westfjords, but nowhere else in Iceland.

Once Jason had rested and we repacked, we came down for dinner. Our choices were Café Riis or Café Riis, so, guess what? We chose Café Riis! (The Museum café was closed by now, it was 8pm).

I tried a burger with bacon and egg on top this time, while Jason had the cod chins. I’d never had them before, but they were tender and delicious. Sort of like a tender scallop more than fish. I tried a different flavor of Crabbie’s, while Jason had the Einstok porter. He preferred Lava Beer. After dinner we relaxed in the lounge for a bit before crashing into nice, soft, welcoming beds.
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 06:48 AM
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July 29th, Wednesday.

Isafjordur

Breakfast at Finna Hotel was delicious. They bake their own sweet mini-pastries, and had what looked like homemade Skyr. I tried it unadulterated for the first time here – with no sweets or additives. I quickly added several mounded tablespoons of brown sugar, and then it was lovely. Ha! There is a delightful view from the breakfast room of the bay, and the sunlight already glinted on the water.


The clerk disappeared when we were ready to go, so I determined to pay her next time (breakfast was extra in this lodging). We set off for Isafjordur.

The trip to that town was along the coast of the Westfjords. Well, one of the coasts. Let me explain – well, let me sum up. There are three big peninsulas in the Westfjords, made up of about a hundred tiny ones. Holmavik is based on the north coast of the base of all three, but the main road (61) goes around the middle peninsula. That was our goal for the day. To go through Isafjordur, down through Þingeyri, to Dynjandi, and around the south coast of the middle peninsula back to Holmavik. In total, this should be at least a 7 hour drive, so we prepped ourselves for a long day.

The initial drive was across some mountains, and we were about 350-400 meters up. For those of you like me who are metrically-challenged, this is about 1200-1300 feet. Not a huge distance up as mountains go, but the roads were narrow and dirt, and the views were sublime. Clear blue mountain lakes (tarns) dotted the area, frequent chunks of ice still clung stubbornly to the slopes, and countless tiny mares’ tail waterfalls feathered the hills. Checking the temperature, it was about 4 degrees Celsius up here, despite the bright sun shining down. That translates to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It had been 14 (57) the day before near sea level.

We made it to the ‘central’ peninsula, and started going in and out around the north coast of this section. The mountains were often ‘table-top’ mountains, flat along the top with ridges along the edge, waterfalls and greenery dripping down the side. Tiny farms and lone cottages were sprinkled along the edges, with an occasional hamlet of five or six buildings clinging to the center of the fjord. We saw an abandoned house with crenellations like a castle, the reflections of the fjord in clear, still waters. There were ducks and arctic geese taking advantage of the low tide. Jason spied a line of red in the rock layers, and went to investigate – red clay had evidently been under a lava flow, hardened but brittle.

We spied a small turf-covered cottage with a kaffi sign, and we stopped at Litli-baer (little bear) for coffee and a rest. The place was a period museum, with antiques, a stuffed arctic fox, creepy dolls, and lovely coffee.

Just down the road, we saw lots of tourists pulled off to the side. Seals! A colony of seals were sunning themselves on the rocks, so I had to stop and take some photos.

About 5 fjords later, and several breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains on the north peninsula, we came to Isafjordur. There was a statue of a god of some sort killing a dragon, a very odd modern church in the center circle, and a main street. We stopped to search for lunch.

Walking down the street, we saw some very artistic graffiti with green snakes and mannequin heads. We saw some bakeries, but decided we needed something with a bit more substance. Finally we stopped at the small convenience store/gift shop/grill for some pizza and soda. The pizza was pretty good! There was art by a local painter on the wall, and the place was definitely a local’s spot.

There was a small mall across the street, with a Subway and a Thai place. Go figure.

We continued down the road, but came to a tunnel under the mountains. Jason hadn’t been feeling well, and wasn’t up to going into a long tunnel, so we turned back and decided not to take this route today. We weren’t spoiled for view – now that the tide was coming in, the route we had taken was different. We thought we saw a pilot whale spout at one point, to the north point of one of the fjords, but when we stopped to watch, we saw nothing else. Just birds splashing in the water.

When we rolled back into Holmavik, we went to dinner. Guess where? You got it – Café Riis! I ordered the puffin while Jason had the roast lamb. It was different than the puffin I had tried in Reykjavik, but still wonderfully tasty. Jason liked the whale better, though, and so did I. The food here seemed to be served with two different potatoes – sweet potatoes and mashed, or roast potatoes and fried. The only veggies were the greens under the meat.

We crashed and slept well.
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 07:25 AM
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July 30, Thursday


Dynjandi
Hrafnseyri
Þingeyri

Despite yesterday’s truncated trip, Jason was feeling better today, so we decided to try again – starting on the south end this time. Dynjandi waterfall had been one of my must-sees this trip, so I was very glad when he insisted he was up for yet another long road trip day. Just to Dynjandi and back would be six hours minimum, and that’s not including anything else we might want to see.

With that in mind, we left at 7am, not wanting to wait for breakfast at Finna. We snacked on the road.

The south route was lonelier than the north route. The roads started out a bit better, but got worse. Still, it wasn’t near F-road status. There were much fewer cars – I think we passed one in the first hour. Only a couple houses here and there, and no towns or villages. Definitely no tour buses. At least, not until later.

It was a starker landscape, not as green. More rock and dirt than moss and grass. The fjords were smaller, almost more intimate, than on the north coast. Several had mountain passes to help with the travel, so there wasn’t as much of the in and out.

We did stop mid-morning for coffee and a full breakfast. It was a place called Flokalundur, a hotel and/or backpacking stop. They had honey and Nutella and I indulged in a bit of sweet bread overload. I made up for my unhealthy indulgence with some oatmeal with raisins. There was a car-washing station, so we tried to rid ourselves of the horribly bug-infested windshield. It hadn’t been a problem until this week, as there had been more rainy mornings in the southeast. Now it was dry and dusty, and the streaks interfered with my photographs. It was warm again, and the midges were especially bad around here, but luckily, they still didn’t bite.

We moved up over the mountain, towards Dynjandi. This is where we started to see more vehicles. We stopped at one outlook to take photographs, and a British family joined us. Their son (about 20) was wearing shorts. In Iceland! Yikes! It was still about 50 degrees F, not what I’d consider shorts weather.

When we crested the mountain, there were waterfalls every twenty feet, it seemed. Large ones, small ones, tall ones, etc. But Dynjandi has a specific, unique look, like someone made a set of stairs, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, and made it a waterfall. None of these were it. We kept going down.

When we rounded the bend near the bottom, I looked up and saw it. Well, first I saw the tour buses. Guess we found where they all were! Then we saw the waterfall, and it was well worth the journey. We parked and I climbed.

Dynjandi has about a half dozen subsidiary waterfalls under it. Each one could be climbed and explored. Jason sat on a rock and watched the lower ones while I climbed. And climbed. And climbed. And fell on my knee. Ouch! One part was actually steps cut into rock, and the top one was a bit high. I clipped my shoe on the top and toppled forward. My camera fell on the rock, but it’s a sturdy bugger – no harm done. Which is good, because this is not the first time I’ve dropped it! No blood on my knee, but my wrists and knee were definitely sore. I decided to stop for a while, but then continued.

I didn’t go all the way to the top, but I got high enough to get some wonderful shots of the falls in all its glory. The water was everywhere, spraying and misting. The song of the falls was constant, even over the chatter of tourists. It fed into a fjord, and the view was sublime.

I made my way down again (it was a bit shaky because of my bruised knee) and we escaped the tourists one more time.

We decided to continue the circle we had aborted the day before, and headed north. There was a small house, Hrafnseyri, that had been the home of Jon Sigurdsson, the leader of a self-determination campaign in the 19th century. There was a tiny church and a set of three turf-covered cottages. We stopped at the cottages for some coffee and cinnamon coffee cake, which was a nice stop. The cottage was set up like old times, complete with a hearth room.

The hostess was knitting in the corner, while her two girls drank coffee at another table, and ate waffles with whipped cream. There were some people in the small church and children playing on the lawn. You could see Dynjandi in the distance from the front lawn.

We headed north towards Þingeyri. It had been on my list due to an old smithy museum I thought Jason might be interested in, but he wasn’t feeling well again, so we continued north. A truck was down at the beach, and it looked like it was pulling up seawater. We realized what it was for shortly; it was spreading the water on the dirt road to keep it from blowing away. Another truck was spreading new dirt, and a third was packing it down. Dirt road pavers!

After some more high mountain passes, we got to the tunnel that had balked us the day before. This time, Jason was good with it. Which was a good thing! It took us about twenty minutes to drive through the one-lane tunnel. It had several laybys to stop when oncoming traffic came through. The temperature was cool inside it, down to 6 degrees again. And then we saw a T-junction IN the tunnel. I’d never seen that before! It went to another destination. We kept going through to Isafjordur, and once again stopped for lunch. It was 13 degrees outside (about 55?)

This time we went to the small mall and had lunch at the little Thai lunch counter. The food wasn’t bad – a step up from what mall Thai food would be in the US, and had a decent amount of spice and meat. We got some fruit and chocolate at the grocery store, and drove back to Holmavik.

I stopped to get more photos of the seals. I decided to walk down to where some others were, off the road. I climbed down a couple rocks, and decided it would be easier farther down, so I climbed back out – and tripped again. Same knee, of course. And this time my camera battery chamber opened when I dropped it, but still no damage. Well, no damage to the camera. My knee now hurt like hell, and was already bruising up. A few scrapes, but not much blood.

I decided against further forays to get seal photos, though, and got back into the car.

It threatened to rain a bit on the way home, some dark lenticular clouds coming over the mountains, but all we got were strong winds as we went through the high passes. We relaxed a bit before having our last dinner in town. Guess where!

It was very busy this evening. They warned us it would be about a 40 minute wait for food, but we had nowhere we had to be, so assured us that would be fine. However, when Jason ordered whale, they were out. Ah, well! We ordered the puffin and smoked lamb/gravlax. There were lots of families tonight, and we discovered there was a tradition that, each Thursday night, families spread out across the Westfjords would gather in one place. So, tonight it looked like Holmavik was the family reunion site.

The food was delicious as always, and we collapsed into bed after doing a repack for the next day. It took a while for me to sleep, though. The vacation was coming to an end soon, and I always felt a mix of sadness and gladness at this point. Glad that I would have the same bed to sleep in for a while, sad that my fun was over soon.
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 02:18 PM
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I'm not sure, anymore, Tally. Perhaps they were just rocky roads... I do know the one gave us a flat tire and the second gave us heart attacks>>

lol!
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 04:02 PM
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Bookmarking. Loving your trip report! Thanks for writing it!
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 12:44 AM
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my goodness - you certainly put in the miles, Tally. I thought that we drove along way, but I think you get the medal. Those fjords are something, aren't they? miles and miles of gravel track, round and round the bend, I thought that they would send me round the bend.

personally i was VERY glad that we had booked the ferry over to the Snaefellnes peninsular - I just didn't have the staying power that you have!
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 03:22 AM
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Unfortunately, I forgot to log my miles for the trip, or I'd tell you how much we did. I could figure it out via googlemaps. I'm an obsessive accountant - perhaps I shall
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 08:39 AM
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July 31st, Friday

Eiríkstaðir
Grábrók Crater
Glanni Waterfall
Borgarnes

Even two weeks into my vacation, I still cannot manage to sleep in. 5:30am, and I’m raring to go! I had strange dreams about finding Icelandic kittens and offering them to the Winter Faery Queen. That’s what I get for listening to Harry Dresden books while we’re driving around, I suppose!

We repacked for our final destination on the trip, and went to breakfast. I made sure to pay for my previous day’s breakfast, and filled up on the very tasty fruit pastries they make. It was more crowded than the other day – it must be the weekend!

We bid goodbye to the lovely Steinhusid and got on the road. We headed south through the barren, brown mountains, chasing the sunbeams that poked through the morning mists. Gradually, the stark landscape became lush, gentling form mountains to hills and into farmland. The sky also cleared and warmed, showing brilliant blues and greens across the countryside.

It was so lonely and remote in the Westfjords. I found myself imagining what life would be like in those areas, so cut off from civilization and society. It might be days before you saw another soul, especially before the modern age of global electronic communications. It also seemed sunnier in the west than it had been in the east, but that may have just been the luck of my draw. I saw maybe a total of 6 hours of real rain on this trip so far, though about 12 hours of mists. The rest was partial clouds or outright sun. I was blessed!

Our first stop, after we peaked over the final mountain and entered horse country once again, was to Eiríkstaðir, the home of Erik the Red, the Viking who settled in Greenland, and whose son discovered Vinland. The turfed cottage had a visitor center which said to please pay first, but no one was in the center. I went to the cottage, and walked in on a dark room with a small fire in the center, and 20 people listening to the native storyteller. He was recounting the Vinland saga, and speaking of how the land was discovered, settled, and then abandoned due to the savage Skraelings (Indians) after several years. He was a good storyteller, though some of his costume wasn’t quite period. I tried to pay back in the center when the story was over, but it took a while. 20 people buying gifts in a 20X20 store made for a lot of jostling!

We found Grábrók Crater, a black ash volcanic crater you can climb up into, but not only did it look too tall for my day’s energy store, the tiny parking lot was so full of busses and cars that we couldn’t even find a parking space, so we went on.

Not far down the road was the sign for Glanni waterfall. I drove down the small road, and found another sign – and then a small building with a map. The map had several paths, but none had Glanni on it. There was no obvious place for a waterfall on the landscape – the hills were pretty far in the distance, at least a mile, and most of the land around had short trees and shrubs. The building was a golf pro shop of some sort, but unmanned. I shrugged and gave up. I suppose I’d seen my fill of waterfalls for this trip, anyhow. What’s one more that we might see next time anyhow?

Borgarnes is a town of some size, and it took a little creative sign following, but we found the Settlement Centre. This was a larger gift shop and two information tours. One was on the settlement of Iceland, while the other was on Egil’s Saga, one of the great works of literature in the country. It was a bit on the cheesy side, and definitely catered for the younger crowd, but it gave some good information, and both Jason and I enjoyed the tour. We bought some more souvenirs at the shop, including a book Jason had been eyeing on the trip and was less expensive than anywhere else on the Icelandic Sagas.

We were now traveling in somewhat familiar territory, going through the same underwater tunnel we had traversed at the beginning of our trip around the Golden Circle. We found Alftanes and Hotel Viking without much ado, seeing that it was in a bit of a resort area on the bay. We got our key at what looked like a Disney version of the Viking Experience, and proceeded to our cottages.

The Hlid Fisherman’s Village is a collection of about a half dozen cottages on the edge of the peninsula. It is a nice area (not far from the President’s House), but nicely isolated by a horse field and the land itself. The loft had a double bed, with low peaked ceilings. You had to be careful stepping out of the bed, as the open stairs were JUST next to it. There was also a window across from the loft with no shade. Shining right in your eyes if you slept on your side. Why, oh, why, do people do this? No shade, and no way to get up there to add one. At least the beds were reasonably soft.

There was another single bed below, with an incredibly uncomfortable chair (even putting a full fluffy duvet under my butt, it still fell asleep quickly, and it was deep enough you had to put your feet up if you wanted to sit back), table, TV, and a large shared bathroom. The bathroom had a sauna! There were also hot tubs on the property, and horses nearby. The décor was a little odd – tropical with parasols and iguanas, in our room. *Shrug* it was interesting, at least, not a static cookie-cutter place.

We were starved, so we went in search of lunch. We found a hamburger joint and fell to. The place had a kitschy American 1950s dive vibe, but they cooked the burgers right, had great fries, and played Doors music. After we got our food, two older bikers with white crosses on their leathers sat in the next booth. The aroma of marijuana kept wafting over to our table from them.

We went for a bit of a rest after the burgers, and indulged in some TV. Most of the channels were British, though Chinese and French made an appearance. We saw a show I had watched called Wild at Heart, set in Africa, and discovered they have a penchant for old 1970s/1980s American shows and movies, including Hart to Hart, Murder She Wrote, and Baretta.

For dinner, we tried out the supremely tacky Viking Hotel Restaurant. The décor was fun, but definitely on the cheesy side. There was a guy walking around in garb, playing a guitar, and singing to each table. He would ask where they were from (Norway, France, Italy, US), and say he would sing The Raven Song in Icelandic and then their own language. He would sing in Icelandic, and then just sing ‘La la la la la’ for their language part. Silly man. Then he would sing a song from their country – Volare for the Italians. Guess what he chose for us? Country Roads. I can’t even escape that song now that I’ve moved away from West Virginia!

For dinner we had meat soup (not as good as elsewhere), whale and guillemot (a sea bird). The whale was fantastic in a pepper sauce. The guillemot – meh. Tough and chewy.

Next to us at dinner sat a young man, bright red hair and full beard, evidently backpacking or traveling alone. He was American as well, and we laughed a bit at the singer. Again, the big crowds entered as soon as we put our order in. We waddled to our car, explored the area a little bit, and then went to bed. We slept despite the bright light coming into the window.
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 08:46 AM
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August 1st, Saturday

Krýsuvík thermal area
Kleifarvatn
Lake Grænavatn
Horseback riding at arctichorses.is
Reykjanestá coastal rocks
Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs

Our last full day in Iceland! The pull of the real world has begun to tug at me. I felt it, yet I pushed it away. Still, I made a list in my notebook of things that we needed to take care of when I returned, including renewal of my passport, which was expiring in February. Real life, why must you return?

We were up early, of course. No breakfast was provided at Hlid, so we went to the city in search of food. We also looked for City Hostel, which had laundry facilities. We found it, but the clerk said you needed change, and there was no change machine. So, we went in search of an Olis or N1 so we could get some change.

Instead, we found breakfast at Bakari Kaffi. We both got coffee and donuts for a healthy repast. Jason got this enormous cinnamon bun with caramel frosting on it, and I got a Long John with caramel filling. Delicious, both! Their bread is sweeter but their frosting is less sugary. Not sure what the mix is, but it works well.

We got change for the laundry, but realized that if we did laundry now, we wouldn’t have enough time to get down to Grindavik by noon, for our horseback riding appointment, so we postponed it and headed south. The first stop we found was Kleifarvatn, a large lake in the center of the peninsula, with some lovely lava formations. We were definitely getting jaded to the wonders, though. While we enjoyed exploring, and Jason found some great rocks, we had seen stuff like it before already. The Krýsuvík thermal area was more interesting, as it was still free of tourists when we arrived. We explored the hot springs, leaving just as the first bus pulled up. There was a green lake called Graenavatn, the minerals making vivid shades in the shining sun.

We finished our trek across the peninsula and emerged on the other side, the landscape now dry and black, fresher lava unsullied by growth or greenery. We worked down towards Grindavik and started searching for Arctic Horses. We couldn’t find any signs nearby, so we went into town and got gas, some fresh fruit, bread, gravlax and cheese for a noon snack, and got some directions. The directions were a bit odd, and we got totally lost on the west side of the city. We found the Blue Lagoon, but not the horse farm. We stopped and ate our lunch while we regrouped. Eventually we were able to backtrack, using the small map on the website and the GPS, and Jason used his Boy Scout Fu to find the proper place – we had passed right by it while coming into town!

Johanna and her daughter Silvia were sweet and delightful hosts. We got our Icelandic horses – Spade for me, a dark gelding, while Jason got King, a caramel colored gent with cream-colored mane. We rode across the street to the lavafields, passing by an old shipwreck and a lighthouse before returning back.

Now, it had been a couple years since I’ve ridden, but it’s been twenty since Jason has. He got back into his seat pretty quickly, despite King’s tendency to nip at the tail of the horse in front of him, and to cut off Spade when he tried to get up next to him. My horse got some revenge on King, though – by farting in his face a couple times.

It was a lovely afternoon, and the weather cooperated by being bright and warm, without too much wind.

We went into Grindavik for a cold drink, and discovered the soft serve in the N1. They had Krap (slushies), Bragdare (blizzards) and other treats. I got a blizzard with some very hard chunks of chocolate candy, while Jason ate his soft serve. Just the treat we needed.

We drove along the coast towards Reykjanesta, but I never saw the coastal formations close enough to get near. The roads just didn’t seem to go near, and I was out of hiking energy. It was near 16 degrees today (60 F), and this was definitely a more tourist-rich area. We stopped at another hot springs, but were chased away by the crowds.

We decided to try the Mall back in Reykjavik for lunch. What was an Icelandic mall like? Pretty much like any other mall, though fewer screaming children, vacuous teenage girls, and about half the store names were unpronounceable. Other than that, not much different. People looked thinner, and dressed with more elegance and style.

The small food court had several familiar names, such as Sbarros, Subway, Dominos, ZuSushi. We considered the sushi, but it looked rather run-of-the-mill, so we tried a sit-down restaurant, Café Bleu. You would think, with a name like Café Bleu, their Bleu Burger, which was supposed to have bleu cheese and Cajun spices, would be tasty. It was pretty bland. I think I just got a regular cheeseburger. Instead, Jason shared his bacon cheeseburger with me, and we shared the fries.

We had time to get back to Hlid and shower before going into Reykjavik for Jason’s appointment for his first tattoo.

Jason had left a design of three ravens when he made the appointment with Reykjavik Ink. The design was made by a friend of ours, Natile, based on a wine bottle logo we saw. The artist was Jason from Ohio, and said that, in the form it was, it would make a terrible tattoo (it was beaded and dark). So, he spent about an hour drawing up something along those lines, but better for tattoo art. While we waited, we met two men from Amsterdam getting an Icelandic Compass tattoo. We chatted with several of the patrons, as well as the artists. The place had a great, relaxed, professional feel to it. The female artist there is a tall blond Nordic goddess named Olafda – her blackwork was amazing! She was from Isafjordur, and was surprised to learn we had visited just a couple days before. Twice!

The tattoo took three hours total. We were all pleased with the results, and Jason said it didn’t hurt much, except near the top of the arm, near the shoulder bone.

Now that the tattoo was done, we could find the Pylsur hot dogs and get drunk, as per the tradition set by Anthony Bourdain. Of course, when we were last in Reykjavik, we saw lots of places to get Pylsur. Now, they were gone. They might have been hiding. Were they run by the Hidden Folk, perhaps? Icelandic Elves? No matter, we couldn’t find them. So we went to Loki Café for some food – just as they were closing. Sigh. No luck for us tonight! Instead of finding a new parking place, we walked down to Laugavegur and searched for our last dinner in Iceland.

Chuck Norris Restaurant had only high seats, and after the horseback riding trip, my legs weren’t up to such abuse. Nothing else held much appeal, until we came to the French Bistro. I was still hoping to try some Hakarl, a fermented shark local dish that is much maligned, and they had it on a sampler menu, so we stopped there.

It was very busy, but we found a table and Jason had meat soup. I had the sampler platter which included Hakarl, smoked lamb, smoked salmon, pickled herring, black pudding, smoked whale and Brennevin. The smoked lamb wasn’t as good as it was in Holmavik, the salmon was fine, the black pudding was cold and dry, which meant it was greasy. The whale was tasty enough. I tried the Hakarl with Brennevin, as is proper. The whale itself was rather mild, but the Brennevin was too strong for me. I suspect that what I got was a wimpified touristy version of the Hakarl, and not the real thing.

We waddled back to the car, up Laugavegur and up the hill (we had parked near Hallgrimmskirkja) and went home to sleep the sleep of the sated.
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 08:58 AM
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no-one could say that you are gastronomically unambitious, GD! [was I calling you Tally earlier? sorry!]

I quite liked the guillemot we tried, and never managed any whale or puffin, to Hakari, thank goodness. I think that it's a matter of eating what you find in Iceland, and hoping for the best. We did eat a lot of oxtail soup though.
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 09:11 AM
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August 2nd, Sunday


We were sad to leave. It was our last day in Iceland, and our flight left at 3:30pm. As we packed and consolidated our baggage for the trip back, Shogun was on television. I barely pulled Jason from the room due to that, one of his favorite shows.

We found a bakery for breakfast, and had Jason had another enormous cinnamon roll with caramel frosting. I tried a caramel frosting donut, which turned out to be jelly-filled. I had a caramel coffee (you can never have too much caramel!) and Jason had Swiss Mocha while we discussed what to do for the next three hours or so.

There is a Viking Museum near Keflavik Airport I had on my list, so we headed towards that. It turned into a good idea. They’ve got the reconstructed Viking ship that sailed to America and back, for the 900th anniversary of Leif Eriksson’s voyage, to prove that it could be done. There were actual archeological artifacts in this museum, including items found in Newfoundland related to Viking techniques. Outside was a sort of petting zoo with the fluffiest chickens I’ve ever seen, roosters, bunnies, pigs, lambs, and cows. When we walked out to the zoo, we saw someone looking into our car, so we hung about a bit to make sure he wasn’t going to try anything stupid. He moved on.

When we got in the car, we called the rental car guy, and he met us in the parking lot, no muss no fuss. The line at check-in only took about twenty minutes, and we evidently met the weight standards on the luggage. Security was only about ten minutes, much less than I had anticipated. Easy peasy.

Now we had a trip through the Duty Free. This was the area that could get dangerous. Jason had found his favorite whisky for much cheaper here, would he buy more? No, instead he bought a single-barrel new whisky called Floki, and we got gifts for friends – some Brennevin, chocolates, and such. Oh, and some for us.

Now for some real food. We found Café Nord, which had meat soup and open sandwiches. Score! Jason had his last Meat Soup of the trip, which was better than the stuff last night at the French Bistro. My gravlax sandwich was delicious. We had our last Swiss Mochas of the trip. Then we went to the gate – only to find that passport control wasn’t yet open, and there was no seating anywhere near it to wait. We went back a bit to find seats, and waited. People started moving towards the passport area after about twenty minutes, but it was only to line up. We lined up. And waited. About a half hour, we waited. There’s got to be a better system than this.

Finally they opened up, and we waited again, this time at a gate near the jetways. The plugs didn’t seem to work to charge anything I had – and my phone was at 40% before a six hour flight. Joy.

We sat next to Hilmar, an Icelandic English teacher who was traveling to a family wedding in Vermont. Our seats, in row 11, were three seats, and behind the exit row that only had two and a jump seat facing the other way (for a flight attendant). Jason got to stretch his legs out, as I gave him the window seat. Hilmar had been in the center, but I offered him the aisle so we could sit together. Luckily, there were plugs on the airplane, though awkwardly located under the armrests. We chatted a lot as the last view of Iceland drifted away into a fog of clouds and mist. The snowy mountains, perhaps of Snaefellsnes, peeked through the white and winked at us goodbye.

While we saw a hint of Greenland through the clouds as we went over, it was an uneventful flight with just a bit of turbulence. We landed on time and maybe even a bit early. Lunch was Soba Noodles and a Ham and Cheese baguette. I had a small bottle of Amarula – great stuff!

Our flight arrived and then we sat in the passport control line. For over an hour. Both Jason and I were in pain from standing, but there were no other options. They only had three agents working. When we were about 10 from the front, an agent came and asked if we were on the Wow flight. When we said yes, they got more agents. About time! The flight after us was from Jamaica, judging from the shirts.

We got our luggage quickly, as it had been sitting and waiting for us for an hour. Customs took less time, but we had been on a farm, so had to go through the extra processing. As we did so, we saw the sniffer dog come out just as the Jamaican flight came through. Go figure! The Agricultural screening went quickly, though the person in front of us took a while. Who thinks they can just take several pieces of fruit through customs?

We got to the bus stop by the curb, and a bus was coming. Not ours – we needed Long Term A, this was Long Term B. Then came A – but the empty bus slowed down, stopped, and then kept going. Even though some people were running after him! Several other busses came by in the next half hour, including the Long Term B – twice. Finally another Long Term A came by, already pretty full. We just wanted to get to our car and go home.

We were the first stop, luckily. We got into our car, regrouped, and headed home. Then we realized we were starving. It was 8pm, and there was little on the highway from BWI north, but we found a Subway and stopped for sandwiches before it closed. Then home, and collapse!

Iceland was a fantastic adventure. We are already planning our next trip back.

Some final thoughts on Iceland.

• A very clean place. I hope it stays that way. Not just the sites, but the city itself.
• Graffiti in the city was artistic and downright fun in many places.
• Infrastructure is less than I’ve seen in Ireland, for instance, to for tourism. I know that the recent upsurge of tourists has come at some of a surprise, but increased number of toilets and parking areas might be helpful, especially in the bigger draw areas
• Believe people when they tell you the food is expensive. And the rental cars
• Speaking of rental cars, get a 4×4. Do it. So many cool places are just off the beaten path.
• Why, oh why, in a country that gets 22 hours of daylight in the summer, do guesthouses put either light curtains or NO curtains on bedroom windows?
• So many campers everywhere.
• So many hitchhikers!
• I once thought the highlands of Scotland were remote and desolate, and that the Burren in Ireland was barren. I was wrong. Iceland far surpasses both places in these categories.
• Everyone appreciated my pitiful attempts at Icelandic. I only met two people who didn’t speak excellent English, so it wasn’t necessary, but it was fun.
• Layers. Layers. Layers. Prepare for wind and rain.
• That being said, in our two weeks, we had a total of about 6 hours of rain and maybe 10 hours of mist. The rest was clouds and sun. It was beautiful.
• The Icelandic like short, steep stairs.
• Showers were all pretty great on temp and pressure. Some didn’t even stink of sulfur
• Whale, puffin and reindeer are delicious. Guillemot less so.
• I tried the rotted shark. It wasn’t bad. Which means one of three thing; my palate was deadened by the time I tried it, there is some grand conspiracy where everyone just says it is horrible, or the most likely option, I got some wimpified tourist version.
• I missed sunsets and sunrises
• I am glad duvets can be separated – the ‘sheet’ cover is all I need by morning. The fluffy part is too hot.
• The midges were bad in places, but they didn’t bite like in Scotland.
• No mosquitoes!
• 50-55 every day, sometimes 60. 45 at night.
• Fjords are beautiful, even after seeing 16 of them. The same for waterfalls, hot springs, etc.
• So many horses!
• GPS and atlases don’t always have the smaller towns or roads. Get directions or coordinates.
• I will definitely be going back!
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 09:18 AM
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I've posted the whole thing here on my blog:

http://greendragonartist.net/2015/08...-from-iceland/

And I've a link to my photos here - I've only JUST started to go through my 8988 photos, so will be posting them there as time goes on. Patience

http://greendragonartist.net/2015/08...-iceland-2015/
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 11:20 AM
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thanks, GD. your conclusions aren't that different to mine - Iceland can be quite hard work for visitors, but it's worth it! [and the photos are wonderful BTW!]
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 11:21 AM
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Great job, GD - loved the adventure.
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Old Aug 11th, 2015, 11:33 AM
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Thanks for coming along for the ride! I'll have more photos each day, hopefully.
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