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Month: March 2015

Iceland Day 14

Iceland Day 14


On the day we left Iceland the snow was coming down again hard. We’d been warned that we had to (as usual anywhere in the world) return the rental with a full tank of gas. We’d also been warned there would be a 50 Euro cleaning fee if we returned it dirty.  We’d been driving around in storms and over gravel for two weeks, so it was indeed dirty.  We asked at the hotel, but nobody knew where a carwash near the airport was.

We started pulling off into all the small towns looking for a carwash. We found ducks before we found the carwash.

When we turned the car in the attendant told us the 50 euros fee was actually for cleaning the INSIDE of the car. We’d paid almost $25 for a carwash we didn’t need.

Our flights were uneventful other than watching an orange full moon rise beside us on the way to Burbank and a harsher than normal landing.

Iceland Day 13

Iceland Day 13

On our last full day in Iceland we cancelled our northern lights jeep tour – so all we had scheduled was a set of reservations at the Blue Lagoon.  Before that we wandered around centrail Reyjkavik taking pictures and eating at the famous hot dog stand.

On our way to the Blue Lagoon we visited the Perlan building for some shots over Raykavik.

We stayed at the blue lagoon for about three hours. During that time we endured at least three different hail storms. Sometimes the hail pelting us was as big as peas and we had to turn our faces to the water and cover our heads with our hands.  When the sun set behind the hills and the another vicious hail storm started we knew it was time to leave.

On our way back we stopped at KFC (terrible in Iceland, the Colonel would NOT be proud) and then the Perlan building again to take pictures of the city at night… before another hailstorm forced us inside.

Iceland Day 12

Iceland Day 12

On day 12 we’d planned to visit snaefellsjokull, but like so many things in the north, the road was closed. We decided to drive all the way around Snæfellsnes Peninsula instead, stopping wherever we were commanded. Most of the squiggly sign stops were uneventful, but one -Lóndrangar- made it worth it. On the southern tip of the peninsula were a series of high cliffs with volcanic formations called “sea stacks.” As the horrible wind howled I walked out onto the cliffs to see the birds circling and the gargantuan waves crashing against the naturally collonaded black cliffs on either side.

Back in the car we proceeded down through snow and rain to Borganes for a buffet lunch at the visitor’s center restaurant. It was here that we met the waiter who informed us that we were “brave” and “adventuresome” for going to the Westfjords.  He is also the waiter who said he had never seen a pink aurora in 25 years, so in addition to being foolhardy we were quite lucky out there in the westfjords.

We drove south after that before taking a turn back north, towards the golden circle. We stopped at Gulfoss and Geysir again, closing out our adventure where we’d started. Both sites were much milder than before, with the walking paths actually walkable, and the snow now not being blown into our eyes.

After that we went back to the little farm restaurant down the road and had some gelato.

We then headed over snow covered roads back to our hotel in Reykjavik.

 

Iceland Day 11

Iceland Day 11

We woke up to a howling gale of 20 meters per second in the fjord. It would last all day and make our sightseeing impossible. Instead we slowly inched back through the mountain pass, now much more dangerous.

After two hours, we made it to the dock for the ferry, but the station was empty. The ferry wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another six hours so we tried to find local landmarks. The only thing we found was an outdoor pool, but it was abandoned for the winter.

So, we spent the next five hours waiting at the empty ticket office across the road from the dock in our car with a howling snowstorm outside. We were glad to have lots of leftover snacks and fully charged phones with books to read.

After an hour of that we decided to watch a movie on our tablet. When the movie was over we noticed the snow had progressively gotten worse and worse. Several inches had fallen and our tracks were already covered.

We decided it would be safer to actually wait at the dock. The snow was so high it was not easy even to cross the road. As we did so we noticed the electronic sign for the road we’d come in on was now flashing “closed.”

This caused us a bit of worry so we knocked on the door of the building at the dock, but nobody came.

Days later a waiter told us we were very brave to go to the westfjords as they are known to be deadly roads. In fact, a few years ago an avalanche killed hundreds and rescue crews had to come by boat as any other method was too dangerous.

We decided there was nothing we could do but wait and see. Then, about 45 minutes later we noticed figures standing in the snow by the door.

These were two men that had been working in the building. The men ran the electrics in the building, which it turns out is a fish drying plant.  They invited us in and told us that the storm was so bad in Patreksfjordur  after we left that the outer regions of the town had been evacuated to the fosshotel. They said they hoped the ferry was coming to as it would mean the road might be plowed and they could go home.

After talking with them for about 15 minutes, the ferry docked and we were able to board, the only passengers back to Stykissholmur in the storm.

We arrived in Stykkisholmur after dark and were relieved to see that the storm had carried not snow or ice to the peninsula, but rain. It cleared most of the road on the way, but we still managed to find a snowstorm that blew heavy chunks of snow at us in the dark. It was Sam’s first “millennium falcon” snow driving experience, something every Ohio native knows well.

 

Iceland Day 10

Iceland Day 10

We headed further east towards Stykkishólmur, only stopping by the roadside to take photos.

We arrived early so we ate at a little cafe, which had some really amazing fresh tuna and cheese in the salad bar. After eating we took pictures around town, including the lighthouse near the ferry.

When we were halfway to the westfjords on the ferry we saw a heavy snowstorm outside with big giant flakes. This was the part of the trip I was most worried about as if the mountain road to Patreksfjörður was impassible we would be stuck sleeping in the car.

Luckily the road was passable, although sometimes it was hard just to see ten feet in front of the car. As we started coming down from the mountain the storm cleared and we were treated to a beautiful view of the fjord sunset.

When we found our hotel there was a note: “if checking in after 4 call” and then a number. This was odd for many reasons. First, we’re booked, you know we’re coming -and most likely from the ferry, which didn’t arrive until 6 and is an hours drive. Second, if I made the entire reservation online you can bet I am not interested in using a phone call for this transaction when I am in a foreign country. For safety I had turned on the ability to make calls from my phone in Iceland, but it’s expensive so I really didn’t want to. Instead, we walked down the street to the local gym and used their phone.

Afrer we received our keys we headed to the only restaurant in town at the fosshotel. The waiter recommended mead and i really liked it (although the $15 a bottle price tag was harder to swallow). The waiter brought us bread and whipped butter (melting on a black volcanic stone) that was very good. So good we went through two baskets of bread. Entrees were seafood bouillabaisse and salmon. They were both very good, on par with any restaurant in the world. But this was a tiny town nestled beside a fjord sticking out into the north Atlantic.

Our night only got better as we headed back to the mountain road to find the northern lights. We found them long before we could find a place to pull off. A storm had deposited several feet of snow in the past few days and it was all now plowed onto the sides of the road. We eventually spotted a flat area where the plowed wall of snow had rolled off the cliff and we turned off, crossing our fingers we wouldn’t tumble down as well.

The lights were glowing green and we took many pictures before heading further out. We decided to try to make it to the tip of the fjord, where we’d crossed a bridge earlier.

We both tried to take video of the experience, but without previous experience shooting the northern lights these attempts did not go well. They certainly don’t accurately represent our experience.

When we arrived we scrambled to set up our equipment because the northern lights were putting on an amazing display. Directly above us and in both directions to the horizon the sky was exploding with shimmering pools of undulating pink and green.

We were told days later by a waiter at a restaurant in Borgarnes that pink like that is so rare that he has not seen it in 25 years of living in Iceland.

The most active part was over before we could capture any images, but a highly active display kept on going for nearly an hour. In that entire time, in the picturesque location only one car passed by – and nobody joined us.

 

Iceland Day 9

Iceland Day 9

We took a short detour from Akureyri to see the Christmas Village, which ironically isn’t open until April, and then headed for the basalt columns of Kalfshamarsvik.  Unfortunately, we were met with impassable snow drifts about a mile from the viewing site and had to turn around and drive all the way back down the peninsula.

Our next stop was a bit hidden. We went down the road until it was closed and backtracked till we saw an information sign. Kolugljufur waterfall is actually a series of waterfalls that runs through a canyon.  At the beginning, a one lane bridge spans the canyon.

We were elated to finally find it, and then of course when we got in position to take photos a tour bus scooted across the bridge and twenty people quickly dotted the landscape of this previously “hidden” (to us) landmark.

We were elated to finally find it, and then of course when we got in position to take photos a tour bus scooted across the bridge and twenty people quickly dotted the landscape of this previously “hidden” (to us) landmark.

The coolest thing about this waterfall was that in several places it was frozen over and you could see water falling behind the ice; a very strange visual effect to observe.

Our next stop was Hvítserkur. When we arrived we found the road blocked by another sign saying it was impassible.  We could see the viewing bridge was maybe only a mile down the hill, so we parked our car and walked down the icy road towards the beach.

When we got there another couple on the road saw us and stopped. This time we were glad to have visiters as they could take our picture. They also let us know that the rest of the way around the peninsula was passable, so we went all the way around to Hvammstangi.  We stopped on the way to see the seals, but none would pop their heads up into the -6 centigrade temperatures and strong winds.

When we got to Hvammstangi we headed to the only grocery store and arrived five minutes before closing. The check-out lady informed us that there were NO restaurants in town. “We’re building one,” she said, as if that made it better. We checked into our little hotel and the host told us we had two free tickets to the town swimming pool.  An outdoor swimming pool.  So we went to the outdoor (heated) swimming pool in a snow storm.

 

Iceland Day 8

Iceland Day 8

We left Egilsstaðir in the morning and headed west across the top of the country.  Our first stop was to be Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall.

When we got to the road that holds Dettifoss only 30 kilometers away, we sped up, excited to see this amazing waterfall. When we turned into the road there were a few old SUV’s sitting on the side covered in snow and ice. We should have taken that as a warning.

Then we got stuck in a snowdrift. And I mean stuck. After 45 minutes of shoveling snow out from under the tires, me pushing while Sam spun the wheels – and repeating that every few feet – we finally made it out of there.

Glad to be alive we headed to Mývatn for a short hike around the lava fields before lunch.

After lunch we visited Goðafoss, a smaller (by Iceland standards, not anywhere else) waterfall that wasn’t blocked.

Our next stop was our final one, Akureyri, the second largest town in Iceland. The town sits on a fjord and looks like every Nordic fishing town fantasy, complete with a church on the hill and big flakes of falling snow.

 

Iceland Day 7

Iceland Day 7

We left skalafell and headed east towards the EastFjords. There were many incredible vistas of the cool blue fjords reflecting high mountain peaks.

When we ate lunch in a small fishing town called Breiddalshreppur the waitress saw our map and let us know that route 1 was closed just up the hill.

We tried to find bjandi waterfall on our original route but all we found was a dangerous snow covered road that eventually wound back around to the same old fishing town where we’d had lunch.

We headed up on the alternate route into, and sometimes through, the mountains. After an hour or two of slipping through white in every direction we suddenly came to egilsstaðir.

We checked into our hotel and then zoomed down the long lake road to Litlanesfoss. The trail was covered in ice so we had to hike up and around. At the view for litlanesfoss it became apparent that there was another waterfall (feeding litlanessfoss) far up the same mountain. I later came to know this was Hengifoss. I pushed and pushed and pushed myself in the wind and sleet and snow to get up there. ..only to find that there was another long sloping lava flow still obstructing the view.

Later we measured it on the map and I’d hiked up about two miles. In -5 degrees celcius, and wind and snow.  Sam had come up maybe a third of that way, where there was still a trail, but that was tough enough. We walked down together and then went back to town for dinner. We found everything closed except for the gas station and Subway. So we had hotdogs and a subway salad.

When we finally got to our room I peeked out the window to see our top floor view. Then I noticed something odd – a cloud that was going perpendicular to all the other clouds. Then I noticed that cloud had a slight green hue.  I screamed for Sam to turn off the lights and she ran to the window to join me.  It was the aurora!  We’d looked and looked every night and had been in Iceland a week without seeing it, but there it was.

We quickly got dressed again and ran back to the car, heading down the road to find an open spot away from town. As we drove we saw the aurora grow and grow and get really bright. By the time we parked the brightness had passed, but we still got some photos of it.