Iceland was the last of the nordic countries that I visited. This weatherbeaten island in the north of the atlantic was truly a fascinating country. Spent two weeks here in the beginning of september 2005. A bit off season, and not many tourists were around, except from in Reykjavik. Don't think there is an off-season there! :) Reykjavik is a quiet little town, that really come alive during the weekends. Iceland consists of huge differences of the landscapes. Have never seen anything like it! Vulcanos, hot spring and bubbling mud pools, huge deserts, green and lush fields and big glaciers. No problem seeing all this in one day.
My journey started in the capital. Explored some of the nearby area, and also used the possibillity to go for a day to Greenland. I continued to Akureyri, and then further on to the northern and northeastern part. Some impressive waterfalls there! Went sheep gathering with the locals in Vopnafj÷rur. Then south and got some magnificent views of Vatnaj÷kull, and the black beaches around Vik. The area around Landmannalaugar was also visited as long as my rental car would take me. You really need a 4X4 to explore the interior. My Toyota Yaris made a brave attempt, but was a bit small crossing the biggest rivers.
The area around Mřvatn was also awarded a visit by me, on my way back to Akureyri and Reykjavik. :) As a finale I spent a day at Blßa Lˇni (The Blue Lagoon), and enjoyed the Reykjavik nightlife! What a perfect ending!
Day 1 Reykjavik
Finally on Iceland!!!! And wow, this capital isn't of the biggest ones! But definately one of the most charming ones, with it's small ironclad houses, some bigger houses, a lot of big 4X4's and narrow streets! The flybus took me to the bus station, in what seemed to me far from the city. Had I bothered to look a bit more on the map I would have figured out that even if my conclusion of beeing in the outskirts was correct, it was still only ten minutes walk to the city. But I met a real nice taxi driver, and he drove me from guesthouse (gistiheimili) to guesthouse, and helped me finding one with vacancies. He even went walking around with me! It must have been the 4th or the 5th that finally had a room for me. The story also included that the meter was turned off after arriving at the first gistiheimili. Icelanders are good people!
As expected it is quite expensive here, even for a "stinking rich" norwegian. The price level is actually as in Norway, and sometimes even above.
But the Guinness is good as always, and the fish and chips (fiskur og franskar:) would make an englishman to cry in joy.
Day 2 The Golden Circle
Very, very touristic, but a real must-see!!! A rental car might have been preferred instead of one of the tour operators. You will miss the stories and the facts that the tourguide tells you in three or more languages, but you can spend as much time as you want on each sight. 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 40 minutes of limited time with a lot of people trying to get the best shots is really not my cup of tea. But again the sights are really worth visiting.
First the bus went to Hverageri greenhouse through a really spectacualar volcanic landscape, with black rocks, green moss and smoke coming out of the ground! aiaiai....
If you want to see a banana tree on Iceland you will find it in the greenhouses here, and a lot of tourists taking picture of it! Iceland is actually the biggest producer of banana in Europe! Is this true?? Anybody who knows? But again how many producers of bananas can there be in Europe?!
Next stop was the volcanic crater Keri. 10 minutes stop, pictures, pictures and off again. A nice church was visited as well at Skßlholt, on the way to the main attractions. First big stop was Gullfoss. Wooow....It is really beautiful. The tourists and the time schedule was forgotten, and I was just amazed over the waterfall. It was really something! Thundering down the gorge, and throwing a fine mist in the air. I really like waterfalls, and this is absolutely a fine waterfall in the middle of this volcanic landscape. Not the most gigantic, but still very nice!
The biggest tourist attraction on Iceland might be Geysir. The geysir named Geysir is dead, suffocated from rocks and coins thrown into it. But Strukkur nearby have taken over the legacy and is reliable as the snozebuttom on my alarm clock. Every 5-10 minutes the geysir exploded with a huge water column. Never seen anything like it! This is indeed a very exotic neighbour we have up here in the north! Also very funny to see how the tourists stood there focused with their cameras waiting for the next eruption. I obviously had to do the same to get a nice shot of it though. The whole area around the geysir is really worth seeing. Bubbling hotpots, stinking pools with the most brilliant colours of dark purple and fluorescent turquoise!
This was really a packed day and still one of the main attractions were left. Ůingvellir! The old parliament place for the vikings a tousand years ago. They actually had the first parliament in the world. The vikings were really democratic!! Maybe they just agreed on which nation they should invade next, with their pillaging, plundering and raping. But still they had their own parliament! I have somehow pictured this place with green fields, with a small hill in the middle where a speaker stood. But the place was much more spectacular than that, where it was situated in between the two tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America. Big cliffs surrounded the rift valley. The landscape below was cut through by a river, and some sparsely vegetation was covering the floor. The area was indeed nice though, with Ůingvallavatn in the distance and the mountains in the background. Without the cliffs it would seem very much alike the landscape in the lower mountains around here. This is definately a place I will go back to if I am in the area again. Could easy spend a day, or a week, here walking around and philosophying about the life here a tousand years ago. Brings me a bit back to my childhood, sitting in the science class, and learning about the All■ing of the tough vikings with their swords and helmets. Bards orating poem as entertainment. Maybe a very glorified image, but it really sticks to a boys mind! ( The subject was really called O-fag in elementary school here in Norway, and would be translated directly as orientation subject??) And now I am finally here. No tough vikings though, except from myself! :)
Day 3 Kulusuk, Greenland
This holiday is really moving at a neckbreaking speed. Today I have been to Greenland!!! Really unreal to have been there! Didn't really think about going there at all planning this trip. I just suddenly realized in Reykjavik how close I really was, and that I seldom would get a better chance to go there. Plus a small miscalculation of the exchangerate made me jump on this daytrip. And it was really worth it. After a two hours flight from the city airport in Reykjavik the plane landed on a gravel field outside the village of Kulusuk, on the eastcoast. Woow...this is probably one of the most desolate places I have ever been. Definately the place with the toughest climate, and still with people living there.
Not long a go a person was killed by a polar bear on the road from the airport to the village. The same road as I walked. But today was a summerday up there.And no polar bears in sight! Just dogs! :)
The first sign of the hard life here were all the graves with nameless crosses! Everywhere! Because of the thin soil here people were burried everywhere possible. Even just under a pile of stones on solid rock. Death has maybe become an unnatural thing in our modern society. Things seems strange in our terms, but we really forget that our way of life is not the only one. This became a bit philosophic, but Kulusuk was really a place to reflect about such things.
It was a bit strange walking around in the village, kind of feeling that the people there were on display. The tourist season is very short there, and is is a most welcome way of income. And it is not that desolate that they can't take VISA. The tour included a display of traditional inuit drumdance, and a short visit to the church.
The day here was really worth every icelandic and danish kroners. The impressions are priceless!
Even more impression came on the flight back to Reykjavik. Because of the fantastic weather the pilot decided to tak a scenic route low over the glaciers and the fiords north of Kulusuk. And I mean really low. Got to see the inland ice on its way down into the sea, the mountains that acually were streching quite a bit higher than the altitude of the airplane. The pilot got a well deserved applause for the extraservice!
Day 4 Northern lights
Left Reykjavik today. Seems to be quite quiet in the weeks. But I at least managed to find two Irish pubs, with Guinness. The Dubliner and The Celtic Cross. Irish pubs seems to be everywhere, luckily! The plan was to go to Akureyri today, and I did! But got there quite early so I decided to rent a car a press on for the east coast. A Toyata Yaris is now my trusted companion for a week.
Also picked up this strange Belgium hitchiker at the first turn. Hitchikers are always interesting people! On the way further we stopped at Goafoss, another amazing waterfall. And quite different from Gullfoss, in the fact that we were the only people around. The power of falling water never seem to stop to amaze me!
We continued to Husavik, had a short stop there, and found a quite idyllic campsite under the cliffs north of the town. Under the northern light there we burned a lot of nasty spies! That was, of course, after enjoying some low-alcohol icelandic beer and some high alcohol icelandic BrennÝvin! And some whisky as well, I guess! It became quite blurry after a while! It might not have been the northern light we saw after all when I think about it! :) And that the sheeps were the real spies and not the driftwood!
Day 5 More waterfalls
An amazingly early start this morning. We continued without any particular hunger for breakfast until close to ┴sbyrgi. A very basic breakfast was enjoyed there at Botntj÷rn. A small lake at the end of the canyon. Cliffs on three sides!
After this I went south, leaving Steven at the road going north, and I headed for the biggest waterfalls on the island! The landscape south through the J÷kulsßrglj˙fur National Park was really moonlike. Haven't been to the moon yet, but this is really how I imagine it will be there! Rocks and sand! One thing I don't expect to find on the moon though, is this huge canyon with a river in it. And not just any river! Filled with melt water from Vatnaj÷kull, it creates the biggest waterfalls in Europe. First stop was at Hafragilsfoss. Sadly not possible to go down the canyon from the eastside, but still it rewards you with some good views, especially going south on the edge towards the king of the waterfalls on Iceland, Dettifoss! Next stop was of course at Dettifoss. Biggest on Iceland, and in Europe. It is a huge and impressive waterfall indeed. Don't really know where to put in on my personal ranking for Iceland, but it will be up there somewhere. Another rewarding walk is from Dettifoss up to the next waterfall, Selfoss. This horseshoe shaped fall is also worth seeing! If I had better time here I would have walked up on the west side of the river, seeing more waterfalls!
The day ended up in Egilsstair, the capital of the east coast. A nice place with very good hot dogs!
Day 6-7 Sheep gathering
After a short detour towards SnŠfell, I headed north for Vopnafj÷rur to meet my norwegian friend there, Ragnhild. She had invited me to join the sheep gathering that was on this weekend! And of course I joined! Really felt like off the beaten track when I went there on the winding gravel road over the snowy mountain. I would really not like to drive here on real slippery winter conditions.
The plan as I've been told, was to go to a hut far in the mountains on friday night, and go down again on saturday gathering sheeps. I pictured a quite tough walk up to the hut, but I forgot I was on Iceland. And the proper way to get there was of course with a 4X4! No effort at all! After a half an hour to an hour drive over stones and through rivers, we came to this ironclad hut in the middle of nowhere. The rest of the sheep gatherers were already there with their 4-wheel terrain motorcycles and horses. The Icelenders barbequed sheep meat in the best way, and it was plenty of it! Very good food indeed!! First taste of Hangik÷tt here. Icelandic delicacy made of sheep meat smoked over dried sheep droppings! Very tasty, and goes well with Laphroaig 10 years old! It also seemed to be plenty of alchol as well, both from the VÝn Bu and homemade heimabrennt.
After a very pleasent evening it was due for some real action the next morning. I was selected for the footpatrol, and was happy with that! After a walk down the valley, we had all the sheeps infront of us. Well...almost all! A few escaped through the line, without me noticing it. In defense I can just say I think I had the hardest part of walking there in the top of the hillside, running up and down all the time. The sheeps were gathered at the enclosures close to the farms, and separated there. Have never seen so many sheep at once before. Must have been well past a 1000. Even if the gathering demanded quite much walking and running, is it a glimpse of the icelandic life that I am sure not many tourists will experience. I feel quite privileged to have done this, and I am sure I will mention this as one of the highlights here.
The landscape was beautiful, and so were the icelandic people. Really welcoming, and overwhealmingly hospitable with their food! And they really know how to make good food out of their sheeps!
More pictures from the sheep gathering can be found here.
Day 8-9 Glaciers and deserts
After a fantastic weekend I headed south with Vatnaj÷kull as goal for the day. Driving along Highway number one on the eastcoast made me really wonder if this really was the main road on Iceland. But people don't seem to need good roads here. Everybody have a 4X4. The winding gravel road took me through some fantastic landscapes as usual here. Over mountains, along the coast, through desert and through lush fields. It is a really shifting landscape. And after going through the new tunnel north of H÷fn I got the first glimpse of the third biggest glacier in the world. After a short stop for refueling both me and the car I continued west. The glacier came flowing between the mountain and streched for the flat fields towards the ocean. This landscape was cut through by big glacial rivers and heaps of gravel that the ice had left. But some areas were actually surprisingly green as well. In the middle of this weatherbeaten landscape stood another hitchhiker. Of course I stopped. Hitchhikers are interesting persons, and this was no exception! This time it was a very nice german girl. Germans are really everywhere! :) Shortly after we stopped at J÷kulsßrlˇn, a small lake that the glacier breaks off into. The lake was full of floating (and stranded) icebergs. Again something I definately don't see every day. My german friend obviously visited the place for the second or third time. Still amazing though!
We pressed on further west, and the weather became more and more windy. When we got closer to VÝk, my eye catched the vaste fields of black sand between us and the sea. It took a while realizing that this was not the sea, because cliffs came up from it and the line between the ocean far beyond and the sand was blurry. So it looked like it streched all the way to the horisont. We laughed at the "4X4-only" sign, and drove off on the sand. Felt really like driving on the ocean, there my red Yaris raced between tall cliffs. Some of the cliffs had huge caves as well.
Didn't really plan to go so far, but the company was good and made the ride very easy. And I would for sure have missed the black beaches at VÝk. After a short look at the map I realized I was quite close to Landmannalaugar. And as Johanna was going the same way, at least to Hella, I decided to go further west and drive road F208 back, and get a small taste of the area. After a stop at the viking museum at Hvolsv÷llur, we said good bye in Hella. The viking museum had a quite good display about viking life. Gave a good introduction to the sagas as well, especially Njßl's saga.
I headed off on F208, wondering a bit about what the F meant. The landscape become more and more desolate, and the weather really changed. Wind and rain. Lots! As I pressed on through the desert I kind of got an idea what the F meant. And after crossing the first river, I was quite sure. No Toyota Yaris road. Driving further in hope of better conditions I finally hit a big river. Well... nothing else to do than drive the same way back again. Just 150 kilometres back to highway one! The weather didn't invite to do any more stop this day, except for food and fuel. And by the end of the day I was back in H÷fn.
Day 10 Mřvatn
The storm was gone, and I headed north again. The road was partially blocked by mudslides several places, and one place I even had to stop and clear the road for huge rocks. Luckily most of the rock here is of volcanic origin, and very light!
As the good and fast driver I am :), I came quite early to Mřvatn. First I of course had to stop at Hverar÷nd. A geothermally active area with steaming vents and bubbling mud pools right by the road. The steam really came thundering out of those vents. Like gigantic teapots!
In the landscape around Mřvatn my eyes immediately drew themself to the huge snowy explosion crater on the east side of the lake. Hverfell. That must have been a hell of an explosion! The whole area seemed to have been very active indeed some time in history. Fascinating lava columns stood out of the lake close to the shore, and really looked like some old foundations of bridges at first glimpse. But they really were made of vulcanic rock. More and bigger columns could be found all over the place, but the most amazing area was Dimmuborgir. Walked between the mysterious pillars of lava for several hours. Some had caves going through them. The largest cave, at least to my my knowledge, was called the church. I am sure many dedicated black-metal fans do their pilgrimage to the church of Dimmuborgir! :) At least they should do so!
After using most of the day in the area I headed back to the second largest city on Icland, Akureyri! It is truly amazing that this is the second biggest city in the country. It is even smaller than Mo i Rana, with its 15 tousand inhabitants. Not that I am so used to big cities, or that I want to make fun of Iceland. Just found it worth mentioning!
Akureyri is a very nice city, easy to get around in and have some good pubs as well. That was one of the reasons for going back here! :) And without realizing it I also got to see some Champions League matches here as well. But to my horror I haven't found a place with Guinness yet!!! aiaiaiai......
Day 11 Akureyri
Last day with my steady japanese companion today. I am quite sure he is very glad to get rid of this crazy norwegian driver. But as a final goodbye we drove for a cup of coffee in Ëlafsfj÷rur. The drive took us north on the westside of the Eyjafj÷rur, with some nice views off the cliffs on both sides of this fiord really. Sea birds challenging the winds beneath the cliffs, and the endless hammering of the waves. This view is found almost everywhere on the rugged coastline to this country. First we got to Dalvik, a small village with a small skijump! And as everywhere else, with brightly coloured houses. After walking a bit around here I continued north along highway 82, and after driving through the first 3 kilometer einbreid g÷ng (single lane tunnel) I ever have seen, and ended up in Ëlafsfj÷rur. Yet another nice village. They didn't seem to have a skijump though. Or an open coffehouse. But this was a very worthwhile trip anyway. The last kilometers with my trustwrthy Toyota was driven and the companion was returned in Akureyri. Finally time for some quality drinking again!! Off to the sportsbar for an early pint of Thule, and do some writing in my diary, while looking at people passing by. One of my favourite ways of spending time while travelling!
Day 12-13Ż Back in Reykjavik
Sweet, sweet Guinness! Back to the start again. After getting installed at Gistiheimili Sunna, a very good guesthouse by the way, I found myself drooling at the bar at The Celtic Cross, while waiting for my Guinness. Next stop was Kebabh˙si for some deliscious fiskur & franskar. Life is good!! And so is the nightlife in Reykjavik! Starts a bit late, but accelerates until early morning, and even longer.
After a few hours sleep, I was in for a relaxing day at Blßa Lˇni. Really the perfect way of spending the last day, for this time, on the island. Walking with just the head above the water around in that warm milky blue water was really something. The weather was not the best, but the wind and rain couldn't compete with the very comfortable water. Just made the whole experience more exotic!
This was friday, and you could feel a change in the atmophere in the city. Weekend was finally here. Icelenders work a lot, and really appreciate the days off! The friday night, and I guess even more sturday night is something that you just have to experience. My flight back was very early next morning. The bus was going to pick me up at 05:00. It would just be silly to sleep anything that night. Most clubs and pubs had live music, and someplaces very good music. And it just seemed to be more and more people during the night. The nightlife was just picking up more and more speed. It is of course very easy to forget both time and place. So I did! Just realized to late that the airport bus was leaving. It can happen the best! :) Without really wanting to leave I just had to. Said goodbye to the lovely bartender at the Celtic Cross, and just had to run and figure out how to get to the airport in time.
The fear was really needless. Buses to the airport leaves the bus station every 15 minutes. I just had to take a taxi there, and was at the airport just 45 minutes after my schedule. Stil plenty of time. Well...not plenty, but enough!