Go to Another Vacation
Iceland - September 2010
Drive to Westfjörds
Drive to North
Drive to Reykjavík
Drive through the South
We flew in overnight and landed very early in Reykjavík at Keflavik International Airport. We rented a car from Europcar because we were able to reserve ahead of time online and they cost the least out of the other rentals at that time. Not to say it was cheap. Nothing in Iceland is cheap. Some of the rentals we looked at were $2000 - $3000 for the week and a half, so anything close to or under $1000 started to sound good.
We drove our tiny red Golf Polo through the light drizzle and fog to Hafnarfjörður to stay our first night at Viking Village which Bill found online. They were the only hotel to write us back to see if we could check in early and if there was ample parking. We enjoyed our stay here so much that we reserved a few nights extra at the end of our trip. It had a restaurant across the street with Viking Fare and a nice breakfast in the hotel in a uniquely decorated kitchen. Our room looked exactly like the photo on the web site. That rarely happens!
The Number One Viking let us have breakfast while the room was prepared and then booked us a horseback riding trip in the early afternoon after we unpacked, washed, and took a power nap. our room had a view of the fjord, and during the right time of the year there aer puffins, but in September they are no longer in Iceland as far as we could tell.
Ishestar picked us up at the hotel and drove the five minutes to their stables. It was a medium sized group on the trip which was impressive for off-season, but I am sure the easy ride trip is one of the more popular ones for a rainy afternoon. The ride gave us our first glimpses of the Icelandic landscape and I was grateful that the horse did all the work while I looked around. The first day can be hard after a night flight.
We ended the evening at the Viking Village restaurant where we had mushroom soup that warmed the soul and fish and lobster to complete the meal. I think we also went though a loaf of bread and a stick of butter. The restaurant was decorated in antique wood and the carved bar was impressive. Taxidermy is a prominent thing in Iceland and we had our first meal while being watched by woodland animals. If you are very strong minded and bothered about fur or taxidermy, you might not find Iceland to your taste - it is everywhere: restaurants, hotels, museums, road stops; but if you can be open to other cultures and enjoy the food and the land, a visit may be worthwhile.
When we told the Number One Viking that we were driving to the Westfjörds he told us it would take us the better part of the day. This was better news than our story of driving to Mývatn from the Westfjörds after. That is too far, he told us. We might have to rethink things. We topped off with a breakfast of hardboiled eggs, breads, cereal, and things we did not recognize and we took the directions they gave us at the Viking Village and were off.
He was right, it was a long drive. All we had to do was find Route 1, drive a few hours and near an N1 (motor stop) we would then head left into the fjords. The drive was interesting and we stopped at every N1 to buy peanut M&Ms for about $7 a bag, coffee and Coke Light. That is what we had for lunch for 9 days. The road has a new shortcut that is a tunnel that goes under a fjord. I found that uncomfortable and endless, but once on the other side we stopped to take photos and to walk along things that looked kind of like trails. A few hours in we passed the exit for the Westfjörds, turned back and we were on our way.
We learned Icelandic for unpaved road ahead, single lane bridge, danger, and thought the signs with a camera on them signified a place to stop and take photos. (We were wrong but did not know it yet).
We stopped at the Museum for Witchcraft and Sorcery, and got a map of all the places to look for whales on the rest of our drive to Ísafjörður. We also learned we took the longer way by about an hour, but it did bring us to that museum. We did not see any whales, but we did see a seal near a place that we cold park and get kind of close to take a photo, but they are not as approachable as the animals in the Galapagos.
We pulled into Ísafjörður about 8 pm and were thankful that our hotel had a restaurant. I must mention that it was really good and overlooks the fjord. We both had fish cooked in a pound of butter and couldn't have been happier.
On our drive out the day before, I had sent an email to Arctic Adventures to see if we could kayak both days we would be in the Westfjörds. I had originally booked a trip for the following day but had not followed through with their offer in an email from a previous month to have something arranged for this day. As a direct result of my lack of planning, we spent time with phone tag and then they finally gave me the number of the guy who does the trips. We were in the restaurant when his call came through (small hotel) and were able to arrange a meeting time in the morning and agreed to a custom trip.
We met at the kayak place about a block from the hotel and geared up and headed out with our guide to a fjord further west. After passing through a tunnel (the new road) we arrived at Önundarfjörður. Both the guide and the trip was fantastic and we were able to ask all the questions we had been wondering about, like why is there rarely parking near the sighs with the camera on them. We thought it meant - here is a great place to take a picture. We all got a good laugh when he told us those signs indicated cameras to catch speeders in use.
Since our day was a half day trip, we decided to head over the the next fjord to visit the Arctic Fox Center where we saw a live fox and went through the displays and the history of laws and perceptions on the only native land mammal in Iceland. We then returned to our fjord and did a hike near the airport and a second walk around the loop near the processing plant where we saw bird life, seals, and horses.
Our kayaking guide suggested a restaurant in town called Tjoruhusid that was near the very end of the road in a red building with a black roof. It only sold fish of the day and if there was no fishing that day, then it would be closed. We went to this restaurant and a very tall man, while ducking the rafters to move about the old building, told us we would have fish stew. OK. We had no idea what was going on and sat at one of the wooden tables and benches by the tiny window. Someone next to us was served "Place for Two" (we think Place is Trout) and they aid they had not ordered that and it was very confusing. A little while later we saw several other people receiving the same dish. Magically we also received Place for Two and realized that that is simply what was being served that night. It was amazingly fantastic. It could not have been outdone.
This was our big day of kayaking. It was misty and rainy in the morning, which I still suspect is the start of most days, as we headed out to the fjords east of Ísafjörður. We had a great full day with sitings of seals and an arctic fox and ended the trip at someone's summer home for coffee and hot chocolate and snacking on fresh picked blueberries, tea cakes, and chocolate. Our guide spoke to them in Icelandic the whole time as we smiled. I asked the guide if he told them I was a mighty paddler but he said no. Which was good as that would have been a lie.
We sadly bid farewell to our guide and headed to our hotel to wash up and head out to see if we could find another hike. If we were smart, we would have gone to the camping area as those are usually located near trails, but alas, that is for another trip. We dined at Tjoruhusid again, and knew that food would just show up for us. The woman remembered us and told us "Place for two - no lettuce". It is nice to have someone remember my odd allergy. If this restaurant was near our home, I would eat there every night until I ran out of money. Dinner in Iceland can produce quite the bill.
Our first stop in our drive to Mývatn was stopping at the Icelandic couple's summer home that we had visited after our paddling the day before. We had landed on the beach near their campers and they had invited us in. Unfortunately Bill left his hat when we left the previous day so we headed back to retreive it. The invited us to stay for coffee, but I felt bad declining as we had a trip ahead of us that might take us into the evening. We thought we might destroy our car riding down the road to the house (we now understood what the car rental place was talking about) we only heard one loud bang on the undercarriage and saw a rock roll away in the rearview mirror.
Our next stop was the N1 to see if they had any M&Ms, but to no avail. We then stopped at Litlibær which was our first Turf Roof House to visit. It was over the 'paved road' that would cut an hour off the trip (and by paved, we mean paved with dirt) that we finally made it back to the N1 on route 1 and could stock up no M&Ms and take a break for a few.
We then drove for many more hours, stopping at each N1 to stock up, then took a wrong turn out of one and found Glaumbær. It proved to us that wrong turns can sometimes be the right turn.
Now pressed for time and darkness covering the landscape, we needed to make a decision. Mývatn might be too far, but there was a town named Akureyri on the map that looked sizeable. We would try that for the evening. We asked a man at the gas station and he told us of a hotel by the church that had a restaurant. This would make it easy. Alas, they had no rooms and sent us to their sister hotel down a few blocks. That hotel thought they might be booked too, but then said they had a room across the street in that building. We were done for the night and said we would take it.
We lugged our luggage upstairs and wove around duffel bags adn dirty shoes to the end of the hall. The door across from us was open and a naked guy was sleeping on the bed and there was laundry all over the floor. It looked like a crime scene. We decided to double lock our door and look for dinner.
We found a little Italian restaurant and decided that would be perfect. After waiting for the bill at the end of our meal for quite some time, we noticed that this was something that happened everywhere we went. I found the waitress and asked her if we were supposed to ask for the bill. "Oh yes" she said, "It would be rude for us to suggest you should leave". Ah! Now we understood the culture a little better.
We slept OK, and skipped the shower because the place was odd, and headed on to Mývatn.
Departing Akureyri in daylight was very beautiful. The town was filled with pretty little shops and felt like a little piece of Switzerland. Cruise ships stop here and many tourists visit this pretty town. The drive to Mývatn was very nice and for th first time we did not have hours ahead of us when we began the trip.
Our first order of business when reaching Mývatn was to find a hotel. Someone had suggested the smaller one on the east side of the lake (Mývatn is the lake, not the town. There aer several towns on Mývatn. We first stopped at the Hotel Reykjahlid in the village of Reykjahlid. It is very close to the Tourist Office where all trip bookings can be made, a campground (right next door), the Hike and Bike where you can rent bikes or do trips with them, and the Hotel Reynihlid which is about a half mile further up the road, but higher than the Hotel Reykjahlid.
We were in luck. There was one room left at the Hotel Reykjahlid. It was a beautiful corner room with a view of horses and the lake. The bath was very nice and the room clean and open. Finally, our trip was going better than the night before.
We then crossed the street to the Visitor's Center. There were two women working there and they could help us with maps and pamphlets as well as reserve a trip. I was interested in the Ice Cave trip but we were a little unsure about committing the money due to the cost of hotel rooms. They gave us a map of the trails around Mývatn and we decided to head towards the stinking mud pits because Bill was pretty excited about that.
The first hike at the bubbling sulfur vents was about five minutes from the Visitor's Center. There were a lot of busses at this stop, so we chose to do the hike over the ridge and wait for the place to clear out. The plan worked and we met a nice couple on the hike while they were coming down the wrong path after we had just come up it. (The trail was not obvious at this point.)
We then went up to hike around the water filled crater, and returned to the Visitor's Center. I had also been pondering an all day jeep ride out to a remote water filled crater, but now that I had seen one, we decided I did not need to see another if it took all day. We then decided to sign up for the Ice Cave trip the next day. While there, we asked what the site was between here and the hikes we did named Grjótagjá, and she said it was a cave with water in it that we could go in. That decided it - our next stop was the water cave.Grjótagjá ended up being a little cave under a dome of rock and it is not too difficult to scramble in but worth the wiggle.
We then headed for Höfði Park on the southeast side of Mývatn. It was a nice hour long stroll through spruce trees and gardens and overlooks of the lake and the pseudo craters. We were on a roll and headed to Dimmuborgir to wander through the lava columns and then did a brief stop at the Skútustaðagígar trail around the pseudo crater before we did our sunset Horseback Ride with Arti on the southern side of the lake.
We were in time for our dinner reservations at Hotel Reykjahlid and the menu had exquisite offerings. We each ordered fish and were treated to a meal that felt like a very experienced chef had prepared it. It was a perfect way to end the day as we wandered up the stairs to our room with a view.
Breakfast at the Hotel Reykjahlid was a decent selection of items and of course we filled up on bread because the butter is so good in Iceland. They also had sliced apples that hit the spot. We could not take our own sweet time because we had to meet across the street at the Tourist Center for our Ice Cave trip.
The group to go was small, and the world must be getting smaller, because the couple we met the day before on the Hverir trail were also on this trip. We took the bumpy ride to Lofthellir Ice Cave with a brief stop to see the measuring equipment spanning the split between the European and American continents. I was expecting some walking around and peeking into icy caverns, but we were rolling, crawling, and sliding our way around the cave. Wear waterproof pants, coat, and gloves. Doubling your wool socks is also a good idea as the boots they lend you do not have much insulation.
The group we were with was a great bunch of people. We were all joking with each other about an hour into things and we all shared what we had seen so far. We laughed about the Yule Lads who lived by the lake and came out at Christmas to scare the kids in the maze of lava pillars with names like Door-slammer and Spoon-licker. We shared hikes to try and places to see while in Iceland. By the end of the trip I was sad to see everyone go.
While others left to hike, we changed our clothes and visited the Sigurgeir's Bird Museum which for us was very educational and we also liked seeing real live moss balls. The museum also had a separate building with an old boat and nautical equipment that I liked, then we returned for a few peeks at the birds on the lake with the binoculars in the main lobby.
Our final hike in Mývatn was Hverfjall which was a bit of a steep climb, but then became easy as we walked around the rim in the fog. Below us we saw two people on horses and wished we had time to try out the other horseback riding company no the lake right near Hverfjall.
As the day started winding down, we got our bathing suits and went to the geothermal pool in town and ran into three of the couples from our Ice Cave Trip. We bobbed around and shared information on distances between places, what we had been eating for lunch for the past week (one couple had been eating hot dogs, we had been eating M&Ms and another had been eating something called Kringle Krapple or something like that. So we were not the only ones having 2 meals a day.
We returned to the Hotel Reykjahlid and I ordered the stuffed vegetables this time. It was fantastic. There are a lot of cabins and camping in the Mývatn area, but we were truly fortunate that we decided to put the money into a hotel stay, avoid the midges (horrible there) and have amazing meals.
We left Mývatn with more to do and see, but if we did not get to Hafnarfjörður, just south of Reykjavík where we were staying at the Viking Village based off of our excellent experience form the first night we stayed in Iceland. As our friend Dave accurately stated - that place has Bill written all over it.
Along the way, about a twenty minutes or a half hour beyond Akureyri, we stopped to take a few photos by turning off on to a small road on the east bank of Eyjafjördur. While there we saw a sign indicating that there was an attraction a little ways down that road. We decided to take a break from making progress and headed down the road. We very quickly came upon Laufás in Grýtubakki. After seeing the houses and buying a red wool sweater from the gift shop, we attempted to go horseback riding with the local farm, but they had just sent out the horses on a trip and we did not have a few hours to hang around and come back or we would never make it to Hafnarfjörður before midnight. It was too bad, because the location was beautiful and it looked like you could ride the horses down towards the fjord.
We headed back on to Route 1 and after a while we entered a very mountainous area and saw a footbridge to the left. We pulled into the next pullout on the left, found a path and started walking down. We had no idea if it was an official trail or not, but it was clearly traveled by foot and we walked out to the footbridge. We still do not get the hiking thing in Iceland or how to find trails.
We stopped at Orlygsstadir which is a historic site in the Blonduhlid Area and we walked out to where we thought we would see something but we never found anything but some lumps in the field.
We arrived at the at the Viking Village with barely any sunlight at all, but were delighted to find that we had the same room we had previously had.
Snorkeling in the Silfra crack is a unique experience. Setting up this day was days of annoyance and worry. We had set up the trip through Arctic Adventures and left out the detail about the hotel pickup location because a few months before we left for Iceland, we did not know where we would be staying. We had been emailing them since our second day in Iceland when we booked the Viking Village based off of our good experience with our stay there the first night but had not heard back other than a response. We emailed them again from Mývatn to no avail and now we were hours away from the pickup with no idea what to do. The hotel manager looked online with us and depending on the page on the Arctic Adventures site, pickup times varied and departure form the office in Reykjavík was listed in two different times. We finally left a message that we would meet them at the park at the "Service Center" as that was one of the noted meeting places. This way we would have our car if all went bad and we could just visit the park and hike.
They did arrive at a Visitor's Center that had the gift shop and snack bar and they were expecting us. They also brought the underwater camera I rented. The snorkel was in a small strip of water between the North American continent and the European continent and left little room for the large party of people, and for a place that should be crystal clear, a lot of cruft was being knocked off the walls and was floating in the water around us. it was not exactly what you can see from divers on Youtube.
After the snorkeling, we sat in the Service Center and had hot chocolate and to talk to the woman in the bookshop about maps and where to go. She showed us stops on the Golden Circle and we decided we would take a ride out that way after seeing a little of the park between rain showers. This day was the worst weather of the whole trip, but we had our car and could always outdrive the storm. Kind of.
We went back to the area where we went in to snorkel and parked along the side of the continental split and took some photos before we decided to figure out how to hike to the little waterfall. It appeared as though everyone went their own way and we scrambled up rocks and found a path that went around and decided to try that. After taking a few photos and making sure that the photographer on his own made it in and out of the wet and rough safely before we split. Little did we know we would be seeing him off and on for the rest of the day as we each took photos between the rain.
After that, we were done being cold and wet and decided to head out to the Geysers at Geysir to see what was there. My friends Amy and Chris went there and said they saw it erupt so we were pretty interested. We stopped at a gift shop/visitor's center on the right of the road and realized the geysers were right across the street. Shopping and geysers - we were all set.
One of the geysers erupted avery eight minutes or so and we watched it go off a couple times before we headed back ni the rain to the gift center. It had a lot of 66ºNorth clothing which is super nice, woollen items and hats and mittens with fur trim. I found the perfect headband to keep my ears warm that was fleece on the inside and knit in blues, greens, and yellow on the outside. It looks like a Van Gogh painting of starry night. After shopping, we were off to wherever the road took us.
We could not decide if we wanted to head to the waterfall or not, but it was so close to its turnoff that we decided to drop in. I am glad we did. It was wet and rainy still so we went to see the waterfall first, then came into the gift and snack shop and bought a few tree ornaments for holiday gifts and bought what ended up being our dinner.
It was a good day overall despite the weather as we saw some amazing things and enjoyed the view at every moment. We rolled into the hotel after sunset which was about 8 pm and hit the hay. We could deal with sorting out the gift shop loot tomorrow!
The point of this day was to make it to the Skogar Museum so I could see the big boat. The drive would only be a few hours and there might be something to do on the way. We were amazed to find that the museum was a collection of museums that had the main museum with the boat and a church, a Turf Roof House from that property as well as Skálarbærinn. There was also a school and a Museum of Transportation and a cafe and large gift shop. We were there for hours.
While we were driving we could see glaciers to our left. I kept trying to read our map to see if we could drive to any of them. The man running the museum showed us how we could head a little further down the road and drive along a dirt road that was safe to drive on and we could touch the glacier. That was our next mission.
The road to get to the glacier ended up being slow going and maybe the car rental company would not have liked us there. Or any of the other cars that were there from their rental agency for that matter. We hiked though the silty black muck to get to the glacier and the mud sucked my shoe right off. I was glad I had a second pair of shoes and socks in the car.
Since the day was not yet over, we decided to head out to see the rock arch that we saw in photos at the Skogar Museum and spent a lot of time taking photos of waves crashing on the black sand beach. The wind was wicked and made the atmosphere very exciting.
On the drive back we went back to the Skogar Museum and visited the falls. The wind was so rough by that time that people were having a hard time taking photos because gravel was blowing everywhere. It made for a nice rainbow and we did get a few good photos.
We could not find our way back to Harfnafjorder once we had to leave Route 1 and took an area tour. We found a Domino's Pizza and they have large area maps because they deliver pizzas. The helped us find our way back home and we give Domino's Pizza two thumbs up. Their pizza tastes great and smells awesome.
Our final day in Iceland was morel ike a half day. We had a flight out around supper time so we needed to be close to eh airport to make it in time. We took Route 41 West to Route 42 which looked like it would be paved, but was a bit rough. Soon after passing a large lake on the left we saw the sign for Seltún on the right. It was a fun stop as it was actually our destination. We did not expect to get there so quick and it left us with a lot of time to do other things. We departed and drove a mile or less to the parking lot at Graenavatn and did a little hike from there.
We Drove on to Grindavik and bought pastries for lunch and left by taking Route 425 so we could visit the Reykjanes Power Station which is an interesting exhibit of energy and is a short stop along the way. We also stopped at a few of the planets they had planted along the road to show distances in the galaxy and finished the trip with a stop at the Bridge Between Continents as if we had not seen the two continents separating almost every other day while no vacation. If it was not so windy, it would have been a good stop.
Returning to the airport was very easy and dropping the car off was pretty simple. There is not a lot of land covered by the airport and it is easy to get around. We had plenty of time to get our tax back, shop a little more, and get some snacks before we boarded our flight. We were already planning what to do 'when we come back'.