Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Northern Exposure: An Icelandic Road Trip

Andy is pretty busy with work this week, so for now I'm going to continue the story of our Icelandic adventure!

Although we had eight nights of hotel in Reykjavik paid for through our package, we decided pretty early on that we wanted to get out of the capital and see more of the country. Discussions with tourist office advisers, our glacier-hike guide, and fellow travelers made it sound like the west, north, and south coasts of the country would all be excellent of course, we had to visit all three. Kudos to Andy, who drove more than 2,300 kilometers (~1400 miles) in four days so we could truly experience Iceland!

Our first destination was the Snaefellsnes peninsula on Iceland's west coast. It's a fun word to try to say, and with impressive volcanic scenery, an even more fun place to drive around. Outside of Reykjavik, roads are a single lane in either direction, and most places are so empty that you never even see another car.

In many parts of Iceland, you see lava fields covered with moss. Moss is the first plant that's able to take hold in this kind of harsh environment, though it's not exactly a speedy process--this lava flow is probably thousands of years old. It looks really cool, though, and Andy loves moss, so he found it particularly exciting.

At the tip of the peninsula, you can take a cliff walk between the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. This monument to the god of the local volcano guards the beginning of the trail in Arnarstapi.

From the cliffs, you can really see the volcanic nature of the landscape. And cool caves.

It sort of reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in western Ireland, if those cliffs were made of cooled lava and had no tourists around for miles.

On this outing, Andy finally got to make use of his own ear-flap hat! You should send him an e-mail telling him how handsome he looks in it.

See that little speck way out on the cliff? That was Andy...

...probably taking a zoom shot of these eider ducks. Thanks for your warm and fluffy down, ducks!

The hike was pretty and not too difficult.

There was plenty of mossy lava to look at...

...and pet.

Finally, we spotted Hellnar in the distance! Rural Icelandic villages are not so big.

Not to be outdone by Arnarstapi, Hellnar's beach had its own crazy lava walls.

Andy pointed this house to me in Hellnar as a dwelling he thought I might like. Good spotting, Andy--I am now determined to one day have a house with an enormous sloping blue roof and wraparound porch! (I should also note here that new-agey types consider Snaefellsnes to be one of earth's seven "chakras," or energy centers, and flock there for healing. I'm guessing that the big yin-yang sign over this house's door has something to do with that.)

Jules Verne must have also considered the area to be a gateway to something magical, because he set Journey to the Center of the Earth here. Back in Arnarstapi, we visited this nifty monument that lists distances to major world cities...via the center of the earth.

We got back on the road and were rounding the tip of the peninsula when we saw this hand-painted sign. How could we not stop?

Andy may have been slightly more enthusiastic about the dead whale. He might have run ahead and beaten me to it.

But I got there eventually. The whale had clearly been dead for some time--some of its giant vertebrae were a short distance away.

Cool, or disgusting? You be the judge.

The journey continued. Icelandic villages have some really neat churches, like this one in Olafsvik on the peninsula's north shore.

Our pretty drive continued as we made our way toward Bjarnarhofn to visit the rotten shark museum! Yes, a rotting whale and rotten shark all in one day--how lucky can two travelers get?

But we'll have to save the rotten shark pictures for the food post (yes, rotten shark is to eat, not just to look at). Instead, you can look at this adorable creature that I found on the farm by the museum. Oh, and there's also an Icelandic horse in the picture.

Many hours of driving later, we arrived in Akureyri, which is on a huge fjord smack in the middle of Iceland's northern coast and is the country's second-biggest city. With only 17,000 people, you wouldn't think it would feel very urban, but after seeing nothing but volcanoes and the occasional sheep farm for hours, it felt almost like New York. Here's a night shot of its cathedral.

We stayed at a guesthouse on a chicken farm outside of the city. The room had one big mattress (hoorah!), but still had two small, separate comforters, which seems to be the way in Iceland. Since it wasn't exactly peak tourist season, we were able to bargain a little bit and paid around $65. That would have made us cry in our backpacking days, but is a bargain for Iceland.

The next morning's conversation between me and Andy went something like this:

Me: Wow, you drove so many hours yesterday and we saw so much. Don't you want to take a break today?

Him: But this really cool lake is only an hour past Akureyri! And the largest waterfall in Europe is only an hour past that! How can we not go see them when we're so close?

Me: OK...well, then do you want to spend another night in the north after, so you don't have to drive all day?

Him: But if we just drive for six more hours in the afternoon, we can make it back to Reykjavik and stay in our hotel there for free!

And so, once again, we were in the car before dawn, this time heading east toward Lake Myvatn. It was a beautiful drive.

Well, at least until the road started freezing over.

Lava + snow looks pretty cool. (Especially when you're the one tasked with taking pictures out the window instead of driving.)

Deciding to go to the farthest destination first, we drove until we reached the turnoff for Europe's largest waterfall by volume, Detifoss. (Also, if you are American and immature, referred to as "Dental Floss.") Not another car in sight for miles, and this is what the turnoff road looked like.

I'll admit, I voted to turn back. We were supposed to drive 20 kilometers up this road, and we had no phones; I was having visions of breakdowns, of snowdrifts, of me having to eat Andy just to survive while I waited for the rescue crews to come for me in the spring. But once again, the "we've come this far, how can we turn back now?" argument won out, and verrry slowly, Andy inched our Ford Fiesta down the snowy road.

Amazingly, we made it to the falls, and there was even one other tourist parked there! It was still a bit of a snowy hike from the parking lot, but finally, we were greeting with this sight.


Almost as impressive as the falls were the ice formations all around it. Andy hadn't had any breakfast, so he had to sample an icicle.

I guess it was so good that he took one to go.

The ropes along the walkway to get closer to the waterfall had their own awesome icicles...

But the neatest things were probably the plant branches, which thanks to spray from the waterfall that froze, had developed into crazy, globe-like ice blobs that looked like coral, or maybe an alien life form.

If you make it all the way to Dettifoss, you get to see a bonus waterfall, Selfoss, further upstream. Very pretty, though not nearly as stunning as Dettifoss. 

Eager to recover from the stress of the waterfall adventure, I insisted that our next stop be the Myvatn Nature Baths, also known as the Blue Lagoon of the north. These open-air hot baths are smaller, cheaper, and less touristy than the Blue Lagoon, and I can't imagine better mountain scenery either.

Never before sighted in the wild: An Andy relaxing!

True to the isolationist theme of the day, for most of our visit we were the only people in the baths. It was awesome.

Just so you know, the waterproof camera does work in the hot springs.

After a good long soak at the baths, it was time to begin the epic drive back to Reykjavik. The scenery around Lake Myvatn was stunning, including the Hverfell tephra ring, which formed during a massive eruption 2,500 years ago.

Seriously, if you're going to do a road trip, you kind of can't beat the backdrops of northern Iceland.

Another very cool church, in the northern town of Blonduos.

And plenty of volcanoes, of course.

We made it safely back to Reykjavik, but if you thought our road trip was over, you'd be wrong. There was still the whole southern coast to explore! I'll leave that part for Andy to recap this weekend. And, of course, there's still food to discuss. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, we'll do our best to answer in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures!! This is the part of Iceland I didn't get to see, so it's great to live vicariously. Though, I must say I'm happy to live vicariously after the fact since turning down that snowy turn-off would have probably put me over the edge.

    I love the recap of the conversations!!