Day 7 – Winter is on its way

October 21, 2018

Akureyri to Akranes

**We’ve decided to include the date and start/end locations for each day in our posts. We will be going back through our blog in the next dew days and adding this information to each post. If you want us to include any other information please leave a comment.**

Laurie woke up dreaming of toast and butter. Luckily there was a toaster in our hostel and we still had ” bakari” bread (aka bakery but we like saying this because it is one of the only Icelandic words we can pronounce).

The window in our room had ornamental indentations so we couldn’t do our usual morning weather check. The wind was no longer howling but there was a constant hum that we hoped wasn’t rain.

It wasn’t but the sky was still pretty dark. And darker in the direction we were headed.

As we drove north and then west of Akureyri it started to rain, then sleet and finally snow. The road began to climb as the winds picked up and soon we were driving through a little blizzard.

With visibility less than 50 feet at times, Andy kept the car in our lane by using the yellow snow posts as a guide. Luckily there were no other cars around so we went as slow as we wanted.

We passed a snow plow and the first Icelandic official vehicle we have seen on our trip. The guy was chilling in his truck on the side of the road – probably with his vehicle running and the heater on.

A few times we wondered if the road was open but figured they would have closed a gate if it wasn’t. So we kept going. Locals would probably laugh at us for considering today’s weather a storm.

As we neared the top, the wind mellowed. Our studded winter tires worked well and we both felt at ease while enjoying the adventure.

As we headed down to the next valley we eventually fell below the snow line and entered into the rain again.

The road continued like this for another 2 “passes.” Even the sheep were dusted white from the snow at the higher elevations.

At one point our car read -1 degree, the coldest it has been thus far (not considering the wind chill). We pulled out our big puffy coats for the first time this trip.

There weren’t many points of interest along the first half of today’s drive. We attempted to locate the waterfall of Reykjafoss. Google maps directed us down a road and we could see a size-able gorge and a river but there was never a spot to pull off or any path (or hole in a fence) to hike through. We eventually gave up and drove back to the main highway (Road 1).

Laurie moved in and out of slumber while Andy drove and enjoyed the scenery.

Eventually the skies cleared a little as we pulled into a parking area containing more cars than we had seen all morning.

We walked up wooden steps to circumnavigate the Grabrok crater which was formed by an eruption approximately 3,000 years ago.

We then drove about 10 minutes to the Glanni waterfall. We were the only people there, which was strange given the popularity of the neighboring Grabrok. We walked the main trail then followed a smaller path (which was quite wet) back the car.

It was another hour from here to the Deildartunguhver hot spring. This is the fastest flowing hot spring in the world. So much hot water comes out of the ground here that through ~70 km of piping it supplies hot water to the surrounding towns! The pipe network reminded us of the pipes that direct water from the Eastern Sierra to Los Angeles.

There was a fancy hot spring there but we decided to indulge in hot chocolate and carrot cake rather than take another hot plunge.

From here we took a little side trip up to Hraunfossar – one of the most unique waterfalls in Iceland. Here water flows out of lava tubes and into a river.

It’s hard to see what’s special about it at first. But then your brain catches up with your eyes and you think to yourself, “wait, where is this water coming from?”

We walked around as much was we could until it started to pour. Laurie ran back to the car as she had opted to wear her warm big puffy jacket which was not water proof.

The clouds produced more rain, then hail, then horizontal rain directly into our car enroute to our last stop. Along the way we stopped at a turnout to video chat with Andy’s parents and show them the incredible double rainbow behind us.

As we drove into Akranes – our home for the night, the clouds parted slightly and the sun came out.

This coastal town relies heavily on the fishing industry as its main source of employment.

Once settled in our hostel we decided to take a walk to stretch our legs after 6 hours in the car. We had about an hour of daylight so we wandered toward the lighthouse.

The smell of sea and fish wafted through the air. The wind picked up and eventually it began to hail. We choose our route to avoid long exposed areas.

Eventually the hail subsided as did the rain. We walked for about an hour – winding through small streets and gazing into warmly lit houses.

We returned to our hostel and made dinner consisting of beans, rice, cheese, tomatoes and greens after Laurie took a nice warm shower. It was fun to know where the water was coming from!

Tonight we are grateful for cozy accommodations and winter tires.

Grabrok Crater

Glanni waterfall

One steo, two step, repeat. And don’t fall in

Deildartunguhver hot springs

The most unique Hraunfossar waterfalls

Interesting rock formation or massive pile of cow dung?

Laurie tried to put Andy’s rain hood on. It didn’t go well.

Advertisements

Day 6 – A Mixed Bag Kind Of Day

October 20, 2018

Myvatn to Akureyri

Andy woke Laurie in the middle of the night to look at the stars. It was nice being able to star gaze from the warmth and coziness of our bed.

Orion was bright and easily recognizable. Unfortunately no Aurora Borealis was to be seen.

Laurie’s eyes stayed open for about 3 minutes before they closed again and she was fast asleep.

Last night we made changes to our plans. We both really want to explore an ice cave, but unfortunately they are all located in the southern part of the island. We tried booking a few when we were down there but they were all sold out.

Now our choice is to explore the western fjords and wait until our next trip to Iceland for an ice cave experience or skip the western fjords and drive back to where we spent the our 2nd night to do what we really want to do.

One of Andy’s favorite sayings is “Why put off for tomorrow what you can do today.”

So we booked an ice cave tour and will stay on Road 1, taking it back toward Vik instead of exploring Northwest Iceland. We feel good about this plan, even though it means we will literally be halfway across Iceland two days from now.

We had a nice breakfast at our hotel including “geyser” bread which is dense rye made in holes in the ground and cooked for 24 hours from the heat of the geysers. It wasn’t the tastiest thing (at least for Laurie) but it was nice to try.

We drove about 40 minutes to the Godafoss waterfall under dark but clearing skies. This is another giant waterfall formed from a river carving a path through 7,000 year old lava fields.

It was very pretty and not yet very crowded as it was still early in the morning and most people were having breakfast.

Laurie snoozed while Andy drove another hour to the town of Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town.

Here we decided to partake in a common Icelandic recreation activity – swimming.

Andy does not know how to swim but is trying to learn. He took swim lessons earlier this year but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to practice mainly because he hates chlorine and most pools around the Bay Area are heavily chlorinated.

Laurie was excited when she learned about the amazing Icelandic pools. She packed googles, a swim cap and even ear plugs to make swimming as enjoyable as possible.

Hopefully Andy would feel more comfortable in less chlorinated water and this would be a fun way to break up the long driving days.

Our morning at the pool did not disappoint, even though it was a balmy 9 degrees celcius.

We payed our entrance fee equivalent of $9 and parted ways into our respective changing rooms.

Laurie busily put on her bathing suit and swim cap and was looking for the exit to the pool when a lady stopped her to ask if she had showered. She hadn’t. She went back to do so and learned there are dry and wet sections to the locker room to keep the place as clean as possible.

One is supposed to undress, place his/her towel in the towel section, take his/her bathing suit to the shower where you shower naked and THEN put on your bathing suit. This all makes sense, particularly when done in the reverse order after the pool however to a newbie American if felt quite complicated.

There are many pool options – 4 hot tubs, 2 slides, a kid pool, open water pool and lap pool. All of which are heated with natural spring water (plus a little chlorine).

One of the coolest features of the pool is the possibility of a wet entry. There is a small pool indoors and plastic flaps allow you to enter the outdoor open water pool without having to brave the cold air.

It is like a doggie door for humans. Of course there are regular doors too for those who are used to the cold, but that was not us!

We played on the slides for the most part. Laurie took a little break to do some laps while Andy sat in the “hot pot.” Unfortunately one of our pair of googles fell off Laurie’s head at some point so we both couldn’t swim at the same time. Honestly, the slides were too fun for Andy to want to work on his swimming.

We pulled ourselves away to continue with our plan for a grocery run and a hike. Andy drove (Laurie slept) another 40 minutes north toward a trail that led 2,000+ feet up to a lake in about 3 miles.

Unfortunately the clouds got darker and darker and the winds grew stronger, especially so when we turned inland to find the trail. It was not ideal hiking conditions so we turned around.

Truth is we probably wouldn’t have been able to get very far anyway because of the amount of snow on the mountains.

We drove back to our guesthouse and relaxed for a bit before heading out to wander around the town of Akureyri, where the winds were mild and blue clouds were overhead.

Many of the shops were closed but we did try some Icelandic ice cream and leaned how to say “thank you.”

As it got dark we came back, made dinner and blogged as the wind howled outside.

Tomorrow will be another long driving day but we hope to break it up with some more waterfalls and whatever else piques our interest.

Tonight we are grateful for each other and clean and cozy guesthouses.

Godafoss waterfall

Day 5 – Highway To The Thermal Zone

October 19, 2018

Seydisfjordur to Myvatn

In order to see the northern lights one must have all three of the following: solar activity, clear(ish) skies and little light pollution. Last night there was a slight chance (a score 3 out of 9) for solar activity and clear skies. Our hostel was on the outskirts of town.

That was enough for Andy to set his alarm for midnight with hopes to see his first northern light show.

There were a few stars out at midnight so Andy got dressed and headed outside. He looked up and immediately saw a shooting star.

He was happy. It wasn’t too cold and the sky kept clearing. He was hopeful. He called his parents, blogged and saw a few more shooting stars.

Around 1:30am the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, but Andy persisted.

At 1:45am he thought he heard chickens. Fearing he was hallucinating, he thought it was time for bed but he kept hearing them and remembered the hostel offered fresh chicken eggs for 50ISK. Then he heard the ducks calling.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

He returned inside around 2:15am disappointed but content with the multiple shooting stars. Laurie was sound asleep spread across the double bed but easily moved over to let Andy in.

We both had trouble opening our eyes when the alarm went off at 7 am. We bargained with one another and finally got up at 8. We opted to eat on the road to save precious time and daylight. It was going to be another jam packed day.

Our first stop was a waterfall just past the hostel in the opposite direction. The morning air was fresh and only a few clouds hung in the sky. We scampered up the hillside, Laurie aching to just keep hiking.

The constant feeling of needing to keep moving to see it all has been the hardest part of this trip. The weather makes it really hard to plan and there is just too much beauty to see in 10 days.

Essentially this trip feels like a scouting trip so we will know where to come and spend more time next time we come. (And there will be a next time – this country is amazing!!)

We stopped off at Gufufoss waterfall on our way back up the hairpin turns.

On the way down from the pass we noticed a car on the side of the road facing us at an awkward angle. We slowed and stopped to help an older French couple who had veered off the road and buried their wheels in the steep bank.

We were the first of 7 cars to stop and try to help. It was amazing to see how helpful everyone was. Andy and another gentleman attempted to push the car out but the wheels spun and dug deeper into the loose soil.

Ultimately a suave Icelandic driver backed the car down further into the ditch to level it out a bit and gain traction. He then slowly and methodically drove backwards partway up the bank. A big rig positioned itself on the narrow 2 lane road to pull the car out. The locals strapped one end of a tow rope to the car and one to the truck.

As the truck driver slowly inched forward and Mr. Suave slowly drove in reverse, the right rear wheel of the car came off the ground. After a few tense moments all four wheels were on tarmac once again. All the bystanders applauded the efforts of the friendly and helpful locals.

From here it was a long 2 hour stretch through snowy alpine tundra and along a river.

We have been checking the road conditions religiously since we are not in a 4wd car. The road to Dettifoss indicated there were patches of ice but it was fine to drive. We were reassured to see the road was paved all the way to the west side parking lot.

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. It is much wider than most and the amount of water that thunders down is insane- according to one guidebook 500 cubic meters (17,700 cubic feet) of water spill over the ledge every second.

The area around the falls is all volcanic and it was fun walking around what felt like a Mars like environment.

Selfoss was a 1 km walk upstream and was a smaller but similarly powerful waterfall. While Dettifoss is a singular and long waterfall at a ~45° angle, Selfoss is more of a bowl shaped waterfall and very pretty in its own right.

Back in the car we drove to Krafla, past a power plant and up to the caldera which was formed during the volcanic activity of the 1970-1980s known as the “Krafla- fires.”

On the way down we saw a bunch of cars and one tour bus parked in a snowy parking lot. Tour buses are our indication of something interesting so we followed the muddy footprints through the snow to the colorful crater of Leirhnjukur.

The sulphur smell was strong but the light blue water and surrounding orange clay provided a nice contrast to the dark molten lava and snow.

We were happy we made the side trip but yet again there was so much to see and it was already 3:30pm. With 2 hours of daylight remaining we opted to skip seeing more geothermal mud pits and instead turned toward the underground hot spring of Grjótagjá.

Unfortunately it is too hot to swim in but to the hands it was nice and the water was incredibly clear. On the way out Andy hit his head on a rock neither of us saw, resulting in a sizeable welt on his forehead (what Armenians call a shishka).

Laurie of course started laughing as Andy asked rubbing his booboo, “Ah, what was that?”

“A rock probably” spit out Laurie amidst giggles.

“Yes, definitely a rock ” confirmed Laurie after lightly hitting her head on the same rock.

Our last stop of the day was the 3,280 foot wide crater of Hverfell. We hurried up the steep path along the side of the crater trying to stay warm. The strong wind whipped sand at our faces near the top.

Once at the top we stayed long enough to take one picture before turning our backs to the wind and heading down.

We checked into our bed and breakfast and went out to eat a nice, tasty farm to table meal.

The restaurant was called Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe. They use the word “cowshed” quite literally as there were cows eating hay right next to the dining room, but that did not stop us from ordering a burger.

We split that and a lamb flank. With so many sheep grazing about we had to try some of the local cuisine.

We are now cozy in bed in our tiny little room with a wall of windows. Fingers crossed for an active evening of northern lights! Today’s score is 4 out of 9 so there may be some green lights overhead..

Tonight we are grateful for sunshine and farm to table restaurants.

Dettifoss

Selfoss (or Selfiefoss if you’re Laurie)

Krafla

Leirhnjukur

Leirhnjukur hot shower (there’s a sink next to it too!)

Grjótagjá hot spring cave

Hverfell crater