Driving my way around Iceland

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kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 20:07:00 (permalink)
Thanks.  Apparently the pylsur stand is consistently busy.  :)
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Nancypalooza
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 21:01:42 (permalink)
Absolutely stunning scenery and that row of small plates . . insane.  Awesome!
#32
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 21:26:23 (permalink)
Nancypalooza
Absolutely stunning scenery and that row of small plates . . insane.  Awesome!

A place I went our last night in Reykjavik was even more impressive... :)
#33
Ralph Melton
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/12 17:19:11 (permalink)
I really like the phrase "Troll Civil Engineering". :-)
#34
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/12 18:41:12 (permalink)
Ralph Melton
I really like the phrase "Troll Civil Engineering". :-)

I rather liked how most geological features could be explained as
 
"[Random geological site] was formed when [Random mythological figure] [angered/pleased] the [Gods/Trolls/Elves]"
#35
myterry2
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/12 23:39:22 (permalink)
As one of the countries I have not visited, I found your report quite interesting, along with great pics.  Looking forward to the day I can visit there....thanx, a super report.
#36
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:02:37 (permalink)
Akureyri also has a surprisingly nice and lush botanical garden, considering they are almost at the Arctic Circle.  Here's some pics from the garden:










#37
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:02:56 (permalink)
Shortly after leaving Akureyri, we passed into the Myvatn region.  Our first stop there was Goðafoss.  Like almost every other waterfall we saw, the various travel guides all said this was one of Iceland's most spectacular waterfalls... :)

It was a nice waterfall.

This is also a historic location, since when Iceland officially converted to Christianity in ~1000 AD, then-leader of the Alþing, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, allegedley tossed all of his Norse idols into these falls to get rid of them. Hence the name Goðafoss ("waterfall of the Gods"):





And proof that Carol and I were there:



Like I may have mentioned before, things in Iceland can have some weird colors.  Water is mostly grey, and there are all sorts of vivid greens.  Here are two spots around the waterfall:




#38
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:03:16 (permalink)
After that, we drove on to Lake Myvatn ("Midge Lake".  Apparently we were lucky not to be there during midge season...).  It's hard to get a good picture of it from the west, but here's an attempt:



One of the attractions in the Myvatn area is Jarðböðin, or the "Myvatn Nature Baths", a geothermal spring-fed hot bath similar to (but about 1/5 the size of) the famous Blue Lagoon:






#39
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:03:34 (permalink)
Next up, a visit to Krafla.  Krafla was the site of some pretty major eruptions in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and currently the site of a large geothermal power plant as well.  The region includes a series of geologically active ridges that include Leirhnjúkur (erupted in the early 1700s in what are known as the "Myvatn Fires") and Krafla (erupted last in 1984, now the site of a 60 MWe geothermal power station). 

Leirhnjúkur itself is a nice hike where you can see hot ground (with many warning signs about not straying from the trail, since the ground is often hot enough to melt shoes!), steam vents, bubbling pools of mud, etc.  The area around it is former lava flows from the Myvatn fires, now covered with moss and grass:



Here's a good shot of Leirhnjúkur itself:



Some hikers atop Leirhnjúkur:



At the top of the ridge, there's a series of volcanic mud pots, steam vents, fumaroles, and craters:




#40
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:04:03 (permalink)
As I mentioned before... Iceland loves its hot dogs.  Virtually every staffed gas station will make you a hot dog.  The major towns all have several hot dog carts.  And even minor tourist attractions 30km from the nearest paved road will often have hot dog carts.  Here's one at Krafla (you can see Leirhnjúkur steaming in the background):




#41
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:04:30 (permalink)
So, after we did the Myvatn baths, Krafla, and the particularly foul Hverir, it was time for dinner.  On the way to and from our hotel, we had passed this sign several times:




Some might pass this by.  I didn't, since (a) one of my guides mentioned it, (b) you can't be that picky in central Iceland (there was a total of one other place in Reykjahlíð, the town on the east side of Myvatn), and (c) those that know me know that this is <i>exactly</i> the sort of quirky place I like to look for.

Quick quiz: Vogafjós is...

(a) A cowshed for milking cows
(b) An upscale cafe with some great food
(c) A bed and breakfast
(d) All of the above.

The answer is (d) (although (c) isn't surprising... especially before people starting building tourist hotels in Iceland, farmers renting out rooms and serving meals to guests has been a time-honored tradition in Iceland, and there's even an organized network for it: http://www.farmholidays.is/ which I will probably use next time I visit).

Really, they build the restaurant insidethe cowshed, so many of the tables are a few feet away from the milking stalls:



But if the place isn't busy, you can get an even better seat looking out at Lake Myvatn, like the one we scored:



The lamb was to die for (as were the meatballs we also ordered):



And dessert was one of the most delicious items I ate in Iceland: "Geysir" Ice Cream, with chunks of dark rye bread (rúgbrauð, a darker, semi-sweet rye bread, usually baked in a clay pot in one of the volcanic hot springs) mixed into the ice cream:



(Yes, I'm definitely writing this place up on my blog)
#42
FriedClamFanatic
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 03:06:27 (permalink)
Since This is a family site, I will refrain form saying "Holy Sh____" at those last sets of photos, but GAWd, they are great!  And that dinner and dessert at the Cowshed look divine  ( Bet the Cows were glad you ordered lamb!)
How long were you in the country........and if I can, how do prices for meals, lodging etc compare to the US?  I WANNA GO!
#43
agnesrob
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 08:39:13 (permalink)
What a great report. I have really enjoyed reading about your trip. Wonderful pictures!
#44
tcrouzer
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:07:04 (permalink)
Even the flora of Iceland looks other-worldly - wow! The lupines were the only thing I recognized.
 
Wonderful trip report! Thanks so much for taking the time to entertain us all!
#45
kland01s
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:19:30 (permalink)
Just awesome. Best report ever!!
#46
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:24:00 (permalink)
FriedClamFanatic
How long were you in the country........and if I can, how do prices for meals, lodging etc compare to the US?  I WANNA GO!

I was in the country for 12 days, three of those in Reykjavik (1 at the beginning, 2 at the end).
 
Prices, however, were generally noticeably more expensive than most other places I travel internationally.  Partly this is due to their economic collapse in 2008: they've had quite a few years of inflation, and most of the sorts of services tourists use (hotels, rental cars, and prepared meals) are taxed pretty highly.  Gas ran around $8/gallon.   And a lot of things are expensive since they are imported as well.  In general, I'd say that having stuff cost ~50% to 100% more than the US isn't a bad estimate.
 
That said, some other things are actually cheap.  Food at the grocery store was actually cheap relative to my New England-calibrated pricing if you were sticking to things that weren't obviously imported, so much of our lunching was from groceries.  Lodging universally included breakfast, and it wasn't a stingy breakfast, it was usually a substantial and heart spread of food, albeit someone different from US expectations (skyr, sour milk, and herring all being common).  Realistically, I probably should have taken some photos of what a good Icelandic farm hotel breakfast looks like.  I wish I could eat like that every day.
 
And some things can be done really cheaply.  Iceland embraces hostels, camping, and guest houses (cheaper hotels with shared bathrooms), so I saw a lot of people getting an experience similar to mine, but paying a lot less (and a substantial portion of the Europeans there were either camping or RV-ing, having come over in their personal vehicles from Denmark on the ferry).  Camping permits ran from "free" (if it isn't fenced and isn't a national park or preserve, low-impact camping is allowed by default) to 900 ISK (~$8) for some of the nicer campgrounds.
 
And my flight there was relatively cheap.   By timing it right (between buying well in advance, and buying tickets for after August 15th[1]) our plane tickets were only $400 RT, cheaper than a lot of tickets I can buy for similarly-distant US destinations (Iceland is only 4.5 hours from Boston)
 
I'll probably write up a "general advice" post at the end of this log.
 
[1] Like clockwork, several species of birds, particularly the puffins, leave en masse for their winter homes on or immediately around August 15th, so it's more expensive to go there when the birds, and the birdwatchers, are around.
#47
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:28:51 (permalink)
tcrouzer

Even the flora of Iceland looks other-worldly - wow! The lupines were the only thing I recognized.

 
As an aside, the lupines are considered borderline invasive species.  They brought them in deliberately early in the 20th century to help stabilize the soil (Iceland has some severe erosion problems in places due to previous overgrazing), but now find in places they are displacing several native species, so they are trying to eradicate many of the wild ones now.
 
It does show you a bit of difference in climate.  Around here in New Hampshire, Lupines bloom in May through July.  Some were still blooming in Akureyri in late August, with frost warnings being a few days away.
#48
Extreme Glow
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 12:05:34 (permalink)
To those of you thinking about visiting Iceland after seeing Kaszeta's report, I would like to pile on and say "Do it!".  I've always described my visit as seeing the Earth when it was young... volcanoes, geysers, and thousands of waterfalls.  Don't worry about the language as everyone in the travel industry speaks English.  Icelandic, Danish, and English are required languages in school.  The only language problem I had was when I had a flat tire in Egilsstadir.  They had to get the young guy in the repair shop to speak with me and I don't think he was an A student.
#49
ann peeples
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 12:42:41 (permalink)
Freaking beautiful.............really..............
 
#50
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 14:05:31 (permalink)
Extreme Glow
To those of you thinking about visiting Iceland after seeing Kaszeta's report, I would like to pile on and say "Do it!".  I've always described my visit as seeing the Earth when it was young... volcanoes, geysers, and thousands of waterfalls.  Don't worry about the language as everyone in the travel industry speaks English.  Icelandic, Danish, and English are required languages in school. 

Indeed, I generally found I had fewer problems communicating in Iceland than I have in some nominally English speaking countries.  It's a lot easier to talk to people and be mutually understood in Iceland than some of my travels in Cornwall and Wales... ;)
 
Only twice did we run into people where English wasn't working as a language: the ~15 year old running the register at the cafe in Neskaupstaður, and the ~80 year old docent at one of the art museums in Reykjavik (with whom Carol had no trouble speaking Norwegian)
 
Extreme Glow is right, however.  I'm kicking myself for not going sooner.  My pictures really don't do the place justice.
#51
mr chips
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 14:48:02 (permalink)
Wonderful pictures. Makes me want to go right now.
 
#52
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 17:08:00 (permalink)
Next stop:  Húsavík, a small port town in Northeast Iceland:



Here's another view from the breakwater:



It's a rather charming little town, with all sorts of nice wooden buildings (as opposed to the more common corrugated steel):



But the real attraction in Húsavík is that it's one of the best places in the Atlantic to go whale watching, since the bay outside Húsavík is a major feeding area in the northern Gulf Stream.  Most of the firms actually guarantee a sighting.  We opted to go with North Sailing, there are actually three major, competing, whale watching firms in Húsavík, but all of them offer near-identical trips, on near-identical boats.  Apparently, the local joke is that they only differ in which pastries they serve on board (North Sailing, for example, serves cinnamon rolls, while Gentle Giants serves donuts)

Our boat was the one on the left.  Another of their larger boats had left an hour earlier, we spend much of the whale watch in formation with their other boat (Humpbacks are attracted more to multiple boats)



While it was generally sunny, when the wind was coming from the North it was coooold (there was an Icelandic name for this that translated to "polar express"), so they offer coveralls to whale watchers:

#53
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 17:08:24 (permalink)
How was the whale watching?  Phenomenal.  Pretty much 3 hours of repeated whale sightings.  (As an aside, whale watching photography is surprisingly hard, especially in a very unstable boat)

Our first sighting on the way out:



Sometimes the humpbacks leaped completely out of the water:


And often they'd hang out between our boats:


They were generally pretty active:


And sometimes getting almost close enough to pet:

 
We also saw white-nose dolphins (many, many of them):



They are *fast*:





Bottle-nose Whales as well, but they were shy and never got closer than this:



The boat, however, was not for the squeamish.  It rocked.  A lot:


post edited by kaszeta - 2012/09/16 17:16:59
#54
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 17:14:30 (permalink)
Despite some mild queasiness from the whale watch, we decided to get lunch when we got back to Husavik.  Luckily, Gamli Baukur is right on the dock:
 

 
Gamli Baukur is built out of driftwood, and decorated with a nautical them:
 

 
Carol opted for the kjötsúpa, which was excellent (like most anyplace we had it):
 

 
Myself, I collected another entry in my "burgers across the world" collection:
 

#55
ann peeples
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 19:39:14 (permalink)
This is possibly the best picture report I have ever seen. So glad you are posting.
#56
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:43:10 (permalink)
Here's the most common road sign I saw the entire trip:



That translates to "One Lane Bridge", since almost all of the bridges (and tunnels!) in Iceland are single lane, even on the major highways.  Some have a declared right of way, but most are first come, first served, so you have to approach slowly, see if anyone else is coming, and then cross quickly.  This was particularly fun when there weren't guard rails (Alas, I didn't get any pictures of this, since Carol was quite nervous when we were on those bridges).  I probably saw 500 of these signs while driving.

Our next stop was Dimmuborgir, a giant lava field east of Lake Myvatn.  The name means "Dark Castles", and you can see why: the lava field makes lots of walls, towers, and tunnels (alas, the crappy weather also made for somewhat bland photos).  It's also got a nice mythology to it: Dimmuborgir is supposedly the home to the Yule Lads.  The Yule Lads are the result of a head-on collision between old Norse and Christian traditions: the Yule Lads are the sons of the mountain trolls (Grýla).  Unlike the Grýla themselves (who search out and scare naughty children), the Yule Lads only come at Christmastime, and are more mischievous than anything else: they have names like door-slammer (Hurðaskellir), bowl-licker (Askasleikir), sausage-swiper (Bjúgnakrækir), and meat-hook (Ketkrókur, he looks down chimneys and steals roasting meat with a long hook).  The supposed way to get the Yule Lads to leave you alone is for your parents to give you lots of clothing at Christmas (I swear I'm not making this up!)








 
After Husavik and Dimmuborgir, we wanted to get dinner. While Vogafjós almost lured us in again, we decided to mix it up and try another of the area's restaurants, Gamli Bærinn:
 

 
Gamli Bærinn is basically a pub, with a decent beer list, burgers, and the like.
 

 
The modest kitchen of Gamli Bærinn:

 
In a role reversal from lunch, Carol opted for the burger, which was a rather good burger (one of the best of the trip):

 
While I opted for the bottomless bowl of soup:

 
 
#57
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:44:06 (permalink)
The next day, we started off with a hike up Hverfjall.  Hverfjall is a giant caldera (check it out in google maps: http://goo.gl/maps/KckUc) immediately adjacent to Lake Myvatn, erupting around 2500 BC.  It's almost entirely made of loose black gravel, but there are a few paths up it.



When you get to the top, it's another one of those calderas that's so friggin' huge I had to do a panorama to even attempt to capture the scale of it:



But it has a beautiful view of Lake Myvatn:



And the driving wind that's atop almost every Icelandic mountain:

 
However, the previous night it had gotten pretty cold, with a front coming in from the North.  The result was that for most of the rest of the trip, mountaintops were covered with snow:



A frequent sight in Iceland: greenhouses that are geothermally warmed, and artificially illuminated with this orange light.  This makes these look pretty eery.  Doubly so at night, but I haven't found one of my night pics yet.



We ended up taking the long route to get to Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, going through the Tjörnes Peninsula, which is one of the oldest (geologically speaking) parts of Iceland.  Here, the terrain is actually different: it's sedimentary and metamorphic rock that was uplifted from the fault, and not the usual volcanic igneous rock.  But it has some wonderful scenery:


#58
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:44:30 (permalink)
Next stop was Jökulsárgljúfur, part of Vatnajokull National Park (which is basically a third of the country) covering the Jökulsá river, which draings from the Vatnajokull Ice Cap north to the Arctic Ocean.  It's a fabulous area consisting of many interesting rock formations (mostly basalt... you'll probably be sick of basalt pictures by the end of this travelog), waterfalls, scenery, and vegetation.

Stop was was  Ásbyrgi, which is a large horseshoe-shaped canyon with steep walls and a flat bottom, the bottom primarily being a birch forest (yes, there are forests on Iceland):



There's a large pool (and at times a waterfall) at the southern end of the canyon:





Here's looking North out the canyon:


#59
kaszeta
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Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:45:06 (permalink)
The next stop was Hljóðaklettar (the "Echo Rocks"). 

Seeing the most scenic sites of Jökulsárgljúfur involves taking the dirt road F862 through the west side of the park.  It's pretty remote, and mostly looks like rolling heather... except that it's really lava under the plants.



The road was bulldozed out, so the sheep are actually grazing around shoulder level:


Hljóðaklettar is a spot wher the whole canyon is filled with a layer of columnar basalt that tilted, curled, bulged, and eroded in interesting patterns.






 
My pictures of Hljóðaklettar can't possibly do justice to the place (especially since most of these don't give good scale), but the basalt formations were almost impossibly cool:










 
 
#60
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