Driving my way around Iceland

Page: 123 > Showing page 1 of 3
Post
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
2012/09/09 00:29:51
Just got back from a 12 day trip to Iceland.  It's been on our travel list for a long time, and we finally got to do it.  (And, for those that have never thought of going to Iceland... it's only 5 hours from the US Northeast!) 
It was 12 days: 3 total in Reykjavik, and the rest spent circumnavigating the country (primarily on the Ring Road, although we took a lot of diversions).  2600 km worth of driving.
And I've noticed that Icelandic cuisine doesn't get a lot of love from the world (oh, the jokes I heard about hakarl and Brennivin before I went).  But there are two things that make Icelandic cuisine phenomenal: Icelandic lamb, and fresh fish.
So, as I continue to upload photos to my flickr set, I figured I'd start giving a log of some of my most memorable meals.
First up was Grái Kötturinn, a small breakfast place in downtown Reykjavik. 
 

We took the red eye to Keyflavik (it’s hard not to, actually), which had us arriving all bleary-eyed at a time which was either 3:30 or 7:30, depending on which clock you are looking at. Attempting to get on local time, we wandering into downtown Reykjavik to find some coffee and breakfast, looking for a nice, solid breakfast to get us going.
We ended up finding a couple of good options (Prikið, in particular, looks like a place I need to check out on another visit), but we ended up finding exactly what we needed at the Grái Kötturinn: a nice, solid "eggs and bacon" breakfast:

 
Not really icelandic, but this American-style eggs and bacon breakfast hit the spot. The eggs were nicely cooked sunny-side up. The bacon was flavorful and fully cooked without being burnt. The potatoes were nicely seared up as well, and this combo made for the good-but-greasy sustenance that really helps me recover from a long flight.
However, the high point in this breakfast was the giant inch-thick slab of toast with Icelandic butter on it. It’s not just marketing, Icelandic cultured butter really is a lot more flavorful than your typical generic US butter pat, and it was something I enjoyed throughout my visit in Iceland.
Foodbme
Porterhouse
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 01:12:17
Nice pictures! While very minimalist, the country looks very clean!
kevincad
Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 08:39:24
What was the weather like? And when were you there? Nice pics!!
kland01s
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 09:19:06
Beautiful photos!
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 09:53:18
The weather on the south coast was lows in the 50s, highs in the upper 60s.  Subtract 10 degrees from that for the North, and one night when we had wind from the north, it almost hit freezing (it did at the higher altitudes).  A lot of rain, but most of that was very sporadic; Iceland is definitely one of those places where the weather changes every five minutes.
 
We were there from the 21st through Labor Day. 
 
And yes, it's a beautiful country (and my photos don't really do it justice...).  I will put some of the highlights here, however.
 
The rest of Day 1 was wandering about Reykjavik waiting for our hotel room to open up.
 
Stop 1 was the main church at the center of Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja:


You can pay 500 ISK (~$4) to go up in the tower, and see the colorful houses:


When we got hungry, this little hut is Ieland's busiest restuarant (by number of customers per year):


They sell one item: Icelandic hot dogs (lamb dogs served with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, raw onions, and crispy fried onions):


Reykjavik also has this really cool sculpture on the warerfront, Solfar ("Sun Voyager"):

pnwchef
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 12:12:38
 
kaszeta: It looks like you had a great time, nice pictures and a great start to your report. Thanks for taking the time................Bill
mar52
Sirloin
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 12:30:19
WOW!  I love your pictures and report.
 
That church is very different and inspiring.
 
The hot dog is questionable but I like that the Icelanders (??) also enjoy hot dogs.
 
The menorah by the sea is beautiful only the left off 3 candles. 
 
 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 12:55:11
You'll see a lot more hot dogs.  I actually liked them, the lamb gives them a nice, different, flavor, and the fried onions work really well (they are like finely minced Durkee fried onions).
 
Actually, I found that I really liked Icelandic food in general.  Especially once you get outside of Reykjavik, it gets very sparse, very quickly... but if there was a restaurant, they did a very good job of things.
 
Indeed, one of the best coffee places I've been to in recent history was Kaffismiðja Íslands, a Reykjavik coffee shop that roasts their beans on-site:
 



 
 
FriedClamFanatic
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 14:49:48
Can't wait to see more
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 15:22:53
For our first dinner in Iceland, we wanted to try out something funky, so we went to Tapas húsið (Tapas House), one of several Reykjavik joints combining the concept of tapas with local ingredients.

Here's course #1: Deep-fried Langoustine with aioli:

Course number 2: Goat Cheese and Beetroot with pistachios and cardamom.
This was the best goat cheese I've ever had, and that's with me having been served this combination (Goat cheese and beetroot) so many times in the last 5 years that I'm almost sick of it.  This redeemed it:

Course 3: Gravlax on herb and dill rye bread.  Simply perfection (I had a lot of excellent fish on this trip):

Course 4 was a nice Icelandic beef carpaccio (Iceland also has good beef) served up with shards of manchego cheese and a roasted sugared lemon:

Course 5 was a "chicken spear", Basically a mini chicken kabob, but nicely done with a sort of satay spicing:

Course 6 concluded the meal with  cured arctic char with parsnip.  This was a perfectly done piece of char (I had a lot of char this trip as well...):

mar52
Sirloin
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 15:28:18
Impressive!
mr chips
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 21:37:51
Impressive photos. great looking food and scenery.
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 21:51:55
The next day we started our driving tour in earnest. 
 
Despite our plans to drive clockwise around the island, we wanted to hit the "Golden Circle" in the southwest, which includes several major tourist sites.

But first, we took off driving on the Ring Road (Route 1) to get there.  You barely get out of Reykjavik and you are in one of the terrains that makes up about 20% of Iceland: Lava rocks ("Tuff") covered with moss, interrupted with the occasional steam vent:



The first stop was the small town of Hveragerði, which is known for hot houses (most of which have these intense orange lights that glow at night) and geothermal springs.  At the center of town is a little park.  One of the odder attractions was a person selling eggs that you could boil in the spring


 
After Hveragerði, we headed Northeast to Kerið, a large volcanic crater:

 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 21:52:11
Next stop was Geysir, a tourist site famous for a large geyser field (think "Yellowstone").  The largest one, Geysir, erupts up to 200' in height... when it erupts.  It's somewhat erratic, usually going off in ~8 hour +/- 90 minute intervals.  We saw it erupt when we were about 20 minutes outside of town, so we didn't wait around for it.  But right next to Geysir is Strokkur, another geyser that's pretty impressive (up to 120'), and reliable (usually every 6-8 minutes).

Between eruptions, it sits there and bubbles ominously:


Then it erupts:


The area also has dozens of great, colorful hot spring pools:



kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 21:53:16
Next stop was Gullfoss, one of Southwest Iceland's more famous waterfalls (I'll warn you now, you'll see about a bazillions waterfall pics, the country has that many of them):




 
The next stop after that was Þingvellir National Park.  Þingvellir is a rather picturesque location that served both as the traditional parliament of Iceland, the Alþingi, would meet.  It's also the site where the modern Republic of Iceland was founded in 1944 (since Denmark got taken over by the Germans).

It's a nice location, although it was pouring rain when we were there (a common problem... :) ):



Here's the The Lögberg (the "Law Rock") where the speaker of parliament would talk:


 
 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 21:54:23
After Þingvellir, we needed to get up to the Borgarnes area, which is actually north of Reykjavik.  This either meant a lot of backtracking, or taking a 4x4 trail through the Kaldidalur Valley into the "interior" of Iceland.  We opted for the latter.

It was surprisingly empty.  This was one of the first times on this trip where I mentioned "you know, it's not surprisingly they trained astronauts for the moon landing here...", since it was a weird mostly-barren landscape, as far as the eye could see with no settlements or other travelers:


(click on this to go to Flickr where you can see the full pano)

Here we saw our first glaciers:


After that, we ended up in the sleepy seaside town of Borgarnes, which mostly is a pitstop on the ringroad:



There's basically two options for non-gas station food (like rural New Englanders, Icelandic folk seem to eat a lot of gas station food...): an Icelandic place, and a Filipino place.  We chose the former, but decided if we ever come back to check out the latter.

Highlights included the lamb tartare (good Icelandic lamb is surprisingly dark in color, BTW) and pasta with smoked salmon:




BuddyRoadhouse
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 22:45:51

mar52The menorah by the sea is beautiful only the left off 3 candles. 

They're Reform Jews in Iceland.
 
Buddy
CCinNJ
Sirloin
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/09 22:52:43
Awesome report. Who knew Iceland was so close?

Is there a prize for winning a staring contest with that cat?
FriedClamFanatic
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 05:17:30
kaszeta

For our first dinner in Iceland, we wanted to try out something funky, so we went to Tapas húsið (Tapas House), one of several Reykjavik joints combining the concept of tapas with local ingredients.

Here's course #1: Deep-fried Langoustine with aioli:

Course number 2: Goat Cheese and Beetroot with pistachios and cardamom.
This was the best goat cheese I've ever had, and that's with me having been served this combination (Goat cheese and beetroot) so many times in the last 5 years that I'm almost sick of it.  This redeemed it:

Course 3: Gravlax on herb and dill rye bread.  Simply perfection (I had a lot of excellent fish on this trip):

Course 4 was a nice Icelandic beef carpaccio (Iceland also has good beef) served up with shards of manchego cheese and a roasted sugared lemon:

Course 5 was a "chicken spear", Basically a mini chicken kabob, but nicely done with a sort of satay spicing:

Course 6 concluded the meal with  cured arctic char with parsnip.  This was a perfectly done piece of char (I had a lot of char this trip as well...):



That set of pictures alone has convinced me that on my next trip, to Europe, I'm making an "unscheduled stop" for a few days............Fantastic!
agnesrob
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 08:23:52
Great report! Your pictures are nice!
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 08:53:24
To give people a better idea of the approximate itinerary, here are google maps for the first and second half of the trips:

First half: http://goo.gl/ab0a6
Second half: http://goo.gl/maps/53VAH
 
The next stop after Borgarnes was Reykholt, historic home of Snorri Sturluson, one of Iceland's most famous poets and a historian who was one of the first people to records of the Old Norse language and mythology of medieval Iceland (he basically started the concept of recording the Icelandic Sagas, which were completely an oral tradition before then).  Reykholt used to be a major town, but now it's a fairly quiet town that's mostly a museum to Snorri. 

One of the attractions there is that archeological efforts found parts of Snorri's home still buried there, including his 900+ year-old spring-fed hot tub.  Kind of a bizarre tourist attraction, but there you go:



Then we went back to the Ring Road, and started driving again.  Route 1 in Western Iceland is mostly lined with horse farms.  The horses are quite friendly in general:



Shortly after that, we did a hike at Grabrok, an old caldera that's right next to the ring road (here you are looking at the east side of the caldera, which collapsed as part of the eruption)



Looking down towards the parking area from the top, you can see the old lava flowfield:

 
Next stop after Grabrok was the Vatnsnes peninsula in the north.  On the way there, we stopped at a high plateau that gave us a nice view back to the Kaldidalur Valley and the Langjökull ice cap.  If you look carefully, you can see the same three glaciers I took in the photo a few posts ago:



On the Vatnses Peninsula, there is an interesting rock formation in the water call Hvítserkur.  Supposedly Hvítserkur was a troll (they really like troll mythology, about half of the area's geological features were supposedly created by angry trolls...) that lived in Mount Bæjarfell, but accidentally stayed outside at sunrise and was petrified, with his face sticking partway out of the water:


The peninsula also was a prime example of a constant occurrence: having to stop and wait for sheep to get out of the road:


We then headed south to the Kolugljúfur gorge (also apparently the product of Troll Civil Engineering):

kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 08:56:13
Next stop was the town of Akureyri (BTW, Borgarnes -> Akureyri via the route I took is 400+ km.  It's shocking how much driving it can take to get from one settlement to another in such a "small" country).  Considered the "Reykjavik of the North", it's Iceland's fourth largest municipality, but #2 and #3 (Hafnarfjörður and Kópavogur) are really suburbs of Reyjavik, so it's really Iceland's second largest "metro" area.  For that matter, it's really the only place in the country outside of Reykjavik I'd even consider a "city" (the vast majority of Icelandic settlements wouldn't even rate "village" around here), and even at that, it's modest, with around 25,000 population.  But it's a major shipping port (due to warm water inflow and the relative warmth of the gulf stream, the pork of Akureyri never ices over), and also a fairly common cruise ship destination for the area.

Here's a nice overview of town (actually taken the day I left, since we got a good view from the other side of the fjord):



It's a reasonable decent town, however, having staffed gas stations, actual grocery stores, good hotels, and the like.  The fjord is also is popular with pleasure boaters, so there's a reasonable harbor there for smaller boats (as opposed to the gigantic fishing boats and cruise ships):


Akureyri is also the "City of Hearts", and this manifested itself in an odd way... when stopping at my first red light in Akureyri (which was the only place outself of Reykjavik where I saw traffic lights), I thought to myself, "that's an odd illusion, that red light looks like a heart."  By the second one, I realized it was deliberate:



As far as food goes in Akureyri... An interesting thing I discovered in Iceland is that the largest ethnic minority is Thai.  Iceland doesn't have a large immigrant population, but most of the immigrants they have are from Thailand, Poland, Vietnam, and the Philippines, with the first of these being most prominent.  A byproduct of this is a rather large number of Thai restaurants.  In Akureyri, it seemed like a good idea to check one out, so we went to Krua Siam across from our hotel:



This was your standard Thai restaurant like you'd get most anywhere else, with the noted exception that there were a *lot* more lamb dishes on the menu (Lamb being the most prevalent, and often the cheapest, meat in Iceland).  We ended up getting Tom Kha Kai (chicken and coconut soup), Pad Kva with Lamb (a spicy stir fry), and beef Yam Nua (cold beef salad):







Overall, I was quite pleased, this was very flavorful, very spicy (in contrast to most Icelandic food, which is usually very flavorful, but if it's hot at all, is a black pepper spicy), and the use of high-quality lamb made for a particularly good Pad Kva.  And the place was noticeably better than most Thai places I regularly get to here in the US.
 
 
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 09:29:01
mar52

The hot dog is questionable but I like that the Icelanders (??) also enjoy hot dogs.
I'm not sure about Sweden and Denmark but hot dogs and sausages are also very popular in Norway.
 
Great report so far, Kas...looking forward to more!
tcrouzer
Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 10:05:58
Great trip report! Excellent photos! That lovely church looks like a big pipe organ - love it. Looking forward to more of this trip.
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 10:11:16
tcrouzer
Great trip report! Excellent photos! That lovely church looks like a big pipe organ - love it. Looking forward to more of this trip.

Funny you mention that, because that church has the most impressive pipe organ inside (5275 pipes!):

 
kevincad
Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 10:13:14
kaszeta

The weather on the south coast was lows in the 50s, highs in the upper 60s.  Subtract 10 degrees from that for the North, and one night when we had wind from the north, it almost hit freezing (it did at the higher altitudes).  A lot of rain, but most of that was very sporadic; Iceland is definitely one of those places where the weather changes every five minutes.

We were there from the 21st through Labor Day. 
 
Wow, so that is summer weather! Yeouch!

And yes, it's a beautiful country (and my photos don't really do it justice...).  I will put some of the highlights here, however.

The rest of Day 1 was wandering about Reykjavik waiting for our hotel room to open up.

Stop 1 was the main church at the center of Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja:


You can pay 500 ISK (~$4) to go up in the tower, and see the colorful houses:


When we got hungry, this little hut is Ieland's busiest restuarant (by number of customers per year):


They sell one item: Icelandic hot dogs (lamb dogs served with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, raw onions, and crispy fried onions):


Reykjavik also has this really cool sculpture on the warerfront, Solfar ("Sun Voyager"):



ann peeples
Sirloin
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 12:46:56
Foodbeme said simple? Beautiful country......I have a friend there, and it is one of the most gorgeous countries of the world.
mr chips
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/10 21:20:48
My home has a lot of volcanic scenery and waterfalls nearby and I am duly impressed with the Icelandic scenery's similar landscape. love the photos of the scenery and the food and I am very anxious for more.
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 16:26:46
More pics from Akureyri:

The main church (which some have told me looks somewhat Minecraft-inspired):



They were having a music festival while we were there, so they had a sound stage right around from our hotel room:



We also walked down to Brynja, which many people (mostly Icelandic) told me had some of the best ice cream ever:



When I got there, I found out they basically have one flavor of soft serve... but when I got it, it was some of the best soft serve[1] I've ever had.  Much stronger vanilla flavor and more butterfat than most soft serve, and I rather enjoyed it:


[1] All sorts of places here in VT/NH serve soft-serve, and people all argue which place is best, but honestly, 95% of them serve the exact same product...
Extreme Glow
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 18:59:03
I did the Ring Road in 2003 and had a great time.  I still fondly remember the lamb filet with herb crust and the monkfish with bacon sauce!  Thanks for the great report.
 
Here's the pylsur stand in 2003.  Always a line.


 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 20:07:00
Thanks.  Apparently the pylsur stand is consistently busy.  :)
Nancypalooza
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 21:01:42
Absolutely stunning scenery and that row of small plates . . insane.  Awesome!
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/11 21:26:23
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... :)
Ralph Melton
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/12 17:19:11
I really like the phrase "Troll Civil Engineering". :-)
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/12 18:41:12
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]"
myterry2
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/12 23:39:22
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.
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:02:37
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:










kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:02:56
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:




kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:03:16
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:






kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:03:34
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:




kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:04:03
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):




kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/15 22:04:30
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)
FriedClamFanatic
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 03:06:27
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!
agnesrob
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 08:39:13
What a great report. I have really enjoyed reading about your trip. Wonderful pictures!
tcrouzer
Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:07:04
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!
kland01s
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:19:30
Just awesome. Best report ever!!
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:24:00
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.
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 10:28:51
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.
Extreme Glow
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 12:05:34
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.
ann peeples
Sirloin
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 12:42:41
Freaking beautiful.............really..............
 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 14:05:31
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.
mr chips
Filet Mignon
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 14:48:02
Wonderful pictures. Makes me want to go right now.
 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 17:08:00
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:

kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 17:08:24
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
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 17:14:30
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:
 

ann peeples
Sirloin
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 19:39:14
This is possibly the best picture report I have ever seen. So glad you are posting.
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:43:10
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:

 
 
kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:44:06
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:


kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:44:30
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:


kaszeta
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Driving my way around Iceland 2012/09/16 20:45:06
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:










 
 
Page: 123 > Showing page 1 of 3