8 Mar 2015

Iceland Feb 2015 - Day 10: Þingvellir to Garður

My last day in Iceland had come. I woke up late in my lovely cabin overlooking Þingvellir, the wind still howling around me. The ear-plugs had ensured I got a decent night's sleep in spite of the incessant noise. I made tea and checked the weather-forecast - it hadn't changed much from the previous night, the winds still due to drop around lunchtime. On the roads website I was able to check how many cars had driven along the stretch of road I needed to go on to get to Reykjavik, as well as the most recent wind speeds. The wind was up to 23 m/s (just over 50 mph), so there was no way I was going out in that. I'd read that it was advised not to drive if the winds exceeded 15 m/s (or was possibly illegal to), so 23 was definitely way too high! The stretch of road from Vik to Hvolsvöllur was closed as the wind speeds there were into the 30+ m/s (I later read that some tourists had to be rescued from the road near Skaftafell after having their windows smashed by flying rocks and that section wasn't even closed!). After 10am I noticed the odd car driving along the road above the cabin, heading towards Þingvellir. It was a Sunday, so I guess some tourists still made the journey, regardless of the weather and road conditions.

Any photography in the morning was done from the comfort of the cabin, behind glass windows, lights turned off to prevent reflections - there was no way I was even stepping one foot outside in that kind of wind. The sky was a steely blue-grey, with white clouds near the horizon. From time to time a huge gust would bring the snow up across the grass outside. In the distance I could see snow being blown off the tops of the mountains.

The morning spent there was a bit of a waiting game - waiting until the wind speed died down below 15 m/s and looked as if it would stay that way for my journey downhill back into Mosfellsbær and on to Reykjavik. More and more cars and adventure trucks went by, although almost all of them were heading into the national park, not out of it. By 11am the gusts died down a bit and winds of 14 m/s were registering on the roads website. It was looking as if I'd make it to the airport the following morning on time after all. I didn't have far to go, so wasn't in a rush, but finally set off at 1pm, when the roads website showed 15 m/s and the hourly forecast suggested that the winds wouldn't exceed that for the next couple of hours. The storms further east were continuing, so it was a good thing I wasn't staying in Vik that night, otherwise I would have been stuck there. 

I drove pretty cautiously, and it wasn't long before I started the downhill section with winds constantly blowing snow across the road. Like the snowfall a few days earlier I found it mesmerising, watching the snow blow diagonally across the road in front of me. The conditions weren't unlike the first time I drove there three years earlier and I'd driven out as a blizzard was approaching; that time I'd never experienced blowing snow before and was far more nervous though. Fortunately the wind was behind me, so the car wasn't buffeted from the side at all and the snow wasn't coming directly at me. Visibility must have been pretty dire coming in the other direction, up the hill and straight into the wind and snow. At one point the blowing snow got very thick and it was only possible to see a few yellow posts ahead; the sky was dark too. I was hanging back a good distance behind another car, which put on its hazard lights, making it much easier to see. I did the same for a stretch, in case anyone came up behind me. We stuck at around 50 kmph, which wasn't a bad speed given the conditions. Eventually we got through it and could see properly again, and by the time I reached Mosfellsbær it felt like a normal driving day in Iceland, back up to a speedy 90 kmph!

As I'd managed to get into Reykjavik in less than an hour I had time to make a few stops, before heading on to see my friends in Álftanes at 3pm. I couldn't visit Iceland without at least one trip to see the wonderful Sólfar (Sun Viking) sculpture. I managed to take the right roads for once, and ended up driving along the north shore of the city, which I knew would bring me round to the sculpture. There's parking right behind it, which was very helpful too. I parked, kitted up, and nipped out to take a couple of quick shots, before diving back into the warmth of the car. The winds were still pretty strong and a light sleet was coming down from dark patchy clouds above.

Next stop was the pond, which I expected to be frozen. There's some limited-time parking along the shore, which gave me a chance to nip out of the car again before continuing on. I was dying to go to the loo (as usual), so wanted to continue on to Perlan. The pond was mainly frozen and looked very pretty with the coloured houses on the opposite side. A few swans lingered at one end - so there were some more in the country already!

My navigational skills were on top form, which was very useful given my urgent needs, and I soon found the right hand turn up to Perlan. I rushed in, went to the loo before heading up to the observation deck. I knew it would be windy up there, but it was crazy - the kind where it could actually blow you off course. I walked round once, took a few shots of the view of the little city, before heading back in for some respite. I was pleased to see that the great sculpture of the band was still sitting outside.

I then drove onwards to Álftanes, remembering the way from my visit last year. I arrived at 3 on the dot, which I was quite impressed with! It was lovely to catch up with Sigrún and Jóhannes and their two young children who were happy to have a TV day given the nasty weather outside. Last year I was greeted with home-made waffles; this year Sigrún had made some special Icelandic cakes that are served with strawberry jam, whipped cream and chocolate sauce - very yummy and welcomed! Jóhannes is a bit of a barista, so I was also treated to a couple of very decent espressos. I wanted to continue on to Garður before it got dark, so left just before 5 (armed with home made banana bread!), heading back out into the snow and wind, which was still lingering. The road to the airport was fairly snowy, with the overtaking lane generally unused; everyone seemed to be driving pretty safely, apart from the odd taxi that would speed past in the snow at 100 kmph. On the other carriageway was an airport bus that had slid off the side of the road a little and been abandoned. To the south I could just see the tops of the small mountains, visible through a blue snowy haze. If any of the turn-offs had been clear of snow I might have ventured away a little as it was truly beautiful, but I thought it safer to continue onwards instead. I stopped for petrol in the usual place, a car skidding as it drove in near me.

I reached my cabin in Garður in a massive snow-storm, and the owner quickly came and let me in. It was another lovely, cosy cabin - this time with underfloor heating, no draughts and no howling wind. There was still a little daylight left so I headed out to see if I could get a few shots of the two lighthouses nearby that I'd visited a couple of years earlier and watched the ducks flitting around near the shore as the sun set. The snow had stopped but the wind was still gusty. Next to the cabin I petted a couple of horses, owned by the cabin owner's brother, before the short drive to the point. I was quite surprised to find an old double-decker London bus converted into a café (and karaoke bar!) parked there, although it was closed. I drove back, past the cabin and had a little drive around the village, stopping to photograph the pretty church and some grey houses (the light was terrible by this stage!), before heading back to my refuge for the night.

And that, as they say, was that. Iceland trip number 8 was over! My flight was early the next morning, so I had to get up way before it got light, leave my lovely little cabin, drive to the airport, top the tank up with petrol, buy some birch liqueur for the hubby, and then fly back home. I always feel a bit relieved to be going home, to better weather, to my boys, to my home where I can sit at my Mac and review my photos endlessly for weeks or months on end, but obviously I'm always sad too to leave this place, which has somehow become a second home to me. When people say "but don't you just want to go on a beach holiday?" I say "yes, a black, sandy beach strewn with icebergs or with basalt column for cliffs, where the wind blows you off your feet or your car off the road (hopefully not!) and where it's always cold!"

Each time I leave, now, I know I'll be back to this funny little island that I love so much, so there's no need to spend the rest of my Krona, and there's no real reason to feel sadness. Each time I leave, now, I know I'll be back soon...


  1. HI,

    May i ask if you've been to ICeland during Sept /Oct?


    1. Hi Jia Min, yes I have. I went once in the middle of September and it was a beautiful time of year to go - not nearly as cold as winter and I also saw the northern lights. The first time I went was in 2002 for a long weekend at the end of October - it was very wet and miserable! There's a lot of luck with the weather in Iceland...