17 Apr 2016

Iceland #10 - Day 10: A Stormy Drive Back to Reykjavik (and home)

I woke up on the morning of my final full day in Iceland to the sound of the storm overhead. The intensity would come and go a little, rattling the doors of the guesthouse at its strongest. I had a huge breakfast, stuffing myself with delicious home-made malty bread. All of the guests hung around, not quite sure when it was going to be safe to leave. It was a perfect place to sit and wait for the weather to improve though, with lots of nice people to chat to, a warm log fire, as well as tea and coffee on tap. Eventually the winds did die down and one-by-one the guests departed - heading out nervously. I left at about 1pm, hoping to get to Reykjavik by 5pm (usually it's a 2-hour drive, but with stops and taking it slowly that would hopefully work).

I wasn't expecting to take many photos that day, as even though the winds would drop, it was still forecast to be stormy all day. The rain was blown around by the wind, so taking any photos without getting the lens covered in raindrops would be challenging, and use of a tripod was definitely out of the question. I drove cautiously down the road to the ring-road, but it wasn't too gusty - just a constant wind and precipitation coming and going. My first stop was just past Vík, at the turn-off to the skimobile place, as I saw some crepuscular rays to the south. I pulled on the raincoat and hat, crossed the road and took a couple of shots of the road, hills and the rays. There was pretty good visibility, considering, so at least some of the mountains were on show. The rain was slanted at this point, so it was possible to keep the lens dry for a few shots, using the zoom lens with the long hood on.

Next stop was Skógafoss. I've seen these falls many times, and usually stop there once on each trip. It can be very crowded - especially with coach-loads of English geography field trip students, and it can look very dull in grey weather, with blown-out white skies above. I'd noticed a little road on the far side of the river on my last trip, so decided to give the usual parking area a miss and head down there, to see if I could get a different - or better - viewpoint. I liked the view, but even with the 1.4x extender I couldn't quite get as close as I'd have liked. The surrounding landscape was that yellowy-brown grass, that really needs to be hidden under a good covering of snow (or converted to black and white), and from that point there was too much of it in view. What I did notice, though, was that the wind was blowing the waterfalls upwards. Fortunately it was blowing westward, so the visitors who made the effort to climb up to the viewpoint (I did that on my very first visit and haven't bothered since) weren't getting drenched. It was quite striking, and looks even more so converted into black and white.

I was quite fascinated by the upwards falls, so ended up driving back to the usual parking area to get a closer look.

I think this looks like a man about to punch the waterfall...

As usual it was quite busy, but people came and went, and occasionally just a couple of people would be standing in front of the falls.

While I was there I noticed that the sky had begun to brighten slightly behind me to the south, and for about 3 minutes the clouds parted, the sun came out, blue skies appeared from nowhere behind the falls and the sun shone brightly, giving a lovely brief rainbow. Everyone was delighted! Having looked drab and dull, suddenly it looked glorious.

Within a couple of minutes the sun was gone, and off I went.

The rain and hail and sleet and wind returned. Or rather I drove through it. I stopped very briefly at Seljalandsfoss to use the loo, took a couple of shots of people battling the sleet, and then headed onwards.

Just after I left I drove through the most unbelievably intense shower, with gusty winds and snow coming straight at me. It went on for a few minutes and I felt quite relieved once I'd driven through it. I pulled the car over to capture the storm as it retreated; sun shone on the mountaintops in the distance.

I stopped a little further on to photograph some trees, and a few other times to capture visible rain storms passing in the distance (there were a few).

I was a little nervous about the big hill past Hveragerði and the high pass beyond. When I'd been manically checking the road conditions and weather sites before I set off that was one area that was marked with "storm" conditions. The big sweeping dual carriageway that winds up around the hill was surprisingly clear of traffic (and snow) - just a couple of other cars and me; fortunately no high-sided trucks (they don't seem to drive on weekends and hopefully they also have rules about not driving in windy weather!). At the top the road and roadside were pretty snowy, and I passed a snow plough a little further on, that was presumably just driving up and down that stretch of the road all day. It was no longer snowing and the wind had died away, so apart from a bit of snow on the road, which I was used to, the conditions weren't too bad at all. I'd definitely made the right choice to leave later as I'd clearly missed the worst of it.

I gave Reykjavík a miss and headed straight to Álftanes, where I was expected at around 5pm at Sigrún and Johannes' for supper. The promise of Sigrún's Thai fish soup had been driving me forward all day long (I'd eaten nothing since breakfast)! I arrived on the peninsula a little early so took a little drive to the east side along an unmade road to get a better view of the enormous storm clouds that were passing over the city in the distance. I could just make out the Hallsgrímkirkja, the highest building in Reykjavik (not the tallest from the ground, but its peak is higher than any of the new skyscrapers built on lower ground along the waterfront).

Behind me another storm was coming in and it was great to watch the patches of rain fall in the distance. I knew it would reach me soon, so I got back in the car and headed back towards the west side. I stopped the car at one point as the storm hit me to try to capture the ferocity of the sleet as it hammered the car and road ahead of me.

It's always lovely to get back to see these friends after a trip around their beautiful country, and obviously I was particularly happy to be greeted by the adorable Jökull (the kitten), who was as affectionate as ever. The fish soup was so delicious that I had three bowls. This was then followed by an even more delicious apple and pear crumble with a walnut crumble and home-made vanilla ice-cream. Again I had three helpings and then felt ridiculously over-full for the rest of the evening! It is very nice to have a friend who is an extremely talented cook! I had a relatively early night as I had to get up at 5am in order to drive back to the airport for my early flight home. The kitten slept on top of me all night.

The weather was dreadful again, and this time I was happy to leave (on my last visit I awoke to a beautiful crisp cold day - and northern lights - and was miserable to be leaving).

I dropped off the car - thanking them again for swapping it on the first day for one with a music system (a trip-saver!) - and fortunately there was no damage (always a relief, especially after the blowing sand at Stokksnes and the bumpy drive to the DC3). They dropped me off at the terminal and I checked in, had a delicious breakfast of an open prawn sandwich at the remaining Icelandic café, and stocked up on my favourite stout. We had to walk across the runway in the blowing rain for a short distance to get to our plane, which seemed a little strange - as well as unpleasant! Fortunately I still had my hat with me, but my other Iceland-weather-proof gear was packed away. My seat was at the emergency exit next to the door, so was also covered in rain. I stood around waiting for the last passenger before wiping the rain off it!

I sat next to a lovely American woman who had just got engaged (her fiancé sat behind) and we shared a wonderful couple of hours chatting about our lives. I always meet fantastic people on my flights to and from Iceland.

I took a few shots out of the window along the way, although Iceland was covered in cloud as we left. Above the clouds it was glorious and there were some cool brocken spectres of the plane as we descended through light clouds into Gatwick.

The weather in London was delightful and I was glad to get home to my boys and start the mammoth task of sorting through the thousands of photos I'd taken!

It had been a pretty successful trip, and it had been great to have a proper weekend break with hubby and friends to start with (I really enjoyed playing tour guide in this country I love so much). I'd had some great weather, particularly on my drive east from Jökulsarlón, but no really spectacular sunrises or sunsets. I'd seen the northern lights on three occasions - with the most amazing display on the 4th night, which after my first couple of trips of seeing nothing is always good. The icebergs on Jökulsárlón beach - or rather lack thereof - had been my biggest disappointment of the trip. But that's the thing I love about Iceland and my road-trips there - every visit is different: the weather, the snow, the ice, the light, the experiences I have, and that makes me want to return again and again - to see it in yet another different light again.

Click here for my blog from Day 9 - Driving West to Hrifunes

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