18 Mar 2017

Iceland #12 - Day 1 & 2: Journey there and on to Vík

Usually I travel to Iceland on the night flights, after work, and arrive late at night, stay near the airport, then pick up the rental car and set off the next morning. This time, on my 12th visit,  I decided to get the midday flight, which meant I had a nice relaxing first day, arriving at around 4pm, before staying on the Álftanes peninsula with my friends Sigrún and Johannes. I was welcomed with the wonderful sight of a snowy Reykjanes Peninsula as we descended, able to see the whole the mountains behind Reykjavik and the white peaks along the spine of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the distance (the day was all about peninsulas!). There had been a massive dump of snow the previous weekend, and it hadn't disappeared; the blacks roads winding through the white landscape looked striking. I had a lovely view of Kleifarvatn, and could even see the Blue Lagoon and nearby power station, the turquoise water just visible from the air.

I bought some new Borg beer (Surtur) to try at Duty Free, as well as my favourite (the very strong Garún), picked up my luggage (backpacks are now delivered to a special window, so ten minutes spent watching bags come out on the conveyor belt was fruitless) and then got picked up to go to the car rental place. Pro-car had moved into a new building, much bigger than the old one, to allow for the recent massive increase in demand. I had the usual disaster - the car they had for me was a Suzuki Vitara with no USB port through which I could listen to my music. I kicked up a bit of a fuss ("I can't possibly do a 10-day road-trip on my own without my music!! I must have a different car!!") and they disappeared off to see what they could find. They were fully booked, so no other vehicles available there, so I asked about their Reykjavik office. A quick call later and I was assigned a BMW X4 at the downtown branch - an upgrade. A result! I was given a little car to drive there, where I'd then swap that one for my music-friendly 4WD. I thanked them profusely and felt very relieved. The drive was pleasant, seeing the black lava landscape covered in snow, in the late afternoon sunshine, although I got caught in some rush-hour traffic as I approached the outskirts of the city. I arrived at the Pro-car place down near the Sun Voyager sculpture and was actually given a Hyundai Tuscon, not the BMW next to it. I was a little disappointed, but I certainly wasn't going to complain, since this was already a free upgrade. So I set off back out towards Álftanes, listening to my own music, the traffic having thinned a little, and was greeted with a lovely fish soup made by the talented Sigrún - always a pleasure to be fed by her! The sunset outside looked lovely, and there was potential for northern lights, but I was not yet in photo mode, so just enjoyed an evening catching up with her and Johannes before an early night.

I set off in the morning, with borrowed massive mug for my tea, tripod, and a lopapeysa (Icelandic sweater). It was another glorious day, with the sun out again and no wind.

First stop was the nearby Hagkaup supermarket to stock up on food for the week (I'd be self-catering in a couple of places, so tuna pasta ingredients, plus the usual granola and Skyr for breakfast and volkenbrot with bread and ham for lunch. Oh and some chocolate-covered liquorice for the car).

My next stop was a very important one, and something I'd been looking forward to for a long time (six months, in fact, since my last visit). Back in the summer a friend had visited from Australia, and while in Reykjavik for a weekend she happened upon a silver jewellery shop that was open late as it was Culture Night. She and her friend loved the place and the friendly woman working there and she bought herself a silver necklace. I'd then looked at the website and immediately fell in love with Orr! I had hoped to visit on my last trip in September, but the timing didn't work between getting from Keflavik and the domestic terminal. I bought some earrings online when I got back to London, and a necklace a couple of months later, but wanted more! I parked down by the Sun Voyager sculpture and put some money in the meter - I only had enough change from my last trip for 70 minutes, which didn't give me all that long, so I dashed up to Laugavegur and down the hill to where I thought the shop was. I got to the bottom and realised that I had just assumed it was that end of the street - it was actually completely the opposite end, so I raced back the way I'd come, and beyond! I finally got there, with 50 minutes left on the meter, and a 10 minute walk back to the car, so only had 40 minutes to shop. The place is incredible, with the most unusual and stunning designs. I could literally have bought everything in the shop, but came out with a pair of earrings, a necklace and a ring, each with blue zirconia stones in them. I was very happy, and also knew that I could return on my way back to purchase some more, should I feel the need.

I made it back to the car just in time, and then it was on to the route 1 heading east, a little later than usual, given my jewellery splurge. I finally understand the roads in Reykjavik, so no wrong turns this time, at least. The drive was easy, with no snow on the road for most of the journey, and I stopped briefly at a view-point on Hellisheiði mountain pass, with views down to Hveragerði below. I could even see the islands of Vestmannaeyjar dotted on the horizon in the distance. Back in the car and the drive was magical, Iceland looking lovely with its white cover. I stopped a few times to capture the views.

I arrived at Gljúfrabúi, which is just a few hundred metres up the road from the very popular Seljalandsfoss, parked the car, and headed towards the fall, passing a couple of quaint old farm buildings. I'd not visited this one before, but had read that it was worth a look, especially as it's just off the main road, like its bigger neighbour. It's mostly hidden in a narrow canyon, and as I approached I got covered in spray. I had intended to go up close, but there were a few people already there and when they'd gone and I was about to proceed a whole bus-load of people arrived, so I gave up. I took a couple of disappointing hand-held shots before retreating and continuing on my journey east. I was staying in Vík, as usual, so didn't have too far to go, but I still managed to fill the day with the journey. It still surprises me how long it takes me!

A little way on I stopped to take a few shots of the road view - with some great jagged outcrops highlighted by the snow.

Next stop was my favourite rocks, which sit in a little lagoon to the south, at Steinar. I parked up and headed down to the water's edge with the tripod and gear, wearing the lopapeysa. It was pretty chilly but there was no icy wind to contend with and it was just glorious, with the sun and a few scattered clouds reflected in the bits of the lagoon that weren't frozen. It was magical. Ever since I first drove past those rocks, on the one nice day I'd had on my first photography trip in March 2012, when I hadn't stopped and kicked myself for it, I always stop there if the light is good and I just love the spot. I don't think most people notice the rocks, until they see someone like me down at the shoreline with my tripod, and then cars start pulling over and people take quick snaps of the lovely view across to Vestmannaejyar.

A little further on I stopped again, as there was a group of horses in the sun, beneath some rocky peaks.

Around the bend I pulled in opposite Skogafoss briefly, where you can get a view of the falls reflected in the river. There's no-one else there either, which is nice.

I could have returned to the other side to get some more rainbow shots, but I've done that many times; I prefer the place when it's misty and foreboding, so I carried on past there (besides, I'd be spending a night there on my way back, so would have plenty of time then) and straight on towards Vík. I was pretty shocked to see a massive new car-park at the side of the road, at the edge of the black desert, and soon realised that it was for the people walking down to the DC3 wreck. A year earlier I had driven the extremely pot-holed route with my hubby and friends, but shortly after that the road had been closed to vehicles (because of the damage they were causing) and now the only way to visit was a 4km walk (each way) from the road. I was astounded at how many cars were there - possibly 50, so it's clearly got even more popular in spite of the walk required!

I continued on, and drove along the lovely winding roads before Vík. At the top of the pass a car had pulled in at the side of the road and become grounded and some other cars had stopped and were trying to help push the car out; it brought back memories of my trip last year when I got stuck and fortunately got pushed out, saving an expensive rescue bill! I didn't stop at Vík but carried on through the town and on to Hjörleifshöfði - an isolated mountain (inselberg) surrounded by black sand. I'd visited it once before and remembered high cliffs covered in sea-birds. There was no-one around, which is always nice in Iceland (and rare along the south coast); I think the name is so long and complicated that it puts people off visiting! I stopped a few times to photograph the amazing rock faces. Beautiful northern fulmars nested in holes and on ledges in the cliffs, and fluttered about above me. The cliffs were twisted and layered - more spectacular Icelandic geology! A few icicles hung from the lines of rock.

I drove as far as I could around the mountain, passing a couple of isolated rocks out on the sand, to the back side that was dripping with hundreds of enormous icicles, as it was north-east facing and never got any direct sunlight; it was pretty chilly there! I wanted to go closer, but the cliff overhung slightly and I didn't fancy being hit on the head by a falling lump of ice; some pieces of shattered icicles lay on the ground and they were huge! I was transfixed by the gigantic stalactites of ice hanging above me.

I drove back around the mountain and passed one other car, driven by a single male - possibly the only other solo traveller I met on my whole journey. I recommended him to drive all the way round to the north-east side to see the icicles.

I continued back to Vík and to my guesthouse (Arsalir) - a new one that I had not stayed in before. There seem to be new guesthouses springing up every time I visit - a big change from my first visit 5 years earlier where there were two hotels in town and the hostel, and nowhere to eat after 7pm! No staff was there to check me in, so I headed down to the beach as it was approaching sunset, giving a couple of Dutch girls a lift to the supermarket on the way (the car was already a mess, so having passengers is always a pain, having to move my stuff out of the way!). I guess most people visit the more popular beaches at Reynsifjara or Dyrholaey, but there's rarely people on the beach at Vík, so I had it more-or-less to myself. The sky was pretty, with some scattered clouds, the sun hidden behind the headland, and I took some shots very similar to many I've taken before. The waves weren't massive, but still very noisy, as they scraped the pebbles back down to the sea. The sky wasn't spectacular, but it was still pleasant. I stayed an hour and a half, until the light was dull and my feet were cold, and then returned to the guesthouse to check in.

I wandered up the hill to eat pizza at the usual place (Suður-Vík), taking the second half with me for lunch the following day. I had one of my delicious new beers, Facetimed hubby, sorted through a few photos, checked the weather and northern lights forecasts (possible sightings) but ended up going to bed early, feeling surprisingly exhausted after my first full day back in my beloved Iceland.

Click here for the second instalment of my blog: Iceland #12 - Day 3: From Vík to Jökulsárlón

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