16 Oct 2017

Iceland #13 - Days 9 & 10: Luke-warm Pools and a few other Goodies (& home)

Day 9 was the last full day of my trip to Iceland, but I planned to make the most of it with the girls. As the previous day, I'd had a lot planned, and again, fitting it all in just didn't happen! I had discovered another waterfall that was only really accessible during the non-winter months, that I'd heard of but never visited (Háifoss), so that was a must-see for the day (as well as the obligatory trip to Geysir and Gullfoss), before driving back to Reykjavík, where we had a very posh dinner booked.

I woke up quite early (8.30am) and took a few photos of the lovely view to the south - the Westman Islands were quite clear on the horizon, and I watched the morning ferry glide slowly towards the mainland.

When the others were up we drove to the nearby Seljavallalaug, which I'd seen pictures of for a few years, but had never bothered trying to work out where it was. When I realised it was literally only a few miles away from the lovely Garage, where we were staying, I knew we had to combine our stay with a visit. My desire to capture the sunset behind the waterfall the previous night had meant that we hadn't had time then, but an early morning dip seemed like a close second-best option. The road to the pools was unbelievably, ridiculously potholed - it made the unsealed mountain passes and fjord roads in the Westfjords look positively smooth. We juddered our way for the few kilometres of the road and eventually came to the car-park - there were already a few other cars there, so we knew we weren't going to have the place to ourselves (I hadn't expected to). The walk to the pools was fairly flat, along a river valley, and I noticed some very cool geological formations on the hillsides above. It wasn't quite light enough to capture, and I couldn't be bothered to get the camera out either.

When we reached the pool there were a couple of people nearby about to leave, and a group of French Canadian women arrived soon after us. We checked out the changing rooms which were quite squalid - not sure why people would leave rubbish or wet clothes on the floor. I took a few photos of the pool while it was relatively empty, then got changed and into the pool.

It was far cooler than the pools I'd visited in the Westfjords - in fact it was barely luke-warm! Mandy was not impressed; Mav, however, was! We found a warmer spot at the far end where a pipe fed the pool with lovely hot water. More people arrived and so we got out and dressed.

We stopped on the way back a few times to capture the basalt columns, reeds and mossy hillsides.

The sun began to reappear briefly. We reached the car and drove back to the apartment and had some Skyr and granola for breakfast, as well as some soft-boiled eggs (someone had left eggs in the fridge) and I took a few shots of the picturesque hillside above the building.

We packed up and set off, heading towards Háifoss. Mandy drove, which was a bit weird for me, as I'd been driving the Mokka for over a week and wasn't used to sitting in the passenger's seat. It was quite nice, though, not to have to constantly concentrate on the road! We took the main road along the south and turned off when we reached the 26. It was a pleasant journey, but as we'd left a little later than originally planned we couldn't stop at a few places of interest I'd identified (Þjójfafoss, for one). We stopped once to take some quick shots of the brooding Hekla, mostly hidden by clouds, with stark volcanic, barren landscape before us.

The road became unsealed and a little slower. Eventually we reached the turning point, where the road heads across a small bridge near a dam, and turns in a south-west direction. The turn-off towards Háifoss wasn't far on from that, but we missed it initially as it's not signposted. We checked Google maps and turned around, taking the turn uphill on the 332. I'd been a little worried about it, as I'd read accounts of the road being terrible. It was pretty bumpy and uneven, but absolutely fine in the 4WD - in a low-slung saloon or hatchback I'm not so sure... We soon reached the car-park, where there were a few other cars and a couple of couples on quad bikes. We walked to the edge of the canyon and the view was spectacular, with two high falls falling into the canyon below, which wove off down the valley, under moody skies. Lines of basalt columns ran along the sides of the canyon walls.

We walked down a little further to get a different viewpoint and I took a few little self-portraits of us, the camera on tripod and using the remote shutter release. We were quite close to the edge so it was a little nerve-racking, but we didn't get that close.

I did a little photo shoot of Mav doing some pilates poses - wasn't ideal perched on the top of a canyon rim and Mav just ended up giggling.

It would be a great spot to explore more, hiking along the canyon further, overlooking the top of the falls, but time precluded it.

We wandered back to the car and I took over the driving again. We were quite hungry now, as it was already almost 3pm by the time we left. We drove back down the bumpy road and onto the 32, which fortunately is paved. We drove through Fluðir, passing the Ethiopian restaurant (I must stop there one of these days - it even looked open for a change), and on to Geysir.

We had some rather expensive sandwiches and soup in the café, before going to see the Strokkur geyser erupt.

As usual, we had to stay and see a good few eruptions. The waiting is always long, especially if you're holding a heavy camera and lens in portrait mode, just waiting for it to go! But the blue bubble appears and the water crashes through it up into the air and it's totally worth it.

There were a few disappointing ones, but then a couple of high eruptions, consecutively, as we were wandering back towards the car. Mandy was very impressed, especially with the blue bubble - it made up for her disappointment at the dirty not-so-hot pool.

Next stop, and the last on the itinerary, was Gullfoss. It was nice to visit in late summer, as the lower path was open and accessible. I realised that I'd actually only seen the falls unfrozen once before - on my very first visit to Iceland, back on a grey, wet late October day in 2002, with my friend Kate. There were a few more people here today. Thinking back, I don't even think there was a lower path then. We had a quick wander along the top path, enjoying the view of the water and people below.

We then took the long staircase down and walked along the lower path, where you can really feel the power of the falls as you are so close.

It was strange not to take long exposures, which is what I would have done had I been alone. It was quite refreshing, though, to take some normal, handheld shots with the water looking as it does to the eye, rather than the strange smooth effect the long exposures give.

We had a late dinner reservation at the Fiskmarkuðarinn restaurant (10.30pm!), so at least we didn't have to rush back. I had wanted to stop at Brúarfoss, but we definitely didn't have time for that (next time!). We drove through Þingvellir, so at least the others got to see the meeting of the two plates (well, Mandy was asleep, so missed it). The drive was quick back down in Reykjavík, and we managed to navigate to the apartment on Bergstaðastræti. We couldn't find any parking, so drove around the block a few times, before parking at the side of the road to unload the car. I then drove around the other way and managed to find a recently-freed spot. We were pretty close to downtown, and it was Saturday night, but I hadn't expected it to be so busy.

After quick showers we were off out, starting with a quick drink in the Skuli bar before dinner (I tried a rather tasty Borg sheep shit Imperial Stout (yes!), while the others stuck to wine). Then it was on to the Fiskmarkuðarinn, which was as cool as its sister restaurant Grillmarkuðarinn that I'd eaten in the previous year. We ordered elaborate cocktails upstairs in the bar area before being led down to our table; clearly eating this late was normal in Reykjavík.

*iPhoneSE photo

We had an absolute feast, including a ceviche, sushi, lamb and langoustine tails. The crowning glory was possibly my dessert - an erupting volcano!

*iPhoneSE shot - not normally a fan of non-plate serving dishes, but lava is a good substitute!

*iPhoneSE shot - scallop and salmon sushi
*iPhoneSE shot - langoustine tails and delicious fish (can't remember what type)

*iPhoneSE shot - selection of tasty Icelandic lamb
*iPhoneSE shot - the coolest dessert ever - an active volcano (raspberry mousse lava!)

After dinner we headed along a ghastly street lined with noisy bars, which reminded me a bit of film clips of the English lager louts in Spain! We walked up Laugarvegur and decided to have a last drink, and found that Kaffibarinn was open, and was now, in fact, a rather cool club. We stayed a while, had a couple of eye-wateringly-expensive drinks, and did a little dancing under the glitter ball; the music was awesome. I was feeling pretty tired, not having had a great deal of sleep since the others had arrived, so I headed back up the hill to the apartment, while the others went out for a last couple of drinks.

We didn't have to get up too early - our plans for the following morning involved packing up, picking up the re-sized rings from Orr, getting some breakfast and coffee, before heading to see Sigrún and Johannes. We parked close to the jeweller, and the lovely Heiða arrived to open up and give us the rings. I warned the others that Sigrún would put on a good spread, but we couldn't resist the massive pastries from the Brauð & Co bakery next to our previous apartment. It was great to see the pastry chef making the cinnamon rolls from huge long rolls.

*iPhoneSE shot - the making of the cinnamon rolls

*iPhoneSE shot - the wonderful Brauð & Co

Feeling a little stuffed we then drove to Álftanes, where Sigrún welcomed us with a massive table full of delicious food. We managed to eat a fair amount, in spite of not feeling terribly hungry - always such a treat! Next stop was to drive towards the airport, fill the car up and drop it off at Pro-Car. Thankfully there was no damage, and they delivered us to the airport, which was heaving as usual (I just read today that they've celebrated their seven millionth customer of 2017!). We did a little duty free shopping (I picked up some more beers and licorice chocolates) and then it was time to board. I had an emergency row window seat, which was nice. The view as we left was a lovely as ever, flying over the Reykjanes peninsula, with a last glimpse of the Westman Islands before we left Iceland.

As we approached Gatwick there was a lovely sunset. Always a nice welcome back.

Unfortunately we had to stack a little, so arrived back late, and then the trains were a mess, so I didn't arrive home until 10.45pm, after an expensive, late Uber trip from Clapham Junction (shoulda got the bus!).

*iPhoneSE shot - waiting forever at Gatwick

I'll be back to Iceland in March (already booked in June!) so it no longer feels so sad to leave. It had been a great trip, but felt rushed as usual (I always try to fit in way too much, and this trip was even worse than usual - I'd driven 2,413km!). It had been great to share the past few days with friends, and discover some amazing new places - both the Westfjords and the waterfalls in the south-west. I'm sure I'll be back to the Westfjords soon, but I'm very much looking forward to returning to the icy bits and my favourite yellow cottage in the South-East on my next trip.

Click here for blog from Day 8 - A Little Bit of Golden Circle...