Thursday, December 13, 2012

Iceland {Part VI}

Day 11:
  • Boat ride back to Bolungarvik
  • Drive South toward Reykjavik
  • See the sights in the Golden Circle
Fun fact:
  • The first geyser to be written about by modern Europeans was a huge geyser in the Southwest of Iceland. Its name was Geysir and it was the geyser after which all other geysers were named! Geysers!

The boat came as scheduled, but the ride back was a little harrowing. The winds out on the open water were much higher than a few days before, creating one-meter-high waves that caused the boat to roll and pitch distressingly. One poor kid vomited on and off the whole three hours, and our bags were soaked by the end.

We made it to dry land and hit the road toward Reykjavik.

couldn't pass up Dynjandifoss

pit stop at this farm and creamery with laser-guided milking machines!

cheese, ice cream and a buggy windshield

After taking an unplanned detour through the countryside on an F road (too stressed for pictures, apparently) we made it to Þingvellir (Þ pronounced th). This place is not much to look at - just some more beautiful countryside, really - but it is a site of incredible social, political, and geological importance, and one of Iceland's most visited sights.

Þingvellir is where the first parliament was established in 930. Politicians assembled here from its inception until 1798, although they only held legislative and judicial powers until 1271. In the early days there was only one paid member, the Lawspeaker, who would climb up on a rock and recite entire laws by memory to the assemblymen. Commoners also used this meeting place for markets, festivals, and feasts.

Geographically it is interesting for a couple of reasons: it is beside Iceland's largest natural lake, Þingvallavatin, and it is right on top of the separating tectonic plates of the mid-Atlantic ridge, which creates cool surface features like fissures, and causes occasional earthquakes.

the flag marks the site of the Lawspeaker's rock

wide open space...when suddenly...

...fissure! and the North American plate!

We left Þingvellir at about 10pm, determined to see all the Golden Circle sites by the end of the day. Next up: active Strokkur geyser and site of the sleeping geyser of infamy, Geysir.

We watched Strokkur explode three times and pushed on. Next stop: Gullfoss. Time: 11:30pm. We're gonna make it!

i'm convinced that midnight sunset is the best time to see this

We drove back towards Þingvellir and found a grassy campsite for our last night in tents!

Day 12:
  • Drive to Reykjavik
  • Check into hostel
  • Shower!
  • See the city
Fun facts: 
  • There are no Starbucks or McDonald's chains in Iceland!
  • What is hakarl? It's shark that is caught, killed, buried underground for three months, cut into strips, and hung to dry for three more months before being consumed at traditional Icelandic festivals, or daily by tourists!
  • Iceland's current Prime Minister is a lady!

We left our campsite early and were in the city in no time. The task of getting all our camping gear and road trip grime out of the rental car was daunting, but the lovely rep at Iceland Car Rental let us take the car all the way to the hostel and they came to pick it up later. Fantastic!

We dumped our gear in the lobby of the swankier-than-expected Kex Hostel and went to get food and see a bit of the city before checking into our room. We walked along the waterfront, hit up an indoor market (where we sampled the famous putrefied shark), and saw one of the main streets downtown before retiring back to Kex for a thorough de-griming. Fortuitously, we checked into the hostel on the day of their Block Party - a 12-hour music show right on our patio that we enjoyed over beers, and during dinner, and in the shower, and then late into the evening.  

The Sun Voyager - famous waterfront sculpture

Kex bar/restaurant

loved the attention to detail - this was the bottom of my bunk

Kex Block Party

X marks our room - right above the stage
hipster central

A couple of sights from our first roam around the city:

windows of Harpa concert hall

statue of the Iceland's first prime minister, Hannes Hafstein

Landakotskirkja, Catholic cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja, Church of Iceland (Lutheran)

Next post will conclude the trip. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Iceland {Part V}

Day 9:
  • Catch the 0730 boat to Veidileysufjordur
  • Hike across beautiful Hornstrandir
  • Set up camp in Hornvik

Fun Facts:
  • Hornstrandir is the Northernmost peninsula in Iceland and is part of the Westfjords. It was established as a nature reserve in 1975 - there are no roads and very few homes. The only way to get around is by foot!
  • The mountains, steep sea cliffs, deep fjords and valleys, and harsh winters make for a chaotic landscape that very few find inhabitable! 
  • The area is home to arctic foxes and about 50 different seabirds, including puffins!
  • Here is a short video of some of the landscape in Hornvik, shot by an Icelander:!

setting out on a perfect day

riding the inflatable dinghy to the shore

lots of water and lush greenery

x marks where the trail crosses the saddle

C demonstrating a self-arrest with tent poles

on top

L crossing one of many snowfields being undercut by streams

into the valley

one of the arctic foxes living near our campsite

Day 10:
  • Day hike up to Hornbjarg cliffs
  • See puffins
  • Hike back out and camp near the boat launch

those are pretty blue skies for an uninhabitable Northernmost peninsula...

wicked looking jelly in the shallows (about 18" across the widest part of the bell)

shallow inlet crossing that was waist deep on our way back

arctic cotton flowers

perched at our first great view

the view in the other direction

C peering over the cliffs (see the trail cut into the left side of the field?)

steep descent down the other side (lots of birds perched on the rock face behind us)


After spending all morning and afternoon hiking the cliffs we decided to head back down even though we hadn't quite covered all the turf up there. We needed to get back to camp, break down, eat, and hike back over the snowy saddle and down to a spot close to where we'd be picked up in the morning. So, alas, we left the idyllic cliffs and meadows behind and started the long haul back. (I'm not positive, but I think this day may have broken my record for fastest transition between walking in ocean water and over a snowy pass.)

frigid snow runoff crossing (this was at 9:30pm)

back to the pick-up spot at 11pm, exhausted and freezing

Tomorrow: head back to civilization and onward towards Reykjavik!