We could hardly see the glacier which is apparently the same size as Luxembourg because of heavy mist. Neither did we manage to catch a performance of the Northern Lights.
But our second week in Iceland was still a very grand finale to our year’s road trip. This island is the most incredible place we’ve been to for wild, steaming, bubbling, scary nature. Of course, that has meant we have been sharing these amazing places with a lot of other people especially when you get to the Golden Circle of attractions near Reykjavik. And we are here at the tail end of the tourist season. Lordy knows how selfie-tastic it must get in the height of summer.
This week we started our travels well away from everyone and everything – on a 120-mile journey down route F35 through the highlands of Iceland’s interior. It’s a road which opens only in the summer…
…and takes you along gravel tracks through the Langjokull and Hufsjokull glaciers.
The landscape is remote and desolate and ideal if you are seeking solitude which is why we kept driving and didn’t disturb the cyclist in this hut.
…and the rough surface was hard going on the van and probably not ideal to be driving on without a spare tyre since last week’s puncture.
At some points, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to get any further.
We were very glad to be able to stop along the way with an overnight at a campsite beside the hot springs at Hveravellir.
The site once again didn’t offer electricity to campers (grumble, grumble) but did offer a natural hot pool within sight of the glaciers. So we warmed up nicely with the pool to ourselves at first…
…before it filled up with fellow campers. We chatted to two Czech couples who passed on their travel tip for managing Iceland on a budget…
…shop at ‘Bonus’ supermarket where the bread is “only” four times the price of home. Everywhere else, it’s ten times. Noted.
Back on the Route 35, stopping only to pick some bilberries…
..we reached the first of the three big attractions in the Golden Circle.
Here are the double cascades of the Gullfoss waterfall.
And attraction number two, here’s the Strokkar geyser where we joined the groups gathered around the pool of steaming water, watching and waiting for the whoosh….
…the powerful jet of boiling water gushing skywards every few minutes.
It was mesmerising. But after watching three or four gushes, it was time to move on to get the third of the Golden Circle attractions, Pingvellir National Park. The park holds a special place in Icelandic history because it’s where the first Icelandic parliament used to meet. And for students of geography, the park is special because it is located on a plain straddling the tectonic plates of North America and Europe.
The park’s friendly tourist information officer suggested a four-hour walk following a route around all the main sights. But you know how it is when someone is giving directions.
You hear the first one and then just smile and nod which explains how why we ended up down here…
…beating our way through bracken and scrabbling over rockfalls. It was hard going. That’s the last time I’m going walking through a fissure in the earth’s core let me tell you.
We were mighty relieved to finally reach a point where we could climb out of the crevasse and – a bit sheepishly – step past the ‘no entry’ sign…
….onto the path we should have been on.
It led to another waterfall….
…with the added interest of watching our fellow tourists adopt a variety of interesting poses.
Further on we watched enviously as fellow tourists prepared to snorkel in Silfra….
…where the dive is in the crack between the two continental plates and the glacier water is so clear, there is underwater visibility of over 100 metres.
And off they go…
Before heading to Reykjavik, we stopped off at the Fontana spa in Laugarvatn to see how they bake bread using the geothermal energy.
Here they are digging up the pot that was laid into the hot black sand 22 hours before.
And here’s the baked loaf…
..which was like a sweet rye flavoured cake and was delicious served lathered in butter.
Our first stop in Reykavik was to get the puncture fixed and then we headed to the city’s huge campsite (with electricity – hurrah!) The two American boys checking in ahead of me asked if they could camp for free in return for work (Yes they could) and clearly sensing they were on a roll here, did the campsite have any warmer sleeping bags they could borrow as they were a bit cold. (Yes they had). What nice people.
In Reykavik we had lunch in the Laundromat Cafe (thanks for the tip Cliona!), a stroll up the hill to the Cathedral and then a wander around the compact city centre…
…where as a tourist holding a map, I was just what these two Reykavik women needed. They were on a company treasure hunt and one clue asked for a photo of ‘a tourist with a map’.
I put on my best confused tourist face and obliged.
And just before it closed, there was time for a quick scooch around the Culture House. I asked the guy on the front desk if he knew what this painting by Icelandic artist Hulda Hákon was referring to, if any specific event.
The 2008 financial crash which devastated Iceland, he ventured at first before checking that it was dated 1995. ‘It must be about another crisis back then. We have them all the time like today, for example, the Icelandic Government has collapsed.’ And, indeed, it had in a very strange story involving the prime minister’s cover up of his father’s role in restoring the honour of a convicted rapist. I guess the PM must be feeling sorry for the mess he’s caused.
Down by the harbour front where the old fishing town is being reconstructed into a trendy district of bars and restaurants…
…we had an Icelandic beer, chatting briefly to Jacob from Denmark and Chance from Washington DC, both part of the team at the Icelandic video gaming company CCP (inventors of the Eve Online game).
I’m really not sure how the conversation queueing for a pint turned to the topic of the particular difficulties of the dating scene in Reykavik. Somehow it did and we heard about what sounds like a very useful app which makes your phone buzz if you are about to get cosy with your long lost brother.
And if we planned to stay on and eat in that restaurant, they recommended the horse fillet.
No thanks. I prefer my Icelandic horses like this…
…and anyway, it was Friday night and we needed to get some practice for life at home. So it was off to the pub, ‘The Drunken Rabbit’..
….and a curry in the ‘Shalimar’ across the road.
The drive out of Reykavik in very heavy mist was a taste of the weather to come for our last few days in Iceland.
We had decided to skip going to the Blue Lagoon and instead headed to Fludir to the Secret Lagoon instead. It is apparently Iceland’s oldest swimming pool.
Floating around on the noodles and eavesdropping on fellow floaters, we applauded ourselves on choosing it over the better known hot pool which (according to our eavesdroppees) is really expensive, overcrowded and you needed to reserve in advance.
Feeling very rested, we set off down the road to camp beside, yes that’s right, another waterfall. Iceland does a good line in waterfalls and the Skogafoss is a beauty. But I’m afraid to say that like the tourist I’d overheard saying they were ‘waterfalled out’ I left Stuart to climb up the steps to the top on his own.
But next morning we both went to the foot of the waterfall for an exhilarating facial in the spray.
We travelled on along the south coast, stopping off to look at the Myrdalsjokull glacier from the distance….
…and we stopped at a spot clearly designed to get the stone pile building itch out of your system. The tradition of making stone piles here as a good luck charm for your onward journey dates back hundreds of years. Now visitors are encouraged to build their own pile there – and only there.
As we drove closer to the Vatnajokull glacier – that’s the one the size of Luxembourg – the countryside started to look really strange. And the mist hadn’t lifted…
…so we could only catch the occasional glimpses of the largest ice cap of Europe…
…but we did see chunks of it as the glacier ‘calved’ (that’s a word I learnt this week) into the lagoon at Jokulsarlon.
Maybe on a bright sunny day, this lagoon would be magnificent but on the grey misty day we were there, it was magical.
There is a boat trip you can book to get closer to the icebergs but we were happy to view them from the lakeshore.
We did our own version of poo-sticks and played ‘escape the lagoon’. To play, pick your own chunk of ice and follow it’s trail…
….through the water. Will it get trapped by the bigger icebergs or make it all the way out of the lagoon, under the bridge and out to sea. We followed our mini-iceberg across the road…
… to the black sand beach, dotted with ice chunks big enough to sit on, and watched it head out to the North Atlantic.
Leaving the lagoon, we picked up hitchhikers Hanna from Bavaria and a bit further down the road Adrian from Hungary.
Iceland is a good place to hitchhike it sounds like. Both reported that their average waiting time for a lift was about 10 minutes. We dropped them off at Hofn and carried on along the Ring Road along the south coast where our American friends Rhonda and David had marked on our map a place we should stop for a coffee break.
They were right…the cafe at Hvari farm was unexpected.
…(saves me downloading the Icelandic keyboard) who works there for the summer, the cafe is in a converted sheep barn.
Like many other farmers in Iceland they are now diversifying into tourism and as well as the cafe which hosts live music in the summer, they have opened a hostel.
Still driving through heavy mist…
We arrived back in Seydisfjordur where we started our travels round Iceland two weeks ago.
That’s our ship there…
…ready to take us to Denmark on the first leg of our trek home. Just one more post to go. The end of our big trip is virtually here.