Day 13 was our last full day in Iceland and we spent the morning lounging about, looking through pictures from the day before, and I went for a walk on the beach near our cottage.
Just like our 2006 visit to Iceland, our last full day had the best weather of the whole trip, so after lunch we finally decided that we didn’t need to spend our entire final day sitting around and we headed back into Reykjavik for a guided walking tour of the city.
There are bunches of guided city tours from which to choose but we opted for the “Free Classic Tour” with City Walk. Our tour was led by the very knowledgeable and entertaining owner of the business, Martin, who operates his tours on a tip basis only.
We met our large group at Austurvöllur, the park in front of the Alþingi (Parliament Building). This park is where Reykjavikians stage all of their political protests, including the Kitchenware Revolution (Búsáhaldabyltingin) of 2009 in which they banged on pots and pans with wooden spoons to protest the financial crisis and demanded the resignation of government officials.
Martin led us through the city, telling us about the history of the Iceland all the way back to the Vikings. He talked about the odd Icelandic cuisine (although he said that they mostly eat Dominos pizza), the financial crisis, and the strained relationship with Denmark. He showed us the oldest tree in Iceland, located in Fógetagarðinum, the beautiful concert hall, Harpa, and the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first permanent settler of Iceland in 874.
The oldest tree in Iceland
The windows of Harpa Concert Hall
At one point Martin gave us a little lesson in the Icelandic language. Check out the video below in which Martin demonstrates the pronunciation of all 17 of the Icelandic vowel sounds.
After our delightful tour, we strolled around Tjörnin, a very large pond in the middle of the city. Tjörnin is a birdwatchers paradise and the view of the city across the pond is stunning.
Female Mallard Duck
The view of the city across Tjörnin (be sure to click on this one to see it BIG)
We also came upon a bunch of beautiful flowers on the shore of the pond that are surely very close cousins of our Rocky Mountain Columbines.
After our stroll around Tjörnin, we headed to the waterfront to visit the beautiful sculpture, Sólfar (The Sun Voyager), by Jón Gunnar Árnason. According to the artist, this sculpture was designed as an ode to the sun symbolizing light and hope.
We then headed back to our cottage by the sea. I later returned to our beach for one last Icelandic sunset.
Don’t forget to click on the images above to see larger versions. View more images from Day 13 HERE.
The Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lónið) is most likely Iceland’s #1 tourist destination and was first on our agenda on Day 12 of our visit. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that keen on going to the Blue Lagoon, but as it was a Bucket List item for Mom, what could I do but acquiesce??
The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon filled with the effluent from a nearby geothermal power plant called Svartsengi. According to Wikipedia:
Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.
We were told by a staff member that the lagoon was “discovered” by a couple of men who were building a radio tower nearby. They spotted the blue water pooling in the lava rocks and decided to take a break and have a soak. It was commercialized and opened to the public in 1992.
As a belated birthday/Mother’s Day gift for Mom, I had purchased the Luxury Package for each of us, which included a bunch of stuff that you don’t get with the Standard Package. The best part was having access to the “Exclusive Lounge” (and our own private shower/changing room) and being completely pampered during our stay. We had an early morning reservation and were squired about by our very own personal attendant, Pétur. Pétur was absolutely adorable and even graciously attempted to teach us how to say a few words in Icelandic, although his efforts were largely wasted on us. Have I mentioned that Icelandic is a very difficult language?
One of the perks of the Exclusive Lounge was a humongous bowl of fruit. Knowing how expensive fruit is in Iceland and being rather produce-starved by that point in our journey, I totally gorged myself on fruit, determined to get my money’s worth in fruit alone!! After relaxing in the lounge for a bit, we decided to take the plunge into the lagoon. The Exclusive Lounge had its own indoor mini-lagoon and a private entrance into the main lagoon.
We made our way out into the lagoon and over to the silica pots. It is customary to scoop a handful of gooey white silica mud from these pots and smear it all over your face. You then bob around the lagoon with this mud on your face until it starts drying. (Sorry, there are no photos of this). You then rinse it off your face and marvel at how smooth and youthful your skin has suddenly become.
We sampled all of the other features of the place, including a sauna, a thunderous waterfall that absolutely pummels your body into submission, and a “swim up” bar. After bobbing around in the lagoon for a while, we spent the remainder of our allotted time hanging out in the lounge in our fluffy white robes, eating more fruit and chatting with the other Exclusive people. Our time was over before we knew it and we had to rush to get showered and changed before they kicked us out.
Next on the agenda was lunch at the Lava Restaurant. I was a bit apprehensive about this as it was HORRENDOUSLY expensive and there wasn’t a whole lot of food on the menu that either of us could/would eat. I finally decided on the Cauliflower (Cauliflower, capers, fennel, shallot onion, almonds) and Mom got the Salad (Hispi cabbage, rucola, eggplant, beans, radish, parmesan cheese).
They were both somewhat edible. For dessert, Mom got the Crème Brûlée and I got the “Ástarpungar” & Caramel, both also somewhat edible. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were amused by the many patrons of this very fancy restaurant who showed up in their bathrobes.
We had asked Pétur for some advice earlier about what other sights there were to see in the area, and he told us that Heidi was the person we wanted to talk to about that. So while we were eating, Heidicame over and chatted with us for quite some time, wrote down some notes and even printed a map for us. She was so very delightful and informative, and told us of an area we absolutely HAD to visit because it was “magical.”
After lunch and the obligatory souvenir shopping, we headed off in the direction of Grindavík, a fishing town on the south coast of the peninsula Reykjanes. We drove east for a ways, then turned onto Highway 42, which first led us to a strange green lake called Grænavatn (“Green Lake”) that is apparently an explosion crater and is filled with inexplicably green water.
Grænavatn is situated in a geothermal area called Krýsuvík and just up the road from the weird green lake is a geothermal field called Seltún. It was very colorful had lots of bubbling and steaming things.
Next up was a large lake called Kleifarvatn.
The geology in this area is quite fascinating. Kleifarvatn sits on top of an arm of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and after a big earthquake in 2000, this lake lost about 20% of its surface area, presumably disappearing into rifts on the lake bottom created by the earthquake. The lake is said to be inhabited by a serpent-like monster. We didn’t see it.
Down the road, we saw these fish drying on open-air racks. Dried fish (“hardfiskur“) appears to be a staple of the Icelandic diet.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful.
Feel free to visit the gallery containing these and a bunch more photos from Day 12 HERE.
After our rewarding but exhaustingly long day on Day 10, we spent the entire morning and into the early afternoon of Day 11 relaxing and being generally lazy (two things at which we both happen to excel). It was great. We finally decided after lunch that we needed to get out of the house. We jumped in the trust little Chevy Spark and drove into the capital city of Reykjavik to see some of the sights there. Reykjavik was about a 15-20 minute drive from our house by the sea, so it was really nice to not to have to spend a lot of time in the car.
After driving around the heart of Reykjavik for quite some time trying to find a FREE place to park (our Dutch roots run deep), we found a really nice (FREE) spot not too far from Hallgrímskirkja, which was what we most wanted to visit anyway. Yay for us!
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church with very impressive and unique architecture that is visible for miles in all directions. We had visited this church during our 2006 Iceland trip but were unable to go inside or up the bell tower because a wedding was taking place while we were there. We were very happy on this visit to find both the interior and the tower to be open to the public.
The construction of Hallgrímskirkja began in 1945 and took 36 years to complete. The building was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson to resemble the columnar basalt that can be found throughout Iceland.
The interior of Hallgrímskirkja lacks the ornate decoration of other large European churches but there is definite beauty in its minmalism.
The two things that stood out for me, however, were the rock crystal baptismal font and the beautiful pipe organ.
After wandering around inside for a bit, we purchased our tickets to take the elevator up to the bell tower. (The elevator sure beat the 387 steps up to the top of Notre Dame in Paris)! From the tower, you get a really great bird’s-eye-view of the city.
Next on the agenda was a bit of souvenir shopping. From Hallgrímskirkja we headed down Skólavörðustígur, which eventually meets up with Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street. One thing I noticed during this stroll that Reykjavik has a lot of interesting graffiti.
We hit pretty much every souvenir shop along the way and I must say that all of the shops had pretty much the same stuff so it got old fairly quickly.
On the way back to the car, we passed Hallgrímskirkja again and the sky was bluer and it was so much prettier that it had been earlier.
A note about the statue in the plaza in front of Hallgrímskirkja: The statue of Leif Erikson by Alexander Stirling Calder was a gift to Iceland from the United States in 1930 that commemorated the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament, established at Þingvellir in 930 AD.
Back at the house, I decided to go out again and look for a nearby geocache. (If you don’t know about geocaching, check it out HERE. It’s a lot of fun). It was quite an interesting drive to get there and when I came to a closed gate, I decided to continue on foot. Not a good idea. The whole area is apparently an Arctic Tern breeding ground and Arctic Terns do NOT take kindly to intruders. They’re actually quite vicious and frightening. They hover over your head screeching and then swoop down to attack your head. It’s the stuff of which nightmares are made.
After taking close to 30 videos of terns trying to kill me, I gave up on crossing that field to look for the geocache and headed back to the house. On the way back, I photographed some of the abundant bird life and another beautiful Icelandic horse.
Later on, after a delicious dinner of cheese and potato soup with broccoli and white wine (not sure if that’s the proper pairing, but… who cares?), I headed back down to the beach to watch another sunset over the Greenland Sea. It was not QUITE as spectacular as the sunset on our first day there, but definitely worth staying up for!
Thus ended Day 11. A few additional photos can be found HERE.
From the geothermal area of the Haukadalur Valley, we continued to head east on Route 35 through verdant farmland with the usual abundance of Icelandic sheep and horses. Our final Golden Circle destination on Day 10 of our Iceland trip was Gullfoss (“Golden Waterfall”), a very powerful and impressive stair-step waterfall on the river Hvítá (“White River”), which originates in the Highlands in Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjokull (“Long Glacier”).
Just past the turnoff to Gullfoss, the paved Route 35 turns into the unpaved F35, known as the Kjölur route. F roads are known as mountain roads (leading me to believe that the “F” stands for “fjall,” which means mountain) and it is actually illegal to travel in 2-wheel drive cars on those roads (so perhaps the “F” actually stands for “forbidden”). Regardless, we definitely weren’t allowed to go there with our little Chevy Spark, but we at least got to stand on the very edge of the forbidden interior zone and take a peek at what lies beyond the pavement.
After arriving at Gullfoss, we first walked along the trail that follows the rim of the canyon above the spectacular falls. The tiny people standing on the rocks next to the falls far below really give some perspective as to how massive these falls really are.
This is a really great spot from which to capture a few panoramic images if your picture-taking device is capable of doing so.
After exploring the rim, I decided to brave the rain and the copious amount of spray from the falls and headed down the wooden stairs and the path that takes visitors to the level of the river. (After descending the many, many stairs and realizing that I would also have to climb UP those stairs later, I kind of wished that I had just moved the car down to the lower parking lot).
Viewing and photographing Gullfoss from above doesn’t come close to the experience of being up close and personal and feeling the immense power of the waterfall as it plunges into the inner gorge quite literally right at your feet.
It was really hard tearing myself away from this amazing place, but I had left my Mom sitting in the car all by her lonesome, plus it was getting kind of late and we had a bit of a drive ahead of us.
On the way back to our little house by the sea, we took a route that we had not taken before and it was quite delightful. We saw more beautiful farmland, plus amazing sunset views of the volcano Hekla, as well as our final glimpses of our favorite glacier, Eyjafjallajökull.
We got back to the house close to midnight after a very long but rewarding day of visiting some Iceland’s most amazing natural wonders.
Don’t forget to click on the images above to see larger versions. View more images from Part 3 of Day 10 HERE.
The next stop on the Golden Circle tour on Day 10 was the Haukadalur geothermal area.
This area is commonly known as Geysir after its historically most famous feature, a geyser called Geysir. The word “geyser” obviously comes from the word “geysir” which comes from the Icelandic verb “geysa” which means “to gush.” However, Geysir very rarely gushes any more. These days the big draw is another geyser called Strokkur (“The Churn”). Strokkur proves that it is the much more cooperative geyser by erupting about every 5-10 minutes.
According to Wikipedia:
Strokkur was first mentioned in 1789, after an earthquake unblocked the conduit of the geyser. Its activity fluctuated in the 19th century; in 1815 its height was estimated to be as much as 60 metres. It continued to erupt until the turn of the 20th century, when another earthquake blocked the conduit again. In 1963, upon the advice of the Geysir Committee, locals cleaned out the blocked conduit through the bottom of the basin, and the geyser has been regularly erupting ever since.
We watched and photographed Strokkur’s frequent eruptions for quite some time. The coolest part about Strokkur is that right at the beginning of the eruption, a gorgeous blue bubble forms and lingers for just a second or two, then the actual eruption bursts forth.
My favorite geothermal experience of the day was the part where Strokkur let loose with a particularly effusive gush that completely drenched the majority of the lingering tourists, including Mom and me. (<— Click there to see the results of the drenching). The water smelled of rotten eggs and was surprisingly not scalding hot. I found it highly amusing AND I captured a slow motion video of the entire eruption. It was awesome! (Be sure to watch the video in full-screen mode). I have now crossed “Take an unexpected rotten-egg-smelling shower in a geyser” off my bucket list.
After the shower, we wandered around a few more of the other hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles in the area, but opted not to hike to the top of Laugafell (“Hot Spring Mountain”) as we were wet, cold, and hungry and it was raining.
After a pleasant-enough dinner at the cafeteria connected to the local gift shop plus a wee bit of shopping, we briefly pondered whether or not to hit the final stop of the Golden Circle, Gullfoss. It had already been a very long day, it was close to 7:00 pm and we were very tired and very far away from our little cottage by the sea. But hey, we had already come this far and it would have been a shame not to complete the circle, so we stalwartly forged ahead.
Stay tuned for Gullfoss!
As always, you can click on any of the photos above to see a larger version. Check out many more Day 10 – Haukdalur photos HERE.
If you’d like to watch Strokkur erupt with your very own eyes without leaving that comfortable chair you’re sitting in, check out the webcam that is pointed right at the geyser. As long as there’s light, you shouldn’t have to wait for long. Click there –> http://www.livefromiceland.is/webcams/geysir/
The agenda for our 10th day in Iceland was the famous “Golden Circle” (<–click there to see our route), which consists of the following ultrapopular tourist destinations: Þingvellir National Park, the Haukadalur geothermal area (commonly referred to as Geysir), and Gullfoss. First up was Þingvellir.
Þingvellir is an extremely interesting area both historically and geologically. The Alþingi (“Parliament”) was established at Þingvellir in the year 930 AD and remained there until 1798. The Lögberg (“Law Rock”) was the centerpiece of the Alþingi and was a natural platform for holding speeches. Every year when the people assembled at the Alþingi, the elected lögsögumaður (“lawspeaker”) would preside over the assembly at the Lögberg and recite, from memory, the entire body of laws. No one knows the exact location of the Lögberg, but a likely spot is marked with a flagpole.
Of course, it is the geology of Þingvellir that I personally find most fascinating, since I am a major geology nut. Þingvellir National Park is situated in a large rift valley that is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the divergent plate boundary between the North American and European tectonic plates. Iceland is one of very few places on Earth where a divergent plate boundary makes an appearance on land and Þingvellir is the one spot in Iceland where these plate dynamics are most evident. The area is filled with a veritable swarm of fissures where the two plates are tearing apart at a dizzying rate of 7mm (1/3 inch) per year.
The most dramatic evidence of the rifting in Þingvellir is called Almannagjá, where the rifting forms a canyon. The left side of the photo below marks the eastern boundary of the North American plate.
The next photo shows the opposite end of Almannagjá and the North American plate is on the right side here.
Öxará (“Axe River”) flows through part of Almannagjá and at one spot in the river is a grim little pool called Drekkingarhylur, where, up until the early 18th century, adulterous women met their demise.
Öxará drops into Almannagjá further upstream as the lovely waterfall called Öxarárfoss.
On the way back to the car after visiting Öxarárfoss, we took a little detour into a beautiful old forest of evergreen trees, quite the rarity in Iceland.
I discovered something interesting about Almannagjá while I was doing a little bit of research for this blog post. In 2011, a new fissure manifested in the south end of the canyon, right in the middle of the walking path that multitudes of visitors used every day to visit Almannagjá. Scientists speculate that the fissure may have begun to form as a result of an earthquake in 2000 and had been covered with a fairly thin layer of gravel and dirt. The path into the south end of Almannagjá was closed for quite some time while a wooden walkway was constructed to prevent people from falling into the 32-foot deep crack. Compare the next photo with the new walkway to the one below it, which I took from close to the same spot in June, 2006. (Also notice the lack of PEOPLE in the 2006 photo. Tourism in Iceland has increased significantly since our first visit).
I could have happily wandered around the fascinating fissures of Þingvellir for the rest of the day but it was already mid-afternoon and we had a ways to drive to the other Golden Circle spots. So off we went.
Next up is the Haukadalur geothermal area (aka Geysir)… stay tuned!
As always, you can click on any of the photos above to see a larger version. Check out many more Day 10 – Þingvellir photos HERE.
Our first task on Day 9 was to get up way earlier that we would have preferred in order to catch the ferry back to the Mainland. Since we hadn’t had time for breakfast (plus the hotel breakfast was WAY too expensive), we ended up having a most delicious pastry and coffee on the ferry. Again the ride was enjoyable but uneventful.
Looking back on Heimaey
Approaching the Mainland – Eyjafjallajökull
After arriving at the ferry terminal at Landeyjahöfn, we backtracked on the Ring Road just a bit to visit a very popular waterfall called Saljalandsfoss.
The best part about Saljalandsfoss is that the cliff behind the falls is undercut, enabling adventurous visitors to walk behind the waterfall. After waiting for the busloads of tourists to clear out, I donned my raincoat and headed up towards the falls while Mom waited patiently and took photos and videos of my adventure. Walking behind the falls was a really fun experience and I got completely soaked in the process.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s a brief behind-the-falls video:
So anyway, now Saljalandsfoss is my favorite waterfall in Iceland.
We finally got back on the road and pointed the car in the direction of Reykjavik. We stopped again at the really cool waterfall, Urridafoss that we had visited on our first day, and then stopped for lunch at our favorite petrol station in Selfoss for another pizza (me) and burger (Mom).
Our next and final accommodation was a little house located near the Greenland Sea on a peninsula called Alftanes just southwest of Reykjavik. We had originally planned to stay right in the middle of Reykjavik, but this place that we found on AirBnB was a gem and just a 3-minute walk to the beach.
On our way through the neighborhood, we stopped and visited with some more horses.
After settling in to our new home for the next 5 nights, we relaxed for a good long while and ate some yummy soup for dinner. Later in the evening, I walked to the beach and saw that the sky and clouds were showing some promise for a great sunset.
I checked the weather app on my phone and noted that the sun would be setting at 11:51pm. Yikes! I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay up that late, but I could tell that the sunset was going to be something special, so about an hour before sunset, I bundled up, gathered up my multiple cameras, and headed for the beach. And boy, was I glad I did!
It was quite spectacular and people literally talked about that sunset for days afterward. It was hard tearing myself away because it just kept getting better and better, but at 12:30am I finally called it quits and went back to the house, which looked so cute bathed in a soft pink glow.
What an incredible way to end an already incredible day!
As always, you can click on any of the photos above to see a larger version. Check out many more Day 9 photos HERE.
On Day 8. it was time to say a sad goodbye to our little Cottage #7 on the Mið-Hvoll farm and move on to our next adventure. We had to set out pretty early to drive to Landeyjahöfn to catch the first ferry to Heimaey. Heimaey (“Home Island,” pronounced “hay-may”) is the largest and only populated island in Vestmannaeyjar (the Westmann Islands), a small group of volcanic islands just off the south coast of Iceland.
We made a few photography stops along the Ring Road on the way to the ferry terminal. (Click on any of the photos to see a larger copy and/or visit the whole gallery for Day 8 HERE).
Mama Whooper Swan and her 5 cygnets.
Vestmannaeyjar from the Ring Road
The 4-mile ride on the ferry Herjólfur was uneventful and we soon pulled into the harbor at Heimaey (“Home Island”). The harbor, the only one along the entire south coast of Iceland, was nearly destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1973. The entire population of the island, about 5,000 people, was was quietly and calmly evacuated to the mainland shortly after the eruption began in the wee hours of January 23, except a group of volunteers who stayed behind to attempt to mitigate the destruction caused by the eruption. Someone came up with the crazy idea of spraying cold seawater on the lava flow in an effort to prevent the lava from closing off the mouth of the harbor. About 400 buildings were destroyed during the 5-month eruption, but the harbor was saved. (If you’re interested in reading a more detailed account of this event, pick up a copy of John McPhee’s very fascinating book The Control of Nature. and read the chapter entitled “Cooling the Lava”).
Every year, the people of Heimaey celebrate the anniversary of the official “end of the eruption” with a festival called Goslokahátíð. Oddly enough, we just happened to have arrived on Heimaey on July 3, the traditional start of Goslokahátíð, which later became apparent by all of the black and orange balloons and such decorating the whole town.
Shortly after disembarking from the ferry, we boarded another boat, this time with the purpose of taking the “Circle Tour” around the island with Viking Tours. It was a fascinating trip replete with tons of information about the history, natural history, and geology/vulcanology of Vestmannaeyjar in general and Heimaey in particular. The beginning of the tour was all about the 1973 eruption and the “new lava.”
Some of the “new lava” and the volcano Eldfell (“Fire Mountain”) that produced it.
The captain of our boat was a local and it was interesting getting a first-hand account of life on Heimaey before, during, and after the eruption. A few times during the tour, he maneuvered the boat inside sea caves to check out the nesting birds and such, and in the last one, he pulled out a saxophone and demonstrated the excellent acoustics of the cave.
From the southern tip of Heimaey, one could see the newest island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, Surtsey, which is also the southermost point of Iceland. Surtsey was born during an eruption that started in 1963 and lasted for 3 1/2 years.
Surtsey is just left of center, way off in the distance.
After the extremely worthwhile and enjoyable boat tour, we went in search of a place to eat lunch and ended up at a slightly weird cafe that served pizza and hamburgers (and puffin, which, needless to say, we did NOT order), then we checked into the Gistihúsið Hamar, after which we set out on a drive around the island. I had considered not bringing the car over on the ferry to save a little money, but I was glad I did. The island was quite a bit larger than it looks on a map. Here are a few of the things we saw on our drive:
Toward the bottom of the photo above is Ræningjatangi (“Pirate Cove”). In July, 1627, a group of Algerian pirates landed at this spot and proceeded to take 242 of the residents captive – nearly half of the population of the island at that time. The captives were taken back to Algeria as slaves and the incident became known as the Turkish Invasion (because Algeria was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time).
In an effort to find puffins, which are allegedly QUITE abundant on Heimaey, I climbed over a fence and followed a path to the edge of the cliffs toward what I understood to be a puffin observatory, but unfortunately found only sheep , including this one that was blocking the path. I went around.
On our way back toward town, we stopped at a pasture along the road and visited with an adorable baby Icelandic horse and a few curious sheep. Did I mention that sheep outnumber people three to one in Iceland? I’m pretty sure I’ve photographed most of them.
This was by far my favorite sheep in all of Iceland.
From there, we drove over to the “new lava” area and poked around there a bit.
We finally got back to the hotel close to dinner time and then went out to look for another place to eat.
The first restaurant we tried was closed for dinner in preparation for the Goslokahátíð festivities. The second place, located in the adorable shopping district shown above, had several empty tables so we went in and sat down but were quickly informed that all of the tables were reserved. OK, fine. We finally ended up at Subway. And it was delicious.
Our overnight stay at the Gistihúsið Hamar was by far the least comfortable night in Iceland for us. There were no blackout curtains or shades in the very large window, there were very few electrical outlets for our plethora of gadgets and, worst of all, the Goslokahátíð celebration apparently required extremely loud and pounding music to be played right outside our window until 4:30am. The alarm to get us up and to the ferry on time came WAY too early the next morning.
On Day 7, we thought we’d give Dyrhólaey another try. If you’ll recall, we drove to the top of Dyrhólaey on Day 3 and couldn’t even get out of the car because the wind was blowing so hard. Day 7 was a much nicer day with much less wind and a morning that was absolutely free of rain, so it seemed like a good day for another attempt. After making an appointment to go horseback riding in the afternoon, we headed in the direction of Dyrhólaey. By the way, Dyrhólaey means “door hole island.” For obvious reasons. Except it’s not an island.
I decided first to stop at a parking lot below Dyrhólaey that seemed to be quite popular (i.e. crowded). I first noticed this breathtaking sight:
This large chunk of basalt sitting right on the beach is called Arnardrangur (“Eagle Rock”) because eagles used to nest here, although no one has seen any here since 1850. There were bunches of people clumped together taking photos toward the cliffs and I knew that could mean only one thing: PUFFINS!! And sure enough, there were puffins. Lots and lots of puffins.
Please note that the puffin in the last photo appears to be sitting on a puffling. Awwwww!!!
We spent an inordinate amount of time photographing puffins. They were quite plentiful and they are SO very adorable! We wandered around the area and got great views of the beach below Dyrhólaey, then went down to said beach and spent another inordinate amount of time there.
The photo above shows where a Dutch couple fell 40 meters down to the beach when the edge of the cliff gave way at the end of May this year. They both survived.
Oh, and there were more PUFFINS!!
With our horseback riding appointment rapidly approaching, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the puffin place and off we went back to the farm. As soon as we started driving back to the farm, the rain started. Of course. We were, however, absolutely DETERMINED to ride Icelandic horses on this trip so we went ahead with our plans.
We met up with our super nice guide, Deborah, then headed to the horse place and got our trusty steeds and ourselves all ready. Mom was assigned to a very handsome blond horse whose Icelandic name meant “Sunshine.” I got a brown and white fella whose name in Icelandic meant “Chief.” Mom’s horse was a slow-poke and mine kept trying to go back to the barn.
Neither of us had been on a horse in quite some time (and then some), so even getting ON them was an adventure. Icelandic horses are, in general, smaller than other horses but boy did those stirrups look high off the ground!! We kindly requested a box to stand on to facilitate the process. Mom made me promise not to film the horse-mounting process, so, being the good, obedient daughter that I am, that part will have be left to your collective imagination.
With Deborah expertly leading the way, we headed of toward the nearby black sand beach for our rainy, windy ride. Keep in mind that any photos taken DURING the ride are not very high quality as I was too busy trying to hold on for dear life to worry much about composition, focus, exposure and such. Plus it was raining. And REALLY windy.
Upon reaching the beach, Deborah asked, “Do you want to try going a little faster?” We both responded with a resounding, “NOOOOOOOOO!” But I think we went faster anyway. Icelandic horses have an unusual gait called the “tolt” which looks really smooth and easy, but to me it just felt bouncy.
This was the view of Dyrhólaey from our turn-around spot:
Since Mom didn’t dare let go of the reins to take photos during the ride, this is just about the only photo of me to commemorate the experience
As you can see, taking a selfie with a horse is not an easy task
So that was the last day of our stay on a farm near Vik, and what an eventful and memorable day it was!
Now that I’m actually BACK from Iceland, I’ll try to get caught up on my daily trip reports. It got a little overwhelming while we were there because we were SO busy, plus I took SO many photos (8,883 to be precise) and I just didn’t have time to go through them every day. Now where were we? Ah yes, Day 6…
On Day 6, we woke up to the usual rain, but carried on with our plans to visit the tiny hamlet Skógar and the nearby waterfall Skógafoss nonetheless. Skógafoss is an impressive waterfall that can be seen from the Ring Road but is best experienced up close. If you go, be sure to bring something to wipe the water off your camera lens because this waterfall produces a lot of spray. It’s possible to approach quite close to the falls, but you WILL get wet. And if you have a lot of patience, it might actually be possible to get a few photos without people in them (which is generally my preference).
Sometimes it’s nice, however, to leave some people in a photo to lend a sense of scale.
A trail that climbs up the right side of the waterfall leads adventurous visitors to loftier views of the falls. Continuing to follow the trail would lead one on a long trek over the Fimmvörðuháls Pass between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. We opted not to do this.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the Skógar Folk Museum, which contains thousands of artifacts and several reconstructed buildings from the settlement period of Iceland’s history. There is a fascinating reconstruction of a turf farm, where you could walk inside and get a good feel of what it was like to live on an Icelandic farm during that period.
The indoor part of the museum was extremely interesting and we could probably have spent hours inside perusing all of the thousands of exhibits, which included an entire reconstructed fishing boat.
Nearby there was also a Museum of Transportation, which we opted not to visit as it was getting quite close to closing time. We did opt for the apple cake and coffee in the coffee shop, however. Yum.
On our way back to the cottage, we decided to take a side road that led to a glacier called Sólheimajökull. Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull and due to its location and shape, it is very sensitive to climate change. Sólheimajökull has retreated dramatically in the past decade which can be seen in the vast moraines that have been left behind. Visiting it was kind of depressing.
Sólheimajökull is one of the glaciers featured in a very interesting documentary called “Chasing Ice.” It’s on Netflix if you’re interested. You can also watch a time-lapse video of Sólheimajökull’s retreat HERE.
Back at the cottage on the farm, we were rewarded with our first semblance of a sunset since our arrival. The views of both Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull were also quite stunning and you can actually see both of them in the photo below. Eyjafjallajökull is to the left of the big rock island called Pétursey and Mýrdalsjökull is on the right above the farm. (Click on any of the photos in this post for larger views).