February in Iceland 2011

I didn’t keep a blog earlier in the year but I did go to Iceland…here are some pictures from then…

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Vík & Dyrhólaey

With spirits lifted by Jökulsárlón and with a sense of elation at having seen such a wonderful sight we headed back. The weather had become much better than the early morning that’s not to say it hadn’t cleared up though.

Although it did allow the chance to see Reynisdrangar which are the black basalt columns rising up from the sea, that adorn every postcard and bit of merchandise to do with Vík. Unfortunately we couldn’t get closer to them due to the sea which was one of the roughest I’d seen during my stay in Iceland.

Vík is one place I’d like to see under fair weather conditions as well although I’m glad to have seen it under mildly stormy conditions.

On the way out of Vík, there is a place called Dyrhólaey and turning off here to have a look would be the final stop before heading back to Reykjavík.

From there it was a straight drive onto Reykjavík and as darkness fell I couldn’t help but be pleased that the trip had been made. As always when you drive back from somewhere, the journey seems to take that little bit longer or seem further away than when you started as instead of that journey into the unknown which is fueled by anticipation you retread past ground.

Jökulsárlón

We woke on Friday to a wet and windy day with very little visibility. The original plan had been to rise early and to see the black sand beach at Vík before going onto Jökulsárlón. Yet even without my glasses and bleary eyed after a night of interrupted sleep I could tell that we wouldn’t see anything and suggested a lie in of sorts for an extra hour. The breakfast buffet in the hostel was excellent with a wide choice of homemade jams and bread and pancakes.

The first thing was to put fuel into the car and it also allowed the chance just to look back behind the petrol station building to see if we could see the Reynisdrangar but no such luck so bad was the visibility.

With the road slick and the rain seemingly not looking as if it was going to stop we left Vík. As I sit here more than a week now trying to recall the trip, I remember vividly the bizarreness of taking an almost empty road where the only other traffic seemed to be going in the opposite direction. Once the direction had been decided it was a matter of keeping the car on the road and putting your faith in a journey into the unknown. Spurred on by previous images of Jökulsárlón, I drove on.

One of the difficulties in being the driver in Iceland is that you can’t take pictures of the landscape as you speed through it. From Vík once you’ve passed through Kirkjubæjarklaustur, the ring road takes you through mossy green lava fields into resolutely black sandscape passing over water that heads down to the sea. It is a surreal sight as there is very little vegetation and you can only equate it to being on another planet not that we ever have…(although I do know some people that make me wonder if they do come from another planet and they probably wonder the same thing about me!) The order of lava fields and black sandscapes might be mixed up there…

Empty road like this also made me think of post-apocalyptic film scenarios…

As we made our way across the Ring Road, a strange sight greeted us…

In 1996, when the volcano under the Grímsvötn lakes belonging to the Vatnajökull glacier erupted, and the river Skeiðará flooded the land in front of Skaftafell National Park. The jökulhlaup reached a flow rate of 50,000 cubic meters per second, and destroyed parts of the Hringvegur (Ring Road or Iceland Road #1). The flood carried ice floes that weighed up to 5000 tons with icebergs between 100-200 tons striking the Gigjukvisl Bridge of the Ring Road (the ruins are well marked with explanatory signs today as a popular tourist stop)

Note: The above text is taken from Wikipedia, the picture is mine though.

A sudden break in the weather revealed an amazing sight in the distance:

Now with the bit firmly within my teeth and renewed by the sight, I drove on…

On the left is Skaftafellsjökull and Svinafellsjökull is on the right. Both are part of Vatnajökull, which is the largest ice cap in volume in Europe.

More shots from closer:

Still so much to explore…Skatafell, was to the left here but such was my determination to get to Jökulsárlón this time, I doubt I could have been swayed. With an awareness at the back of mind at how long the drive back would be…there was a schedule to be loosely yet strictly kept to if possible.

Jökulsárlón, far exceeded my expectations and did leave me almost speechless. You get to a small bridge and a sign in typically modest Icelandic style tells you that you’re there, the other cars there give it away as a place to stop. It is a wonderful sight and one that takes your breath away…no matter if you’ve seen other people’s photographs it really is one of the most incredible things to see.

These chunks of ice flow down in to the ocean through a channel.

The icebergs are constantly shifting and pieces move and rise from beneath the surface at intermittent intervals. The shapes and scale of the ice is really a wonder as is the colour that in other people’s photographs always seemed too blue to be true.

As we sat in the cafe looking at the boats that could drive into the lagoon wishing that we could still go on them, I noticed that a few people were standing in one of them. Without even finishing my coffee, we dashed out to see if they would be going out onto the lagoon. Next thing you know we were given fetching bright orange life jackets and were trundling out into the lake.

There are so many pictures to choose from and I remember watching in semi anguish as the battery display showed red…

The boat stopped at one point and the support dingy that was either ahead or behind us as we maneuvered around pulled up alongside to hand a chunk of 1000 year old ice to our guide. Here I am with the clearest hunk of ice and in my orange, orange life jacket…

A funny thing happened out at Jökulsárlón after the boat ride. Returning back into the cafe for a coffee to warm up I spied a vaguely familiar face from England at another table but thought there could be no way. I tried listening as best as I could for the hint of English from the table but to no avail. In the end I just called out…’Miriam?’

Would you believe it? Of all the places to run into somebody that you know, how many people would bet on you running into somebody that you know 5 hours from the capital of Iceland let alone in Iceland. I live in Hatfield at present, Miriam lives 20 minutes away in St Albans yet we never run into each other…

Jökulsárlón still boasts one more unforgettable experience if your mind hasn’t already been blown away by the sheer scale and beauty of the large pieces in the lagoon. Literally crossing the ring road takes you down onto the beach towards the sea.

Here strewn across the fine black sand are pieces of ice varying in size and allowing for up close examination of the surfaces…

At one point a huge piece of ice the size of a large wardrobe was taken into the sea travelling so fast as to be one of those things that you have to confirm with another person. The magic of the place was enhanced by spotting seals swimming along the coast as well.

A large part of the beauty of Jökulsárlón for me is the ephemeral knowledge that it will be different every time that you visit it, for here the passage of time is evident. New pieces break off and will move on and be lost allowing for new ones to come and to put awe and wonder into subsequent visits and for new visitors. For me it was worth the effort to get there and by far exceeded my expectations.

We did make a couple of stops on the way back but I’ll put those in a separate post as for me, Jökulsárlón deserves one of its own.

The route over 2 days. Day 1 A to D(lunch) then D to B. Day 2 B to C and then C to D in one hit.


On the road again…Sauðárkrókur to Vík to Jökulsárlón Part One

I got to drive three different cars during my stay and I think a big part of the pleasure of it is that there is no traffic on the ring road. Its only in the city where you have the bane of driving…other people!

As some of you may know, this was my third visit to Iceland and there was still one place I hadn’t been to and have to admit to being very jealous of others who had made it there.

At some point in any stay in Iceland you will see pictures from Vík and Jökulsárlón advertising a trip or in any guide book. Jökulsárlón has also been used as a location in Hollywood films.

So on Thursday morning, September 29th, I left Skagaströnd early in the morning for Sauðárkrókur to rent another car. It felt a little like leaving like a thief in the night as I didn’t physically get to say ‘bye’ to some people but also knew I’d see some of them in Reykjavík before I left Iceland.

I made up an itinerary of sorts that would take in both places and casually noted other places along the way that I wanted to see. Joining me on this trip was one of the September artists, Annika.

It takes approximately three hours and a bit to get to Reykjavík by car depending on how many stops you make along the way to either take photos or to go to the toliet.

The drive down was pleasant enough and the weather held with a slightly overcast sky with some drizzle.

We stopped in Reykjavík for a quick lunch of lobster soup at the harbour in Saegreifinn – The Sea Baron. They also have fish kebabs ranging from cod, redfish, plaice, shrimp to whale and other catch as well veggies. I had the whale and a potato kebab by way of a congratulatory dinner back in August. I think I had lobster soup there at least 4 times in 2 months.

Then it was back onto the Ringroad heading in the direction Vík, a prelude of the upcoming weather was to come as it turned wetter and more windy. It is those times that driving becomes a lot harder than just driving on a different side of the road although that’s not so bad when there’s so little traffic. However, the monotony of the wipers and the inability to see what’s around you is taxing and hypnotic and almost sends you asleep. At times the ‘psycho’ mode of the wipers came into use. In England its pretty rare that we use ‘psycho’ wipers, you all know the setting…when the wipers seem to be moving comically fast.

One of the amazing things about driving in Iceland is that you’ll find yourself suddenly driving alongside some amazing landscape that invariably will amaze you. The first place I stopped at was suggested by Ólafía, the residency co-ordinator and Annika woke up slightly dazed but in turn amazed by Seljalandsfoss.

It drops 60 metres, 200 feet over the edge and has the added wonder of letting you walk behind it…

A little way on from here is another waterfall Skógafoss, different and no less spectacular but in a different way. It has the same drop as Seljalandsfoss but is much wider at around 25 metres and the water appears almost as one white fast moving curtain.

Rain does make for interesting pictures…:s

Just to prove I was there!

Then it was onto Vík, we did pass Eyjafjallajökull, yes, that one, the one that grounded everything in 2010. The rain was getting worse as was the visibility and we arrived in as most things were closing and went to the only place that was open…a grill at the petrol station.

I had the Commissionaire’s Burger which consisted of bacon, ham, burger in a bun topped with a fried egg accompanied with fries and fried vegeatables and drunk with an Appelsin. I did manage to eat all of it, guess I was hungry!

Then it was onto the hostel which we eventually found after a false start and by driving back to the petrol station to confirm the location as being down a short curving gravel path.

The rain continued to lash down and the wind was not exactly howling nor whistling nor singing but making its presence known to all…

Kálfshamarsvík

Close to Skagaströnd is Kálfshamarsvík a small cove that at the beginning of the 20th century held a small settlement of no more than a hundred but was abandoned at the time of the depression around 1940. No matter how many times I see them in Iceland, I am fascinated and amazed by basalt columns. More often than not the cross-section is that of a hexagon.

There is also a lighthouse there striking in its stark whiteness and height. Sadly for us the weather was bad and the wind really was stingly cold on the hands and so we stayed only for a short time.

(Not a ninja mission or a scene from ‘Brazil’)