Roadtrip…Tuesday 30th August 2011 Part 3 – Part (ii)

Are you still in Iceland!?

The next stop on our drive around was Hverir where a couple of things strike you. The first is how bizarre it looks as moss covered or lava fielded or grassy areas give way to an area that at first glance looks brown like a desert, this was further reinforced by the ridiculously good weather we were having. After you’ve stopped and got out of the car in awe at the change in colour of the landscape, you’re struck immediately by this pungent smell of sulphur. Dotted around are blue-grey mud pools bubbling away either quite gently or more agressively, parts of the ground are stained yellow from sulphur. I will give credit here to the Rough Guide book as it explains briefly yet in an  about the steam vents and pools.

It really is quite something to hear bubbling mud pools, smell sulphur all around and then walk past steaming rock piles where you can feel the heat radiating out.

Some great pictures from Joseph Breikers below:

From there it was onwards to take a look at Viti a deep crater up in the hills around Krafla. Although at this point we had all sort of had a lull in energy and such a sensory overload that the crater was not exactly a let down but just a blur. The most memorable thing was one of the coach driver’s trying one of the most idiotic driving  maneuvers I  have been witness to.

While driving up the hill one of the coaches obviously on some tourist bus time clock of his own decided to try and overtake us. First he blows his horn then he tries to overtake but lacks the power to do so and then stalls his coach on a hill. Well we called him various names…numpty, muppet and other things that I shan’t repeat…the closest we got to road rage that day!

We didn’t even have the energy to walk around it…

I’d even shrunk by then!

We also saw this and tried to imagine the phonecall to the rental company:

After passing through Mr Wonka’s factory…

(Actually Leirbotn Power Station)

Then it was onto Dettifoss which is Europe’s most powerful waterfall, I don’t know how you measure such things but to get there we walked through yet another slightly weird but wonderful landscape.

As you near the waterfall you hear it before you see it. I may not know about waterfalls and how you go about measuring how powerful one is but what I do know is that it was one hell of a sound and really quite something to see water moving that fast.

The World’s weirdest boyband/rock group also took their album cover photo here:

I found a comfy seat there as well:

Also there further back from Dettifoss is Selfoss which is probably spectacular in its own right in a different way but we didn’t go and see it up close. Goðafoss had been a real treat and of the waterfalls we saw that day, I’d have to say Goðafoss was by far prettier but in terms of raw power and the awe that can come from that Dettifoss was something else.

I took over the driving from Detifoss and we headed through the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. The views were spectacular at certain points but the road very bumpy and I have no pictures as I was driving. We were getting more and more aware of the time as it was already close to 5 p.m and so things like museums would no longer be open except perhaps in Húsavík where a couple of museums wouldn’t be closing until 7 p.m.

One of the recommendations we had received before we left was to visit a place called Ásbyrgi. Getting out of the National park took much longer than anticipated as the road was not paved and so we drove much more slowly that intended. The surrounding area at Ásbyrgi is marked only by a small petrol station and there is no inclination of what awaits you. taking the turn for a golf club of all things and then following the road past it till the road ends takes you to a birch tree wooded area in itself unusual since there are hardly any trees in Iceland. The reward that awaits you after a short walk into the tree lined area is a pond at the back of which rises a vertical black cliff face. It encompasses you in a large horseshoe shape. Legend has it that it is the hoofprint of Óðinn’s eight- legged steed although of course their is also the scientific, geologists explanation but I prefer the idea of an eight-legged horse.

My reaction really was ‘F***ing Hell’ when I first came into the clearing where the pond was.

As is often the case with nature the photos really do not do the place justice but it is stored in my memory as one that rewarded me with true amazement as you came round the wooded corner. While it may have been modified to be somewhat tourist friendly with its wooden decking at the water’s edge and with a path through the tress clearly marked, it was a sweet reward. Only two us actually saw the pond area as the others rested back in the car park.

With the clock ticking we had an hour or so to get to Húsavík we set off again. We never really ran into much traffic at all during our travels but if anything I have now learnt is that it sometimes takes longer than you it will because of the landscape influencing the turns in the road or even just the landscape causing you to stop and to want to take photographs like this:

Húsavík museums for 7p.m was becoming a physical impossibility since we were in a rental car and not a time machine. We did make it to Húsavík before 7p.m…5 to 7 that is. We drove past the penis museum and all along the main street not being particulary impressed but turned around at the petrol station and went back to find somewhere to park since we were hungry and getting a little cranky. Well we found the whale museum as well also sadly just closed. Descending the steps down onto the harbour front our opinion of Húsavík changed. With snow covered mountains facing the harbour and mixture of commercial boats as well the ones that take people out whale watching and smaller pleasure craft, its a charming harbour. ( A ‘charming harbour’!? Who do I think I am?! Cary Grant! 😉  )

We ate a quick and easy fish and chips dinner from quite literally a hole in the wall sitting outside and reflected briefly a long, busy yet fulfilling day seeing a lot of things.

The rest of the day was spent driving us back into the dark on the ring road back to Skagaströnd via Akureyri and onto the Ring Road. A couple of white knuckle, prise my fingers off the steering wheel moments along the way though. Thanks to the tractor driver with the trailer that had no lights on in the dark, road repairs in one section where there were no reflective markers or road lines just black tarmac(at least it was tarmac), to the driver who decided to tailgate me downhill on the mountain yet on the flat road couldn’t be bothered to overtake me, to Ingeun for suddenly waking up and taking a flash photograph of me driving in the car (wasn’t really that mad with you when you took the picture) Eventually I got us all back and I got to drive one more time at 630 am to return the car to Sauðárkrókur.

I’m not entirely sure why I decided to start this blog partly for myself to see and remember where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Maybe to inform and hopefully amuse those that came with me. To share with friends and family and with strangers who don’t know me or haven’t yet visited Iceland just some of the sights.

While I’m still playing catch up with all the other things I’ve done since the roadtrip in the last 2 weeks which has actually been quite a lot when I sit down and think about it or look at it on here…I am also aware that I only have a little over 2 weeks left.



Roadtrip…Tuesday 30th August 2011 Part 3 – Part (i)

First things first, over the last couple of weeks I have been getting words of encouragement either from comments online or via retweets on Twitter or emails or verbally from people reading this blog to all of you a big thank you and so I will continue.

I had originally planned to try to write something everyday when I started this blog and to post a picture a day but somehow things don’t always go to plan for whatever reason. (Me getting to grips with wordpress) While it might be a couple of weeks since the trip I hope part three will be as interesting for the reader(s) as it was for us at the time.

After a reasonable kind of a sleep, I say this because we stayed in ‘sleeping bag’ accommodation which actually was pretty decent except I didn’t have  a sleeping bag. Essentially the bedrooms just hold 3 or 4 beds and that’s it. I used my bag as a pillow and a found blanket.

We all managed to get up at 0700 as agreed the night before and I handed driving duties over to another artist, Ingeun. When we’d hired the car the inclusion of a card entitling you to four free cups of coffee seemed great in principal. Armed with our ‘4 Cups 4 Free’ we set off the nearest petrol station. Even though the coffee came from a vending machine it was horrendous. The view at the back of the petrol/gas station was pretty spectacular though.

View from the back of the N1 Petrol Station, Akureyri.

I convinced the others that it would be in the best interest of our stomachs to go back to Akureyri to the bakery to get some breakfast. We were the first customers of the day and gratefully ate our assorted rolls and pastries before getting back into the car. We crossed the bridge from the centre and turned left after 10 minutes low and behold we passed the The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum  however it wasn’t open yet but we know where it is now!

Now speaking of strange things said to people or about people in Iceland, the same little boys who had decided that I worked for the mafia had decided that Ingeun had been in ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’. For a while there I think we’d started to believe he might have actually been in the film as we overshot the first place that we wanted to visit and had to go back on ourselves!

The first stop was Goðafoss which translates as waterfall of the Gods. The story behind the name goes as follows that when Iceland became officially Christian in 999 or 1000, the decision was made by Þorgeir Þorkelsson Ljósvetningagoði himself a pagan priest and chieftain. He threw the idols of his gods into the waterfall. If I have got that abbreviated account wrong then please correct me as I did use Wikipedia as a quick reference source. The weather had turned glorious since our early start, bright, sunny and warm. A preview of our day was to come as while we stopped and admired and were amazed by Goðafoss, a couple of coaches arrived with seemingly endless tourists.

The figures in the picture serve to give a sense of scale as well and I could look up the technical data and list it but there’s still a lot more to be written about and shown, so on we go.

The area is known for Lake Mývatn which translates as ‘Midge Lake’ and it lived up to its name as the swarms of tiny black flies follow you around when you walk outside and even get in the car with you. I did see two people with mesh over their faces but we didn’t go that far although flies up your nose is not fun.

Me with new friends…(If you zoom in on the picture you’ll see how many midges wre about…)

Rogerio’s solution.

Both pictures above by Ingeun Kim.

These views are possibly from Kálfaströnd although there now seems to be some uncertainity from myself and the others who went but as you can see we were incredibly lucky with the weather.

From there it was onto Dimmuborgir which I unfortunately renamed ‘Jimmy Borg’ in my head and now keep on forgetting the real name. Here is a selection of impressive lava formations. It would be very easy to spend a couple of hours wandering around the marked paths but with a schedule not quite as strict as the tourists who did up shortly after we arrived we stayed for almost an hour I guess. The tourists on the coach were like an army with a very strict time frame, there was no faffing around on their they took their path with no hesitation.

It took some time to get the shot

Why did it take so long you might be asking?

1) The coach was there.

2) Then these ‘goons’ (from L to R, Ingeun, Joseph & Rogerio) turned up:

As you can see the weather was now warm enough to go short sleeved! I have a feeling that the more time you spend looking at the rocks the more you’ll start to see things…I know I was.

Buddha?

Couple about to kiss?

Scary…

The day is still not done but I am also aware of my readers and rather than continue and lose your attention I’ll stop here and divide Part 3 into a sub part of (i) so Part 3 sub part (ii) concluding the trip will come later in the week.

Dramatically it might not be the most suspenseful, page turning, nerve shredding place to end but I hope you’ll tune in again.

Roadtrip…Monday 29th August Part 2

We arrived in Akureyri at around 3.45 pm, the reason I remember the time is because we wanted to go and visit The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum on the other side from the town. I was just the driver so went where I was told. Over the bridge and then we turned right and drove on for what I was assured would be about a 10 minute drive to the museum. Well the road went up the side of the mountain and after 10 minutes there was no museum. At the first available accommodation I stopped and we went into to ask directions. I now suspect that the girl we asked either does not know her left or right and has never been to the museum. Following her directions we ended up further into the mountains where there were only farmhouses and the road soon changed from tarmac to gravel. The museum was becoming bit of a holy grail for the person who wanted to go. Each new farmhouse roof in the distance became a possible until by 4.45pm it was mutually agreed that it wasn’t going to happen today since the museum closed at 5pm. The map now makes sense but at the time it was just plain confusing to us.

Now as I hinted at before I have a problem with certain parts of ‘The Rough Guide to Iceland’. While not every place is going to blow your socks off the writers are very dismissive of places. Now while I may be slightly biased this is the description of  Skagaströnd: ‘a terribly ugly place dominated by a hulking fish factory down by the harbour…’

Granted there may be not a lot to do or see with one shop, one petrol station, one bar, one bank and one cafe but I think my pictures somewhat go to show you can still find beauty and wonder if you take the time to look around you. I have the feeling the writers just drove right on through.

Windy day in the ‘terribly ugly’ Skagaströnd

Right let’s get back to Akureyri after securing accommodation for the night the four of us ventured out into Akureyri. Perhaps our expectations were too high or our imaginations had run away with us after spending time in Skagaströnd. Frequently billed as the capital of the North, Akureyri had became a metropolis of restaurants, bars and sophistication in our minds. We soon realized that if you get the right photographer and angle you can make a place look full of exciting possibilities. I congratulate the tourist board of Akureyri, you certainly fooled us. As did my current favourite book in the world, The Rough Guide to Iceland’ which calls it a ‘spot of urban sophistication’.

Now I’m not totally dismissing Akureyri since we had got there after business hours and the town had just had a festival the weekend gone.

We did actually enjoy having a choice of restaurants and the beer that came with the food at the time tasted like the best beer ever. I don’t if that was just down to having spent all day in the car or the beer coming out of a glass bottle but that was a good beer. I did ask our waitress what people did in the evenings but her only suggestion was bowling which we put low on the list.

At least there was a bookshop and that’s where we all headed en masse. Three of us stocked up on some materials mainly paper and some paint.

While I’ve been printmaking nearly relentlessly this year I’d made up my mind before leaving that I’d take a break from it. Instead I’ve making use of my time to try my hand at using watercolours but not necessarily in depicting traditional landscapes as one would associate with the word watercolours. The show and tell of that work will be another post.

Shopping done and feeling that it would be a shame to have an early night, three of us wondered what to do next…

We went bowling.

I won both times.

Odd but true, I have now been bowling in England, Iceland, Japan, Mexico and the United States.

In retrospect the beers in a bar opposite the bookshop after bowling were good and the quiet atmosphere there was good. Five days later while still a little disappointed initially with Akureyri, I find myself thinking about it with an odd mixture of affection and disappointment.

And so to bed for Tuesday would be a day of many sights.

Roadtrip…Part One/ Monday 29th August 2011

Somehow I’ve never really had to drive in another country other than very short trips that I don’t really count. So driving in Iceland I guess is another one of those things that was on my mental list of things to do.

Myself and three of the other artists decided to rent a car and go on a trip of the Northwest and Northeast.

We started early on the Monday or early relatively speaking in terms of our average daily routines and got a lift from Skagaströnd to Sauðárkrókur to pick the car up from the rental company. Now depending on your point of view I either drive on the wrong (left/right) side of the road while everybody else drives on the right (wrong) side of the road. That was actually more of a concern for my passengers than for me. I was actually looking forward to driving for several reasons. At the moment back in England I have access to a car but not a manual one so I was looking to driving a manual and also the opportunity to drive myself.

Shrimp factory in Sauðárkrókur.

Rather than take the most direct route we decided to drive around the peninsula to take in the scenery. I suspect in places it may not be the most dramatic of drives scenery wise and the fact that at one point I had three sleeping passengers probably attests to that. However, I’ll take the fact that all three fell asleep as a sort of compliment that they felt safe and secure enough with me at the wheel. I was pretty impressed with Icelandic roads at this point. There were hardly any potholes whereas in England we’re still waiting for potholes to be repaired from last December. The roads here are well maintained and while mainly single lane only there was hardly any traffic.

(It gets better…)

Armed with various general maps and The Rough Guide to Iceland which I disagree with in several parts more of which later we set off. Our first stop was Siglufjörður which was a small town with a harbour dramatically flanked by mountains on either side.

The more industrial sections of the harbour are further left and to the right of the picture.

Here comes the history part:

Siglufjörður was one of the world´s leading herring centers from 1900 until the herring stock disappeared in 1970 and there are three buildings that form the Sildmuseum detailing this past.

Rather begrudingly I paid for my ticket thinking it seemed a bit pricey for a museum about fishing. Boy, was I wrong, I throughly enjoyed myself!

The three buildings serve a different function:

The Factory where there was some machinery that looked like it came straight out of a cartoon with oversize dials…

The next building which I seem to have not taken a photograph of the exterior is the Boat House which houses boats from the era and you can board the largest. The lighting though and the indoor setting of a dock kind of reminded of a Scooby Doo episode and I half expected some old fella to be led away shouting: ‘Pesky Darn Kids!’

The third building and my favourite is The Salting Station and yet again I seem to have been spectaculary rubbish in not taking a good photograph of the exterior probably something to do with the drizzle. If you follow the link above you’ll get a good picture!

The ground floor is dedicated to the fishing and salting process and from a printmaker’s perspective I loved the old barrel and packaging stencils there. If anything they should be using those for T-shirt in the small gift shop area:

Slightly alarming fishy symbol although I’m pretty sure it was unintentional:

The next level has photographs of some of the other herring ports including Skagaströnd which at one point looked set to expand to a larger scale that it is currently until the herring disappeared. It was also where administrative duties took place:

Upstairs is where the real interest lies as this was where they housed the Herring Girls who would gut and salt the fish. Every space up there was used to house them:

From there we or rather I drove us onwards to Akureyri without any further stops along the way.