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…

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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…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.