Last night a commercial was on TV with a Pizza Hut delivery car at one end of the street and a hot dog vendor at the other. The vendors cart lets loose and started to speed down the side walk. People jump out of the way and at this point I start to leave the room. The food cart slammed into the delivery car and the voice over said these magical words: “hot dog stuffed crust pizza”. I reversed into the room to see the money shot of a hot dog rolled inside the crust of pizza and slowly picked my jaw up off the floor.
A hot dog inside a pizza!?
Apparently this one-two punch of a pizza is only available until November 25 and with my love of hot dogs and pizzas this may be something I try in the next few weeks. I have had hot dogs on top of pizza () before but never thought I would see a day where the hot dog was anything more than a topping.
I don’t feel older but I’m officially 30. I have a hard time describing what this age milestone means to me. A part of me doesn’t feel 30 mostly because I thought things would be different, like suddenly you reach that age and things change.
I probably felt the same way about turning 18 or 21, but 30 has distinction. It has maturity. It has responsibility. It is halfway to 60 and the beginning of the roller coaster to becoming an old man.
I’m not disappointed or have regrets with the last three decades but I just thought 30 would be a little more special or a little more of a personal and career milestone. I think the truth I’m realizing is that you won’t have everything figured out at 30, and just because you turned another year older you don’t receive a pamphlet on how to deal with “the rest of your life”. I’m not sure where I’ll be at 40, let alone 35, and I was always under the impression that when you hit 30 you could answer those questions.
Here is to turning another year older, trying to find my place in the world and pretending like I know what I’m doing and having it all figured out.
Our trip to Iceland requires many blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4). We drove the country, saw a lot of amazing sights, but this post is dedicated to the incidentals. The details that you need to be aware of when you’re in a foreign country and being prepared for the differences. I spent hours searching Trip Advisor forums prior to the trip and a lot of the same questions about credit cards and how good the roads were came up. However, things like how a gravel road varies in condition from one part of the country to the other or there being single lane tunnels would have been good information to know and mentally prepare for before you’re suddenly there and not sure if it’s right or not.
Transactions Nearly every payment was put on a BMO MasterCard (which had a chip and PIN). Only once did we have to pay for something with cash, and that was only because the POS machine was taking a while to process. We used the credit card for small things like yogurt (Skyr) all the way to larger meals. I didn’t find that I was prompted for a PIN very often, it was usually signing a transaction slip.
PIN enabled machines were more common in Reykjavik and Akureyri, as well as self serve gas stations. MasterCard and Visa appeared to be the primary cards accepted. We brought an American Express but I don’t think I noticed it being accepted at many places (at least according to the stickers on the outside of businesses), so you are probably okay to leave home without this one.
According to the Lonely Planet and Frommer’s travel books tipping isn’t required and we never did. The only time we left an extra amount was when it was convenient to unload a large Icelandic krona.
The process for paying with a credit card at a gas station changed depending on if it was a Shell or an N1. Typically you inserted your card first, entered your PIN and then you had to enter in the dollar amount of fuel you wanted. I made the mistake of entering in “20” (assuming $20CDN) and the transaction was denied because it was such a small amount. I then entered “20000” (now understanding it to be in ISK) and the transaction was declined because the amount was too high. On the third try I entered “10000” and everything went smoothly. Only a few times did I have to go into the station and ask if I could pay inside instead of at the pump.
After a few days of driving I suspected the air pressure in one of the tires was low. Halfway through the trip we explored an N1 and found the best air pump. Not only was it free but it was intelligent. You would enter in your desired PSI on the machine (which had simple diagrams), attach the hose to the tire and the machine did the rest. It would test the pressure of the tire and either add or remove air. When it reached the desired number it would beep several times and you were done. All tire pumps should be this amazing.
Driving Once outside of Reykjavik the crowd of cars on the Ring Road thinned out and you went thirty minutes or longer before seeing another vehicle. The speed limits in Iceland are not like in Canada where they are seen as a suggestion. If there is a turn in the road and the speed sign indicates 45, you do 45 because it’s probably a tight turn along the edge of water and it has a blind rise in it and you could potentially meet oncoming traffic. 90 felt like a fine speed limit, but if someone wanted to pass you there was more than enough opportunity for them to do so.
I passed more cyclists and tractors than cars. There were a few cars that passed me on long stretches but I was happy going 90 to enjoy the scenery.
Single lane bridges are very common in Iceland. It’s usually not a problem because there is no oncoming traffic but every bridge you approached you had to make sure there wasn’t someone rushing towards it on the other side. Most bridges were fairly short, but longer ones in Skaftafell National Park stretched for long distances over the sandur and had pull out points every hundred meters in case you met another car. I wasn’t particularly fond of the one by Jökulsárlón. It was a long bridge where you couldn’t see the other side and you were right beside the glacier lagoon so there was plenty of distractions that made this unpleasant to cross a few times.
What was really fun was going in a single lane tunnel! These only existed in the Westfjords, and even though it’s a remote area with few vehicles it was still a little nerve wracking. There were pull outs to navigate oncoming traffic but I still breathed a sigh of relief when I got through.
I think sheep would cause more fatalities in Iceland than anything else. Most of them are usually in the ditch or far enough away that they aren’t a threat of darting out onto the road but every time you passed them you had to make sure the babies weren’t separated from the mother and they weren’t going to sprint across the road.
Arctic Terns were incredibly annoying on the road too. Sure, they just migrated from the Antarctic, but for all the wide open space they have to sit on the road? Most flew out of the way before you got close but they changed directions so fast I expected one to accidentally dive bomb into the wind shield.
There were other birds and goats on the road, a few times I had to stop and honk the horn to motivate them to cross.
After travelling to areas where pick pockets and tourist traps are rampant we instinctively kept our guard up in Iceland. We were cautious and didn’t leave anything immediately visible in the car when we went to walk to a sight, we always locked our doors and we emptied the car every night. None of this was necessary because everywhere we went we felt safe. We didn’t need a ‘money belt’ or worry about people fingering through our bags in a public place. Iceland was safe and everyone (locals and tourists alike) was friendly. You would say ‘hello’ to someone and they would respond in German or French. It’s a very diverse crowd of tourists but everyone was all smiles.
English is Iceland’s second language but we found everyone spoke it, which was a relief because we couldn’t even come close to speaking Icelandic. People were friendly and were not put out by repeating something in English. There were a few occasions my “hello” was interpreted for the Icelandic “halló” and the native would say something in Icelandic and I would get a confused look on my face.
There was always wind. It may not be significant but it was always there. It prevented us from doing a map holding out in the open air several times. We found that we always had a few layers of clothes on but the wind would get you.
We had several toques and gloves and were worn nearly all the time. The thermometer would read +7 but if it was cloudy and windy it would feel colder. Days where there was no wind and the sun was out was amazing. Bring sun screen if you’re going in longer daylight hours because it may not feel like you’re going to get burnt but the sun was always high and could cause some damage.
Umbrella’s are useless and not needed. If it’s raining there is probably wind and the umbrella will be turned inside out and turn into a weapon. There’s no place for them in Iceland even though some tourist stores did sell them.
Our daily attire consisted of a long underwear top, a mid layer and then an outer shell. Depending on the weather and what we were going to see we would change the type of outer shell but having the base and mid layer on allowed us to be comfortable in the car but still be warm enough for quick explorations out of the car. On the bottom we usually wore long underwear with a quick dry pant or a fabric that was breathable.
One of the best investments we made was the purchase of Smart Wool socks. We wore these for several days in a row and every day we put them on the sock felt fresh, held its form and never had that tired and used sock feeling. They kept our feet cool and dry on hikes, and after a few days of wear they produced no odour. They were an expensive upfront purchase but completely justified when we were wearing them day after day.
Iceland Unlimited The comfort I got from having a tour company arrange accommodation and car rental for me was worth the additional cost. Planning out the trip to allow us to see all the attractions without spending a whole day driving was a huge asset. If something were to go wrong on our trip we had a safety net and it was nice knowing we had someone watching our back.
I would recommend Iceland Unlimited to anyone. They were helpful in my original request, modified and customized the itinerary to suit our needs and their passion and enthusiasm about their job was evident when we met them in person.
Our experience with Iceland Unlimited wasn’t without a few hiccups, however minor they were, it did impact our schedule.
The first issue was when the car rental company didn’t pick us up from our guesthouse at the arranged time. The car rental company wasn’t aware that a pickup was arranged, so either the rental agency misplaced this booking or Iceland Unlimited didn’t make the call. We called our tour guide on the provided phone and within a few minutes everything was sorted out and a short time later a van arrived to pick us up. A minor set back but we were left waiting for nearly an hour when we could have been on the road starting our adventure.
The next issue, and the biggest, was receiving the wrong information for the ferry departure near the end of our trip. Instead of departing at 12PM it departed at 6PM. To make the two hour drive to the 12PM ferry we cut sightseeing short and worked our day around this departure time only to find out we had the wrong information. Nothing could be done to correct this, there was a misunderstanding over what schedule the ferry was running on but this mixup impacted our chance to explore the Westfjords on the one good day of weather we had. We made the most of this by driving back through a fjord that was covered in cloud the day before and explored the beach at low tide, but if we had this time in the morning we would have used that time differently.
Because we were six hours behind schedule it had a domino effect on our sightseeing plans for when we drove off the ferry and the following day. We essentially had to do two days of exploring in one, and return the car back to Reykjavik. Through this mixup we were in constant communication with Iceland Unlimited, discussing alternatives or modifying our next few nights but we decided on sticking to the original plan and then putting two days of sight seeing into one. Iceland Unlimited notified the car rental agency that we would be dropping the car off late and that any additional charges would be covered by them. A nice gesture to correct something that could have been avoided.
These are minor complaints on what was otherwise a smooth operation. The vouchers we were given at the beginning of the trip were accepted without question and there was no issue checking into any of the guesthouses or surprised looks from people saying “We don’t have your reservation”. Our suggested itinerary was informative but not the end all be all for things to see, and it helped us research nearby sights we may have missed otherwise.
Not directly related to the enjoyment of our trip but it did enhance it. Prior to leaving I created an “Iceland Playlist” full of Iceland artists like Sigur Rós, Bjork, Of Monsters and Men and Ólafur Arnalds. Driving through an eerie landscape with oo’s and aa’s of Sigur Rós was pretty amazing. If an artist was able to capture the beauty of a country with music Sigur Rós did it. I wonder if people visit Canada, put on Bryan Adams and do flying kicks and fist pumps as they navigate the Trans Canada over the Rocky Mountains.
And that concludes posts about our fifteen days in Iceland. Five months later I still think about Iceland on a nearly daily basis and I believe a part of why it has taken so long to write these posts is that I wasn’t ready to admit that this trip happened and it is finally over.
With a full stomach from breakfast we prepared for our day on the road by returning to Gamla Bakery to pick up some food for lunch. We also didn’t know when we would see another gas station so we fueled up at the nearest N1 and decided to check the tire pressure. For a few days I have been thinking the tire felt off and it was 13PSI when the pressure should have been around 23! Having proper tire pressure was crucial for a day like we were about to have.
The air machine was incredibly intuitive () and helpful (more on the machine in the next post), something like this should at every gas station in North America.
With everything in place we left Ísafjörður and headed into the unknown.
Connected through a series of tunnels there are small communities outside Ísafjörður, which form up the municipality of Ísafjarðarbær. With a curiosity to see what a village of a few hundred looks like we did a little sightseeing in each as we went south in the Westfjords.
We first went to Suðureyri, Flateyri and then Þingeyri. The weather was raining and windy so the thought of stopping to walk around wasn’t very appealing so what we did see was from the comfort of our car. The tour books didn’t have much to say about any of these towns so they may not be worth visiting again but a small town in an isolated region of the country will always have a certain quirkiness to it.
From one town to the next our view of the landscape was hindered by the weather so we could barely see much of the water or mountain ranges, which was probably the biggest shame on this fjord exploration.
To get to Dynjandi we took a “summer only” road (#60) and things on our trip started to get worse. The weather was still rainy and windy and the climb up this gravel road was terrifying with a single lane. There was terrible visibility, fog and sheer rock on one side and 15+ feet of snow on the other. This was a white knuckled experience and it felt dangerous to move the car out of the first gear. After what felt like hours navigating up and over Mount Kaldbakur we arrived at Dynjandi.
The falls are impressive from the parking lot but we didn’t drive several hours in bad conditions to watch from afar so we put on our rain gear and prepared to get wet. The walk up was about 30 minutes to get the most accessible height of the falls. If we weren’t wet from the rain we would have been soaked by the water coming off the falls, and once you’re wet you’re wet so we tried to make the most of our time at this stop. It is too bad that what I remember most from Dynjandi, besides the weather, was the climb up and making sure not to take a wrong step. On better days I imagine Dynjandi would look beautiful.
We returned to car, put the heat on and tried to thaw ourselves. We ate our Gamla Bakery lunch and headed out back on the road. We left Dynjandi around the same time as another vehicle and little did we know how much we would see that SUV for the next few days. Forty minutes on the road I pulled over a bit to let the SUV go by and the Hyundai couldn’t recover and get back on the road. I didn’t think I pulled over that much but I drifted the passenger side of the car into some soft gravel and came to a stop. I tried to reverse and go forward but nothing was happening.
Thankfully the panic of “how we get out” didn’t last long as the SUV I pulled over for saw our predicament and came to push me out. We created a little caravan together and when we landed on pavement at Tálknafjörður we went our seperate ways. We went in search of food and found a convenience store at Patreksfjörður where we bought dried cup of soup, cheese and crackers. Our journey was far from over as we still had at least an hour to go until we got to the guesthouse and that time estimate before we saw that the remainder of our journey was on rough gravel roads.
The road (#62) to Breidavik would probably be fine in normal conditions but the days of rain had made it very tedious, especially after the roads we had seen today. There were large pot holes filled with water, parts of the road were underwater and on some sections of the road that hugged a large rock cliff there were actually boulders that had fallen on the road. This was the first time we saw a “falling rocks” sign actually be useful while driving.
It felt like we were never going to get to our guesthouse but at 7PM we saw the Farm Holidays flag indicating a guesthouse and we knew this had to be us. On a normal day the drive would have been beautiful but today was one of the worst driving conditions I have ever experienced.
One of the main attractions of Breidavik Guesthouse is the proximity to Látrabjarg cliffs. Not only is this the western most point in Iceland it is home to an incredible number of birds, specifically puffins. While not a priority for the trip when we left the cliffs gained a certain level of hype in my imagination and now that we were so close to them I had to get there.
With our schedule being tight the next day to catch the ferry (leaves at 12PM with a two hour drive) we only had this evening to go to the cliffs. We had supper and waited for a bit before deciding to go back out again or not. Shortly after checking in the sun came out and it looked like a totally different day. We left for Látrabjarg at 8PM but when the road approached the beach we came across another hurdle for the day.
The sandy road appeared to be under a bit of water and there was no easy way to drive around it. You only want things you can’t have and to be this close to the cliffs but foiled by water was frustrating. Not wanting to get stuck for the second time that day we decided to return back to the guesthouse. On our way back we saw our couple in the SUV that pushed us out of the road drive to the cliffs, as well as a smaller car than ours. For the rest of the night we wondered if either vehicle had any problems getting through the water or any other issues further along.
Back at Breidavik Guesthouse for the night we walked around the beaches, drank wine and did research while unwinding from this bad weather day.
Breidavik has a run down appearance when you pull in but don’t pass up on it. The large house looks neglected and the white canisters of rooms in the back look like compartments for live stock. However, you don’t judge a book by its cover as the interior of the reception/dining area was very nice and comforting. At the reception there were guests and, I assume, locals enjoying the company of each other in the lounge area.
The compartments we slept in were very comfortable and cozy. They may not look like much from the outside but the inside had private bathrooms, large windows looking out to the beach, two comfortable beds and a mini kitchen complete with a kettle; which was critical since we bought dried noodle soup earlier in the day.
This was a very nice guesthouse that was clean and functional. The beds were soft and the roll shutters blocked out all of the light. Breakfast was the same of what we have had on the trip with cereal, yogurt and cold cuts. They were the first place to not have a toaster available but they did have peanut butter, so we felt it was a fair trade.
Day 12 / May 27
We woke up at 7AM after having a solid sleep. Breakfast was busy (the spread is reviewed above) with others and there was talk of those who went to the cliffs last night and commented on how active the puffins were. Our SUV couple made it through, as did the small car, and both spent several hours last night there. We planned to catch the ferry at 12PM and with a two hour drive on roads that may not have improved since yesterday there wasn’t much time for sightseeing or a chance to go to the Látrabjarg cliffs so we packed up and hit the road.
Rauðisandur Our drive out took us by a turn off towards a 10KM stretch of beautiful red beaches called Rauðisandur. If we couldn’t see Látrabjarg we felt this was a good consolation prize. The gravel road up and over the mountain was a slow 10KM that took us nearly 20 minutes. Only having an hour to spare this didn’t leave us much time to explore when we arrived at Rauðisandur. This was definitely a regret on our trip and wished we could have seen more of it, especially when we looked at photos online of what the view looked like further down, but we had a time limit today and didn’t want to be late for the ferry.
Even stopping to photograph a rusted ship was timed. Once we landed on paved road I sped and rushed to the Baldur Ferry area. We arrived around 11AM and noticed that the ticket office was closed so we went to a nearby house to ask about information. We were told that the ferry departs once a day and it leaves at 6PM instead of noon. What?!
Our whole day was turned upside down. We called our tour guide with Iceland Unlimited and tried to sort this out. There was a misunderstanding in summer hours (starts in June instead of May) and this is why we were given the wrong time, even though everyone at Breidavik said it left at 6PM we thought we were on an earlier ferry. We discussed itinerary change options (ie: extra day in the Peninsula and one less day in Reykjavik, etc.) but he said he would call back with options.
The nearest attraction by Baldur Ferry is the Vatnsfjörður Nature Reserve, which we headed to to pass time until we heard back from Iceland Unlimited. We weighed our options and when our tour guide called back we decided to make no changes and just suffer with a late night tonight. Iceland Unlimited would pay for after hour car drop off since any sightseeing we didn’t do today would be done tomorrow and put us back in Reykjavik well after the originally proposed 5PM drop off time.
With a whole afternoon open we took a few minutes to pose in front of a beautiful waterfall we found by the Nature Reserve. When I saw a sign for Látrabjarg I did another “super sad” face. With that out of our system we carried on with our day and did some exploring under beautiful blue skies.
Lunch was approaching so we returned to Patreksfjörður (60KM away), bought some food and enjoyed it overlooking the fjord. After a rough day on the road yesterday we gave the car some attention by checking the tire pressure and washing the mud out of the rims that was still there after getting stuck the day before.
We now had over five hours to pass so we took our time and tried to see what we missed with bad visibility yesterday and the difference was remarkable. The Westfjords transformed from a gloomy world into a beautiful world with rich blue water and inspiring vistas between fishing villages. At low tide we walked onto the beach and remarked that mountains and waters felt like something you would see in a tropical place and it turned out that the ferry time mix up gave us some of our best memories of Iceland.
With the afternoon sufficiently passed we headed to the Ferry and saw our SUV friends. We talked about our respective days and they showed me photos of the puffins they got the previous night and from that morning. My jealousy is high but it was interesting to see their photos and how close they were able to get to the puffins. When we return to Iceland we’ll be in a larger vehicle and make the Westfjords a top priority, especially Látrabjarg.
The ferry was over two hours long, complete with a stop over in Flatey. We stayed above deck for the first half of the trip but with a rushed schedule we had to prioritize what to see today and tomorrow so we went down below to plan, warm up and have some supper.
The ferry arrived at Stykkishólmur on the Peninsula and we entered “super duper tourist sight seeing” mode. Unfortunately we missed some of the sights and the relaxing pace we were used to but we tried to make the most of our time on the Peninsula.
We arrived at Guesthouse Hof shortly after 11PM and were given our own building because they didn’t want us disturbing anybody by coming in late. We knew there were hot tubs at this guesthose and have been saving a bottle of sparkling wine for this moment () for the last few days and it did not disappoint.
We must have spent 90 minutes in the hot tub listening to the ocean waves in the distance, watching the birds fly in the sky, all the while seeing a beautiful pink sunset over the Snæfellsjökull range. It was well passed midnight and was still very light outside. It isn’t possible to capture how amazing this experience was but this video I took helps show the kind of view we had from the hot tub.
Guesthouse Hof was a very large accommodation and in a great location. We were fortunate to have a place all to ourselves and this definitely made us enjoy the stay a little more. There are many sleeping areas, even a loft above the kitchen, and had a large living room with clean bedrooms.
The location is ideal being on the southern side of the Peninsula and it was relatively easy to navigate around and get back to the northern part of the Peninsula. Breakfast was delivered to our room and outside of the photo I took of it I can’t recall anything particular about it. It was an average spread, better than some places but not the best. It filled us up and that’s all you can ask.
Day 13 / May 28
We were slow to start the morning because of the late night we had, but with a full day we didn’t delay for long and were mobile around 7:30AM. To see sights we missed yesterday we back tracked and took a short cut through the Peninsula and started going counter clockwise on the Peninsula at Ólafsvík.
Our first stop on exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula was to the Caribbean like beaches of Skardsvik. The entire area of Snæfellsnes Peninsula is covered with lava flow from past eruptions and then out of the black and grey is this view you wouldn’t think to ever see in Iceland with gold sand and blue waters.
Epine on the Djúpalónssandur
Epine, a ship from England, ship wrecked on the beaches of Djúpalónssandur back in 1948 is still visible on the sand. Most of the boat has been worn away over years from the elements but you walk on the beach and can still see large chunks of twisted and rusted metal. We walked amongst the ruins, explored the rocks and built a stone monument on the beach.
Further down from the ship wreck we were on the beaches of Drivtik. Jenna called this the highlight of the trip and one of the most beautiful places she’s ever seen, and I’m inclined to agree with her. Stones turned into small rock to small pebbles the closer to the water you got and all the while they were jet black and smooth. Water would crash in, causing the rocks beneath to make a loud crunching sound, the water would pull away exposing exposing wet rock and come in again. It was very mesmerizing and we must have stood here for over 10 minutes just watching. Beyond that was a sea stack to one side, cliffs on the other and endless water beyond.
Lunch at Fjoruhusid
Across from the bird cave of Badstofa, by Hellnar is a little cafe called Fjoruhusid. We had lunch on the patio and enjoyed doing people watching and see the activity by the bird cave. For lunch we had seafood soup and it was so delicious it claimed the spot of second best on the entire trip. First place went to the lamb soup at Gullfoss cafe and third was tomato and basil from Dimmuborgir. For desert we shared a Skyr cake and were ready to carry on our busy day of sight seeing.
Hraunfossar (Husafell) Falls Our way to Reykjavik was full of attractions and once we were off the Peninsula we headed to Hraunfossar Falls. Arriving here was a bit tricky as we took a wrong turn and ended up driving on gravel for over 45 minutes. We returned to the main road and not more than a few kilometers from where we prematurely turned off to the access for Hraunfossar Falls.
This was our last waterfall on the trip and it’s a pretty unique by covering nearly a kilometer of distance and water cascaded down from lava formations. We knew we weren’t in a rush to return the car to Reykjavik but we saw as much as our tired bodies would carry us, got in the car and started on the last two hours of our drive around the country. To speed up our return we spent the 1000ISK ($7.82CDN) to go on the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, which goes under the fjord and allows you to greatly reduce your travel time. Thankfully this tunnel was multiple lanes and carried traffic in both directions.
With the assistance of our GPS, “James”, we were able to get into the heart of Reykjavik and check in at the Salvation Army Guesthouse. We emptied the car, changed clothes from 12 hours on the road and took the Hyundai back to the rental agency, ProCar, which was just over a 1KM so we could easily walk back after returning the car. Our Hyundai i30 was good to us. Overall we travelled 3438 km in it and thankfully didn’t return it with any dings, scrapes or serious damage.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur After a few hot dogs on the road we finally went to the best hot dog stand in the world, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. I had two with everything and loved it. Jenna wasn’t convinced by its greatness and thought the first hot dogs we had by the Reykjavik square (Ingolfstorg) on our first day were better but I couldn’t agree with this. Most of the hot dogs in Iceland are similar with being made from lamb, but these ones were special because of the toppings. I have eaten a lot of hot dogs in my life but these two stand out as the best ever.
Salvation Army Guesthouse
We were put up in a different area of the Guesthouse so we weren’t exposed to as much noise coming from the Reykjavik square (Ingolfstorg) but there was still traffic noise but after a long couple of weeks we had no problems sleeping. My opinions of the Salvation Army Guesthouse remain unchanged, it looks dirty and feels more like a hostel than a guesthouse, however it’s close to amenities of down town Reykjavik so it is the price you pay for convenience.
Day 14 / May 29
The day started with a small breakfast () by what we are used to, however it was average for what you can expected at the Salvation Army Guesthouse.
Today was a full day in Reykjavik so we layered up, packed light and began exploring. We wandered up streets, did window shopping, walked through parks and eventually made our way up to Hallgrímskirkja. We explored the grounds and went inside to look at the 15 meter tall organ inside as well as the architecture inside the church. We window shopped and just wandered the streets.
For an afternoon pick me up I had another “one with everything” hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur followed by chocolate dipped ice cream. The weather was amazing with the sun out and hardly a breeze. In the two weeks we were on the road Reykjavik started to explode with color as plants and flowers began to bloom. It was nice to wander the city feeling comfortable with where everything was located and knowing you weren’t on a time schedule.
A full day on our feet meant a large meal and for that we went to the Reykjavik Restaurant for the fish buffet (). This was a little expensive at 5300ISK/person ($41.50/person) but we at a lot of different fish we wouldn’t have tried otherwise so it was a justified expense.
We returned back to the Salvation Army Guesthouse and finished the last bits of wine we had and started to reminisce about the trip and prepare to pack up to leave tomorrow.
Day 15 / May 30
A slow start to the day but our bus ride to the Blue Lagoon came for us at 10:30 so following another disappointing breakfast we still had 90 minutes to pack everything up. Packing was a simple process, since we have essentially been packing and unpacking our suitcase every day so we were pretty efficient at doing it one last time.
Blue Lagoon We arrived at the Blue Lagoon around 12PM and with our shuttle to the airport leaving at 2PM we only had 90 minutes to enjoy the Lagoon and that wasn’t nearly enough time. The admission was fairly steep at 35€/person ($45 CDN/person) but had we been able to stay a little longer we may have been able to get our monies worth. However, it was nice to be fully relaxed and mellow before getting on a long flight back home.
We explored the pool in search of warm vents. Put on several applications of silica mask cream (available for purchase here, the fact they can charge $100USD for a bottle is sad but it really worked, our skin felt great for days after) from the buckets stations set up around the lagoon. Unlike Lake Myvatn Nature Bath there were more areas to explore in the warm water plus multiple steam rooms and hot tubs you could go in to. It was nice to have been to the Lake Myvatn Nature Bath to compare to the Blue Lagoon, they each have their benefits and I would gladly return to both.
We were on our shuttle to Keflavik Airport at 2PM and so ended the best trip I have ever experienced. Our trip back to Edmonton, by way of Seattle, was uneventful, and that concludes our trip. I have a final post to publish that talks about things we learned on the road that may be useful to others visiting Iceland.
Our trip recap of Iceland picks up where the first one left off and will cover the next five days of our stay in Iceland.
Day 6 / May 21
We bid farewell to the east coast and went toward Egilsstaðir. The scenery constantly changed and through green and lively lands we entered barren mountains with no sign of live. Some of Prometheus was filmed in this area in Iceland it really could be a foreigh world. Not only were the amount of cars on the road fewer there was no wild life on the roads and no fences designating farmland. There was just a freshly paved road winding in and around snow covered peaks and valleys of a black mountain scene. The sights were minimal but this was an incredible drive with the feeling of isolation crushing down around you as you followed a dashed line through the country.
Five hours after leaving Hotel Framtid we arrived at Dettifoss. We approached from the West side, which up until a few years ago was not accessible with small cars. After researching Dettifoss I decided to approach from this side because there were better views. The waterfall is so incredible I think the East side would have been amazing too, it’s just to bad that getting to the East side is about an hour drive so you can’t easily change your mind if you want to switch.
The most powerful waterfall in Europe was a sight you heard before you saw it. The walk was over a kilometer from the parking lot and the terrain was tricky with snow, water, lava rocks and general slipperiness. Closer to the falls the noise and wind kicked up and you climbed up a little ledge and were face to face with a powerful gust of wind and an incredible waterfall. You could lean into the wind coming off the falls, which is risky since there were no barriers on the path so you could get as close to this scene as possible.
We walked around Dettifoss for about half an hour, getting different vantage points and trying to comprehend how large this area was. Once back in the car we resumed our voyage to Lake Myvatn and our home for the night.
The scenery closer to Lake Myvatn changes from black and white to oranges, reds and rolling hills. The color change is due to the sulfur coming out of the earth and being stained from the active geothermal nature of the area. Getting a first hand look at this you can stop at Hverier and look at the steam vents, hot mud bubbles and get a mouthful of disgusting smells. This was a confusing day for us since it was cold and windy but the steam vents were warm but smelt, so if you wanted to get warm you had to pay the price.
The clothes we wore this day were given a healthy dosage of Febreze so the “yuck” smell could be eradicated. Like most things we saw this day the weather was a bit of a damper but it was definitely worth stopping at Hverier, especially since it is located a stones throw away from the main road.
After a long day on the road we arrived at Reykjahlíð and went to the nearest gas station/grocery store and picked up some few hot dogs. It’s not glamorous but not knowing what the guesthouse has to offer for supper it was probably the best choice we could think of.
Situated a few minutes south of Reykjahlíð along Lake Myvatn is an unassuming guesthouse which offers incredible views of the lake, amazing food and beds of amazing comfort.
This was our second multiple night stop at a guesthouse and our favorite of all the guesthouses. When I checked in we were offered the option to have a room with a private bathroom and shared facilities (instead of all facilities being shared) and I took it without hesitation. From our window we could see several psuedocraters on the Lake and the roll shutters blacked out the room entirely. Breakfast was a typical spread but in addition to the quantity of food it offered large cups of coffee and trout that was smoked on site. We would not hesitate to return to Dimmurborger Guesthouse.
Day 7 / May 22
We were staying at the same guest house tonight so we had two days to explore Lake Myvatn and surrounding sites. Extra time here is necessary because there is so much to see and a bit of walking around the sites is required.
Hverfjall Our first stop today was to Hverfjall, a volcanic ring that is 1km in diameter. This sight was a stones throw away from where we were staying so it made sense to stop here first. Unfortunately the wind was immediately noticeable as we began our climb up and once to the top of the rim we only walked a small distance around. If the weather was better we may have been more inclined to stay longer so this was only a forty minute stop on our day. The view from the top was pretty amazing, you could see a large area from up here and appreciated how close items in Myvatn were located to each other.
The volcanic activity in Lake Myvatn has caused some extremely unique lava formations and you can walk among them at the Dimmuborgir Lava Maza. There were multiples paths to take through the maze and we took the Kirkjan (Church) hike which lasted an hour. This was a great activity to do and would recommend it. Plus, when this area was covered for water and the volcano erupted it caused some formations that can only been seen at the bottom of the ocean.
We had lunch at the Dimmuborgir Cafe with the soup of the day and geysir bread. The soup was a simple tomato and basil but it was ridiculously delicious. The server even offered me a free second serving, something I would never expect in North America. The geysir bread is boiled rather than baked and it takes about 24 hours for the bread to cook. Geysir bread is unique because they bury the bread underground and the heat from the area cooks it through and it comes out super moist and incredibly delicious. It isn’t the kind of bread you would spread jam on but it’s good with some butter; which was a great compliment to warm soup on a cold day.
We completed driving around Lake Myvatn and decided to back track from yesterday and see some attractions we missed. Instead of turning to Hverier we went the other direction up to Viti and Krafla.
Viti Viti crater has beautiful blue water, except when it’s covered with snow. When we got to Viti we were barely ten feet away from the car when we realized that the trip up here was a bit of a waste. This started the trend of us posing for photos with disgruntled faces on (later seen at Látrabjarg and our final day in the Westfjords).
Viti isn’t the only site in this area so we continued on the road to the Krafla volcanic area. Like Dettifoss from the day before we had to cover a bit of ground until we saw anything and the snow and mud were made a little more uncomfortable with the rain that was lightly falling.
It took us about twenty minutes to arrive at the nearest attraction but we weren’t sure what we were looking for. The area that wasn’t covered with snow was brightly colored and steam could be seen rising in some areas but we didn’t feel like exploring so our stay was cut short. Between Krafla and Viti this excursion was a bit of a letdown. However, in warmer weather it would probably be a really beautiful area but in late spring it wasn’t quite worth it.
On our way back to Lake Myvatn, just outside of Reykjahlíð we stopped at an incredibly blue lake called Bjarnarflag. When you come down the hill and see this shimmering lake you think it’s an oasis. This beautiful lake shouldn’t be confused with the Lake Myvatn Nature Bath, since this lake is not safe to swim in with water coming out of bore holes at temperatures up to 200 Celsius. This blue lake is the site of Iceland’s first geothermal power plant and Bjarnaflarg became slang for us on the trip if we wanted to express excitement or frustration.
Viti crater was a big let down because it was covered in snow…bjarnaflag!
Lake Myvatn Nature Bath After a day of hiking and exploring the area in chilly conditions we headed to the Lake Myvatn Nature Bath. The Nature Bath doesn’t has many amenities or upgrades as the more famous Blue Lagoon but it was definitely worth the trip, even with the high admission of 2500ISK/person ($20CDN/person). The warm water and numerous resting spots were a great way to unwind but we spent more time in the hot tub area with a temperature exceeding 40 Celsius. Below you will find a minute long video of the Nature Bath that I took.
An hour of relaxing our body felt like an eternity and when we were tired and like jelly we packed up and headed back to the Dimmurborger Guesthouse.
Day 8 / May 23
We had another solid sleep at the Dimmurborger Guesthouse and felt rested after our trip to the Nature Bath. We took advantage of the great breakfast at the Guesthouse, which was the best of all the places we stayed at. We had a large serving of coffee, cereal and smoked fish. The view of Lake Myvatn from the sunroom was incredible and it felt like a place you could spend hours just sitting and watching the outdoors. The sun was up this day and eventually became the warmest day of our trip exceeding +19! Comparatively, back in Edmonton a cold front moved in and it was only +8.
Goðafoss On our way to Akureyri we stopped at Goðafoss. Waterfalls were feeling a bit repetitive after a week of seeing so many amazing ones and I feel like we didn’t appreciate how beautiful this one was until we were back home. The falls are beautiful and can be viewed from far back as you approach it, across a bridge or up close but all we did was park, briefly walk around and return to the road. We weren’t in a rush, the weather was amazing but for some reason we thought Goðafoss wasn’t worth our time. Learn from our mistake and take time to appreciate Goðafoss because looking at photos of what we missed was a fairly big disappointment.
The second largest city in Iceland with a population of 17,000 was a spot I looked forward to on this trip but it left me wanting more. The city has charm, complete with little hearts on their red lights, a selection of art and culture but none of that appealed to us when we got here. Maybe we were put off by the difficult check in process at Gula Villan (more on that below) but we didn’t have the excitement of exploring Akureyri I felt earlier in the trip.
The weather was beautiful in Akureyri with a temperature above 16 we didn’t need a coat and it felt like a heatwave compared to the windy single digit temperatures we experienced before. Being in a major city we were able to get some wine at the Vinbudin and were pleased to have our first taste of alcohol since we arrived. Akureyri also has free parking as long as you indicate what time you parked your car. Residents of the city have transparent clocks on their windshield and they move the hands to show when they parked but writing the time on paper and leaving it on the dash worked just as well. Parking was limited by the guesthouse so it was nice not to have to worry about paying for parking while we were on foot for a few hours.
We had almost a whole day to explore the city but after a few hours of walking around we were bored and walking in circles. Nothing in the near vicinity stood out to us so we did what was natural for us, we got in the car and drove. We left the city behind and were soon travelling up a quiet road along beautiful Eyjafjörður. We had no purpose for this midday drive than to get on the road and explore, and it didn’t disappoint.
We drove up to Dalvik (44 KM outside of Akureyri) and drove back. The area was beautiful with snow capped mountains, rich blue waters and green farms. We were back in Akureyri around 4:30PM, bought some food for our drive tomorrow and went in search of supper. We were in a city with plenty of food options yet the day felt a little anticlimactic so we went for something simple and familiar opting for SubWay before returning to the guest house.
Located a stones throw away from the downtown area and waters edge guesthouse Gula Villan has no right housing as many people as it does. There is one bathroom upstairs for at least four rooms. If this place was full capacity it would be a bit complicated. The check in process was frustrating when no one answered the door or phone at 11. We were forced to leave and return 30 minutes later and finally someone answered. Perhaps this is what we expected guesthouses to be like in Iceland but the last week has spoiled us with a quiet sleep and amazing breakfasts; both of which were lacking here.
There was no sound protection from people watching the television down the hall or from the sound of doors opening and closing. We were the only guests having breakfast in the morning so a special container was set aside for us in the fridge that contained meat, bread and yogurt. Compared to previous meals we had this was a small spread. Knowing we had a big drive ahead of us and how limited road food would be we skimped on our portions for breakfast so we could make a sandwich for the road.
Day 9 / May 24
Because of the distance we were covering today we had dreaded this part of the trip. This was a long day in time and distance from Akuereyi as we made our way from the middle of the country to the doorstep of the Westfjords.
Immediately outside of Akuereyi we saw some Icelandic horses by the fence near the road. These horses always looked amazing when driving and I took full advantage to pull the car over and get close to one. A few others were curious what I was up to and came to the fence too. The ability to stop the car on the road, not have to worry about blocking traffic and taking a moment to get out and look at your surroundings was something I never got tired of in Iceland.
When we crossed into the area of the Westfjords we saw the quality of roads decrease instantly. We were on narrow and bumpy gravel roads with steep grades on switchbacks and felt that we were a careless turn away from driving into danger.
The gravel slowed our drive and we tried to break up the distance by making detours to look at attractions along the way. We tried to break up our drive by making detours and looking at attractions along the way. The best stop we made was going to the authentic sod houses in Glumbaer. We didn’t pay to enter the houses seeing the turf roof was interesting enough.
Around 3:30PM we approached the Kirkjubol Guesthouse (after leaving Akuereyi at 9AM). We checked in, unloaded our luggage and decided to carry up the road to see Holmavik and Dragsnes, which have a population of 375 and 67 respectively. We took advantage of the cooking area at the guesthouse and picked up some supplies at the grocery store in Holmavik. We didn’t know what kind of pots or pans the guesthouse had so we played it safe and picked up frozen pizza and some vegetables.
With supper taken care of we made the 33km drive up the fjord to Dragsnes to see two sea stacks. The story of the sea stacks being trolls who were trying to separate the 7KM stretch of land that connected the Westfjords to the rest of the country was more interesting than the stacks themselves as they were a little disappointing. Perhaps I was expecting stacks like what we saw at Vik but these were a little of a let down. Still, we were able to explore the countryside and stayed busy so it was an enjoyable trip for that reason. Dragsnes also has hot tubs located right beside the road that look out over the rocks into the water. We didn’t see anyone in there and with our bathing suits left at the guesthouse we didn’t stop to look, but on a warmer day it might be a nice way to relax.
We returned back to the Guesthouse, cooked our pizza, drank the other bottle of wine we bought the day before and played a game of Yahtzee after making the game sheet from scratch. With no one else in the house we were able to spread out and unwind after a long day. Compared to our stay in Akuereyi the quiet was incredibly welcomed and made for a nice evening.
I described this guesthouse like an oasis on the the fjord. We were a stones throw away from the water, a spot frequented by seals was visible just outside the window and in addition to having full cooking facilities we were the only people in the guesthouse. A space large enough for 10 adults was all to ourselves. Perhaps if there were other guests we may have thought differently about this place but this was definitely a benefit of coming in the off season.
There was a full cooking facility, multiple bathrooms and a large living area with a table, couch and TV. The Guesthouse is usually full in the summer and they cater to families with children.
Breakfast the following morning was ready for us right at 8:00AM (the host came in at 7:30 to prepare it and was done by 7:50). We are becoming used to these “traditional” breakfasts and knew what to eat in order to fill up for another full day on the road.
Day 10 / May 25
In a country as isolated and closed off as Iceland is the Westfjords are even more isolated and reserved. This area is often neglected by tourists due it not having the same glitz and glamour of the rest of the country, but here you trade in signs of active volcanoes for quiet fishing villages. A “large city” is described as having a few thousand people and the further north you go up a fjord the more unique and peculiar they become.
The Westfjords were the best, and worst, part of our trip. The weather impacted our enjoyment but between the rain and terrible road conditions we would occasionally glimpse beautiful blue waters and mountains that fall off the edge of the world and know we were in a remarkable area.
We left the Kirkjubol Guesthouse shortly after 9AM and made our way north. The elevation change in the drive saw the temperature drop from 8 to 4 and suddenly we were driving in an area that was mostly snow covered. Some banks of snow by the ditch must have been 10 feet tall. Every time the fjord road would take us by the water the wind would sway our vehicle and as we retreated back into the protection of the land the drive became calmer. We stopped to take a few photos along the way but mostly got out of the car and marveled at how strong the wind was.
We arrived at Ísafjörður around 12:30PM and headed straight to our pit stop for the night at Gamla Guesthouse. We arrived between the time of no one being at the front desk so we had to go a few blocks over to get our room key from Hotel Ísafjörður. Our room was still being made up so we changed into warmer clothes and went out exploring the city.
The weather hadn’t improved while we drove so it was still rainy and a bit windy. The weather impacted the sights we could see around Ísafjörður, especially some of the nice hikes that would look down upon the city. After a few minutes you had covered the main shopping area and were going in circles. Amongst the dreary weather we found an incredible bakery in the center of town called Gamla Bakery. The selection was impressive, the cost was reasonable and what we bought tasted delicious. This bakery was a definite highlight, not only in Ísafjörður but on our trip as a whole.
There are only a few places to get food in Ísafjörður but Gamla Bakery is one that should be your first stop if you’re up that way. With food in our stomachs we drove up the peninsula to Bolungarvík. The guide books suggested visiting a fishing museum and a chance to drive through multiple kilometres of mountain tunnels () Some tunnels were even single lane!
There are so few people that live in this area that it made sense to build a single lane tunnel instead of a multiple lane one (none were photographed). There are turn outs every few hundred meters but it’s terrifying to be driving through the heart of a mountain not knowing if you’ll be headlights to headlights with another car as you go around a corner. Thankfully the tunnels are straight and there was few vehicles but it was definitely something that caught us by surprise, even with the guide book preparing us for these.
While in Bolungarvik we went north up the gravel road and reached a distance milestone: we crossed the 66th parallel. We made it to N66° 09.699′ – W023° 14.88′, took some photos and headed back.
Back in Ísafjörður we were limited for supper options so we opted for a nice meal at Hotel Ísafjörður. It was nice to get out of the rain and enjoy a catfish special looking out at the harbor. Entertainment in the evening is limited so with a full belly we went back to the guesthouse, had some wine (which we picked up at Vinbudin earlier in the day) and did research and used the wireless connection to see how things were back in Canada.
I wrote a lot about Ísafjörður, and I think if the weather had been better this may have been one of our favorite stops on the entire trip. When we are ever this way again we’ll make sure to properly explore Ísafjörður and the surrounding area.
A nice Guesthouse located near the heart of Ísafjörður (I suppose you would have to be out of town to not be near the heart of this small town). The rooms were large and there was plenty of space for us to spread out our bags and dry out from the wet weather. There were multiples showers and bathrooms on the main floor and even though there were others staying here you couldn’t tell. The room also had a sink in it, which is convenient and something we always appreciated. The curtains let in a bit of light but it did a good enough job. With a comfy bed, soft pillow a quiet hall and some wine we had no problems getting to sleep.
This Guesthouse may have been the cleanest one we have stayed in, plus they also had an amazing breakfast. Like places before it there was a traditional spread of meat and bread but what separated this breakfast from others was the amount of food that was available. When you don’t know when, or where, in the day you’ll have lunch or supper it’s good to fill up with one good meal and Gamla Guesthouse did breakfast right.