I just returned from a lovely trip round Iceland - wonderful impressions that I consider worth noting down - so here goes part I!
Update: Here comes day 3 of our Icelandic encounter!
Update: Finally, day four!
Update: Included The Void!
Day 1 - Reykjanes
Its a hot summer here in Munich currently, with temperatures rising above 30 degree Celsius, at it has been when we went to the airport to fly to Iceland.
It was late at night, with the sun already setting. Weirdly, it kept setting throughout the entire flight, a neverending evening, with endless seas of glowing clouds. It was setting when we past the shores of Iceland, and flew over a giant crater covered under sheer white snow, giving us the first slight impression of the nature of this Island in the far north, where ice and fire meet.
It was still setting when we arrived at Kevlarvík airport at midnight. Stepping out of the airplane into the gangway gave me the first surprise of many to come - it was cooler than in Munich, but still bearable with mz short shirt I was wearing. Despite just having passed midnight the airport was humming with activities, travellers strolling here and there, so many people trying to leave the airport that it took us nearly two hours until we finally reached our rent car on the parking lot. This was also our first clash with a phenomenon that would follow us throughout our entire trip - heavy wind. The sun was gone leaving us in a dim dusk when we arrived on our first camping site at Grindavík
, with the only major annoyance during planting our tends being the wind. The night went surprisingly fast, and without the feared cold, though.
We still expected another friend to arrive at the airport on the next midnight (no idea why at Kevlavík the planes seem to prefer midnight for arrival...), so we decided to spend our first day looking around the Reykjanes-Peninsula
. Iceland is located right on top of the atlantic fissure, where Northern American and the European plate keep shifting away from each other, and this fissure runs right through Reykjanesskagi peninsula, making it a location of some interesting hot and smelly sites.
Passing through dark stony deserts with some weird structures like barrows where buried giants broke free again we reached our first target, the Gunnuhver
steamer. we could make out the waving column of dense white steam rising from the well, becoming ever bigger the closer you get, until in its vicinity the ground changes from the dark grey to odd yellow, brown, white and reddish colors and the air becomes filled with the smell of sulphur. Funnilly one can walk on bridge close to the well and right through the steam clouds, soaking one entirely in smelly water.
|Image: Gunnuhver steamer on the Reykjanes peninsula|
After having dried our clothes again in the steady ever blowing wind we headed on to the western shore, to a colony of seagulls, a rough cliff steadily raising up to about 25 meters just to suddenly break away, dive into the endless dark roaring ocean, far out on the horizon another small island like a toothpick on a black mirror.
|Image: Valahnukar coast at the Atlantic ocean, the western-most rim of Iceland|
Its called Valahnukar, and like many of the places we visited it is beautiful in its strangeness and tough character. Turning around the vast vain of Reykjanes peninsula, we took lunch and on we headed for Miðlína, two 20 meter wide gaps partially filled with soft dark sand which the wind carried from the huge volcanoes in the back of Iceland. According to Icelandic PR they separate the American from the European plate and therefore they built a bridge in this refreshing emptyness. For us, it was a beautiful, wind-proof place to rest sitting on the black sands and rejoycing upon the warmth rising from this soft powder. We did not have too much time to relax because we had an appointment with a bath in the thermal waters of Bláa lónið
(the blue lagoon) a spa at a pool of hot water stemming from a geothermal power plant. How great it is to slide into these bright greenish blue waters,! Even the sulphuric smell started to become familiar and somehow comforting.
|Image: Pool of geothermal water at Bláa lónið|
Having to somehow spend the time till midnight, the time our comrad would arrive at the airport, we decided to head for a short trip to Reykjavík afterwards where we enjoyed our first Icelandic dinner - a tiny slice of mink whale, bought some puppets of Atlantic puffins and other gifts for home. We headed back to Reykjanes and decided to have a nap until we could pick up our friend to head on for a camping site in Hafnarfjörður near Reykjavík - the next day would require us being ready for a long ride to the foot of the hugest glacier in Europe.
Day 2 - Following the Golden Circle and the south coast
After getting up and enjoing our homebrewed coffee we sped to the interior of the island eastwards onto Icelands greatest lake - the Þingvallavatn and nearby Þingvellir valley where the Alþingi, Icelands ancient annual gathering of the free settlers took place. The landscape changed to wide plains covered with green gras and seamed with mid sized mountains with white hoods while we started following the Golden Circle
and after a short stop at the Laugarvatn lake the bigger Þingvallavatn crouched up behind a hill top. Not extraordinarily wide its an impressive view nevertheless! It took another half an hour following its shores northward until we reached huge gaps in the ground, where the earth tears open slowly to breed new land - its rims drift apart just as rapid as fingernails grow they say.
|Image: Þingvallavatn, the mouth of the Öxará river feeding it|
From the rim of the gorges one overlooks a landscape like I image southern Sweden, a river meandering through a Taiga like scenery molten from green gras, white tiny birches and eventually slowly pouring itself into this great lake, with the ice covered mountains in the back silently observing the peaceful paradise. We entered one of the gorges - and suddenly I felt like hiking in a quarry in the rocky mountains of the bavarian forrest, only huger and with its walls rugged.
|Image: Gorge in Þingvellir|
You could feel the energy of the very earth slowly crafting this landscape that is ever changing and wil only be finished in a distant future when the earth will have run out of all its uranium and the radiating matter in its core, the fire that melts stone upon the tiny shells that we inhabit float. But no time to loose and a long ride still ahead we sped on around the eastern shores of the lake to a field of hot pools and Strokkur
the king of Iceland's geysers. Trice we saw him spit, unleash its hot waters to form a glimmering fountain of hot blue water, watching the empty pit in his heart refill itself with waters of unknown origin after each eruption. After a cup of coffee in the tourist center nearby we continued our trip now turning southward heading for the southern coast line and route 1, Icelands round circling the entire island.
|Image: Ölfusá river in the Þingvellir national park|
After passing our first uncovered road and traversing the lovely valley of the Ölfusá river an impressive, snow covered mountain came into sight - Hekla
, the majestic and dreadful queen of Iceland's volcanoes, throuought the middle ages believed to be the entry to death's realm, Hel
by heathens and hell for after they turned to Christianity. Even though from our rather distant vantage point we could only imagine its height and rough slopes, the cold of its cap and the fire sleeping below spotting this mystic volcanoe was for sure one of the highlights of our journey! Thus I forced our driver to stop for just watching this mountain for a few minutes in the middle of the road. Nearby on the left, other mountains covered under their icy crust - Eyjafjallajökull
the volcanoe so well known to the world since it brought down Europe's air traffic in 2010 with its dust clouds, and - Katla
that is one of the biggest as well as of the most active of Iceland's volcanoes, and known for its violent eruptions und its frosty cap, the Mýrdalsjökull glacier
. Eventually we had to go on surrounding the frosty volcanoes to reach the coast, and slipping between them and the sea along eastwards. And the lanscape changed another time - with plain marshes purple due to endless fields of lupine flowers
eventually turning into beaches covered with this fine black sands that bear a moving history, born by fire, ground by ice and water and eventually carried to the coast by Iceland's ever blowing winds on the right hand side. On the left, friendly slopes rose to higher hills covered with the greenest of all grasses, and once and then - water flowing down, flowing over black cliffs and forming waterfalls falling like thin white strings now and then. How great this scenery looked, one would rather think of New Zealand than the very north eastern outermost edge of Europe. When arriving at the Skógafoss
fall, we stopped again to appreciate the miracle of the icy waters falling down the black rim, producing steam and wet dust in the midst of the green surrounding it.
Leaving the marshes looked over by the glacier volcanoe Katla we stopped once again for the beach at Vík í Mýrdal
where it is said that three trolls once tried to drag a ship to the cost when they where hit by sun light. Truth or rather fiction, you can still see the three columns of rock surrounded by the icy waters of the Atlantic ocean just off shore. However, trolls could not hold us back for long, and since it had started dripping water drops now and then we soon continued following Iceland's route no 1 eastwards. the rain stopped and as the landscape passed by, it kept changing again, to wide vast plain areas covered with small stones and black sands, giant river beds without water, only now and then tiny streams cut through the emptiness which we surpassed via narrow single lane bridges that seemed to having been constructed only preliminarily. I realized only later that this was actually true - the weird arrangement of glaciers on top of mountains of fire seems to cause spring floods (they call it jökullhlaups
) every now and then forming these plains and tearing away everything - its futile to construct bridges to endure. When we stopped on top of a particularly long one of these narrow bridges connecting two dams of rock in an extraordinary wide plain we suddenly realized that what looked like mist or cloudy horizon to the north was actually the rim of the giant Skeiðarárjökull
glacier, one of the many fingers of frost Vatnajökull
sends down its rims. It was late evening when we arrived at Skaftafell
, a green oasis cowering underneath one of the mountains that withstand the ice flowing round them. We thought of it as a settlement, but it consisted only of a few huts spread into the hills and nearby the foot of the Kristínartindar mountain. The camping side were some acres of gras, split into parcels of the size of football ground by hedges. It was a lovely place, some kind of alloy of the Alps and what I imagine Cannada to look like, with these vast dark plains in front of us and, eventually but barely sensible, the sea. And the icy walls of the glaciers on the flanks. It was the lonliest place I had been so far, it was the roughest area ahead of us, it were the most dreadful worlds of ice next to us, and its been one of the most lovely places i have ever been to. It has been two weeks since I have been there, its summer in here and I only returned from climbing on the ridge of the eastern Karwendel mountains with nice people, and yet I miss Skaftatell already. I now I will go back there again!
Day 3 - Over Skaftafell, frozen lakes and the eastern fjords
After supper (we had a gas stove where we boiled noodles together with chopped sausages, cheese and other stuff, an amalgamation we dubbed 'Skaftafras' - Skafta muck, but it tasted very well) we lay down in our tends to wake up next morning and go for a hike onto the mountain behind us. On we climbed through low bushes, onto a wide ledge covered with stones, moss and thick plants, where we had a great view onto the Skaftafellsjökull glacier.
On we went towards Kristínartindar peak, but time was already short - the day would see us crossing the eastern fjords, about a quarter of the Icelandic coast, so we aborted and headed back to the camping lot, passing the Svartifoss waterfall, plentiful panoramic views over the Skeiðarár Sandur plains - a lovely place, it is! However, road no 1 awaited, Mývatn
calling. On we drove, the cost line on our left, Vatnajökull remained with us on our right flanks, its glaciers breaking through its rocky walls. We did not drive long before spotting a first glacier lake with a uncovered road leading right to its banks - Fjallsárlón
. The weather had turned a bit worse than in Skaftafell, with some drops smashing on our front panel. When we left our car, winds of utmost strength hit us, masses of air ostensibly falling down the heights of the Vatnajökull glacier, turning the little water drops into stinging icy whiplashes. Its been great, however. And approaching the lake itself, this frosty pool of barely molten water, studded with ice clumps of the most wonderous flavors of blue and turquoise glass and the frozen walls of the glacier in the back, whinding down from the endless world wrapped in the chilly grip of the ice giants
|Image: Fjallsárlón lake|
Overwhelmed by sensations, the icy view, the powerful wind in this vast arena of natural strength, it took me quite a bit of will to turn and leave this place again. We did not go far, though, because Jökulsárlón
loomed beyond the low bare ridges the glaciers push ahead of them and we had another short rest to enjoy the scenery. Bigger than the other pool, it lacked much of its atmosphere, perhaps due to the fact that winds were not nearly as strong as on its smaller brother, and the icy shields loomed from much further away.
Carrying on in the car, I took a nap and only now and then became aware of the landscapes passing by, a pitty, because as we surrounded Vatnajökull on its eastern flank, the landscapes shifted from the barely inhabitable and strange in its vastness looking sandur
to a more soft stage that could be found in spring in southern Bavaria as well - and finally, Höfn
our first target was reached, were we resupplied with groceries and had supper at the Kaffi Hornid
erstaurant, where the my lamb shanks were just as delicious as the lobster pasta of my comrads, although the dishes did not look like being intended to saturate - I still felt the urge to have another cup of skyr
we had bought and eaten just before. Looking back I consider it a pity that I actually went for driving the car from there, we soon entered the eastern fjords and me, seeing the steep slopes we somehow managed to meander along a narrow ledge, in between the high, stony and totally dead walls on the left and impressive cliffs dropping down right into the sea, but unable to really figure them out, observe the weaves ever battering against the cliffs that continuously cede to resist and crumble down upon the waters that broke them. And again, the sights changed, to smoother hills crowned by black rugged tops of solidified lava, a waterfall here and there cutting its traits through the hills, and long hoses of water extending into the land, passing through Hamarsfjörður into the Berufjörður
. Must be a great place for camping, and we were tempted to just stop and find a place to hide our tends in one of those great valleys filled with glistening water. But having decided that our fourth night should be spent in a bed rather in a sleeping bag, we were bound for Egilsstaðir
and needed to push onwards. At the very rear of Berufjörður, the road split with us leaving with the choice of either leaving the solid road and thus cutting about 30 kilometers of our route, or stick to it and avoiding the rough and steep trail leading straight up the edge of the fjord.
We went for the rough trail, and I took the opportunity to leave steering our car for Patrick, who had managed to drive us all the way from Keflavík to Höfn. The higher we climbed the wetter the air became, with plates of snow showing up nearby the road, the mists thickening, the sun that accompanied us through the green - blue fjords vanished behind a cloudy clutter of water. And reaching Egilsstaðir the became part of civilization again, the town looking just like any coastal settlement around the northern sea in England or Germany, leaving little room for respiration. With the rain keeping coming down upon us, the city and the remainder of the sea extending into the town and beyond, it all boiled down to: Grey. Grey was the water in the fjord, grey were the houses, grey was the road, and grey were the heavens. Plain grey, and nothing beyond. Heck, I even remember the faces of the people bearing just one feature: Grey. And, worse, despite having ridden the road the entire day through just to reach a town with hostels, there werent any rooms available - some helpful grey personel in a hotel tried to help us find something but the entire area for at least 50 kilometers around Egilsstaðir seemed to having be reserved by who-knows-whom. So there we went again, for a camping ground, the first and only time in Iceland we camped during rain, which was not really pleasant, the toiled being the warmest place, and the only one where the waters did not soak, with the surrounding place having turned into a grey field of muddy greyish sludge, the grey of the heavens nearly touching the grey of the ground we refrained from eating but went straight out of the toilet room into our tends, with our shoes turning, slowly, grey.
Day 4 - To Akureyri
Gratefully, the next morning began quite a bit drier than the last evening, the grey remained, but at least the rain had fairly ceased. Packing our luggage into the trunk of the car was not difficult, but since the tends were entirely soaked and needed drying we had to get into the car and then unfolding them over us, leaving just enough room to be able to see the street. However, the day before we had encountered a small shop right on the corner to the main street that looked quite promising regarding a breakfast - BÓKAKAFFI HLÖÐUM
. It did not prove wrong, but in fact turned out to be a lovely mescla in between breakfast restaurant and book store, with the wall litterally mumbling and creaking of joy for the books that were stacked in the cupboards all around. And the coffee was cheap, too ;) We took our time on deciding how to proceed, once because we were unsure how to proceed, and on the other hand because of the nice location. Ultimately, rationality took over and we decided to head straight for Akureyri, in order to finally get into a hotel room bed that we had loned for already yesterday and missed so miserably last night, bypassing what we felt would become one of the two highlights of our trip - the 'midge lake' and return to it on the day after tomorrow. Soon after leaving Egilsstaðir we met again with The Void - vast, empty plains in the distant slowly climbing up to hills, with that particular darkness that we had not encountered since Reykjanes, only now garnished with little speck of white - snow - gently nuzzling the ground as the street turned inside the land. Darkness, clouds, stones, rocky hills, a vast arena for the elements, hours and hours full of nothing, within nowhere. Humbling, sublime.
|Image: The Void|
Somewhere, a fair amount of time later, we turned rightwards, from the tarmac onto a dusty road consisting mainly of stones missing on the ground. With the tends still covering us, steaming from the moistness we had soaked in the Fellabær camping ground, Egilsstaðir we humped over the ground, slowly realizing a canyon right on our left flank. Finally we arrived at some flat area with quite a few cars, waggons and trucks standing around in neat rows. The weather had slightly improved, still cloudy, but the moistness in the air all gone with only the wind that accompanied us throughout our journey like some dear friend remaining. Out of the car, and a few paces ahead we realized the canyon opening up in slow slopes with a river coming into sight, they call it Jökulsárgljúfur
|Image: Jökulsárgljúfur canyon north of the Dettifoss|
For a desolate area like that vast amounts of people covered the entire place, people heading towards the river into the canyon, and others striving out of it. We realized that although we could get down quite a few meters there was no path right to the river as all of a sudden a gorge opened up with steep walls diving right into the waters of the stream. And just slightly south of us, roar and mist all over the place, with the opposite rock wall getting covered with green and streams of water starting to pour down the green. And then there it was - Dettifoss, that great waterfall, the biggest in Europe (by appropriate measure;) . Here where the Jökulsá á Fjöllum
dives into its deep rocky bed we spend a fair amount of time watching the waters roar, hoisting ever raising steams of mist.
|Image: Dettifoss itself|
And yet, as everything passes by, we had to get back to the parking lot, where we took our meal and sat down beneath the gorge, Dettifoss having disappeared behind a curve. A long way still to go we left after a last glance at the river and its sublime canyon twisting into the north, following it there but never quite reaching it again. And then, between two pale walls like a giant portal, we entered Ásbyrgi
, the giant footprint of Odins
as they mutter. A great speck of lovelyness, with birches of pale bark and gentle green, but although just behind our windows impossible to reach as we were already late and had quite a bit of driving ahead of us. And thus I amazedly staring outside and promising myself to return as soon as possible we rushed on, on to the sea again and into the next town, Húsavík
, where we placed our car right next to Húsavíkurkirkja, a wooden church, but unfortunately without even noticing it appropriately. The sun had appeared and driven away the clouds nearly entirely, and thus we went for a sundae (or two, in my case), right before carrying on towards Akureyri. The landscape turned greener again, with the rough and yet gentle hills with the occasional pale rocky walls cutting through them, not unlike what we had seen nearby the south coast while we approached Eyjafjörður
and heading over the bridge spanning over it we entered Akureyri
. What a feeling to enter an actual town again, with shops, cars and a shopping lane. And the cutest inner city of all icelandic towns I have seen. Ina von Grumbkow
, author of Ísafold, the greatest travel description I read by far, left from here to the Askja volcano to look for her husband. But the greatest of all was - the bed and the coffee boiler - coffee whenever one desires - and a software engineer like myself is always lusting for the black mana ;) We pretty much relaxed, going out to a restaurant of high prices, acceptable italian food and nothing to remember, followed by some table games in our rooms. And then - sleep, sleep in the soft sheds of heaven and the pillows of pleasure.