Strolling It All

And taking my sweet time to do it.

Category: Iceland

Driving in Iceland Part 4

 

Driving in Iceland – Part Four


On the road:

There are several things to know if you drive in Iceland. Most importantly, yourp1060617speed is monitored by cameras. At first I thought – what the hell is this, a police state? But then I began to appreciate the lack of assholeness that defines driving in California. Nobody in Iceland was cutting me off, tailgating, or generally acting likea jerk. And you know what? It was a whole lot less stressful. There’s still the odd jackass, most likely a privileged idiot in an expensive car from a western country where people act like that, but in general, 98% of the drivers are nice, and more importantly, safe.

We never saw a single cop on the road, but I’ve heard stories of whopping fines as a
result of the cameras. If you’d like to learn more about speed limits, fines, and how they’re administered, visit http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2012/11/reykjavik-basics-how-to-avoid-speeding-tickets-in-iceland/

Most roads are two lane highways with no shoulders. Stay alert to oncoming traffic,stay in your lane, and DO NOT EVER EVEN ONCE stop in the middle of the road or on the non-existent shoulder to take pictures or for any other reason. Find a turnout. People won’t anticipate or sometimes even see you until it’s too late, and they’ll be traveling at high speeds.

Sharing the road.

Everybody Shares

You have to share the bridges. Most are only one lane. Both sides will have a turnout somewhere in the middle for cars on each side to wait their turns, and people typically communicate with hand signals or other polite gestures like flashing their lights. Sharing isn’t so hard. It actually feels pretty good.

Most of the Ring Road is paved, butGravel roads make nice short cuts - some of it is hard-pack gravel. Many secondary roads are dirt. We were traveling in July, when rain is scant and days are long, so it wasn’t a problem, but sometimes the short cuts and alternate routes can be a bit thrilling. One steep drive down the side of a glacier gave us all white knuckles. We said a few foxhole prayers but we made it ok.

We never had to forge a river, but we saw people doing it in various vehicles to get to smaller towns. If I had to, I’d probably wait and watch a local do it first, but I didp1060564take the time to read about how to handle river crossings in a vehicle. If you’ve only driven on pavement your whole life, you might consider taking an off-road driving class before your trip, but if you take your time and be careful, your biggest concern will be avoiding whiplash from trying to take in all the scenery.

 

Watch out for wild horses and nomadic sheep. It’s their world, you’re just visiting.We took six days to travel the Ring Road, but I’d recommend ten or more. It wouldhave been much nicer to do more walking since there were so many cool places. It seemed like the moment you got out of your car you were in the wilderness. The sounds, smells, colors, vistas, peacefulness, wild hot springs and general wonderfulness of this epic land make it well worth taking your sweet time to see it.

The last suggestion I’d make is to familiarize yourself with the rental car drop off point at the airport, especially if you picked up your car in town. The drop-off areas are mostly off site and it can be confusing. It was the only time we got lost, and even though my wife was right and I was wrong, I’ll never admit it, ‘cause that’s what dudes do.

I hope this helps you decide how to travel in Iceland.  My next post about Iceland will be about Akureyri, the northernmost and second largest city in Iceland.

 

 

 

 

 

Driving in Iceland – Part One

p1060337-1

To Drive or not to Drive? That is the question:

There’s a funny scene in the cult classic film, “Raising Arizona,” where two convicts named Gale and Evelle Snoats, played by John Goodman and William Forsythe, escape from prison and steal a station wagon. As they’re driving it across the vast foreboding desert, John Goodman bangs on the roof and exclaims, “I just looove to drive.”

I often feel that way when I take the wheel. The forward motion, changing landscape, rhythm of the tires and feel of the wind all combine to give me a mesmerizing sense of traveling through space and time. I welcome diversions and alternate routes, and though I’m heading to a destination, I never know what I’ll see on the way.

Driving awakens the adventurer in me, while at the same time it allows my inner thoughts and dreams to come to light. I’ve probably had a thousand epiphanies while driving, seen a million things I’d never have seen, and been exposed to all kinds of great topics and music on the radio (when I turn it on).

Always a good ride with my friend Willie Wilson

Always a good ride with my friend Willie Wilson

It also allows for a solid place to have a great conversation.    When you’re united with someone while you’re driving, it’s easier to get to know them. The time lines up with the white lines on the freeway and there always seems to be something worth seeing or doing at the end of every journey.

So when I read about Iceland, its Ring Road and wide open spaces, I knew that this was exactly how I wanted to spend my time there with my wife Wendy and our best friend Willie.

While I normally wouldn’t recommend a trip in which you sit in a car most of the

Nothing but pretty everywhere you look.

Nothing but pretty everywhere you look.

time, Iceland is different. There are so many utterly amazing things to see and they’re often right off the road. In the United States, we drive long distances to get to our greatest national parks, but in Iceland you’re already there, driving through a country that is in itself a massive wilderness.

There’s plenty of specific information about car rentals and road conditions online, so over the next few posts I’ll cover general information to help you decide if driving the Ring Road is for you.

First of all, you don’t have to drive. There’s a limited but comfortable and reliable public bus system that goes to most villages, towns and cities in Iceland. There’s also a good airline system for traveling farther faster. Tours are available too, and some people hitchhike.

As a former world-class hitchhiker in my youth, I’ll say that Iceland is a place where stuck-hitchhikingyou could grab your backpack, put your thumb in the air, and hit the road. There are lots of places to raise your tent and you’d very likely not have to worry about crime or violence.

 

The statistics on crime in Iceland are ridiculous. With a population the size of St Louis, there are less than 500 people convicted of crimes that require jail time in the whole country. Even petty theft is uncommon. The “wrongness” of stealing in Icelandic culture goes back to Viking times, and the social safety net – provided to the people by the people – eliminates most of the hardships that can push those on the margins in my country (the United States) to commit crimes.

tumblr_leubonvb9s1qg8afqo1_1280There’s also a strong feminist history in Iceland, and women there are more respected, appreciated, and protected than I’ve seen in other places. While I can’t speak as a female hitchhiker, I noticed that respect.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t hitchhike in Iceland, even as a youngster. The weather conditions can change to anything at any time, and the wind can be brutal. By brutal, I mean that you wouldn’t be as concerned with your tent blowing away while you were gone as you would with it blowing away while you were in it. We’re talking winds strong enough to shred a kite or sandblast the paint right off a car.bilde

And distances are no joke – it’s often hours between the smallest of towns with few cars on the road between them. In addition, the roads are relatively void of any shoulders and standing around them can be dangerous.

imagesThere are hardcore, and I do mean hardcore people who bicycle the Ring Road. They are, in my mind, simply insane. There’s no accounting I can offer for them other than to shake my head and say “holy guacamole.” If you doubt their struggle, just check out their pained expressions as they grind past you, their faces flush with wind burn.

My next entry will be on renting a car in Iceland.

Snæfellsnes – Just saying it is fun!

 

P1060311

(Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈstn̥aiːfɛlsˌnɛːs])

 

One thing I have to say about the Snæfellsnes peninsula – it’s far more than just the mouthful of oddly punctuated vowels that it takes to say it.

 

It’s sort of a mini–Iceland unto itself.  Snæfellsnes comprises a large peninsula that contains most of what Iceland has to offer within. Volcanoes, fjords, glaciers and waterfalls can all be found in this fairly manageable and easily accessible part of Iceland.

 

Check out the odd church in the background

Check out the odd church in the background

We drove from Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur, which is a small fishing village on thenortheastern end of the peninsula. It seemed like it took about three or four hours to get there, but we did stop a bit so I’m not sure.  I do remember the drive was direct and easy with lots of scenery.

 

P1060536

Hotel Egilson

After we arrived at Stykkishólmur and checked into the Hotel Egilsen, we took a spin out to the Snaefellsjökull National Park. It was a bit overcast, but we saw some amazing sights in the short few hours we were there.   Clearly, it was a mistake not to allow at least two days to explore the peninsula, as it was stunning.  We only stayed one night.

I should have climbed this giant shark fin.

I should have climbed this giant shark fin.

 

P1060268Our room in the Hotel Egilsen offered a commanding view of the StykkishólmurHarbor.  It’s a small, quaint harbor enveloped by a remarkable headland that juts out over high basalt columns that face the harbor.  A thousand Islands serve as the backdrop and we felt like we were on the edge of the planet.  Indeed, this is the premier launching spot to travel to the remote West Fjords (by ferry).

These basalt columns are HUGE

These basalt columns are HUGE

The hotel was small but stylish and comfortable. It was an easy walking distance to the headland as well as local attractions, including the “library of water” http://www.libraryofwater.is.

We ate the world’s best fish soup across the street at Narfeyrarstofa, (http://www.narfeyrarstofa.is), a restaurant clearly touched by the Fish God, with seafood so fresh it’s practically still swimming, and unique, outstanding recipes.  I wish I were there right now.  We had homemade surprise for desert (they won’t tell you what it is), which turned out to be excellent ice cream.  That night was chocolate and caramel with sea salt made that day by our server.

People in Stykkishólmur were nice and friendly in a small town kind of way, and interesting and intelligent in an Iceland kind of way. Kids from Reykjavik migrate to locations like Stykkishólmur to work during the summer. They’re fun to talk to and brightened up our experience.  There was also a big hot spring/mineral pool facility that we did not experience but looked fun.

There’s a big fishing and marine life culture in Stykkishólmur. Until recently, the town was almost entirely self-sustainable. They have boats with their own unique hull design, which allows maximum stability and access during massive tidal swings (over twelve feet). It would be fairly easy to secure a sightseeing or fishing trip with a local boat owner.  The hotel mentioned that they could arrange it.

These sterns are unique to this area.

These hull designs are unique to this area.

P1060526

 

I spent the whole morning we were there exploring the headland. I took in endless P1060389vistas, saw dozens of different kinds of sea birds, including puffins, and walked through fields of wild flowers.  There was also a cool old lighthouse. Standing beside it, gazing down at the basalt columns from above, they looked otherworldly, marching in formation out to sea.  Being on the headland was like being in a scene from The Hobbit, lush, green, and powerful.

Tourist at the cool little lighthouse that has probably saved a thousand lives.

Tourist at the cool little lighthouse that has probably saved a thousand lives.

The Icelandic gull. They are small with a fully white head and body.

The Icelandic gull. They are small with a fully white head and body.

The Arctic Tern.

The Arctic Tern.

Flowers of every color and shape dotted the headland.

Flowers of every color and shape dotted the headland.

P1060405

The trail was epic; green, lush and soft.

The trail was epic; green, lush and soft.

The views of the islands and west fjords was mesmerizing.

The views of the islands and west fjords was mesmerizing.

On a more social note, at breakfast, one of the guests had an earache.  The waiter made a phone call and had her a doctor’s appointment in 15 minutes.  Nobody waits more than a day to see the doctor in Iceland and healthcare is free, or as they put it, “paid by everyone for everyone.”  What a concept.  They care more about each other’s health than they do about profits.

A locals house on a rock hundreds of feet above the ocean with 360 degree views .

A locals house on a rock hundreds of feet above the ocean with 360 degree views .

After a great breakfast while watching other tourists make a mad dash to the ferrygoing to the West Fjords, we climbed back into the jeep and headed east.

Here is a link to 98 pictures I took of this area, if you would like to see more http://adobe.ly/2bgiYRu

Feel free to ask questions and I will get back to you as best I can.

My next post is going to be on the ins and outs of driving in Iceland.   Thanks for dropping by.

Onward we go.

Onward we go.

 

 

The Golden Circle

Iceland (37 of 48)

The golden circle can easily be done in a day if the day is long enough.

While that may sound like an esoteric Icelandic saying, it is the truth.

Days range from 4 hours to 20 hours in Iceland.  It takes a good 8 hours to really see the Golden Circle.   You will need three hours just to drive it and
Iceland (13 of 48)an equal amount of time to gawk at it.  And I do mean gawk, as in draw dropped open stare gawking while saying things like “holy guacamole”, “mother of god”,  or “your kiddin me”.  If you are fortunate enough to catch a sunny day without a lot of wind then you better give yourself 11 hours and bring some food and six camera batteries.

Iceland (25 of 48)What is there to see ?  Well, there’s the biggest geyser in the world.

 

 

 

It’s in a little field full of Geysers. Iceland (24 of 48)Iceland (23 of 48)

Iceland (12 of 48)Then there is the Continental divide, the actual crack between the North American
and the European tectonic plates.  Yea, that’s right – you can take a selfie standing in between two continents.

Iceland (1 of 48)At one point it’s only about ten feet across.  You can hike well into it and experience the different geology in each plate and contemplate your puniness.

Then there is the incredible vistas, the beautiful horses running free across sweeping green pastures, the volcano’s, the massive glacier covered peaks in the distance, birds, primitive sheep, interesting farm houses, Iceland (20 of 48)dramatic properties and lots of waterfalls.

 

And of those waterfalls, there is one that everyone must see, the ultimate waterfall, Gullfuss.

 

Iceland (45 of 48)Gullfuss is not so much a waterfall as an incomprehensible mountain of waterwrapping through a series of cascading waterfalls.  It is sort of like Naigra falls running around a corner and down a few steps at the same time.  At one point there is a V with water falling off all points.  Then it falls into a massive deep crevice where the spray fly’s up the other side and creates a hovering cloud of mist.

It can be behind you and in front of you at the same times.   Just listening to Gullfuss is a trip – seeing it and feeling it are like being in another world.
Iceland (40 of 48)

As you can see, the Icelanders rely on the tourist “sensible nature” not to step too far.

Here the waterfall is going straight back up in the air – misting us all.

Iceland (42 of 48)

Iceland (44 of 48) Easy Trail, just a tad wet.

 

 

 

 

Gullfuss also has an interesting history – as explained on this memorial plaque.Iceland (46 of 48)

We ate at a fun place, that was actually a working dairy and also provides lodging.

Iceland (17 of 48)Its called Efstidalur and is on a working dairy farm with brilliant views of the
hulking Mountain Hekla.  Efstidalur offers tasty farm to table meals and amazing ice-cream and has windows looking into the dairy barn.

We had a car to do this trip, but I can say that a tour bus would be fine.  Most of what we saw was very accessible from the areas we parked.

Iceland (32 of 48)Leaping Lupins

 

 

 

 

Iceland (16 of 48)

How did this rock get so ripply ?

 

 

 

Little Farm on Fjord Clear Mind

Off in the distance, a mammoth glacier – a beautiful site for another day –

Iceland (47 of 48)

Next stop is the mighty Snaefellsnes peninsula.

 

 

Reykjavik

Looking out for wayward travelersReykjavik (this is the third post in an ongoing series about Iceland)

We arrived in Reykjavik by air, as most people do. It’s an odd little airport, sluggishly chaotic, but it serves its purpose. It’s a simple affair to catch a bus to the city center. You purchase a ticket from the ticket booth and they point you to a big bus in the parking lot. They’ll ask where your hotel or final destination is when they take your ticket. Then they’ll drive the bus to a transfer station, where you board a smaller bus to get to your destination. They’re very service-minded, speak great English, and will get you where you need to go.  If you’re confused, they’ll help, and they seem to make an effort to ensure that no one is on the wrong bus. I mostly say that because I was on the wrong bus and they got me on the right one.

Our driver mentioned that sometimes if you tell them your street address they’ll take you
Street LIferight to your front door (instead of the nearest official stop).

Reykjavik is a small manageable city by foot; we stayed in the old part, which was perfect.  A short walk in any direction led to many fun adventures.Guys Walking

There are numerous hip restaurants, markets, music venues, and cool things to see.  There’s a working shipyard area, a port, Viking museums, several art galleries, a world-class opera house, a spectacular church, a thriving live music scene, great shopping, and endless scenic spots and gathering areas to enjoy your time in Reykjavik.

 

ba97-11a5-aa91-2aa4
8ee6-6776-e600-8582The Icelandic sense of style and design incorporates both traditional and modern motifs in unique ways. Simple, clean lines are an ongoing theme, from fashion to interior design to architecture. Arty graffiti and a keen sense of bold patterns and color spices up the scenery.

 

fae1-0436-48d1-24a9

Image-1And to top if off, the streets are full of friendly cats (who need pets) and a buzzing youthful7aa2-7b5e-6975-6e5b Gatheringenergy.

 

 

 

 

 

Above  is a picture of youngsters buying a hot dog (national favored treat) at 1am under the midnight sun. And here is a shot of Icelandic kids having some coffee.  In general the population is fit, engaged and “arty”

 

The Boat Yard offers a unique perspective. 1c7d-bc5d-7bee-1e4d

 

07e3-9026-ba6f-df47Boat excursions, bike rentals, and longer hikes are fun and plentiful.  You can also ferry to nearby islands and see Puffins.

Everyone likes Puffins!

 

 

We visited in July, when days are 20 hours long and night never fully falls.  Daytime weather ranged between 60 – 70 degrees, with sunny, clear skies, and nights were in the low 50’s. We rented an apartment through Airbnb, which had a kitchen, and we had great fun exploring and cooking with local 7007-37d3-244f-a5c4ingredients and baked goods.  Smoked Salmon was a great deal, as were many other types of fish and seafood.  The dairies there produce great cheeses, and some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had can be found at a
place near the water called Valdis http://www.valdis.is

We also enjoyed several meals out.  One super-fun, casual place was called the Laundromat Café, and it actually did have a Laundromat in the basement. http://www.thelaundromatcafe.com/en/home

Image-1-7One of my friends is vegan, and we had no trouble finding her a variety of tasty selections.  Reykjavik is extremely safe for walking or biking.  The whole country is in fact, almost entirely crime free, clean and socially benevolent.

 

 

Here is a picture of their world class performing arts center.

77cb-6d34-457d-e238

Even little houses like to spring a little art on ya.House Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small and large parks are plentiful.

Small ParkPark

And they like em Acrobatic Yoga

The epic Church, part of one of the many organs and a picture of the stained glass.

9e41-0b4b-7740-03386659-a627-2593-d69f2ace-546c-0714-7592

 

3385-0bb1-e0b3-ea45

 

The ever mesmerising midnight sun (2AM)

 

 

 

We stayed for four days, but you could b67f-732d-17ed-8027easily stay longer – especially if you pick up a car for excursions to the Golden Circle, Vik or Skogafoss waterfall.

 

 

 

Reykjavik could easily serve as a nice home base for those who want a big taste of Iceland without having to re-pack their bags.  I’d even consider stopping
2026-4721-209e-0634there for a few days on the way somewhere else just to eat the incredible fish, drink the local beer, maybe catch some music, and chill out.

Iceland – how we got there and what we know about it.

b67f-732d-17ed-8027

There are three commercial ways to get to Iceland.  You can fly, take a ferry, or take a cruise ship. While the domestic ferry services are quite robust (for inter-Iceland travel), the ferry service from Europe is very limited.  All travel options can be reviewed at http://www.visiticeland.com.

Our choice was to fly Iceland Air. http://www.icelandair.us

Iceland Air has direct flights from the US to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland) that depart 63e4-034c-9711-90a1from from Seattle (7 hours), Portland, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington, and Atlanta.  It’s a good airline with a strong safety and “on time” record.  Like most non-American international carriers, you will get a little more leg room (39 to 42 inches) and nice flight attendants.  It is also quite affordable. Even better, it flies to 22 destinations in Europe, making Iceland ideal for stopovers (which are free, encouraged, and often incentivized with free perks).

Transportation on the island is best handled by buses, rental cars, or short flights
(depending upon where you are going.)  Hitchhiking is fairly common, as crime rates are d05d-e94b-9c2c-e892-2extremely low, but one should factor in the severity of the elements if choosing to go that route.

We flew from Seattle to Paris with a two-hour layover in Reykjavik, and then stayed in Iceland on the way back. My business-class fare on Iceland Air was $400 less than an Air France coach fare out of SF, and the flight was two hours shorter.   An added benefit of flying out of Seattle is that they only have one flight a day each way on the same plane — it spends 10 hours a day not flying — so you can be confident that it is well-maintained and will leave on time.  Compare this to my parents’ experience on Air France.  The first direct flight had three mechanical issues. After four hours on the runway, the plane was de-boarded and they were put up in a hotel, followed by a next day departure with another 2-hour runway delay.   And guess what – on the way back from Paris, they had another four-hour runway wait.  You seriously need to check an airline’s average rate of making departure times and think about when your potential flight is most likely to come and go in order to make the best travel decisions.  

Iceland has a plethora of hotels5dfa-bb97-96cc-ce92, B and B’s, farm-stays, Airbnbs, and camping options to choose from at a variety of prices.  If you’re going during high season and want to stay indoors, you’d be foolish not to make prior reservations.   Towns are far apart and accommodations fill up in advance.  Fortunately, almost everyone you’ll communicate with is intelligent, speaks great English, and is internet-savvy, so making arrangements from afar is very easy.  There are also really good websites like that will help.  Here is the one I liked best — https://www.farmholidays.is

I can’t speak to camping, but that seems wide open.  A lot of people travel in well-equipped RVs and they seem to park wherever they want.  I also can’t speak to trekking or biking, but there are lots of blogs on the subject.  I will say that the weather (especially the wind) can be extreme all year.   How extreme you ask?  Well, I bought insurance to protect the car from having the paint sandblasted off, and I had to sign a waiver saying I would be responsible if a car door flies off its hinges, which apparently can happen if you’re not careful.  Now that’s windy.

Accommodations are, roughly priced, on par with the US, but food and gas are pricey – about like London.  BUT – all the parks are free and museums are cheap.  There is also a raging arts and music scene in Reykjavik and a few other places that can be enjoyed for nothing.   The people of Iceland are typically college-educated, well-read, well-versed in current events, and as I mentioned, almost everyone speaks English, so there’s no shortage of interesting, active, and strikingly healthy people to talk to virtually everywhere you go.  Unlimited outdoor adventures are reasonably priced and well organized.

Food is, in my opinion, pretty damn good — fresh everything (including veggies), with a heavy emphasis on root veggies and seafood.  Even places that look a bit touristy or serve food that might read as fast food in the states are often quite good, healthy, and locally sourced.

We rented a car and toured the perimeter of the entire country (with the exception of the West Fjords) on what is commonly referred to as “The Ring Road” in about eight days.  We would love to have spent more time doing it, as virtually everywhere we stayed merited more time.   Because of the unique, scenic, and fairly treeless (but very green) nature of Iceland, you can see incredible vistas, lush landscapes, and amazing geology right near the main roads, but even short hikes are highly compelling and often otherworldly.  There are few mammals beyond the rogue sheep and Icelandic horses (that roam free), but there are hundreds of different kinds of sea birds (a number of them found nowhere else).    2bdd-c18a-73fe-b9c4

Iceland is a photographer’s dream; the only way you can take a bad picture on a clear day is to leave your lens cap on.  It’s also a haven for people who like ornithology, marine life, geology and anthropology.  Lots to see in all regards.

Iceland

Image-1-8In California, there are typically three reactions you get after telling people you are going to Iceland. The first is when they simply ask “Why Iceland?” The second is a fortunate “Iceland is awesome” (followed by first hand experience or knowledge). The third, which is most unfortunate, is “Iceland – isn’t that all Ice?”

Here are some super-duper facts to throw at people about Iceland:

It’s the place where democracy started.

Iceland had the first women president.

Iceland is number three on the happiness index.

There are a stupid amount of Water Falls (sorry, gotta capitalize them.  They’re that good).

Image-1-3

You can drive all the way around it in a big circle because it’s one big island.

People are, in general, super nice.

You can’t speak the language. Ever. If you say one word correctly, you will impress them immensely.

Food is good, especially seafood and root veggies.

Prices of food and beer are about a third more than in the States.

Gas is double.

Parks and all scenic spots are Free!!!!!!

Museums are cheap.

Image-1-6There be Puffins.

There is a thriving private and public arts scene.

The entire country runs on hydroelectric power.

The water, air, and virtually everything man-made is super clean.

Days are long in the summer and short in the winter.

There are elves, but nobody talks about them.

According to our server on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, “a stupid American wrote in a guidebook that Icelandic servers don’t like to be tipped, but that is NOT true.”

The roads are killer – unless you are in ass-kicking weather.

Image-1-9There are no ugly drives.

70-Year-old men cycle solo around Iceland – I am not sure who they are, but there is definitely more than one.

Iceland is where the world breathes, belches and farts.Image-1

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén