Iceland – Part 1

December 8th, 2012

I do apologise – I have fallen behind (way behind) in writing these, but I will try to recover during the winter break and my forced stay at home…

In June, yes, six months ago, I went to Iceland for a week.  I had a great trip which started in the most convoluted flights I ever took.  I looked for different possibilities, but the best one was to go from Brussels to Munich then to Berlin and finally to Reykjavik, arriving around midnight local time, or about 2AM Brussels time.  The only redeeming factor for this flight was that it was cheap, and I only needed to pay 150 euros extra to fly business class!

I did check to make sure that the hotel near the airport where I was to spend the first night was still open at that time.  They assured me they were.  And I understood why – this is a veritable “rush hour” at Reykjavik Airport!  There were several other flights from Europe and the US which landed just before me, and several scheduled to land in the next hour.

I spent the first night near the airport then rented a car and drove towards Stykkisholmur, town where I was to spend the next three nights.

The road was picturesque and here is the first photo I took.

This is Hvalfjordur, a fjord – can you say that in Iceland? – near Reykjavik.  There is a shortcut via a tunnel, but I took the long way around the whole thing.

The weather is great – sunny and cool and I am just enjoying the fantastic views everywhere I drive.  The road (2 lanes, country road, but the only one going where I am going and no traffic) crosses a river, and I notice a man fishing in the rapids.

Iceland reminds me a lot of New Zealand – very wild, huge scenery, few people.  I think I am going to like this!

On the way, I stopped in Bogarnes, a small town with a famous museum about the history of Iceland.  Before going to the museum, I walked around town.  I am not quite sure what this was all about but must have been some party – there are also empty beer cans and red decorations all over.  I think it has something to do with the summer solstice as I arrived in Iceland on 23 June.

I finally make it to Stykkisholmur, where I will spend next three nights.  This is the largest town on the Northwest side of Iceland, one of the gateways to the Western Fjord area – I decided that was too far for me on this short trip.

The view from the harbour with a mountain strangely covered by a single small cloud.  I was at the view point for a while, and the cloud changed, but never moved from this positions. Strange!

A general view of Stykkisholmur with the harbour at the forefront and mountains in the back.  The strange building in the middle is the local Church – a stunning building that I will explore more fully later on.

Ferry to Western Fjords leaving the harbour

The next day I went to visit the Snaefellsjokull National Park, the reason why I decided to come here.  It is known for its beautiful coast line full of birds.  On the road to Snaefellsjokull, there are more spectacular views, with a significant water fall from the melting snow above.

There is supposed to be a volcano here somewhere – it was just covered in clouds all day long.

The ragged coast line of the National Park is essentially all formed by lava flows from the volcano.  I have no idea how old these flows are, but in several locations, you can see many layers one on top of the other.  Here, there is a very strange lava formation right on the water’s edge.  The cliffs at the right of the picture are full of birds.

Here is a montage of nests and flying birds of all sorts.  Unfortunately, without a guide to help me, it is very difficult to identify the different species.

However, this one I do recognize. I saw puffins in Scotland, nut they were generally far away.  Here there are more puffins and they are closer than the ones we saw in Scotland

There are huge colonies of gannets and seagulls everywhere.

But no matter what, the puffin is the star of the show for me.  It looks like such an awkward bird.

There are birds everywhere.  This one just caught a bug.  Not sure what it is!

There are lighthouses scattered around the coast, with small communities living right around the area.  I can imagine that this coast is very dangerous and therefore warnings to sailors are essential.

Two seagulls in love!

I saw a large animal off shore, probably some sort of dolphin, but in some cases it looks larger than a dolphin.  I am not sure about the photo on the top right!

The tall cliffs are ideal for bird nests.

Another closer look – still do not know what this bird is.  You can really see the nature of the ground here.  Mostly lava with just enough soil to have a few plants and beautiful tiny purple flowers – I wonder how old this lava flow is.

Another general view of the volcano – still covered by a large cloud

The reflexion of the lighthouse into a small pond

I saw another animal in the sea, looking at me, puzzled. Encounter with a seal

There is a natural Lava Bridge – this must be a more recent flow as there is very little vegetation in this area.

There are large formations of geese passing, probably returning for summer?

The lighthouse at the Northwest Corner of the coast, built on a lava flow, of course, but more recent as there is less vegetation on this side.

Drving back towards Stykkisholmur, I pass by this isolated community (three houses) with a small chapel

In June, in Iceland, you have to be patient for sunset.  This is taken well after 10PM as the sun starts to come down, slowly, very slowly.

Sail boat statue near the harbour

Stykkisholmur Cathedral with snow covered mountains in the background

This is still probably 1 hour away from the sunset.  I gave up soon after that as it was getting cold and late.

A panorama of Stykkisholmur with the fading light of the setting sun.  This is a very peaceful little town. But there are several people driving in circles around town.  There are several cars just going round and round, following no particular pattern and driving very slowly.  I was never able to find a reason for this!

I drove through a breach in the middle of a lava flow – interesting story behind it. Copied from the Lonely Planet Guide

Long ago, according to the Eyrbyggja Saga, a farmer from Hraun grew weary from having to walk around the the jagged lava flows to visit his brother at the farm in Bjarnarhofn.  Returning from a voyage to Norway, he brought back two berserkers – insanely violent fighters who were employed as hired thugs in Viking times – to work on his farm, but to his dismay one of the berserker took a liking to his daughter.  He turned to the local chieftain, Snorri Godi, for advice, but Snorri had his eye on the farmer’s daughter as well and he recommended setting the berserker an impossible task. The farmer decided to promise the amorous berserker his daughter’s hand in marriage if he was able to clear a passage though the troublesome lava field – surely impossible for a normal man.

To the shock and horror of both Snorri and the farmer, the two berserkers quickly set to work and managed to rip a passage straight through the treacherous moonscape. rather than honoring his promise, the farmer trapped the berserkers in a sauna and murdered them, allowing Snorri to marry his daughter.

Today, a path through the ‘Berserkjahraun’ can still be seen, and recently a grave was discovered in the vicinity containing the remains of two large men.

Is this where “going Berserk” comes from.  I drove through that break in the huge lava flow!

Still spectacular landscape along the shore of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

I walked up to a spectacular waterfall

and ran into more wildlife – I would call that a sandpiper!

The main church of one of the smaller villages around the coast line.  This is in Grundarfjordur.

I have one more experience from Stykkisholmur to share and then it is off to Reykjavik – it took me a while to be able to write all these names without having to check the spelling each time!  I will cover those in the second, and lat episode of my trip.

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One Response to “Iceland – Part 1”

  1. David Ingon 14 Dec 2012 at 14:50

    Iceland is certainly scenic. You seem to have been there during a temperate season. It must be a challenging place in bad weather.

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