A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland

The Road to Akuryeri

Gravel Roads and Rainbows

semi-overcast 55 °F

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Drove most of the day to the #2 (and proud!) city in Iceland Akuyeri. I'd maybe even say, based on weather, people, location and general vibe, this town should get #1 hands down.

Walked through the town in the evening, had a beautiful dinner at Rub 23 (you select the meat and the "rub" and they do the rest--also amazing fish miso soup) and got ready for the next day's journey to the East Fjords. P.S. These Lutheran Churches are ubiquitous in Iceland; remote farms with one home often have a church and cemetery next door.

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Posted by Maltags 02:07 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Holy Hornbjarg

A day on the Horrnstrandir Nature Reserve

sunny 60 °F

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Driving from Glymur to the West Fjords (named one of Lonely Planet's top 10 travel destinations in the world for 2011) took about 6 challenging hours--you feel like you're driving in circles as you enter a fjord and drive the entire length, only to loop at the bottom and continue back up the opposite side. We're not sure why they don't build bridges (it would turn a 6 hour trip into 4 or less) but I'm sure there's a good reason with cold temps, high winds and rough waters. If the region was more accessible, it probably wouldn't be as special--plus, the roads that are currently in use just recently got paved, which turned a previously 12 hour trip into today's 6 hours.

There is only one way to get to Hornstrandir and that's via a 2.5 hour boat trip, which we took on Saturday morning. The entire finger of fjords is a nature reserve and there are no roads whatsoever. Even hikers tackling the great trails in the region have to take this boat to get started. We planned our entire trip around this trip--which only runs one time per week in the summer--and is the most spectacular one in the country (or so we'd previously read and now wholeheartedly believe!). It's called the "King and Queen of Cliffs" and run by West Tours out of Isafjordur.

We're taken into a calm fjord in the 30-passenger boat we'd used to make the 2.5 hour journey, and then hop into a rubber dingy to head to shore. One family and other people/workers used to live in the area until the 1950's, but they were completely snowed in during winters. They earned their livings collecting bird eggs from the extreme cliffs by dropping down on ropes to the narrow ledges. The practice still exists today, though currently done by the Icelandic search and rescue teams--they earn their yearly budget from the sale of the eggs--but the one family still has rights to collect and sell the eggs, too. The grandchildren in the family who grew up there all live in Isafjordur and get the house for one week each summer. One of the grandkids is actually the ferry boat captain and never misses a trip out to the area once a week in the summer.

The hike itself was challenging, great hiking shoes are very important (ours were only so-so), and after about an hour of climbing we stopped for lunch at the edge of one of the cliffs. We'd thought the most challenging and scenic part was behind us, and then the guide pointed up. We were going to climb the highest cliff that looked like it was a straight vertical rock.

The path was amazingly narrow (one shoe-length wide) and was indeed straight up! Every step was semi-terrifying, especially with a light rain making the path even more slippery, but there was nowhere to go or look, except "up". Even a slight lean could have sent you tumbling down the hill. The top was spectacular--360 degrees of absolute beauty--but then came "down" which was more terrifying and even more beautiful.

Once back on the other side--and on more even ground--the rest of the hike ended with spectacular vistas, warm sunlight, extremely rare arctic foxes, and a rainbow across the North Atlantic Ocean. Was truly the highlight of the trip and one of the best experiences of my life.

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Posted by Maltags 14:51 Archived in Iceland Tagged isafjordur hornstrandir hornbjarg bird_cliffs bird_watching Comments (0)

The Golden Circle

Driving from The Westman Islands to Glymur

sunny 55 °F

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After breakfast and the morning ferry back to the mainland, we hit the Golden Circle, a very popular day-trip from Reykjavik composed of the Gulfoss waterfall, original "Geysir" and historic seat of the Icelandic government at Thingviller.

Gulfoss was breathtaking, including the views of the 2 nearby mountain-top glaciers that looked like clouds from a distance.

Next was the original Geysir (all geysers in the world get their name from this first spot ever listed in recorded history; it's believed to have been active for more than 10,000 years). It doesn't erupt frequently, although it's also been recorded as the largest eruption at 122m high. The nearby Strokkur geyser does go off every 8-10 minutes and is still quite a site to see.

Although we'd anticipated the last stop at Thingviller to be a low point on the tour, it was the highlight--being one of the most profound displays of in the world of two tectonic plates coming together--all a backdrop to the first meeting of Icelandic tribes in 970--the first organized government in the country (first settled in 870). The place remained an important political gathering place for Icelanders even through 1944 when Icelanders declared their independence from Denmark.

Then we drove past Reykjavik to the Hotel Glymur, beautifully perched on the Whale Fjord. Full of Dali-esque art and super friendly staff, the 2-level room had views over the fjord, and so did the hot tubs outside.

Posted by Maltags 14:49 Archived in Iceland Tagged hottub golden_circle hotel_glymur Comments (0)

That 70's Volcano

A Day on Heimaey Island

sunny 55 °F

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After a 2-hour drive from the Blue Lagoon, we boarded a 30 minute ferry to the largest of The Westman Islands--Heimaey Island (which translated from Icelandic literally means "home island"). The island may be best known for a 1973 eruption that lasted 5 months and added 2 kilometers to the island--much of that a blood-red or black lava rock still scarring the landscape today. The town of 5,000 people was evacuated within hours (the entire fleet of fishing boats was in the harbor that day) and only one person died--a man who suffocated while trying to loot the pharmacy.

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The town is small and can be easily navigated in a day. We took a 3 hour "circle tour" boat trip around the island to see the most remote bird cliffs (including a puffin colony) and volcanic caves, then hiked to the top of the volcanic mountain Eldfell to survey the vast destruction of this natural disaster.

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After a great lobster soup dinner at 900 Grillhaus, it was off to sleep at the Hotel Porshamir, a very basic but comfortable 2-star (and only) hotel on the island.

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The sun sets here at 9pm and it's not fully dark until 11pm (even in August). Visit in June for the midnight sun and golf games that begin at 8pm!

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Posted by Maltags 02:00 Archived in Iceland Tagged heimaey_island Comments (0)

The Blue Lagoon

Can you spell psoriasis?

overcast 50 °F

The best cure for jet lag (and two layovers) is a trip to the Blue Lagoon directly from Keflavik airport--a 20 minute drive to a world of soothing waters and relaxation.

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We opted to stay at the Blue Lagoon Clinic, which is a beautiful hotel with its own private lagoon for guests, connected to the main facility. The clinic is a major treatment center for people with psoriasis, a skin condition that leaves red, blotchy, scabby spots on the body. A two to three week treatment, is a cure for most patients--and I couldn't imagine a more beautiful and relaxing place to do it.

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The Blue Lagoon itself is a tourist mecca but the facility is very well planned and run, and with such a large natural hot spring, filled with healing blue algae and silica mud, you leave feeling baby soft and completely rejuvenated.

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Posted by Maltags 02:00 Archived in Iceland Tagged airport iceland blue_lagoon keflavik psoriasis Comments (0)

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