Iceland 2005 (Day 5)

Posted on 2 October 2005 in Travel and Holidays (No comments)

On 19 August 2005 Catherine and myself flew out to Iceland for a ten night touring holiday round Iceland. We drove round the country and saw many an exciting and interesting thing. This is one of many blog posts about that holiday - this particular post is about day five which saw us drive from the east of Iceland to Höfn, seeing sheep, stones and plenty of amazing views.

Don't forget that you can see better versions of all the pictures on this page, simply by clicking on the image itself.

Arise and Onwards

Day 5 turned out to be slightly damp and misty as we walked across the car park area to the main building where we'd had breakfast.

The day before had been rather a long one, and we'd ambelled off for some good slightly later than we had been doing. That said, it was still before 9am!

However in Icelandic tourist time, that might as well be noon, as we turned up in the dining room to find almost no cups or cutlery. I was also rather perturbed to see processed cheese slices in the cheese selection...

After packing up again, we dropped off the key and hit the road back to Egilsstaðir. The Rough Guide to Iceland incidentally, tells us that the town dated from the late 1940s when a supermarket, a hospital, a telephone exchange and a vet set themselves up in the same small area. And it's not that much bigger now, although the number of supermarkets has doubled in that last 60 years. Keep that in mind when I tell you that Egilsstaðir is the main service and supply centre for the east of Iceland. Those two supermarkets must do good business.

The supermarket was also where we were bound, although our first port of call was to sit in our car whilst Icelandic road repairers shovelled gravel into a small ditch at the end of a bridge. Icelandic roadworkers are a rather casual, relaxed, carefree bunch, who don't seem to particularly worry too much about shutting the whole road off at 9:30am, and making hoardes of cars queue up in a line. Okay, I say hoardes. This is Iceland. Three cars. And on a main road too. It's just a different world.

A Close Shave

Anyway, back to the supermarket which was our first stop. The reason for the visit was primarily to get some food, but there was a secondary problem - in the next few days, my electric razor battery would be getting low.

Now whilst I'd packed my shavers power cable, I had discovered very quickly a bit of a problem. They don't have shaver sockets in Iceland.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure why I thought they would have. In my head I'd decided that they were a pretty universal part of guesthouse bedrooms, on the basis that almost every hotel I'd stayed in, had them. Plus some train toilets too.

There's a bit of a snag with this theory. Of all the hotels I've stayed in in my life, almost all of them have been in the United Kingdom. Childhood holidays in France were usually in a tent; when we went to Russia we stayed in some rooms in a building owned by a church which did a lot of stuff with deaf people; when I went to America in 1990 I was too young to shave.

So obviously, on the basis of that evidence, they were bound to have shaver sockets in Iceland, and I would therefore not need to pack my shaver-to-3pin-plug adaptor, nor buy a travel adaptor to put the three pin plug in. I could leave them behind, and all would be fine.

Which is why I headed straight for the razor aisle, and bought some disposable razors and some shaving foam.

Adding into the basket were some sandwiches - sadly we'd left the other sandwich manufacturer behind, so instead of four different colour coded packets all sharing the same picture of a ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich, we had to make do with the inferior Soma brand who didn't have any pictures on their wrappers, and even more boringly, actually put the ingrediants in English.

Sheep!

We had a choice. We could do a short route of 81km inland, or we could do a longer 145km route around the coast. A choice was probably a good thing as day 4 had been a long drive, but the longer route did sound more interesting, so a drive it was.

Our route took us along the Fargridalur pass, where road 92 took you through gorgeous scenery. As ever, I had to keep my eyes on the road, so the frequent picnic areas and lay-bys were a godsend. They're also sited in some of the most scenic places, which is very handy. After driving uphill for some time, we were just about to go down, when one loomed in to view and we pulled over.

Icelandic Sheep on the Fagridalur Pass

We shared the area with some sheep who were pottering around the picnic table, and generally sitting in poses near mountain streams - as you do.

On the Fagridalur Pass

It was a lovely stop and the camera was given a good outing - how many car parks would that happen in in England?

Road Works

We had quite a drive for our first 'proper' stop for the day - whilst there were a few things to stop and see, most of our day was spent driving and admiring the fantastic scenary that the area has to offer.

We were on road 96 and had just bypassed Reyðarfjörður which has a World War II museum that one of our guide books had decided wasn't particularly exciting, so we passed by and right on into some more lovely roadworks.

As has already been mentioned, there's some appalling roads in Iceland. And there's also a lot of work being done to improve them.

Building was in full flow - most of the road had been redone but not completed, so was full of lots of large gravel chunks. I was taking things slowly, concentrating on keeping the car steady when Catherine told me to drive straight on past a rectangular sign containing lots of chevrons pointing left.

I didn't think much of this - I just assumed that, as it was a sharp bend, the chevrons were merely highlighting that for those that were for those people going left. Not that there actually looked like there was a road there - just some very rough track. I drove on up the hill.

It was then that I noticed the gravel chunks were getting bigger. And a quick glance to my left revealled a proper road down below. It had cars on it and everything, in comparison to our suspiciously empty road, that wasn't built properly.

It took about thirty seconds to twig we were speeding up an unfinished road in a Toyota Yaris that couldn't really cope with it. As gently as possible, I bit the brakes and stopped the car whilst we frantically consulted a map that, despite all visible evidence, implied that the coastal road didn't exist and that we were going the right way.

Ignoring the map, we then had another problem. We're on an unfinished road - the kind that doesn't take too kindly to anyone even turning their wheel, yet alone doing a three point turn. It's also rather narrow, and raised up. If I wasn't careful, at we could end up in a roadside ditch next to the high side of a mountain. At worst, I could send us hurtling down a hill towards a fjord. You may, therefore, be surprised to hear that I took the turn very carefully, taking something ridiculous like twenty points to turn round in as opposed to the statuatory three.

Road Workers Comparison

As I carefully manouvered (and frequently stalled) the car, I couldn't help but think of the differences between road workers in different parts of the world.

Had we been in New York for example, a bunch of navies would have stood there shouting "heyarr, whaddya doin', ged oudda there! heyarr" whilst madly gesticulating and waving their arms all over the place, and generally being about as unhelpful as can be when you're stressed and just driven up a closed road that isn't actually labelled as being closed.

Meanwhile in Britain, the road workers would have merely looked up from their JCB, tutted, shook there head in disbelief and muttered "honestly" before turning back to their work.

Now quite what Icelandic roadworkers would do in this position, I don't know, but having seen their rather relaxed nature, I got the impression that it would probably consist of one of them turning to another and gently saying

"Oh look. Another couple of people have driven up the road we haven't finished building yet."

"Ah yes. Perhaps we should put up a bigger sign or something."

Around the fjords

The view from Road 96

Having finally got back to the chevron sign, we turned down a road that can only be described as looking absolutely nothing like a road at all, before finally hitting what we wanted - the rest of road 96. Thankfully the views made up for the temporary lapse in navigation.

Rocks Galore

It was around noon when we arrived at the small village of St&oumlðvarfjörður, where a stop is (apparently) recommended at Petra's Stone Collection.

Petra's Stone Museum

Petra has spent most of her life collecting rocks and stones. By all accounts, she collects them on the basis of looks rather than geological interest. Over the years, she filled her house with them. Initially people mistook it as a proper museum - as you do - and being polite, Petra would show people round. Before long the place was a major tourist attraction - indeed the busiest tourist attraction in the South West of Iceland by all accounts. Although that said, there isn't that much competition. Three coach loads of tourists were there already when we arrived, and the place was heaving.

The house is full of shelves containing rocks and stones with stuffed animals and birds also featuring. To be honest, I did struggle to maintain enthusiasm when presented with yet another shelf full of rocks, although Catherine liked it for the kitch value of some of the items.

The garden was more my kind of place, although maybe that was helped by the fact that not longer after I'd gone out there, did the coaches begin to move off. The place suddenly went from ram-packed, to absolutely deserted. Noon is obviously the tourist peak in this little village.

Petra's Garden

The garden naturally featured rocks and stones. Quite big ones. But it also contained all sorts of random things - skulls, little ornaments, little wooden houses. The lot. And all arranged in a way that looked especially pleasing on this bright and sunny day.

On a picnic table was a flask of coffee - help yourself for 100 krona, put the money in a tub. We did, sitting in the pleasent surroundings, taking it all in and supping a lovely cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Petra's Stone, plus guest

Suitably refreshed, we walked back towards the car, stopping whilst Catherine attempted to take a photograph of a painted stone that's modelled on Petra herself. Unfortunatly this wasn't possible without including a small child who insisted on being in the picture.

View from near Petras

We went back to the car to eat our sandwiches, and it was only then that the view from the car park was really noticed. It was the view that Petra could see from her front window in this quiet point of Iceland's coast. Okay, maybe it's not as good in winter when the snow gets deep, but with the sun shining down, it was something else.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Yaris?

Incidentally, to the left of the picture is our hired Toyota Yarris - the little car that got us round Iceland.

Old Snot Green Herself

Catherine insists it's more sage, or even moss, but for me, it's something more nasally that springs to mind. It was obviously a popular colour. Well, with the car hire firms anyway. We saw quite a number of them on our travels - indeed on day three we spent in hot pursuit of at least two other green Yaris's, arriving in car parks to find at least one there, and a different one next to us on our departure.

Djúpivogur and Ló

Djúpivogur Church

We drove on to Djúpivogur, a small town which is supposed to be particularly interesting due to its 19th century woodern houses. To be honest, I wasn't that struck, although the cup of tea in the cafe was much more appreciated, and the church looked quite nice.

It did however have a small hill which we climbed, and which contained some lights on a pole, surrounded by a triangle. It took us some time to work out that this was because of the nearby airport, and was obviously to prevent planes from crashing into the hill. Which wouldn't have been nice.

Across the fjords

We headed back onto the road and continued on our way, stopping some way down the road to look at the view at Lón - which is both fjord and mountain, and a very beautiful place.

Our set of instructions told us to stop at the top of the mountain pass where we'd see some fantastic views. Just one small snag, in the form of a new looking tunnel going right the way through the middle - the beautiful views were no more and the mountain pass closed.

Höfn for the night

Höfn is a medium sized fishing town and fishing port on the coast. It's where you'll see your first glimpse of the galciers, and was, cunningly, where we'd be staying the night. Our guesthouse was near the harbour, and having freshend up we headed off for some food, ofting for the Kaffi Hornið for good reasons - it was about the only place we found in all our wandering.

Still it was a pleasent little cafe, housed in a large wooden hut, and was obviously very busy (the lack of competiton no doubt helping), and we even bumped into a French couple who had been coerced into taking our photograph earlier that day.

Pasta for Catherine, fish for myself, and after all that, a strong desire for some meringue having seen some earlier that day. Sadly it was not to be - no meringe on the menu - so instead we had to make do with a glass of Pilsner (extremely weak and not particularly great Icelandic lager) and some Skyr, which is an Icelandic speciality, and despite looking like a thick yogurt, is actually a kind of cheese. Served with fruit, it's rather pleasing on the palette.

Having wined and dined - well wined anyway - we walked back along the coast to our guesthouse.

The fjords at Höfn

The sky was getting slightly dark and the air getting a slight chill, but the views were enough to see us rush back to the guesthouse for the camera, before perching up on a small hill to take some shots of some quite stunning views.

The pale light shimmered across the water, and in the distance, a glacial tongue of the mighty
Vatanjokull glacier. It's where we'd be heading the next day, for day six of our journey round one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

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