Iceland 2005 (Day 7)

Posted on 17 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 seven where we drove along the south of Iceland, admired several waterfalls, drove up an appalling road and admired lots of black sand.

As ever, you can see bigger versions of all the pictures on this page, simply by clicking on the image itself.

Basalt Columns and Closed Museums

Having eaten and packed up, and left the tiny hamlet of Hunkubakkar. The howling winds that had made driving so difficult the day before hadn't calmed down particularly, but what can you do.

We were ahead of ourselves - about thirty kilometres further along our journey than the itinerary had bargained for, so we opted to see the sights in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

Church Floor

This consisted of the 'church floor' - a series of basalt columns that are rather flat in the ground, that is so called because for many years people thought it actually was the floor of an old church - and Kirkjubæjarstofa - a research institute with an apparently fascinating exhibition on two of Iceland's most memorable volcanic eruptions.

Whilst we were able to take in, and enjoy the former, we were sadly prevented from seeing the latter - something to do with it not opening until 2pm.

Eldhraun

After stocking up with fuel (no attendent service to confuse you at this petrol station) we were back on the road, crossing Eldhraun - a very large field of lava from the 1783 eruptions which has since been covered by a very thick and very springy moss. Few places in the world can boast moss as a tourist attraction, but judging by amount of worn down moss, and the tourists walking over it, then Iceland must hold the crown of 'Most Moss Tourism'.

The Mýrdalssandur plains are well known for their sandstorms - indeed there are gates in the road that can be closed when things get too bad. And if they are closed, there's little else you can do other than sit around and hope it doesn't last too long.

Thankfully for us, whilst the wind was bad, the sand wasn't being whipped around, and we could drive to our next stop of Vic with the car paintjob remaining intact.

Is Vic There?

Now you know you've hit the good times when you visit a village when the main selling point is a large factory outlet store which sells Icelandic woollen jumpers - and one which is making waves with its fashionable designs at that.

Black Sand Beach

Thankfully there's more to Vic than that. Yes, there's also a petrol station and a cafe (where we had lunch - soup and a roll). Oh and a black sand beach where we wandered around.

Handful of Black Sand

Black sand might not be everyones cup of tea, but boy, I bet it would make some really sinister looking sandcastles.

Windy Beach

3km west of Vik was another black sand beach, and even more of those basalt columns. We walked down, battling against the wind - so much so that at one point, it actually blew me over. Yes, me. A 14 stone man was blown over. And no, that's not a pose in the photograph above. It was actually taken just mere seconds before I toppled over onto the sand.

We fought our way round to the side of the cliffs, only to find a whole hoard of people hiding in the shelter of a small cave doing exactly what we were about to do - sit down and relax for five minutes before tackling the journey back to the car.

Skógafoss and Skógar

Dutifully ignoring our next stop where puffins are promised, as long as you get there before mid August (our intinerary deciding to mention this fact on this page) we drove along road 1 to Skógar - a waterfall near the village of Skógar.

Skógafoss

Being out of the wind, the true beauty of the day could really be noticed - the bright sun, the clear sky, and 60m of falling water creating a near constant rainbow. It was simply gorgeous. If I was to say it is one of the most beautiful places in Iceland - nay, the world - I wouldn't be lying.

Having had our fill of flowing water, we popped down to the village itself to admire the folk museum - one of the finest of its kind in the country and featuring an excentric curator who wandered round randomly telling people snippets of information, before rushing off to the over side of the room to suddenly play a musical instrument. Quite what everything was, was another issue as few of the exhibits had signs in English - German speakers getting better treatment.

Skógar Folk Museum

This was a bit of a disappointment, given that almost everywhere else in the country provides information in English as part of the course, and sadly things weren't much better in the Museum of Transport which was at the same place. Only one of the exhibits - sponsored by the state power company - had any English. The rest of the time you were left to fend for yourself. On the other hand, the attached cafe had a fantastic merangue which we washed down with a nice cup of tea.

Seljalandsfoss

Have you ever yearned in your life to walk behind a waterfall? Well to be honest, I don't care if you haven't, cos I have. Thankfully our next stop would make this dream a reality.

Seljandsfoss

Okay so I was rather hoping for a larger, wider waterfall to walkbehind but you can't have everything. Seljandsfoss did at least provide the walking behind bit.

Seljandsfoss

Indeed there's a path where you can walk in on one side of the waterfall, and walk out on the other, but having seen the drenching of one man trying to do just that, we went behind then retraced our steps out again.

Off Road!

Our itinerary told us that we couldn't drive to Þórsmörkbut Catherine assured me that a glacial lagoon would appear before the road turned into 4x4 only - the maps and the guide books decreed it would be so.

Not being the one driving, she was well up for this, despite the fact that it quickly became abundantly clear that we were on quite possibly one of the worst roads in the whole of Iceland, as we bumped up and down on an extremely gravelly road, going as slowly as I possibly could whilst hordes of 4x4s zoomed past. Here we are, on a pretty crappy road in a Toyota Yarris - not exactly the most robust of cars - being bumped around like no ones business. I exercised my right as driver, to abandon the navigators well intentioned plans.

It's okay, I'm told. "There's a turn off to the left. We go down that road, and we'll meet the main road again."

"What turn off? You mean that bridge that we've just passed? The one that's got big barriers across it, a flashing orange light and a sign that says DANGER? "

"Yes. That one."

Indeed the bridge didn't look particularly healthy - it was doing something no self-respecting bridge really should do. It was sagging perturbingly near one end. It was not the kind of bridge you want to take a hire car - or indeed any car. Which is probably why it had a barrier in the way so that you couldn't drive over it.

With no replacement bridge, we bumped and banged back down the road, passing once more the waterfall, and back onto the delights of Road 1. If there's one thing to remember in Iceland, it's that you should never trust your navigator when they say it'll be okay - the road doesn't get too bad for a bit...

To Selfoss and Civilisation!

And with that, we were pretty much done for the day. Just one problem. A large drive to our accomodation in Selfoss. And to be frank, a long and very dull drive to our accomodation in Selfoss.

And when we got there, it didn't get much better either, seeing as we did, all three of Iceland's police cars in the space of five minutes. Two had their sirens on. This was obviously the crime capital of the country. Plus the roads had suddenly got busy. This might be because Selfoss is the second town in Iceland - all of a sudden I was town driving. After six days of tootling around quiet lanes and long spacious roads, suddenly I was having to think about tedious things like pedestrians.

We parked up - and having seen three police cars I suddenly became extremely paranoid about leaving things in the car. Which was a bit arkward given we had everything in the car.

Still, we walked round the town and tried to find some food. Having had pizza the night before, the pizza restaurants didn't appeal, and I was in the mood for some traditional Icelandic cooking. Some nice fish perhaps. This is a large town - a major destination for tourists. There must be something over than pizza.

And there was. Empty shops, closed bars and a hot dog drive through. One of our guide books recommended somewhere called 'Steikhaus' - 50m up a road. We drove up it several times. Knowing that they were often places where food could be found, we even tried the Óllís petrol station. Nothing but burgers and chips.

In desperation, we gave up and continuted down the road to the Guesthouse Hjarðarból - hoping to pass something on the way.

We didn't, and on arrival, it took us about fifteen minutes to even find someone to show us to our room, which was in a wooden challet.

Hveragerdi

Having not being particularly impressed with Selfoss, and being inbetween Selfoss and another town called Hveragerdi, we decided on a plan. We would try Hveragerdi. According to our guidebooks, there was Eden - a place with greenhouses that had a cafe. If not, there'd be something else.

We drove up the road, hungry and tired, and found the town.

All hopes of finding decent food were probably dashed the moment we saw Hverageri. Gone were the cute Icelandic villages - this was an American style town - identikit box buildings on a strict grid system. Dull, uninspiring, and not exactly what we wanted to see.

Eden did little to improve matters, being as it was, a tacky shop/cafe/ice cream parlour/amusement arcade. The greenhouses were also noticable by how hidden they were - the place being dominated presumably by the persuit of ripping tourists off. Plus it was closing.

No Pizza Please, We're British

Another cafe place was closing, so in desperation we opted for pizza. According to one of the guide books, national pizza chain Pizza 67 had a branch here.

Had was probably the optimum word. Pizza 67 was no more. In its place, the rather depressing sight of Pizza Hvergerdi.

We were hungry. We were tired. We went inside.

It was deserted. Just the two of us, and a bored looking waitress. Having had pizza the night before, we opted for the grill menu - ordering an eggburger and fries for me, and a 'Tropical Sandwich' and fries for Catherine.

Whilst we were waiting, I had a wander. The place was absolutely huge - a large back room and a side area and the front. How it stayed in business, I'll never know.

During my wander I found something that summed up the place for me. It was a large mirror with "... is proud to serve Heineken" on it - with space for the establishment name to be written in. So proud to serve Heineken was this place, that they'd put the mirror in the gents toilets, and hadn't even bothered to fill in the blank space with their name.

Given we were the only customers, we waited surprisingly long for our food, and what a delight it was when it finally did arrive. A burger so bland that it made McDonalds burgers seem like high quality produce. Catherine's tropical sandwich was so called because it had mushrooms on it alongside the pinapple (there was a similar one that had pinapple, but no mushrooms. For some reason, this was not tropical). The side salad was so small, you wondered why they bothered. And the chips weren't enhanced by the 'cocktail' sauce dip provided - think 1000 Island Dressing. It's not right.

We couldn't help but wonder how the place even stayed in business - and with food that bad, it was no surprise the place was empty. We left just as two other people were entering. I came close to telling them to go anywhere other than this place. Even the KFC 12km down the road.

Tired, fed up and feeling a little depressed after an otherwise wonderful day, we headed back, had a cup of tea and went to bed. Still, tomorrow would be Geysir. And that would be worth seeing.

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