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About Me

Found 14 results

  1. We slept well in the Keflavík hotel, although only because I'd bought us some posh eye masks in preparation for this holiday. It was still bright daylight around 11pm when I gave up searching Greenland transport options on the internet and went to bed. It was still too early to have got any response from the boat transfer companies when we got up, so we went downstairs to make the most of the breakfast buffet. With walking boots and waterproof trousers, I felt like I hadn't really packed the right wardrobe for this hotel! The breakfast buffet was quite extensive, with some nice bacon and scrambled eggs in addition to the usual bread and pastries. We ate as much as we could, then checked with the hotel receptionist what the plan for the rest of the day was. She confirmed that we needed to check out at 11.00, we would be served lunch at 11.30 and the airline would send a bus to take us back to the airport at 13.45. That meant we had plenty of time to kill before we departed for the airport, so we decided to go outside for a stroll around Keflavík. It wasn't quite as sunny in Iceland as it had been yesterday, but we found a coastal path and had a nice walk by the sea. We didn't get far before Tim found a friend She was sitting on the rocks, perhaps lying in wait for seagulls. As we walked we had views of mountains in the distance. It was nowhere near as warm in Iceland as it had been back in the UK, but it wasn't terribly cold either. Although it was quite a dull day the temperature must have been around 15 degrees; certainly not cold enough to need a coat. We walked back to the hotel where I checked my email and found I had a message from the boat company who had been due to transfer us from Narsarsuaq to Qaqortoq last night. They said they couldn't promise anything at the moment but that there was a possibility that they'd be able to put on an extra boat from Narsarsuaq this evening if our flight arrived. That sounded promising! We made our way to the hotel restaurant for our 11.30 lunch. After the enormous breakfast we'd had it was a bit hard to work up an appetite, but I'm guessing the hotel wanted to get our meal out of the way before their normal paying guests wanted lunch. We were told we were having pork schnitzel and fries, which sounded good. The schnitzel came with mushroom sauce, but we managed to scrape most of that off After lunch we retired to a quiet hotel lounge where I got to work with more emails. During lunch the boat company had been in touch to say there was going to be a transfer from Narsarsuaq this evening and had sent me a new ticket. This was fantastic news, except that this revised transfer was going to get us to Qaqortoq at 20.40, with our ferry departing Qaqortoq at 19.00. I emailed back and asked whether we could be put on a boat to Narsaq instead, which they very helpfully agreed to and issued me with yet another new ticket. If all went to plan, we could get to Narsaq for 20.00 and catch the ferry there at 21.00. I just needed to email the ferry company to tell them that this was what we were doing and make sure they didn't think we were a no-show at Qaqortoq and give our cabin away. By 13.45 the bus to the airport arrived. We loaded our luggage and got onboard. The bus had free WiFi so I was able to keep checking my emails as we drove towards the airport. Still no confirmation from the ferry company that we were okay to board at Narsaq, but assuming they didn't object to that it felt like we now had a plan coming together and we'd actually only lose the 2 hours of the ferry trip between Qaqortoq and Narsaq, which definitely wasn't the end of the world. The rescheduled flight to Narsarsuaq was due to depart at 16.45. We arrived at the airport, made a beeline for an information board to see which desk we needed to find to check our luggage back in... and found that the flight was cancelled In between the Icelandair sending a bus to pick us up from the hotel and us actually arriving at the airport, they'd decided to cancel the flight. Unbelievable! We went to the Icelandair service desk, where we learned that the weather was still too bad for the plane to land in Narsarsuaq. Icelandair's plan was to transport everyone back to the same hotel and attempt the flight for a third time tomorrow. For a lot of the people on the flight - many of whom seemed to be scientists coming to work in Greenland for the summer - that probably wasn't the end of the world. But this second cancellation meant that we'd definitely missed our ferry and there was no point us flying to Narsarsuaq on Thursday. Our best hope now was to get on the flight to Nuuk, which was taking off in a couple of hours. Tim explained our situation to a lovely lady at the service desk. She was keen to help, but it turned out not to be straightforward. It seems like it's no problem to switch passengers between different flights to the same destination. But she didn't have the ability to switch us onto a flight to a different destination, so she had to call another department who were in charge of bookings. This department didn't seem keen to switch us to the Nuuk flight, instead suggesting that it would be better for us to wait and fly to Narsarsuaq tomorrow. At one point they also seemed to be suggesting that we'd have to book the flight ourself, which would not have been a good outcome because I'd looked at the tickets last night and they were £660 each (which was more than we'd paid for our original itinerary from Heathrow to Narsarsuaq!). But Tim stood firm that we needed to go to Nuuk, the lady persevered, and about 15 minutes later the other department called her back to say it was sorted. Phew She was able to print us new boarding passes and luggage tags for Nuuk and off we went to check in! After that, things went smoothly for a while. We had a minor blip at the self-service baggage drop when an official refused to let us use it on the grounds that our cases were soft rather than hard. He made us go to a desk called "Odd sized baggage" instead, which made me slightly concerned we were never going to see our cases again. In the queue for odd-sized baggage we met another couple from our original flight who had just made the same decision as us and booked on the flight to Nuuk. They actually did need to be in Narsarsuaq, so were planning to then fly from Nuuk to Narsarsuaq the next day. Having spent four hours in the airport the day before we now had an in-depth knowledge of its layout, so we made our way to a quiet cafe where I could get online and start sorting out our travel arrangements again. First I emailed the boat transfer company, to say we wouldn't need a transfer to Narsaq after all. They confirmed I couldn't have a refund, which I knew already but it was useful to get that in writing for what I feel is going to be fun insurance claim further down the line! Then I had to email the ferry company, who had just confirmed that it was fine for us to board the boat in Narsaq at 21.00. I explained we'd had another change of plan and now wanted to board the ferry in Nuuk on Friday evening instead. They were absolutely wonderful, reissuing my ticket straightaway and promising that they'd refund my credit card for the unused portion of my ticket. Most importantly, we also needed to find somewhere to stay in Nuuk for the next two nights! Once we inputted the key requirements of private bathroom and WiFi into booking.com, there were only really two hotels to choose from. We opted for the one that looked slightly nicer, even though it was a bit more expensive. Then there was a the question of what we were actually going to do in Nuuk for two days. We'd always been going to spend Friday in Nuuk, because the ferry arrives there on a Friday morning and doesn't depart until Friday evening. Because of that I'd been doing extensive Nuuk research which had enabled me to establish that there isn't actually very much to do in Nuuk at all We might just about find enough sights to fill Friday, but there definitely weren't going to be enough to fill Thursday as well. But Nuuk is situated at the end of a fjord which looks absolutely amazing - and I'd seen boat trips in the fjord advertised somewhere previously - so I decided to book us onto one of those. I found the website, established there were spaces on the trip tomorrow, put in my card details, authorised the transaction in the Halifax app, got a message from the app saying the transaction was approved... and then a message on my screen saying the transaction had failed. Halifax had blocked my transaction as fraud. Again! This has happened to me enough times now that I know there's no point trying again (it just makes it worse and they add a higher level of blockage!) and there's no point waiting for them to send the text they're supposed to send saying they've blocked the transaction for your safety (because it never comes). I needed to get on the phone and speak to them now while I was still in Iceland (and could call for free) rather than wait until Greenland (where EE charge £2.34/minute to make a call!). The only problem was that there were just 5 minutes remaining until we were expecting to be called to our gate. What a nightmare! I made the call and luckily got through fairly swiftly. The first person I spoke to confirmed that yes, they had blocked my transaction, because making a transaction in Danish Krone is apparently suspicious behaviour. That person transferred me to a second person in the fraud department, who to be fair was very helpful; she unblocked my card, then stayed on the phone while I attempted to buy the boat tickets again to make sure the transaction actually went through this time. It did With all that resolved, we made a dash to the gate and got in the queue to board. We had our boarding passes scanned and queued up to board the bus, which was a tiny step further than we'd managed to get yesterday... and then the Icelandair employee announced that the flight was delayed by 30 minutes because of a shortage of crew! He "unboarded" us from the flight so that we could leave the tiny holding area and come back later. Tim and I went and had a glass of wine to steady our nerves... or my nerves at least... because I had a sinking feeling that this flight was about to get cancelled as well Back at the gate 30 minutes later there still seemed to be a lot of commotion about the missing crew member. I was starting to get quite annoyed by this point; I appreciate it's outside the airline's control if the weather makes it impossible to land a plane at Narsarsuaq, but having enough crew members definitely feels like a variable that they should be in control of.... The suspense was terrible but eventually we were allowed on the bus and the bus started driving us towards a plane. Maybe we were going to get to Nuuk after all! The plane was a little on the small size, similar to the one I'd flown back from the Isle of Man on earlier this month. Our tickets said we were supposed to be sitting in 3F and 3D. We'd just about sat down when the air hostess approached Tim and asked him if he'd like to sit in an emergency exit seat, moving him to the front row of the plane. She then moved down the plane looking for more English speakers and eventually moved me to 4F, next to another emergency exit. You have to be able to understand instructions in English to sit next to the emergency exits and of the maybe 10 other people on the plane, over half appeared to be natively Greenlandic and were shaking their heads when she asked them. The emergency exit rows had a ridiculous amount of legroom, which was nice as a it was 3-hour flight. But I must admit I was really hoping there wasn't going to be an emergency because the instructions for opening the emergency door looked quite complex! The first 2.5 hours of the flight were quite unremarkable. We had a brief view as we took off in Iceland... ...but then we spent the rest of the journey surrounded by clouds. Partway through we got served free coffee with a couple of chocolates, but that was the extent of the excitement. In the final half hour of the flight, however, I looked out the window and thought: "Hang on a minute, that's not cloud..." Sure enough, we were actually just flying over Greenland's ice sheet! As we flew a bit further, the views became clearer. We flew over what looked like an enormous glacier The views then became more mountainous. We flew over some incredible fjords with bright blue water. I hadn't realised that Greenland was so mountainous. We flew surprisingly close to the mountains at times too! The pilot announced that we were nearly at Nuuk, but we couldn't see it yet. Aha, there it was! If you zoom in on the picture below you may be able to make out the runway; it's a strip of grey ground partway up the mountain. We'd finally made it to Greenland! Happily, our bags had made it too We collected them, established there was no passport control (as far as our passports are concerned, we're still in Iceland!) and emerged from the airport. Let's just say there's not a lot there. No airport bus, not really a taxi rank either, and seemingly also no airport staff. For a couple of minutes, Tim and I contemplated carrying our suitcases down the hill to Nuuk. But then we met the couple from our original Narsarsuaq flight, who were in the same situation as us having unexpectedly arrived in Nuuk. They were trying to get a taxi and it turned out we'd all booked the same hotel, so we decided to share. Getting a taxi was a bit of a challenge because we didn't have a number to call one, but eventually a car turned up. He asked us if we'd called to book, we said no and he let us in anyway It was definitely a good decision. The airport is right on the outskirts of Nuuk and it would have been a long and difficult walk. Plus the taxi wasn't actually too expensive; it turned out to be something like €24, split between us. We checked into our hotel room and found it was absolutely fine, which was a relief given how little time I'd had to book it. Fingers crossed our bad travel luck is now over and the rest of the trip is going to go to plan
  2. Tuesday was the start of what was due to be a big adventure for us: our first ever trip to Greenland! I can't pretend Greenland is a place I've always wanted to go to - in fact, it's a place I've never really thought about going to - but earlier this year I was reading an Icelandic crime novel where the plot involved the murder suspects leaving Iceland on a flight to Greenland, hotly pursued by the Icelandic detective. Before I knew what was happening I started googling Greenland and ended up disappearing down a rabbit hole which ultimately resulted in me booking this holiday. The plan was to fly to a place called Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland, from where we'd transfer by boat to the small village of Qaqortoq. We were booked on a ferry called Sarfaq Ittuk which would be leaving Qaqortoq on Wednesday evening at 7pm and spending the next four days sailing up the western coast of Greenland. The pictures I'd seen online looked amazing! There are only two ways to fly to Greenland: via Reykjavik with Icelandair or via Copenhagen with Air Greenland. I had chosen the former option, which worked out as cheapest on the way out. Our first flight to Reykjavik was at 13.05 from Heathrow, so it wasn't a particularly early start by the standards of our holidays. We left home shortly after 07.30 anyway, slightly nervous about whether we might get stuck in rush hour traffic somewhere between home and Heathrow. We made good time initially and even had a quick stop for breakfast at a McDonalds on the M1, but partway to London we got caught in an unexplained traffic jam on the motorway and it was almost 11am by the time we made it to the airport parking. We were in luck and managed to jump on a bus to the terminal straightaway. That was probably the last lucky thing to happen on this journey I'd been worried about our boarding passes because when I'd checked in via the Icelandair website the day before, I'd only been given a boarding pass for our first flight to Reykjavik. We went to a desk to sort that out and were issued with a new combined boarding pass for both flights, plus assured that our luggage would go all the way through to the final destination. That was good news! We got through security with no problems, participating in another one of those trials where you don't have to take anything out of your bag, and then had time for a drink and a snack before it was time to board our first flight. The first flight was remarkably smooth and took off almost exactly on time, which is rare for a flight these days. There wasn't much of a view as we were mainly flying over the ocean, but we did have a useful screen to show us where we were. As we came in to land we got a tiny glimpse of Iceland, where it seemed to be quite a sunny day. The flight to Iceland had been three hours but we'd gone back in time one hour, so it was now around 15.15. Our connecting flight to Narsarsuaq was due to depart at 17.30, so we followed signs for transfers across the terminal and ultimately through passport control. The border guard asked Tim how long he was spending in Iceland and he said "two hours". Little did we know We were feeling hungry by this point so we explored the airport until we found a fast food restaurant where the prices didn't look too expensive. I had a pepperoni pizza while Tim had fish and chips. At some point around this time I got a notification from the Icelandair app on my phone saying that our flight had been delayed by two hours. Oh dear! Ordinarily a delay of two hours wouldn't be the end of the world. In this circumstance it was slightly stressful because, on the basis that our flight was due to arrive at 18.25, we had a boat transfer to Qaqortoq booked for 19.15. This was the final boat of the day and if we missed it, we'd be completely stranded in Narsarsuaq with no options for going anywhere else. Travelling in Greenland is somewhat complicated by the fact that there are no roads between individual settlements. So if you are in Place A, you have at most two options of getting to any given Place B: boat or helicopter. We found a quiet bar to have a glass of wine in the airport while I attempted not to panic. The airport and harbour in Narsarsuaq aren't right next to each other and the boat company have a shuttle bus which was supposed to meet the flight and transfer us to the harbour. Narsarsuaq isn't exactly a place which is overwhelmed with incoming flights so I figured they would know the plane was delayed and - hopefully - wait for it to arrive. When it got to the appointed time for our delayed flight we made our way to the gate, together with a small group of other people. We sat down and waited for a while until we saw that boarding had commenced and the first people in the queue had made their way onto the bus which would take us to the plane. Then we joined the queue and began to move slowly forward. We progressed - but hadn't quite made it to the front of the queue - when a staff member began to shout out an announcement. Our flight had been cancelled and we were all to go to the service desk to get help. There was mass confusion in the queue as everyone struggled to hear and process what had been said. We were some of the first to react and extricate ourselves from the line, heading back up the stairs from the gate towards the main terminal where we quickly located the service desk and got in line. The only problem was that there were no staff there to give any service. We stood there for 10 minutes or so while a large queue of people built behind us. Then eventually a staff member arrived and made an announcement to the effect that we all needed to go to the baggage hall to reclaim our bags, then make our way to the "meeting point" from where a bus would take us to a hotel overnight. It seemed that the flight cancellation was due to bad weather in Narsarsuaq. We set off towards baggage reclaim, where we stood around in confusion for a bit because our flight wasn't listed on any of the information screens so it was impossible to know which carousel we were supposed to wait by. After a while - more by luck than anything else - I saw one of our suitcases go past on a random carousel. We grabbed it and fortunately the other one wasn't far behind. Now all we had to do was find the mysterious "meeting point". There wasn't any obvious meeting point when we emerged into the arrivals hall, so Tim went to an information desk to ask. The guy on the desk was quite confused and said there were different meeting points for different things so he couldn't really help. Eventually, by wandering about a bit, we saw some signs saying "Meeting point" and followed those to the opposite end of the airport where we found... a man in a bow tie! "Greenland?" he said. We nodded and he explained that he was sent from the hotel to organise our transportation. As more passengers arrived, he began dividing us into different groups depending on who was going to go to which hotel. We'd been the first passengers to make it to the meeting point, so there was a lot of waiting around. I went outside to get a bit of fresh air. When I returned there was an airline employee walking around giving information. It seemed that Icelandair were arranging for the flight to try again tomorrow, but not until 16.45. That was late and didn't give us much opportunity to get to Qaqortoq for a 19.00 ferry departure. Oh dear Before we had time to ask any questions we were advised that our bus had arrived, so we headed outside and got onboard. When I say that we had flown to Reykjavik today, we'd actually flown to a town called Keflavík, which is where Iceland's main international airport is located. It's a 45-minute drive into Reykjavik so the bus wasn't taking us there, but rather into the centre of Keflavík, which itself is one of the biggest towns in Iceland with a population of around 15 000 people. Icelandair had booked us into what looked like a rather expensive hotel, certainly outside our price range for Iceland. We queued up to be allocated a room and a voucher for dinner in the hotel restaurant. The latter turned out to be rather disappointing (chicken salad!) but the room was rather nice. Most importantly, it had free WiFi. I spent some time online, trying to work out what on earth our options were for the next day. I quickly established that if our flight arrived in Narsarsuaq at the time for which it was now scheduled, there was no way we could get to Qaqortoq on time to catch the ferry at 19.00. But, there was a chance that we could make it to a place called Narsaq where the ferry was due to call at 21.00 as its first stop after Qaqortoq. I fired off emails to a couple of boat transfer companies to see whether they had a sailing to Narsaq at the time we needed, then emailed the hotel we had booked in Qaqortoq to cancel our stay for tonight. Luckily they were very nice about it and didn't charge me If it turned out that we couldn't get a boat transfer to Narsaq, we were definitely going to miss the ferry (which only runs once a week). In that case, there would be no point us flying to Narsarsuaq; instead, we'd be better off trying to get to Nuuk, from where we should be able to intercept the ferry on Friday evening for the final part of its journey. Icelandair had a flight to Nuuk tomorrow evening, as did Air Greenland, so that gave us options at least. There was nothing more we could do until we heard back from the boat companies, so we decided to call it a day and go to bed. Hopefully tomorrow would go more smoothly!
  3. We've had an absolutely amazing time in Iceland Our route around the country looked something like this: Adding up all the various sights we stopped at and the detours we took, I make it a total of 1,279 miles driven According to my Fitbit, I've also walked 170,461 steps (which equates to 70 miles) and climbed the equivalent of 552 staircases, so it definitely isn't a holiday which has just been spent sitting in a car. Without doubt this is the most expensive holiday we've ever been on. The costs break down as follows: Flights 440 Airport parking 81 Accommodation 1,147 Hire car 526 Petrol 197 Parking/tolls 34 Airport bus 79 Eating out/groceries 351 TOTAL COST 2,855 This was a holiday that I so nearly didn't book, because I thought it was going to be too expensive. £2,855 is a lot of money, but I think we've done pretty well at keeping costs as low as possible in what is an extremely expensive country! The holiday has been dominated by waterfalls. We saw 10 in total, starting with the small but pretty Öxarárfoss... ...which was soon overshadowed by the enormous Gullfoss. We walked behind the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss... ...and climbed a huge staircase to the top of Skógafoss. We hiked to Svartifoss in unexpected sunshine... ...came across Gufufoss unexpectedly halfway down a mountain pass... ...and tried not to get blown over the edge of Dettifoss in high winds. One of the prettiest waterfalls was undoubtedly Goðafoss... ...plus its smaller sidekick, Geitafoss. The final waterfall of the trip was Kirkjufellsfoss, with the strangely-shaped Kirkjufell mountain behind it. Of course, we haven't just seen waterfalls; there have been so many other amazing things in nature. We stood between the continental plates at Thingvellir... ...watched Strokkur erupt at Geysir... ...walked on black sand at Reynisfjara... ...and walked along the most incredible canyon at Fjaðrárgljúfur. We enjoyed some beautiful scenery as we drove through Eastern Iceland... ....and were amazed by the morning views at Seyðisfjörður. Of course, I mustn't forget to mention the volcanic activity. There was steam and bubbling mud at Hverir... ...the brilliantly blue crater lake at Krafla... ...the enormous crater we climbed at Hverfjall... ...and the slightly smaller one on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We saw a couple of lakes; the first one was at Thingvellir... ...and the second one was the midge-lake at Myvatn (from where there are no pictures of me, because I didn't want to risk getting flies in my mouth if I smiled ) We've seen two large towns as well. First of all, Reykjavik... ...and towards the end of the holiday, Akureyri. The views of the coast have been pretty cool too. In addition to black sands, we've had some golden sands... ...an orange lighthouse... ...and plenty of rock formations. For me, the absolute highlight has been the glaciers. It was unbelievable to be able to walk so close to the glacier at Skaftafell... ...and I think it's fair to say that the experience of visiting a glacier lagoon is something pretty unique to Iceland This is definitely the most expensive holiday we've ever had, but also the most spectacular, and I think it's been worth every penny
  4. It looked like quite a sunny day when we woke up in Rif this morning. As we were checking out of the apartment, I realised rather belatedly that there was an amazing view of the Snæfellsjökull volcano from around the corner of the car park. Today was the final day of our road trip, so the plan was to drive around the southern edge of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and then back to Reykjavik. Our route led us through the Snæfellsnes national park, which mostly looked like a huge lava field in the shadow of the volcano. The first stop on our itinerary was a place called Öndverðarnes, which is located at the westernmost point of the peninsula. The road here was gravel and a bit bumpy, so we got out and went the last section to the very end of the peninsula by foot. We passed by some beautiful cliffs... ...before arriving at the Svörtuloft lighthouse right at the end. The lighthouse is a very bright orange - you definitely can't miss it! There were some great views out to sea from here. Unfortunately, though, it looked like the day might not be staying sunny for long! We drove on through another lava field. Our next stop was the beach at Djúpalónssandur. In contrast to the sandy beach we visited yesterday, this is a beach of black pebbles. To get to the beach you have to follow a rocky path which leads through some strange lava shapes. I particularly liked this one which had a window in it Once you get down to the beach, you realise that it is littered with bits of rusted metal. These are the remains of the Epine, a fishing trawler from Grimsby which was wrecked here in 1948. The metal has been left on the beach as a memorial, and it's quite eerie to see. The beach is in a beautiful location, although the black pebbles are quite hard work to walk on! Our next stop was the small village of Arnarstapi. The weather had really deteriorated by this point though, so by the time we arrived there it was pretty wet. There is a walking trail which you can follow along the coast here, with views out over the cliffs. There are some really unusual rock formations here. I think people also come here for bird watching, although September isn't really the time of year for it. I was quite relieved that there weren't many birds around, because I'd read some reviews of people complaining they'd been attacked by aggressive arctic terns! As you can see, we were a bit damp by this point so we didn't follow the path in its entirety. We did walk a little further to find this beautiful rocky arch though Then it was back in the car, to dry out and progress a bit further along the peninsula. We stopped briefly at a place called Búðir, where there is a striking black church in the middle of nowhere. After Búðir, the weather thankfully began to brighten up a bit again. In fact, the closer we got back towards the Ring Road, the sunnier it became Our last stop was at the Gerðuberg cliffs. These are a collection of enormous basalt columns. They were really quite striking to see Soon after that, we rejoined the Ring Road and drove the final short stretch back into Reykjavik. What I hadn't realised in advance was that at one point, the road would take us through a 7km-long tunnel under the sea, in order to cut out a long detour around a fjord! Reykjavik seemed huge in comparison to the places we've been over the past few nights! We are staying in the same small apartment place as last time, so we drove there first to unload our stuff, and then went back to the car rental place, where we successfully handed back the car without any problems The apartment is fine again for one night, except that the internet isn't working as well as it did when we stayed before, so doing the blog has been slightly problematic! We were pretty hungry after all our adventures, so walked into the centre of Reykjavik in search of food. We ended up having exactly the same meals in exactly the same place as last Sunday; Hawaiian pizza for me and fish and chips for Tim Then there was just time for a last look at the iconic Hallgrimmskirkja, before heading back to the apartment to battle the Wi-Fi!
  5. It was a bright sunny day when we woke up in Blönduós this morning. Although the hotel had been nice, the breakfast buffet was a bit limited so it felt difficult to get our money's worth this morning! There were waffles again, though Our day started with quite a long drive from Blönduós towards the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We are taking a detour from the Ring Road for the final part of our road trip, to explore this peninsula which has it's own little ring road, route 54, running around the edge of it. We reached the peninsula around midday, and soon had a view out to sea. There were lots of small islands in the water... ...while the interior of the peninsula is very mountainous. Our first stop was the town of Stykkishólmur, which is the biggest settlement in Snæfellsnes (but still pretty small!). We were hoping we might be able to find somewhere to get lunch here, but there wasn't a lot going on. Just some colourful wooden houses... ...and a small harbour. We drove on into the mountains again. Although it was a bit cloudy, there were some really beautiful views on this stretch of the road. The road itself was a little bumpy at times! We drove through the Berserkjahraun lava field. It was a very unusual landscape! From there it wasn't far to the small village of Grundarfjörður. We had more luck there with food, finding a small cafe where we were able to get lunch (although Tim ended up with a chicken burger drowned in mayonnaise!). We finished off with coffee and cake Just outside of the village is Kirkjufell. This is allegedly the most photographed mountain in Iceland (I think it's been in Game of Thrones). Tim wasn't very impressed; he thought it looked like a witch's hat Across the road from the mountain there is a waterfall. There's a path you can follow up and around it. Compared to some of the other waterfalls we've seen on this holiday, this one seemed rather small. But it was pretty The views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the path were good as well. This is the highly photographed view of the mountain and the waterfall, which features on lots of postcards. There were some very serious people with tripods here, trying to get the perfect shot. The best view of the waterfall itself was from a bit further down the path. Once we'd taken enough photos, we were on our way again, progressing further along the northern edge of the peninsula. We were soon rewarded by some beautiful views out across the sea. We were on the look-out for a beach called Skarðsvík, which apparently is one of the view beaches in Iceland which has golden sand, but we struggled to find the correct turn-off. Instead we found ourselves driving through what looked like another lava field. When we saw this strange shape looming on the horizon, we just had to pull over and make an unscheduled stop. This is the ancient volcanic crater of Saxhóll. You can follow a metal staircase to get to the top. It was quite a tiring climb! It was smaller than the crater we'd been to yesterday, but still impressive There were some good views from the top as well; the mountains in one direction... ...and the sea in the other We got back on the main road and this time managed to find the correct turn-off for the beach By Icelandic standards, the sand does look pretty golden. We stood and watched the waves for a while. Some of them were enormous! This definitely isn't a beach where you would want to paddle! We're staying overnight tonight in the small town of Rif. As we began to drive down the road towards it, we suddenly got a wonderful view of the ice-capped Snæfellsjökull volcano. We're staying in a small apartment tonight, which was one of our cheaper nights at £108. It's been another fun day - definitely worth taking a detour off the Ring Road to visit Snæfellsnes
  6. It was pouring with rain when we woke up in Brekka this morning, so we had a slightly damp stroll from our room to the main building where breakfast was served. The highlight of today's breakfast buffet was waffles, and there were also some very nice little twisted doughnuts, which I think are an Icelandic speciality We had to start the day by retracing some of our route from yesterday, back in the direction of lake Mývatn. Lake Mývatn is a volcanic lake, formed from a flooded lava field. As a result it's a very shallow lake - not more than 4.5 metres deep at its deepest point - and there are lots of little islands in the middle of it. Our first stop was a place called Skútustaðir alongside the lake. Skútustaðir is home to a collection of pseudocraters, which look like volcanic craters but are formed when hot lava flows across a wet surface, causing gases to explode. The result is a slightly strange bumpy landscape like this. It was interesting to walk around and we got some great views of the lake, but the one downside was the flies. In Icelandic, Mývatn means "midge lake", and although we weren't here during the main midge season, we could definitely tell how it got that name! The midges don't bite, but they were still pretty annoying! We didn't stay too long at Skútustaðir, driving on to another parking place a little further round the lake. There were some interesting rock formations here. I liked this rock which looked like a pillar There were lots of paths we could have walked on here but the flies were a bit overwhelming, so we carried on a bit further round the Ring Road to a place called Hverfjall. The guidebook says that Hverfjall is a tephra cone, but I have no idea what that means It's basically a big black volcanic crater which looks like this. Hverfjall is about 420 metres high, and there's a rather steep path you can follow from the car park to the top. This is a photo of me looking slightly tired on the way up. And this is me with the crater once I got to the top It's very big and black! You can follow a path all the way around the rim, but we decided not to go the whole way round in the end (it was about 3km), because we figured the view would get pretty samey. There were some good views of the lake from up here though... ...and some good views of the surrounding countryside too. Best of all, we were now high enough to avoid the midges! The weather had dried up temporarily, but it felt like it might be going to start raining again, so we set off back down the rather steep path. Our next stop was just around the corner: Dimmuborgir. Dimmuborgir is an area of unusually-shaped lava rock formations. There was a series of signposted trails to follow in between the rocks. My favourites were these two with the unusual holes. Half an hour or so drive from the lake, we came to today's waterfall: Goðafoss In Icelandic, the name literally means "waterfall of the gods". Around the year 999, Iceland's parliament made the decision that the country would convert to Christianity. According to legend, on his way back from making this decision, one of the local rulers flung all his statues of Norse gods into the waterfall, giving it its name. It's a really beautiful waterfall anyway There are car parks on both sides of the falls and - unlike at Dettifoss - a bridge you can walk over to get from one side of the canyon to the other. As we were making our way towards that, we found that there was another, smaller waterfall, a little further down the same river. This was Geitafoss. We climbed down to a viewpoint beside it, and someone took a picture for us Then we continued along by the river and across the footbridge to the other side of the falls. The views from this side were really great It's hard to pick a favourite waterfall on this holiday, but Goðafoss is definitely in the running. Our next stop after the waterfall was the town of Akureyri, Iceland's second city. It's situated in a really beautiful location, at the end of the Eyjafjörður fjord, and we could see the town looming in the distance from quite a long way away. When we arrived in the town and found a parking space, we realised that the front of our car had turned into a midge massacre We were able to park in an extremely scenic part of town, overlooking the fjord. The hotel we're staying in tonight is quite remote, so we took advantage of being in a large place to have a big meal. When I say "a large place", the population of Akureyri is actually only 18,800, so it's not exactly a metropolis by UK standards We strolled around the seafront for a while and caught sight of the main church in the distance. This is the Akureyrarkirkja, which was designed by the same person as the enormous Hallgrímskirkja we saw in Reykjavik last week. The prettiest building in town was this bright blue one, which serves as a cafe. We had another 80 miles or so to cover before we reached our hotel for the night, which is near the small settlement of Blönduós in the northwest of Iceland. It was a scenic drive, which took us through a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. At £143 for the night, this is our most expensive hotel room of the trip; I think because of scarcity of accommodation in this part of Iceland, although it is quite a nice room The hotel is in a very rural location, by the side of a small lake, and there aren't too many midges here All in all it's been another very exciting day in Iceland!
  7. We had a leisurely start to the morning in our apartment. It was a beautifully sunny day, so we enjoyed a stroll around Seyðisfjörður before we set off on our travels once again. The water in the fjord was so clear that we could see an almost perfect reflection of the buildings. I really loved the colour of this blue house The town is in a really stunning location. In places we could even still see a little bit of snow on the mountain tops In fact we could see the mountains reflected in the water too Once we'd done a circuit of the town, we got in the car for another fairly long day of driving. First stop was to go back over the mountain pass and down to Egilsstaðir. From there, we rejoined the Ring Road and began to head north. The landscape became a bit gentler for a while. We stopped at a viewpoint by a river... ...then drove through a landscape of small bumpy hills.... ...before catching sight of what looked like quite an impressive waterfall from the road. We parked and climbed up a little footpath towards it. You can hopefully just make out the beautiful rainbows in the photo There was a lot of heather growing here, which was really pretty. This Icelandic sheep seemed to be enjoying it too Then we were on our way again, and our surroundings began to look more mountainous. As we got closer towards Dettifoss - the waterfall which was going to be our first main destination of the day - things began to look rather black and barren, in fact. It also began to feel really windy, as we realised once we got out of the car to take pictures. The road took led up past these mountains... ...and then finally we saw the turn-off we needed, down a side road towards Dettifoss. There is a choice of two roads which you can take to Dettifoss; one goes down the western side of the falls and one down the eastern. We took the western road, which I'd read in the guidebook was well-surfaced and easy to drive on As we drove along it, our surroundings became increasingly rocky. We parked at the carpark (parking was free here) and it looked even rockier! We followed the path for a kilometre or so before we got our first glimpse of water. Eventually we rounded a corner and got our first proper view of Dettifoss. Wow! We watched the waterfall from a viewpoint to the side first of all. There were barriers in place to stop you getting too close to the edge, although some people obviously thought it was worth ignoring them to get a better photo! This was as close as we were going Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The spray coming up from the water was incredible. One of the things I hadn't expected was to be able to see so many rainbows here. They were really beautiful There were various different viewpoints you could walk to to see the falls from different angles. The paths were all quite dry here, which made it easier to explore. The wind was incredibly strong though, as you can probably tell from my hair A final look at the rainbows, and then it was time to head off to our next destination Our next destination was supposed to be a place called Krafla. We rejoined the Ring Road and continued along it, looking for the Krafla turn-off, when suddenly we caught sight of a mountain with steam coming out of it 😮 This is the geothermal area of Hverir, which I had somehow omitted to build into our itinerary There were pools of boiling mud... ...and chimneys emitting sulphuric steam. The smell was worse than the sulphuric water in our bathroom in Reykjavik The turning for Krafla was only just around the corner, so we arrived there soon afterwards. There is a volcanic crater here, with a bright blue lake inside it. There's a walking trail all around the rim of the crater. This part of Iceland is quieter than the south, so we didn't have to share it with many other people. The crater lake was a gorgeous colour. There were some good views of the surrounding countryside from the higher points of the walk as well. We could see as far as Lake Myvatn, which is on our itinerary to visit tomorrow. The path led through a small area of volcanic activity. There were clear signs showing where you could and couldn't walk. You definitely wouldn't want to walk here; the earth was literally scorched! At one point we had to jump over a stream, which I wasn't terribly happy about! We then came round to a second, smaller crater lake.... ...before climbing back up above the main lake once again. One last look at the view, and then it was time to search for tonight's accommodation That took slightly longer than expected, as one of the roads that we needed was closed. We got there in the end though; a small guesthouse in the middle of nowhere. Our room, which cost about £130, is in one of these wooden buildings. It's a nice spacious room, and we've got breakfast included tomorrow which is a bonus It's been another amazing day in Iceland and we couldn't have asked for better weather. Well, maybe a bit less wind would have been good
  8. There wasn't a breakfast buffet at the place we were staying at last night (it was more of a guesthouse than a hotel), but there was a shared kitchen with things like coffee and cereal which people could help themselves to. We had been to the main supermarket in the town last night and bought some pastries of our own as well. It looked like it was going to be another dry day, so we were soon off on our way to make the most of it. Today was going to be one of our heavier days of driving, with nearly 200 miles to cover before we got to our base for the night. Our first stop was the Stokksnes headland, which is only about 10km outside of Höfn. A small road leads down off the Ring Road, onto private land. We had to pay 800 ISK each (about £5.50) to get a ticket and be able to park. It seemed worth it, because we knew it was a really scenic location. This big black mountain in the background is the Vestrahorn. It's only 454 metres high, but it looks a lot bigger and it really dominates the landscape here. The location has been used for filming, and what we were walking towards was a film set of a Viking village. It was quite a surreal place to wander around. Definitely an amazing location though. From outside the village we could see back to yesterday's glaciers The ticket we'd bought allowed us to drive right to the end of the headland, from where we had a great view out to sea... ...as well as more great views back towards the mountains. The other remarkable thing about Stokksnes is that it is home to sand dunes made from black sand. Lots of them were just tiny little bumps like this... ...with jet black sand. There was just time for a final look at the Vestrahorn... ...and then we were on our way again, about to lose our view of the glaciers as we went through a tunnel in the mountains and emerged into Iceland's eastern region. Eastern Iceland is the remotest and least populated part of the country. Settlements are few and far between here, so we'd made sure to get a full tank of petrol yesterday. There aren't any absolute "must-see" sights in this region, but we had a day of stunning views ahead of us. We pulled over to take photos whenever we could find suitable parking places. This was at the Hvalnes nature reserve, where there is a huge lake inhabited by swans. They were staying well away from the tourists though, so we didn't get any photos! The eastern coastline of Iceland is home to a series of fjords, and we were about to start driving up and down them. It was getting a bit cloudier, but the views were still great. As we approached the village of Breiðdalsvík, we drove across a long bridge over the water. The guidebook had said there was a turn-off at some point after here towards a waterfall, but we didn't manage to find it. Instead we left the Ring Road behind for a while and began to follow a smaller road around the coast. We found someone to take our photo again Then we were back in the car and on our way once more. We had this road virtually to ourselves. As we travelled further along, we could see a small island out to sea. Tim had to concentrate on the driving though, because the road soon turned from a normal tarmac road into a gravel one. Gravel roads are quite common in Iceland (even the Ring Road is gravel in parts) and pretty much the only bit of Icelandic I know is the "Malbik endar" road sign which announces that the paved road is coming to an end. The gravel road was replaced by a normal one again as we began to head inland. We were soon following a pretty steep road into the mountains. We stopped at a parking place with a good view There was a series of tiny little waterfalls coming down the mountain here. Once we got over the top of the mountain, the landscape changed completely and became a lot softer. There were some beautiful autumn colours on the hillsides. We were now quite close to Egilsstaðir which is the main town in these parts. The Ring Road continues through it, but we needed to turn off onto route 93, a smaller road which leads over the mountains and down to the small town of Seyðisfjörður. The road was pretty steep, but when we got to the top of the pass there were some spectacular views back down. Eventually we began to descend and got our first glimpse of Seyðisfjörður. The name Seyðisfjörður might not ring any bells, but this is the town where the Icelandic TV series 'Trapped' was set. Part of the series was filmed here, with the rest being filmed in the village of Siglufjörður in northern Iceland. Seyðisfjörður is the town where the Norröna ferry featured in the series arrives from Denmark and the Faroe Islands once a week. It sails from Seyðisfjörður on Thursday mornings, so accommodation in the town is normally completely booked out on Wednesday nights. Luckily we were visiting on a Thursday evening, so hadn't had any problems finding a room for the night. And after approaching the town on this road, we can definitely see how it would be possible to get trapped here in the snow! We made one final stop at a parking place above the town... ...because we'd caught sight of this beautiful waterfall from the road. This is Gufufoss, and I guess as Icelandic waterfalls go it isn't anything special (no mention in the guidebook!), but I was still pretty impressed We arrived in Seyðisfjörður and found our accommodation (the building in the picture, with the "studio guesthouse" sign). It's a small studio apartment, with two large beds, a kitchenette and dining table, so we were able to cook our own food tonight. I paid £105 for the night, so this is one of our better-value stays. The town itself is really pretty, with colourful wooden houses. It's surrounded by mountains on all sides. I got excited when we spotted the ferry terminal at the edge of the town More scenic though was the town's beautiful little blue church It's a lovely place to stop for the night, after what has been yet another really scenic day in Iceland
  9. The world looked very different when we woke up this morning: it wasn't raining It had been so wet and cloudy when we arrived last night that we didn't really have any sense of our surroundings in Hof. It turns out there's a huge mountain behind the hotel! Our room was in this little outbuilding, so we had a short walk to breakfast. The breakfast buffet wasn't quite as extensive today as it had been yesterday (no pancake machine!) but it had all the usual things, so we were able to fill up before checking out and hitting the road. We actually needed to double back on ourselves and retrace 20 miles or so of the route we had driven yesterday in order to reach our first destination. It didn't matter at all, because the weather was so much better today that it felt like a completely different journey anyway. Partway along we just had to stop by the side of the road when we caught sight of snow-capped mountains in the distance. We hadn't been able to see any of this scenery when we were driving yesterday! We started driving again, but soon had to pull over for a second time when we caught a view of an enormous glacier. The views here were really stunning Before long we arrived at our destination: the Skaftafell national park. We had to pay around £5 for parking here, but I got the feeling it was going to be good value. The guidebook had suggested that there were some easy, sign-posted walks here, so we put our boots on and set off. We were following a trail of around 2km towards a waterfall called Svartifoss. Although 2km doesn't sound like a lot, it was actually quite hard going because it started going uphill almost straightaway and continued going uphill for most of that distance. We had some incredible views of the snow as we climbed, though. We also had a good view out across the flat glacial plain that we'd been driving across on the Ring Road yesterday afternoon. After a while we got our first glimpse of a waterfall, though not the one we were looking for. That was Svartifoss, which we eventually got a glimpse of in the distance. A bit more uphill before we got there! Finally we got to a beautiful viewpoint where we could see the waterfall - yay! The name 'Svartifoss' means 'black falls'. It gets its name from the dark lava columns which surround it. We were able to climb down to a viewing platform right beside the water. The spray from the waterfall was beautiful; you could see all the colours of the rainbow reflected in it Once we'd finished admiring the waterfall, we enjoyed a much easier walk back downhill towards the carpark. The guidebook had also mentioned that there was an easy 3.7km round-trip walk to the foot of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier. We could see the glacier in the distance, so off we went. This was a much easier walk on a beautifully flat path, so it wasn't long before we were getting really close. It felt amazing to just be able to stroll up to a glacier like this! In front of the glacier was a big gravelly beach, which we were able to walk down onto. The beach led down to a lake... ...and there were little mini-icebergs floating in the water The whole panorama was wonderful. We admired the ice for a while... ...then went for a closer-up look at the glacier, before setting off back to the car park. Our second stop of the day is a place called Fjallsárlón. This is a small glacial lake, where the Fjallsjökull glacier reaches down to the water. As we walked up to the lake from the car park, Tim took some photos for some American girls. They took some of us in return Then we walked down to the lake. There were some amazing icebergs floating in the water. The ice breaks off the glacier before floating in the lake and ultimately flowing into a river and out to sea. Some little blocks of ice had washed ashore as well Just another 10km along the ring road is the bigger glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón. This is where the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier meets the sea. It covers an area of 18 square kilometres and the ice floats in here for up to five years before it finally flows out to sea. We were able to follow a trail along the side of the lagoon for a while. There were some beautiful views of the glacier... ...and the further we walked, the more floating ice we could see. I particularly liked this iceberg, which was a wonderful shade of blue Jökulsárlón was an amazing end to what has been a truly amazing day! All that remained was for us to drive a further 50 miles or so to the town of Höfn, where we are staying overnight in a small guesthouse. Our room here cost £130 for the night and is much more spacious than I had expected Höfn is a small town, but it's in a really pretty location. When we went out for a walk to get some food in the evening, we realised that we could see glaciers stretching all the way down to the sea! A brilliant end to the day
  10. We had a good night's sleep in our hotel room and got up around 08.30 to investigate the hotel breakfast. Anywhere where we have breakfast included, the intention is to eat as much as possible to get our money's worth This hotel's selection turned out to be rather bizarre; alongside the normal breakfast offerings like bread and cheese, there was also herring and hot dogs. It redeemed itself though when Tim realised there was a pancake machine! I've never stayed anywhere with a pancake machine before. I've got no idea how it worked, but the pancakes it produced were really nice, and there was plenty of syrup to go with them Suitably stuffed, we packed up our stuff and set off towards the first destination of the day. We drove about 13 miles to to a waterfall called Seljalandsfoss, which to be fair in the guidebook wasn't even really listed as a destination, but as somewhere that you might want to make a quick stop while en route to another waterfall a bit further down the road. I wasn't sure whether it might be a bit of a let-down after the spectacular views at Gullfoss yesterday! We caught sight of the waterfall from the road and soon found the turning off towards the parking place. This was another place where we had to pay for parking (£5). I couldn't really complain though when this was the view from our parking space. There actually seemed to be a whole series of little waterfalls coming over the edge of the rocks here. Seljalandsfoss was definitely the biggest. A walkway leads up beside the waterfall and then passes behind it. As you get closer, it's possible to get very wet from the spray! The waterfall is absolutely beautiful close up though... ...and the water is incredibly powerful. The water here comes from glacier on the Eyjafjallajökull volcano (the one which erupted in 2010). The best views were definitely from behind the waterfall It was really incredible to be able to watch the water falling from the opposite side. It was definitely rather damp though Eventually we came out the other side and began to move away from the spray a bit. Before we left, we saw there was a sign to another smaller waterfall a few hundred metres away, so we went to have a look at that as well. Then it was time to move on to today's second waterfall - Skógafoss - which is located about another 20 miles down the road. As we drove towards it, the scenery was quite mountainous. Parking at Skógafoss was free, and we didn't have to go far from the carpark to get our first view of the falls. Again it was quite busy here with various tour buses, but that didn't stop the views being spectacular. We walked down to the bottom of the falls first. This was about as close as you could get without getting completely soaked There's also a path which enables you to climb right up to the top of the waterfall. You should be able to see the people climbing uphill in this video. It was rather a steep climb, which started out as steps like this... ...and then became more of a metal staircase up the hillside. I was rather out of breath, but it was worth it to get to the top and see the waterfall from above There was a pathway alongside the river which leads to the waterfall, and so we explored that for a while. The whole area is extremely scenic. Then it was time to head off back down the staircase! From Skógafoss we drove another 20 miles or so towards the town of Vík. We turned off down a small side road a few miles outside the town, in the hope of findings the Reynisfjara beach, which is famous for having black sand. I think it's also famous for being involved in Game of Thrones in some way, so again there were several tour buses here! This was really different to the black beach we had been to at Mosteiros in the Azores; that one was formed by black lava cooling, so it was very hard underfoot, whereas this one felt like proper sand underfoot, just completely black. It was a pretty surreal beach to walk along. The beach is well-known for having extremely strong waves, and so there were plenty of warnings about not getting too close and not turning your back to the sea. The reason is that there is no significant land mass between this beach and Antarctica, so the waves have travelled a very long way before they break here! Once we'd finished admiring the beach, we drove on through Vík and covered another 45 miles or so before arriving at our next stopping point; the canyon at Fjaðrárgljúfur. I think it was supposed to be quite a scenic drive, but it was raining pretty heavily by this point so we didn't get the full benefit of the view. We did drive through a really fascinating landscape though; in places the ground was really bumpy, having been formed from cooling lava when Iceland's Laki volcano erupted in 1783. We turned off down a small road which made me glad I'd taken out the gravel protection insurance, and then we were at the canyon. Initially as we followed the path, there wasn't much of a view... ...then suddenly we turned a corner, and.... wow! The canyon is about 100 metres deep and two kilometres long. It's been formed by erosion and some of it is really fascinating; in the middle of this photo, you should be able to make out an archway in the rock It was raining rather heavily by this point, but we continued to follow the footpath along the length of the canyon. Every so often there would be viewpoints where we could get glimpses downwards. Some of the viewpoints were truly spectacular When we got to the final viewpoint, we realised there was a waterfall here as well! This viewpoint was built right out over the canyon, so I made sure I was holding on Slightly scary, but worth it Tim took a video which captures the views even better. Wow. I knew Fjaðrárgljúfur was supposed to be pretty, but it definitely surpassed my expectations! From here we had another 60 miles to drive to the hotel we are staying at for the night, in a small place called Hof. I wasn't expecting to take any more photos - and the weather was still pretty dreadful - but we had to pull over and get out of the car at one point when we caught sight of glaciers on the horizon I knew there were glaciers in this part of Iceland, but I didn't expect them to be this big or this visible from the main road! From there it wasn't too far to Hof. Accommodation is incredibly expensive in the south of Iceland, because there are so many sights here and the demand for hotel rooms massively outstrips supply. I was aware that the place I had booked in Hof was potentially the worst of the trip. £136 for a night in what looked like a very small room, in some sort of outbuilding to the main hotel, and with a shared bathroom. I was relieved to see when we arrived that the room is actually fine; definitely a bit on the small side, but we did manage to fit both our suitcases inside. We've even got quite a nice view from the window Today may have been the wettest day we've ever had on a holiday, but it has also been one of the most exciting
  11. Today was the day that our Iceland road-trip was due to start! We had an appointment to collect the hire car at 9am and so we made a fairly early start, leaving the apartment at 08.30. The upside of the slightly out-of-town location of the apartment, was that we only had a couple of kilometres to walk in the opposite direction until we got to the head office of the rental company, which is located on the outskirts of Reykjavik. We could have rented a car for the whole duration of our visit and had it delivered to us at the airport, but we would then have been paying for a couple of days when we didn't really need a vehicle (plus have had the hassle of trying to drive/park in Reykjavik) so renting a car from today seemed like the best option. We arrived at the rental offices ahead of schedule and presented Tim's replacement driving licence. I was rather nervous that the woman behind the desk was going to take one look at it and refuse to hire us a car, but she barely gave it a second glance, just confirming that we had a credit card to pay on and giving us the rental contract to sign. In less than five minutes we were standing outside the offices with a set of keys in our hands. Phew! We inspected the car for damage and found quite a lot, so Tim took a quick video to record everything and then we were on our way! Our first destination was the apartment to pick up all our luggage, and then we set off on the main road out of Reykjavik. Although the main aim of our trip is to drive a circuit of the Ring Road, today's route involved ignoring the Ring Road for a while and driving along a series of smaller roads which make up the so called 'Golden Circle'. The Golden Circle is a name given by Icelandic tourism marketers to a series of three sights which meet the criteria both of being spectacular and of being drivable as a circular daytrip from Reykjavik. The vast majority of people who visit Iceland end up on some sort of tour or excursion which visits these locations, so we knew that today was not going to be a day when we succeeded in getting away from other people, but nevertheless we were really excited at the prospect of visiting some of Iceland's most famous sights. The first stop on our route, about 25 miles outside Reykjavik, was the Thingvellir National Park. The first sign we got that we were approaching the edge of the national park was when we came to a viewpoint by the side of a lake. This is lake Thingvallavatn (Þingvallavatn in Icelandic), which is the biggest natural lake in Iceland. A second viewpoint a few minutes further down the road gave us a clearer view of the lake. It was really beautiful here We were now quite close to the main Thingvellir carpark and visitor centre. It was very busy here, both with cars and coaches, but we managed to find a space. It took us slightly longer to figure out how to pay for the parking; it turns out there are very sophisticated machines inside the visitor centre where you just input the car registration, swipe your card, and they know you've paid without having to print and display a ticket. I forgot to mention in previous blogs that Iceland is pretty much a cashless society, so you can pay for virtually everything by card. So far we've been here three days and haven't so much as caught a glimpse of an Icelandic krona! The parking cost just over £5 which, as we began exploring the national park, soon started to feel like very good value for such amazing views. We started out at a viewpoint overlooking the lake. The national park is located in a rift valley, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart from one another. We could already see cracks and faults in the rocks from here. The main tourist trail runs down the middle of a huge gap in the rocks. From here smaller tracks led off through the rocks to other viewpoints. It was pretty amazing to be somewhere which I'd read so much about during plate tectonics in geography lessons at school For Icelanders, Thingvellir isn't just important because of plate tectonics, but because this was the historic home of Iceland's parliament, the Althing. The Althing was established here in 930, which makes it the oldest parliament in the world. It was quite busy on the main path, with lots of coach parties. As we moved further afield, we discovered some quieter spots though. It had started to rain by this point so we were getting a bit wet, but look what we could see in the distance: a large waterfall which the guidebook hadn't even mentioned! It turns out that this waterfall is called Öxarárfoss. The water here was incredibly powerful. We both agreed it was in the running for the most impressive waterfall we'd ever seen in our lives. It stayed in that position for approximately two hours. From the waterfall we climbed back down into the countryside and began a circular walk back towards the carpark. The views were stunning in all directions. We found Thingvellir church, which is one of the oldest in the whole of Iceland. Then it was time to head back up through the rocks towards the car. Stop 1 on the Golden Circle was complete, so it was time to head towards the second destination. Around 38 miles later we arrived in Geysir. We knew that we were in the right place when we left the carpark behind and could see steam rising from the ground in the distance. It all looked very reminiscent of Furnas in the Azores. As we entered the area of volcanic activity, there were a few warnings to be aware of. I particularly liked the way they notified people of the distance to the nearest hospital The closer we got, the more steam we could see. In case you hadn't guessed, this is the site of the famous Geysir, which has been attracting tourists to Iceland since the eighteenth century. The original Great Geysir here has become dormant and rarely erupts any more. You can still see it bubbling away, though. Luckily, it's next-door neighbour, Strokkur, is far more active and erupts every 5 - 10 minutes. There was a big crowd of people standing around waiting for the next eruption. We waited and waited... trying to judge when it was about to happen... When it finally did, it was spectacular! We stayed and watched a couple of times Then it was time to head off to destination number 3: the waterfall Gullfoss, which is only about 6 miles up the road from Geysir. You know how we thought the waterfall at Thingvellir was impressive earlier? It pales in comparison to Gullfoss! Again, this is a very popular tourist attraction so there were tonnes of other people here, but with views like this it didn't really seem to matter We followed the upper pathway first, from where we had amazing views of the falls from above. The spray was incredible! We could have just stood and watched the view for ages. We wanted to get closer though and see the falls from lower down as well. The lower pathway was rocky and a bit more slippery, because - as we soon discovered - the spray from the waterfall periodically blows over the path and soaks it (and everyone on it!). It was worth it to see the waterfall this close though The power of the water was unbelievable. We have definitely had a very spectacular start to our Iceland road-trip! Once we had finished admiring the waterfall, we had a further 62 miles to drive until we reached our destination for the evening; a hotel in the small town of Hvolsvöllur. This hotel was definitely one of the bargains of the trip, at £93 for the night (including breakfast). I'm not 100% sure why it was so cheap, though suspect it may be down to the general lack of anything happening in Hvolsvöllur. We've got a lovely room anyway, which is at least twice as big as the apartment in Reykjavik We had a quick stroll around Hvolsvöllur to see whether there were any sights (spoiler - there weren't!) and then found a pizza place to get some much-needed food. Two pizzas and a side order of chips set us back £41, but it did turn out to be more food than we could eat, so it was value in that respect Then it was back to the hotel room to start uploading the very many photos which we had taken between us today!
  12. Today was our day for exploring Reykjavik. After a not very nutritious breakfast of some of the jaffa cakes and jammie dodgers we'd brought with us in our suitcase (supermarkets here don't seem to open until 12 on a Sunday!) we set off to walk into the town before 9am. It was dry at the point we left the apartment, although it looked like it had been raining quite heavily overnight, and slightly warmer than yesterday at 10 degrees. We had a few kilometres to cover from our apartment to the town centre, and decided to try and follow a different route to the one we'd taken from the bus station yesterday, for the sake of variety. So it was that after about 20 minutes or so, we were walking along one of the main streets into the city centre and came across the rather bizarre "Icelandic Phallological Museum" This was not somewhere which was on my list of must-see sights in Reykjavik, but Tim's attention was soon caught by the fact that the name of the museum was translated into Esperanto! We have absolutely no idea why! We've since found out from someone on Facebook that all the explanations of the exhibits inside are translated into Esperanto as well, but apparently it wasn't recommended as an official excursion destination when the World Esperanto Congress last took place in Iceland in 2013. Not long after the museum, we caught our first glimpse of the sea down one of the side streets and had to follow it to take a look. When we got to the waterfront, the views were really beautiful We could see quite a long way, despite the fact that it was cloudy. And in fact, in the direction of the city centre it looked like it was brightening up We carried on walking alongside the water and soon came across a sculpture known as 'The Sun Voyager'. It kind of looks like a cross between a Viking ship and an antler Shortly after this we came to the rather unusual Harpa conference centre, which is where the World Esperanto Congress was held in 2013. From there we turned inland, passing a series of pretty parks and squares. Flowers and trees are somewhat of a rarity in Iceland (because the climate is generally too harsh), so we were impressed to see these. We passed the Icelandic Prime Minister's office, which is a rather unassuming building. We were definitely in the centre of town now, and there were lots of colourful buildings. Some of them wouldn't have looked out of place in Rauma We were walking towards a place called Tjörnin, or "the pond". This is a lake, right in the centre of the city, and it's home to lots of ducks, geese and swans. Calling it a pond makes it sound quite small, but it's actually a reasonable size and took us a while to walk around. This church is called the Fríkirkjan, and was opened in 1903. As we progressed around the perimeter of the lake, we also got a glimpse of Reykjavik's most famous church: the Hallgrímskirkja. There's a park surrounding the lake which contains quite a lot of sculptures. Some were more disturbing than others! My favourite view was this one, when we realised we could see the reflection of the Fríkirkjan in the water The weather had become really sunny at this point and it almost felt warm! We decided to make the most of it and climb up towards the Hallgrímskirkja. At 74.5 metres high, this is the largest church in Iceland and can apparently be seen from 20 miles away. The church was commissioned in 1937, with construction starting in 1945 and not finishing until 1986. It was deliberately designed to be enormous, so that it outshone Reykjavik's Catholic cathedral. It's certainly very impressive! Outside the church, there is also a statue of the explorer Leif Erikson. The weather was so sunny at this point that we decided to walk back down to the coast and see whether the views were any clearer. It did look really beautiful in the sunshine The weather changes quickly here though, and it soon started to get cloudier once again. We walked back into the city centre and soon found ourselves in a small square with these two rather strange pillars, which seemed to be emitting steam. The explanation was only in Icelandic so we have no idea what they represented, although this one said something about 874 (which was the year Iceland was first settled). We were trying to walk around the old harbour at this point, but it began to rain torrentially and we got rather wet. As we made our way back towards the shopping district in the search for somewhere to have lunch, we caught sight of another church. It turns out that this is Iceland's Catholic cathedral, which was consecrated in 1929. It was the largest church in Iceland for a while, before it was subsequently outdone by the Hallgrímskirkja! It was definitely lunchtime by this point and we were starving! We began walking around Reykjavik and looking at menus, trying to get a feel for what the going rate was for food. It seemed like around £20 was standard for a main course. We eventually found a nice restaurant where I was able to have pizza, and Tim had what he said was one of the best fish and chips he'd ever had in his life This, together with my 7up (Tim was frugal and drank tap water) set us back about £46. Iceland makes Finland feel cheap It continued to pour with rain throughout the meal and it was still pretty wet once we ventured outside again. We had a bit of a stroll along Reykjavik's main street, enjoying another view of the Hallgrímskirkja. Then we decided that we were wet enough for one day and that we'd better begin the long walk back to the apartment, to dry off and warm up. This involved having our first showers in Reykjavik, which was an "interesting" experience. The cold tapwater here is perfectly normal, but as soon as you turn on the hot water tap you get a very funny sulphuric smell. It's something to do with the fact that the hot water here comes from the ground and is heated geothemally. The smell is just about okay while you're washing your hands, but once you turn the shower on there is a really overpowering smell of sulphur By the time I'd finished washing my hair, the bathroom basically smelled like the volcanic area at Furnas in the Azores! We relaxed in the apartment for a while, before heading out for another walk when the weather brightened up in the early evening. I'd seen on the map that there was a park not far from where we were staying, so thought it might be worth a visit. It actually turned out not to be terribly exciting, although we did find some more flowers Never mind, we've had a really exciting day in Reykjavik (the world's northernmost capital city!), so we can't complain
  13. Finally the day had arrived when we were due to fly to Reykjavik Our flight was at the rather civilised time of 13.05, which meant that for once we didn't have to get up before dawn and eat breakfast in the airport at a horrifically early hour when all reasonable people are still in bed. It was quite novel to drive to Heathrow in the daylight, although there was definitely more traffic when we hit the M25 around 10am then there had been last Saturday at 04.30 We had more luck with Icelandair today than we had had with Finnair last week and our flight was perfectly on time. I was quite excited about the plane because I knew it was a large one with two separate aisles, having two blocks of two seats by the windows and a block of three seats in the middle. We had seats in F and G, which were two seats by the window and it seemed like a really comfortable plane, with plenty of leg room and even enough space for us to get our backpacks into the overhead lockers. The comfort was marred slightly by the people in front of us who insisted on reclining their seats after take-off, but even so I think I had more space than I've ever had on Ryanair! I was also quite excited that we had a little screen on the seat in front of us, which showed the safety demonstration and was then available to watch various things on during the flight. Tim was able to plug in headphones and watch a film, while I set mine to display the map of our flight route, which I found very exciting. It was quite a clear day in the UK when we took off, and I was initially a bit confused after we'd been in the air for 15 minutes or so and I still hadn't seen the Channel; normally it comes up quite quickly when you're flying from a London airport. It took the flight route to remind me that for once, we weren't flying in that direction and we were actually passing over Stoke It was cloudy for most of the flight over the Atlantic, but every so often there would be a break in the clouds and I could see a huge expanse of what looked like extremely choppy water. The clouds also cleared slightly as we got closer to Iceland, so we were able to get a glimpse of the coastline and some mountains behind, as well as brief glimpse of Reykjavik itself before we landed. It looked like it was quite a sunny day in places, but as soon as we landed and the aircraft door was opened, I could feel a chill starting to seep in. What I wasn't quite prepared for was the strength of the wind; Tim was lucky not to fall over as he stepped off the plane, because the steps were shaken by a particularly strong gust at the moment he went through the door. The airport is located near a town called Keflavik, which is about 30 miles outside Reykjavik itself. It's quite a large airport, and as we made our way through it from the gate to the baggage reclaim area, the majority of the other flights we could see boarding were to North American destinations. One of the reasons why Iceland has become such a popular tourist destination in recent years is that airlines have offered transatlantic travellers the opportunity to break their flight here for a few days. It was quite surreal at passport control to find that there was zero queue for the EU passport gates, because so many other passengers had US passports and were queuing in the non-EU lanes. I was quite excited about getting to the baggage reclaim area because this is where the Duty-Free shop is located, and the Duty-Free shop is the place where you can buy what is officially the cheapest alcohol in Iceland The guidebook recommended stocking up here, because alcohol is otherwise only available from the government-run shops and is heavily taxed. There is a limit to how much you are allowed to buy in Duty-Free - and there was a limit to how much we could squeeze into our hand luggage anyway - but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. We ultimately ended up buying five bottles from a selection of the cheapest wines we could find on the shelves, which set us back approximately £38. I had assumed the Duty-Free shop would be a bit like Supermarket Sweep, with hordes of crazed tourists trying to pile cheap alcohol into trolleys, but it was actually pretty much deserted. Either everyone else on our flight was teetotal, or they had no idea what they were missing out on. By the time we'd made our purchases, baggage was starting to appear on the carousel, and I was relieved to see that our bags had made it. Losing a bag in Iceland wouldn't be quite so dramatic as losing one in Lapland, but I can imagine it would be hideously expensive to try and replace any items of clothing here. Soon we were out in the arrivals area, looking for the Flybus counter to buy our tickets into Reykjavik. I had already researched this a few weeks ago and been shocked to find that two return tickets into the capital were going to set us back £79 If you break it down and say it cost £20 each per direction, I guess that doesn't sound too bad, but it's still very expensive compared to the other airport buses we've taken this year (Malta - €1.50, Kaunas - €1, Bratislava - €0.90, Ponta Delgada - free, because we could walk from the airport to the town!). It did, at least, turn out to be a nice bus and the journey was more scenic than I expected. It took around 45 minutes to get to the centre of Reykjavik. The bus stops at the main bus station and we had a walk of around 3.5km to get to the apartment I had booked. I had deliberately chosen an apartment in the capital rather than a hotel, because Reykjavik is definitely the most expensive place in what is a very expensive country, and having heard a horror story about someone who spent £80 in KFC here, I wanted to make sure we had somewhere with a kitchenette where we could cook our own meals. Everywhere in the city centre itself was way out of my price range, so we ended up with a place in the suburbs, for £102/night. The walk was actually quite easy, following a main road in a straight line, and the weather was mostly sunny, though still quite cold and windy. There was just one brief period of 10 minutes or so when a storm seemed to come out of nowhere and we got soaked by gusts of icy rain. At least this vindicated the decision to wear waterproof trousers! Eventually we made it to the apartment and let ourselves in with the key code. This is what £102/night gets you in Reykjavik: The apartment does have everything that was promised: a bed, a small kitchen area, a private bathroom and free Wi-Fi But it is certainly rather compact! There wasn't really much space to unpack anything, so our next aim was to find a supermarket and stock up on some supplies. I googled and located some supermarkets close to the apartment... only to be informed by Google that they closed at 18.00... and it was currently 18.01. Oh dear! This could have been a bit of a disaster - especially as tomorrow is Sunday - but we were prepared! You're allowed to bring 3kg of food into Iceland, and Tim had stocked up on some provisions for the trip last week Our first meal in Iceland may not have been very glamorous, but at least we have made it here Tomorrow we plan to explore Reykjavik, before (hopefully!!!!) picking up the hire car on Monday.
  14. I've wanted to go to Iceland for so long that it's hard to remember how it started. I *think* it might have been back at some point in 2016, when we saw that Bradt were having a sale on guidebooks and took advantage of the opportunity to stock up on a selection of books for countries which we might want to visit at some point in the future. The Iceland guidebook was one of the ones we picked up, and when I started looking at the photos and reading how exciting it sounded, I was hooked. In particular, I was attracted by the idea of travelling around Iceland's so-called "Ring Road"; officially known as Route 1, this is a main road which essentially circles most of the country and passes by many of Iceland's most impressive sights. I remember looking into the prices and finding out that there are actually some fairly cheap flights available from the UK with airlines like WowAir and Easyjet... but then realising that that is the only thing about Iceland which could even be considered slightly cheap! There was also the complication that, whilst there are various bus services for tourists, they only run during certain weeks of the year, and so the guidebook recommended renting a car as the best way to get around the Ring Road. At this point, we had never rented a car abroad before, so we didn't know whether it was something we wanted to do. In the end, I shelved the entire idea as being too difficult and expensive. Some time passed, and we had a successful experience with hiring a car in Tenerife last year. I also spoke to a friend at work, who had travelled around Iceland in a camper-van and recommended that as a potentially more affordable option. So when we started planning our holidays for 2018, Iceland came up as an option for discussion once again. The more we looked into it, the more tempted we were to go ahead and book the flights, and in the end we ultimately did But there were a lot of decisions to make along the way; I don't think I've ever been on a holiday which has required this amount of research and planning! First of all - when to go? Iceland never really has anything which could be described as "good" weather, but the best is normally during six weeks in July/August. Those weeks therefore automatically become the busiest and most expensive weeks to travel across the country, so I soon discovered that we could save a significant amount of money by travelling in the shoulder seasons of June/September/October instead. We decided that we wanted to go to the Azores in June in order to try and avoid as much rain as possible there, so we debated for a while between September and October for Iceland. I went for September in the end, on the basis that the weather in October seemed more unpredictable and it sounds like when the weather is bad in Iceland, it can be really, really bad. The winds can be so strong that they blow the door off your car if you park it in the wrong direction (and there isn't any insurance you can take out that will cover the resulting damage!). It can also start to snow in October, and we definitely didn't want to find ourselves in a scenario like the one in the Icelandic TV series 'Trapped'. Despite the fact that in theory there are cheap flights available for Iceland, we didn't manage to find them for the dates we wanted in September, and ended up booking with Icelandair from Heathrow, which cost £220 each return. That did include a baggage allowance of 23kg each though, and the flights aren't at anti-social times. Some of the cheapest flights I'd seen with other airlines involved arriving very late at night. Once we'd decided when we were going, we had to decide whether to rent a camper-van or a car. The vans are more expensive up front, but you are paying for your transport and accommodation all in one. I researched various companies and spent a considerable amount of time watching videos of different types of van. Something like this would have cost about €200/day for the dates we were looking at, but would have been pretty cramped if we'd fallen out The thing which really drives up the cost of hiring any vehicle in Iceland is the insurance. The more I researched it, the more I became familiar with a whole host of abbreviations including GP (Gravel Protection), TI (Tyre Insurance) and SADW (Sand and Ash Damage Waiver - it covers damage to the car caused by a sandstorm or ash from a volcanic eruption!). When I eventually moved on to looking at car hire, I found some websites where the cost insuring the car was actually bigger than the cost of hiring it. Somewhat horrified by the coffin-like nature of some of the camper-vans, Tim joined in with the research at this point too, and we reached a particular low point when he suggested we rent one of these, which basically was a car with a tent on the roof! I like saving money as much as anyone, but there was definitely no way I was going to be climbing a ladder to sleep on top of a car Part of the difficulty with the research was knowing how many days we needed to hire a vehicle for, ie. how many days we would need to drive around the Ring Road, as this obviously impacted quite a bit on the cost. The total length of the road is 828 miles, which one the one hand doesn't sound like that much, but then the object of the exercise is not to drive round it as quickly as possible, but to visit all sorts of things along the way. A lot of things I had read recommended that you would need a minimum of 7 days to enjoy the trip properly. I decided to plan out what our potential route would be and how much ground we could reasonably cover in a day. This became a bit easier when Tim bought me a helpful Valentines' Day present The book made things a lot clearer and we settled on needing eight days of vehicle-hire. Once I started looking at car hire, I found we could rent a small car, including all possible insurances, for around £520. While that's more expensive than what we paid in the Azores, it didn't actually seem that bad. The question was whether I could find accommodation around the Ring Road which would more or less equate to what we had been planning to spend on a van... It took a significant amount of time on booking.com, but in the end I managed it, ending up with a collection of hotel rooms ranging from about £90 - £145 per night. This is way, way more than we normally spend on accommodation when we go on holiday, and the rooms we're getting for it are going to be somewhat smaller than what we're used to, but they will at least be more spacious than the back of a van! Finally, everything was booked and sorted and I felt like I'd planned for every eventuality. That's where I was wrong A few days before we were due to travel Tim unfortunately lost his wallet, which contained not only the credit card we were supposed to pay for the hire car on, but also his driving licence There was a considerable amount of stress - and some points where I thought we were going to have to abandon the entire trip - but in the end he managed to get in touch with the car rental company, and they confirmed that they could accept an online version of his licence from the DVLA website and payment on my credit card. Phew! It looks like our trip around Iceland will be happening after all
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