Nov. 11th, 2013

acb: (icelandic post-rock)
I'm writing this in a room at the Hali Country Hotel, a hotel on a farm in the southeast of Iceland, just off the ring road that circles the country. Maeve and I stayed here for two days, and are about to check out and drive eastward to Höfn. (I highly recommend the Hali hotel, by the way; our stay here was great, as was the food in the restaurant.)

On Wednesday we rented a car (a Hyundai i30, which is not a four-wheel drive) and drove out of Reykjavík, setting off initially along the Golden Circle route, stopping by at Þingvellir (the site of the ancient Viking chieftains' parliament), Geysir (the original geyser, which periodically hurls water into the air) and Gullfoss (a large double waterfall). At Gullfoss, there were strong winds, and the path to the rock above the waterfall was (quite sensibly) closed off, so we just saw it from one spot.

Unfortunately, at around Geysir, my DSLR camera's trigger button had stopped working, meaning that I don't have any DSLR photos of Gullfoss. It mysteriously started working again by the following day, though, and is still working. At time of writing, I have filled most of the 8Gb memory card I bought for this trip.

After Gullfoss, we drove in the darkness through the small town of Selfoss, finding our way to a small B&B a short way out of town named Julia's Guesthouse, run by a pleasant German-Swiss couple who also keep three friendly cats, two budgies and a flock of chickens. (We chose it from online listings; it was the mention of the cats which swung it.) We drove up to the guesthouse (at the end of a country road) finding it empty, but as we were leaving, we met Mike (the German half of the couple), who was driving back; he recommended a restaurant in Selfoss to have dinner at, and said that he'd prepare a room for us. We had dinner (the lobster pizza was nice, more for the lobster than the pizza base, which wasn't quite up to the best of Italian standards) and then made our way back, where we were shown our room. We spent some time in the living room talking with Mike and Julia before retiring. The following day, we had breakfast there, consisting of freshly baked bread rolls and eggs from Julia's chickens, before setting out.

We first went back to Selfoss, to look at the Bobby Fischer Center, a museum to the late chessmaster who spent his last years in Iceland. (It consisted of a few rooms above a shop, with some photos, cartoons and news clippings, a replica of the table used in the Fischer-Spassky match in Reykjavík, and some tables where local kids play chess on weekends; the story there leaps abruptly from the 1972 chess match to Fischer being granted asylum in Iceland after some unspecified problems with the US and Japanese governments, not going into details.) Then we headed eastward, seeing the waterfalls near Seljalandsfoss (including one one can walk behind), and later hiking to Seljavallalaug, a geothermal swimming pool in a mountain valley, before arriving in the evening in the southern town of Vík. We checked into our hotel (the Hotel Lundi), had dinner and retired to our room, only to emerge later with our cameras and tripods; the northern lights had come out, and there were sheets of green light in the night sky. They lasted for maybe half an hour, but we got some photos.

The following day, we walked around Vík a bit, hiking down to the black beach (with its volcanic sand), drove down to another waterfall named Skógafoss and then hiked towards a lighthouse on a cliff, before making our way to our accommodation, which turned out to be one of a set of repurposed shipping containers. The morning revealed that the containers had a spectacular view.

That was Saturday morning; after a trip down to the nearby beach (on the other side of a mountain from the one at Vík, and across water from the lighthouse), we set off eastwards, for a longish drive along the ring road. Houses, farms and guesthouses became less frequent, and grassy fields gave way to lava plains, as we made our way past the large glaciers along the south of Iceland. By the late afternoon, we made it to our destination for the day, Jökulsárlón, a lagoon filled with glaciers.

As it's November, the lagoon was frozen over, with chunks of ice floating over sheets of ice; a faint creaking could be heard, and occasionally a snap as cracks formed and sheets of ice around the edges broke off. We spent an hour or two walking around there, as the light changed, from the late afternoon light, to a pink glow, then to full-on sunset and dusk. My photos will show up on Flickr shortly.

From there, we drove a short distance (about 15 minutes) eastward, before arriving at the Hali Country Hotel, where we had a room booked. We checked in, getting the key to our room for the next two nights, unpacking and making our way to the restaurant, where we had a delicious dinner of lamb soup followed by arctic char.

The following day, we drove to Skaftafell, where we had booked a glacier walk, only to be informed by the guide that walks had been cancelled due to strong winds. We went on a hike through the national park, up to within sight of a black waterfall named Svartífoss. At that point, we were standing on a mountain, with the path towards the waterfall leading over a narrow peak next to a precipice; there was ice on the ground and strong gusts of wind blowing. Not fancying the (somewhat heightened) possibility of falling to our deaths in the event of an inopportune gust of wind, we turned back and went back to the car.

The drive back was a bit more of an adventure; by the time we got back in our car, the weather had deteriorated somewhat. On the way there, we had driven over snowy roads for a section, but by now, the right side of the road was covered with ice and snow, to the point where cars heading eastwards stuck to the left (i.e., wrong) side, moving into the correct lane only when needed. Adding to this, we were running low on petrol. We found an unmanned, automated petrol station, but using it was an adventure as well, as the ground was icy, and gale-force winds and rain were lashing the ground. I managed to fuel up the car, and Maeve managed to manoeuvre the car over the ice back onto the relatively navigable main road, and we made it back to our hotel room. Later we found out that our weather adventure was due to a major storm hitting Iceland, closing roads further east and diverting flights from Keflavík airport.

Between the time I started writing this and now, we checked out of Hali and drove further east, and are now in the eastern Icelandic town of Höfn (pronounced “hup” by the locals). On the way, the weather was more pleasant (at least in the east of Iceland). Along the way, we stopped to take photos of an abandoned farm building, and later made our way to a set of geothermally heated outdoor hot tubs (which were pleasant, though would have been more pleasant were it not for the strong, cold winds one had to contend with between them and the changing rooms). We're staying in Höfn for one night, before setting off back the other way.

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