Dream day in Iceland

Although Iceland isn’t a huge place it is big enough and has enough to do that I always warn people about trying to do too much in one trip or cover the whole country. However, if time, distance, and transport were no object, this is what I’d do on my dream day in Iceland:

I’d magically teleport myself to just outside the tunnel leading into my favourite town of  Ísafjörður. Just because I rarely get to go through tunnels I find them fun! P1010792

From there I would go into town, wander around the streets and watch a plane attempt a landing at the airport, hopefully with several go-rounds. I’d eat at the pizza place, I can’t remember exactly what I had there but it was good. Yep, I realise this is not the stuff most  people’s dreams are made of. Just humour me.

P1020029From there I’d snap my fingers and have the fun of the drive down the stunning Selárdalur road to the Samúel Jónsson site. I don’t know why I find this place so appealing, it is partly the scenery along the road and the general isolation.

P1010663 P1010670

Then I’d magic myself to the sulphurous wasteland of Hverarönd,  and remind myself what a trip to Mars or a post-apocalyptic world could be like.

From there I’d go Jökulsárlón, but not to the lagoon itself but to the iceberg littered beach across the road.

4cFinally, there would be a change of season and I’d go and visit any of the waterfalls in their frozen state.P1000328I can think of a few other good combos – maybe they partly seem interesting because they could never really happen! So that’s my dream day in Iceland – what’s yours? 

 

Advertisements

“Horse” Mountain, Westfjords

Image

You would not believe how many photos we seem to have of this mountain. It was very noticeably-oddly shaped and made an interesting panorama. It’s also a bit mysterious as Its Icelandic name means “Horse Mountain”, but I’m not sure if this is because it is supposed to look like a horse or if there is more to it.

Here is a better view of the shape:

I don’t see how it looks like a horse. The promontory in front of the mountain is called “Colt’s foot”. There’s obviously a horse connection here that I don’t see. If anyone reading can explain the name, please do!

Iceland 2013 awards

Every year around this time the Queen publishes her New Years Honours list. Not one to be outdone, I thought I’d put together my own list of awards for Iceland. As most of our “big trip” this year was around the Westfjords, you’ll see it’s a little Westfjords-heavy. Don’t worry, I still love the rest of Iceland just as much.

Now, on to the awards:

What you don’t know can’t hurt you award: I’m glad we went to the Sea Monster Museum AFTER visiting the beach down the road  – it means I didn’t know I was leisurely lingering around a beach which is apparently riddled with sea monsters including the ones that can come up on land. Anyhow, this sign should have been a giveaway:

Iceland-invader award: The Google Streetview car! I knew it was in Iceland but it was still pretty weird to see it in real life. And although I love being able to see Iceland on Streetview now, it does take some of the mystery away of imagining what a place is like before you get there.

Déjà vu award: the town square, Ísafjörður. It was very weird to see in real life the place that I always looked at on the Ísafjörður webcam – the central town square. It’s amazing how familiar somewhere can become even on a webcam.

Best Icelandic concert award: Believe it or not, it’s not Ásgeir Trausti or Of Monsters and Men. We were lucky enough to see Lára Rúnars, Hafdís Huld, Ragga Gröndal and Védís Hervör, playing for an audience of about 20 people as part of their tour of the Westfjords. It was a very stripped back show with all four playing and contributing to each other’s songs. It was the kind of show that’s hard to imagine happening somewhere else – no egos and they couldn’t have made much money out of it – just four very talented people playing together for the fun of it.

Employee of the year/mistaken identity award: Very often in the Icelandic countryside there is one of those black and white helpful working dogs at your accommodation or where you are visiting. I particularly noticed one of these dogs at the Deildartunguhver hot springs as there didn’t seem to be anyone official working there. The dog had acted so important and proud of itself that I took its picture. Then it turned out it was just some other tourist’s pet. Oops.

Surprisingly good museum award: Natural History Museum, Bolungarvík. I wrote a post about this place, which despite being in the middle of nowhere and in a building that is uninspiring from the outside is very well done. I had low expectations and it surpassed them by a mile. (that was meant to sound more like a compliment than it does)

Not quite what I expected award: There will be a lot who disagree with me on this one as these are two of the Westfjords main attractions. However, both Rauðisandur and Látrabjarg did not live up to my expectations. I’m not sure, but timing may have played a part in both cases. Rauðisandur is a famous red beach and despite following a trail to it, you couldn’t actually get on the beach as there was always water between you and the beach. So maybe the tide was in, although I’ve never seen anyone mention that you need to go at a certain time of day.

Látrabjarg has spectacular cliffs that go on for miles. I realised we were too late by a few days to see puffins but I was still expecting a spectacle of thousands of other birds around the cliffs. Again, maybe the timing was wrong and most of the birds disappear in mid-August. I think both places also felt disappointing as they had involved several hours of driving down bad roads and I enjoyed some of the other things we saw along the way more.

Hidden gem award: I’ve always known there is a lot more to do on the Reykjanes peninsula than I and most travellers do as we rush through it to and from the airport. We spent more time here and I now feel there’s even more to do than I’d thought. There’s lots of good walking which seems to more clearly marked than in other parts of Iceland. I’d also really like to take the time to climb Keilir one day.

Thanks to all of you for reading and supporting the blog this year! I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.

Skrúður

Skrúður is Iceland’s oldest botanical garden. It was established in 1909, and there are still people dedicated to keeping it going today.

Manicured paths inside the garden

Manicured paths inside the garden

Tending a garden in Iceland is really a labour of love. It’s not the most hospitable environment for growing things. Have a look at where Skrúður is situated – it’s within the small patch of dark green trees planted amongst vast open space and mountains.

An isolated patch of growth

From further away

From further away

Even further away - now tiny in the greater landscape

Even further away – now tiny in the greater landscape

As you can see from the above photos, part of what is interesting about this garden is the difference between it and the rest of the surroundings, and how unnatural it actually is in this setting.

The main reason I wanted to visit here is because of the whale-jawbone arch that marks the entrance.

Looking out from inside

Looking out from inside

The original arch was taken down a few years ago due to weathering and is now in the Natural History Museum at BolungarvÍk, which we also visited. It didn’t look quite as impressive just lying down in the Museum. The current arch has been in place since 2009 and is from a fin whale.

When you’re in the garden, it’s impressive to see the wide variety of plants cultivated this far north in a relatively small space.

Looking at the guestbook it doesn’t seem there are that many visitors. We arrived just as two buses of cruise ship tourists were leaving, but this is not usually the case given the number of signatures in the guestbook. I think if you visit here you will usually be pretty much on your own.

Finally, some shots from the inside looking out.

I think this reads: “Man sows and plants. God gives fruit.”

Even if you don’t like gardens this place is worth visiting. It’s a real testament to how man can tame nature even this far north! I was impressed that people are willing to put so much effort into this garden.

Siberian gift

An interesting feature along the road of the sparsely populated road I wrote about last time is the amount of driftwood you see washed up along the shore. This comes all the way from Siberia! I find that remarkable. You can imagine what a gift it would be for earlier settlers to find this wood, given the scarcity of “live” wood in the area.

Beware of oncoming traffic

Image

This is the road to Árneshreppur, which has the lowest population of any populated area in Iceland. It’s well worth a drive down here to see the driftwood and Djúpavík (separate posts to follow).

There is potential for landslides in several places on this road, and in fact the road can be impassable for weeks at a time in winter. You’d really need to be good at planning ahead to live here! I love places like this.

Natural History Museum, Bolungarvík

I wanted to visit the Natural History Museum in Bolungarvík partly because they have a stuffed polar bear, and partly because it features in the film Nói the Albino. Bolungarvík is a remote fishing village in the Westfjords.

Despite being on the main street, the museum was actually a little hard to get into as it turns out the entrance is on the side of the building and not the front. It’s in something like a mall and shares the building with a hairdressers amongst others.

Downtown

Downtown

I was pleasantly surprised at how well put together the Museum actually is once inside. There is one display area with animals (pictured below) and a larger section with birds. I’m not particularly into taxidermy but I must say some of the birds are really well done. They are in a wide array of poses and some of them are so tiny they must have been hard to work with.

Polar bear and friends

Polar bear and friends

They also had quite a lot of information up about the tunnels in the area and how they were made. If there’s one thing I discovered on this holiday it’s how much I love tunnels! So I found all this detail about the work that went into digging them and how dangerous the old roads were in terms of landslides and avalanches really fascinating.

A small specialist museum can either be extremely dull or inspiring – luckily for me, this museum fell into the latter category.

A range of eggs from a particular bird - I forget which bird!

A range of eggs from a particular bird – I forget which bird!

You can see more pictures from the museum’s website.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised (or disappointed) by a random museum anywhere?