Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Sunday 16 August

When we got up at 8.15 am, the sky was cloudy and it was 9 °C (48 °F). There was just one shower on the tiny campground next to this yellow hotel. It was housed in a little wooden cabin, and was rather spartan, but that gave it a certain charm.

We spotted Gunter, who was delighted to see us, and we chatted together over a coffee. He told me his plan for the day, and I explained ours: to drive round the Tröllaskagi peninsula to the north, and spend the night at Blonduos.

We exchanged our contact details, and I took a portrait of him as a souvenir.

The churning waters of the River Skjálfandafljót flowed right past the campground. A little wooden bridge led to Goðafoss waterfall. According to legend, the old Nordic idols were thrown into it when Christianity arrived in Iceland in the year 1000, hence its name: Waterfall of the Gods.

We walked alongside the river, and there it was, right beneath us. I climbed onto a rock overlooking the impressive falls and set up my long exposure shot. It was quite a delicate operation from a technical point of view, since I couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder, and couldn’t use the camera’s light meter, so had to make a manual exposure.

Here’s the last ray of sunlight that morning, before the clouds definitively took over. Phew! It’s in the can!

The river then narrowed into a quite beautiful bed of basalt columns. The din of the water in this tormented world was sublime, evoking a kind of Draculean romanticism.

Here’s a wide shot. You can see Goðafoss in the background to the left.

The waterfall’s surroundings were a superb photographer’s playground. This little stream seemed to flow out of nowhere, before pouring into the river. With a long exposure, it looks like a river of chocolate – a homage to my favorite book when I was a kid: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

It was already 12.30 pm, and time to hit the road for Akureyri, Iceland’s main northern town, and second biggest, 60 km (40 miles) away. You can see it in the photograph below, stretching along the crook of Iceland’s longest fjord: Eyjafjörður.

AKUREYRI, NORTHERN ICELAND

Owing to a curious stroke of chance, we always seemed to arrive in a large town on a Sunday, when the place was almost deserted. We wouldn’t get our fill of civilization today. A few shops were open in the town center, despite the lack of customers; we had a look, and spent a little while browsing some photographic books.

Here’s the cathedral. Not exactly crowded, as you can see.

Anecdote: I’d been looking for a plain old beer for days and days. You might not believe me, but it’s really difficult. You can only buy beer in one of the Vínbúð stores, which are not only thin on the ground, but also rarely open – generally from 5 pm to 6 pm, and that’s it!

But I was confident of finding one in this town of nearly 20,000 inhabitants. So we searched, but without success. Finally, I asked at the gas station, while we were filling up: “Where can I find some beer please?”

Well, you’re not going to believe me, but the guy looked at his watch and replied: “I’m afraid that you won’t find any; it’s only 3 pm; it’s closed.”

I was shocked: “What? You mean to say that in this, the country’s second biggest town, a town of 20,000 inhabitants, there’s no way to buy a beer?”

He smiled at me and said: “No, that’s right!”

“Well, how do you manage?” I asked.

He answered with a knowing smile: “The shop is at home.”

OK, I get it. You have to stock up. It’s impossible to just grab something to drink when you want to in this country! Must be a way to limit alcohol consumption, I guess.

So we left without beer, but with gas in the tank, which was already something.

We decided to improvise today, and follow the coast of the freezing Arctic Ocean along the wild and mountainous Tröllaskagi peninsula in Northern Iceland.

TRÖLLASKAGI PENINSULA, NORTHERN ICELAND

We drove through Dalvík, a town known for its ferry to Grímsey Island, which straddles the Arctic Circle. I really wanted to go there, but it would have taken a whole day, and the Akureyri Visitor Center told us that we wouldn’t see any birds on the island, since it was too late in the year and they’d already gone!

And talking of the ferry to Grímsey, here it is. You can even see the name of the island written on the side of the stern.

Have you noticed anything? The blue sky!! It was rather cold, though.
The road was quite superb, and we stopped often.

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 17 / 20 +

Here’s the Arctic Ocean stretching out before us as we leave the fjord.

Emilie found a blueberry patch.

 

The tiny town of Ólafsfjörður lay a little further on, the other side of a seemingly endless tunnel 3.5 km (2¼ miles) long.

Isn’t this a cute sign?

The craziest thing is that we really did come across a duck and her little ones!

Route 82 isn’t tarred, and stones sprayed up on all sides, rudely testing our car’s bodywork.

I don’t really know which words to use to describe the feeling of being in such a landscape. We drove in silence, contemplating the scenery.

One of the few cars we met was a huge ramshackle old Mercedes sedan, straight out of an Emir Kusturica film. People would often pass very close to us, even when the road was wide, and I wondered whether it was because of the Hummer.

This guy roared past us at breakneck speed, and a large stone shot up like a meteor and hit the windscreen with a loud BANG! It was a dull, heavy sound, and we were very frightened, so much so that we stopped the car. But there was no trace of an impact, even after an inspection of the car. I still can’t believe it. Our Hummer was a tank!

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 18 / 20 +

We reached the south of the peninsula, in the crook of Skagafjörður fjord.

We left the coast to take Route 75. Soon we reached the legendary Glaumbær farm.

GLAUMBÆR, NORTHERN ICELAND

Glaumbær farm is a group of traditional 18th and 19th century farm buildings, all linked by a long central corridor. The buildings are made of wood, and the roofs are covered by thick layers of peat, on top of which grass grows. Some of the grass is more than a century old. This thick carpet serves to waterproof and protect the building.

The farm buildings are partly buried, also for reasons of insulation, while the slope of the roof is designed to avoid infiltration of rainwater.

Part of the farm was still inhabited until 1947. There are other examples of peat-covered farm buildings in Iceland, but these are the biggest, the best preserved, and by far the oldest.

A little way away is the tiny peat-roofed Víðimýri church. It’s one of the finest examples of traditional Icelandic architecture, and was built in 1834, although its altar dates from 1616.

We got back on Route 1 under the setting sun. Direction Blonduos. According to our guidebook, the campground lies opposite the gas station, on the way into town, and that’s where we found it. The sky was still blue when we arrived at 8 pm, but there was an icy wind.

We even had dessert that evening: wild blueberries!

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