Category Archives: Holidays

ICELAND-LAND OF FIRE, ICE AND LUPINES. PART 6 WILDLIFE

Iceland is a wonderful country for wildlife spotting. As we saw many species in different location I decided to put them all together in one post.

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale

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Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
Atlantic white sided dolphin
Atlantic white sided dolphins
Atlantic white sided dolphin
Atlantic white sided dolphins
Puffin
Puffin
Puffin
Puffin
Puffin
Puffin
A Fulmar
A Fulmar
A Fulmar in flight
A Fulmar in flight
Eider ducks
Eider ducks
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Red Throated Divers
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Red Throated Divers
Reindeer
Reindeer
Reindeer
Reindeer
Red-necked phalarope
Red-necked phalarope
Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Arctic Turn
Slavonian Grebes
Slavonian Grebes
Noisy Reshank
Noisy Redshank
Wild Icelandic Pony
Wild Icelandic Pony
Meet the locals
Meet the locals
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ICELAND-LAND OF FIRE, ICE AND LUPINES. PART 5 REYKJAVIK, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE and a BIRTHDAY

After three days on the south coast of Iceland it was time to move on to Reykjavik, the islands capital city. 120,000 people live here, about 37% of the total population of Iceland. At a  latitude of 64°08′ N, this makes it the world’s northernmost capital city.

Our Route
Our Route

We stayed at Rey Appartments just around the corner from  Laugavegur the main street for shopping, bars and restaurants. Our first job was to find a launderette as our two previous stops did not have any laundry facilities. A short walk brought us to The Laundromat Cafe, a launderette downstairs and a bar/cafe upstairs. A beer whilst your laundry is doing seems very civilised.

Over the next three days we toured the city and had a day out around “The Golden Circle”   a popular  route in South Iceland, covering about 300 km looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. The three primary stops on the route are the national park Þingvellir, the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, and the waterfall Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”)

Our first stop was  Þingvellir where the Alþingi (Althing in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established  in 930, and remained there until 1798. It is the oldest extant parliamentary institution in the world.

Strange cairns on the way to Þingvellir with lake Þingvallavatni behind
Strange cairns on the way to Þingvellir with lake Þingvallavatni behind
The centre of the gathering was the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður) took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly. The
The centre of the gathering was the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður) took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly. The “wall” behind the rock s in fact a natural volcanic feature
The view from the Lögberg, or Law Rock
The view from the Lögberg, or Law Rock

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Next stop on the Golden Circle is  Haukadalur where the geyser that all others were named after is located. Unfortunately Geysir has been inactive for quite some time although there are other  geysers in the area. However its pretty tame compared to Yellowstone in the USA.

Geysir...the original geyser
Geysir…the original geyser

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Strokkur is very dependable and erupts every 5 to 10 minutes
Strokkur is very dependable and erupts every 5 to 10 minutes

Next stop the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall, gullfoss means golden waterfall. The water coming down the river Hivita  flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m) into a crevice 32 m (105 ft) deep. This is a very busy tourist destination with a large visitor centre and restaurant. The speciality is lamb soup, more like a stew such as the Welsh dish cawl, with free refills! Insider tip, have lunch before midday otherwise its compete bedlam.

Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Paul & Sian at Gullfoss, getting wet with the spray.
Paul & Sian at Gullfoss, getting wet with the spray.
...and a final view of Gullfoss
…and a final view of Gullfoss

Our next stop was Hveragerði, which somewhat grandly proclaims itself “The hot springs capital of the world”. What they do have is a small geothermic park where you can boil an egg in a stream and a cafe famous for its geothermal ovens.

The geothermal park
The geothermal park
Boil an egg anyone?
Boil an egg anyone?
Geothermal baking...you don't get that on Bake Off!
Geothermal baking…you don’t get that on Bake Off!
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Novel advertisement for a geothermal glass house
The geothermal glass house
The geothermal glass house

And so back to Reykjavik. A couple of days exploring the sites, checking out the craft beer bars, sampling the restaurants and my birthday celebration thrown in for good measure.So what better place to start than church, as we were staying round the corner from Hallgrímskirkja, Iceland’s magnificent modern cathedral. State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson’s design of the church was commissioned in 1937. He is said to have designed it to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It took 38 years to build the church. Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986.

Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja
Inside Hallgrímskirkja
Inside Hallgrímskirkja
Me posing outside Hallgrímskirkja by the statue of the viking explorer, Leif Eriksson
Me posing outside Hallgrímskirkja by the statue of the Viking explorer, Leif Eriksson
View from the top
View from the top of Hallgrímskirkja
Another view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja showing Reykjavik airport. Unfortunately international flight use Keflavik about 40k away
Another view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja showing Reykjavik airport. Unfortunately international flights use Keflavik about 40k away

After a church a wander round the city.

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The unit on the top left was featured in Ainsley Harriott's Street Food were he helped cook their famous Lobster Stew
The unit on the top left was featured in Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food where he helped cook their famous Lobster Soup
Sian ordering the famous Lobster Stew
Sian ordering the famous Lobster Soup
The view inside the lobster shack. The lobster soup was superb.
The view inside the lobster shack. The lobster soup was superb.

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The birthday boy enjoying afternoon tea.
The birthday boy enjoying afternoon tea.
The birthday boy enjoying a pre dinner beer.
The birthday boy enjoying a pre dinner beer at The Micro Bar
The open plan kitchen at Apotek. We had an excellent meal here celebrating my birthday.
The open plan kitchen at Apotek. We had an excellent meal here celebrating my birthday.

For most of the 20th century beer was either banned or limited to 2.25% ABV. Indeed this limit still applies in supermarkets. The restrictions were lifted on March 1st, 1989. The lifting of restrictions on beer is celebrated as Beer Day on March 1st.There are now some fine craft beers and bars in Iceland with Scandinavian and North American influences. Icelandic beer is even available in the UK now with Booths stocking Einstök Beers. My favorites on the holiday were Úlfur India Pale Ale nr. 3 and Gæðingur Pale Ale. We tried three different craft beer bars which are listed as numbers 1,2 and 3 in this site.

The beer selection at Skúli Craft Bar
The beer selection at Skúli Craft Bar
Micro Bar, much better than it looks. My birthday beer above was here
Micro Bar, much better inside than it looks. My birthday beer above was here
The bar at Micro Bar
The bar at Micro Bar
Nice glass and beer
Nice glass and beer
The beer selection at Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik. Unusually this bar was difficult to find your way in. Still makes a change from not being able to find your way out after a few.
The beer selection at Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik. Unusually this bar was difficult to find your way in. Still makes a change from not being able to find your way out after a few.
Sounds like a good idea
Sounds like a good idea

You may recall that way back when we were at Húsavík in part two that we went on an unsuccessful whale watching tour. Sian had been dropping not too subtle hints that we could, if there was time and any money left, try again in Reykjavik.

Can we go on a whale watching tour. Can we go on a whale watching tour. Can we go on a whale watching tour.....OK!
Can we go on a whale watching tour. Can we go on a whale watching tour.
Can we go on a whale watching tour…..OK!
Waiting for the off.
Waiting for the off.
Not as cold as Husavik...but still cold
Not as cold as Husavik…but still cold

So where we lucky this time? Well the next and final instalment will be a round up of all the wildlife we saw on the trip so you will have to wait….OK then one quick photo of a humpback whale then.

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As we had to return the hire car at 6.30 am for a seven o’clock check in we decided to stay at a B&B/Hotel near the airport. After checking out from our apartment in Reykjavik, on a rainy morning, we set off to explore the south west of the island.

Cafe at Grindavik
Cafe at Grindavik
Sian buying the excellent meringue cake an Icelandic speciality.
Sian buying the excellent meringue cake an Icelandic speciality.
Grindavik harbour
Grindavik harbour

Between Grindavik and Hafnir is a really interesting demonstration of plate tectonics. A bridge that spans the Eurasian and American plates with the low ground between them caused by the two plates moving apart from each other at about one inch a year.

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To get an idea of scale you can just see someone towards the top of the photo in the gap

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Our final meal on the trip, at a diner in Keflavik was memorable for the biggest portion of fries I have ever seen. We shared one between us but still did not finish it.

Up early the following day for our flights back to Manchester with Easy Jet, and both ways were on time.

There is a final blog post to come with all the wildlife sightings in one place including dolphins, puffins and humpback whales.

ICELAND-LAND OF FIRE, ICE AND LUPINES. PART 4 THE SOUTH

After our four days at Bragdavellir Cottages it was time to move on to Vik on the south coast of the Island. We had an early start as we had a few stops planned on the way, the first being at Höfn, famous for its  scenic views of Vatnajökull (the largest ice cap in Europe by volume). Unfortunately as you will see below clouds somewhat interfered with the view.

View from Hofn. Not as peaceful as it looks as I was being dive bombed by Artic Turns
View from Hofn. Not as peaceful as it looks as I was being dive bombed by Arctic Turns
A bit further along the coast but still cloudy
A bit further along the coast but still cloudy

Our main stopping point on the way to Vik was Jökulsárlón or as it is more commonly called, and more easily pronounced, Glacier Lagoon. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As you can see below its pretty spectacular and you can have a boat tour to get a closer look.

Glacier Lake
Glacier Lagoon

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The black bands are ash from earlier volcanic eruptions, they are vertical as the iceblock has fallen over
The black bands are ash from earlier volcanic eruptions, they are vertical as the iceblock has fallen over
Here comes "The Boat"
Here comes “The Boat”

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You need to wrap up well!
You need to wrap up well!
Each boat is followed by a zodiac, presumably in case a rescue is needed.
Each boat is followed by a zodiac, presumably in case a rescue is needed.

Next stop was a wander to the foot of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier in the Skaftafell National Park.

IMG_9019IMG_9023IMG_9024And finally on to Vik to pick up some supplies before heading on another 10k to our cabin, making a journey of over 360k for the day. We stayed at Mid Hvoll Cottages

Our route
Our route
Mid Hvoll Cottages near Vik
Mid Hvoll Cottages near Vik
Inside the cottage
Inside the cottage
The view behind the cottage, taken as we were leaving when the sun finally shone!
The view behind the cottage, taken as we were leaving when the sun finally shone!

We stayed here for three nights and had some fine walks around the area.

Vik and lupines
Vik and lupines
Vik, and more lupines
Vik, and more lupines
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A closer look at the church at Vik among more lupines
View from the beach at Vik
View from the beach at Vik
"The Trolls" as seen from Reynisdrangar between our cottage and Vik
“The Trolls” as seen from Reynisdrangar between our cottage and Vik

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The volcanic ash beach at Reynisdrangar
Coastal view from Dryholaey, a bird sanctuary. Good views of puffins which will feature in a later blog on the wildlife we saw on Iceland
Coastal view from Dryholaey, a bird sanctuary. Good views of puffins which will feature in a later blog on the wildlife we saw on Iceland
Me on
Me on Hjorleifshofdi a 221m outcrop east of Vik
Sian on Hjorleifshofdi
Sian on Hjorleifshofdi
The view from Hjorleifshofdi
The view from Hjorleifshofdi
Sian on Reynir, a hill above Vik. They do like a big cairn on Iceland
Sian on Reynir, a hill above Vik. They do like a big cairn on Iceland
Looking down on Reynisdrangar from Reynir
Looking down on Reynisdrangar from Reynir
Vik from the path up Reynir
Vik from the path up Reynir

After our three days in Vik we were off to the bright lights of Iceland’s capital city Reykavik but not before two more stops on the south of the island. Firstly the spectacular Skógafoss waterfall.The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft).

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Skógafoss
Skógafoss
Skógafoss
Skógafoss

You can walk up to the top of the waterfall and carry on for many miles into the island. The scenery looked spectacular and we would have loved to have had the time to hike further than the couple of miles that we did.

More waterfalls above Skógafoss
More waterfalls above Skógafoss
Spectacular scenery above Skógafoss. The lower slopes of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano can be seen
Spectacular scenery above Skógafoss. The lower slopes of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano can be seen
A phone panorama of the view above Skógafoss
A phone panorama of the view above Skógafoss

We then moved on to a view of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc with planes across Europe being grounded for days. The farm in the picture below was covered in thick ash during the volcano and the people from the farm are featured in an excellent film about the eruption showing in the visitors centre.

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ICELAND-LAND OF FIRE, ICE AND LUPINES. PART 3 THE EAST

After our visit to Detifoss we set off on our journey to Djúpivogur on the east coast. Most of the way was on Route 1. The weather was dull but mostly dry but cloud levels were low so views were not great. We stopped off at Egilsstaðir, the largest settlement in eastern Iceland with a population of just over 2,000, for lunch, food shopping and of course a visit to Vinbudin the state liquor store.

Shortly after leaving  Egilsstaðir we left Route 1 for a shortcut on Route 939, a gravel road also called Oxi after the pass it goes over. If you think of Oxi as a gravel road in the mould of The Wrynose pass but about 18k long then you get some idea of what it’s like. Add in the complication of it being in the clouds with resurfacing work going on but with no contraflow and you will see that made it an interesting drive. However, glimpses between the clouds showed some fine potential views so we returned to drive over in good weather a few days later, see photos further down the blog.

Our Route
Our Route

Now you may have wondered why the title of the blog is ICELAND-LAND OF FIRE, ICE AND LUPINES, well the lupine part anyway. The reason is that Iceland is covered in them. Apparently they were introduced from Alaska to stabilise the soil.

The ubiquitous Lupines
The ubiquitous Lupines

Our accomodation was one of some fine cabins at Bragdavellir Farm about 10k past Djúpivogur. The best place we stayed. Well appointed cabin, excellent WiFi, pleasant, helpful owners and fine walks on the farm itself, what more could you want? Oh, and its own 30m high waterfall Snædalsfoss.We were staying for four nights, many people only stay a night and there were quite a few entries in the visitors book regretting not staying longer.

East to find
Easy to find
Spot the cottage, and the waterfall
Spot the cabin second on the right and the waterfall Snædalsfoss behind
Our cottage is the one in the middle
Our cabin is the one the right
The view from the cottage
The view from the cabin

We had some fine walks on the farm from the cabin.

A fine spot for a wild camp in a motorhome
A fine spot for a wild camp in a motorhome
Sian and the 30m high Snædalsfoss
Sian and the 30m high Snædalsfoss
A great view up the valley at the back of the farm
A great view up the valley at the back of the farm

And a short phone video from the same spot. A superb spot for a wild camp, now where’s my tent?

Sian watching some red throated divers.
Sian watching some red throated divers.
One of the two friendly horses on the farm
One of the two friendly horses on the farm
Some old
Some old “mechanical horses” on the farm
We thought these might be footpath signs but it turns out the mark the underground route of the telephone cables
We thought these might be footpath signs but it turns out the mark the underground route of the telephone cables
The next farm
The next farm
The bridge by the farm on Route 1
The bridge by the farm on Route 1

We decide that we wanted to back over The Oxi Pass in  good weather and fortunately a break in the weather allowed us to. The map below has the route. Our cabin is marked with a pin near the bottom of the map. We followed Route 1 north along the coast to Breiðdalsvík, a small fishing village. Then Route 1 goes inland, becomes a gravel road and gains height through some splendid scenery until it meets the Oxi pass road, Route 939. Enjoy the photos.

Oxi Route
The route over Oxi Pass
Superb picnic site inland from Breiðdalsvík on Route 1. Not a bad spot for a wild camp either
Superb picnic site inland from Breiðdalsvík on Route 1. Not a bad spot for a wild camp either
Still on Route 1. Note the gravel road and the gradient coming up. Hire cars looking a bit dirty!
Still on Route 1. Note the gravel road and the gradient coming up. Hire cars looking a bit dirty!
Looking back down the valley in the direction of Breiðdalsvíkl. Taken from the same spot as the previous photo
Looking back down the valley in the direction of Breiðdalsvíkl. Taken from the same spot as the previous photo
Sian admiring the view at a lay-bye just before we reach the Oxi Pass road.
Sian admiring the view at a lay-bye just before we reach the Oxi Pass road.
Mountain Hut, or Bothy, Icelandic style
Mountain Hut, or Bothy, Icelandic style
...and inside the bothy
…and inside the bothy
Oxi Pass
Oxi Pass
Views on the Oxi Pass road
Views on the Oxi Pass road
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Final stretch on the Oxi Pass Road, after the steep gradients and bends have been negotiated
Love this road sign!
Love this road sign!
Threatening sign at each end of the Oxi Pass Road, presumably the gate swings over to block the road in bad weather
Threatening sign at each end of the Oxi Pass Road, presumably the gate swings over to block the road in bad weather
...and back to Route 1
…and back to Route 1

The nearest village to the cabin is Djúpivogur about 10k away. Djúpivogur has a pleasant harbour, with an excellent cafe with a museum attached. I can thoroughly recommend the cakes at the cafe and the only hotel has a restaurant where we had the “unofficial” Icelandic national dish…pizza! It seems to be on every restaurant’s menu, probably because it is relatively cheap.

The cafe with the wonderful cakes
The cafe with the wonderful cakes
Djúpivogur Harbour
Djúpivogur Harbour
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Djúpivogur
Strange birds eggs sculptures at Djúpivogur
Strange birds eggs sculptures at Djúpivogur
Inside our cabin
Inside our cabin
View outside the cabin with my two favorite Icelandic beers
View outside the cabin with my two favorite Icelandic beers

Iceland-Land of Fire, Ice and Lupines. Part 2 The North

We started off our journey from Grundarfjörður in sunshine but by the time we reached our overnight stop in Akureyri it was cloudy and it would stay cloudy for the next few days. We also had our first major experience of “gravel roads” with about a quarter of today’s drive spent on them. Knowing when a road is going to be a gravel road is not straight forward. Many maps do not differentiate. Parts of the same road can be gravel and parts tarmac. Roadside information boards with maps do not tell you and indeed may describe a gravel road as a main route! Having said that the gravel roads are mostly of good quality and more like flat, hard earth roads with not much gravel.

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Gravel Road
Gravel Road
Picnic stop on the road to Akureyri
Picnic stop on the road to Akureyri
The route to Akureyri
The route to Akureyri

We were only staying for one night in Akureyri but with an early start we could knock off the 90k journey to Lake Myvatn by 9.30am. The plan was to spend most of the day there then go and check in at our cottage the other side of Husavik, returning to Lake Myvatn the following day.

Akureyri is where Einstök Beer is brewed. Unfortunately we could not find anywhere selling it! Better go to Booths in Windermere then.

Spot the troll?
Spot the troll?
Akureyri
Akureyri

20150628_183949Our accommodation in Akureyri was not as good as advertised. The lesson to be learnt is don’t book an apartment that could be any one of a number of different properties in the same town. It’s too easy for the owners to upload many photos from the best apartments and just a couple of carefully selected shots from the not so good.At least the fast food outlet below had shut down.

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We made one stop on the way to Lake Myvatn at Godafoss waterfall. http://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/iceland-godafoss.html
Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn
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Sian exploring the strange lava field round Lake Myvatn
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Krafla last erupted in 1720, this crater is called Viti
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The Krafla Power Station is a 60-megawatt (MW) geothermal power station. It is Iceland’s largest geothermal power station, drawing heat from 33 boreholes

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Sian getting a steam bath
Sian getting a steam bath
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Hot Rocks
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Hot mud bath anyone?

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Sian on Hverfell, a classic tephra cone, made of consolidated ash and pumice. Its 400m high and we walked around the rim. It was very cold!
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Told you it was cold!

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Another power plant with Hverfell behind
Another power plant with Hverfell behind

On the way up to Husavik we passed a large greenhouse complex heated by geothermal energy.

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Geothermal powered greenhouses
Our Route
Our Route

Our accomodation was about 40km past Husavik in a remote area. This was our furthest north at just over 66 degrees and less than 40 miles from the arctic circle. At this time of year, late June, it never gets dark in Iceland. The sun does go down for a few hours but its still quite light.

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http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/akureyri/472519?m=24691
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Remote Washing Line
View from the cottage
View from the cottage
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Me doing the important shopping at the state liquor store in Husavik

Alcohol is only available to buy in bars, restaurants and from a retail point of view the state owned Vinbudin chain of liquor stores. Prices in the stores are about twice the UK rate for wine and beer is about the same as specialist beers in an off-licence here. In a restaurant wine is very expensive and beer £5-£6 for 500ml. More about beer when we get to Reykjavik.

Husavik is the main centre for whale watching trips. They have a 98% success rate. Guess what? Yes, we were one of the 2%. Three hours and we saw no whales but we did see some dolphins. If you don’t see any whales you get to go again for free. Unfortunately the day we had left the weather was very poor so we did not go.

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Whale watching anyone?
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Sian well wrapped up for the wale watching trip, ans she needed every layer

Instead of going whale watching on our last day near Husavik we went to Asbrygi in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park

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Asbyrgi
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Asbyrgi
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Convenience store and cafe at Asbyrgi. Not as bad as it looks!
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Petrol station at Asbyrgi
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The road sign gives weather information

So our time in the north had come to an end. But we had one more attraction to visit in the north on our way to the east coast which would turn out to be our favourite part of the island.

So we set off down 862, the worst of the gravel roads we were to encounter, to Dettifoss and Selfoss  waterfalls.

Dettifoss is 100m wide and has a drop of 45m and is claimed to have the largest volume of water flowing over it of any waterfall in Europe.

About a kilometer upstream from Dettifoss is Selfoss another spectacular waterfall.

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Dettifos. The people by the falls give you an idea of scale.
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Dettifos. The people by the falls give you an idea of scale.
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Selfoss
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Selfoss

Video of Dettifoss

Iceland-Land of Fire, Ice and Lupines. Part 1 The West

For our trip to Iceland we decided that we wanted to tour round the outside of the island, based on Route 1 but to stay several days in each place so we could explore properly. It was always going to be a combination of normal tourist activities as well as hiking but my continuing problems with my heel meant that it would be more of the former and less of the latter.

Route 1
Route 1

We flew with Easyjet from Manchester on a Thursday and flew back on a Tuesday nearly three weeks later.We arrived at Keflavik Airport, about 30 miles south of the capital Reykjavik, at about 8.30 in the morning and by 9.30 we had picked up our hire car and were on our way to Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the west side of the island. We decided, as we had plenty of time, to detour off Route 1 on to Route 47 which takes you round the magnificent Hvalfjörður Fjord and with views like the ones below we were glad we did.

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Hvalfjörður

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Route 47 after going all the way round the fiord delivered us back to Route 1 and we then had the short drive to Borgarnes for a lunch stop,  to buy supplies and of course a visit to Vinbudin, the state operated liquor store. More about that in the next blog.

We also spent an enjoyable hour visiting The Borgarnes Settlement Centre which traces the early history of Iceland from AD 870 when the first Viking settlers arrived.

Just after leaving Borgarnes we left Route 1 for Route 54 towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. After about 35 miles we came to the junction with Route 56 which we were to take. There was a dubious looking cafe and petrol station, see photo below, but as we both needed the toilet we thought we would give it a go. Lesson One in Iceland, never judge a facility by its appearance outside. Inside was a very pleasant cafe with excellent staff. The staff, who were all young spoke perfect “American”, sometimes to each other. Most older Icelandic people speak good English but with an Icelandic accent.

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The cafe, and petrol station, at the junction of Routes 54 & 56
The view from the cafe
The view from the cafe

We then just had a short journey to our first overnight stop at the delightful small town of Grundarfjörður. We were staying at the Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments. We had a room with a communal kitchen and sitting area. Again the building did not look up to much, in fact it looked like a warehouse, see photo below, but was very pleasant inside.

The town itself is very pretty and surrounded by magnificent scenery including the iconic Kirkjufell Mountain allegedly the most photographed mountain in Iceland.

Today's route
Today’s route
Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments
Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments
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The view of Grundarfjörður from the apartment
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Kirkjufell
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Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellfoss waterfall
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Kirkjufellfoss waterfall http://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/iceland-kirkjufellsfoss.html
 Kirkjufellfoss waterfall
Kirkjufellfoss waterfall
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Grundarfjörður…spot the cruise liner

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The next day was probably the sunniest of the holiday. Typically daytime temperatures were between 12 and 18 degrees.We set off to go round the Snæfellsnes Peninsula coast taking in the Snæfellsjökull National Park containing the mountain Snæfellsjökull which is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit at a height of 1,446 m (4,744 ft). Its famous for featuring in the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth  by Jules Verne, in which the protagonists find the entrance to a passage leading to the center of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.

We passed through the viallges of Olafsvik, Rif, Hellinsandur, Hellnar and Arnarstapi.

Information Board map od the
Information Board map of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Most towns and villages have a notice board like this in a lay-by just before you arrive
Photo of the hire car before it becomes too muddy or dusty
Photo of the hire car before it becomes too muddy or dusty
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Sian with Olafvik in the distance
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Snæfellsjökull from Rif. If you got out of the car here you would be attacked by arctic turns. Photos in a later blog on the wildlife
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Old style fisherman’s huts
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Snæfellsjökull
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“Bright” lighthouse on the western edge of the peninsular
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Me on an old volcano cone with Snæfellsjökull behind
Arnarstappi
Arnarstappi
Views from a coastal walk at Anastappi
Views from a coastal walk at Arnastappi
Views from a coastal walk at Arnastappi
Views from a coastal walk at Arnastappi
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Coastal view on the way back, Kirkjufell on the right hand side
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A serious off road campervan parked where the last picture was taken. Not a bad spot for the night

The next day we headed further east to Stykkishólmur, where the ferry to the Westfiords sets off, and then worked our way back to Grundarfjörður with a few interesting stops including Helgafell (Holly Mountain) which it was once decreed that no one should urinate within sight of it!

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One of the many causeways on Iceland’s roads, this one on Route 54 between Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur
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Roadside views on Route 54 between Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur
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Roadside views on Route 54 between Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur
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The harbour at Stykkishólmur
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A typical Icelandic building at Stykkishólmur. wooden frame clad in corrugated iron. This is a small hotel.
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You can’t get away from “Fish and Chips”
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The harbour at Stykkishólmuras seen from Sugandisey, a rocky prominence on which sits the lighthouse
The lighthouse on Sugandisey
The lighthouse on Sugandisey
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The view looking west from Sugandisey
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Sian with an enormous pastry at a bakery in Stykkishólmur. Ok so we did share it.
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Þingvellir anglicized as Thingvellir. An ancient meeting place near Stykkishólmur. There are many of these around the island. When we arrived it was not clear where the stones were. A lady came out of the farmhouse and gave us directions and some information in perfect English.
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Sian on the top of Helgafell. Its only 73m high but it really stands out on the flat landscape. Don’t forget, no urinating.
The view from Helgafell
The view from Helgafell
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Some more great roadside views on the way back to Grundarfjörður
Some more great roadside views on the way back to Grundarfjörður
Some more great roadside views on the way back to Grundarfjörður
Some more great roadside views on the way back to Grundarfjörður
Some more great roadside views on the way back to Grundarfjörður
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And back to Grundarfjörður. The next day we moved on to the north of the island.

Winter Walking in Austria part 2 Pertisau

After our fine week in Leutasch we moved onto Pertisau on the banks of Achensee Lake further east across the Karwendel Alps. A quick taxi ride to Seefeld, twenty minute train ride to Innsbruck, change trains, another twenty minute train ride this time to Jenbach and another short taxi ride and we were there. There is a good webcam here if you want to take a look.

Peritsau

Seefeld Station
Seefeld Station

We were staying at the excellent Appartementhaus Tristenau and were greeted on arrival by Maria who to our relief spoke excellent English (Note to self…must learn some German before next trip!).

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The view from our appartment
The view from our apartment

A quick inspection showed that our apartment had everything we could want, including a fine view and free WiFi.You can see what type of apartment we had here. By 1.30 we were settled in so we set off to explore our surroundings, get our bearings and stock up on some provisions.

Achensee
Achensee
Sian's off exploring
Sian’s off exploring
Snowy Pertisau
Snowy Pertisau
Cross Country Skiiing
Cross Country Skiiing

The following day we set off for Gernalm, a superb Alpine Inn, serving delicious large bowls of soup. In fact it was so good we did an extended walk there later in the week. The two walks can be found on Social Hiking here and here.

The first day to Gernalm starts off sunny, the view from our apartment door
The first day to Gernalm starts off sunny, the view from our apartment door

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Or you can take the easy way
Or you can take the easy way
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Coffee stop at Pletzachalm about half way up.
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It starts to cloud over but the scenery is still magnificent
Gernalm comes into view, not a bad spot
Gernalm comes into view, not a bad spot
Meet some of the locals
Meet some of the locals
The boss surveys his territory
The boss surveys his territory

On Monday the forecast was for low cloud all day. So we decided to go into Jenbach and get our train tickets for Saturday for our return to  Munich Airport and also to reserve seats  as the excellent Austrian Trains web site advised. We had used Google Translate to write out what we wanted just in case, but we need not have worried as the man in the ticket office spoke excellent English. Not sure how easily a German speaker would have got on at say Oxenholme Station!. We then took a trip on the Zillertalbahn Railway as far as Zell am Ziller to see what the winter walking was like for a potential future holiday. A quick chat in the tourist office and it was obvious that winter walking opportunities were limited so Zell am Ziller was crossed off the to do list. Still the train was good and in summer some of the time its operated by a steam locomotive.

Zillertalbahn arrives at Zell am Ziller
Zillertalbahn arrives at Zell am Ziller

We woke up on Tuesday to about nine inches of fresh snow and glorious sunshine. We set off to climb up to Feilalm, an alpine hut that overlooks Perisau. However at the bottom on the trail the sign that had said “geöffnet”, open, on Sunday (See I have picked up a little German 🙂 ) now said “geschlossen”, closed! We later learnt that this was due to avalanche risk, and unfortunately it remained closed all week.

So instead we took the trail up to Gramaialm, another superb alpine hut/hotel/restaurant. It has plenty of rooms plus some apartments, you can drive up in summer and it looks a grand staging post for higher level walks and it serves wonderful goulash soup. Enjoy the photos from the day and the route on Social Hiking can be found here

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Click on image to see higher resolution version on Flickr

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Serious isilcles
Serious icicles 
Coffee stop, not a bad view from the gents.
Coffee stop, not a bad view from the gents.
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My favorite photo from Pertisau. Click on it to see higher resolution on Flickr
Can you spot the cross country skier, gives a real sense of scale
Can you spot the cross country skier, gives a real sense of scale
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Gramaialm comes into view
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Looking back from the same spot as the previous photo
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Don’t think we will be eating outside today!
Some large cowbells inside Gramaialm
Some large cowbells inside Gramaialm

On the Wednesday we went to Achenkirck at the other end of Achensee using the free bus service. We decided to walk up to Christlumalm a ski hut/restaurant. The path is on a toboggan slope that crisscrosses the downhill ski slopes so it was “entertaining” at times and whilst the path had been groomed it had not been as well compacted as others we had used, this added to the fairly steep slope made it hard going. When we started off it was cloudy but by the time we reached the top the sun was out. The route on Social Hiking can be found here.

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Crossing the ski slopes can be “entertaining”

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Sian having a rest
Snow on the bird house
Snow on the bird house

On our last day the weather was not too good and I had gone down with a cold so we just had a stroll around Pertisau and the lake.

Avalanche warning
Avalanche warning
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No boat trips until summer

Our favorite place to eat out in Pertisau was LANGLAUFSTÜBERL mainly because it has its own micro brewery brewing Achensee Beir. Its still a continental style larger but it had quite a bit more taste than most. The food was excellent with a good selection of Austrian specialties and free WiFi.

So our two weeks in Austria came to an end, and very enjoyable they were. We will definitely be back but probably in the summer next time.

Everything went to time coming home, Taxi to Jenbach, train to Munich airport with one change on the outskirts of Munich and flight with Lufthansa to Manchester.

Winter Walking in Austria part 1 Leutasch

At the end of January we took ourselves off for two weeks of winter walking in the Austrian Alps. There are two ways you can go walking in the deep snow at this time of the year, walking on groomed trails or snowshoe walking. As I have been having problems with my heel and had been laid up for six weeks we left the snowshoes behind. It’s worth taking some micro spikes in case there are several sunny days without further snow, as the freeze thaw cycles can leave the groomed surfaces icy. We did not have this problem this time but have needed spikes in the past.

Our first week was in Leutasch 6k from Seefeld in Tirol. To get there we flew to Munich from Manchester then got the train to Seefeld. Details of our excellent apartment can be found at he end of the post.

Map showing Leutasch
Map showing Leutasch

Our first walk was on the Sunday. The clouds were quite low and as I wanted to build things up gradually we opted for a short walk, getting the bus to Klamm and walking back. The map can be viewed on Social Hiking here

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The Church at Kirchplatz
The Church at Kirchplatz

The following morning the weather had improved, I grabbed the camera and took some pictures near the apartment, one of which, below, turned out to be by far my most viewed photo on Flickr with over 20,000 views. Click on the photo be be taken to the higher resolution image on Flickr.

Snowy Leutasch
Snowy Leutasch

So as the weather was good there was no excuse not to get going. We decided to get the bus to just passed Klamm and to climb up to Rauthutte for great views across Leutasch and of course refreshments. The map on Social Hiking can be found here

Its steep going up to Rauthutte, and you need to watch out for toboggans!
Its steep going up to Rauthutte, and you need to watch out for toboggans!
Nearly there...mind the icicles
Nearly there…mind the icicles
The view was worth it
The view was worth it

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Cross country skiing
Cross country skiing
Nice lunch spot at Moos
Nice lunch spot at Moos

The following day we had low clouds so we went off to Seefeld in Tirol for the day. The forecast was for snow overnight and lots of it, with sun in the morning. So the alarm was set so that I could get up early and in position with my camera and tripod to try and get some good photos. Multiple layers were put on and I fought my way up the steps from our apartment, we had had at least a foot of snow! I think it was worth it and I hope you do to when you see the photos. All are on Flickr so clicking on any photo will take you to a higher resolution image.

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My favorite photo of the holiday
Turning round 180 degrees from the previous photo this is the view
Turning round 180 degrees from the previous photo this is the view
The previous two photos are taken from a bridge, this one is taken from the side
The previous two photos are taken from a bridge, this one is taken from the side Note the walking path on the LHS has been cleared at 8.00 am
...and the view across the bridge
…and the view across the bridge

After such a fine start to the day we set off for the bus to Klamm. We wondered how late it would be, a foot of snow back home in a small village would have probably meant no bus at all. It was late nearly ten minutes late, pretty impressive. Our walk was from Klamm up the Gaistal valley where the groomed trail ends in a hut/restaurant…perfect for lunch 🙂 The map of our route can be found on Social Hiking here

Anyone for a picnic?
Anyone for a picnic?
Sian sets the pace
Sian sets the pace

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Gaistralalm...lunch
Gaistalalm…lunch

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Clouding over on the way back
Clouding over on the way back
Looks like there are some good walks here in summer
Looks like there are some good walks here in summer

The following day my heel was hurting so I decided to take the day off, Sian had a walk up to Hammermoos

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Or maybe she had transport?
Or maybe she had transport?

The good news for our final day in Leutasch was that my heel felt better so we decided to walk up to  Katzenkapfhutte a hut/restaurant at the top of Leutasch’s ski slope. Lunch there, as it was on about half the days on the holiday, was a large bowl of Goulash Soup! The map of our route can be found on Social Hiking here

View from below the hut just after you have to take your life into your hands by walking across the ski slope.
View from below the hut just after you have to take your life into your hands by walking across the ski slope.

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At the start I promised to tell you some more about the excellent apartment that we stayed in. Its called Happy Mountains and there web site is here and our apartment on TripAdvisor is here. Run by Emily and Steve who are extremely helpful. This is our second visit which says a lot and we will in a few years time go back in summer.

Leutasch is in winter primarily a cross country skiing “resort” although in reality its a nice village. You can see what its like on this excellent webcam. For 12€ you can get free unlimited bus travel across the area for a week.

Happy Mountains
Happy Mountains
Our apartment after the snow
Our apartment after the snow
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The view out the back of Happy Mountains

Last year we stayed in March. We had more sun but less snow. Below are a few photos from then. Next we moved on to Pertisau the other side of Innsbruck, more about that in part 2.

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