Europe, Iceland, Waterfalls

Finding Myself at 65°N – The Solo Icelandic Winter Adventure Day 3: Living My Best Life on Snæfellsnes

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December 29th – Day 3…

The wind was whipping when I awoke, still way before anyone else in the guesthouse (still hadn’t figured out to just sleep in).  The appeal of Iceland is it’s natural beauty, which is hard to see when it’s COMPLETELY DARK, so I knew I didn’t want to get too early of start on my drive to Snæfellsnes as I wanted to see things.  So I took to scrolling through social media, checking weather/roads, eating some glorious pear skyr for breakfast, showering, moving the car to a closer parking spot, and just sitting around until I heard other lifeforms stirring to life in the guesthouse.

Finally about 9:45am I loaded up the car and prepared for the day’s adventures.  First I headed up the stairs on a hill next to the guesthouse to the Brákin memorial sculpture.  Borgarnes was still a winter wonderland, and I wondered what lay ahead of me as I ventured out on Snæfellsnes (road webcams aren’t too helpful when it’s dark out).

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Brákin memorial sculpture, which is on the hill right aside Egils Guesthouse

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is what started all this Iceland craziness for me back in the day, so naturally I couldn’t leave Borgarnes without first visiting Geirabakari Kaffihus, or “Papa John’s” as it’s known in the movie.  This is the local bakery (there’s really no Papa John’s in Iceland, though you will find Dominos), and I figure a cup of strong Icelandic coffee would serve me well.  The bakery was quite busy with both tourists and locals, but I quickly had my coffee, and was out the door.

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“I’m at a Papa Johns in Iceland.”

I turned off the Ring Road onto Road 54, or Snæfellsnesvegur.  Taillights from tour buses and other travelers dotted the scenery in front of me.  The roads were definitely not in that great of shape thanks to the snow, but I was able to cruise along.  Night was slowly giving away to daytime, and the beautiful, snow covered mountains laid before me.  I finally found a spot to pull over so I could snap a photo of the Eldborg crater all snowy, and briefly debated checking out Landbrotolaug.  This “hidden” hot pot had a line of people waiting to soak in it during my first trip, so I had hoped to maybe soak this time around.  But it was crazy windy (like Wyoming windy!), so I decided to once again skip it and continue on my way.

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Pre-sunrise Snæfellsnes views
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Eldborg Crater. This volcanic cone last erupted 5000-6000 years ago. Eventually one day I hope to hike to it.
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Snæfellsnes

Once Road 56 split off (which heads to the north side of the peninsula), traffic thinned to pretty much nothing, and so did the snow.  I just love love love Snæfellsnes, and I was feeling just as much love (if not a bit more) this second time around as I cruised down Road 54, taking in all the sites around me, and pointing out to myself places I had already been.  I had an ideal itinerary set for the day, so I kept heading towards Búðakirkja, the so famous black church in the tiny little hamlet of Búðir.

As I turned down Road 574 (Útnesvegur), and then turned off towards Búðir I realized I was going to be able to catch the sunrise at Búðakirkja.  I literally screamed with joy as I parked.  The first time I visited Búðakirkja it was on a very warm, sunny day with brilliant blue skies, and I was actually disappointed, as Búðakirkja (to me) needs a moody scene, not sunny beach weather, to fully enjoy.  And here I was getting it!  Clouds capped the mountains in the background, as golden yellows and pinks broke up the sky to the south as the sun rose.  Even though the wind was whipping and it was drizzling, I couldn’t have been happier in that moment.  I cried a little bit as I ran around taking photo after photo, with a smile on my face.

(There’s going to be a ton of photos from today, and I make no apologies!)

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Búðakirkja
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My gloomy photo of Búðakirkja achieved!

I trotted into the Búðahraun lava field (which originated from the Búðaklettur volcanic crater), talking to my beloved moss and admiring the church from afar, and the beautiful sunrise.  After not seeing the sunrise since Wyoming days prior, I relished in the reviving nature of sunlight, though I realized it might not really get much higher on the horizon (this whole day would feel like one long golden hour).

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Búðaklettur and surrounding Búðahraun lava field
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Búðakirkja
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That glorious sun appearing above the ocean at Búðakirkja
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Búðakirkja – I love the sunrise reflecting off the black paint!
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The cemetery and lava fields at Búðakirkja

Finally I peeled myself away from Búðakirkja, knowing I had more adventures in store as I headed back towards Road 574.  I turned off onto an overlook with radio antennas that looks over Búðahraun and the coast.  I had been here on my first trip, but for whatever reason wasn’t too interested in looking around that time, but now here on my own terms, I relished in this hidden overlook that others seem to drive by.

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Búðaklettur and Búðahraun lava field, which some estimates say is 8000 years old.
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My little Dacia!

I wanted a repeat photo taken from the entrance of Rauðfeldsgjá, so soon enough I was parking in the empty parking lot (it was completely full the last time I visited!) and readied my remote shutter release and tripod for the steep hike up to the opening of the gorge.  This crack on the side of Botnsfjall is steeped in folklore (written in my first blog post about visiting), and you can venture up inside the gorge for quite a ways.  But my intention for this day was a selfie, ha!  The lengths I’ll go, the heights I’ll climb for a selfie, right?  I hustled up the hill rather quickly in the ice and snow, and luckily had it all to myself (another car pulled in as I made it back to my car).

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Rauðfeldsgjá. This photo makes it look like a flat walk. It is not flat, the camera is lying. Nothing is a flat hike in Iceland!
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The photo I wanted from Rauðfeldsgjá! The clouds hindered the view a bit, but I’ll still take it.

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Oh, and there’s moss nearby.  I stopped quickly to grab some more photos.

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Klifhraun lava field with Stapafell in the background
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This is the quality of selfies I’ve come to expect from myself! The wind was windy, and that is saying something when coming from a Wyoming gal!
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Another view of Klifhraun and Stapafell

Next up was a repeat visit to Arnarstapi, but to see stuff I missed on the first trip – mainly the little white house with Stapafell in the background that everyone takes the same photo of, and to find the rock arch people take photos of themselves on.  By now the wind was something fierce (think 40-50mph sustained winds with 70+mph gusts), so I knew that between the fact I was solo, and the wind, I wouldn’t be getting a photo of myself on the rock arch.  But I still wanted to find it!  I parked at at the harbor, and followed the established hiking paths that skirt the basalt-coastline in and turquoise waters.

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The start of the hiking path along the coast in Arnarstapi
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Come to Arnarstapi, take typical photo!

The hiking paths are great, with features pointed out with signs.  Aside from the wind nearly blowing me over a couple of times, I was filled with happiness.  I finally found the rock arch, or Miðgjá, and scrambled down to take some photos (I suppose I could always photoshop myself onto it, right?  Ha!).  I struggled back to the car in the wind, happy to have spent more time in Arnarstapi, and know I need to come back here for an extended visit another time.

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A shoreline waterdfall!
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Amtmannshúsið, a historical site in Arnarstapi
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Stapafell reflecting in a pond. Clouds sadly obscured Snæfellsjökull, which is behind Stapafell.
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The coastline near Arnarstapi is almost more stunning in the water, with the golden grass, turquoise waters, and snowy mountains.
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Miðgjá – sign marks the spot of the arch everyone likes to stand on for a photo
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Miðgjá stone arch

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Pumpa, another named feature of the coastline

Daylight a-ticking-away, I headed towards Hellnar, as I wanted photos of Hellnakirkja in the beautiful golden light.  Everything was bathed in orange as I parked at the church at about 1:30pm, looking like a brilliant sunset.  Naturally, I couldn’t go to the church without stepping a few feet away to the Kcymaerxthaere “Interdimensional Hopscotch” (Víddaflakk) marker, where I must admit, I got much better photos of this time around!  The scenery surrounding me was just so beautiful I never wanted to leave, but I knew the lighting was not everlasting, so I hopped in the car, paid a quick visit to the view point that looks over the shoreline (and so I could get yet another photo of the cute A-frame house), and then headed towards my next destination.

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Hellnakirkja and the midday sun. It was a bit surprising just how low the sun stayed on the horizon throughout the day.
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Hellnakirkja
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Another view of Hellnakirkja
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And yet another view of Hellnakirkja (and Stapafell)
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Kcymaerxthaere “Interdimensional Hopscotch” in Hellnar
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The lighting was just too amazing to not take a million photos of Hellnakirkja!
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I swear this is the last one…
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Cemetery in Hellnar
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The rugged coastline of Hellnar and the most adorable A-frame house!

An emergency hut.  Yes, that is where I was headed next!  But first I still had stops along the way, including to lay my face upon some moss, and adventures in yelling at tourists stopped in the middle of the road on a blind crest (imbeciles!).  Oh, and I watched a very small compact two wheel drive car turn off onto F570, which looked quite muddy and snowy, so had a good chuckle about that.  I also saw a group of horses, so I parked my car at the first available area, and walked down to them.  These horses were incredibly friendly, and enjoyed my pets and they nuzzled me in return as I fought the 70mph winds (I almost couldn’t make it back to the car as the winds kept blowing me backwards!).

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A selfie with a friend!  She gave me some awesome hair care tips so I too can always have a good hair day like an Icelandic horse!
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My new friends
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Perfect hair, even in the crazy wind!
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Close up

Finally I was back to Road 54, and prepared to ascend Fróðárheiði, a 361 meter high mountain pass.  I knew the road conditions were about to get cray-cray, and they did indeed.  If I recall right, I was averaging about 20-30kph going up the pass, and I saw some tourists descending that looked scared out of their minds with white knuckles, barely crawling down the icy roads.  Iceland road conditions are no joke in the winter!  After about four miles I safely arrived at the A-frame emergency hut, which I longed to take photos of.

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Road 54 over Fróðárheiði
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The lonely emergency hut on Fróðárheiði

I parked and started to get out of the car, and got half my body out before I was trapped by wind of over 75mph that was pushing my car door closed on me.  I finally shoved the rest of my body out, and held on for dear life as I snapped some photos.  I had a selfie idea in mind, but knew my D500 and tripod stood no chance in these winds, so I ended up propping up on my camera on the steering wheel safely inside the car, and used the remote trigger for my photos.  (All I wanted to do was to make a post announcing I had purchased this fine house in Iceland and was disappearing with my cat, gravel bike, and 100 books!)  I giggled as I fought the wind and bitter cold in this crazy setting.  I mean, who does this stuff willingly?!  Others head to the warm and sun and beaches in the winter, and here I am, in frigid winds a bit south of the Arctic Circle, coveting a shack on a mountain pass!

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My new dream abode on Fróðárheiði.
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Fróðárheiði
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Sitting on my stoop
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It was pretty damn cold and stupidly windy!

I survived the descent down Fróðárheiði, and was treated to the most magical light on the mountains and Bjarnarfoss.  I had dash video going to capture the drive, and in the video you can just hear me going on and on about the light glinting off the waterfall.  By now I had already announced this day as one of my best days ever, and it just kept continuing on!  Needless to say, I pulled into the parking lot of Bjarnarfoss once I was safely down the pass, and captured some new photos of the falls in a whole new light (ha, pun!).

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The gorgeous light on the mountains as I descend Fróðárheiði
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Bjarnarfoss with Mælifell in the background
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Close up of Bjarnarfoss

The drive east on Road 54 remained spectacular as the golden light increased as the daylight neared its end.  I found myself stopping quite frequently to grab photos, including pulling into Staðastaðakirkja in this soft light (it seriously was so harsh the first time I was on Snæfellsnes, fighting to take photos in that full brilliant sun).

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Sinking sun over Búðaklettur
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More golden hour sights of Snæfellsnes
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Sun sinking closer to the Atlantic Ocean
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Road 54
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Staðastaðakirkja

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Staðastaðakirkja
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Road 54… I cannot get enough of these Icelandic roads!!

By the time I arrived to my turn off to Road 56, the sun has pretty much said it’s goodnight (but it as still light out for a little while longer).  Road 56, Vatnaleið pass, would take me to the north side of the peninsula.  I soon re-entered snowy terrain, looking like a different world than the brown of the southern side of the peninsula.  I spotted the Westfjords in the distance across Breiðafjörður, which added even more awesomeness to the day, and caused my heart to flutter with happiness (the Westfjords ar my favorite part of Iceland… along with Snæfellsnes, the highlands, the south coast, the east fjords, and north… ha! But legit I LOVE the Westfjords, my 3 days/4 nights there was not enough time, and I cannot wait to go back).

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Mountain views from Road 56 over Vatnaleið
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Sunset skies over Selvallavatn
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End of Road 56
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Road 58 headed east. The northern side of Snæfellsnes was snow covered, in contrast to the mostly snow-free southern side.
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The Westfjords!!!

I arrived in Stykkishólmur about 3:45pm, which was my final destination for the day.  Because I had fears of missing the ferry during my first trip, I had skipped walking up to the lighthouse atop Súgandisey, so I beelined straight for this time. Súgandisey is actually an island, and it’s connected by a causeway to the rest of the town.  I quickly hiked up the stairs and path to the lighthouse, and enjoyed the beautiful views across Breiðafjörður and the countless islands that dot the bay, and the whole scene of Stykkishólmur.  The lighthouse had originally been at Grótta near Reykjavík, but then was moved to this location.  Luckily the winds had died down quite a bit, making this an enjoyable visit.

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Stykkishólmur, as seen from Súgandisey
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Súgandisey lighthouse

My accommodation for the night was Höfðagata Guesthouse, so I took to finding this centrally located guesthouse after my lighthouse adventure.  Google Maps did fail me, but I kept driving along the stupidly narrow street until I saw the building (I made sure to make a mental note off of the photos on AirBnB) and another couple unloading groceries.  Success!

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My home for the night.
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So I like cucumbers… what can I say?!

I briefly talked to the other couple (German and staying there for eight nights – and they warned me they had killed mice in the guesthouse…), settled in, and then made myself a big sandwich for dinner.  I had originally planned on eating out in Stykkishólmur, but my budget balked at the menu prices I saw online, and I settled for getting cozy for the night… the longgggg never ending nighttttt.  (Seriously, the prolonged darkness was killing me by now, even after such an amazing #bestdayever. This night and into the next day I really hit a very low spot mentally.)  I had a queen size bed, which I remember being comfortable.  Sadly, my room was right next to the front door, so as other guests came in and out during the night I could hear it all.  But there was a nice kitchen space, and a living room.  Overall, Höfðagata Guesthouse is older, and maybe not as nice as the photos online make it out to be (aside from my room, which was quite nice and similar to the photos).  It has a great central location, though, which is a plus (there’s a pub just right down the hill!).

Would I finally learn to sleep in?  Time will only tell!

 

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