Europe, Iceland, Waterfalls

Finding Myself at 65°N – The Solo Icelandic Winter Adventure Day 4: Filling My Heart in the Lava Fields

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Day 4 – December 30th

I did it!  I slept in!  It only took me three mornings to figure out how to do it!  This was a day I quite didn’t know what to do really.  I had looked into venturing to the western edge of Snæfellsnes, but then realized that would be a lot of driving (and back tracking).  So instead I opted for sleeping in, hitting up the post office once it opened, and catching a few sights (and seeing some new ones!) while making my way back down to Akranes where I’d stay for the night.

Immediately upon waking at my later-than-normal-time, I noticed a text message from AirBnB.  Well, eventually something had to go wrong on my trip, right?  It was my host for the next night in Reykjavík, with the words something came up…  ARGH!!!  New Year’s Eve in one of the most expensive cities in Europe… and my accommodations were canceling on me!  I took it in stride, and got immediately on AirBnB to find something new, knowing at least I could always deal with one night in a multi-bed dorm in a hostel if I had to.  Luckily I found a room that was available for *only* $70 more (ha!) and it was only five minutes from Hallgrímskirkja – with free parking!  The location was vastly better than the original room, and the host accepted immediately and gave me details on where to park, etc.  Sigh, disaster averted, and though it hit my wallet a bit harder, $168 for a room in the 101 on New Year’s Eve with parking right outside really didn’t see all that bad in the end.

Accommodation crisis adverted (kinda… I would e-argue with the original host for a few days before AirBnB finally refunded me my money…. she wanted me to take a different room even further away from downtown, and my friends were warning me this is a common scam strategy), I ate a bit of breakfast and slowly continuing to wake up.  The post office would open at 10am, and I wanted to drop some postcards in the mail before proceeding on.  I loaded up the car and decided to do a bit of exploring first.

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Stykkishólmskirkja before sunrise
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Pre-sunrise view of Stykkishólmur

I first went to the modern Stykkishólmskirkja, which is definitely not in the traditional Icelandic style.  Then, for contrast, I drove back down to the harbor, and went to the historic Stykkishólmskirkja (seriously, I’m such a sucker for Icelandic churches).  Church hunting out of the way (for now), I grabbed gas and then dropped my post cards off in the mail (I had leftover stamps from my first trip, so I legit just wanted to hand them to a person).  It was a smidgen after 10am now, so entering civil twilight, and snowy Snæfellsnes opened up before me as I headed back to Road 54 to continue some more exploring of places already traveled – and some new.

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The old Stykkishólmskirkja

The pale pinks of the morning Arctic sky and snow covered scene laid before me, breathtaking.  It wasn’t long before I was stopping constantly to take photos and take it all in.  I’ve seen a lot of the nooks and crannies of Iceland, but there’s just something about Snæfellsnes, and those feelings don’t change when the scenery is snow covered.  I wound along the coast, stopping briefly before crossing the bridge over Kolgrafarfjördur to grab some photos.  The sky remained a beautiful pink color, and I was content.

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Heading west on Road 54
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Mountains across Kolgrafarfjördur
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Road near Kolgrafarfjördur

Before dropping down into Grundarfjörður, I stopped on a pull off along the road to capture some photos of Kirkjufell across the fjord.  The Walter Mitty scene where he takes off on the shore bike is filmed here, and that is the scene made made me fall in love with the country, so I’m smitten with this part of Iceland, to say the least.  There was a small herd of horses up the hill, and upon seeing me they hustled in my direction.  I laughed out loud, smiling like a fool to make more horsey friends!

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Kirkjufell across Grundarfjörður
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It’s a baby horse with curly hair!!!
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My new friends near Grundarfjörður
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I love me a good horse portrait
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Arghhh, so fuzzy and so cute!
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I think this was momma and baby!

Though it only had been a little over a year since I was last here, the impact of mass tourism in Iceland has made for some changes – this time being the new, large parking lot for Kirkjufellsfoss.  I was confused as I pulled up to the original location, and seeing the barriers, so I kept driving down the road until the new lot appear.  I will admit, the original parking lot was tiny (I commented on its size in the blog post from that trip), so I understand the need for the bigger lot, but I also felt the slight tinge of heartache of how much tourism is changing Iceland.

Camera in hand (still too lazy to use a tripod, some things never change), I set out across the solid ice parking lot and trail to the famous waterfalls with the view of Kirkjufell behind them.  I had micro spikes with me… but obviously, the only logical thing to do was to leave them in the car and risk the ice.  The scene at the falls was hilarious between the ice covered hill and the dozens of people with their damn tripods.  After nearing falling on my butt, I took to sitting underneath someone’s tripod (I’m not kidding about this) so I could get my shots.  Come on people, enough with the tripods!

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The tripod crowd at Kirkjufellsfoss
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Stereotypical photo obtained of Kirkufell and accompanying fosses. Not bad for sitting under someone’s tripod!
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I love the view over Grundarfjörður from Kirkjufellsfoss.

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Stereotypical Kirkjufellsfoss photo obtained, I turned my attention the ever beautiful Helgrindur mountains that are in the opposite direction of where all the self-stick and tripod-equipped crowds look.  Wispy cirrus clouds played off the peaks, as the snow covered landscape spread to the ocean shore.  Truly beautiful!

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I finished up at Kirkjufellsfoss by watching someone’s camera and tripod go tumbling off the cliff into the falls, and more people falling on their butts before carefully heading back to my car to enjoy a banana and continue on my way, making note to put my micro spikes in the front seat for the next adventure.

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Boats in the harbor at Grundarfjörður
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Because it was my trip, and I’d stop if I wanna, I pulled in to grab a few quick shots of Grundarfoss.
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Heading back east on Road 54

Next up was a place I really was sad about not seeing fully during my first trip, the lava field Berserkjahraun.  This glorious moss covered lava field is roughly 4000 years old, created from the eruption of the craters Rauðkúla, Kothraunskúla, Smáhraunskúla and finally Grákúlaand, and  has some saga history behind it:

The rocky field gets its name from a part of the Icelandic Eyrbyggia Saga. As the tale goes, a 10th century farmer had two Berserkers, laborers from Sweden who were known for their arge size and general aggressiveness, who worked for him.  One of the men fell in love with the farmer’s daughter and asked to marry her and while the farmer wanted to refuse he was a little afraid of doing so. He consulted with the local chieftain who suggested he allow the marriage IF the Berserker would first complete a certain (he believed impossible) task: forging a road through the lava field so that the farmer wouldn’t have to travel such a long distance around it when he wanted to get to the other side. The Berserker agreed, and he and his compatriot set to work right away, putting all their “berserk” aggressive energy to the task. They finished in no time. Simultaneously pleased about the road and alarmed by his prospective son-in-law, the farmer invited the two Berserkers to relax their tired muscles in a special sauna he had built for them. However this was a trap and the farmer killed and buried them both. – Atlas Obscura

So, this also accounts for the word “berserk” (betcha didn’t know it was Icelandic/Old Norse in origin!).

I turned down Road 558, which narrowed soon enough, with a one lane bridge crossing Hraunsfjörður.  Though this is not an F-road, it’s narrow, gravel, windy, and has plenty of blind corners.  And with it being winter, there were several very large frozen spots of accumulated water to contend with.  I was up for the challenge in my trusty Dacia, feeling like the sole person alive on a foreign planet of lava and moss.  I couldn’t resist stopping, and running over and laying by face upon the cool, soft moss.  My heart was full.

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Crossing Hraunsfjörður into Berserkjahraun on Road 558
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Berserkjahraun
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My face, on moss. Heaven!

I cruised along Road 558, giddy with excitement to get off the main highways and onto the beaten, snowy path through Berserkjahraun.  I wouldn’t see another car until the last piece of the drive, which was a good thing due to all the blind corners and the fact the road is one lane.  Though most of the landscape was snow covered, it was worth the detour.

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Berserkjahraun
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Berserkjahraun
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At the end of the eastern loop of Road 558

Though I had plenty of “day” left (ughhhh these short daytime hours!), I decide to start my journey south, and started up Road 56 over Kerlingarskarð pass.  But first I had to tickle my waterfall chasing heart, and revisit Sheep’s Waterfall, or Selvallafoss, or “whatever it is called!”  I was smart, and put on my micro spikes this time, and descended the steep hill to this hidden, but beautiful waterfall.

Though I have probably seen hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls in Iceland, and I really think they’re all fabulous, I love Sheep’s Waterfall.  The cascades over the mossy rocks, the cave behind it, and the views over Selvallavatn and Berserkjahraun are just amazing.  And I had it all to myself, which was more pleasant than having to sit under someone’s tripod at a crowded Kirkjufellsfoss just to get a photo.  The wind howled, but I sat down and just admired the falls and views, and watched an ice fisherman on Selvallavatn.  Life is good.

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Looking over to Berserkjahraun and Selvallavatn from the waterfall
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It was a bit windy and chilly!
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Sheep’s Waterfall

After a quick pear skyr for a snack (I really had taken to not eating lunches during this trip as daylight was too precious to waste on food), I headed over the pass and down to the south side of Snæfellsnes, the snow covered scenery and pink skies giving way to brown and gray.  With this my mood dramatically shifted.  I’m going to get real for a sec – the wave of melancholy and depression hit me hard.  I actually questioned my love for Iceland even, thinking momentarily “Heidi, this is a cool place, but is it that cool?”  I really struggle with a lack of sunlight (Wyoming may get to -30F, but we also have well over 300 sunny days a year), and it was apparent what a winter in the high latitudes was doing to me.  But I trudged on, pushing away sadness and anxiety over my AirBnB situation that was heating up in the messages.

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Intersection of Roads 54 and 56
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Road 54

With several hours left before I could check into my room for the night in Akranes, I raked my brain for things to do.  Immediately I thought of the basalt cliffs Gerðuberg, which I crossed off the itinerary from my first trip.  Google Maps led me astray initially, so I kept going down Road 54 until I saw the road sign marking the road that leads to the cliffs about a kilometer away.  The basalt columns stretch for about 500 meters, and contrasted nicely against the snow.  Cool area, and perfect for a day like this, but I’m not sure I otherwise would’ve made a point of coming here.  What really caught my eye was the church tucked away by what appeared to be an abandoned house.

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Gerðuberg
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Gerðuberg

I drove down the drive way to Rauðamelskirkja, happy to have found this little church on my unofficial quest to visit every little church in Iceland.  Apparently this isn’t the only cool thing nearby, as the hills behind the church are a brilliant red color when they’re not snow covered, and a famous mineral spring is also located close by.  A couple of stops to add to the next trip’s itinerary!

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Rauðamelskirkja tucked away in a snowy landscape

I once again debated stopping by Landbrotolaug, the elusive super-small hot pot that was too crowded on my first trip, and too windy when I had passed through the day before.  But once again the thought of undressing in the snow and wind to soak didn’t appeal, and I kept chugging along (including getting close up to Kolbeinsstaðakirkja for some more photos).

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Kolbeinsstaðakirkja
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Chugging along Road 54 towards Borgarsnes

As I neared Borgarnes, I decided to head north on the Ring Road towards the Glanni waterfall to kill some more time.  I hadn’t ventured on this part of the Ring Road, so I figured “why not.”  But as I drove, I realized how hungry I was.  The massive statute of an Opal licorice candy box didn’t help.  I finally came up on the road to Daníelslundur, and decided it looked like a good picnic spot.  I giggled as I kicked around a foot of heavy wet snow, and made my sandwich among trees that are much taller than myself.  (A common joke in Iceland is “if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up”)  I decided to walk into the forest a bit, enjoying the trees and snow.

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Daníelslundur off of the Ring Road
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Daníelslundur
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Dacia for scale, to show that the trees were really tall!

Finally I had killed enough daytime that I scratched my plans for Glanni after being satisfied with my small adventure at Daníelslundur, and headed back towards Borgarnes.  Before crossing the long Borgarfjarðarbrú, I stopped along the black sand beach of the fjord and snapped some photos in the fading daylight.  It felt like 8pm, but it wasn’t even 4pm.  Damn this is tough!

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Blue hour Borgarnes
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Black sand beaches near Borgarnes

I booked a charming room in Akranes in the home of a Icelandic-Scottish couple who turned their basement into a guesthouse.  The bright colors and homey features are just what I needed to revive my saddened mood.  I stayed in the “orange room,” which was literally painted a bright orange, so I mean, who could be sad in that room?!  The kitchen was well equipped, so I took to making a huge pot of spaghetti, cursing the fact spaghetti is sold in 1kg packages (2.2lbs), and I’m only use to cooking 1lb at a time.  Though I cannot get good tasting spaghetti sauce in Iceland, it was nice to feast on a heaping plate of spaghetti with a bottle of Appelsín, as early celebrators launched fireworks outside in the rain.

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My very orange room for the night
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By the way, swiss cheese doesn’t really work as a spaghetti topping….

Tomorrow would mark the last day of 2019, and my thoughts weighed heavy on my mind as I thought over the memories of the year.  I also debated the plans for New Year’s Eve.  I had signed up for the Gamlárshlaup ÍR, the annual 10km New Year’s Eve run in Reykjavík, and lugged running shoes, running gear, and a large purple tutu all the way to Iceland with me for the event.  1 – I’m not a runner, and I’ve only run 5k’s.  2 – the weather was predicted to be 25mph winds and rain.  Those two facts alone was setting me up to skip the race (the entry fee was about $18USD, so not big loss), and I really want time to cuddle cats at Kattakaffihúsið.  I debated back and forth on what time to set my alarm and what plans to make, finally panicking at nearly midnight, telling myself I would run.

 

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