Monday, June 6, 2016

Chilling in Iceland (Part 4): Just the Two of Us and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

We had never felt more alone.  Not in the sense where we felt stranded, but in a way where we felt like we had this corner of the world to ourselves.  Winter may not be the most ideal time to visit Iceland, but we were able to experience a sort of solitude and wonderment that we've never quite felt before.  Being the only car on the road for miles was pretty sweet, actually.  The weather was much kinder to us, compared to the other days, with sun rays and patches of blue sky just barely peeking through the clouds (although there was a rough few miles of driving through a blizzard in the mountain range).  We pulled over numerous times, and saw no more than three or four people at a time, even at the more popular stopping points.  There were also some fishing villages that looked like they were deserted for the winter.  We tried not to stick around those places too long, for fear of White Walkers or maybe some mythical Icelandic elves.  After more than a hundred miles on the empty road, we were quite happy to run into human beings again when we did, even though it meant that we narrowly avoided being caught peeing in public.

That morning, I threw on my spiffy Icelandic wool sweater as Wes grabbed his tripod for the first day that we could safely assume that it wouldn't blow away.  With a bakery on our minds, we skipped the usual breakfast at our hotel and headed straight for the road, due North, for Snæfellsnes.  I had dropped various pins on the night before to help direct us on our drive.  Now, looking back and mapping it all out, it says that we covered 270 miles in one day!

The signs would have been helpful if we understood Icelandic.  Good thing for Google Maps and our pocket wi-fi!

I think this day was when we saw the sun for the first time since we arrived in this country!

Our first stop was going to be in Borgarnes, a town on the edge of a small peninsula. We saved our appetites for Geirabakari Ehf, a great bakery that was transformed by Hollywood into Papa John’s in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Fell in love with not only the fresh, simple foods, but also with that traditional Icelandic hospitality.

We wanted to try everything!!  But we settled for a few things:

A swirly, inch-thick cookie made of oats.  It was dense and crumbly, with jam throughout.  Loved it, and took some for the road.

Sandwich - eggs, asparagus, lox.  The bread looks thick, but it was so light and fluffy.

They recommended this carrot rye.  We bought a half loaf, and it felt like a brick!  It reminded me more of American rye bread - seedy and with a more sour than sweet flavor profile.  This bread ended up coming to the rescue when our stomachs were empty and there was nothing to eat on the road.

 Also, we worship this butter.  All Hail Smjor!!

 We also had some paprika-spiked tuna dip to go with the rye bread.

The view through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls was unreal.

In order to continue on, we had to pay a $10 toll to use the Hvalfjordur tunnel, the longest tunnel in Iceland, which runs underwater and made our ears plug up!

While Wes focused on the road, I kept my eye out for road signs pointing to the landmarks we had set out to see.  Obviously, it was helpful to be completely familiar with what specific word I was looking for, as all of the places in this country appear to be long jumbles of random letters and accent marks (to the American eye, anyway).

We followed some signage and deviated from the main road a short distance to get to the Gerduberg Cliffs.

But before we got to the Cliffs, I had to hop out and take some pictures of these houses.

Then suddenly, the road dead ends at the Gerduberg Cliffs, which seem to rise abruptly out of the earth like a wall.  Spooky place, especially because we were the only two people there.

We also made our second encounter with a small herd of Icelandic horses.  They were really so friendly!

Little did we know at that time that we would be eating horse later the same day for dinner.  It's a little sad when you really think about it, but hey it's the circle of life.

The terrain then abruptly changed from dry golden fields to total whiteness again, as we drove up into the mountains.  

We were really heading towards the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, which is supposedly a very picturesque ravine that cuts into the east side of Botnsfjall Mountain that can easily be seen from the road.  In the summer, you could hike into it and see a waterfall or something...obviously, we didn’t get to do this - it was completely snowed in, and the road leading up to it was slick with ice.  But we observed the glorious crack from afar, noticing seagulls flying around its entrance and rushing streams flowing out of it. 

It was somewhere around here that Wes and I both stepped too far into a snowbank and got our legs caught in thick snow.  Funny now, but sort of scary at the time because we had to use all of our strength to dislodge ourselves!  It could have been bad, as there was literally not a soul in sight for miles.

I took a turn at the wheel when the weather wasn't ridiculous.  We pulled over at a few fishing villages, which are supposedly charming and sweet (probably in the summer), but really turned out to be hauntingly deserted...

Arnarstapi, they say, is a very scenic fishing village with ravines, caves, basalt columns and seabirds - we did not see any of this as there was no sign of life here at all!!  It was like everybody had gone on hibernation.  Hellnar, another village close by, was also completely dead and looked like an Icelandic ghost town from a scary movie.  Would not want to be here at night!!  Nevertheless, we spent some time taking photos of the deserted-looking houses and wrapped up bales of hay.  There was also this old church that looked too peaceful for its own good.

As if that wasn't chilling enough, we proceeded to drive through a massive lava field, towards these menacing-looking rocks, known as the Lóndrangar.  They are the remnants of ancient basalt volcanic dikes sticking out from the sea.

So... we almost passed up this view.  We arrived at a small parking lot, stopped, and decided that we didn’t have time to walk around.  But then changed our minds and headed up the pathway anyway. We were rewarded with an awesome overlook that totally lifted our spirits.  All those little white specks on the cliffs are birds!!  Nice to see other living creatures after feeling like we had gone to Hell and back.  Plus, there was nobody there, so we got nice clean shots, and were also able to pee!

(There was no better place to get it done.)

Then, we drove for a bit by the ocean (I think we were on a fjord) and saw the clouds begin to part.  It was maybe around 4:30 PM at this time.

Pulled over the side of the road to take pictures of a beautiful waterfall that had no name.  It was too far away to get a good picture, but it was cool to look through the telephoto lens at the rushing water and to simply listen to the roar.  The wind was crazy too!  We had to hurry, the sun wasn't going to be out much longer and we could tell that there was a storm coming along.

We could see the distant Kirkjufell Mountain rising up into the clouds up ahead.

I knew that Wes would simply love photographing Kirkjufell Mountain and the Kirkjufellsfoss in front of it.  The tip of the mountain is shielded by a cloud in this picture.  We weren't sure if it was it, but as we drove closer to it, it became more and more obvious.  We knew for sure once we got around to the front of it and looked back.

Kirkjufell Mountain is known for its unique, swirling features and is said to be the most-photographed mountain in Iceland.  The clouds had dispersed just in time for our photos, and it looked like a tour group was just heading out!  


It was so pretty.  We were shaking by the time we had gotten enough pictures, and pretty darn hungry. 

 Luckily, we had some snacks in the car to hold us over on our drive all the way back to Borgarnes, which happened to be the nearest place where we could grab a legitimate meal.

We got dinner at this place called The Settlement Center, which was a combination between a visitors' center and a restaurant.  It's really an old farmhouse, with one wall built directly into the side of a rock.  It was really inviting on the inside, and apparently we had come at the perfect time because shortly after we ordered, a huge tour group stormed the place!!

We were so happy to see all this bread and butter.  This was the first time we were eating non-yellow butter in Iceland, and we were a little bit wary of it.  Turns out that this snow-white butter was just as amazing as all the Smjor - light and whipped rather than thick and rich, it tasted like fresh milk!  The black stuff was lava salt, sprinkled on top.  We bought two packs of it to bring home.

We also had some lamb stew, which was of course very delicious.

These langoustines (so plump and sweet!!) over a light, creamy pasta were amazing.  They were huge, and there was not three, but four of them!

And here is our horse filet with a berry sauce and a few lone green veggies.  I am sorry to report that it was one of the most mouthwatering pieces of meat we have ever eaten.

Finally, we ended on blueberry and vanilla ice cream from that cow farm that we didn't get to see while on our roadtrip around the Golden Circle.  Score!  The only reason I wanted to go to the cow farm was for the ice cream anyway.  (Efstidalur II is the name of the farm, and it has its own restaurant and ice cream store).  It was very milky and not too sweet.

After this, we almost went home, but instead tried to tail some Northern Lights bus tours, and ultimately failed.  They all dispersed and went separate ways - probably their strategy to A.) Divide and conquer and B.) Lose pesky freeloaders like us.  Oh well, we were super tired anyway.  We needed to get up early the next day to eat up some more road!  Next destination: Jokusarlon, where skies were forecasted to be clear all night.

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