Sunday, May 31, 2015

Killing Time and Icelandic Ponies

Today we slept in, if you call sleeping till 7:30 AM sleeping in, and took our time to eat breakfast and leave the hotel.  We still left by 9:30 AM that gave us several hours to kill before we could check into our next hotel or go horseback riding, which were only about an hour and half away.  We are determining the route could have been better spaced or activities better timed. So we to fill time we stopped at almost every information and point of interest point along the way.  We also tried to take a ferry out to one of the islands but they don’t run in the morning on Sunday.   

Some of the points of interest were good, others were busts. The most interesting one we stopped at was the sod homes at Glaumbær along route 75.  Those were interesting, but the two busloads of senior citizens on vacation overwhelmed the place.  We also stopped at a point of interest which had a statue of a fisherman looking out to sea, and another stop were there was an obelisk marker showing were an old Viking fortification was.


The horseback riding was fun.  Icelandic horses are about the size of ponies, but husky.  They are hardy little horses who have manes that should be on 80’s rockers.  The horses also do not understand personal space and like to huddle next to each other.  The ride was fun; we forded a small stream that was about 3 feet deep and did something that was between a trot and a cantor.  The guide said it is similar to pacing in a quarter horses.  The ride concluded our activities for the day. 



We checked into a nice bed and breakfast place, and have our own little cabin. This cabin is much larger and nicer then the first little cabin we had. However, we will still need to squeegee the bathroom floor after our showers to make sure all the water goes down the drain. 

Tomorrow we have four hour drive not including stops to the south of Iceland.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Cave and Waterfalls

Today we woke up to sunshine and blue sky, the first time we seen those on the trip.  We then grabbed a quick breakfast and headed down to Myvatn to go caving. 

Entrance to Cave
Our guide picked us and eight other people up at the Myvatn visitor center for the hour drive, on very rough terrine through the lava field to the cave site. Once we reached the cave site we had about a 30 minute hike across the lava field to the cave entrance. Once at the entrance we descended down some stairs and then put on the special cave boots and rain or waterproof pants.  The boots were basically those trendy galoshes people like to wear, except these had little metal studs in the bottom so you could walk on ice.  This was required because the whole floor of the cave is ice.   To enter the main section of the cave must climb up about 7 feet then crawl on your belly through an opening that is 1.5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, while executing a turn to flip your feet in front of you to slide down into the first cavern.  Then you walk in a crouched position to the next obstacle, where you climbed up the ice hill using a rope, and then once you got to the top you slid down the other end into a larger cavern.  The last obstacle required you to rappel up hill, using the wall of the cave, then when you reach the top slide down the other side into the last cavern, the largest reachable by the tour group.  To get out of the cave you reverse the process.  The cave was pretty and the ice inside formed stalactites and stalagmites.  The formations you could tell took several years to make, and went through several melting and refreezing stages.  It was an interesting outing.

Caving Group

After returning from the cave excursion we ate at the “Cow Café” were you could look at the cows or the lake while you ate.  From there we headed over to see some pseudo craters and some interesting lava rock structures.  Then we headed over to Dettifoss, on the road that was open.

Dettifoss
The trail that lead to Dettifoss and its sister waterfall was altered slightly.  There were still several patches of snow and parts of the trail were flooded so an alternate path was marked.  Dettifoss itself was large, but the vantage point was not what Jim was expecting.  While it is an impressive waterfall, there is a cliff shelf hiding part of it from the western viewing area.  (The eastern viewing area is still closed.)  After viewing Dettifoss we followed the path to its sister falls which were more picturesque. Those falls were just as impressive, in my opinion, as Dettifoss.   

Dettifoss Sister Falls

From there we headed back to Akureyri with a quick stop at Godafoss on the way.  Godafoss is basically right next to the side of the road, no hiking needed.  

Goddafoss

Today was a long day, we did not return to the hotel till after 8:00 PM and we left at 7:30 AM. Thankfully we have 20 hours of daylight.  Tomorrow will be a little less busy, and will involve Icelandic ponies.

Note: All photos are untouched JPEGs. Fully edited images will be posted to website once, we get back from our trip. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Follow the yellow sticks

Today we drove out to Asbyrgi to hike and then were supposed to drive down to Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland.  It was a two hour drive from Akureyri to Asbyrgi in overcast and cloudy weather.  The Asbyrgi visitor center, for the national park, is nice and is the trailhead for several trails of varying difficulty.  We took a red trail, which is medium difficulty and marked by sticks with yellow paint on them. The hike was about 7 or 8 km long.  We hiked to the top of the basalt wall, granting us a good view of Jokulsargljufur canyon below; we also hiked through some birch woods and moorland.  After lunch, we hiked down to a small waterfall and pond.   We then were supposed to travel down to Dettifoss and hike in that area, however the both roads leading from Asbyrgi to the falls were closed, thus we could not get there today.  We are hoping after tomorrow’s excursion through the lava tubes and caves near Myvatn, the road to Dettifoss will be open.

So that was our excitement for the day.  We are still not getting great weather in general; it is lousy for great pictures with things being very overcast, and very little useable light to create contrast.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Akureyri

Today we made the two hour drive to Akureyri.  When we left the hotel in the morning it was raining/snowing, which the hotel owner said was very unusual for this time of year.  She said they had a longer and colder winter then in the past and by now it is usually warmer and not as wet.    The journey to Akureyri was uneventful; however we encountered two unique tunnels.  The tunnels which were 4 kilometers and 7 kilometers long were one car wide with pull offs for cars going in the opposite direction.  We were going in the direction that had right of way.  It can be nerve racking watching for headlights and hoping they move over into a pull off before you get to them.  

Akureyri from the whale watching boat

We arrived in Akureyri around 11:00 AM, it is tiny for being a major city. So after checking into our hotel, where we will stay for a few nights, we went to find lunch.  We at a place called Serrano, which is Icelands version of Chipotle or Baja Fresh.  The food there was pretty good.  We then walked around a bit and decided to go on a whale watching tour.   The tour was three hours long, and we did not see any whales, thus we got a voucher to try again.  I’m sad we did not see any whales; I’m not doing well for large marine mammal wildlife viewing, no seals and now no whales. 

Tomorrow we head out to see geologic wonders and waterfalls. Maybe it won't be precipitating.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

An eight hour drive with a gravel roads

Today we left Hellnar today and drove around the Snaefellsnes peninsula all the way to Lonkot, which is an eight hour drive.  We made very few stops along the way, and the few stops we did make were very short.  The first stop we made was in Hellissandur to get gas. Getting gas involved us going inside to figure out how the gas pump works because you have to prepay by guess how much gas you will need, but the system will only charge you for the amount used. The other hard part was estimating liters instead of gallons.  Our next stop was Kirkjufell, outside of Grundarfjordur to photograph a waterfall.  Several people were stopped at that water fall taking pictures. 

 

We ran out of paved road about 22 kilometers past Grundarfjordur, at that point it turned into a gravel and dirt road.  Yes it is still a main road and even indicates on the map it turns to gravel and dirt.  The gravel and dirt road lasted for approximately 66 kilometers.  We were on paved road again till we reached Budardalur where we stopped for lunch.  Then it was back on gravel and dirt road for another 36 kilometers. Our nice white SUV, ended up covered in mud, but what is interesting is it mostly stopped at ridgeline down the sides of the SUV.    We stopped at the seal center in Hvammstangi, but decided not to take the 90 minute boat tour to see if we could see seals. There were no seals at the seal center, and we opted not to drive around the Vatnsnes peninsula dirt road, which would have been an extra 76 kilometers. So we did not see seals and Jim did not see the interesting rock formation listed on the map.    We only made one more stop after the seal center and that was to take a quick picture of some mountains.  So today was mostly just driving.



Our hotel for the night is nice, it more along the lines of a B&B.  We are the first guest of the season and the room is one of the nicest we have stayed in so far.   Tomorrow we head to Akureyri, the capital of the north.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Snaefellsjokull

Today we picked up our rental car, an AWD Ford Kuga, and traveled from Reykjavik to Hellnar on the Snaefellsjokull peninsula.  The drive was a little over two hours including stops at a roadside café for lunch and at Yri-Tunga for seal view.   Lunch was vegetable soup with bread, fairly simple but tasty.  Unfortunately, the stop at Yri-Tunga did not yield any seal sighting, however there was lots of wind, beach, and crashing waves.  I was sad there were no seals but we have a second chance for seals later in the trip if we stop at the seal center.  After that we continued to, we’ll be nice and call it a town, Hellnar. 

The Hellnar hotel is located on a nature preserve and is fairly tiny. We are in a very tiny room (10 x 14 foot) which is part of four room cabin.  We will need to squeegee the floor after we take a shower, classy. The photo on the left is our room, taken at 16mm. There is a door on the bathroom it is just behind my husband who is taking the picture.  We will call the room cozy.




After we were all checked in and situated we headed out to Londrangar, which is a rock formation.  The sign said it would take 40 minutes to hike there but the walk to the lookout took about 3 minutes and we weren’t sure if there was a second train to get closer to the formation due to the lack of marked trail.  Thus we continued around the peninsula and started stopping at points of interest marked on the map, which was hit or miss.  We climbed a small volcano crater and would have had a beautiful view except the clouds coming in and hiding the mountains. We also stopped at a construction barrel orange light house at Ondverdarnes. Getting to light house involved a going on very rough narrow dirt/gravel road which had several blind hills and numerous twists and turns through the lava field. Was it worth it, possibly, was the road entertaining, yes.  

Rock Formation
Very Orange Light House

Overall the landscape in Iceland is very rocky and boarding on desolate, but can be interesting along the coast with the waves. However, I think if we would have waited a week the grassy moss like vegetative matter would be greener making the place seem a little more hospitable, but we would have lost the snowcapped mountains.  The trip is looking up.


Tomorrow we head out to Lonkot Resort. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Flight and Reykjavik

We dropped of our dear dog Teddy at the pet sitter early on Sunday morning. He was all excited; because he thought he was going with us, but sadly no.  He looked sad when we left him at the sitter, but at least he’ll have a friend to play with there, another lab mix.  After the drop off we headed out to Dulles Airport.  We arrived at the airport before the Iceland Air ticket counter opened, thus had to wait about a half hour, but we were first in line.   We then had time to kill in the airport, because the security line was unusually speedy, for Dulles.   We got lunch at Five Guys then sat around till boarding at 1:30 PM EST.  

The flight left on time and arrived in Reykjavik around 11:30 PM GMT.  We exited the airport in record time, because we were basically first in line for passport control, our luggage was already going around the conveyor when we got to baggage claim, and breezed through customs. So we gave the process a smiley face on the way out. (They have a machine that asks you to rate your service as you walk past by hitting smiley face button.) We met our taxi driver and had a 30 minute drive in twilight conditions to our hotel, and that was about as dark as it was going to get.  

Our hotel room is very basic, and we can’t tell if the hotel is situated in a nice area or not. It is hard because most of the city seems like it needs a good power washing.  After about four hours of sleep we were up for breakfast and to catch our city tour.  Overall I was unimpressed with breakfast. It was poorly organized and didn’t have a whole lot. I might be forced to eat porridge tomorrow, if I want some sustenance to last the day.  

View of Reykjavik from the Pearl
The city tour was standard bus tour fare. Not very exciting and the guide wasn’t very interesting.  I also probably doesn’t help that there really is only 5 or six really interesting items in the city.  We stopped at the famous church that looks like bell curve, and the pearl were we could see the whole city.  The tour lasted about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Then we wandered around city center, which is very tiny for a little bit and then headed back to the hotel, by way of the sea shore and stopping at the Solfar Voyager sculpture.

The Solfar Voyager sculpture
I’m now very tired. Tomorrow we get our rental car and head out into the country along the western portion of the ring road, toward the volcano featured in a “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Base-layers and Bikinis

I am currently preparing from my trip to Iceland. Yes, I am leaving nice warm weather to go back to cold, wet and possibly snow. (It has been snowing in Akureyri, Iceland off and on for the past few weeks.) The normal average temperature for this time of year is mid-40s to low 50s; however, it looks like it has been more around the mid-30s and low 40s.   Therefore, it has been interesting figuring out what to pack. In addition, I will have about 20 hours of daylight, twilight for 4 hours and no darkness/night. 

The guidebook and travel documents from the tour company both have a list of items to pack for all seasons in Iceland. This list includes items such as a hat, gloves, coat, raincoat, a base layer, swimsuit, quick drying towel, first aid kit, sleep mask, and good walking/hiking shoes.  Yes, you read that correctly no matter the season you should pack a hat, gloves, coat and a swimsuit.  If you are wondering, why one must take a swimsuit, it is because Iceland has a ton of geothermal pools, since it basically sits on top of a volcano.  Thus, there are a bunch of geothermal indoor and outdoor pools and spas that operate year round.  So, I will be packing my hat, gloves, coat and bikini. 

The other interesting item about this trip is we are going old school, by that I mean we will be using a paper map to navigate around the island. You read that correctly a paper map with a highlighted route, similar to the old AAA trip ticks.  While we will have GPS and a cell phone (our own and one provided by the tour company) they may route you on something that is not a road, so an actual map is important. In addition, Iceland has something called ‘F’ roads, which basically are official gravel/dirt roads that require you to have all-wheel or a four-wheel drive vehicle. We are going to have fun driving and navigating.

The final item I am struggling with is weather or not I should rent a fish eye lens. Most of the pictures are going to landscapes and geologic features.  The wildlife will be limited to birds, seals, Icelandic ponies, and possibly a fox or a whale.  My 18 -200 mm lens should handle this just fine but it might be nice to get some extra wide shots of the landscapes at 8 mm, which is pretty close to 180 degrees of view.  I did have a fisheye with me in Germany last year but I did not use it that much, I think mostly because I forgot about it.  Also, the pictures I did take with it were nice but I am not sure it was worth it.  So that is why I am torn between taking a fisheye or just working with my standard 18 – 200mm lens.

Overall, I am finding this is one of the more difficult trips to prepare for, due to the wacky weather and overall rusticness of the country.  

Trip to Acadia National Park

Stop along the Park Loop Road ISO 400, Focal Length 20mm, Aperture F8, Shutter 1/400s Last weekend my husband and I went up to Acadia N...