Road trip Iceland: Day 4 (Waterfalls towards the South)

The breakfast at the Lambastadir Guesthouse was simple but delicious. The morning was sunny but cold, with temperatures just above freezing, and there was still some dew on the grass from the rain that fell during the night. We started the day by driving off the ring road towards the Northeast, in search of waterfalls in a deserted landscape.

We reached our first stop, the Hjalparfoss after a good 45 minute drive (including a short bumpy gravel road that took us to the parking itself). There was a strong cold wind blowing outside, but the waterfall was quite pretty, coming down in two branches framed by typical twisting basalt columns.

In better weather this might be a good place for a picnic (the river under the waterfall broadens immediately into a calm, almost beach-like body of water), but for us it was time to get back into the car and drive further before my hands would freeze to my camera. Our next stop would have been the Haifoss, but to my (large) disappointment (and Clio’s slight relief), the 7.5 km long bumpy gravel road (332) leading up to it was closed due to unstable (thawing) conditions. It is a pity because this would have been definitely one of the nicest waterfalls, but on the other hand we got quite some unexpected extra time for the rest of the day, so I could spend a bit more time taking pictures at the remaining locations.

From here we had to still drive a bit further inland to cross the big river (that we have been following upstream before), then turn back Southwest onto a long gravel road (26 – see photo above of our car on the side of it). This straight and (at least then) pretty deserted stretch led us across a large lava field providing perfect views towards the snowy volcano of Hekla, and the occasional dust devils that appeared and disappeared along the “road”. The road turns back to smooth asphalt upon reaching the Búrfell mountain (to the right), and soon after there are (at least) two more waterfalls to visit. The first one is the Tröllkonuhlaup which is just a bit off the main road (but you need to look at the satellite imagery of Google Maps to be able to find the unmarked gravel trail leading to it), but when we were there it was almost completely dried out, so we did not stay there for long.

To reach the second one (Þjófafoss) you need to make a slightly larger detour from the main road, but this gravel road is well marked. This is again a quite impressive waterfall, with nice views down to the bend of the river (bordered by plenty of tall basalt columns), and to the Búrfell and Hekla above. I used my graduated ND filter here to get a few nice pictures.

From here it was a longer (more than an hour) drive first back to the ring road, and then further onwards to the East. For lunch we just stopped at a petrol station (N1 in Hvolsvöllur) for some fish and chips (these were always a good option). Then around half past two we arrived to the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi amidst some intermittent snow showers. (Here you have to pay for parking at one of the machines.)

These are two very different waterfalls, the Seljalandsfoss is out in the open, and you can even walk behind it (get ready to be at least a bit wet though), while the Gljúfrabúi is a small walk further away, half hidden inside a small canyon. You can also walk close to the falling water here, but getting drenched is totally inevitable.

Less then a half hour (and some good views to the snow covered Eyjafjallajökull volcano) further is Iceland’s most photographed waterfall, the Skógafoss. Its wide water curtain is unquestionably an impressive sight, but if you want to take a picture without tourists, be prepared to wait for a while even in the pre-season… There are also a lot of birds (seagulls) nesting on the cliffs around the waterfall. You can also walk up and have a look from above, but we skipped that and did something more off the beaten path instead.

So there is another more hidden waterfall just around the corner, the Kvernufoss. To get here it is the easiest to drive to the parking of the Skogar Museum, and then follow the walking path to the East. In less then one kilometre you will be at the end of a deep green valley, facing a tall, narrow waterfall. You can also get behind this one (although we did not). It is a very nice walk, with likely nobody else around (we met one other couple on the trail).

From here we had only a short drive left (with nice views to the mountains and wide river beds to the left) to reach our accommodation for the night, the Farmhouse Lodge, but we were not yet done for the day. After checking in we got back to the car and drove to Vik (over a small but very picturesque pass) to have dinner in The Soup Company (not only good soups, but great cakes too).

Then we drove back over the pass (see view above) to Reynisfjara beach, which is famous for its basalt columns (definitely the most photographed ones in Iceland) and black sand/pebbles. It was a bit too busy here to get the picture I originally wanted (as some guys were chilling on the basalt columns with their beers…), but it was very nice nevertheless.

Finally we wanted to close the day by driving to the Dyrhólaey rocks, but unluckily you can not do that after 19:00 at this time of the year because the area is closed to protect the nesting birds. Still, we got to enjoy some nice views from the beginning of the small peninsula before driving back to our Lodge.

The sunset was very pretty behind the mountains, and the forecast for the next day was nothing short of (ok, except for maybe a few degrees Celsius for Clio) perfect weather…

Road trip Iceland: Day 3 (Golden Circle)

Our third day was mainly about the most touristic spots of Iceland, mostly following the route known as the Golden Circle. Even so, since we were there in pre-season, we have not encountered unbearable amount of tourists at any of the locations, but based on the capacity of the restaurants and parking areas I can imagine how crowded these must become in the summer.

We left our hotel after a relatively early breakfast, because it was going to be a long day. It did not take a long time to leave the relatively busy ring road and turn inland leaving all the traffic behind. After less than an hour we arrived to our first stop, the Thingvellir National Park. Based on the pretty deserted parking, we were amongst the first dozen of people there that day. Paying for the parking/entrance is done via touch screen displays installed at the entrance of the public restrooms (inside), and everything is controlled via licence plate recognition cameras.

The park is situated in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. After enjoying a nice panorama overlooking the area from just at the end of the parking, we walked down through a rift, and did a small circle past cliffs, waterfalls, rifts filled with unbelievably clear water, and a historical site.

To save some time, we got back in the car for a few minutes and drove to another parking that is at the beginning of a trail that goes down inside the other end of the main rift to the Öxarárfoss (waterfall).

From here we drove further inside the national park since the main road (36) was closed for renovation, so we were forced to enjoy the scenery a bit longer :) Then we had to drive across a more deserted landscape just South of some mountains (road 365), before getting back to a greener area (road 37). Overall after an hour (plus me stopping here and there for a random picture) we arrived to the next famous stop, the geothermal area around Geysir and Strokkur. The former is not active anymore, but the latter keeps blowing hot water quite high every few minutes.

Unluckily the overcast sky was really not great for photographs here, but I still tried and thus wasted a good half hour trying to set up a more complex long exposure photograph, which resulted in a totally useless and flat picture, so at the end I had to settle to a normal handheld shot. At least I tried. But beyond the technical difficulties, I was very happy to see my first geyser. No matter how hyped the Golden Circle is, I would not suggest skipping this spot if you have not seen geysers yet.

There were also colourful hot springs, small smoking springs, and so on, everything a proper geothermal area can provide. We had a small lunch here in the Geysir Center, which was surprisingly good for such a place (that was also clearly oversized outside of the main tourist season).

From here it was only a short drive further up the main road to the next stop, the magnificent waterfall of Gullfoss. Here there are two main paths to follow, providing views from two different elevations to the rumbling waters. We were lucky with the wind direction as the spray from the waterfall was blown mostly away from us. At one point even the Sun broke through the clouds just long enough for a sunny picture.

To drive towards our next stop, we had to first pass by the Geysir area once more (and we were lucky enough to see the erupting Strokkur from the car), then take road 35 towards the Southwest. This led through a mainly grass covered hilly region, with not much special to see. After a good three quarters of an hour drive we arrived to the Kerið Crater, a small volcanic crater lake with vibrant colours. We walked around the rim before driving further.

Since it was a bit early for dinner, we decided to first check in to our accommodation for the night, the Lambastadir Guesthouse. After a bit of unpacking, we drove to the fishing village of Stokkseyri (where we walked around the beach for a short while), but instead of eating there according to our original plans, we ended up in the more affordable Krisp Restaurant in Selfoss. They had good burgers. After dinner I dropped Clio off at the Guesthouse before driving to the nearby Urriðafoss for a picture before calling it a day.

Road trip Iceland: Day 2 (Reykjavik)

The second day of our trip was the most laid-back one, since we did not have to drive (and while we still did, the distance was less than 10 km), and we did not need to move to another hotel at the end of the day (this would only happen once more during our whole stay in Iceland).

After a perfectly fine breakfast in the hotel we started our day of discovering Reykjavik. The weather was not really great for photography (although it stayed dry, it was also grey and overcast except for a short sunny window in the afternoon), so I don’t have that many worthy pictures to show here :( We first passed by the Hofdi House that is an old (in Reykjavik terms at least), small, white, wooden house on the seafront, that hosted the 1986 meeting of presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev which effectively was a step to the end of the Cold War. Then we walked over to the yellow lighthouse on the other side of the road, for a nice view over the bay and the mountains to the North.

From here we followed the promenade along the coast passing by a set of sculptures towards the modern building of the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. On the way there we stopped at the metallic skeleton of the Sun Voyager that I already managed to visit (under considerably better light conditions) the previous evening. The concert hall itself is covered in a very cool glass and metal cell structure, which provides endless opportunities for architecture photography both from the outside and the inside.

After a bit of browsing in the gift shop we continued to the old harbour, which was admittedly not super interesting (except if you want to have food or get on a whale watching boat, non of which we were interested at that moment). We turned back towards the center, walked past a never-ending row of gift and clothing stores (as a practical souvenir I picked up a bright orange hat from the local – but of course not made in Iceland – brand: 66°North, so I would not be cold and Clio would always see where I am), following the Skólavörðustígur up to the church. Due to a funeral the famous Hallgrimskirkja itself was closed, so we looked for a place for coffee and a piece of cake (at Reykjavik Roasters) instead of going inside.

After warming up a bit we walked past a few cute colourful houses before taking a left on the Laugavegur. This is the other main shopping street, so besides window shopping, I also got a (larger) piece of the Icelandic Omnom chocolates (for later). Since we have not eaten any real food yet, our next stop was Iceland’s most famous hot dog stand, the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Hot dogs – just like in Norway – became a recurring item on our menu. (BTW, they were always very good.) As we still wanted to try to get into the Hallgrimskirkja (that was supposed to be open again from half past two on the afternoon), we did another small loop passing the Parliament and the City Hall, turning back towards it across the Tjörnin lake. Unfortunately the funeral was still underway even by the time we had ‘climbed’ the hill leading up to the church, so we decided to just start heading back to our hotel. On the way we did a bit of a shopping in the local cheap supermarket (Bonus), to fill up our energy bar, cookie, and snack reserves for the coming days. This was a very good decision.

We only had a short afternoon break in the hotel, before driving to Perlan (there are also free shuttles from Harpa). This is a new complex including several (nicely done, partly interactive) exhibitions about Iceland (its geography, vulcanism, glaciers, flora and fauna), a modern 8K planetarium, and a 360 degree observation desk. I especially liked the planetarium, because the first longer show (about the aurora) included dominantly high quality and high resolution footage, immersive animations (some short sections might not be that pleasant for people that are susceptible to motion sickness) and an overall good narration and story (the second shorter one was pretty low-budget in comparison), and because it was my first experience in such a modern planetarium anyway. There was also a small underground ice-cave, but I guess that is more exciting for smaller children. Luckily by the time we made it to the panorama terrace on the top of the building the clouds opened up and we got a nice and clear view over the surrounding area in the warm afternoon sunshine.

After driving back to our hotel we ate some not so special (but still good) Vietnamese food nearby, and went to sleep around sunset, knowing that the following day would be much more busy…

(We are not a very museum-heavy couple, but had the weather been worse, I would have suggested going to The National Museum of Iceland, that looks the most interesting (to me) based on the reviews. Or, should you really want to get out of the city, a small excursion to the Reykjadalur hot spring river might be a good idea for the whole afternoon.)

Road trip Iceland: Day 1 (The geothermal scenic route from the airport to Reykjavik)

This is the first post in a series of many over our two week long (May 5-18) self-organised road trip around Iceland. After seeing the prices offered by travel agencies we decided to plan, organise, and book everything on our own, this way saving around nearly 50% of the total costs (excluding fuel and food, but those are also not included in the package prices). This of course took some time (approximately a whole weekend and the evenings of a working week), but overall I am very happy with the outcome. We decided to go in May because statistically it is – maybe surprisingly – the sunniest month, it is only a few degrees colder than the summer, and it is still before the main tourist season when the island gets a bit too busy for my liking. The only downsides of May are that the F roads are not yet open (these are the gravel roads into the highlands), and that it is too late for seeing the auroras.

We flew from Brussels to Iceland (Keflavik Airport) with Icelandair, and thanks to the time difference (of two hours), we landed at 15:15 with still quite some time to spare on the afternoon. After collecting our bags we took the free shuttle to the car rental place, and picked up a 4WD Dacia Duster. (Having a 4WD is definitely recommended if you want to go anywhere outside the Golden Circle and the main ring road.) The car was basically brand new, with less than 500 km in it, even the plastic screen protector foil was still on the radio display.

Instead of driving straight to Reykjavik, we took the scenic route around the South coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Our first stop was at the Gunnuhver Hot Springs, where you can see hot stream continuously erupting from below the surface in a powerful, and quite loud manner.

If the wind direction is right, you can even walk below the plumes (an get super wet from the condensation). In any case, it is definitely worth a stop, it is undoubtedly the most powerful steam vent that we have seen in Iceland.

From here we drove the the famous Blue Lagoon, but instead of going in, we just walked around the outside half of the lagoon, that is simply freely accessible from the parking. This way we saved a lot of money and avoided a lot of tourists (as we would go to a very similar but not even half as busy or expensive place in the Northeast). If you are not doing a full round trip of Iceland, then it might be still worth going in for the experience here.

The last stop of the day was the geothermal area of Krýsuvík, where you can walk around smelly, slowly boiling mud pools and steam vents scattered over a colourful hillside.

There are even some nice wooden footpaths laid out to guide you and – most importantly – save you from stepping where you should really not be stepping. It is maybe worth noting it already here: lots of the sights in Iceland are boiling hot, so it is indeed not advised to leave the marked paths or to get in too close contact with steaming features.

From here on there is only one logical road to follow towards the capital, and the scenery is really beautiful (in the first half at least, then it gets a bit more boring/industrial/urban). We also encountered our first few kilometres of gravel road here, but nothing really bad.

By the time we had checked in our hotel (Reykjavik Lights Hotel by Keahotels) it was already pretty late, but after a short (and expectedly expensive) dinner in the neighbouring pizzeria (Eldsmiðjan) I still walked into the centrum to catch the rays of the setting Sun (22:03) on the famous Hallgrimskirkja.

Thanks to the Northern location of Iceland the nights are already super short in May and it does never get fully dark anymore at this time of the year (hence the mentioned lack of – visible – aurora). On the way back to the hotel I still walked past the Sun Voyager, which looks very nice reflecting the colours of the dusk.

There are a bit more pictures on my Flickr. The story of the next days will follow.

From winter to spring

This February I turned 34. I have been writing this blog for approximately a third of my whole life… Crazy. Anyway, back to the story. So around my birthday I spent (with Clio’s help of course) around a week (mainly the evenings after work and one weekend) planning a two week road trip around Iceland. This involved 1) researching (mainly over Google Maps and blogs) all tourist attractions and putting them on an actual physical map, and 2) making a detailed day-by-day planning based on driving distances/durations and approximate sightseeing (walking/photography/nutrition) times for each location, parallel with 3) looking up suitable hotels/lodges for each day. For the 14 days this means a total of 84 rows of data (including ~63 sights outside of Reykjavik, 11 hotels, and 3200 driven kilometres) in an Excel/Numbers sheet. With the flights, rental car (a smaller 4×4), and accommodation included we saved around 50% of the price of similar packages offered by various travel agencies by doing everything ourselves. Of course now I have seen way too many spoilers thanks to Google Street View, but I had to do a bit of looking around anyway to plan a bit ahead in terms of photography locations and so on.

We are leaving on Sunday, so it is getting very close! By the way, we decided to go in May because 1) it is still before the super busy June-August main tourist season, and 2) May is – statistically, at least in Reykjavik – the least rainy and the most sunny month (even though there are more daylight hours during the summer), and it is only 4-5°C colder than the warmest month, July. Let’s hope we will not get a negative outlier May :)

The second half of February brought some very nice weather, so nice that right after the annual visit to the velodrome in Ghent (where from this year on there is digital time-keeping down to the 1/1000th of a second) I went for a ride outside in shorts (and arm warmers and a gilet, but still) before driving home with 132 km in my legs (including the fastest lap on the track from the team with 16.834 seconds, a good 0.5 seconds faster than the next person).

At work we had our annual company lunch at the Restaurant Arenberg this year, and even though it has a Michelin star, it is a bit too classic for my taste, so I still prefer the EssenCiel (where we went for Clio’s birthday last week) from the gastronomic places in and near Leuven. On the other hand the Easter chocolates of TML came from the Bittersweet Chocolatier this year, so it is confirmed: best workplace ever. On the same note, I have eaten so much chocolate during the past two weeks, that it really needs to stop. Luckily Iceland will be too expensive to eat too much, so there is still hope to keep my race-weight for the summer :D

Preparing for Iceland I bought a NiSi filter system (basically for daytime long exposure shots, see example test-shot with silky smooth water from the nearby abbey above), a wide angle prime lens (Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 WR), a backup camera for my Fujifilm X-T3 (a Fujifilm X-E3) and a small telephoto lens (Fujifilm XF 50mm f/2 WR). And a new carbon tripod (Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4), a camera bag (Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW), and some small accessories… Advanced stage GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome – I know. Truth be told, all my Canon gear (plus the old tripod and camera bag) is either already sold or up for sale, so overall, actually, I own less camera stuff now. (Still GAS.) Everything is already tested and packed nicely in the new camera bag (the whole kit fits perfectly, and the weight saving compared to my old Canon gear is significant), so really looking forward to Iceland now. The plan is to mostly use the X-T3 with the 16mm lens (this is a full weather-proof setup, so even in bad conditions I don’t need to worry about getting the camera out, and I like wide-angle landscape shots the most anyway), and get the X-E3 out with the 50mm lens only if I need to shoot some more distant details or a portrait. I don’t like changing lenses and I prefer the quality of primes over zooms, so this is perfect for me. I wish I did more photography, but cycling is still the number one hobby.

The first half of March had horrible weather (except miraculously for Saturday mornings at least, so I could bike a bit), then on the first better (meaning not constant rain) Sunday we went to Antwerp with Clio to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum. It is a printing museum focusing on the work of the 16th-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, located in their former residence and printing establishment, the Plantin Press, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being a typeface-lover and map-geek, I had a really great time walking around the exhibits. Afterwards we made a small walk to the North to have a look at some of the new buildings, but the cold wind was not really suited for anything longer.

Back to work, in the beginning of April I wrote my first proposal outside of astronomy, and – after my steepest ride outside of the Canary Islands (with 3149 meters of elevation gained over only 134 km) – spent three days on a meeting/conference in slightly cold and rainy Aveiro (Portugal). Then winter came back (again) for a weekend (a ride in an average temperature of 2°C on the 14th of April, seriously?)  before the real nice warm spring arrived the week after. Luckily that coincided with the annual Tornado club-weekend, so we could have two beautiful days of cycling in the Southern Eifel region in Germany, with temperature above 20°C. I even had quite good legs (and the pace was friendlier than usual), so this year I was not at all the slowest on the climbs.

On Easter Monday we finally (as we have been planning this for years) went for a walk to the Hallerbos, to see the famous blue and purple carpet of the blooming bluebells. It was definitely worth it, but next time I should be less lazy and take my tripod too.

On the gaming front (besides FIFA 19) I have been playing quite a lot with the Division 2 lately (since I really liked the original Division too a few years ago, up to the point of having to stop because I felt addicted – this time I am taking it much more casual), and I also got Mario Kart 8 for the Switch for an occasional race against friends – as a holiday entertainment.

This time there will be no daily blog posts from the road trip, because it was super tiring in Scandinavia (even though I was happy that I did not have to process three weeks’ worth of photos afterwards), but I will post photos on social media every day, and when we are back there will be one or two posts with the ‘best of’ here too. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!