Posts Tagged ‘museum’


11 Northern lights over Skaftafell

Determined to make it to Skaftafell, we were riding (our bikes) late at night across the sandar. The great expanse of grey sandar, a thousand square kilometers of volcanic ash and gravel coughed up by the eruption of Öræfi, is eerie and beautiful in the dark, silent and glittery with the numberless rivulets of water finding their way to the sea.  There is no option to camp in the sandar, so once we entered it, we knew we had to make it the whole way.   There was no traffic but the big trucks that haul after dark, and they were few and far between.   My brother was far ahead of us in his truck, and we were riding hypnotically side by side and talking, comfortable knowing we could see traffic in either direction ten miles away.  There are long wooden bridges with grated metal decks crossing the rivers.  Some seemed a half mile long.   The last one was mangled and tossed aside by the water in 1996 when Grímsvötn erupted, and there are some twisted steel beams like modern art on the side of the road there as memorial.

Just as we passed there, the indigo sky opened up in Northern lights, and we overtook my brother, who was parked taking pictures.  He said he could hear us coming by our excited whooping and shrieking at the sky.  Over and over the waves of lights flickered through the sky, brighter than moonlight, gorgeous.  We were cold from riding hot and stopping, but we couldn’t stop watching the lights, and we posed for some pictures with our bikes.  Late in the night, we rode the final miles to Skaftafell, looking forward to the flat camping and hot showers we knew to expect there, and the thunderous cracking of the glacier next to the park.



12 Invited upstairs for tea at the herring factory museum in Siglufjörður

The town of Siglufjörður was wet and cold when we got there, but when we were looking around the herring factory museum, a man came out, said it was closed for the day and he was tired, but he would open it up in the morning around 8.  Interested, we decided to bed down early and visit the museum in the morning.  It was a good choice.  We soaked at the pool, the hostel was wonderful and we had it to ourselves in the off season.  In the morning we went around to the museum again.  A young woman turned on all the lights for us and left us to our own devices.  An hour or so later, the man from the previous day came downstairs, talked with us and then invited us upstairs for tea.  There were a couple of other men there, directors, or sponsors?, and the young woman. They shared tea and cookies and talked about the administration of the museum,  the history of saving the property, and scrounging up the parts of other abandoned herring factories that were being scrapped to reassemble the museum as it is now, housed in multiple buildings with the multiple functions the factory had.  About three hours passed before we’d seen it all, and I left with a children’s book written and illustrated in exquisite watercolours by the same man who invited us for tea- the museum director and driving force of the whole project.  I wasn’t able to find him again to have my book signed, though.

13 Bowling in Akureyri

There’s a very prominent bowling alley on the strip of museums of all sorts that have sprung up on the road to the airport.  Since we were resting up in Akureyri and enjoying the sundlaug and buffet at Bautinn, we thought we’d try out some bowling.  Nothing prepared us for Friday night at the lanes.  It was crowded with young people, but not just young people.  There were ladies dressed to the nines and eyeballing the boys two lanes over, the booze was flying (literally- glasses of beer smashed on the hardwood), there were catastrophic drunks, we got invited to a party, a scuffle broke out, and there was some majestically abysmal bowling.  Clearly it wasn’t about the bowling skills at all, since it didn’t seem to matter if a ball even made it down the lane it was meant to or any lane at all.  It was pretty typical style for nearly everyone to hurl the ball out and release it at eye level, where it would smash down painfully onto the lane and possibly make it down to the pins.  More than once someone wiped out and hurtled themselves into the gutter.  It was a mesmerizing spectacle.  It was also the first time I’d bowled tenpin, so I thought that was pretty cool.  It was so totally fun we came back with my brother the next night, and that’s how we missed the significant earthquake that knocked plates off of shelves and shook the earth all around us in the north of Iceland.  Everything was shaking and rumbling already in the bowling alley, and we had no idea.  In retrospect though, there was one patch of time where half the lanes malfunctioned at the same time, resetting pins inappropriately or not resetting, and not counting the scores or returning balls.  That was probably the moment of the earthquake.

14 Jolaöl and Jolaskyr

Besides the off season perks of having special attention as the only tourists or else empty hostels to ourselves, the best thing about being in Iceland so late in the year was the Jolaöl, and the hilarity of trying to pronounce it.  Already knocking back the familiar Egil’s Malts like nobody’s business (tall cans of non-alcoholic orange flavoured stout-esque non-beer), one day in Mývatn there were these blue cans that we hadn’t seen before.  Wow!  Jolaöl was the tall blonde version of Egil’s Malt, perfectly sweet and bubbly and orangey-beery.  Technically a soda, although it tastes more like a beer, this blew away every soft drink I’ve ever had (except OOgave is pretty darn good too).  It’s a special holiday beverage, appearing just shortly before Christmas.  We promptly started buying it 12 at a time and freaking out when there were no cans left in the back seat.  Especially incredible had cold with a hot pool. Likewise for specialty Christmas products was Jolaskyr- skyr, which we were eating pounds of daily, packaged with Santa Claus on it, and flavoured with candied apples!

IMGP395415 Vík in the sunshine

Vík, or more specifically the famously recognizable rock formations at Reynisfjara and nearby Dyrhólaey, is notorious for being socked in, grey and overcast and rainy.  In 2010 we passed through a total of four times and had the same weather every time.


This time, the sun was out in full force, warm on the black rocks and black sand beach, and the stacks were bright and formidable in the sea, haloed with swirling birds.  My brother and I  climbed over the piles of huge black rocks, farther and farther from the main beach in the low tide, finding little coves of pebbled beaches strewn with bones and bird bodies, until I could see Vík and was sure I could get all the way around the point by the beach.  My better sense prevailed – my bike was at the parking lot, and by the time we got back out to it, the weather had changed, surprise, surprise.

IMGP137616 The amazing proprietor of a hotel in the Westfjords

who told me No he couldn’t rent me a room, they were all closed for the year, and the restaurant was closed too.  He called a restaurant in the next town to see if they were open and could feed us, and when they were not, then said Well maybe I could feed you some bread, and salad, and maybe there’s some soup.  He produced a wonderful meal, then told us we could sleep in the gymnasium if we wanted, and by the way there was a ping pong table.  Best night ever!

IMGP363617  Derek learning to drive a gas vehicle.

He’s only ever driven a diesel before, with the ultra-slow accelerator response, so his first time in a gasoline vehicle was like the Formula 500, and it was a pretty large truck.  The first two days were full of peeling away with a screech from green lights (Ooops, sorry.  I hardly pushed it!) and very abrupt halts (Ooops, sorry.  Wow, these brakes really brake).  It was pretty funny, especially when I was coaching him on the drive out of the parking lot from the people we just rented it from:  Okay, just barrrrely touch it.  Errrrk!  Whoa!!  I barely touched it!  Are all gas vehicles like this?  This is what people are driving in all the time?   Uh, yeah, it is!  Watch out for the sidewalk there-  Errrk!   Did they see that?  Ummm, yep.  They’re watching.  I wanted to email a week later- your truck’s still intact!  I just about died laughing.  But he got used to it and no one and nothing got hurt.   I wanted to email a week later- your truck’s still intact!

Also very special was:


Sleeping in caves.  There was one big enough to set up two tents in, right next to the road, dry and open, and another half full of snow that we threw down sleeping bags in the bottom of.

The solar powered drink dispenser in the middle of nowhere- wonderful!

Hotel Hellisandur and the fancy buffet of exotic foods and meats.
IMGP3545Walking on the beach by Hvítserker, where 24 seals bobbed in the water watching us and following us along the beach, popping under the water if you made eye contact.  Psst, we’re being watched.


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I woke up in my bag on the ground under a bright sky in a desolate landscape.  Derek had caught some sleep in the car, eventually.

DSCF5844We drove to Húsavík, which was very close, hoping for the Skuld café, but it was closed.  Nearly everything was.  There was a small mall of hutches of competing whale watching tours with big colour banners overlooking the harbour, bristling with boats.

We were approached by three blond high school boys with unusually poor English, who asked us a half dozen questions off a list and recorded our answers on  a clipboard.  They couldn’t explain what their project was to us, though.  We explored the church, and happily, found a quality bakarí to start the day off with a sugar bang.
We drove on right past the Phallological (Penis) Museum.  Derek was much relieved that it was closed.  I was disappointed because this museum promised to be one of Iceland’s  weirdest, but alas, it was just too early in the day for penises.  This museum is in Reykjavík now.
To Ásbyrgi.  At the visitor’s center there, a super sweet blonde girl with a big smile did her best to teach me to say Jökulsárgljúfur and then gave us a run down on the sights in this park, now included in Vatnajökull national park to make the largest protected reserve in Europe.
We started at Ásbyrgi, a natural amphitheatre of cliffs rising straight up from the plateau.  From the top of the cliffs, you can see the formation is a perfect hoof print, where Óðinn’s horse Sleipnir accidentally touched down.  Inside the ring of the cliff, there’s a maze of paths winding through the shrubs and birch trees around little lakes and small streams of water pouring straight out of the cliffs.

Besides the hidden people, there were these crazy birds!  We first noticed them in the parking lot. White gulls, but they seemed either injured or horribly inept, because they would take off with very dramatic flapping and then crash land with a big skid on their chests.


It was a very alarming and loud, unsubtle performance.  I think we heard them before we saw them.  After each attempt the bird would lie there for a while or walk into the bushes a bit and sit there IMGP1743breathing heavy.

It was weird that there was more than one of them at it, but still they seemed greatly distressed.  Luckily there were signs posted saying Don’t try to help the fulmars.  It’s normal.  This is what they do.  Or words to that effect.

This happened to be the time the juvenile fulmars left the nest and found their way to the ocean, about 3 km away.

Hopefully they got better at flying on their way across that distance, because it hurt to watch them at this stage, skidding across the gravel.

One crashed right into a tree.


A drive south, on the better road west of the long gorge that is the central feature of this park, we stopped at Vesturdalur to walk around the basalt formations.   The black rods of basalt form every kind of shape, arches and caves and walls.  This is a very beautiful place, and a cozy inviting campground at the head of the hiking trail, too.


We carried on south and walked to the river again at Katlar, a delta in the river of rocky columns with the river rushing around them.  It’s a big area with little bridges across marshy spots and the waterfalls Hólmáfoss and Urriðafoss.

IMGP1843It was a day of big fosses.  Hafragilsfoss is huge and sends up a big spire of mist.  We were looking down on it from the viewpoint.


And Dettifoss, at the bottom of the park, is the largest volume waterfall in Iceland.  The plume of mist is so big it’s wet everywhere, and you get wet standing near it.  Which you can, stand quite near, and photographers can be seen everywhere disregarding the rope suggestions and standing out on the shelf of slick flat rocks at the edge of the water, which is hammering over the drop with such violence the water makes arrowhead shapes as it falls, and it’s tremendously loud.


On the other shore, the contents of a tour bus were walking around, looking insect like and vulnerable hopping about on the rocks above the gorge the water plunges into.  People were scaring me.


We walked upstream to see Selfoss too; on the way there are little black sand shoals where only a little water gets diverted from the main plunge, purple pumice lava that is amazingly light weight, it’s just so full of air, and farther upstream basalt cliffs above the river.  I bellied out to look over one, and saw writing in the sand on the beach below.  I want to know how those people got down there.


IMGP6055The basalt columns were shearing away from each other, cracking along their geometric seams, some of them standing alone where they’d separated from their neighbouring columns.  It all seemed dangerous.

So much water and so much risk.

As the sun was starting to set over Selfoss while we were there we drove fast from there to Krafla, on a packed gravel road through a long monochromatic dead zone where thankfully we could go fast.

Turning towards the Krafla power plant, where the big pipelines arch over the road like inchworms, we stopped first at the Stóra-Víti crater.IMGP6044

Derek took some sheep-in-the-sunset pictures and I climbed to the rim of the crater. IMGP6079 Seized by a spontaneous urge, I started running around it, and then once I started, I had to run the whole thing.  It wasn’t easy, the rocky trail went up and down the parabolic curve of the rim.  This was the first time I opened into a run since me last knee reconstruction, and I felt strong and whole and invincible.  There were some interesting white hot pits fed by the geothermal plant behind the crater, too.
All lit up by that, I advocated for running from the parking lot to Leirhnjúkur, where we hung out in amazement with the steam hissing from the lava heaps, a field of black lava riddling with steaming cracks and dangerous white hot ash pits.  The paths aren’t exactly marked, but they are pretty evident, compacted gravel.  Wrong steps off the path though, and you can feel the heat under foot through your shoes.  I was carefully touching the sharp rocks, amazed by the warm air and steam pushing its way out of the ground.  Derek took pictures of the sunset and the moon through steam.  Awesome.


It seemed to be a greater distance back down to the parking lot, and we saw some of those strange birds that we saw on Day 14.   They were on either side of the trail making soft questioning chirps.  Er?  We could hardly see them, but they were white on their undersides  It was hilarious to see only their bottom halves on the move, like pants walking around.  It was completely dark when we got back to the car.

We drove in the dark all the way back to Akureyri and got into the campsite in the middle of town.  I was very tired but hungry too, and I made pasta while we set up our tents.  The campsite was wide awake and lively still, but didn’t keep me awake.

More great photos of this day are here.


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On a mission to have a relaxing night, I slept in with determination.  Up at 9:30, I fixed my broken flip flop with dental floss and went to the pool.  Akureyri’s sundlaug is very nice, with massaging jets and stairs over the water.  I warmed right up at the pool, DSCF6072had some skyr and went back to camp.  Derek was all packed up and unfortunately, it was overcast now.  We went downtown, got a parking clock, which I was thrilled about, and we spent some time in Eymundson writing postcards, using the internet, and forming a plan for our remaining days.  We finally ruled out a trip to Askja due to the long drive, and decided to be in Keflavík  the next night for the Festival of Lights.

The parking clock is also visible in this picture

Can you see the heart red light? The parking clock is also visible in this picture.

We checked out lots of things in Akureyri then.  We found the Red Cross thrift store, wandered into an art museum full of large format photography, mostly of the riots in January 2009, and another fabulous exhibit of textiles celebrating rhubarb.

We bought a stack of books in Froði, an unkempt and awesome little used bookstore cluttered with piled boxes of books.  There wasn’t any Tolkien, but we finally got an explanation of the hearts DSCF6031sprinkled around Akureyri.  The sweet bookstore lady said that it was started a year ago, to remind everyone “to have a good heart”, and to “drive gently”.  She also explained that Icelandic books were so expensive because the print runs were tiny for such a limited audience.

An outdoor store downtown had Light My Fire spoons.  I’d snapped Derek’s much earlier in the trip in a jar of peanut butter, and replacing it had nearly become a grail quest.  Nowhere could we find these camping spoons, ’til now.  We bought extras.  Finally to Bautinn, to tank ourselves up properly.  That is one memorable buffet.


We collected a hitchhiker at the campsite, a young German woman who had approached me earlier asking for a ride to Reykjavík.  We tanked up the car and stopped at the biggest Bónus we’d seen yet, although it didn’t have decent bread or skyr, and hit the road, burning towards the capital.




A few stops, at Örlygsstaðir and for the sunset, but mostly driving.  We took the tunnel and got into Reykjavík long after dark.  We dropped our passenger downtown, and the city was busy and drunk and kind of scary.

IMGP6246A motorcycle whipped past us at at least 150kmh, cars were speeding, and I wanted out.  We went directly to Hveragerði.    The drive there was a whiteout of dense fog, and then Hveragerði was totally clear, under the blanket of fog.

We set up our tents in the mist at the back of the campsite in town and crashed hard.


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I woke at 6am to rain sprinkling my face, and a hint of regret that the night was over.  More so, though, I was calm and peaceful and kind of in awe at the quality of night I’d had.  Immediately I looked for the mountain I’d seen, and turned to laugh at where I’d slept.

DSCF6343DSCF6346When I stood up, now that I could see in the dawn, I was in a vast wasteland of featureless lava, and the very well travelled road past the Blue Lagoon was right there.  I could see the steam of the Blue Lagoon plant, too.  However, the car, and where I’d slept, was not visible from the road, because of a slight bump in the road.


It was maybe the only hidden spot I could have found, such a small void that if I stood straight up, I could see the road, but if I lowered my eyes to the top of the car, I couldn’t.  IMGP6631If I walked a few feet either way, I was in plain sight.  I walked around, testing this, laughing, and then tossed my gear aboard and left to go get Derek.

Grindavík, on the coast, is windy.  Derek’s tent is better able to handle the wind, and his was upright.  He was still in it.  Mine, where I’d left it set up, pegged but empty, was leaned over right onto the ground, rippling a little, and sucked right onto the grass.  Totally flat.  When I pulled in beside it, blocking the wind, it popped up to its proper height like a jack-in-the-box.

We got off to a slow morning, hunting for a bakari and not finding one ’til Hafnarfjörður.


This was a town with unexpected character and a shockingly lavish viking hotel bristling with embellishments.  We walked around that and found some chickens and very vocal rooster in the back.

DSCF6368We passed through Reykjavík to Hvolsvollur, picking up a few groceries and trying to make a plan.  Indecision was the hallmark of the day.  We were on our last days, and considering backtracking to re-visit places, and see what we’d missed the first time hitchhiking.  Eventually, we elected to head for Skógar.  Derek wanted to get some better pictures than he had the first time.  It turned out to be a good choice.

IMGP6653As we drove, we tried to think of the things to capture on film that might have become invisible in their ubiquity. That meant lots of pictures of the normal road signs that are so different from N. America,  the familiar “no tractors” (on the road in the city), and the dreaded Malbik Engar – Road is about to become unpaved.

We were still taking pictures of the dozens of Mitsubishi Pajeros we saw daily, fascinated that my truck  at home, very unusual there, was one of the top three models on the road in Iceland.  I wasn’t expecting that.


We stopped for some roadside horses and fed them nubs of carrots.  They were quite happy about it, getting a little pushy and looking wistfully after us when we left.


On the way, we picked up a pair of hitchhikers who had just finished the Landmannalaugar to þorsmörk hike.  We’d finally let go of doing that hike when time more or less ran out.  I’d been pretty disappointed and not sure whether it had been a good idea, but our passengers, who’d done it right when we would have, told us it was dreadful.  It had rained and they’d had zero visibility the entire hike.   That that made me feel much better.


DSCF6428Skógasafn, the last museum we went to in Iceland, turned out to be the best.  It had been closed on our first pass.  Not only that, our hitchhikers generously paid our admission.  Apparently all the artifacts that are noticeably absent in museums around the country are all here.  The place was chock full of every kind of tool and bowl and book and boat and clothing imaginable, usually dozens of versions of each thing.  It was a vivid contrast to all the other storyboard-filled museums we’d been in.

IMGP6787In the basement there are stuffed animals of all kinds from Iceland, including the tiniest of birds, and some preserved genetic aberrations.  Outside, there are whole buildings to explore, a church and schoolhouse and the ubiquitous álfhol (elf houses).  Really, if you were going to see one museum in Iceland, this should be it.


(2012 note- Skógasafn, with the folk museum unchanged, is expanded into a very modern telecommunications and transportation museum in an adjacent building.  It really requires three hours to see it all.  þórður, the proprietor, is still introducing himself to visitors, jaunty and quick in his sport coat and shock of white hair)


At Skógafoss proper, Derek took pictures at the base and I climbed the stairs, walking out on the little packed pathways to look down on the water and the gulls swooping in the mist, and nesting peacefully unmolested in the black wet rocks at the sides of the roaring water column.  It’s quite scary looking down the drop like that, watching the water fall.  There was even a window of sunshine to bring out the rainbow that’s usually hanging around the base of the falls.


Heading back northwest, we made a couple of roadside stops, like the attention grabbing Rútshellir – a cave that’s a barn. IMGP6811 This is one of “upwards of 200”! manmade caves in the area, and it only happens to be a very prominently visible one from the ring road.  I’m still in disbelief at the type of people who think “We need a good barn.  Let’s hollow one out of solid rock.”  Wow.  It’s a good lasting barn, at any rate, formerly a hay barn and smithy. (More pics in the extra photos).


Windblown sheep is watching you.

(2012 note – when we passed here again, there was a couple with a truck parked by the cave.  They seemed to be doing some repair on the door/roof.  The really funny part was the clutch of cows clustered around watching the proceedings, circled in a little too tight with their heads all down in keen interest.  Later that day when we passed again, the cows were all inside again)

We had wheels now, so we went to Keldur.  We’d been thwarted at that the last time, on foot.  This time there was no one around that part of the farm, and we peered through the dark glass into the turf roof houses and Derek took fun pictures of some accommodating farm animals.


“You think I don’t see you back there?”

IMGP6889For the night we went to the campsite in Hella, and luxuriated in the amenities of laundry and a long hot shower.  It was a long time now since we’d spent a night indoors, and I’d woken up to find myself lying beside my tent instead of in it (annoyed by the tent’s blocking me from starlight and air) many times.   I’d be naked in the woods living on berries in no time.



Many more fun photos of this day are here. Don’t miss out.

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