Our time in Iceland came to an end, all too quickly. We had initially toyed with the idea of staying longer than a week, but since we weren’t arriving until September 12th, we knew that we would be pushing our luck for good weather. Few tourists visit Iceland after the end of August; many of the hotels, guesthouses and museums in the areas outside Reykjavik close for the winter season at that time.
Upon reflection, we did a great deal of driving in order to be sure to see the best that Iceland has to offer, under the best weather conditions. We had driven along the southern coast and then back to Reykjavik before turning northwards towards Akureyri. Now it was time to retrace our route back to the capital, meaning that we would not be covering any new territory on the long drive south.
If you look at the map of Iceland, it might seem that we would have been much better off making a counterclockwise circular drive around Iceland instead of going back and forth as we did. I too wondered if we should have planned things differently. But then I remembered the great weather we had enjoyed along the south coast, and then along the northern route.
It turns out we would have missed the sunshine and warm temperatures in Mývatn if we had taken the circular route, and if we had driven in a clockwise direction, we would have encountered early snow in the north and heavy rains in the south. It seems our extra driving paid off in spades.
We had a great breakfast at our hotel in Akureyri on our second morning there. It seems that our host had noticed that we hadn’t touched any of the cold sliced meats the previous morning, so when we arrived he asked if we would like scrambled eggs and bacon instead. I jumped at the offer and the result was the best bacon I have ever eaten in my life. When I commented on the quality of the bacon, I was told that it was prepared at a nearby farm. Couldn’t be fresher than that.
The light was beautiful when we set off and I didn’t really mind too much that we would be retracing our route because the landscape always looks a little different when you are seeing it from a different angle. I had spotted a couple of things along the way that I had wanted to photograph, and knew that this time we had a better idea of how long it would take us to do the drive.
We did branch off the highway briefly to see the turf farm at Glaumbær. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday morning and the small museum wasn’t open. For all we knew, it may have been closed for the winter already. A little further on, we stopped in order to take a photo of a large circular corral at a farm near the road. When I had first seen it, it was completely empty, but now there were a few animals in some of the sections.
In one area there was a small group of sheep, while three horses stood quietly in another section. I had heard that the farmers were just starting to bring in their flocks from the summer grazing period and I can only imagine how busy the farm will be in the coming days. No doubt a large number of the animals will be sold because I didn’t see nearly enough large buildings to shelter them for the long winter to come.
As we drove southwards, the weather kept deteriorating, with heavy clouds moving in and the wind increasing. We had hope to be able to take a spin around the scenic Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which juts out along the western coast, but it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy walking in the main town of Stykkishólmur under these conditions. We’d had great luck with the weather, but now wasn’t the time to push it.
As we passed over the high plateau between Blönduós and Borgarnes, we were surprised to see the incredible change in the vegetation since we had passed two days earlier. Almost overnight, the small shrubs and grasses had turned bright orange and golden yellow, as if the trolls had been out with their paintbrushes. It didn’t feel at all like the same landscape we had seen before.
We stopped for lunch in Borgarnes and happened upon a lovely café attached to the historical museum there. In fact, it was the beginning of a gale that literally blew us in the door. I was thrilled to find a buffet lunch on offer, with hot cauliflower soup and a fresh salad bar with a fabulous choice of vegetables and dressings. Anil chose a piping-hot vegetarian lasagna with home made bread.
While we were eating, I noticed that the chalkboard listing the daily specials included horsemeat on the menu. I’d heard that the Icelandic people ate horse, but it’s quite another thing to see ‘horse steak’ posted so prominently. We didn’t take the time to visit the museum because the storm was growing fiercer by the minute and we wanted to get through Reykjavik and on to our hotel at the small town of Kflavik near the airport.
We’d heard that the winds could be quite nasty there and we wanted to be particularly careful with the rental car on our last day of driving. People had advised us to take extra windshield insurance because of the high rate of damage to the glass on Icelandic highways, but we had opted to stay on the main highways and to take our chances. We didn’t want to crack the windshield on our last day on the road.
As we made the long trek along the narrow peninsula that juts out below Reykjavik, I kept worrying about whether our flight would be able to take off the following morning. I was surprised to see one tour bus after another meeting us on the highway, it was clear that flights were still landing in this terrible storm and that the passengers were being transported into the city. I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to board an airplane and risk a take off in such weather.
As I looked at the map I noticed that we were nearing the turn off for Grindavik, the town nearest to the famous Blue Lagoon. We had avoided a dip in the thermal spa when we first arrived because it was so early in the morning, and now, if we had been counting on the Blue Lagoon as our last experience in Iceland we would have been completely out of luck.
Thank goodness we had visited the thermal baths at Mývatn, because we would have had a hard time explaining to Adia and Geoff that we had been in Iceland and had never once dipped bodies into the healing waters. Adia and Geoff love hot springs and it was the main reason that they had chosen to come to Iceland for a full three-week visit. They make a point to swim in every hot pool, spring and thermal bath they encountered. Good for them!
We reached Kflavik without incident and found our guesthouse with the help of a local map we downloaded from the Internet. Other travellers had said the house was difficult to find, but we had no trouble after heeding their warnings. It felt like hurricane force winds were blowing over the tiny harbour near our hotel, and we had to struggle to keeping standing as we made our way to the door with our luggage.
Once inside, it was like a different world. We were given a very warm welcome and shown a lovely room, very Scandinavian in style, with the bedroom situated in an open loft above the living room and high style bathroom. The owners had added the very modern addition on to their house to accommodate travellers and the living room in the main building was available for the guests to enjoy. There was a fireplace to warm us, tea and coffee available throughout the day and night, and high-speed Internet as well.
We settled ourselves amongst a few other guests, had a hot cup of tea and were busy checking our emails when we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple, our own age, from Spain. It turns out they had just arrived in Iceland and we were able to give them some tips on how to spend their week on the island. We learned that they are from Logroño, in the northern part of Spain, a region we had driven through, almost exactly a year earlier.
The weather was too nasty to venture out for dinner, so we made do with what we had on hand, and spent much of the evening chatting with our new Spanish friends. We ended up exchanging emails, and we have a standing invitation to visit Carmen and Miguel whenever we return to Spain. We’re hoping that they venture to Victoria one day, I’m sure they would love the scenery there.
Sometime during the night Anil was awoken by the sudden quiet above our heads. We were sleeping just below a skylight in the loft and when the wind suddenly died down, and the rain stopped rattling the glass, he noticed it immediately. I slept through the night, tired from the long drive and the socializing. We were delighted to see clear skies and relatively calm seas in the little harbour outside our front door.
It was still dark when we left just before 6:00am, but we had a very short distance to go to the airport and after dropping off the car we headed straight for the BA business-class lounge. We had been warned by the guesthouse to arrive early because the tourist buses from Reykjavik pull in shortly after 6:00am and then it’s chaos at the check-in counters.
We chose some comfortable leather chairs in the lounge, loaded our plates with croissants, cheese and other goodies and picked up steaming hot chocolate for Anil and a latté for me. I knew it was far too early to have a glass of red wine, but at the last minute I spotted a bottle of Grand Marnier. I just couldn’t resist pouring some to drink along with my coffee. Anil immediately sent a note off to Raj and Vy, and Adia and Geoff. It was late in the evening back in Canada, and a reply came almost instantly, from Vy – You guys are rock stars!