Iceland – Day 14

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The Golden Circle

After the somewhat disappointing rain and gloominess of yesterday we were quite happy to see blue skies punctuated with fluffy white clouds. We’ve had more sun than rain on this trip and today was just tipping the weather scales that much more in our favor.

Today we made our way back to Reykjavik as we wind down our Icelandic adventure. On the way we drove what is referred to as the “Golden Circle” to see the sites.

Included on the Golden Circle is Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. I would have shot this from the top of the back, but it was a bit too windy for me. I opted for this lower angle.

Kerið

From there we made our way to Geysir The Great Geyser to see the original Geyser for which all Geysers are named.

Geysir - The Great Geyser

Sadly, Geysir is not very active. However, it’s little brother Strokkur will go off every few minutes.

Srokkur Geyser

Srokkur Geyser

Srokkur Geyser

Srokkur Geyser

From there we drive to Gullfoss which is one of the most striking and beautiful waterfalls in all of Iceland. And if the sun is shining you get treated to a rainbow along with the majestic waterfall. Fortunately for us, it was a beautiful sunny day.

Gullfoss With Rainbow

After visiting Gullfoss we made our way to Þingvellir National Park. The dramatic Þingvellir landscape was formed as a result of sitting along the border between the North American and European tectonic plates. It’s really something to see.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir is where the parliament of Iceland was first founded around the year 930 and where it continued to meet until 1798.

Þingvellir

A flag marks the spot where the speaker of parliament stood. The speaker of parliament would stand atop the Logberg, or Law Rock, to read the law to the members of parliament in the valley below. It really is a magical place.

By the time we finished exploring the park it was getting pretty late so we set our GPS for our hotel in Reykjavik. We drove in to town just as the Icelandic gay pride festivities were breaking up. The streets were a bit crowded with rainbow wearing/waiving revellers so it was slow going to get to the hotel.

Now we are checked in and resting up for a day at the Blue Lagoon tomorrow. I think it will be very relaxing and just what we need before we wrap this Iceland trip up.

Steam Vent

Iceland – Day 10

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Egilsstaðir to a guest house a few miles north of Hofn – 166 miles

Today we would be driving through the scenic East Fjords of Iceland.

The Road

This morning it looked like our weather luck might have run out. It rained all last night and was raining when we hit the road. Once we made our way a little to the east things started clearing up and we were left with dramatic skies full of interesting clouds.

Moody

We took every opportunity to stop. Sometimes to meet animals

Cynthia Makes A Friend

Sometimes just to take photos of interesting road signs.

Reindeer Crossing

I had thought we were done with tunnels in Iceland, but it turns out we had two more in store for us. The first was Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng which was 3 1/2 miles long and the second was Almannaskarðsgöng which is a little less than a mile long.

Cynthia has gotten pretty used to them by now. She still hates them, but she keeps her good humor.

We made good time toward our final destination and stopped in Djúpivogur for some lunch before driving the final hour to our hotel.

Tomorrow we’re scheduled to drive on to the west along the south coast, a route that will take us past the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón. Since the weather was so good today and it wasn’t all that far to get to Jökulsárlón I decided to go out there this evening. Just in case the weather tomorrow isn’t so good. I would hate to miss it.

Jökulsárlón

The place is fantastic. The glacier has partially melted and retreated and this has created a glacial lagoon. When ice from the glacier breaks off it forms icebergs in the lagoon.

Jökulsárlón

These icebergs then make their way out to sea.

Jökulsárlón

Many pieces of the icebergs wash up on the shores of the black sand beach and are ghostly to behold.

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón

We hung out for a few hours taking photos and then made our way back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we push further west and suspect we’ll drop in on the glacier lagoon for another visit.

Iceland – Day 7 – Part 2

We’re in Akureyri during Verslunnarmannahelgi. That means the town is very busy with visiting Icelanders enjoying time travelling around their country to do some camping and enjoy some festivities. As it turns out, the Ein með Öllu festival takes place in Akureyri during this time so there’s a bit of a festival atmosphere with carnival rides, food booths and live music.

Church in Akureyri

We are not much on festivals so we spend the afternoon exploring in Akureyri and paying a visit to the botanical gardens.

Flower Macro Icelandic @ Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Cynthia spotted a bee in back Sauðárkrókur and the idea of Icelandic bees has really captured her imagination. We saw many bees in the gardens and this gave me an opportunity to use my macro lens.

Icelandic Bee @ Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Icelandic Bee @ Akureyri Botanical Gardens

We enjoyed our afternoon in the sunshine and flowers and then made our way back to the hotel room to freshen up and have some dinner. After dinner we were feeling pretty beat so we’re calling it an early evening and getting some rest before heading off to the Lake Mývatn area tomorrow. Hopefully the good weather will hold as this looks to be a very spectacular leg our our journey.

Iceland – Day 7 – Part 1

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Sauðárkrókur to Akureyri

Gotel Tinsdastoll

We left our comfortable accommodations at Hotel Tinsdastoll in Sauðárkrókur to make our way to the capital of the North, Akureyri. Total driving distance 110 miles. This would be a relatively easy driving day.

Mountain Pass

We drove up and around the Tröllaskagi peninsula which translates to the Troll Peninsula. This took us within spitting distance of the edge of the Arctic Circle when we were at the most northern point. Curvy mountain passes all the way. Mostly paved, but not always.

Mountain Pass

Road To The Beach

Snow capped mountains loomed overhead, adding to the stark beauty of the landscape

< River

Sheep Crossing

It’s not just the sheep you have to watch out for in Iceland. We’ve seen a lot of signs warning of birds and it’s a valid warning. The birds in Iceland come out of nowhere and can be quite large and can scare the crap out of you. They also tend to run across the street and can easily startle you and cause you to swerve suddenly.

Bird Crossing

This part of the journey took us through two tunnels in succession. Héðinsfjarðargöng I and Héðinsfjarðargöng II. First through Héðinsfjarðargöng II which connects Siglufjörður to Héðinsfjörður and is 2.2 miles in length. We come to a brief opening and then enter Héðinsfjarðargöng I which connects Héðinfjörður to Ólafsfjörður for 4.2 miles. Total distance underground, just under 6 and 1/2 miles.

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I tried to prep Cynthia for the tunnels as she is rather claustrophobic. But what I didn’t know is that there was a tunnel before you even got to Siglufjörður. The Strákagöng which was built in 1967 and is the second oldest tunnel in Iceland and runs for about 1/2 a mile.

Tunnel Entrance

This was a bit of a surprise to both of us. Also surprising was the fact that this was a one lane passing tunnel. Oncoming traffic had little pullovers where they had to wait while we passed. Nerveracking to say the least.

We cleared the tunnel and made our way to Siglufjörður to get some petrol, road snacks and find some lunch.

Dry Dock

Since it is Verslunnarmannahelgi, the Icelandic Labor Day holiday weekend, there seems to be a bit more hustle and bustle than you might expect. We see campers and tents all over the place and Icelanders enjoying the sun.

We get our gas and snacks and pull into a place called the Harbour House Café to grab some lunch. While we are there we struck up a conversation with the owner, a man named Valgeir Tomas Sigurdsson. He asks where we are from and we tell him we are from Texas. His eyes light up and he proceeds to tell us the tragic tale of a doomed love affair he had with a woman from Conroe.

As the afternoon winds on, word of the visiting Texans spreads and we meet many members of Valgeir’s family who are all in town for a family reunion. Some of them are living in Florida and visiting Iceland for the reunion and seem to be very happy to to talk to some Americans from Texas.

Had we not pressed to get moving I suspect we could have spent the entire day in Siglufjörður just chatting away about this, that and the other thing.

We bid our farewells and proceeded to the next tunnel, Héðinsfjarðargöng II.

Tunnel Entrance

This tunnel leads to an abandoned fjord which is quite beautiful.

Tunnel Exit

In this fjord you can see the exit of one tunnel and the entrance to the next tunnel.

Héðinsfjarðargöng I and Héðinsfjarðargöng II

We took a short break and proceeded to drive into Héðinsfjarðargöng I to get to Ólafsfjörður. This was the longer of the two main tunnels. Suffice to say we’re happy to reach the end.

Tunnel Exit

We make our way through Ólafsfjörður only to be greeted by another surprise. One more tunnel. The Ólafsfjarðargöng Tunnel, also known as the Múlagöng. This one runs for a little over 2 miles. And it’s another one lane passing tunnel.

Tunnel Exit

When we clear the tunnel Cynthia says to me “If we have to drive through one more tunnel, I’m going to throw up in the car.” I tell her I am pretty sure that’s the last of them. We will discover later that this is not the last of the tunnels we will be passing through on this journey.

We make it to Akureyri around 2:30 and find our hotel and check in.

Iceland – Day 5

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Ísafjörður to Drangsnes – 146 miles

The Modern Church of Stykkisholmur

Ísafjörður has been very nice. Lots of good restaurants and the town is just beautiful. Now were off to Drangsnes.

Shcack

This drive looks short, but took us through some very interesting landscapes. We were up and down mountain passes and driving along fjords for miles and miles. There’s not a particular iconic site on this leg of the journey. This part is all about driving through majestic scenery and just soaking it all in.

Mountain Fjord

One of the first things you notice about driving in Iceland is the lack of guardrails. You will find them now and again, but not very often and certainly not where you would expect them. We’ve been on some roads that were high up in the mountains with drop-offs that go for hundreds of feet straight down.

Gravel Road

Road

Add to that many blind hills and corners the fact that in this part of Iceland many of the roads are gravel and you get some tense driving conditions.

Blind Hill

Another thing that is worth noting is that many of the petrol stations in the more remote areas of Iceland are completely unmanned. That means you have to decypher the instructions and use a chip and pin credit card to be able to get gas. Fortunately my credit card company (USAA) offers a chip and pin card and it has been working perfectly.

Getting Some Petrol

Another thing that is worth noting is that there is not an abundance of places to pull over to take photos. You have to make due with what’s available or simply make a judgment call as to whether or not it is safe to stop in the street and take a picture. Fortunately there is not a lot of traffic in this part of Iceland so it’s not unreasonable to do this as long as you’re careful.

As we get braver we find ourselves doing it more and more because the scenery is just spectacular.

Falls

Church

House

Fjord

Shack

As you drive along there are dozens and dozens of waterfalls pouring down the sides of the mountains.

Falls and Road

Cynthia commented that the tap water was very clean tasting and wondered what it would be like to drink from a waterfall.

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As it turns out, it’s freezing cold and delicious.

We have been quite emboldened with our successes so far

I'm On A Rock

But we are also aware of the signs sent by the universe telling us not to get too cocky.

Disaster?

We arrived in Drangsnes without incident and settled in. After a nice dinner I had planned to update this blog, but the Internet connection at the guesthouse was not working and I had a very weak data signal on the phone. So it was a good night’s sleep for me with a long drive to Sauðárkrókur in the morning.

Reykjavik Addendum

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We took a nap because we were exhausted. After a few hours we got up and went exploring. Reykjavik is a very small town and easily walkable. The weather is good. A little overcast, but no rain. And it’s not as cold as we were expecting. We found Hallgrímskirkja, the big cathedral in Reykjavik and it is a spectacular place. We hope to go to the top of the tower when we get back here after our driving tour.

We also found the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand. Everyone says the best food in Iceland is the Icelandic hot dog made by Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and they also say this hot dog is the best hot dog in the world.

jaydog

I must say, I agree. It was delicious. The crunchy onions are a nice touch. Cynthia, unaware that there were crunchy onions added to the hot dog, immediately suspected the crunch was coming from the meat and was grossed out. She suspected that there must have been some ground up hoof, toenails or bone. She felt better when I explained.

Reykjavik is a fun little town. Coffee shops everywhere and very good dining options.

We leave tomorrow for Snæfellsnes after we pick up our rent car. I think we are off to a good start.

trolls

Iceland

bonvoyage-s

Today we embark on a driving tour of Iceland. We’ve been plotting and planning for months. We are flying to Reykjavík where we will rent a car and spend a little over two weeks driving clockwise around the entire island. 1,760 miles in total. Which, according to various mapping tools comes out to roughly 45 hours of driving once it’s all added up. My gut feeling is that it will easily top 2,000 before all is said and done. Also, I expect travel times are rather conservative and that it will take longer than expected to get to any given destination due to weather and road conditions. Thankfully there’s upwards of 20 hours of daylight each day during this time of year so we won’t be out in the wilderness and in the dark. The map does not include the off-road adventure to Landmannalaugar which will be about 10-12 hours of sight seeing in the interior using a private tour company. That’s 16 days total, 13 of which are on the road and 12 different hotels.

icelandmapfull

Trip to High Island

Seagull Shrimp Buffet

I finally made it out to High Island to visit the Audubon bird sanctuaries. I drove to Galveston and took the Bolivar Ferry over to the peninsula. Had fun watching the seagulls get fed by the willing tourists and the shrimpers.

Cheeto Party!

Once on the peninsula I found my way to High Island and the world famous Rookery. Hundreds of Roseate Spoonbills and Snowy Egrets building nests. Used the Sony A99 and my Minolta 300mm lens combined with a 1.4 teleconverter.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Snowy Egret

Ireland – The Conor Pass

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The Conor Pass is said to be the highest mountain pass in Ireland. The road is quite narrow in places and passing oncoming traffic can be harrowing. I wanted to drive over the pass on the way to Dingle rather than taking the easier route down the main highway from Tralee. Cynthia was nervous, but agreed to cross if the weather was good. As it turned out, the weather was good and so we crossed. It should also be noted that we crossed on Friday the 13th. Cynthia is a little superstitious, so this was significant.

We were fortunate that there was not a lot of traffic on this road on the day we went over.

Here is a video I shot of our crossing using a GoPro Hero 3 Black mounted to the outside of the rental car. You can see the truly narrow point about midway through the video.

This drive offers one of the most dramatic and scenic ways of entering or leaving Dingle.

View from the top of Conor Pass

Conor Pass Waterfall

View from the top of Conor Pass

Ireland – Day 13

Today is our last day in Ireland before flying home tomorrow. We’re tired and we’re pretty much out of clean clothes.

The sun was out again today and we enjoyed walking in the good weather.

Our first visit was to the Trinity College Library to see the Book OF Kells. There’s no photography of the actual book, but you can take photos of the magnificent Trinity College Library.

Trinity University Library

Trinity College also has one of the Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera con sfera) sculptures like the one we saw at The Vatican Museums when we visited there last year.

Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera con sfera) Trinity College

Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera con sfera) Trinity College

From there we walked over to tour the Chester Beatty Library which has an amazing collection of books, documents and other artifacts. No photos in there, but the sun was shining brightly on the Dublin Castle and the view from the Dubh Linn Gardens was quite nice.

Dublin Castle

This little courtyard contained the Garda Memorial Garden which pays tribute to police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Dubhlinn Gardens Garda Memorial Garden

We’re going to take it easy the rest of the day. Packing and relaxing before our early, early flight tomorrow morning.

This trip has been amazing. Cynthia and I both agree that the rural part was much better than the city parts, though both were great in their own ways.

Ireland – Day 12

mygoodness1

Today was a good day. The sun was out and we took the opportunity to wander the city in search of things to see. We made our way to the river and then walked over to see the Molly Malone statue. It was good to see, but not so great to photograph as there was a lot of construction going on all around her.

We decided to walk over the the Jameson’s Distillery and take the tour. As it turned out, the distillery is not actively producing whiskey, it’s just a museum now.

Aging Process - Jameson's Distillery

We took the tour and at the end the guide informed us that 8 members of the group would be selected for a whiskey taste test that compared Jameson to a scotch and an American bourbon. First he asked for women to volunteer. Only 3 raised their hands. Cynthia, who hates whiskey decided to step up and be the 4th. After the ladies were chosen the guide asked for 4 male volunteers. Of course all of our hands went up. I was chosen as one of the four so Cynthia and I got to both participate.

Cynthia drinks whiskey for the first time

Cynthia ended up actually enjoying the experience, and learned a bit about whiskey. We both received certificates as souvenirs to take home with us.

After the distillery we walked over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and enjoyed the gardens

The tired travellers at St. Patrick's Cathedral

From here we caught a cab to the Guinness Storehouse which is also just a museum, but an interesting tour nonetheless. After walking around and learning of the history of Guinness and seeing how it’s made you go up to what is called the Gravity Bar where you get a free Guinness and 360 degree view of the city.

Cynthia and her Guiness

jayguinness

After these tours we were pretty beat and we went back to the hotel. This evening Cynthia took it easy while I met up with a friend to attend the Roger Waters concert at Aviva Stadium.

Fountain @ Guinness Storehouse

Ireland – Day 8

Today we set off to drive the Dingle Loop around Slea Head. We knew it was going to be a good day when we spotted a double rainbow over the Dingle Whiskey Distillery.

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

This drive was, hands down, the most beautiful and scenic drive of the entire visit to Ireland. The sun was shining brightly and the skies we blue with few clouds. The sea surrounding the peninsula was sparkling with waves crashing on the rocks. The road was quite narrow most of the drive and became exceedingly so at various points along the way.

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road

We drove for hours and hours, stopping frequently at many scenic overlooks just to take in the view. Cynthia was a little worried about some of the more adventurous photo opportunities I was taking.

risk

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

Every turn, around every narrow corner brought us to another fantastic site. Fortunately, there were plenty of places to pull over and park so that we could enjoy the view and take some pictures.

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

The Slea Head Drive - Dingle Peninsula

We wrapped up around 5:30 back at the B&B and took a short nap before heading out in the evening for some food and to listen to some live music. We ended up having dinner at Murphy’s Pub and got to see a local Irish band called Tintean.

Tintean - Kerry based Irish band

They were quite good. They played many of the songs you would expect, but also several we had never heard before.

Tomorrow looks a bit cloudy and rainy, but we hope to make the best of our last day in Dingle before making the trek back to Dublin

jayandcynthia

Ireland – Day 7

galwaydinglemap

All photos in this post are by Cynthia. She’s getting some great shots this trip so it’s her turn to illustrate the update.

Today we drive from Galway to Dingle Town. 152 miles in total. We departed Galway around 9:00 AM and arrived in Dingle around 5:30 PM. It was a long drive and the weather was very nice. Clouds, but no rain and some great periods of beautiful sunshine.

cynbh1

Along the way we visited Dunguaire Castle before turning west and north to see Murrooghtoohy, the place where The Burren meets the sea.

From there we headed south to the Cliffs of Moher, a must see on any visit to this region of Ireland.

rocks

From the cliffs we proceeded down through the town of Lahinch, and on towards Killimer to catch the ferry across the River Shannon over to County Kerry. I hadn’t done any ferry research and didn’t know how often they ran, but as luck would have it we drove up just in time to catch one going across.

jayferry

We landed in Tarbert and proceed through Listowel and Tralee. This is where we had to decide if we would go the easy route to Dingle, or drive the Conor Pass. Since the sun was shining and the weather was so nice, Cynthia agreed to drive the Conor Pass.

conorpass

The Conor Pass is a very scenic drive up the side of a mountain. The pass is very narrow in places and the drive can be rather harrowing. We made it to the top without incident. The views from up there were just staggering. Cynthia even found some sheep way up there

cynbh2

The drive down the mountain and into Dingle Town was very easy going, compared to the drive up from the other side.

We located our bed and breakfast, got checked in and then found some food at a local pub.

Tomorrow we are off to explore the peninsula.

Ireland – Day 5

inishmoremap

Today we made the trek to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.

The weather forecast showed rain for the day, but we went anyway as it’s our only real opportunity. We decided to take the tour bus tp the ferry landing which was about an hour. Another hour on the ferry and we were on the island.

We stopped at the Pier House Guest House for some lunch. As luck would have it, the entire island was without electricity due to some maintenance going on with the power line that feeds Inishmore from the mainland. It was still a good lunch and we felt fortified for the adventure ahead.

We opted to rent a couple of bicycles and find our way to the ruins of Dún Aonghasa.

Cynthia Bike

jaybike

Cynthia hadn’t rode a bicycle in over 20 years and was worried she might not remember how. She quickly learned that the old adage “it’s like riding a bike” is not just a figure of speech and soon we were on our way.

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The rain was constant and there was a fairly strong headwind. We made it about 2 miles before coming to the realization that we might have bitten off more than we could chew with this bike riding adventure. We puttered around for awhile but eventually decided to return the bikes and hire one of the tour vans that circles the island.

This ended up being a much better plan. We went on to Dún Aonghasa and climbed the 20 minute hike up to the ruins. At this point we were especially glad we didn’t ride the bikes all the way here, only to have to ride them back.

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We explored the ruins, but the rain and fog spoiled the view of the cliffs so we made our way back down.

cyndunaengus

After the tour we stopped by the cafe and had some hot coffee before heading back to the ferry to catch the bus and the ride back to Galway.

The weather made photography difficult, so we don’t have many photos of the adventure. In fact, most all of the photos in this post were taken by Cynthia as I was reluctant to pull out my own camera in the rain. It was a good time nonetheless. Inishmore is a starkly beautiful place, even on the rain.

Tomorrow we plan to drive around Connemara and find the Kylmore Abbey. Hopefully we’ll have better weather karma.

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