Iceland: Day 5
I woke up today around 0850. Today we depart Hrífunes for our next stop. I woke Rob up and told him that he had to get out of bed if he wanted breakfast. We don't sleep this late when we are home. I think we still haven't adapted to the time here yet, which might be a blessing if we continue this way as it will make the transition easier when we return home. Reluctantly, Rob complied and climbed out of bed. Breakfast is only served until 10. We ate and discussed our plans for the day.
Originally, we planned to return the rental car by noon. But we had changed this plan with the rental car company yesterday because of several factors. First, the original return time was noon in Reykjavik, which is a 3 hour drive from Hrífunes. We already blew that option by the time we woke up. Second, since the weather was not cooperative on the drive in we were not able to check out the sights along the way. By postponing the dropoff time, we could make the drive leisurely and stop wherever we like. Third, our next Airbnb check-in time was at 2pm. That would mean walking around with luggage for two hours minimum after we returned the rental. Finally, the aurora forecast was quite good for tonight and there would be minimal cloud cover. Keeping the car one more day would give us the opportunity to drive to dark skies outside of the city and hopefully catch the lights again. So our plan was to leisurely make our way back to Reykjavik and explore along the way since we had no real deadlines.
To get to Reykjavik, we had to head west, back the way we came. So we went east. We hadn't traveled this stretch of road yet, nor explored the surrounding area at all, so we were curious. We could finally see rather far, and we learned that we had actually been in a quite mountainous area for the last couple days. Surprise! We'd had no idea from looking into the grey abyss.
We went the long way back to the "ring road" over the foothills and through farmlands, and only then turned west. We tried our best to stay on the road while we gawked at the amazing scenery. In clear weather, the region is stunning. We made our first stop at Skógafoss, a very popular waterfall. We took some pictures at the bottom to savor the natural beauty. Then we hiked. At the top, several people were smoking cigarettes, and the viewing platform was packed with people, so we just kept hiking away. 100 feet after the platform, we were essentially by ourselves. We followed the trail along the riverbank, discovering more and more waterfalls. The hike was very windy, but it was great to expend some energy after having been mostly cooped up inside for the last couple of days.
When the wind began to wear us down some, we decided to turn back. We weren't sure how much further the trail went, and we didn't have any gear with us. We didn't want to overdo it and run into any problems. The hike down was much easier as the wind was at our backs, pushing us along. We made great time getting down, and we hopped back in the car and continued west.
We didn't go very far before we stopped on a random side road. We were hungry and thirsty. Mandy cut up cheese slices with a coffee stirrer and prepped some crackers and pepperoni while I filled our water bottle with fresh mountain stream water, right next to where we were parked. It was so cold and clear and refreshing! We ate and drank, and enjoyed the awesome scenery. Then we moved along. Our next stop was at Seljalandsfoss, another waterfall. Normally, there is a path that leads behind this waterfall, but today it was completely icebound and therefore closed. The sun had ducked behind a shoulder of the mountain, and so we were mostly in shadow. We felt cold fairly quickly, and so we got back into the car after we'd gone as far as we could up the falls.
We cruised for a while after Seljalandsfoss without stopping. There were amazing views all around us, but we reasoned that if we stopped to photograph every one, we'd have to live permanently on the island. After a time, the flats met some foothills and we started cruising uphill in clear, sunny weather. Minutes later, we were crossing a mountain pass, subject to intense winds, and doing our best to navigate through heavy snow drifts. It was remarkable how rapidly the conditions changed. Then, as rapidly as the conditions deteriorated, they cleared as we wound down the western side of the slope. The area was more populated here as we made our way into the city.
We found our airbnb after only a couple wrong turns. Once the car was parked, we checked ourselves into the apartment and unloaded our things. We prepped some cold-brew coffee in a French press we found in the tiny kitchenette. Then we set out on foot to find a beer and wound up at Micro Bar. We were the only patrons until one other pair showed up, so we chatted with the bartender for a while. We learned there’s some sort of collaboration going on between Maine and Iceland breweries, and so he knew a lot of our local-to-home beers and breweries. We enjoyed some really good Icelandic beers and worked up an appetite. We thought about going to the restaurant upstairs for food, but felt like we were underdressed, so we braved the winds and cold in search of dinner.
There were many restaurants very close by. We eventually decided on Hressó. It looked how we felt, except warmer. We opened the door to a large party of men yelling and cheering each other on. We were definitely not underdressed. We grabbed a table and ordered the special pizza which was hot chicken wing pizza – we were hoping that actually meant buffalo chicken pizza. We got another round of beers as well. The pizza came and was really good; better than we expected! It was buffalo chicken, not whole chicken wings on pizza. I was still a bit hungry so I ordered the special “meatsoup”. It was really tasty; I think the meat was lamb? It was a very similar taste to chicken noodle soup, minus the noodles. After we ate, we paid and left.
We went back home to change up our gear a little bit. We donned warmer clothes, and packed thick gloves and headlamps. We also packed the photography equipment. We loaded into the car and headed eastish and a bit north. You could almost say we headed northeast. We’d kept an eye on solar and terrestrial weather for the whole trip, and tonight was forecast to be one of the best of the trip. We navigated towards Þingvellir National Park, but stopped along the way. Since it’s a national park, there’s hardly any artificial light nearby, so the night sky gets super dark. We were on the outskirts of Reykjavik when we first saw the aurora. We stopped at what we thought would be an interesting spot to photograph the lights, but there was just too much ambient light. We pressed on, further from the city. We stopped at another random spot on the side of the road, across from a moderately large mountain and in a fairly dark spot. The lights were neatly framing the mountain from this vantage point, and it photographed surprisingly well. We struggled against the intense winds to keep the camera absolutely still and avoid blurry photos during the long 30 second exposures. But it was worth it!
We pressed on still further into the darkness. We tried stopping at a few pull-offs on the highway but were forced to continue when they were completely full of cars! Eventually, we found one with only one giant bus parked in it. We joined the bus passengers in taking more pictures, until we were frozen and the lights were beginning to fade. Unfortunately, while we were busy working, another car pulled in behind us, and the bus passengers were still milling about the parking area. So we sat in the warm interior of our rental until someone was ready to leave; we were the meat in this vehicular sandwich. The car behind us was finally ready to leave, and made a valiant effort, but was thwarted by the snowdrift at the entrance to the highway. We couldn’t pull forward because the tour bus was in the way, and the whole parking area was flooded with people standing around taking photos. Eventually, the bus driver directed us so we could safely complete a 357-point turn without running over any cameras, and we passed by the car that had been behind us and got out onto the highway once more.
We drove to the entrance to Þingvellir. We found a spot in the corner of two large snowbanks, and parked to block wind on the third side. Even with only one direction exposed, the winds cut right through as if they did not care. We got a few pictures we were not enthusiastic about, and noted that the aurora was still fading, and only showing very dully at this point. We waited a while in the car with the heat on hoping they’d return. Eventually, as it was approaching midnight, we decided to call it a night as we were getting a bit tired and we had a decent drive remaining to get back to our bed for the night. We stopped once or twice on the ride home, but ultimately we didn’t find any fantastic locations, and the aurora didn’t come back with any real strength. We arrived back at our place and pretty much crashed once we got there after parking the car.
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"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.