Updated: Nov 24, 2022
In early April of 2019 I spent about a week in Iceland and found it to be absolutely amazing, truly the place of fire and ice. I had the opportunity to see breathtaking landscapes and the northern lights. It was a most memorable experience and whet my appetite for a return to this magical place. A generous layover offer through Icelandair provided the impetus for a second look as we prepared to visit Scotland.
There are things we learned on our first trip to Iceland relating to car travel that are worth mentioning. Getting around by car is really the best way to experience the island, or at least the parts actually accessible by a standard car. Roads in the central highlands are closed in the winter and, when open, only heavier 4x4 vehicles are allowed. Melting snows create flooded roadways that will create serious problems for the inexperienced leaving them miles from nowhere with no cell service. That area is best left to the locals. The Icelanders may not be able to walk on water, but they will know where the rocks are to safely get across. Depending on when you travel, Iceland can be extremely windy. Open car doors have been known to be blown so hard as to bend the hinges. This is not only frowned upon by rental agencies but is also not covered by the insurance provided. So, if you find yourself out and about on a blustery day, be conscious of the wind direction when you park and hold the door tightly as you open it. As you cruise about the countryside, you will notice that filling stations are few and far between. The first tip is to always look to refill when the tank is half full as you may need to drive way further than you might imagine for fuel. For example, on this trip, one place we stopped at had no electricity for the pumps which forced us to drive another 45 minutes to the next nearest place. Like most stations in the US, these are self-service. The big difference is many, if not most, have no human on the premises to take your payment. There is just a pump and a credit card machine.That brings us to our next tip: Make sure you know the pin number for your credit card. Unless there is a human to run your card and have you sign a receipt, the card will be useless without the pin number. This number is NOT on the credit card and is most likely not a number you already know. To avoid getting stranded with no gas in your car, contact your bank about a month before your trip to have them send a pin number for any cards you might use. Also regarding gas stations and credit cards with pins, after you unlock the pump with your card and fill the car with gas, be sure to reinsert your card in the machine to get a receipt. If you do not do this, the pump will remain unlocked and anyone arriving after who finds it that way will surely alert everyone he knows of this lucky break. Finally, the electricity in Europe is not the same as in the US. Be sure to carry the proper adapter for your electronics. Most modern devices have internal converters but check yours to be certain. We pack a surge protector to facilitate charging all the phones, pads, batteries, etc. With all of our charging gear packed, our AAA international driver’s permit, passport, driver’s license, credit cards and cash on our persons, we headed to the airport.
On May 23, 2022 we left Newark airport and started our journey.
For those of you who know me, although I travel a lot, I am budget-minded, frugal or, as most of my family would say, down-right cheap. Paying extra for something when you can do it for significantly less goes against my comfort level. After all, the back of the plane arrives at the same time and place as the front. Generally speaking, business class tickets cost 3 - 4 times more money than coach, and so, are not in my realm of reality. On this trip, Icelandair had “business class” for only 30% more than the economy tickets. I will admit that the seats were significantly wider and very comfortable. The real difference was evident with the food and the service. Was it worth it? Well, I’ll admit that it was really nice but still not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Anyway I wasn’t driving and had the luxury of sleeping in the car as we traveled from one point to another. We landed in Reykjavik, Iceland the following morning, and I snapped a couple of photos of sculptures that I do not remember having seen on a previous trip.
Once in the car, we headed towards Bifrost, Mýrasýsla county, Western Iceland. Along the way we stopped at the Geirabakarí Kaffihús, Þjóðvegur, Borgarnes, for breakfast. This would be a recommended place from our first visit. Fresh baked goods, light meals and unlimited soup and bread for the budget traveler. A few pastries later we were back on the road and headed to Grábrók volcano crater, Glanni waterfall and finally our hotel, Hraunsnef Country Hotel in BiFrost.
If you haven’t yet read about our first trip, which because of the time of year, and the part of the country we explored, was very different, please read:
Here are some photos of the area.
Iceland has many of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls and they seem to be everywhere. We drove less than 15 minutes from Borgarnes to our next stop to view Gianni Waterfalls. Though not the most spectacular waterfall in terms of what Iceland has to offer, it did not disappoint and was definitely worth a visit with beautiful hiking trails, a fish ladder, Paradise Hollow Waterfalls, and interesting flora and fauna.
To see more photographs of Gianni Waterfalls go to:
After seeing a nice chunk of the park that surrounded the waterfalls, we drove a little over a mile down the road to the Grabrok volcano crater.
Iceland is a volcanic island and the Grabrok Volcanic Crater is worth a visit. Like the Gianni Waterfalls in the Bifrost area of Western Iceland, this place also has walking trails. The path to the crater consists of a boardwalk, and stairs. While not wheelchair friendly, it is an easy way to make it up a steep hill without getting muddy or breaking your neck on the way back down. It took me a while to get to the top because everywhere I turned my head was a beautiful view of the stunning landscapes around me.
To see more photos of Grabrok Crater
All of the walking and climbing and good fresh air worked up an appetite and so we were ready to eat again and checked our phones for places in the area. The closest restaurant that Google came up with was about 30 minutes away but we noticed a building exactly 500 meters from us that looked very much like a food establishment. Although there were no cars in the lot , we noticed people going in and out and could see that it was open. We headed there and found it was full with the exception of one table. We asked if we could order dinner and were told that today the restaurant was only open to feed recently arrived Ukrainian refugees. However, they directed us to their other restaurant, just up the road.
The crisis between Russia and Ukraine has displaced millions of Ukranians and evidently many went to Iceland. The Icelandic people have welcomed these refugees and the refugees are already contributing to the Icelandic society. Iceland is more welcoming to foreigners than other countries as the local population does not meet the labor demands. Very few native Icelandic people will be found working in the shops and restaurants. Everyone is from somewhere else and English is the language they use to communicate with each other. For an American tourist this is very convenient as Icelandic words have way more consonants than you would think they need making them near impossible to pronounce if you don’t know the secrets.
Right now, although it doesn’t feel like it to me, the country is in the Summer season. Most of the snow has melted, the days are long, with sunrise before 4 am and sunset after 11pm with twilight in between. In other words the days do not end. It does not get dark, at all. But, it is still cold by most people's standards. We left New Jersey less than 24 hours earlier where we had trouble sleeping because our air-conditioning stopped working. Here we needed heat because the night time temps can dip to 3 degrees Celsius or about 37F. Thankfully for those living here, there are many hot springs and geysers which provide geothermal energy for heat. Heating one’s home in many areas is not that difficult or impacted by global conflicts in the way that other places are.
It turned out that the restaurant up the street was associated with our hotel and in so many ways was a win win. We had a salad, mushroom soup, salmon glazed with a ginger dressing, and lamb. Everything was cooked to perfection. There was a nice crisp to the salmon and yet it was moist at the same time. I savored every bite.
After that amazing meal we immediately looked forward to the included breakfast. The buffet included tasty home-baked bread, an assortment of marmalades, yogurts, proteins such as tuna fish, eggs, a variety of cheese and deli meats and pastries. And best of all, everything was farm to table fresh.
In Iceland the livestock is free-range. The sheep go where they want and at night are herded back to their farms. One of the ways that animals are kept from crossing streets or going where they shouldn’t is street grates. As you can see from the photo below they are highly effective…at least until one guy figures a way around them.
If you have read any of my earlier blogs you will notice that most have photos of cats. I find them to be irresistible. I had no choice but to photo-capture the ones below.
To see more photographs of Bifrost click here .
After a morning walk we headed towards our next stop: Patreksfjordur
Along the way we stopped in Búðardalur (Budardalur), Darlarna County, where we had hoped to visit Holar Farms. Alas, it is only open to the public in July and August. There were some horses and small houses (like for fairies or gnomes) that made it a worthwhile stop.
Down the road we found Krosshólaborg (Cross Hills), climbed to the top and admired the stunning panoramic view.
Our next stop was a couple hours later for gas, but unfortunately the electricity was out and so the pumps didn’t work, but we were able to enjoy a delicious veggie-burger and endless mushroom soup for lunch.
We also went for a short walk and saw some birds. Below is a photo of a Redwing.
To see more photographs of the “Birds of Iceland” please go to:
So we left Flokalundur and headed west on Route 62 towards our hotel. From previous experience, we had enough gas to get us to the next nearest station and even to make a stop or two along the way. .
In the Westfjords are two stone men, each erected after the completion of the roads where they can be found. The first one we came across was Kleifabui with his giant concrete head and cairn body. While there were other tall cairns in the area, Kleifabui was the only one with a head.
To see more photographs of Kleifaheidi, click here
After about 20 minutes or so in the area near the stoneman we got back in the car and continued our ride. After about 5 minutes we stopped again (my husband has the patience of a saint) where rt 62 and rt 612 intersected because I saw some interesting birds by the water.
About 5 years ago I developed an interest in bird-watching and have amassed a photo collection of over 450 different species of birds since that time. When I saw a bird that was new to me, I had to photo-capture it for my collection.
We stayed in the area for a few minutes and I took some snaps. I finally got back in the car and we moved in earnest, arriving in Patreksfjörður.
After settling into our hotel, we walked around the neighborhood. As you can see from the images below the town is quite picturesque.
We watched as fish were collected from boats and brought to buildings for processing.
TO BE CONTINUED……
Join us in our next blog segment “Iceland’s Westfjords”
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To read about my first trip to Iceland:
Iceland - Land of Fire and Ice - Photojournal
Iceland continues....A photojournal of my last 3 days in Iceland
To see more photographs of Iceland: