Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Iceland, Day 1: Snaefellsnes

On our first full day in Iceland, we followed our friend Patrick's advice and went on an excursion to the Snaefellsnes peninsula, approx. 230 kilometers from where we were staying in Njardvik. In hindsight, it was a bit much for the first day, but with such limited time in Iceland, it was an optimum use of our time!

We'd landed the night before at about 11:30 pm, got our rental car after waiting a while for the agent to show up at the airport, and finally got to our accomodation in Njardvik sometime after 2:00 am.  It took us a while to find it, the navigation systems and phone were not working, and finally we ended up going back to airport, getting a printout of a map from a different car rental agency and finding the place.  Needless to say, on our first day we were running on little sleep and even less coffee.  I was okay with it, other members of our party were not. 

Our first stop was in Reykjavik to find Patrick and Thor on what we later learned was Reykjavik's hardest-to-find street:  a tiny street nestled among one way streets and construction sites.  But we found them, stopped at the store to get some sweets and soda for the drive (highly recommendable: Appelsin orange soda, not so good:  malt soda) and were off.  First destination:  Borgarnes.  We reached the town after driving almost 6 kilometers through the tunnel under Hvalfjördur (Whale Fjord), which apparently was a great place to catch whales and I've read that it is still home to one of Iceland's biggest whaling stations.  I didn't learn much about Borgarnes, except that there is a saga museum, the Settlement Centre, there which has an excellent restaurant.  We didn't go into the Settlement Centre, but opted for their delicious vegetarian lunch buffet instead.  It included, among other things, homemade bread, broccoli soup, red cabbage salad, barley salad, sweet potato salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, green salad, all I could wish for and more!  The sweet potato salad was a funny coincidence, because I think I've had sweet potatoes about five times in my whole life, two of those times being with Patrick:  once on Cape Cod, this time in Iceland!  The other three times were Patrick-inspired sweet potato fries from my home deep fryer, which I only fire up on special occasions.

Road 54 stretching in front of us, Snaefellsjökull in the distance.
 The long drive north to the Snaefellsnes pensinsula continued along relatively flat, uneventful, but very tranquil roads.  The road is perfectly set between the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other, with just the occasional house and waterfall to break things up.  As we approached the peninsula, the scenery became more varied, with Snaefellsjökull becoming visible, along with some more hills and a giant crater.

Our first scenic stop was to pay a visit to the Deity of Mt. Snaefell and then for a walk around the lovely basalt cliffs of Arnarstapi. 

Careful out there, the cliffs have cracks!  If you go too close to the warning sign to make it out, you may fall in!

The cliffs were just crawling with birds, much to my dismay.

I did like the vegetation, though.

This was a neat bird.  I can't remember which kind it was, but it was much more pleasant with its non-threatening long beak as opposed to the pointy-beaked and aggressive arctic terns, which we were to meet on every day of our trip, diving at our heads and pretending to pierce our skulls.

Next we paid a quick visit to Dritvik, a black stony beach with an old rusty shipwreck, and finally attempted to cross the mountain pass, to no avail.  Snow stopped us.  25% of our party wished to attempt to cross the snow, but was vetoed by the other 75% of us.  It was probably better that way.  You'll see why when you see what happened on day 2.

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