A Travellerspoint blog

August 2010

Cycling Around Iceland!

N'Iceland, as I know it....

all seasons in one day

N'Iceland, as I know it...
Iceland is a fantastic place filled with great culture, people and amazing scenery. A total must for any form of traveller, unless at the moment you find yourself on the green peace 'war against whaling' list. Despite that Iceland has something for everyone. There is a real feeling of being in the wild anywhere outside of Reykjavik or Akureyri, the two largest communities in Iceland. It really does depend on what your looking to get out of this island country, but I feel that it is in a transition right now, especially towards tourism. It really has the potential to become the New Zealand of the northern hemisphere, but without the larger cities. That is possibly why there is feeling of movement surrounding the country. Movement in a general sense of expanding, and I'm not talking about lava expansion.

Almost like an adults playground, this country will leave you awe-inspired and speechless more times than you can imagine. From lava fields, to Geysers (the original actually been located not far from Reykjavik), to bathing in hot springs, listening to mythical stories of trolls and elf's, this country will keep you captivated long after your trip ends, and make you want to go back more and more. If whales are your thing, then its all about heading up to Husavik to watch the graceful giants on a tour of the bay area. If trekking and adventure sports are your thing then you will relax into a home from home. From the famous Landmannalaugar trail which people flock here to complete, to the annual invasion of circle cyclists, like myself whom invade every year.

If your looking to party in Iceland then Reykjavik and Akureyri are your main places to let loose and hit the bars until the wee hours day in, day out. The country really doesn't pop out as one of Europe's party capitals, but they definitely know to throw it down in Reykjavik and Akureyri. If you find yourself in the smaller communities then you will more often than not, be invited to a summer party, or be shown around to the cool places to hang out. In many of the smaller places in Iceland, we woke up with soar heads the day after a brilliant night out with genuinely friendly locals. If festivals are what your looking for then Iceland has plenty! From family folk festivals such as the annual lobster festival held on the first weekend of July in Höfn, to the Vestmannaeyjar (English: The Westman Islands) festival which is held on the first weekend of August. We heard so much praise about these festivals from both locals all over Iceland to foreigners like ourselves hoping to get there in time to party in the back of beyond. Another up and coming festival is Iceland Airwaves festival (Reykjavik) which this year will take place from 13-17th of October including the annual Iceland Airwaves 'Blue Lagoon Chill' (Keflavik) on the October 16Th, featuring top DJs.
While in Reykjavik, and Akureyri I did some extensive research into the bar and club scene, in the purest journalistic form possible, and have come up with treats for you to explore. Enjoy!

Reykjavik Night life......

* Hemmi & Valdi, Laugarvegur 21 - A bar which I absolutely loved in Reykjavik. Literally a home from home, I was told it was actually a converted house by the two owners Hemmi and Valdi. This place oozes uber cool and cosy vibes! It was left in its charming and rustic state (wooden floor boards, charming furniture, big 'people watching' windows etc). The staff here were brilliant, very informative on where was cool to move onto during the night, and also just up for a laugh. The nights we managed to catch were ace. Twice they had live dj's playing ambient to progressive music, and throughout the week we dropped in to an acoustic night, where we saw the lovely Myrra Ros (http://www.myspace.com/myrraros) and more talented musicians. This was also one of the cheaper bars we went to in the whole of Iceland which is always a positive. If your looking to start your night off, or just looking for a few relaxed drinks, this is the place to be.
* Cafe Rosenberg, Klapparstígur 25-27 - is where we were directed to go if we wanted to attend live gigs. We didn't make it there ourselves but were strongly recommended by a friend.
* Bakkus, 1-3 Hedinsgotu - "opens when you show up, closes when you leave". This was a fantastic little place. The type of place you would expect to hear groovy beats and see people dancing on the tables having the time of their lives. Probably the coolest place to move onto in Reykjavik. We were told at Hemmi & Valdi, that this was the place to go, and sure enough it was. There was no nonsense about this place, no unneeded arrogance, just the right amount. Serving up pocket happy prices on beer, and also having a good selection of vodkas, this place has definitely found the correct mix of clientele. I would strongly urge you to check out this place, if your looking to party.
* Danska kráinn, Ingólfstræti 3 - was full with people every time we turned up at this little bar, tucked away just off of Laugarvegur. Brilliant place to meet people and drink outside on those warm summer evenings/nights.
* Hressó, Austurstræti 20 - was were we actually watched some of the world cup. The bar itself is easy to get served at even on busy Saturday nights. There was a large dance floor, and plenty of place to sit and chat, both inside and out. There seemed to be a very relaxed clientele and also very youthful. This bar is also one of the cheaper beer halls in town!

You will find most of the chilled out bars along Laugarvegur, Austurstræti and Bankastræti. There are bars along here to cater for everyone, from an English bar, to swish clubs. With there been no door charge at any of the venues you can pick and choose the right place for you, and it doesn't cost you a Krona to check it out! If the clientele is not up to scratch, OR too much up its own ass, feel free to leave and meander else where. That's the beauty of the Reykjavik night life scene.
To check out more bars see http://www.icelandguest.com/dining/cafe-and-bars/.

Akureyri Night life.......

* Kaffi Akureyri, Strandgata - was a great place to sit and chat with friends. Through the week we saw live sing along events, which was great. There was a really good atmosphere to this bar. They even had drinks offer wheel, which you pay to play, spin the wheel to win drinks deals. The weekend we managed to blag our way in for free it wasn't actually that busy, but we were told this is usually the busiest place in town. No frills bar/cafe but pure good fun.
* Café Amour, Ráðhústorgi 9 - was the place that really stood up and shouted out to you in Akureyri. We headed here on the Friday night and Saturday night and had an awesome time both nights. Great vibes, and decor and a good mix of music throughout the week! Places available to let you sit, chat and relax or shake up on the dance floor until the early hours.

These were the two main locations that we hung out in, whilst in Akureri, however we did take a few pints in some other bars, but in my haze forgot to write their names down at the time. Most of the bars tend to be around the main street in Akureyri. If your downtown, you wont miss out on a thing. There are also two cinemas in Akureyri, Borgabió (Hólabraut 12) & Nyja - Bió (Strandgata 2) both show movies for slightly different audiences.

The Back of Beyond..... is a list of places to check out and visit all over Iceland. Not just towns but natural specticles. This country litterally has no end to it........

* Reykjavik - great party, good place to start/finish a dream trip in Iceland. Not far from the golden circle but also home to some amazing 'sight seeing' features. Give Reykjavik a go and you wont be disapointed, its one of the cutest and most relaxed capital cities in the world.
* Hvalfjörður - a beautiful fjord located near Akranes, and not far north from Reykjavik. This really is a beautiful place to come and totally feel away from it all. There are a few guest houses around the bay and also some amazing scenery which cant be missed. Give yourself a treat when visiting Reykjavik or the rest of Iceland and drive/cycle around the fjord, rather than useing the tunnel that dives under the mouth of the fjord. You get an idea glimpse of the Icelandic beauty. Awe inspiring!!!
* Borgarnes - a nice little town located not much further up the coast from Akranes and Hvalfjörður. The town itself is a good example of some of the smaller communities that are well serviced. There are some beautiful views from around the town and a very good local museum located at the library. Ask her for any information.
Snæfellsjökull - commands a mighty respect. The views of the mountain are amazing! It is one of the most visited locations in Iceland, mainly due to the novel ' A journey to the center of the Earth' (1864) by Jules Verne.
* Stykkishólmur - is a fantastic little seaside community. A beautiful location, and surroundings. Every year since 1995 the popualtion has held a festival called "Danskir dagar", Danish Days in English. This occurs the third weekend in August, and celebrates the towns historic connections with Denmark. The town is deffinetly a pleasure on the eyes with its many charming pretty little wooden buildings.
* The Western Fjord lands - we didn't get to see as much as we wanted to, however the terain and stunning scenery makes me wanted to visit this particular part of Iceland again.
* Akureri - is a brilliant place to visit. Smaller than Reykjavik by quite an amount it is more of a cute town than a city. The town itself is surrounded by sooo much natural beauty. If you fancy a very cheap tour, jump on one of the local buses throughout the week and ride them for free. Feel free to hop on hop off, because the bus service in Akureyri is run by volunteer drivers it is free, but get this, Non-existent during weekends. There is lots to discover in the great little capital of northern Iceland, and great place to stay if your discovering the northern beauties.
* Húsavík - is the place you want to go if you really want to go whale watching! Apparently a charming little town.
* Goðafoss - or Water falls of the Gods. This is a brilliant natural waterfall located not far from Akureyri. We found that the best time to see the water fall was either ridiculously early in the morning, or late evening (it doesn't matter in the summer as its light all day round). The reason for such weird hours, is that nobody else is there, and you can relax, soaking up all the stunning surroundings have to offer!
* Mývatn - actually translated to midge lake. We didn't find it to be that bad, and there was deffiently no need for the special head covers you see some of the tourists buying! Massive waste of money if you ask me. The lake itself is awesome. Jaw droppingly beautiful and well worth a visit. It is best to stay at Reykjahlíð on the shore of the lake. There is soo much to explore in this region that its well worth staying a few days. There is a European style health spa just outside of town, or if your brooding adventurer like myself, ask a local where the natural hot spring caves are and get yourself involved for no charge!
* Dettifoss - europe's most powerful waterfall.
* Egilsstaðir - is the gateway to the east coast. A charming little town with a mythological creature hanging around in the lake!
* Höfn - hosts the great lobster festival on the first weekend of July. It is also a nice little town and a great place to base yourself while visiting local wanders!
* Jökulsárlón - is the best known and largest floating glacier in Iceland. It is stunning and slightly haunting at the same time. Once again its one of those locations that can be visited at night in summer, to escape the tourist sight seeing crowd and enjoy the view with chosen company.
* Skaftafell - is the Alps of Iceland. Stunning scenery and a great place for hikers, or just day dreams like myself. Relax and dream away!
* Vík í Mýrdal - a relaxing small town, with great views out to the ocean, black sands and charming locals.
* Skógafoss - was personally my favourite waterfall in Iceland. Meaning The Forrest waterfalls. It is a charming waterfall and if your lucky enough you will be able to see two rainbows forming in its mist.

There are so many towns to explore that are off the beaten track in Iceland. We didn't get to see a lot which we would have been able to if we were travelling by car, but were very happy with what we did see. Amazing country, amazing people, amazing experience!

One last note before I end this, something which might interest you. *If you spend over ISK4000 in shops offering 'Tax Free Shopping' you can claim back to 15%. Save you receipts and make sure to get a form from the tourist information.

I hope you have enjoyed Cycling Around Iceland with me, Tom Cartledge. Enjoy Iceland.

Posted by tchgate 13:37 Archived in Iceland Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Cycling Around Iceland!

From Forrest falls to smokey bays : THE FULL CIRCLE!!

all seasons in one day 10 °C

From Forrest falls to smokey bays : THE FULL CIRCLE!

After leaving the comfortable little town of Vík it wasn't long before we arrived in Skógar, an even smaller location, with a population of around 25, but packing one hell of a clout! The punch been, in my belief one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. Skógafoss is a majestic sight, on your first accountance to your last, any time of the day, and I assume any time of year! The name Skógarfoss literally translates to 'The Forest Waterfall'. Which was funny, because there isn't exactly an ampleness of trees in the area! If you climb up a small trail to the right of the waterfall, it takes you up to the edge of the river Skógá, which flows down from springs at the base of the Eyjaöll mountains. There are little view points of the waterfall along the way, which are both hazardous to get to, and worth the reward. The energy in the area was bewildering. Skógafoss falls about 60 meters and is about 25meters wide. It creates a constant spray, which apparently can produce a perma rainbow, best viewed on sunny days. We were not so lucky, with the 'non existent perma' rainbow. The power of the waterfall seemed incredible. Not as powerful as some others in Iceland such as Dettifoss, but enough to make you feel everything on your body shake as tons and tons of playfully falling water crashed to the ground beneath you. We soon had to absquatulate from the scene, before soaking ourselves to death.
As many a folk story tells of there being a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, this one could (have been) be genuine?! According to communal law, Þrasi Þórólfsson was the first Viking to settle in the area. He apparently buried treasure behind the wall of water at Skógar. Many years later during the 17th century three local men managed to get a rope around a ring on the end of the box, but the ring broke off and that is all they were left with. The ring can 'now' be found in the Skógar museum, but was fashionably used for the door ring on the local church for a number of years.
Apparently this was an old folklore chant about Þrasi's gold.....

Richly stacked is Þrasi’s chest
under Skógar’s waters cold.
Who so ever goes there first
will have wealth untold.
(Translation Bernard Scudder)

After staying around the tranquil area of Skógar, we eventually managed to pull ourselves away and head back on the final stretch to Reykjavik. I would be lying if claimed that there wasn't a lure to get back to Reykjavik and a major civilisation, but I was still enjoying small town life, and clean clean air haha. We made our way leisurely back towards Reykjavik, stopping by a few towns for convenience means, and interest. The town of Hvolsvöllur, was an important post after the recent eruptions earlier this year. There was a red cross mass care centre set up here to help people affected by the eruption. Culturally however, Njáls saga or 'Brennu-Njáls saga' (The Story of the burning of Njáll) is known to have taken place around this area. Apparently it is one of the favourite saga's of Icelanders. The story tells of blood feuds in the 13th century. It was a nice little town but we were now feeling the need to let loose and party all night long again in the smokey bay.
Succeeding our time in Hvolsvöllur, we made little more stops than were needed. It was a matter of days, over a few hills as we neared Reykjavik, and our eventual finish to our full circle. It seemed ridiculous to see how far we had been, people and places that we had seen, were all now behind us. The circle road had been better than we had imagined sometimes, and more like a horror movie at others. The weather had been great to us at times and also nearly pushed you over the edge of insanity. The relief was obvious, we had just completed a trip of a lifetime, and it felt amazing. A flood of emotions came over me as we passed the Reykjavik sign. I couldn't stop smiling, maybe because I'm bordering on alcoholism and I knew I could have a binge, but I think not. I'm pretty sure that I felt proud of myself, extremely proud of myself. Not just for realising that I can actually do these sort of things, but realising that by doing this amazing adventure we have been able to help so many people through raising money for charity. And maybe this is where the sad part hit me, the fact that I felt so lucky. The fact that not everyone can just get away and go and travel around Iceland, not just because of their financial stability, but more because of their health. Then the travelling bug bit me again, and none of us were able to wipe the smile off of our faces all day. Brilliant!
The smokey bay, as we like to call Reykjavik, is a translation we were given by a guy on one of our adventures throughout Iceland, and it just stuck. On our return we managed to find the couch surfer we had stayed with over our first few nights in Iceland. He put us up for a few nights, which was great as always, to not hear the wind through the wall and to see a friendly face. Over these days spent near Hafnarfjörður all we did was relax and share memories of our adventures throughout Iceland. Afterall it had been one crazy trip. We eventually moved out of his flat and took with us our bike boxes which he had kindly kept under the stairs in the basement of his flat building. We headed down to the central camping site of Reykjavik, which was colossal in comparison with other sites around Iceland or even other towns. The location was fantastic. Not to far away from the 'Reykjavik 101', but also not to close. However we were very close to the bay area with some stunning views out towards Akranes, a town we hadn't quite made it to.
Now it was time to party............ and party we did!!!

Icelandic lesson..........

finnast - think, find
líða - feel
lítast á - like
sýnast - seem
þykja - think, find
dreyma - dream
langa í - want
vanta - need Mig vantar kaffi. - 'I need coffee.'

Football & Sport
fótbolti (m.) - football, soccer
kappleikur (m.) - match
klúbbur (m.) - club
komast yfir boltann - to gain possession of the ball
leika (v.) - play
leikmaður (m.) - player
lið (n.) - team
mark (n.) - goal
markvörður (m.) - goalkeeper, goalie
skora (v.) - score
sparka (v.) - to kick
vinna (v.) - win

ananas - pineapple (courtesy of Rodney Martel)
appelsína (f.) - orange
apríkósa (f.) - apricot
banani (m.) - banana
bláber (n.) - blueberry
epli (n.) - apple
ferskja (f.) - peach
jarðaber (n.) - strawberry
pera (f.) - pear
rúsína (f.) - raisin
sítróna (f.) - lemon
tómatur (m.) - tomato
vínber (n.) grape

agúrka (f.) - cucumber (agurk)
baun (f.) - bean (bønne)
gulrót (f.) - carrot (gulerod)
hrísgrjón (n.) - rice (ris)
hvítlaukur (m.) - garlic (hvidløg)
kál (n.) - cabbage (kål)
kartafla (f.) - potato (kartoffel)
laukur (m.) - onion (løg)
rófa (f.) - turnip (roe)
salat (n.) - lettuce (salat)
sveppur (m.) - mushroom (svamp)

Posted by tchgate 12:24 Archived in Iceland Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Cycling Around Iceland!


all seasons in one day 14 °C

Danger from Katla

Arriving in Vík í Mýrdal, southern Iceland in the early hours of the morning was spectacular. The weather was still. The inhabitants of which is around 300, were all still tucked away in bed, and the only noise around for miles was the mix of sea birds and waves relaxing the mind. The fresh scent of salt water reminded me of been back at home, in a sea side fishing town such as Whitby. The presence was electric, maybe just to reach another settlement, but calming as well, odd. On the way into Vík you pass a rather surprisingly situated but oddly awesome golf course. The course follows the cliff which runs into the town. Only a 9 hole course I think, but still something to surprise and catch the eye. I can only imagine that it gets ridiculously windy around there and can sometimes be impossible to play.
The ride into Vík í Mýrdal was a pleasant ride itself. We had ridden from Kirkjubæjarklaustur over the last few days, and had received mixed weather conditions. Gods here really do like to remind you that Iceland is a rough and rugged country and shouldn't be taken litely. We had utilized the wild camping laws to the full on this stretch of road. There are plenty of places to set up your tent, but sometimes finding shelter from the wind is hard, comfortable surroundings can be hard to find anywhere, even on campsites! But why, why, why would you come to Iceland and cycle around the island if you weren't ready for that??
Vík, or Vík í Mýrdal in full is the southernmost populated point in Iceland. We found that the small town holds many delights to charm the weary traveller. The black sandy beach at Vík is beautiful, with great views over the stunning Reynisdrangar or 'basalt sea stacks' to me and you. They rise from the sea majestically, almost as if a tale of giant creature from the deep. Reynisdrangar is well worth a gaze for a few hours, especially when finding out that according to folk law, the basalt pillars were apparently trolls that were caught outside at dawn. The sea is supposed to be notoriously rough around these mythical stone trolls, not that we tested this theory, but I would tend to take local Icelandic advice when it comes to weather and sea conditions. It's almost as if they are all meteorologists. While sat on the black sands we couldn't help think how amazing the surroundings actually were. The black sandy beach was actually rated in the top 10 beaches in the world in 1991 by Islands magazine, an American publication. Contrary to belief however, Vík is apparently the wettest place in Iceland. Binary to most peoples views of perfect beaches I would expect. We experienced the beauty with a pinch of nice weather and a serious lack of people. Tourists that is to say.
Nearby to Vík is the impressive Mýrdalsjökull (mire valley glacier) which houses a little shop of horrors! Home to Katla, a volcano which has an eruption pattern of every 40 or so years, the giant hasn't blown its load in over 90 years, since 1918. It has a rather impressive 10km diameter caldera (cooking pot also known as a cauldron), the giant shares similarities with Yellowstone national park in America and Glen Coe in Scotland. Apparently scientists are monitoring it more closely since the eruption of the much smaller Eyjafjallajökull. Personally we were not nerved by the shadow of the volcano. Visiting is surely one thing but imagine living in Vík. The local people were heavily effected by the recent eruptions in 2010, but if Katla explodes, the flash flooding expectation is very high. This obviously is a huge worry to the population of Vik and the surrounding areas. If Katla explodes and manages to melt such an amount of ice, then the town of Vík í Mýrdal could be wiped out completely. The church in Vík is located high upon a hill, visible to all. It is believed to be the only building that would stand a chance of surviving flash floods. This in mind, is why the people of Vík periodically practice rushing to the church on any sign of an earth quake.

Most of our time in Vík was spent relaxing and hoping that we would get a chance to see, or take part in a flash flood practice evacuation to the church. We were unlucky in our both our hopes, but the relaxation was grand, and well needed. There is plenty to do in and around Vík. I would recommend this smart little village/town as a great place to base yourself if travelling in the area, or if passing through.

Icelandic lesson.......... some adjectives you could use to describe food..

beiskur - bitter
bragðgóður - tasty
bragðvondur - bad-tasting
feitur - fat
ferskur - fresh
harður - hard
hrár - raw
magur - lean
meyr - tender
mjúkur - soft
safaríkur - juicy
seigur - tough
saltur - salty
stökkur - crispy
súr - sour
sætur - sweet
þurr - dry

and to accompany the food.......

ávaxtasafi (m.) - fruit juice
bjór (m.) - beer
gos (n.) - soft drink
kaffi (n.) - coffee
kók (n.) - Coke, cola
mjólk (f.) - milk
léttmjólk (f.) - skim milk
te (n.) - tea
vatn (n.) - water
vín (n.) - wine
hvítvín (n.) - white wine
rauðvín (n.) - red wine
öl (n.) - beer, ale

Posted by tchgate 10:43 Archived in Iceland Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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