Saturday, October 29, 2016

Iceland - The west

Originally, we thought to rent car and self drive a circle around Iceland, however I found a Northern Lights Exploration tour package - 8 days / 7 nights that went from the west to southeast (Euro$1430) on 7-13 Oct. (There is no ring tour around Iceland during winter season.) Steve preferred to join a tour rather than self drive, and it fit nicely into our dates there. The tour included airport shuttle bus to/from our accommodation in Reykjavik with flexible dates.  

Day 1, no guide but we explored Reykjavik on our own, staying in Centerhotel Plaza. Our room was located above an alley outside, so we couldn't sleep because we kept hearing noise from people talking as they walked down the alley the whole night.
Day 2, the guide with a coach bus driver met us, we had 48 people in the group. 

We headed to the west, going through a 6 km tunnel, which goes under the water as a shortcut to the other side of the fjord.

Borgarfjordur is known as Saga valley, it is huge but the guide led us on a climb of the Grabrok volcano crater area only.

Old stone pens for milking sheep.

Grabrok volcano crater.

Even that is a short route, the round-trip walk only took 45 mins.

Deildartunguhver, Europe's most powerful hot spring which produces 180 litres per second of water that is nearly boiling - 97C.

Hraunfossar is a series of waterfalls pouring from beneath a wide lava field.

Barnafoss - the Children's falls is nearby with its own tragic tale.

These waterfalls are unique, because the water emerges part way down the cliff, instead of running down from the top.

A short stop here on the way to the hotel, a rich man's house with a pool heated with water from nearby hot springs.  The door in back has a tunnel leading up to the mansion, so the owner didn't have to run too far in the cold to reach the pool.

Stayed two night in Hotel Hamar. The set dinner in the hotel is 5300 krona. No other restaurants or stores near this hotel.  Many of the hotels were a little remote, presumably so guests could see & photograph the northern lights better, without much light pollution.
The driver is also a professional photographer, and he gave us a great talk on photographing the northern lights. Of course, our tiny little pocket camera has none of the settings mentioned to take good pictures: f-stop, ISO, shutter speed, manual focus...

Day 3, it was raining all day.  We went to the fishing town of Stykkisholmur for a short cruise.

The Breidafjordur fjord, I didn't think it's impressive after we saw a lot of fjords in Norway two years ago.

During the cruise, the crew cast nets and hauled in snacks for the guests.

Guests had the chance to taste very fresh, raw scallops.

This is one type of starfish but it looks more like a sun than a star.

Someone turned it over.

The cruise provided lunch - seafood stew (raw fish, scallop and shrimp) soup and bread, or you can choose a vegetable soup.

This is one of the beautiful churches we passed during the cruise as we headed back to the coast.

Then we visited a shark museum at Bjarnarhofn. An Icelandic Sheepdog came out to greet us.

Our driver, Thor, said this kind of dog has 6 claws on its paws - the additional claw (hard to see in the picture) is at the inside front of the legs, and looked slightly separated from the others.

The museum guide told us how they catch shark and explained the traditional process of making Hakari - fermented shark meat.  Shark meat is poisonous if eaten without first being processed.

 A treat for the guests: fermented shark. I  didn't try it but heard someone describe the taste as very strong, a little bit like Chinese century egg. The guide likes it very much, he ate a lot.

The hut to hang the shark meat to ferment.  It has to hang for several months.

A short stop at a lava field.

Kirkjufellsfoss, "foss" means waterfall.

With all the rain, remnants of Hurricane Matthew that hit the US east coast, the waterfalls were spectacular.

Mt. Kirkjufell, one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland, looks like Harry Potter's hat.

The hotels in Iceland seemed standard, with a small bathroom and twin beds (joined to make a double bed).
The guide gave another lecture about northern lights in the evening.
We didn't see any northern lights either of the nights before we were in bed.

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