Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day four
27.05.2018 - 27.05.2018
Another VT excursion
Steam rising from the hillsides near Hveragerði
Another day, another VT excursion, but thankfully in considerably better weather. We had a little light drizzle as we left Reykjavik, but after that most of the dampness we experienced was from waterfalls rather than rain!
We set off from Hlemmur Square at eight, as yesterday, so again I was unable to get coffee from the local coffee shops which frustratingly only open at that time - instant coffee made in my room just isn’t the same.
Our route took us east along the south coast, passing Hveragerði, known as the hot house town because of all the hot springs – their steam is used to heat greenhouses to grow vegetables and tomatoes. We also passed the Hotel Ranga where I had stayed with Chris last time I was in Iceland, and Seljalandsfoss, a dramatic waterfall to which we would return later in the day.
Our first stop was at another waterfall, Skógafoss, where we walked along the river to a point close to the falls with their thundering waters. The spray was a challenge to photography, but far less of a problem than yesterday’s rain had been.
The power of Skógafoss
In addition to the falls themselves, there were cute lambs gleaming white against the vivid green of the landscape, and even a wedding party here to be photographed in one of Iceland’s most famous beauty spots.
Sheep at Skógafoss
Bride at Skógafoss
Of course it's hard in a still photo to do justice to the power of water flowing over such a waterfall, so I shot a short bit of video too:
There wasn’t time, nor would I have had the inclination, to climb the steps to the right of the falls that lead to the top. But I had done so last time I was here. At that time I wrote on Virtual Tourist: ‘They are well-maintained and reasonably easy, but there are a lot of them, and you can’t see the falls themselves at any point on the way up, so if you’re going to climb you will want to do the whole lot. The reward when you reach the top is a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside and of the water tipping over at the top of the falls.’
Here are a couple of photos shot from the top on that visit. You can see our white hire car in the bottom left corner of the second of them, which gives a sense of scale, and you can also see how much quieter it was on that occasion - ours is the only car in the car park! I reckon that’s due in part to the time of year (February versus May) but also to the dramatic rise in visitor numbers to Iceland in recent years.
View from Skógafoss, 2012
I loved the legend about these falls that I found on my friend Regina’s blog on Guide to Iceland. You can read the full story there and she tells it very well, so I won't repeat it in full here. The gist of it is that behind the falls lies a chest filled with gold and treasures, which was hidden there by Þrasi Þórólfsson, the Viking Settler at Skógar in around 900. Attempts to recover the chest have all failed but the person who does succeed will have riches in abundance!
The path to Sólheimajökull
From here we drove on to the glacier of Sólheimajökull. This is an arm of the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier which flows over the live volcano Katla. Should that erupt there will be huge chaos and drama here, with the fiery lava, molten rocks and pumice melting the ice of the glacier above. Today however, all was calm. The most striking thing about Sólheimajökull is how much it is retreating – from what I read, about a kilometre in the last decade. That means it must be over half a kilometre further from the parking area than when I last saw it, six years ago.
The path to Sólheimajökull
On that previous visit I had not been able to get closer than the car park because of the icy conditions. Today that wasn’t a problem, so I joined the others in hiking the path along the river towards the ice face.
I didn’t reach it however - mainly because there were too many photogenic spots along the way but also because I decided one of the many small streams which tumble across the path might be too challenging for my trainers and I didn't want to spend the rest of the day with wet feet!
I was very happy however with the photos I got here, and also videos. Even the tiniest waterfalls in Iceland are worth stopping to enjoy. For me this video, with its mix of small details and more sweeping vistas, sums up Iceland:
And the colours here were amazing - the contrast of vivid green moss with the dark lava and silvery streaks of snow and ice. The dull weather didn't matter at all, and the low clouds over the surrounding hills added to rather than detracted from the atmosphere.
Landscape at Sólheimajökull
Pretty pool near Sólheimajökull
Next it was on to our lunch stop at Vik where I enjoyed a tasty lamb soup (expensive but far better than yesterday’s mushroom one). This area has been significantly developed since I was last here.
Then Chris and I had bought our lunch in a small café attached to a petrol station; today there is a large complex with a gift shop, supermarket and cafeteria - and lots of visitors!
The church at Vik
But the picturesque red-roofed church still sits high above the town as it did then. This is Reynir Church, which was moved to this location from a nearby farm in 1932. I found this legend about it on a website, with echoes of the famous Rumpelstiltskin fairy-tale:
‘According to the legend one of the early farmers of Reynir was obliged to build a church before autumn. The timber arrived late in the summer and he could not find a carpenter for the work. One day, a stranger showed up on the doorsteps and offered to help him build the church. His wages were to be the farmer’s 6-years-old son unless the farmer could guess the stranger’s proper name. When the work was nearing its final stages, the farmer became more and more worried, because he was not close to knowing the stranger’s name. One day he went for a stroll and lay down in a grassy slope and fell asleep. He dreamt that he heard a woman’s voice recite the following: “Soon Finnur will leave, father from Reynir, with your little playmate”. When he woke up, he went straight to the church, where the stranger was just finishing the construction, and said to him: “Soon the work is over my good Finnur”. The stranger dropped the last plank and vanished into thin air. The farmer and his family lived happily ever after.’
This church is located on the highest point in the community and is believed to be the only building that would survive the likely flood if the volcano Katla, lying beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, should erupt. The volcano has been dormant since 1918, but the people of Vík practice regular volcano drills and are trained to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption.
There was also time to take a few pictures of the famous Reynisdrangar or Troll Rocks, tall stacks of basalt lying just offshore at the foot of the mountain Reynisfjall. The geological explanation is that Reynisfjall was eroded by the forces of nature to form these stacks. But the legends attached to them are much more colourful and more fun.
Reynisdrangar from Vik
According to one story, two trolls tried to drag a three-masted ship to land here. But trolls cannot go out in daylight, and these two made the mistake of staying out too long. When the first rays of the sun struck them and they were turned instantly to stone. Another legend tells of a husband whose wife was kidnapped and killed by two trolls. The man followed the trolls down to Reynisfjara where he froze them, ensuring that they would never kill again.
Whatever their origin, the stacks are certainly very striking. The tallest stands 66 metres above sea level and with the waves crashing against them and throwing up spray they are indeed an impressive sight. Interestingly, although there are four stacks, from land you can never see more than three.
Dyrhólaey from Reynisfjara
After lunch we started to retrace our steps back towards Reykjavik, but there was still plenty to see on the way. Firstly we stopped at the beautiful, but dangerous Reynisfjara black lava beach, where signs warn of the risks of getting too close to the water’s edge where ‘sneaker waves’ have been known to catch out unwary tourists and drag them out to sea - a warning reinforced by our host Jón.
Dyrhólaey from Reynisfjara
Reynisdrangar from Reynisfjara
Waves at Reynisfjara
This has to be one of the classic Icelandic landscapes – a sweeping black beach backed by the imposing black basalt cliffs, the latter dotted with patches of green and the white specks that on closer inspection proved to be kittiwakes. Beyond the black sands and lava, huge grey/white waves crash against the shore, and further still on the left are the Reynisdrangar, looming through the mist and spray, and on the right the arch of Dyrhólaey, the southernmost part of the Icelandic mainland. This is so large that one intrepid pilot successfully flew through it, in 1993.
In 2012 Chris and I drove out on to this promontory via the causeway, and it was here that we found some of the most stunning and beautifully lit scenery of our trip. Still pools of water reflected the icy mountain landscapes all around us, and to our other side rocky outcrops were equally perfectly reflected, creating an effect that reminded me a little of the karst scenery near Guilin in China – and a little of an ink blot!
Reynisfjara beach from Dyrhólaey, 2012
The road to Dyrhólaey, 2012
We took a group photo in front of the striking basalt column cliffs (see my first entry about the meet) but disappointingly didn’t see any of the puffins which nest here, although as I mentioned above, there were kittiwakes.
Kittiwakes at Reynisfjara
However I was happily occupied taking photos of the crashing waves and dramatic scenery, and also a video in an effort to capture the movement of the waves.
The cliffs at Reynisfjara
Views from the Ring Road
Unlike yesterday, when all we could see out of the bus window were raindrops, today we had wonderful views of the passing scenery, and for the next part of our drive it was my turn by the window.
South Iceland landscape
I managed to grab quite a few photos, some of the impressive Mýrdalsjökull and of several waterfalls, including a distant and rather magical shot of Skógafoss as we passed.
Mýrdalsjökull from the Ring Road
Skógafoss from the Ring Road
Our final stop was back at Seljalandsfoss, another impressive waterfall (65 metres high) which I had also seen previously but was very pleased to revisit. The water here flows from the now-infamous glacier Eyjafjallajökull - it was an eruption of the volcano that lies beneath this ice cap that caused so much chaos to flights all over Europe back in 2010.
Here it is possible to walk behind , but the falls unlike some of our group I chose not to do so - partly because I was unsure of my footing on the wet rocks (even with my hiking pole), partly because I felt I had got wet enough yesterday (!), but mainly because it seemed it would occupy most of our time here and restrict the number of photos I could take!
Visitors at Seljalandsfoss
I wandered around happily, trying with only limited success to capture the majesty of the falls, in both photos and video:
The falls from further along the path
Small waterfalls next to Seljalandsfoss
Water tumbles over the edge
Bird in the spray
All too soon it was time to return to the bus for the two hour drive back to the city - which for some of our number, who had walked behind the falls, was a pretty damp ride! Here are some photos taken there by my friend Yvonne, which she is happy for me to share with you here:
Behind the falls, by Yvonne
Sunday evening, our final dinner
In the evening we had the last official dinner of the meet, in the Sky Lounge of the Center Hotel by the Harpa Concert Hall. The views were great - or would have been, had the clouds not descended again on the mountains across the bay.
VTers at dinner
But no matter - we had excellent company, tasty food (most agreed the best of the three meals, with beautiful cod and a very good apple pie) and to crown the evening, magic from our host Jón, who is a professional magician and always gives us an enjoyable show.
Jón the magician
Hansi is videoing - as usual!
We had a lovely evening, but soon, sadly, it was time to say goodbye to the many friends leaving Reykjavik tomorrow - although others, like me, would be staying a little longer. This is always the toughest part of our meetings, but we have shown now that we have the momentum to continue to meet despite the closure of the website, so we can be confident of another Euromeet next year. Hopefully we will most, if not all, of us meet again there.
THANK YOU to our wonderful hosts, Regina and Jón