Tag Archives: roadtrip

Day 7 – Reykjavík

Our last day in Iceland. There’s one more thing I want to check out before we leave, which is the Perlan, or Pearl. Perlan is a water storage facility which supplies Reykjavík hot water. No cisterns or boilers required. Piped straight from a geothermal source, the trade off is that the water smells of eggs, which I guess is from the sulphur.

We caught the 18 bus from Hlemmur bus station. It’s only 3km out, if that. But it’s uphill and thought it was an excuse to use the public transport. It’s an ace building, which includes a panoramic viewing platform which offers views all around Reykjavík.

We walked back, past the pond and the Althing. We found a fish and chips restaurant right at the edge of town by the harbour. Pretty good! The chips were more like wedges, the fish in a spelt wheat batter. The onion rings were phenomenal! Most of the sauces were Skyr-based.

As we ate a lot, quite late, and were tired, we concluded our visit by staying in and eating Icelandic junk – cheese puffs, chocolate, massive cinnamon swirls and 500ml cans of Pepsi. Don’t want to eat sugar again!

Day 6 – Reykjavík

We woke up to a snow-covered Reykjavík, probably an inch thick. We took a good look around the city today.

The sight for me was Hallgrímskirkja, a church built over a long period of time, starting in the late 1930s with decades of building thereafter. It’s a mix of Scandinavian and neo-Gothic. A simple, bleak take on Gothic, resulting in a spooky-looking church. Inside was stunning. Gothic arches, an impressive organ. Blue windows at the alter, which, with the light shining in, gives a hue of cold and bleak fitting in nicely in the Reykjavík landscape. Outside in the shadow of Hallgrímskirkja stood Leif Eriksson, discoverer of North America. In the distance is another church, Háteigskirkja. Alpine-inspired with long spires, black on white masonry work. It stood beautifully and modestly in a complimenting snowy scene.

We walked back down Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s high street. At the end towards Háteigskirkja, it’s not the prettiest of places. As you progress towards the centre it gets prettier. We went to the Parliament (Althing), which is a very inconspicuous building. It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago outside this building, a large gathering took place and brought about a ‘revolution’. This side of town is lovely.

For lunch we went to Akku Taktu, a bit like McDonalds meets Little Chef. I had a hot dog and some really nice chips, which had a similar coating to ‘chip spice’ which you find in the north of England. For dinner we went to Le Bistro, a French restaurant. Cute and cuddly in side, barely any light. I had a Lamb shank, French style, and some Viking ale. The cost of this meal, comparable to something in the UK, was twice the price.

Day 5 – Golden Circle and on to Reykjavík

We considered using a tour  company for a tour around the Golden Circle. They didn’t get back to us so we decided to set off early and do our own whistlestop tour of the Golden Circle en route to Reykjavík. Time was very tight – the car was being picked up at 3pm. We set off just after 7am, but it had snowed even more overnight (only a centimetre, but on Icelandic roads it’s never clever to go speeding).

We set off, went steady and found that these snow tyres are unstoppable. We picked up the pace, slowing down when we drove past every farmhouse for possible dogs.

We filled at the N1 in Blönduós, and carried on and found a bigger N1 with a café. I bought a (black) tea, hot dog wrapped in bacon and some Skyr yoghurt. Mine was vanilla, a bit sour – Chloe’s strawberry yoghurt was rather nice! Skyr’s basically a natural yoghurt but thicker.

We eventually reached Thingvellir National Park. This was to be a quick stop so we spent no more than an hour at our stop offs throughout Thingvellir. It’s Iceland’s first national park, not too far from the capital. What I wanted to see most was the continental rifts and the original Althing – the world’s first parliament.

The Lögberg, the rock where speakers stood to address the citizen representatives, is overshadowed by the big rift, the Almannagjá. The Almannagjá is a number of storeys high, and quite a distance apart. The plates of North America and Europe are moving up to 2cm apart per year, slowly tearing Iceland apart. It’s quite a spectacle. There’s many other tears around the area; smaller but no less showing of the sheer power.

At this point I rang our car rental place, and asked for an extension which they kindly allowed. We drove another 30km to Geysir, through more jaw-dropping scenery. We got there, after following the steam plumes. The air had a faint eggy smell to it, with sulphur belched from the depths. The boiling water just streamed down the roadside, it was actually near-boiling (I touched it like an idiot, and pulled away quickly!). There’s a number of geysers – the original Geysir is not as strong as it once was, and erupts only every ten years, so the chances of seeing Geysir erupt was slim. However we did see Strokkur, the pin-up geyser you see on every postcard, often mistaken for Geysir. It erupted many times when we were there, every five minutes, and shoots up to 30m high! Unreal!

With very little time left, we sped up to Gullfoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. We had little time and spent no more than five minutes there taking photos. Such a pity as it’s beautiful and highly regret not being able to spend any more time there.

We set off to Mosfellsbær, an area just outside Reykjavík. The shop, Alafoss, is known for Icelandic Lopapeysa, the handknitted sweater associated with Iceland. I picked up one for 15000kr, £80, which is a lot more cheaper than the 20000-25000kr seen in shops around Akureyri.

Time was running out, so we took the car (now covered in filth, the wheel arches caked in volcanic rock and mud) . I washed what I could away, and then sat in traffic because of roadworks. We made it 15 minutes later than arranged.

First impressions of Reykjavík were mixed – graffiti everywhere and a lot of untidy looking places. However there was no litter. We were so tired we had a quick walk around and finished at Dominos. Sleep was tough – our single beds which were pushed together over looked roadworks and a live music bar (I like live music but not when I’m trying to sleep after driving for hours!).

Day 2 – Skagaströnd and Skagi Peninsular

I awoke at 10am – I don’t think I have ever slept for twelve hours! The mountains outside our window had been peppered with snow overnight. We went to the local supermarket, the Samkaup-úrval and tried to buy Icelandic as many things are imported and therefore costly. Pauper’s dinners for the next few days!

Chloe elected to drive. Think she might regret it! We drove around the Skagi peninsula, and all the roads were gravel roads with sheer drops either side (and so where we encountered the Malbik Endar sign). We barely saw anyone. A few active, but mostly desolate farms, hundreds of ponies. Bleak but beautiful landscapes of lavafields with green, yellow, orange and rusty red blankets of moss engulfing rocks that probably haven’t moved for centuries. The scenery was always liable to turn your head. From streams and little waterfalls to unforgiving rocky coast lines and towering mountains.

Some of these roads were riddled with potholes – I’m sure Chloe was aiming for them! And some of the stretch seemed as though they hadn’t been travelled down for some time. A dog (which from a distance, I was hoping to be an arctic fox), was chasing the car which made us panic. Thankfully it was behind fencing. This barely used 745 gravel road meandered through rocky, lunar landscapes, then hugged the Húnaflói coast overlooking islands and columns in the cold, turquoise-blue Greenland Sea. What seemed like a lifetime, we eventually had Skagafjoður on our left. Drangey and Malmey islands continued to watch us as we drove down the coast. Heading to Sauðárkrókur, we saw the sign for a thermal spring, Grettislaug. We forgot our swim costumes but I wanted to look anyway. 16km, the sign said. Yup, 16km of ridiculous pot holes down a ‘road’. I noticed ahead a huge puddle and didn’t want to risk it, so we turned around and headed to Sauðárkrókur to try and find the shipwreck that I wanted to see. We pulled up at a heritage point. The sign had a diagram of an old ship but I couldn’t be sure this was the spot; I couldn’t see a wreck, though perhaps the sea was in? So we turned back and headed on our way to the cabin.

The drive down the 744 was great – huge mountains of a rust colour topped with snow. The temperature was 0°C, with flutters of snow.

Driving down the 74 to Skagaströnd, a dog started chasing the car, and ran towards us. I slammed the breaks, heart pounding. We missed the dog, thankfully, and the farmer and owner of this dog, looked on and carried on with his work, not phased. My legs went all wobbly. So I slashed my speed and carried on at a slower pace. In the clear, or so I thought, I picked the speed back up and noticed a black lump on a drive way. For a split second I thought to myself, jokingly, ‘curled up dog’. I immediately concluded it was a lump of volcanic rock, nothing unusual about such a rock in Iceland. It then animated and started chasing the car! I thought this one could be a goner. It backed off thankfully, panic averted. My head was throbbing. We got to the cabin with all animals unharmed and we proceeded to eat to packs of plain noodles. I don’t think I want to eat noodles again.

Day 1 – To Iceland!

Our flight from Manchester was at 7 o’clock, meaning we left the house at around 4am. I had around two hours sleep mainly down to trying to take control and tame an overweight suitcase. All those warm clothes take a lot of space up! Bearing in mind I had started to pack a week ago.

The flight was pretty smooth, and being in the morning we could watch our approach to this mysterious island of vast lifeless plains, pitted by mountains and volcanoes.

Keflavík airport looked like your typical stark building you’d expect in harsh conditions – though the inside was astonishing. Great use of volcanic rock and glass, and the arrival and departure areas seemed as one – simple poles and strap fencing to mark the boundary between arrival and departures.

I booked the car pickup for 10am, thinking all along that the Easyjet arrival time was incorrect (8:30 am). Iceland, I kept saying to people, is GMT. Correct, but they don’t follow daylight savings time. At this time of the year, the UK is just about in DST. Anyway, I thought we’d arrive 9:30 am local time, with half an hour for delays and baggage pick up. So in Iceland it was actually 8:30 am. Thankfully, the guy from Blue Car Rental had been tracking our flight, and was there with my name on a board (like in the movies!).

We picked up our car after being talked into the Sand & Ash protection (SAAP) product that, until the recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, was probably nearly always declined. Horror stories of the guy who said ‘no’ to SAAP, who subsequently got caught up in the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, had his hire car stripped of paint… thousands of krónur of damage… etc. Anyway, we sat in the car for quite some time trying to figure out how to start this bloody Kia Cee’d. After a while I tried a few combinations, turns out you need your foot on the clutch, and turn the key. So what about retrieving the key from the ignition? Another five minutes passed… push the key in and then turn. Really intuitive design.

I insisted that we travel by map, rather than sat-nav. Our first destination was the Blue Lagoon, which is very close to the airport. We set off on our way, but after wasting at least half an hour driving around what I think was Reykjanesbær, completely lost – I headed back to the car rental place with my arse in my hands.

We eventually got to the Blue Lagoon, after the sat-nav tried to direct us down a thin path running parallel to a power station. The Blue Lagoon is a great tourist destination and should definitely be visited – but probably only once. The architecture is fab. Same sort of feel as the airport, with slabs of thin volcanic brick, thin windows which accentuated the height of the building. I name this style ‘bleak chic’.

Entrance to the Blue Lagoon is a cool 11,500 Kr for two people. About £60! This clearly paid for the space age lockers that were in the changing rooms, which I wanted to take a photo of, but, as you have to shower naked (it’s the rules), there were too many middle-aged Germanics with their little cocks flopping about for me to warrant taking a photo in there. It was an interesting situation to find myself in. Typically British person who’d find the situation of walking around with my knob out rather embarrassing, but the stiff upper lip of ‘get on with it’ overcame the embarrassment. Before I knew it, walking from the changing room to the shower with all these naked knobbly men was a walk in the park (actually no, you’d get arrested for that sort of walk in the park but you get me right?).

The lagoon is ace, there’s no doubt about it. The temperature varies depending on where you are, but it typically averages 40°C. Which, believe me, is hot. Sometimes even uncomfortable. Even though it’s hovering around freezing outside. The water is actually blue, I kid you not. I’m guessing that’s to do with the amount of silica .

Peculiarly, the lagoon is a by-product of a power station. It’s just run off for the geo thermal power plant next door. But it’s clean, and good for you, and bloody warm! I’d definitely recommend it, but as I’ve said, it’s very, very expensive and took a big chunk out of our small budget.

After finishing up at the Blue Lagoon, we took our rock-hard, matted hair and refreshed bodies on to the Route 1 ring road, toward our destination. Not so far form Reykjavík, we stopped off at a 1011 supermarket. We bought the bare essentials like bread, pizza, cakes (huge cinnamon swirl covered in a caramel slop), Mountain Dew… yes! Iceland has the real-deal Mountain Dew (unlike our shitty energy drink). So a market of 300,000 people in comparison to the UK’s 60 million is clearly more important! The total bill? A massive 7,500 Kr (about £40) – for two bags of shopping!

We filled up at the nearest town to our destination, which was called Blönduós. At this point Chloe was behind the wheel, and very carefully exited the roundabout to the Olís petrol station, on the wrong side of the road with a car approaching.

We got to Skagaströnd, which is where we were staying. A small town of 300 people, a crazy-looking church and a weird mural of a fisherman’s wind-battered face. The log cabin was pleasant enough – small, warm. Just a microwave and hob though. So we grilled that expensive pizza and garlic bread, the latter of which became solid and inedible. Went to bed at 10pm!

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Day 15 – Yoho National Park and back to Vancouver

We planned to set off early, as the journey takes about ten hours. That didn’t quite go to plan but never mind.

As we headed home on the Trans-Canada Highway we took an early exit on to Yoho National Park. This road was interesting because it had a ridiculous incline up a cliff face, which we had to corner well or reverse back to get around the bends. Then we saw a beautiful waterfall crashing down a large creek. We seemed quite far away from it, but the sound and sight of it was magnificent. From there, we drove and realised only at the end of the road that it was actually a dead end.

We made it back to the highway and stopped off at a couple more places, including a gorgeous little gem called Emerald Lake. We also had a look at the Kicking Horse river, a long, powerful, river which travels some distance.

On our long trip back, we established that we’d stop off again in Kamloops, have a break, maybe another cotton candy ice cream… Hours went by, and at this point I’m seriously in desperate need for a piss, and having hunger shakes. We’re driving past road signs with names of towns we recognise: Merritt, Kelowna. Anyway, couldn’t find this place. I was desperate and we decided the next sign we see with the park picnic table symbol, we’re stopping off.

Lac Le Jeune was our stop off. We approached a campsite there in the hope of seeing toilets. Mitch, with his instinct of driving on the left side of the road, went round the traffic hut the wrong way. No problem, no one around. We drove along this road and it became apparent that we were entering red neck country. There’s a load of reserved pitches, most occupied, and we pulled into one without a pickup and caravan on it. We had a bunch of locals looking at us, thinking we’re weirdos, as we’re thinking the same about them. I ran to the loo, and could barely stand up!

Mitch and me swap over, now I’m behind the wheel, and we’re leaving the campsite. As I approach that hut, there’s now a police officer and the campsite manager, telling me to pull over. “Oooh shit” we’re thinking. I did exactly the same as Mitch and drove on the left, being the wrong side of the road in Canada, in front of a police officer. Anyway, I was told off for the campsite manager for speeding around his campsite. I apologised profusely and we took off.

We saw another sign, for Logan Lake, and decided to stop there. We refuelled, washed our hands as there were no sinks at the campsite, and headed to the park to eat. This little town seemed all new, planned and pleasant. We ate our sweaty, overloaded cheese sandwiches, washed the grease off our hands and carried on back to Vancouver in hope of dropping the car off before the 10pm deadline.

On our way, we passed the visitor centre we planned to stop at. There is no way we would have lasted that long without pissing ourselves.

Vancouver took absolutely ages to get in to due to the roadworks. We eventually got to downtown, and drove through a really shitty, rundown area. I was genuinely surprised at what was in front of me. Groups of homeless, mentally-ill or drug-ridden folk in a couple of groups of a dozen, easy. All out on the main streets. We later learned this was the infamous East Hastings, or Downtown East Side.

After off loading our bounty of groceries from Safeway in Alberta (took advantage of the 5% tax there), we got the car back at 10.30pm.

Day 13 – Lake Louise and Banff, Alberta

We decided that a hostel charging $8 + tax for an omelette was ludicrous, so we drove down the road and we found a pastry shop. I pretty much ate croissants the whole stay.

From there we travelled to Lake Louise, we paid a fortune for a three day pass and drove around the car parks for half hour cursing the RVs for taking up four spaces.

After parking up, we made our way to the lake. Heaving with tourists but astonishing nonetheless. The water really is that turquoise as on the photos, shrouded by a large mountain range, still snow capped, fog circling their summits.

We began our trek up the Six Glaciers range, where, at the top, over 6km walk, there is a tea house. No problem. We take in the views of barren, to pine, waterfalls and snow, as we chat away putting the world to rights.

We were told this was the easiest walk… well, hours passed, and we’re starting to see mirages of tea houses. We start to lose our rag at this point, the weather goes from very cold to roasting, so the fleece keeps getting taken off, putting back on. I honestly don’t think I’ve worked so hard when walking!

We eventually got there, and if I had the energy I’d have jumped for joy. The tea house is a wood log cabin on stilts, with no electricity and few amenities. The menu was limited because they had so few mod. cons. The menu was full of preservatives and stuff they can make from scratch.My choice was the peanut butter and jam sandwich (it makes me happy that Canadians still call jam ‘jam’, as opposed to Americans who call jam ‘jelly’). It was a pleasant surprise actually – I was expecting it to be horrible.

I shan’t go in to too much detail here, but after such a long walk we needed to use the loo… dear oh dear. The toilet was one of these long drops, reminiscent of the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire. A stench and sight that will live with me for a long time.

Our journey down took far less time. We made sure to walk across that last bit of snow we saw on the way up, too.

Afterwards, we drove to Banff town which is a good 40 minutes out. On the way we discovered two moose munching away on the road side. The town is picturesque, perfect. Very touristy but not in a Blackpool sort of fashion. It’s town centre is a strip of shops and restaurants built of stone and wood clad, nestled in a mountain range. One of the highlights of the whole trip was the cowboy clothing shop, which served its charming purpose for tourists but also seemed to be a genuine Western riders’ shop, full of genuine cowboy boots (Ariat etc), hats, those sparkly barn dance dresses. Even ABS storage cases for said cowboy hats. Spurs, chaps. Brilliant.

After our platter full of wings and the like, we headed home. We took the 1A route home at dusk, hoping to see some bears… it’s like the road cutting through the Chase, but on acid. No bears today.

Day 12 – En route to Banff National Park

Mitch and I did what I perceived daft for two young English gents – hire a car, driving on the other side of the road, for approximately ten hours each way.

We asked for a Pontiac but received a VW Jetta. Not so bad, as I drive a VW at home so familiarity was a bonus for a car which has the steering wheel on the left.

My biggest concern was driving this automatic car out of the multi-storey car park, or parking lot, without driving it through a wall. After a few minutes of bricking it, we drove off and started on our way. We got out of Vancouver with relative ease, surprisingly.

The drive was easy and pleasurable. We drove past mountains, through the Okanagan desert. About half way we swapped over and Mitch continued the journey, stopping in Kamloops where it was boiling hot. After eating our sweaty sandwiches and cotton candy ice cream, we continued on to the BC-Alberta border. I took over in Golden, where we stopped for a McDonald’s, next to a big bridge passing a beautiful river.

The mountains got bigger, snow-capped in summer. The Trans-Canada highway is a true engineering feat, as it cuts through mountains, hangs off cliffs and sits closely to the Canada-Pacific railway, with trains hauling dozens of grain carts.

We got to the hostel, where we met a guy called Long. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying but he seemed a nice enough chap.

This experience was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Driving for hours may not seem like much, but when you’re from a small country, driving hours down a highway through beautiful scenery and sharing some amazing moments with a good friend is hard to beat.