Eric Dinerstein William C. Young
Iceland, 20-25 August 2016
Day 1: Sunday, 21 August, part 5/5
Driving North from Reykjavík
Not far north of Reykjavík, we passed through Hvalfjörður Tunnel, which seemed to go on forever. It's part of the Ring Road and passes under the Hvalfjörður fjord. Wikipedia says: "It is 5,770 meters (18,930 feet (3.6 miles)) long and reaches a depth of 165 meters (541 ft) below sea level."
The drive north was gorgeous and wild, without much sign of civilization in all the tumble of rocks and lichen and low-growing plants. Some occasional farms, very far apart from each other. Small groves of trees grew here and there, some of them perfect Christmas-tree evergreens, others skinny deciduous trees. At one point we passed through a town with painted wooden cut-out sheep attached to a fence along the main road, but we didn't see any actual sheep until north of that point, and then they were everywhere. Not in big masses, but small scattered numbers, dotting the landscape. Sometimes the landscape was grass, but most often it was some form of "rocky". I was amused when the sheep were amongst clustered green lumps about the same size they were, which I think were sheep-sized boulders covered in green moss. Sometimes they were high up a slope, sometimes hanging out on rock outcroppings. The Icelandic rugged stocky shaggy horses also became a common sight.
We stopped for gas and coffee just north of Borgarnes; left there at 6:00. I noticed that many of their 4x4s are heftier than ours, even though I think some of them are technically the same models. Wider fenders, taller ground clearance; I wonder if Icelanders can order them that way or if there are lots of busy aftermarket shops. Their tour buses are very tall, and their big rigs are as well; I'm pretty sure the cab sits up higher than ours. This makes the larger vehicles look too tall and thin to me, as I'd be worried they'd tip over easily.
North West Hotel
We arrived at the North West Hotel southeast of Hvammstangi around 7:35. I asked and was told that's pronounced "KVAHM-stahng-ee". The hotel is situated by itself on the Ring Road, not in a town. You're just driving through grass and mountains for miles and miles, passing occasional drives leading to farms, and then there it is, right next to the road so you can't miss it, with a little fuel pump station in the front car park.
I'm surprised to find I didn't take a photo of the outside, so the one below is from Google Street View. You can see it's a humble building just next to the Ring Road, kind of in the middle of nowhere.
Check-in was a breeze; I'd booked this place through Expedia. The guy at the desk was friendly and helpful, suggesting spots on a map to visit in the immediate vicinity. He helped us bring our bags up. The bottom floor consists of the restaurant and check-in desk, while the rooms are upstairs. At the top of the stairs is a sitting room, which I suppose makes up for the tiny size of the bedrooms, in case you're here for a while and want someplace to hang out. The room itself was clean and serviceable, again on the small side, but fine for a shower and sleep. Two twin beds against opposite walls, each with its own tiny nightstand and hardly any more room than that between them, and the room had its own bathroom. Our room was at the end of the hall, and the view out the window out the back showed a swing set against a grassy rise, which blocked any further view.
We left the hotel at 8:20 to make use of remaining daylight and drove to the small town of Hvammstangi, emerging from heavy overcast into a beautiful "golden hour", with that dark sky setting a dramatic backdrop for the sun angling in sharply from beneath the clouds. The town itself is small and located on the coast of a fjord. We stopped at the harbor to see if there were any birds of interest - not many birds at all, but there were photogenic boats. We drove on then, north along the water, seeing horses and sheep. The beauty of the whole scene and the ruggedness of the land with the late sun gilding everything with warm golden light overcame me with emotion and a bit of giddiness for finally seeing the sun. We drove just beyond where the road paving ended north of Hvammstangi, then headed back. The sun had just dropped behind the mountains across the water, so it was suddenly gloomy again. Stopped in the road to take pictures of horses, then got back to the hotel at 9:25. The sun sets at around 9:45 this time of year.
Back at the hotel, I took my second shower in Iceland, where I saw that the shower plumbing was the same as in the first, except in this one, the showerhead lit up blue when I turned the water on, and eventually the light turned green. I wondered if I was going to have a disco in the shower, but it stayed green. Maybe green means it's the right temperature, which can be set by number on a dial on some of these fixtures. The metal connection between temp dial and knob gets too hot to touch during the shower - this was the case with all the showers I used. The hot water was able to get very hot in all the showers. I've since read that much of the hot water coming from the tap is geothermal. Great use of renewable resources! I didn't have to wait long for hot water anywhere, which was nice, but the water was soft everywhere we went in Iceland, making it feel as if the soap won't rinse off. I read that's also due to it coming from the ground and so containing lots of minerals from trickling through basalt.
Got to bed at 2:00, but I couldn't fall asleep until around 3:00. We both ran through this trip without much sleep. I think I was just too excited about being there, with too little time, trying to cram a lot in. I did crash hard once I got home, and was jetlagged for several days, getting tired around 8:00 pm, which would be midnight there.▲