On the Road in Iceland

Part 2: Vík, Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey

Vík

Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland, is on the Ring Road and sits below the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and the Katla volcano. It has around 300 residents, a few restaurants and hotels, and one gas station/convenience store. (Our hotel’s guidebook said there was a golf course 300 meters from the hotel, but we never saw it.) There’s not much to do, but it’s a good base for exploring this part of the country, and the local scenery is stunning.

Vík with Reynisdrangar sea stacks in the background
Vík with Reynisdrangar sea stacks in the background

Vík’s most famous feature is Reynisdrangar, a set of basalt sea stacks just off the coast. According to legend, two trolls tried to drag a three-masted ship ashore, and they were turned to stone when the sunlight hit them at dawn.

Reynisdrangar seen from the beach in Vík
Reynisdrangar seen from the beach in Vík
The coastline near Vík
The coastline near Vík
Flood control wall extending into the Atlantic Ocean
Flood control wall extending into the Atlantic Ocean

The N1 gas station is the only place to buy anything in Vík. I’m not sure where or how often the residents of Vík, and especially the more remote areas, buy essentials like groceries. The nearest town that has anything larger than a convenience store is about 80 miles away.

Gas stations in Iceland are self-service, and you have to pay at the pump with a chip-and-PIN card. You have to authorize an amount on your card (in Icelandic krónur), and the pump will turn on. You can only pump up to the amount you authorized. At some stations, you pay directly at the pump. At others, there’s an automated pay station called an automat that controls multiple pumps.

At the N1 in Vík, there were four pumps but only one automat. We were buying gas on our last day in Vík, and I was waiting for a man to finish paying at the automat. He was clearly frustrated, because he turned to me and asked in a very thick accent, “You know how this thing works?” He was repeatedly inserting and removing his card, so I told him he had to enter his PIN and showed him which key was the Enter key (it’s actually in Icelandic, but I can’t remember the word). He said he entered his PIN, so I told him he needed to enter an amount. He said, “How am I supposed to know how much?” I told him I entered 10,000 ISK the previous day, and it was more than enough. He said, “Then I put 5,000.” (April found this whole exchange very entertaining, as she was sitting in the car laughing the whole time.)

N1 gas station
N1 gas station

The church in Vík sits above the town. It’s believed that if Katla erupts and melts the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the town will be flooded with only the church surviving.

The church sits above the rest of the town
The church sits above the rest of the town

Reynisfjara

Reynisfjara, which is about 10 km from Vík, is probably the most famous beach in Iceland. Like the other beaches in the area, it’s called a black-sand beach, but it’s really pebbles. The basalt cliffs are, as far as I know, unique to Reynisfjara. During certain parts of the year, the cliffs serve as a nesting ground for puffins. (They weren’t nesting when we were there.) There are shallow caves in the cliffs, and you can also see the other side of Reynisdrangar as well as the Mýrdalsjökull glacier from the beach.

The basalt cliffs at Reynisfjara. Reynisdrangar is on the right.
The basalt cliffs at Reynisfjara. Reynisdrangar is on the right.
People climbing the cliffs at Reynisfjara People climbing the cliffs at Reynisfjara
People climbing the cliffs at Reynisfjara. (Click for a larger view.)
The "sand" at Reynisfjara
The "sand" at Reynisfjara
One of the caves in the cliffs
One of the caves in the cliffs
Inside one of the caves Inside one of the caves
Inside one of the caves. (Click for a larger view.)
As close as you can get to Reynisdrangar without getting in the water (which is strongly discouraged)
As close as you can get to Reynisdrangar without getting in the water (which is strongly discouraged)
The Mýrdalsjökull glacier seen from the beach
The Mýrdalsjökull glacier seen from the beach

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is an arch-shaped peninsula that, like most of Iceland’s geography, was formed by volcanic activity. It’s visible from Reynisfjara, but to reach it by car is actually a 19 km drive from Reynisfjara. To actually get the best view of it, you don’t go to Dyrhólaey itself but to a nearby beach called Kirkjufjara beach.

Dyrhólaey seen from Reynisfjara
Dyrhólaey seen from Reynisfjara

Looking back toward Reynisfjara, you can see a rock called Arnardrangur or Eagle Rock as well as Reynisdrangar in the distance.

Arnardrangur (Eagle Rock)
Arnardrangur (Eagle Rock)

The Mýrdalsjökull glacier is also visible from this location, although it’s a much different perspective that gives you a better idea of the enormous area that it covers.

The Mýrdalsjökull glacier
The Mýrdalsjökull glacier (Click for panoramic photo.)
A closer view of Dyrhólaey
A closer view of Dyrhólaey
Essential Apps for Traveling

On our recent trip to Iceland, France and England, we found five iPhone apps to be essential. If you’re planning to travel anywhere, especially to another country, I recommend downloading all of these.

TripIt

TripIt app icon

TripIt is the best way to keep all of your travel plans organized. Just forward your reservation emails to plans@tripit.com, and TripIt will parse the email and add the relevant details to your itinerary. If an email can’t be parsed by TripIt, it’s easy to add the details manually. If you have a TripIt Pro subscription, you also get notifications of flight changes (often before the airline notifies you).

Also available for Android on Google Play.

HERE

HERE app icon

HERE is a maps app that works offline. You can save maps of your destination cities/regions and then use the app for driving directions even if you don’t have a data connection. It’s great if you have a limited data plan or if you’re in an area with spotty cellular coverage. In Iceland, HERE provided better driving directions than the Garmin unit that was in our rental car. Points of interest are also saved for offline viewing. Don’t expect to get Google Maps-level coverage, but any major landmark or attraction, as well as some restaurants and other businesses, should be viewable in the offline map. (There’s no telling how the recently announced sale of HERE will affect the app, but for now the app is still available.)

Also available for Android on Google Play.

Vert

Vert app icon

Vert can convert almost any measurement to a variety of other units (including more obscure units like rods and stones, should you need them). Unlike some other conversion apps, it works offline. (For currency conversions, it periodically downloads new exchange rate data when you have a data connection. When offline, it uses the last rates that it downloaded.) Since we live in the U.S. – one of the three countries that doesn’t officially use the metric system – we found Vert to be especially helpful in Europe, where distances are measured in kilometers and gasoline is sold by the liter. You can mark categories (weight, length, etc.) as favorites to quickly access them without having to scroll through the entire list.

TripAdvisor

TridAdvisor app icon

TripAdvisor is indispensable for finding restaurants and things to do. As we discovered, Yelp has limited coverage in Europe. If you’re looking for a place to have dinner or just something nearby to fill a gap in your itinerary, TripAdvisor has you covered almost anywhere. Even in a small village in Iceland, TripAdvisor had reviews of a few local restaurants.

Also available for Android on Google Play.

Google Translate

Google Translate app icon

Google Translate is vital if you don’t speak the local language, or sometimes even if you do. I speak passable French (at least I like to think so), but reading a washing machine manual that was printed in French turned out to be quite a challenge. Thankfully, Google acquired Word Lens and added its functionality to Google Translate. I was able to point my iPhone’s camera at the washing machine manual and read the manual well enough (the translation wasn’t perfect) to determine why the water wasn’t draining at the end of the cycle.

Also available for Android on Google Play.

On the Road in Iceland

Part 1: Keflavík to Vík

Iceland road trip map

Our European vacation began in Baltimore. After flying from Atlanta to BWI (where I got to try DuClaw Brewing’s fantastic Sweet Baby Jesus! chocolate peanut butter porter), we flew to Iceland on WOW Air’s inaugural Baltimore-to-Reykjavík flight.

On the plane I am your seat
On the plane

WOW is definitely a discount airline. Your ticket buys you a small, uncomfortable seat (which made it impossible to sleep) and absolutely nothing else. But it’s a cheap way to get to Europe.

We left Baltimore around 8 p.m. EDT on Friday, May 8. We landed at Kevflavík International Airport at 5:30 a.m. GMT on Saturday, May 9 and had the pleasure of deplaning via stair truck onto the tarmac in near-freezing temperatures.

After picking up our Toyota Yaris from Hertz (they didn’t have any English brochures, so they gave us one in Spanish), we began our road trip to Suðurland, the Southern Region of Iceland.

Rental car in Iceland Hertz brochure in Spanish
Left: Toyota Yaris with Jökulsárlón in the background. Right: Hertz brochure in Spanish.

Our first stop was Reykjavík, the capital, for breakfast. Much to our dismay, we discovered that almost nothing in Reykjavík is open before 10:00 a.m., and it wasn’t even 8:00. Google and HERE (a great offline maps app) led us to Grái Kötturinn (the Gray Kitten).

Door to Grái Kötturinn

It’s supposedly one of Björk’s favorite spots in Reykjavík, but it’s most charming aspects were 1) it opens early by Reykjavík standards and 2) it serves a huge breakfast called “The Truck”: eggs, bacon, pancakes, potatoes, tomatoes and the thickest slice of toast I’ve ever eaten. (When he took our order, the sole employee just drew a picture of a truck and wrote “x2” on his notepad.)

Still exhausted but at least no longer hungry, we hit Route 1 (Hringvegur or the Ring Road) toward Vík. Other than a few gas stations (just about the only form of civilization in the more rural parts of Iceland, which is most of Iceland) our only stop was Seljalandsfoss. Cold, wind and exhaustion cut short our visit there, but we did get a few pictures.

Seljalandsfoss
Person walking behind the falls
People walking behind the falls
People walking on the ice-covered rocks behind the falls.
After that it was on to Vík, the village where we stayed for the next couple of nights and the subject of the next post.

Sunrise at White River West Sno-Park - Mount Hood 2
Mount Hood at sunrise from White River West Sno-Park
Mount Jefferson from Timberline Lodge
Mount Jefferson from Timberline Lodge
Wreck of the Peter Iredale 2
Wreck of the Peter Iredale

View the full set on Flickr.

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