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Iceland: February 21st - March 1st 2023 And off we go!

Updated: Mar 1

February 22nd - Day 1.

A flight from Malaga to London on Feb 21st, saw me meeting with my brother Baz, to fly to Iceland the following morning. We'd last done this trip together 9 years previously and were looking forward to experiencing this unique country again. This time would be different though. We had hired a Jeep and would be deciding what to do as we went along. Baz also had a drone and intended to use his iPhone to take photos. I had my dslr camera and kit as well as my iPhone

We'd chosen the Lighthouse-inn Hotel at Gadur, on the NW edge of the Reykjanes Peninsular as a base for our week's stay, mainly because we wanted to be somewhere where we'd have nature on our doostep. On our previous visit we'd been based in Reykjavik and apart from 2 days with Rafn, our Icelandic guide, we'd used public transport or walked to get around.

Arriving at the international airport after a 3 hour flight, we found the weather wet, grey and miserable. Picking up our hire car was quick and simple and we had only a 15 minute drive to get to our hotel. It was at this point that I felt the warming sensation of heated seats in the car; bliss! Together with my heated sleeveless waistcoat and plenty of thermal hand and feet warmers, I felt positive that I wouldn't feel the cold as much as last time. Baz had also brought a heated jacket, heated socks and gloves and of course, the car also had a heated steering wheel!

The receptionist at the hotel was lovely and chatty as well as helpful with regard to the possibility of Aurora sightings - she seemed surprised that I had the same app though! Quickly checking in and putting on our Icelandic clothing, we ventured out into the wind and rain to gain our first impressions of our chosen base. Two lighthouses and a long, rocky beach were all that we located nearby. After half an hour outside, we were both wet through and cold from the freezing rain and retreated back to the hotel. As we walked in hoping not to be noticed, we saw the knowing smile on the face of the receptionist! We decided to partake of the food in the hotel restaurant and had an extremely nice - and not overly expensive - meal.

February 23rd - Day 2.

We were ready for breakfast at 07.30 when the room was opened and pleasantly surprised by the choice of hot and cold buffet items provided. Suitably fortified and clothed, we headed out to our car. It quickly became evident just how insulated we were in our hotel as the cold wind made itself felt. It was impossible from inside the hotel to have any idea of weather conditions as the immediate landscape was barren. The heated seats soon made us comfortable though and we took the road heading towards Reykjavik just wandering and intending to use this outing as a reccee on which to base later trips. We were only a couple of kilometers from the hotel when Baz turned onto a track which led to some interesting old, rusty and abandoned buildings. We pulled up alongside a maintained building and I went to see if I could find someone to make sure we were OK to wander. There was a guard sitting in a room and after a hand signal chat through a window, he came outside to confirm there was no problem with us being there.

Baz soon had the drone up and I wandered towards the sea to explore the rocky pool areas. I'd been taking photos for a little while when I looked back to where I was sure we'd parked ; no car and no Baz in sight. Mentally shrugging and thinking that I could always seek shelter in the building where the guard was located if need be, I carried on exploring. After about half an hour, I saw Baz return and walked to meet him. Apparently he'd forgotten to put the SD card in the drone and then subsequently realised he'd taken the wrong controller for the drone. This was to become an occurring theme during the week! Nonetheless he did manage a few cracking images using the drone.

We'd noticed on the map, a lake not too far away. Heading towards the area we could see mountains in the distant gloom and of course the ever present lava fields filled our views. Taking a road which looked as if it would head towards the lake we had to deal with unsettling features such as blind hills and corners as well as strong winds. Arriving at the lakeside, the next problem to sort was where to park. No parking was allowed along roadsides and it was difficult to know what was underneath some of the snow covered areas which looked as if they might offer parking. We found a spot to pull off the road slightly, however it wasn't until we found a wider area to park that we felt able to explore further. By then however, the wind was getting stronger and our anticipated drone flying was curtailed. I did manage a short lesson and took my first ever drone photo!

Eventually heading back to the hotel, we hoped that the weather might improve and there would be a sunset. Venturing out again late afternoon on foot, Baz hopefully launched the drone, however the wind was too strong and the sun wasn't playing ball. There's always tomorrow!

February 24th - Day 3

Leaving the hotel in rainy, windy conditions we were hopeful nonetheless of being able to fly the drone sometime during the day. Deciding to head back towards the lake and test conditions, we pulled into our previous stopping point and watched as the rain lashed and the wind howled! We'd taken flasks of hot drinks and were having a drink when a minibus pulled up, disgorging reluctant passengers. Some of them rushed to the edge of the lake, others stayed near to the bus and any protection it afforded. They provided a foreground feature for my photo for which I silently thanked them and shortly afterwards, the wind dropped a little and the rain stopped. The drone came out and Baz took a short flight, however it was almost at a standstill at times heading into the wind. I did get to take my first drone photo though!

We continued past the lake intending to take a circular route back to the hotel, when we saw some steam rising behind some hills. Stopping off to investigate we quickly realised we'd found some hot sulphur springs. Such colours, an amazing place we just had to explore.

Parking up and trying to not breathe too deeply, we followed a wooden boardwalk. At one time I bent down to briefly touch some bubbling water and it was HOT! It was difficult to know where to look as our eyes were drawn to such a surreal scene. The colours were so vivid and varied and yet disappeared at time as the rising steam created clouds. Walking around and trying not to miss anything, we spotted a waterfall which fell from on high and flowed through the labyrinthe of bubbling pools. After completing the boardwalk we spotted a path leading in another direction and finishing higher up. We decided to follow it. After slipping and sliding on the icy lower sections, we thought it better to forego that adventure, especially as we could see people higher up having difficulties.

Back on the road again, we spotted a derelict building with silos in the distance. Baz wanted to see if he could fly with the drone as the structure had collapsed inwards in an interesting manner. Whilst he was busy flying, I moved away a little to explore the surrounds and was surprised to see that after only a few steps, another frozen lake was revealed. The shapes created at the edge of the lake combined with a variety of colours would've made a fantastic overhead image using the drone. Unfortuntately, the lake was in a valley and the wind was funneling through, creating a force too great for the drone. I was nonetheless able to work my way to a high point and capture a photo of the area.

Further on, we saw some signs and a track disappearing into the hills. We stopped to investigate and after reading (in Icelandic!) we realised we were near to the volcano which erupted last year. Of course we went to investigate! Parking the car there were a few people heading off towards a ridge in the distance where we could just make out tiny figures. It was wet and the ground soft, however we eventually found our way to the top of the first high point. Below us in a valley was a surreal scene; black lava was still smoking and smouldering. We headed down past signs which signalled danger and not to walk on the lava. The eruption had taken place in August 2022 and although had lasted several weeks, common sense was now the guide. We found our way on to higher levels of the lava and although could feel a warmth around some of the smouldering bits, the main obstacle was negotiating crevases where the lava had cooled and split. It was surreal being able to actually walk on the lava and recognise directions of flow and see the patterns made as it had cooled. What was even more surreal was being able to call Chris from on top of the lava in the middle of nowhere and share a video chat with a full 5G signal!

Light was beginning to fade as we headed back to the car to continue our return journey to the hotel. At a road junction we spotted a sign announcing fish and chips. We were hungry and It sounded like a good idea. It was, and I was also gifted a litre of milk after asking where it might be possible to buy one! What a way to end a fantastic day just going with the flow!

February 25th - Day 4

In 2014 when we last visited Iceland, Rafn, an Icelandic professional photographer was our guide for a few days. He showed us around his beautiful country and we had such a good time with him, that we kept in touch over the years hoping to be able to meet up again, perhaps even in Spain. Nine years had passed and this day was to be the first opportunity to meet and renew that friendship as well as meet Eden, his lovely wife in person. We were invited for a meal and a wonderful fayre was placed before us to eat. Over sumptious food we relived our time together years ago as well and brought each other up to date with the intervening years to the present. It was as if we'd said goodbye only yesterday. Rafn is documenting Iceland on his video channel as well as producing books. His work is important to ensure authentic Iceland is not lost through the impact of millions of tourists who wish to visit and explore this amazing country. We all hope that it won't be another nine years before we meet again.

February 26th - Day 5

Today was a busy one. A *very* busy one. Rafn had given us several tips on where to go to continue with our authentic Icelandic experience and initially, our intention was to take the hire car up the side of a volcano - Rafn had insisted that we could get up there. En route, we stopped off for a brief visit to the Blue Lagoon as we happened to be passing. Wandering outside to see the workings (engineer brother!) rather than getting wet inside this iconic tourist place, we enjoyed the beautiful blue waters although there was a strong, biting wind which meant we didn't stay too long.

Arriving at the turn off to start the ride up the side of the volcano we found that the route was closed off by some concrete posts. With no room to turn around, it meant reversing back a fair old way from whence we’d come, through soft mud and puddles. It was impressive to see how Baz coped and it wasn't too long before we were back at the start point.

So, to Plan B. The winds were too strong for drone work, however there's always an alternative. Strong winds means big waves and we headed to the coast where we hoped we'd find crashing waves. Lighthouses are usually a good indication of turbulent areas and when we saw one in the distance, we headed in that direction. This turned into a bit of a route march, but gave us several long-time beached shipwrecks to gawk at as we found ourselves in an apparent ship's graveyard. The lighthouse itself was mundane although of interest was the window where there was ice on the inside and an instrument leaning against the glass which we couldn't identify. There were plenty of little inlets with ruins on to investigate and one in particular seemed to have had a coveted place long ago. The building had a bay and picturesque windows overlooking what could have been a private mooring place at one time.

Eventually reunited with the car (we could've driven all the way around!) we took the coast road northwards and back towards our hotel hoping to keep clear of tourists; we didn’t count, as we have locals who are friends! It proved to be quite difficult, sadly and felt as if our vehicle was tagged, for no sooner had we bowled up to places when it felt like hordes of them pitched up behind us.Next stop was some spectacular wave action. We didn’t get wet, but one couple did. 'Schadenfreude came a-visiting’. The spray created some beautiful forms on and against the rocks. It was difficult to stop taking photos because each wave was capable of magnificent creations.

Onwards we went, reluctantly leaving the rocks behind. We next found ourselves at some hot springs. Steam was belching out and away from us, thank goodness. The treasures of this island never cease to amaze. We discussed the idea of a return for sunrise the following day when we would likely have the place to ourselves with much different light. We also came across some strange stone thing that we couldn’t make sense of from the road. At first we thought it was one of the ancient houses with an earth roof, however closer inspection didn't help either.

Next was a steep climb up to an isolated lighthouse we'd seen in the distance. Initially it seemed as if there was no route which would lead us closer, however we followed a road through a mass of piping, huge valves and sporadic buildings from which steam emanated. There was little obvious security and not much indication as to where we were actually headed. Finding ourselves surprisingly at the base of the lighthouse, we started climbing up some slippery, uneven stone steps to reach the top. As we took stock and looked around, the weather started to close in and views disappeared. We had however, just caught sight of some interesting rock stacks a little further towards the sea and decided to investigate before ending our journey. Thankfully I spotted a path leading back down from the lighthouse which meant we didn't have to negotiate the slippery steps back down again.

As we headed towards the sea we saw that there was indeed an interesting beach with black stacks out into the sea on which birds were sheltering and nesting. We were however, almost "coastaled out" to really enjoy what was on offer!

As we headed back towards the main road and our hotel, we caught sight of one of Iceland's black churches. Rafn had asked us if we'd seen them whilst travelling and we had to admit that we hadn't. Now here was one right in front of us with only one person about and he was tending a grave in the cemetery. The church was locked and so photos were confined to the outside. A previous experience of a church visit nine years before with Rafn, found us with our cameras inside the church as a funeral was about to take place. We were welcomed in and told we could take whatever photos we wanted, including the coffin if we desired!

Our last stop before home was to speak to some Icelandic ponies. We saw them in a field a little way from the road. As soon as they saw the car stop however, they trotted over towards us and stopped just behind a small electric coil at couple of feet high. Their upper bodies stretched out towards us and one of the ponies seemed very much to see the funny side of what was going on! Baz captured the ponies on his iPone and captioned the image of the laughing pony! We had another memory recall of nine years previously when Rafn had stopped so we could see some Icelandic ponies. They were in a field, however didn't head towards us so we opened the gate and walked towards them! We were soon surrounded and took some great photos. One of us looked up and saw a guy on a horse flying down the track alongside the fencing, coat flapping and gesticulating towards us. Rafn walked back to the car with the rest of us slowly following, thus giving Rafn a chance to find out what was the problem! Seemed he was the owner and wasn't happy about us trespassing! Rafn was great and eventually there were smiles all around as we agreed to pay 'compensation" of around 20 Euros.

We were knackered when we arrived back a the hotel, thankful that there were no Aurora notices for our part of the island!

18800 steps, half a tank of fuel, and godness knows how many miles trekked…

February 27th - Day 6

In the morning I told Baz that I’d studied the wind map and it should be okay, so we could walk up the volcano that we tried driving up the day before. Off we toddled, only to find it blowing a hoolie, way worse than yesterday. And it was raining to boot. He couldn't decide whether it was useless software or useless sister!

We decided that four to five hours of getting soaked and buffetted by winds was probably not wise for our aging bodies, so reverted to Plan B. This was to head to Reykjavik and photograph some street art and buildings. We headed towards the Perlan building which we hadn't explored 9 years ago even though it was right next to our apartment. However the number of coaches parked changed our minds. Finding our way to the front not far from the Harpa building, we decided on a cuppa from the flasks we'd brought. Baz spilt water down the front of his trousers and refused to move until it had dried a bit as it looked as if he's peed himself! A right Darby and Joan's couple we looked sat there in the car, eating our sandwiches and steaming up the windows with the hot drinks!

Eventually getting out of the car, we went to find a shop for Baz to buy a hat and some gloves. Immediately we saw some amazing street art and it wasn't long before Baz spotted things which amused in shop windows as well as making use of glass fronts to create some funny reflections! He nearly bought a tee-shirt as the words on the front had him in stitches as he envisaged just where he could wear it. As we walked, so we came across a restaurant we'd visited on our last night in Reykjavik 9 years ago. We wanted to sample the traditional Icelandic soup in a bread roll, only were told there was over an hour's wait for a table - didn't happen! This time we found a table and enjoyed the experience whilst watching people walking by outside. It was a lovely meal and kept us going for the rest of the day. Some people we were told, were able to eat the whole bread roll as well as the soup!

Making our way towards the Harpa building, we came across a border collie; she was a beauty. The owner was standing chatting and I asked if we could play with her. Her name was Luka. She already had her stick ready and focused on it with a brief look at us; the message was clear. We had a great time throwing the stick and when the owner came out of the shop again, I told him he'd lost her. He walked away. One loud whistle and Luka was gone to catch him up!

We entered the Harpa building and couldn't help comparing to how it had been previously when we visited. The outside pond had little water and just had a general run down feel. Inside many of the areas were cordoned off and although we admired the construction and architecture, we had an overall feeling of disappointment. After a walk around the inside area we were allowed in, we left and headed towards a mound that Baz had seen from inside the Harpa. It wasn't far away as the crow flies, however it was about a half an hour walk around the docks; we went for it. By the time we found it, the wind was howling and I decided not to walk around and up to the top as was allowed. Baz went and wondered why he bothered. At the top was a small wooden structure with some bits of drying fish inside - I guess it's classified as art!

Calling it a day, we made our way back to the hotel. Just as we settled down in our room, there was a loud knock on our door and shouts of Aurora. Quickly getting dressed and gathering my gear, we headed outside. I swear I saw the Aurora briefly dancing out over the sea. It was weak, however it was there. Just in case sightings were likely to be few and far between, we headed to the beach and searched the sky as I set up my camera. It was blowing a hoolie and the rain was once again horizontal. The light from the lighthouse swept across the surf every 5 secs (Baz counted) and we stared up at the sky, watching through the odd break in the scudding clouds willing the Aurora to appear and make our efforts worthwhile.

How long we did this for is anyone’s guess. Eventually, we decided we should retreat to our warm room and upon our return Baz saw a post on Facebook with a lovely photo from a friend who had captured on his iPhone, an image of the Northern Lights taken that very evening, LESS THAN A MILE FROM BAZ'S HOUSE!

We did 19500 steps today. So much for “a less intense day than yesterday”…

February 28th - Day 7

There was still some wind, however the sky was relatively clear and the sun was shining. As we were intending to stay up most of our last night in Iceland because conditions - finally - looked favourable for Aurora spotting, we decided to have a lazy day, drinking tea and eating ginger biscuits!. Eventually though, we wanted to get out and try the drone as the wind had definitely dropped. We chose an area where not many people would be expected to visit as it is an area used to air dry fish, much like the Spanish do in the mountains with hams! Placing ourselves upwind, the smell wasn't too bad, really!

I watched Baz manoeuvre the drone through the sections of hanging fish bits and listened as he explained what was happening and what he was trying to do. After instruction, I was deemed fit to have solo flights despite the blustery wind. My heart rate certainly jumped a fair bit. There were moments of panic when I realised I couldn’t see the drone, which usually turned out to be because it was directly above me! It takes a while to adjust to looking at the control monitor and understanding where the drone actually is compared to watching it in the sky. It soon disappears out of vision! It was a lot of fun even though conditions weren't really ideal. When we'd had enough, we headed to the lighthouse to eat our sandwiches and drink tea from our flasks, aka Darby & Jones, again! The waves were still crashing and as we sat enjoying the views from the comfort of the car, we saw a rainbow appear over the sea. I braved the elements and captured an image. Later, we had a walk alongside the sea wall and then headed back to the hotel to get ourselves ready for the anticipated arrival of the Aurora later on. The idea was to head back to our favourite lake in the hope of being able to capture a beautiful spectacle and colours on the ice.

We left the hotel earlier than we'd originally said for some reason. As we travelled along the road we could see there was light area in the sky which seemed to have a greenish tinge. Rather than risk being on the road if the Aurora appeared, we turned down the track where we'd previously photographed derelict buildings. It was only about 15mins from the hotel compared to 45mins to the lake.

As we parked the car and turned towards the lighter area of sky, we took out our iPhones just to check how they might work. It was amazing to see that the Aurora was already there in the sky - only one streak, however it was deepening in colour and expanding rapidly. We both took positions to capture the Aurora as it danced across the sky, sometimes a few streaks, sometimes a gathering of streaks which also turned the ground green. It was beautiful to see and experience. We both stopped capturing images at one point so we could just sit and watch it all happening. We'd been under the Aurora spell for about an hour and came together to discuss what else we might do. As we watched however, it was like the lights going out one by one and all of a sudden, the dark, starry sky returned and the Aurora was gone!

As we had to be at the airport for 04.30, the early arrival of the Aurora meant that we could at least get a few hours sleep if we returned to the hotel. We made the decision to pack up and go back.

March 1st - Day 8

Leaving the hotel around 03.30, we headed to the airport to drop off the hire car once the petrol tank was topped up. Baz found the office, the car was inspected and we were given the OK to leave. Only problem was, the shuttle bus service didn't start for another 45 mins! Deciding to walk, we wheeled our cases along the edge of the industrial estate for about 15 mins when thankfully, the entrance to Departures came into view.

Once inside we headed to the self baggage check-in machines. Now we're not dumb heads and even taking account of lack of sleep and the early hour, Reykjavik Airport defintely make this exercise much more complicated than need be. Our boarding passes weren't accepted and there was no system for manually checking in baggage.

Frustration built with us both until Baz managed to ask for help from one of the staff. She walked us through the procedure; it appeared we should've checked in via the airline as well as our with our boarding pass! Once through security and into the waiting lounge, we at last began to relax and think about the journey home.

Our week had been everything and more than we'd anticipated. We'd had some great adventures, taken lots of photos and video footage, renewed friendships and above all, really enjoyed quality time together in the unique and wonderful island of Iceland.

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