Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Northern Lights - Day 8 1/2

This is the website we've been checking every day!

I recommend you click on the link above. This is the aurora borealis (or Northern Lights) forecast for Iceland. It is complicated to read. Let me simplify. 

There is a general outline of Iceland (the picture with white and green). White means no cloud cover, green means a lot of cloud cover. Below that is a sliding scale of day and time. When you adjust the day and time, the "aurora forecast" on the right may change. 

The Kp scale (estimated activity level) is from 0-9. The activity level is a combination of how probable and/or active the lights may be. If it's a 0, stay in bed. If it's a 2 or 3, you should probably look outside. If it's a 4+, maybe run outside and start looking up!

For most of the trip (and we've been checking since Norway), it's been at 0 aka minimum. Upon arriving in Iceland, the numbers have been creeping up slowly. And they do change quite often. Still, mostly it's been a 1 or 2, tops.

The first few days of our trip were shrouded in storms with rain and clouds. Reykjavik for two days - 0. Sauðafell Guesthouse - 1 or 2. We kept waking up in the middle of the night to look out our window.  

Each day we travelled a little more north. Closer to prime viewing. On day 4 in Iceland, day 8 of our trip, we were at the Fosshotel Westfjords in Patreksfjörður. 

Krista was checking the forecast hourly. To give you an idea of the weather that evening, here are pictures from our dinner table. These were taken over maybe 15 minutes.


Oh wow, look at that cliff. 

Where did that cliff go?

Oh! It's back!

JESUS! The sun just got CRAZY bright! And where's the dang cliff again!?
Here's a time lapse.


video

So, like I said, Krista was checking the forecast kinda often. The sun set.



Dinner was done, we'd had a LONG day of driving and hiking. Frankly, I was ready for sleep. 

Quick side note (some of this will come in handy for tomorrow's blog post some of this is a useless, but possibly cute, story). We arrived to the hotel around 5pm. I was starving. We had not planned our lunch and ended up snacking a little throughout the day. Dinner at the restaurant didn't open until 6. I begged Krista to find another restaurant in the area that was open NOW for dinner. We took a short drive (like 6 minutes) around town, found two restaurants "closed for the season" and ended up back at the hotel for "happy hour", wasting time before dinner. --- Then dinner and pictures as seen above. --- We decided to step across the street to see the sunset (gorgeous). Somewhere between the rock wall across the street and hotel reception, we heard a strange noise, like plastic was falling out of my pockets. I checked. Keys, wallet, phone, mints (a staple in my life). Everything was there. Meh. And we went up to the room (time lapse as seen above). 

I wrote a blog entry for way too long and was totally ready for bed. We were in PJ's, ready to turn off the lights when Krista checked the forecast one more time. It showed a 3 and "moderate". She decided to look out the window. 

Now, as you can see in the time lapse above we had a streetlight directly outside our window. Squinting beyond the light, Krista saw what looked like a small, opaque cloud...with a slightly green tint. "Uh, baby," she said, "could that be..." and with that we were throwing on every piece of clothing we owned. Waterproof pants, rain jackets, sweaters. I tucked at least two layers of clothing under my arm, grabbed my camera bag. We were like storm chasers in Twister (one of my all time favorite movies - don't judge me!)

OUT the door at 11:56pm.

We jumped in the car to drive out of town, just in case this little green cloud in the sky turned into something. We desperately wanted to get away from the "city" lights. To give you perspective, we had to drive for 3 minutes to be in the dark. On the way, we passed a car parked on the side of the road with the driver and passenger standing next to their car staring into the sky! Great sign!!

We got to a dark spot on the two lane road, found a pull off on the opposite side of the road and I turned around (at a turtle's pace) to park there, fearing that I might accidentally drive off a cliff to see some Northern Lights. 

The next five minutes were a blur for me. We jumped out of the car and sure enough, IT WAS HAPPENING! Krista, who can be reserved, was damned near yelling into the wind, "WOW! WHOA! WOW!" My problem was two fold.

1) The wind was blowing a gale of freezing wind right through my body because I was CARRYING my windbreaker and 
2) my camera, which, by the way, does not just automatically focus on green streaks of amazing lights spreading across the sky.

Krista told me to forget trying to take a picture and be in the moment, but I was on my way to getting hypothermia with that flipping wind. I could NOT focus on anything but my jacket. I felt like I was trying to slip one of those inflatable dancers on in the dark.



Once fully dressed and not about to freeze to death, I could settle into the moment and join the utterances of, "WOW! WHOA!!!"

There are no pictures of what we saw because you have to be a professional, or at least PREPARED.

I don't know what I expected. Maybe a huge wall of light just like a cloud rolling in, but it's not like that. The light can start white and small and turn green (or other colors, but all we got was a spectacular green). Then like someone drawing with a thick sky-marker, the line spreads across the sky. Or the light spreads like spilled milk on a table. Green expanded across the sky and TOOK OVER. At one point, everywhere we looked was covered in the lights. We were leaning on the car, looking up, just gobsmacked and feeling SO LUCKY. 

The lights dimmed and disappeared after a few minutes, so we escaped into the car for a little warmth, all the while looking out every window. Then a light would show up and we'd jump out of the car, making sure to HUG the car so we wouldn't fall off a cliff (when our eyes adjusted, we realized we had like 6 feet on every possible side of the car and it wasn't a cliff, but a slope...still scary in the dark!) We also got freaked out that we might not be alone out there in the dark. There are no preditors in Iceland but there can be sheep, horses, cows...that kind of thing. At one point, I flashed my iPhone's flashlight out into the wilderness and saw no glowing eyes, so I was feeling ok (later, I learned, Krista saw sheep eyes everywhere and it freaked her out).

We were watching a new streaky batch of green, when from behind a cloud white lights turned up like a dimmer switch until a DANCING white campfire show was stealing our hearts. It faded and back to the green we looked. So strong and thick were the lights that I thought I could try the camera again. I pointed it to the sky (saw nothing), looked at the sky directly and we both saw a shooting star cross through the lights!!!!! We both nearly fell over, hooting and hollering, "DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!"

A few minutes later, it was all over. All up, I'd say we were out there for 20-30 minutes.

SHOUT OUT to KRISTA! Thank you so much for checking the forecast one last time before bed. Without that, we would have slept through that miracle. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sauðafell Guesthouse to Fosshotel Westfjords in Patreksfjörður - Day 8

We woke up to an amazing view this morning! If last night's airbnb was as city as city gets in Iceland, this is as country as it gets.


The view from our Window
My first thought was to be thankful that we stopped to have dinner before driving out here. Originally, we had toyed with the idea of driving to Saudafell and grabbing dinner at a local cafe or restaurant. Yeah...there's nothing out here.

Krista and her Blue Bottle coffee on the back porch, hanging with the local sheep

Sheep!
You could hear sheep bleating near and far. They really started going when the rain kicked in. "Heeyeyey," they'd say, "Do you feel that?! It's Raaiaiain!" And a reply from the next farm, "Baaaah. Rain!" 


The guesthouse and my rental car - dirty from the drive
A cemetery on site. Family, to be sure.



An honest to God sheepdog. He was trying to keep an eye on us.

Ground mutton (sorry, it had to be said)
Breakfast consisted of bread, salami, cheese and fruit. Krista had yogurt and when making her coffee, poured some Mjolk in, expecting milk or cream. What she got was pouring yogurt! Aaaand then made a fresh coffee.

Being a guest house, there were about 10 other people in the house. There were five women traveling together from Reykjavik. The women from Iceland were very nice and of course spoke English perfectly, like everyone else. They asked where we were from. "Berkeley, California," we said. "Oh, there are two other women here from Sacramento!" They asked where we were going. "The Westfjords," we said. "Where are you going next," and I replied, "Fosshotel Westfjords." She said, "Which fjord, there are a lot of them." "Patreksfjordur." They were pleased. "Why did you choose to go to the Westfjords rather than go South to the Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle?" I said, "Well, we heard all the Californians were going down South so we decided to go North/West." They laughed, really got a kick out of that. 

Then one of the women from Sacramento came down. She said she'd driven all around with her companion. The Iceland ladies said, "but you skipped the Westfjords." "No, I think we went there." And the ladies shook their head, "No." I found this amusing. The Sacramento lady also said she saw seals. "No." Great stuff!

We packed up and hit the road. The GPS predicted a 3 1/2 hour drive to our next destination. After last night's rough road experience, we did some snooping on the internet and found out which roads we'd be driving would be paved and which would be "gravel". Today's drive was mostly paved (phew). I still assumed it would take like 6 hours to get to our location.

Within 20 minutes, we saw this sign! 

Geothermal/Natural Hot Spring this way
My understanding is that the hot springs are free to the public and definitely on our bucket list. Of course we'd stop!

It was sprinkling with a light rain and was maybe 60 degrees out. Perfect for a dip in some nice warm water. We decided to jump all over this detour. 


Cute little bridge to the changing room and hot spring

Krista soaking in the warmth

ICELAND, HOT SPRING, YES!

This little changing room made me feel like a hobbit
 and after the hot springs, I think I looked like one too!

On we drove. The weather cleared up and we took advantage of the great lighting.


Krista took this amazing shot of some horses about to drop an album.
This horse is feeling cheesy.





I tried to make my own album but it ended up baaaAAAaaad. 
And then, the weather changed (again).




Hours later we stopped for a bathroom break at the ONLY store we'd seen in A WHILE. Krista walked to the front door where she was greeted by a woman and her dog. "Are you open?" "No." "Do you know of a place with a bathroom in the area?" "Yes, in Bifrost about an hour back that way." Not willing to turn back, we continued towards the Westfjords, where we found a bathroom and restaurant in like 10 minutes. That cheeky so-and-so!

Also, the weather changed again!

Icelandic Bumble Bee


We love being the only ones on the road. And we love taking pictures!
The wind and COLD picked up and we found ourselves crossing a bridge over choppy waters. It was at this point I realized just how BIG and DEEP and GRAND the Fjords are. They are SO full of water, sometimes whales come in for a feeding. We haven't been lucky enough to see one yet, but are hopeful, even though it's the very end of the season.


I got very excited about the wind and the cold and the water! I started keeping my eye out for a place to pull over and run around. Soon enough, we were at sea level with access to a decent, if FREEZING, beach. (No, I did not dare go for a swim or even touch the water).




I was loving it!
And then we RAN back to the car to warm up!
What ARE these? Floating tractors?

Eventually, we arrived at our hotel, checked in, ate dinner and settled down for the night.

Or so we thought...












Sunday, September 24, 2017

Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Grundarfjörður to Stykkishólmur to Sauðafell Guesthouse - Day 7

Holy huge day, Batman! 


On the road again
We started by checking out a local cafe. Jói Fel in Reykjavik. We ordered a this and a that (who knows what they were called). We basically got a puff pastry with bacon and bechamel and a pastry with cinnamon, butter and yum stuff on top. 


Krista was looking forward to breakfast
A storm was brewing and we were in no rush to greet it on the road, so we gave into our geeky, tourist desires and went to a local museum: Whales of Iceland 


Narwahl. My favorite whale. Interesting feature: A LONG tooth.
Fun fact learned: Narwahls were once hunted, not for their fat or meat, but so their long tooth could be gifted to royalty as "genuine unicorn horn." 

Sperm Whale. Interesting feature: That noggin!

Fun fact learned: The sperm whale was the inspiration for the whale in Pinocchio. 
Virtual Reality!
This was not my favorite activity, but Krista loved it. You could "tap" on a whale outline and WHAM-O the whale would ZOOM up to you and fun facts were presented on either side. 


Even the wall to the bathroom was cool: Think your grandma is tough? Orca grannies lead their pods on brutal hunts slaying great white sharks!

Takk Fyrir (Thank you), Whales of Iceland Museum for a great time!
It was time to brave the storm. Very windy, rainy and cold, but it wasn't so bad from the car. It was getting OUT of the car to take pictures that was ridiculous!
Krista dry and warm / Sarah freezing and rained on (but getting great mediocre pictures)


Mist blowing off the waves




30km outside of Reykjavik - a local airport

You saw that right...it's basically sheep grazing and the occasional plane
Somewhere along the line we saw lava fields!


I'm convinced that little dude on top is a secret Troll


Then we came across this house with a witch painted on it.



Some Icelandic Horses


Today we hit up Grudarfjordur and Stykkish

Lots of driving to be done
Through mist and rain, wind and well more rain, we arrived in Grundarfjörður. 
Our first view of Mt Kirkjufell in the misty distance
This mountain was filmed in Season 6 of Game of Thrones, "Winter is coming". 
Then we stopped to have lunch in the only place open in town. 
Emil's cafe

Happy Marriage Cake - A very popular cake in Iceland (it tasted like if an oatmeal cookie was cakified)
The only savory items on the menu were Fish Soup and Asparagus Soup. While we were at Emil's cafe, TWO tour buses showed up. The bathroom line was ridiculous for like an hour. 

Interesting feature of this cafe was the theatre inside which ran a looped slide show of the history of their town. No one likes a slide show, amiright?

This is where I skip the third handed slide show by NOT putting you through that. Basically, there were a few people and a couple horses, the car was introduced and then there were a few more people. Then, I guess, soup and tour buses came into play. I don't know. I got bored.

Across the street, there was a general store. Post office, convenience store and excellent parking.


HUGE Wheelchairs Only

Why?

We had to backtrack a little bit to reach our next destination

We will take this road...all by ourselves.
Awesome lava fields
More awesome lava fields
We stopped by a cemetery on the outskirts of town
Hey "Oddsson" - we were picked up outside of Oddsson hotel yesterday

There are never "too many" stops for pictures!


Next stop, Stykkisholmur, the northern most point of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Ferry from Stykkishólmur to a town we would end up driving to tomorrow
Stairs? Already climbed them! Where did they lead?


Ooh, there's a lighthouse up here!

Krista's a natural for the cover of Outside magazine

A natural, I tell ya
The town of Stykkishólmur



Another view from the top of the hill
 All this driving and picture taking is hungry work, so to dinner we went.

If you look really hard, you can see the lighthouse on top of that hill.

Fish burger with vegetable ash bun

Ice Cream from a local creamery (it was amazing!) Strawberry, Caramel and Pistachio. Noms!
As the sun began to set, we figured it was time to head out and make our way to our accommodation: Sauðafell Guesthouse.

Fun *not fun* thing number 1: The sun was setting
Fun *not fun* thing number 2: Sauðafell Guesthouse (or Sauðafell the town even) was NOT in the GPS
Fun *not fun* thing number 3: The paved road was now a semi-paved road with potholes that could eat a watermelon whole. 

We knew the general direction and began our harrowing journey.



The speed limit on the road is listed at 80k's. I maxed out at 50 with the potholes and the rain. Ugh.


Still beautiful and worth stopping for pictures

Hey, its getting dark. Is that a castle?

Why is the road RED all the sudden? Is this the start of a horror movie?

Still cute. Awww, look. A house and sheep!

Narrow, one lane "bridge"


These are small potholes. I could not stop to take a picture of the large ones.
When there was no more sun, the road was not as enjoyable, but there were fun surprises. Example number 1, BIRDS decided to fly out of the grass towards my headlights (no birds were harmed in the driving of this road). Example number 2, when were "closer" we tried the GPS again and Sauðafell came up as an option. As three or four options, actually, with all different distances. We picked the nearest one and when we arrived, by some MIRACLE, we were at the driveway to our place. Sauðafell Guesthouse! 

Up the driveway we drove, into the house we walked and there was a note telling us we were in room 4. We sacked out immediately, waking up occasionally to look out the window (hoping for Northern Lights...no luck that night).