We set off rather late the next morning as I wasn't feeling quite the thing just after breakfast, and followed the road winding along the edge of the fjords. This was an amazing place: we made very poor time as we kept having to stop and gape.
The hills are all shaped like gigantic castles, and the road weaves crazily along the very edge of them, wandering along the edge of the sands, then climbing up the side of the cliff to a place where no sane person would even *try* to build a road.
It's clear why people arriving in Iceland decided that there must be 'hidden people' already here: practically every hill looks like it's got someone living in it. My theory is that the road was built for the convenience of the hidden people....
The sheer scale of the place is hard to cope with: at one point I was looking at a rather precipitous fence running up a mountainside, and thinking that erecting it must have been quite a job – when I realised that actually it was a line of telegraph poles.
We saw a great flock of birds that Mark decided rather tentatively were Golden Plovers, which panicked hugely at the sight of our car and then afterwards rushed around telling each other how awful the whole car experience had been.
Further along, where the road had climbed up the side of a cliff, we saw two seals. Well, at the time we didn't realise that there were two of them, but later on inspecting my attempt at photographing them at extreme distance, I realised that there were actually two seal-heads poking out of the water rather than only one. The seals were playing some game with five gulls, which were settled on the water – from time to time one of the gulls would flip into the air or swim away flapping, and then you could see a seal head pop up behind him. I don't know quite what was going on there, but it looked like the seals were trying to chase the gulls away.
This area was really, really empty: empty roads, very few houses. Our hotel, Hotel Stadarborg, was just outside Breiðdalsvík, which is not quite a one-horse town, but only, I suspect, because each of the 272 residents owns several (very fine) horses. Breiðdalsvík is the proud possessor of two hotels and a cafe, and we were the only people staying at ours. Apparently the season is over by early September.
This seems odd: the sky was a fabulous blue, so was the sea, the views were awesome (and the hotel had some great ones). Our room was beautiful, and the downstairs of the hotel was heated with a fabulous woodburner which filled the place with a wonderful faint smoky smell, presumably for the comfort of the receptionist. Even the hot water didn't smell of eggs, and the wireless internet worked first time!
Outside the hotel is a booth offering “horse rental”, and I imagine it would be a fabulous place to come and ride – loads of empty space, black sand beaches and trails up the valley into the hills.
We ate at the 'German Cafe' a place that was squarely aimed at coach-parties of German tourists, who come into this side of Iceland by ferry – though not at the moment – there were only 4 other people in the place apart from us, despite the awesome views over the fjord and the fact that this seemed to be about the only eating-place in a 30-mile radius.
Well, we could have eaten at the hotel, but it seemed a bit mean to make the guy on the desk cook just for us.
The staff of the 'German Cafe' were actually German – or at least, were speaking German among themselves, prompting Mark to make an ill advised venture into a foreign tongue with “Danke Schon”. He had to pull out quickly when the waitress attempted to communicate further in her native language, alas - neither of us had practised our appalling German for this trip. Iceland does seem to be a place where almost everyone has an enviable mastery of English: even road signs and museum displays are in English as well as Icelandic.
I was rather worried today, as we got a message from Tonja, who was looking after the hounds to say that Mollydog had injured herself running, and had a swollen hock. She didn't want to put the foot down at all. We discussed and agreed she needed the vet. So I was rather on tenterhooks all day, worrying that it might be something serious.
Rather a long drive, out from the fjords and the hills started to space themselves out more. We crossed seemingly endless lava plains, some blankly empty, some studded with a few sheep. Never seen sheep eating seaweed before.
We stopped at the glacial pool of Jökulsárlón where the Vatnajokul glacier stretches a finger right down to the sea, creating a huge blue pool full of floating ice, connected to the sea by a narrow channel in a beach of black sand. It was an extraordinary place, though to be honest, it didn't seem to need a noisy boat trip in a noisy amphibious vehicle, and would have been even better if other people had felt the same about this. It was a very hot day though, and after walking along the hot black sands next to the ice, we were rather pleased to be able to do the tourist thing and buy ice cream from the noisy boat trip people. And I guess it's all jobs.
Then we went over the bridge to the quieter Western side, and realised that the tide was coming in. And with the tide came the seals: loads of them, surfing in on the fierce current ripping up the channel into the lagoon. I've seen seals pretty close on a boat trip from Falmouth, but Falmouth seals are fat and cheery and laid-back, and have a bit of a 'hey guys, did anyone bring fish?' air about them, whereas these seemed somehow wilder, shyer faster seals altogether. They were watching us, but very much at a distance. Sadly my camera wasn't quite good enough to catch them clearly, though Mark got some good video.
We stayed at Hotel Skaftafell, which was pretty unremarkable in general. No, that's a bit unfair - the hot water was NOT eggy (hurray!), the evening meal was pretty good and the breakfast featured fresh waffles with squirty cream and very new croissants. I managed to call the vet in the evening and discuss how Molls was getting on, which was some reassurance.
Sadly, I was not able to fully revel in the breakfast, as we were booked to go on a ski-doo trip up the Vatnajokull glacier early on Saturday. First minor mistake by the travel agent: rather than book us into a hotel convenient for the trip the previous night, they'd booked us into one further along, so we had to re-drive about 2 hours of our journey, which was a bit tedious.
However, the ski-dooing was exciting – though apparently this isn't the best time of year for it, the glacier retreats during the summer, and there was a longish ride up to the ice in a super-jeep. Though that was exciting as well, in a hair raising kind of way. We met some very friendly Americans who were also ski-dooing. They shook hands a lot and were filled with the joys of Iceland, but what with worrying about Mollydog and First Time Skidooing Fear, I was not at my most social... It was a pity that the mist came down as we set off up the glacier, so we really could not see more than about 50 feet in any direction, so we all followed the guide very carefully! Mark and I shared a Ski-doo: he drove for most of it, but I did get to drive down the mountain again, which I think is the fun easy bit!
We stayed at the Hotel Klaustur that evening, but I really cannot remember anything about it. It was an unremarkable chain hotel owned by IcelandAir. Oh, the hot water didn't smell of eggs, and the dinner was overpriced and not as nice as it could have been. Beh! To it.