Day 2 of our Icelandic adventure was all about waterfalls, black sand beaches and beautiful countryside. Get comfy because this post is going to have A LOT of pictures! We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, where I discovered I really love Skyr – Iceland’s version of yogurt before hitting the “ring road” further out into the country side.
The sun peeked through the drizzly rain every so often, creating a lovely golden effect on the expansive fields along either side of the highway. We spotted our first stop, Seljalandsfoss from the highway and had to stop to get a shot of it from this vantage point. While Iceland boasts numerous waterfalls, this one is special because you can walk behind it.
When we arrived the clouds had begun to let loose a misty rain that soaked everything including us and the other tourists. Having lived in Kodiak we were used to adventures in the rain so we made our way up the trail toward the ledge behind the waterfall pausing every so often to watch the water pour over the cliff into the pool below.
The view was like something from a movie, which is exactly why so many epic films and shows have filmed in Iceland, including Game of Thrones and Tomb Raider.
It was a truly unique experience to stand behind a waterfall and listen to it’s roar. The trail behind the falls was fairly narrow and undefined so it was a bit precarious, especially when everything is wet and slippery but it was well worth it.
While the view looking out was amazing, I also appreciated the view up, where you can see the edge of the cliff as the water came over.
And when I say we were soaked I mean it. There was even water in my boots at this point because my pants were so wet they had started soaking down toward my socks!
As you exit the side of the falls, there’s a rocky ledge that has become a trail of sorts to a higher vantage point on a small rise next to the falls. You can see people behind the falls, where I had just been for the photos above to give you a scale on the size of the falls.
We spotted some people atop the cliff next to the falls. We weren’t sure how they got up there but were certain it involved some intensive mountain goat style hiking – something we didn’t plan to do.
Coming back down from the rise next to the falls, you can really see the pool it spills into and the river it creates. The trail you see to the right is the one we took to get behind the falls.
After we had seen every view along the trail we headed back to the car to warm up and drove down the road a bit to see the two neighboring waterfalls. This one was partially hidden by the rock formation in front of it and is appropriately called Gljúfrabúiis, which translates to “Dweller in the Gorge” – an appropriate name for it’s position.
Next we headed further down the ring road to Skógafoss, which is a massive waterfall. I was excited to see it in a recent episode of Vikings and think that I had been there! Like the other attractions along the ring road, there were large numbers of tourists here too.
I made my way down along the river and got to stand next to the pool for several minutes just taking it in.
Above the falls is a viewing platform which is accessed by a very long set of stairs. Since we had limited time to see everything on our list for the day we didn’t go up but hear there is a troll along that path who enjoys visitors. Learn more on this blog which provides a bit more local info about the three falls we visited.
There were farms on either side of the falls and sheep dotted the hillsides as they peacefully grazed.
There was also a large herd in the field next to the falls who seemed completely oblivious to the masses of tourists passing their pasture to see this magnificent natural wonder.
We were about to head out to go see the oldest turf house which is nearby when we spotted a museum behind the farms with these lovely turf houses behind a stone wall and decided to investigate.
We paid a small admission fee and were able to tour the turf houses and other historic buildings in the open air portion of the museum. The insides of the turf houses were simple and functional, with space for storage of farm equipment and stalls for livestock.
I’m not sure if these stalls were intended for horses or sheep, but since the Icelandic breeds of both are more compact I could see both fitting. One of the structures looked like a hobbit house, with just a curved entry supported by stone on either side and the entire thing covered in turf.
Inside you could see the structure a bit more. The timber rafters were layered with stone which had then been topped with the sod that made up the outer layer of the building.
Many of the other buildings had stone walls and low pitched roofs as well. Some were quite rustic and were staged as a working pantry space, storage and livestock shelter.
I was particularly intrigued by these wooden pegs we spotted in one of the storage areas and wondered what they could be. We later discovered that they were property markers for items that couldn’t be branded but that might leave the farm. Each had particular carvings on it to indicate the owner of the property, similar to a brand.
Some of the structures were finished to look like other frame buildings. This was obviously a home, with a dining room, bedroom and kitchen area. I wasn’t sure if the other buildings were supposed to be like outbuildings to this but assumed that at some point it was just the outbuildings and then as progress and profit came the nicer section would have been added.
Some of the structures were large enough to have an upstairs, where the beds were typically located, all together. So much for privacy, but it probably helped conserve heat with everyone in the same area. I loved the overlap of the roofing structure, although I noted it didn’t provide for insulation beyond the sod on the outside of the structure.
There were some old items staged on the desk under the window and I loved the look that someone long ago had received a letter and left it to head outside and tend to the animals.
There was a small side room in one of the structures which seemed to be a more private bedroom. There was a separate desk in this space and a small crib for a child.
A little further from the main building were more historic buildings. These had been a farm house and outbuilding on a nearby farm that were moved here for preservation. The black building was a livestock barn and was connected by a small stairway to the house, which had several rooms, including a shared upstairs bedroom space.
Nearby was a historic church that had also been moved here from another location. There were several stories about the history of the church, which I can’t remember as I write this post. I was expecting the inside to be a simple as the exterior but was quite shocked to find quite ornate scroll work and design in what had been a country church.
Toward the back of the open area was this building, which had been another homestead nearby. It was obviously more modern than the previous structures, having been build out of mainly timber framing.
Upstairs there was another shared bedroom space, with the same overlapping roof structure we’d seen in previous structures. While cramped for today’s standards it was quite cozy and I could imagine families gathering together to talk about the day in the evenings in a space like this.
The kitchen in this structure was also more modern than the turf homes and showcased a variety of unique tools from the time period.
On the hillside above the modern house I spotted these little fairy houses. Icelandic people are very superstitious and build these small structures for the “fairies” to live in.
There was also an old school house on the property. I can just imagine little bottoms on those hard wooden benches learning topics like history, math and music.
The entry way to the school house was lovely with the leather satchels hung above the piano. It looked like it could have been styled for a farmhouse decor magazine!
There was also a large metal building with a book store, restrooms and a cafe. We wandered the displays soaking up Icelandic history. I took photos of many of the exhibits, but here are just a few of my favorites.
A variety of buckles, bits and spurs were in a case across from a display of saddles, including several ‘luxury’ side saddles. Further down were handmade horse-drawn sleds that had been used to gather ice and displays of the iconic Icelandic horses being used to transport crops and supplies.
There was also an exhibit about the Icelandic Coast Guard, which we found particularly interesting given the Hub’s service in the US Coast Guard. Due to the rugged and remote environment of much of the country this service is much needed just as it is in Alaska. They also have a high demand for emergency rescue in remote locations due to the glaciers, volcanoes and storms, so there are technical programs that train youth these skills.
Given his heavy equipment knowledge, the Hubs was intrigued by this antique grader, which had an open floor and required the operator to stand on a platform just above the blade to operate it. The signage indicated that this was one of the first graders available in the country and was a huge step forward in technology.
There were also several vehicles on display that had track systems or skis, or both. I liked this early Ford SUV model that was equipped to transport passengers in the snow. The other track vehicles were similar to modern snow cats, but obviously were antique versions.
Back in the first building of the museum we followed a tour group to learn a bit about the costumes that were on display. This was a wedding outfit from the early days of the country – I can’t remember the exact time period. The elaborate embroidery and the length of the belt was a sign of her wealth as ornate metal work was expensive to produce.
The other outfits on display show the progression of fashion in the country and the various influences of visitors and politics.
Toward the back of this building was a huge display of antique farm equipment that both the Hubs and I enjoyed looking through given our experience with livestock and ranches.
When I spotted these vintage grain sacks I wanted to find more to take home for projects! I loved the simple patterns and texture of the fabrics. Then I spotted amazing horse hair braided ropes behind them and fell in love all over. They would have looked great in our farmhouse style decor!
We decided to skip the cafe at the museum and head out to our next destination – the black sand beaches of Vik. We were getting pretty hungry after all of our exploring during the morning and stopped at a small cafe on the hill overlooking Vik. It had a perfect blend of modern and rustic style. We opted to get a light meal so the Hubs ordered chowder and I got mozzarella sticks. Both were fresh and delicious. I did find it interesting that they served the mozzarella sticks with salsa rather than marinara sauce!
After lunch we headed over to check out the church that overlooked the town. I got to peek inside as well thanks to some staff being on-site.
The view from the church was very reminiscent of some we’d had in Kodiak. Jagged cliffs, green hills, black sand beaches and rivers rolling out to the sea.
There were several cool rock formations just off the coast. I’m sure they’ve evolved over the centuries as the waves have shaped them with unending pressure.
We headed down the hill to make our way out to the beach where the waves crashed down the long dark shoreline.
As I headed out toward the area where there were large rock formations in the water, the skies opened up and began to pour. The sun shining through the rain was absolutely stunning.
And as I looked back at the town I spotted this rainbow just over the church where we had just been! It actually extended all the way down the coast toward the other end of the beach.
I knew there were basalt formations somewhere nearby, so we check our maps and headed back the way we came to find a turn off for that area. The sun had come back out and made the pillar formations seem like giant guards along the shore. They also vaguely reminded me of Quebert, that old Atari game with the fuzzy little creature who hopped from one cube to the next.
There were several groups of tourists exploring the formations and posing for photos at the various levels. You could see the same rock formations we’d seen in Vik from this spot, just from the other side of the cliff.
I asked the Hubs to get a shot of me sitting on one of the lower levels with the ocean in the background. He did a pretty good job. 🙂
That was apparently his practice round because then he offered to take a photo for this energetic group of travelers!
Across the bay from the basalt forms was a sea arch, similar to one we’d seen in Hawaii. No doubt it was formed by the force of the pounding waves these coasts see.
As we drove back toward the ring road, we spotted this rogue sheep who had escaped the fencing and was grazing right along the side of the road. We stopped so I could get a shot of him from the other side of the ditch that ran along the road.
And as I headed back to the car I spotted this amazing golden landscape.
The drive back to our hotel took us through rural farm lands that were dotted with old stone structures similar to the ones we’d explored that morning.
This farm was a bit more artistic than the others, having carved a star on their hillside out of the grass.
We also spotted several glaciers from the road, making us feel just like we were back in Alaska.
We had spotted this cliff house on the way out but there were several tour buses stopped so we decided to wait and investigate it on the way back. This one was on a personal farm, which welcomed visitors to stop and see the structures in exchange for a donation to a preservation fund.
It was cool to see how the buildings had been built into the rocky face of the stone formation. Being a portrait photographer I was totally wishing I had a beautiful model to accent the scene!
There were several buildings as you made your way around the large stone formation. Some looked more modern than others and I’m sure were additions as the farm grew and needs changed.
It was an amazing day of sights and new experiences and we were exhausted. We made it back to our hotel just after darkness fell and enjoyed dinner in the little cafe. While we were eating another guest at the hotel who could have been the Viking King Ragnar Lothbrock’s twin sat down a few tables away! Right down to the braided mohawk hair cut! I didn’t have the nerve to ask him for a photo because I’m sure he’d think we were crazy tourists so I don’t have any proof but I’ll stick to my story that I ate just feet away from Ragnar. It was an epic ending to a fantastic day!
Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 1, Day 3, and Day 4. Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.