The Chapel of Holy Barbara.
There are ruins of a small medieval Catholic chapel in a lava field in Hafnarfjörður town. It is The Chapel of Holy Barbara (Kapella Heilagrar Barböru).
The chapel is by an ancient road through the lava field. Here travellers could pray or seek shelter in bad weather.
The lava here is from an eruption sometime between 1100-1300 and is called Kapelluhraun (Chapel lava) or Nýjahraun (New lava field). It is thought to be good to pledge on Saint Barbara for protection against fires and that is maybe why a chapel was erected here in this lava field. It is not known exactly when the chapel was erected, only that it was before 1550, the year of the Reformation here in Iceland.
The ruins were investigated in 1950 and amongst other artefacts a small clay statue of Saint Barbara was found. The statue is of Dutch origin. There is a replica of the statue in the ruins of the chapel, a little bit bigger than the original statue. The statue holds a tower, which is the emblem of Saint Barbara, but she was locked in a tower. The original statue can be seen in Þjóðminjasafn Íslands, our National museum.
The story goes that buried in the chapel is one of the ombudsmen of Bessastaðir (the residence of the President of Iceland). He was attacked in Kapelluhraun, killed and buried there.
The chapel is opposite the aluminium smelter "Álverið í Straumsvík" Alcan by road 41. Turn on road 42 and one can drive almost up to the ruins.
The geothermal pumping station in Seltjarnarnes.
Above the hot-tub Kvika by Kisulappir in Seltjarnarnes there is a pumping station from Hitaveita Seltjarnarness, or the Hot-Water-Supply of Seltjarnarnes. From that pumping station there is a constant flow of hot water into the hot-tub. The temperature of the hot-water is 107 degrees C by the surface of the well.
We Icelanders use our natural geothermal water for heating up our houses. And in many places you will notice these pumping stations. The first houses in Seltjarnarnes were connected to the hot-water distribution system in 1971.
Twelve wells have been drilled here and four are in use with well SN-12 being the most productive. It is so productive that it produces most of the hot-water needed for this area. That is the well above which this pumping station is located. The depth of this well number SN-12 is ca 37 times the height of our biggest church, the Hallgrímskirkja church - it is 2714 meters deep! The well was drilled in 1994 and the output is 40 l/c. It was put into operation in 2002.
The pumping station was designed by the architects Helga Bragadóttir and Ágústa Sveinbjörnsdóttir.
The hot-water in Seltjarnarnes has higher salinity than normal so it is excellent for use in the foot-bath :) Because of this high salinity the water seems to have the same chemistry as many famous spas in Europe.
The area above the hot-tub was created by a landscape architect, Ingibjörgu Kristjánsdóttur, and I really enjoy going there and take all my foreign visitors there.
Soak with the locals - Sundhöllin
Tourists are encouraged to visit the local pools, but most do not. The pools are a typical part of Icelandic life and this is a great way to relax, unwind, and meet the Icelanders. The pool at Sundhöllin is a bit of an oddity with the main pools being indoors. Located close to the mighty cathedral of Hallgrímskirkja at Barónstígur 45a it is an easy walk from the main tourist area. I have not actually been to this pool as I prefer the outdoor bathing, I will try to get their on my next visit.
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Soak with the locals - Laugardalslaug
Tourists are encouraged to visit the local pools, but most do not. The pools are a typical part of Icelandic life and this is a great way to relax, unwind, and meet the Icelanders. The most popular pool is Laugardalslaug located at Sundlaugarvegur 30 on the #14 bus line. This is a huge complex with a rock pool, shallow pool, dip pots, lap pool, communal pool, water slide, salt water tub, and, unlike the Blue Lagoon, you will have money left in your wallet after the entry of 650 ISK. So bring your bathing suit and a towel from your hotel (don't worry, they have rental towels, and suits for sale) and enjoy living Icelandic. Be sure to view this Swimming pool etiquette. The bus into town is at 5 and 35 minutes past the hour (every fifteen minutes during rush hours), so leave yourself time to get a pylsur just outside the complex.
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Soak with the locals -- Vesturbæjarlaug
Tourists are encouraged to visit the local pools, but most do not. The pools are a typical part of Icelandic life and this is a great way to relax, unwind, and meet the Icelanders. This pool, Vesturbæjarlaug was voted best in 2014, is smaller than Laugardalslaug and is in a residential neighborhood. It still features a lap pool, a community pool, dip pots, shallow and deeper community hot pool, a cold dip, and has an excellent steam room. This pool is near to the university and is visited by the students as well as being near the home of Icelandic superstar Björk who baths here when at home. Unlike the Blue Lagoon, you will have money left in your wallet after the entry of 650 ISK. So bring your bathing suit and a towel from your hotel (don't worry, they have rental towels, and suits for sale) and enjoy living Icelandic. Be sure to view the guide to Swimming pool etiquette.
Vesturbæjarlaug is located at v/Hofsvallagötu and can be reached by the #11 or #15 bus line.
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A lovely walk on the peninsula Seltjarnarnes
There is a lovely walk on the peninsula Seltjarnarnes, which is the town adjacent to Reykjavík. There on the west end of the peninsula the popular Grótta is located. The walk, as I like to do it, starts by the golf course on the south-west side of the peninsula.
The first thing you will encounter is the big yellow cairn "Varða í Suðurnesi", but a cairn was first erected here on this spot in 1780 to make it easier for ships to navigate through the waters here by Iceland. But storm and the ocean has damaged the cairn here, but it has always been rebuilt. In 1996 the cairn got ruined in a big storm. It wasn´t rebuilt until 2011.
The next structure you will encounter is a monument from WW2 called "Ljóskastarahúsið" or the Spotlight structure. Here one could watch the ships and planes during the war. It is lovely sitting there watching the beautiful environment.
By the structure on the shore there sediments with pieces of shells in grey basalt, which has been abraded by the glaciers. These sediments are ca 70-100 thousand years old!
On one of our walks we encountered a dead shark on the shore! It was rotting, so there was a great stench. But we took a closer look at it and took some photos. It is not everyday that I come across a dead shark.
This walk will then take you to the shore by Grótta, where one can walk to the lighthouse.
The shark shed by Grótta
There is a small shed above the popular hot-tub, Kvika by Kisulappir in Seltjarnarnes by Grótta. This shed is called Hjallurinn.
Often there is a strong stench from Hjallurinn as shark is being cured there. If you look inside you will see the pieces of shark hanging from the ceiling. If you go so close to the shed you will notice how overwhelming the stench becomes (at least I think it is a stench, others might not agree).
The shed was raised in 1954 by 3 friends, Garðar Guðmundsson, Gunnar Friðriksson and Vilhjálmur H. Vilhjálmsson from Aðalvík in North-Ísafjarðarsýsla in the Westfjords of Iceland. The friends raised the shed for the purpose of curing shark, drying fish and fish-heads.
Take a foot-bath in a hot-tub by the ocean.
I don´t know if this can be added under "off the beaten path" as so many people visit Grótta, but I add this here as this area belongs to Seltjarnarnes, which is the town adjacent to Reykjavík in the west, although one has to be a native to know where Reykjavík ends and Seltjarnarnes begins. I refer to my tip on Grótta.
By the ocean just before you enter the parking lot by Grótta there is a small round geothermal hot-tub on the northern shore, Norðurströnd, in a place called Kisuklappir. It is quite surreal taking a foot-bath there, the water is hot and so nice and the ocean is just beside you. And the view of the bay and the mountains and Grótta is ever so nice. I highly recommend it. The hot-tub is an art-work/sculpture by Ólöf Nordal and is called Kvika. It was opened here on this spot on Culture night in 2005.
Above the hot-tub there is a small structure from Hitaveita Seltjarnarness, or the Hot-Water-Supply of Seltjarnarnes. From that pumping station there is a constant flow of hot water into the hot-tub. I add a special tip on the hot-water pumping station.
In October and November in 2011 Iceland has a special happening so to speak, to welcome foreigners to Iceland. One of the events was that one of our ministers invited foreigners to take a foot-bath with her in the hot-tub.
The hot-tub is behind the shed called Hjallurinn, and there you will also find a bench, a drinking fountain, an anchor and an information video of the flora and fauna on the shore. Often there is a stench from Hjallurinn as shark is being cured there.
I use this foot-bath often. On occasion is has been too hot to use.
The statue of the great auk in Skerjafjörður
There is statue of the extinct bird great auk right on the seashore in Skerjafjörður fjord on the south-side of Reykjavík.
There is a popular path, which leads from Heiðmörk in the farthest east part of the city and straight to Seltjarnarnes, which is the town west of Reykjavík, but so close to it that one has to be a native to know where one city ends and the other one begins. I often walk this path, not from one end to the other, but from Nauthólsvík geothermal beach and towards Seltjarnarnes.
I love this statue of the great auk, this 100 cm small aluminium statue in the ocean - statues have such a pull on me. The statue was created by the female artist Ólöf Nordal in 1998. It was a part of the open air exhibition "Strandlengjan" The Seashore held by the Sculptors´ Association in 2000-2001.
The last 2 great auks were killed in Iceland by Eldey on the 3rd of June 1844.
There is another statue of a great auk, much bigger, 157 cm high, by Valahnjúkur in Reykjanes, which was erected there in 2010 and created by the American artist Todd McGrain. Ólöf Nordal wanted that statue removed, claiming that it was an imitation of her statue. Both statues were made from a cast of a stuffed bird owned by the Museum of National History in Iceland "Náttúrugripasafn Íslands.
The statue by Valahnúkur remains on its spot.
Elliðaár A salmon river in the middle of Reykjavík
The salmon river Elliðaár is situated in East-Reykjavík in Elliðaárdalur and originates in Bláfjöll-mountains and runs to the Elliðavatn-lake in Heiðmörk (a beautiful big nature reserve area east of Reykjavík). There are two rivers, the big salmon river and another smaller one with 2 waterfalls but no fishing. You can buy a fishing permits from The Angling club of Reykjavík (Stangaveiðifélag Reykjavíkur) which leases the river.
I lived for 28 years next to the river and would spend countless hours and summer nights by the river watching the salmon jump :)
Elliðaár river is ca 5 kilometres long counting from the dam and to the ocean, with the ocean being only a few metres from Sjávarfoss-waterfall (see my first photo). The angling season is from the middle of June - the middle of September and there are 4-6 rods allowed per day and ca 1.000 salmons are caught in Elliðaár river every summer.
Angling is a very popular sport in Iceland, and there are quite a few lakes and rivers where you can buy permits and go angling near Reykjavík or around Iceland. I add the website for The Angling club of Reykjavík.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
As they put it so delicately on the t-shirts, "this museum is all about dicks" and "this museum is not for pussies". Well, you can also get a t-shirt that says "I'm not a donor". Whatever works for you.
* Wow, I got censored for using the term! I shall call them "p's" from here on.
This is a strange museum. Whoever curated this collection mixed in samples of penises from the animal kingdom with avant garde phallic-inspired art. One minute, you are looking at a sperm whale p taller than you, the next minute, you are looking at a p-shaped whiskey bottle holder. Or the artistic piece depicting the members of the silver medal winning Icelandic handball team. Then there is the room with the letters of intent to donate, including pictures and molds of the donor's "piece", p-shaped vegetables photos. There is another room devoted entirely to mythical members, such as trolls and the elusive huldufólk (hidden people). [It looked just like an empty jar filled with water, but what do I know.] Finally, there's the masterpiece, a human sample donated by a particularly well-endowed farmer who died a few years ago.
The museum is quite small and frankly won't take too long to go through but it is an off-beat place to visit. Oh, the museum is cash only. Make sure you have enough Kr, euros, or USD. Oh, the admission was 8 euros, but the guy let me and my friend in for 15 euros, as that was all the cash we had.
Journey to the Inside of a Volcano
Since 2012, you can join this unique tour and venture into the magma chamber of the dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano. This is currently the only known volcano in the world where you can go inside, and come back out alive, as our helpful guide added. It was first discovered in the 60's but soon forgotten as it was dismissed as uninteresting. Interest was only renewed when National Geographic did a documentary about it. Fast forward to 2012, the tour company decided to do a trial run and see if there are any interest in this sort of tour. The tours were sold out.
2013 was the first full season of this tour, so apparently, when we visited in September, there were still more people who've summit Mt. Everest than been inside. In order to get there, you get dropped off at a ski area near the turn off for the road to Thingvellir. From there, we hiked about 3km to the base camp (and crossed continents, no less!) through the lava fields. Once we get to base camp, we were split into groups of about 6 people and waited our turn.
When it was our turn, we had to hike up to the mouth of the crater, then walked the plank (harnessed in, of course) into a window washing lift and were slowly lowered through the hole to the magma chamber 120m below. The team lit up the chamber with portable lights and you can see the full glory of the chamber. I included some pictures, but they didn't do the place any justice. My only complaint is that I wished we get more than 30 minutes to explore. Because the floor was really rocky, it took us forever to reach the back wall.
After our tour, we went back to base camp and were treated to a very welcoming bowl of Icelandic meat soup before hiking back to the car. We checked out an accessible lava tube on the way back. The whole trip took about 5 hours and there is a bit of walking on rough ground.
The policy is that nothing gets left behind after the season ended, so the team actually installed the lift and equipment at the beginning for the season in May and took everything with them in September. I think they also do research on site. If you want to learn more about this volcano, visit their website and watch the video on there.
I should mention that the tour is quite expensive at 37,000 ISK per person. We were extremely lucky that the weather was beautiful. I can imagine how rough it could be to walk through the lava fields in rain.
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Elliðaárdalur - the smaller river.
Through Elliðaárdalur run 2 rivers, one big salmon river and another one where angling is not allowed, and only very few salmons stray there. It runs almost unnoticed at places but has got 2 small, beautiful waterfalls, one of which is called Kermóafoss waterfall, situated in what we call the Indian passage (Indíánagilið). Kids love to play there and it is a breathtaking place where you can sit and relax and feel like you are far away in the countryside, even though you are just a few minutes away from a very busy street, with a lot of traffic.
The other smaller waterfall is also a popular place where children play. On a sunny summer day it gets crowded by this small waterfall and kids jump in the water, so it gets quite lively here.
I used to live for 28 years withing a 5 minutes' walking distance from Elliðaárdalur, so I know it very well and it is very dear to me.
There was an area between Lagavegur and Hverfisgata which was covered in pretty artistic graffiti. It is allowed to graffiti here in the hope it will cut down graffiti elsewhere. There was music here and people were dancing. There were also kids skateboarding and playing on scooters. One man was painting over a vast area of graffiti to create a blank wall to graffiti again, so I guess the 'decor' is always changing. A place to sit and relax or people watch.
An interesting half-day trip is a boat ride to the small island of Viðey in Reykjavík Harbor. A ferry departs hourly from Sundahöfn Harbor, about a 15-minute bus ride or 90-minute walk from town. Cost of the ferry is Kr 800 for a round trip. One direct ferry per day departs Reykjavík Old Harbor for the island at 12:00. In addition, the 15:30 departure from Viðey goes to the Old Harbor.
Once on the island, you can enjoy lunch at the Viðeyjarstofa. You can also walk around the island to enjoy spectacular views of the harbor and downtown Reykjavík.
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