Over Christmas and New Year’s Mark and I were very lucky to have our friend Graham come to visit us. It says a lot for him that he was willing to come visit during this time of year–not only is it generally cold(ish), wet, windy, and very dark, there are also just a lot of things that you can’t do in Iceland between Christmas and New Year’s because so much is closed. There are actually still a decent number of tourists here, but many of those I saw walking up and down the shopping streets seemed a bit confused and glum about the forced window shopping. Iceland highly values its tourism industry, and, I think, tends to treat tourists very well, but they definitely don’t pander to out-of-towners around the holiday season.
I consulted with a friend who has lived here for awhile about what to do (with guests) over a winter visit, and received the very good suggestion to look for a cabin in the country with a hot tub, and spend a few days there relaxing and enjoying some nice long soaks, even if (or especially if) the weather was lousy. It was also suggested that one of the outdoor hot tub perks might be seeing Northern Lights while sitting in a jacuzzi, but it was unfortunately pretty cloudy the whole time we were on our relax-ication, so no Northern Lights for us. (Nature doesn’t perform on command, I guess.)
After some delightful research (winter-rental cabins, hot tubs, Icelandic countryside), we settled on renting one of the two cozy cabins at Kalastaðir, located right on Hvalfjörð (Whale Fjörð), in West Iceland. Driving the long way, as we did on our trip there, takes you all around the fjörð, which is absolutely breathtaking. Taking the efficient, super-space-age Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel on the way back–which Wikipedia tells me is “is 5,770 m long and reaches depth of 165m below sea level”–it was just a snappy 45 minute drive from Reykjavík. Which was really perfect, for our purposes, in that it was not too long a drive, and featured lovely scenery and countryside peacefulness, in a brand new (for us) part of Iceland.
As per usual, it was a very windy day when we drove out on the 27th, which made some of the mountainside road’s curves and bends a little nerve-wracking. This is one of the few routes I’ve driven thus far which actually makes use of a number of guard rails along the drop-off side, which confirmed my suspicion that it was a road of higher-than-average driving risk–because if Iceland thinks it merits a safety precaution, then whoa…So I was glad those rails were there, but it didn’t necessarily make me feel less nervous. Had it been better hiking weather, we might have also stopped on the way and hiked to Glymur, which is Iceland’s tallest waterfall, but that will just have to go on our growing When-the-Weather’s-Better to-do list.
The nearest town to Kalastaðir is Akranes, which is small (the 9th largest in Iceland, though), but well equipped with the basics, namely: a Bónus, a vinbuðin, a café, a bookstore (we didn’t go, but it was nice to know it was there), and a really nice public library branch. The cottages themselves are located just below the owners’ home (where they breed absolutely beautiful beagles), but you actually can’t really see their house from the cottages, which face the fjörð. There is a power plant visible at one end of the fjörð, which gives off a fair amount of light, but not enough to be really distracting. Otherwise, it is just you and mountains, and fjörð, fjörð, fjörð.
We spent three nights cozied up at Hvalfjörður, sleeping late, eating delicious fish dinners and drinking homemade glögg, reading on the couch, sitting in the hot tub, playing cribbage and Othello, and, one night, watching Lawrence of Arabia. It was really great. But it is not every friend who would find such non-entertainment entertaining. There was no internet in the cabin, and the weather was such that our plan of a day hike was converted to a day drive, which was still nice, but very spontaneously undertaken.
And it’s not every friend who will fly all the way to Iceland to chill out (haha–I pun) on the couch and read, so that was also pretty great.
If you’d like to see more of Hvalfjörður, including our trip to the Akranes library (it really was very nice), and the day that we ventured to down the shore and discovered that it was possible to lean back and be propped up by the wind without falling down, I’ve posted those pictures here.
Another post and more photos from our daytrip, which took us to Reykholt and Barnafossar among other places, will follow shortly, so stay tuned. I’ve got to get myself caught up on recaps–school starts again on Monday!