Hello, internet! Have you missed me? I know that in internet time, as in dog years, what seems but a moment is actually an eternity. So my apologies for those of you who languished without my ramblings for the past week: I am alive and well and have lots to tell you now!
Last week was reading week at school, which meant take-home tests for me and lots of reading for Mark. We also had company! Mark’s dad (R) came to stay with us, which led to much adventuring both around town and out of it, although the weather was particularly unobliging for basically all but six hours of his visit. Iceland in February is a fickle gal: before R arrived, we had been blessed with some amazingly spring-like days, all in a row. During his stay, it rained, and rained, and rained, and set new standards for fog, at least outside of Reykjavík. Gave us a break with the wind–thanks for that, Iceland–but made our sight-seeing jaunts a bit difficult. (It bears noting that now that R has left, I’m sitting in my kitchen, with lots of cheerful sunshine on my face. Admittedly, it just stopped snowing a little but ago, but it’s sunny, galdurnit!)
R arrived on Sunday in the early morning, and was obliging enough to allow himself to be packed into a rental car just moments after he touched down and be driven about two hours Northwest to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which is itself very near to Borgarfjörður, which you no doubt remember from our recent travel adventure in December. R’s vacation unfortunately coincided with a fair number of time constraints for Mark and I–Mark was actually starting a short course this week, and besides having midterms to attend to, I had also just started a martial arts class on Mondays and Wednesdays (more anon). So we didn’t have a great deal of time to fit in a trip out of town. Luckily, there are many wonderful places to visit in Iceland that can be reached within a short drive of Reykjavík. And places that we haven’t seen yet, too!
What follows is a short recap of all the awesome stuff we crammed into 24 hours around Snæfellsnes. If you want to see all of the photos I took—all 139 of them—proceed to the photo blog and commence ooh-ing.
The Gerðuberg basalt columns
Our first stop along the way to Stykkishólmur, the harbor town we’d be staying in overnight, was at the site of the Gerðuberg basalt columns, described in our Frommer’s guide as “an escarpment of hexagonal basalt columns…strikingly broad and rectilinear.” That description pretty much covers it, but I have to emphasize that these were actually pretty impressive up close. Some of the columns, like the left one in the photo above, had somehow pushed away from the main wall, and were leaning, rather precariously, like small rock towers of Pisa. From the squarish chunks of rock strewn along the base of the wall, I assume that these crumble rather magnificently every now and again.
Add Berserkjahraun, which means “Berserkers Lava Field” to the long, long list of places in Iceland that I would love to go again when the weather is a bit more amenable. It is a crazy, craggy, moss-covered lava field that you can drive through on a dirt road. This would have been totally The Coolest, but unfortunately, with all the rain there had been for the days preceding our arrival, the road had become a series of untraversable muddy sink holes. We briefly attempted to be adventurous, but quickly realized that we were probably going to find ourselves stuck in the mud if we kept going. Luckily, the paved road runs alongside the lava field for some time, so we did get to see a fair amount of it, just not from the inside.
If you are wondering where the totally epic name for Berserkjahraun comes from, allow me to share the totally epic story behind it, which comes from the Eyrbyggja Saga. Via Frommer’s again:
In the late 10th century, Vermundur the Slender of Bjarnarhöfn — a farm located just beyond the northwest boundary of the lava field — returned from Norway with two berserkers. They were difficult to handle, so Vermundur gave them to his brother Víga-Styrr (Killer-Styrr) at Hraun, now Hraunháls farm, at the northeast end of the lava field. One of the berserkers fell in love with Víga-Styrr’s daughter Ásdís and demanded her hand. Víga-Styrr agreed, on the condition that the suitor clear a path through the lava field from Hraun to Bjarnarhöfn. The berserkers quickly finished this Herculean task, but Víga-Styrr reneged on the deal and killed them instead (by locking them inside a scalding hot sauna and spearing them as they tried to escape). In the saga, the berserkers are laid to rest in a hollow along the path.
The story could indeed have some basis in truth. A path through the lava field can still be found, and in a late-19th-century excavation alongside it, researchers uncovered the skeletons of two men — both of average height but powerfully built.
(I don’t have any pictures from this segment of the trip, but I highly suggest Google Image Searching a bit to get a feel for it. It’s neat.)
After our narrow escape from the bog that was Berserkjahraun, we ended up heading to our B&B in Stykkishólmur (a very nice place called Sundabakki Guesthouse so that I could take a quick nap (I had been awake since around 5, since we had to catch an early bus to meet R at the airport and these insufferably chatty British ladies were insufferably loud and chatty for the whole bus ride) and we could hopefully wait for a teensy bit of the rain to pass (sunshine of some variety was promised in the afternoon).
Just before arriving in Stykkishólmur, however, we went over a mountain pass, shrouded in fog, and were able to look out on a frozen pond there. The view was great and Mark and I decided to get out of the car and take a closer look, but heading down a short hill from the road, we found ourselves literally calf-deep in squishy mud. Thank goodness I was wearing my trusty LL Bean Boots (totally unprompted product placement: those boots are miracles)–I somehow managed to get out of the muck with not a bit of mud in my shoes or on my pants…
After my nap, there was actually sunshine to be had, so we hopped in the car and continued our drive through more lava fields, past Bjarnarhöfn (famous for its production of hákarl, that fermented shark you’ve heard so much about), and over a bridge that spans a lovely fjörd called Kolgrafafjörður. We got out at one end to admire the view from an overlook, only to be assailed by the overwhelming scent of fish. There were tons of seabirds diving and gathering on the shore, too, enough to indicate that something was probably amiss. What we didn’t know at the time was that millions of herring died in the fjörd this winter, possibly due to low oxygen levels in the water. According to The Reykjavík Grapevine,
Herring tend to amass in large numbers during winter months and the oxygen levels in the shallow fjord could not support their population. This is the second such occurrence to take place in the span of months, with an even greater quantity of herring washing up dead in December.
It’s a very sad and troubling occurrence to find out about after the fact, perhaps clarified even more when put in monetary terms: this is a full season of herring lost, worth about 1.25 billion ISK, (according to The Grapevine), or 22 million Euro (according to Ice News).
Next, we passed through the picturesque village of Grundarfjörður, which boasts the memorable, asymmetrical and free-standing Kirkjufell, or church mountain. At this point in our drive, we were, on one side, driving along the base of really lovely, lushly green mountains, with waterfalls tucked in crevices along the side every so often. On the other, there was ocean, and lots of it. We headed up a rather winding and steep pass—considered winding and steep enough that there was actually a guard rail (remember: if Iceland thinks it is dangerous, then it is definitely dangerous). We pulled off at an overlook to test our vertigo and admire the crazy low-hanging cottony clouds. (You’ll notice the beautiful blue sky and sunny day that never managed to fully come out from behind the clouds and fog…)
Nearing the tip of the Snæfellsness peninsula, we drove through the small fishing village of Hellisandur, where we stopped for snacks and to check out Sjómannagarður, a small open-air maritime museum. The museum itself was closed, but the garden was open, which included a memorial statue to drowned sailors and a small staircase that went up over a lava wall and looked out toward Snæfellsjökull. (Again, not totally visible because of the fog.) Funnily enough, from the vantage on the top of the stairs, you could also see the small green behind Sjómannagarður where two teens were practicing their golf swings.
Here I will conclude Part 1 of our Snæfellsness adventure. More good stuff to come!