Throwback Touring: Trip to the Vestmannaeyjar (Feb. 2015)

As of Friday, I am officially done with work, done with school, and tots on summer vacation. Which means all sorts of free time…at least until I fill it. Until that happens, however, I’ve got time finally to share a little bit about the trip that Mark and I took to the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), right off of Iceland’s south coast, in February.

We had been wanting to visit the Vestmannaeyjar for quite some time, so when I was invited to write a travel piece for Icelandair’s in-flight magazine, I jumped at the opportunity. And even though it was the off-season and many of the island’s major tourist draws (such as boats out around the smaller, uninhabited islands to see puffins and other sealife) weren’t running, we really had a fabulous trip.

For one, we got to hold puffins, which was just as awesome as you’d expect. For two, we were escorted around by a photographer, Óskar, who is a lifetime resident of Heimaey (Home Island). Óskar (whose lovely photos you can see here) drove us all over the island, shared local stories and histories, arranged for us to get into museums after closing hours and to meet the curators, asked his friend to let us join an island tour (which included a delicious lunch at Einsi Kaldi, an upscale restaurant that uses a lot of local ingredients), and even had us over for dinner at his home. It was, as you can see, quite the royal treatment.

View of Heimaey from the top of Eldfell, the volcano that looms directly over the town.

View of Heimaey from the top of Eldfell, the volcano that looms directly over the town.

Óskar was taking lots of photos for the magazine article, but that didn’t stop me from taking tons of my own. I’ve archived all the photos here, which you’ll notice is a brand new photo blog since I reached file capacity with the first one. (It was rather poetic, actually, the first photo archive spans August 2012 – August 2014: our first two years almost to the week, if not the day.)

You can also read the article I wrote online. There’s a digital copy of the Spring 2015 Icelandair Stopover magazine online, here (the link should direct you right to the start of the article, but if not, there’s a table of contents on the left). Should you be truly hankering to read all about our trip but also really dislike the online magazine format—it’s not for everyone, for sure—I also have a .pdf copy that I can send upon request. (That’s for you grama, if you’d like!) Here’s the beginning, though:

A few hours after midnight on January 23, 1973, a volcanic fissure cracked open on the island of Heimaey in the Westman Islands, just off of Iceland’s south coast. Less than a kilometre from the town, where most of the 5,300 inhabitants were sleeping unawares, lava and tephra began pluming out of the earth at a rate of 100 cubic metres per second. Like anyone who was living on the island at that time, Óskar Pétur Friðriksson, a local photographer, has a story from that night. His parents had a home on the eastern edge of town, not far from where the eruption started. Meanwhile, his best friend, Alfreð Alfreðsson, lived on the other side of Heimaey and had seen the beginnings of the eruption from afar. Worried for his friend’s safety, Alfreð rushed across the island. “He thought I was dead,” explained Óskar to my partner and I over coffee. “But we were just out watching the eruption.” Óskar and his father had driven their car right up close to get a better view; in the coming weeks, their home would be buried by lava.

It’s a fascinating place, and certainly worth a return visit, so I hope we’ll get back before too long!

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