Visit west to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Town of Stykkisholmur
This day, after our breakfast buffet, we drove west out of the city of Reykjavik through the sparely settled countryside. The Icelanders have lots of sheep, and lots of smaller Icelandic horses (NOT ponies)! The average farm size in Iceland is ~2600 acres, and the dominant crop is grain and hay for the animals in the winter, followed by root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, and beets). Most of their other vegetable are actually grown in geothermal heated greenhouses. The average family has ~1.9 children, and after the country’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, it has grown to be one of the wealthiest countries in Europe. The coast is a series of deep fiords, making road travel difficult. However, the country does have a well maintained “Ring Road” that circumnavigates the country. Along the way, we traveled a 2-mile tunnel under one of these fiords to travel alongside the Borgarfjordur fjord, named for the stories of the large whale that lived in the fiord who was known for sinking ships and terrorizing early settlers. We also used the occasion to learn a little Icelandic, such as Godan daginn (good day). Finally, we arrived at the workshop of Gudrun – a University Professor and wool dyer that only uses traditional historic materials. We watched as she dyed her Icelandic wool with local herbs and plants. After looking at a small local hydroelectric plant nearby, we traveled to visit to the Settlement Center of Borgarfjord and toured an exhibit that described the turbulent period of the Vikings. After lunch there, we walked to the local monument and took pictures, before re-boarding the bus and traveling to the holy mountain, Helgafell, where we climbed to the top, picked crowberries, faced east and made our wishes. From here, we traveled to our hotel in harbor city of Stykkisholmur (pronounced “Sticky – sholmer). This town is the largest on the peninsula, and after checking-in, we walked through the town to identify landmarks, stores and restaurants. and then dined on a lamb-starter, lightly salted cod (bacalá) and ice-cream for dinner. After dinner, the extra light allowed us to walk back to the town’s harbor where we climbed to the lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the setting sun, before returning to the hotel for a night’s sleep.
The next morning, we ate an early breakfast, and boarded the bus for a trip around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, home of Snaefellsjokull glacier from where the adventure of Jules Vernes’ “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was inspired. From there, we stopped for a visit on the coast at Ytri-Tunga, where we observed both Harbor and Grey Seals sunning themselves on the rocks. After a quick coffee stop, we went to the town on Arnarstapi to hike along the coastal cliffs of the peninsula observing the blowholes and lava basalt pillars and the numerous Kittiwake seabirds nesting there. Then, it was on to Hellnar for lunch at the smallest, quaint seaside café in the region – “Kaffihus Hellnum Fjoruhusid”. Lunch was a shrimp & fish soup with delicious homemade bread and Skyr yogurt cream for dessert. We then continued our journey around the peninsula, stopping at various places to take pictures and enjoy the views, including the sighting of a 50-60 ft whale making his way west along the coast. At Malarrif, we climbed up a local lighthouse that happened to be open with a local artist’ – Jonina Gudnadottir – display inside and took in the spectacular views of the Snaefellsjokull glacier the top. The Lighthouse was built in 1917 and was 24 meters high with 100 steps up to the light. Scattered around the lighthouse’s base were a plethora of whale bones gathered from the local area, reminding us of the life led by the locals. From here, we visited an ancient volcano crater that was capable of being driven into, and which is typical of the landscape that would surround us the rest of the day. From Malarrif, we traveled to a local ice cream shop, then into the Bjarnahofn area where we visited the Bjarnarfoss waterfall, before traveling further to visit the home and shop of the local harvester of Greenland shark and their Shark Museum. The Greenland sharks are a protected species but are sometimes caught as a by-product of cod fishing, and when available, are brought here for processing and utilization. These sharks have inedible flesh due to the high concentrations of urea, so it is hung-up and dried for 3 months that allows the meat to become edible and is considered a national delicacy. We tasted the dried shark meat – “hakarl”, which carries a very strong taste, and is best enjoyed with a shot of schnapps! After this, we traveled back to our hotel, and headed into town on a “free night” for dinner. Dinner was at Restaurant Narfeyrarstofa where we had salads and scallops, followed by a shortened round of golf play at the course behind the hotel, and packing for the next day.
The next morning, we were packed and ready to depart from Stykkisholmur and continue our journey northeast towards the Arctic Circle.