Westfjords

After a few days of exploring the Snæfellsnes peninsula, we headed up into the Westfjords.

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Places we stayed on our road trip

Our itinerary was this – two nights at a horse farm near Dynjandi waterfall, three nights in Flateyri, one night at Djupavik, and then into North Iceland for a night. In retrospect, I wish we had done a night on the southern end of the Westfjords – perhaps near Flokalundur or Patreksfjorður. The portion of highway 60 from there to Dynjandi is gravel, mountainous and rather nerve-racking to drive. As it was, we completely skipped the southernmost peninsula.

We were in a bit of a rush to get to Patreksfjorður. We had missed hitting the vinbuðin in Borgarnes on the Saturday, and all vinbuðins are closed on Sundays. We had tried stopping off in Bodardalur around noon, but the vinbuðin there was only open from 2 – 4. And the Air BnB we were staying at was quite a drive from any town. So….we drove straight to Patreksfjorður, then on to Reykjarfjardarlaug (try saying that 3 times….fast or slow) for a relaxing soak in the hot pot there, before heading towards the Air BnB.

It was a wet, overcast day, with intermittent drizzle and rain, and along the drive we saw a young couple hitch hiking. It was a bit of a debate if we should pick them up – not because they looked dangerous (they looked soaked through), but because the car we rented (Carlita) was small, and the trunk full of our bags. But we couldn’t just abandon them there, and drive on by, so we pulled over and offered them a ride….if they were OK with having their bags on their laps.

So in they climbed, and we began the veeerrry slow drive to Dynjandi (were they were planning on camping). Poor Carlita had some trouble with the inclines with the extra weight, and we had to stay in first gear. But we got there, and left the couple to their (soggy) fate, and continued past the parking lot to our home for the next two nights.

The next day we went to a hotpot in Talknafjorður, and then to Bildudalur where we toured the Sea Monsters museum. It’s essentially a one-room museum, partially set up like an old-time explorers den, chronicling the history of sea monsters in Arnarfjorður. After some tea and dessert in the attached café, we headed back to the horse farm. We stopped in several spots (pulling Carlita off the road) to explore a bit of the mountain tops – we investigated a waterfall, and hiked along an old under-used track. We also stopped to hike up to Dynjandi on our way back to the Air BnB.

It’s actually a cascade of waterfalls, rather than just a singular fall. There are several lookouts, at each fall along the cascade, as you hike up to the base of the top most fall. The area was a soggy and muddy when we visited (it had rained the day previously), and the black flies were atrocious. (While Iceland may not have mosquitoes, they make up for it with their black flies.)

 

Our third day, we headed up towards Flateyri, where we were staying for a couple of nights (originally 3, but we ended up only staying 2). We stopped to climb Kaldbakur, just above Þingeyri. After that, we drove to Skrudur Botanical Garden, slightly off the main highway to Flateyri. We were lucky enough to hit it just before a tour group arrived, so we got to walk around and enjoy the plants and trees in peace.

 

We used Flateyri as our base for exploring the region around Isafjorður and Suðureyri. The tunnel linking the three cities is a little disquieting, as it narrows to one-lane, but there are signs at the entrances indicating who has right of way (going to Isafjorður, you do, coming from Isafjorður, they do), and pull-in bays every 200 metres or so on the side who has to give way.

 

Our first day was spent booking a kayak tour, wandering around Isafjorður, and then soaking in the municipal pool in Suðureyri, before driving back to Flateyri and visiting their Museum of Nonsense. The museum has gathered full or partial collections from local residents and put them on display – everything from pez dispensers, to model airplanes, zippos, pens, playing cards, police memorabilia (from around the globe, include some municipal police hats and patches from Canadian cities), spoons, , salt shakers….it really is a museum of nonsense, but worth a visit!

 

The next day, we packed up and headed back to Isafjorður for a kayak around the end of the fjord. We had booked a 2-hour tour, as we’d never kayaked before, and wanted to get a head start on our drive to Djupavik. We went with Boreas Adventure, who provided waterproof pants, jacket, and weird kayak gloves (leading to hammerhead shark jokes because we’re children), along with the kayak, paddle, and ‘skirt’ to keep the water out of the kayak.

We kept mostly along the shore, paddling over a shipwreck, and learning some history about the area from our guide. We saw a couple of harbour seals – one lounging in shallow water, and one swimming, but thankfully/sadly no whales (what I would do if I saw one I’m not quite too sure). It was a misty, cool day, but we kept warm enough by paddling. When we stopped, it was a bit chilly with the wind blowing over the water, but overall not that bad.

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The drive to Djupavik wasn’t too long. We stopped at Litlibaer, an old, sod-roofed farmstead that has been turned into a museum/café, for a stretch and some tea to warm us up. There are actually quite a few things to see along highway 61, although we decided to keep driving through. We wound our way along the fjords and up to Djupavik, which today consists of a collection of cottages, the remains of a former herring factory, and a hotel – which is the former women’s dormitory.

 

We checked into the hotel, got back into the car to drive to Krossnesslaug, and…..realized that we hadn’t even thought about gas. We were down to a half tank – so enough to get back to Drangsnes/Holmavik (according to Hot Pot Iceland, the closest gas station), or enough to get up to Krossnesslaug and back….but there was no way we could do both and still be back at the hotel in time for dinner. Thankfully the hotel staff informed us that there was one lonely pump up at Norðurforðjur, the last town before Krossnesslaug. Going on the assumption that it was a) still working, and b) had gas available, we drove the hour and half to Norðurforður and ….got gas!

 

The next day we did the tour of the abandon factory. The hotel staff give a tour every day at 10 and 2, which lasts about an hour and a half. The owners of the factory shut it down, intending to reopen it some day, so the factory is very nearly completely intact, give or take some damage due to time. We were told to dress warmly as it can be chilly in the factory, but we were fine in jeans and long sleeve light sweaters (cold Canadian blood runs through our veins).

 

From Djupavik we drove along the coast to Drangsnes, where we took a soak in the hotpots. Located right beside the road, there’s a small parking area on either side, and a changing rooms/washrooms across the road. We had the place to ourselves for the first bit, but gradually other tourists showed up to enjoy a soak as well. We headed back onto the road to Holmavik for lunch, and a stop at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft.

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From Holmavik we went to the HI Sæberg hostel, located across the fjord from Borðeyri. The hostel is located just off the ring road, making it a good pit stop on your way to/from Reykjavik. We rented a small cottage on the waters’ edge – while the kitchen wasn’t great, we had the use of the bigger kitchen up at the main building, and it was nice to have a secluded and private spot to ourselves. We stayed two nights, and used it as a base to explore Grettislaug, and Hofsos, before driving back to Reykjavik to return Carlita…..and spend a couple of days in the capital.

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Whirlwind Snaefellsnes

At the beginning of our Iceland trip, we stayed in Borgarnes, since we didn’t want to be driving too far on our first day on arrival in Iceland. And since we were staying in Borgarnes, and had a day to spare, we decided that we’d tack a whirlwind tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula onto our trip to the Westfjords.

We decided to go clockwise – driving the southern coast in the morning, and then the northern coast in the afternoon. We packed our lunch at the hostel, filled our water bottles, called up the route on our phones (always pay attention to the road, as GPS can be off and where it says turn….might not be a turn. Be sure to follow the road, and use the GPS as a back up), and set off.

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Our first pit stop was at Raudfeldsgja, a fissure in a cliff face near Arnarstapi. There’s a small parking lot near the road, and a path that leads fairly straight up to the fissure, where the birds wheel overhead. You can walk into the fissure(although we chose not to as it was pretty wet, and we didn’t have a change of shoes – come prepared with a pair of water shoes/boots/sandals, to take advantage of this) but it was still interesting to do the short hike up to the cleft, and look up (and up) the cliffs, and a welcome break to stretch our legs.

From there we continued on to Hellnar, to take a short 2.5 km hike back towards Arnarstapi. The hike starts off on wooden walkways, before narrowing to a beaten track through lava rocks and fields. There are wonderful views of the glacier, as well as the ocean, and cliffs where birds nest. It’s not a difficult hike, and the trail is easy to follow. We pulled up a couple of rocks near Arnarstapi, to eat our lunch and watch the birds.

We had some tea and dessert in the café back at Hellnar, before heading back onto the road. Our plan was to stop at the Vatnshellir Cave – who doesn’t love caving? – but we were unfortunately either a half hour too early, or a half hour too late, and decided not to wait for the next tour.

Not long after hitting the road, we picked up a young couple hitch hiking. This put the curb a bit on our ‘stopping wherever we’d like to’ plan, but we did pull over into a viewing area along the northern tip of the peninsula to stretch our legs and take a few photos.

We dropped our passengers off at Kirkjufell, which they planned to climb, as we continued on to our last stop – the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, where we would not only learn how hakarl is made, but what it tastes like (hint: not so good)

It’s a one room museum, run by the family. Inside is a plethora of fishing related gear and artifacts, and after a brief presentation of how hakarl is made (from the traditional way it used to be made, to the more modern way it’s done now) they give you the chance to sample a piece (with some rye bread to cut the taste a bit if you’d prefer).

You’re also welcome to tour the drying house out back – but I warn you, the smell there is definitely worse than the taste.

From there it was back to Borgarnes, to celebrate Canada Day at the hostel (we threw our own party because that’s what you do when you’re the only Canadians in a hostel in Iceland)

Roadtripping Iceland

A few years ago, Husband and I went to Iceland for the Eve FanFest. We spent a few days in Akureyri, before going back to Reykjavik for the Fest itself.

And of course, we had a blast because Iceland is that amazing. We also decided that we wanted to go back and see a different part of Iceland – so this summer, we headed back to Iceland, to do a road trip of the Westfjords.

We had a total of 10 days to spend in Iceland, so the plan was to spend 2 nights in Borgarnes (exploring the Snæfellsness peninsula), then to Laugabol Horsefarm by Arnarfjorður for 2 nights, then up to Flateyri for 3, then to Djupavik for a night, before heading into North Iceland and staying near Borðeyri (actually, across the fjord, at the HI Sæberg hostel). Our actually plan only deviated a little bit – we cut our time in Flateyri to 2 nights, and added a night at the Sæberg hostel.

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We had rented a car with Budget (through I Heart Reykjavik) –  we picked the car up at the airport and returned it in Reykjavik. We took photos of any damage already done to the car, and went over it with a rep to confirm the scratches, dings and dents. We did get a hard sell on ‘sand and ash’ insurance (which the agents at Budget assured us was nearly required if we were going along the south shore) but ultimately the numbers for the liability didn’t make sense (nearly quadruple the cost of the car) ….and we weren’t going anywhere near the south shore, so we opted out of it.

We stayed predominately at Air BnBs in the Westfjords, which meant that for several nights we’d be a considerable drive away from the nearest town…and thus the nearest restaurant, or grocery store. Our host was amazing, and included this information in our email exchange, so we were well prepared. It’s definitely a good idea to either ask your host, or take a look at a map to see how much planning you’ll need to do for food and/or drinks.

There’s no rush to get groceries in Keflavik (or in Reykjavik) if you’re going to pass through/stay in Borgarnes, as there are several grocery stores available there as well. In fact, there are smaller grocery stores located around the Westfjords, but it’s by far cheaper to buy groceries at the Bonus in Borgarnes or Isafjorður, depending on which way you’re going.

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A nice taco meal with an Einstock beer to wash it down

For alcoholic drinks – well, stock up at the airport. If you don’t (for whatever reason), you’ll need to hit a vinbuðin – their version of the LCBO + Beer Store. Each vinbuðin has differing hours of operation – generally, the smaller the town, the shorter the hours, and every one is closed on Sundays. Be sure to do some research before heading into the Westfjords.

Driving in Iceland is fairly easy – or at least we found it so. Driving in the Westfjords is easy….but terrifying. Paved roads give way to gravel through parts of the southern end, as well as through the summer roads that cut through the West. There’s a tourist map available (for free in various places, and available online) that shows which roads are paved, which are gravel, main vs secondary. Most of the gravel roads are bordered by mountain on one side and cliff face on the other, and can be slick in wet weather. While locals will drive with (reckless, some would say) abandon, we found ourselves slowing down…sometimes because our little car couldn’t make it that fast up the grade, and others because the descent seemed a bit perilous. At the beginning of our trip we worried about every ding we heard as rocks bounced off the car, but eventually became more relaxed. (And didn’t add any damage to the car!)

As you can see from the photos, we didn’t rent a very large car, and it did well enough on the roads of the Westfjords. Husband wasn’t overly fond of driving Carlita (I can’t drive standard, and the windy, one lane, mountainous roads of the Westfjords didn’t seem like the place to learn) simply because he was unfamiliar it – how it would handle on the slick dirt roads after the rain, but otherwise our little Hyundai i10 handled the roads extremely well. If in doubt, ask!

One website that proved incredibly useful was Hotpot Iceland. Not only did it indicate locations of hot pots, it also showed gas stations. It wasn’t 100% accurate, as at least one gas station that we used wasn’t given on the app (the gas station in Norðurfjorður) but used in conjunction with the map I linked to above, and by asking locals you shouldn’t have a problem. (That being said, do keep an eye on your gas tank).

We bought a sim card in the airport – we ended up getting a NOVA card, with 10 GB of data (way more than we needed). We ended up with not so good reception in the Westfjords, with the exception of areas around towns.

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip to Québec City

For the Canada Day weekend, the Fiancé and I decided to go to Québec City. It was kind of a last minute thing, we decided the weekend before that it would be a good, relative cheap, weekend away. One of the benefits to staying closer to home, was saving money in airfare – even the nearly two tanks of gas that we bought was still incredibly cheaper than flying somewhere else.

We booked a room on hotwire.com, and ended up staying at the Chateau Frontenac, which has a long and storied history, that started with the Canadian Pacific railway back in 1893. Our room had an ‘interior’ view, meaning that we didn’t get a view of the city or the river, but of the interior of the hotel. This turned out to be fine, as we overlooked a small garden, complete with apiary! Our room was actually split in two – upon entering, we walked past a small bathroom and into a sitting area (complete with love seat, stuffed chair, desk and chair and tv) and then the bedroom itself opened off the right of the sitting area. (We later realised it was actually in one of the turrets of the hotel)

We arrived in the late afternoon on July 1, so our first order of business was finding some food, and a drink. We headed down the Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck staircase) and into the Lower Town, where we grabbed a drink at Pub Des Borgias, on their small patio (great for people watching). We were already to order in French, but it turned out that our server spoke excellent English. After our drink, we headed down along the harbour to Côte-à-Côte, again getting a seat on their patio. I highly recommend their ribs – they’re cooked for over 12 hours, and literally fall off the bone. We were again impressed with the language skills of the staff – we’d been warned not to expect much English in Québec City, but it was turning out to be  far easier than we had thought

The next day dawned grey and overcast. We had found a suggested walking tour in a magazine in our room, so we headed out to do that, winding our way through Upper Tower, crossing over into Lower Town, and getting about half way around the harbour towards the Plains of Abraham when it really started to come down. We took refuge in a little cafe on Rue du Petit-Champlain.

When the rain stopped, we headed back up to the Promenade, and over the Citadel, before heading up the Grande Allée, looking for some place to have lunch. Alas for us, most places were either closed, or offered larger dishes than we were looking for, so we ended up on Rue St-Jean (a pedestrian street) where we got lunch, and drinks, at Saint Alexandre Pub.

On Sunday, we had breakfast at a small cafe across from the Chateau, then down to the Lower Town again for a short wander. This time we took the funicular up the escarpment. It offers spectacular views as it trundles up (or down).  Then it was time to check out and drive back home.

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Riding the funicular to the top of the escarpment