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)

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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