Monday, 23 November 2015

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Stykkishólmur to Djúpavík

On our sixth day in Iceland we left Stykkishólmur at 9am as we boarded the ferry to take us to the west fjords. During the summer, the ferry leaves Stykkishólmur at 09:00 and 15:45, stopping at Flatey island at 10:00 and 17:15 and arriving at Brjánslækur in the west fjords a couple hours later. The ferry crosses Breidafjördur and is considerably shorter than driving around the coast. On the day of our crossing we were extremely lucky with the weather and had great views across Flatey and the west fjords further in the distance, the sight of the snow capped mountains were just a glimpse of the incredible views to come. I would liked to have visited Flatey for a few hours (you can send your car across in the ferry whilst you spend a few hours exploring the island) but because we had a lot driving ahead of us on the other side I knew we wouldn't have the time.

We arrived in the non existent town of Brjánslækur just after midday and headed out on a drive across the west fjords until we reached the magnificent waterfall Dynjandi (also known as Fjallfoss). The road to Dynjandi is incredible yet terrifying, we drove up mountains and across tiny passages without even a barrier on the roadside to protect you from a fall. The road is narrow, but fortunately deserted and the fall is steep. The scenes were other worldly with jagged, snow topped mountains, gushing rivers and and not a single sighting of humanity. As we made our decent from the top of the west fjords mountains, feeling like thousands of feet above sea levels, we spotted the waterfall in the distance and eagerly drove down the winding road until we reached the base, and the conveniently located car park. With approximately 50 other people in the area it really didn't feel busy, we parked up and started to make our way up the series of smaller waterfalls on what is easily a 20 minute hike.

The views from the actual base of the largest waterfall were beautiful (and wet) and I feel so fortunate that we got to experience this amazing vista on a wonderfully clear day. My camera took a real battering up here, we walked right to the water's edge and the amount of mist was so insane my camera became really damp and foggy. Fortunately it only took a few hours to dry out but the pictures I have from the top aren't great.

Once we left the waterfall it was well into the afternoon and we desperately needed lunch so we stopped at Cafe Simbahöllin in the tiny fishing village of Þingeyri for a delicious bowl of leek and potato soup and a slice of chocolate cake. One thing you'll notice about the soup in Iceland is that you'll always get a delicious heap of freshly baked bread on the side and in some places they refill your basket once you've run out.

After an hour or so of driving we made it to the harbour village of Ísafjörður, the biggest town in the west fjords. I was keen to visit the Westfjords Heritage Museum i.e. Byggðasafn Vestfjarða, a fantastic little maritime museum documenting the fishing history of the area. The museum is found in a traditional timber barn and you can climb up the little tower in the roof and see panoramic views over the harbour. The accordion collection really sticks in my memory and there's plenty of English signs to read which make it a very insightful experience.

After the museum we grabbed a quick burger from Hamraborg which I can tell you now is nothing to write home about but alas, we were hungry.

Once we departed Ísafjörður we began the tedious journey of driving around what felt like a million identical looking fjords. The fjords in Iceland are indeed stunning, natural wonders that rip into the landscape like fork prongs but when you've spent all day driving they soon become tiresome. If we'd had more time I would have liked to spent a night in Ísafjörður to break up the journey but alas, we only had so many days of holiday.

Just outside Ísafjörður you will find the tiny hamlet of Súðavík and the wonderful Arctic Fox Center. Unfortunately we got here just after closing so weren't able to visit the centre but we did get to see the cutest little baby Arctic fox in the garden that had the loudest and most high pitched squeal you can image. In the northern most region of Iceland, Hornstrandir nature reserve, you'll find the main Arctic Fox Centre where conservation work takes place, however this area of the country is extremely difficult to visit as cars aren't allowed, so the centre in Súðavík makes a nice alternative.

What felt like, and actually consisted of, hours and hours of driving through the interior of the west fjords we made it to the other side of the peninsula, the strandir coast. I think it must have been around 10pm when we made it Drangsnes, where I'd heard about three road side hot pots whilst en route to our hotel in Djúpavík. We parked up, nipped into the changing room and ran across the road in our swimming suits before jumping into the bubbling water. Bliss! Spending an hour in these hot pots and looking over the fjord is one of my fondest memories of the trip. The evening was perfect and after a long day of driving we finally felt like we could relax. We chatted with locals about our trip and other hot pools in the area. We even commented on the fact that these hot pots are completely free to use, the showers and changing rooms across the road as well. After a really long time we made it back to the car and headed off to our hotel.

I didn't think it would take too long to drive, maybe half an hour but that was before I found out the road was little more than a dirt track. As we slowed trudged along the coast at an unbearable speed we finally made it to Hotel Djúpavík, just after midnight much to the annoyance of the owner. We came with bountiful apologies and I had tried to call earlier in the evening but alas you can't expect much in the way of phone signal in this part of the world.

The hotel was wonderful, it had a gorgeously snug vibe and was full of antique furniture and millions of trinkets on display. Despite only being at the place for 9 hours or so it certainly goes on my list for one of the nicest places we stayed on the trip. The twin bed situation isn't ideal but the views across the fjord make up for that and that's before I even talk about the amazing breakfast which included curried herring, cheese, cured meats, freshly baked bred etc. I heard a lady talking to the owner over breakfast about her week long stay at the hotel and how she spent her days hiking and watching seals play in the fjord, and in all honestly I can't think of a more relaxing and isolated place to do that than Hotel Djúpavík. Despite it's ridiculously remote location I would absolutely love to visit again and enjoy the tranquil surroundings, I'll be back one day for sure.

Disclaimer: Hotel Djúpavík offered me a discount in exchange for review.

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Ubiquitous Chip, Glasgow

I started this post back in the summer but for some reason I never got around to finishing it. For completeness as I wrote about the other restaurants I visited in Glasgow, I'm going to finish the post even though I can't really remember the ins and outs of what we ate. Nevertheless the place is lovely so I might as well share it.

Before my trip to Glasgow in May I wasn't too aware of what the 'fine dining' scene might have on offer but with a little research I soon discovered the Ubiquitous Chip, a Glaswegian institution serving traditional Scottish food in a beautiful and contemporary setting. I decided to book a table for the Saturday night of our visit as a holiday treat.

The food was truly sumptuous, from the home made bread to the ceviche, guinea fowl and haggis. What really stood out for me was the dessert. I am boring when it comes to dessert, I like ice cream and not much else (slight exaggeration but you get the point). I'd heard that oatmeal ice cream was a classic Scottish pudding so when I saw it on the menu I knew my time has finally come to try it, and I wasn't let down. Crunchy yet light ice cream with poached fruit, it was perfection.

I loved our meal at the chip and it's a great place to visit if you're in Glasgow for a special occasion. If you can get a table in the main dinning room, underneath the sky lights and balcony, surrounded by green plants you'll be in for an absolute treat. 

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