Thursday 19 November 2015

ICELAND ROAD TRIP: Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur

On our fifth day in Iceland we left Reykjavik in the morning and headed out on the ring road, driving north towards Stykkishólmur where we would be spending the night. En route we made a stop at Borganes, only an hour or so from Reykjavik, to visit the Settlement Centre where an exhibition tells the story of Egil's Saga, one of Iceland's most famous stories. The centre is fantastic and provides deep insight into Iceland's history with the 2 exhibitions taking 30 minutes each and using audio guides to tell the story. We visited a lot of museums in Iceland and this centre was one of the most interesting. Apparently the restaurant is fantastic but our lunch consisted of sandwiches we had bought in Reykjavik.

Egil's Saga starts in Norway around 850 where Egil's grandfather (Kveldúlfr) and Egil's father (Skalla-Grímr), flee to Iceland after Kveldúlfr's other son (Þórólf) has been killed. They settle in Borg where Egill and his brother Þórólfr (named after his uncle) grow up.

Egil, like his father and grandfather is very strong with a gift for words often allowing him to speak in poetic verse. At the age of seven, Egil commits his first murder when he becomes upset that Grim displays his strength during a game of sport. Egil takes revenge on Grim by driving an axe through his head.

The story continues and chronicles the life of Egil and all his mishaps and murder. The Saga comes to an end when Egil dies and legend has it he buried his treasures Mosfellsbær. Egil narrates his own life through his verse and poetry and the result is one of Iceland's most epic stories.

We check into Hótel Egilsen in Stykkishólmur, the largest town on the snaefellsnes peninsula where we would be spending the night, and after quickly unloading our bits and bobs from the car we headed out into town to explore the local sights. 

Stykkishólmur is a tiny but charming harbour town. There's only 1000 or so people that live here but despite it's size, the town is absolutely lovely with a couple of fantastic things to see. Thanks to the cute timber houses, Stykkishólmur is full of bright pops of colours and on a sunny day it's a wonderful place for a stroll, especially along the harbour and up the hill to see the lighthouse.

There were a couple of things I really wanted to see that afternoon, visit the Norska húsið i.e. Norwegian House, and the Library of Water.

The Norwegian House (grey building in the picture below) is a skilfully restored timber building built by trader and amateur astronomer Amil Thorlacius in 1832 as a family home. It is now full of local antiques that display how the building looked at the time it was built. The rooms are full of beautiful, ornate furnishing that gave a real sense of how the family lived. On the ground floor there's a small art gallery, with changing exhibitions and a cute little gift shop.

The Norwegian House and our hotel in the background


The Library of Water is a fascinating gallery, not only does its position on the hill offer fantastic views across town but it contains 24 pillars, each containing water from one of the 24 glaciers in Iceland. It's a relaxing place that doesn't take long to visit but still worth checking out for something a little unique.

After checking out the two museums we headed back to the hotel for a quick breather before heading out on the road to explore the snaefellsnes peninsula for a few hours before dinner time.

The pictures really don't really do the scenery justice which is a shame because it really was a wonderful drive. We weaved in and out of mountains with snow topped peaks, glaciers and  partially frozen lakes. There was always something magnificent to see around every bend in the road and the terrain was never flat. We drove past lots of tiny little towns with their colourful houses until we eventually stopped in Rif for a delicious bowl of home made fish soup in Gamla Rif, a home-run-cafe by the wife of a sailor. The soup was delicious, one of the best I had on the trip and in one of the most remote and tiny little villages, I'm so glad we stopped by.

We continued our drive around the coast but because of our time constraints we didn't have a chance to stop at each little town. We stopped at Ólafsvík for a few minutes to check out the futuristic church (and football pitch next door). Iceland's national religion is Lutheranisn and because of the 'relatively' recent switch from Catholicism the churches are rather modern and futuristic looking.

Before we headed back to our hotel we stopped at the hot pool Lýsuhóll for an hour to soak in the algae infused water. We made a point to visit as many hot pools as possible on the trip and this was by far the most interesting sounding in the local area. It was small but not too busy, we had a great time swimming in the pool and then taking a dip in the hot pots whilst looking out on the surrounding mountains the entire time. Because there was so much driving on the trip our visits to the pools gave us a chance to relax and take a break from the stresses of constantly being behind my ridiculous schedule in the car.

Once back in Stykkishólmur we had a lovely dinner consisting of locally caught fish at restaurant Narfeyrarstofa situated right next to our hotel. We has mussels, fish and locally brewed beer which made a lovely change from all the junk food we ate in Reykjavik.

Back to the hotel for a night cap before bed where we would be getting up early the next morning to catch a ferry to the west fjords and the wildest part of Iceland. We were exhausted and the road trip had only just begun.

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