Exploring the Eastern Fjords ~ Iceland Challenge Day 4
Have you ever ventured through the Eastern fjords of Iceland? Have you gotten lost crossing back roads and driving through thick, can’t-see-10km-in-front-of-you clouds? We have. For all those who have not experienced the wilds of Eastern Iceland, make sure to include it in your next trip! Join us for as we delve into the hidden beauties of the East!
We woke up early at Hótel Edda Höfn. I was so comfy in my bed, it was hard to get myself going, but the thought of exploring uncharted territory helped (I had never been further east than VÍK)! The breakfast at the hotel was excellent and had a few surprises. I was positively gushing when I found homemade flatkökur (Icelandic flat bread). That is one of the foods I ate ALL the time in Iceland. Inga also pointed out homemade hjónabandssælu (translated as ‘Happy Marriage cake’ and supposed to bring long and happy marriages to all those who eat it). It’s actually more of an oat bar or pie filled with jam, usually rhubarb. Mhmmm, I could eat this stuff all day. To top it off, we were getting tweets from Icelandair Hotel Hérað (our next stop) about homemade Skyr. Oh how I love Icelandic food! 🙂
After the car was packed and ready to go, we filled up the tank at the nearest N1 with our gas cards (Traveler Tip: some gas stations don’t accept credit cards or are simply closed early in the morning. We recommend buying a gas card before heading out of any ‘major’ town to avoid getting stuck in a sticky situation!) The sky was so hazy; we had to get our bearing straight before we could head out of town.
We drove for about an hour through some of the most intense haze I’ve ever seen. Literally, I could barely see 10km in front of me. I was so worried a sheep was going to appear out of the fog since they tend to roam across the streets at their fancy. People should have to take a test to drive in Iceland. The weather is insane, signals are essential for communicating with other drivers, driving in the middle of the road is acceptable (when no one is coming, obviously), and speed limits seem like suggestions since cops are few and far between. It took me a while to catch on to all this, but after this trip, I’m basically a pro. 🙂
Our first stop was the small town of Djúpivogur which is about 100 km from Höfn on Ring Road. The town was unusually quiet and the mist was still hanging low in the air. I had the impression that this town doesn’t see much action. It’s known for a unique art installation along the coast of Gleðivík (translated as ‘Merry Bay’). Designed by artist Sigurður Gudmundsson, it consists of 34 large scale replicas of eggs from different bird species that nest in Djúpavogshreppi. We also found a little workshop down the road from the exhibit that had all kinds of wooden sculptures and precious rocks.
It was still early and we were eager to see more towns in the east, so we hit the road. We drove on the outskirts of the fjord still dodging slow cars and passing the occasional sheep. It wasn’t until we drove into the valley that we broke through the haze into blinding sunlight. Almost instantaneously, everyone gushed at the scenery and yelled for me to pull over. Everyone else on the road seemed to have the same idea because there were a few scattered cars. We jumped out and let the sunshine wash over us. Four days of misty haze, frigid winds and rain; you cannot imagine our delight to see a change in the weather. Welcome to the east. We were about to experience three days of clear skies and SUN. I’m talking 20°-24° Celsius (or 68-75 for us Americans) with a slight breeze—absolutely perfect. It almost felt hotter because there is a hole in the ozone layer over Iceland and I’m pretty sure I got burned even though I’m from Florida! Inga knew the East would have great weather this time a year which is one of the reasons we chose to spend two days there; we all thanked the weather gods profusely.
So at this point, if you plan on sticking to Ring Road, there is a route called Öxi in the middle of Berufjörður that cuts through the mountains back to Route 1. There is also a killer waterfall in the valley that is worth exploring.
If you have a little more time, we recommend following the roads along the fjords. There is a little German café somewhere between Berufjörður and Stöðvafjörður (the next fjord over) that I recommend. We stopped for a latte and to use the free Wi-Fi to catch up on social media (3G coverage isn’t ideal in the East, as to be expected). The atmosphere was really nice and the coffeehouse had huge windows to look out into the valley. It’s a great rest stop even to just soak in the view.
After driving a couple minutes around the next fjord, we realized a pattern in the weather. Every time we drove along the edge of fjord the clouds would descend on us then as soon as we hit the bay, the sun would break through and bathe us in sunlight. We got used to the cycle after the third or fourth time.
Our internet was a little spotty (understandable, right?), but we managed to get a few tweets from Icelandair Hotel Hérað which got us excited to reach Egilsstaðir. We made great time and arrived around 4pm where were greeted by Bryndís. She was incredibly sweet and gave us a few tips about the area. We decided to take her up on one and visit Skriðuklaustur—a cultural site with a long and diverse history. It was a farm for centuries before becoming the site of a monastery from 1493 till the Reformation, then a church until 1792. After which, it served as the home of many prominent men such as author Gunnar Gunnarsson.
There is a nice little café in Skriðuklaustur called Klausturkaffi which offers a buffet of coffee and cakes. I have the biggest sweet tooth and let me tell you, I had to stop myself after the third or fourth plate. There had chocolate cakes, rhubarb pie, waffles with whipped cream & jam, kleinur (traditional pastry), skyr cake with berries and even a few salty foods like rye bread with smoked lamb, vegetable casserole, and crackers with tuna fish salad. Ah, it was to die for! If you have some time, definitely stop by!
After we were slightly bursting, we were ready to walk it off with a guided tour of Skriðuklaustur. The museum is considered to be an archaeological site due to the number of historical remnants found from the monastic days. The house itself was built in 1939 by a German architect for Gunnar Gunnarsson. Although Gunnarsson was Icelandic, he gained his fame as an author in Denmark. He and his family moved here shortly after the construction in 1939. The museum has several rooms dedicated to Gunnar and his family along with exhibitions of the 16th century and a gallery for resident artists. New exhibitions are common through the season, so I recommend checking out their site before you plan a visit. We want to say a big thank you to Skriðuklaustur for providing us with a tour and letting us try the lovely cake buffet!
By 7pm, we were ready to head back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation! We had covered about 300km and saw some beautiful sites, but we wanted to enjoy our rooms at Icelandair Hotel Hérað. We hung out in the room for a while and caught up on social media. Around 11pm, Inga and I were craving ís (‘ice cream,’ an important word to know!) so we crossed the street to the gas station around 11pm to find a HUGE line to get ice cream. I mean seriously people, it’s almost midnight and we all have the bright idea to get some ice cream? What is this!? I count myself among them now because I had no problem picking up the late night ice cream fad. I don’t know how, but I always craved it at 10pm or later and Inga would always be down for a run to the nearest ice cream parlor, bless her… After that, we walked back over to the hotel with a fantastic view of the midnight sun. Ah, I love the east!
Belows is an illustration from one of our team members, Marika. The Bluebonnet (Icelandic: Lúpína) is a flower most travelers will remember after road trippining around Iceland during summer. Check out Marika’s art for more of her wonderful artwork.
Plus if you missed any of stories from the Iceland Challenge, click here for past blog articles.
© All photos taken by Laura Hundersmarck