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Iceland Travelogue: Day 6 August 13, 2016

Today we went off-script. Although our itinerary had us driving and taking in the sights, after breakfast, I approached the man at the restaurant desk who also happened to be the captain for the boat to Grimsey. At 9am we met him, a local guide, and who I imagine was the captain’s little granddaughter, along with 3 other American travelers from New York.

28827207993_7a3550a072_o-1It was overcast, although nearly every day has been, but dry and mainly calm. Our guide, a woman named Pat, told us about Grimsey’s founding. A group of 3 trolls wanted to separate the Westfjords from Iceland and began to dig. They had a competition to see who could make the most islands.

On one side, were a couple who easily made a bunch of islands in the shallow bay, each shovelful making a mound. On the other was a female troll with her ox. It was deeper on her side and her shovelfuls only created shoals in the water. It was coming on daylight and the trolls turn to stone in the day. The couple ran to a pass and became stones there, while the lone troll turned to run, but looked back at her handiwork. Seeing no islands for her pains, she grew angry and slammed her shovel into the earth, flinging it out over the water. That shovelful of earth became Grimsey and she rests, a statue, near our hotel.

Seastars on our boat back from Grimsey. Photo by Jamie Simo

Most of the birds have gone by now, but we still saw lots of puffins, fulmar, shags, and kittiwakes, and we were able to get very close to them. It was amazing, and I’d love to see it in spring with the razorbills and guillemots. The farmer who owns the island keeps sheep there and raises eiders for their down.  All the tires strewn along the beaches are artificial nests to encourage the ducks to stay there. We even got to see starfish, jellyfish, and a purple sea urchin.

Afterward, we had lunch in Húsavík and drove to the seal museum. Small, but very interesting. I had no idea there were so many types of seals. So far we’ve only seen Harbor and Grey. Continuing on our drive, we saw 2 humpback whales breaching and blowing in the fjord.

Humpback whale breaching. Photo by Jamie Simo.

We ended our day in Sauðárkrókur at a historic wood hotel. It’s noisy here because the walls are thin, but there’s a hot pool outside we took advantage of. It reminds me of the medieval days, though it’s not that old.

Oh, and I finally had horse. It was good, though not as distinguishable from beef as I though it would be. Still, I can say I’ve had it.

Iceland Travelogue: Day 5 August 12, 2016

So far the accommodations at Ísafjörður are the worst. They weren’t terrible, but it’s obvious the place is still a boarding school in the off-season. There were no pictures on the wall and no small amenities like in-room coffee or tea. After breakfast, we packed up and headed toward Súðavík.

Arctic fox pelts on the second floor of the Arctic Fox Center in Súðavík, Iceland. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The Arctic Fox Center is smaller than either of us were expecting and the upstairs more heartbreaking. I didn’t realize Icelanders still hunted the fox or that such a small creature is a threat to sheep. They have 2 kits at the center, though I should say young adults. They’re full-grown foxes whose parents were hunted. They’ll be released in Hornstrandir, a nature preserve where no hunting is allowed.

In Iceland, the arctic fox lives off birds, fish, and berries and 80% of them are “blue” meaning they don’t turn white in winter. That’s different from other arctic fox populations which live off of lemmings.

Arctic Fox at the Arctic Fox Center. Photo by Jamie Simo.

After we left, we drove on toward Hólmavík, but stopped along the way for a crowd of basking seals. In the U.S., this is a “jam” so, in this case, I suppose this was a “seal jam.” They were a mix of grey and harbor seals.

Our only other stop today was the Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum in Hólmavík. What strange magics Icelanders perform. Flaying a deadman and wearing his skin for pants to gain money? It seems a little elaborate!

Basking harbor seal. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Our hotel in Drangsnes is a little guesthouse with a glassed-in porch and a spectacular view of the ocean. Definitely the best view by far. There are gulls and fulmars and eiders aplenty on the rocky shore. Dinner was first class. I had fresh halibut and Ian a filet of lamb. We’re close to Grimsey, so we’ll see tomorrow if we can get a boat ride there to see more birds.

Iceland Travelogue: Day 4 August 11, 2016

Þingeyri. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It rained pretty hard this morning, so I was grateful I’d packed my rain jacket and waterproof pants. I still think this hotel was my favorite so far. It used to be a school.  I’m guessing a boarding school as our hotel in Ísafjörður is clearly still a boarding school in the off-months. There are 2 desks in our room and no pictures or other hotel amenities. The city itself is colorful and it’s the biggest in the Westfjords. It reminds me of the old Lego City sets and I guess it would because they are also European.

We drove up the coast from Látrabjarg and stopped at the Sea Monster Museum in Bildudalur. It was fantastic and fun. We picked up more postcards there and finally wrote some that we posted.

The main waterfall of the Dynjandi series of waterfalls. There are seven falls in total. Photo by Jamie Simo.

There weren’t many big stops on our drive today, but we stopped a lot for scenery. The highlight of that was Dynjandi, the biggest waterfall in the Westfjords. Dynjandi is actually a collection of waterfalls, each with its own name. It’s definitely a tourist trap, but that didn’t spoil its grandeur. It was annoying to see someone flagrantly ignoring the barrier around some plants to take pictures. Ugly Americans.

We drove all the way to Ísafjörður before we ate, so I was pretty hungry. I really wanted to try the horse at the titular hotel, but they told us dinner was at 6:00pm then switched it to 6:30pm and I had to eat. There’s a cleverly-named restaurant called Thai Koon. Not the Thai we’re used to, but decent for fast food.

All the shops in Europe close early, so we went back to the room and watched Trumbo on the tablet. We can sleep in tomorrow; the Arctic Fox Museum is 20 minutes from the hotel and our entry time is 10:00am.


Iceland Travelogue: Day 3 August 10, 2016

View from Baldur Ferry in Stykkisholmur Harbor. Photo by Jamie Simo.

This morning we actually had some place to be on time so we had to set the alarm. From Stykkishólmur, we boarded the Baldur ferry for the West Fjords. Though you can drive up, it takes much longer. Even so, the ferry ride was 3 hours.

We got on at 9am and I spent a lot of time on deck braving the cold wind and drizzle to see Northern Fulmars flying around. I even saw a gannet and a few puffins.

At noon we put in and got our car then drove up to Látrabjarg, the western-most point in Europe. We hit up Raudasandur Beach, named for its red sand. The sight of the blue water with the sand and the lava cliffs beyond was beautiful.

We had dinner in Patreksfjörður and our hotel was a charming former school with the biggest room we’ve had yet. The decor wasn’t as spartan as our previous hotels and a dog came to greet us.

Atlantic Puffin at Látrabjarg bird cliffs. Photo by Jamie Simo.

After dinner we drove to Látrabjarg, the most famous bird cliff in Europe. We were told evening was best to see the puffins and that was perfect. We saw several immediately perched on the cliff edge quite close to the path. They’rev very used to people so we could get close to take pictures. There were also young Black-legged Kittiwakes everywhere and Northern Fulmar chicks that were still covered with down. It was spectacular and definitely my favorite part of the trip so far.

Tomorrow is a long driving day up north to get us closer to the Arctic Fox Center.


Today was a lot busier than yesterday. We went to bed fairly early yesterday so I felt better rested when I got up around 5 this morning.  We had breakfast at the hotel, then drove along the coast along the route the desk attendant recommended.

Grey Seal at Ytri Tunga, Iceland. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was cloudy and somewhat rainy this morning, but our first stop was Ytri Tunga where we were able to see several seals along with shorebirds. The most common seals here are Grey and Harbor.

We then headed to an old 19th century church called Budir. Sheep were everywhere and, like our friends mentioned, most of them were in groups of 3. What’s with that? [EDIT: the free-roaming sheep are all ewes with their lambs and sheep usually have twins.] There were a lot of birds too, especially Arctic Terns.

We stopped at a couple beach areas and got to see small cliffs for nesting birds, especially Black-legged Kittiwakes. I can’t wait to see the big bird cliff in the West Fjords. There was a crater we stopped at and a beach with an old British shipwreck.

Free-range sheep at Budir church. Photo by Jamie Simo.

One of the highlights was a gorgeous waterfall. After several false starts, I finally got a bird guide (they were sold out of English ones in Snaefellness National Park). Now I can keep track of what I’ve seen!

We take the ferry tomorrow to the bird cliffs and hopefully we’ll see puffins.

Iceland Travelogue: Day 1 August 8, 2016

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep on the plane so I felt like a zombie most of the day after landing. Ian drove us from Keflavik Airport to Keflavik itself where we ate a hotdog, breaking our long fast. We’d eaten previously at the Chophouse, the best food in Denver Airport.

Eurasian Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstone. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It’s chilly here, only in the 50’s, and it was raining as we drove from Keflavik to Reykjavik. I wanted to explore, but I kept drifting off everytime I close my eyes. This is what jet lag is.

We saw the sea as we drove, and green rocky fields full of sheep and Icelandic horses. The coastline was dotted with Oystercatchers and unknown gulls and I got out occasionally to take photos. I really need a bird guide.

We got into Bogarnes and Hotel Hamar around 2:00pm and the desk assistant gave us some tips on what to see but, again, we were too exhausted. I took a shower (no sulfur in this water) and then we went for a short walk.

Hotel Hamar. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The hotel sits by a golf course and a hostel/guesthouse. It’s very clean and modern chic, all squares and angles with light furnishings. It’s also very quiet. We had a fantastic meal. Ian had chicken with a carrot bisque soup and mozzarella salad and I had lamb with carrots and other greens.

We decided not to go to the hot tub and instead watched some Olympics coverage before hitting the hay. Tomorrow we start our real adventure.