The Slow Road WestSeptember 26 in Iceland
Wednesday started off with breakfast at a nice café downtown, then strolling around through the shops into the afternoon where we found some lovely trolls working in one. Along the way, we noticed small statues on stone bases and upon closer investigation, they represented the sister cities of Akureyri. These include Västerås, Sweden and Ålesund, Norway, two cities we have ties to! Most of the last Winterströms in Sweden live in Västerås and there is a statue representing one of Mama Bear's ancestors in Ålesund. We visited Akureyrarkirkja, another relatively newly built cathedral on our way back to home base. The stained glass windows each had a biblical story along with an Icelandic story, like the pagan idols being thrown over Goðafoss. That pretty much completed the amount of effort we were willing to put into the day and we were more than happy about it!
Thursday was a planned travel day, but we did have some exciting events! Along the drive, there was some light snow through the mountains, which is a HUGE deal for Californians... Once we made it through our intense meteorological experience, we stopped in Glaumbær to see the old turf houses. This type of construction was a way for early settlers to insulate their homes. The land would be prepped with large stones, then a strong wooden frame would be built and finally, layers of sod blocks would be stacked on. And since keeping up appearances apparently was a thing even when living in homes made of dirt, the blocks would commonly be set in a herringbone pattern. Grasses would grow over the tops of the homes, further insulating them. As the turf homes evolved over the millennium they were used on Iceland, they split from a longhouse style to interconnected individual homes, windows were added and the entrances developed from small doors into full wooden fronts. It's a pretty neat design and really shows the ingenuity needed to live and thrive in such a harsh and ever-changing environment!
We continued to the village we will be staying in for the next two days, Hvammstangi. It is a tiny little place on the Vatnsnes peninsula with a population of about 580, held together by shrimping, a wool manufacturer and of course, a blossoming tourism industry. A little to early to check in to our next home, we stopped by the wool factory because it's Iceland and wool is everything here. A short tour through the factory gave some insight into how machine made wool products are created on the island. Although they may not be traditionally handmade, the raw materials are Icelandic and the work is all done in Iceland, so that seems good to us! That being said, of course our eyes were drawn to the only thing in the shop that was, in fact, handmade... A local woman tans sheepskin and a one in particular tickled our fancy. As animal lovers, we did consider that all of the sheep here are free grazing and seem to have enjoyable lives, so we were happy to support the sustainable practices.
Next up, we had lunch overlooking Miðfjörður, the little fjord that Hvammstangi is located on, and the uninhabited peninsula on the other side. Seafood soup was of course the dish of choice for the shellfish lovers amongst us and a lamb burger for Papa Bear. It's safe to say that we will greatly miss the seafood and lamb when this trip is over! Having not spent enough time wandering yet, we drove out along the west coast of the Vatnsnes peninsula, expecting to see a few of seals that it is know for. Instead, while bumping along the unpaved road, we started seeing the trademark misting breaths of whales in the bay. Not one or two like we saw on our whale watching tour, but numbering into the double digits. With our refreshed whale knowledge, courtesy of the tour a few days ago, we tried to figure out what kind of whales would be in a pod in this area. Semi-safely to the side of the road with telephoto lenses out, we were able to pretty confidently identify them as humpbacks. Since humpbacks are definitely not supposed to be in a pods, we are still a bit puzzled by it, but we won't complain. We spent a good hour looking a full kilometer out in the bay at the whales breaching, tail slapping and diving (the attached picture includes one whale tail slapping). It was a completely unexpected experience and another lucky part of our trip! To top off our unplanned coastal drive, we saw the Skarðsviti Lighthouse, which we know nothing about, but is absolutely stunning with a view of the Westfjords in the background.
Tomorrow will be spent just milling around the Vatnsnes Peninsula and staying in our tiny little town until Saturday when it's back to thermal springs and waterfalls!Read more