Visiting Snæfellsnes in Iceland

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Day One: Driving to Snæfellsnes

In February, a traveling companion and I spent a few days driving around Snæfellsnes and visiting spots from the Laxdæla saga. I’ve tried to use the native Icelandic spelling in all cases. If some words don’t render, assume your browser doesn’t handle Icelandic.We decided to do the trip with just a map and compass, no GPS (not that there was much cell signal outside of major towns anyway) or other technology. Luckily, the roads are well kept, well marked, and once you learn the naming tricks, well laid-out.

Arrival

We arrived at Keflavík at 5 AM via Icelandair and hopped in our pre-arranged rented wreck (their words, not mine) for the drive to the Hotel Búðir. The “wreck” was a well-used, small SUV equipped with winter tires, “heater that works, mostly”, and a spare tire. I was instructed in how to change the spare tire, rules of the road in Iceland, when and how to call for Flugbjörgunarsveitin (Iceland Search and Rescue), and who to call if the vehicle decided to stop working. We then set off in the darkness under the Northern Lights to find petrol and our way to the hotel.

Our guiding light
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Our trusty wreck
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Taking the road less traveled

We decided to take the surface roads and avoid the Hvalfjörður Tunnel so we could have more of an adventure. This added about 90 minutes to our trip, but was well worth it. We spent a lot of time looking at scenery like this:

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In the future, I’ll write about the entire side-journey here. At points, we’re looking down sheer cliffs over fjords with tiny fishing villages nestled inside. After the first few hours, you begin to habituate to the absolute wonders of nature around you. The landscape is like no other. Thanks to the jet stream, it’s not even that cold, maybe -5C at the coldest. We came from Boston which was around -20C at the time, so this was a welcome warmth. Here’s a weather report from up high on one of the mountain passes:

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Rest stop

Along the way, we stopped to re-fuel and take a break from driving. What seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere, is a completely pristine petrol/food/grocery/public-meeting place in an N1 station. This write up is accurate. They are spotless, well-stocked, and combine multiple functions into one place. The restrooms are bright, clean, and smell nice. It’s amazing.

We bought a book which explained Iceland town/location names and a bit of the history behind it. When driving along, you quickly pick up from the signs that hólmur, vík, dæla, bær, and so on are common forms added to a city or place. This book explained them all, and highlighted some of the history along with correct pronunciation. The Iceland people are logical and consistent in their naming of places and towns. It helps tremendously to learn this as you drive around between points.

The ride along Faxaflói

We joined Route 54 and head by a number of small towns nestled in various nooks and crannies of the landscape. This takes the southern route through Snæfellsnes. It snakes along between the coast and impressive mountain ranges.

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On the left is the ever-present ocean, along with a constant light wind off the water. On the right are one impressive mountain range after another. In some ways, it’s like driving on the moon, desolate, barren, endless mountains and hardened lava flows to the sea. In other ways, it’s a magical landscape dominated by and designed for the Old Norse gods.

We pass pastures with Icelandic Horses, sheep, and short farm houses built into the rock. The mountain ranges are impressive, even after habituating to the scenery after our six hour drive. There are brooks running from the mountains to the sea. There are steam vents from volcanoes deep below popping up here and there adding to the charm. The fresh smell of the ocean and the brisk chill of the winds adds to the mystical feeling of the area.

Arrival at Búðir

We arrive at Hotel Búðir, temporarily stopping our trek by the Faxaflói. The hotel is warm and inviting with staff greeting us with uncharacteristic Scandinavian warmth generally reserved for old friends. They ask about our flight, the drive, and if we saw the glacier on our ride out. We’re then shown to a wonderful room with a big, deep bathtub; which looks very inviting given the six hours in the wreck.

Hotel Búðir reception

The hotel is right in front of the old church at Búðir.

Church of Búðir

At sunset, the mountains are alight in pink. This is a pre-cursor to the Northern Lights coming in just a few hours.

mountains at dusk

The Scandinavian people have such an amazing command of natural light. The room, the hotel, the dining room, everywhere maximizes every bit of natural light. Add to this their ability to manage candle light in maximal ways. It’s such a refreshing treat to enjoy the natural light and vistas around.

Night at Búðir

The dinner was completely wonderful in both setting and taste. It was full of local choices of meat, vegetables, and of course, fish. The 8pm dinner hour leaves the half-walled glass room basked in the pink light of dusk. The view is amazing and the fellow guests all happy to talk and share their experiences of what lies beyond. Everything was perfectly Icelandic.

Butter was served on a volcanic rock with local Icelandic mineral water, in the proper style with gas. Fresh made bread and some pickled herring are a great appetizer.

rock butter

After sauntering about the grounds in the dusk light, we head back in for a warm drink and to retire for the evening. At midnight, a rap on the door awakens us suddenly. Of course, I think it’s something to do with an emergency and bolt up, get dressed, and prepare to depart in a hurry. Luckily, it’s a knock to remind us of the Northern Light show in full effect on a clear night.

And what a light show it was.

Búðir church at night

lights over the mountain

I spent some time on the plane reading my camera manual and figuring out how to take pictures of the auroras. I ended up having to use manual mode and opening up the shutter for long periods. I didn’t bring a tripod, but I did use the local rock walls and other stable structures to keep the camera steady for the long exposures.

This entire day, and now the night, just add to the magic of Iceland.

After a few hours of taking pictures and just laying on the ground looking at the auroras, we succumbed to exhaustion and retired for the evening for good.

Stay tuned for forthcoming posts about this amazing trip to Snæfellsnes. Next up, legendary axe murders, devils playground, and the glacier.

Pictures

The entire set of pictures is here at Andrew’s Smugmug.

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