Sailor Man and I have always opted for unusual locations at odd times of year for our brief respites and in doing so, have become quite the connoisseurs of guidebooks. We’ve tried The Lonely Planet, Frommers, Fodors and others. On this trip we had The Rough Guide Series with us and the best I can say about it is that it left us wanting.

This isn’t unusual in that there are certain realities one has to take into consideration when relying on a guidebook. The first is that the travel writers are speeding through the area and are prone to not remembering things accurately. Also, there’s the writer’s lack of basic local knowledge. Unfortunately, cultural differences also sometimes make their way into the book. The Rough Guide we had was written largely by Brits and we found the overall tone to be persnickety and a bit, dare I say, bitchy? Based on some descriptions of towns and sites in the book Sailor Man and I would have never investigated them for ourselves had we not either disregarded the guide or sought out other sources.

The last thing to keep in mind is that things change. Restaurants close, hotel management changes, stores move locations, hours differ seasonally, and money fluctuations abound. For instance, Sailor Man and I spent a month hiking the western coast of Ireland in 2004 and upon a recommendation in the Lonely Planet, we spent the most uncomfortable night in a hostel that had received rave reviews from the guide. Instead of spending the evening in a “warm and friendly” little abode, it was more akin to spending the evening at a friend’s unemployed, alcoholic stepfather’s home who takes in strange boarders and has a lights-out policy at 9pm.

Moral of the story: You just can’t always trust the book.

Mid-way across the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we came across Berserkjahraun, a 4000+ year old lava field with a path cleared through it by two Beserkers in the late 900’s CE. It’s a weird and twisted tale that you can read more about in the Eyrbyggja Saga. I didn’t know this fact before this trip to Iceland, but there’s an intermingled folkloric history between Beserkers and Werewolves, and not that this influenced our decision, but given the snowy conditions and the late hour and the moon being just off-full, we thought it best to push on…

**as always, double-clicking the pictures enlarges them to a size more suitable for inspection…

town-surrounded.jpgOnto Grundarfjordur! I wasn’t expecting much visiting this town as the guidebook really didn’t make it seem all that exciting, but I fell in love with this spot on the planet. Do not make the mistake of ignoring this town. First, the scenery: how the heck do you beat that? Water views, surrounded by mountains and glaciers, aand a tidy little village nestled in the thick of it all. Despite being a good ways away from a big city and basically in the middle of nowhere, the townsfolk of 850 persons carry on the typical Iceland fashion sense in that everyone sports fantastic eyeglasses and even more stylish clothing despite the local lively hood being centered around fishing.

grundarfjordur.jpgThere was a film festival going on at the local high school so we failed to find a place at the local hostel. The only other hotel in town was the Hotel Framnes that the guidebook referred to only as “functional”, and very incorrectly I might add. We decided to check out the hotel anyway. It was a former fishing hostel which didn’t seem promising and the obvious major reconstruction work to the hotel’s exterior made it seem even more discouraging, but then you walk in the door and it’s simply another world. We were greeted by Shelagh, a friendly and gorgeous lady from South Africa who owns the hotel with her husband, Gisli, a former local fisherman and now chef. The interior has been completely renovated with wonderful wood floors, gorgeous wood trimmings, yummy leather furniture and cozy bedrooms. Considering what the guidebook led us to believe, we couldn’t had been more surprised. We gratefully secured a room for the night and headed out for a walk before sunset.

tacky-garage-art.jpgSince it was Saturday and off-season, the local heritage museum was closed, as was the local pool, and we had just missed the wine store. Still it’s a wonderful walk around town and it’s hard to get enough of the view of Kirkjufell “church mountain”, that dominates the scenery. Interesting houses line the streets, kids are sledding up and down the sidewalk, or funny enough, attempting to play basketball in the snow. And may I say that I for one am darn glad the tacky and lovable practice of Garage Door Art has crossed the Atlantic to Iceland proper? The stroll around this small town was really quite enjoyable. We happened upon a friendly gentleman who runs the heritage center. We also explored the ubiquitous white Lutheran Church with the red roof that every town in Iceland seems to be in possession of. I became particularly enamored of a rock with the face chiseled into it and had to convince Sailor Man just to take a picture.

michellin-man.jpgIt’s strange when you return from vacation and realize all the pictures you didn’t take. We have a new digital camera Sailor served in the capacity of official photographer for all our shenanigans, I have developed this obsessive tendency of pointing and demanding for snapshots to be taken. And of the weirdest crap as well. For example, I have no idea why it was so important to have a picture of a Michelin Man figure hanging on the side of the building, except for it being green, which is unusual, but really, what the hell was I thinking? But more importantly, why does Sailor Man cooperate so fully in this endeavor?

We stopped at the local market in town so Sailor Man could pick up some fish jerky. Yup, that’s right, fish that has been air dried by the fierce winds of Iceland that results in a horrifically stinky treat. Sailor loves this stuff. I’ve tried finding it for him back here in the states but the only thing that comes close is Salmon Chews that are made for dogs. That really ought to tell you everything you need to know about fish jerky. I’m all about “When in Rome” but damn, I cannot get passed the smell. Anyway, I went to pull out the credit card and discovered it wasn’t in my wallet. Sailor remembered me putting it in my pocket when we when checked into the hotel but it wasn’t there. So I send Sailor back to the hotel while I retrace our steps in town to see if I had dropped it.

I was up by the school at the scene where Sailor and I had brief but decisive Ultimate Fight Championship match which resulted in me hanging upside down in a fireman’s lift, thinking that would be the place most likely to find my card, when I notice two young girls following me. I cross a field, head over to the church, back down a street, and they’re still following me. I had a brief “Better Off Dead” moment thinking they would turn into the paper-boy stalker screaming for his $2 dollars, but one of them runs up to me and holds out my credit card. I thank her profusely and ask how she knew it was mine, but she doesn’t speak English. Her friend does however, and flippantly informs me of the unlikelihood of other Americans being in town right now and then runs off to play. Didn’t think we stood out that much.

I wouldn’t have given it another thought except the next morning, hours after we had checked out and were well outside of town, we were chased down by Gisli, owner (and fantastic chef I must say) of the hotel, to return my luggage that I accidentally left in his lobby. As vast as Iceland can feel with its stretches of land and mountain ranges, Iceland still feels small when it comes to interpersonal relations. That, and so considerate that someone would go out of their way to chase you down over forgotten luggage. This entire trip was made up of a series of such small niceties by the Icelanders that I need to make sure to emphasize it. I hate to say this, but I’ve been hard pressed in so many parts of the world to receive this same consideration. So thank you again, Gisli, and thanks, little girl, whoever you are.

So, Grundarfjordur, do not pass it by! We only spent a quiet evening there but it was highly enjoyable nonetheless and I can easily see coming back sometime in the summer and really seeing this town come to life.

Next Chapter: The Western Shore and a romantic and intimate dinner for 16.

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