kirkjufell-roadside.jpgIt is a clear and brilliant day outside. Albeit with periods of brisk winds, it’s the Northern Atlantic after all, it looks to be good day for a drive. Sailor Man and I head off in our trusty Focus. We leave Grundarfjordur with the watchful eye of Kirkjufell “church mountain” following us and can not help but linger. We’re at a roadside park for a while taking pictures and watching a local resident out for an early Sunday horseback ride. I’m hesitant to leave, but it’s our last full day and we have this crazy plan of seeing the sites of the peninsula kamikaze-style before having lone-horse.jpgto decide whether to head all the way back to Reykjavik for the night, or find some local place to stay. The radio, as well as the sun, fades in and out depending on where we are in relation to the mountains. No one is out on the road this early hour and again, we seem to have the Snaefellsnes “snow mountain peninsula” to ourselves. It is so clear and so bright outside, I have to wear my darkest sunglasses and even then I am having problems with glare.

*per usual, double click on the pictures for a better look.

olafsvik-hobitinn.jpg20 minutes from Grundarfjordur and we enter the fishing village of Olafsvik. The guidebook provides another depressing and useless description of a town that does not seem to fit with what we are seeing before us. Charming houses are terraced into the hills, and like Grundarfjordur, Olafsvik has spectacular views. A random cafe sporting a Lord of the Rings theme was unfortunately closed. The town is primarily known as one of the oldest trading centers in Iceland, has a great folk museum,and whale watching tours. There’s also a very modern church with interesting architecture that I would have liked to get a closer look at, but we’ll save it for another time. Overall, Olafsvik is definitely a town I can see returning to and getting to know better.

olafsvik-church.jpgCultural Reference Alert! Jules Verne, French author of many classics such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days, writes of Snaefellsjokull “snow mountain glacier” in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The volcano/glacier serves as the starting point for the German Professor Lindenbrock, his nephew, and the Icelandic guide with the oddly German name of Hans, on their journey. Aside from Verne, JRR Tolkein was greatly influenced by Iceland and Old Norse culture. Looking around the peninsula, you can see why. It would be very easy to imagine Iceland serving as the backdrop for the up coming Hobbit movie.

fisherman-museum.jpgWe’re nearing the end of the peninsula and the next town we stop in is Hellissandur. Guidebook, aside, because I’m fed up with it and its dismissive tone, we decide to stop and have a peek. The village is completely surrounded by lava field and the town’s main attraction is a fisherman’s museum of two cottages with turf roofs. The lava field behind the museum’s grounds extends up the hill and beyond.Sailor Man and I decide to get out of the car and have a peak, which I’m so glad we did. In the center of the lava field is a soccer, excuse me, football-field.jpg“football” pitch. It’s so random and unexpected, I have to add this to my list of what I love about Iceland and it’s people. This pitch is tightly hugged by lava rock which most certainly will end your existence if you travel too far outside of bounds. I swear, only in Iceland is such a pitch possible.I do wish that Sailor and used the wide-angle lens because the picture we have simply doesn’t do justice to how utterly cool this site is.

museum-front.jpgWe a have a brief but decisive imaginary game (I win) and walk down into the museum ground proper. Behind one of the truf houses lives three large stones that were used to judge a man’s fitness to be a fisherman back in the day. I took a few pictures of Sailor Man attempting to lift one of the stones, but the picture has mysteriously not made it from the camera and onto my computer. No matter, the stones were frozen to the ground and Sailor did get very far with them.

We’re just outside Hellisandur when Gisli, owner of the Hotel Framnes, flags us down. We pull over to receive the luggage I forgot at the hotel. Thanks again, Gisli, I can not say it enough.

beach-rare-sighting.jpgOur next stop is the beach at Djupalonssandur. It’s breathtakingly beautiful here with lava rocks that have been polished as smooth as glass by the tide. Ladies, you want to know where the stones used in spa treatments come from, this is your place. I grab a handful of them as a souvenir and dearly hope Iceland doesn’t have the same superstitions the Hawaiians do about taking that which belongs to Pele. The remnants of a boat wreck from 1914 litter the beach and signs ask that you not disturb them. Also, the rest of the local “lifting monument.jpgstones” are here for those willing to test their strength old school style. We have fun playing on the beach for awhile, building stone monuments to the fallen sailors and being chased by the incoming tide. There’s natural rocks formations in abundance to practice your photography skills and I can’t help but think this beach must get hotter than hell in the summer under a 24 hour sun. My calves are on fire from tying to run up and down the beach. It’s quite a workout when your boots are sinking into the volcanic sand.

lighthouse.jpgLeaving the beach, Snaefellsjokull looms over us, although we can’t see the glacier properly due to the snow cover. Back on the road, a dual rock formation in the distance grabs our attention and we drive out to see them.  We’re briefly distracted by the sight of a lighthouse and detour over that way instead. But from the lighthouse, we actually have a better view of these rocks. Pouring through the multitude of information we had managed to pick up throughout this trip, we find that the rocks are volcanic plugs and in the distance are basalt cliffs. I’m still notrock-formations.jpg adjusted to the scale of Iceland. Objects definitely seem smaller than they appear. These columns, which appear fairly insignificant in the distance, are positively enormous up close. The columns are known as Londrangar. The larger of the two pillars is called the “Christian Pillar” and the smaller one is monickered the “Heathen Pillar”. Personally, I think the heathen pillar is getting a bad rap, per usual, but the view is excellent and you can see the basalt cliffs in the distance which is in the general vicinity of Hellnar, the next town which we plan to visit.

hellnar.jpgHellnar, year round population of 9 souls. Nothing looks open and no one seems to be around. There’s a “green” hotel here, a scattering of vacation cottages and not much else except the obligatory white church with red roof and awesome scenery. I’m of the opinion that it is impossible to take a bad picture in this country. Seriously, if your pictures turn out poorly, there’s either something wrong with your camera or something wrong with you.

hotel-window.jpgWe’re traveling the underside of the peninsula at this point and we’re taking the suggestion offered to us to stop in Budir for a cup of coffee. Budir is an former fishing village that tragically burned down sometime ago. The truly magnificent Hotel Budir and historic church are all that remain. It’s a lonely spot on the planet, let me tell you. The expanse of lava field is largest we’ve yet seen and are also rumored to be lousy with leprechauns, which of course, makes it my kind of place.

The hotel doesn’t look like much from the outside and is basically modern twin buildings joined a breezeway, but don’t let that fool you. Once inside, prepare to be bowled over. Shamefully, Sailor and I were too dumbstruck to take any pictures, save the view outside our room window. It is lush, lush, lush and sitting in their parlor, overlooking the bay while the tide came in, it was a pretty easy decision to stay for the night even despite the surprise arrival of a family party of 14, complete with oodles of rug rats, that will be staying the night as well.

budir-church-and-wall.jpgUp a slight hill from the hotel is the hauntingly gorgeous church which dates back to 1703. It’s unusual for an Icelandic church in that the wood it painted black with pitch, which is a mixture of pine tar and linseed oil (thank you, Sailor), but makes for a striking picture against the backdrop of the mountains. Also unusual, a rock wall, my favorite, of lava stones and turf surround the graveyard that has some surprising recent additions to its inhabitant community.

Trails abound through the area and Sailor Man and I take advantage of the light that is left to go off and explore. Hiking through a lava field is no easy venture. You really have to mind your feet and do not by any means get too caught up in the views. I’m not kidding when I say this is a matter of safety. If you were hiking in Ireland and took a tumble, chances are you’ll fall on some soft turf and get a little wet, fall here in Iceland and you’re likely to shatter a knee cap. These lava rocks can be treacherous.

priests.jpgThrough the field a little ways and we begin to notice the presence of rock piles, or “priests” as they’re locally called, along the way. We have seen them now in many places throughout the peninsula this trip. I have not a clue what their purpose is other than obvious trail marking. Any Icelander who can comment on this, your input would be greatly appreciated. It’s amusing, as an atheist, how this trip has been all churches, “priests”, and “christian pillars”, but trust me, I’m not complaining.

budir-sunset.jpgBefore we know it, the sun is starting to set and we are well over mile away from the hotel. I know that a great deal of the pictures posted are little more than landscapes draped in white, but you really must experience a sunset. The colors are unimaginable and a picture doesn’t begin to do them justice. The leprechauns appear to be in hiding since we haven’t seen one of the little imps or maybe they just come out after dark. Anyway, it’s time to boogey back because I really don’t want to be traversing these fields in the dark.

budir-longview.jpgIt’s difficult to grasp the vastness of Iceland unless you fit some point of reference in your pictures. If you look closely towards the center-bottom of this picture, you can the see the hotel and church in the distance. Sailor and I were so busy talking and hiking, we didn’t realize how far away from the hotel we actually had gone. Also, the second the sun is out sight, the winds pick up and the temperature plummets. After a quarter mile of careful and considerate walking, we started running, rocks be damned, back towards the hotel.

Dinner was had the hotel that evening, tended to by our wonderful server, Asgeir, who also served the large family party occupying the hotel with us. Iceland is a very family oriented place and it has not been unusual for us to see the children out at late hours dining with their parents. Apparently, the party is celebrating the 60th birthday of the family matriarch and the grandfather is more than happy to fly his infant granddaughter around the room to visit with the other guests. I have to inform our server Asgeir that I am allergic to most of the seafood on the menu for the evening and he readily informs the kitchen who make changes on my behalf. Aside from my previous culinary adventure of eating Puffin, I have now also eaten a whale. Okay, part of a whale. Whale carpaccio no less and while it’s a typical American guilt trip I start playing on myself for the pleasure, that whale was some good eatin’.

We end the evening with a nightcap at the bar, taking in a really impressive collection of liquors, and although really tempting, I do not dare ask what the 150 year old Grand Marnier would go for. We speak for a while with the grandfather of the other group and have a very interesting conversation about politics both Icelandic and American. Icelanders are keenly aware of our political process and are paying close attention to the presidential primaries.

Sadly, we have to call it a night. We have to get up early and drive two hours back to to Reykjavik in the morning and the weather reports have been inconsistent at best. Still, I can’t imagine a better night to end the trip. If you ever out in the area, stop in at the Hotel Budir and ask for Asgeir. He’ll take excellent care of you.

Last Chapter: The Final Roundup