Sunday 1 October 2017--Planning for this day presented a challenge. The
next place I really want to stay is Akureyri, but it's a seven-hour drive from
Ísafjörður, not including any stops or side trips. There will have to be a stop in
between; otherwise, we might have stayed the second night in Ísafjörður. My
first thought for a layover was Hólmavík, on the eastern fringe of the
Westfjords, but I couldn't find a place to stay there, and it's really too soon,
anyway. I finally settled on Hvammstangi, which is nearly five hours along. Most
of the things we have in mind to stop for are between there and Akureyri,
anyway. So today is mostly just a matter of getting on down the road.
First things first: we last fueled the car in Borgarnes. We have plenty to get to Hólmavík, I think, but there is no sense taking any chances. We have a long empty road ahead, and don't really know what we're going to find, or not find. So we top up at the Bónus before leaving town. I'm expecting gasoline prices to be considerably higher out here in the hinterlands, but they are about the same as everywhere else. I suspect they are regulated. They are high enough as it is.
The road east winds up and down a succession of fjords--Skutulsfjörður, Álftafjörður, Seyðisfjörður, Hestfjörður, Skötufjörður, Mjóifjörður, Reykjarfjörður, and Ísafjörður (no relation to the town we just left). It looks daunting on the map, like a ragged sine wave, and that perhaps dampens our appreciation for the scenery along the way. As lovely as it is, it can't possibly measure up to what we saw yesterday, anyway. The most intriguing thing is looking across the great fjord Ísafjarðardjúp toward the Westfjords' vast northern peninsula. At one point, we have a view up the fjord Kaldalón to the glacier Drangajökull, Iceland's northernmost. There are roads leading a short way up either side of the peninsula, connecting to a few lonely farms. Beyond that, it's a truly empty land, with a scattered handful of long-abandoned villages. I'm intrigued by Læknishúsið, a seasonal guesthouse on the fringe of the 220- square-mile Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, accessible by boat from Ísafjörður. Put it on the list...realistically, I'll never get there. I suppose a fair number of people spend a night or two at the guesthouse and get a taste of the land, but Hornstrandir is the domain of serious backpackers. It's a little late for me to get on that bus. It's taken me all these years just to get to the Westfjords.
We finally turn up from the fjords, more than a hundred miles by road from Ísafjörður, a little more than twenty on a straight line. It's another thirty miles to Hólmavík, up over the heath of Steingrímsfjarðarheiði. The high plateau is nearly in the clouds; the scenery is nowhere near as dramatic as that fjordside, but there's something about it I find alluring. Not sure Marc feels the same. Down the other side, we stop for a look around town. It's very small, population about 375. There's a nice harbor, and I spot Café Riis, where I'd thought we would have dinner and pints, had we stayed. The big tourist draw here is the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft (Home of the Necropants!). Apparently there is some history of witchcraft in the area. The museum isn't open just now, which is too bad--it looks like it would be worth a gander. It figured in the novel Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. the first in her series featuring the lawyer/investigator Þóra [Thora] Guðmundsdóttir.
(It's kind of funny that I've gravitated to crime fiction in recent years. It's the geography that drives it--Ian Rankin's Edinburgh, Peter May's Outer Hebrides, Chris Ould's Faroe Islands, the Iceland of Yrsa, Ragnar Jónasson, and Arnaldur Indriðason. For some reason, I haven't gotten around to Ann Cleeves' Shetland series or Henning Mankell's Wallander.)
It's two more hours yet to Hvammstangi, with one more long narrow fjord, Hrútafjörður, to get around. When we arrive, we find a town with a population of just under 600, which makes it a metropolis in this part of the world. I'm pretty sure Win and I had lunch here in 1999, probably at the Hotel Hvammstangi, which is still here. It's the memory of that lunch that has caused me to suggest that tonight would be a good night to eat in. Looking around town, however, we find Sjávarborg, an attractive restaurant in a former cold-storage warehouse overlooking the fjord. We pop in for a couple of beers. The menu looks good, albeit with typically Icelandic prices, but we already have the groceries.
Our Airbnb is a very nice modern ground floor apartment a couple of blocks up from the waterfront. We relax for a bit, and then set about making dinner. Marc is preparing pasta, and as well-equipped as the kitchen is, we cannot find a colander. We do find a round slotted stainless steel disc that fits perfectly over the round sink; it's probably meant for rinsing vegetables. Marc sets it in place and carefully pours the hot water through it, followed by the pasta. The disc flips, dumping the pasta into the sink. I suppress a laugh...I suspect this is something Marc will find funny later on, but not just now. I'm thinking it might be Sjávarborg for dinner after all. But the sink is clean, and if there was any soap residue or such in it, it was undoubtedly rinsed away with the boiling pasta water. We scoop the stuff up and carry on with our meal.
After, we stroll back down to Sjávarborg for another beer or two. It's not long before we are having a chuckle over our kitchen misadventure. There are some diners in, but there are many empty tables on a Sunday night in early October. I wonder about the economics of a restaurant as large as this in a town as small as this. We've noticed that a lot of places are seasonal, closing up anywhere from the end of August to the end of October. Sjávarborg appears to be open year-round, and I suppose they try to rake it in during the summer, and hope to tread water through the long winter. I hope it works for them, because having this sort of oasis in a sleepy corner of Iceland certainly works for tourists like me.
No word yet on when the washed-out portion of the Ring Road in the southeast will reopen. We've booked a room in Reykjavík for the two nights we're supposed to stay in Egilsstaðir and Höfn, in case we have to turn back. We'll have to cancel one route or the other by Tuesday morning.
Map of today's route