1. Taking the Ferry
We woke up early in Akureyri and headed north on the Ring Road. As the road turns west, we took 82 north and headed towards Dalvík. Last month, I had bought us some roundtrip ferry tickets to Grímsey Island, the northernmost part of Iceland which actually crosses the Arctic Circle. It seemed like a gimmicky thing to do, but it was also right there within reach. My mom packed Dramamine and extra long johns, joking that this is the part of the trip where I “do her in”.
We had trouble at first locating where to go. I drove down along the dock until we found the company’s little ticketing office. Inside, a man asked us if we wanted to take our car. See, I would have done one night on the island instead of two at Akureyri except the ferry wasn’t running the next day. Instead, I booked a 9am over and a 2pm back on the same day – enough time, I figured, to see the Arctic Circle, some of the area, then head back. Besides, the island is known for puffins and those little guys didn’t stick around for the winter and won’t come back for a little while yet.
We chose not to take our car after realizing how long we might wait to unload it, thereby losing time for seeing the island (although it’s fairly small). The man printed our tickets for our journey out as well as for the journey back (and I joked to my mom, Oh you won’t be needing that one…, insinuating Grímsey would be her new home). We drove back over to where the whale watching signs were, parked the car, and made our way towards the Samskip being loaded at the dock. There were plenty of seats because we were apparently the only ones crazy enough to take the ferry to Grímsey in winter that day.
Fortunately I had no problem on the 3 hour ride each way. I know that can change suddenly though, given my grandma never had problems on boats until one time we brought a salmon haul back on Lake Ontario and she became suddenly ill. Walking around the boat and hearing the huge waves crash in the rough waters made me think of my PapPap’s war stories – and also of the short stint I spent living on a sail boat in the Chesapeake Bay, but I digress…
2. Grímsey Island
At Grímsey, we were left to our own devices…and it was soooo windyyyy. I thought my face would break right off. I wrapped my scarf up around my face and got to moving and suddenly I felt much better. We pressed on up over the hill in town (only about 90 people live on the island) and walked toward the airport where there’s a monument for the Arctic Circle. We made it there to take photos, discussing how the line moves all the time so how do we know if it’s accurate? Well, it’s accurate enough for us. Then I looked up and saw a trail to the north end of the island.
The problem is the winds were so strong in the opposing direction sailing north that our ride actually took 4 hours instead of 3, so we only had 1 hour on the island. We decided it was time to head back. Just then, a car came flying over the hill, a window went down, and a lady stuck her head out, “You don’t get nearly enough time! Let me give you a tour.” We asked no questions, we just jumped inside!
She took off down the trail I had been looking towards. “I can’t take you the whole way, but you can see it. That’s the new monument. I don’t know why they put it way down there.” All I could think is they’re trying to thin out the tourist population when the summers get busy…or something!
Next she drove back into town. She told us the story of two brothers who drowned, one in the well and one in the harbour. “Then we decided to invest in a swimming pool, so right now the children are in swimming lessons.” She pointed out the school and also the church which she said is “quite beautiful inside”. She rounded the south end of the island next and stopped in front of an orange lighthouse. We took photos there, looking out at the waves crashing on vertical rocky cliffs. Then we got back in the car and she pointed out her wooden home in the tiny cluster of houses that make up the island’s population. (Did you know we don’t allow cats or dogs on the island? She asked, explaining the problems with cats eating their puffins or dogs disturbing their solitude, Grímsey being proud of its natural world.)
“So have you always lived here?”, my mom asked.
“No, I’m from Reykjavík. I met a boy when I was 20 who was from here. And so I moved to be with him, and I’m still here 28 years later!” she laughed.
Back at the dock, I noticed she had on pants similar to the crew. She was helping next move some of the cargo as we waved bye and boarded. The time was so short, but there’s something special about visiting a place like that and chatting with such a friendly local. Plus, the ride back was a pleasant one and we got a good 3 hours to nap to the lulling sensation of the waves. (We also bought the certificates for having been to the Arctic Circle, and a guy on the crew signed them. Yeah we’re that uncool.)
3. Dalvík, Ólafsfjörður, & Siglufjörður
The ferry had advertised a place that sells fish soup but the one we found was by a different name: Gisli Eirikur Helgi Kaffihûs Bakkabrædra. It was so delicious, I wish I had the recipe. The homemade bread was also amazing, made with Kaldi beer. The deal came with bread, butter, soup, salad, and coffee – all self-serve and unlimited. I had two bowls and couldn’t take any more. We also split some dessert. The place was a quaint house with very Icelandic decor – e.g. wool sweaters for sale, oars leaning against the wall, ice-fishing gear along the windowsills.
From Dalvík, we decided to head northwest. It was going to be dark in a couple of hours, so rather than heading back to Akureyri we explored the area. We continued up the peninsula to Ólafsfjörður, passing through Múlagöng, a 2.11-mile one-lane tunnel built in 1990. A car came in the other direction while I was driving in the tube-like lane, so we and the person behind us had to shoot into the next available designated area to wait for oncoming cars to pass through. They’re marked along the tunnel with a blue sign reading “M” and can be found on narrow roads as well.
On the other side of Ólafsfjörður, we went through Iceland’s longest tunnel which was finished in 2010 and continues 6.83 miles to Síglufjörður. It briefly opens after 4.4 miles in Héðinsfjörður. Once we got to Síglufjörður, we looked out to see the view of the fjord, the church on the hill, and the people out and about with their days. As the sun was really starting to set, we made our way back to Akureyri the way we had come up. Back in town, I stopped at Akureyri Fish & Chips and was disappointed to find out they were out of Iceland’s national dish of the fermented shark. I did with trying some dried fish and butter instead, then finished some work before going to sleep.