AirBnb, bay, Breiðdalsvík, Brekkan, crystals, driving, Egilsstaðir, Eiðar, Europe, Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng, food, Glóð, Gljúfraborg, Gufufoss, harbor, harbour, Himalayan salt lamp, housing, Iceland, mountain pass, mountains, Norway, roadtrip, Seydisfjordur, ships, snow, Stöðvarfjörður, steak, tapas, travel, trolls, tunnel, vacation, wanderlust, waterfall, winter
1. Breiðdalsvík AirBnb with Helga & Stefán
First of all, if you are looking for an AirBnb in this area, I want to recommend Gljúfraborg with Helga (link to the room we booked, but there is more than one). We ended up having the whole guest house to ourselves which was unexpected. Either way, it had quite a lot of clean, new, decorated space to be comfortable and homey. The view is beautiful – you can see the mountains straight from the kitchen sink. Helga is only a text away and her boyfriend is equally friendly – in fact, he’s very passionate about Icelandic horses, it makes for great conversation! Their location is perfect for someone trying to do the Ring Road and looking for a place to stay in the remote Eastern region. Helga has great reviews already on AirBnb, and if you go you should add yours and share it as well!
We were fortunate to spend an easy Saturday at the guesthouse. We took our time getting ready and were greeted by Stefán who was shoveling the sidewalk outside. He offered to take us over to their farm to feed the horses some “candy”. We did just that and learned quite a bit about Icelandic horses as well as some folklore about the valley we were standing in, just off of 95 now that the Ring Road has been changed to avoid the mountain pass behind their place. Then Helga came out to greet us and offered to give us some hot drinks and snacks inside where we chatted for quite a long time and pet some adorable cats. I really hope to visit Iceland again and make certain to stay with Helga. It’s great to meet such friendly people and also to support them with their new investment (the new guesthouse where we stayed).
Before heading out, we went into town and checked out the gift shop Helga had suggested. It’s also a small café. Beside it is a brewery, although it is open much later in the day than when we were in town. From the parking at the shop, we walked down to the harbour. There was a large boat pulled on land which we photographed. We then took some nice photos of the water with the mountains lining the background. Helga had also recommended the log cabin on the way out of town north on the 1, but when we stopped we found they only had some desserts in a buffet for food that day and opted to go to the next town instead.
3. Stöðvarfjörður & Brekkan
After hugging some more sea cliffs along the Ring Road, we entered the next fjord and stopped in the town of Stöðvarfjörður. Here, in the heart of town, is a little joint called Brekkan. Upstairs, it has a literal gift shop – complete with wrapping paper and party things. Downstairs, they offer food, drinks, and a small grocery store. We sat inside near some rambunctious locals coming in for a quick bite. Between the two of us we ate soup, a hot dog, and a fish and chips. My mom stood up to get her hot cocoa and suddenly her seat was filled by a little boy. He sat down across from me with an apple juice in one hand and a few Crowns in the other. “Hi,” he said, and I said, “Hi” back to him. He kept looking around nervously, listening to the Icelandic behind him.
My mom sat down beside him and he continued to sit quietly. I finished my food and looked up to see the owner bring out his hotdog. He eagerly bit into it, burning his tongue. I laughed for a second, then I asked, “Talar þú ensku?” (Do you speak English?) He shook his head suddenly, his eyes lighting up, and said, “Yes!” I waited for a moment, suspecting he really wanted to talk. And he did. After half a minute passed and his hot dog was finished, he blurted out, “I’ma aneematoor!” We didn’t quite understand until he repeated because I didn’t think he was saying what he was saying. But he was indeed saying, “I’m an animator!”
“Really, that’s so cool!” I said. “Animator? Cartoons?”
“No,” he said. “With film. You know, I move brick by brick by brick. I take photo after photo. I take 271 photos for a very short animation. Take photo, move it, take photo. That’s what I did today before I came here.”
“Oh, wow, on your day off? No school today?”
“Nope! I spent all day animating. Then I ran downstairs and I said Mommy mommy pleeeease may I have a HOT. DOG. She said Yes and gave me some Crowns and so I came running, running down here.”
Even his speech was animated, his green eyes lighting up and him clenching his fists under his chin to emphasize Pleeeeease.
Somehow we got on the topic of cats. I showed him pictures of my cat Phantom and he was amused that she rides on my arms and shoulders sometimes. He told me his one cat tries to hurt him. He said he’ll purr and let him pet him until he gets too comfortable, then he’ll go to bite him suddenly. But he said the bite is never strong, so he demonstrated how he looks at his cat: ((stops petting motion, looks at invisible cat with raised eyebrows)) “Really? Like, really?”
(My mom later commented on not just his command of English for a boy of probably 9 or 10 but also on his familiarity with how the kids talk these days.)
But then the real story came out. His tone changed as he told us, “Things have been hard,… since my parents broke up. You see, my mom is from Iceland. But my dad is from the Czech Republic. And my grandfather is German. So I’m half Icelandic, half Czech, and… one of four… German.”
I asked him, “So your dad lives over in Czech?”
“Yes,” he said sadly. “But I’ll be visiting him in a couple of weeks.”
“I’m sorry your parents broke up,” I told him. “Well, I’m from America, but you should know I’m part German. I’m also part Slovakian, and you know Slovakia used to be with Czech as Czechloslovakia. So who knows – maybe we’re cousins?”
He smiled at the idea. Then, after a few more exchanges, he suddenly sprung up, cleaning up the trash on the table, and announced, “Well, I better get home!”
“Well, let me shake your hand then!” I said, and I did. “Nice to meet you, thanks for talking.”
“Bye!” and he was gone just as quickly as he had come.
He got me thinking about something I read: that many, many Icelandic people have published books or creative in one form or another. Is that what happens when you’re a child in a small fishing village, snowed in during the winter? I make it sound probably more bleak than the reality, but I bet the land shapes the minds here in some way.
Hmm, I’ll have to look out for the news in the next 10 or 20 years for the boy from Stöðvarfjörður who, raised on Brekkan hotdogs and Appelsin, became one of Iceland’s greatest animators (and possibly polyglots?).
4. Through Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng to Egilsstaðir
Our drive continued to be snowy as we pushed farther into the north in East Iceland. We now turned away from the fjords. Soon we encountered Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng, a tube tunnel that seemed to go forever but which, in actuality, is only about 3.7 miles long and 2 lanes wide. It had frequent pull-outs and my mom said, “Gee, imagine if this mountain erupted now how this tunnel would serve as a chute for all that hot lava.” She had me thinking ridiculously then, in the heart of the mountain, of how I might use a pull-out to save us from the lava. As if any of that would matter with asphyxiating gases and crumbled infrastructure coming down around us. But the mountain didn’t collapse. The worst thing that happened was a sign angrily flashed at me that I was speeding by a tad, but I couldn’t help it thinking about that lava! Before long we were in Egilsstaðir.
5. A Treacherous Mountain Pass & Seydisfjordur
Although the sun was beginning to set, I took a sudden right turn onto 93 with the hopes of seeing a harbour I had circled on the map: Seydisfjordur. The drive up was glistening with pink snow because of the lighting. I couldn’t take photos though because the roads were becoming a bit slick. As we started to reach the peak of the mountain, we noticed another car that almost looked like it had driven off the cliff. We’re thinking whatever they were doing was intentional because we’re pretty sure it’s the car that ended up tagging along with us over the mountain, but it made us curious.
As we started to reach more even ground, a white out consumed us. There were no places to turn around without risk of veering off a steep, soft shoulder and down into an icy ditch or 15-foot snowdrift. Instead, I kept driving. Thankfully the top of the mountain was so gusty that it kept snow from piling with the exception of a couple places that hadn’t gotten deep yet. When we finally reached the other side, I downshifted to third to force the engine to brake and we went down a few switchbacks with zero slippage. As we passed Gufufoss (and, in both passings, didn’t take photos!), we could see the town of Seydisfjordur shining below us in a soft light.
We felt like we deserved a badge of honor (or maybe stupidity) for flawlessly crossing a mountain pass in an Icelandic whiteout. It was around 6pm and so of course the grocery store had just closed, but we parked in the lot anyway and took a quick walk around. We saw the houses in the harbour that were apparently imported, ready-to-build kits from Iceland. We discussed the lack of building materials in Iceland (thanks to the Vikings taking nearly every tree), the inaccessibility of the town (93 is the only road in and out, but the harbour accepts ships directly from Copenhagen/Europe), and why we think so many Icelanders have pink crystal lights in their windows. They’re those Himalayan salt lamps that plug in. My mom suggested they keep out the trolls and other spirits many Icelanders believe in, but no research I’ve done answers that question…but I’ve definitely seen them in windows more times than I count as usual!
We went back to the car and apparently my mom misunderstood that us coming down the mountain pass meant we had to return to the mountain pass. We spent a minute or two parked on the side of the road arguing because the snow had kept falling and was going to keep falling. It seemed evident that, if we were going to do it, it was going to be now and not later. So we agreed we could always back the whole way down and took off barreling for the slopes yet again. To our surprise, we passed many cars, were followed by cars, and were even passed by one car on the flat stretch for going “too slow” (yeah, right, I don’t think 60km in several inches of snow is too slow when you’re surrounded by enormous vertical drops into icy, 15-foot snowdrifts). In fact, the drive back seemed almost shorter – likely because we already knew what to expect. And there was no guy dangling on the side of the cliff, nor any car in a ditch at the bottom – so we’re thinking our daredevil buddy did just fine coming out of his predicament.
6. Egilsstaðir, Glóð, & Eiðar
We came back into town and turned north for 13km until we reached our AirBnb in Eiðar. We were mildly confused by which building to check in to (it’s different apparently in the winter – down at #8 rather than #6), but we were greeted by Gimmi and quickly found our way to our private room. I looked up which places were still open for dinner (we had a kitchen, but Bónus seems to always close by 6pm). I found a few places and picked the one that was A) cheaper and B) had good reviews, and that ended up being Glóð (Ember?) Steikhús. Although the name suggests Steak, and there certainly was steak on the menu, it was actually a tapas bar. We enjoyed several small dishes and watched the snow continue to come down, then we headed back north to our place, turned up the heat, and enjoyed the comfort of our fluffy comforters (and, of course, some Melrose tea).