The Westfjords (finally)

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View of the Tuya mountains along the Westfjords

I need to put a 18+ warning right here.  This page contains an image of a person’s skin from the waist down, taken in The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft.  So read on if you dare.

I try to not overuse phrases like absolutely gorgeous, or wonderfully stunning, but it’s really the only way to describe the Westfjords in Iceland.  Similarly to most of the rest of  Iceland, there are not many trees that grow here; at least no large trees.  But there is an abundance of wildlife in the area, including birds, fish, the arctic fox. No matter which way you look, you’ll find seagulls, terns and many others species flying around.  Whilst not being particularly  knowledgable in the study of fauna, I would suggest the pristine environment provides a perfect home for the animals and birds.

As we ready’d for a relatively short trip (ab0ut 2 1/2 hours plus stops) I took my compulsory Kitchen Shot of our quaint, but lovely home with it’s modern style baðstofa (bedrooms).  We packed up yet again, with our suitcases fitting into the back of the Toyota with the expertise of a world championship Tetris competition.  By now, we know exactly where every piece of luggage, bag, hat and jacket would fit perfectly.  There was barely a spare gap to fit a scrunched up sock, should the need arise.

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Cafe Riis at Hólmavík

We followed the windy roads around the peninsulas that make up the fjords.  With mountains looming overhead, and no way to go through them, we had to follow the long roads around.  It was Trevor’s job to drive this day as he is the one who enjoys this type of driving, along small roads and high drops. It’s not my thing and I am unashamedly frightened of heights.  I had conquered a large amount of my fear on the Eiffel Tower, but have since realised that it hasn’t gone completely.  I can do it, but it is much slower with a high amount of internal stress.

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Our trip ventured to our preplanned stop of Hólmavík for lunch and refreshments at Cafe Riis.  I had the “Sjávarréttasúpa mea brauði” (seafood soup with bread), which was fresh, full tasting and a great delight to eat.  Cafe Riis really delivers on local produce and the fact that it has been there since 1897 is a testament to the business and the town.  BUT this is not the reason we came to Hólmavík.  Hólmavík is the home of The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft!  A great place to delve into the world of witchcraft that was such a strong part of society in the 17th century in Iceland.  I want to share with you the most bizarre relic they have on display in this museum, the Necropants!  Below I have an excerpt from Wikipedia on the more (ahem) interesting things you will ever see. Believe it or not, this is one of the more popular museums in Iceland along with The Icelandic Phallological Museum found in Reykjavik – if you can’t get to the Westfjords.  Iceland has a pretty relaxed style about such things!

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If you want to make your own necropants (literally; nábrók) you have to get permission from a living man to use his skin after his death.

After he has been buried you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical signnábrókarstafur, written on a piece of paper. Consequently the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed. To ensure salvation the owner has to convince someone else to overtake the pants and step into each leg as soon as he gets out of it. The necropants will thus keep the money-gathering nature for generations.

Once we had a walk around some of the town, and enjoyed the sunshine that had bathed our morning and early afternoon, we continued on to Súðavík further up the Western coast of Iceland.  Picking up our keys from the Arctic Fox Centre, I realised (when I snuck into the little museum at the back of the building) that the skull I had found the previous day on the pebble beach was that of an Arctic Fox.

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Our house was yet again in a wonderful location with a view over the fjord. What a wonderful place.  Súðavík is only about 6km from Ísafjörður, which is known as the capital of the West.  Each area of Iceland has it’s own capital, or centre which is reminiscent of the Goðar or Chieftains of pre 1000 A.D. who reigned over their own parts of the country.  Note the photo on the right. This was a telephone box in the main street through the town. Complete with books lining the shelves.  A library of sorts where you could drop off a book and change it for another one.  What a great idea to share within such a close knit town.

Constantly amazed at the changing landscapes, nothing was ever old.  With the snow melting all around, every mountain in the fjord appeared to have waterfalls every kilometre or so.  This was a regular event in Iceland, right around the island.  What a wonderful place to be; however, I still had to hold my breath in delight as we drove alongside a mountain that stretched up higher than we could see. We were only about 5 metres from the base of the slope as we drove along a road that was cut into the side.   What drew my breath was the waterfall that came out of the side of the mountain.  It wasn’t just a stream that had been so common, it was a genuine waterfall with a 15 metre drop as it hugged the landscape.  What made this waterfall special was that it continued for at least 100 metres as we drove along toward the inevitable turn at the end of this particular peninsula.

After the last few days I think we, or at least I couldn’t wait to get to Flatey Island.  This was something completely different that I had decided on prior to the trip.  What would it be like?  Am I going to make a fool of myself when people realise this is just a silly idea where we would have nothing to do, or no interesting place to go.  Would we be trapped on this island with no car and no plan for a day. It’s only a day right?  I’ll tell you about that day in a moment.. Have a look at these photos if you’d like and then scroll down to the our venture right into the heart of the Westfjords and beyond.

Kitchen Shot

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Flatey Island

As we (Trevor) drove through the Westfjords, I felt lucky that I was here, watching the marvels around me, including the flat top mountains (Tuya) caused by Glaciers pushing down on the once peaked tops.  It’s amazing to think that hundreds of thousands of years ago that the glaciers were falling into the oceans at this location.  An island of amazing contrasts.  We started to enter into Ísafjörður and quickly turned away after a refuel.  For something a little different we entered a tunnel that drove right through the heart of the mountain and inland toward the centre of the “fingers” of the fjords.  We had an early morning start and we were on a tight schedule.  After making our way through a 6 kilometre tunnel, we started climbing those mountains, mainly on dirt roads and often without a guard rail as the mountain fell far below us.  Trevor did a wonderful job, keeping us to schedule and most importantly keeping us safe.

The one stop we did make, deserves mentioning.  Whilst we had breakfast before we left, we were still feeling like a good coffee stop.  This one would rate as probably the best on the trip and certainly it was the best in Iceland.  Simbahöllin cafe in Þingeyri was a marvel.  A team of “young” people running a very traditional looking cafe that was obviously a love of theirs.  The Belgian Waffles were to die for, and surprisingly for anywhere in Europe, the coffee was very well expressed and made. So much so that the man making the coffee was under the guidance and direction of the owner as he made it.  These people cared about what they did and we appreciated every bit of it.

Continuing on to our Ferry with 20 minutes to spare, we picked up our tickets and drove onto Ferry Baldur at Brjánslækur.  About an hour later, we docked at Flatey Island (pronounced Flirty) and disembarked…without our car. Cars are not allowed on Flatey, except for the very few that belong to residents.  Even those are restricted to the Hotel, where we were staying.  There are actually no real roads on the island and just tracks, however the Hotel car (an old beat up station wagon) was waiting for us to take our luggage.  Phew..  I wouldn’t have wanted to drags these bags.

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A few facts about Flatey Island.  It has an official population of 5 people (in the winter) yet the houses on the island are often full during the summer.  A wonderful nature retreat with birds a plenty, including the Puffin.  The island is 2 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide at is widest point; sitting amongst a group of about 40 small islands in Breiðafjörður (the spreading fjord).

The people in the island hotel were so friendly, and tended to our needs with a smile.  Like the rest of Iceland, the food was expensive, and having a captive audience probably added to this, but the food was also really well cooked.  Some of the best of our trip.  The Westfjords is noted for it’s wonderful birdlife and it’s beauty, but the food we have experienced is also the best we tasted on the entire odyssey.

Trevor and I went for a walk to various parts of the island.  Trevor had already been, and wanted to show me the Puffin, the Church and some of the other areas I didn’t dare to tread for fear of those dreaded Arctic Terns that seemed to be the rulers of this island.  I was stunned out how close we got to the Puffin, and how close the Terns got to us.  A single Tern was hovering over the top of me, probably about only 1-2 metres, looking back at me, shrieking in it’s “kria” vocabulary, calling for others to rally up for an assault to my head.  Trevor had to laugh at me as I stood with my large camera bag sitting above my head  like a woman from Africa or India carry a basket of potatoes from the market.

The church was stunning at the highest point of the island, in place of a monastery that was founded on the island in 1172 A.D.  The interior of the church is painted, depicting the island life, by Baltasar Samper in turn for lodgings. Trevor took this wonderful photograph of the interior, that I felt I just had to share.

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The interior of the Flatey Island Church painted by Balthasar Samper – Photo by Trevor Dansie

Kitchen Photo

I have to share this most basic of Kitchens at Hotel Flatey

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Kitchen Shot at Hotel Flatey

I hope you enjoy the rest of the photos below.  Flatey was an experience and a half. What did I have to worry about? Tick… another wonderful experience that many will never have. But I do implore you to consider it.

 

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