After my mom bought her ticket to Iceland, I started thinking about how we should spend the two weeks she’d be here. We would spend half the time in Reykjavík, I figured, and the other half traveling, but I was torn between two options: the Westfjords or the Eastfjords, the two regions where our family has roots. On the one hand, I thought, it would be fun to see the Eastfjords since I haven’t yet been out there, but on the other hand, it would be nice to visit the Westfjords for exactly the opposite reason – because I have been there so it would be familiar. In the end, I decided that someone who spent 28 years of her life with the last name Westford had to see the Westfjords, so I planned a six-day road trip from Reykjavík around the Snæfellsnes peninsula and through a good portion of the Westfjords. This was 110% the right decision. Choosing this route meant that I was familiar with the majority of the places we visited and also meant that we got to meet up with relatives. It also meant white-knuckle driving over unpaved mountain passes with sheer drop-offs on both sides of the road, but luckily the weather couldn’t have been better and the wild beauty of the region more than made up for the heart palpitations.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We began our journey by walking a few blocks from the house to a rental car office downtown. Now, here’s the thing about downtown Reykjavík: I know my way around quite well – on foot. But when I’m on foot, I pay minimal attention to things that don’t apply to pedestrians, like one-way streets and dead ends. This meant that traveling from the rental car office back to the house (a straight shot up Laugavegur on foot) was decidedly more challenging as a driver. Not to mention, I had only ever driven once in Iceland before this – from Patreksfjörður to Tálknafjörður with my host pabbi in 2012 – so encountering different road signs and having to think in kilometers was a bit disorienting. Anyway, we managed to get back to the house and after an hour or so of disorganized packing, we finally left the city behind.
It was serendipitous that I went on a 24-hour Snæfellsnes road trip with the girls a few weeks ago, because that meant that I actually sort of knew what I was doing and where I was going. More importantly, it meant that I knew which places along the way were worth a stop and which ones were more accessible for my mother (who is not a fan of long distances, steep trails, etc.).
We stopped at an N1 station somewhere along the way for a parking-lot picnic, then chased the glacier clockwise around the peninsula, stopping at a church here, a beach there, Mom squealing delightedly every time we saw sheep.
Anyway, here are some of the highlights from our trip around Snæfellsnes:
Arnarstapi is an old fishing village that sits along the southern coast of the peninsula in the shadow of Stapafell (which apparently has been greatly diminished due to quarrying and some of it lies under the runways at Keflavík Airport – thanks, visitreykjanes.is). We didn’t make it to Arnarstapi on the last trip because a car accident closed the road, so it was nice to get a second chance. Apparently there’s a lovely trail that runs along the cliffs between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, but we didn’t have time for that long of a walk. Instead, we just admired Gatklettur (the large stone arch in the photo below) and the lovely views.
We also admired this odd and intriguing work of art, which I later learned depicts the saga character Bárður Snæfellsás AKA Bárður Dumbsson, a name which makes me giggle immaturely every time I see it.
The black sands at Djúpalónssandur and Dritvík are expansive and beautiful. Mom didn’t want to walk down to the beach, so we admired the views from the nice even wooden walkways above, which was fine with me since the girls and I spent a couple hours exploring the beach and basalt columns and cliffs just a few weeks ago.
Built in 1903, Ingjaldshólskirkja is the oldest concrete church in Iceland. According to kirkjukort.net (a nifty website that provides location, photos, and historical information for every church in Iceland), Christopher Columbus once spent a winter at Ingjaldshóll and there exists a painting of him poring over a map with the priest, with the church and the glacier in the background.
In any case, this was one of mom’s favorite stops around Snæfellsnes, and I understand why. The church stands on a hill (hence the name Ingjaldur’s Hill), fields of lupine billowing in a breeze that comes off the ocean and across ancient lava fields, Snæfellsjökull looming above.
If you drive clockwise around Snæfellsnes, Grundarfjörður is the last town you’ll see before you arrive in Stykkishólmur. The distinctive, imposing peak Kirkjufell stands majestically over the town, and across from her is a charming waterfall named after the mountain (Kirkjufellsfoss). The girls and I didn’t take time to see the waterfall on our trip, so it was nice to have another chance.
Around dinnertime, we arrived in Stykkishólmur, our home for the night. I’d booked a guesthouse and figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to find in a town so tiny. Well, I was wrong. Using directions from the website, the map app on my phone, our eyeballs, brains, and common sense, we still spent about thirty minutes driving in circles not finding the guesthouse. Stykkishólmur is tiny, yes, but it also has a very odd layout with dead ends and weird little alleys. My mom and I were both tired and hungry and I was getting irritated when all of a sudden I saw something blue out of the corner of my eye. I know that blue, I thought. “Mom, I think that’s my nun!” I exclaimed, pointing across the street. Sure enough, there on the front porch stood “my nun,” an American classmate from HÍ who just so happens to be a nun and live in Stykkishólmur. I had hoped to meet up with her while we were in town, but I didn’t expect to run into her like that (although I really should have, because Iceland). Anyway, she appeared in all her blue-nun glory at just the right moment. We explained our embarrassing inability to locate our guesthouse, and she asked us for the address. When we told her, she pointed behind us to a house about two doors down and said, “That’s it right there!” Yes, I managed to book a guesthouse with a view of the nuns’ home.
American Nun kindly invited us over for dinner, and I think I may have said yes without even consulting my mother, because when a nun invites you to dinner, you say yes, you just have to.
American Nun lives in a home right by the church with Brazilian Nun, who had just the night before made a huge amount of homemade pizza, which we gladly helped them eat. The nuns told us about life in Stykkishólmur and there was never a dull moment in the conversation. I particularly enjoyed when American Nun told us about an Icelandic friend of hers who uses the expression, “I stone forgot!” (which is a literal translation of the Icelandic verb “að steingleyma,” to completely forget, and now that I’ve taken so long to explain this, anyone who didn’t laugh immediately definitely won’t find this funny).
Anyway, after pizza, we enjoyed Icelandic ice cream bars and American candy (in honor of July 4, of course). The guesthouse had screwed up our reservation and given us a room with one bed instead of two, so the nuns kindly invited me to sleep in their guest room. I didn’t want to impose, but I also really wanted to sleep well, so I accepted, and slept in their basement guest room next to their basement chapel.
Takk fyrir okkur, nunnurnar mínar! Það var ógleymanleg heimsókn til ykkar!