mæðgur á ferðalagi: ísafjörður og bolungarvík


The drive from Patreksfjörður to Ísafjörður was the longest and gravel-iest of the trip. We backtracked east to Flókalundur and then took Route 60 over the mountains. The road is gravel, yes, and there are some mildly terrifying sheer drop-offs and sharp turns, but the weather was splendid and we only met a handful of cars along the way. The scenery was spectacular and had me constantly slowing down (even more, that is; I was already granny driving) and saying “wow!” repeatedly.

I took a few photos from the (stopped – safety first!) car, but none of them do the views justice.




After a couple hours of dusty driving, we were rewarded by the sight of the Westfjords’ most spectacular waterfall: Dynjandi.



Dynjandi (“thundering”) is actually a series of waterfalls, the largest of which is called “Fjallfoss” (“Mountain Falls”). The smaller falls all have names too, but I am too lazy to look them up.

Here’s a charmingly shaky video I took (with my bright pink point-and-shoot camera) that shows what a marvelously beautiful (and windy) day it was:


We took a nice long break at Dynjandi, and we were far from alone. That’s the strange thing about driving in the Westfjords; you can drive across the mountains for hours and meet just a few cars along the way, and then all of a sudden at a place like Dynjandi there are dozens of cars that seem to have materialized out of nowhere.




We continued on past Dynjandi and made it to Þingeyri, where the road is paved once again (my mother was thrilled). From there it was smooth sailing on to Ísafjörður. Well, almost. Just before Ísafjörður you have to drive through Vestfjarðargöng, a long tunnel (about 6 km, I think). After dozens of one-lane bridges, my mom, when she saw the upcoming tunnel, said, “well, as long as it isn’t a one-lane tunnel.” As the sign (which was in Icelandic, of course) came into view, my eyes alighted on the word “einbreið.” “Well, actually, Mom…”

I vaguely recalled having gone through this tunnel back in 2012. Thankfully, heading east, we had the right of way; westbound traffic has to use a series of pull-outs to yield to eastbound traffic.



We arrived in Ísafjörður around dinner time and checked into our AirBNB accommodation (which was incredibly easy to find – such a welcome contrast to our experience in Stykkishólmur). I mentioned to our hosts that we were planning to go to Tjöruhúsið for dinner and they asked if we had a reservation. “Uh… no,” I said, realizing it had never even occurred to me to make a reservation. This is Iceland, after all.

Gurrý immediately offered to call the restaurant for us, and thanks to a last-minute cancelation, she was able to book us a reservation for about ten minutes later.

Dinner at Tjöruhúsið is an experience. Tjöruhúsið and the surrounding buildings are some of the oldest in the country, built by the Danes in the 1700s. The neighboring Turnhús is now home to a museum, and Tjöruhúsið is home to what I think I can safely say is the best seafood restaurant in the country.


I hesitate to use the word buffet, since it carries such negative connotations, but that’s essentially how dinner was served. The line of people snaked around the long tables and benches that make up the dining room as we all waited our turn for seafood soup and bread. Then it was time for the main course – there were about ten side dishes, ranging from green salad to barley salad to plokkfiskur. And then the main attraction: a dozen gigantic iron skillets, each one filled with mouthwateringly delicious fish – cod, haddock, blue ling, wolffish, catfish, cod cheeks.


The dining room at Tjöruhúsið consists of just a few long tables, so it’s a communal dining experience. Our nearest tablemates turned out to be a family from Arizona who had just arrived in Iceland that morning. We also sat across from a guy whose two friends’ unfortunate car trouble and subsequent delayed arrival was the reason my mom and I were able to get last-minute reservations. (We expressed our apologies and our hope that the car issue would be quickly resolved, which it was – the friends arrived in time for dinner.)

After a cup of strong coffee (never a good idea at that hour, but hey, when in Iceland) and some Nói Siríus chocolate, we walked back to the car, full and content.

To the several people who recommended Tjöruhúsið – I owe you. Mmm.

After dinner, Mom stayed at the guesthouse while I wandered around town. Peaceful, calm, quiet, illuminated by the late-night sun… the perfect way to explore a new place, if you ask me.



Gamla Bakaríið

In the morning, we had treats at Gamla Bakaríið (“The Old Bakery”) and wandered around the town a bit. We wanted to go to (what we thought was) the Westfjords shop (where I got my beloved Westfjords t-shirt in 2012 and where we planned to buy souvenirs for family), but since it didn’t open until 1.00, I suggested we drive up to Bolungarvík.


I had no idea what there was to do or see in Bolungarvík (if anything), but I knew it was just a short drive north of Ísafjörður, so I figured it would be a good way to kill a bit of time. It turned out to be the best little detour of our trip.

Hólskirkja, Bolungarvík


You see, when we drove into town, my mom noticed there was a church up on a hill. I drove up there so we could get a closer look and snap a few photos. There also happened to be a home right by the church, and a man outside in the garden. While I was taking photos of the surrounding mountains (and all the rocks that tumbled down the mountainsides last winter), my mom started chatting with the gardener. By the time I walked over there, he was inviting us in to see his house.

He spoke good English, but my Icelandic also helped a bit as he showed us around his house. We learned that he was a tæknifræðingur (which the dictionary defines as a “technologist,” whatever that means), born and raised in Bolungarvík. He lived and worked in Kópavogur for most of his adult life and had also lived in Sweden but moved back to Bolungarvík after retiring. He has a daughter who made the lovely quilt on his bed, and he has a son who lives in Hveragerði but was at Landspítali in Reykjavík after a recent heart attack.

Our new friend Siggi told us that he is 92 years old, and initially I thought have misunderstood him, because he is energetic and youthful and doesn’t look a day over 75 (Seriously, I didn’t believe it until I found this article confirming his age.) Despite his age, he still draws and paints, grows pears, and works in his woodshop. And, apparently, occasionally makes friends with tourists.

Mamma og Siggi og gjöfin sem hann gaf henni – handsmiðaður diskur

After saying goodbye to Siggi, we drove around the town a bit more. Siggi had recommended that we check out the avalanche barriers. Most towns in the Westfjords are nestled next to incredibly steep mountains, putting them at high risk for avalanches. In fact, 169 people have been killed in snow avalanches in Iceland since the beginning of the 20th century. After avalanches in nearby Suðavík and Flateyri killed 34 people in 1995, the government created a risk assessment process to identify which residential areas were at highest risk. A large portion of Bolungarvík was determined to be a high-risk zone, which prompted the construction of avalanche defense structures between 2008 and 2012. The structures are intended to keep snow from reaching the town and to redirect the flow toward the sea.


IMG_6184The most fascinating thing is that these structures, while serving a critical defense purpose, double as a recreational space: there are walkways across the dams that provide stunning panoramic views of the surroundings. Apparently the thought was that if the town’s landscape had to be significantly altered in order to impose these safety measures, the least they could do was turn them into something that can enrich people’s lives on a regular basis, not just potentially save their lives some day (not that this is a “just,” but you know).

Oh, and because the Icelanders are a people who greatly value language and names, it should come as no surprise that the town of Bolungarvík held a naming contest when the two dams were erected. The winning names? Vörður and Vaki (Guard and Watchman).

Besides the avalanche barriers, we also saw a woman out for a walk with her child and her cat. Seriously, she was pushing a stroller, and there was a little orange cat following her. We thought it was a coincidence at first, but then noticed that she kept turning around and waiting for the cat to catch up.

I didn’t want to get too close and be too obvious that I was taking a stalker photo.

Back in Ísafjörður, we were disappointed to learn that the Westfjords shop closed a couple years ago. The woman we spoke to told us that the guy who ran the shop lives in Flateyri and we should just go talk to him, but we were not convinced (our decision may or may not have also had something to do with the fact that we didn’t want to have to drive westbound through the one-lane tunnel).

So we said goodbye to Ísafjörður and continued on our way toward our next destination: Heydalur.

fimmtudagur: íslenska, pepperoni, forseti íslands?

Halló again dear readers (wow that sounds very Jane Eyre – points to anyone who understands that reference),

I just got off the phone with mamma mín.  Today is my parents’ anniversary.  Til hamingju for 37 years of marriage!  For anyone who might be curious and isn’t in Washington, my dad is recovering very well from his surgery.  He’s off the pain meds, is walking around the neighborhood, and is sleeping better.  Good to hear!


að vinna: to work

My first day of work was rather overwhelming, as you can imagine, so I made sure I took a notebook to work with me yesterday so I could write down words to know, questions I have, things to remember, etc.  Hopefully it’ll help me learn and also help me remember things to blog about.

Work went well today.  Nine hours is a long time, and just like yesterday, my brain was getting a bit tired of learning in the afternoon, but it was okay.  My coworkers are wonderfully kind and mostly the customers are very understanding.  I don’t think I did anything too strange or mortifying today, although it was moderately embarrassing when I thought a customer wanted tobacco or candy and all she really wanted was a receipt.  úbs  🙂

My boss (also the owner of the store and the baker) speaks pretty much zero English, so we don’t really talk much.  I don’t know if it’s the language barrier or something else, but I find him a bit intimidating.  Every once in awhile, though, we’ll talk, and it’s fun to see how he gets excited when I actually understand him.  Like today, I walked into the back and he was hanging up some keys.  I pointed and said, ‘lykill’?  His answer was a bit longer than já or nei, but as soon as I heard the word ‘ruslið’ I understood – he had just come back from taking the garbage out.  When you’re learning a new language even those little moments are worth celebrating!

I think the most difficult thing at work is still the money.  It’s hard enough to get used to buying things with a different currency, but it’s even harder to count change correctly!  Different language, numbers with different genders, big numbers (an average purchase costs maybe 2300 kronur)… add mental math onto that and you have one confused me.  Luckily there is a calculator by the cash register and I quickly got over my pride and started using it.  Sorry, Dad – my mental math skills are not up to snuff when I’m under pressure!  I did however do a much better job saying the numbers today.  It is a pretty big effort, but since I’m more accustomed to other aspects of the job I decided I had to really try today.  People usually give me an amused (but pleased, I think) look when I say prices.  If you don’t know anything about Icelandic, here’s an example of why it’s so freakin’ hard.  If your purchase adds up to 2334 ISK, I would say, ‘tvö þusund, þrjú húndruð, þrjátíu og fjögur.’  And even as I type that I’m not entirely sure that it’s correct.

One reason numbers are difficult in Icelandic is that the numbers 1-4 have three forms – masculine, feminine, and neuter.  I could be wrong, but I think when you’re counting you use the masculine forms, but when you’re saying numbers like prices you use the neuter.  It’s all very confusing.  So confusing, in fact, that our Icelandic teacher told us a story about a girl who came to Iceland from abroad to be an au pair, and when she went to the market to buy groceries she would order 5 of everything (fimm) because it was easier than figuring out the numbers 1-4.  Our teacher told us that was a bad idea, but I don’t know… at some points today it seemed pretty appealing.


I went to the kaffihús for lunch today… ég borðaði panina með kjúkling, pepperoni, ost, og hvítlauksósu… or something like that.  FYI, Icelandic national obsessions include genealogy, black licorice, candy in general, leggings, and pepperoni.  Seriously, they put pepperoni on everything.  It’s strange.  But tasty.

If I didn’t already mention it, Patreksfjörður has a very small population (600-700), so I’ve seen several people three days in a row now at the store.  I talked to my German friend again this morning.  He’s been living here since October and is working on a memoir.  I told him if there’s an English translation I’d love to read it.  I also saw this younger guy again today.  Yesterday he was asking one of my coworkers about me and they must have mentioned the Snorri Program by name because today he suddenly said in English, ‘So I got curious about you and looked up the Snorri Program.  Who are you related to here?’  Yep, apparently I’m an oddity and the word is spreading.  But that’s okay… I’m advertising the Snorri Program  🙂


Forseti Islands?

The grocery store where I’m working has a wall by the front door where people can put up posters.  Most of them are listing things ’til sölu’ (for sale), but some are advertising places or events.  My first day I noticed a poster announcing that Þóra Arnórsdóttir, one of the presidential candidates (the election is this Saturday if you didn’t know), was coming to Patreskfjörður for some sort of town hall meeting tonight.  So on my lunch break I called my host mom and managed to tell her that I was going to walk to the Sjóræningjahúsið (pirate house – seriously) for the meeting.  If you missed the picture of it I posted yesterday, go check it out.  It looks like a dump on the outside, but I was surprised to find that it’s quite nice on the inside.  They have a bunch of information for tourists, displays about pirates (which I didn’t have time to look at today – I’ll probably go back and then post about it later), a book exchange (Lopez people – it’s just like the take it or leave it!  makes me feel at home!), and a little coffee shop.  I ordered a vanilla latte (side note: if you think Starbucks is expensive, try ordering kaffi here.  It’s ridiculous – I paid 510 ISK for a 12 oz. latte today, which is like almost $5.  The only good news is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get good strong coffee anywhere in Iceland.  None of that watered down crap.  Oh, here’s another side note: á íslensku, ‘krap’ means ‘slush,’ and it also applies to a slushie drink.  ‘I’d like a large krap please.’)

I sat down, perused the book exchange (found a copy of Makbeð by Mr. William Shakespeare), and waited.  There was a guy pacing around who I kept staring at because he has come into the store a few times and he looks so much like my cousin Ben.  Remember him – we’ll come back to him in a few minutes.

Þóra, her husband Svavar, and their ADORABLE baby finally arrived.  She apologized for being late, but if there was an interesting explanation I didn’t understand it.  She and Svavar both immediately began making the rounds greeting everyone and shaking hands.  Svavar came over to me first and shook my hand and I think I had used up all my Icelandic for the day because I think all I said was ‘Hæ, ég heiti Julie.’  Awkward.  Þóra came over and I said hæ to her too.

Before you get too excited, let me tell you that right when I got to the pirate house I pulled out my camera and saw that the battery was dead.  So I didn’t get any pictures.  But I don’t think you need photographic proof – I mean, I’m creative, but there’s no way I could make up a town hall meeting with a presidential candidate at a pirate museum.

(Oh wait, here’s some photographic proof.  Okay, you can’t see me, because I was sitting next to Svavar, who took the picture on his fancy dancy iPhone, but anyway.)

Of course I understood next to nothing of what Þóra said (although more than I would have understood even a couple weeks ago), but I was definitely impressed by her demeanor.  She seemed very laid-back, kind, but professional, if that’s even the right word.  I did catch words here and there, so I know she was talking about the Alþingi, about IceSave, about the kirkja (church), and about Evropa (Europe – maybe something about joining the EU?).  There was an older woman in attendance who Þóra talked to for several minutes at the beginning, and then near the end she was pointing at her and telling a story.  Something about how Þóra and her husband were driving in this area once, and I think that lady helped them out somehow… or I could have completely misunderstood.  Who knows.  It sounded like a good story though.

After the meeting, I was getting up to leave, and Mr. Looks-Like-My-Cousin-Ben came over and said something to me in Icelandic.  I very gracefully said, ‘huhhhh?’ and he mercifully switched to English.  He recognized me from Albína and was very curious to know how I ended up at a political meeting where I can’t even understand what’s going on.  My answer was pretty simple – I’ll never learn if I don’t listen to the language in a real setting, and there’s nothing else to do in this town!  😉

We chatted for awhile and I found out his name is Brynjólfur (didn’t get it until I made him spell it for me).  He’s going to the Háskóli Islands but is working here for the summer (something to do with local government, I think).  He’s a poly-sci major so is very into politics.  He didn’t seem to hold it against me too much when I said I kind of hate politics.  Well, at least in the US I do.  Here it seems much more civilized.  We talked about handball (I just today learned what it is).  He loves handball and is of course rooting for the Icelandic team at the Olympics this summer.  He doesn’t want the sport to become popular in the States or other big places though because then Iceland might have some real competition  😉

Anyway, it was nice to talk to someone about my age (and in English!).  He said he doesn’t know too many people here and gets rather bored, so we might do something next week.  Who knows.  Hopefully he didn’t notice that I was staring at him.  If/when I see him again I might have to explain the whole cousin Ben thing.

I had to take a break from writing this blog a little while ago because my host parents came in and wanted to see more of my pictures.  They were kind of shocked that I didn’t enjoy eating svið and hákarl and harðfiskur.  Funniest of all was the fact that Sæmundur thought Mahtob (my cat) is ‘falleg’ (beautiful), but he definitely didn’t think Finn is fallegur.  I don’t know exactly what he said, but I heard ‘ekki’ several times.  Fyrirgefðu, systir mín.  I really did try to defend him.

Well it’s late and I must be up tomorrow klukkan korter í sjö (6:45).  Ugh.  I’m excited for the weekend, although I might not get to sleep in… my host family wants to take me somewhere.  Depending on the weather, some options are: Flatey (island south of here; some of my ancestors lived there or on a nearby island); Isafjörður (the largest town in the Westfjords); Rauðisandur (uhhh I don’t really know but I’m assuming there is sand and it’s red); or Látrabjarg (tall cliffs, lots of birds, westernmost point of Europe).  Hopefully at least one of them will work out!  It would be great to see more of the area.

Góða nótt!