The sunshine is gone, dear Reader. Outside our hotel window the azure waves of yesterday have lost their playfulness. This morning the Atlantic Ocean is uninviting, opaque – a still blanket of sulky grey concealing untold mysteries. Drops of rain fall fat and fast with no signs of letting up.
There are few things I love more than a rainy day, but there’s no denying they are less welcome on vacation. Today William and I plan to drive West and explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – home to a National Park, several tiny fishing villages, lava caves, and about a million other natural wonders. This rain simply would not do!
“It’s raining. What if we can’t do any of the stuff!” I whine to my husband who is quietly packing up our things.
“We’re going to do the stuff. All of the stuff,” he reassures me, referencing our most important, and really only, travel rule – Rule #1: Have Fun.
“We Have A Deal!”
Billy drives through the downpour as we make our way along Route 1 to Borgarnes. As navigator, I occasionally reference the map and entertain my husband with interesting facts I’ve picked up about Iceland. Presently, we are discussing the local language which remains unchanged from its Ancient Norse (although, thankfully, Icelanders speak English just as well). Once you grasp some basic root words, the road signs become easier to understand. For instance:
Anything ending in -ssandur refers to a beach. Names ending in -jökull, a glacier. -Vík, a bay, as in Reykjavík which means “smokey bay.” Aren’t we clever, dear Reader? Day two and we’re already picking up some Ancient Norse! Billy and I fall silent, indulging in our own thoughts for a moment. On the radio Miley Cyrus sings somewhat ironically:
But here I am… Next to you… The sky is so blue….
Up ahead on the road a small grey bird with a long beak stands and stares at us. An internal alarm sounds as the bird remains resolute, unmoving. We’re approaching it quickly and – THUNK!
I gasp loudly, turning to face the back window, “Did he make it?!”
“I don’t think he made it,” Billy says quietly.
“You ran him over! That poor little bird!”
“He didn’t fly away! That what birds do – they fly away from cars!”
“You killed it!” I cry.
“We’re going fast on a narrow country road in the rain, what was I supposed to do?! Oh God, I hope it wasn’t endangered. Those flightless birds are always endangered! Like the dodo!” Billy frets, feeling simultaneously guilty and defensive.
“Well, we can be sure you didn’t hit a dod-” THWACK!
I jump as another bird flies smack into the passenger side window. The impacts sends it reeling, flipping a few times mid-air before (I think) flying off into the fog.
“Oh shit,” says Billy in disbelief, his eyes leaving the road ahead of him for only a momentary glance my way.
“Why don’t you just take out one of these baby sheep on the side of the road for another 10 points?!” I shriek. It’s unfair, I know. As any Seinfeld fan can tell you, when it comes to birds in the road: “we have a deal!”
“Don’t make me feel bad. I already feel bad!” Billy insists.
We sit in stunned silence for a moment. The whole scene is unfortunate for sure but…. is it funny too? We begin to laugh. I reach over and put my hand on Billy’s leg.
“My Dad would probably just call it natural selection,” I offer reassuringly.
*Let the record show, dear Reader, that there proved to be tons of these small, grey birds in Iceland. Not only was it not endangered, it was the only one who failed to flee an approaching car. Also note: we stopped more than a few times for animals in the road over the remainder of our visit (see photo of the gaggle below for proof).
Raidin’ & Tradin’
Having arrived in Borgarnes and eager to get out of the rain, Billy and I visit The Settlement Center museum. While this is undoubtedly the least Instagrammable portion of our Icelandic adventure, it was also one of our favorites. We don our headsets and navigate the first exhibit which, as you may have guessed, schools us on the settlement of Iceland.
Iceland was discovered by Norwegian Vikings in desperate search of farmable land. I say “desperate” because you’d have to be desperate to sleep on an open boat with 100 other men and livestock while aimlessly trolling the North Atlantic in hopes of fertile land, wouldn’t you? But hey, what gumption! No doubt, dear Reader, you’ve heard the (not entirely undeserved) bad press about the Viking raids of monasteries and unprotected villages. I’m not here to defend that – “Bad Vikings, Bad!” – but a nod to their trade network is totally in order. We were surprised to learn Viking trade routes extended through Novgorod, Istanbul, Jerusalem, and as even as far as Baghdad.
The second exhibit focuses on one of Iceland’s famous Sagas, a collection of prose narratives that depict (with editorial flair, no doubt) the historical events of the settlement years. Today we learn about the rebellious Egil Skallagrímsson who is described as “a farmer, poet, and all-around feisty Viking.” If only there were online dating profiles back then…. Billy and I exchange shocked glances as our audio guides describe Egil’s first revenge killing – at age 7! – in which he takes an axe to the skull of a classmate after being cheated in a game they were playing.
Our Western Whirlwind
After a delicious meal at the museum’s restaurant, William and I make a happy discovery – the rain has subsided! Downgraded to a light sprinkle, we are able to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula a bit. We stop in Hellnar (population of 10) and Djúpalónssandur, a black sand beach with interesting rock formations. On our way down to the beach we admire two serene lagoons and stop to test our strength at the Lifting Stones (by “our” strength I really mean Billy’s). The Lifting Stones are four stones of varying weight that were used to determine a fisherman’s strength and seaworthiness back in the day.
The unpredictable nature of the ocean is also on display at Djúpalónssandur, its shore littered with the rusted wreckage of a British trawler that capsized in 1948. The iron debris of Epine GY7 remains untouched in remembrance of the fishermen who lost their lives that day. I call my husband back several times from the water’s edge just to be safe.
It’s midnight before the sun finally makes an appearance. But it’s too late, we’re already cuddled up in bed with our reading material. We do make good use of the summer sun in our next two days out West, dear Reader. We drive the remainder of the peninsula admiring the countless waterfalls, sheep, and horses along the road. We even see two orcas (named Phantom and Bandit) on our whale watch from Ólafsvík.
But we can’t stop, won’t stop… the Golden Circle awaits!