Monday, February 15, 2016

Iceland Adventures - Hólmavík & A Greenland Sea Retreat

Iceland Adventures – Hólmavík & A Retreat By the Greenland Sea – 8/27/15

By now Iceland’s chilling rain may sound offputting, and I will admit that today it prevented us from exploring as thoroughly as we might have.  This was a long day on the road eastbound from Ísafjörður to the Greenland Sea following the outline of seven minor fjords along the main Ísafjarðardjúp (“ice fjord deep”).  At a few overlooks we got out of the car to marvel at the never-boring scenery, but I admit we took more photos out the window.  The road surface alternated between pavement and gravel. The wind was howling.

Random roadside waterfalls continued to impress

A welcome reprieve for Paul as the driver and the rest of us with cramped car legs came as we checked out Hotel Reykjanes at the tip of tiny Reykjarfjörður.  Once the district school, this is a large complex in the middle of nowhere (which is almost anywhere in Iceland), but it did not feel like a welcoming plush hotel, a bit austere.  Perhaps the dreary weather influenced the atmosphere.  In its defense, I imagine it would be fantastic in winter for viewing the northern lights. The hotel boasts a geothermal pool and hot spring, but we didn’t see them. However, the rejuvenating coffee and hot tea were well-timed and there may or may not have been a little sweet something to eat.  Back on the road!

Within a predictable amount of time after our coffee/tea break, it was time to pee.  We were now on Route 61 cutting inland across a moonscape of rocks and little else, low-growing flowers and nothing taller than my ankles.  It wasn’t pretty, but some of us – no names here – had to pee behind the car in the windy, sideways pelting rain.  Fortunately, this was the low point of the trip and we got that over with.  Just want you to know the underside of glamour adventure travel.

The big entertainment of the day was Hólmavík, a small fishing village where one can restock on groceries and fuel and, most importantly, visit the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft.  Which we did.   How to describe this? Spells, rituals, potions, history, artifacts and “necropants.”  In the 1600’s purported practitioners of the dark arts were mostly males (poor) who were accused, condemned and hunted (by the wealthy) and about 20 were burned at the stake. If someone was accused of causing bad crops, and then the crops were still bad after the “witch” was dead, well, a shrug of the shoulders and on to accuse the next-door neighbor. The museum presents the viewpoint of condemning the false accusers and hunters.  Iceland eventually got a grip on this mania, but the museum leaves a lot to the imagination of present-day beliefs.  Guess you’ll just have to go and see the necropants for yourself.  

Stomach-turning exhibits didn’t prevent us from enjoying lunch at their fine Restaurant Galdur.  (Mike skipped the museum so he could be first in line.)
Magic Masala, aka veggie cassoulet

Hólmavík under brooding clouds

From Hólmavík we headed south on Route 68, now following the coast of the Greenland Sea.  Our accommodations for tonight were quite different.  Since there was no town at the “right” overnight location on our meandering route between Ísafjörður and Reykjavik, through Airbnb I booked an isolated house on the coast. With fingers crossed, following rough directions and knowing that there was no Plan B, we kept our eyes peeled through the windshield wipers for a sign for “Borgir”.  Cathy is the only one who spotted it as we drove past, yelling out, “Hey, I think that’s it!”  Per the owner’s instructions, I called his neighbor, who came right over to meet us with the keys to our home for the night.  Don’t let the humble exterior fool you.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy the deck because of the increasing gale force winds
The basement door opens onto the little driveway and just a couple of stone steps down to the Greenland Sea
Inside on the main floor, three simple bedrooms, a full bath, mud room and laundry room (with Icelandic wool sweaters for sale!)

Living room
A cozy kitchen with a front row view of the ocean
Still midafternoon, Cathy and I were determined to go for a coastal hike. I had left my rain pants in storage in Reykjavik, so Mike loaned me his. 
Rocky beach piled with seaweed
I’m glad I’m not an Icelandic sheep in this weather

The wind was so fierce, walking was difficult and the rain pelted like needles.  The neighbor lady told us that about a mile up the coast there is a favorite rock hangout for seals, but we didn’t make it that far. 
But don’t feel sorry for us just yet – this unassuming but awesome house had a trick up its sleeve, or rather down in the basement.  In addition to a TV/reading room lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves and VCR tapes (yes, VCR tapes) and a room filled with all sorts of gear for kayaking and cross-country skiing, there was a wet sauna! 

After peeling off our soaking cold layers, Cathy and I cranked up the heat, ladled on the water, and Kim joined us for a good hot steam bath.  When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we slipped on our Keens, ran out the front door and gingerly stepped into the Greenland Sea – yikes!  Back into the steam room! Can you imagine the surreal feeling? This is an iconic memory among memories.
The tide was in and happy hour was upon us.  With provisions we had purchased back in Ísafjörður, we prepared a feast of pasta with sauce and sauted vegetables, salad, good bread and wine.  A little sad to have just one night at this little retreat by the sea.  One more item for the “return” trip list!
“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” ~Buddha