At the beginning of May, we embarked on an adventurous undertaking. A few months prior, my dad had invited us to join him on one of his semi-regular excursions to France. Intrigued, we sat on the idea for many weeks trying to decide if international travel was something we wanted to try with a four year old kid. I had been to Europe roughly 15 years ago after studying abroad in Ireland and longed to return. Nick had never been overseas, limiting his travel to the countries of North America. Jonas is quite the homebody and would possibly be completely disinterested in the trip. Eventually we decided to take the plunge and hope for the best. Fortunately, we were not disappointed.
Iceland: Snaefellsnes Penninsula
We planned our journey to France with a 4-day stopover in Iceland. Icelandair flies direct from Seattle and offers up to seven days of stopover with no extra charge (and in our case, the tickets were actually cheaper!). This idea was a stroke of genius. We embarked for Keflavik on a Saturday afternoon and after a 7-hour flight, we found ourselves in the rugged wind-swept country of Iceland. Luckily, Jonas slept 4 hours on the flight and was rested enough for the time being. We picked up our rental car and began driving north towards the capital of Rekjavik.
Lesson 1: No matter how simple the roads in a country look, one should always stop and get a map.
After many turns, roundabouts and explorations of the suburbs, we navigated closer to the city center. We really had no destination in mind, except perhaps a cafe serving breakfast. However, after much searching, we found very little open on a Sunday morning. The skies were bright and sunny, but the wind was chilling us as we walked the street of Laugavegur. Eventually, shops began to open their doors and we found a place to get some eggs, bacon and bread. I had spied a good looking bakery under some scaffolding, and stopped after our breakfast to get some bread for the road. The Sandholt Bakeri was amazing and I wish I had bought more. It was bustling with Icelanders and I picked up a loaf of seedy bread, a piece of apple cake and some hazelnut sables.
We had decided to stay up on the Snaefellsnes Pennisula rather than in the city, so our next stop was a grocery store to get supplies. Since the majority of the population live in Rekjavik, we weren't sure how many opportunities we would have to stock up on food once we were out in the country. Eventually we located a Bonus shopping center and waited patiently until noon for the store to open.
Lesson 2: Nothing opens until noon on Sunday in Iceland.
Once inside, we navigated the aisles to find some simple foods for our two nights in a cabin. All of the labels were in Icelanic (or another scandanavian language), so it took a little bit of time to find what we wanted. We got some cheddar, smjor (butter), mjolk (milk), a dried sausage, dried apricots, muesli and black tea. Our lone piece of produce was a cucumber. Now we were ready to hit the road. Nick knew we should be on Highway 1 and eventually we found it. Unfortunately, we headed in the wrong direction. For an hour. We immediately found a gas station, picked up a map and got back on track. Our plan was to do a hike at the back of one of the fjords about halfway to our destination. At this point, neither Nick nor I had had any sleep. I managed to nap an hour on the drive to Glymurfoss, the waterfall we were hiking to. Nick kept himself awake navigating the dirt roads and looking at the scenery.
The hike up to the waterfall was just what we needed to make it through the day and get ourselves over jet lag. Jonas was a great sport, despite the wind and cold. The landscape was rough and uneven, with golden grass covering the rocks. Parts of the waterfall were still frozen and a large snow-covered mountain loomed in the near distance. And, at the same time, we could still see the sea, sparkling in the sun. In some ways, the landscape reminded us of the parts of the big island of Hawai'i, minus the tropical feel. Ultimately, Iceland was really like no place we had been before.
Reaching our home for the evening, we settled in to our cabin at Snorrastaðir. Many of the working farms in the country have lodgings for tourists and we had found this place through Icelandic Farm Holidays. The family that owned the farm lived in their house across a small inlet and we had run of one of the small cabins. The cabin was perfectly equipped for our needs, very cozy and had great blackout curtains. We fried up some grilled cheese sandwiches and then all stumbled into bed.
Jonas had an amazing 14 hour sleep and Nick and I had a pretty restful night as well. Nick went out over the frozen ground in the morning to explore the volcanic Eldborg crater nearby while I read and drank tea. Close to noon, Jonas emerged from his room, and we soon left to drive round the pennisula and explore.
We had picked this area out of all of Iceland because Jonas had pointed it out on a map when Nick asked, "Where do you want to go in Iceland?" Snaefellsnes is part of a larger area called the Vesturland. We drove empty roads through small fishing towns, walked a coastal hike between the two villages of Hellnar and Arnastapi (warming ourselves with fish soup at a small cafe afterwards), watched the waves at an deserted black sand beach and drove home through the mountain pass at twilight.
Before we left Snorrastaðir the next day, we stopped in the barn to visit with the animals. The woman who lives and works the farm was doing the feeding and we discovered that the sheep and goats had recently given birth to their young. Jonas was enthralled with all of the animals and we spent some quiet time watching them before heading off to our next destination on the island.