Published August 6, 2004
The first thing I did upon arrival in Stykkishólmur was in fact not head straight for the bar, but go swimming. The walls of the swimming hall are lined with newsclips from papers documenting the astonishing success of the Snæfellsnes basketball team, with a special section devoted to local hero and Eurobasket All-Icelandic League Most Improved Player of the Year, Hlynur Bæringsson. Right above the town a hole has been drilled for fresh water. The water discovered there in 1997 is called by residents “Vatnið góða,” or “The good water,” and turned out to have special properties, not unlike the Blue Lagoon or the Baden-Baden spa in Germany. It is this water that is being used to fill up the hot tubs at the swimming pool.
Another of Stykkishólmur´s main attractions is the Norwegian house. It was built in 1830 from wood shipped over from Norway. At the time, most Icelanders still lived in turfhouses, so to most locals the house looked like a palace out of a fairytale. It was built for a wealthy landowner, Árni Thorlacius, who was also responsible for collecting the king´s dues of his lands. In the 20th Century the house was used both as a residential area and for various businesses, such as by seamstresses, packaging house, restaurant and hostel, but in 1970 it was bought by the county and has been restored to its original state and turned into a museum.
It is only after having examined the aforementioned attractions that I belatedly head for the bar. A lone policeman cruises by in a Hyundai minijeep, looking hopefully around for signs of trouble. But this is Verslunarmannahelgin, and most of the towns youngsters are away causing trouble in secluded camping areas elsewhere. He slows down as he passes me, but as I show no sign of letting him earn his pay, he drives on.
Stykkishólmur has about 1200 residents. Quite a few of the houses have Christmas stars on top, which seem to be lit in the appropriate season. There are three bars in Stykkishólmur, and as in most smaller towns these are restaurants as well. Sjávarpakkhúsið is situated down by the harbour. The name means quite literally “The Sea Bastard´s house,” but it is actually rather cozy and full of German tourists when I arrive there. The other two bars are Fimm fiskar (Five Fishes), a seafood restaurant and yes, pizzeria. But the man who wanted to speak English recommends Narfeyrarstofa, so that´s where I go. The house was originally built for a chemist´s widow, but she died before the house was completed. Since then it has served as a hairdresser´s, a billiard hall, a fishing company office and the residence of the town´s labour leader in the first half of the century.
Not snobbish, just Danish
Inside, people are clustered around the six or so tables, no one paying any attention to the people on the other tables. One man stands by the bar, wearing a T-shirt which says “I am a sailor.” I order a Thule. The Thule here has got a different label on it then in the city. This one has a Danish and Icelandic flag. The waitress, pretty here as they are anywhere else, tells me the label is made especially for Danish days. Danish days have been held here annually since 1993 and will be held this year from the 13th to the 15th of August. The girl excitedly tells me the band Vinir Vors og Blóma will be coming, a pop band who were in their prime at the same time the first festival was held.
The festival is meant to remember the Danish past of the town, when the merchant, the chemist and the officials were all Danish. They all met in the church on Sunday, and it was said of the people of Stykkishólmur that they were snobs and spoke Danish on Sundays. This is now made fun of by residents, in between eating Danish food and attending auctions, art exhibitions and concerts on Danish days.
Past Stykkishólmur, on Snæfellsnes, is the Snæfellsnes glacier, renowned as the entrance to the centre of the earth in Jules Verne´s story and also as the landing spot for aliens in 1993, although these turned out to be invisible. Halldór Laxness also wrote the book Under the Glacier which has a Snæfellsnes setting, and starts with the famous lines “Where the glacier meets the sky.” On the outskirts of Stykkishólmur, where you would previously have seen the wilderness meet the town, you will now find a golf course. This is the last thing you see in Stykkishólmur, as you head out in the direction of the glacier.