Taking a long awaited trip up West
“We’ll have to drive around a lot of fjords.”
“That’s going to take a lot of time.”
“I can download more music before we go.”
“…can you get Bubbi?”
“Of course I can.”
One digital download of Ísbjarnarblús – my Dad’s favorite Bubbi Morthens album – later and the two of us were finally headed out on our long (and I do mean long) awaited road trip to the illustrious Westfjords. Despite the frequent visits to Iceland in my youth and now permanent stay here, the one corner left unexplored by myself and my father was the spread-out landmass jutting out of Iceland’s northwest corner. The fin of the whale that I would see in the shape of the island as a kid. The mountains of mystery. The fjords of foreboding. And the one place that neither of us was at least vaguely familiar with.
I was excited! Not least because the last big road trip we had taken together was in pre-COVID times. It was high time we hit the road.
Day 1: Wifi and Frozen Pizza
The journey started out well enough with the mandatory pit stop in Borgarnes, where we got around the main bustle of tourists by crossing the street and just going to nettó, meeting the single most enthusiastic retail worker we had ever come across.
Dad was disturbed. I was delighted.
We then drove on to see what Stykkishólmur had to offer (apart from free wifi) and took a nice little stroll up Súgandisey to see the little lighthouse there and enjoy the view. Could only find a semi-hidden parking lot to picnic though and accidentally set off the car alarm somehow. Is it fair to reduce trip points if we goofed up?
The road to Búðardalur gave us our first, but certainly not last, taste of gravel, the dust of it doing its best to camouflage our car. When we finally pulled into town for the next pause, we were greeted by the least enthusiastic retail worker we’d ever encountered, dragging the mandatory “Get ég aðstoðað þig?” from somewhere under the sticky bottom of the coffee machine. Dad was enchanted.
We ended the first day in Reykhólar, where we were lucky enough to snag a frozen pizza from the small local store for sustenance. By fortune’s favour, we ran into the kind shop owner as they were just closing up, but they took pity on us road weary and poorly prepared travellers who had not possessed the intellectual fortitude to google evening food options in the area beforehand. Reykhólar itself is small and quickly traversed but I was a fan of the small Boats and Birds museum in town. They had Boats. And Birds. Just as advertised.
Day 2: The Birds!
First stop: Hólmavík. And boy, had I been waiting for this one! I finally got to see the human skin pants up close and personal at the Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum, and learn about all the freaky and often pretty gross spells people had come up with to protect and enrich themselves.
It was awesome. But as it was still relatively early, we didn’t find much else to do and continued on to Djúpavík which turned out to be a surprise hit! Can I get a “hell yeah” for free coffee!? The grey, drizzly atmosphere honestly just added to the allure of this little harbour carved into the mountainside. The older building provided some rustic aesthetic while the hotel served as a slightly dark but incredibly cosy and soft refuge along and served up a soup of the day and fresh baked bread.
Not to mention the Factory Art Exhibition we nearly drove past, titled Enchanting Portals, which led us to observe strange creatures, onions, alien insects and life sparking chemical soup.
We were, however, harassed by a kría auditioning for a Hitchcock remake on our way out. If you go to Djúpavík, do keep an eye out for that feathered bitch. Overall, Djúpavík still feels quiet and hidden away but it’s a far cry from the literal ghost town my father remembered from his youth.
The day ended at Heydalur, after quite a drive. Luckily, we could take a dip in the famous greenhouse pool and hot tubs. There was also a parrot. He was eerily good at imitating the sound of a broken Securitas alarm system. But it also greeted us politely, which I appreciated. What a well mannered bird!
Day 3: Tight spaces
With another long drive ahead of us, we headed out early and were just driving along Mjóifjörður when we glanced upon a friggin whale splashing around in the fjord! Obviously we immediately stopped the car and watched the aquatic majesty that some people pay good money to even get a chance to see! 10/10 fucking magical.
It seemed fair afterwards to only get a glimpse of a seal and to pay a little extra to see and learn about arctic foxes at their centre in Suðavík. So cute. So fluffy.
Ísafjörður, in turn, was pretty cold on the day of our visit but goddammit waiting an hour to get a seat in Tjöruhúsið was worth it. I still dream about that fish buffet…But that was just lunchtime. We still had to make it through the mines of Moria, the tunnels through the mountains, which certainly make the journey easier and faster, but ugh I hate it when they squeeze down to one lane. Claustrophobes, be seriously warned.
However, there was almost more light than we could handle at the end of it, with the clouds having stayed behind in Ísafjörður and the rest of the journey over the highlands being bathed in sunshine.
One mandatory mini hike to get up close and personal with Dynjandisfoss later, and my lovingly prepared playlists was already on the verge of repetition, leading us to dip into movie soundtracks. That carried us on to the next must-see goal of the trip: The Sea Monster Museum!
Small but created with oh so much love, my inner cryptozoologist had a blast learning about Fjörulalli (Shore Laddie), Hafmaður (Sea Man), Skeljaskrímsli (Shell Monster) and Faxaskrímsli (Combed Monster or Sea Horse). True celebrities of Arnarfjörður. Bonus points for atmosphere!
Day 4: Bubbifjörður
The final day of our journey held one final goal: Rauðisandur. The big one. The vast beach untouched by liquid fire. The jewel of the Westfjords. Magnificent. Picturesque. You’d have to pay me real money to drive up and down that mountain road again in a big jeep. Yikes. But man, what a view. Didn’t see puffins but did learn about a historic murder case.
The rest, as they say, was just driving. I say “just” but honestly, sometimes life is cheesy and it really is about the journey and the people with you, especially when it has been a very long time since you were able to enjoy legitimate quality time with them.
So, even though the last day of our roadtrip saw us repeating a lot of music tracks, it kind of managed to encapsulate the best parts of the entire adventure. The ones we’ll want to replay again and again. Bubbi, I will forever see fjords when listening to you now!
“So, where should we go next?”
“Hmm. Have we seen enough of Sprengisandur?”
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