It seems that every time Iceland makes international news it’s for something bad—either because the country owes more than it can count to the UK and Holland, or because its volcanoes are causing travel chaos all over Europe. Best joke I’ve heard about the volcano at Eyjafjallajökull: There’s no C in the Icelandic alphabet, so instead of paying back the Brits in cash, they’re paying them back in ash. For all that, Reykjavík hasn’t seen any ash fall because the winds tend to blow it east instead of west, and Keflavík airport is still running just fine—the flights are getting cancelled on the continental end, not the Icelandic one.
We have, however, had plenty of snow leading up to Iceland’s first official day of summer, which is today. (Iceland doesn’t have spring: until today, it’s been winter.) Today it’s trying to get above freezing and we have a little sun, but two days ago we had a snowstorm, though fortunately it melted right away. They tell you in the guidebooks that Iceland has winters pretty much like Virginian winters. This is true. What they don’t tell you is that these winters last from September through April. But as we’re now getting daylight from 5a.m. to 10p.m., I suppose we do have a few advantages over home!
Last week I was delighted to have my Californian friend visit me along with two of her friends, and we had a lovely time, though unfortunately I had to beg off on a lot of the fun because it was the last week of classes for us. Still, I got to see the Golden Circle with them again (Þingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall)—and it’s different every time you go—and on Saturday, after our other two guests had left (one of them even making it safely to England, right before the eruption!), my Californian friend and I braved the cold to go on a tour of Snæfellsnes peninsula.
I’ve written about this place before, back in October when I went on a day trip with my friends, but it was much better weather this time and we saw things we wouldn’t have seen without a guide. We stopped at the Gerðuberg basalt column cliffs, the Djúpalónssandur black pebble beach, and Arnarstapi harbor.
I actually liked the black pebble beach we visited in October better, but this place was lovely as well. It was the site of a shipwreck in the mid-20th century, and the rusted metal remains on the beach as a memorial, but the beach itself is full of dramatic rock formations and pebbles so smoothe they seem like they can hardly be real.
In October, Snæfellsjökull (the glacier where Jules Verne set the beginning of Journey to the Center of the Earth) was being shy and hid its head in the clouds. But for this trip, we got amazing views of this most famous of Icelandic glaciers. The entire peninsula is too beautiful and dramatic for words, but the glacier itself stands like a king over the mountains around it.
Last time I was on Snæfellsnes we couldn’t spare the hour it takes to walk the sea trail between Arnarstapi harbor and Hellnar (which, to the best of my knowledge, is little more than a collection of summer homes for wealthy Icelanders), but this time we were able to do that, and what a walk it was! The shore is piled with cliffs, crags, and outcroppings of lava and basalt, some of them forming incredible arches and walls with huge holes in them. Birds that I was told were oyster catchers (my take: seagulls) are already nesting there, and when they were disturbed by our walking too close, their cries and calls echoed on the cliffs like sound effects from a pirate movie.
We drove right through the Berserkjahraun lava field (the story goes that two berserkers fell for a Snæfellsnes farmer’s daughter, and in order to earn her they built a road through the lava field, only to be killed by the farmer as they relaxed in a sauna after finishing the job), and we ended our day with a trip to the Bjarnahöfn shark museum.
Yes, there is a museum dedicated entirely to the hunting and putrefaction of Greenland sharks. The old fellow who runs it, Ólafur, was a shark hunter in his youth, as was his father, and he gave us a personal tour (translated by our guide) and favored us with samples of his famous “delicacy.” I learned a great deal, actually, but I felt that my first taste of hákarl in February didn’t particularly need an encore.
It was truly wonderful having my friends visit me, and I’m very grateful to the volcano and the Gulf Stream for allowing their flights to go out safely, but now my little vacation is over, and it’s back to work on finals and the thesis. Such is the life of a student!