Iceland's Eastfjords: the road to Seydisfjordur
After Hofn, we decided to sleep in Egilsstadir, because Jamie found a good deal on four star lodging— the single true splurge of our trip. Reindeer are not only a common menu item in this town, they're a common decor theme in the Icelandair Hotel. And apparently, in the winter, entire herds stroll through downtown (how very Northern Exposure).
There's a big lake with a famous monster nearby, but we weren't interested in lake monsters. We simply wanted to block out the light and sleep well.
We arrived around 8 pm. Jamie went off to explore and find a pub, and I read for a bit and then, around 11 pm, went for a walk. The hotel is located in a residential area, and there were still children out on bikes, even so late, and teens playing frisbee in the park. I also came across a drunk group of merry young men, singing as they strode through the frosty air.
The next morning, we headed to the Seydisfjordur (pop. 700).
Early into the drive, we pulled over to check out Gufufoss, a waterfall right off Ring Road. We also stopped a few times to explore rocky beaches or lush fields that ended in ocean and to check out the ocean swans, magnificent creatures we'd never seen before.
Then the road climbed and wound, giving us incredible views of ocean inlets till, at one point, following a sign, we left the main road to take a shortcut over a pitted, gravel road— a choice that wasn't necessary, but it seemed like our little Suzuki could handle it.
Driving the mountaintops, there was plenty of patchy snow and a fast-moving stream swollen with ice-melt. Wispy snow met wispy clouds and everything seemed magical. We felt like the only people in the world. (We were the only people on this road.)
We drove with the windows down, basking in the cold air, and forgoing music for the rush of the stream. We did cartwheels in the middle of the road.
Then we climbed back down and entered a picturesque town of bright, clean buildings set on a still harbor, with mountains covered in fresh new growth all around. Welcome to Seydisfjordur.
Quick history, compliments of Wikipedia (which makes this fishing-turned-tourism village sound like the former site of grand technological progress): Grave exhumations show that this part of Iceland was occupied as early as the eighth century and settled by Norwegian fishermen in 1848. Some of the buildings those fishermen built are still in use today. Shortly after, a nearby now-vanished village was the site of the first industrialized whaling practice, and in 1906, Seydisfjordur became the first Icelandic town linked to Europe via telegraph cable. In 1913, residents dammed the river and established the first high-voltage power-plant in the country, using water turbines to light streets and homes.
There's a fish processing plant built in 1911 and closed not too long ago (though I can't find an actual year anywhere), but there are plenty of small boats in the harbor.
The town also has the only two cinemas in east Iceland and an arts festival every July. There's a coffeeshop/pizzaria/cultural center called Skaftfell (circa 1998, but established in a large house built in 1907), with a record player and a collection of vintage Scandinavian records, computers for common use, boardgames, books and an upstairs gallery. We sat at the picnic table patio and had beer and pizza and a cinnamon roll, because the cinnamon rolls smelled, and were, insanely good.
There are cute, crafty shops, including one with a large selection of hand-knit sweaters, a handful of galleries and an adorable church that you can step inside. We watched a few Icelandic kids brave the waters near the church, wearing bathing suits in 40-degree F weather.
We did a short (few km?) hike up a mountain to check out the Tvinsongur Sound Sculpture, built in 2012 and designed to transform the wind off cliffs into different harmonies, and briefly considered camping inside the concrete domes. But instead, we did a few rounds of yogic om-ing and tip-toed around singing and whispering, trying to figure out how the acoustics changed from step to step.
In early evening, a cruise ship docked. Jamie and I took that as our sign to get out of town.