miðvikudagur, maí 03, 2006


Over the weekend I took a trip up to the little fishing town of Stykkishólmur for a little peace and quiet in the country. The town is located on the north side of Snæfellsnes, a giant peninsula that sticks far into the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Iceland. The giant glacier Snæfellsjökull caps the end of the peninsula like the dot on an exclamation point. But I wasn't out that far; Stykkishólmur is just over two hours' drive north of Reykjavík and at 1200 people it's the largest settlement on the ghostly peninsula.

On the way north, driving along, humming tunes and watching the jagged lava unfurl before me like a frozen flag, I found myself annoyed, at first mildly, and then with rising Calabrian anger, at a silver Skoda wagon that passed me two times, only to slow down in front of me and make me pass him again. He was driving like an idiot, and about to confirm all of my worst prejudices about Icelandic driving when I realized that it was none other than my good friend Styrmir behind the wheel. He and his wife Anna and the intrepid Baby Styrmir were also making the trip to old Styrmishólmur, and had been frantically waving at me / calling me / slowing in front of me. So after they caught a glimpse of the "dark side" they followed me on the turn at Vegamót and we headed over the mountain pass and came into Stykkishólmur together.

(In Iceland, you are never alone. There is always someone you know somewhere nearby. This takes a while to fully appreciate.)

Stykkishólmur was indeed the kind of quiet place I was looking for. The village is small and easy to walk around in. The harbor is the ferry port for Baldur, a ferry that runs up to the West Fjords, and for fishing boats. Opposite the harbor is an island that's connected to the town by a causeway. Up on top of the island is a lighthouse, and the location for the famous "brother picture". I had to climb up there and revisit the site of that magic day. And it's still got the magic, the old place.

I had dinner at Fimm Fiskar, the Stykkishólmur answer to Rick's Chung King. Well, minus the Chinese food. Well, minus everything. It's actually more like S-hólmur's answer to the Rec Hall at Camp Quinebarge, with it's barn-like ambiance and rough wooden floors and tables. Right after me a 15-man detachment from the Keflavík NATO Base came in the door and took up a big long table in the center of the room. They were on some kinda last tour of Iceland, apparently. They talked loudly and shouted close-cropped stories peppered with acronyms like "MRE" up and down the table. I hid behind my Icelandic and ate by myself. The food wasn't special but the service so friendly that I wanted to like the food more than I did.

"But how is the swimming pool?" you might ask. Well, it's really pretty great. It's a 25-meter with a decent rennibraut (water slide) and it's got the laid-back energy of a Grafarvogslaug, but with even a couple more clicks on the chill-meter. It's got a shallow kids' pool and a couple of deep hot tubs. When I asked an older lady if they had a steam room, she sniffed (something like), "We don't need that. Ours is good water, from the ground." Seeing as how that is the case in all of Iceland, I didn't get the distinction, except maybe that the hot spring is right there next to the pool, like in Hveragerði. It was true that the water smelled even more strongly of sulphur than normal. Anyway when she asked me if I wasn't from there and I told her I lived in Reykjavík but was from Boston, her jaw dropped. Apparently she had assumed she was talking to a native. (Cha-ching!) Then she said, "Well my mom always told me not to stay too long in the hot water," and with that she dashed inside. (Is this the Icelandic equivalent to the old, "No swimming until a half hour after eating"?)

At 11:30 or so on Saturday night, I searched in vain for the Stykkishólmur nightlife. (As Vík í Mýrdal [pop. 170] once showed me, even the tiniest Icelandic towns can occasionally serve up a rollicking time.) Fimm Fiskar, which seemed the most likely to become a trashy Fowler-approved bar, was open with music playing but not a soul inside, even behind the bar. The hotel up on the hill was also open and empty. Someone was having an apartment party on the main street. And some of the Keflavík soldiers were on a similar reconnaissance as I. "Hey buddy," one called out, "you know where the bar is?" There wasn't a bar, it seemed, but there was a mini version of the Icelandic runtur, with the same six cars driving in circles around the tiny streets, their occupants staring at me every time they passed. I was back in bed after not too long.

I stayed at the guesthouse of María Bæringsdóttir. And it wasn't just a guesthouse, it was her house. There was a comfy living room with giant windows that looked out on the church and bay beyond. There was an immaculate kitchen and breakfast nook room with green 1970s counters. And there was a cozy bedroom with a window open onto the quiet street above. My hostess was perhaps the sweetest guesthouse-operator of all time. She's been running the place for 18 years and says she has many of the same guests over and over. And I can see why: the place is so comfortable (and the breakfast so lovingly prepared) that I'll definitely be a repeat visitor. But it'll have to be in the fall at the earliest: she is already booked for the whole summer.


Blogger Maja said...

I don't think people go to the bars until 12-1am or so... I remember when I lived in Saudarkrokur that the bars would be empty before midnight.

Blogger Mo'a said...

Things have not changed much in the small towns since I lived there.....runtur....we used to walk them....then again that was a very long time.
Your Icelandic must be very good to fool a native....good going.

Blogger JB said...

Maja, I asked my friend Hrannar from Sauðarkrókur if he remembered you, and he says no. But you're about the same age.

Anyway you're probably right, the runtur was just prelude for going out later. I always forget that even in the small towns it's not "cool" to go out until 12 or 1 am.

Mo'a, I was walking the runtur, old-school style. No wonder they thought I was a native.

Blogger tsduff said...

J - your pictures are spectacular. I love the ones at the singing cave. We didn't visit Stykkisholmur on our last trip because we had driven out on the end of Snaefellsness and all the way up, running out of time. Hope we shall this next time, and visit the guest house you mentioned.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

This is somewhat after the fact but, there was another bar, you missed it. It's across the street from Fimm Fiskar, next to the church. Maybe that was the house party you saw. It's called Narfeyrarstofa.


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