North Snæfellsnes

Day 3 starts with a light drizzle. It’s been between 8 and 13 degrees Celsius (approximately 45 to 55 F). London is steeling for 40 C tomorrow. The rest of the world seems to be roasting. We are not complaining up here. We start this morning’s drive towards the north coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula by going over Fróðárheiði, a heath as it is known in Iceland and what I’d call a low pass. The highest point of the pass is 361 m which isn’t much at all, but we start and end at sea level on either side. The road at the top is almost invisible with low clouds but we see bits of lakes, streams, and silvery waterfalls everywhere. As we descend to the other side, through the rain there is a golf course and yes, there are people playing out there, naturally!

We soon reach the picturesque little village of Hellissandur, the westernmost habitation in the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Our first stop is Gilbakki for cups of hot chocolate and coffee. While there is a cold drizzle coming down, they know something we don’t. There is a tent set up in the lawn outside with a tub full of iced beer and sodas. Hellissandur bills itself as the street art capital of Iceland and they are getting ready for some sort of a street festival with jumpy castles and all. We came by later and looked at the murals.

Fortified with our hot beverages we drive a few miles away for a short loop hike around Raudhólt, an old crater. We are under Snæfellsjökull but all we can see are the snowy shoulders. The peak is shrouded in clouds. Evan and I head one way around the rim of the rounded moss covered creater, the others go in the opposite direction. We meet Vivian on top and look around from our perch. Not far from us we spot Saxhóll – the volcano crater that we visited the last time we were in Iceland eight years ago and we decide to go there next. The weather has improved significantly. The rain is gone and there is occasional sunshine. After the loop around Raudhólt, the kids stick their faces in a stream and drink clear cold fresh water. What a treat!

Our next stop is just a few miles along the coastal road – the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur. But the weather couldn’t be more different. There is a strong breeze and it is blowing the rain sideways. Evan and Jo opt to stay in the car. I follow Vivian along a winding stone path down to the beach past interesting lava rock formations. We are pelted by rain and by the time we are at the beach our pants are fully drenched in the back and the fronts are perfectly dry. The surf is pounding and the beach is littered with old rusted remains of the British trawler that wrecked here 75 years ago killing 15 out of 19 crew. In the past, people from nearby villages would set up temporary huts in summer and fish here. There are big round rocks on the beach that you had to show you could carry before you went out on a fishing boat. One sign says that the heavy rock is 154 kg! If I had to go out on a boat in the weather today I’d want some strong oarsmen. We get whipped by rain and wind, take a look around, and start walking back, against the rain and the wind now. In moments the front of our pants are drenched. By the time we finish helping an old German tourist back to her bus and get back to the car Vivian and I are soaked to the skin waist down. Would have been a good day for those rain pants I carried all the way from Austin…

A few minutes later we are at the parking lot below Saxhóll. Used to be a gravel area but now there are a dozen parked cars in the nicely paved lot and even a tourbus. Alu, the kids, and I start climbing the steps to the top. It’s nice and sunny. I leave my wet rain jacket to dry in the car and set out in my t-shirt. My pants are dry by the time we climb to the top. This is where Evan peed eight years ago. I ask if he’d like to go, and he declines. It may have something to do with the other people milling around up here. Or because he isn’t four. Or he really doesn’t need to go.

From Saxhóll we double back past Hellissandur to Ingjaldshóll to a beautiful church at the end of a gravel road. The informational sign at the church says that there has been a church here since Christianity came to Iceland around the 10th century. The new building is over a hundred years old and is one of the first concrete churches in the world. A southern gentleman stayed a winter in Iceland in 1477 and visited this church. It was supposedly Christopher Columbus who was in Iceland to chat with the locals. They had been wandering off to Greenland and North America since Leif the Lucky arrived in Newfoundland in 990 CE, almost five hundred years before Columbus. There is a modern mural of the said southern gentleman, but the church was closed and we couldn’t see it. We drove back halfway down the gravel road and turned around for photos. Iceland is covered in a flowering blue lupine, Lupinus nootkatensis, not to be confused with Lupinus texensis, the Texas bluebonnet. Evan believes the Icelandic bluebonnets are superior and more plentiful. He thinks Texas should give up. “They should make dirt their state flower”. He has a point. There is a lot of L. nootkatensis around Iceland.

We wallowed in the bluebonnets for a long time. Alu and Michelle watched with amusement. When we are finally done we started our return trip home. Along the way we saw glorious rainbows and a cloudy Kirkjufell, or “church mountain”, perhaps the most Instagrammed mound in all of Iceland (some say it may have even made an appearance in Game of Thrones). The rain had started again and we took a quick photo from the parking lot without getting out of the car.

We drove to the northern town of Stykkishólmur for dinner. Alu and I crossed the very picturesque harbor and walked up to the top of Súgandisey Island to see the red milk-can lighthouse. Last time around I took one of my favorite photos in front of the same lighthouse – Jo holding Vivian upside-down with little Evan watching.

Tomorrow we return to Stykkishólmur in the morning to catch a ferry!

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