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Monday, November 13, 2017

Day 5: A Detour to Iceland's East Fjords - Seyðisfjörður

Map of downtown Seyðisfjörður

Oh Day were not going to let us have any sunshine. 

This was the day of crazy rain that really only let up for brief 10 minutes windows, and an insane mountain pass in above mentioned conditions.  But despite the doom and gloom weather and terrifying drive, the day brought us off the Ring Road on a detour to the amazing little fjord town of Seyðisfjörður.  We spent the afternoon learning all about this little town, walking around and stopping into a quaint coffee shop for an espresso and slice of date pudding. ALWAYS order the date pudding...

We ended up taking a "shortcut" across a long gravel road with steep banks, dense fog, high water, rolling hills, and about one lane.  It was definitely one of those "hold your breath" sort of rides as we made our way off the Ring Road from Höfn to Eglisstadir and eventually on to Mývatn.  The Ring Road itself was starting to become severely flooded and there were a few sections of deep water where we all kind of glanced at each other like well, this is it.  Funny enough, the bottom and top of your car is not insured, and river crossings definitely are not covered.  Granted we were still on the Ring Road but it was quickly turning into a river.  The day after we crossed this section, they closed this part of the Ring Road and travelers had to find a detour or turn around. 

Crazy weather on the Ring Road

This was one of our longest days of driving and we opted for a shortcut when we could.  We left the Ring Road and cut across a mountain pass Road 939 (known as Öxi Pass) which saves you about 60 km of distance, roughly 45 minutes in good conditions.  Funny enough, this road is listed on "DangerousRoads.Org" and I totally understand why.  You can even see a cool drone video of the road here (it looks pretty amazing in the sunshine..) and this is more accurately depicted of what we saw.

Oxi Pass

Many (many) waterfalls on our detour

The road was a thrill ride traveling up and down the mountain and the thick layer of fog did not help the situation. Once you are in you commit as its about 19 km of roller coaster ride.  The road winded and curved its way up and down Iceland's insane topography and sometimes insanely steep grades (up to 17%) and hairpin turns up on cliff edges with no guardrails what so ever. You didn't see other cars until we finally saw one which appeared to be stuck on the side of the road (someone else had stopped).  If you rather skip the nerve wrecking drive, you can continue on the Ring Road and add a little more time to your drive.  And this road is NOT advised during bad weather (oops) or outside of summer months (oops again).  But what is a trip to Iceland without a white knuckling death grip on the steering wheel drive around Iceland in a car you rented?

What is supposed to be a beautiful view of Seyðisfjörður below at the sculpture Þorbjörn Arnoddsson  Instead Wind Series 1

Eventually we were out of the mountain pass and back on paved ground.  We jumped back on the Ring Road (Route 1) up to the town of Egilsstaðir.  From here, we diverged from the Ring Road again to spend some time in an Icelandic fjord town, Seyðisfjörður (about 17 miles or 27 km).  We knew the weather was crummy and wanted to see atleast one fjord town while visiting Iceland.  Before descending into Seyðisfjörður we stopped at some small overlooks (above supposed to be a great view of the fjord town below) and below (a waterfall along the way).  However, the wind and rain had us running back to our cars and created these lovely three photos I call the "Icelandic Wind Series 1, 2, and 3".

Wind Series 2 on our way down to Seyðisfjörður

annnnd wind series 3

The wind was so strong it could push you backwards and again, this is the type of day where when you open your car door, you have to hold onto it for dear life so it does not blow off your car (because this happens and it definitely isn't covered by your insurance according to my rental car company).

The waterfall without the windy girl

GPS: 65.2622409,   -14.0179538

Finally we descended into the town, parked the car, and looked around for a little coffee shop to watch the rain, warm up, and have a snack.  We stopped into Hotel Aldan and loved the open but cozy clean and warm space. Here, we ordered coffee, date pudding (something I have only seen on one menu before in Connecticut at my favorite restaurant) and looked at some guides and maps on the town.  An espresso and a decadent date pudding in a warm cozy cafe in the cutest little fjord town with a view of the water is how I would like to spend every day of this life here on out.  

Espresso at Hotel Aldan
Date pudding at at Hotel Aldan

I do this funny thing when I travel places and say to myself "I could live here" or more often "I could never live here".  After leaving the coffee shop we walked around this sleepy little town and I certainly said to myself... I could live here.  We walked over to the ferry terminal where we stood in front of a massive vessel. 

Seyðisfjörður and the passenger/vehicle ferry
This large "ferry" was a part of the Smyril Line and departed from Iceland to head to nearby wonder like the Faroe Island and Denmark aboard the M/V Norröna.   This mini cruise ship has everything from a gym to fine dining and takes in total 1.482 passengers and 800 cars and has multi day layovers at stops like the Faroe Islands. 

Denmark-Iceland or v.v. approx. 47 hours
Denmark-Faroe Islands or v.v. approx. 36 hours
Faroe Islands-Iceland or v.v. approx. 19 hours

Ferry Route 

After coffee, we walked around the town to the blue church and rainbow walkway. We also made our way to the ferry terminal where the visitor's center is held to learn more about the town and things to do in the area. 

Getting here:

The information Centre is at the Ferry terminal, where Norrona docks.  It’s open from May 1st to September 30th on Mon-Fri from 08:00 – 16:00 . From October 1st to April 30th the centre is open Mon – Fri  from 13:00-17:00. It’s also open when Norrona docks on Tuesdays from 8:00 – 12:00 during the winter season.

View of Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður is the cutest and very colorful fjord town at the top of the inlet and is surrounded by mountains.  The most prominent is Mt. Bjólfur to the west (1085m) and Strandartindur (1010m) to the east.  You can drive both sides of the fjord.  If you drive further out the fjord (which is 17 km long) towards the ocean it is fairly remote but rich with natural interests including puffin colonies.  The town is known for it's art and culture and as a ferry terminal for trips out to Denmark and the Faroe Islands.  It's colorful, its cute, and if you only have time to visit one town in the eastern fjords, guides say this one is it.  More about visiting this town.  More about What To Do in this town. This town has been featured in famous films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and has made it's way into articles and websites like BBC Travel.  Its a town so charming you have to see it for yourself.

** Note:  You may wish to avoid Seyðisfjorður on Wednesday nights in summer, as the ferry to Europe sails on Thursday mornings and accommodation and meals in town are in hot demand. 

Rainbow walkway leading to Bláakirkja, The Blue Church.

"The town’s establishment owes its origins to Danish merchants that started trading in the fjord during the mid 19th century. It is, however, the Icelandic herring fishery by Norwegians that is the most significant factor in the growth of the town from 1870-1900. During this time a number of herring fishing facilities were build and in the matter of years, the small community grew into a vibrant fishing town". My Visit East Iceland

 According to the guides, there are some fantastic hikes to do in the area when weather allows.... you can even earn the title of “Seyðisfjörður Mountain Viking”.  To do this, you need to stop first at the information centre in the village and get a special map showing these seven peaks. Apparently you have to bring it with you and punch it in the right place when you get to the top of each mountain. After climbing all seven, present the map once more at the information centre. You will be rewarded by a document recognizing your achievement, while your name will also be entered in the “List of Mountain Vikings ” on the Seyðisfjörður municipal website.  How adorable is this?! More info and route descriptions here.

The Mt. Bjolfur and the Snow Avalanche Barriers hike looked like an amazing hike when the weather is good and you have a full day.  While some sources say 5km each way, the gentleman at the info booth informed us it was a longer hike than that and with the current weather, there would be zero views.  It is impossible to find accurate info on this hike but some sources say 5km each way and some say 6-8 hours.  On a nice day, you can get an amazing view of the fjord town below.  

Icelandic Pledge

On our way out before leaving the town, I came across this awesome "pledge" in the visitor's center.  With the tourism booming in this country, I thought this was such a fantastic way to inspire tourists to protect this raw and beautiful country.  

I absolutely loved our visit to this little town and it was a top five highlight of the trip for me.  It was quiet and charming and just about everything I imagined an Icelandic fjord town to be.  While it is a trek off the ring road, it is a detour highly worth your time.  If I ever make it back to Iceland, I plan to head back to Seyðisfjörður for a few days and earn my badge as a mountain viking.

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