We went to Iceland to see my partner's mother who had fairly recently moved there with her Icelandic husband. He had been living in Australia (with her, obviously - or that would be a completely different story!) for twenty years and until two years ago hadn't returned to his home country... once. This is quite remarkable, and it may explain why we were a little surprised when they said they were going to move there from the Central Coast of Australia, but my surprise was very quickly replaced with "Ooh goodie!" now we get to visit Iceland lots and lots and lots! And we've started off well going there to join them for their first Christmas in Iceland.
Exploring East Iceland
Now I should explain that they don't live anywhere near Reykjavik. In fact, they live on the opposite side of the island in East Iceland so after a day spent walking around the capital city, we hopped on a plane and crossed the country to land in Egilsstaðir, where they now live. One of their new ventures in Iceland is running cosy country wooden cabins that tourists can stay in as they travel around the ring road, and we were lucky enough to be the very first guests in one of their three cabins. It was from this base that we spent a little time exploring East Iceland, when the weather allowed!
To say that where we were, holed up in the wooden cabin that smelt so strongly of pine, unbelievably cosy as the wind howled around us, was remote, and other-worldly and atmospheric is a gross understatement. Of course, this was heightened by the very limited daylight - around four hours total - and what light there was never got much brighter than the dull hue of dusk or dawn. These photos also feel like a huge understatement because they don't really capture how secluded we felt, how wild the land was and how cosy it was inside the cabin. I've never really stayed anywhere like it, but I hope they capture a bit of the adventure we had while we were there...
Staying in East Iceland
You can book your stay in these cosy, clean and very comfortable cabins here, but be quick! They sell out months in advance.
We didn't exactly do much while we were in Egilsstaðir. Firstly, this was because we were with family and it was Christmas so we had important things like eating, drinking and talking to do. Secondly, there wasn't that much to do - it's a town of less than 3,000 people and most things were closed because of the time of year. Thirdly, eventually the weather became more of a problem. Despite having one of the mildest early winters in recent years, the weather turned a few days after we arrived and the snow fell, the wind would whip against the windows and roads were closed. It was also Christmas so not much was open, and as soon as there was snow on the ground, walking around (especially) with a toddler in a pushchair was near impossible, especially as the snow quickly turned to ice. One day my partner and I left Baby Bird with the grandparents and we walked around the town catching views of sunset (at around 3.30pm) from the top of a hill near the church, and on another day we all went on a short drive to a nearby town the other side of the mountain that sits behind Egilsstaðir. As we were driving, the weather turned on us again and the higher we climbed (to go up and over the other side) the whiter and wilder it got. Once we were in Seyðisfjörður, we felt like the only people alive (or awake) there. Everything was closed. There wasn't a single person walking around (which is fair enough because there was a lot of snow and it was barely above freezing) and each time a truck or car passed us by we were a little shocked. Lucky for us a single petrol station was open so we parked up there and ate hot dogs and drank coffee - something which apparently is very Icelandic to do, so I didn't feel like I was completely missing out on a "cultural" experience.
Apparently, Seyðisfjörður is a completely different town in the summer; full of life and bustling with visitors as this is where a lot of the passenger ferries from the Faroe Islands and Denmark arrive and disembark. I suspect most of these tourists don't stay long in Seyðisfjörður but I can imagine that arriving in this sleepy, remote and indeed, detached town, is quite a way to arrive in Iceland. There were the painted corrugated houses, a painfully cute church in a pastel blue, and a collection of fishing boats rocking side to side by the water's edge, all with the fjord's steep, mountainous sides rising up behind them.
I have to say, there was something about this town. It was so quiet, in a eerie way. And because it felt like we'd really gone through something to get there with snow blinding our route and winds shifting our car left and right, I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Seyðisfjörður was the setting for one of the recent Nordic Noir TV shows called Trapped which was shown on BBC4 last year, I believe. It's about a murder that takes place in this secluded coastal town and while the investigation is ongoing bad weather closes the road out of the town, and a passenger ferry is also grounded in the harbour... In one of life's great ironic twists, in April this year, four months after our visit, hundreds of tourists were literally trapped in Seyðisfjörður when bad weather closed the road out of the town and the ferry wasn't permitted to leave. I now feel somewhat grateful that we were able to leave... I love hot dogs but probably couldn't eat them for three days straight...
Here are more photos from that road trip, including snapping the Gufufoss waterfall (which looks completely different in summer according to Google) and the glorious moment we saw reindeer!!
We also had our own brush with being "trapped" when our return domestic flight to Reykjavik was cancelled for three days due to high winds (and I'll write the story of our eventual journey home for you another day - because I'm still recovering!), but we were lucky to be with family and the biggest inconvenience was trying to keep a young toddler entertained indoors for days on end... that and running out of clean underwear.
Of course I'm going to sound completely biased in explaining how well the cabin was equipped and how many lovely finishing touches made it so very cosy inside, but I would say these things even if it wasn't my mother-in-law who is responsible for achieving these things. I would also tell you how spacious it seemed for a small cabin. How comfortable the bed was, how they provide bunk beds for children (or adults!) and they also have travel cots for babies and toddlers. Oh and I'd possibly also mention the free WiFi, the coffee machine, the TV and the always-immediately-warm shower... And how one day I hope to return to one of these cabins on my own, again in the middle of winter, and I will write a book, because it's that kind of peaceful, ethereal, emotive place.
Frances M. Thompson
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