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An Unexpected Encounter at Heimaey’s Aquarium

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Whereas we had enjoyed wonderful weather on our first day in Heimaey, our second day was marked by unrelenting rain. We tried to grit our teeth and ignore it, but eventually had to seek shelter. Soaking wet and in toxic moods, we burst into the Aquarium and Natural History Museum, never expecting to encounter a little fellow who would brighten our spirits immensely.

Puffin Kiss

Before escaping into the refuge of the museum, we toured around Heimaey Town. During the 1973 eruption of Eldfell, the eastern section of the town had been buried, and some of the buildings are still half-poking out the pitch black wall of rock. Today, you can walk atop the cooled lava field; memorial plaques indicate which building is buried under your feet.


Walking across the lava was neat, but by the time we reached the Stafkirkjan (Stave Church) bordering the harbor, the rain had dampened whatever enthusiasm I’d started the day with. Despite my rancid mood, even I could recognize the simple beauty of this black-timbered church. A gift from Norway, it was built in 2000 and modeled on the famous Urnes Stave Church in Bergen.

We stayed inside for awhile, drying off, and then darted across town into the Sæheimar, Heimaey’s aquarium. We weren’t expecting much, and were only visiting because it was so miserable outside. But the place quickly won us over. There’s a room with stuffed models of the birds of Iceland, another with the island’s various minerals, and a third with aquariums that house all manner of indigenous fish and crustaceans.

It was enjoyable enough and worth the 1000kr ($8.30) ticket price. But then, as we were about to leave, the staff introduced us to a young puffin who was found orphaned as an infant, and now lives in the building. He’s known humans his whole life, and is completely comfortable with our species. “Cute” doesn’t even begin to describe him. He was so soft and quiet, so colorful and personable, I thought of putting him in my pocket and sneaking out.

By the time we left the Sæheimar, we were feeling great and had completely forgotten about the awful weather. Of course, minutes later we were soaking wet again, and the smiles had disappeared our faces. But for a short period at least, the Sæheimar and its resident puffin had cheered us up.

Locations on our Map: Stafkirkjan | Sæheimar
Sæheimar – Website

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Stafkirkjan Pier
Eldfell Lava Field
Old Swimming Pool Westman Islands
Eldfell Eruption
Lava Field Eldfell
Stafkirkjan Roof
Stafkirkjan Cross
Stafkirkjan Door
Stafkirkjan Entrance
Wet Iceland
Stafkirkjan Ceiling
Hidden Stafkirkjan
Iceland Secrets
Holding Puffin
Petting Puffin
Bird Berry
Bat Iceland
Silly Bird
Iceland Seals
Owl Iceland
Icelandic Eggs
Westman Islands Aquarium
LOL Fish
Ugly Fish
Evil Fish
Icelandic Crab
Hunting Puffin
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September 21, 2013 at 11:03 am Comments (5)

The Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs

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Home to millions of puffins, guillemots, razorbills and gannets, Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in Iceland and the largest bird cliff in Europe. Birds are lured here by the infinite rocky outcrops which, protected from the northern winds, are perfect for nesting. And humans come for the sheer spectacle of so many birds in one place.

We knew that we’d see puffins on our visit to Latrabjarg, but hadn’t expected to get so close to them. Despite being hunted in Iceland, the little guys are completely unafraid of people. They tend to nest toward the top of the cliffs, and after I had sat down to watch one do his thing, he waddled to within a couple feet of me, totally uninterested in my presence. Adorable as they are bobbling and skidding across the water, they’re even cuter up close.

A path extends for over a mile up and along the cliffs, bringing you to ever greater heights. But since the best view of the cliffs is close to the parking lot, a hike is strictly optional. It was fun just to sit on the grass and watch the birds through a pair of binoculars. I could spot hatchlings clinging for dear life onto their piece of cliff, puffins clumsily flying with fish in their beaks and thoughtless razorbills pooping on the heads of their downstairs neighbors.

An amazing and utterly unique place, Latrabjarg is a must-see during any trip to the Westfjords.

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September 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (11)

Sushi, Viking Style

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If you hear the same suggestion from a variety of different locals, it’s smart to listen. And it seemed that everyone we talked with in Stykkishólmur recommended a boat trip of the islands around the bay. So we bought tickets, and discovered that the locals were right. The Viking Sushi Tour was one of the most entertaining excursions we had in Iceland.

sea urchin roe
Sea Urchin Roe in a Scallop Shell

A company called SeaTours runs the “Viking Sushi Tour” out of Stykkishólmur. The 90-minute boat ride promises bird-spotting, island-viewing and fine Viking-style dining.

As our boat neared the first island, Þórishólmur, I felt my stomach crawling up into my throat. Our vessel was huge, and we were approaching land way too quickly. I looked up at the captain to make sure that he was neither sleeping nor drunk, but he seemed in control. Turns out, Þórishólmur is a volcanic plug which sinks straight into the sea, so even large boats like ours are able to get very close. And we were near enough that I could have almost reached out and touched the rock.

Had I tried, my fingers might have been pecked off. The island’s cliffs were packed with sea birds: guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins. We saw more puffins on this trip, and were closer to them, than on our tour out of Reykjavík.

Saga Stone

The boat brought us by two other islands, one of which had a huge crevasse almost splitting it in two. A large rock was somehow wedged into the crevasse which, according to legend, was thrown by a troll woman from the mainland. Annoyed by the bells of the town church, she hurled a rock at it, but missed and hit the island instead. In an example of science following folklore, the rock has been studied, and did in fact come from the mountain on which the troll is said to have lived. Not just that, but the church would have been directly in the stone’s path.

The stories and island-hopping were a lot of fun, but the best part of the tour came at the end, when the crew dropped a giant trawler into the ocean. Considering our proximity to shore, the water’s depth was astounding; the trawler just kept sinking and sinking. Soon, it was raised and its contents dumped onto a large cleaning table. Greedily, we looked upon our bounty: an amazing number of scallops, crabs, starfish and sea urchins. And now, we would feast in a manner worthy of Vikings! (Well… effete Vikings who eat with chopsticks, sip on white wine and let the boat staff do all the work of cleaning and schucking.)

I had expected to feel revulsion while munching down raw scallops and (especially) sea urchin roe, but it was all surprisingly good! I suppose it really doesn’t get any fresher, than straight from the freezing depths of the Northern Atlantic.

Stykkishólmur is an extremely picturesque town, with plenty to do and see, and the Viking Sushi Tour is a real highlight. Not to be missed.

Hotels In Stykkishólmur

Viking Tours Iceland
Tours In Iceland
Puffin Tour Iceland
Cliff Birds
Nesting Birds Iceland
Finet Art Iceland
Basalt Column Island Iceland
Hidden Cave Stykkishólmur
Cliff Island
Fresh Sushi Iceland
Viking Sushi Tour Stykkishólmur
Seestren Iceland
Viking Sushi Tour Iceland
Fresh Scallops Iceland
Viking Sushi Tour Iceland
Sushi Tour Iceland
Little Dude Iceland
Scallop Sushi Iceland
Scallops And White Wine
Shipwreck Iceland
Stykkishólmur Church
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August 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm Comment (1)

Puffin Spotting

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With their bright orange beaks and white-feathered faces, puffins are far and away Iceland’s favorite bird. Ten million of the little guys make their home here, and though they generally colonize cliffs or off-shore islands, there are opportunities to spot them even in Reykjavík. It was to this end that we hopped on a boat departing the city harbor.

Special Tours’ Puffin Express delivered on its name. Within no time, we had reached Akurey Island, a favorite breeding spot near the capital. There were puffins all around, running along the ground, swimming and fishing in the water, and preparing for takeoff. They’re adorably awkward while working up the speed to fly, but once in the air and flapping their wings up to 400 times a minute, they can be quite fast.

Considering their love of cold water, clumsiness, and black & white plumage, I initially thought them to be related to penguins. But upon seeing them close up, and especially after watching them fly, I realized they’re completely different. Puffins are in fact a subspecies of auk: a family of fishing birds which live in northern waters, and include the razorbill and guillemot.

Puffins aren’t the slightest bit endangered, so despite how cute they are, it’s difficult to work up a lot of moral outrage about the fact that they’re commonly hunted and eaten in Iceland. Puffin breast is a popular menu item, and apparently their raw hearts are an Icelandic delicacy. They’re captured with a huge net in a method called ‘sky fishing’. Which sounds kind of horrible. In fact, now that I have the mental image of some huge guy fishing a bunch of puffins out of the air with a net, then ripping out and feasting on their tiny hearts, the seed of moral outrage has begun to sprout.

There are a variety of places around the island to spot the birds, including some that don’t require a boat ride, but if you’d like to see puffins while in Reykjavík, Special Tours’ Puffin Express is one of your best options. Our guide was both amusing and knowledgeable, able to answer every question we had. It was a great day out, and an experience we can recommend.

Special Tours – Website

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August 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm Comments (5)
An Unexpected Encounter at Heimaey's Aquarium Whereas we had enjoyed wonderful weather on our first day in Heimaey, our second day was marked by unrelenting rain. We tried to grit our teeth and ignore it, but eventually had to seek shelter. Soaking wet and in toxic moods, we burst into the Aquarium and Natural History Museum, never expecting to encounter a little fellow who would brighten our spirits immensely.
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