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Ósar and Borgarvirki

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Stretching into the arctic waters of the Atlantic on Iceland’s northeastern coast, the Vatnsnes Peninsula is usually over-looked, but has a couple worthwhile places at which to stop. At Ósar, there’s a seal colony which lives on a sandbank just across a narrow stretch of water. And the Viking-era fort at Borgarvirki offers interesting history and a fantastic view of the region.

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Borgarvirki

It was an extremely windy afternoon, and we feared that Ósar’s seal colony wouldn’t be home. At first, these fears were borne out. We hiked about fifteen minutes down to the shore, but didn’t see a single seal. Eventually, though, one raised his head out of the water. He was watching us closely, taking our measure, and only disappearing when Jürgen started making kissy-noises at him.

The flirting must have worked, however, because seals now started popping up all over the place. We saw at least ten, diving around, playing, and always keeping a careful eye on us. We had hoped to see them basking on the shore, but it wasn’t exactly a day for basking. Still, if you want to see seals, Ósar seems a pretty safe bet.

Next up was the ancient fort called Borgarvirki, just south of Ósar. It’s built atop an immense volcanic plug and dates from the settlement era, but not much else is known about Borgarvirki. It doesn’t appear in the literature or accounts of the time, so nobody knows for sure who built it or for what purpose. I assume it was a defensive lookout, because from the top you can see for miles.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Ósar | Borgarvirki

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October 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm Comments (4)

The Reykjavík City Zoo

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Not all that many animals are native to Iceland, and those that do exist can be notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. So if you want to see creatures like reindeer, seals and foxes, and don’t have time to scour the coasts and countrysides, head to the tiny Reykjavík City Zoo.

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The zoo is part of the immense Laugardalur park just outside the city center. We needed a really long time to locate it, and were exhausted by the time we entered. So I was happy to discover that the zoo isn’t all that big. At just 750 krona, it’s among the cheaper things you can do in Reykjavík and won’t take more than an hour of your time. Unless you have a kid who just loves pigs or chickens. In that case, good luck, because there are a ton of them. Your little chicken-lover will never want to leave.

We found the seals right away, swimming endless loops around their small pool. They made me a little sad. Even the pups had clearly gone insane from the boredom… all there is to do is swim the same loop over and over, all day today, tomorrow and every day thereafter for the rest of your life. From the seal pool, we wandered through stables where some truly massive pigs were feeding and a cow was hooked up to a milking machine. We saw a few rabbits and Icelandic goats, but paid them short shrift. Apologies all around, but we only really cared about the foxes.

The zoo has well over a dozen arctic foxes kept in a huge pen, and they were great fun to watch. Very playful, they were wrestling around with each other, hopping in and out of their burrows and keeping a watchful eye on our movements outside the cage. Unlike the seals, they had plenty of room and seemed to be truly happy.

The foxes aren’t the only ones having fun, because toward the back of the zoo is a theme park with carnival rides for children. We possess neither kids nor any kind of tolerance for their maddening darling squeals of delight, so we skipped out on this. But it’s another reason the zoo is such a popular activity for Icelandic families.

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September 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm Comments (2)

Norðurfjörður and the Pool at Krossnelaug

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The Westfjords’ Route 647 ends at Norðurfjörður, a tiny settlement underneath the imposing Krossnesfjall Mountain. After arriving and setting up our tent at the beach-side campsite, we took a short excursion to an amazing pool called Krossnelaug.

Krossnelaug is fed by natural hot springs trickling down off the mountain, positioned right along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. After the long day of driving, it was a pleasure to soak our bones here, with a backdrop provided by the wide open sea and a soundtrack by the lapping waves. And with the departure of the rowdy Icelandic family who had been sharing the pool, the experience got even better.

On the way back to our tent, we stopped at the small fishing harbor and spotted a seal in the water with a herring between its teeth. A growing army of seagulls had designs on its meal, but the seal was too clever. Between bites, it would flee underneath the water, leaving the gulls to squawk in frustration, and then reappear a few meters away. A humorous sequence, like something out of a Pixar flick, and a fun way to end an eventful first day in the Westfjords.

Location on our Iceland Map: Krossnelaug
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August 27, 2013 at 8:09 am Comment (1)
sar and Borgarvirki Stretching into the arctic waters of the Atlantic on Iceland's northeastern coast, the Vatnsnes Peninsula is usually over-looked, but has a couple worthwhile places at which to stop. At Ósar, there's a seal colony which lives on a sandbank just across a narrow stretch of water. And the Viking-era fort at Borgarvirki offers interesting history and a fantastic view of the region.
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