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Ólafsfjörður

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A village of just 800 inhabitants built around a natural bay of the same name, Ólafsfjörður was our base during the three days we spent exploring the eastern half of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. The town itself doesn’t have a lot to distract tourists, but the surrounding landscape picks up the slack.

Ólafsfjörður

In Northern Iceland, September is “winter” and a lot of touristy sights close up shop. So we weren’t surprised to find Ólafsfjörður’s lone attraction, the Natural History Museum (Nátúrrugripsafnið), closed. And it didn’t really upset us; we were much more interested in driving around the fjord than spending a day in a museum. During our slow, leisurely tour, we saw quiet farms, geese and a lot of snow. We also cruised around the town and its harbor. Fishing remains integral to life here, despite the end of the herring boom which brought Ólafsfjörður into being in 1945.

We slept in a cabin operated by the Brimnes Hotel, right on top of the fjord and with a beautiful view of the mountains. On checking in, we were thrilled to discover a hot tub on the balcony. We ended each of our three Ólafsfjörður nights with an extended soak, watching dusk settle in and listening to ducks splash around in the water just below us.

Location on our Iceland Map
Brimnes Hotel – Website

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October 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm Comments (3)

Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum

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Until being usurped by tourism, fishing had always been Iceland’s most important industry, and the country’s biggest factory was found in the tiny northern town of Sigluförður. Today the former plant houses a museum dedicated to the bygone days when herring was king.

Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum

The herring boom which gripped Iceland at the dawn of the 20th century was something like a gold rush. Thousands of people and hundreds of ships flocked to Siglufjörður to stake their claim to the “silver of the sea”. Decades passed, businessmen became rich, a grand new factory was opened, and the herring never seemed to stop spawning. Until 1969, that is, when suddenly they didn’t show up at all.

Iceland and the other North Atlantic countries had simply over-fished. Herring congregate in large schools, a technique which might offer protection from aquatic predators, but makes them ridiculously easy for us clever humans to catch. Icelanders got better and better at scooping up ever larger batches of herring. With new equipment and faster ships, they eventually became too good at it. Today, thanks to a long moratorium and strict regulation, the herring have largely recovered, but the “boom days” when fishing accounted for 30% of Iceland’s economy are gone.

Everything written in the preceding paragraphs and the sum total of my “herring knowledge”, I learned during our visit to the Herring Era Museum. The museum does a wonderful job of recreating the spirit of Siglufjörður in the 1940s and 50s, in three buildings integral to the industry. There’s the salting house, where the town’s famous “herring girls” would sleep. The factory, with much of the original equipment still in place. And the boat house, where a number of herring-era vessels can be seen, and one even boarded.

Throughout the museum, there’s information about life in boom-time Siglufjörður, with photographs and old movies shot inside the factory. The curators have done a magnificent job leaving things intact. The herring girls’ personal items can be seen in the salting house, unbelievable industrial machinery in the factory, and nine authentic ships in the boat house.

Each of these three buildings would be worth visiting alone, but together they paint an amazing picture of an industry whose golden age is irrevocably in the past. Definitely worth a detour to the remote little town of Siglufjörður.

Location on our Iceland Map
The Herring Era Museum – Website

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October 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm Comment (1)

A Drive Around Tröllaskagi

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Although the great majority of it is completely inaccessible to all but the most adventurous hikers, the peninsula of Tröllaskagi is one of Iceland’s more heavily-populated regions. It’s book-ended by Sauðárkrókúr to the west and Akureyri to the east, with the towns of Hofsós, Sigluförður, Dalvík and Ólafsfjörður strung out along the coast. We drove along the coastal road just after the year’s first snowfall.

Tröllaskagi

After a couple months in the country, we started to become more Icelandic. On the morning we were leaving Sauðárkrókúr, we awoke to a fresh layer of snow covering the ground… and were excited! Not filled with dread. Not anxious about dangerous driving conditions. But invigorated by the prospect of an extra challenge. That day, I also found myself saying “Yaow” a lot, just like an Icelander. Excited for the drive? “Yaow!” Isn’t snow pretty? “Yaow!” More dried cod? “Yaow yaow yaow!”

Weather changes everything in Iceland. Roads are closed. Towns are completely stranded. Hikers die. It’s just something you have to constantly be aware of. Before embarking anywhere, we made it a habit to consult the website of The Icelandic Road Administration, where current road conditions are updated. Green is good, red is bad. Today, there was a lot of yellow. (Yaow, looks fine, yaow yaow.)

The drive was great, in part because of the inclement weather. The sky was absolutely white, and it blended in perfectly with the snow white mountains. You couldn’t tell where the land ended and the heavens began, and the effect was dizzying.

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We made a few stops during our drive, first in the village of Hólar í Hjaltadal, which was once one of the most important religious centers in Iceland. There’s an old cathedral here, but it was closed. Not a surprise. Once September sets in, and especially in the north, most things close. We were in and out of Hólar in minutes, but pulled over again in the nearby village of Hofsós.

As home to the Icelandic Emigration Center, Hofsós is a top destination for North Americans of Icelandic descent, looking to research their family history. Despite my newly discovered love of snow and propensity for exclaiming “Yaow!”, I’m certain no Icelandic blood runs through my veins, so we took a pass. Instead, we went to the town’s wonderful pool which overlooks the Atlantic… naturally enough, it was closed.

The rest of drive to Siglufjörður was quiet and beautiful. There were few other cars, and the pristine landscape was only interrupted by occasional tunnels. We were blasting our favorite new artist, Ásgeir Trausti, and not letting the fact that he sings in Icelandic hold us back from howling along at the top of our lungs. In all, it was one of the most fun days we’d had since renting our car and setting forth from Reykjavík. All we had to do was embrace our inner Icelanders.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Hólar | Hofsós

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October 15, 2013 at 7:49 pm Comments (0)
lafsfjrur A village of just 800 inhabitants built around a natural bay of the same name, Ólafsfjörður was our base during the three days we spent exploring the eastern half of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. The town itself doesn't have a lot to distract tourists, but the surrounding landscape picks up the slack.
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