Godafoss, known as the Waterfall of the Gods. It owes this significant name thanks to another Icelandic saga. The legend explains a farmer was chosen to decide if Iceland would convert to Christianity (a cause Norway was championing). He decided yes and threw all his carved pagan statues into this fall – ergo the name, Waterfall of the Gods.
We stopped off here on our route between Siglo and Husavik. Another beautiful day, blessed with good, chilly weather. Only 40′ high, the falls stretch 100 yards wide. Viewing areas are nicely positioned and boardwalks with barriers make for comfortable walking. There are two perspectives for viewing and visitors can either drive between the parking lots or cross on the old road. We chose to stretch our legs and views in both directions from the old road are shown below.
What a glorious day this was. We were so fortunate the wind died down, sun came out and the temps rose to the upper 40s. In the morning we let the chill warm up with a visit to the award-winning Herring Museum. The museum occupies three buildings and is very interesting – I had no idea about the history or the products produced (fish, oil, and fish-meal) until today.
Siglo, once known as the “herring capital” was the center of this fishing enterprise and had a significant role in the economy and development of Iceland. Ultimately, contributing in a major way to Iceland becoming independent from Denmark. Like towns in the days of the American Gold Rush, it was a booming, happening place to seek work and good fortune. The industry survived a major avalanche and fire that destroyed two factories, yet continued to thrive for decades. But herring are a migratory fish – and migrate they did. By the mid-1960s the fish were gone and so was most of the population. Since then, the town has reinvented itself as a tourism destination, with heliskiing during winter months and visitors like us in the summer.
We wandered around the sleepy little town with its brightly painted assortment of 1930s vintage buildings. Many storefronts were empty, likely due to the pandemic’s impact on tourism, and others were closed on Saturdays. A crowded bakery caught our attention and served as a sweet spot for a casual, yummy lunch.
Now we needed to walk off a few of the calories consumed with our lunch, so we headed out for a short drive to a nearby forest. You don’t see trees in Iceland thanks to aggressive cutting and burning of timber by early Viking settlers 1,000 years ago. Finding even a small forest was a bonus. We knew the Leyningsfoss Waterfall could be viewed from a forest trail, and after getting some slightly vague instructions, we headed out to find it.
The forest also bordered the area’s 9-hole golf course. Originally, we had scheduled a round for today, but the course decided not to open yet (we heard the weather had been colder, later than usual). We still wanted to check it out on our way to our hunt for the falls.
A fairly steep and slippery hike took us up to a beautiful vista of falls across the valley and eventually got us to a very peaceful setting (with a bench!) where we could see Leyningsfoss and savor the crisp, beautiful afternoon surrounded by pine trees, listening to the roar of the falls and chirping of the birds.
Eventually we forced ourselves up, finished our walk in the woods, and drove back to town in search of gas to be ready for the next day. We have had some adventures getting gas. You really do have to use a card with a pin number, and we were prepared for that, but only our credit card (with pin) works, not the more cost-efficient debit card. The whole system is tricky, stations are quite dispersed, and sometimes not all the pumps work. Our car is a hybrid, but we have not yet figured out where it could be charged.
The Siglo Hotel is a lovely place to stay and our views can’t be beat. Finished off the day on-site with a visit to the bar and a lovely dinner. A lot of folks can be seen heading outdoors to the hot pools and then sitting around in swimsuits . . . not for this Miami girl! I’m content to lounge in our room’s window seat and just stare at the view.
It’s raining harder this morning as we left Husafell and headed towards the Ring Road and our trek into North Iceland. We are headed to Iceland’s fairly new Arctic Coast Way, stretching along the edge of the northern coast.
Eventually, we drove onto a higher plateau about 1,400′ and the farms disappeared giving way to unobstructed open fields of moss-covered rock, ravines, and snow-covered ridges in the distance. The yellow markers alongside all the roads are twice as tall here, there must be more snow in the winter.
The rain stopped as we came down the other side of the plateau, and farmlands returned-we are almost in the north.
Icelandic horses and flocks of sheep with their newborn twins dot the countryside. But even if you wanted to pull over illegally and snap a pic – you can’t without rolling down the embankment.
We stop for a bite to eat in the small village of Blondus and then take 744 north of the Ring Road and cut across to Skagafjorour before turning north to the Troll (Trollaskagi) Penisula and Highway 76 to Siglufjordur (known by the much easier to pronounce “Siglo”). There was very little traffic and the roads are good. Because we are traveling clockwise, we are thankfully on the inside of the road. With hardly any guardrails and my fear of heights, I was more than happy with our position.
As we rounded one of the most northern tips of Iceland, the road began to alternate between paved and unpaved, a technique used to compensate for the constant settling of the ever-shifting terrain. Just before Siglo, drivers enter a long, single-lane tunnel. On-coming cars pull over into occasional indentations to let others pass. It was a bit intimidating.
We’ve arrived in picturesque Siglo.
The Sun Voyager is an apt symbol for Reykjavik, a city where much is waiting to be discovered. Historic, yet new construction everywhere; cultured and quirky; a stopover to Europe or a jumping-off point to a treasure-trove of outdoor adventures.
We walked and walked, enjoying city sights, sounds, and food. Using Rick Steves’ walking tour as a guide, we headed up Skolarvoroustigur Street, busy with shops and cafes, and its colorful striped pedestrian path leading towards the famous Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church. In the largest church in Iceland, we paid our 1000 ISK senior fee (<$8 US pp) to take the elevator and 33 steps up to the bell tower for city views. The church was built between 1945 – 1986 to resemble the basalt cliffs resulting from Iceland’s volcanic birth. A statue of Leifur Eiriksson (of discovered-the-Americas fame) graces the grounds in front of the church, and a sculpture installation by Steinum Thorarinsdottir juxtaposes life-sized armored men and naked androgynous figures. Interesting. But the 360 views from the top of the church tower were the stars of the show.
I failed to mention we had already found a delicious bakery for breakfast and tried one of the famous Icelandic hotdogs at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur’s bright red stand. Made with lamb, beef, and pork, the local fav is served with onion, crunchy fried onion, ketchup, sweet mustard, and remoulade sauce. It actually wasn’t bad, but we will stick with our American classics.
After our trek around the harbor and town, we sampled some traditional Icelandic foods at the Cafe Loki near the church. Our guide Dofri, from the day prior, had recommended the spot and had urged us to be more open-minded about trying the fermented shark, which has apparently been a nutritious food source through the years. It wasn’t actually that bad. It’s best eaten on brown rye bread with butter accompanied by a shot of Icelandic vodka. We also tried the smoked lamb, smoked trout, mashed fish, and dried cod. It was only the dried cod that we left on the plate-it tasted like cardboard packaging! We seem to move from snack to snack, having also tried all the famous varieties of chocolates (including the licorice-covered variety) at this point.
Many of the houses here use corrugated iron as siding due to the harsh weather conditions, and we saw many examples as well as lovely townhomes, embassies, government buildings, and as always, we somehow ended up by a hospital complex.
It was fun to spot the private gardens and artwork tucked around corners and in surprising places throughout local neighborhoods. We also looked for the cat doors that I read were creatively utilized, but never spotted any, even though we found three friendly cats. Pets here are very controlled, and we didn’t see any feral animals. In some communities, cats are banned, and you need permission from your neighbors to own a dog, banned in Reykjavik until 1984.
After a long day and many miles of walking, we enjoyed a lovely dinner where I tried the best new dish of the day, Ling. Delicious. Tired but content, we prepped to get our car and hit the road the next morning.