Iceland Day 8: Puffins and Seydisfjordur

A beautiful, logistic mistake

Drying fish hut in BorgarfjordurSeydisjordur, although being a utterly charming town, turned out to be logistically a poor choice as a base for exploring the north-east of Iceland. It would have been much better to stay in Egilsstadir and face the mountain pass only once for a visit to the fjord town. Moreover the low clouds hadn’t left since the day before, making the drive more difficult and un-scenic and, to top it off, we ended up doing the pass on a Tuesday, shortly after 9am, which is when the Norröna docks. The Norröna is a huge ferry that connects Denmark, Faroe Islands and Iceland and on a weekly basis unloads dozens of cars and campers form the continent, forming a slow queue uphill.

Once out of the clouds we were unstoppable, speeding towards Borgarfjörður Eystri and Bakkagerði, a hamlet of 130 inhabitants, in the northern part of East Iceland. This place is famous for its beauty (where in Iceland is not?), for its hiking trails leading to deserted fjords and caves, and for the birdwatching activities. For how unappealing birdwatching might be to us in this case we made an exception: the birds to watch were the puffins.

Route 94 and the spirit of Naddi, and the Queen of Elves

The road to get there is carved directly in the side of a mountain that plunges its feet in the sea, hundred meters below. It all looks a bit crumbly but overall safe… before we read its story. One of the most dangerous roads in the country, it has claimed many lives in its history. Of course the casualties weren’t blamed on the poor road conditions or the impervious weather, but on a creature called Naddi, haunting the area. There’s still a cross, supposed to protect the travellers, with a Latin inscription: Effigiem Christi qui transis pronus honora (You who hurry past, honour Christ’s image).

Perhaps for this reason Borgarfjörður is really quiet and remote, however remarkably interesting. First thing we dove in the Alfacafè, where we enjoyed unlimited coffee and a good raw-herring dish. Its name has nothing to do with the Greek alphabet, but with Alfa being the Icelandic for Elves. It is well known in fact that the Queen of Elves and her court reside there, in the Alfaborg, the Elves castle that gives the name to the town… and the local café. Where, by the way, they also display and sell stone artefacts.

Raw herring at Alfacafe

Opposite the café the road led to quite an interesting building: a little house not just surrounded but also all but completely covered by a bright green garden. And no, it’s not abandoned and overgrown, but quite the contrary, it’s well looked after. A particularly pretty example of an ancient insulation technique, using moss and grass to cover walls and roof.

…like flying fancy dressed penguins

Moss-covered houses in BorgarfjordurFrom there it’s just 4 Km to the Puffins area, we were excited to do that but also a bit worried, given our precedent record spotting other animals, namely seals. We got to the end of the road and climbed to the platform which, although being man-made, didn’t look too intrusive, and it wasn’t too busy either. We managed to get close to those funny looking, clumsy birds; close enough to see their colourful beak clutching the prey, their rather un-spectacular landings and their frantic flapping. Like flying masked penguins they are incredibly entertaining to observe, so much that we spent one hour there.

Back to the Alfacafé we bumped in the same Italian couple that we met the day before at the Nature Baths, they told us about their experience in Husey, riding horses on a boundless black basaltic beach. Still unaware of our turbulent relationship with horses we really wanted to go but, regretfully, we had to give up as it was already too late to join the last ride.

An interesting twist of events… and mood

In the evening we finally met our host, Johanna, who told us fascinating tales about Iceland and the legend of a mysterious lady whose remains have been found in the mountains over Seydisfjordur. She sheds a completely different light on the area and her town giving us some precious tips so, after shaking the fatigue off our shoulders, we reached Skaftfell. Being the town so small probably one place has to provide for all necessities, so that Skaftfell serves as café, pub, restaurant and art gallery. We had a good time and we would recommend this place to anyone passing by Seydisfjordur: they had a good beer, Skjálfti, and possibly the best pizza in Iceland (1400ISK for a margherita made it also the cheapest). We stayed until closure sharing stories with the same Italian couple that we’ve been meeting for the past 3 days, thinking of how a chance meeting with Johanna overturned our whole experience. But this is travelling.

Icelandic Puffin

Icelandic Puffin: like a butler with a carnival mask

If you want to make sure to miss the Norröna (or not to miss, accordingly) check their website.

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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