My friend and I bought our tickets to the island Grimsey before I checked my class schedule (stay in school, kids). Fortunately, the only thing I had that day was a Roman Law final. According to my student account, the test was scheduled for 9-12. This made things tricky because we were supposed to be at the airport (across and then slightly out of town) 45 minutes before our 1:00 departure. For all you math-y people out there, I’m sure you’re noticing that that’s a tight timeline to make. The plan was that I leave at 11 so we would have time to make it to the airport. The final actually got out at 10:30, which was a pleasant surprise. We had hoped to catch a bus downtown, but we walked instead and picked up a snack before heading to the airport.
At the Akureyri airport, there was no line for the check in counter. We approached, passports ready. They asked only for our last names and then printed out or boarding passes. Didn’t glance at our passports. Didn’t search our bags. We didn’t walk through so much as a metal detector. So… Iceland is trusting, I suppose.
The plane was a propeller plane who’s cabin couldn’t have been more than 15 feet long. The PA system used by the captains was essentially a formality. And my travel companion recommends that you simply ignore the duct tape near the wing.
Despite the arguable sketchiness of the plane, the flight was amazing. The weather was good so we actually got to enjoy the views of Akureyri and Eyjaflöður. It’s difficult to describe just how incredible it was to watch beautiful, completely foreign landscapes and scenery slip by. It was like watching a storybook. Hopefully these pictures convey some of that.
As we approached the edge of the fjord the most striking thing to me was that the mountains seem to rise straight from the ocean. There are no lowlands, no plains, not even cliffs. The beach is the foot of the mountain.
The first glimpse of Grimsey is surprising, even though it shouldn’t be. Grimsey is about five square miles, so from high in the air is looks teeny tiny. And it is. As you get closer, you realize that there are houses on the island—perhaps a dozen and a half. And if you’re really paying attention it looks like the airstrip is the longest piece of road on the island.
Once we landed, a lady emerged from the airport to open the door of the plane and unload the cargo: the mail from the past three days, the papers, and several cases of beer. I offered to help but she refused. As she was carrying the mail inside she asked which two were here for the tour. My friend and I let her know that it was us and she said “All right, I’ll call your guide”. In the meantime, we walked around the airport to the sign on Grimsey that denotes the Arctic Circle. It also points to various corners of the globe and marks how far they are. After taking a few pictures of the beautiful, if barren, landscape, we were approached by a woman who introduced herself as Karin
“You two are here for a tour?” she asked.
“Yes! Are you our guide?”
“Yes, sorry I am late, I was at work—I’m the principle of the school”.
So we followed the principle to her car and drove with her to the north of the island. She pointed out where the Arctic Circle lies and told us about the types of plants and animals that grow on Grimsey. There are no wild mammals, and predatory pets are not allowed because Grimsey is (seasonally) home to many, many types of birds. Grimsey is most famous for being the summer home to thousands of puffins; sadly, we arrived just after their migration south.
Next, she showed us around “town”. She showed us the school/meeting house where she works and told us about the social clubs and her seven students. The school has three rooms that are used. One is the kindergarten, one is for lower primary school, and the last room is for middle school. Students have to go to the mainland for high school and so on. In the last room is the library. It’s two floor to ceiling shelves and two cabinets. The cabinets is where it gets interesting.
Apparently, there was once an American gent who was sailing around and took a liking to Grimsey. As the story goes, he never set foot on the island. Despite that, he sent a chess set to the people of Grimsey, along with a library. The library had books about law and other things, but mostly chess. This library is what is in the cabinets. Our guide told us that the books are all still there, and very old, but she didn’t have the key to open them up.
After out lesson at the school, we drove to the church. The church rarely holds services, but it is never locked. She told us that priests from the mainland come around Christmas to give lessons to children, and again in the spring for christenings and confirmations. The church is incredible small, but gorgeous. It is nearly as old as the settlement on Grimsey. Originally, it was a turf house—like most other buildings early in Iceland’s history—but it was then built properly from driftwood and has kept up since then. Though those who live on Grimsey rarely utilize the church, other people certainly do. There is a man buried in the cemetery that did not live on Grimsey. He just decided that was where he wanted to be laid to rest. Additionally, a couple recently got married at the Grimsey church as a destination wedding. (More about that wedding here )
I would also like the record to show that this church is the only place I’ve been in Iceland that had something posted in Spanish. #blessed
After the church we headed down to the southernmost point on the northernmost piece of Iceland. Here is where you’ll find the lighthouse. From here, you can see much of the northern coast of Iceland. Because it was a clear day, you could even see the eastern part of Iceland, which is odd, according to our guide. The cliffs that the lighthouse stands on are impressive, to say the least.
Finally, Karin took us back to the harbor where we found a coffee/gift shop. The items available at the shop are all handmade by the people of Grimsey or by their relatives on the mainland.* They have everything from knitted goods to nightlights made from puffin eggs. If you ask for a coffee, the lady at the front desk disappears into a kitchen and comes back some minutes later with a pot and tea cups. It was perfect. We sat for a bit and enjoyed the view of the Grimsey harbor and the background of Iceland, proper. 15 minutes before our flight, we walked back to the airport to catch our flight.
* 50 some people currently live on Grimsey. In the summer that number goes up to 100 and change.
The views on the flight back were just as amazing as the ones on our outbound flight. But this time with whales. We didn’t get very good views of the whales, because they were on the other side of the plane from us. However, I did get a very good view of Akureyri as we approached.
There is not much to do in Grimsey—our two hour excursion was sufficient time to see literally everything. That being said, it’s a very good trip. Grimsey has lots of curious tales and amazing views. The people are friendly and it’s a little mystical. And of that wasn’t enough, you get to cross into the Arctic Circle and it’s a place not a lot of people (get) to go to.
By the way it’s cold. In Akureyri and in Grimsey.