Iceland · travel

The Iceland Sagas: The Road to Vik

In the interest of preserving memories and acting as a future guide, this series of posts reflects on adventures spent abroad- meaning, outside of my own community, wherever I might land. It serves not only as a record but also as an exercise in memory and language. 

May 18, 2015

It was crisp when we drug ourselves out of bed. Pam gawked at the Euro-style shower- tub-less and open to the remains of the bathroom. She wrapped her hair up and took on the role of mother, loping off to the other room to wake up her sisters. I, on the other hand, relished my few minutes alone in the shower. The steam swirled around me as I peeked out the small window in the heavy wooden door. Guests were already monopolizing the stone-framed hot tub.

We criss-crossed the tiny towns around Fludir, passing farmsteads and the elementary school. Little blonde children shrieked and yelped from the playground across from an expanse of greenhouse tomatoes. “Those tomatoes are taller than we are,” Kim yawned. She was right. The tallest among us could have been no more than 5’6″ and these towered and craned their stalkish necks, bending against their glass confines. Their stems were nearly as wide as my wrist.

I am a terrible guide. If Louis and Clark had stumbled upon me versus Sacagawea, they would have ended up in Guatamala. In my defense, our miniscule gravel road played the St. Louis Street Name Game very hard and changed its moniker several times. Mea Culpa. Our search was for Braggin Clay and Stone cafe. “Seriously, you guys, I think it’ll be worth the drive. It’s an art cafe, they bake their bread using local flour, they sell house-made ceramics, dandelion cakes, rhubarb schnapps, mochas. ICELANDIC PANCAKES.”

“Ponnukokur?!” Melanie exclaimed. We had been on a hunt, per our trusty guidebook, for “homestyle Icelandic pancakes or, ponnukokur, with rhubarb jam (preferably homemade and organic” for several days. This would be worth the 30 or 40 minute drive, we reasoned. Pancakes.

The land around Bragginn is hilly farm country. Small fields nestled between jutting mounds of green while foot-deep channels marked their edges. Sheep and stout horses grazed along the steppes, hopping between the black earthy divides as they went. When we came upon Bragginn, a small sign in Icelandic was taped to the door. They are only open in summer, starting in July. It sat half-buried by the greening earth like a bunker.


The lowlands on the way to Bragginn and Vik
photo courtesy of Braggin
Bragginn Clay and Stone Cafe
photo courtesy of Bragginn
photo courtesy of Bragginn


Needless to say we were super bummed and it’s on our list when we return- next time it’ll have to be sometime between July and October. We opted to eat our granola bars instead and made our way to Hella. “Hella has a bakery and a restaurant,” Kim said.
“A? As in one of each?” Pam asked.
“Y–yes,” she stated while checking (it had apparently failed to mention this place, which is fairly famous). We ended up in the strip mall hotel and grill, Kannslarinn. A stream of excessively large construction workers paraded in as though they had just completed a raid. These were clearly descendants of Vikings. The interior was clad in pine panelling with lace and frilled cotton curtains adorning every window. The neon vikings lined up, clapping each other on the back of their reflective, broad shoulders, and ladled bowls of lamb meatballs and broth, pickled beets and onions, salad greens, and glasses of iced tea. They eyeballed us as we slid into our booth, elbowing each other and laughing.
“I feel like we’re going to get tossed over a shoulder and carried out of here,” I whispered.
“A single shoulder?” Pam teased.
“Probably. Look at that guy.” The Mountain in swishy black polyester and neon yellow stripes sidled up to the buffet. He didn’t smile back at us.
Viking Construction Worker Redux (Coincidentally, actor Hafthor Julius Bjornsson is Icelandic)
“Your menus,” the barkeep said.
“Can we not do the buffet?” Melanie asked. It looked temping. And cheap. Our menus did not.
“Buffet is for vorkers only, I am afraid,” he shrugged.
We ordered traditional meat stew and burgers. Burgers seemed to be the staple of Iceland along with pizza. Nevermind all that talk about fish and langoustines.
Kim and I in our wooden nook, looking like meals to Vikings
All of our meals came with “special sauce.” Even if you just had soup and rogbrod, it came with a small dixie cup of special sauce, pink and thick, the color of Ivarest cream.
“Do you think it’s like spicy sauce? Like the spicy mayo they have on sushi?” Kim asked. She dipped a fork tine into its pink paste. “Hmm. No, it’s kind of sweet.”
“Like relishy?” Pam asked.
“No, tomatoey.”
The waiter confirmed: mayonnaise and ketchup. Traditional Icelandic Special Sauce. We passed. We paid our dues to an elderly man with a lazy, opal eye who looked and sounded like a Lord of the Rings character. He distinctly reminded me of a man overtaken at Helm’s Deep.
Just kidding, not this guy.

Hella’s only mis-guidebook restaurant is linked to a small knitting shop. If you want homespun (literally) traditional sweaters, felted soaps, and goofy woolen ornaments, walk around the block. A couple of local women will be knitting the next sweater and the owner will stop to chat. These are sweaters like grandma used to make: wild colors, oversized, itchy but heartwarming.

The road to Vik is windy and mountainous as you make your way south. Our ominous GPS narrator had long since disappeared and had been replaced with Celine Dion, a tribute to our youths. She belted out 90’s hits as Melanie crooned along, the highs and lows following the dips of the roadways until we came upon Seljalandfoss.


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