After our crazy, crazy trip to the Westfjords, I slept uneasy, waking to the sounds of the wind howling at the windows. In the middle of the night I shoved my blue squishy earplugs into my ears and willed the wind away, sleeping in as late as possible.
It was time to go north, to the lesser frequented, second major city in Iceland: Akureyri. Only a four hour drive away, and along the ring road, I was hesitant to get back in the car. There was still a lot of snow outside because of the storm the night before and with one look at the Iceland road conditions website, I panicked. The ring road, the major throughway around Iceland, had an “impassable” warning sign on our path to Akureyri. Impassable. Red. Some crazy symbol, flashing over the map as a warning. The route we had taken through the Westfjords the day before had some incredibly difficult driving, and yet none of them were considered impassable. So, with a large swath of the ring road blocked, we had to go north through a large fjord to avoid that route. I considered the drive the day before on the winding coastal roads, and it left me panicking. As did the fact that this was their major roadway that was blocked. Jon figured a flooded river nearby, while I obviously imagined a lava flow. I was making ground negotiating a trip back to the safety of Reykjavík, with or with out him, until Jon showed me a live streaming of the road we would take. No snow, no cliffside, no gravel off roading through the hills, and no whiteouts. The whole way was green – Icelandic for easy driving.
We said goodbye to Hussafell and stopped one last time at Hraunfossar so Jon could snap a picture. There was slush everywhere, and it was quite a different setting than the day before. This time I actually read a placard. It told the story of one of the waterfalls, called Barnafoss. It went like this: Two young boys were left at home in a nearby village, while the family left on a day trip (likely to gather food), when they came back, the boys were missing. Little tracks took them to the location of the falls, where a large stone arch spanned the rushing water. The footprints disappeared at the top of the arch and there was no trace of the boys. The mother was so distressed that she ordered the arch destroyed and the falls is now called Barnafoss – or children’s waterfall. I think most Icelandic stories go the way of tragedy – the landscape hardly the setting for happy endings.
The trip around the northern tip of Iceland was rather calm (just what I like!). We stopped and loaded up on snacks at a rest stop, and I was happy to find a nice Icelandic display of my favorite romance novelist, Nora Roberts!
We stopped at Glaumbær, the turf houses, which had a rather pungent smell (kind of like dung) and were much tinier than I expected.
The museum inside the turf houses was closed, so I was disappointed to not have a look in, but we wandered around and enjoyed the little lumps along the hillside. There was a cozy tea house and a giftshop on the property, each a traditional dutch style house with corrugated metal on the outside. It was perfect weather for tea, but was closed up for winter, and I came upon three Icelandic women, huddled over paperwork in the gift shop. I only took a quick glance, but a tiny wooden stairway was all I needed to see to know I loved the architecture of the Dutch style home. It felt like a doll’s house, fine carvings in the banister and tiny windows on the second floor.
We went on our way, headed around the giant northern fjord that I was so dreading. But, after a little uneventful coastal driving and relatively fine weather, we came to the cute town of Siglufjörður, a fishing village nestled on the water. Their coffee was great too – once they got the machine working!
Fearing inclement weather because of looming black clouds, I hurried us back into the car, only to find that this northern route is made up of a series of amazing tunnels, some several kilometers long. I loved it! My ancestors must have been cave dwellers because I feel right at home in a deep dark cave. Safe amid the rocks. Jon said it was the place to be if World War III broke out – in Iceland, deep under a fjord. Comforting…and yet…not entirely implausible as of late.
Our arrival at the Akureyri Icelandair hotel was a non story. The hotel was fine, but you could hardly call it a major city – it felt more like a college town and certainly less interesting than Reykjavík.
And soon it was our last full day, and a busy one at that! We woke up early to catch the sunrise at Godafoss – one of Iceland’s famously giant waterfalls. It was SO windy, and the only time I was ever cold on the trip. The wind ripped up the back of my jacket as I sat on a rock waiting for Jon to photograph. I’m not much of a waterfall person, preferring more geometric, colorful things to photograph, but I enjoyed waking up early and getting in a full day.
As the sun finished rising, we hopped back in our 4×4 and drove north to another little fishing village called Húsavík.
It was so pretty and the coffee and fresh pastries were on me (remember Jon lost his wallet in the Westfjords!). In the bakery, I watched a little Icelandic girl cling to a stuffed Hello Kitty and realized how we travel so far only to see how we’re all the same.
As we left Husavík, we stopped to look at some sweet Icelandic horsies along the way!
One got fresh with Jon.
Then I remembered I had a Honeycrisp apple in the car – so Jon shared it.
He ate it all and then wanted more of course – and didn’t share with his friends!
Then we headed for the Lake Mývatn area, near one of the most geologically active areas in Iceland – meaning there’s volcanoes everywhere. But of course, the big thing on my agenda was the hot springs!
The wind was still crazy, and the landscape was kind of strange (but not particularly photogenic). In the summer the region is plagued by swarms of flies and mosquitos, making it really unappealing for visitors. Jon insisted on seeing Krafla crater, a large depression with clear blue water on the bottom, which was on the way to the nature baths.
Through the geothermal plant…
And up a rather small hilltop, the terrain went from dry to covered in snow. The little road was completely overcome with ice, so while other tourists trekked their car up the pass, Jon and I geared up and hiked the few yards to the crater. When he opened the trunk, a massive gust blew my loose umbrella cover out of the car and into the snow. Jon ran after it and it blew further. He ran after it again, and it blew even further away.
The red umbrella cover was lost to the Westfjords.
I had everything on, crampons, all my layers, a balaclava with hood, two layers of gloves, hand warmers, a wool hat, a fur hat AND a fur hood. And despite it being perfectly sunny, the wind wanted us dead. Tiny ice crystals blew off the snow covered surroundings and pelted the tiny fraction of our skin that was showing: our eyes and noses. When we got to the crater, it was so windy the gusts could actually hold you up if you leaned back. And guess what? There was no beautiful blue water, just a snowy hole and not much else. It wasn’t difficult to walk the few yards to the crater, but the way back to the car was insane. I walked completely bent over, shielding my face from the pelting ice. It was awful. When we got back in the car, Jon said the winds must have been over 50 miles per hour, whipping over the hilltops and sweeping along for miles without any major geographic obstacles to slow it down. Everest must feel similar, minus some air and a narrow ridge of technical climbing. Why anyone would be compelled to endure that, I can’t understand. A few yards took us nearly 15 minutes.
We warned a few others headed up for a peek that it wasn’t worth the short trek – especially since nearly everyone was without proper gear. As we headed down past the geothermal plant, an Icelandic emergency vehicle made its way up to the hilltop. Maybe they were going to block the road, but more likely, they were on the way to rescue someone who didn’t listen…
And then it was time for the Mývatn Nature Baths! As we approached the building, sulfur in the air, a group of about 50 runners were just leaving to run a marathon. Just a fun bit of exercise in freezing weather, windy conditions in high sun! Where do I sign up?
The baths were considerably less luxurious than the Blue Lagoon, smaller, and with a lot more Icelandic locals. A receptionist shared that the pools were cooler than their usual temperature, but that didn’t stop me. And neither did the crazy wind. Nothing was going to get in the way of me soaking in a hot mineral bath after our brush with Everest!
Warm, refreshed and happy, we drove the hour back to the Icelandair Hotel – just as all the Icelandic people arrived in the lobby, dressed in their cocktail attire, ready to spend the evening indoors and lounging. Jon and I were sufficiently tired, windblown and completely appreciative of the Icelandic tradition of staying indoors with hard liquor and a fire to keep you warm.
The next morning we flew from Akureyri to Reykjavík, had enough time to wait in line and purchase warm pastries from Brauð & Co. and took the shuttle to the airport. The trip was over, we had survived, and I was glad to have experienced the wild adventure that is Iceland in the winter.
I hope you guys have enjoyed reading about this incredible trip! Next stop: Santa Fe!
If you missed any parts of our Iceland trip, go back and read Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And stay tuned for our best photos from Iceland! Oh, you thought I already posted those? Nope! I saved the best for last! Have you visited Iceland? Share your trip with my readers in the comments below!