West Iceland: Reykholt, Hraunfossar, Barnafossar and Akranes

West Iceland

So…we passed the stormy night in the car without incident and of course, about 3 km down the road, there was a guesthouse and restaurant where we could have slept comfortably and gotten a reaaaaally good deal, since it’s in bumfuck and appeared to have not a single guest.

We got coffee and picked up some area pamphlets, which then derailed us for the next hours. We have this thing for geothermal pools, right? And what’s better than a “natural” pool, just off the side of the road, without tourists or facilities? Something we would practically stumble upon along a short hike, and then proceed to lounge in nude, just because we can, gazing at the pastural scenery?

One of the pamphlets (which, come to think of it, was pretty dusty and probably a decade old) promised that pool, in a tiny, offhand blurb. So we set off, following the scant directions, turning down gravel roads and backtracking multiple times. Finally we saw another car stopped on the side of a deserted road and figured they had to be looking for the same spot.

These Canadians were smart. They had a book of natural hot springs and a GPS. So we let them go ahead before following at a scarcely discreet distance (probably ruining all of their bathing nude dreams), crossing an (icy—I checked) creek by inching along an ancient, fat pipe and then climbing a hill with such a small trickle running down it, you could hardly call it a stream (the water did get progressively warmer but never hot). Then we came across the Canadians again. They’d found a tiny, hot-ish hole, suitable for a person and a half, and had decided to call it a day. We walked further up but found nothing wide enough to consider a pool, and then headed back, so the Canadians could nestle on each other’s laps in privacy.

On the way back, I think we actually found the “pool” pictured, which was lukewarm and covered with a thick layer of green moss. So much for becoming wood nymphs.

snorristurlsonhome

So, three hours delayed, we headed towards Reykholt, a cultural center and church and the former home of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), a historian, politician and author of Iceland’s historic sagas. The drizzle was back as, in less than an hour, we took in the quaint, teensy church (with a model ship suspended from the ceiling, a sort of charm to keep fishermen safe), Snorri’s outdoor geothermal bath and a large gift shop. There’s also an indoor area of exhibits but there was a fee, and our attention span was already kind of shot. (Btw, we missed The Sagas Museum in Reykajvik, but I’ve heard it’s great.)

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Iceland’s Hverfjall, mini-craters, folk art, Akureyi and another fabulous pool

Lunar terrain Iceland

Before leaving the Myvatn area, we breakfasted on the moon and had our first taste of lava bread—a heavy rye, baked in the ground with geothermal heat. Then we hiked Hverfjall.

Hverfjall

It’s a a steep climb to the top of the black, gravelly volcano, which is a kilometer across and offers fab views. (You can tell by the sliding tracks that some people actually attempt to hike down into the volcano. We didn’t.)

Hverfjall Top

There were only a few other hikers, so Jamie had her mp3 player, and I played Sigur Ros on my phone, because it seemed like the perfect accompaniment to this odd terrain.

Myvatn Iceland

On our way out of town, we walked the paths winding between the nearby mini-craters, which were a bit anti-climatic. But no matter—Iceland had already impressed us plenty.

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Myvatn, Iceland: Nature Baths, Elves and Sleeping on the Moon

Myvatn lavascape

After the waterfalls, we checked out the Myvatn Nature Baths — the north’s answer to the Blue Lagoon. MNB’s are smaller, less crowded and, at $36, about $20 cheaper than the Blue Lagoon.

Myvatn Nature Bath

The baths are man-made, but they’re heated to about 100° F with natural springs. There are two sulphur steam rooms and a smaller, hotter pool. The water is that now-familiar gorgeous, chalky blue, covered with a rolling layer of haze, and the view is all open sky and distant volcanos and lava-scape.

Myvatn Nature Bath

Afterwards, we checked into our hotel-on-the-moon, aka Hlid Hostel. We had a teensy private room with a teensy private bathroom, and everything felt clean, modern and very bright. But right outside our door, the world was rocky, flat and grey-scaled. I could have spent a full day just reading in the breakfast room, every once in awhile, glancing up at the lunar terrain.

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Myvatn, Iceland: Grjotagja, Dettifoss and Godafoss

Up early, since sleeping in the car isn’t conducive to much sleeping, and our first stop was the tourist information center. It happened to share a parking lot with a grocery store, where we stocked up and grabbed coffee.

At the tourist center, we learned that the lava field hike we began at midnight is still considered too dangerous to recommend, because of the snow and cold and boiling puddles. Oops.

We left our car and set out from there, following a path that begins just behind the center. The path goes all the way to Mt. Hverfjall and Dimmuborgir (14km), but we turned around at Grjotagja (about 7km? Sigh for the lost journal, where I kept detailed notes). Early on, the path meets another path…keep straight, and you’ll be on the right track.

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Iceland’s Eastfjords: the road to Seydisfjordur

After Hofn, we decided to sleep in Egilsstadir, because Jamie found a good deal on four star lodging— the single true splurge of our trip. Reindeer are not only a common menu item in this town, they’re a common decor theme in the Icelandair Hotel. And apparently, in the winter, entire herds stroll through downtown (how very Northern Exposure).

There’s a big lake with a famous monster nearby, but we weren’t interested in lake monsters. We simply wanted to block out the light and sleep well.

We arrived around 8 pm. Jamie went off to explore and find a pub, and I read for a bit and then, around 11 pm, went for a walk. The hotel is located in a residential area, and there were still children out on bikes, even so late, and teens playing frisbee in the park. I also came across a drunk group of merry young men, singing as they strode through the frosty air.

static1-squarespace

 

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Pit stops: Jokulsarlon and Hofn

Forty-five minutes east of Skaftafell, we hit Jokulsarlon, a well-known glacial lake. We’d seen pictures of the iridescent blue water and baby icebergs, and we knew sometimes there are seals, but it was actually kind of disappointing. There were a lot of cheesy tourist boats on the water (and jeepers, were those tours expensive!), and there were lots of cheesy tourists (like us, I guess) along the shore.

There is a shop with coffee and a few tables, so that was pretty great. We were able to get our morning caffeine fix and use wifi to plan our day. We spent maybe an hour there before heading towards Myvatn, by way of Seydisfjordur— an artsy fjord town that hadn’t been on our itinerary but came highly recommended by Long, a friend we made in Vik.

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