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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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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Skaftafell National Park: Svartifoss, Vatnajokull and Skaftafellsjokur

On the drive to Skaftafell, Jamie and I and our French hitch-hikers stopped often to explore Iceland’s version of “roadside attractions” — thousands of tiny rockpiles clustered on a hill with an Icelandic sign that we can only surmise reads “elf colony;” twisted steel beams from flood-rushed bridges, because these things happen when erupting volcanos suddenly melt glaciers; glaciers themselves, glistening tantalizingly in the not-so-distant distance, so that we would try to walk close enough to touch them. (They were tricky as the horizon, always staying just a few hundred feet out of reach.)

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South Iceland: waterfalls and a hidden geo-thermal pool

We finished Steam Valley in early afternoon and on our way to Vik, hit up some of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. These sites were touristy but not so crowded that they weren’t enjoyable— at least, not in spring.

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Just off of Ring Road, Seljalandsfoss is 213 feet tall and sounds like the apocalypse. In spring and summer, you can walk a slippery path behind the falls and bask in rainbow-filtered spray.

Gljufurarfoss is a short walk from Seljalandsfoss. At 131 feet it’s smaller, but it may be my favorite Icelandic waterfall. I’d recommend first (carefully!) the small, steep path that takes you through a crevice, about 60 feet up. There’s a rickety wooden ladder that you can climb to lean against a rock lip, close enough to feel the spray from the falls. From there you can peer down into the hidden rock pool below. (No wonder Icelanders believe in fairies.)

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