We awoke to an empty house. This was fine by us as we slowly dragged ourselves together. I decided that it was too weird to shower in someone else’s house so I skipped bathing. Before we left, my BFF drew a detailed horse in the guestbook. I took a photo of it but it isn’t appearing on Google Plus at the moment. I’ll try to remember to add it in later.
GPS coordinates: 65.516, -19.301
The road leaving here was not terribly interesting. We were in the low point of a valley with the mountains about 1/2 to 3/4 miles away from us. A slim but fast river twisted back and forth across the valley floor. Crop fields spread out on either side while small houses dot the landscape. In the backseat, my BFF continues to play her bookworm game on her iPad while I attempt conversation while filming the landscape.
We then remember that we have the GoPro that I borrowed from work. I attempt to attach it to the window phone holder I had brought along. It kept popping off — threatening my face. Finally, my BFF offers me three brightly colored hairbands that she’s been wearing on her wrist: purple, blue, and green. She wears hot colors of red, orange, and yellow on the other wrist. It takes a few tries and seemingly losing one of the bands before I get the GoPro onto the holder. We are now climbing through the mountains. The snow is smooth with this strange glistening quality that Thomas finds quite pleasing.
GPS coordinates: 65.464, -18.873
The snow through here is much deeper than it was down below. However, the roads are well-cleared off and we drive along with maybe only a couple other cars passing in the opposite direction for company. The snow is packed a couple feet on top of the guardrails on the right.
Snow piled so high!
We then come across perhaps the coolest mountain bit. It’s on the left and jagged in an unusual fashion. Everywhere else throughout here is pretty smooth, but these broken pieces splinter the sky. Thomas finds a little dirt side road to the left to pull off on. He can’t pass up this rocky outcropping. He and my BFF hop out of the car for photos. It’s cold out, so I want to stay in. However, watching them buzz around excitedly finally convinces me to get out. I spend most of my time taking selfies with the rock and then convincing Thomas to come over to take a photo together. It takes a few tries but we finally get the rock into the picture. The hilarious thing I’m discovering now from Google Maps is that it looks like everyone is obsessed with the “tooth” as Thomas just called it over my shoulder.
GPS coordinates: 65.585, -18.534
As we come back out of the mountains, we are approaching Akureyri, the northern capital. Akureyri is the only other city in the country — aside from Reykjavik. Akureyri is located along this gorgeous waterway which leads out to the Norwegian Sea. The land along the right side of the water (traveling east) is relatively flat along the water while there is no flat edge on the other side of the inlet. That side is just all rising mountains. We stop for gas and then keep going. Today we are headed to Myvatn lake which is east of the city. The next day will be a long drive, so we’re squeezing in the lake — one of my BFF’s requested locations we visit. As we head out of town, we see this massive snowman on the outside edge of town. I just learned that it’s the world’s largest snowman.
GPS coordinates: 65.678, -18.088
To cross over to the other side of the inlet, you do not drive all the way down and then around. Instead, just about 3/4 of a mile south is a raised piece of land that cuts across the water. The video below will do a way better justification of the crossing than my words could describe for you.
Once on the other side, the land swiftly raises to the north till you’re climbing over a beautiful overlook to the inlet below. The water is so blue and the snow so white that the photo below will look doctored. It wasn’t — it really is that incredibly blue and bright there.
Along the way, we visit the waterfall of the gods — Goðafoss — so named because this guy made the decision for the entire island population that they’d convert to Christianity. He then returned home and threw his idols into this waterfall. Now, the waterfall is hard to see as you head east. You’re surfing along the high tops of the mountains when you go around a curve which slopes downwards. You see a bridge to the right with a gas station and a few other buildings. However, according to the directions I’m looking at, there’s a waterfall in front of this gas station. You see nothing. However, we slow down and see a sign and drive over the 100 yards or so to the waterfall’s edge. That’s right — you can literally walk right up to the edge of the foss!
We lingered for a long time here. I have a few dozen photos and several videos of Thomas, my BFF, and of the foss. It’s really compelling to walk right up to the edge of the river to get a better shot. However the thick snow is deceiving even as it sucks down your shoes. You get to the water’s edge above the falls and you can almost reach out and touch that icy gray water. But then good sense kicks in and you step backwards to avoid walking out onto literal thin ice. You can see in the video below how close you can get. This was as close as I dared and it was a stupid thing to do. We finally managed to drag ourselves away though it was difficult to do.
From there, you continue driving up and away from the dip where the foss was and then out to very flat land. This part of the drive was dull. We perked up when we started to see the remnants of exploded shield volcanoes. Go ahead and click on the photo below. You’re looking for that gray “hill” in the center of the photo. It looks small here, but it was … a mountain in person. Very wide and even so destroyed taller than most buildings (which are not skyscrapers). You may also notice that the land becomes more bumpy on either side. This alternates with wide flat areas. Eventually we realized that we had made it to the lake.
GPS coordinates: 65.572, -17.066
In the summer, Myvatn lake, according to the guidebooks, is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The itty bitty town swells with all the visitors. The lake is the home of a huge population of waterfowl as well as black flies. The guidebook recommended buying netting to wear over your head. Otherwise, you’ll just be inhaling bugs your whole visit to the lake.
We could not find the lake. We followed the curving black road south and still saw nothing. Then we came across some open water — surrounded by thousands or millions of rocks. The guidebook told us that these rocks had been shot here by the volcanoes in the distant past. This was a lava field. In the video below, you can hear my elegant description of “piles of poo.” The snow isn’t as thick here as you can see the rocks and yellow grass in open patches. We lingered at the water’s edge for awhile. My BFF decided to go take some close up shots of birds on the water. She had to descend down a narrow trail to the shore. Thomas walked around taking his own super high quality photos. I wanted a change of clothes, so I climbed back in the car — after getting the keys from Thomas. Then I got out and took a photo sphere.
After that, an American couple pull up next to me and ask where the bird museum/visiting center is. I have no idea. Then I remember that I can look at Maps on my phone to see an approximate indicator of our current location. I show them what the phone is telling me and we compare it to their paper map. It turned out that they still had a ways to go. The lake, while mostly unseen in winter, is huge. It has no round edge but curves all over the place. Those flat areas we noted earlier WAS the lake. Once we regroup, we head back towards Akureyri. The photo below is a closer shot of one of the volcanoes.
GPS coordinates: 65.612, -16.916
Side note: the ground is HOT around the lake as you head further east. In places, vents open up and steam pours out of the ground. We’ll explore that area the next day. We did go up one of the low hills which was steaming a lot to get a look around. We quickly came back down after coming upon a famous hot spring bathing house. We weren’t interested, so down we came. It was here that I found another one of my loves — the icy blue heated pond.
Other interesting things were trucks sitting on a lake while people….ice-fished? We weren’t sure. My BFF reminded me that Icelandic horses are sometimes raced across the frozen lakes. We pulled into the gas station we saw earlier at the foss. Unfortunately, it had closed half an hour before. My poor bladder! Thomas pulled around back of the gas station. I got out, dropping down into wet, sloppy snow, and slogged my way to the back tailgate. I pulled a nutrition bar out for me and almonds for Thomas. This was our lunch.
The water of the inlet as we approached the northern capital was very pretty. But we were tired and ready to go find our hotel. We had only a little trouble finding Hotel Nordurland. There was plenty of parking around on this little back street, but we weren’t sure where to park. Round blue signs with red circles with lines across them dotted the streets. So we drove on past the hotel and across the road into a parking lot thick with ice. Thomas and I scooted our feet across the parking lot and back to the hotel.
The hotel turned out to be wonderful. It had been only $60, but we got a steal. The guy at the front desk spoke English very well. He didn’t even ask for ID, just took my name and then handed me the key. I asked about parking. He told us that business hours were only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so we could park immediately in front of the hotel’s one way road. So we did. The car was literally like 15 feet from the hotel’s entrance. I was very nervous about bringing along a third for the room since the reservation was only for two. The guy at the counter didn’t even blink. We entered the lobby, made an immediate left, and stepped up to go down the hall to our room. We had the very last room on the right which turned out to be a sweet suite.
I loved the room. Behind the door to the right was a tiny kitchen. My BFF and Thomas immediately seized the electric kettle to make tea and coffee respectively. The bed was to the left with very narrow walking areas on either side. Then there was the extension of the room of yet a smaller room which hosted a cot and a desk. A door was at the head of the cot which opened onto a very tiny piece of grass and patio at the very corner of the hotel. The street was just a few feet away. On the wall in here was mounted a TV — pretty far away from the main bed. A tall storage closet was to the right of the TV. On that same wall was the bathroom entrance. The bathroom was…interesting. Very fancy, huge, and modern. What was odd was that there was only a shower head, a curtain in the corner, and the drain was waaaay over towards the center of the room. The drain was not under the shower head’s area. This would prove to be trouble in the morning.
After we had greedily lapped up our online networks for awhile, I finally made the hard line decision that it was here we would pay for a meal. They were taking forever to get ready so I walked back out to the counter and talked to the clerk. Most of the places nearby were closed since practically everything closes at 6 p.m. He kindly circled several areas. My BFF had thought that the place across the street had dinner food, but nope. It was an ice cream cake store. It was closed. So then I went back to the group, we had a short discussion, but no decision. So I decided to lead us to the location the clerk had pointed to from the hotel’s doorway of being a few feet away.
It was cold. The wind was powerful and demanded that you stop or be pushed down. So we slid along icy walkways and around buildings towards dinner. There was no such place. I had led us to a wrong turn. Our teeth were chattering and we were thinking about giving up when we saw a promising street to our left as we headed back to the hotel. Here was a little circular area of shops and buildings pointing in towards the circle. We walked past a couple open bars, a movie theater, and several closed restaurants. Then I spotted a chicken place. Okay, we had not travel thousands of miles to eat chicken. But the only other promising restaurant was further down the road. Thomas finally gave in and we ran across the street.
You had to step upwards to get into the restaurant. The order location was a counter to the left while photos of food lined the wall facing the street. The girl at the register took pity on us and gave us a menu in English. It was weird and left me with an uneasy feeling. In the United States we usually don’t have menus in multiple languages. Thomas ended up ordering for all three of us. Then we turned around and walked past the wall of food photos into a small sitting area. It wasn’t fancy. The yellow walls enclosed a rectangular room which had a row of tables on either wall. We took the first one near the front of the restaurant. Two women sat in the back corner from us. The food was….okay. There was a strange sauce which was okay. But my main memory is of the plain bun falling apart in my hands. I ate my fries and gave up on trying to eat like a civilized person.
On the way back, I was amused by a poster of Meryl Streep as the Witch from “Into the Woods.” The poster was outside of a movie theater. Someone had pulled an Anne Wheaton on it and put huge googly eyes on her face.
That night, we continued to relax and read on our own. My BFF was watching a TV show from her cot. They eventually convinced me to try the hot chocolate which was available. It was way too dark for me, so I poured in an entire coffee creamer and then these two tiny sugar tablets. That helped some. In the morning, I packed the remaining cocoa, creamer, and sugar into my bag.