North Iceland

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Water and Fire in the North: Day 4

Northern Sights:  Day 4

It is early in the morning when I awake and decide to go out for a walk in the quiet valley where we are located.    I dress warmly and start walking down the road toward a church I see in the distance.   Violet Nooka Lupin flowers line the road and fill fields.   It is the story of the changes that the modern world has brought to isolated environments:  this flower is native to North America and has aggressively invaded this small island country when intentionally or accidentally brought to it.   I have heard from a local Icelandic man that there are contentious disputes about what to do about the Lupin – about half wanting to keep them and half wanting to rid the island of them.

Lupin flowers outside hotel early morning

The wind is so strong against me that I have to push myself forward to move ahead.  I pass some sheep who seem comfortable in this weather and then turn onto a more deserted road toward the church.   There is a heavy metal latch gate that opens easily and within the compound there is an old cemetery with families from over 100 years ago until recent date.  There is not much charming about the church structure but it is striking that with so few houses in this area this church is probably the center point for gatherings. I learn later that Icelandic people only use the churches for life events , like weddings and funerals.

Rural church and graveyard

We leave after breakfast and not too far up the road are aghast to see a very recent accident – a car has gone off the shoulder and lies upside down on the descending hillside seemingly crushed in on itself.   We stop to help but there is already another car stopped on the side of the road and we found out that the young woman standing there miraculously escaped from the car with only a minor gash on her hand.  She said that the wind pushed her off the road! They have called 112, their equivalent of 911, who is sending someone to help and we move on but we all put on our seat belts (mandated only for drivers and those under 18 in Iceland but recommended for others) as we realize that is the only way she possibly survived.

Blond women with red jacket is the driver who went off the road and survived

Our first excursion of the day is to the Studlagil Basalt Canyon where the lava has been carved away by the flower water to reveal the basalt in its pure hexagonal form.

Bill and Varya in front of basalt canyon

We then come to Detifloss, said to be the second strongest waterfalls in Europe measured by water quantity and it is so intense that we can see very little but the rising spray and mist rising from the thunderous rush of the falls.

Our vision of Námaskarð, a hot geothermal area, is of steam rising out of scattered hillocks on a barren lava field — the pure power of the interior of our earth is quite visible through these bubbling pools and venting fumaroles.  

We are moving fast today and try to rest on the bus between stops.  We have time for a brief walk on the shores of Lake Mývatn which is a large glacial lake with beautiful views.  The turf that we are stepping on is soft and soggy moss-covered clumps of dirt and we try to avoid the many wildflowers around the paths.  

Our last stop for today is at Godafoss, another historical waterfall, said to be where an Iceland leader threw in his statues of old Norse gods and converted to Christianity which is why it is the “waterfall of the gods”.

As we approach the main Northern town of Akureyri, our guide receives a phone call that our whale watching trip in Davik the next morning has been cancelled due to an approaching storm.  Although perhaps more of a disappointment to others, this is fine with Bill and myself as a very cold morning on rough waters with only possible sightings of whales is not our first choice of activities.  

With extra time this late afternoon, we spend time in Akureyri, a port city in which several large cruise ships are docked.  We walk around the small town center where there are shops and restaurants and Bill and I eat in a Thai restaurant before we all head for our hotel in Davik for the night.

Northern Beauty:  Day 5

I wake up with a delayed reaction to the Thai food and fear for a difficult day but I eat toast and tea for breakfast and that settles my stomach. But I am glad I am not going out on a boat today.

And we are unsure what awaits us as an alternative to our morning originally planned on the water.  But we are very happily surprised to find ourselves at a really beautiful botanical garden, created by a Danish immigrant at the beginning of the 20th century and carefully cared for during the last 100 years.  I ask a gardener what happens in the winter and whether they have to store plants to save them from the cold or replant and am told that they just die down to ground and then burst forth again in the spring.  The gardens are quite large and we saw several classes of young children with their teachers learning about the plants.

Our second unexpected visit is to a local “Christmas House” filled with decorations and Christmas related items.  It is a little too kitchy for Bill and myself but there are some interesting items and in fact I do my first and only purchases in this country by buying an ornament for each of my 3 grandchildren with the thought that perhaps they will think of me in the far future when picking up this piece of decoration.

We return to Akureyri town for lunch and for Bill to buy a new pair of shoes as the old ones he brought with him have literally disintegrated from walking on the rough lava.   Afternoon brings us to two churches, one of the oldest ones in the country and one of the newest.  As always, Bill and I are interested in the architecture and use of material and wander around the old turf building with historical altar and pews as well as the old but still used cemetery.  We ask and there is a gap between the interior wood structure and the exterior turf which is replaced every year to prevent the wood from rotting from the earth’s moisture. The only point of interest in the new church is that the entrance is down some stairs and underground.

Turf covered old church with wooden front and interior
Interior of Church with pews and imported alter piece

Kolugljufur is another spectacular waterfall.   This one is from a wide river which created a deep canyon carved out in the middle of level agricultural land.  We cross a bridge and are worried about the people we see climbing down onto slippery rocks beyond the perimeters of safety.  

There is a cold wind but I have been sufficiently prepared

A quick unexpected stop when some Icelandic horses appear on the roadside. Beautiful animals. We have past fields of them and I understand they are a major export product.

Our last night for this tour group is at a new hotel in Bifrost.  Our driver/guide has been taking us to some supermarkets for food to balance the very expensive options at the hotels. All of the gas stations have mini markets inside as well selling sandwiches and quick snacks.  I have been carrying a food bag along with me with brown rice crackers, peanut butter and fruit jam, hummus and carrots.  This has sometimes been my lunch and/or dinner as many of the restaurants have only food that is very unappetizing as well as very expensive.  Usually, the hotel is the only place to actually get a hot dinner.   The hotel tonight is not within walking distance of any stores or other restaurants and the only choice for dinner is a buffet at a cost of $65, with very little food that fits within my diet.  So we managed with what we had earlier bought.

Our last day tomorrow with this group.