Monday, July 23, 2012

Iceland: Part Two

Continued from "Iceland: Part One."

After Reykjavik, we headed up to Akureyri, Iceland's second most populous city with a whopping 18,000 residents. Honestly, I don't think we were expecting much, but the town was so.fricking.beautiful. Akureyri is at the bottom of a fjord, with giant hills - okay, mountains - overlooking the town. Our cabin was half-way up the mountain facing the town, so we had a view of basically....everything. The cabin was a dollhouse-sized little number with a teensy stove and a big-ass hot tub.

Pictured: everything.

Naturally, the much-anticipated hot tub refused to work. After pressing every button on the control panel roughly one thousand times, we ascertained that the tub wasn't full enough - a fact that, had we been using our common sense and sense of sight, we would have figured out right away. In a panic (if there's such a thing as a hot-tub emergency, we were having one), we called the brother-in-law of our AirBnB host. The brother-in-law, Flosi (yes, pronounced like a pony's name), arrived after a stilted phone conversation, took one look at the hot tub, and then started a bucket brigade. An hour later, the tub was full; the next morning, it was hot.

Not pictured: the coconut ice cream we ate in the hot tub like total bosses.
After poking around the town, we headed up to Grimsey, a teeny island that has the distinction of being bisected by the Arctic Circle. Dudes, we bundled up: hats, tights under jeans, big coats, mittens. And, while it was cold when we were on the ferry (cold and seasick), Grimsey itself was warm. Warm enough that we basically molted clothes as we walked, shedding layers of long-sleeved shirts and jackets. The island, which is home to about 90 people, is also where birds live: puffins, which are adorable and exotically pretty, and also arctic terns, which dive-bombed us as we walked.

Not pictured: kamikaze death terns.
The next day, we continued our streak of slightly unsettling natural adventures by heading to Dimmuborgir, a lava field formed by steam vents during an ancient volcanic eruption. The landscape there is beautiful, with tiny succulents and lichens growing on the rocks, and paths that required a well-developed ability to clamber. It felt like a velociraptor might come lunging out at us at any moment, but it was also beautiful.

Heading to Dettifoss was a different story. Outside the car, it was sterile rocks and grit as far as the eye could see. As we pulled off the main highway, I remarked, "Hey, it's sort of...smoggy out?" which was mysterious because we were not anywhere near a major city. The "smog" grew denser, and within minutes, we were in a full-fledged Icelandic sandstorm. The moon-like landscape and the roaring storm, coupled with the fact that we were heading towards Europe's most powerful waterfall, made me feel like we might have accidentally wandered into one of those sci-fi movies where Mars turns out to be haunted by angry ghosts. At Dettifoss's edge (because, again, all that was holding us back was a dinky little golf fence), I actually got kind of choked up. It's rare that we're confronted with such unmitigated natural power, and being so close was an intense experience. I left feeling like my soul had been scoured with Borax.

Not pictured: Darude
The rest of the time there was spent goofing around in bookstores, buying Icelandic sweaters, and eating fish. There's an excellent curry take-away joint, and we ate burgers and made stir-frys and drank Icelandic beers in the hot tub. Akureyri, to me, was the most "Icelandic" of the places we landed: cultural but not pretentious, friendly, and undeniably gorgeous. I want to go back there, and I want to take everyone I like with me so we can hang out on Grimsey and get hilariously unexpected sunburns.

Next week: glacier walks, seafood pizza, and the library that turns into a bar.