Poppets, lovelies and dear ones,
I have returned from my weekend of adventuring and have just about come back down to earth. We covered many miles- practically the whole north east of the island- and saw more than I could have imagined in such a short space of time. I can’t quite believe it now I am back “home” in Stöðvarfjörður- and it really did feel like coming home 🙂 Maybe a little more landscape-centric, and a little less human-centric than my usual blogular stylings- so just sit back and enjoy the views!
(There may be EVEN MORE additional photographs that get added later!)
Having mostly seen the same little fjord and walked the same routes for five and a half weeks, for three days, gawping out of windows was all I could do! We set off in the Saturday (11.03.17) sunshine, nine relative strangers, from four different parts of the world, two packed cars, and from my point of view, a whole heap of excitement about what was to come. Anne and Daniel had picked up the cars from Egilsstaðir and we set off straight back in that direction- they were already racking up the miles and wearing a groove in that part of the road! Quick stop at the airport for one last loo stop (Peter was not lying when he told us this would be the last one for 180km!) and then onwards to journeys and roads unknown on route 1…
Iceland as ever felt full of strange and wonderful microclimates and constant change- sometimes you really do round a corner and question whether you’ve just been travelling through feet of snow at all. We were lucky on Saturday as all the roads we used were clear and passable- which was very different to a few weeks previously when Peter had made this journey with Sara and Ina.
Road trips in Iceland certainly aren’t boring- the journey becoming part of the holiday- like a snowy safari. The mountainous roads to lake Myvatn felt like driving through the clouds. Above the world and hard to get your eyes around. Much like the surreal twist at the end of ‘Grease’, it really felt like we might take off at any moment!
Our first proper tourist stop was the Námaskarð sulphur pits- close to lake Myvatn. It was a most excellent…’pit’…stop (sorry!) I didn’t mind the smell of sulphur- soon your’e used to it and it’s like smelling the earth itself. It reminded me of Geyser, with the same levels of health and safety, but less tourists. The sounds, sights and smells were heady and intoxicating. Each little earthy outlet behaved differently; piles of stones spat steam up into the air like giant kettles, one purred and chugged like a little motor, and puddles of thick mud bubbled and blipped furiously reminding me of the bog of eternal stench from a childhood favourite film of mine, Labyrinth.
After we had reclaimed the whole party, we piled back in to the cars and headed over the hills. Lake Myvatn was huge and mostly frozen, next to the snowy ground, it looked like the houses surrounding the water were submerged like the outskirts of a lost sunken city.
We made a quick stop by an impassable road (we were hoping to go down to make it up to the side of a volcano) and finally we were able to make a much needed loo stop! The facilities were in a lovely restaurant-come-giftshop overlooking the lake, which shared its structure with a cowshed. As we were a stones-throw from the volcano I used the time to look for lava stones.
With one last stop to look at the lake and take in the views, we were back on the road.
On paper, repetitive, but I never tire of the passing of lakes, fjords, waterfalls and mountains. The light always changing and the skies expansive filled with difference in unique cloud formations.
As we descended into Akureyri fjord fingers of evening light flexed over the water- making the days’ driving all the more worthwhile.
A population smaller than Letchworth Garden City, my home town in the UK- but after six weeks in a village with a population under 200, Akureyri felt big, busy and full of traffic. God only knows how I’ll fare venturing back to London later in the year!!
The hostel was great- a big quirky bar (and we were given one very welcome free beer token each!), perfectly kitted out dorms- there was even a sauna- and oh my the showers! Being a geothermally heated area, hot water requires no additional heating, coming straight from the ground. The water had an edge of sulphur and made my skin SUPER soft. The antithesis of the hard water back home- if only showering could be like this always!
In search of sustenance we headed into the last light of the day, stopping only to take some silly group photos (to be added later). We went to a heaving fish and chip restaurant- dangerous territory taking on a British national cusine. The fish was, (dare I say it!) better than any (Sheff’s being the exception of course Claire and Nick!) I had had in a chippie in the UK. The quality and freshness as ever was incredible- not tasting like a fast food- but a real delicacy. The chips were of course, not quite right, being more like fries, but yummy all the same- and the vinegar came in a spritz bottle so it was much harder to soak everything sufficiently! But it was an excellent meal for the hungry travellers.
We stopped on the way back in a lovely bookshop- in the moment of having access to one, it made me realise how I had missed popping in to shops, and rifling through books for a few moments. There was even a tempting little corner dedicated to art materials! But I was restrained.
I spent the rest of the evening in the bar with Peter, Nisa, Daniel and Susan, playing cards, and getting all too invested in the selection of the Icelandic Eurovision entry, which was playing in the background. Sadly my favourite, Daði Freyr Pétursson only managed to come in second. Nisa excitedly asked me if we could have a Eurovision party in May- but of course!
Tired eyes from so many sights, and with so much to see and do the next day, a slightly early Saturday night felt needed and I managed a surprisingly restful one despite being in a hostel dorm!
Sunday (12.03.17) begun with a cooked breakfast in the hostel kitchen, and a trip for treats at a local bakery (I got a skyr scone- so yummy and light- I will definitely be attempting replication! Again a slight betrayal of my British heritage- one of the best I have ever had, but definitely lacking in clotted cream- so we’ll call it a draw!) before ascending back up the fjord road (I even think I caught a glimpse of Hrísey, my home for June) and with our sights firmly set on Húsavík, the whale watching town.
We approached Húsavík at lunchtime, a town which teams with activity and tourists in the summer months due to it’s numerous whale watching tour companies. It was quiet and much was closed being a Sunday- so no trip to the whale museum or Fjúk Arts Centre as I had hoped. And definitely no whale watching to be had (currently only one tour goes out at day as it’s a little early for them to be here in numbers if at all, and chatting to the people in the watching centre they had not seen any whales for around two weeks- excitingly the last one spotted was a blue whale!). Maybe we slightly overestimated the amount of time we would need there as a group, but I really enjoyed the grey empty stillness whilst looking at the old herring boats. For me, it was good to stop in one place, wandering on my own and to be outside a car for a little while. Plus I got a hotdog!
There was a keenness amongst the group to find a hot pot or natural swimming pool. Daniel had found out about a place just outside Húsavík called the cheese tub so we set about finding it. Down a track and not easy to find, we eventually came across it. And it was just as the name suggested- an old cheese making tub! In the middle of nowhere, filled with natural hot water, and accompanied by a shower, a heated changing room (/metal box!) and an honesty box. For a donation of 300 krona you could soak in the water whilst soaking up amazing views overlooking the sea. After a little indecision from a few, I took the bull by the horns and got changed and showered (Icelandic rules!)- diving in as it were! We were the only people there in this secluded spot, and it was wonderful.
There was a smaller ice-cold tub just next to the cheese tub- a few brave soul submerged themselves and jumped back in. Being the delicate English rose that I am (with a rather weak constitution!) I could only dip my leg in- and was quite shocked by the burning sensation as the blood rushed to my foot when I returned it to the hot water. Oh no- I am not built for that kind of behaviour- certainly no hardy viking warrior blood in me!
After I had changed and whilst waiting for the others I walked to a spot to watch the ocean. Sometimes I think about all the things that must be out there, just under the surface. I had such a strong feeling there were whales out there. A black ridge kept appearing, and in my heart, the seven year old Free Willy obsessed, Attenborough watching little girl, completely believed it was a whale. Swiftly back to earth with the insistence from one of our party that it was rocks and breaking waves. So I am still to dream of seeing whales. One day. Maybe soon.
We stayed around an hour and then it really was time to go- we still had far to go to reach our guesthouse and bad roads ahead. But not before one more stop. Peter had been told about Ásbyrgi Canyon, a huge horseshoe shaped rock formation- in Norse mythology believed to be the place where Odin’s horse Sleipnir touched down on the earth. With a little difficulty we found it but once again entirely worth it. More awesome than I could have imagined- we drove down the slightly impassible roads and to the centre where there was a forrest like something out of a fairy tale. No wonder some believe this to be the the capital city of the Huldufólk too. Thoughts of getting lost and remaining trapped there forever did cross my mind…
The science is almost as interesting as the mythology, as geologists believe the canyon was created by glacial flooding after a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. All in all it was a pretty magical place to visit.
There was a little toing and froing regarding the last leg of the journey to our second nights destination, Raufarhöfn. The weather was on the turn and there were two roads to choose from. The mountains, which was a better surface but could potentially be impassable in places if the weather was bad; or the costal road, a more reliable route but part of the old network of Icelandic roads- so essentially a gravel track. In the end, the choice had to be risking the mountain road if we wanted to reach Raufarhöfn before nightfall. Other than stopping to allow sheep to cross the road, we got lucky and it was clear.
Raufarhöfn is one of the remotest and most northerly villages in Iceland, one of the old herring towns, that now, without the industry feels bordering on deserted. We made it to the guesthouse- nothing to look at from the outside and being renovated, but exceptional on the inside- wonderful unspoilt views right out to sea- and to the arctic circle. If we had been lucky enough to have the lights come- I can only imagine that they would be SPECTACULAR.
The lady who ran the guesthouse was a real character- the red woman, dressed in a big fluffy red jumper; she told us where her home was if we needed her, the house painted red, and of her other guesthouse in town, red and the restaurant she had, set to reopen next week- I would imagine that was red too. I sensed a theme within this ladies life.
We had the run of the house as the other guests for the night had got stuck along the roads. We were all pretty exhausted, so it was nice to settle down to a simple supper together cooked in the guesthouse kitchen and then trail off to our rooms.
Up early (13.03.17) and wanting to make the most of the little time we had in Raufarhöfn, I took a walk with Anne, Susan and Lilly in the beautiful early morning light- up to the Arctic Henge. A newly built monument for the island’s Pagan worshippers, a project which was only initiated in 1996- but felt so much more ancient.The Arctic Henge acts like huge sundial, capturing the sun’s rays, and casting shadows. Like so many things this weekend it felt like such a privilege to see it, and without the company of hoards of tourists taking selfies. It was a completely glorious (if a little bracing!) morning to be there.
We had a lovely breakfast provided and couldn’t have wanted for more at the guesthouse. Cars packed and our last destination was Seyðisfjörður. Still hours and miles to go to get there, but I was really excited about the prospect of visiting. A mixture of road surfaces, but the weather was really on our side. It was another snow filled safari, once again driving seemingly above the clouds, amongst strange formations, and through microclimates and fjords with their own ways of being and behaving. Aside from a few minor stops we had our goal in mind and motored on.
After hours we were finally back in the familiar landscape of Egilsstaðir, but we had one more road to travel, the hair-pinned verticle (that’s how it felt at times!) mountain pass to Seyðisfjörður. The descent into another spectacular valley was once again breathtaking. Sheltered at the bottom of the valley and surrounded by the high monsters of mountains, I understood now what Peter had said about it being almost completely dark, and without sunlight in the winter months.
The ferry terminal dominates the centre of the town (I can’t wait to go there when the ferry is actually docked! It must be very imposing.), and I recognised many places (including the church) from the television program ‘Trapped’, which I had binge watched before coming to Iceland. Unfortunately we arrived a little late in the day, which scuppered my plan to go to the Technical museum to look at the printing presses, as it closed at four o’clock. However, I really enjoyed being in this quirky little town, and got a chance to look around an interesting (and surprisingly contemporary) exhibition at the Skaftfell visual arts centre. And I got to have a very welcome hot chocolate in the extremely cosy cafe -once again I didn’t realised how much I missed coffee shops until I was in one. But there is definitely more to see, and more to Seyðisfjörður- so I will be back to explore!
A wall of tiredness hit me and I felt really ready to go home, and certainly didn’t fancy that mountain road in the dark. I chose to go in the first car home whilst the others stayed on to visit Deiter Roth’s house. One sight too many for me on this day- but another good excuse for a return trip.
Coming back to Stöðvarfjörður, having travelled approximately 950km (590ish miles), I appreciated the familiar sights, with the ground beneath my feet after flying over so much tarmac. It felt time to stop- it was a long, tiring and exciting weekend and I practically passed out, cosy in my own small space in my strange little corner of the world. What things I had seen.
Bringing things up to date- yesterday (14.03.17) I hit the studio for a long day and finished last week’s rock drawing. Untiled as yet and set to become part of something as I begin thinking about my next piece and how to push my ideas onwards. My brain has needed a little time to adjust and settle down again- buzzing with so much of the weekend. And today (15.03.17) has felt very much like a Sunday! I have a few plans towards the weekend- so no doubt I will have something to say for myself again as this week draws to its usual blog shaped close.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-adventure within an adventure- to my fellow bloggers, like and follow if you have.
TTFN and much love always,