Iceland in winter, part 2: Akureyri and the hole in the earth

The earth's vagina.
The earth’s vagina.

On day two we got up early for the hotel’s fairly epic breakfast, then fought a crowd of other people who had purchased the same cheap deal as us for cabs to the Reykjavík airport (a view of which I had from my window). I really feel this transportation should have been included, since it was a bit of a logistical issue getting so many people there. The airport is tiny, with zero security. It took about a minute to get us checked in, and Darin’s lack of a passport was no issue.

The flight was pretty great. The sky was red with sunrise literally the whole flight, though the sun didn’t officially rise until well after we’d landed. There was about two hours of sunrise. That is the thing I didn’t realize about these near-arctic winter days–though there are only four hours or so of “daylight,” add another hour or more on either end for truly epic sunrises and sunsets, during which time it’s light enough to see: bright twilight. The light, therefore, is totally magical for most of the day. I remember my Norwegian grandfather saying that the thing he missed most when he first moved to the U.S. and lived in California was long sunsets, and I had no idea what he meant. Odda is not as far north as we are now, but I think now I understand.

The day was clear, which was a boon because this was the day of our volcano tour!!! I really don’t have the words. We flew in a Cessna, and it would have been beautiful without the volcano, but holy shit, there was a volcano there. Orange magma bubbling and shooting up out of the earth’s vagina. Not hugely, like in the early days of the eruption, but still visibly, trailing out into a long lava field bigger than Manhattan. Steaming and smoking. Clashing brutally with the vast expanse of snow all around it. Blotting the sun to a red ghost. The eruption is on a very flat landscape, save the cone it’s building, which has risen to about 70 meters. It shows no signs of stopping.

The volcano from a distance.
The volcano from a distance.
The only time I'd seen a sun like that before was due to forest fires. This is a much better cause.
The only time I’d seen a sun like that before was due to forest fires. This is a much better cause.

After that we checked into the hotel in Akureyri and met Chris and Mer for lunch. We ate at this adorable, campy burger place called Hamborgerafabrikkan. Decent lunch, but the aesthetic is what really sold it. I kept their fantastic menus. It is also interesting to note that I’ve been very impressed with how much knowing a little Norwegian helps with reading and hearing Icelandic. Sure, the languages are quite different, but since Icelandic is basically Old Norse, many of the basics are the same. Though spelling or pronunciation may be a bit different I’ve been making very good guesses.

"Hyggelig" cow in Hamborgarafabrikkan.
“Hyggelig” cow in Hamborgarafabrikkan.

The last item on Day Two’s agenda was our Northern Lights tour, and the night was fairly clear–hazy, I’d call it. We drove and drove while our tour guide ranted about the people from the south–it seems like a friendly, possibly one-way rivalry–and periodically checked to see if he could see anything. We ended up at Goðafoss, but it was pitch black so we couldn’t even tell we were on the edge of a waterfall. It was also freezing, and after a while it seemed we weren’t going to see anything, but finally we did. It wasn’t the spectacular lights I was hoping for. It wasn’t even as strong as what we saw from the plane. A faintish green band that moved sluggishly. But it was the Northern Lights. We had hot chocolate (mine with a splash of rum), and then chatted with the tour guide for quite a long time, then drank more and finally went to bed around three in the morning.

Nils Anders Wik makes a friend in Akureyri.
Nils Anders Wik makes a friend in Akureyri.

Day three was a free day, so we got up early for breakfast then went back to bed for a while. Then most of us walked around Akureyri and looked in the little shops. Later we spent some time in the Akureyri pool, which was very relaxing, then walked up to the grocery store and bought a picnic dinner. It wasn’t Fud brand food (when you’re in the Yucatan, choose Fud brand food), but it was very nice. The thing about the cold weather is that after wearing all that clothing I really want to get out of it. Pools are good for this. Note to self about traveling in Iceland in the future: bring a towel.

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