Sunday, July 12, 2015

Akureyri to Husavik

The morning started with a trip into Akureyri, the largest city outside of Reykjavik, and often referred to as the Capital of the North. It is a beautiful city overlooking a fjord, with an obviously middle to upper middle class population. There were a lot of large houses, even by Canadian standards. The downtown had a big city feel to it, with lots of stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. We took in some of that, but the real find was the Akureyri botanical garden. Akureyri, even though it is very far north (only 100 km south of the Arctic Circle), it has the most mild climate in Iceland, with 120 frost free days. The botanical garden had a wide array of plant species, including many I would not expect to see here, like poppies, marigolds, roses, and many others. Best of all, it solved the mystery for me of where the bees are in Iceland. THEY LIVE HERE!

We figured they must, but we just hadn't seen any. Not just bees, but insects in general. But you can't have honey without bees, and they love honey here. And the bottles show that it's produced in Iceland from wildflowers. We just haven't been in many areas with lots of plants yet.

After leaving Akureyri, we headed toward Myvatn. Myvatn is the name of a lake in one of the most geologically active areas in Iceland. It sits right on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Nearby is Krefla, an active volcano that last had significant activity in the 70s and 80s. The magma activity in some spots is only 2 km below the surface, reachable by current drilling technology. Even without accessing the magma, the incredible energy bubbling up from below led to the creation of a 30 MW power generation station just outside the closest town, Reykjahlid.

Before we got there though, we stopped at Godafoss, a beautiful waterfall that is accessible on foot. Really accessible. I got so close to it that Sarah said she was gritting her teeth in anxiety the whole time she was watching me. But it was worth it. You'll see it when you see the video I'll upload later.

Myvatn has so much to see, you can easily spend an entire day there. We started by checking out the pseudo-craters known as Skutustadagigar. They are known as pseudo-craters because they are not connected to a magma source underneath. They occur when a lava flow from an explosion nearby starts to flow over a body of water. The intense heat over the water creates steam explosions which is what forms the craters. They look the best from above. From the ground, they are really neat, but you don't get the same effect. And you get marauded by these infuriating little flies that hang around the lake because of the massive population of waterfowl that summer here. There are around 2000 birds in the area this time of year but in spring there are closer to 10000. There are 14 species of duck that breed here, and their density is said to be unmatched anywhere in the world. We stopped at one area and the lake is seriously covered with ducks. I've never seen so many in my life. Apparently in the spring it is like a scene out of Hitchcock's The Birds.
Next was Dimmu Borgir, a collection of unique lava rock formations that form a bleak looking landscape. The name means "dark castles", and it is a suitable name, as you'll see in the pictures. It also happens to be the area where they filmed the scenes for Mance Rayder's camp beyond the wall in Game of Thrones. There were so many to see we walked around for well over half an hour.
Next was Hverir. This is an above ground manifestation of the subsurface magma activity. Here it manifests as a series of bubbling mud pits and steam vents that have so much heat and pressure escaping them that the sound is deafening. Once our pictures are uploaded, you will see the desolation of this area. It was really cool though. There were very well marked paths with lots of warnings not to stray off, as the ground is unstable, and the bubbling mud is at about 200C. Tourists have suffered serious burns in the past when they didn't pay heed to the warnings.

Then we went to the Myvatn Nature Baths. This is like Banff Hot Springs on steroids. And not totally sanitized and sterilized. The water is still very natural, so full of minerals that you cannot see your lower body in the water. Plus, you could probably fit 4 or 5 Banff Hot Springs inside Myvatn Nature Baths. It contains 3.5 million liters of water and is kept at around 40C the majority of the time. Not only was the water gorgeous and the view fantastic, but they will bring you beer right to the pool, and they brought out live music after a half hour. Doesn't get better than that.

By this point, we were so hungry we felt sick. So we checked out Gamli Bistro. The service really left something to be desired, but the food was excellent. Around this area a really popular dish is geyser bread with smoked arctic char. Geyser bread is basically a simple rye bread. When the dough is made, it is put into a container, buried in hot rocks near an active geothermal vent, and left there for 8-12 hours. It is sliced very thin and then spread with cream cheese. On top of that they lay smoked Arctic char. I cannot describe to you the taste. It is otherworldly. And even better, they also use the bread to make a dessert called Hot Spring Bread Soup. It is kind of like bread pudding. The bread is softened with what I imagine is a syrup-like mixture including molasses, and then covered with whipped cream. Unbelievable.

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