Day five… (Akureyri, Goðafoss, Lake Mývatn, natural hotpot pools (‘Jarðböðin við Mývatn’))

TODAY started out with the northern lights!

Well. Sort of.

They were visible from Akureyri, intensity 1 (on a scale of 0-9), at midnight. And we went outside and saw them, and if you squinted a bit and used your imagination, then they really were quite cool. Whispy milky circular overlays, on a clear starry ski. With one bit that might have been a bit green.

Things were due to pick up to intensity 2 at 6 this morning, so we set an alarm to get up.

Or, well. I thought A set an alarm. A thought I set an alarm. So we woke up, beautifully relaxed, at eight. The sun was blazing through the windows, giving us a sight of the hotel’s valley for the first time:

After a repeat of yesterday’s tremendous breakfast, we settled the bill and pointed our way towards Myvatn. Given “Myvatn” translates as “valley of midges,” shoulder season definitely seemed like the best time to be going.

Clear skies meant better views of Akureyri’s mountain nestle on the beautiful drive in…

And we had only a couple of surprises. The schoolchildren we passed were all in fancy dress, for reasons unknown – though potentially related to the HUMUNGOUS snowman that had appeared:

This may also better reflect our ignorance of Icelandic driving customs than it does this driver’s eccentricity, but we were surprised to find tractors using pedestrian crossings. In this picture, he’s driving along the pavement on the other side.

Our final morning surprise: the Satnav ordered us to turn right, into what looked very much like the sea. Turned out there was a land bridge of a kind that’d only be possible in an area with no waves – 2m off the sea, without barriers for much of the way. Great views of the bay, though!

The road took us up along the far side of the bay…

…before banking right at the end of all these squiggles, feeding into a mountain pass…

Erm. The mountains, again, were sublime. There’s quite a bit of similarity between a fair few of the shots, though, so I’ll post a potted version and (for our later perusal) bung a wedge of others in an appendix. As you do.

With the exception of one lorry, the road (Iceland’s Route 1 in every sense) was deserted. And ice coated a fair bit of the way.

As these pics may suggest, the first leg of the mountain tour was basically mountains, mountains, mountains, sun, sun.

And half way over, we came to a site of central importance to Icelandic history. Shortly before 1000AD, the Norwegian king was trying to convince Icelanders to convert to Christianity. Unfortunately, horse sacrifice had been central to Germanic pagan worship, so Pope Gregory III had insisted that all missionaries forbid horse meat eating whilst about their work. Icelanders really liked horse meat, and this was presented as one of the main reasons they refused to convert. Until the Norwegian king trapped a tonne of Icelandic nobles in his ports, and refused them permission to leave until the nation converted.

Iceland being unusually democratic, the Althing ledt the decision to a single trusted arbiter  – a pagan priest. Happens that, after 24hrs contemplation, he came down on the side of Xnty. And, on his way to announce his decision, threw all his pagan idols down a waterfall. 

The Waterfall of the Gods (Gothafoss) was half way down the deserted mountain road, so we pulled off for a butchers.

Bingo! Silent, ice-coated roads…

But then, sigh, we rounded the corner, and instantly happened upon more blooming cars and coaches than we’d seen in the last two hours of driving combined.

Tripods were everywhere. Elderly Americans were hoofing German pilgrims out the way, whilst two Japanese film crews battled with massive piles of camera equipment, attempting to reach the other side for the one unique shot. Crisp packets littered the snow. And, what’s worse, the waterfall was throwing up a substantial spray which began to coat us from a couple of hundred yards off.

Grim, freezing, wet, cramped. A bit pretty.

A shame!

That being HALF WAY THROUGH the mountains, you can probably guess what comes next. If it starts with M and rhymes with Fountains, then you’re probably half way there!!!  There was a bit of a shift in feel, though. From lumpy, peaky, bumpy things, we began to enter terrain that was far more desolate moonscape. Barren areas of troughs, runnels and occasional scree and boulders…

And then, before we knew it, we’d arrived in Myvatn. Myvatn is a volcanic area, surrounded by plenty of pseudocraters and a fair bit of active volcanis, too. Wiki says it is home to 15 species of duck, of which we saw zero. (I did see a cold looking moorhen, though)

As we drove round, I began by snapping the smaller volcanic cones. Then, suddenly, we both shared a bit of an OMFG as a still-quite-little-but-still-pretty-chuffing-big welded tuff crater hove into view:

Mindful that we couldn’t check in for another couple of hours, we decided to make best use of our time by going for a potter round the lake. This turned out to be an awesome idea, as it initially led to some really ace views of the lake:

Swiftly followed by an ascent of a mini-volcano:

Having completed our tour of the lake, we checked in.

Best bit: the hotel restaurant has viewing cows! You can view them (and inhale their cowy aroma) whilst you eat.

I bought a bar of chocolate from reception. Which, tbh, proved a bit of a mistake. I’m guessing Iceland doesn’t have too great an annual cacao harvest, ay. Moving swiftly on, our room looked pretty nice…

…but the underfloor heating didn’t seem to be working… Very, very late at night – OH so very late (our fault!)! – the owners very kindly moved us to another room

So, then, yes. More things. We went to climb the BIG volcano, after driving the wrong way past some ground steaming vents. The views were properly awesome, but exhaustion set in and we decided to head down for dinner after a wee bit too much ice scrambling…

The only thing that could’ve improved dinner would’ve been in-bed service. As it was, peeling myself up proved challenging – though arguably worthwhile. I had raw smoked lamb with blueberry jam, gingerbread (or molasses bread, tbf) and cream cheese. Followed by lamb and veg consommé. Blooming amazing. A had Arctic char, caught from the lake itself, followed by home made bread ice cream.

A campaign then began to visit the outdoor baths. I must say, I’m arguably not the best of candidates for outdoor baths. I dislike sitting still, feel nauseous at the smell of boiled egg, and struggle to fathom why anyone would bathe when God made showers for a reason. Add in the small fact that it was howling a gale, and MINUS BLOODY FIVE and this was not an overtly propitious proposition. It was pitch black night, too. Thereby obviating the alleged benefits of the scenery.

So, yeah, we stayed for a bit. I stayed in the hot tub with my ears vigorously shivering, repeating a mantra over and over: “it’s boiling spaghetti, not eggs, spaghetti not eggs, spaghetti not eggs, spa…..” A attempted to swim somewhere, but got hoiked back by several gale force 17 subzero winds, which were busily creating surf-worthy waves in a corner of the larger pool.

There are no pictures of the baths. As I’m sure you can imagine, though, it was simply divine. Hmmmmmmmyeah.

Road reports are looking variable. Yesterday, for the first time in about a month, it was possible to make it past the east. But tonight, roads are logged as dangerous or dodgy – one step below closed. Our car has proven a trooper to date, but we’ll have to see how things are looking tomorrow morning….

Appendix 2…