valkyrieza: (orange travel bug)
[personal profile] valkyrieza
I had been to the majority of these places, except I visited the Green Lagoon in Akureyri, instead of the one in Icelandic capital.

It is the last few weeks of summer in Iceland. As we fly into Keflavik, Reykjavik's international airport, we can see a giant stretch of black lava - solidified bubbles levelling off into grey-green pools.

Even though it is late, after 10 at night, the sun has not set, and pink clouds are trapped in sandwich layers across the sky. The rich orange sun melts somewhere into the horizon, yet despite this, a sharp wind spikes through our jackets, making us shiver.

Our apartment, a sparsely decorated three-level property is near the Hallgrimskirkja. Completed in the 1970s, this church resembles a mountain of balsaltic lava.

The Icelanders seem stone-faced, their reactions strangely unenthusiastic and distant.

The whole city has a strong smell of fresh fish and the sea; and tourism rests strongly on a Viking heritage. But we are not remaining in Reykjavik, instead we travel northwards to Akureyri, along with a host of Icelanders visiting their relatives. Below us, the land is fluorescent green, and then a volcanic black, where the land splits like pastry with too much sugar.

We land after 45 minutes on a runway placed between two stretches of water. It's wet and cold, about 12°C, but this only intensifies the pure colours - white bags of rolled hay, fluffy black sheep, and red corrugated iron roofs.

Godafoss is a 12m waterfall easily accessible from the road, the grey sheets of water draping beautifully and a stark contrast to the lime-green moss-capped lava rock.

Midge Lake, about an hour-and-a-half from Akureyri, is a birdwatcher's paradise with water birds like the Great Northern Diver, with startling black and white plumage.

We travel for the day to the charming northern village of Husavik, which is the departure point for whale-watching tours, but is also the fishing centre for the whole island. Fish-drying racks are on display and a fish refinery is a hive of activity as cranes transport giant crates of the day's catch.

Outside, giant fishing nets are dotted with yellow buoys and seagulls fight for the scraps leaving the factory.

A highlight is the whale museum, with its fascinating display of whale memorabilia including the baleen plates of a sperm whale, the texture of which bears a strong resemblance to elephant hair.

We fly back to the south of Iceland, to begin our drive along the coast to Vik in such dense fog that we can hardly see in front of us.

When the weather lifts, we pass a dense colony of seabirds inhabiting the clifftops. One young bird has failed in its attempt to fly and sits, dazed, on the tarmac. When my husband, Dave, brings it to safety, he returns to our car smelling like the catch of the day.

The mountains all the way eastwards are awe-inspiring. When I look behind us, I see a giant glacier rising in the distance. It is partly responsible for the Sandur landscape - a broad desert expanse created by the silt, sand and gravel deposits carried down in glacial bursts and braided glacial rivers.

One particularly fun stop en route to Jökulsárlón is at Laufskálavördur, where cairns are constructed by travellers for good luck. It is like being surrounded by stone termite mounds. We add our own stones to a cairn to continue the tradition.

Kirkjubæjarklaustur is itself a gorgeous setting of waterfalls, rivers and mountains, but it does not prepare us for the beauty of the soft, velvety moss lying beyond. I can't resist and lie down on it as though it is a picnic blanket of soft wool.

Further along the route, we stop at a waterfall where Icelandic horses approach us curiously, nuzzling our cupped hands. Travelling the Sardur, the moss becomes greyer and less vivid, the rivers criss-crossed by pebbles and gushing with mineral-rich water. This area is called Skeidarársandur and is Europe's largest valley glacier, covering an area of 1 600km².

As we approach the Jökulsárlón, the grit and gravel along the road is naturally banked up, like beach dunes, except that the colour is a richer red. The beauty of what we have already seen has not prepared us for the view as we round a corner to cross a bridge over a lagoon. In front of us, is the most magnificent sight I have ever seen, so amazing in fact, that it leaves me emotionally drained.

The colour of the water against the rich blues of the different coloured ice provides a dramatic contrast against the black outlines of gravel which makes some glaciers seem charred. We take an amphibious trip in between the glaciers, into the river lagoon.

On our return journey to Vik, we stop off at Skaftafell, Iceland's best-loved national park, where you can see signs of the floods that were caused by a volcanic eruption. It also has an amazing array of breathtaking hikes, but we don't unfortunately have time to enjoy those. We spend that night back in Vik, where we glimpse squadrons of puffins above us to nest in the cliffs.

Our final stop as we head towards the airport, is at the Blue Lagoon. It's a tourist trap but a delightful one at that. Known as Bláa Lónid by the locals, it is actually a pale blue pool of geothermal seawater from the Svartsengi power plant. It's also one of the most famous spas in Europe. Patrons swear by the curative powers of this organic soup composed largely of dead algae and silica mud. This is an amazing place to while away a few hours in steam rooms, massaging waterfalls and the obligatory mudpacks. When we get back on the plane, despite the vast distances we have covered in only a few days, we feel remarkably rejuvenated. Taken from here.

Another side note: Icelanders are actually very friendly, not stone-faced at all.

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May 2010

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