Iceland's Hverfjall, mini-craters, folk art, Akureyi and another fabulous pool
Before leaving the Myvatn area, we breakfasted on the moon and had our first taste of lava bread—a heavy rye, baked in the ground with geothermal heat. Then we hiked Hverfjall.
It's a a steep climb to the top of the black, gravelly volcano, which is a kilometer across and offers fab views. (You can tell by the sliding tracks that some people actually attempt to hike down into the volcano. We didn't.)
There were only a few other hikers, so Jamie had her mp3 player, and I played Sigur Ros on my phone, because it seemed like the perfect accompaniment to this odd terrain.
On our way out of town, we walked the paths winding between the nearby mini-craters, which were a bit anti-climatic. But no matter—Iceland had already impressed us plenty.
Then we began the hour drive to Akureyri—at 17,000 people, the country's second biggest city. But just before we got there, we pulled over to inspect this nifty roadside attraction, a towering sculpture of a man in a business suit. Turns out, we had stumbled upon the Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum.
The museum (circa 1995) juxtaposes self-trained artists and traditional Icelandic crafts against degree-holding academics (with more of the former) and is set on a wooded lot with windows that let in trees and a quaint brook.
We had complementary tea and cookies before exploring several airy rooms of life-sized sculptures (by artist Ragnar Bjarnason), cross-stitches, garish paintings and a collection of graphite carvings so tiny you need a magnifying glass (including the world's smallest toilet, complements of Jaroslaw Lenski).
There was also entire room of (creepy?) international dolls and a recreated "store" that was operated by the same family from 1907-2006. The furnishings and goods were purchased by the museum when the store closed and used as the backdrop for a textiles exhibit that includes vintage Icelandic clothes and buttons.
It was late afternoon when we reached Akureyri. Mostly we were excited about restaurants with vegetarian options, so we ate and wandered, went in a few shops and headed on towards Hofsos—site of yet another fantastic geothermal pool, this one on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
By the time we got there, the wind was so ferocious that I struggled to open the car door. (Our first night, a local told us sometimes the wind blows cars off the road.) We only had about two hours before close, and the pool was deserted. The hot pot had three college kids in it. They'd been hitchhiking and had kind of gotten stuck in Hofsos for a few days. There's not much to do there, but they didn't mind. Yesterday they met a farmer, who invited them to the barn to hold a newborn lamb.
The view was gorgeous, and it was wonderful to lounge in the steaming pot with the cold draft blustering across the surface, watching the frenzied ocean and debating the pros and cons of charter schools. (One kid was an education major and both he and Jamie are passionate on the subject.) Occasionally I'd get out and swim a lap, but this time, it was definitely about the comfort of the pot.
We felt so energized and refreshed afterwards that, even though it was about 10pm, we decided to keep driving to our next destination. We were planning to stay in Akranes with Jamie's mother's friend and though it was less than four hours away, we knew we'd need to stop and sleep. Borghildur wasn't expecting us till the next day and certainly not in the middle of the night.
The skies were luminous and moody, as if Iceland were boasting, "Look! I even do clouds better than anywhere else." I was too lazy for my big camera and kept trying to capture them through the windshield with my phone while Jamie drove. This was the only time in our entire two weeks that it got dark. Of course, that was due to the storm, not the sun setting. Soon it was properly pouring, rather than the polite, ever-present Icelandic drizzle we'd grown accustomed to.
At some point, we pulled over at some dinky(ish) tourist attraction (a path through some not-very-exciting rocks), and Jamie went right to sleep. I was awake for a long time, worrying each time the car shuddered that the wind would pitch our entire operation on its side.