The fantastic Fulbright organization of Iceland paid for a short trip up to Akureyri this week, the 'capital of the north' of iceland, at 17,000 people. Seven of us drove up to hear a fellow Fulbrighter's dissertation in geophysics, and we got a free trip out of it, a free night in a beautiful guest house, and a delicious fancy dinner to celebrate our team of nerds! But the best part of all was that the following day we had some time to drive to Mývatn, which I have only been to one time (in September), but this was the winter glimpse of some of the most spectacular places in Iceland.
Akureyri is a totally beautiful town! It's a tiny version of Reykjavík, in its own way, with a lively bar scene on weekends, all the shopping and entertainment you need, and some great architecture to boot. It's on the end of a fjörd and the mountains on the other side are even closer to you than in Reykjavík. The airport is also right out on the water, and the planes look like they're going to make a water landing...until a stretch of runway juts out right into the fjörd and saves the day.
We made it only a couple minutes late for J's defense, as the weather was really quite something along the way! There was a beautiful shot I got in the countryside while standing to stretch my legs (in the rain):
But soon after the landscape turned totally to snow, as far as the eye could see- it was this amazing monochromatic whitewash without much definition...where does the mountain end and the sky begin.
Akureryi was supposed to be a snowy wonderland, but it had melted a bit in previous days. Still, the views were beautiful.
We had dinner in Hof, the new concert hall/meeting center of the north, and it was totally gorgeous and very me inside, lots of concrete and stone, dark wood and ambient lighting. And the food, based on Danish smørrebrød, was delicious. I got a sampler of fishies.
Then, we all had wine, coffee, desserts, which were equally beautiful! I also liked the clear/monochromatic table at this particular moment.
We swam in the evening in Akureyri's luxurious public pool, which sort of puts Reykjavík's older pools to shame. We kvetched about being Fulbrighters, as when we're in Reykjavík it feels like we should always be doing "work" of some sort, rather than "experiencing", but when we get out of town, immediately we all go into vacation mode.
The next morning we were off to Mývatn, only about an hour away from Akureyri. We drove past a shimmering, wintry Ljósavatn (perfectly named: 'Light Lake').
I saw a couple areas of Mývatn that were new to me, and a few familiar sights now covered in snow and ice. The lake itself was incredibly beautiful and still, with a few birds fluttering here and there. Dimmuborgir was under several feet of snow, so we pounced around on snowmounds around the lava formations. I might have seen a Yule Lad as well- they've only recently come back to live here after Christmas.
But my favorite sight was something new, and it blew my mind. We drove into a nondescriptly-pretty area with some cool rock formations, and walked around for a minute. But then one Fulbrighter's husband said, 'it's over here, bring your towels!', and he disappeared into a hole in the ground! We followed suit, entering a cave-like rock fissure, and inside it, underground, was a natural hotspring that we swam in! I've never done anything like that in my life. It was a little scary, a little crazy, and a whole lot of exciting. The water was so clear, so mysterious, and just on the border of too hot but tolerable (as really, it's just hot from some magma under the earth, heating it up. No bigs.)
The only light came in from a small opening, and the rocks all around may fall at any moment. These dark and shadowy rocks are right over my head.
But they didn't fall. Instead, some lucky artists and scientists got to swim together and laugh about how insane/lucky/humbling it is to be here, in the winter stillness, inside of a fissure in Iceland.