Posted by: nmancini04 | August 24, 2011

Day 6: Volcano Worshippers

As I write this — from the dankest and drabbest room we’ve stayed in so far — I don’t know when I will get a chance to post it. We’re in a guesthouse in the town of Akureyri on the north coast of Iceland. The guesthouse right in the heart of downtown (and yes, Akureyri is large enough to have a downtown); we have a bathroom and shower in our room, which is a luxury for most guesthouses; the furnishings are spare, which is to be expected; and it is pretty cheap, as far as Icelandic accommodations go. But It’s not quite entirely clean and my sheets have some holes in them…and there’s no wireless. So I can write, but I can’t post.

For now, the plan is to head over to the tourist information center across the street in the morning and see if I can get a wireless connection there, spend an hour or so uploading pictures and then hit the road, but I don’t know if that will work.

As the crow flies, we didn’t go so far today — Húsavík, where we spent last night, is only a 91 km drive from Akureyri — but that doesn’t mean we were idle.

A bit of history and culture
There’s only so much staggering, majestic natural beauty we can stomach. Okay, that’s not exactly true, but we were both starting to itch for something different. The first thing we decided was to forgo both of Húsavík’s main attractions, whale watching and the Phallological Museum. The whale watching was tempting, especially to me, but at 8,900 kronur (approx. $78) per person and 3.5 hours, that’s quite a lot of investment that could lead to nothing but seasickness. And the Phallological Museum, while an amusing curiosity (in a sophomoric kind of way), is inessential and seems, well, kind of stupid.

We knew we were planning to do the whole “staggering, majestic natural beauty” thing later in the day, anyway, visiting the lake region of Mývatn, so on the way we stopped at the Grenjaðarstaður homestead site, our first visit to an historic site since Þingvellir, which was on our first day on the road. Grenjaðarstaður, now a museum, is the largest grouping of connected turf-roofed farmhouses in Iceland and was a prominent medieval estate, although most of the current buildings date from the 19th century.

The turf-roofed houses of Grenjaðarstaður

I walk around Grenjaðarstaður


Inside they have an exhaustive collection of furniture, tools and household items from as far back as the 18th century. The houses are incredible on the inside — a trip to a different time — and so tiny it’s hard to believe upwards of 30 people lived in the homestead at the same time as recently as 100 years ago. Some of the highlights included the hearth kitchen, which contained several intricately hand-carved wooden boxes that were used by the residents to keep their butter rations, and the attic rooms, accessible only by ladder through either holes or tiny doors at the base of the wall. Some of the pictures are quite dim, as it was pretty dark in there.

Inside the homestead: tunnel to the next group of houses

Maggie looks around

Butter boxes in the homestead

Mini barrels in the homstead

Me inside the hearth kitchen

From inside the homestead

The Wonders of Mývatn
One thought kept occurring to me as Maggie and I explored the various wonders of the Mývatn lake region, and in fact, it’s a question that can be asked of Iceland as a whole: How can all of this amazing stuff be in one place? Here is an incomplete list of the attractions right on the coast of Mývatn or just a short drive away: Vindbelgjarfjall, a lonely, picturesque mountain that allegedly can be summited in under 45 minutes; the flooded volcanic fissures and hot springs of Grótagjá; the tephra cone volcano of Hjerfjall; the dried lava lake of Dimmuborgir, with its insane volcanic rock formations; several nature parks and satellite lakes, with some of the best bird watching in a country that’s famous for it; various sites of pseudocraters, weird conical formations of solidified magma. That’s just a taste and I haven’t even mentioned the lake itself, a beautiful clear turquoise when the light is right, dotted with turfy, green islands, many of which themselves are pseudocraters that sprang up from the bottom of the lake.

Mývatn; note Vindbelgjarfjall, the mountain, on the far shore and the pseudocrater island to the left

We spent most of the day driving around the lake, visiting various sites. Our first stop was Hjerfjall, the volcano. It’s a quick, steep track up the the top of the cone and from there you get spectacular views, not only of the stark, rocky ash within the caldera, but of the lake and it’s surrounding region. We walked around the rim for a while taking in the surrounding scenery and peering within the ashy cone.

Hjerfjall, the volcano

Maggie makes her way up the side of the volcano

A view of a mountain and a crater from the volcano

Inside the volcano

Mountains from the rim of the volcano

Maggie walks around the crater's rim with Mývatn in the background

After Hjerfjall, we headed to the lava lake of Dimmuborgir, a gallery of magnificent natural lava sculptures. We walked the maze of winding paths past twisted towers and bizarre, bulbous formations of volcanic rock, ending finally at an eerie lava cave called Kirkja (“the church”).

Looking down into Dimmuborgir

Maggie at an interesting formation


Kirkja in Dimmuborgir

I explore the Kirkja cave

After Dimmuborgir, we made our last stop around Mývatn at the pseudocrater site of Skútustaðir. The short, squat, conical craters lack the ashy bleakness of the volcano and instead are covered in grass, appearing to be just interestingly formed hills with the tops chopped off, until you climb to the rim and get a sense of their crater-like shapes.

A pseudocrater at Skútustaðir

Inside a pseudocrater


Gods and Waterfalls (and Akureyri)
Mývatn is an easy drive — roughly due south — from Húsavík, and from the lake it’s a quick shot west to Akureyri, sometimes called “The Capital of the North” and the largest town in Iceland outside of the greater Reykavík area. In fact, it’s so big compared to the places we’ve been, that I’m going to call it a city, even though only about 17,000 people live here. It sits at the end of a large fjord (the Eyjafjörður) roughly in the center of Iceland’s northern coast.

On the road from Mývatn to Akureyri, it’s impossible to miss Goðafoss (“Waterfall of the Gods”), which sits right off the road. Even though we’ve seen enough waterfalls to last us for the next 29 years, we had to stop and take a look. Goðafoss is so named because, as the story goes (and it’s unclear to me whether this is history or legend, but I suspect the latter), the Alþingi lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði dumped his pagan idols over the falls after proclaiming Christianity Iceland’s official religion in 1000. If that pissed off the gods, they didn’t take it out on the falls themselves, which remain stunningly beautiful, the unearthly blue-green water of the river Skálfjandafljöt crashing down in two main sections, with several smaller water flows carving paths between and around the main ones.


The blue water of Skálfjandafljöt under Goðafoss

The bridge over Skálfjandafljöt

Maggie on the bridge, in front of a smaller rush of water below Goðafoss

Finally, we arrived in Akureyri. It was too late for us to take in most of the sites (and we were pretty wiped out by then anyway), but we went for a short walk around downtown, to the harbor and finally up to the city’s prominent church, the Akureyrarkirkja. Maggie got a kick out of the new culture house on the harbor (which is where I’m going in the morning to try and post this), admiring the unique architecture. She was less fond of the church, which was designed by the same architect who designed the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík and which she derided as “chunky.”

The new Akureyri culture house, across the main road from our guesthouse

A street in Akureyri

The "chunky" Akureyrarkirkja

Stained glass windows inside the Akureyrarkirkja

Inside the church, however, there were some interesting stained glass windows, including one that was relevant to our day. It depicted our old pal Þorgeir, the lawspeaking, Christianity-declaring idol tosser, preparing to hurl his old gods from the precipice over Goðafoss…

Þorgeir at Goðafoss

I thought he looked a little sad.




  1. Hahaha. The word chunky didn’t come to mind, but the Akureyrarkirkja (thank you copy/paste) looks like a lego building.

  2. love these pictures…but were the turf-house people much smaller? that hearth area looks tiny…or is it so cold that nobody wants to stand up?

  3. Bimbi-boobin-bor-na-bertil-bimba.

  4. […] I got up extra early this morning and headed to the Akureyri culture house to load photos and post yesterday’s entry. Once that was done, we decided to walk around Akureyri’s botanical garden. It was a pleasant […]

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