Sunday, June 5, 2011

IS - North

June 5                   Sunday                 Iceland                 North                                                                   

It was a dark and stormy morn; a fine day for tours among trolls and dark castles.  But first a salad.

The weather was crummy at waking… windy, cold, cloudy, and a bit of rain.  I slowly hobbled out of bed and made my way southward a bit to a dairy farm containing a restaurant named the Vogafjós Café, offering smacking-fresh tasty food.  I opted for a dish of tomatoes, mozzarella, and a salad… wow, it was amazing.

In chatting with one of the waitresses, I inquired about what people say in response to whenever I say thank you in Icelandic.  It turns out they have a phrase which basically translates to “thanks to you, too” but without the confusion that sometimes arises in English.  Think about how many times you get takeout or go to a movie and someone says “thanks, enjoy your meal” or “thanks, enjoy the movie” and you reply with “thanks, you too.”  Then you smack yourself upon taking heed that they only disperse the food & entertainment; they don’t get to partake it to nearly the satisfaction you do.  Well, sometimes they do… but that’s beside the point.  Here, Iceland has a phrase which seems to be useful for those very situations… basically a mutual thanks where you can thank them for their service & they can thank you for your patronage; without the awkward or omitted “you’re welcome” bit that burdens English.  I was just kind of fascinated by it… I like how every language has their phrases which so succinctly describe something that is missing in other languages.

It wasn’t actually raining yet, but I could see it coming down in most directions.  Sure enough, by the time I drove a grand two minutes or so to the nearest volcano – Hverfell – it had now begun its drizzle.  I hobbled up the volcano with the wind at my back, letting my jacket and pants take the chill with great effectiveness.  This was my first time wearing my 2nd set of pants, which I soon discovered aren’t just water-resistant; they’re downright water-repellant.  It’s like someone sewed Rain-Ex into the fibers.  The pants don’t even get wet to begin with.  I’m sure my appreciation for the volcano would have been better if I could have rotated more than about 30 degrees without getting my face battered with subzero droplets, as the volcano really was pretty cool & I’m sure the view would’ve been fantastic if not for the low-hanging shroud of gray.  It felt much like New Zealand’s Rotorua: a lake ringed by a geothermal wonderland.

After returning downward with the wind & rain a bit more intimate, I drove just a tad more to the Dimmuborgir area.  This made for a pleasant stroll through some lava formations, but I was more interested in the actual geological aspects than necessarily appreciating the formations themselves.  The rain stopped halfway through, but it was still a dreary day… that probably didn’t help, as it cut down on the nature of photos I could take; and these structures just weren’t as photogenic as I’d hoped.  One of the other tourists in the area – from Norway – thought I was German.  Add on that on previous days a Scottish woman thought I was Australian & an Irish guy thought I was Irish… this once again affirms that my ever-changing hodgepodge style of speaking manages to confuse & bewilder so many.  I’ve always enjoyed that.

Continuing on to the Höfði Peninsula: the view over the little islets was neat, but the cold turned what would have been a leisurely stroll into a hasty photo op & dash back to the car.  Another short drive and I was on the south end with the pseudocraters.  These were actually pretty cool… neat enough for me to spend a considerable amount of time in what has got to be among the coldest winds I have ever experienced.  I know my car’s dashboard read the temperature as 1°C, but I’d say the wind chill had to be at least -800.  Individual atoms had not only stopped moving; they had begun moving backwards: sucking thermal energy out of the universe without any regard of Newton’s flimsy laws.  Though in the sense of what so-called “scientists” might say, I’d guess the wind chill was pushing about -10°C to -15°C.  Yeah, I’ve experienced days colder than that… but not that sort of wind.  I hate wind; it cuts through me like Norman Bates.

Unsure how long the rain would last (I probably should’ve just taken advantage of my guesthouse’s wifi and checked the weather), I began my journey westward toward Akuryeri.  Go figure that only about 30 minutes away from Mývatn does the sun come out & the skies clear.  I reached Goðafoss while the clouds were still on their way out, leaving the waterfalls under a gray theme.  This was a pretty neat waterfall & a breeze to get to (the carpark is right at it); it’s another comparison to Horseshoe Falls but without the lengthy desert drive of yesterday’s adventures.  Of course, with yesterday I felt more like I earned something; it was mine… this one had a bit more of a tourist presence.

I hit the road toward Akureyri, Iceland’s second city, without any other major stops.  I rolled in and by coincidence parked right at the guesthouse I wanted to stay at – Gula Villan.  I was intrigued by the hostel except for its location; this guesthouse was right downtown & particularly convenient.  Once again I got the last room apparently available, ending up with a triple for the price of a single.

The city couldn’t be in much more of a scenic position: seated on a fjord, mountains tower in three of the four cardinal directions.  It’s also a tiny city… really just a small town by American standards, but fantastically walkable.  There were some really nice homes, particularly alongside the Botanic Gardens… which had some surprising diversity, though I’d wager I was a couple weeks too early to really see much of interest.

I stopped by the city’s centerpiece: the Akureyrarkirja; the town church (Lutheran).  I spent perhaps an hour in there… not necessarily admiring the church per se, but having a great conversation with its female minister.  She walked me through each of the stained glass windows: the top part had symbols, the middle part portrayed the life of Jesus (the windows were in chronological order), and the bottom part depicted important events or figures in Iceland history.  I actually recognized most of the information with the exception of a golden pelican above the Last Supper window (when a pelican regurgitates food it gets a red mark on its throat; as if a stigmata of Jesus giving his blood) and a pair of Iceland events.  There was also one symbol on a painting which stumped the minister & wasn’t in the guidebook, but in Reykjavik I’d eventually learn it was actually a conglomeration of symbols… which I unfortunately forget.  Basically it was a pentagon within which were clover & heart shapes.

After some more walking about I ended up at the Indian Curry Hut.  Not only was this downright tasty, but I had another great chat with its proprietor – hailing from Madras.  I was astounded at such a transition: there are few places in the world with a greater contrast than India and Iceland.  And running an Indian restaurant… surely you could count the total number of Indian restaurants in the country on your hands; it must be a nightmare getting ingredients.  He more-or-less affirmed my thoughts & as to how he ended up there: he came as a tourist, fell in love with the place, and made himself a living.  From my couple hours in Akuryeri thus far: I can’t blame him in the slightest.

I just ambled around a bit more before returning back to my room.  Yeah, an anticlimactic ending, I know.  Just before returning to my room I passed by a board at the central roundabout and smiled at the temperature: 1°C; not counting wind.  Yep, still cold.

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