It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It’s the kind of place which robs your voice.
With schools of herring and abundant plankton, the freezing waters of the Northern Atlantic have always been prime whale territory. In years past, that meant excellent hunting. And though there’s still a little killing going on, today the most common way to shoot whales in Iceland is with a camera.
Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods, is found just off the ring road near Akureyri. Although this makes it an easy stop for tour buses, don’t let the threat of crowds keep you away from one of northern Iceland’s most impressive natural sights.
When Halldor offered to show us the autumn colors of the Eyjafjörður Valley, south of Akureyri, I was a little amused. Up until this point, we had seen approximately three trees in all Iceland. “Maybe the idea of ‘autumn colors’ means something different here,” I thought. “Like, a pile of red lava rocks on top of wet, yellow hay.” But it turns out that Iceland has some trees after all. There are a lot, in fact, if you know where to look.
The first time I saw an Icelandic horse, it was laying on the ground, on its side. “Horses don’t lay down,” I thought. “It must be dead!” And then it rolled onto its back, all the way over onto its other side, and stood up in one semi-fluid movement. “It must be insane!”
Our time together was short, but Mósa didn’t need long to work her way into my heart. I loved her soft coat, her short stature, her rich color, and how she farted with every other step. I loved her mane, and her mild countenance when I accidentally pulled some of it out. I loved how determined she was to speed past others when it came time to gallop. I loved her stubbornness. And most of all, I loved that she didn’t buck me off, although it would have been so very easy.
Just outside the hot spring haven of Hveragerði is the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station. If you want to visit, don’t worry about accidentally driving past without spotting it. This is the world’s largest geothermal plant, spouting giant columns of steam high into the atmosphere, and it’s unmistakable.
Precariously situated in the middle of an active geothermal area southeast of Reykjavík, Hveragerði makes for an easy excursion from the capital. During our visit, we explored hot springs, ate an geothermally-cooked egg and treated our feet to a therapeutic mud bath.
Here’s a little known fact: anyone who can correctly pronounce the name of Iceland’s National Museum automatically wins Icelandic citizenship. Absolutely true. The immense Þjóðminjasafn (that’s THYOTH-min-ya-safin, if you feel like practicing) takes visitors on an exhausting chronological tour through Icelandic history. If you want to learn about the country and can only visit a single museum, this is the clear choice.
Reykjavík’s Ásmundursafn is dedicated to the work of Iceland’s most accomplished sculpture artist, Ásmundur Sveinsson. The museum is worth visiting as much for the architecture of the building, as for the statues both indoors and out in the garden.