We worked out our days to allow for a big drive, followed by a break, and so on. Chloe definitely didn’t have a break yesterday, so I drove us to Akureyri, Iceland’s second ‘city’.
It’s a good two and a half hour drive from where we were staying, approximately 170km. We woke up early to set off with good time and enjoy the day at a leisurely pace. I opened the blinds to see that the mountains were now pretty much covered in snow, and our patio had a light dusting overnight. Probably enough to bring traffic to a halt in old Blighty.
We rang the road conditions hotline, that informed us that our passage would be icy and to take care (the automated message read something like, “conditions are i-see, and maybe trick-ee” in this lovely Icelandic accent, really wish I recorded it!). Upon considering whether to risk it or not, we decided to stick to our plans and, before setting off, I looked for snow chains in the boot. Turns out we had snow tyres fitted – a requirement for all cars in Iceland. And so we set off. Iceland seemed even quieter with this change of weather.
The roads looked a tad icy and were dusted with snow, but no matter how many times I tried testing the traction, by picking up speed and slamming on the breaks, this thing just wouldn’t skid. It stayed put. The sun was now coming out and with the snow giving the mountains their first coat of white, the colours made Iceland look a completely different place to yesterday. Blue skies, whiteish landscape, and the sun made the rusty colours exaggerated. Not only that, but what seemed to be starved greenery was now bright and lush.
The drive was, again, inspiring. The views were always astonishing. The Route 1 was still a tad snowy when in the mountains, and at freezing point, but the beautiful sun was changing this. On a number of occasions, I had to stop to take advantage of this beautiful weather, to take photos of a landscape which is now benefitting from the onset of winter and a baking sun, which I could imagine how Iceland looks in its 24 hour summer sunlight.
Akureyri is a small town – just 17,000 residents here. An outpost of civilisation in the north, sitting on the Eyjafjörður. It’s significance as Iceland’s second city delivers important shops and restaurants. We looked at a few shops, for Icelandic sweaters (lopapeysa), though I couldn’t make my mind up.
Afterwards we headed to a restaurant on the fifth floor of a building overlooking Eyjafjörður, called Strikið. Pretty cool looking and reasonably priced. They served standard and Icelandic dishes.
Chloe opted for the safe choice of a (raw) hamburger. Being a part-time vegetarian, eating a meal without meat in Iceland is a difficult task. I picked the Icelandic burger. A mashed up patty of beef, goose and reindeer, blended to perfection. Topped with Iceland cheese, rocket (urggh), and… blueberry sauce. It somehow worked!
We continued to Route 1, skirting the fjord, looking for Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods. An important site which turned Icelanders from paganism to Christianity. Iceland’s signage is notoriously shit – so we went down a track for a few kilometres, and turned back as there wasn’t a waterfall. We headed to a plume of steam, and found it (the sign was pointing at the wrong road).
We headed back to look at the Christmas house, and all-year round Christmas shop. It was weird but great. Smelled like Christmas, and felt like Christmas. Excessively pricey mind. The cost of some shitty ornaments could afford me a 4×4 trip to the Icelandic highlands. But that said, worth a visit!
We then carried on to Brynja, a legendary sweet shop just outside Akureyri. We had beautiful ice cream (from milk, not cream), with a moat of hot caramel fudge surrounding it in a pot, with sugared chopped nuts swimming in it. Divine! If you’re in the north, visiting Akureyri just for an ice cream from here is well worth it!
We drove back in the dark, and arrived at the cabin at 8:30 pm. New neighbours – Paul and Matteo from Dublin and Argentina respectively. They were telling me, shouting from one log cabin to another over howling, freezing cold wind, that they’ve been in Iceland for a week, waiting for the Northern Lights, with no luck. I sat, checking every five minutes, for those magical green swirls to appear in the clear sky full of stars. Nothing. Not at 3 am, nor at 5 am.