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Iceland - The Island of Fire and Ice

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Part 5 - Akureyri, Iceland

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Part 5 - Akureyri, Iceland
 

Our excitement the next morning was almost greater than the night before at our first sighting of Iceland. A look at the Navigation Channel of our TV made it unmistakably clear: we were in Iceland!

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A sleepy look outside the window increased our joy almost immeasurably. We hadn’t dared hope for it and yet here it was –not only nice but gorgeous weather in Iceland! We were just crossing the Eyjafjörður fjord, at the end of which Akureyri is located, and the view from our window alone was fantastic.

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Nothing could keep me in the room. I grabbed my camera and went on deck to marvel at the snow-capped mountains and the landscape. Although it was cool, the solar panels on the upper deck reflected a steel-blue sky without a single cloud. While admiring the scenery, I kept shaking my head in disbelief. Once again, we were extremely lucky!

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Obviously, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy our breakfast on the outside deck of the Ocean View Café. The stern wave in sight, fresh see air and breathtaking scenery around us – our cruising hearts were dancing with joy.

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Shortly before we reached Akureyri, I thought I had seen another fountain in the distance and focused on the water. And indeed, in the distance I saw the back and fin of a single whale appear and disappear again.

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A little later, the port of Akureyri appeared, where we docked right on time. A fluffy welcoming committee was already awaiting us at the little harbor building and souvenir shop.

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For this day’s trip we had booked a rental car with Holdur/Europcar. Assuming that it would take some time to walk to the station, pick up the car and settle the paperwork, I went ahead and left the ship before the others. But as soon as I passed the souvenir shop, I saw the green Europcar sign at an office container just a few meters away. In the container, a staff member was already waiting for me and gave me a friendly welcome together with the relevant documents. Driver’s license and credit card details were quickly registered, and no 10 minutes later was I sitting in a very comfortable Chrysler Town & Country offering box seats for all 6 passengers.

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I called Birgit on her cell phone to tell her that the rest of the group could come down. Until their arrival I had time to take a few photos and admire the unusual vehicles of the local tour operators, which looked more like monster trucks with their oversized tires and raised bodies. They almost dwarfed even our big car by comparison. Of course, even those vehicles, like the surrounding buildings of the little town, seemed tiny in comparison to the Eclipse. Shining in the sun, she gracefully towered over everything around her.

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Once the rest of our group had arrived and the satnav on my iPhone was programmed for our first destination, we cheerfully started our first tour. We didn’t get very far, though, as shortly after the town exit, and then again not much further on a little hill, we were presented with such beautiful panoramic views that we had to make quick photo stops.

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The streets were well paved and we made good progress. If only there hadn’t been so much to see enticing us to drive slowly and take in the views – an idyllic valley between black lava hills and mountains which, in turn, were covered with snow glistening in the sun; a deep blue river, picturesquely winding its way through the yet brown grass of the meadows...

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… or little Lake Ljósavatn, whose crystal clear water was untouched by even the slightest breeze, so that the surrounding mountains reflected on its glassy surface appeared like a mirage. The transitions between mountain, water and reflection were so perfect and seamless that it was easy to believe that it was all a delusion.

This beautiful lake was surrounded by an extremely peaceful calm. Only the barking of a little dog, who faithfully wanted to protect a single angler from us intruding tourists, broke the silence and echoed over the water.

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A few minutes later, we reached our first destination – Godafoss Waterfall.

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Godafoss translates as „Waterfall of the Gods“. The meaningful name of this 12 m (40 ft.) high waterfall goes back to an old legend. In the year 1000, the Alþing, Iceland’s traditional Legislative Assembly, decided to adopt Christianity as the state religion and renounce the old gods. According to legend, Gode Þorgeir, chief of the area around the waterfall, is said to have thrown the last pagan idols into Godafoss.

Unlike the silent lake, the water here showed a very different, primeval side and rushed down impressively. The air was filled with a fine spray, and a mighty roar and thunder was omnipresent.

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After a while we continued our journey and drove past Myvatn, the mosquito lake. The lake is only 3-5 meters (10-16 ft.) deep and warms up quite quickly in summer. When we were there, however, it was still almost completely frozen. The lake got its name from the swarms of mosquitoes that, during the summer months, hover in enormous, fog-like clouds above the water. Together with their larvae living in the water they represent the basic food source for fish and birds. Myvatn is the biggest breeding area for ducks and many other bird species in Iceland.

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On the eastern shore of Myvatn we reached Dimmuborgir, the dark castles. They arose from lava flowing over wetland after the eruption of a volcano about 2000 years ago.

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At the lava front, cooled down stone formed a barrier behind which a lake of hot lava dammed up. A solid crust formed on its surface, while the marsh water trapped below the lava evaporated. The steam trying to make its way up created smokestacks and walls of hardened lava surrounded by liquid rock. Finally, the dam broke and the liquid rock could flow off. The already solidified smokestacks and walls were left in the form of towers, caves, arches, bridges, streets and sculptures, giving the landscape the look of ruins of an old town or castle. Depending on the perspective, it was also easy to see faces and figures every so often, which showed up mysteriously just to disappear a few steps further on.

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Different paths led through the bizarre landscape of dark rock, in which, on a closer look, we also found colorful little pieces of art by Mother Nature.

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„The Hole“, probably the most famous formation, was already visible from afar. One of the paths led up there and even through it.

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The hill offered a beautiful view of the black walls of the 160 meter (525 ft.) high Hverfjall crater – the creator of Dimmuborgir, so to speak.

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After our tour of this fascinating area we took off again and headed towards the next attraction of the day. From all the pillars of white steam rising from various crevices and rocks in various places, it was clear that we were approaching an area of high geothermal activity. In most places you could tell by small buildings close to the steam that the energy emanating from it was actually used and converted.

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The sulfur fields of Namaskard were our next destination, which we reached via the Namaskard Pass cutting into Mount Namafjall. As we crossed the pass, we already recognized them easily from the pillars of steam and the parked cars and buses. The fields were easily accessible from the parking lot via platforms and marked paths.

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The swathes of steam, which were already visible from the street, arose from various smokestacks, from which volcanically heated vapor continuously escaped with a sulphurous smell and a loud hiss like from a burst long-distance heating pipe.

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The noise and the strong smell of rotten eggs covered the entire field.

 

 


Some mud pods were gently simmering away, while others boisterously overcooked and sloshed their muddy broth around. In some of them, dark looking water was boiling, in others molten minerals were bubbling mushily with a whopping slurp and looked like dirty, grey play-doh.

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Sulfur and other minerals from the soil turned the landscape into a yellow, red and white witch’s cauldron in which it was bubbling, gurgling, steaming and hissing. Despite the overpowering and unpleasant smell, this was a most fascinating spectacle.

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The day wasn’t over yet: thanks to the glorious weather we decided to go all the way to Dettifoss Waterfall, which, considering the distance, we probably would have skipped had we had gray skies and rain. To reach it early, we returned to our comfortable car and kept following the road. The closer we got to our destination, the icier the landscape became. It turned from the desert-like brown we had seen near Namafjall to sparkling white winter scenery. Soon, seemingly endless snowfields were sprawling along the way, and it seemed as if we were in a completely different country than only a few minutes before.

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After a roughly 40 minute drive we left our car at the parking lot near the waterfall and followed the signs to the fall on foot. We trudged through the wintery landscape along a path of trodden snow. The path was deceptive! As soon as I stepped beside the trampled snow, I sank knee-deep into the snow.

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For Hildegard, the way was difficult, but she bravely soldiered on. Helmut had taken her by the hand, and I carried her walker. After about 10 minutes we reached a little elevation, where a sign indicated that we had still 800 meters (800 yards) to go. We hadn’t anticipated that it would be such a long way, so Hildegard decided to sit down on her walker and wait for us. From her front row seat she could watch us keep struggling through the snow towards the waterfall, whose spray was already visible in the distance.

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Once there, we were left almost breathless. The sight was overwhelming. On a width of about 100 meters (330 ft.) and with an unbridled, elemental force, the mass of water drops 45 meters (95 ft.) deep. The air was filled with the finest spray and at the same time with a deep roar and thunder like that of an endless thunderstorm. The water originates from the northern edge of the Vatnajökull Glacier and flowes off via a river. In the summer, some 1,500 m³ (53,000 ft³) plunge into the deep per second.

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Per day, the river breaks away over 120,000 tons of rubble, which it carries both as large rocks and finest suspended load. The fine particles are swirled up with the spray, and in winter they settle in the layer of snow and ice on the edge of the waterfall. No artist could accomplish artwork more beautiful than what nature has created here. The layer of ice in front of us looked as if it was marbled and streaked with circular patterns.

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A bit further downstream behind the waterfall, where the river had already calmed down a little, the air was still filled with fine mist, forming a picturesque rainbow in the canyon.

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Another path led along the trailing edge of the Dettifoss and thereby still closer to its roaring noise.

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We were in high spirits when we returned to the parking lot. This waterfall alone was impressive. But to see it in this snowy environment directly after the seething, hot hell´s kitchen of Namafjall was simply amazing and staggering.

During our 2 hour drive back, we enjoyed once again the variety of landscape that spread before us. The ice desert here in the Dettifoss area, the fuming smokestacks around Namafjall, the lakeland area of Myvatn, meadowy countryside with sheep the closer we got to the fjord, and finally the view of Akureyri and our ship, once the street was leading back to sea level.

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Back in Akureyri we refueled and made a little detour to the distinctive church overlooking the town from a hill. Unfortunately, it was closed when we arrived so we couldn’t take a look inside.

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Returning the car was as easy as picking it up in the morning. We drove directly to the ship, where I dropped off our fellow travelers before parking the car some 20 m next to the container with the Europcar sign. All I had left to do was drop the key through a slot in the door.

This meant that I, too, could go on board just a few minutes later. On the gangway where, in warmer climes, Celebrity usually greets us with fruit punch and cold drinks, we were offered hot chocolate and broth – a very nice treat.

After freshening up, we met for Sailaway at the Sunset Bar.

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However, it soon became quite chilly in the wind, and even the woolly blankets didn’t help much. So we quickly went back inside for dinner at Blu.

There and in the Sky Lounge later on, we still talked a lot about this incredible introduction to Iceland. Iceland, the island of fire and ice – we were lucky to have experienced both in very impressive ways.

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