Days 75-76: life in a northern town

About a month into the fall semester, we had a day off.  Undergrads participated in what I think was some sort of academic competition, and graduate students had a free day called “Disaster Day” – kind of an ominous name and one I don’t want to dwell on.  A free day is a free day, after all, and a free day means road trip.  Let’s not overthink things.  Time to go somewhere new.

It's a long way ...

With a population just over 18,000, Akureyri is the fourth largest city in Iceland, and the largest urban area outside the capital region.  The drive from Reykjavik took a little more than six hours — starting off in the rain, I drove fairly cautiously, as there were a couple of spots that were wild, wet and windy.

Dramatic, but a little slick.

The journey involved a minor commitment of faith in the Norway weather service, which one of my Icelandic classmates tells me is usually very reliable (sometimes even more, he claims, than the local service).  The Norwegians’ forecast called for rain in the morning and afternoon, clearing by evening.  The early going didn’t look very promising, but after an hour or so the rain started to let up a bit.

My companions were Keith and Tori, a pair of engineers from the US.  Keith is one of my classmates; Tori works for a geothermal power plant company in Reykjavik.

Tori and Keith.  As engineers, they assured me that the bridge had probably seen better days.  I think they may be right.

The landscape was pretty, and pretty spectacular.  There were valleys and fjords and mist-shrouded mountains, and although we didn’t see any dragons we really, really expected to.  Maybe if we’d had a bit more time to hunt for them?

There be dragons here with really good camouflage.

And almost before we knew it, we were in Akureyri.

The “capital of north Iceland,” Akureyri is nestled at the southern end of Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in the country.  We stopped for dinner and then headed out to do a little exploring before dark.  There was a lot to see just along the waterfront, and it was nice to get out and about after the long drive.

As the sun went down, we headed across the fjord to a summer house we rented for the evening.  It was a nice and tidy place, and once it got dark, we found out that Nature equipped it with a rather spectacular nite-light:

The aurora display lasted for several hours, with lights flickering over the city and over the mountains nearby.  Good thing the Norwegians were right about the sky clearing:  it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

The next day was bright and clear.  We had breakfast in town, took a stroll looking at some of the street and building art (who knew flamingos were so popular near the Arctic Circle?)  then headed up the road a bit to Goðafoss, the “waterfall of the Gods.”

So pretty, the rainbow came to visit for beauty tips.

The falls didn’t get their name because of their beauty alone, although they certainly could have.  According to the earliest histories of Iceland, when the country converted to Christianity in about 1000 AD (at the insistence of the King of Norway), the leader of the Icelandic parliament took his Norse idols to the waterfall and cast them into the water there.  I suppose if you have to be tossed aside, you couldn’t ask for a nicer setting.

There’s lots more to see in the north, but eventually we started running out of daylight, and had to make the trek back home.  I’m certainly looking forward to the next visit to the North.


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