The rest of Day 8 was spent flying back into Iceland to the sight of snow-covered everything from the plane. Sadly, though, most of the snow we had seen just a week before had melted and we were beginning to see patches of land. On Day 9, it was off for the first day of our 3-day road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road (basically following Highway 1 as it circles the whole country). Normally, travelers do this trip in a week, but we had time constraints around Ben’s flight, so we decided to just go for it. You only live once, right?
Iceland is divided into five main regions: West Iceland, Westfjords, North Iceland, East Iceland, and South Iceland. We went around the country clockwise, hitting the West and part of the North on our first day, but skipping the Westfjords due to time constraints and winter roads. Our first stop was the city of Akranes in the West, known for its lighthouses. The bigger lighthouse is usually open for tourists to go up to the top, but we sadly got there before it opened for the day. There’s also a tidal pool that we hit during low tide, but the pictures of it at high tide are gorgeous! Just something to keep in mind if you ever plan to visit the area.
Our next stop was close by in the town called Reykholt. This is known as the hometown of famous Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturluson, noted for his records of Icelandic sagas from the Middle Ages. People in Iceland often frequent hot springs and pools as a place to socialize and converse, much like the way we treat cafes in America, and you can still see the original pool where Snorri was believed to bathe (now known as Snorralaug).
Other than the bath and museum, there wasn’t much to see in Reykholt so we quickly moved on to two famous waterfalls: Hraunfossar (a.k.a. Lava Falls) and Barnafoss (a.k.a. Children’s Falls). Hraunfossar gets its name from the fact that it is a 900 meter long collection of small rivulets weaving through the cooled Hallmundarhraun lava flow. Barnafoss, on the other hand, gets its name from a saga involving two lost children by the waterfall.
On this road in the winter, you can only go as far as the town of Húsafell just beyond the waterfalls. Since it’s touted as a popular tourist destination, we figured we might as well visit, and we quickly discovered that it was just a small group of buildings (like four or five of them, maybe) set up for tourists as a central place to get to all the natural sights you can find in the area. There was, however, a nice river nearby, and water in Iceland is always so clean and clear that we couldn’t resist taking a drink. Way better than SoCal tap water (and NorCal, for that matter) for sure.
As we continued back on the main road, we kept driving by teams of shaggy, majestic Icelandic horses. These little horses (they’re like my height and I’m 5’1″) are a very sturdy and notorious breed that can be found all around Iceland. They’re also not afraid of humans at all, so when we came upon a group close enough to the road, I made Li pull over so we could go pet them. Fair warning, though – even though Li thought I was a horse whisperer because they all started walking up to me when we approached, I’m pretty sure they’re just hungry and thought I was food. One of the horses decided to chow down on my thumb and another kept trying to get at my shirt (well, my roommate’s shirt that I borrowed…sorry, Christine). Be careful!
From there, we went off to Erpsstadir Cottage, a famous dairy farm in West Iceland that serves as a guesthouse as well as giving tours and serving food (like Icelandic yogurt and ice cream) fresh from the farm. It’s closed for the winter, but if you happen to go to Iceland in summer, I hear it’s a really fun place to visit! On our way, we got really excited when we drove into a snowstorm that covered everything in so much snow that the landscape felt infinite and we couldn’t tell where it ended and the sky began. Clearly very safe Californian drivers over here.
Our last stop for the day was Hofsós Sundlaug (sundlaug means pool in Icelandic). This is a new geothermally heated swimming pool by Skagafjörður that was designed by the same architect who designed the Blue Lagoon. It’s only open at certain times in the morning and evening, but we happened to arrive right when it opened for its evening hours close to sunset, so we got a spectacular view. It’s a pseudo infinity pool (there’s a grass border but it looks like an infinity pool at certain angles, so close enough by my books) that looks out over the fjord and it only costs about $9 per person. Definitely worth a visit if you have the time for a pitstop off the Ring Road! Feeling refreshed from our dip in the pool, it was off to Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland, for the night.