Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Iceland: Arctic Circle

Once I'd booked my flight to Iceland, I spent a fair amount of time deciding what I would do for the other week I was there. Thingvellir? Rent a car and tour the Ring Road? Backpack the Westfjords or the Langidalur track? Go Saga-touring? Decisions, decisions.

Being by myself, I decided that rather than deal with the crazy glacial rivers along the Langidalur track or the empty wastes of the Westfjords, I would fly to Akuryeri and take a short trip to Grímsey and the Arctic Circle.

That's A-town along the shores of the fjord. The hills on other side of the fjord were snow-topped, even in July. Also, despite what Wikipedia says about the moderate climate, it was cold, 9-11 degrees C. That's a "moderate" 48 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit, folks. The second thing I did when I got to town was buy a thick, Icelandic wool sweater. The first thing was figure out how to get from the rinky-dink airport to my guesthouse in town. Because by the time I landed, that arctic wind was whipping down the fjord and I was freezing...and that's when I realized the local bus did not come down to the airport. I went outside to start walking with my thumb out when a car pulled up—Jon from the guesthouse! Saved!

I had the next morning to explore the town—Iceland's second biggest, and about the size of Arcata, where I live—before catching my flight to Grímsey. I've got a lot of good to say about Akureyri. Not only is the setting picturesque, but how cool of the town to put the public swimming pool across the street from the campground, both right in the middle of town?

I also have a lot of good to say about Nonni Travel, the company that hooked me up with my excellent Arctic adventure. When I got to my guesthouse, Jon said I had a packet waiting for me in my room. It was my tickets, my itinerary, and some brochures for Nonni's other trips. (If I had known early enough, I would have taken them up on one of their daytrips to Greenland...!) The whole day went super-smooth. I walked down to the airport (in the morning and without that awful wind I realized it wasn't even two miles from my guesthouse to the airport—chump change!), rolled onto a tiny plane and had a pretty flight up the fjord, over the North Atlantic Sea and into tiny little Grímsey. The other dozen people on the flight disappeared while I lingered, using the bathroom, looking at the photos on the wall, and talking to the single airport attendant, a happy woman named Gagga. While Gagga arranged a return flight for some very green tourists, I stepped outside and sized up the weather. Chilly, but not too bad. And, like I said, suddenly the little airport was empty.

Gagga explained that it's better to fly onto the island and take the ferry back rather than vice versa, as the boat trip back to the mainland runs with the wind instead of against it. She also said the Arctic Circle was just past the end of the runway, and was marked, and pointed out where the cafe and handicrafts store was in Sandvik, the tiny town on tiny Grímsey. I thanked her for her time, bundled up and set off north!

OMG—puffins! Lots and lots of puffins. And terns. And gulls. And skuas. And...well, a lot of birds. The whole island smelled of the poop of birds that eat only oily fish.

Puffins look like bumble bees when they fly. They're often on the menu in Iceland, but I didn't manage to sample any...I did, however, eat guillemot. Mmm, good!

I looked, but did not see the Arctic Circle indicator as Gagga had said, so I hoofed it to the end of the island, just to make sure. See that little bulge in the middle of the photo? That's the end of the island, here:

Once I was past the end of the runway, where the rest of my flight gathered in a tight knot of misery, I saw no one. Only birds. It was fabulous!

D'oh! You mean this marker? Yeah, walked right past that...but there it is: the Arctic Circle marker on Grímsey.

I had to hustle back into town so I wouldn't miss the ferry back to the mainland. Not much happening in the cafe or handicrafts shop, but the harbor was bustling with action from a fishing tournament.

That's Sandvik, the town on the island, with about 100 residents. I popped my motion-sickness pill, got on the ferry, and we set off on the four hour ride back to Dalvik, the little port just north of Akureyri.

Entering the fjord. The sun's come out, but the wind's come up. too. Brr.

I am wearing a t-shirt, a long-sleeved thermal shirt, a thick wool sweater, and my raincoat, and I am just comfortable. Once we docked in Dalvik and I started looking for my bus back to Akureyri (all arranged by Nonni Travel), I was terribly cold. Good thing that bus was there pronto. And again, I was all by myself—everyone else on the ferry took cars. So since it was just me, the bus driver said he'd drop me off wherever I wanted, instead of at the bus station. Thanks, dude!

It was an awesome, awesome trip.

People (and guidebooks) warned that the constant daylight would be hard to deal with, especially since most guest lodgings don't have light-proof window coverings. I managed by telling myself every evening, "Okay, time for a nap." That made all the difference in the world. I expect it to be light out when I take a nap, so I wasn't discombobulated. Oh, and this picture? Taken out my guesthouse window at 3 a.m. It's a little on the dark side because it was raining at the time. But it never got dark enough to not be able to read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It looks cold and boring. Iwont be going there......