A Grapevine service announcement Pay attention: The Holuhraun eruption is at it again
Travel
Destinations
High Hopes For Husavík

High Hopes For Husavík

Published September 3, 2012

The northeast of Iceland has been steadily growing in popularity as a tourism destination, and small wonder, as it has a lot to offer. Just off the Ring Road, there are the haunting Dimmuborgir (“Dark Cities”), which have served as inspiration for many a troll story as well as for a Norwegian black metal band of the same name. When you see the rock formations, which look as if they were sculpted by an artistically challenged Goth, you can see why.
If the scenery looks otherworldly, you aren’t the first to think so. It was here at Eldhraun (“Fire Lava,” man, they really like poetic names up here) that the Americans practiced their moon landing, this being the closest approximation to the celestial orb they could find on planet Earth.
ASTRONAUTS VS. INSECTS
These days, it is still not uncommon to see people looking like astronauts around here, although the outlandish headgear might have more to do with warding off flies than rehearsing for space travel. That impressive looking lake to your left is Mývatn, or “Midge Lake” (ok, perhaps not so poetic), named after the pesky little buggers who do their best to enter your eyes, mouth, nostrils or other unprotected openings. This is not, as you might think, merely because they like to annoy people, but rather because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide we emit.
Knowing this might not give much relief, but the fact that they rarely survive being swallowed might offer some solace. On this particular day, however, with the sun shining and the air calm, they seem to have decided that life is worth living and no Kamikaze runs are attempted.
ENEMY MINE
A bit farther up the road, and looking even more otherworldly (dystopian, perhaps), is the Krafla plant. Microfossils to be used for filtering beer and such are mined here, and not far off is Hverarönd, with natural cauldrons bubbling, and the aptly named Víti (“Hell”), a water filled volcanic crater. We seem to have descended from the dark cities to Dante.
All this geothermal activity comes from Iceland being located right where the North American and European continental plates meet. This is evidenced not only in the natives’ fondness for American hamburgers as well as English pop, but also right here. It is assumed that around a third of all lava the earth has emitted in the past millennium has come up through the island. If you ever missed a flight due to volcanic ash, now you know why.
NEW CITIES ON THE HORIZON
Continuing westwards one would find Dettifoss (“Stumbling Waterfall”), the most powerful waterfall in Europe and one of Iceland’s premier sights. Heading north instead, one would come to the northernmost part of mainland Iceland, almost touching the Arctic Circle. This is an excellent place to enjoy the midnight sun in the summer, the Northern Lights in the winter and a touch of Fata Morgana any time of year. If you look out towards the sea and start to see islands, forests or even whole cities appearing, chances are you are in fact being duped by a Morgana.
THE RELUCTANT SETTLER
But this is not where we are in fact going. Rather, we will be taking a city trip to Húsavík which, with around 2,500 residents, is by far the biggest settlement in the area. Rather than go on a whale watching trip, supposedly the best in the country, or using it as a base to go to the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, we are here do to what one usually does when arriving in a foreign city: having something to eat and taking in a museum or two.  
But first some history. It was in fact at Húsavík that the first settlement in Iceland was located and not in Reykjavik, as big city folk would have you believe. This is chronicled in the sagas, (so it must be true), but still largely ignored in history books. The reason is probably that the settler in question was an Irish slave named Náttfari, rather than a noble Norwegian chieftain such as proper people would like to have for a founding father. Also, Náttfari didn’t really want to be stuck there, but got left behind. Even if he was the first settler, it wasn’t really his intention.
FROM BLOOD FIELDS TO OPERATIC RIVERS
The notorious Penis Museum has now been relocated back to Reykjavík, but there are other worthwhile sights. The town museum Safnahúsið has been dubbed the best in north-eastern Iceland by Insight Guide, and now has another accolade, as locals will be quick to tell you. This year, they were awarded the prestigious Icelandic Museum Award.
The museum includes a lot of local history, from stuffed animals to household appliances and weaponry. The most chilling is a helgríma, (“Mask of Death”), used for sheep executions on the so-called Blóðvöllur (“Blood Fields”). Small children, pregnant women and others easily upset were not allowed to enter while they were in use.
Perhaps most interesting is the story of Scottish opera singer Lizzie, who over a century ago left the big city to live in this remote area with an Icelandic farmer. She later told locals that the wailing of the rivers provided a substitute for the opera houses she missed, but one somehow gets the feeling she was mostly trying to convince herself.
WHOLLY LOCAL
Equally as impressive is the Whale Centre, which includes everything you ever wanted to know about whales but were afraid to ask unless you want to be drawn into an interminable debate with locals over the merits of whaling. They have everything at the centre, from life size skeletons of every local species to Saga accounts and photos of Icelandic politicians happily carving carcasses with an axe. Whatever your level of interest, it is well worth a visit.
Finally, there is the Húsavík Church, which has been likened to a gingerbread house. Most interesting here is the painting of the resurrection of Lazarus, set firmly in the Icelandic countryside. Locals were used as inspiration for the characters, but apparently they were not all happy with the results (disputing who got to be the Saviour and who the zombie, perhaps?).
After the sightseeing, you might want to retire down to the harbour, where there is a fair selection of restaurants, offering everything from the catch of the day to that staple of this side of the continental divide, the hamburger.  
You can do Húsavík in a day, or you can stay for longer and explore the surrounding area. The drive there can be made in roughly seven hours (including stops), or you can fly from Reykjavík Airport in a couple of hours.


Travel
Destinations
<?php the_title(); ?>

In The Giant Redwood Forests Of Iceland

by

Visitors to Iceland seem to have no interest in the island’s forests. Instead, they delight in the volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs and a midge-mobbed lake called Mývatn. Trees simply get in the way of the view. Not only that, but as a woman from Los Angeles told me, “Hey, I can see all the trees I want back home.” Yet if a glacier or active volcano would be considered exotic in southern California, then a forest ought to be considered exotic in Iceland. This was not always so. At the time of Settlement, perhaps as much as 40% of the

Travel
Destinations
<?php the_title(); ?>

A Sunny World

by

If you happen to be cruising down a valley-snaking road about an hour’s drive east of Reykjavík, there’s a chance you’ll curl around a grassy embankment and notice, nestled among rolling hills, Iceland’s lone ecovillage. The Sólheimar Ecovillage has existed sustainably since it was founded in 1931 by trailblazing humanitarian Sesselja Hreindís Sigmundsdóttir. Tucked between hills clustered with spruce trees and dapples of wild-flowers, Sólheimar’s fertile locale, as well as its commitment to innovating Sesselja’s early vision, allows it to create a place that is truly unique, not only for Iceland, but the world. About 100 people live and work

Travel
Destinations
<?php the_title(); ?>

Iceland In Miniature

by

Having planned to spend much of this summer—my first summer in Iceland, in fact—gallivanting around the country, I’ve instead spent most of my time in the city, close to home. But today, I’m lucky. In the name of research, my partner and I get twelve hours to explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This is “Iceland in miniature,” I’ve been told, a veritable “Best Of” sampler where many of the country’s most sought-out natural wonders exist side by side. Above The Lava Field Circumnavigating the whole peninsula would only take about three hours, but with limited time at our disposal, we decide

Travel
Destinations
<?php the_title(); ?>

Home Comforts And Cosmopolitan Culture

by

Akureyri, located on Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður, is often referred to as Iceland’s second city, or “the capital of the North.” With a population of just under 18,000, “city” is probably pushing it a bit, but Akureyri is a thriving and charming place nonetheless. Down by the water lies a well-preserved ‘Old Town,’ with various historical houses, the oldest of which dates back to the 18th Century. At the top of a steep stair, an impressive, solemn church looks impassively over the fjord, a stone’s throw from the compact downtown area that boasts a modern swimming pool, a range of

Travel
Destinations
<?php the_title(); ?>

From Heavenly Lakes to Hell’s Gates

by

Seeing Iceland from the air can be an astounding experience. From the soft blue-grey washes of coastal estuaries and floodwater, to black flatlands with their gleaming silver rivers, to expanses of blinding white glaciers—a flight over the Icelandic heartland is often as much of a treat as the destination.Grapevine sets off towards the North on a particular blustery April morning. The weather is against us, and we take off into a turbulent sky that stays swathed in clouds for most of our northward flight. But before long, familiar abstract snow patterns and muted green-grey hues appear below us as we

Travel
Destinations
<?php the_title(); ?>

Just Out Of Plain Sight

by

I’m huddled over the steering wheel peering out from behind rapidly jerking windshield wipers as sprays of rain lash out across the glass. The car bounces up and down over the drenched crags of Þingvellir National Park. All of a sudden, the clouds clear and I see the sun break out and shine over Þingvallavatn lake while the clouds majestically roll over the mountains in the distance. The view is so gorgeous I have to shake my head like a horse shooing flies off its face to get myself to concentrate back on the road. Leave it to Iceland to

Show Me More!