In Norse mythology, Bifröst is the burning rainbow bridge that extends between the realm of mortals and the realm of the gods. In reality, Bifröst is a quiet town, with not much going on around it. I am told it is a good place to see the Northern Lights. There is almost no light pollution, so Aurora Borealis dance across the sky, much like the fabled rainbow bridge.
A brief visit to a charming hotel
At the time of my visit, the parking lot of Bifröst Hotel—one of the few public buildings in town—was completely deserted. A charming wood-panelled wall and old leather chairs greeted me at the entrance, but no one stood behind the reception desk.
Through a set of hunter-green and maple-brown double doors, the cafeteria stood empty, with dishes stacked in the kitchen window. A sign by the door told me I had missed breakfast, which ended at 11:00. Alma, the hotel’s manager, moved swiftly from table to table, cleaning and preparing for the restaurant’s evening shift, which would begin at 17:00. She was happy to take a break, have a cup of coffee, and tell me about the town. “A lot of people have memories here,” she said. Apparently some prolific individuals have made their way through here, as well.The university
Bifröst is best known for its university, which was founded by Jónas Jónsson, who is perhaps more commonly known as Jónas Frá Hriflu. Jónas was an educator and politician, and very influential in 20th century Iceland. When he first built the university in 1918, it was a school for business, and mostly farmers studied there. To this day, the farms supply food, and the greenhouses keep the town in cucumbers and onions.
These days, the university is a host to a number of different programs, but many students study from home, courtesy of their many distance programs. As a result, Bifröst feels like a ghost town in the winter. In the summer, tourism picks up where the school year leaves off and the town livens up.
I asked Alma what there is to do around Bifröst in the winter. She laughed, as if she had heard this question a thousand times before. “There is a lot of hiking, if you’re into that,” she said. The mountain crater Grábrók, and Glanni waterfall are both nearby. These locations had inspired the great minds who made Bifröst their home for any length of time. With that in mind, I finished my coffee and stood up.
When I did, I noticed that we were sitting by a table with a map of Iceland on it. It was built by a smith in Borgarnes, Alma explained, and it marks the location of every kaupfélag in the country. Without getting into too much detail, a kaupfélag is essentially a co-op that ensures that each business in town functions well. The country’s economy depends on them. The unnamed smith had donated the table a long time ago, because the town was so dear to him.
An artist and an architect
A group of buildings outside the window caught my eye. “Those are the Sigvaldi houses,” Alma said. They were named after Sigvaldi Þórðarson, a prolific architect who went to school in Bifröst. Originally, they were designed for the school so the students would have a place to stay. A private company obtained the rights to the building, and they have been under construction for a long time. When they are done, they will be private apartments, she told me.
Before I left, I noticed an abstract painting hanging by the double doors. It’s by Svavar, Alma said, and I felt like I should have known who that was. I didn’t though, and I was not too proud to admit it. Alma said he was a painter who was born in Iceland in 1909, and lived in Denmark through World War II, where he was a member of the COBRA avant-garde art movement. Today, his paintings sell for a pretty penny.
The one in Bifröst Hotel was green and blue, and it reminded me of a bird’s eye view of a mountain next to a river. Alma said that she used to have candles on the table beneath the painting, until one day an artist visited the hotel and yelled at her for having an open flame so close to a Svavar. She moved the candles after that.
A walk in nature
I thanked Alma and left to bask in the glory of nature, and try to get some inspiration of my own. I started with the crater. Grábrók was formed in a fissure eruption less than 3,000 years ago, and at the size of a small mountain, it is the largest of three craters on this 600 metre fissure. During my visit, it was covered in snow and difficult to climb, but the payoff at the top was worth it.
Heavy winds kept me humble, as I struggled to catch my breath after reaching the summit. To the south, the little town of Bifröst looked like a tiny model village, and snow-covered mountains in the distance touched the sky. To the north, the second largest crater rested between two roads diverged. The scenery reminded me of the painting. In my mind’s eye, the river became a road, and I wondered if Svavar found his inspiration at the top of this same crater.
My final destination was the Glanni waterfall. In a word, it was impressive. From the observation deck, I could see cliffs covered in pale green moss and hard, icy snow. Far below, a waterfall spilled into a shallow lagoon where a steady stream of water fell over jagged rocks, and a frozen river snaked through the gorge. As I leaned against the railing, I reflected on everything that I had seen that day. Even though Bifröst is a little town, and there isn’t a lot to do nearby, there is a vast landscape with a lot to see, and plenty of beautiful trails by which to see them. Bifröst truly is the bridge between the realm of the gods and the realm of mortals. No wonder Jónas, Sigvaldi, and Svavar were so inspired.
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