The major advantage to holidaying with my parents is the chance to explore countries off the beaten path. My mother loves to drive and so we've spent many a summer touring the US, Australia, and the majority of the European continent, with me navigating from the back of the car. Usually we plan a rough route and book hotels along the way, but day-to-day I direct us to sites to visit by reading my various guide books on the go. This way we always get to see the sides of a country not often visited by tourists.
The majority of the settlements in Iceland have always been small and remote – in fact Reykjavík, the capital, was essentially a village until the 20th century – and it was these small townships and the surrounding countryside we wanted to discover. We started our trip around the iconic Þjóðvegur at Borgarnes, a small town north of Reykjavík. Here a museum explains the complex history of the early settlement of the island, as well as the equally fascinating and appropriately gruesome story of the Egil's Saga. Egill Skallagrímsson lived here and the surrounding area features monuments to the various episodes of the saga; one striking memorial commemorates the murder of Þorgerð brák in the nearby fjörður. The museum also offers a restaurant with a delicious and typically Scandinavian cold buffet table for guests. It is here that I had my first sip of the delicious Egils Malt Extrakt. Driving further north, we also checked out Reykholt, where Snorri Sturluson composed the Prose Edda. His original stone thermal bath is still visible, potentially the oldest remaining structure in Iceland. This is where, in 1241, Snorri was bludgeoned to death by Gissur Þorvaldsson and the Norwegian King Hákon's men.
Much further north, near our next hotel stop at Varmahlíð, we happened upon the turf houses of Glaumbær. We hadn't planned to see this historical site but later found it referenced in almost every museum we visited, so we're glad we did make it! Although inhabited well into the 20th century, it was the oldest inhabitants of the farm that were the most interesting. Gudridur and Þorfinnur, who lived here in the 11th century, had travelled west to Greenland and then on to what the Vikings called Vinland; their son, Snorri, was the first European to be born on North American soil.
Eventually we reached Akureyri, Iceland's second 'city', and home to a sister church to Reykjavík's Hallgrímskirkja: the Akureyrarkirkja by Guðjón Samúelsson. The church sits high above the township, rising as dramatically as the mountains surrounding the Eyjafjörður. And from here we climbed out of the valley and beyond to the volcanic expanses of Mývatn...