Husavik - the Icelandic town that gets douze points in Netflix's new Eurovision Will Ferrell movie
Have you seen Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga movie that came out last week?
It's very cheesy but probably just the kind of silly, lockdown escapism we all need right now.
It's set in the Icelandic town of Husavik on the country's north coast, which I went to last summer. Partly to visit the town with its very laid-back vibe, whale watching opportunities and fantastic new geothermal spa. But also to experience Askja, a car hire-ride away, which is where Nasa astronauts trained in the 1960s before going to the moon because it is the most lunar landscape on earth.
Here is the story I wrote about it then. I'd highly recommend visiting, when you can.
"I wondered if, on his circuitous journey to the moon, Neil Armstrong’s bottom bumped and bounced along the lava-rutted track like mine was doing. I wondered if his inner child let out squeals of delight as loud as mine did when he careened through glacial rivers that cut across tubes of hardened magma.
To be fair, once we left the asphalt road, Asgeir, our genial guide, had partially deflated the tyres on our humongous 4x4 to smooth out the ride. We twisted and turned on the trail of Apollo astronauts, with hulking, snow-capped Mount Herdubreid rising out of the ground alongside us. On a windy summer’s morning, it wasn’t hard to understand why Nasa chose this part of Iceland — by road 600km northeast of Reykjavik — to train those who were about to blast off from Earth and land on the moon 51 years ago.
Thirty-two astronauts trained at Askja, and I was following in their footsteps on a 14-hour day trip from my base at Lake Myvatn. In the 1960s they were pilots Nasa wanted to turn into geologists, and this was the spot that it reckoned most closely resembled the lunar landscape geologically.
It’s still an area that bubbles and shakes beneath the surface. In 1875 a volcanic explosion threw rocks as far as Denmark and covered so much local land with pumice that 2,000 farmers upped sticks and moved to Canada. There was another big outpouring of lava a few years before the astronauts arrived, and five years ago, at Holuhraun to the south. (Phew — easier to pronounce than Eyjafjallajokull.)
As we — I was joined by a party of four jovial Dutch tourists — bounced along, Asgeir regaled us with tales and sagas from the local area, including one about Iceland’s most famous outlaws, Eyvindur and his wife, Halla, who hid in the unforgiving landscape after being convicted of robbery and sheep-stealing in the 18th century. We stopped at the bothy where they camped one winter; a more desolate spot it would be hard to imagine even now with 24-hour daylight. Eventually, we reached Askja and trudged through snow for 30 minutes to climb the Viti crater, where the astronauts had gathered rocks. A few hardy souls scampered down the steep muddy banks to bathe in the luminescent, mineral-rich water, but it was too cold a day for me to try.
A short drive away we came to a large crack known as Dragon’s Gully, where the astronauts had camped. As I stood there, occasionally shielding my eyes from the soil whipped up by the fierce wind that blew at us, it was not hard to imagine Armstrong bending down to run the black volcanic dirt through his fingers and wonder what lay ahead. Armstrong also spent time at Lake Myvatn, the nearest outpost of humanity to Askja, where he went fishing on the River Laxa. Even with the buses of French and Japanese visitors, it’s an impressive spot, with cones, craters and lava towers dotted about, and one that attracts large numbers of wildfowl, including Barrow’s goldeneye and Slavonian grebes and harlequin ducks. Oh, and midges — in summer bring a hat with a net.
Sulphurous steam belches from the ground and heats the water of the Myvatn nature baths, where locals and tourists wallow with a beer in the bright light of midnight. For food, grab a pizza at Daddi’s and take it down to the lake, or have coffee and cake at Vogafjos, where the café’s glass wall gives you a direct view of your neighbours — cows munching contentedly in the adjoining barn.
In my hire car, it was an hour’s drive north to the small coastal town of Husavik, along a road that was bordered by purple lupins and rich green fields. In summer the north tends to be less rainy than Reykjavik, although it’s much colder in winter. Today the sun shone as I wandered around the harbour and ate fish and chips, eyed by cocky seagulls. I also soaked in the hot waters at Geosea, a new geothermal spa where you can poach outside for a few hours, gaze over the cliffs as seabirds rise above you and take in gorgeous views across the bay towards snow-capped hills.
Husavik is an important fishing port, but I had come to meet a local hotelier, Orlygur Orlygsson, who runs the town’s tiny, fascinating Exploration Museum as a labour of love.
A large part of the museum concerns the astronauts who trained at Askja, including Bill Anders of Apollo 8, which was the first mission to orbit the moon, and Armstrong, from Apollo 11. Armstrong’s son Mark told Orlygsson that his father had been trained in all eventualities for the mission — including not coming back — but was not prepared for the almost crushing fame that came afterwards.
“Don’t go to the moon, come to Iceland,” proclaimed a T-shirt on sale in a local shop. Few, if any, of us will have the chance to do both, but these days the spectacular northern reaches of Europe are a much smaller step away, and the perfect place to contemplate the giant leap for mankind that took place half a century ago."
(c) Will Hide 2019 and 2020
Photos = all mine except 2nd one down, which is by Ronan Furuta (Unsplash)