I had intended to use this time right now to write my thesis (which I really should do as it is now due in just three weeks), but as I opened up my computer, I began to longingly think of Iceland, and have therefore decided to divert my energy to retelling my adventures in the Land of Ice instead.
When Dom mentioned his family had booked a long weekend in Iceland over Easter, I (a) was rather envious and (b) assumed there was no way I’d be able to tag along, as I begrudgingly still have school to finish up. But then I (c) found out it overlapped with my spring and (d) well yeah. That’s about it. That is how my adventure in the Land of Ice was conceived.
After realizing that Reykjavik can mostly be explored in one afternoon, I last-minute booked two excursions while still in Chicago, and boy am I glad I did! I arrived bright and early Thursday morning at Keflavik airport, two days before Dom and his family joined. Gunnar, the owner of Season Tours, picked me up at the airport, and along with Dave and Kyle (father and son from Louisville, Kentucky), the four of us were off to explore the Reykjanes Peninsula.
I will do my best right now to describe the landscape I saw over the subsequent six hours, but I will not do it justice; I’ve never seen anything like it before! We drove all across the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is essentially a magma field. Everywhere is coated in basaltic rocks and, by definition of it being a peninsula, you can usually see the Atlantic Ocean at all times. We were basically the only car on the road, which is not super surprising since two-third’s of the country lives in the greater Reykjavik area and we were outside of that area.
My favorite stop was when we saw the hotsprings. Although it emanated a rather apocalyptic vibe, it was amazing! The hotsprings smell of sulfur and pop up in all different sizes and velocities. They even have to change where the walkways are frequently as new hotsprings simply pop on up. My understanding is that basically all of Iceland uses geothermal energy to heat their homes and water.
Other highlights from the afternoon include:
- walking the bridge between two continents (I rebelled and chose to take my photo standing on the Eurasian plate)
- slurping up the most delicious lobster soup at a small cafe in a harbor town
- watching the waves crash into a set of jagged rocks and cliffs next to the site where some old lady turned into a witch and haunts those who pass by
- following the path of our solar system that a power plant created in scale with our actual solar system
- clutching Gunnar as the rain drops turned into blizzard whiteout conditions and I suddenly became rather nervous during our drive (Gunnar really was wonderful)
We made it to Reykjavik around 2pm and, after checking into our AirBnb and chatting with our host Adda for a little while, I sneaked away for a little cat nap before venturing out for dinner. I indulged in my second seafood-based meal of the day and tried Ling for the first time at Icelandic Fish & Chips; it was rather delicious! The restaurant shares a space with a little museum about all of Iceland’s volcanoes. They show a documentary about a major volcanic explosion in 1974 every hour, so I decided to buy a ticket and watch the documentary at 8pm. Needless to say, I was the only one who made this decision and ended up watching the documentary alone, but it was interesting! The volcanic ash essentially buried the entire town over the course of five months, and they flew in special hosing equipment from the US to help mitigate the damage from the lava flow. We’re such a helpful country. After watching the documentary, I meandered back to our AirBnb to reboot for Day #2.
I started off the morning with a quick trip up the tower of Hallgrímskirkja, the biggest church in Iceland and the sixth-tallest structure in the country.
I took advantage of the sun and spent the morning walking all around Reykjavik and marveling at a beautiful glass building I for some reason thought was Parliament. It was not. But it was still beautiful!
After taking entirely way too many pictures, I hustled back to our AirBnb to get ready for impulse excursion purchase #2: Icelandic horseback riding! I appreciate Icelandic horses mostly because they are super friendly and calm, but also because they were clearly created in the same world as me, as they are very short! (Full disclosure: I was still shorter than the horses…)
We rode around lovely landscapes just 15 minutes outside of the Reykjavik. Although I couldn’t feel my hands by the end of the ride, it was definitely worth it!
Fun horse facts of the day:
- Apparently there are no horses in Iceland that are imported, and once a horse leaves Iceland, it can never come back.
- None of the Icelandic horses here have ever been vaccinated! (Don’t let the anti-vaccers hear that.)
- While all horses naturally have three gaits (walk, trot, gallop), the Iceland horses always have four (+ tlöt) and sometimes five (I forget the name of the last one). Scientists recently found the gene that determines whether or not a horse has the last gait. Science is awesome.
And then Dom and his family finally joined me in the Land of Ice! Dom wasted no time, and just after his arrival in Reykjavik Saturday morning, we headed out on a walking tour of the city. While I love walking tours in general, I’m not sure Reykjavik understands the concept of a walking tour; we probably only walked a total of a half of a mile, and instead spent the vast majority of the two hours huddling outside of a select few structures listening to Martin explain the public school system in Iceland (hint: at University, they speak Icelandic since, as Martin kindly reminded us, “Icelandic is our national language!”).
I continued my seafood binge at lunch where we convened with Dom’s family! We then headed to one of two outdoor thermal pools near the city center, which is essentially Reykjavik’s equivalent of a hybrid golf course/cafe. (I.e. Gunnar explained to me that businessmen discuss deals while bathing in the pools before work and families flock there on days off.)
The highlight of the day (or night, rather) was setting off on a giant bus at 10pm in search of the Northern Lights, which we actually found miraculously quickly! While they were beautiful, pictures do deceive, as cameras are better equipped to view the lights than the human eye. So while the picture claims the lights were green, I only say them as white. Regardless, the eight-year-old me that did my science report on the Aurora Borealis was rather pleased.
Sleep was definitely not a priority on this trip, and the six of us were off once again by 9am the following morning for the notorious Golden Circle tour! I knew it was going to be a great day when Siggi, our tour guide, explained as we clambered into his giant car that the car was in fact the masterwork of his friend, who combined the front end of a pickup truck with the back end of an SUV, and then set it upon four massive wheels.
These wheels would become rather crucial in getting us to our first destination: Langjökull, Iceland’s second largest glacier, and the location of the coolest thing I’ve ever done- snowmobiling. The closest thing I can think of when trying to explain this experience is this: you know when you’re on a plane that breaks through the cloud layer only to find dazzling sunlight blanketing the solid fluffy clouds below? That’s what I felt like. I thought I was snowmobiling on clouds. And it was amazing. Even when I reluctantly turned over the driver’s seat to Dom.
After thawing off back in our monster car, we made our way to Gullfoss falls, a gorgeous waterfall that always seems to have a rainbow hidden in its midst. Next stop was the Geysir, where Dom, Tash, Katie, and I seemed to be the only tourists desiring to stand directly downwind of the great geyser, eager to experience its eruption. The eruption itself was beautiful, but the standing downwind part was rather anticlimactic, as the eruption didn’t even give us any warmth!
We rounded off the Golden Circle with an impromptu stop to play with more Icelandic horses, and then to admire the beauty of Þingvellir, one of Iceland’s national parks and the location of Iceland’s first parliament established in 930!
To celebrate our last evening in Iceland, we happened upon a French restaurant for dinner, where I relied on Dom’s mom’s French fluency to ensure that there was no meat in my dinner. As far as I could taste, my trust was not misplaced, and it was a lovely final night.
Not wanting to end our vacation just yet, Dom and I made one last trek to a new thermal bath early Monday morning before heading back to the airport. While I probably couldn’t live in Iceland (1. It’s freezing, 2. There are only 300,000 people, 3. It’s freezing), I’ve already decided I’m heading back there in the summer months to continue exploring its beautiful landscapes!