Over this past weekend I spent a few days exploring the Northern island country of Iceland. Traveling to Iceland has been a fantasy dream of mine since I was a child in grade school and as of recently has become a destination more feasibly reachable. My dream would ultimately be brought to fruition and I could now see this dramatic landscape that had previously been just a fleeting thought. Only having spent four days on the ground I was not able to see everything but I was able to cover a lot of ground including some of the very iconic landscapes that many people are familiar with now.
My day started on a Thursday afternoon when I landed at Keflavik (KEF) airport. The airport was rather small and not very busy which was to be expected for a relatively small country. I only brought a carry on as I am a huge believer in traveling light and only bringing the essentials on any trip. The contents of my bag included a couple sweaters, jeans, boots, thermal underwear, toiletries, a Canon T3 DSLR and my GoPro Hero 4. Within a few minutes of getting off the plane and walking through the airport I was met by the Sixt shuttle driver who took myself and a few other over to the car rental facility located a couple minutes down the road. I picked up my economy car, signed the paper work, and was on my way out of the airport inside of 45 minutes from landing.
As soon as I got on the road I immediately realized that this place was like another planet. Huge formations of volcanic rock covered the vast landscape as far as the eye could see. Off in the distance were snow-capped mountains that seemed to meet the sky at a non-descript point. The day was overcast and cloudy so it seemed that the tops of the mountains went into infinity as they disappeared behind the clouds. To the west I could see the peaceful ocean while to the east was seemingly endless volcanic desert. For the next 35 minutes as I drove towards Reykjavík I saw no signs of life and felt that I had been transported to some unknown planet in outer space. The feeling that I had ventured in to “no-man’s land” was both liberating and exhilarating. Soon enough I began to notice the frequency of vehicles passing me increase, buildings popped up in the distance, and I could begin to make out what appeared to be city lights dotting the horizon. A few more turns according to the Garmin GPS from this point and I arrived at the AirBnb that I rented for the weekend. Once checked in and unpacked I pulled up a list of restaurants on Timeout.com via my iPhone, adjusted the coordinates in the GPS and headed back out the door to get some food.
The city was pretty easy to navigate because it was so small. There was basically one main drag that seemed to be where all of the action happened. The street was lined on both sides with restaurants, bars, and tons of artic clothing stores, rightfully so. Having lived in Sweden for the past three years, my wardrobe was already equipped with everything I could possibly need for such a climate so I did not waste my time or money in any of the stores, especially considering how astronomically expensive everything was here. I found my way to a place called Salon Bar and Lounge, located on the corner across from Prikid. Upon entrance I picked up a few curious stares as the waitress prepared my table. One interesting thing I saw on the menu was Minke Whale, but regretfully I did not try it. Over the years I have sampled all sorts of “bizarre foods” around the globe but on this particular night I was in the mood to devour something guaranteed to be delicious as opposed to testing my wits with the unknown. Shame on me, I was hungry. I decided to go with the seafood stew, a known favorite among Icelanders. Shortly after ordering my beer, Gull to be exact; my creamy saffron coconut stew was presented. The aroma was pleasant as it contained salmon, shrimp, and scallops, all of which are recognizably delicious to my Chesapeake Bay tuned palate. Now satisfied with my meal I decided to head back to the apartment and start fresh with my exploration the next day. One of the many types of churches that exist in Iceland.
I woke up early the next morning to head back to the airport to pick up a friend that would be exploring Iceland with me for the weekend. No time was wasted since we wanted to capitalize on every minute of daylight so a quick pit stop at the apartment was all that was needed before we were off to conquer the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a route around the Western part of Iceland that can easily be completed in a day’s time. It covers several sights such as the geysers, the tectonic plates, the waterfalls, and we even spotted some Icelandic horses along the way. Around noon we stopped at the gas station to top off the tank and pick up some food and water for the day then we head off to the first stop. Surprisingly enough, I noticed that hitch hiking was commonplace in this country. Being an American this was extremely unusual but in a place as safe and remote as Iceland it was not an unusual thing to see. I saw a seemingly innocent looking couple waiting on the side of the road with their thumbs out. I kept driving. The Good Samaritan in me wanted to help them but the horror movies I had seen in America reminded me that I did not want to end up naked in a tub of ice wondering how I got there. They were less than 5km away from town so I’m sure they were fine.
The first stop on the Golden Circle was Thingvellir National Park. The entire ride to this point was a complete white out because it was snowing, cloudy, and all I could see was the faint image of mountains in the background every so often. The amount of twists and turns in almost zero visibility on an icy road amidst a snow storm rolling in gave me the slightest uneasy feeling yet the thrill of the adventure quickly pushed any thoughts of disaster out of my mind. We pushed on a little longer and before we knew it, arrived at the park. Pulling into a crowded parking lot I could already begin to see what awaited. The plains were vast and from above at the observation deck you could clearly see the tectonic plates to the left and the frozen lake in front of us. Beyond that were seemingly endless snow capped mountains and miles of frozen tundra. It is at this point I know I have to come back to Iceland, but I will save that for another story. A few more pictures snapped and then we walked between the tectonic plates for a good ways down the path until we realized that there was nothing more that needed to be seen, not to mention that we were caught behind a tour group and I don’t do tour groups.
In the car again we pushed on and eventually arrived at the Geyser. I think it took about 15 to 20 minutes of waiting before we saw an eruption. Everyone was gathered around the geyser as it bubbled and foamed and soon enough I actually considered if we were too close to it. What if it splashed on us? The signs already told us at the entrance that the nearest hospital was 62km away and that we enter the geyser area at our own risk and here I am standing front row to this huge explosion waiting to happen. Out of nowhere a huge eruption shot water about 50-60 feet in the air and before any of it came splashing back down to the ground it evaporated into the air! Alright, this was very cool.
After watching one more eruption I was over it and could now check this off the list. I went inside to the gift shop and saw an awesome fur hat that I had to have! It was grey rabbit, exactly like I had seen in so many movies and it also happened to be on sale since it was the end of the season so I bought it. Totally worth it.
The last thing we stopped to see on this Golden Circle tour and probably also the most impressive was the Gulfoss waterfall. You can google image this place and it obviously looks completely different in the summertime versus the wintertime but I think the winter is so much more appealing. Seeing everything covered in snow while the blue water rushes over the edge looked like a post card or something. I was able to get a couple cool pictures in front of it, even took off my jacket to do so. Clearly fearless and foolish, the photo shoot ended quickly as there were sub zero temperatures out there that day. Wrapping up a great trip we hopped back in the car and drove back to the city to get some food and libations for the evening.
The next day was the culmination of my trip and basically the sole driving force for me going to Iceland. As I have always wanted to go to Iceland since I was a child, I only relatively recently found out about the Blue Lagoon. This is an absolute must if you find yourself in this country and it is extremely easy to get to but it will cost you about as much as admission to an amusement park. Basically the Blue Lagoon is a giant hot bath in volcanic rock. I believe this place is man made but that takes nothing away from the allure. The blue water and the black rock around it is an amazing contrast and even cooler once I got in. Of course it was freezing outside but the water was over 80 degrees Celsius. When you get in they provide you with a few types of mud to put on your face for exfoliation purposes and there is even a cool little swim up bar where you can get drinks while you enjoy your time in the water.
We stayed here for hours and met up with more American friends before we left and had dinner at the Lava Restaurant, also at the Blue Lagoon. The food was very good but be warned, it is super expensive. I had to remind myself that it is about the experience and that I will never eat here again so its worth a try, just this one time.
All in all, Iceland is a place I will definitely visit again one day and based on what I have seen so far, I do not expect it to dramatically change any time soon so I will check it out again in the next couple of years. So, where to next?…