09 February 2014

Iceland in Actuality

It's been a long time since I've really traveled out of the country. I mean, a couple of years ago I camped a night in Canada, but before that it was Kenya/Qatar in 2007. So this trip was long overdue. And very much welcomed. Even it if was way too short.

I finally made it to Iceland. It's a place I've been yearning to visit for many years now. I don't know what the exact lure of it has been. The beautiful photos I've seen. The music that has come out of it. The history and lore. All of it I guess. I had three Icelandic words tattooed on my arms for several years.

The opportunity presented itself. Iceland in winter. A vacation package and airfare for a very reasonable price. And it wasn't even hard to talk my boyfriend into it.

We flew out of Denver shortly after 4pm. Six hours later arriving at Keflavik airport around 7am. It was a bit exhausting. We'd rented a car to get from the airport to our hotel in Reykjavik. It was a pitch black drive and we had a hard time finding out hotel due to strange street names that change after only a few blocks. Getting around Reykjavik proved very difficult indeed. The myriad of one way streets only added to the problem. We finally found our hotel, only to learn that our room was still occupied. We opted for a different room. One the woman at the front desk said would be loud at night because it faced the street. The narrow one way street. We assured her we were used to noise and just needed sleep. It did turn out to be very loud though. Icelanders know how to party on the weekends. Anyhow, we got a couple hours rest that first morning then headed toward the nearest national park: Þingvellir.

Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, in Thingvellir.
 The days are terribly short this time of year (only 6 or 7 hours), so the sun looks like it's either always sunrise or sunset. We didn't spend a whole lot of time out and about that first day since we were still so exhausted from the flight and time difference. Also, we had to meet a tour at 8:30 that night. Northern Lights! We again missed the proper streets in Reykjavk and had a hard time getting back to where we needed to be. It's a small city, but it's nearly impossible to drive in. Walking proved much easier.

Our Northern Lights tour met at the Old Harbour. It was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. On the way we stopped and bought some hot dogs from a stand that is the most popular restaurant in Iceland. The meal was quite good.

The tour was supposed to be a boat tour, taking us away from the city lights, but the wind was strong and they opted for buses instead so no one would get sick. It was pretty cloudy and the aurora forecast was low, but we did see some wavering strips of green for a few minutes. This night was when I learned that more layers were necessary. It wasn't particularly cold, but the wind was very strong from the ocean and it sliced through everything.

Sleeping as I said was actually a little difficult. I currently live on a very well-used two-lane one way street, but even on a Saturday evening it isn't so populated as the street in Reykjavik. Perhaps if I hadn't been so exhausted I'd have joined the rúntur. Then again, alcohol (and everything else) was far too expensive, so I guess it's good I didn't. We did finally sleep. In fact, we overslept. We'd planned to wake early and head to another national park about 3 hours drive away. Alas, the time change and general darkness confused us and we slept an extra 3 hours. 

We headed north anyhow, knowing we wouldn't make it the whole way.  We decided to go to Akranes, an hour or so up the coast from Reykjavik. It was a quaint little fishing town on a peninsula. The road getting there went through a tunnel underneath a fjord. The tunnel was several miles long. Akranes had a historic lighthouse and a very nice view of the sun coming up (or was it setting?) over some mountains and the sea. 

lighthouse at Akranes.


 We turned around and went south along the coast to Selfoss and up toward Thingvellir from the other direction.We know that 'foss' denoted a waterfall, and seemed to remember that Selfoss was some famous falls, but we couldn't seem to find a waterfall. Afterward, I learned that the waterfall Selfoss is in the north east of Iceland, rather than the south west like the town. So I guess we didn't miss much. 
Icelandic horses are short and fuzzy.

We returned the rental car and got a ride back into the city. Here is where I shall describe the street lights. Like ours, they have three colors. Unlike ours, they turn yellow before going green as well as before red. It's a neat idea I think. 

Dinner this day was rough. I decided I needed to try traditional Icelandic food. And I knew it was not so good. I had done some research. But I wasn't really ready for it. Everything is pickled or cured in lactic acid. It all has a very strong flavor that stays in ones mouth for far too long and turns the stomach. 

Pictured: vileness.
 After the "meal" we stepped outside Cafe Loki to see Hallgrímskirkja lit up for the evening with the statue of Leif Ericsson. And after the statue we went to the Burger Joint for some more familiar food.

The next morning we walked to the sea road to photograph Sólfar. It was a bit too early at the time so we ended up coming back later and I got this photo:
The Sun Voyager
This second-to-last day was spent wandering around Reykjavik and finding good food. We'd not been on a real eating schedule since arriving. The city is small and the streets are narrow. It's hard to navigate because the streets aren't straight for very long and they change names often. But as I said, it was easier to get around by foot than driving. We found a very nice seafood buffet for lunch and stayed away from anything that looked to be pickled or cured. The fish soup was beyond amazing, especially after trekking around the city in the wind all morning. We relaxed for the rest of the day, visited some shops. Had a beer in the hotel.

The last day was our tour to the Blue Lagoon. It is not something that I'd pay for, but it was nice as an addition. The water is supposed to have some healing properties. It's milky-blue and smells of sulfur and sea water. The water is wonderfully warm, but the weather was nasty that day. Cold and rainy and of course windy. After our dip in the geothermal pool, it was back to the airport and back home.

Bláa lónið
My trip was a dream come true, even if I didn't get to see much of the things I yearned to see. It was simply too short a trip. I will go back sometime in the summer for a week or so and enjoy camping in the extended days.


Taylor said...

Thanks for the writeup! I visited for a short period this summer. We only had time to see the Blue Lagoon, but we soaked in there for a bit and really enjoyed it. It was very relaxing after stressful travel.

One thing I noticed about the very little I saw of Iceland was how incredibly barren it seemed. I saw maybe one patch of trees the whole drive. It looked like a volcanic wasteland. It was beautiful but just so sparse.

Glad you got to go! Trips like that are so difficult to fit everything in, especially with the time change (feeling tired) and the lack of sunlight.

Luanne Ryman said...

All in all it looks like you made the most of the few days you were there. I enjoyed reading your blog and viewing the pics from this amazing trip. I am sure if I visit Iceland one day I will not be eating the local fare....

Larz said...

Taylor, is is quite barren there for sure. It isn't actually due to the volcanic nature as much as the fact that the entire country is above the Arctic Circle. This is much like Colorado above 12,000 ft. Timberline. There are some trees in lower areas with plenty of water, but much of the vegetation in Iceland is a variety of mosses and some shrubs.

Abby said...

How cool is this?! Great of you to take advantage of the opportunity, I really enjoyed reading about it. I was thinking the days must've been short, and sounds like you made the most of your time there. Nothing on your "local food" plate looks familiar!