Iceland – Part 1

It is absolutely blazing hot in Alabama at the moment. What I wouldn’t give to go and lay directly on a glacier.

My dear friend Melissa and I went on a girls trip to Iceland a little while back, and it was absolutely fabulous in every way. We planned it for over a year! We rented a car and drove in a circle, clockwise, around the entire Island. We each chose a pre-planned activity to do while we were there, and we ended up with 3 in total. My choice was Snorkeling the Silfra Fissure. Melissa’s choice was going on a Whale watching tour. We collectively decided to go on a horse-back ride on Icelandic horses because we just couldn’t pass that one up. We stayed mostly in quaint Air BnB’s along the way, with a couple of hotels sprinkled in. It is an amazing, wonderful place.

The big one in the back is the Vatnajokull Glacier. Pronounced completely not like it’s spelled…….

From Wikipedia: ” Vatnajokull, literally “glacier of lakes”,….. is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland, and the second largest in area in Europe…….. It is in the south- east end of the island, covering 8% of the country.

Greatest challenge in Iceland was pronouncing the names of cities and glaciers. Icelandic language does not make any sense to my brain, and you can’t just sound it out. So that Melissa and I could have meaningful discussions about where we were going, we reduced ourselves to pronouncing them exactly as they look- with our southern accents. It worked.

We had about an 8 hour flight from Dallas to Reykjavik, overnight, and arrived in the morning. Morning arrival was a good idea because of all of the customs lines, language barriers, and general confusion related to being in a foreign country. When we were retrieving our luggage from the carousel, (after customs!) there was a security agent posted there asking people one at a time what they were doing there and how long they were staying. It was an unusual experience, and it made us nervous- but turned out fine.

After successfully absconding the rental car we found our hotel and dropped off our gear and set out on foot to see Reykjavik:

One of the most visible sights in downtown Reykjavik is Hallgrimskirkja. It’s the Lutheran (church of Iceland) parish church in Reykjavik. Interesting side note – is that there’s a statue of Leif Erikson in front of the church that was gifted from the good ole USA in 1930 in honor of the “Althing milennial festival” commemorating the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament.

I’d seen an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations about the famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik, and also had heard others report about it. The stand is called (get ready…) Baejarins Beztu Pulsur (website linked there) – ANYWAY they are lamb-based hotdogs that also have pork and beef. Condiments include homemade ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crispy fried onions, and raw onions.. It’s been around since 1937 and there are about 10 stands throughout Iceland now, and in 2006 The Guardian selected it as “the best hot dog stand in Europe”! It made an exceptional dinner that first night for me! Melissa, not a hot dog fan, opted instead for a meal of roast lamb which she claims to this day was the best thing she’s ever eaten. All of that to say, that we were not expecting much in terms of Icelandic Cuisine. After studying up before we left we knew to expect lots of lamb, and lots of fish. We’d not been made aware of the exceptional quality of both.

Best fish I’ve ever had in my entire life hands down. So fresh. And the Gull beer of Iceland was a bit like a Budweiser if I have to make a comparison.

Our 2nd day, we headed to snorkel the silfra fissure. I had read about it a lot,and it was an absolute bucket list item for me. The Silfra fissure is located in the Thingvellir National Park. The fissure itself is between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and it is a spring fed by groundwater originating from Langjokull, Iceland’s second largest glacier. Snorkeling and Scuba diving in Silfra is popular because the water is exceptionally clear. The melted glacier water is filtered underground through pourous lava rocks, and percolates for 30-100 years before emerging in the fissure springs. The visibility is unlimited, and the water temperature is about 36 degrees F. It was absolutely freeeeeezing cold!

Getting into the dry suit for the dive was an entire event. We were told to bring long underwear and thick socks and “suitable clothes for the weather that day”. It was about 40 degrees out side but we broke a sweat putting the dry suits on, with several rest breaks during the process. Also, they put a rubber band around your neck at the top so that no water seeps in, and it took some getting used to. I was positive I was going to pass out because I could feel it up against my carotid artery. Although the suit does provide a temperature barrier from the water, stepping into said water at first is pretty frigid. The moment you dip your head under however, and get a glimpse of the sights, all else is forgotten and you become spellbound. The serene beauty of what’s visible below surface is absolutely stunning. Divc.Is took us in groups of 5-6, with a guide, who led us on a start-to-finish route that lasted for about an hour. We didn’t want it to end!

The scenery through the West Fjords was beautiful. It was here that we started to notice and become interested in the sheep, which seemed to be everywhere (more on that later). After a night in the west, we headed up to Akureyri where we planned to stay for 2 nights in what turned out to be our favorite lodging of the trip. The hostess was Agnes, and she was so great. She put out breakfast for her guests in the morning, and she sat with Melissa and I and helped us decipher some of the information from the guidebook we were using. She *tried* to help us with pronunciations, but we all gave up on that.

Godafoss – waterfall of the gods, we drove from Agnes’ place to see it the first night because it was summer and stayed light until 11pm

Breakfast at Agnes’ place was standard Icelandic fare, and we found it delightful. She had some sheep “sausage” (sheep from her own heard- many Icelanders have sheep), sliced thin like ham. Rhubarb preserves (another crop everyone in Iceland has), boiled eggs, sheep’s milk cheese, various breads and muffins including rye bread which is an Icelandic staple, Yogurt, coffee, tea, milk, and cereal. For us, it was an adventure in eating, and a fun one.

Lake My’vatn – if you’re a Game of Thrones fan – this was where the big white walker scene was filmed!

During our 2nd day in Akureyri, we ventured over to My’vatn (Mee-vot-n), which is a volcanic lake in Northern Iceland. We had a nice walk around the lake, which is also a protected nature preserve, with hundreds of species of birds. At the preserve, is the Fuglasafn Sigurgeirs bird museum, which we had a great time visiting! It is Mr Sigurgeirs personal collection-turned-museum, with 330 stuffed birds and 500 eggs on display. The collection includes” all Icelandic breeding birds except the sea eagle.”

Duck pond at the bird museum

There are nature baths in My’vatn, and a heated man-made lagoon (that we walked into, saw the situation, and decided against visiting because it was more money than we wanted to part with at the time) . Much like the more famous Blue Lagoon near Raykjavik, these baths have mineral-rich waters known for their health-giving properties.

We did, however, visit the hot spring also featured in Game of Thrones (I’m a fan if you couldn’t tell) where John Snow and Ygritte first “got together” – Grjotagja

English in the 2nd paragraph – I got as much as I could get in the screen
Fun story – it was pretty dark in here. There’s no paved path. It’s a rock scramble straight down and straight back up. I dropped my iphone into the spring. Fully submerged, but in an otter box so it survived the fall. Also it smelled exactly like rotten eggs and was 1000% humidity inside.

The final site in My’vatn we wanted to visit was the Dimmuborgir Lava Pillars. From the site linked there; ” Dimmuborgir, which loosely translated means ‘dark castles’ are thought to have been created about 2300 years ago in the violent throes of an extensive volcanic eruption” It was a neat place. Paved paths wind around and through the rock pilars and it feels like something enchanted from a storybook. “There are three different marked routes for walking the labyrinth of ethereal lava formations ” In Nordic Christian lore, this is the place that is believed to be where Satan landed when he was cast out of heaven where he created the catacombs of hell. Pretty cool, hey? Sign us up!!! We were amused to learn the stories of the “Yule Lads” (linked there). It seems that there are about 13 of them that have hung around to see the 2000’s, and they’re described as “ill-mannered” imps who sleep in their cave during the summer, but emerge, one at a time, 13 days leading up to Christmas eve”. ANYWAY – it was fun!

Kirkjan- “the Church” at Dimmuborgir, on the Kirkjuhringurinn route of the Labyrinth is a popular spot, although we didn’t see another living soul the entire time we were there.

Part 2 (whales, sheep, and glaciers) coming next!

5 thoughts on “Iceland – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Iceland, Part 2; Whales, Horses, Sheep, and Glaciers. | Heads East, Tails West

  2. I’ve been to Iceland twice. Great choices for your planned activities. We went snorkelling in the silfra fissure too and had a wonderful time. It was a bit of a struggle to stand up at the end to get out, which resulted in much laughter. I couldn’t agree more about how the greatest challenge is pronouncing things! Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Fabulous pictures. This brings back such fond memories.

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