“Chilling” Out in Iceland

Last week, we spent an adventurous seven days exploring Iceland.  Iceland was never a place that I had a desire to travel to nor did I know much about it, but after meeting several Icelandic people in the past year and with the constant nudging from my husband, we booked our trip.  And despite the initial lackluster response to the trip, let me just say that Iceland was great (even though it was a bit cold and windy)!

Day 1

We got right down to business with my husband fulfilling his desire to dive Silfra-the crack between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.  He really loved his dive and was blown away by the clarity of the water.  The water was really clear in a lot of places; you could see everything in the water and the reflection of items in the water was unbelievable.

diving silfra

The kids and I hiked around the park that Silfra is located in, Thingviller.  We hiked to some waterfalls and through some rocky and forested areas before checking out the Silfra area including a small church and the Prime Minister of Iceland’s summer house.

We also made a quick stop for some kleinur (a popular pastry kind of like a cake donut with no icing) and Happy Marriage Cake.

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After the park, we went into Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, for dinner.  We had a 7-course Icelandic dinner which began with a shot of the local spirit, Brennevin.  That was followed with puffin, lamb tartare, cod, whale, sea trout, plaice (a white fish like flounder),  and a lamb rump steak.  It was topped off with a skyr cake which is made with skyr yogurt, an Icelandic favorite.

Day 2

First, we had to have breakfast, so we decided to try snudor, a giant cinnamon roll with icing, and several other pastries.

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After eating, we met up with a former colleague of my husband and his wife who are Icelandic.  They are adventurous, so they took us to Elborg Volcano.  We took an hour to pick our way through lava rocks and scrubby brush and to hike up to the rim of the volcano.

Then we headed to a nearby fishing village to have lunch of seafood soup which contained mussels, scallops and shrimp and some grilled trout with potatoes.  It was delicious!

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After lunch, we drove through the lava field, which is just bizarre.  All you can see as far as you look are lava rocks covered in white or light green moss.

Along our drive, we also drove by many waterfalls and stopped at a couple.

Our next stop was a black sand beach with unusual rock formations that looked like walls extending into the sea.

Then, it was up to a glacier through some rough roads before heading down to another black sand beach with rock and cave formations.  There were a lot of sea birds nesting there and a small cafe where we stopped for hot chocolate and swiss mocha (blend of chocolate and coffee) and Icelandic waffles with whipped cream and rhubarb jam.

After our snack, we headed to our friends’ summer house in the country (think driving on a dirt road for 30 minutes) which had really spectacular views (they invited us back to see it in the winter when it is snow-covered and you can watch the Northern Lights!).

Day 3

We began by taking the back roads (read more scenic and bumpier) to Geyser and Gullfoss, two very popular tourist spots.  Geyser, as the name suggests, features several geysers, though only 1 erupts consistently every few minutes.  Gullfoss is a huge waterfall.  We had a good time walking through the mist to various viewpoints.

After these stops, we drove to Reyninfjord to the black sand beach.  The beach was very cold and overcast but the sand was interesting as were the rock formations along the beach.

We continued our drive, which was very interesting.  We saw the strangest huge lava rocks covered in whitish moss.  It was so hard to get a picture that really conveyed the way it looked.

There were actually a lot of varying landscapes throughout the day-waterfalls in mountains that were very green with black rock, desolate black muddy sand fields, barren and rocky land, pasture like fields and glaciers and volcanoes.  The strangest part about the landscape is that you can be in one type of area, and, almost instantly, it changes to another type.  Sometimes it can even be green on one side of the road and barren rock fields on the other.

When we arrived at the hotel, we had a dinner of char (another white fish-this time coming from the glacial stream in the area) with potatoes and rack of lamb.  We had a really nice dessert of creme brulee with thyme and honey and a polenta cake with skyr yogurt.

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Day 4

In the morning, we drove to Skaftafell Park for a hike up the mountains to Black Falls.  The hike was enjoyable and the falls were pretty with nice hexagonal rock formations around them.   The views from the mountaintop were fantastic.

After a quick lunch of lobster soup, fish and chips and ribs, we moved on to Jokulsarlon (glacier lagoon).  As we drove up over a hill, the icebergs floating in this lagoon seemed to pop up from nowhere.  The icebergs were large and were all floating away from the glacier behind the lagoon.  The light blue colors of the icebergs were really pretty.

On the other side of the road was Diamond Beach.  This was an incredible black sand beach studded with tons of icebergs, both large and small.  The sea in front of the beach carried the floating icebergs out further from the lagoon.  It was very cold and windy, but so cool!

Our drive today once again featured waterfalls, mountains, streams, really blue lakes, pastures, glaciers, desolate black sand plains, and lava rocks.

Near our hotel, we stopped at a small detour recommended by our host.  The location featured a replica of a Viking village that was a former movie set and black sand dunes.  But, the best part of this stop was that along the sea were many rocks where we could see lots of sea birds, and we saw one swimming and one sunbathing seal!  There were many other seals further out on some rocks in the sea, but these two were pretty close to our viewpoint.

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After the excitement of the seals, we headed into town for some Icelandic beers and some more fish.  This time we tried redfish with potatoes and some surf and turf which featured tiny lobsters.  And of course, no meal is complete without some dessert-caramel and whipped cream pancake and cheesecake.

Back at our hotel, we watched a sheep with several babies from our guestrooms.  These mountain sheep are everywhere in Iceland.  They come very close to the roads, but they can also be seen high up in the mountains.  They could definitely make a bid for the national animal of Iceland.  They would be closely followed by Icelandic horses which are said to be a pure breed brought over by Vikings.

Day 5

Today we did a lot of driving including a scenic drive through the East Fjords which featured pretty grasses along a coastline surrounded by cliffs and mountains.  It was very beautiful, and we got to see many sea birds including some swan/goose type bird that was covering one of the lakes we passed.

We continued up into the mountain where the scenery became more foresty and headed into an area that literally looked like a wasteland of rock-when you hear that parts of Iceland look like the surface of the moon or Mars, I think this is what they are referring to.  In the middle of this area, was Dettifoss, a massive waterfall that was very powerful.

Driving out of this area, we entered a geothermal area around Lake Myvaten.  We stopped to walk around the smoking stone piles and holes.  It was pretty smoky (and smelly-see if you can find us in the picture where we stood in the smoke)!  We also checked out a small hot spring cave in the area that was pretty neat.

The destination at the end of our drive was Akureyri (the large city in the North).  We found a place for dinner and enjoyed some plokkfiskur, an Icelandic dish made of mashed white fish and potatoes in a bechamel sauce and served with rye bread.  We also tried dried fish with butter.  Everything was very good!

Day 6

We were scheduled for a whale watch tour though the weather was not cooperating.  There was a very strong north wind and cool temperatures which meant the water was much choppier than usual.  We were on a small high-speed boat with just 12 passengers.  Let me tell you, that was a fun ride!  The boat would jump high on the swells and come down with a hard bang.  Some of the time, saltwater would splash in our faces as well.  It was a lot of fun and a bit extreme, but sadly, we only saw one whale fin in the distance and a porpoise.  We left with a make-up tour scheduled for the next day in Reykjavik, but we were pretty disappointed.

whale watch.jpg

When we arrived in Reykjavik 5 hours later, we tried to lift our spirits a bit by viewing Hallgrimskirk church and enjoying a nice traditional dinner.  We tried harkal which is a fermented shark.  You are supposed to take a bite and then do a shot of Brennevin.  The shark has a very strong taste and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you it was not pleasant, but it wasn’t horrifying either and we did it!  We also got some cod, Icelandic lamb stew, trout tart, and plokkfiskur, smoked trout and sheep head jelly (you probably don’t want to know!).  It all came with a lot of rye bread and a very interesting rye bread ice cream which almost tasted like mousse.  We also had a pancake (think crepe) with jam and cream.

After dinner, we were able to meet up with a friend of mine who moved back to Iceland several months ago.  She took us around to see several sites in Reykjavik including the Sun Voyager monument, the concert hall (really beautiful glass building) and a small beach area.

reykjavik concert hall

Day 7

We headed out on our redo whale tour, although this time it was on the bigger boat that held about 100 or so passengers.  We saw several sea birds including some puffin and several minke whales and 2 basking sharks.  Some of them were fairly close to the boat so it was pretty cool.

Once we arrived back on land, we headed to a famous hot dog stand to try Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (a hot dog with minced and dried onions and some unique sauces) and got some ice cream.

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Then it was off to the Volcano House to look at various lava rocks-some are very interesting and very beautiful.

Next, we drove to the Blue Lagoon-the famous geothermal bathing pool.  We opted not to pay to swim, but we did walk around several pools outside of the facility.  They were such a pretty blue color and while they were warm, they weren’t steaming.

Finally, we went to the Lava Tunnel, which is a cave formed by lava flow under the ground.  It was a very interesting tour and there were some unique features such as the colors which are formed by iron and sulfuric acid, lava drips which have been solidified on the walls and ceiling and a thin layer of obsidian covering walls that actually had lava flow touching them.

We ended our trip by meeting up with my husband’s colleague again and having a final 7-course dinner that featured tasting dishes of several interesting fish, lamb, and some really fun desserts.

Iceland provided us with plenty of scenery, good food and fun.  It was a great trip and if you enjoy adventure and amazing landscapes, I would highly recommend it.

 

 

 

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