The Land of Ice and Fire
Courtney communed with Iceland and all I got was a rock.
Why did you choose to visit Iceland?
Well it was my five-year wedding anniversary, and we wanted to something out of the ordinary. I’m not the type of person who loves to sit on a beach and tan for vacation—I like to go somewhere with awe inspiring views and a rich history.
You brought back everyone souvenirs from Iceland and I got a black rock, what is it?
I picked it up from the black beach in Vík í Mýrdal, which is on the south shore of Iceland. The beach is considered one of the ten most beautiful beaches on Earth—and I totally back that statement. The black basalt sand is one of the coolest sights I’ve ever seen. So I thought to myself, “What better gift than a black rock from one of the most beautiful beaches on Earth!” You’re welcome.
I guess it’s too cold to swim in the ocean by the black beach huh?
Oh yeah, it was quite chilly. We were told to stay far away from the water because the current is so strong. They told us stories of a lot of people losing their lives when it was fishing season because of those waters. And if the roaring waves coming in were any indication of its danger, then I understand the warnings. (video below)
What else did you see while you were driving down the southern coast?
Besides the black beach, we also saw a lot of waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanoes. One of the volcanoes we saw, Eyjafjallajökull, actually has a glacier that covers the top of it. Its most recent eruption was in 2010. With this particular eruption, it melted a lot of the glacier and caused around 800 people to evacuate due to flooding.
How many volcanoes are there?
I know there are over a hundred but only around 30 are active. Iceland represents the largest portion of the mid-Atlantic ridge exposed above sea level. It was formed by eruptions on the ridge over 20 million years ago, so to say that geologists and scientists love this place is an understatement.
With so many volcanoes there must be quite a few hot springs.
Yep! Along with the glaciers dotted all over the country, there are a lot of hot springs. The one I visited, The Blue Lagoon, is located in a lava field in Grindavík, The water has a chalky blue look because of the minerals within it. Locals also love casually hanging out in hot tubs (or “hot pots”) that are scattered around Iceland.
Even with all the geothermal pools to keep you warm, Iceland is quite cold I bet.
The first day was SO cold because of the wind that we wore every single piece of clothing we packed all at once. After the first day the weather definitely improved and stayed between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit, which I’m totally fine with.
Why didn’t you go during the summer?
The Northern Lights. In order to get guaranteed darkness so that you can see the lights, the winter is the time to go. They’re very popular for tourists, but you have to drive out of the city to get a good look. There is a lighthouse on the coast near Reykjavik that you could go to and see them, but we drove out to a home about 45 minutes outside the city. I’d like to go back during the summer though, maybe scuba dive in between the tectonic plates or hike inside a glacier. There are so many things to do; one trip was definitely not enough.
Did you get much sunlight?
It was perpetually sunrise or sunset because the sun was only up from 10 am to 4 pm. It made for some amazingly romantic views. I never really adapted to the time change or the sun schedule, so I don’t think I slept more than 2 hours at a time. Energy bars and quick naps on the tour bus where my friend.
Tell me about Reykjavik.
It is the capital city! We took a city tour that included a lot of really cool spots. Hallgrímskirkja (we couldn’t figure out how to actually say it), is a gigantic tower-like church. When we were touring the inside, someone played a massive organ which made for a magical experience.
Onward we stopped at my favorite spot, Harpa concert hall. The basalt columns along the south shore inspired the glass panel design on the building. I wish we could’ve gone to an opera or listened to the symphony while we were there, but we’ll have to just plan that for next time!
Tell me about some of their food culture.
Well, first off, they have small portions…or maybe the U.S. just has big portions. I first noticed this when I didn’t get to choose what size of coffee to buy. They only offered small. So I ordered many smalls.
Second, their cuisine derives from their old survival habits, so they eat things that are abundant like fish, whale, lamb, and puffin. I was told that Iceland is allowed to hunt a total of 40 whales a year, and so they eat that locally and also export a lot to Japan.
Third, the cool climate and restricted growing season doesn’t allow them to grow a lot of crops normally, so they have erected a ton of greenhouses that are heated with geothermal energy to grow vegetables and fruits. I thought this was fascinating and decided that if there was ever a need to go to a country to survive some sort of famine or war, Iceland was the place to go. They’ve refined their survival model quite well.
All in all, being an aspiring vegetarian (I only eat chicken), I found it hard to find something to eat… In fact, one restaurant had a “Chicken of the Day” special—which I’m pretty sure is not a thing—and when I ate it, the texture lead me to believe it was not chicken… of any day. Side note: we almost hit a sheep on one of our tours and the guide was like “We just missed dinner.” A collective sad sigh was heard from all the tourists. Or maybe it was just heard from me.
When I go to Iceland, what should I do?
Tour the whole island. The tours are long and thorough—for instance our south shore tour was 10 hours long. There are a lot of tours that I would like to go back and do. You should definitely get a good look at the countryside (which is the majority of the island); I felt like it was a mix between lush, green Hawaii and geothermal Yellowstone, and after the snow falls, algae and moss grow turning the island into a lime green. To see the snow mixed with the lime green algae was really cool.
What surprised you the most?
I was really surprised that they have incredibly strict animal ownership guidelines because of Iceland’s isolation. Many animals have little resistance to diseases so they take the safe approach and put restrictions on what is allowed.
Another thing that I learned from a villager on the southern coast was that the entire country went through a renovation after the world wars due to their fascination for new and foreign things like technology and culture. Like, they did a full island upgrade—90% of the country is connected to Wi-Fi. Their Keflavik International Airport ranks top in Europe. The airport is one of the few airports in Europe that offers people the opportunity to shop tax and duty free, not only on departure but on arriving as well. The prices can fall almost 50% below the prices in Reykjavik. The hotel I stayed in (Skuggi Hotel), the tour vehicles, and architecture were also very modern.
I also had amazing customer service from the tour company we used. Like, insane amounts of good service.
Why, what happened?
So we signed up for quite a few tours. The second day we were there we were supposed to meet a tour company (Reykjavik Tours) in the lobby at 7 am to go on the Blue Lagoon tour. We slept through our alarm and missed the bus. The hotel concierge called the company and they rebooked our tour for a different day without any problem at all (and no extra charges).
The second time they bent over backward to accommodate us was when we were going on our south shore tour and we missed, yet again, our ride. We called the tour company and they apologized and told us they would send a car out to get us. Well he arrived within five minutes, we got in a car, and then he bolted through the city streets and then down the interstate to catch us up to the bus that was already en route. We caught up to it and they pulled over and let us on. I was just impressed that they would go through such an effort to accommodate us.