Iceland, Otherworldly Iceland


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Europe » Iceland
August 15th 2017
Published: September 1st 2017
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Arriving late afternoon at the Reykjavik airport after our weeks traveling in Europe was very exciting; this was a new country for both of us. I had wanted to do a stopover in Iceland for many years, and this summer it finally became a reality, one I had carefully prepared and packed for. Temps year 'round in Reykjavik hover between 30 and 50ishF; with an almost constantly blowing wind it feels downright cold. There are a few ways to get into the city from the airport; predictably we chose the public bus. While waiting outdoors in the chilly wind both of us donned our fleeces and then our windbreakers on top, but still a wool hat was needed. Only then was I somewhat comfortable standing there waiting. The #55 bus took almost an hour to drive into the center of Reykjavik; we drove past multitudes of rocky lava fields, a very stark landscape, almost surface of the moon-like. Once we were in town we thought we had directions to get to our AirB&B, but apparently our host had not taken any busses himself and had given us incomplete (read: very wrong) directions. Standing under a bus stop shelter to avoid the rain, not knowing where we were exactly, and having no idea how to get to the apartment we had rented, feeling tired, cold and hungry, was not the best way to enter into fun explorations of Iceland. And yet, there we were. Thankful again for the intervention of strangers, several passers-by stopped to see if they could help us find our way. And they did. After another hour's bus rides, and very kind people offering varying suggestions, we finally were dropped off at bus #24's Brekkuhus stop, and told that our AirB&B was only a two or ten minute's walk from there. The rain had stopped for a moment, so we pulled our luggage up the hill, winding around and around until we finally found our host's house. It was 9PM by this time, but Iceland is so far north it enjoys the midnight sun in summer, so it was still full daylight. We were now two hours behind the time zone we had left that morning, so it felt like 11PM to us, past bedtime. Turning in almost immediately, we both finally got warm and slept very well that night.

Part of the fun of being in Iceland is trying to read and learning to say their unwieldy words. Reykjavik itself means "smoky bay" or "bay of smokes," named for the fogs that hug the SW coast. The Icelandic language also has a few different written characters that I learned how to read by the end of our second day there; we certainly learned names from all our bus rides around the city as the computer voices announced each stop while the words were also shown on a front panel. Such exciting words! Names such as: Snorrabraut, Laekjargata, Tryggvagata, Safnhusia, Alfholsskoli, Hvammsvegur, and even longer Viking names compounded together, impossible to read or say; multiple consonants are nestled together yielding tongue-twisters that, try as we might, Americans are not able to pronounce. Luckily it seems that all Icelanders speak English, and their pronounciation is beautiful, in both languages.

Wednesday morning, all bundled up to face the 44F temperature, we tried to walk into town, possibly an hour away (said our directionally-challenged host). We thought we were following the park walkway into the city, but somehow found ourselves doubly far away. So again we approached helpful strangers to find out just where we were, gave up our plan to walk into the now much further away town, and took busses. Joining in with a free walking tour of Reykjavik, we learned some city history, plus were made aware of several not-to-be-missed sights. Afterwards, famished, we had a fantastically delicious lunch at Kaffe Vinyl; food in Iceland is amazingly good and fresh, given the thermal vents heating the country, allowing for greenhouses to grow even delicacies such as avocados, tomatoes, and bananas. I was totally surprised by all the vibrant foods grown in such a climate.

All of Thursday we spent on a Golden Circle bus tour, a must for all who visit Reykjavik! Stopping at Thingvellir National Park and overlooking the stunning area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling Iceland apart a few centimeters each year, standing in the place where the oldest parliament in the world existed, visiting the magnificent Gullfoss Falls, and gazing at Iceland's Geysir (read Gay-zir) geothermal area with Strokkur, the geyser that gushes almost 100 feet into the air every few minutes, all fit around our stopping at Fontana Geothermal Baths. We could have gone to the Blue Lagoon, but on the advice of a few friends we chose a different thermal pool instead. It was an interesting visit to the baths. Scrubbing oneself, naked, in front of a room full of other naked women before wetly wiggling into a bathing suit was a new experience for me, one that I don't think I'd care to repeat. The thermal baths themselves were warm and soothing, but with young boys comparing things and babies being brought into the pools I could not stop thinking about the composition of the water in which we were immersed. All in all I think I'll stick with my sauna at home.

Part of Thursday was spent in my trying to convince Bill to go riding on the Icelandic horses, a unique breed only found in Iceland (unless they've been exported). Pure-bred Icelandic horses are small, have pleasant personalities, and beautiful sloe eyes. Their Tolt gait is renowned as a very smooth ride; an experienced rider can hold a glass of champagne on a tray without fear of its spilling when an Icelandic horse is performing the Tolt gait. So we had to try this! I talked Bill into it, based on a few friends' recommendations. And so on Friday morning we rode Icelandic horses over an amazing volcanic landscape, almost totally enjoying our riding adventure. Bill's horse, Tvister, liked to be in front of the line, but my horse, Ljosbra, really did not like me, and kept to the rear even though I tried to spur her on. She did obey my directions some of the time, but mostly I just let her walk or trot or Tolt as she saw fit; then we got along very well. I am much better with smaller animals, although I freely admit I can control none of them.

Our days in Reykjavik were packed full of adventure and very good food, but we were frequently chilly, and knew we had to go home soon as August was quickly coming to an end. Even in a week's time we had noticed that the daylight was declining, although it was still light out at 10PM. On our last afternoon we walked along the beautiful waterfront and built our own special rock structure alongside the hundreds of other rock art forms adorning the edge of Rekjavik, before the rocky land meets the sea. Maybe our creation will still be there the next time we go back, if we go back. But next time I am thinking I'll have a stopover in Greenland instead.

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2nd September 2017

Iceland
Laura, I was in Iceland in January, with the hope of seeing the Northern Lights. No such luck, but I did find the country a pleasure to visit. We learned that there are only around 300,000 people in the country and they entertain 3 million tourists a year. We were charmed by the things they had devised for us to see.

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