Velkomin til Íslands! Welcome to Iceland! The next series of posts will hopefully give you an up close and personal look at a most unusual and fascinating country. First, some additional background from the basics given in my previous post:
A small island about the size of Kentucky, Iceland is a relatively new island in the scheme of earth’s evolution, beginning its ascent from a North Atlantic Ocean submerged pocket of magma during volcanic activity about 70 million years ago and it is still growing – you may have read reports about the most recent activity at the Bardabunga volcano.
Iceland is positioned directly above one of the most volatile hotspots on earth and now has over 200 volcanoes – a fact that makes living there a bit daunting as many of them are still active. In addition, Iceland’s position, just touching the Arctic Circle slightly east of Greenland, is also a prime hotbed for other geologic activities such as earthquakes (Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a seam in the Earth’s surface under the North Atlantic Ocean where the Eurasian and North American plates slide apart) and geysers (which provide geothermal energy). More about these in later posts). The Gulf Stream Current actually travels close enough to Iceland, softening its climate. Iceland is the tiny Island, east of Greenland, right below the second curved arrow:
More than 13% of Iceland is covered by snow fields and glaciers, but of its 320,000 or so inhabitants, over 200,000 live in the capital city of Reykjavik. Only 20 – 25% of the entire island is habitable, mostly along the south and eastern coasts, as widespread lava fields, glaciers and harsh tundra dominate the rest of Iceland’s landscape.
The topography of Iceland is so intimately involved with its day-to-day existence, so please indulge me as I refer to it often in this series of posts.
As far as it inhabitants, Irish monks and hermits were its earliest settlers, but they left quickly when the pagan Norseman from Scandinavia arrived between 870-930 A.D.
Enough history for today- let me take you through day one of my visit. First a reminder – if you haven’t yet signed up for Global Entry – do so immediately! Separate security lines where you don’t have to remove clothing and even better, upon return to the USA you BYPASS CUSTOMS! Besides the expediency – it is a hoot to receive the glares of those poor souls who watch as we are whisked past the lines, get out luggage and exit the airport terminal:
It’s a quick 5 hour overnight flight to Reykjavik, and once arriving, hit the ground running. Our first interactions with Icelanders sealed our love for these people- friendly and very efficient – one gentleman immediately came to our aid as we looked for the coaches to take us to the hotel and we were quickly on our way to the hotel, enjoying our first views – remembering that since Iceland is at the tip of the Arctic Circle, it only has about 5 hours of daylight this time of year so arriving at 6:45AM it was still pitch-black out – and the sky didn’t brighten until about 10AM We still got to see some spectacular sunrises as well as other awesome skyscapes and landscapes. Here’s a sample of that day’s sunrise:
It was still very early once we got to the hotel – and rooms weren’t ready yet – so we decided to go to the buffet breakfast – but our arrival hit just at the juxtaposition of a group of tourists leaving and another group arriving – so our plan to fill our plates and eat by the lovely lounge fireplace was quickly squashed:
The main dining hall was also very crowded and while we could have found seats – my brain, a little groggy and very cranky, opted to go into sulk mode – for which I again apologize profusely to my fellow traveler and great friend, Lenore, who put up with my childish tantrum. Fortunately I got my head on straight again and we found a high table for two tucked into a quiet corner of the lounge area that became our go-to eating place. It helped that the buffet offerings were scrumptIous – mounds of crispy, not-too-salty bacon, fluffy scrambled eggs, warm, just baked loaves of bread, icelandic yogurt and jams (crowberry was a particular favorite) cheeses, melons, fruit and aromatic coffees and teas. Ah.
A quick look around the town – it is a quaint, picturesque little village that could easily adorn any holiday card (note again, this is around 8:30AM:
Now ready for our first excursion to the Blue Lagoon where there would be an opportunity to go for a dip in the thermally warmed waters. Knowing that we probably wouldn’t be able to access the room when we arrived, Lenore and I had made sure we could access our swimsuits – although I was starting to have a few misgivings about a swim as the weather forecast was snowy. Not having to make up our minds as yet – we boarded the coach for the quick trip – and once there – decided to take the plunge. To set the stage – here is one of the breathtakingly beautiful natural thermal pools near the Blue Lagoon – if you look close you can see the water bubbling as the hot thermal steam pushes up:
The Blue Lagoon is set in a vast lava field full of massive rocks which formed a natural fence around the blue waters. It was created when superheated seawater flowing out of a Geothermal Power Station (more on that in a later post) created a large pool. Locals discovered that not only was a delight to dip in these 99 degrees F. warm waters, but also its mineral deposits cured aches and pains and did wonders for their skin. A spa was also created to extend this experience – where you can have facials and massages. The one caveat was that your hair shouldn’t get submerged as the deposits are so concentrated that the water could actually cause hair damage.
Undaunted, I piled my hair on the top of my head, headed to the lockers and changed into my suit – remembering that my flip-flops were still in my suitcase. Ah well, the Spa had ones for purchase so after a quick shower we stepped outside… into whipping winds and snow! Following was a mad dash into the Blue lagoon to submerge as far as we could go without our hair touching the pool. I should mention that Lenore and I both had our cameras so are arms had to stay above water – we couldn’t stop giggling at the absurdity of it all – and to top it off it started hailing! What a unique thrill:
This view reminded me of a similar photo of a Japanese thermal pool I had once seen – you can see we’re not the only ones who think this is a great idea:
After our dip, we had a light lunch of a yogurt parfait – delish and returned outside just in time (about 4PM) to catch our first Icelandic sunset – that’s mounds of surrounding lava in the foreground:
Of course this worked up an appetite – so once settled in our hotel we went for an explore and search of what the locals said was the best fish and chips restaurant on the island. Remember, the British also invaded Iceland, so this cuisine makes sense. A few blocks from our hotel we hit the old Reykjavik harbour – and with a full moon, got some amazing shots:
Satisfied that my camera was doing a good job and fingers crossed for the days activities ahead – we wended our way to the Reykjavik Fish and Chips restaurant (aptly named). Icelanders are for the most part bilingual – so signs in English are common:
Couldn’t have asked for more apropos decor and of course the meal itself hit the spot:
On the way back to the hotel we noticed this little Viking fellow beckoning at a local grocery store so we went in to purchase some liters of water – it is very easy to get dehydrated in this climate:
Off to the hotel bar for a nightcap (or two or three) and day one is done.
Still to come – will the weather cooperate with our quest to see for ourselves one of the most spectacular natural phenomena on earth? We were told that if you don’t like the current weather, wait five minutes – that’s how quickly it changes. The forecast was for snow – not optimal for our purposes.
What other surprises are in store? Will we ever learn to pronounce our guides first name (we are calling him by his last name Emil)? What is Iceland’s connection to Game of Thrones?