Iceland– Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Iceland for the first time in my life. It is very difficult to express the beauty and wonder of Iceland in words but I’ll do my very best. I remember receiving a panicked phone call from one of my traveling friends that the airline’s pilot union had gone on strike. The morning of our departure, the strike had not ended and all of the flights were cancelled. We had to rely on Twitter as our streamlined form of communication for Icelandair to get us on a flight that would keep us on the tight schedule that we had planned. We sat in the airport waiting for a flight update for around an hour or so. At this point we were worried and pretty bummed out about the whole thing. Finally at our highest point of frustration we received a tweet followed by a phone call telling us when our flight would be. Fortunately for us it was on the same day not too long after our original flight would have been. We were actually going to Iceland!
During our layover in Manchester we stopped at a restaurant in the airport to eat and upon arrival in Iceland we hit up a small cafe. The tax is included in prices already so at first glance items look expensive. After we ate, my three friends and I just focused on acquiring our vehicle to start our journey out on the ring road. We had planned in advance what route to take and what we wanted to visit first. So we took the shuttle bus from the airport and made it to the car rental facility. After around twenty minutes of filling out paper work and inspecting the car, we packed up the trunk and started our adventure.
We started our trip with what I would consider one of the most beautiful relaxing places on this planet. The Blue Lagoon is something that looks like it would only be seen in dreams. The water is a baby blue that is heated to create a mist like fog that hovers over the glassy surface. The lagoon is organically shaped with coves and waterfalls to help you imagine yourself up in the mountains somewhere that can only be described as surreal. A small outdoor bar is also strategically placed straight across the entrance of the lagoon for refreshments. The facility for the spa includes a locker room, showers, food and beverages, and a gift shop.
Another one of my favorite spots on our trip was Skógafoss. Of the many waterfalls in Iceland, Skógafoss is one of the largest at 82 feet wide and 200 feet high. It is also in my opinion one of the most beautiful.
My second favorite would be Selfoss. There is a little path that is walkable right along the bottom of the waterfall that actually reaches all the way behind it. We followed the path carefully down the side of the gigantic waterfall, where the air became a cloud of mist. We stood in silence watching Skógafoss fall right in front of our feet.
Driving around the ring road (Route 1) in itself is a glorious sight to see. From the grand landscapes of mountains to the remote homes that stand around them, Iceland offers a portrait of beautiful simplicity in it’s culture and geography. I consider myself lucky that I was not the driver for this trip. I loved staring out of the window and watching this new world present itself to me. As we distanced ourselves from the civilization that was the airport, Iceland brought forth an ascending visual masterpiece.
By the time that we had reached Skaftafell for our glacier walk, we were told by the tour guides that the glacier would not be safe to walk on due to the weather. We did not get to rent the glacier walking foot gear and go on an actual tour through the ice caves. So instead we decided to just hike over to the glacier and walk on it ourselves. I do not advise doing this to those who are going to visit the ice caves. We are in no way professionals and made a very irresponsible decision. We are still alive so I suppose it was a success. But in retrospect, we all could have died. Aside from the death defying stunts that we pulled on the glacier, Vík is also known for it’s vast black sand beach. It truly is a natural wonder. I had never seen anything like it.
Víti actually translates to “hell” in Icelandic. Víti is a geothermal volcanic crater that formed right next to the Askja Lake. A photograph cannot capture its enormous size and existence. No matter how large one may think it is, it is most likely bigger than they imagine. By the time we had reached Víti a thick fog had formed enough to impair depth of field. When we left the car to walk around it was hard to see where we were going. This meant that we couldn’t really see the crater very well. We were treading along a gigantic hole in the earth without the ability to see. But suddenly, the fog began to drift and disappear unveiling the majestic wonder that could only be created by mother nature.
While out on the ring road one may encounter something called hákarl. Hákarl is a regional food of Iceland which is made of aged shark meat that is dried out on hooks outdoors. The Greenland shark or other sleeper sharks that are used have toxic levels of ammonia in their flesh so the production process needs to be handled with care. It is described to be absolutely repulsive. So obviously we had to make sure that we tried some. There is a guided tour museum that walks tourists through the process of making hákarl. The museum is about the size of a small house and all of the pieces are in one room. There were many photographs taken of shark hunting with very old dates posted on them. Some old shark hunting gear and old broken tools. At the end of the tour there is a hákarl tasting that is served on bread held together by a tooth pick. All in all it wasn’t a terrible experience. It didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would. The bread itself probably soaked up a large portion of whatever might have tasted bad about it.
The final days of our trip were spent walking the streets of Reykjavík. Although it is small compared to the large cities that exist in the United States, there are many things in Reykjavík that are worth seeing. The small cafes and restaurants are more than adequate when it comes to finding that quaint quiet spot where one can take a break from the day and its struggles. The supermarkets featured food that is exclusive to the area. One of my favorites was the geothermal or brown bread. This bread is baked under the ground using geothermal heat from nearby volcanoes and has a delicious distinctive taste. For those who are looking for a meal that is familiar to what can be found in the United States, there are burgers, coffee houses, frozen yogurt, sub sandwiches, noodle bowls, and I’m sure many others that we didn’t have the opportunity to try. One can only eat so much!
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