Monthly Archives: October 2015

Iceland II

I was beyond lucky when I visited Iceland. The weather was perfect, and out of all the various tour companies available, I somehow stumbled onto the perfect one: Iceland Horizons. Small, friendly, and intensely informative. If you’re going to Iceland, book with these guys.  Our guide, David, make sure we stopped frequently at interesting sites, and tailored each stop to our interests and the weather – putting off, for instance, a planned visit to a waterfall until later in the day when the rainbows would be visible.

While I was in Iceland, I rode Icelandic horses…a particular dream of mine.

My horse’s name was Bangsi, pronounced like ‘bouncy’. It means teddy bear in Icelandic, and that’s what he was. When we stopped for a break, instead of wandering away to graze like many of the horses, he leaned up against me and coaxed me into scratching his chin and face. Not that it took much coaxing!

Icelandic horses have more than three gaits – in addition to the trot, they can also tolt. A tolt is considerably faster than a walk, but smooth as butter. If I ever get a horse of my own, I’ll be very tempted to get an Icelandic!

After the horse ride, I took a bus tour of three major natural attractions.  The first, Geysir, was mildly interesting at best. I guess Geisers just aren’t my thing. I did like how the ground in the surrounding areas was so filled with hot steam, and it had a rather wonderful smell of sulfer.

The water in Iceland is just so plentiful. There’s zero reason to ever buy bottled water here. The water from the tap is completely pure, and if you’re used to the taste of chemically “purified” water in the States, the difference is astounding. Hot water flows almost instantly from the taps, too, and it (unlike the cold taps) carries a trace of sulfer. That only makes sense since it comes straight from the hot springs. I love the tap water in Iceland. I missed it so much when I went on to the UK, and the water temperature, quality, and pressure was highly variable and uncertain.

After Geysir, we went to Gullfoss waterfall, which I believe is the the largest waterfall in Europe? It definitely seemed to be. When you approach, there’s nothing but  a rainbow, arching out of a hole in the ground.

Then you get closer, and wowza.

There were stairs down to it, and a winding walkway, and every turn you made just brought you to a different, amazing view.

I took video, but it’s honestly impossible to film. There are so many levels, and you can’t see the entire waterfall from any one place.

After Gullfoss, it was on to Thingvellir National Park. Here is the only place in the world where you can actually see the shifting of the earth’s crust. It is part of fissure zone, situated on the teutonic plate boundaries of the mid-Atlantic ridge.

I’ve never been that much into geology, but there is something amazing about standing here.

Thingvellir is beautiful, too. The light is incredible.

You can see some pretty amazing former volcanic activity. These rock walls were formed by volcanoes, but I thought they looked like something from Game of Thrones.

My last day in Reykjavik, I treated myself to some local delicacies. I tried the Puffin and Whale menu. Puffin (in the below picture) is actually really, really good…if you like smoked salmon. That’s pretty much exactly what it tastes like. It has the look and texture of something closer to beef, though.

Whale…well, if I hadn’t known it was whale, I would have thought by the look and taste it was a beef steak! It did have a slightly different flavor, but if I hadn’t been looking for it, I’m not sure I’d have noticed.

The other thing I ate a lot of while I was in Iceland was Skyr. It’s sort of like yogurt, only thicker, with a slightly…sheepish…flavor. It was good, especially the blueberry! I had it every day for breakfast, and sometimes at dinner, too. And frozen Skyr? Delicious!

Would I ever go back to Iceland? Yes. But only if I had a big budget for food, and if I planned to travel outside of Reykjavik.  One more thing, if you’re ever in Iceland, buy a Lopapeysa – an Icelandic wool sweater. The wool from these very specialized sheep is very different from other wool, and completely amazing. Once I put mine on, I never wanted to take it off. Light, incredibly warm, and so cozy, they are the world’s most perfect sweater.  The shop I bought mine from does mail order, and I just know I’ll be collecting several more!

Also, whoever designed the Icelandair safety videos is a genius.

Iceland, September 2015

I made it home from my month-long travels of Iceland, England, Scotland, Wales, and Venice. I took something like 5,000 photos, a small fraction of which I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks as I sort through them all and blog about my trip.

Iceland was not even on my radar as a place to visit when I began planning this trip, but after hearing about Icelandair’s free stopover program, I decided to take three days here.

Reykjavik is a very modern place. Up until the 1950s, most of Iceland’s very small population lived in primitive sod houses, and would definitely have qualified as a third world country. But when the technology boom hit the world, Iceland prospered, and became the third richest country in the world – ahead even of the USA.

Reykjavik was a puzzle to me. So friendly, and full of rainbows, trolls, and…graffiti?

The whole city is covered in graffiti. Literally, the whole city.  Not just the sketchy areas, but the nice upscale buildings and houses. It was very jarring. Add to that the modern nature of it, and how very expensive everything was – including food – and I was not really a fan. If I ever return to Iceland, I’m spending as little time as possible in Reykjavik.

But the history here is the land, itself.  And what a land.

It is literally a land of ice and fire. The whole country is a mass of active volcanoes, and they have so much natural power from water and air, that they run their heaters full blast all winter long, and just open a few windows to regulate the temperature. Hot showers here are HOT, and plentiful.  The land steams, continually, from breaks in the earth. Driving, you see all these puffs of white vapor rising from the ground.


There is only variety of horse, and only one variety of sheep in Iceland, and these animals have perfectly adapted to life here. The sheep wander the hills and fields at will, eating Icelandic blueberries and flavoring their flesh into the best-tasting lamb in the world. Seriously. I was never much a fan of lamb until I tasted Icelandic lamb. Yum.

The beaches are black sand and basalt columns, and beyond gorgeous.

It’s a wild land, an overpowering land, and I admire the type of person who is able to make their home here. It wouldn’t be me. Last winter they had gale force winds almost every day for months…wind so strong it would pick up stones and smash them through your car windows. One tourist, driving against advice, had all the windows in his vehicle broken out, and by the time he made it back to his B&B, he was sitting in snow up to his waist.

I couldn’t be happy under those conditions. But I did love the land.

And the wild, lonely black beaches.

And how amazing it is to drive past volcanoes that could erupt at any moment, to see waterfalls, and glaciers.

And rainbows. Everywhere, rainbows.