Tag Archives: iceland

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.

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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.

 

Travel Itinerary

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Okay…after spending four+ years thinking about this trip, planning this trip, and changing my mind frequently on what to see and where to go, it’s now pretty much set in stone. So here it is:

September 15th: Board plane for Iceland. I don’t know guys. I may be more excited to be in Iceland than any other part of my trip. The more I look at pictures/read about it, the more it just calls to my soul.

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September 16, 17, 18th: Iceland.  I have booked tours of the South Shore, as well as horse riding over a lava field, and a tour of geysers and waterfalls. I’m taking an extra bag so I can break my “only carryon luggage” on the return flight. I have discovered that wool yard is actually a lot cheaper in Iceland than in the states, and I am completely in love with Icelandic wool. So I may just have to fill that suitcase, and mail it home once I reach London.

September 19th: Flight to London. The one thing I have absolutely planned for this date is watching the premiere of season 9 of Doctor Who in London! In the theater, if they do a big screen airing…otherwise I made sure my hotel has a television.

September 20th: London. Tour of Highgate Cemetery, canal ride in Little Venice, and shopping the Camden Markets.

September 21 – 22nd: In the morning, I have a tour booked of the Royal Opera House. Then, I will meet up with my friend Alberta and take the train to Leeds Castle, where we have a room booked. I also have an Owl Experience booked at Leeds Castle!  We return to London on the 22nd, just in time to attend a theatre performance of The Woman in Black. I hear it’s terrifying. I hope so! My second friend, Bonnie, will be flying in on the 22nd to join us as well, but she’s not into being scared, so she is going to see Shakespeare at the Globe instead. Wuss. 😉

September 23rd: Oxford. All three of us are taking the train for the day to Oxford. I’m particularly interested in seeing the world of C.S. Lewis. He’s probably done more than any author in shaping my inner self.  Tolkien – and Harry Potter film sites – are also a big draw.  If the weather allows, we plan to go punting.

September 24th: Alberta leaves us to go to Iceland, so Bonnie and I (as the two Harry Potter fanatics) are going to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.  When we get home, we’ll take in a Cabaret/Burlesque show.

September 25th: Bonnie and I will visit Kensington Palace, and the V&A museum. In the evening, I catch the sleeper train to Scotland, while Bonnie remains behind for another day in London, then Paris.  I’m excited about the sleeper train – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do!

September 26th: I wake up in Edinburgh! Today I will hit all the major sites of the Royal Mile.  Including, of course, The Elephant House Cafe, where Rowling worked on her writing. In the evening, I will take a ghost/history walking tour.

September 27th: Today is my chance to get outside of Edinburgh, and see a little bit of the rest of Scotland. I’ve booked with a small group that visits Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands.

September 28th: I return to England, via the coastal train. On the way, I’ll hop off at Alnwick Castle. Some of my ancestors lived here, scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here, and they have a fabulous poison garden. Afterward, I’ll continue to York, my next destination.

September 28 – 29th: York. I have nothing specifically booked here, but this is one of those beautiful cities with fantastic history. I’ve always wanted to visit.

September 30th: Leave York for Bath, and on the way, I’ll stop at Hardwick Hall. It was built by my favorite ancestor, Bess of Hardwick – the second most interesting and dominant English woman of her time. (The first being Elizabeth I.)

October 1st: Bath. I’ve been to Bath once before, all too briefly. I have a session at the Fashion Museum’s Study Facilities. They are going to pull some extant examples of beetlewing embroidery, 1830s dresses, and maybe an Edwardian evening dress or two, and I will get to have a couple of hours of hands-on playtime. Photographs are allowed!  In the evening, I want to visit Thermae Bath Spa, and have a soak in the rooftop pool.  Bliss….

October 2nd: Daytrip from Bath to the Cotswolds. I plan on visiting several small villages and just wandering around…  Change of plans – I’m going to Cardiff instead. I plan to visit the Doctor Who Experience, for sure! At some point, I’ll be taking a hot air balloon ride over Bath. Haven’t quite decided on a time yet.

October 3rd: Train back to London. I might stop off at Salisbury on the way for a couple of hours. I just have to get back to London by 3pm for my tour of the Angels Costumiers.

October 4 – 5th: Early flight from London, and one night, two days in Venice.

October 6th: One last day in London! In the evening, I have tickets to see Raven Girl, a ballet at the Royal Opera House based on Audrey Niffenberger’s book. In the day, I plan on doing some shopping.

October 7th: Flight home.

I’m quite pleased with this itinerary – it mingles all the history, geekery, and costuming I can fit in, plus a number of things I’ve always wanted to do, and never have. It’s also a bit of a research trip, since after I publish the time travel trilogy I’m currently working on, my next two series will be Victorian Steampunk, and Elizabethan Steampunk. It will be very helpful to be able to actually see/experience the same things as my heroines. And, I’ve spent all the time I wanted, enjoying the anticipation and planning stages. I’m ready to go!

And then there was Iceland…

There are lots of places I’d love to travel to.  It’s easier to list the countries that don’t interest me.  But every now and then, I come across a place that just hits me in the heart and soul.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I’ve been planning a trip to England and Egypt.  I also wanted to spend at least a weekend (maybe a long weekend) in another country as well.  I was pretty much set on Venice, because flights from London are super cheap.  But then, everything changed.

I started looking at cheap transatlantic flights, and Icelandic Air was always on top.  The only problem was, they always seemed to give you a long layover in Iceland…and why would I want to go there?  I hate winter.  I hate cold.  I hate snow.  I kinda hated Iceland, just for having “ice” in their name!  I certainly didn’t want to go there.  Wasn’t there a flight that would give me a layover someplace I actually wanted to be?

But just in case, I started looking at Iceland.  Surely, there would be something there I would be interested in, if I had to spend a layover there….

Turns out there is.  The whole, entire country.

As soon as I started investigating, I was instantly, completely captivated.  And not in the ‘oh I’d like to go there sometime’ sort of way, like I feel about India or Italy.  No…this went even beyond love-at-first-sight, and into what I call soul recognition.  Iceland is a land I recognize.  It feels like home, like part of my soul has always lived there.

And I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time.  Why Iceland?  Sure, it’s spectacular, but so are lots of places.  It’s not the culture, because I’ve never been particularly drawn to Norse or Scandanavian history or myths.  It was something primal about the land, itself.

And then I realized why.  The Lord of the Rings films might be filmed in New Zealand, but Tolkien was inspired by Iceland.  Iceland is Middle Earth.  Once I saw that, it was so obvious why I was drawn there, to that land.  In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.  Middle Earth has always been one of my places; no wonder I recognized it so viserally the instant I saw it in the real world.

So, needless to say, I am taking Icelandair up on their (completely brilliant) free Stayover  program.  Are you kidding me?  Of course, I’m going to Middle Earth!  So the new, and probably the final plan, is Iceland, then England, then Egypt.  I’m ready to start buying tickets, as soon as the company I’m using for Egypt lists tour dates for Sept 2015.  Everything else has to be planned around that.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out where exactly I want to go in Iceland.  I know I’ll be riding an Icelandic horse.

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I also want to go down inside a volcano.  Yes, Iceland is the only place on Earth where you can go inside a volcano!

I can’t wait.