Iceland (Part 1)

So for Thanksgiving (and as a belated anniversary trip) we went to Iceland for the first time. And some of the things I’m going to rattle off will be familiar to people who know more than I do (about Iceland) which is probably not hard but I’m writing this more for my own benefit (and later recollection).

Iceland is located north and east of Greenland and has a population of about 350,000 people. The things I was not prepared for going there were innumerable. When we planned the trip we both knew we wanted to go, neither of us had been, and I trusted that it would all be amazing. I did something I don’t normally do and I booked us a tour. We only had 4 & 1/2 days and I wanted to get as much out of our time as possible. I expected we’d see more if we weren’t dealing with driving around on our own (we did), and I didn’t want to roll the dice navigating an unfamiliar country in the winter or worry about gear (for ice caving), knowing when to stop (because you could drive for an hour an see nothing), or dealing with crappy driving conditions. It turned out to be a really wise choice for our first visit (even before we got there I knew we’d be going more than once).
While we may have traded the freedom to linger and be self-directed everything we saw was amazing. I wasn’t disappointed with anywhere we stopped, both of our guides were locals that were knowledgeable and friendly and took us off the beaten track to see little stops we would have struggled to locate, let alone identify. We booked with Extreme Iceland (which is run by Arctic Adventures) and I have nothing but great things to say. Being able to gaze out the windows at the amazing landscape while someone else drove made the relative sacrifices completely worthwhile. Our tour was on a shuttle with about 18 people total, so larger to offset the cost, but not an unwieldy mess of 50 people on a big stupid bus. Everyone kept mostly to themselves and the people we did chat and interact with were all really nice. (People were from literally all over the world: Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, various parts of the US).

 

At the start of the winter in addition to being cold it is unbelievably dark. The sun doesn’t rise until about 10:15 and then for the hours of the day that are technically daylight the sun never seems bright. It always hovered around a dusk or dawn. Around 4:30 the sun would start to disappear again and it would be pitch back by 5:15. On the shortest day of winter (Dec 21) the sun is only up for 4 hours. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience of what it’s like waking up in complete darkness. While I can’t imagine the struggle of dealing with that as a permanent resident the challenge of dealing with it for a few days with something that was kind of exciting and interesting. It added to the feeling of other worldliness.

 

Day 1 – West Coast

 

We arrived on Thanksgiving on an “overnight” flight (the short duration of the flight makes this a little painful because at no point during that first 36 hours are you going to get adequate sleep – the only advantage this had for me was training me to be a cat napping master on the bus in between our travel spots). Another sort of interesting element of this trip for me is that I planned very little. Other than booking the tour and getting us a hotel for our last night I planned and researched nothing. As a planner this was a weird exception and I wholly enjoyed have ZERO expectations and just showing up to see what would happen.

After getting through customs and a hilarious interaction with the ATM (periods, commas, foreign currency and sleep deprivation make for an interesting situation – luckily the ATM didn’t allow R to take out the $1200 US he initially attempted.)

We found a shuttle bus to Reykjavik and it dropped us at Hallgrimskirkja (the crazy church in the center of the city), to wait for our tour to collect us. Our tour would be broken into two mini-tours. With one guide picking us up and taking us out to the West Coast and then returning us to Reykjavik before the second two-day tour started. We headed out of the city about 90 minutes give or take and made our first stop in between a waterfall and a mountain at Kirkjufellsfoss (I only remember this because I took a photo of the sign).

Our second stop was our first coastal stop of the trip. I love the ocean, so I was looking forward to this. It was a short walk between the lovely volcanic rocks to the beach and if you turned away from the beach you could see Snæfellsjökull “a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped stratovolcano” (thanks Wikipedia) on the other side of the road.  (Path looking back towards the glacier and the beach respectively)

img_20181122_201317_063img_20181122_140737-01

We’d make several other stops (two for bathrooms and snacks), we dropped part of our group off for a lavatube/caving excursion and the rest of check in to another beach/park (Arnarstapi) area with a famous old sculpture (Bárður Snæfellsás) and light house. Our final stop, in the waning light of the day (around 4:45) would be to the black church in Búðir(a Scandanavian custom borne from painting churches in tar to protect and weatherproof the wood).

We headed to our adorable little hotel to unpack, decompress, and have dinner with our tour group at Hotel Rjúkandi (it ended up being the best food of the trip at their restaurant).

img_20181122_163232-01img_20181122_151556-01img_20181122_162456-01img_20181122_181830_862

We arrived at the end of the first day thrilled and exhausted. We’d stepped off the plane into an amazing trip. Our guide Erla was awesome, funny, quirky, full of interesting stories (Iceland’s only serial killer!, Fairies!, Trolls!) and an eclectic playlist of alternative music (NIN, Alice Cooper, Tears for Fears, etc…). The landscape was mind blowing. Volcanic rocks, mountains, ice, beaches. Literal miles and miles of nothing but expansive breathtaking natural beauty uninterrupted by people, structures, cars. It was the most “empty” uninhabited place I’ve ever seen. We did our best to stay up until 10 pm that night (local time) and passed out with our twin beds pushed together and our weird individual blankets (apparently this is a Scandinavian thing – you think they’d understand the need/desire to steal body heat from another party).

To be continued…..

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s