About a year ago, some friends of ours told us they were going to sign up for a tour that would take them around Iceland on a boat. Iceland was on our bucket list, so we decided to go, too. Let me say at the outset that this was a challenge for me, in several respects, and I’m still recuperating from our adventure!
We flew there on Iceland Air, landing at Keflavik, a town about an hour from the capital of Reykjavik, Keflavik was essentially created by Americans during WW II, as a military airfield serving for refueling and transit. The airport there is modern and automated.
Iceland is a Nordic Island country (it was ruled by Denmark until WW II) in the North Atlantic with a population of around 350,000, two thirds of which lives in the capitol city. It is volcanically and geologically active and is the most sparsely populated European country.
I was a dummy about Iceland, except that it was an island with volcanoes and unique horses, before we went there, so I’ll try to throw in some facts as I go along.
We waited most of the day for the others in our small group of 16 before being bused to Reykjavik and our hotel. The ride was remarkable for two things: the surrounding flat lava field, covered in moss, that extended as far as we could see, and our bus drive falling asleep and nearly driving off the road into said lava field.
We did admire the lovely Alaskan lupines growing virtually everywhere along the side of the road – they were introduced to Iceland and now are considered a pest since they spread like wildfire. They only bloom 2-3 week a year so we got to see them in their full glory.
After a restless night – Iceland’s world famous hot dog stand was right outside our hotel window, and apparently Icelanders like to eat hotdogs with gusto at 3 AM in the morning – we went on our first excursion. This was a walk with our guide to see the Parliament Building and the lovely lake, then a bus tour to Perlan, a landmark built on a hill outside the capitol, where there have been hot water storage tanks for decades. A hemispherical structure was placed on the top in 1991 and there is a spectacular viewing platform around this egg. Inside there is an ice cave.
With regard to the hot water storage, all of Reykyavik is heated geothermally with water, piped into the city, even in structures three stories high. The hot water out of the tap is HOT. The cold water is piped from underground springs and is the purest water I’ve ever had.
We also visited Hallgrimskirkja, one of the city’s best known landmarks. It a Lutheran cathedral commissioned in 1939 and finished in 1986, and I found its soaring roof and interior simplicity awesome. All of Iceland’s churches are stark on the inside, reflective of their Lutheran heritage, although Iceland has a state religion encompassing all its churches. In front of the cathedral is a stature of Leif Erickson, the Viking explorer, and inside is a modern sculpture of Jesus.
We also took a gander at Harpa, the capitol’s music hall and conference center, another architectural wonder. Construction started in 2007 but it wasn’t completed until 2009 because of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008. The building features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland, made of hexagonal panels created in Japan and installed by Japanese workers.
Next to Harpa is an award winning sculpture on the waterfront — is a sculpture by Jon Gunnar Arnason and described as a dream boat, or an ode to the sun. The artist intended it to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. I loved it.
Did I mentioned it rained, misted or was partially sunny our first six days in Iceland? Temperatures in the upper 40s to low 50s – normal for summer and not unusual for a country that crossed the Arctic circle. Winters tend to be pretty dark with sunrise is around 11 AM and sunset between 3 and 4 PM in December. In summer in Reykyavik, it will not get dark at night from May 21 until July 30, as the sun barely sets in summer. So no northern lights for us.
With regard to Icelandic last names, each child takes as his or her last name the first name of their father plus the word son or dottir. So our guide’s name was Maria Manda Ivarsdottir. My last name would be Johnsdottir.
The following day had us riding the so-called Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 190 miles, looping from Reykyavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. Along the way we saw three special places. First, Thingvellir National Park, where we walked the rift between the North American and European tectonic plates – this rift is why Iceland is so volcanically active!
Then we stopped at the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall,
and finally visited and the geothermal area in Haukadular, where there are geothermal power plants, geysers and I had my first dip in a geothermal blue pool.
We also stopped at Friðheimar, an vast indoor hydroponic tomato farm, where they grow many different types of tomatoes. The place is heated geothermally year-round and uses the predatory mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus to eat all the main pests that afflict tomato plants and imported bumble bees to pollinate. The best part of our stop were the Bloody Marys we imbibed, made with the tomatoes grown there – delicious and sweet!
The following day we embarked our boat, the Ocean Endeavor.