I have finally waded through the hundreds of photos from my trip to Iceland a few months back. I succumbed to the lure of this temperamental landscape as have thousands of others in the past few years. Iceland was like a never fading blip on the radar screen whose light just kept pulsating brighter and brighter until it was time to pack the bags and join the ranks of travelers who are being equally beguiled by this remote moonlike destination.
The photos of Iceland that kept coming across my screen were so wondrous, mercurial, and ethereal. Is Iceland really as close as it gets to a moonlike landscape here on earth? I had to find out. Finally, a few months back, a conversation with my good friend, Jennifer, resulted in packed bags, purchased plane tickets, and an open ended agenda of wonderment and anticipation when we decided to meet up in Iceland to go exploring.
The Icelandic trip snowballed into a bit of catchall destination. The more Jennifer and I talked and then when my initial research revealed so many stunning landscape photos, I couldn’t imagine a trip like this one without Patrick too. A pretty big milestone wedding anniversary was right around the corner. We decided I would have a girls trip first with Jennifer sampling the geothermal spas and horseback riding day trips…followed by a romantic rendezvous anniversary celebration with Patrick. We toodled around Reykjavik, sampled the deliciousness of fish stew pulled straight from the surrounding waters, dined on meals of glazed lamb shoulder in cepe oil, and tasted Iceland’s confection favorite…chocolate covered licorice candies.
Jennifer and I met in Iceland first…ready to tackle a few must do’s in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon was first on our list. This is a location about 40 minutes southwest of the capital Reykjavik. Bathing in these geothermal spas began by chance really. A power plant was being built in the area and people began bathing in the silica filled hot water lagoon realizing that those with psoriasis found great relief.
Bathing opened up to the public, a skin care line was developed, and today people can bathe in the geothermal waters, treat their skin to a variety of facial and body masks, and dine in their airy restaurant which overlooks the ethereal opaque blue lagoon. In a few words, Jennifer and I loved the entire experience.
She was coming off of a grueling week of meetings in Germany. This spa half day was a good choice for her to begin unwinding from a long work week. The waters were warm and bubbly, the facial masks were soft and smooth, and the healthy smoothies offered by the floating bar in the lagoon were refreshing. After soaking in the waters there is an onsite restaurant to enjoy. The Lava Restaurant is built right into a lava cliff and is overlooking the entire lagoon. Some people were dining comfortably while wrapped up in big white terri cloth bathrobes. We sipped on champagne and enjoyed the most satisfying garlic marinated langoustine soup with seaweed.
I had no specific expectations of Reykjavik since most of the photos I see of Iceland are breathtaking waterfalls, adorable waddling puffins, strange looking black sand beaches, and rough lava strewn fields filled with spongy green moss.
Reykjavik is a bustling colorful town of about 200K people. Since the beauty of their country has captivated people from around the world, especially in the last 10 years, more and more tourists are stopping on this island to get a glimpse of its wild and untouched landscapes. The locals speak almost flawless english. I carried around a list of “pleases” and “thankyous” written on a sheet of paper but the locals are quick to smile, wave a hand in the air, and continue the conversation in their perfectly accented english. I found that my attempts to speak in their language either made them smile warmly with gratitude or become a little irritated waiting for me to stumble through mispronounced attempts at the basics.
I’m always a bit sensitive to traveling to another country and not even attempting to say a few things in their language. Just a please and a thank you goes a long way in gaining respect from a country that is catering expertly to the dominant english speaking countries that flow through their town. Note to Americans traveling to a foreign speaking country: Please…PLEASE attempt to speak the language and don’t always assume bursting out with every question in english is good mannered just because every shopkeeper speaks fluent english. Try to speak something other than english…even for no other reason than to show respect.
Because the landscape of Iceland is filled with somber greys, blacks, and more greys…the people love to give a pop of color to their walls and buildings. In Reykjavik, houses are painted in pretty pinks and jewel tones like blue and purple. Fabulous brightly colored wall murals can be seen all over the city. These pops of color brighten up the streets and add fun contrast to their otherwise rather grey landscape
Shopping in the city is fabulous. The stores are flowing with every type of winter wear from down filled jackets, wonderful wool hats and scarves, and the most amazingly beautiful jewelry made from lava rock. Many ethnic restaurants can be found all over the city. We saw a plentiful number of Indian and Asian restaurants and one of our most delicious meals was at the Italian restaurant, Primo.
Yes, indeed, we did sample the much hyped lamb hot dogs. Enough said about that. It is a hot dog. I do like hot dogs. But, when in Iceland…my mind was focused on fresh caught seafood choices. I can’t say we were impressed with the hot dogs but for others this is probably a fun and easy food choice. Explore more of the fish offerings and interesting flavoring ingredients that Iceland uses like the cured meats and fish with smoked cod foam or garnishes like lemon celeriac purée…the langoustines are wonderfully tender and briny.
We stayed at the Fosshotel Reykavik. I wasn’t too sure about staying in this tall and busy hotel because I tend to look for more cozy choices or more often opt for apartment rentals. But, I will very happily say that we were thrilled with this choice. The hotel is the tallest in the city. We were on the top floor and the unexpected views of Reykavik were spectacular. Because the skies of Iceland are so dramatic and capricious, having windows that span the cityscape was a prepossessing sight. After spending hours driving out of Reykjavik along the long desolate country roads where passing 4 or 5 cars an hour might be the norm, returning each evening to this bustling cheerful hotel was really satisfying.
The breakfast buffet was more than ample to get the day started. I especially enjoyed the rye breads smeared with fois gras, the excellent coffee, and the plentiful proteins on offer. I loved hearing all of the languages spoken and seeing the diverse tourists who come to this island, situated between Greenland and Europe, from all around the world. The hotel has a fun and cozy beer garden that was perfect for snuggling into after a long day on the road to sample the many beers on offer.
One activity high on Jennifer’s list was to go trekking across the impressive Icelandic landscape on the iconic Icelandic horses. Without hesitation I agreed whole-heartedly and then laughed at myself after this commitment. Jennifer grew up on horses in the bucolic countryside of Vermont with horses in their family stable. I, on the other hand, tried one lesson of horse back riding many years ago in my twenties and was so overwhelmed by these beautiful, but very large creatures, that I lasted all of one week before quitting the lessons. That was the extent of my horseback riding expertise so I figured I might be setting myself up for a rather embarrassing scene when it came time to mounting the rugged wild Icelandic horses.
BUT…it was wonderful…incredible…a must-do when visiting Icelandic. The horses in this country are so friendly, gallant, and cheerful that is is rather funny to witness. Even if you stop by the side of a remote country road, the horses out on the field will happily trot right over to you out of jolly curiosity. They love attention and don’t seem to tire of being petted over. They are truly wild looking against the expansive rugged Iceland backdrop but will prance right up to us humans like a dog would eagerly come over to anyone with an outstretched arm…or treat.
So, I’ll let the rest of this blog article continue on with photos. I could go on and on with descriptions behind every photo but we all have minutes to our busy schedules to enjoy all of the enticing social media offerings out there.
Iceland is a wonderful destination…full of the fun bustling activity of Reykjavik with its colorful buildings and excellent shopping and restaurants to the incredible jaw-dropping vistas of other worldly landscapes just hours outside the city.
I can only imagine how incredible it must be to drive along what is known as The Ring Road which spreads further out into even more remote sections. This drive needs 9-11 days to see properly. We had about 7 days so we stuck to day trips along The Golden Circle as well as the southern coast of Iceland. I know there was so much more to see, but I must admit, we were rather gobsmacked with the beauty that we were able to see on the trip. I worried we would just get a taste of the beauty that is Iceland and miss the majority of it, but the wondrous vistas, the wild untamed beauty, and the moody remote landscapes we saw were more than enough to hold us over until next time.
Thank you Iceland for sharing your wonderfully kept secrets with us. I promise next time…we’ll come armed with a whole list of words and phrases to dazzle you with to demonstrate our appreciation of your culture, your beauty, and your language as well.
Helpful Tips on what we enjoyed:
The Blue Lagoon – Geothermal Spa about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik
Fiskfelagid Fish Company – favorite seafood restaurant
Primo Ristorante – Crazy delicious pizza and Italian food
Fosshotel Reykjavik – large fun lively hotel with fantastic breakfast buffet and a wonderful beer garden restaurant.
Ida Zimsen – Cozy quaint bookstore and coffee/pastry shop
Eldhestar Horseback Riding Tours – hotel pick up, less than hour outside Reykjavik, beautiful scenery
Gulfoss Waterfall – spectacular, easy drive into Thingveillir National Park
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – amazing how close you can walk…right up the waterfall and behind it.
Skogafoss Waterfall – easy to get to from Reykjavik with a yummy soup/burger restaurant right nearby.
Skogafoss Bistro Bar – unassuming from the outside but with gorgeous waterfall views/ great soups/ and delicious burgers
Venberid Chocolate Shop – wonderful place to pick up souvenirs and try Icelandic candies