Travels in 2007: Part 2. Iceland

As I mentioned in the first part of this post Travels in 2007: Part 1. France, Iceland Air offers cheap flights to Europe in the hope of getting visitors to stop over in Iceland on the way to or from a person’s major destination. Steve and I decided to do exactly that and after ten days in the southwestern part of France we moved on to Iceland.

The topography off the road from Keflavik (the main airport in Iceland) to Reykjavik is totally unlike anything I have seen – very lunar/volcanic like. After driving a small, manual, car in France and seeing few large vehicles except for trucks it was a bit of a shock to drive a large, automatic, car and be surrounded by like automobiles. Outside of the Keflavik airport crushed cars hang high on poles alongside signs warning people to drive carefully. Subsequently, we found out that road conditions in Iceland are often treacherous with gravel and filled with potholes. The main road going from west to east, Route 1, in the south is mostly paved. Other country roads are washboarded and narrow. They can also be quite slick if it is or has been snowing. Steve and I had asked for an all-terrain vehicle so that we could drive back-roads to reach specific hiking spots. The man at the car rental insisted that all we needed was a simple sedan and nothing else. Oh! How wrong he was and we had to change our itinerary based on his poor recommendation and our naive acceptance of his word.

Route 1, Road to Vik

Route 1, Road to Vik

During our one day in Reykjavik we sauntered streets, traipsed into and out of some very chique clothing and design boutiques, and stopped to eat hotdogs (pylsur) for lunch (and Minke whale meat for supper). We would have ventured to try puffin while in Iceland but it was not in season.

The hotdog seems to be Iceland’s national food; it is found everywhere, including gas stations. Hotdogs are best ordered all dressed with chopped raw onions, a remoulade, ketchup, mustard, a nutty brown sugar of sorts, and crunchy fried onions. In central Reykjavik Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, opened in 1937, is a must stop destination for a tourist. If you like hotdogs Iceland is your place! In the meantime, here is an introduction to some traditional Icelandic foods.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

As you may know, Iceland, geologically, is full of active volcanoes, glacier-cut fjords, black sand beaches, waterfalls, and rivers. The country’s main product is geothermal energy  – renewable energy production via water heated by volcanoes and geothermal springs – and hydro power. Most homes there are supplied with heating and energy from these renewable sources. Because the majority of Iceland is powered by geothermal energy; the high sulphur content makes the water and air smell like foul eggs. Brushing ones’ teeth can be challenging.

Geothermal plant

Geothermal Plant

Geothermal plant

Geothermal Plant

During our walk home after supper, to our bed and breakfast in Reykjavik, Steve and I happened to look up at the sky and actually saw the Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights). In the city!! Auroras occur when charged particles outside the Earth’s atmosphere collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere. Iceland is a perfect place to see the Northern Lights because of its cool, crisp evenings. It seems that April is a good time to see these lights and we spent every night thereafter waiting to see the night sky show, sometimes with luck and sometimes not.

The following day we took Route 1 to Vik where we passed some very large waterfalls, black sanded riverbeds, river deltas where we walked and sank knee-deep in the sand, afraid we’d sink further, as in quick sand. We also passed grassy fields and snow-capped mountains. In general, Iceland is a tree-less country.

We stayed two nights on Route 1 at the Hotel Anna. Returning there our second evening after a day of excursioning, we discovered that the power had gone out; this led us to some interesting insights into the Icelandic soul. Our room was getting cold to frigid; our dinner at the little attached restaurant (the only place to eat for miles!) was becoming and increasingly distant possibililty; it was also extremely dark. What was management’s reaction to our difficulties? A shrug. From this we learned that Iceland is a land of Individuals of the self-sustaining and self-sufficient stripe. This is not meant to be pejorative. It was simply an observation. Finally, at about 10:30 pm, the power returned and supper was made for us and the one other family staying at the hotel that night. The packets of cooked dried Swiss Knorr soup mix never tasted so good.

Heading to Stykkishólmur, we had to return along Route 1 so stopped at the tongue of a glacier where I accidentally stepped with one foot… and then leg, up to the hip into a snow crevasse. Steve had to pull me out or else I might not have easily been able to extricate myself. We headed to Stykkishólmur, a town that is situated in the western part of Iceland on the northeastern portion of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and whose Inhabitants make their living mainly from fishing but also tourism. We passed snowy, rocky peaks, as well as flat plateaus and valleys. We also drove through an astounding 5 km. tunnel under a fjord.

On the road Stykkishólmur just after a snow squall

On the road Stykkishólmur just after a snow squall

Stykkishólmur

Stykkishólmur

Stykkishólmur

Stykkishólmur

Volcanic rock just outside of Stykkishólmur

Volcanic rock just outside of Stykkishólmur

The first night there we patronized one of the three restaurants in this small town. The young woman who served us spoke excellent English, knew about Boston, and held as her most cherished wish to visit the apex of United States culture, The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.  At the airport on our way home we discovered that there is a direct flight to Minnesota from Iceland.

Our final day before returning to the airport to head back to Boston, we decided on a non-strenuous regime of circumnavigating the Snæfellsnes National Park. We stopped along the way to amble through a lava field, saw basalt cliffs, and “THE ARCH” at Anasartapi. We barely saw another soul or car and in fact counted only 12 cars in seven hours. The land was barren and beautiful.

I highly recommend April as the perfect time to travel to Iceland; it is not too cold or dark, it is off the high-tourist season, and if you are lucky you will get to see the Aurora Borealis.

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