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Christine and I spent 6 days in Iceland last week. Now that I’ve been there I know that 6 days isn’t anywhere close to enough.
Iceland is a beautiful country. It also has a few major oddities. The first is the wind, it’s always going and it’s strong. The second is that there are hardly any trees. Apparently the original settlers used them up in the first 100 years. The country once had 25% tree cover, now it is less than 1%. Finally, since we were there near summer solstice it never seemed to get dark. Even when I woke up at 2am on our first night I found a beautiful sunset, but it never got darker than twilight.
We spent 2 nights in Reykjavik, 2 nights in Isafjordur, and 1 night near Þingvellir (the Þ is pronounced th) National Park, with a lot of driving (about 700km) in between. Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland, but it is still pretty small. The downtown core/tourist area was easily walkable. We spent our first day in the city wandering around, and on our second day we took a bus out to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a huge thermal pool that uses the waste water from a geothermal power station as it’s water source. It felt great and was very relaxing.
On our third day we picked up a rental car and started to head north. We didn’t have an exact plan in mind, but a convenient ferry schedule made up our minds for us. We arrived just in time to catch the ferry to the West Fjords. The West Fjords make up the northwest corner of the country and are one of the most remote population areas. The drive from the ferry north had incredible scenery and was about half gravel roads. When we arrived in Isafjordur late that evening we made arrangements to go kayaking with North Explorers on a trip called “Hot Pots” that promised some more hot springs relaxation.
The weather and tides weren’t in our favor for the kayaking trip. We went out with the group and found a lot of chop in the main part of the fjord. We then tried to get into a more protected area, but couldn’t make it pass the current coming through a narrow bridge (the tide was going out). Our guide actually capsized there when attempting it. So we got out of the kayaks, carried them across the road, and paddled on the inside. The chop was gone there, but there was still a very strong wind. We went downwind for a little while and enjoyed looking at the seals, there were tons of them including many seal pups. Turning around and paddling into the wind was very hard going. About half of the group actually walked back, but Christine and I were among those who braved the wind and paddled back.
The night after our kayak trip we went out to dinner with everyone that we had gone paddling with. We went to a resturant called “Tarhouse” that only had two things on the menu, fish soup and fish. The fish that they offered was only what had been caught that day. We ordered enough of both for everyone at the table and had a great dinner and the best meal that we’d found in Iceland (also served by some very nice people). It was really good to hang out with some other travelers.
The next morning we started to head south again. We only had one more night, but didn’t really have a destination in mind. At about lunch time I decided that we should see if we can make it to Þingvellir National Park, part of a popular tour called the “Golden Circle”. After another long drive over gravel roads with amazing scenery we came to a very nice hotel called Hotel Hengill that was next to Þingvellir lake. Christine enjoyed some time in the sauna while I enjoyed watching the view out of our hotel room.
On our last day we went on a short hike near the hotel, then went over to Þingvellir to explore. Þingvellir is where the concept of the parliment was first created (I had always incorrectly assumed that it was an English invention) and the park has many historical areas related to that. It also had some incredible scenery and what felt like all of the tourists in Iceland (compared to a US park it was lightly attended, but compared to what we had seen so far it felt very busy). We found a little used trail to walk on down a ravine, then came back through the historical area.
I didn’t know what to expect when we planned on going to Iceland, but I really enjoyed it. The scenery is incredible and it was very relaxing being in a place where there are hot springs in almost every city. I hope we can visit again someday and see more of the country.