When I started thinking about our recent trip, tons of ideas swirled through my head. I could compare the architecture or the feel of each place. What about the food? People always want to hear about the food or the language barrier. How was the weather? Did you have trouble getting around? What was it like?
Maybe the best way to give them their due would be to talk about each stop on its own. So today, our first stop is Iceland—the land of fire and ice. We flew out on my birthday landing the next day. The MR had visited Iceland a few times for work, so he was going to show me around, and boy did he ever.
We arrived bright and early, and explored the streets of Reykjavik waiting for our hotel room to be prepared. Downtown is very quaint, filled with cute shops and buildings in all colors and shapes. Those vivid colors would certainly brighten a gloomy winter day.
I was surprised to find the city asleep at 9 in the morning, but after two weeks in Europe, it may be the norm. That afternoon, we went on a free walking tour hosted by a local man who was putting his history degree to good use sharing his love of Iceland with tourists.
Suddenly the sculptures in the squares and buildings took on new significance. That’s something I saw throughout our travels—the commitment to honoring their past. These two pipes symbolize the sticks the founder of Reykjavik threw overboard and settled by.
I envied the country’s lack of a huge military but not their 40 percent taxation and economic woes. A nation of just 330,000 with a long history and strong national pride, Iceland is a very interesting place.
During our wanderings, the MR made sure to locate the Fish Market—a restaurant he’d eaten at on past trips. With good reason; he had a plan.
The seven-course meal we enjoyed there that evening was amazing. Not only was the food tasty, the presentation was beautiful. The mussels in lobster broth served in a tureen of seaweed and dry ice where a showstopper.
The bread was served in a humble linen pouch with heated rocks on the bottom to keep it warm. It was accompanied by butter on a rock trivet sprinkled with salt. Wouldn’t that be fun for Thanksgiving?
Each course was a beautiful surprise of flavor and color. I was pleased to see currants popping up in several of the dishes. I may steal their idea and freeze brachts of my berries to garnish desserts.
The birthday surprises didn’t stop with that fabulous meal. The MR had booked us a tour to the Blue Lagoon, a lake heated by geothermal waters.
At breakfast, he informed me that he’d also bought me an hour-long massage. It’s 40-degrees outside, and I’m in a swimsuit, how is this going to work? It was one of the most surreal experiences ever. I laid on a mat, similar to a yoga mat, that floated on the water. My masseuse covered me with a towel, draped a cloth over my eyes, and all I had to do was lay back and relax.
Every few minutes, she would dip the mat under the steamy water so I wouldn’t get cold. A few rain squalls blew through, but I was perfectly comfortable. If you ever get to Iceland, be sure to check out the Blue Lagoon.
That day, we also made a trip to Hallgrímskirkja—try and say that three times fast. The church, completed in 1986, was designed to echo the basalt lava flows of the surrounding countryside.
Inside, I was struck by the stark lines leading upward and the beautiful pipe organ. This is not the highly ornamental churches or Europe that I’m used to.
Our final day in Iceland found us exploring the Golden Circle or the brown circle as the locals have started calling it—tourism comes at a price. The first stop was Pingvellir, the rift valley where Eurasia and North America are drifting apart and Iceland’s parliament was established in 930 AD.
It’s also the site of Iceland’s largest natural lake and some filming for Game of Thrones. The MR was surprised at the colorful landscape; his past visits in mid-winter were much more bleak and gray.
Next we traveled on to Gulfoss Waterfall with its tales of long ago lovers parted and more recently championed by Iceland’s first environmentalist.
You know sometimes how you just blindingly follow a path not knowing exactly where it will lead? Somehow or other, the path I chose led to the big rock, masked in spray, sticking out into that raging river. Although the mist was turning to sleet and pelting our faces, I made sure the MR took a selfy, so we’d have proof.
If we’d walked to the overlook first, I don’t think we’d have made it to this rocky outcropping.
The final stop was the Geysir Valley. One of the large geysers has been blocked with deposits, kind of like our plumbing now that we have well water, but a smaller one went off three times while we were there.
We enjoyed wandering through this eery valley filled with steam and geysers.
Tips and tricks for Iceland:
- I don’t care if it’s early fall, hat and gloves are a must.
- Silk long underwear is your friend. When me and the MR tackled the waterfall, we were soaked. My long underwear saved me from a miserable afternoon.
- Be open to new foods and adventures. I wouldn’t have ordered whale, I don’t eat sushi, I wouldn’t have scheduled a massage in public, this list goes on and on. We still didn’t eat pony (a favorite of our tour guide), but the best meal by far was the one someone else chose. It pays to be open to life and new experiences.
- Last but not least, when it’s crazy cold outside it’s OK to stop in every shop. On a stormy evening, go ahead and pick up dinner across the street rather than across town from your hotel.
The MR has this thing about food on fire; if it’s on fire, he’s going to order it. This flaming cheese was a first.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you travel?