Thursday, February 7, 2013

There Really is Ice in Iceland

(Trip date: July/August, 2012)

“Why would you go to Iceland?” was what everybody said to me when I told them where my next vacation destination was. Why would I not go to Iceland was what I was thinking in my head!  The beautiful and rustic land way up by the Arctic Circle, full of lush greenery and midnight sun, the land of fire and ice….

As I awoke on the plane just as we were landing, the first thought that came to my head was “are we landing on the moon?”  The land below was like nothing I’d ever seen before, a field of soft green and brown craters - what I later learned were lava fields. From the airport I went straight to my hostel, then off to explore the city of Reykjavik, as I waited for Kat to arrive. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon and all the locals were out and about enjoying the city. When I say it was beautiful, it was about 16 degrees, which is considered a nice summer day in Iceland!

 I walked through the streets, just me and my SLR, admiring the quaint city with its colourful buildings and peaceful lake, soaking up the smell of the ocean and sound of the seagulls. The air doesn’t get much fresher when you’re this far from civilization! Although I was a bit on the cold side coming from summer back home, the people of Reykjavik were all out sitting on the patios and chilling in the lawn chairs scattered throughout the city. I decided to do as the locals do and plopped myself onto a lawn chair and as the warm afternoon sun began to beat down on my skin, I feel into a peaceful nap amongst the many other nappers around me.  
It was an exciting reunion as my friend, Kat, from London, England met me at our hostel later that evening as we hadn’t seen each other in years. We hung out in our awesome hostel bar at Kex Hostel (I highly recommend this hostel), a place that even the locals come to hang out (Russell Crowe made an appearance the week before!) and we were both shocked when we looked at our watches to see that it was 10:30pm but the sun was still high in the sky! Your whole food and sleep clock gets confused in Iceland as the sun barely sets in the summer and you never know when it’s bedtime and when it’s mealtime. But it’s amazing to walk the streets at 10:30pm on any given night of the week and see the sun high in the sky and people out and about like it was just 6pm.
We did the Golden Circle tour, a must-see trip that takes you to the Eldborg Crater – a beautiful blue pool of water deep in the ground, the geysir – where the ground was hot and steaming and a huge geysir shoots water high into the sky every 3-4 minutes, then to the fantastic Gullfoss Falls – where we were lucky enough to see a vibrant rainbow frame the majestic waterfall. The tour gives you a perfect taste of the beautiful and rustic land.
The next day we did a whale watching tour. We were given special suits to keep us warm as we headed out into the choppy ocean to see the famous creatures of the sea. We were very lucky and saw hundreds of whales! Some came close to our boat, some were far away, it was a special site to see these magnificent creatures in their own habitat. Later that day we went to the famous Blue Lagoon spa, where we relaxed and bathed in the hot springs, enjoying the warm waters, steam rooms, massaging waterfall and all the wonderful amenities this place of tranquility has to offer.
We decided to rent a car on our last day and drive to Jökulsárlón, where the ice in Iceland is actually found! It was a stunning drive and a day I will never forget. We drove for five hours each way through some of the most amazing landscapes I have ever seen. The landscape kept changing from green hillsides, to lava fields, to volcanoes, to snowcapped mountains, and then finally to glaciers and icebergs. The land is so rustic and raw and it feels like it’s just you and the land as we saw maybe five cars drive by every hour. There is only ONE stop to get gas (and we almost ran out!) and about TWO restaurants in the small “town” of Vic on the way to Jökulsárlón – so fuel your car and your stomach when you can! We even stopped to see the famous volcano that halted European air traffic in 2010, Eyjafjallajökull - can you pronounce it? I sure can’t! As we rounded the corner approaching Jökulsárlón, we were speechless – from the land of greenery out came the glacier lagoon with its spectacular icebergs jutting out of the water. We took a raft through the lagoon where the icebergs were like skyscrapers in a city of glaciers and snow, each one unique in size and shape.

Iceland is so unique in so many ways. As I browsed through the many shops I realized that there are no name brands! They are all local boutiques, there’s no GAP or H&M or Zara. It’s also the first place I’ve ever been to that has no McDonalds (seriously, not one!) or Starbucks! It’s truly refreshing to see a modern society that is completely uninfluenced by the Western world. As for the food, it consists of a lot of cured, smoked and pickled fish, rye bread (we even had rye ice cream) and meat soups – all served in jars. Oh ya, and you can eat whale and puffin too  - no thanks.
I had never been to a place like Iceland before. I had never felt so connected to a landscape, like the land and I were one. I had never seen the sun shine at midnight. I had never seen lava fields. I had never seen a ground that is hot and steamy yet cold and icy. I had never seen icebergs that change shape every day. So now when people ask me why I went to Iceland, I just show them my pictures and I get a very different response than I did before: “I can’t wait to go to Iceland one day!”

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