4 Days is never enough. To say that I know something about Iceland or it’s culture in just 4 days would be crazy – it’s huge and wildly under-traveled. With this is mind, I took an exciting baby-step towards understanding the Nordic nation and it’s frozen wonderland.
I wasn’t fully aware of what I was getting myself into when I booked my visit to the arctic-hugging island in mid-December. More than 2/3 travel blogs and tourist sites praised Iceland for it’s astounding landscape and unparalleled opportunities for tundra-exploration, during the summer months.
Like most North American tourists, I flew Iceland Air (the countries leading airline) to intentionally “stopover” in the country before making it to Europe. The stopover program has been around since the 60’s, but has recently become extremely popular among the destination-hungry youth. As one of my tour guides said, Iceland has had 7 tourists for every 1 resident in Iceland this year, the country has been flooded with tourist.
Landing at KEF International, just 41 mins from the countries capital Reykjavík (and the most northern capital in the world) I was greeted by the “eternal night”
Listen: this is no “polar night” where the vampires thrive in the zero-daylight points of year, the eternal night is experienced by extremely reduced daylight and paramount night skies.
My first stop was the famous Blue Lagoon, one of the favourite places to be as a visitor, since it is one of the largest thermal hot-springs in the world.
Forgetting that there would only be a handful of daylight hours, we arrived at the spa when it was about to open, at 8am, which is an hour that offers no hint of daylight. The photo I took above was taken hours later (around 3pm) when the sun was rise-setting…
With flurries of snow and arctic temperatures, guests huddled together in lava coves and steam rooms, waiting for the winds to die down. The lifeguards at the spa looked more like pitbull trainers than spa employees. They were wedged inside reflective gear that really embodied the word “coveralls”.
It was a chilly, but worth while experience. The spa offers a number of unusual swim-up facials and scrubs, and even has a few bars donning beer on tap, wine and craft coffees.
Glacier Lagoon Tour
Iceland does not fair in size if you were to compare it to Canada, or British Columbia, but it tricky to navigate in the winter months since weather conditions can change from mild to seizing in a matter of minutes.
We decided a good’ol tour bus would be the best way of seeing some of the country outside of the capital. We found a Glacier Lagoon Tour on a Iceland guide website, and I would definitely recommend it.
Pick up was at 7 am: yes, a rough hour for vacation, but understandable- we had a long way to go. The tour was around 14 hours, which allowed us to drive across the country practically!
Salt? Snow plough? Not here, they are use to driving on ice rinks…
The sun began to rise half way through our tour, close to mid-day.
A photo of the tours offered, we went from Reykjavik all the way along the southern coast to Jökulsárlón. (Google maps image at the end of the post)
Our first stop was at Skógafoss waterfall, which was very cool to see at a eerie twilight hour.
Glacier Lagoon- Jökulsárlón
Our final stop on the trip was the Glacier Lagoon, which we made right in time for sunset.
Glacier Lagoon is a small part of Vatnajökull glacier national park, which is home to Iceland’s largest ice cap and Europe’s 3rd largest glacier.
Sadly, our guide told us that the lagoon has only emerged around 1935, caused by the melting of the glaciers. The run-off river, that mixes fresh glacier melt and sea water has since grown to 20 km2.
The Lagoon is the lowest point below sea-level in Iceland, It used to run 1.5 km to the ocean in the early 1900’s, but now it is just a 4/5 min walk.
It was almost too cold to have my face uncovered. It was difficult to take photos since my fingers were beginning to burn from the cold winds!
Just a short walk from the Glacier Lagoon was the Diamond Beach. The beach gets its name from the diamond-like ice chunks that you can find scattered along the volcanic rock beach.
The glacier chunks are a beautiful transparent colour, with light hues of blue- unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
We stopped at a second waterfall on our way to Glacier Lagoon. At Seljalandsfoss we got to do a short hike up the side of the glacier so that we could get a better look at the fall.
Fun Fact: does this scene look familiar at all? Justin Bieber shot part of his “I’ll Show You” music video here. Whether your a fan or not, he chose a pretty cool location for a music video…
Since it was just a few sleeps before Christmas, we got to experience a few Icelandic Christmas traditions before we left for my first Deutsche-mas.
In Iceland, Christmas is all about the tomfoolery. A fortnight before the big day is when the festivities begin. Each night a different Icelandic Yule Lad will visit the home and conduct his self-titled mischief.
I won’t go through all of the individual Lad’s but here is a link to the Wikipedia page that lists them all. I’ve added a photo below of the Lad’s, who may remind some North American folk of a few Disney characters.
Every morning we received a stocking on our door at the hotel, stuffed with chocolate treats and tale of the Yule Lad that had visited us while we were sleeping.
The only Phallological Museum in the world has become Reykjavik’s more-popular destination for visitors. I don’t think I had much of an expectation for this museum, as I had a laundry list of galleries that I wanted to see on this trip (a look at those are here), but it turned out to be a very interesting collection of artifacts from around the world.
The museum had begun as a man’s personal collection of animal genitalia, part-joke-part-interest. Over time his bizarre library grew to form the world’s largest. Most of the museum consisted of preserved animal parts that were paired with a short explanation of their origins.
There were a number of small cubical-sized rooms that showcased phallic artifacts that were tribally used for spiritual purposes, jewelry or aesthetic pleasure.
The only unsettling moment in our tour was the certificates of personal donation made out to the gallery by a number of yet-to-be-deceased men (that all, if I may add, live in Germany).
The rumors are true: Iceland has very high prices for food, even compared to American prices. From what I was told, eating out is not the central social activity that most Western societies understand it as.