The Land of Fire and Ice, and a lot of Waterfalls

Our time in the Icelandic countryside was filled with all the natural beauty you’d expect, and then some. After the Reykjavík Marathon we joined fellow runners on a three day exploration of Iceland’s natural wonders.

On the first day we explored the famed Golden Circle, which features three spectacular sites and beautiful countryside along the way. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, the dramatic gorge created from the pulling apart of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It’s also the site of the country’s parliament in the Middle Ages.

The second stop was the home of what we know as geysers. Geysir, the geothermal field that put the gushers on the map. It’s not Yellowstone and Old Faithful, but a stop at Geysir gives you a sense of the geothermal activity that dominates this land. Our stop here also included a little hike to a rocky outcropping above Geysir to give us a view of the geothermal field and surrounding area.

Iceland is environmentally aware!

The next stop, and the third big attraction on the Golden Circle was Gullfoss Waterfall. The two level cascade is unique because it runs transverse to the fault line, effectively carrying the water to the side. Yes, it was windy and cold, and very beautiful.

After making the big circle we returned to the west, past Reykjavík, to the famed Blue Lagoon. The highlight of most tourist’s visits to Iceland, the massive thermal pool attracts over 3000 visitors a day. The hot water actually comes from a nearby geothermal power plant. Silica clay gives the water a milky appearance and the water is blue from the sunlight reflecting off the silica. The silica also makes a great face mask, which is complimentary. Our visit was punctuated by a pretty strong storm, complete with hail. But, when you are in 100 degree water, it doesn’t really matter!

Our next day took us to West Iceland and the small town of Borgarnes. More waterfalls, hot springs, and a climb to the top of Grábrók Crater were featured on this day. We enjoyed seeing the dramatic countryside, despite the on and off showers. We’re told that Fall is beginning to appear. It rained off and on most of our time in the countryside. However, it really didn’t matter since we were prepared and were grateful to be able to visit such an incredible place.

On our last full day of touring we explored the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We drove for about two hours to the north coast of the peninsula and jumped on the Viking Sushi Tour to explore Iceland from the water. We took in the islands, bird colonies, and basalt formations. The big highlight is when they drop a net and bring up the catch, filled with scallops, starfish, crabs, and sea urchins. The scallops and urchins are devoured by the passengers with wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce, just like in a sushi restaurant. The other creatures are returned to the sea. Steve enjoyed the scallops and ate his first sea urchin.

After the cruise we did a quick hike up Mt Helgafell, a sacred mountain to worshippers of the god Thor. The legend is that if you ascend without looking back and without talking, you’ll be granted three wishes. It was a beautiful, silent hike with a cute dog along for the journey.

We followed the hike with a visit to the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum. This is the leading producer of hákarl, or fermented shark, an Icelandic tradition. The meat comes from the Greenland Shark, whose meat is toxic if eaten fresh. Someone figured out that if you bury it in the ground until it’s putrified, it becomes edible. It’s served with a shot of “Black Death,” the traditional Icelandic schnapps. Here’s a video of Steve trying both.

While in Iceland I fell in love with Icelandic horses. There are about 100,000 of them on the island and their bloodlines are pure from their arrival in the 900s. They have five gaits and are a popular export. They are not ponies, but not quite regular sized horses and they are too big to fit in my suitcase!

We did a little more touring on our way back to the airport–more waterfalls, thermal vents, and sweeping coastlines. The beauty just goes on and on and we only scratched the surface. Now on our list is to return and travel the ring road that circles the whole island.

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