When was the last time you made anything with plaster of Paris?
How about in grade school making a dramatically detailed depiction of Iceland?
Yep! I did ... and it was awesome! My teacher was so jazzed about my masterpiece that she took it to a teacher's conference to show it off! And ...
She dropped it.
Iceland was shattered and so were my childhood dreams of exploring the land of Thor, Loki, elves, and a blonde goddess named Sigyn ... until now!
We're vaxxed, we're packed, we're swabbed straight up the nose, and our itinerary is all prepped in the Wanderlog app (recommended app!).
It's all systems go for an Icelandic TourAlong!
But what will the future bring?
- Will the Atlantic storm of the century hit the island?
- Will camper van living be everything it promises to be?
- Will sky-high prices leave us begging on the cold streets of Reykjavik?
- Will I meet a blonde goddess named Sigyn?
- And if I do, will Natalie mind?
Let's find out!
Light the fire and cozy up with a Viking-sized mug of your favorite hot beverage because it's time to TourAlong to the jewel of the North Atlantic!
In the perpetually popular Picture-n-Caption format, let's go to Iceland!
|NOOOOOO! Kenneth Ferguson!!!!|
Someone at Icelandair dropped a wrench and instantly transformed our eight days on the island into seven. I hesitate to point fingers, but I'm pretty sure a butter-fingered mechanic named Kenneth Ferguson was responsible for our unexpected overnight stay at the Doubletree SEA-TAC. Keep looking over your shoulder, Ken! ... now and forever.
|A Stroll Between Continents|
Well this is better!
A brisk walk in the Almannagjá gorge within Þingvellir National Park just north of Reykjavik helped take the edge off a very long night and day of travel.
This is one of several places to see the Mid-Atlantic Rift, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart. It's also the location of the Alþing (pronounced All-Thing). Founded in 930, the Alþing is the world's longest-running, ongoing parliament, taking place each June for two weeks—outside.
We should have our politicians meet outside too! And in the far north of Alaska! That would be so awesome! Get business done or you're all going to be politician popsicles! Ah, sweet motivation.
Our first night, at the Skjol campground along the Golden Circle tour route, was our initiation to camper van living as well as Iceland's infamous wind. It was a lot like being in an airplane with nonstop turbulence.
Hey! If this van's a rockin', go ahead and bother knockin'! It's OK ... really ... it's just the wind.
|The Rarely Photographed Gullfoss Waterfall!|
According to Wikipedia, Iceland has lots of waterfalls. Iceland is rich in folklore too! And Gullfoss, or gold falls, is no exception ... “Once upon a time, a farmer named Gýgur lived at Gýgjarhóll. He had plenty of gold and could not bear the thought of someone else possessing it after his lifetime. To prevent this, he placed the gold in a coffer and threw it into the waterfall.”
I'm not so sure about that, but the falls are pretty impressive!
FUN FACT: At flood stage, the falls could fill an Olympic-sized pool every second!
|It's a Camper Van Lifestyle!|
A departure from our typical mode of travel—a rental car and lodging—we decided to do the camper van thing. You know, hittin' the road, spreading our wings and flyin' free like a bird!
In this shot, Natalie may be waving hello, but the reality of the cozy-tight confines of the camper van was already setting in: A perpetual human traffic jam sapping the fun right out of FUN!
Our conclusion? The camper van lifestyle may be ideal for those young whippersnappers, but a post-trip cost-benefit analysis tells us that next time, we'll go for the car and lodging. Yee-haw!!!
|So Here's a Good One ...|
Icelanders think tourists stopping along the road to take pictures is a bad idea. Pictured above is a typical southern stretch of Route 1—the Ring Road circling the island. It's not wide, even by Idaho standards. More importantly, there is NO shoulder!
INSIDER BACKGROUND: It wasn't that long ago that Iceland was largely overlooked as a travel destination. It's windy, rainy and snowy, and exists in twilight half of the year. That changed in 2008 when, in the midst of the global financial crisis, all three Icelandic national banks defaulted on their foreign debt and the currency lost 50% of its value in a week. One remedy to pull the country back up, promoting tourism, was wildly successful. And that's when stopping along the shoulderless roads became a problem.
I tried my best—there were SO MANY TIMES I wanted to stop to take a photo! And sometimes I couldn't contain myself. I was honked at once, I think by a disgruntled airline-mechanic-turned-trucker named Kenneth Ferguson. Hey Ken! Did you get your wrench back?
How about a very large hot tub? If soaking in volcanically heated water is your cup-o-hot-tea, Iceland's a good bet for you! Above, Natalie soaks while basking in the sunshine of a surprisingly windless afternoon at Secret Lagoon. Created in 1891 and known locally as Gamla Laugin, Secret Lagoon is the oldest geothermal swimming pool in Iceland. At $24 per person, and with super clean and super nice facilities, this is a must stop.
The secret weapon of the Secret Lagoon, this litli gal goes off every 10 minutes or so, replacing 100% of the pool's hot water every 24 hours. For Christmas this year, I'm getting everyone a Litli Geysir!
They Live in the Rocks!
This is one place where civilized elves live, though there's plenty of unconfirmed evidence that elves and fairies live throughout the country hiding in rocks. Mentioned in the video, about half of all Icelanders believe in elves and fairies, though they are visible only to psychics and children. As one interviewee put it, "I have never seen elves, no, but I've never seen God either."
Ha! He's got a point there!
Seljalandsfoss is fed by melting water from the ice-capped Eyjafjallajokull volcano. The fun part is walking behind it ... as long as you have rain gear.
FUN FACT: In 2015, pop star Justin Bieber and his production crew commandeered the falls one day so he could shoot his mediocre music video I'll Show You. Justin's a dandy guy!
Icelandic sheep are funny runners ... little stick legs shuttling super fast to move their shaggy bodies across a field! And they're plentiful too! There's 1.2 sheep for every human on the island, and a sweater made from their wool costs $200-300! We did not buy sweaters. I DID eat one of their children's legs though, and it was AWESOME! More on that later.
Have I Mentioned It's Windy in Iceland?
It IS!!! Featured here, the guy at the top of Skógafoss took flight just after I snapped the photo. He was never seen again.
Skógafoss is a must stop along the tourist trail and, like Gullfoss, is associated with hidden treasure. Wikipedia says the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall.
More importantly, in Season 8 of the Game of Thrones series, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow fly to this waterfall with her dragons and kiss in front of it. And EVEN MORE importantly, Justin Bieber shut down access to the falls for the shoot of his still mediocre music video I'll Show You. Go Biebs!
How About a Nice Ice Cap?
A distant snow-capped peak? No ... it's a distant ice cap! While Iceland's WAY greener than Greenland, ice caps and glaciers cover 11% of the island. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but if the same were true for the U.S., the ice would cover all of California and Texas! In this image, a small portion of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap presents itself on the horizon.
Swipe and Wipe!
This ultra modern public bathroom—the only building at Dyrholaey Peninsula—was crazy clean! But to use it will set you back $1.50. Coins are accepted, but a credit card is a much easier way to gain admittance to do your business. I suppose you could jump the turnstile, but that would be considered poor form and elves would come out of the bathroom stalls and imprison you in rocks.
FUN FACT: From the moment we left our house in Boise to the moment we drove back up the driveway, we used no paper or coin currency. In Iceland, use of credit cards is the (nearly) universal method of payment!
FUN TIP: There's no tipping too!
Made exclusively from volcanoes popping off as tectonic plates rip apart, Iceland is essentially a gigantic pile of basalt, and some of its surface is a lot like Idaho's Craters of the Moon National Monument. On the other hand, there are vast expanses of basalt smothered in thick, spongy moss.
Iceland had been successful at keeping people off the moss until ...
Wait for it ...
Justin Bieber decided it would be a good idea to roll down a moss slope for his boring music video, I'll Show You!
This, in turn, meant that Bieber-adoring fans/tourists were uncontrollably compelled to roll down slopes of moss and trample other video shoot locations.
Ultimately, the Bieb's actions have resulted in partial closures of several locations.
You're the best, Biebs!
Diamonds in the Rough!
At the outlet of Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon, icebergs float into the Atlantic Ocean only to be battered by waves and smashed into mini bergs that wash ashore the black sand beach. Thus, Diamond Beach is a magnet for photographers. Even on an overcast and rainy afternoon, light illuminates these crystal clear pieces of ice. This image I've named "Fish!"
Ice Is Nice!
Our camper van came with a teeny-tiny little ice cube tray with a production volume that was laughable, especially when making mixed drinks. Our afternoon at Diamond Beach took care of that! Pictured above, a vodka tonic with a giant crystal clear glacial ice cube! It was a treat! And no, I did not name this piece of ice. You should never name a piece of ice that you're going to kill by letting it slowly melt.
Not far from the town of Vik along the south coast, the Reynisdrangar sea stacks are a super popular attraction. There's a folk legend about two trolls who tried unsuccessfully to pull a three-mast ship to shore. They can still be heard today, wailing from within the rocks. Well, I didn't hear them, but psychics and children can.
Any rocks jutting from the sea are made even more popular when they're used in film! How about Season 7 of the Game of Thrones, or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and yes, Justin Bieber's crappy music video I'll Show You. Even disgraced airline mechanic Ken Ferguson doesn't like that music video!
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach!
The tourism promotion people post pictures like this one. Desolate beauty, don't you think? (PHOTO CREDIT: My Best Place)
And Then There's the Reality!
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach's basalt columns are a MUST backdrop for hundreds of posed shots every day. During our visit there was a commercial shoot of some type taking place as well.
INSIDER TIP: Go at low tide so you can walk around the corner, scramble over some boulders, and instantly be where almost no one else goes!
It's Sigyn and Loki! Or Is It Natalie and Todd?
Here's an artist's depiction of us after battling wind, cramped quarters, and narrow roads with the camper van for five long days and nights.
It was high time to drop that 4-wheeled fun-sucking albatross OFF and move on to the final stage of our North Atlantic journey!
Toto! We're Not in Kansas Any More!
Nope, this is Reykjavik!
Iceland's bustling metropolis of 233,000 people (68% of the island's population) brings on the modern bohemian lifestyle in a European/Scandinavian sort of way. The city was a bit grungier than I imagined it would be, but everyone seemed to be enjoying what was left of the daylight before winter's long dusk set in.
Hot Dogs! Get Your Hot Dogs!
Believe it or not, Iceland is known for its awesomely tasty tubular meat treats! Here, the kind man at Reykjavik's famous Bæjarins beztu pylsur hot dog stand presents Natalie two of the 1,000-2,000 dogs he sells EVERY DAY! These are the town's best hot dogs!
Hot Dog YUM... Oh Yeah!
A long wiener with finely chopped onion and crispy fried onion bits, then smothered in two sauces, make the Bæjarins beztu pylsur hot dogs the town's best hot dogs! And, as it turns out, "Bæjarins beztu pylsur" translates to "The town's best hot dogs!" GOOGLE IT!
And yes, they are.
Speaking of Wieners!
Immediately after swallowing the town's best tubular meat, we made our way to The Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yep, that's right, a museum about the other kind of wiener!
The museum is surprisingly thorough in its presentation of all things to do with wieners. And, though there's very little focus on the human willy, the most perplexing display involving human males is unquestionably the exhibit of the 2008 silver medal-winning Icelandic National Handball Team's "members" cast in metal.
What committee thought, "Hey, this is a really good idea!"? I guess that's what six-month-long winters can do to mental reasoning.
Just Horsin' Around at the Phallological Museum!
What's provocative here?
Well, these are dried & spiced horse wieners.
Silly me! What else would they be?
The display tag says they're seasoned with salt, sage, basil, thyme, dill, nutmeg, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram. Do you get the idea the creator of this delicacy might be overcompensating for something through spices? How many more spices can be thrown at a dried jerky horse thingy?
While many fun items were available for purchase in the gift shop, these, thankfully, were not.
Why Stop Writing about Phallic Objects Now!!?
"Is that a cathedral spire in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
No visit to Reykjavik is complete without a stop at the very pointy and prominent Reykjavik (Lutheran) Cathedral.
It's actually a very cool work of architecture and, luckily enough, we were able to snap some shots on a sunny afternoon.
The statue in front is of none other than Leif Erikson. Leif's exact place of birth is unknown, but Icelanders are proud to take credit.
How About an Amusement Ride? You Bet!
FlyOver Iceland is a fly-ride experience that is worth every Korona, really! This amazing flight simulation experience is accentuated by puffs of air and mist hitting your face as you fly and glide through clouds. They even mist in a foul aroma when you fly through the steam of a geothermal feature!
Above, Lilyana (yes, that's her name) is getting two stupid tourists to pretend they're flying for a photo. When exiting the ride, they were presented with the opportunity to purchase the photo which, of course, they did.
OH MAN! I'm glad we didn't fall for that one!
Yep! We Fell for That One!
Here we are, flying over the Fagradalsfjall volcano which, contrary to what this image shows, was not in an eruption period during our trip. But man! Look at our coordinated tandem flight technique! If fly-ride experience photo posing was an Olympic sport, we'd be medal contenders! But, if we won, and we were on Team Iceland, I'd certainly be asked to contribute to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. I'd have to decline. I wouldn't want to embarrass the 2008 Iceland handball team.
When you name your restaurant after Loki the Trickster, you'd better have good food ... and they DO! We held out on experiencing authentic Icelandic food until our two days in Reykjavik. In the city, we tasted cod, lamb, meat stew, pizza with Béarnaise sauce (yes!), hot dogs, and ice cream. Funny, but yeah, ice cream's a thing in Iceland and, like the hot dogs, it's a little different in a really good way!
Without a doubt, Kaffi Loki delivered the goods! And at a great price! $80 for two including beer and wine!
Somewhere Out There, There's a Three-Legged Lamb
Delivering the goods? Here you go! My Kaffi Loki dish of lamb shank with a stew was the real deal. There was SO MUCH MEAT on that shank! I hope the farmer is taking that lamb's legs off one at a time ... and only on special occasions.
Now sit back, relax, and let the photo induce your Pavlovian response.
OH COVID! You're SO BORING!
To go to Iceland, we had to be vaccinated AND tested. Once there, it's amazingly safe because their vaccination rate is one of the highest in the world (over 90% have been jabbed at least once). In order to return to the U.S, we had to be tested again. Business was brisk at this Reykjavik testing center, but it was super quick and really a nonevent. Unfortunately, we tested negative. Otherwise, we could have been banished to Iceland forever. I'd take that.
Bonus Shot! Guess Where?
Nope! This isn't Iceland.
It's Greenland from 37,000 feet on a clear and sunny afternoon looking down on the Midgaardgletscher in a region named Schweizerland! The glacial networks that snake through these mountains are mighty impressive, but a few minutes later, they disappeared. Replacing the granite peaks was an unbroken, featureless sheet of ice as far as the eye could see, and from 37,000 feet, the eye can see pretty far!
And get this! ... While Greenland's ice cap contains about 10% of the world's ice, Antarctica contains the other 90% (apparently, according to the USGS, the rest of the ice in all of the remaining glaciers on the world just doesn't add up to much).
It put in perspective why climate scientists are saying it's a really bad idea to let Earth's ice caps melt.
Check out the USGS reference page about this and scroll a little way down the page—there's a cool image of Iceland using sliders to view the island in summer versus winter!
FUN FACT: Remember how Iceland's ice caps would cover California and Texas? Well, the Antarctic ice cap would smother the contiguous United States AND Mexico! It's THAT BIG!
- Not a bungling airline mechanic named Kenneth Ferguson
- Not a music video-making poop star named Justin Bieber
- Not a fun-sucking pandemic named COVID
- Not even a plaster of Paris model accidentally dropped by a teacher who understood my work ... She's the best.
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