The August promotional email from Icelandair made us an offer we couldn't refuse: A taste of the land of fire and ice ... in winter!
- A plane ride and five nights hotel
- Icy waterfalls
- Northern lights
- Geothermal pools
- Nice weather
- Bad weather
- Mostly nighttime
Maybe it was summer's heat that made winter's cold seem so attractive ... but Natalie and I agreed: Let's do this thing!
An hour later Icelandair's Iceland Bucket List Escape! was booked.
And, not to leave others out of the 50-50 chance of a horrible winter weather experience, son Simon, sister Andrea, and sister-in-law Anne were on board for what had become a family affair.
It's time to roll the weather dice!
Slide on that new Christmas sweater you love so much, grab a cup of your favorite fireside beverage, and come along on this brief winter odyssey to the land of Thor and Sigyn ...
Presented in traditional picture and caption format!
Let's begin ... shall we?
|A Steamy Start|
*I could write on and on about the in-air luxuries Icelandair provides, but I won't.
Instead, let's move on to the best way to ease into Iceland's winter: The Blue Lagoon. This massive, manmade, outdoor geothermal pool is filled by the excess hot water discharged by the adjacent Svartsengi geothermal power plant. According to the Interwebs, around one million people visit the lagoon every year. I'll do the math for you ... That's about 2,700 people a day. This is not the kind of attraction we usually go for.
However ... If you travel to Iceland in winter—and arrive at the lagoon on the early morning bus from the airport—there's no better way to ease into your first day on the island after the red-eye flight. It was soothing, relaxing, and a spectacular way to witness the two-hour long sunrise.
*Like many airlines today, Icelandair provides a narrow place to sit, coffee/water/pop, mediocre in-flight movies (bring your own earbuds) and toilets during the 7-hour flight to Reykjavik. But if you want food, pack your own or get out your credit card. We packed our own ... but that didn't lessen the blow when I saw the flight attendants heating up their food on trays! You know ... the kind of food on trays we all used enjoy on long flights?
On the other hand, the flight attendants were great throughout the trip. And I absolutely loved it when one attendant shushed two oblivious, loudly chatting passengers during the safety talk before departing Seattle. Way to go, Icelandair flight attendants! Thank you!!
|Proof of Point!|
Natalie is all smiles at The Blue Lagoon. The lagoon's base ticket includes a beverage and a silica mud face mask. What really blew us away was the spectacular weather: Cold, yes, but clear skies and no wind.
Get Your Phood On!
Want to fast track acclimatizing to Reykjavik? Try the Reykjavik Food Walk. It isn't just a good idea; it's a must!
But first, let's get introductions out of the way.
Around the table from left to right, sister-in-law Anne, then Natalie, followed by the two brothers from North Carolina. Next up, sister Andrea and then Kathryn and Nancy from New York, followed by Brittany from Minnesota, son Simon, and the three Brits! Notably absent in this shot, our guide, Sindri! ... but you'll meet him later on.
This small-group tour moves from restaurant to restaurant over the course of three hours, and it delivers the goods: Enjoying great Icelandic food accompanied by great narrative. We had never taken a food tour before and for us, the Reykjavik Food Walk set the bar high.
It makes sense that it's the #1 rated food tour on TripAdvisor ... worldwide!
I've been accused of not posting enough phood photos in my TourAlongs! OMG! Let me get started remedying that!
Pictured here is the pan-fried arctic char cooked in honey and butter at Messinn. It was super good!
It was also here that Britanny ordered another glass of wine, only to be matched by Natalie!
And thus, the new game show ...Keeping Up With Britanny! ... was launched!
Photographing the Northern Lights: TourAlong Pro Photo Tips!
So how do you capture the brilliance of the Aurora Borealis?
Here's what I did ... and you should too!
If you follow these three simple, experience proven TourAlong Pro Photo Tips, I guarantee you will not get a good photo of the northern lights!
In our case, the Northern Lights by Boat tour was included in our package and operated by Special Tours. Try as we might, the aurora gods didn't cooperate. Wha wha whaaaa ...
The Lake in the Park
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park along the Golden Circle tour route is home to a visual example of the Mid-Atlantic Rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart and continue to create Iceland.
Within the park, Iceland's largest natural lake—Thingvallavatn—is sourced by rainwater as well as glacial melt water that takes 20-30 years to travel through an underground labyrinth of basalt fissures from the distant Langjökull glacier. The result? Super clear and cold water!
Go Ahead! Leave the Hot Water Running!
Here, Iceland's version of Old Faithful—*Geysir—puts on its show every few minutes. It doesn't last long, but it's reliable! Pictured above is the instant a Geysir eruption gets underway.
Living on a cold and very wet island that sits atop a geologic hot spot in the North Atlantic has disadvantages—like earthquakes, erupting volcanos, and terrible weather. But those disadvantages are advantages too!
With vast geothermal resources, as well as lots of rain and snow (and ice caps covering 11% of the island), Iceland is the home of cheap electricity and hot water. 100% of the electricity grid is derived from renewable resources (hydro and geothermal) and 90% of the hot water is geothermal. And of all energy resources, only 15% is derived from fossil fuels—used mostly for transportation—and even then, Iceland is quickly embracing EV transportation.
In the end, Iceland leads the world in renewable energy use! How hot is that!
Yep! In Iceland, you can take the longest hot shower ever!
*The word Geysir is derived from the Old Norse word "geysa" meaning "to gush" or "to rush forth." Iceland's Geysir is also referred to as "Geysir Geyser" and "Great Geysir." This should not be confused with the word "geezer" which was derived from the word "guise" meaning the practice of disguising oneself, often with a mask. So! Now you know! And if a busload of geezers wearing creepy masks arrives at Geysir Geyser during your visit, run for your life!
A Frosty Gullfoss!
Located in the Hvítá river canyon and fed by the nearby Langjökull glacier, Gullfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe by volume!
That we enjoy Gullfoss today was less than assured when, in 1907, investors wanted to rent the falls and convert them into a hydroelectric power plant. A nearby farm owner—Sigríður Tómasdóttir—led the fight to save the falls and became one of Iceland's first environmentalists in the process. Her lawyer in the case—Sveinn Björnsson—later became Iceland's first president in 1944 when Icelanders established a republic separate of Denmark!
The cool thing about sunrises and sunsets in the far north in winter is that you don't have to rush to get the photo. Like the Energizer Bunny, Iceland's spectacular winter light show keeps going and going.
Eyjafjallajökull—pronounced eiːjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥ and more commonly referred to as E15 (the letter "E" followed by 15 letters)—was the first volcano/ice cap encountered traveling east along the south coast of the Ring Road ... courtesy of Arctic Adventures and our guide, Anna.
Famously, this volcano last erupted in the spring of 2010, spewing ash high into the atmosphere causing chaos in cross-Atlantic air traffic for weeks.
It's only a matter of time before E15 performs an encore!
The lagoon at the terminus of Sólheimajökull is significant. It's not crazy big or deep. No. Rather, it's significant because it didn't even exist until 2007!
Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier—or glacial tongue—branching off the parent and larger glacier/ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull. With global warming accelerating the current retreat, and the fact that it's located in close proximity to the active Eyjafjallajökull and Katla volcanos, Sólheimajökull is living in a tough neighborhood!
Note the tiny people hiking on top of the glacier!
How About a Little Sandblasting?
The cold wind at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach had a way of telling us who's the boss ... as in ... "Don't look at me or I'll etch your eyeballs into oblivion by whipping up EVEN MORE gritty black volcanic sand!"
Iceland's car rental companies strongly suggest purchasing the sand damage insurance. Here's a 30-second video demonstrating why that's a good idea.
Víkurkirkja—or Vik church—sits on a hill overlooking the tiny town of Vik (Vík í Mýrdal). Not only is Vik Iceland's warmest spot, with an annual mean temperature of 41.5F, it's also the wettest place on the island, receiving nearly 90 inches of rainfall annually!
Vik also has the dubious distinction of being located directly south of the volcano, Katla. Katla last erupted in 1918 and is now considered overdue for its next eruption. The residents of Vik hope that when this happens, it's not on the south side of the volcano because catastrophic flooding from ice melt could obliterate the entire village—and that's where the church comes in.
The church is the designated gathering location in case the worst happens.
Next time Katla blows, join us at the Exploding Volcano Church Camp Retreat! Fun times for everyone! Bring cookies!
On a related note, the 2022 Netflix slow-burn mystery series "Katla" is an Icelandic production that was shot in Vik (and the Reykjavik area) with the church featured prominently.
Putting it in Perspective
Sometimes it's nice to add a touch of perspective to a landscape photo by adding a person, like here at Skogafoss. With Natalie down and out at the hotel, there was only one thing to do: Stand by a guy taking of shot of his better half posing ... and then take my shot in tandem!
|No Need to Lollygag Around!|
Our last stop along the south coast was Seljalandsfoss. When it's not winter, you can walk behind the falls and venture along a path to a slot canyon waterfall. But on this windy cold winter day, we thought it was much better to take a photo or two ... and get back on the tour van where sweet, sweet warmth awaited us.
OK is Not OK
Reykjavik's Perlan is a contemporary museum dedicated to Iceland's geology, geography, and environment. A small wall plaque offers an ominous dedication to Okjökull—Iceland's first glacier to succumb to global warming. Today, it's referred to as OK, having lost the jökull—Icelandic for glacier—part of its name.
Another Phood Photo!
This time it's at the Perlan's upper terrace cafe. Coffee and a super chocolate fudge brownie with whipped cream was just about right for a morning energy boost!
In Iceland, when a man and woman love each other very, very much ... they snyrt ... off to the left!!
A Cannibalistic Cat!
According to Iceland En Route, Icelanders don't rely on Santa Clause because they have something better!
First, they have the Yule Cat ... a feline monster who lurks around and eats anyone who doesn't get a piece of new clothing for Christmas!
How awesome is that! (Said every Icelander who owns a clothing store)
Second, they have 13 mischievous trolls—the Yule Lads—with colorful names like Doorway Sniffer, Window Peeper, Sausage Swiper, and Spoon Licker. As Christmas nears, the lads descend from their mountainside cave—leaving their evil troll mother and lazy troll father behind—and generally wreak havoc and freak children out!
How awesome is that! (Said every Icelander trying to contain their kids' Christmas adrenalin rush!)
Today, the lads have mellowed and are more like 13 little Santas who, during the run up to Christmas, bring kids small gifts—as long as they fall on the "nice" side of naughty and nice.
I think I like the old version of the Yule Lads better ...
Meet Sindri, our guide for the Reykjavik Food Walk tour earlier in the week!
Four days later, at Kaffi Loki, Sindri was just finishing up another food tour when he noticed us dining and stopped by to say "hello!" He was a fun, knowledgeable, and a perfect tour host.
If you visit Iceland, just ask for Sindri. I'm pretty sure they'll be able to find him for you!
OMG! There's a long-haired mustached pirate racing into view! OH NO!
Simon Completes the Photo Bomb!
Simon—referred to as "Moustache Guy" by at least one Icelander—completed his photo bomb of Sindri! Note that Sindri's expression has not changed from the previous photo. Simon moved fast ... Well done, Simon!
A Better Northern Lights?
Who needs to see the northern lights in person when you can have your picture taken at FlyOver Iceland and have the lights added digitally for just $9.00?
And the answer is? No one!
Besides, it was WAY warmer in the FlyOver pavilion and there was no need to fiddle with a camera in the cold. On top of that, it's really hard to tell that this photo is anything but authentic, don't you think? The lighting is spot on and so natural!
There you have it! Five days and nights experiencing the land of fire and ice in winter. Sure, Natalie suffered a cold, but ... umm ... It wasn't a cold.
To view in slideshow format:
- Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.
- Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).