This travelogue in courtesy of North Bend resident and guest writer, Melissa Grant. It’s also the beginning of a new guest column on Living Snoqualmie. We’d like to hear from Valley travelers. Where have you been?
For this inaugural column, join me in Iceland, won’t you?
As I stepped from the terminal at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland into the pitch-black morning, my suitcase blew across the rental car parking lot. “Perfect” I thought, smiling to myself. I come from a long line of green-eyed gingers who abhor the sun and have long been in search of a good cold vacation spot. I tried last year and was met with an unseasonably warm Alaska at 84 degrees. Frankly, it made me cranky. The decision to travel to Iceland was made because of a Facebook “suggested post.” Not a great way to choose a vacation destination, but lucky for me a good decision in the end.
This year I was determined to find my coolish paradise, so when an ad for an Iceland Air travel deal came up I jumped at it. My inquiry to the travel company netted me this answer: “On this tour you ‘ll explore South-West Iceland traveling in complete freedom and flexibility with your own rental car. Enjoy a winter Self-Drive tour and the possibility to view the amazing Northern Lights dancing in the clear Icelandic sky.”
I booked the tour and plane tickets on Iceland Air – airfare, hotels, car and a Northern Lights harbor tour (five days, four nights) was about $3000 for two. All we had to do was pay for our meals and tourist tchotchkes. The tour company sent us a detailed itinerary and I set about researching what to do while in Iceland.
Suddenly everyone was going or had been to Iceland. Weird. Something that had on barely been on my traveler’s radar was unexpectedly popular, but it gave me a wealth of knowledge to draw from for information. In mid-October, we set out on our great adventure.
The flight to Iceland is about 7.5 hours. We left at 5pm on a Tuesday and got to Iceland at 6:45am on Wednesday. My first taste of Iceland was climbing down the airplane staircase on the airport tarmac with gale force winds blasting my tired eyes wide open. We picked up our rental car and made the 45-minute drive to Reykjavik.
Sunrise this time of year isn’t until approximately 10am so the ride to Reykjavik was done mostly in darkness, but I did have the sense of desolation. The terrain around the airport looks to be that of another planet and makes you question the wisdom of your choice in a vacation. However, after many wide roundabouts listening to interesting Icelandic music on the radio, you stumble upon Reykjavik. We checked into our Iceland Air hotel, had breakfast, napped and set out to explore the city.
The first thing you notice in town is the Hallgrimskirkja church tower. At the top of a hill and 244 feet tall, it’s the most noticeable landmark in the city. A statue of Leif Eriksson in front rounds out your first Viking-like look at Reykjavik. The area surrounding the church provides a fun, but expensive, shopping experience. Be sure to get your wool monstri doll and Thor t-shirt, but be prepared to pay a lot while in Iceland. Spending time there is the equivalent to spending time in Manhattan or Paris.
The next morning, we set off on our road trip to our next stop, Flúðir. Being an animal person, one of the things I had been looking forward to the most was seeing the world-famous Icelandic horses. Sure enough, very shortly we saw a small herd outside of town. Venerated in Norse mythology, they are not much bigger than ponies, but hardy and long-lived. If they leave the Island for breeding, they are not allowed to return.
After a long break to commune with horses, we continued along to Þingvellir National Park. It is the site of Iceland’s Parliament from 930 to 1932, marks the crest of the North Atlantic Ridge and most importantly, was the impregnable Eyrie in Game of Thrones. From there we continued on to Geysir – the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans – and then to Gulfoss.
Gulfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland and it is easy to see why. The waterfall is wide curved and plunges down in a staircase of two steps (36 feet and 69 feet) to its ultimate fall of 105 ft. Not as tall as our hometown falls, but much wider and dramatic. You are instantly drenched and awed by its power. Time to go to our hotel, dry off and get ready for our next day’s drive.
Our next stop was the village of Vik. The southernmost village in Iceland. Along the way, we saw Mt. Hekla, one the most active volcanos on the Island, and went to the visitor’s center for Eyjafjallajökull – the volcano that interrupted air traffic in 2010. Run by Mr. Olaf and his shy daughter, it’s interesting but a far cry from the grandeur of the Mt. Saint Helens center. We got soaked to the bone viewing two more waterfalls (Skodafoss and Seljalandsfoss) before finally arriving in the spooky fog and rain in Vik.
The next day’s rain made our rain seem laughable. We tried to see the one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world, but were instantly soaked upon stepping out of the car. The basalt cliffs were hidden behind a blanket of fog and we fought over my fear of his bravery in the face of a fog shrouded cliff (no safety rails to keep you safe in Iceland), but managed to make our way back to Reykjavik.
Our last night was spent on a Northern Lights boat cruise from Reykjavik Harbor. Yes, we did see them making our trip to Iceland perfect and complete despite some bad weather and bumps in the road. I highly recommend a visit if you are looking for a trip full of adventure.
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Happy travels, Snoqualmie Valley!