As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back to Toronto watching Home Alone (’tis the season) and eating a smuggled orange. I said goodbye to my mom at the Keflavik airport a little over an hour ago. It was sad. As is usually the case with farewells, I don’t want to talk about it.
Instead, I’ll reminisce about happier times: namely, the last few days of our trip. Mostly in point form again because these were the most thrilling and activity-filled (and tiring) yet. Prepare yourselves for some real excitement.
December 4 (Golden Circle Tour):
Approximately 95% of tourists visiting Iceland—yes, I fabricated that statistic—go on a Golden Circle tour, which stops at Þingvellir, the Geysir geothermal field, and the Gullfoss waterfall (and sometimes other places). Since we were (past tense #ughbacktoreallife) tourists of the most enthusiastic, dense, continually-doing-stupid-things-but-whatever-we’re-tourists-so-we’re-allowed variety, we were obliged to follow suit (as were Beyonce and Jay-Z, whose helicopter we saw leaving one of the sites just before we arrived). On the advice of our Icelandic friend and his wife, we decided to add the Fontana Spa option to our Golden Circle day. Cue overly detailed description.
- We were picked up by the tour company (we prefer to travel in comfort) and went to Þingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic Parliament was founded around 930 AD. There’s some diverging tectonic plates business happening there, which contributes to how geographically breathtaking it is. The weather was perfect: snow and clear skies.
- Fontana was next. The spa has four geothermal pools and three saunas that are heated by hot springs. We soaked in the naturally heated waters overlooking a lake with snowflakes drifting onto our noses and eyelashes, The Sound of Music–style, except I’m pretty sure Maria didn’t indulge in such worldly pleasures as an Icelandic geothermal spa—minor technicality. At the end of our visit, we got to sample rye bread that had been baked in the hot sand. It was delicious.
- We were then picked up by another coach and brought to Geysir. The geysers were very cool, but they refused to perform on a regular schedule, which I found rather frustrating. Picture below.
- Next was the Gullfoss waterfall. By the time we got there, it was almost dark and profoundly cold, but we didn’t let these two impediments stop us from admiring the spectacle that is Gullfoss for a good five minutes before retreating to the restaurant/gift shop, where we ate Icelandic meat soup.
- We got back to our Airbnb around 8 p.m. and had sandwiches for dinner—important information. We prepared for the next morning. Mom went to bed. I obsessed about something for a while and then managed to fall asleep. Good thing because we had ANOTHER BIG DAY AHEAD OF US! [Anticipatory uppercase letters.]
December 5 (South Shore Tour):
I originally wanted to use this day to go glacier walking and ice climbing, but I decided to compromise (one of my least favourite words) so that we could do this tour, which incorporates glacier touching, instead. A small part of me knew that glacier sports likely aren’t the epilepsy-safest of activities, even if I couldn’t find an explicit no-epilepsy prohibition in the brochure (I’m guessing that whoever put it together figured that he/she didn’t need to include one, common sense being a thing most people have). I was proud of myself for refraining, though it didn’t stop me from feeling sorry for myself. Turns out, however, that for an entirely epilepsy-unrelated reason, my instincts were right. More about that later.
First, I’ll backtrack a little:
- We woke up at 7 a.m. Given our lazy Reykjavik mornings, the whole darkness thing, and Topamax—never forget the Topamax—this early hour was a shock to my system. Poor me, right?
- Pickup was at eight, and the tour began in earnest at nine. We used a smaller company that had been recommended by our favourite tourist bureau employee, Astrid, and they made a good impression right from the start: the bus was comfortable and roomy and the guide was friendly and informative. So yes, book with Sterna the next time you find yourself in Iceland.
- Our first destination was Skógafoss. Verdict: beautiful.
- Next was the black sand beach at Reynisfjara, where there are basalt columns. Verdict: also unbelievably beautiful. I’m starting to become jaded to how wonderful all these wonders of nature are.
- After a half hour or so, we moved on to Vík, a nearby village, for a lunch break. I ordered fish stew, which in Iceland is a rich fish and potato casserole au gratin. A token side salad rounded out my meal.
- It was then glacier time. As you might imagine, I was excited to see said glacier, but also very slightly bitter that I wasn’t triumphantly traversing that great mound of ice. There’s a ten or so minute walk to the glacier (whose name is Sólheimajökull, in case you wanted to know), and it started well—the landscape was stunning, it was snowing a little, etc. etc. And then a few people on their way back to the parking lot warned us that there were extremely icy patches on the path (from which there was, incidentally, a significant drop on one side). And then I made it to the second slick bit and had a flashback to when I was sixteen and broke my hip slipping on ice. And then I realized what a horrible, horrible idea paying $200 for glacier walking would’ve been, considering that I couldn’t even make it to the glacier for the purpose of touching it for a photo op. In any case, it looked nice from afar.
- There were three more stops, including the visitor’s centre near Eyjafjallajökull, that volcano that erupted in 2010, Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that you can walk behind when it’s not horribly, horribly cold and treacherously icy, and a visit with Icelandic horses, but I’m too emotionally raw from reliving my glacier experience to write about them, so I’ll instead provide some visuals.
- Once back in Reykjavik, we went to Sushi Samba, a month-long dream of mine. I ate no sushi. It was amazing, and also expensive. Thanks, Mom!
Last installment forthcoming.