Iceland: Day 1 – Jet lagged in Reykjavik
Someone once told me that the best cure for jet lag is to stay awake as long as you can, so arrival in Reykjavik included as much coffee as I could find on short notice, and a trip to the Whales of Iceland museum. While it’s not a cheap stop (not a lot of places in Iceland are), it was quiet and interesting enough to keep me awake.
I’d been planning a visit to Café Loki (an eating place named after the god of, basically, mischief? Count me interested…) since my last trip to Iceland, and happily for me, the whales exhibition had brought me to pretty much lunchtime.
Full of mashed fish and rye bread icecream (seriously, let Café Loki convince you that that flavour combination works), I strolled off to the National Museum. (By this point, the jet lag remedy was working, but mostly because I was so tired I’d forgotten what time it was in either country.)
Luckily, like many public venues in Iceland, the National Museum includes a place exchanging coffee for currency, and duly fortified, I headed into the exhibits. There are a few really fascinating artifacts from the early settlement era, but the bulk of the information concerned the conversion to Christianity and church artifacts. There was also a saddlery exhibition which I spent significant time nosing through; side-saddle isn’t my thing, although there were some beautifully-worked examples on display, but I have an extensive soft spot for Icelandic horses.
I’m pretty sure I had plans for supper, but they got ditched in favour of the noodle place opposite my hotel, which had the advantage of the minimum possible delay between a meal and falling flat on my face for twelve hours.
Iceland: Day 2 – Into Ice and Lava
This involved a (relatively) early start. Since my bed had drawn the chalk circle and successfully performed the summoning incantations by six or seven the previous night, this wasn’t as painful as it sounds. I hopped into a Reykjavik Sightseeing minivan and headed North to Langjökull glacier, the second largest in Iceland. As it so happened, I would have been impressed no matter what, since it was the first glacier I’d ever met socially. Generally I prefer my ice in my drinks, but I have to admit that this one looked very dramatic.
Langjökull boasts a man-made ice cave, including a chapel (nope, not kidding, they celebrate weddings there and everything). The ice cave (and the 22-ton modified glacier truck that hauled us out there) are run by Into the Glacier, and if the one doesn’t impress you, I can pretty much guarantee the other will. I was lucky with the weather; it was only freezing in the caves, and only very slightly less than freezing outside when the wind blew, and we got some fantastic clouds and fogs giving us a spectacular peep-show of the surrounding mountains.
Unfortunately, I was walking on and through history all morning; by current projections, Langjökull and its cave will have vanished from the face of the Earth by approximately 2065 due to climate change. I’m grateful I had the chance to see it.
The second stop of the day was Víðgelmir, the largest lava tube cave in Europe (I wasn’t just being a smart-ass author when I said ‘through’ Iceland…). While the cave and the surrounding lava field are absolutely worth the trip, I was having to prevent myself from tipping our guide off the walkway by the first five minutes of the tour. His speeches were pre-canned and gave the impression of being geared for idiots or pre-schoolers, which was a shame because the cave really has plenty to talk about without needing a side-show.
Apparently it also served as an outlaw hideout shortly after its formation sometime between 1000 and 1100 AD; in 1993 a leather pouch and sundry other items were found on a ledge. They’re still looking for the remains of the owner. Happily, we didn’t find them either, especially as Icelandic tour guides are fond of encouraging their groups at some point in a tour to turn off all light and experience absolute dark in lava caves.
Iceland: Day 3 – Around the South coast
The South coast of Iceland isn’t a short trip (this tour was pushing 18 hours by the time we got back), but I had one day to spare before I headed into Western Iceland for a multiple-day riding trip, and I badly wanted to see the basalt columns (the real-life inspiration for the design of the Hallgrimmskirkja) and Jökulsárlón. Enter Arctic Adventures, who ran a tour last summer along the coast to Vik, two of the major waterfalls (there are several hundred along that coast), Reynisfjara, and the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón.
Much as spending that many hours in a minivan wasn’t comfortable, it was the only way I was going to get to Jökulsárlón this decade, so I sucked it up, and it was well-worth the ass-aches. Among other highlights at the lagoon were some incredibly enthusiastic seals. Either the basking is just that good there, or shoals of tasty fish get lost up there that often, or (my theory) enough half-witted tourists fall out of the boats that the seals can feast.
As you can see, I beat the snow there by a few days, but it was still surreally stunning in that way that leaves you sneaking looks at the scenery to see if you can spot the special-effects teams sprinting around. Like a lot of Iceland, and one of the reasons I like the place, Jökulsárlón really doesn’t let you miss the fact that you’re a long way from home. (One of the other things I like is the option of pickled fish for breakfast. Don’t judge until you try it.)