As we flew Icelandair from Seattle to Copenhagen, the airline offered a layover in Iceland for no additional charge – an offer that we couldn’t refuse! Here is a short summary of our amazing five days in Iceland. We are already talking about how to get back there!

Day 1: We arrived after a mad few days of no sleep, and without our checked luggage. After a too-brief nap, we headed into the cloudy, rainy day to catch a bus to the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s many geothermal pools. The Blue Lagoon – as the name implies – is a large hot pool that appears bright blue and is surrounded by white mud. Although madly touristic, the pool is wonderful and worth the high entry fee – in addition to the largest geothermal waters I’ve ever experienced, the area has an awesome hobbit-hole steamroom and dry sauna, hot falling water, and free mud to use for masks. We spent several hours going in and out of the water, then enjoyed the cafe. A short first day, but a nice use of our time considering our high levels of exhaustion and the drizzly weather.

   

Day 2: Woke to find our luggage on the way from the airport and our bike boxes intact, despite being opened by the TSA en route. Got our rental car and, after storing our bikes at the motel, headed into Reykjavik for a few quick hours of wandering sightseeing. The city is fairly small – the entire country’s population hovers just around 320,000, I think – but has a lovely downtown, with adorable winding streets and some magnificent architecture. We walked from the new, modern opera house on the harbor to a stunning church perched atop a hill. Had a quick lunch of warming noodles before heading out of town and north along the coast. The day’s weather was still cloudy, but less rainy, and we skirted mountains as we left the city and entered the vast countryside of Iceland. We crossed bridges or passed through deep tunnels as we met each fjord, and the sky slowly cleared as we headed further north. Nearly to our destination, we decided to take a short detour around the Vatnesnes Penninsula, recommended by the friend we were heading to meet that evening. Around the peninsula we did not see seals, as promised by road signs, but did see plentiful sheep, gorgeous views across to the other side of the bay, a lonely lighthouse, and beautiful hills and cliffs. We arrived late to the house of our friends, Cat and Dan, in Blondous, to enjoy waiting dinner and late night conversations. 

             

Day 3: After a lazy morning, we toured the building next door where Cat and Dan both work as researchers. The building had been a women’s school for many years, and had displays from the years of the school’s funcitoning in addition to current offices. There we saw a 10-year project for the community to sew a 47-meter pictoral representation of a saga that took place nearby. The project initiator teaches community members – or any visitor – to sew, and then lets them help work on the piece, which will we displayed nearby when complete. In the afternoon we headed out, first driving 20 km north to have lunch and pick up their friend Melody and then headed east towards Dalvik. Following more stunning mountain passes and isolated farms – some abandoned – we arrived in the town of Dalvik, transformed for the weekend by their annual fish festival. The festival attracts 20-30,000 visitors, which equates to nearly 10% of the country’s population. This evening we walked around the town’s residential streets, where community members had their garages and gardens open to serve homemade fish soup – for free! In fact, the food at the entire festival is free, which must be a significant part of the draw for attendees. We caught a late evening ferry to Hrisey, the small island off Dalvik where we would stay for the night. Dan and Cat taught us Viking chess, and we enjoyed a lovely curry and Icelandic beers.

               

 

Day 4: We awoke to more cloudy weather, which worked into bright sunshine by afternoon. After breakfast we went for a walk around the small island, visiting the local energy center, and taking a break in a sweet meadow – sweet enough to explain why the majority of Icelanders believe in elves. After the ferry back to the mainland, we headed into packed Dalvik to find some of Cat and Dan’s friends and dive into the food festival. At the festival various types of seafood were offered fried, breaded, pickled, raw, in soup, on burgers, baked, dried, and stuffed. We wandered through the packed docks area, also listening to a local men’s choir and rock bands from the main stage. After finishing all that we could, our crew headed back west, taking a lovely detour to some hot pots – geothermal pools – at a farm on the sea, overlooking distant islands covered in puffins and home to another Icelandic saga.

 
   
   
 
     

Day 5: After a lovely breakfast, we said goodbye to our generous hosts and headed back south. Along the way we took a several hour detour to see some of Iceland’s most famous sites – the area of the Parliament Plains, Geysir, and Gullfoss. The lake area was still very rainy when we arrived, so we took a quick look at the location of the North American and European tectonic plates meeting, and then drove to Geysir – the geyser that named them all. Although Geysir doesn’t erupt that often, one of the neighboring geysers goes off every few minutes, so we were lucky to see a number of eruptions of various heights. The weather had cleared by then, and we enjoyed the other mud pots and other geothermal pools. We then headed further down the road to see Gulfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall. Following these lovely sights, we drove back through the edge of Reykjavik to return the car, gather our bikes, and head to a busy late night airport for a red eye to Denmark.