Borgarnes was our home for two days as we explored the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Despite the clouds and soft rain and wind, we walked along the harbor and cliffs of Arnarstapi, a tiny hamlet nestled among
Our perseverance was rewarded with a lunch of hearty meat soup and bread, freshly baked that morning. During a comfort stop at the Malariff Information Center, I wandered along a path and came upon a zip line! It was low to the ground, so we had to use those core muscles to keep our lower bodies up and off the ground. But what a fun discovery!
Just the drive along the coast of the peninsula is like watching a movie of pretty scenery – fishing villages, rocky cliffs, Arctic terns. In many places you find large fields of lava rock now covered in green moss and lichen, giving them an otherworldly cast.
Thus far Iceland has been a testament to sight, but our taste would be tested as we chewed the delicacy known as fermented shark. Admittedly, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected, but we gratefully washed it down with Icelandic Brenniven, a drink made from potatoes and caraway and affectionately referred to as Black Death by Icelanders.
We departed Borgarnes and drove north, crossing over Holtavorouheidi moor, and took a short detour to Kolugljufur, home of the trolless Kola. More on trolls and fairies later. Her home is enhanced by a magnificent gorge and waterfall, but alas, she did not come out to greet us.
For those of us who have read the book, Burial Rites, you will understand why we were interested in the sight of the last execution in Iceland. The novel is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir and Fredrick Suguorsson, who were beheaded for murder in 1830. The last execution in Iceland. But was Agnes really guilty? Hmmm.
We stopped for the night at the Hofstadir Country Hotel, which is a small lodging on a farm with incredible views. Toti, the owner, is not only a great chef, but he also served as tour guide to a neighboring horse ranch where we learned about the breeding and training of the unique Icelandic horses. Toti’s in-laws own the nearby cattle ranch where we were lucky enough to meet a new born calf. While the rancher brought the calf outside her pen to meet us, her mama was not happy and bellowed and stomped until her calf was returned to her. I didn’t blame her!
We set off the next morning for Akureyri, Iceland’s 4th largest city. Large is a relative term here as the population of Akureyri is just over 18,000 and it boasts a police force of five, yes….five. It’s red traffic lights are heart shaped! Needless to say crime is not a big concern in Iceland. But first, along the way we stopped in Siglufjordur, a picturesque village known for its herring production. It celebrates its past and present with small museums that tell the story of fishing and folk music in the north of Iceland.
On arrival in Akureyri on a sunny day, we walked the small but beautiful botanic gardens and then headed to Happy Hour. Linda, our trip leader, arranged happy hours at every place we stayed and almost every traveler in our group participated just about every day. It was a great way for a group of strangers to get comfortable with each other, especially those of us who were solo travelers.
Also arriving that day in Akureyri was a very large cruise ship. Unfortunately, one passenger on the ship tested positive for COVID, so the ship was ordered to leave. Now that’s a bummer.
The Lake Myvatn area has much to appreciate, not the least of which was Freddi the Baker’s delicious rye bread, baked underground in his little section of a vast geothermal field. Freddi lifted his large metal container by rope out of the ground and handed us each a spoon. The bread had a more cake like consistency and we each scooped out a big lump of bread and an equally big dip of fresh Icelandic butter. Mmmm.
After we walked the geothermal field with its boiling mud pits and steam spouts, we visited a geothermal power plant. Geothermal energy is Iceland’s most precious resource and it provides inexpensive, reliable, and safe renewable energy. Heat and hot water are practically free in Iceland!
Our last stop was the incredible Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) where we walked along the river Skjálfandafljót. That evening we were hosted for dinner at the home of two different local families. It was nice to have a home cooked meal after so many hotel and restaurant meals.
It wouldn’t be the perfect trip to Iceland without whale watching of course. While the whales were very shy on this lovely sunny day, our captain persevered until we were finally rewarded with a few tips of the tails.
Once we were back in Akureyri, Linda wanted to stop and visit her friend Hreinn and invited us to join her. A handful of us accepted and we were glad we did. Hreinn has created a garden full of trees and flowers and fairy tale personalities. He uses found and collected objects and materials and builds the people and animals we have all read about in fairytales. This was an unexpected magical visit.
The next day a short flight landed us in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland, population 123,000. Another 90,000 plus live in the surrounding area. But as capital cities go, Reykjavik is small, which makes it an easy city to navigate.
Back to the present. This is, after all, travel in the time of COVID. In order to return home in two days, we would need negative COVID tests. Overseas Adventure Travel organized our testing and we went as a group and were back to the hotel in time for happy hour. We were told to expect an email with our results. As we were sipping our cocktails, phones started pinging…our results were coming in. With each negative result a cheer went up, glasses were raised, and we all gave a sigh of relief. No one tested positive!
Our parting experience was a visit to the famous blue lagoon. Its geothermally heated waters were warm and soothing. We were treated to a special facial mask…and it wasn’t the kind you loop over your ears…and a green smoothie, which we used to toast each other on our last day in the land of fire and ice.
A word about trolls and fairies. I doubt that the majority of Icelanders really believe in trolls and fairies. But…they are loathe to admit it because… what if the fairy overhears them! So concessions are made and plans are changed. The path of a new road is curved around a troll’s rock. I mean people circulated petitions to change the direction of the road…just in case. The parking lot of an apartment building has a giant fairy rock in it. Because…you know…just in case! Amazing! But, back to reality.
At the airport we were asked to show our passports and negative COVID tests and the entire process went smoothly. Upon landing at Newark International, I went straight to the Global Entry kiosks and was through in less than 45 seconds. The regular customs lines were very long, so I was glad to have Global Entry. No one asked me for my test results.
My first international trip during the pandemic went surprisingly well. I’m glad I went. Any lover of the outdoors will find Iceland a spectacular experience.
I should add that a few days after I returned in late July, Iceland experienced an uptick in COVID cases, so masks became a requirement indoors and on public transport. For those of us who cannot imagine life without travel, it seems a small price to pay. But we must care for others at the same time and not leave our home countries unless we are fully vaccinated. Safe travels has a new meaning in this time of COVID.