For those who weren't aware, the trip to Iceland was in celebration for Sheena and Todd's wedding. We arrived two days before the ceremony, planning on doing some exploring and activities around the hotel. We left Seattle early in the morning and landed in Iceland at about 2300 local time. In the SeaTac airport, I debated whether or not to check my bag. I normally carry it on - I hate checking bags. But, it was a direct flight, we were already checking one bag, and it was free. So, I thought "what could happen?" and checked my bag. At least now I wouldn't need to worry about finding space for it on the plane.
We landed and went to the baggage claim, only to find that my bag wasn't there. There was another section for "unusually shaped bags", so we spent about 30 minutes going back and forth between the two baggage claim areas, but nothing showed up. When I went to report my bag missing, I was told I had to wait an hour before they could do anything. After waiting an hour, I filled out a report, and they said that it was probably not put on the plane and that they would put it on the first flight the next day. So, I should have it shortly. On the plus side, they did volunteer to drive it to the hotel. However, I had to go through a special customs line because my bag was lost where I was grilled about everything that was in it, down to the most minute detail. All because my bag was lost. Then we stood outside in the very cold temperature (my jacket and my pants were in my missing bag - I wore shorts on the plane) in an empty parking lot, waiting for a bus to take us to the car rental place. When we finally got there, the car company had no record of our reservation! Luckily, they had enough cars that it wasn't a problem, but at this point, at one in the morning, it was not looking good for our trip.
Then we started a two and a half hour drive in the fog that was so thick that lights made it harder to see. Every time we started to see lights and signs of civilization, our directions told us to turn away and enter the wilderness. We had serious questions for where we were going. But, eventually, at about 0330, we arrived at the hotel - only to discover the door was locked and you had to call a number to be let in. We were so tired and punch drunk at this point that we just stared at the sign, because neither of our phones were set up to work in Iceland. Luckily, a wonderful receptionist saw us waiting at the door and let us in to check into our room. From there, the trip started to look up.
The next day we started our adventures in earnest, staying close to the hotel because my bag was due to arrive around 1400. We drove around, and the first thing we saw that stood out was the viking gate here. It just felt like it was so appropriate. It just seems so... Icelandic. We had to get a picture, even stopping on the road and turning around to go back.
And now let me pause for a moment of recapping and just share this street sign. This is one of the signs along the highway that you are supposed to be able to use (I imagine) while driving down the road at 70 km/h. Not knowing Icelandic, or where we were, we found that to be a little daunting. This is just one of many signs, but one that I think best summarizes our experience. That made a lot of sense to us!
That night we went to go see a horse show centered around the myths and legends of the Icelandic horse, and I learned quite a bit. One of the fascinating things I found out is that the Icelandic horse is apparently one of the most genetically pure breeds of horse in the world. In the 12th century, vikings declared that no new horses would be brought to the island, and that rule has been maintained ever since. In fact, if an Icelandic horse ever leaves the island, it can never come back. They have been bred to survive in Iceland for generations, and as such as very specialized mounts.
The next day was the wedding day, and that was a gigantic bustle of activity. Even just listing all of the activities would take a lot of time to write out! Sheena and Todd had a very energetic and enthusiastic wedding planner who made sure we were always keeping to a very intense itinerary. It was great to see so many different places in such a short amount of time, and not have to do any of the driving! We started with the wedding itself which was held in this lava tube that stretches for several kilometers. The cave was mystical and rocky, and quite literally breathtaking. When the ceremony was over, I climbed through to the dark areas in the back, and with the mist and fog, it really looked like a dragon cave.
After our full day of touring and activities, there was the reception with some amazing food. I do think that it is worth mentioning that the food we had in Iceland was fantastic. There was not a bad meal that we had during our entire stay. However, it was also incredibly expensive compared to what I am used to paying back here in the States. It is not surprising, considering how much needs to be imported to Iceland, but it was still a bit of a shock that took some getting used to.
The next day, we bid adieu to our friends and toured Iceland on our own, heading along the south coast all the way to Vik and then a bit further. One of our first stops was a geothermal plant that we wanted to tour. It is fascinating to think of how much of Iceland's energy and heat comes from sources like geothermal energy. Apparently, all of the hot water in Reykjavik is supplied from the plant we toured, and even though it is transferred long distances, it only loses two degrees during it's journey. The inner science geek in me had a field day at the plant, seeing how it all works and then picking up some flavored salts to use once we got back home. Seriously - I was recently introduced to flavored salts, and they are amazing. I used some smoked birch salt in meatballs last night, and it provides just a nice little touch of smokey flavor. This is a new thing in my culinary repository and I cannot recommend it enough. But I digress.
The next place we found was Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, which was and is still my favorite place that we found in Iceland. The waterfall itself was something almost out of this world. You can climb down to where it crashes into the water, only a few feet away from you. There is a trail that goes all the way around it and is well worth walking, as long as you don't mind getting a little bit wet. I am a water creature, and just loved being around it and soaking it all in - sometimes literally.
If you continue following the path, you find that it leads to a large cave where another waterfall comes down and crashes into this hidden pool. I had to go inside. If you don't want to get your shoes wet, you need to step from rock to rock through a narrow split in the mountain. Once you are in there, the entire place opens up into this large cavern with the water cascading down from overhead in this near-deafening roar. You are secluded from the outside world and feel like you have stepped into another one completely. It was magical. There is no better word to describe it.
Speaking of that wasteland...
We saw several more mountains, walked around a few other waterfalls, and yes, even did manage to hike onto a glacier. We didn't go too far down that road, because it required ice climbing gear we were not equipped with, but we wanted to at least walk on the glacier to say we did it. How often do you get to say that? Especially when earlier that day you were walking and playing in the ocean?
The next big event we had was horseback riding, and that was a treat. I was astounded at how small the horses were, and how hairy. Yes, I realize that sounds odd, but it is true. They even had long hairs coming out of their nose and all around their eyes. It makes sense considering their climate, but it was still very different from what I was used to. And even more surprising, this was their summer coat. It was thicker than most winter coats I know on horses from around here! Again, it makes perfect sense, but it was a noticeable oddity.
My faithful steed for the day was Brunni, who was the largest of the horses out there and had this "I can do it, I want to be in front!" attitude the entire time. I spent most of the entire ride convincing him that he wasn't allowed to pass the guide. Needless to say, probably a good match for me - or a horrible match depending on your point of view. I would frequently try to keep him at the back of the ride, but that would last for no more than five minutes before he was trying to shoulder his way to the front.
After that, we had a couple of days of quiet exploring, including a brief retreat to a spa and gym, where I did in fact go swimming in an outdoor pool in Iceland. I don't know why, but it made me happy to do that especially since it wasn't a hot spring. We were going to go to Blue Lagoon, but had to change our plans because it was the one thing we didn't schedule ahead of time and it is so popular that you need to do so. In retrospect, it is also very expensive, so perhaps it was best that we did not go.
We also went to go see some old volcanoes and hiked around some hot springs - not the kind for swimming in. In fact, they had warning signs about how your shoes could melt if you walked off the path. They also had some very interesting plaques about local myths and folklore regarding the steam vents that were good to read and very inspiring. It definitely was a trip that was good for writing purposes as well as just general relaxation.
Our way back was luckily uneventful and all of the baggage arrived. However, it did take almost two hours to get through customs on this side, something that I was not expecting. And for the record, once you leave the plane, there are no bathrooms until you have finished with customs. Just something you might want to be aware of for your own travels. It was a wonderful trip, and so much more happened, but much more than I could ever get in a single blog post. Well worth it, and energizing on multiple levels.