The origins of Iceland’s name are various: the most popular claim is that since Iceland was a lush green paradise and Greenland a massive block of ice, the Vikings in their attempt to dissuade invaders, ironically named it ‘Iceland’. Another popular story is that Iceland supposedly has the world’s
We tested the second story and found that it could indeed be true: magnificent ice-cream shops tempted us with extra-large servings, sprinkled with licorice and assorted candy, making it a meal by itself — flavours included the typical chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, and also beer, cucumber, exotic blueberry, and whiskey-marmalade for the more adventurous palate! The secret ingredient here is the cream of Icelandic cow’s milk, which gives the world-famous ice cream its rich flavour
But there’s so much more to Iceland than its ice-cream, and we discovered a few eclectic experiences featuring exotic meals, Viking settlements and amiable horses as we made our way through this island nation.
First stop: Capital city, Reykjavik
This is the world’s most northerly capital and also one of the smallest — not that either hinders it from being a young, buzzy city like London or New York. In summer, the sun rises at 2am in Iceland, making the days the longest we have ever witnessed.
We started our day by walking down Austurstræti, Reykjavik’s main street, which rises uphill and offers tantalising views of the city’s harbour. We ended it with the (in)famous runtur, or pub crawl, which showed us how much Reykjavik’s people like to party. Knocking back vodka martinis, we tried to keep up with the hard-drinking Icelanders, who went from round to round far too quickly. Reykjavik’s smallness was made even more evident as we saw many familiar faces from the day on our night out. Even as we wound down at the witching hour of 3am, the city was bathed in the beautiful glow of an early sunrise.
Second up: Lounging in a lagoon
The road to Blue Lagoon is flanked by milky blue lakes with pale wisps of steam rising and hovering above. Located on the outskirts of Reykjavik, the warm waters of the lagoon offer a comforting embrace against the chilly evening. A women’s changing area hewn out of natural rock and fashioned with chestnut-brown wooden cubicles offer a space to change for this occasion.
Surrounded by pitted rocks, the lagoon was created by the slow cooling of lava flowing from volcanic eruptions centuries ago, making it an otherworldly lunar landscape. Steam rose from the surface, bathing everything and everyone in silvery, ghostly light. The atmosphere in the pool was surreal, with people weightlessly suspended in the mineral-rich, blue geothermal seawater, and their bodies and faces generously coated with silica.
We basked in the waters to wash away the tiredness of the trip. Frolicking families and couples swam around us. The water temperature varied from warm to lukewarm to cold in places and a makeshift bar offering beer or cocktails found many takers. Two time-warped hours flew past, and we came out of the lagoon after the most rejuvenating embrace from nature.
Next stop: Goðafoss falls
To get to the opposite side of the island, you could drive around the scenic coast or take the local toy-like IcelandAir propeller planes to Akureyri, the Northern capital and the second largest city in the island. The Akureyri airstrip borders the giant Lake Mývatn, which is ringed by stunning cloud-capped mountains that stretch endlessly like a sharp-edged duvet. Akureyri itself is a quaint town with museums, bookshops, the mandatory church and a profusion of ice-cream shops. From there, we drove through verdant hillocks to the Goðafoss waterfall.
Goðafoss was breathtaking not merely for the sheer volume of its mighty cascades but also for the force of water and energy it radiated. Many thrilling minutes were spent stretched out on the edge of a precipice close enough to the falls to feel spray on our upturned faces and sun on our limbs, while a rainbow curved into life before our eyes. Hiking down the hills and over treacherous rocks, we waded through the icy cold river to the curtain of the waterfalls to stand behind the cascade, frozen numb by its spray.
Unexpected encounters Part 1: Meeting Icelandic horses
More hills and rolling meadows led us to the valley of Skagafjörður, the ‘Mecca of the Icelandic horse’. Icelandic horses are stockier and broader than their Southern cousins, thanks to their Scandinavian workhorse ancestors. Not only are they magnificent to look at, but also very friendly once you get to know them.
With long straggly manes flopping over their eyes and faces, the horses we saw were shades of russet, dark brown and jet black. They amiably nuzzled each other alongside romantic couples who did the same with visible ardour. They welcomed our petting and little treats like candy, dandelions and grass.
Adventure No. 4: Traversing lonely lava fields
We traded lush valleys and waterfalls for endless stretches of brown-grey lava fields, dotted with black rocks of solidified lava. Driving past the Snaefellsnes Peninsula gave us the sense of being on a different planet — or maybe even the moon. Craggy lifeless mountains passed us by, the monotony broken by perfectly geometric semicircles of basalt stones arranged as if for a Viking state conference.
Flanked by lava fields on the left and lonely grey volcanic beaches like Djúpalónssandur on the right, we encountered neither vehicles nor travellers for hundreds of miles. The Snaefellsjökull volcano rose like a sleeping giant — the mountain peak, snow-capped and looming, enveloping the lava fields in its shadow, stood in stark contrast to everything around.
Unexpected encounters Part 2: Fearless seabirds
After more lunar landscapes and unfriendly seas, relief came in the form of green meadows punctuated by herds of our old friends, the Icelandic horses and fluffy Icelandic sheep. We drove towards the Arnarstapi Cliffs, which border a benign, aquamarine sea. Parts of the moss-covered rocky cliffs snaked into the sea while other parts formed natural rock arches and bridges, which are home to numerous nestling flocks of sea birds.
Seagulls marked out their territory on vast swathes of rock arches and had also converted a shallow cove into a gull-nursery for the next generation. Puffins kept to small hollows on the rock-edge, while kittiwakes congregated on the higher reaches. The birds were uniformly fearless and cared not for propriety even as we approached their nests to sit on the precipice.
Adding to the cacophony of the gulls was the quacking of ducks and geese that thronged the water in large flocks. Slowly, we acclimatised to the profusion of noise and life in Arnarstapi.
Iceland offers something for every kind of traveller and is on the top of our list of destinations that are perfectly suited for escapes from the unforgiving
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