Iceland: A Tiny, Frozen Paradise

Where did Iceland get its name? The famous story that I've always heard and repeated was that the naming was a propaganda tool by the Vikings. The intent was to mislead other sailors about the relative appeal of the Island.

Iceland, despite the name, is a small yet beautiful island full of natural resources. Greenland, on the other hand, is a frozen and mountainous land that would pose more challenge to settle. 

Turns out that's not necessarily true.

According to Iceland Review, a settler named  Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson brought his family and livestock to the island but failed to properly prepare for the winter because he was too preoccupied with the bountiful fishing. As a result, Hrafna had to leave but before doing so he climbed a mountain, looked over the landscape, and saw a lot of... ice. So he named it Iceland. 

Kinda hilariously mundane actually. Like a 9th century episode of Seinfeld. 

Regardless, Iceland has become one of my favorite places on earth. I stopped there in 2016 on my way to England and instantly realized what an incredible place it is. There is something visceral and raw about the island. In Western NY, the landscape is just something we exist on. We take it for granted, we utilize it when convenient.

In Iceland, the earth demands your attention and respect. It feels like the place itself is alive with activity. And it is. With the constant pounding of the Atlantic ocean, the titanic shifting of its many glaciers, the beating of the relentless wind, and the ceaseless grind of tectonic plates every feature seems to be the result of the perpetual battle between time and nature. Entropy and Evolution. 

Not to mention the volcanoes.

Flying in overnight, immediately upon landing we headed to the Blue Lagoon. This is definitely a more "touristy" thing than i would normally do, but my wife and i vacation very differently. I spend as little as possible and do as much as possible and sleep as little as possible and live off of red bull and protein bars. My wife definitely likes to vacation like a normal (aka sane) person meaning do fewer things and enjoy them. Actually pay for some luxury-esque stuff. Anyway, I'm really glad we did the Lagoon. It was the perfect way to refresh after a long flight. The air was cold. Probably in the 20s or 30s but the water was warm and relaxing. 

Landed in Iceland and went straight to the blue lagoon geothermal hot spring. 10/10

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After the Blue Lagoon, we headed to Reykjavik where our Air BnB was located. We crashed there, took a quick nap, and went downtown to enjoy the sights, the culture, and the food. One of the top food stops on our trip (and we ate a lot) was definitely the Noodle Station. Massive bowls of noodles, meat (or just keep it vegetarian), veggies, and seasoning. Incredibly satisfying. 

Hayley found an Iclandic version of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree in Mál og Menning, a wonderful bookstore in downtown Reykjavik. We also walked to Hallgrímskirkja Church before calling it a night. 

The next morning, we were on the road before the crack of dawn! (Sunrise wasn't until 10am, don't be too impressed.) Our plan was to drive north along the coast and drive around Þjóðgarðurinn Snæfellsjökull Peninsula. Altogether about 450 km drive with a lot of stops planned in. It was an aggressive plan but we wanted to see as much as we could! 

As soon as the sun started to rise, we were met with spectacular mountain and ocean views. 

We stopped at a Geirabakari Kaffihus to enjoy a cup of coffee (kaffi) while watching the sunrise and a pastry. Or two. 
We drove and found the Gerðuberg Cliffs. They were somewhat hidden off along a side road but absolutely worth the brief diversion. Towering and composed of naturally occuring Basalt formations, I would have sworn we were looking at a man made wall for a medieval castle. 

We kept driving until we finally reached the north shore of the peninsula. We drove partway around Kolgrafarfjördur, a bay that frequently has killer whales. We didn't see any, but we did run into a couple horses who were kind enough to come up and let us take their photo. :D

The peninsula is known for many mountains and volcanoes that stretch out to the sea and serve as backdrops to quaint little towns. One of our favorites was Kirkjufell (meaning Church-Mountain) which towers over the small community of Grundarfjörður and the waterfall of Kirkjufelslfoss. 

We continued and stopped for a couple vanity shots along the ocean before arriving at the Well of the Irish. This stop i wanted to see purely for the story. I love a place with a story attached. It gives context and it makes memory more meaningful. The Well of the Irish was likely built around 850 AD in Gufuskálar and it has an interesting story attached, you can read the story on Guide to Iceland's site which was where i found it. You'll also find some clearer pictures there of the well and of the Whale Bone resting on top. (Yeah, seriously) 

At this point the weather was getting a bit crazy. The whipping wind was intensifying, rain was coming in waves and we still had one more stop we HAD to reach. But on our way, we saw a volcano. OF COURSE WE HAD TO CLIMB THE VOLCANO! At the top, the wind was painful. Standing was difficult, walking was even worse. It burned the skin and i couldn't keep my hat on my head. The view from that volcano, with mountains in the backdrop was breathtaking. We tried to take it in, appreciate the beauty around us... but after a few minutes we had to get down and out of the pelting rain and wind. 

FINALLY we arrived at our most anticipated stop. Gatklettur. This spot was the reason we chose this drive instead of heading down the south coast. It validated our choice and blew our minds. Gatklettur is on the coast by the small, fishing village of Arnarstapi. It is a rock arch, sitting in the ocean and carved out by the swirling current and breaking waves. As incredible as Gatklettur was, the surrounding area might have been more incredible. 

Our last stop was Búðakirkja. A black church set between the mountains and the ocean. At this point we were absolutely exhausted, we still had a couple hours to drive, and we had a 4:30 AM wakeup time for our flight to Paris the next morning. 

A tiny, frozen paradise full of wonder. Everyone should visit Iceland at some point in their life.