As the plane started its descent heading for Keflavik airport, I saw an anvil-shaped cumulus cloud rising out of the southern peninsula of Iceland next to the setting sun. Then, at the base of the cloud, I saw bright red lights shining through the mist and realized that I was looking down at a volcano and its flowing lava. I grinned at my husband Bruce and said "Iceland is going to be fun!"
It was almost midnight by the time we landed, picked up our baggage, and stepped outside of the airport. I saw a bright red glow in the sky and jumped up on a rock to take the picture of the column of lava I could see in the distance. At the car rental counter, a British tourist returning her car told us that she had been in Iceland through the month of July and the volcano had been inactive until a few days before we landed when Geldingadalir, which had just erupted in March of 2021, started spewing lava again.
We drove to our hotel the Courtyard Marriott in Keflavik just 2 miles away and checked in. The person at the counter was pleasant and advised us to book our Covid test early for our flight back to America. She informed us that there were several Americans who have been staying in the hotel for up to a week while waiting to get their covid test appointments and test result before getting another flight back to the USA. There were no test centers open after 4 pm and often, large blocks of appointments can be booked by big tour groups. We spent the next half hour on their wi-fi searching for testing centers and booking appointments for covid testings for our return flight before going to bed.
Day 1- Thingvellir and Reyjkavik
The first day of our Iceland tour was to be focused around Reykjavik. We had booked a food tour at 4 pm downtown and thought that we could spend the morning at the Thingvellir National Park about 30 miles north. The historical site of Iceland's parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries was a beautiful lake valley and the display in the Visitor Center was very informative. You can see the mid-Atlantic fissure called the Almannagjá fault that is pushing apart the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at a rate of 2 cm a year (the middle picture). We spent so much time there that we were caught in the rain for the quick hike to Selfoss waterfall and didn't have time to go see Geysir, the original namesake of all geysers worldwide.
We got back to Reykjavik and checked in to our City center hótel that was located downtown so we could walk to our food tour meeting place a few blocks away. The food tour was for Eric, the foodie in our family, who had specifically asked for puffin, whale, and fermented shark on this trip. The Icelandic Traditional Food tour was not cheap but well worth it for the wealth of information and entertainment that our guide Benedikt provided. We tasted cured arctic char and shredded lamp at the first restaurant Fjallkonan, lamb hotdog at the hotdog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, then Plokkfiskur fish-cakes and baked arctic char at a seafood restaurant Messinn, where the Icelandic rye bread was amazing, then meat stew and fermented Greenland shark with Icelandic ale at the Íslenski barinn restaurant. The smell of fermented shark was so strong that they store them in little jars and we tasted them using little toothpicks. I guess depending on our sensitivity to urea, some of us found Hakarl to be really objectionable and some of us didn't. Finally, we walked up the rainbow road towards Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral to sample Rye bread ice cream and fried donuts at Café Loki across the street.
Afterward, we walked back to our hotel, stopping by a Vietnamese market to pick up aloe vera drinks. (Oh, yes. There is a fair-sized community of Vietnamese living in Reykjavik. We met one of them working at the Marriott Courtyard and she told us there are at least 8 Vietnamese restaurants and 3 markets in the city). We allowed the kids a few hours of food coma rest before heading back out at around 9 pm for our evening drive and hike to view the Geldingadalir Volcano.
The lava is so bright at night and the sun doesn't set until around 11 pm, giving us a couple of hours of visibility. It was a moderately strenuous hike due to the steepness and slippery slopes of some sections. Bruce wanted to head much closer but I didn't like the look of those sections in the dark and insisted on turning around after we can see the lava bubbling. Even then, we did have to use flashlights for the hike back, and some of us had to slip, slide and/or crawl down those slippery slopes. I was shocked when an American family asked us in the parking lot at midnight if it's safe for their father to hike up to the volcano. I told them flat out no, it's not safe, especially since the police/ambulance van stationed at the base had already left an hour earlier with the sunset. The tiny white lights on the right of the last picture below were people heading down or up the mountain on the first hill.
And that was our first 24 hours in Iceland.
The 2nd day of our Iceland Ring Road tour consisted of Geysir, Gullfoss, and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls on our way to Vik.
The 3rd day was the Fjadrargljufur canyon, Eldraun lava field, Vatnajokull glacier, and Skaftafell waterfall before checking in near Hofn.
The 4th day was the beautiful drive through the fjords, Egilsstadir, Dettifoss, and Selfoss.
The 5th day was Lake Myvatn, Hvevir geothermal area, and the Klaflar craters.
On the 6th day, we drove from Godafoss to the Snæfellsnes peninsula through the Northern city of Akureyri.
The 7th day was spent exploring the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the morning and coming back to Reykjavik in the evening for the covid tests and flight out the next day.
Stay tuned for the subsequent posts.