Written by: Greg Ellifritz
It was Lauren’s birthday last week, so I took her to Iceland for a long weekend to celebrate. It was a country that both of us were interested in visiting and one that neither of us had already traveled to. She found a whirlwind four-day tour of the country and we booked it. It was a fun trip. Icelandic people are incredibly friendly and the scenery is unmatched. It was truly stunning in its desolation and stark landscapes.
We took an overnight flight to Reykjavik and started our day as soon as we arrived at 6:30 am. No time for jet lag in our life! From the airport we went straight to the viking history museum for breakfast and a history lesson.
After breakfast we headed to the country’s largest volcanic hot spring, which happened to be only a couple miles from the airport. The Blue Lagoon hot spring is a shallow volcanic pool heated by natural hot springs. It was huge…a couple hundred meters on each side. The pool ranged in temperature from 90 degrees to about 110 degrees depending on which spring fed the area where you were bathing. We sat in the hot water for an hour or so to loosen up after our flight and then we were off.
We visited a small fishing village in Grindavik Harbor and talked to a cafe owner about the fishing trade there over an amazing bowl of lobster soup. According to the cafe owner, fishing is a really big deal in Iceland. The fishermen on the bigger boats can bring in over $200,000 in salary for the 9-10 month fishing season. The villages that support the fishing trade are the most financially secure places to live.
After lunch, we hiked through the bubbling mudpots and fumaroles at Krisuvik. The water comes out of the ground at over 200 degrees and reeks of sulfer. It made for an interesting walk.
After a nice walk through the mudpots we went caving in a 2000-year old volcanic lava tube cave. The cave was about a half mile long and about 15 meters under the ground. It was slightly challenging to get through in some spots, but was very cool to see.
After spelunking, we arrived at a guest house on a country farm a couple hours outside the city. We ate a fine dinner of locally raised beef and lamb and then went outside and got a captivating view of the northern lights. I had seen them once before (in Alaska), but they were much more visible in Iceland.
We started off day two with a hike around the Skogafoss waterfall and then ate lunch at a nearby farm. The main menu was farm raised lamb, but we started with a local delicacy as an appetizer…15 day aged raw horse meat. It was surprisingly tender and tasty.
After lunch, we decided to attempt what may have been the stupidest move of our trip. We wanted to hike out to the beach to see the remains of a 1973 plane crash. It was about a four-mile round trip walk. No problem. Until we arrived. It was 35 degrees, pouring rain with a wind gusting to 80 mph. It was the most insane hike I’ve ever done.
Lauren and I stayed warm, because we were well prepared and had some good outdoor gear. It was still miserable. Some of our group did the trek in blue jeans and tennis shoes. Those folks were dangerously close to hypothermia after a couple hours outside in the chaotic weather conditions.
After the hike we ate dinner at a nice restaurant in the town of Selfoss and went back to our dorms at the farm.
Day Three started out with a hike around the 6000-year old volcanic Kerio Crater Lake. The views were breathtaking.
We then visited the Haukandular geothermal area and saw some of the amazing geysers. The first geyser ever described was in the area. Local explores named it “Geysir” and all other volcanic water eruptions on the planet have been called “geysers” since.
After seeing the spurting geysers, we had lunch at a geothermal bakery. The restaurant cooks bread in clay pots that they bury in the ground that is heated by geothermal waters to about 200 degrees. It takes 24-hours to cook the bread using only heat from the ground.
After lunch, we visited the historic Pingvellir National Park, the location of the seismic rift between the North American and European tectonic plates. It was also the location of Iceland’s first democratic parliament in the 12th century.
We ended up the day walking around the city center of Reykjavik and going to dinner at a 11th century priory located on an island just outside the city center. On day four we woke up, toured some of the museums in Reykjavik, and then boarded our afternoon flight home.
I normally talk about the local crime trends and weapons carried by the local cops in articles like these. I don’t have much to say about that topic today. Iceland is rated as the world’s safest country. There is almost no crime. In fact, despite a population of over 300,000 people, there are only about 150 people imprisoned in Iceland at any given time. Citizens can own guns there, but mostly for hunting.
Semi-automatic pistols and rifles are outlawed. The only handguns that Icelanders can own are rimfire target pistols. There are minimal restrictions on hunting rifles and shotguns. Anyone who owns more than three firearms must legally have a lockable safe in which to store them. There are no concealed carry permits. Even the carrying of pepper spray is a felony in the country.
We only saw two police officers on our entire trip. One was armed with an ASP baton and handcuffs. His partner has a similar loadout, but also had an attachment on his belt to accept a drop leg handgun holster. He was not carrying the gun at the time we saw him. Only a small subset of the Icelandic cops carry guns, and even those guys don’t carry pistols on a constant basis.
Overall, we had a wonderful time on our short trip. If you plan on going, I have one caution. Iceland is very expensive. It’s an island nation that has to import most of its food and building products. The minimum wage in Iceland is about $36,000 a year. There is a 26% sales tax on everything except food (11% on food) and a 40% tax on large imported good like automobiles. Gasoline is $6 a gallon. A beer at a local bar costs about $12. A decent restaurant lunch for two runs between $50 and $75. It isn’t cheap to travel there.
If you don’t mind shelling out the money for the trip, you’ll find Iceland a remarkable place to visit. If you enjoy the outdoors, the hiking is truly unbeatable.
OK, time to shave my viking beard and go to work. Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.