Day #11,402: We woke up to… sun!
One way to save money in a country that’s insanely pricey- and Iceland is insanely pricey, even to us New Yorkers- is to live like the locals. Faced with a $14 per person continental breakfast at our motel, Mr. M & I fled to the town’s grocery store. And discovered… Icelandic skyr yogurt! (Wait… am I the only one cheering?)
If you’re unfamiliar with the treat, skyr is to Greek yogurt what Greek yogurt is to those kids’ squeezable Go-gurt tubes. It’s so thick that it technically counts as a soft cheese (not kidding), and its flavor is almost sour… the first time I tried a Siggi’s brand skyr yogurt at home, I thought it had gone bad. I should’ve realized that only rough-and-ready Icelanders would dream up a yogurt that could put hair on your chest.
Mr. M & I decided to enjoy our picnic breakfast out on the famous volcanic black sand beaches of Vík.
This beach was once named among the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. But with no land mass between this beach and the icy shores of Antarctica, it’s bound to be a bit rugged.
Iceland laughed at my romantic plans to stroll along its beaches and whipped up waves of sandstorms that would pelt Mr. M & me with black sand every couple minutes. After being sandblasted one too many times (we really did have to duck down and cover our faces), Iceland’s point had been made.
Just down the ring road from Vík are the cliffs of Dyrhólaey, one of the best places in Iceland to observe puffins flying in and out of their cliffside burrows. Having already eaten a puffin on our trip, it seemed appropriate to see a live one, too.
The view from the Dyrhólaey cliffs was nothing short of epic.
The rain, which had held back all morning decided it was no longer content to be contained. It started pouring. And then a gale-force wind picked up. Mr. M & I joked that perhaps we should be worried about being blown off the cliffside. Until we actually started being shoved by the wind and had to take temporary cover behind the old lighthouse.
Puffins may be slow & awkward enough to be caught for dinner, but they’re not fools: this was no weather for light avian aircraft, and they were surely warm in their burrows, snuggled up with the puffin equivalent of hot cocoa (aka more herring.)
Soaked before noon. Iceland does not mess around… even in July.
We had a few more stops on our road trip back to Reykjavik but soon started to realize that we just weren’t feeling the “Drive- Get Soaked- Get Back in the Soggy Car” rhythm of sightseeing along the Ring Road.
“What do you feel like doing?” I asked a dripping Mr. M when we stopped for lunch.
Mr. M is a man of few words, and when he has an idea, it’s usually a good one. ‘Nothing’ it was.
And nothing in Iceland means heading to the hot springs spa. As one giant geothermal zone, the country is littered with vents releasing steaming hot gas. These hot spots heat natural and manmade pools, leading to the year-round practice of outdoor ‘bathing.’ (Interestingly enough, locals have also channeled hot spots into heating self-sustainable greenhouses allowing them to grow tropical produce like bananas locally!)
Mr. M & I decided our Icelandic ‘nothing’ would take place at the Fontana Laugarvartn spa. Sitting above the Laugarvartn lake with bubbling hot springs surrounding us, we both agreed that throwing our touristing itinerary out the rain-soaked window was the best thing we could’ve done.
Pushing through a Must See Travel List sucks- and always makes me look back on a particular location with a tinge of resentment. If you need a time-out, take one!
Having been soaked on our own terms, we were off to the capital city of Reykjavík. As our tour book intimated, Reykjavík is the coziest of all European capitals: a few hours’ stroll oughtta have you feeling like a local.
In fact, on our way to dinner, we just happened to wander by the Hallgrímskirkja, a church that happens to be one of Reykjavík’s most famous landmarks. The exterior was designed to be reminiscent of the basalt columnar jointing formations found throughout Iceland (and which we’d just seen in Skaftafell the day before).
After snagging a table at local fave Prir Frakkar, we surveyed the menu and realized we’d missed one of Iceland’s more infamous foods: horse. Holding the surprisingly radical belief that meat is meat is meat, eating horse doesn’t disgust me any more than eating pig does (read: both sorta disgust me a lot). Verdict? It tastes pretty much exactly like beef. I’m SO evil that one of my favorite “travel meats” yet tried was kangaroo… it doesn’t get any fuzzier or cuter than that.
Indeed, after an hour or so spent walking the capital city, Mr. M & I felt like we really had done a lot. Made all the more possible by the midnight sun.
Contrary to my stereotypical imaginings of a Nordic country, the rest of Iceland wasn’t always as efficient as compact Reykjavík turned out to be. It’s expensive, lax on signage, and road trips are long and oddly monotonous… peppered with glimpses of startling beauty.
At times, Iceland really made us dig to uncover its gems: like an iceberg, 90% of its magnetism seemed to lie mysteriously below the surface.
Perhaps this spotty inaccessibility is part of Iceland’s magic.
Sometimes you have to dig to uncover the gems, and other times a little enchantment can’t help but bubble up from the earth.
To explore my next day’s adventure gooping it up in the Mud Fountain of Youth, click here!
Details of the Day:
Accommodations: Despite it featuring on every signpost for miles (kilometres, rather), when it comes down to it, Vík is a town of less than 300 people. Yes, it’s the only outpost for some 70km on either side, but it’s still just that- an outpost. Don’t expect too much from your accommodation. Our $200 a night “luxury motel room” was THE ONLY option available for twenty miles and was deemed luxury because it came with a tiny, but attached bathroom.
Lessons? (1) Iceland is a place where it probably pays to book your room in advance- with very few motels outside of Reykjavík, rooms book up during peak months. (2) You should be okay with hostel-type accommodations… at hostile prices.
The Adventurous Carnivore in Iceland: Despite being a vegetarian in real life, I’d hazard to say that I’m a fairly adventurous eater while traveling (or at least an adventurous taster… I can generally only stomach a bite of meat at a time). I want to experience everything, whether that’s eating bugs in the Amazon or emu in Australia. But I do have my limits.
Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can eat whale, as the country chooses to participate in unregulated whaling (Iceland left the International Whaling Commission in 1992). Minke whale, which may or may not be endangered (there’s not enough data to show one way or the other), showed up on many a menu; unfortunately, so did Fin and Sei whales, which definitely are endangered. Mr. M & I chose not to support Iceland’s unregulated commercial whaling by abstaining from eating any whale meat on our trip. After all, most whale meat consumed in Iceland is actually done so by tourists!
Whatever your own decision may be, it’s always good to be aware of the issues. :)