Iceland

In late May I traveled to Iceland with a fellow faculty member and twenty one students who had completed the Honors Program at my college. I had been to Iceland once before in the 90s but for a conference so I did not really get a chance to see much of the country and its capital, Reykjavik, back then. This time we spent a week based in Reykjavik but traveling on day trips north, south and west. There are still many places in Iceland I hope to visit in the future.

Firstly, the country is very expensive. I had no idea how much simple meals would cost so I did feel bad for the students who were taken aback (as was I) for spending the dollar equivalent in Kronas of $27 for a bowl of soup and bread. A cup of tea — tea bag in water — was $4.50 . Yikes. But they seemed to be good sports about it and college students are resourceful in finding bargins whenever they travel.

The presence of nature — and an unfamiliar form for those of us living in the USA — was simply wonderful and astonishing. Waterfalls, hot springs, lava fields, vast expanses of rock leading up to the sea with little vegetation: Iceland offers another glimpse of the planet that was new for all of us. Man-made nature also factored in as we visited the famous Blue Lagoon, a hot spring of aqua water surrounded by high end facilities, was on our first day, right off an overnight flight from New York. This was formed by runoff from a thermal water energy plant. The air was cool for late May but the water was deliciously warm and inviting, and completely opaque. I would definitely recommend a visit to this unusual site.

Perhaps the waterfalls were some of my favorite sights, and the North Atlantic rugged and dangerous coast. I live on the other side where the Atlantic is warmer and more inviting. But the waterfalls never fail to delight and awe the viewer.

On the Snaefellness peninsula

The Icelanders still retain a folk belief in the “Hidden People” and elves and one quickly adopts a healthy respect for these mythical/real creatures one sees out of the corner of one’s eye. The little houses for the fairies spot the landscape and I have learned not to scoff at mysteries. One never knows and to be safe I would not want to irritate a troll. Very Bad Idea.

Note the bones in front of these tiny houses…

Reykjavik is a small city but still enjoable to roam around. Clearly tourism is the #1 industry so one has to go off the beaten track to leave behind the stories catering to [rich, I assume] tourists. The street art was particularly engaging.

My colleague was well loved by the students and she would advise restaurant visits for exotic foods like lobster soup, puffin and whale. The last one still bothers me. We went on a whale watching trip the last day and were fortunate enough to have a humpback whale take pity on us and put on a fabulous show. Ryan had a great telephoto lens and caught these amazing images:

But then how can you return to land and eat a whale?? Definitely disturbing to me.

I would recommend a visit to this country far off the beaten track. Bring good walking shoes, a willingness to engage with the elements (it rained, sunned, clouded over every day) and a sense of fascination with otherness.

The coast, a “shape shifter” in a Settlement Museum, and the iconic image of a Viking ship
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