I wanted to imagine myself a Leif Eiriksson, the viking credited with being the first European in North America, but in reverse! I would be an American explorer first discovering Iceland. Good god was I late to the party! All I encountered were Americans, from landing to take-off, and I honestly can say I spoke with exactly 3 Icelanders: my car rental guy, my horse riding guide, and my ice climbing guide. The rest were either fellow American tourists or eastern Europeans working summer jobs in Iceland so that THEY could travel after. I tried to make peace with hearing my own accent at every restaurant, coffee shop, hostel, and AirBnB, but I will be frank, I found it difficult. One of the pleasures for me while travelling is leaving my own nation behind to discover a new one, a culture entirely different from my own. It is sad to admit: I did not really get to dive deeply or even at all into Icelandic culture. Yes, I went to their museums and tried to immerse myself in their history and art, but it didn’t answer all the questions I had about their present. What do they think of America? What games do their elderly play? What sports are popular in their country? What are the beloved national pastimes? Reading? Reading what? Why are they so well read? What are their favorite snacks? What do Icelanders dream for their country? Sure, I can Google most of this information, but it isn’t the same as walking around and discovering it for yourself, having a meal with folks from another country, etc. I read a few accounts from fellow bloggers on their Icelandic adventures, and I watch a few documentaries on their impressive island. But all this is available to the world. What could I learn for myself about these people, about their land?
Of course I am exaggerating a bit. I learned of the national pastime of reading from a BBC documentary. According to BBC The Viking Sagas, Iceland’s fascination with stories is rooted in their Sagas, medieval stories their ancestors put to vellum around the 12th century. Reykjavik is apparently the most well-read capital in the world. Unfortunately we (Kendra and I) didn’t get to spend much time in the capital exploring. We had scheduled one and a half days for museums while unbelievably jet-lagged. (I am pretty sure I shouldn’t have been driving around, but I can now tell you that nothing bad happened after all!). Soccer and Crossfit were fairly popular; I even picked up a few shirts for my Crossfit-crazed cousins back Albuquerque (shout out to the Firehawks!). As for favorite snacks, I returned stateside with an addiction to skyr, an Icelandic yogurt that agrees with my lactose intolerant self. HA!
Below is a quick itinerary of each day with accompanying links if you would like some recommendations.
The day of the museums! We started with the National Museum of Iceland, a great spot to get up to speed on the basic history of the country. The Saga Museum had an audio component that made this one a hit! I liken it to the experience of walking around in a wax museum (that happens to be viking-themed), and the actual Sagas are broken down for you in your ears and before your eyes, taken in at your own pace. We visited the National Gallery of Iceland (in Icelandic, Listasafn Islands) for some very interesting modern art. If you like boats, the Vikin Maritime Museum is for you. The day ended with a whale watching adventure, organized by Elding Adventure at Sea from Reykjavik, and we saw a few Minke whales, taking a few breaths ever so briefly.
The full replica of a viking ship inside a beautiful modern looking building made Viking World Museum a winner. They also had surprisingly delicious Icelandic meat soup. Iceland travel pro tip: museum cafes actually have really good food deals. We drove to our ferry in the south of the country and arrived in the Westman Islands, Vestmannaeyjar. That night we dined at a delicious local diner called Gott(a.k.a. good) cafe. So good.
Hike in the south of Haeymay island (means home island) with puffin and sheep watching. Aquarium and Natural History Museum where we enjoyed the company of Toti the Puffin, not the soccer player. We also climbed to the summit of the volcano Eldfell (fire mountain in Icelandic) that erupted back in 1973 and numerous times before that.
Early Ferry, went to see Waterfall Seljalandsfoss before driving out east to ride Icelandic horses with Glacier Horses.
Returned west for ice-climbing excursion in the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull with Glacier Adventure tours. I had a drink of glacier water at the suggestion of our guide Ms. Maria, and honestly it was the purest, most refreshing drink of H2O in my life, something I recommend you experience.
Spending the night in Vik, we checked out the renowned black sand beaches and basalt formations.
My return to the desert was on the 6th day but not before hopping into the Blue Lagoon for a nice spa treatment, featuring weird silly putty on my face.
To check out more of Jean’s illustrations, go to her Instagram page, HERE!