I’ll level with you, friends: I’m not a huge fan of vacation posts. Mine or anyone else’s. I think that vacation stories are far more engaging when told in person, and get bored looking at endless trip snapshots. So I’m going to skip the chronological blow-by-blow and attempt to keep this fairly bullet-pointy with a story or two sprinkled in. I’ll also look to you for trip- and/or Iceland-related questions.
(I’m speaking at the MN Blogger Conference today, so I might not have answers for you until tomorrow or later, but I’ll get to them!)
Word we said most in Icelandic: “Takk.” (Thanks)
Word we said most in English: “WOW.” (It’s an incredibly scenic country.)
Food we ate most: Cheeseburgers. Oh, the shame.
Food we enjoyed most: Arctic char – deeeelicious! Also enjoyed the traditional Icelandic lamb soup. And the bread. Those folks really know how to make a hearty, delicious, fantastically filling brown bread.
Food that lived up to its rep: The hot dogs. This tiny hot dog stand is mobbed, day and night, and with good reason.
Looks like a real sign, doesn’t it? CAT CROSSING for the 10,000 cats resident in Reykjavik. But no, it’s graffiti. We saw two versions, one with a speed bump and one without. And the paint is matte while the rest of the sign is shiny. Brilliant, no?
Best experience: Riding Icelandic horses across a gorgeous beach on the Peninsula at a full gallop. I’d never galloped before and it was so exhilarating and exciting that I laughed uncontrollably the entire time. The farm that led this ride was absolutely incredible. The horses were friendly, curious, easy, and just about the most lovely equine beings I’d ever met. We were allowed into the pen with 40 of them. In the U.S., that would NEVER have happened. Or, if it had, we’d have been warned to stay well clear of the horse butts for danger of being kicked while the horses themselves ignored or moved away from us. These horses, on the other hand, absolutely flocked to us. Sniffed us, nuzzled us, practically cuddled us. They were like puppy-horse hybrids. It was positively magical.
I have loved horses my whole life. Didn’t take formal lessons until college, but did trail rides as a kid and was always told I’m a natural rider. I’ve never been afraid of horses, and have always felt confident as a rider. This experience told me I need to listen to my gut more.
We arrived at the farm early. The 16-year-old boy who would lead our ride was doing some ground work with a chestnut horse. The horses in the pen were skittish, totally filthy, and so itchy that they were rubbing their – ahem – Sensitive Buttparts on the corral ropes. The chestnut horse, clearly headstrong and problematic, was assigned to a German fellow who’d never been on a horse before. Ever. In his life. My horse was so uptight and skittish that it jumped a foot in the air when I gave it a pat on the neck, and over-corrected every time I gave it a command. We should’ve known it wouldn’t go well.
About 20 minutes into our ride, we passed a ditch where an adolescent sea bird was stuck and flapping its large white wings frantically. Three of five horses spooked, and suddenly I was clinging to the mane of an animal rocketing across a field at about 30 miles per hour. I tried to slow him to no avail, and eventually fell off to the left as he streaked across the field away from me.
Mike fell, too, as did one of the Germans. We all got up, bruised and shaken, as the 16-year-old boy asked us to stay put and keep the horse that DIDN’T bolt with us in the field. That horse, the chestnut, did everything in its power to get away from us – pulling and pushing, thrashing its head – but we managed to keep it. The boy returned with the other horses and asked us to mount up to ride back to the stable. The moment I was up, I knew my horse was still on the brink. And sure enough, it spooked again moments later, rocketing away from the group at a run. I held fast as long as I could, but fell again on some gravel. This time, the horse stopped the moment I was on the ground. Clearly, he had just wanted me OFF. I grabbed the reins and walked back to the group.
I have a fantastic array of bruises and pulled a few muscles but, miraculously, that is all. Mike, too. We could’ve broken bones, gotten trampled, died. We are extremely lucky. I was actually astonished by my own good instincts. During both falls, I gripped my horse’s mane for additional stability, then let myself down to the ground as gently as possible using the mane. I didn’t hit my head, and have absolutely no injuries above the waist. After my second fall, I stood up INSTANTLY and started walking. I must’ve known the best way to gauge my injuries was to try walking. It was horrible and terrifying and we were shaken for days afterward. But we’re OK. And we’ll be taking riding lessons this fall – in a controlled environment – so that we can shake off any residual fear.
Eeriest place: Jökulsárlón. This lake is fed by Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Nice cold water and … floating icebergs.
On a misty morning, it feels like another planet. Well, except that there are seals swimming around in the frigid waters.
Most unexpected experience: We took a bike tour of Reykjavik on our second day there. We ran into every single person on the tour at least one more time throughout the trip, sometimes FAR outside the city. Our tour guide himself waltzed into the tiny, remote guesthouse we’d checked into, three days after we’d done the tour. We gave directions to two elderly Asian women while in Reykjavik, and saw them again at Jökulsárlón, hundreds of miles away, four days later. Don’t expect to be a stranger in Iceland.
Experience we could’ve skipped: The Reykjavik “zoo.” It’s really a petting zoo with a couple of mink and an arctic fox thrown in. $6 to get in, and not really worth it. But the foxes sure were cute.
Regrets: That we visited the Blue Lagoon on a day when it was raining, incredibly windy, and about 40 degrees. Keeping yourself submerged in the thermal pool by necessity probably isn’t as fun as doing it because it feels awesome. Also never got to see any puffins. Sniffle.
Reasons this trip was unbelievably cool: The landscape is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Bleak, as you can see from my photos, but still mind-blowing in its variety. With the exception of the thermal pools, all photos above are mine, taken with my iPhone … so you can just imagine the stunning beauty of the images HM captured with his DSLR.
Reykjavik is an unbearably stylish city full of women who made me reconsider my view that black, white, and gray get boring after a while. Plus you can walk the whole place, end-to-end, in two hours. If it weren’t so flippin’ expensive, it’d be nearly ideal, as cities go.
Despite the accident, riding Icelandic horses was like a dream. They are absolutely amazing animals, and I desperately miss them. I know that doesn’t make sense, but there it is.
Our eight-year wedding anniversary took place while we were there. Woo hoo!
I’d never seen a glacier or a geyser or a geothermal pool or a black sand beach. Now I have.
It felt great to disconnect for a while. I will admit to checking my e-mail from the road, but I didn’t talk to my coworkers, or worry about my finances, or fret about anything at all besides how to navigate us from one place to the next. It’s been a long time since THAT has happened …
Oh, by the way …
This is what I looked like just about every day. Swap the cropped leggings for full-length and put me in my Tsubo Kison boots, and that was me. For nine days. The raincoat was purchased hours before departure, $5 at Value Village. It is embroidered with the words Cost Cutters, the name of a low-priced hair cutting chain, but the coat fit well and was waterproof, and I’m damned glad I brought it! And that scarf. I would’ve looked pale and wan without it. We packed carry-ons only, extremely light, and I’m so glad. Though wearing all black every day PAINED me, it was good to have a small group of versatile items on-hand.
In my suitcase:
Long black leggings
Cropped black leggings
Black jeans (for riding)
Black lightweight sweatshirt
Gray jersey dress
Black turtleneck dress
Black Tsubo Kison boots
Black Tsubo Elath flats
Black Tsubo Acrea pumps
Things I bought:
Flea market belt
Flea market necklace
Eesh, like 3 touristy t-shirts. I’m such a sucker …
Red, purple, and black traditional Icelandic pattern sweater dress
Black modern design wool sweater coat
Gray wool ruana
Maroon wool scarf
And I thought I wouldn’t shop much on this trip. HAH!
Let me know what questions you have about the trip, our experiences, Iceland in general …