Iceland pt 2: Out and about

Horses and Glaciers

The real holiday part of our trip started on Sunday, with our first tour, the Horses and Glaciers tour together with Diana Maynard, who also wrote a blog post about the horse trip 🙂 At 08:15, we were picked up from our hotel (where we were moving to that day) and we were driven to the Eld Hestar stables and hotel. It’s a huge stable with about 200 horses if I remember correctly. Luckily they also had plenty of waterproofs for us, because it was really wet when we got there, but it cleared up pretty much as soon as we started riding. Icelandic horses have developed two extra gaits over ‘normal’ horses, namely the tölt and skeið. We only did the tölt which is a four step gait. Apparently it’s handier on rocky surfaces than normal trotting, although we stayed on pretty even ground. I’m not sure if I would be able to hold a glass of water without spilling during the tölt, but perhaps that’s me. Or the saddle, since Icelandic horses seem to have another feature, which is that they inhale a lot of air, which makes it hard to get the girdle tight enough. We fastened the girdle before we left the stables, then stopped again, but towards the end of the ride I was noticing that my saddle was shifting a bit and indeed it was pretty loose when I took it off. Oh well. Adds to the adventure. Next time, I’ll bring my own waterproofs and a sports bra, just in case.

After lunch (which included a fabulous roasted pepper soup), we were picked up by Islandic Mountain Guides for our glacier tour. On the way to the Sólheimajökull glacier we first made a stop at the Skógafoss waterfall, which is 62 metres tall and the water just comes down with ridiculous strength. After we fitted our crampons, we drove on through the lands that Eyjafjallajökull had covered in ashes in 2010. The glacier walk was seriously the awesomest thing about our trip. Our guide (I’m afraid I forgot his name) was really laidback, happy to answer our questions and tell us about the landscape. After every little bend or bump there was yet another awesome sight in the form of a crazy crevice, glacial stream, funky ice formation or simply a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains framed by the ice we were standing on. After about two hours, which included a lot of fun with ice axes, drinking from a glacier stream (got to work the arms too there), running into some more LREC people and about 100 photos it was time to go to the van again. Which was just about perfect because it started raining then. Any given weather pattern doesn’t last that long in Iceland anyway, so when we got to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall half an hour later, it was dry-ish again. The cool thing about this waterfall is that you can walk behind it (which will get you wet again, but that was OK, since it was the last stop of the day). It’s really super amazing to see a waterfall from the other side.

In Reykjavik, we ended our day with a lovely dinner at Vegamot, a fancy bistro where I had a perfectly cooked horse fillet steak accompanied by a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the day.

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a pretty popular tour, but it does really include some of the main highlights of southern Iceland. We thought about it a bit and then decided to go for a tour bus affair instead of renting a car and driving ourselves to a) see something on the way and b) not get lost. So on Monday morning, we were picked up by a little van again in front of our hotel after which we changed to a full blown big tour bus together with lots of old people. Our first stop was a tomato greenhouse, where we got an explanation of how they grow tomatoes in an organic but high-tech manner in Iceland. We also sampled some of their fabulous tomato soup (we thought it was too early for the bloody mary’s) and we picked up some BBQ sauce that we still need to try out. We then went to the Strokkur Geysir in the Geysir area.  It’s really pretty amazing how the landscape is formed there and of course how every 6-8 minutes a whole lot of hot water shoots up from the earth. The colours and the sulphur smell only make it more surreal.

We had about an hour and a half on our own near the Geysir, so we climbed the little hill just near the geysir to get a view from higher up, which was pretty magnificent.

Just before the bus left we had lunch at the little café in the visitor’s centre and browsed around the shop. Interestingly enough they were also selling wolf fur (I had already spotted rabbit fur hats in Reykjavik. Apparently fur isn’t a no-no in Iceland).

Our next stop was Gulfoss, the Golden Falls (and the little sign by the waterfall said that no-one knows why they are called that). Again this was a truly magnificent sight. Apparently about 6000 ship containers of water come down there every second. In times of floods, this can increase tenfold. The water comes down at such speed and force that lots of it is sprayed back up again, so it’s impossible to see the bottom. We walked around and like everyone else took lots and lots of pictures.

Our last stop was Þingvellir national park, where two tectonic plates meet and what used to be the site of the Icelandic parliament. It has a pretty amazing lake in the middle. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to really walk around on our own (I actually got called back by the guide when I wanted to climb down a few rocks to see a little pond with super clear water from up close). The guide did have interesting stories to tell about how people in Iceland came to believe in trolls and fairies as he was pointing out ‘faces’ in the rocks and telling us that the place can get rather foggy. I can totally imagine that the place can feel pretty haunted. The fun thing about the tectonic plates is that they’re partly above ground so you can see them. Also, Iceland is getting a few cm wider every year because of them moving apart. Kind of a useless factoid, but still.

Since we still had quite a few Icelandic Kronur left, we decided to go for a really nice dinner, so we ended up at Fishmarket, or Fiskmarkaðurinn as it’s called in Icelandic. That was a super fabulous restaurant. I had some whale for starters, which came in a sushi like manner (it tasted kind of like tuna, but meatier) and Paul had mussels steamed with local beer that came in a bowl that looked like it was covered in fog (it was hot water poured over seaweed). I then had blue ling with a fancy curry and peanuts (very interesting and tasty combination) while Paul had the monkfish with an Italian style sauce. We then shared a cheesecake and a crumble cake, but the cheesecake was the clear winner here, not sure if I ever had any better. A marvellous ending to a marvellous trip!

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