Icelandic horses are small, but as anyone who has ridden one will tell you they “ride big”. The same could be said of the country. Iceland is an island about the size of the state of Kentucky. On a mid-western Interstate, one could drive across it in about 6 hours. But here, in a land of two-lane roads and one-lane bridges, mountains and fjords, glaciers and waterfalls, icebergs and volcanoes, no one would be surprised if it took you a week. Because why would you want to drive through all that so quickly?
After a quick 6 hour flight from Minneapolis, We – Mary Cornelius, Kim Boyd Vickrey, Jayne Ryan and myself – landed at KEF on a grey morning. We rode the FlyBus to Reykjavik across lava fields barely topped with mosses that were busy creating a new ecosystem in the raw rock. It’s an eerie landscape, this river of lava that ran to the sea and created the finger of land that the city sits on. Reykjavik itself is a small, clean city with a young population that seems outnumbered by tourists.
We met the rest of our group – Susan Noeller, Bud and Anne Vassey, and our organizer, Paula Da Silva -at the apartments that we had rented for the night and went out in search of lunch. Francesco, our guide, led us down Laugavegur (the name translates as “wash road”, because it once led to the hot spring where the city did its laundry), a street full of shops that cater to an outdoorsy crowd, and to the waterfront for fish soup, perfect for the cool afternoon. After that our first order of business was to find one of the few Vinbudin liquor stores: we had heard that wine was costly in Iceland and had resolved to lay in a supply at the beginning rather than buy it at restaurants. However, we got so caught up in sightseeing that by the time we arrived at Vinbudin, the manager had just turned the key in the lock and left. So instead of wine we had Gull (pronounced “Gold”) lager with dinner, and proclaimed our allegiance to Icelandic beer.
Food and drink are expensive throughout Iceland. I think we averaged about $100.00 each per day between lunch, dinner and snacks to bring along in “rolling home” an 18 seat mini bus that was the perfect vehicle for eight photographers, our guide, Olgeir, and our driver, plus our luggage and equipment. For lunch we mostly made do with roadside fast food in between spots of astonishing beauty, but dinners were consistently delicious, consisting mostly of fresh fish or locally farmed, grass-raised lamb or beef. We started our days with standard European breakfast buffets of bread, cheese, sliced meats, yogurt, musli, etc.
Hotels are generally more rustic than we are used to in the US, but everywhere there was free wifi, soft down comforters and abundant hot showers. Coming from drought prone California, it was a pleasure to stand under a torrent of shower water without a twinge of guilt in this water-rich country. I was glad that I had packed my own shampoo and shower gel, because these thing are not always supplied in hotel rooms, and when they are, they, combined with the highly mineralized water are exceedingly drying to the skin…. So I was glad I packed skin cream as well.
But enough about accommodations – we had come to Iceland to see the sights! Next: The South Road.