OF THE PLAIN VIEW HERITAGE CENTER:
2008 Account of Trip,
by Gloria June Ginther Brown
Off we flew to Iceland in the cold month of February - my daughter, Allison, & I - to visit a country long on my list of "unusual and spectacular places to visit." Since our heritage is Norwegian, it was mandatory for us to visit the land of our Viking cousins!
Developed from volcanic eruptions, Iceland is near the top of the world and is a jewel of natural wonders. It's about the size of Kentucky. The country is almost treeless but seedling planting is in progress. Icelanders say that two trees make a forest and if you get lost, just stand up! Astoundingly, very few insects live on this island! Most of the people (mainly of Norwegian descent through the original Vikings brought along some of their Irish slaves) live in coastal areas as the center of the island is ruggedly mountainous and uninhabitable. Pollution is almost non-existent and this country's 265,000 inhabitants derive their "cheap-cheap" heating and hot water from thermal springs (Icelanders open their windows and leave them open to cool off their warm houses). Reykjavik, the world's most northern capital and the most "partying" city I've ever experienced (from midnight to almost daylight), has only 180,000 inhabitants and is very clean and safe. The city sits next to the sea, is surrounded by snow-clad mountains, but gets very little snow itself due to the Gulf Stream. Inland, of course, is a different story with lots of ice, snow, and sleet. In the winter, darkness arrives about 4 pm and daylight begins around 9:30am. Strong winds that come close to lifting one out of his/her boots are almost constant. Icelanders say there are no bad weather days just bad clothing choices!
A few kilometers out of the capital, an unworldly landscape awaited us. Lava eruptions were everywhere and steam spewed out of the ground in all directions. Erupting geysers (one over 100 feet high) and a most stupendous waterfall, the Gullfoss, were urethral. In the winter, portions of the majestic Gullfoss become encrusted with ice and seem to be suspended in clear waves of ice. We missed seeing the Northern Lights but apparently it's a common occurrence when away from city lights. A kidney-racking jeep safari trip over the mountains to the rugged interior was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Up and over canyons and glacial rivers, getting lost in a "whiteout" plus trying to stand outside the jeep in a gale-like winds in order to feel the rumble of thermal waters being funneled into an igloo-styled pumping station, driving up and over the large sand dunes on the southern coast and unto the soft black lava beach, and viewing the only place in the world where the two rifts (North and Eurasian) are visible above the floor of the ocean were just a few of our breath-taking experience son this most adventuresome excursion.
Riding Icelandic horses one morning in the sleet, snow, and sun (in that order) on a lava tour over a moon-like landscape was surreal. These short-bodies, long haired ponies are sure footed and extremely docile (know Allison would have loved to have absconded with one!).
Year-round swimming is practiced by most Icelanders - from hot to cold is their motto - so we followed suit. Running outside in freezing weather gave one gigantic goose-bumps until you jumped into the 110 degree water where you felt like you were being boiled alive! Inside the Deluxe Laugar Spa, you again went from hot to cold in the eucalyptus steam saunas, hot pots, indoor waterfall, cold foot baths, messaging hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools and, lastly, we enjoyed a much-deserved darkened relaxation room with a wood burning stove and over-sized chaise lounges. On the way to the airport on our last day, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon with bathing suit in hand to douse ourselves in lava mud and immerse ourselves in the mineral-rich, blue thermal waters. The aquamarine geothermal seawater in a lunar landscape of lava is said to revitalize your skin and spirit and make your flight back tot he States almost tolerable--believe it did too!
Unusual experiences can be had when one gets off the beaten track. Allison and noticed a beautiful old building on a walk one day and since the front door was locked we entered the building through the back door. Two guards came running and after our explanations of "who and what" they allowed us to view the proceedings of their Parliament in session (as long as we didn't used our "blitz"- flash camera). Of course, we didn't understand a word being debated as it was all in their language! The Saga Museum featuring life-like Viking figures was another disquieting experience. I definitely saw one of the life-like figures blink and breathe and this was especially disconcerting in a semi-dark room filled with sword-swinging, murdering Vikings! We found out later that a machine of sorts was inserted into this particular Viking to add a little thrill and/or realism for sightseers! Food was another interesting adventure. The smell of dried fish is everywhere, and horse meat (yes, from those darling ponies), reindeer 'parts", sheep heads, head cheese and blood puddings are also apparently enjoyed. Twenty-eight different kinds of licorice, many of them chocolate-covered, were sold everywhere. Fresh organic vegetables grown year-round in greenhouses scattered throughout the island were a welcome treat.
If you are of Scandinavian descent you will feel right at home in Iceland. If you aren't, you will still enjoy this North Atlantic island country as the people are warm, friendly, and fun-loving and you will delight in all the outdoor activities that abound on this island of ice and fire. A definite plus if you travel during or after the Summer of '06 will be the opening of an interesting archeological excavation site under the Reykjavik Centrum Hotel where it's believed the first Viking lived and died.
Just remember to take two items with you - your bathing suit and plenty of money (our nightly challenge was to find a dinner under $100)!--Gloria Brown (1998 GSC Retiree)