The last post gave an overview of geography and travel. This will grab a few random impressions. The next one will dig into content. I’m warming up—!
Reykjavik served as base of operations for the beginning and ending of the trip. It has a lot of touristy shops, and some others, like the one operated by the Handknitting Association of Iceland, that warranted repeat visits. What gorgeous sweaters! Also mittens, hats, gloves. . . .
We also encountered samples of the Icelandic sense of humor, as in the Woolcano gift shop.
Icelanders need to, and do, take the extremes of their geological environment in stride. Lava fields are everywhere (there’s a remarkable and extensive one on the route from Keflavik airport into Reykjavik). It’s standard knowledge that IMO stands for Icelandic Met Office, and that “met” stands not for “metropolitan” but “meteorological,” an organization that issues regular, thorough updates. Eruptions, earthquakes, and floods—potential or actual—are part of everyday life.
Iceland presented more challenges than most places (other than, say, Idaho and Oklahoma) for the traveling vegetarian. Reykjavik, fortunately, offered up two restaurant treasures, both of which were also comparatively reasonably priced.
Gló: what can I say? I wish we had a place like this back home. The menu changes daily, and there are generally three major offerings, only one of which includes meat. Each is marked as to whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten-free. The cuisine features raw-food principles, and although that’s not something I know much about the results tasted great. You can choose just to have the main course or, as most people did, a main course plus your choice of three side salads, selected from an array of ten or more that change, depending on what’s most available. Adding the salads to the order only minimally increased the pricing, and resulted in a luxurious array of flavors.
We never got around to doing more than admiring the desserts. And on my last visit, I was asked if I’d like a frequent-diner card. Tempting, except that I was about to leave.
Just down the street from Gló is Garðurinn, a fully vegetarian restaurant, open only for lunch. The week’s menu is posted outside, with one soup and one other offering, each in small or large sizes.
Inflation means the Icelandic krona, or ISK, isn’t worth much. A comparatively inexpensive meal ran ISK 1200 to ISK 2500, which is equivalent to $11 to $21, or £6.50 to £13.50. At one location I paid ISK 1800—$16 or £9.50—for a bowl of soup and a small cup of tea. Fortunately, the soup was excellent.
For the days outside of Reykjavik, it was me and the grocery stores. I had let the conference know that I’m vegetarian so they wouldn’t include me in the meat count, but there wasn’t any way to accommodate alternate choices, so my challenge was (as it has been in other locations) to equip myself with food that was nutritionally balanced, tasty, didn’t require much refrigeration or heating, and could be neatly eaten on, say, a bus. Also that I could identify in an Icelandic store. Mainstays included various types of crackers and flatbreads, hummus, carrots, sweet peppers, apples, a bit of cheese, fruit-and-nut mixes, and, one of my new favorite foods that is unfortunately not available at home,* skýr. Skýr’s description makes it sounds like a variant of Greek yogurt: it’s cultured milk—in this case, skim—that has been strained. It’s smooth and thick. But it isn’t Greek yogurt. And the flavored skýrs I had in Iceland were nowhere near as sweet as the flavored yogurts in the U.S., Greek or otherwise.
* Siggi’s is marketed with both the yogurt and the skýr names on it, yet it’s different in texture and taste from what I had in Iceland. Apparently skýr from Iceland (or, if made in North America, under the auspices of the same source as the Icelandic skýr that I enjoyed most) is selectively available in some U.S. regions, not including where I live.
As I mentioned in a previous post, rainbows became a regular part of each day.
So did sheep, most of whom, however, were skittish enough that they’d turn tail and bound away when the bus passed by, even when they were in a fenced field and fifty yards or so from the road.
These were braver than average.
I got one slightly better photograph of Hofsjökull, the glacier on the east side of the mountain track on which we traversed the highlands. (Vatnajökull, the larger glacier farther to the east than Hofsjökull, is the one under which the current volcanic activity is taking place, focused on Dyngjujökull, an outlet glacier along its northern perimeter. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. Keeping track of what’s a glacier, what’s a river, what’s a volcano, and why the names overlap has been one of the challenges of this trip.)
Waterfalls, mountain vistas, breathtaking scenery—well, we missed a lot of that. As part of the return trip from Blönduós there was a tentative plan to stop at Gulfoss (a waterfall) and Geysir (hot springs), but we ran out of time.
Finally, on the last full day in Iceland, I got to see two of the country’s striking waterfalls. I was grateful to get a glimpse of what photos document and books enthuse about.
I’m pretty sure this is Seljalandsfoss. We didn’t have time to go up to it for a closer look, although what I read tells me that if it was indeed Seljalandsfoss you can even go behind it. That would be an experience!
A little farther down the road was Skógafoss, which we did investigate more closely because the turnoff also leads to Skógasafn, the folk museum that was our destination.
Thanks to the light rain that was falling, a here-again-gone-again rainbow complemented the plunging water.
Again thanks to limited time and the rain (which intensified during our foray), we didn’t climb to the top. Still: I got to see a couple of Icelandic waterfalls, and they were, indeed, spectacular.