Weekend Getaway in Iceland – Lava Rocks, Icelandic Yogurt and a Rainbow

A Picturesque Icelandic Village

By D. Michael Jones.

Let me guess what you’re thinking: “Why did you want to go to Iceland? Isn’t it cold there? Where is Iceland? Does anyone live in Iceland? Isn’t that a long way to travel for a weekend getaway? What’s in Iceland?” It was the latter question that convinced me to take the trip. When I saw a flyer from the activities and recreation organization at work advertising an “Iceland Getaway,” at first glance, I thought it was a trip to an ice skating rink. I looked closer and realized the flyer was actually advertising a four-day excursion to the country of Iceland.

Forty-five of us took the trip from BWI aboard Icelandair. Five hours later we arrived at Keflavik Airport at 6:45 a.m. (1:45 a.m. EST).

I was totally amazed by what I saw. It was the strangest, eeriest landscape I’d ever seen. There were no trees, no bushes, no grass, no flowers – just miles and miles of black lava rocks sparsely covered with moss. They’re known as lava fields and there is no shortage of them in Iceland. In the distance we saw mountains and volcanoes. The lava fields and mountains against the backdrop of the dark gray, dreary sky made me feel like I had stepped onto the set of a science fiction disaster movie.

iceland1 300x150 Weekend Getaway in Iceland – Lava Rocks, Icelandic Yogurt and a Rainbow

Glaciers float in an Icelandic Sea. Photo by D. Michael Jones.

According to what I read, Iceland’s weather is described as relatively mild. (Despite being so close to the Arctic Circle, it’s also in the Gulf Stream.) At times, New York has colder winters than Iceland. It may be true according to the thermometer, but I don’t remember any mention of the vicious wind. I have never known weirder weather than that I found in Iceland. It gave a whole new meaning to the term “volatile weather.” It was mid-March and we experienced all four seasons in one hour. We’d be standing in bright sunny weather, typically mid 30′s to lower 40′s, and then out of nowhere, we’d be running for cover from a hailstorm. By the time we took cover, it was sunny again. Just when we thought it was safe to come out again, buckets of rain fell. We never knew what to expect – sometimes snow or sometimes sleet. Then the strong arctic winds would start. If we weren’t careful, they would blow us off balance. There was, however, a bright side to all of this: rainbows are a common sight in Iceland.

The hotel offered a Scandinavian breakfast buffet each morning. The cold bar served vegetables, fruit, cereal, bread, cold cuts, skyr (an Icelandic yogurt) and fish. I’m not sure if it was steamed or raw, but since the fish was on the cold bar, I gave it a pass. The hot bar was a disappointment. There were boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, baked beans, and what looked and tasted like miniature hot dogs. With the exception of the hot dogs, the food was always cold. I skipped the hot bar altogether and instead ate skyr and cereal for breakfast.

Jet lag really had a grip on us, but when we stepped off the bus into the arctic wind blasts, we woke up right away. Our tour began with Reykjavík, a colorful city with brightly colored roofs. There are no skyscrapers, but the further we moved away from the harbor, the more the city looked like America. We saw MacDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Toyota, Honda, IBM, Price Waterhouse and more.

One of the highlights of the tour was the Hallgrímskirkja Church. This huge Lutheran church (around 90% of Icelanders are Lutheran) is the largest building in Reykjavík. There was some controversy surrounding its construction in 1974 – people complained it looked like a lava flow. To me, it looked like a chapel with a gigantic rocket attached to it.

Iceland looking out over the valley Weekend Getaway in Iceland – Lava Rocks, Icelandic Yogurt and a Rainbow

Iceland-looking out over the valley from our table

After our tour we went back to Hótel Loftleiðir which is owned by Icelandair.  The exterior is straight from the 70’s, but the interior rather modern. Our room was small, but always clean and cozy. One thing we had to get used to in Iceland was the sulfur smell (the odor of rotten eggs) in the water from the faucets. Iceland is geologically a very young island and has a lot of geothermic and volcanic activity not far beneath its surface. The activity allows for an abundance of natural hot water, but the side effect of this gift is the scent of sulfur. Fortunately, soap made the smell all but disappear. Two days into the trip, I barely noticed it.  On a four-day whirlwind sightseeing tour of Iceland, the scent of sulfur took a back seat.

In the upcoming issue look for Part Two of D. Michael Jones’ trip to Iceland. Who knew there’d be a Garden of Eden and bananas growing so close to the Arctic Circle?







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