Iceland Jet Lag Journal: Countryside ICEtinerary
There are few things I love more than a wholesome frolic through the countryside. (Hence an entire ongoing series I write called Chicks in the Sticks.) In Iceland, anywhere, anywhere outside the city limits of Reykjavik fits the bill for country frolic. This is the land of the dream road trip. I drove the rental car (automatic by special request) across empty stretches of road with wild Icelandic horses grazing among golden flowers on one side and waterfalls misting into double rainbows on the other. The traffic was nonexistent; once in a blue moon we got stuck behind a horse trailer, but as the road curved around the mountains we could speed up and pass. And in order to pass, the speed limit was high.
Only 45 minutes outside Reykjavik, we stayed in a town (wait…that should really go in quotation marks) … a “town” called Nesjavellir at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel. There’s not a lot going on in Nesjavellir – it pretty much consists of a few A-frame houses on flat, glassy lakes, a geothermal power plant, and Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir is home to hiking trails, the witch hunts of the 17th century, and a beautiful waterfall called Öxarárfoss. It flows icily and with an aquamarine hue into a pool of rocks. The walk to this waterfall was so simple and well-constructed, ugh those Nordic cultures with everything clean and orderly. A little boardwalk was built so that even some cute old Icelandic folks hiked to the waterfall with their canes.
From the waterfall, Sistah Woman and I hiked through golden fields and came across a beautiful church. Thingvellir Church was built after the formation of Christianity. Whaaat?? Guys, that’s the year 1000. And the King of Norway – get this, King Olaf the Portly – sent wood and a church bell as a present during its construction. Obviously, the pretty and well-contructed church we explored was repaired in 1983.
Check out my silly cute Mom. She even makes country churches fun!
Off we go to our next stop, Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall along the South Coast of Iceland, which you can hike to and walk behind! Make sure you get a GPS, because there’s no way you’re reading these signs: It’s like we turned a corner and ended up in Hawaii! Seljalandsfoss is surrounded by green fields and the cascade falls 200 feet into this quiet serene little pool at the bottom. We stood behind this waterfall, got a little wet, and watched it pour in a sheet in front of us and create double rainbows.
On the sides of the road we found Icelandic horses. These are smaller, stouter little friendly creatures with long heavy manes (or bangs) that cover their eyes. They are as sweet as can be. They are also a novelty in other countries, so sometimes horse owners will buy one for themselves and ship them home. Poor little Icelandic horses, with no friends in their new stables. This is typical when buying a new horse, but the trick with Icelandic horses is that in order to keep the breed pure, once a horse leaves Iceland, they can never return. It’s like the Dalai Lama or the Salman Rushdie of the horse community.
Iceland just never quit with the rain and mist. We really only got one day of pure sunshine, so when we went to Gulfoss, a huge waterfall that people visit when driving the Golden Circle, it was gray and cold. You should see the pictures online that other people were able to capture – they are sunny, and warm, and rainbows float over the falls. It’s like heaven broke open and decided to downsize and settle at Gulfoss. I did not get to see that. But still, as my eyes and ears filled with the roiling cascade of water, Gulfoss did not disappoint.
This is a plaque of Sigrid Tómasdóttir, a woman who lived near these falls who fought in 1920 against wealthy Icelanders who wanted to dam it on behalf of foreign hydropower interests. To prevent the dam, Sigrid rode her horse over crazy rough country in terrible weather to the capital numerous times with her lawyer. There were many setbacks, but she persevered, and the falls were finally saved, becoming a nature reserve in 1979. Now, 300,000 people pay a visit to Gulfoss every year.
I had to take a shot of this rest stop. Isn’t it such a pretty spot? Charming Nordic design again. This is far superior to the Molly Pitcher Rest Stop in New Jersey.I truly loved this little red-roofed church in Nesjavellir, and made Mom take a bunch of photos of it while I screamed at her that she was doing a terrible job.
Finally, on our last day in Iceland, as a storm brewed and the mountaintops were covered in fog, and the sky was wet and misty, I decided that a hike was just the ticket. Well I set off with excellent intentions for a good workout before a flight home. And then I got lost. And I was totally sopping wet. Not a marker to be found, and I went way off track. When I finally walked back through the doors of my hotel, the lovely massage therapist from Ireland took me into the hotel laundry room, had me strip down, gave me a robe, and dried and refolded all my clothes for me.
As I was hiking alone (not smart, and I know the rules) I was staring at these rocks and freaking out. “I am going to lose my sanity if these rocks start rolling around and come to life like in Frozen,” I thought.
PS – the last time Sistah Woman and I went to a national park, I didn’t tell her we were going because I knew she’d whine the whole way. But once we arrived at West Bali National Park, it was quite another story, and she was a peach.
If you’re interested in visiting Iceland, there’s no time like the present. It’s currently cheaper to fly from New York to Iceland than it is to California … and it’s over an hour shorter too. Luxury tourism is brand new there, only about two years old, so it’s not populated with tourists yet. And…there’s no tipping!