Dover man cool with Iceland’s sites, history

The mere mention of the country of Iceland in conversation or in reading travel literature most often created a psychosomatic chill in me. It was certainly not a place I had on my top-10 most wanted to see travel bucket list. It really never was on my radar and how could it be with a name like Iceland. It’s amazing the thoughts and feelings that a word can invoke and affect what you think or how you interpret and see things.

In my younger years, I remember looking on the world map and debating with friends on which of the two countries Greenland or Iceland would you want to visit. To the ear, Greenland sounds great, Iceland ,on the other hand, not so much. It’s only been in the last few years that I have built up a strong desire to visit Iceland. So when the window of opportunity opened up to travel there, I jumped all over it.

After landing in the capital city of Reykjavík, it didn’t take long for me to realize the tremendous fascination that many have felt toward seeing Iceland. I realized firsthand why Iceland was famous for its breathtaking landforms, magnificent nature, geothermal energy and the peculiar nature of its inhabitants. I truly underestimated the level of popularity with Iceland as I witnessed throngs of tourists anxiously waiting for their tours to begin.

Iceland’s landscape is marked by waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and very few trees. It has become a popular destination for adventurers and seekers of the unusual, offering whitewater rafting, glacial snowmobiling, bathing in hot springs as well as fascinating phenomena, such as the midnight sun and the Northern Lights.

For a country that has the word “ice” in its name, it is not as cold as you might think. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a surprisingly temperate climate for its latitude. The general consensus for a trip to Iceland regardless of what time of the year you go and certainly for my trip there in early April is to dress in layers.

Key spots

There are many highlights to see in Iceland, but there are a few that should be considered a “must see”. The Golden Circle is one of those “must sees”.

There are three primary stops along the route that include; the Gulfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National park and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers.

The Gulfoss Waterfall, known as the queen of Icelandic waterfalls was unlike any other waterfall that I’ve ever seen and left me speechless as I became mesmerized by its breathtaking sights and sounds. As I approached the falls, the edge became obscured from view, so that it appeared that the river simply vanished into the earth. Standing near the Gulfoss Waterfall was an uplifting experience as I soaked in the beauty and the wonder of nature.

Thingvellir National Park is a site of historical, cultural and geological importance. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Seeing this site was truly an up-close and in-person crash course or clinic in geological phenomena.

The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or fault lines which traverse the region.

Haukadalur is home to some of the most famous sights, to include geysers and other geothermal features which have developed. The biggest geysers of Haukadalur are Strokkur and Geysir. Strokkur is very dependable and erupts every five to 10 minutes, whereas the bigger Geysir nowadays erupts very rarely. There are also more than 40 other smaller hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

Wellness opportunities

During my travel through Iceland I was told that you can’t visit Iceland without visiting one of the many natural geothermal bath and wellness centers. The Fontana Wellness Center was just the place to experience Iceland’s famous natural geothermal baths. Today, a modern complex welcomes you to relax with various hot tubs and steam baths naturally heated by Icelandic hot springs.

But before enjoying the hot therapeutic heaven of the spas I decided to first take a dip in the frigid waters of the adjacent Laugarvatn Lake to help set up the most intensive circulatory flush I’ve ever had. To finish the visit at the Wellness Center we were offered some Icelandic rye bread which was slow baked in the ground close to the hot springs. It was quite a sight to see one of the employees using a shovel to literally dig out a pot containing what was previously moist bread dough – now a fully cooked loaf of bread. She then replaced the pot containing the fully cooked bread with another pot containing fresh bread dough to be cooked.

After my visit to the hot springs it was clear to see that the Icelandic people have taken full advantage of their geothermal energy as a resource. Not only is geothermal energy in Iceland used for health and therapeutic purposes, but it is utilized for cooking and for heating their homes and businesses as well.

As we drove through the countryside and towns small and large, I marveled at the surrounding landscape, observing the many pockets of hot steam rising into the air.

Other highlights

One of the many highlights of Iceland that stood out was a driving tour of the south shore. This 10 1/2-hour tour comes complete with dramatic scenery, brooding weather, wildlife and tongue-twisting names.

The Eyjafjallajökull Volcano famous for snarling thousands of flights back in 2010 really isn’t all that much to look at (nearby snow-capped Hekla was much more impressive), but it was nevertheless interesting to drive alongside fields just now recovering from being buried under layers of ash. I was amazed by just how unpredictable and unstable the land under most Icelanders feet can be

On one of the flanks or shoulders of Eyjafjallajökull, a massive glacier by the name of Mýrdalsjökull looms. I’ve been up close with glaciers before (in both Alaska and in the Andes), but Mýrdalsjökull was as breathtaking as I’ve ever seen.

The next stop on the tour brought visitors closer to Iceland’s ruggedness. Reynishverfi Beach with its amazing sea stacks was the epitome of what I pictured when I think of an Icelandic beach. This wind-swept beach with its huge Atlantic waves crashing a bit too close for comfort, illustrated some of Iceland’s rough and tumble characteristics or features. This beach is certainly not a place you go to sunbathe, but it’s still beautiful in its own way — a wild way.

Our guide told us about the puffins (birds) who call the sea caves here home in the summer months, and also told us one of the local troll legends, which explains the Reynisdrangar Sea stacks just off shore (according to him, they’re really night trolls who were turned to stone in the sunlight).

After the rugged and chilly beach, it was time to warm up with lunch in Vík í Mýrdal, which is Iceland’s southernmost town. At least, we were told it was a town. With only a population of about 300 people, though, I’m not so sure if “town” is really accurate. Regardless, I had some delicious fish and chips in Vik, and took a few photos of some more “trolls” off the coast.

From Vik, we headed back north towards the glaciers, making a stop at the fascinating Skógar Museum. This folk museum in the middle of nowhere includes everything from a driftwood boat, to one of the first editions of the bible printed in Icelandic. Behind the main museum structure there are traditional turf houses providing a glimpse into historic rural life in the area, and in the basement there is a natural wildlife/history museum including birds and animals representing the area’s most common species.

Not far from the folk museum is one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls named Skogafoss. This large waterfall tumbles over a cliff that marks the country’s former coastline. It was a dramatic sight watching roaring water tumble over the massive cliff producing thunderous sounds.

Legend has it that a Viking settler in the area buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall, and people have been searching for such a treasure for centuries.

It’s told that someone found the chest at one point and grabbed one of the rings on the side, only to have the ring pop off and the chest to disappear again. The alleged ring can now be found on display at the Skógar Museum. Legend or not this is one impressive waterfall.

Our last stop of the day was at another nearby waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. This was a very unique waterfall that you can actually walk all the way around because of the way it cascades over a hanging cliff. Seljalandsfoss is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the country, and after a few short glimpses of it, it is not difficult to understand why.

Despite the chilly mist and the fact that going behind the falls would surely mean getting rather wet, most of us decided to do it anyway. After all it’s not every day you can walk behind a waterfall. Standing behind the falls provided a unique and fascinating perspective to yet another amazing landscape that Iceland has to offer. The rainbows created by the waterfalls and the sun were plentiful and breathtaking. The shutter on my camera was going non-stop as

I took photos of every possible angle of the multitude of colors that were available to the naked eye.

This tour offered a tremendous snapshot of Iceland and its mind blowing culture and natural beauty.

This tour offered a tremendous snapshot of Iceland and its mind-blowing culture and natural beauty.

The jury is still out when it comes to me buying into the stories of elves and trolls that Icelanders love to tell, but I certainly can’t deny that there’s something magical about Iceland.

What sets Iceland apart and what is familiar to many is its beautiful and rugged landscape and natural wonders can be easily reached from its capital – Reykjavík. Within two hours, visitors can be transported to the nearest glacier, volcano, waterfall or into remote areas of the country.

The entire country of Iceland is an inspirational sight. With mountains, desolate landscapes, Iceland is full of stunning views. The natural wonders are endless and breathtaking. I can’t think of another travel destination that packs a bigger punch than Iceland.

If you have a love for history (especially Viking history), natural phenomenon like the Northern Lights, glaciers, volcanoes, wild beaches, waterfalls and loads of culture, then you must visit Iceland.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Derek Miller lives in Dover with his wife Kathie and daughter Brittany.

Facebook Comment