Stop #1: Thingvellir National Park. This is Iceland's most historic site and first national park founded. The area is known as "Parliament Plains" because it is where Iceland's Parliament gathered from 930-1789.
Our tour guide gave us a history lesson on the area and then let us have time to ourselves to snap photos and enjoy hot chocolate in the vistor center. Adam and I heard rumors that you often feel rushed on these guided tours but that simply was not the case for our day. We had plenty of time to just be alone with each other, soak in the sites, use the restroom, grab a snack or two, get a coffee, and have actual conversations with the other people in our group. Our experience was lovely and leaving us wanting to do it again..and again..and again!
While visiting the Thingvellir National Park, our group participated in a hike to a small waterfall. The pictures below are our attempt at capturing the beauty that is Iceland.
Something rather interesting we found out Iceland is covered in rock, lava rock to be exact. We learned the country does not have dirt and soil like we are used to, everything is lava rock. Because the land is rock, farming is difficult. Iceland has "hot houses" which are green houses that use heat and steam from the natural springs to grow produce. The lava rock formations are fascinating with incredible detail. After looking at these photos I think you would agree God is the ultimate artist and creator.
Pit Stop #1: Local farm to meet some Icelandic horses. On the way to our second destination, our tour guide pulled the van to the side of the road to introduce us to some horses. This was the best surprise and the highlight of our day! These horses are the only animal to remain outdoors all year round in Iceland. They are the size of a pony or large donkey and are covered in thick, coarse hair. There are 150 different color combinations. They were extremely friendly and simply so pretty to look at. I believe they were brought over on a viking ship from either Norway or Sweden and gave adapted to live in Iceland's environment. The little girl in me came out and all I wanted to do was brush and braid their hair..the picture's will explain:
Stop #2: Geysir. This was the first time Adam and I got to experience seeing a live geyser shoot up and lucky for us, this one blew every 5-7 minutes. The park had the geyser area roped off and circling it's border were tourists standing with their cameras in hand just waiting, waiting to snap that perfect picture. While Adam was shooting video, I found the most "photographer-looking" person and stood right next to them--I figured they knew it was "the spot." 30 seconds later the geyser went off, scared me so much that I jumped resulting in one trigger happy finger and check out the photos I managed to get by luck I tell you:
Stop #3: Gulfoss. This is the most famous waterfall in Iceland and it is known as the Golden Falls because of the sediment and mineral count found in the glacier water. On a bright sunny day the water appears gold and has a rainbow over the falls. There were slight touches of blue sky when we were visiting but the snow began falling hard and the sun was definitely not shining. Adam and I were not able to walk down closer to the falls because the path was covered in ice and snow and was labeled as "closed." We thought for a second about jumping over the sign and rope but the thought of breaking a leg in Iceland when they clearly warned us not to scared us too much so we obeyed--our moms should be proud :) The temperature dropped extremely low during this time and although the site was stunning, we wanted to be indoors hence my "I'm cold and tired face" below.
Stop #4: Laugarvatn Fontana. This structure was designed to use heat directly from the geothermal hot springs to heat the waters. Each mini pool and sitting area were different temperatures. The only problem--getting out and "walking" aka RUNNING to find the hottest tub! As you see in the pictures, it was snowing on us..as we were in bathing suits..walking around in freezing temps..in Iceland..in February! Craziest, funniest night ever!!!
A bit of a back story: I do not have any sisters and although growing up I had, and still have, very close girlfriends, we kept pretty private..meaning NO NAKEDNESS! Whenever we were in our gym locker room at school changing we each had our locker and would face it or go into a corner or whatever. We certainly never showered together naked..never hung out while naked..never had a conversation while naked..heck we never even got naked!!
Well..I was in Iceland and they feel a little differently about modesty. I suppose they take after Europe in the sense and friends, I have never felt so American in my entire life. Here's how it went down: Adam and I unpacked our swimsuits and change of clothes in the lobby and continued into our assigned locker room. The second I walked in, shoes immediately had to be taken off. Flip flops were not even allowed. This began my freak out over germs, foot fungus..you name it, I thought it! As I rounded the corner my mouth literally dropped. Boobs and butts were everywhere--wrinkly ones, fat ones, thin ones, old ones, young ones, perky ones, droopy ones, dimply ones--EVERYWHERE. I sort of died inside and freaked out at the thought of having to get naked myself in front of all these people. I surely lacked the gumption to do something like that and was extremely intimidated.
What did I do? Run, yes literally, into the closest bathroom and changed into my bathing suit in there. I even packed a cover up people..I wanted to cover up myself on top of already wearing a bathing suit while everyone else was sporting their birthday suits. I was the odd one. I successfully packed away my belongings in a locker and kept my eyes up high as I ran for the door outside. I was stopped--and was told to strip down to nothing and shower with the 10 other very naked women behind me. Um...um..um..no thank you???
I went under the water while the staff lady was not looking and rinsed myself all while wearing my bathing suit. Did I get dirty looks?--for sure! I was in shock at all of the nakedness and was purely intimidated by these women's' confidence and ability to be secure while naked. I am just not there, nope not even close. When I finally did make it outside I asked Adam how the men's locker room was and he replied, "Yea, we were naked but we are guys..it's different." Ugh I actually wished I was a man for a split second..okay, moving on!
Stop #5: Linden Restaurant. The Icelandic Chef attended the Culinary Institute of America and prepared us the best food we have ever eaten. My meal consisted of lamb, veggies and barley, baked potato, and a brown gravy and prune puree. It was fantastic:
Stop #6: Northern Lights. Our tour guide spent 2.5 hours driving around Iceland searching for the Northern Lights. Unfortunately the cloud coverage was too severe that all we were able to see were green tinted clouds. Most people in our group fell asleep but Adam and I felt like we were on storm chasers and remained active throughout the drive--we made the best out of it and I think the tour guide appreciated our spark :) Our van returned to the hotel at 1am after a very long spectacular day. Adam and I slept well this night.
I did it again--another long, picture filled post! I wish I could tell you that's it but there is more in store for later in the week. I hope you have enjoyed getting a taste of Icelandic culture. I am curious--has anyone who is reading this ever visited Iceland?