Puffins, whales, 130 volcanoes, and chocolate covered licorice. Where am I? Well, Iceland, of course! We recently traveled to a part of the world that I didn’t even have on my “travel-bucket” list. It seemed so far away and such an exotic place to visit, I never even considered going there.
IcelandAir offers a great deal which is being termed “a stopover” for those flying east to Europe (like we did) or the western direction from Europe. You can stay for a seven-day layover without any extra charges.
Most tourists start their visit in Iceland’s largest populated city of Reykjavik (about 200,000). The population of the entire country is 330,000. There are more than 700,000 Icelandic horses, so that makes the horses outnumber the people!
From the Keflavik Airport , we rode a coach bus 50 minutes into the capital city of Reykjavik and checked into the Apotek Hotel. The hotel’s decor is a modern style of soft grays and whites with accented black furniture. From the widows of our 4th floor corner suite we could see three main streets filled with interesting looking shops and restaurants.
A full itinerary for our three-day visit kept us busy exploring. Our guide, Heidi, definitely fit the description of the Icelandic people: fun, sweet, and speaking flawless English ( the second language on the island). She even laughed at all of my husband’s silly American jokes!
We visited the outdoor open-air museum Arbaejarsafn, where a historical collection of authentic Icelandic houses from the 19th Century are on display. In the warmer months, festivals and activities are held there with people dressed in period costumes. I especially found the Turf houses interesting. Trees providing wood has always been scare on this island, so the inhabitants were resourceful in building the walls of their homes with stones and mud. The exteriors got a layer of grass turf for added warmth. People lived in Turf houses up to 1945, so something must have been working with this style of architecture!
We ate at two restaurants, the Matur & Drykuur and the Aatlo Bistro. These chefs are keeping up with the popular world trend of farm-to-table menu concept. Local fresh foods such as catch-of-the-day seafood, greenhouse mushrooms,and vegetables are used in their kitchens. The dishes were beautifully presented. Chef Kjartansson of Aatlo Bistro happens to be one of the sweetest chefs we’ve come across and was so gracious in personally serving us his delectable food creations.
Definitely taking one of the many bus tours offered will cover more outside areas than you could on your own. We rode with Sterna Tours on the all-day “Golden Circle” tour. I like tour guides that help inform you of what you’re viewing along with historical facts. Our guide, Halldor, a native Reykjavik, even threw in some interesting folklore stories about elves and trolls. Icelanders are quite proud of their mystic folklore stories.
We passed craters and volcanoes and acres of lava rocks covered with green moss. The terrain kept changing and at one point we were only yards away from a huge ice glacier. As out tour continued we saw fog, blue sunny skies, rainbows, snow, and low-hanging white fluffy clouds. Our warm winter garments kept having to come off and back on again.
Here listed are some of the interesting and oddity facts that I collected about Iceland.
- In the winter there is only about two hours of sunlight. In the summer, 24 hours of sun shine.
- Tourism is their biggest industry.
- The new Whale Museum has 23 full scale size of whales displayed.
- To keep golfers happy, there are 14 golf courses in Reykjavik and a total of 66 in the country with more being built.
- Bobby Fischer, the 1972 World Chess Championship Player, won his title in Reykjavik and is buried in Selfoss, Iceland.
- Green houses produce a variety of vegetables year round along with a variety of roses and tulips.
- The air is the cleanest in the world.
- The water is so pure, you can safely drink directly from the tap. (I drank lots!)
- The hearty bred Icelandic horses sleep sitting on the ground instead of standing.
- Lamb and seafood are the main foods. There are lots of sheep farmers and fishermen.
- The wildlife consists of rats, field mice, minks, reindeer, and arctic foxes. A word about the arctic fox.
- Iceland is warmer than New York in the winter.
- Rotten shark fish is a popular dish.
- Tipping (contrary to rumors) is allowed. It is not mandatory but definitely appreciated.
- Icelanders are the biggest Coca Cola drinkers in the world.