This time last week, I was in Iceland! I had the most amazing time and it was truly a vacation of a lifetime. Iceland is a beautiful country with out of this world geologic sites, a wonderful culture and lovely weather. I could ramble on and on about Iceland, but I'll show the highlights here.
There's just no way around it-- this country is stunning. Being a volcanic island, there is no part of the country that isn't either volcanic, full of lava, glacial or fjord-like. All of my scenery pictures could easily fill an entire blog.
2) Volcanoes and craters
The entire island was formed by massive volcanic eruption so there are volcanoes, craters and lava fields everywhere. They are incredibly impressive and beautiful. We hiked up two different craters and around a few different lava fields. Totally surreal. Another cool thing-- all of these lava rocks are super light because of the way they are formed and dry.
One of the major reasons I wanted to go to Iceland was for the bird life! As a recreational birder, I love checking out the bird life in different parts of the continent. Typically with island countries, the birds are especially unique because they generally evolve without land mammals. This was my first visit to an arctic island, and I had one thing on my bird life list: puffins.
And puffins we saw! We also saw skuas, oystercatchers (pictured first above), snipes, whimbrels, all kinds of ducks, many types of gulls and more. We logged 24 new bird species for this trip-- awesome!
Because we spent all of our money on car rental and camping, we didn't try a lot of the local cuisine at restaurants. However, we did stock up a lot at grocery stores and supermarkets, and I generally find that I like to sample what the locals eat daily when I'm visiting a new country. My ultimate favorite find is Skyr: an Icelandic non-fat milk and whey product that's like super creamy greek yogurt. You can find a similar version in Whole Foods here called Siggi's, but I hear it doesn't compare. I ate Skyr at least once a day and it was SO delicious. Not to mention, only about $1 a serving (compared with $4 for Siggi's at WF!).
Another few food items I devoured while there: hazelnut cream wafer cookies and sparkling water. Yum.
Icelandic culture is pretty fantastic. Because they're a small island population (of around 300,000), the culture is somewhat homogenous and harmonious. The Icelanders are pretty progressive, with the entire country heated by geothermal power, having the first openly gay (and married!) prime minister, and no standing army! Even the police officers don't carry guns. Also, their education and health care systems are one of the best in the world, with their incredibly high literacy rate, and all children are fluent in FOUR languages by the time they graduate high school. Incredible.
6) The glaciers
An instrumental part in the formation of the country, the glaciers and icebergs in Iceland are absolutely breathtaking. Here's a shot of a glacial lake. Stunning, right?
7) The sheep
Driving around Iceland, we saw sheep everywhere. Almost always, the sheep were uncontained and were walking around and munching to their hearts desire. We literally saw them everywhere: at the geothermal plant, in the middle of the road, and on top of a giant sea cliff we hiked up. The sheep are unique because sheep imports are banned, and these sheep descended directly from sheep brought over by the original Vikings! They're so ubiquitous, many Icelanders regard the sheep as 'wild game'. Hilarious.
8) The mudpits
Here's another bizarre feature of the volcanos: mudpits. These pits form and are full of scorching hot mud bubbling and producing sulfiric acid. It seriously looks like something out of a Martian sci fi film.
9) The sun
Despite all of the crazy sights I saw, I still believe the sun in Iceland is the most jarring thing about the visit. Because the country is situated right on the Arctic circle, the sun's position relative to the Earth moves quicker, and thus there is no darkness. Even after the sun 'sets' around midnight, there is the 'midnight sun' or the leftover light from the sun. The sun rises again at about 3am. This means it's constantly daylight out, and made camping a totally weird experience. A few times I woke up at 2am while camping and it was bright out! Crazy. The picture above was taken at 9:30pm!
10) The hiking and camping
By far my favorite part of the trip was all of the outdoors time we got. I loved pulling over or going for all day hikes, and they were intense! Many times the hike started with a straight up ascent up a mountain or cliff. At one point, we hiked up a crater and the path was so steep there was a rope line to hold yourself up. The camping was just as beautiful, and many times I caught myself just waking up and laying in my sleeping bag listening to the water, the birds and the pureness of it all. Absolute bliss.
I'm so thankful and happy to have had a restful vacation. But now it's back to the grind, and look forward to an update on my running injury, a recipe and a grad school update coming to the blog soon!
What's your dream vacation?