by Amanda Vallone
Every year we plan a trip for the first quarter to go somewhere “big” as a group. In 2015, we went to China; 2016 it was Germany. For 2017 we decided to visit Iceland. Automatically people ask, “Why in the world did you go to Iceland in February? Wasn’t it cold?” Well the answer is “Yes!”
Iceland in February is very cold. It ranged anywhere from 0 to 32 degrees, depending on where we were located and the day. But the temperature was not really that bad. Being a native of Buffalo, New York, I grew up in cold weather; what got to me was the wind. The wind was freezing, bone-chilling cold. So, I suppose that make you want to stop reading and say, “ehhh Iceland isn’t for me!” Well WAIT ONE MORE MINUTE!!!
To answer your question, we chose February because of the Northern Lights. We were on an Aurora Borealis trekking expedition. If you have read a blog by me in the past you may know my daughter’s name is Aurora, and though she may be a princess in my book, Disney’s Briar Rose was not her namesake! Rather the beautiful greens, purples, and blues of the northern lights were the inspiration for my child’s name – Aurora and our quest for viewing these lights everywhere we can. Many people travel to Iceland on a journey to discover these beautiful lights during the winter because there are few hours of daylight. Actually, sunrise is somewhere around 10am and sunset is somewhere around 6pm, so you have the largest opportunity to see the auroras during the winter months. Also, Auroras go in cycles. Aurora flares go in 10-40 year cycles and this year was the last year in the cycle. Quite honestly, Aurora is a bit of a diva – even on the best of auroral flares you may not see her in all of her beauty because she will hide under cloud cover.
On our recent trip to Iceland we did not truly see the Aurora Borealis the way we thought we would. We did however have a heck of a great time experiencing everything else Iceland had to offer. One evening in Reykjavik, we sailed into the darkness of Faxafloi Bay in search of the northern lights. My hubby George and best friend Sherri both saw a slight streak of green dance through the sky for a moment. But the even better part of that excursion was getting into these crazy outfits. It was one size fits most and for a 6’4 “retired” football player (offensive lineman) squeezing into this tiny red suit was quite the entertaining event for all of us to watch. And it was a great show that George put on.
So besides Northern Lights, why else visit Iceland?
Well honestly, the rest of the trip was the icing on the cake, it was spectacular!
From waterfalls to glaciers, volcanos to fun food this trip was superb. So I will just go stop by stop.
The Golden Circle
This is a route that encompasses many of Iceland’s most renowned national wonders and some of the best stories.
We went to Thingvellir National Park – Iceland’s most historic area where in 930 A.D. Icelanders gathered and formed one of the world’s first parliaments.
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is where the North America and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The views were so magnificent here it was unbelievable. We walked along a very icy path to see each of these sights and the sun hitting the water and ice in the background was so worth the cold, wind, and walk. Simply stunning.
There was one section that was quite disturbing. Our guide told us a story that back in the 17th century public execution was part of Icelandic way of life. From beheading to hangings, there were multiple ways of punishment. But at Thingvellir there was one disturbing part in particular – the pool of shame. A stain on Icelandic history, it is now recognized by a plaque at “the drowning pool” where parents would bring their “loose moraled” daughters who got pregnant out of wedlock to this pool and tie them up and drown them L How Sad!
Gulfoss- aka the Golden Falls
Gulfoss is a spectacular double cascading waterfall that is simply stunning. You can view it from above and see the rush of the waters (as seen in the video clip here). OR view from below.
To view from below, be VERY careful! You must go down a very steep set of about 100 wooden steps. In the winter the mist from the waterfall creates ice on the stairs and makes it difficult.
*****Packing tip: This was the second place we noticed you really should have Yak Trax or something similar for traction. You will need them! ****
Gulfoss may be the most popular of all the falls in Iceland, but Seljalandfoss was my favorite. We could actually walk behind the waterfall! This is again a place that you must have the proper footwear and rain jackets/waterproof jackets or you will not be a happy camper. In order to protect my water “resistant” jacket I wore one of those cheapie ponchos and I was happy I did. I still got soaked! Was it worth it? TOTALLY! Seljalandfoss is a MUST for an Iceland trip.
From there we went onto the southwestern-most village in Iceland, Vik. We stayed at Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka, in the “new” side. From the outside pulling up it was slightly worrisome. I was told it was somewhat like a compound by others who had gone before me. When I pulled up, I thought – OH NO, the 22 others I brought with me will hate this. Oh boy was I wrong! This place was spectacular! Truly amazing! The outside of the hotel looked slightly like a “compound” sure. But the rooms inside were very stylish and “ikea” inspired. The breakfast and dinner we had daily at the hotel were wonderful! And if you can get a room at the very end of the hallway it is even bigger than all of the rest. SCORE!
While in VIK we experienced some very bad weather. All buses and drivers were grounded because there were gale-force winds in Southern Iceland and that same day 4 buses had been blown off of the road, as had a few cars. For our safety we actually missed some of our planned tour. So instead, we had a cocktail party. Because that is the way Roseborough Travel likes to make our clients happy. And honestly, the bar was the only thing that was open. The hotel brought in a speaker that told us the history of the area and land that Hotel Katla was built on. We also took a hike up the mountain in the background.
YOU EAT WHAT?!?!?!?!
Have you heard of the local delicacy and culinary tradition – Hakarl – fermented, putrefied, shark meat? It is Greenlandic Shark that is not only extremely ugly, but doesn’t have kidneys so it is toxic to humans to eat. So years ago the Vikings devised a technique to be able to eat this shark – squeeze out the toxins, burry it, dig it up, hang the meat, and let it rot. When it smells nice and ripe – like rotten cheese and turpentine – it’s ready. GROSS! And they eat this stuff! It is on buffets in restaurants and offered to guests as a kindness in tradition.
So did we eat it? Of course we did! I am not one to pass up any crazy food while traveling to a destination. And we washed it down with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic liquor with the taste of caraway seeds.
Now the question is: How would you say cheers to that? Skal! In Icelandic!
Look out for Iceland Part 2!