Traveling the world
By Emma Berg
Alas, I am no landscape photographer. Thankfully, the scenery in Iceland is beautiful enough to make up for my talents. Dad and I arrived at Keflavik International Airport for a week long adventure in the “Land of ice and fire.” We rented a small car, advertised as “golden” (really an attractive bright orange, which made finding where we had parked much easier) and began our journey on the “Ring Road,” or, rather Highway 1, which winds its way around the entire island. Our adventure included stunning scenery, some of the kindest people it has ever been our good fortune to meet, and a lot of one lane bridges and tunnels (for which Iceland has a fondness). It was early spring, so there was still snow on the ground. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but the hiking would be better in summer. We visited many towns and stayed in Gullfoss. If ever visiting there, I’d recommend staying at the Hotel Gullfoss; the rooms are lovely, the food is exceptional (try the Gras Lax), and it’s just a small hike to the famous Gullfoss Falls from the hotel. Höfn, a seaside town, Reynihłid by Lake Myvatn; excellent hiking, geysers, and a natural geothermal spa which is less crowded and cheaper than the Blue Lagoon, and Reykjavik are all within hiking distance.
Thingvellir National Park was divine, and not a far drive from Gullfoss. That National Park is where one could stand astride two continental plates, a foot on either one (at least until 2008, when an earthquake drove the plates far enough apart that there was a bit of a landslide). Despite not being able to stand astride the plates, one can stand between them, which is pretty neat in and of itself. Those familiar with Viking culture will be acquainted with the “Althing,” which was a biannual, two week long meeting of all of the chiefs and families in the country. It was at the Althing that laws were passed, criminals were punished or executed, marriages and divorces occurred, and trade was possible. Dad and I were able to view such charming locations as the “Gallows,” where thieves and other such criminals were hung; and the “Drowning Pool” where mainly women were drowned. Murderers were beheaded, supposedly at the main waterfall at Thingvellir, which we also visited.
I’m very glad that Dad drove. The roads are set up as the ones in America so you’re not driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and the signs are very straightforward and clear. The maximum speed limit around the island is 90 km/hr (around 55 mph), with speed signs along the way that show the speed of the car. If one is going faster than the speed limit, the signs display a red LED scowly face. However, as soon as one’s speed decreases to the speed limit or under, the face becomes a cheerful, yellow, smiley face.
One of the most exciting parts of our adventure (aside from driving along the coastline in high winds) was the 5km (a little over 3 mile) long, one lane, tunnel. It was one tunnel with one lane which allowed two-way traffic. To see another set of headlights approaching at speed was quite exhilarating, if not downright terrifying. Fortunately, there were frequent spaces along the right hand side for folks to pull off into, but getting the timing correct was tricky. Err on the side of caution.
If you ever are fortunate enough to visit, even as a stop over to somewhere else, don’t stay in Reykjavik. It’s a wonderful town, but it’s not representative of the rest of the island. Get out, drive around, and see the scenery. With only around 320,000 people, there are long stretches of time where one will not pass a proper town – in fact, most “towns” are named after the families living at farms around the island. So a house and a farm makes up a town, but bedding and food is available at these houses. For the first part of the trip when driving to Gullfoss, we were reminded of Colorado, but the feeling passed as soon as we headed South.
We are glad to be home, but we are changed for the better certainly.