A Break From The Emerald Isle In The Land Of Fire + Ice
It’s insane to think that my study abroad time in Ireland has already passed the halfway mark. For my midterm break, rather than retreating to a warmer climate for relaxation as many of my peers, I traded the “R” for a “C” in location name to discover the vast + isolated beauty of Iceland.
Day 1: Roaming in Reykjavik
I awoke before the sun to get together my last minute things + walk to Heuston Station to catch a bus taking me to the Dublin airport. After a brief plane ride of less than two hours, we touched down in Reykjavik, Iceland — the northernmost capital in the world at latitude 64°08. Once we had all unloaded off of the aircraft, we reloaded onto shuttle buses that took us another hour away from the airport into the heart of the city. The terrain along the ride was like another planet with dark, rocky plains covered in moss + leftover patches of snow with views of large mountain silhouettes in the distance. The weather was a bit colder than Ireland + extremely windy! I went to grab something to eat + noticed the copious amounts of Vietnamese + Thai restaurants available (which is my absolute favorite, so I was good to go)! After enjoying my scrumptious pho, I continued to walk down the main shopping street for some souvenirs + came across the most glorious second-hand shop I have ever been in (I’m quite passionate about thrift shopping, by the way). It was full of iconic vintage pieces including fur coats, sequin blouses, puffer jackets, mom jeans, but best of all: handmade sweaters from all over the world — Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Italy, Denmark. I talked myself out of getting one when I was visiting the Aran Islands which I really regretted, so this was God saving something better for me — the only sweater in the whole shop that was made in Ireland had a spotlight shining down from above + was calling my name! After I left the shop, I made my way over to the outstanding Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral — a truly unique beauty!
Day 2: The Golden Circle
The first day along with my travel group began voyaging through Viking land. We encountered exquisite ice + moss covered plains + mountains that lead us into Þingvellir National Park where the oldest parliament was held by the Norsemen in 930 AD. Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift + this specific area is situated within the Rift Valley between the North American and Eurasian plates where visible cracks, canyons, fissures were visible in the land caused by recent earthquakes. We ever so cautiously + carefully continued our drive over an ice-covered plain up to Laugarvatnshellir — a cave where two Icelandic families resided in the early 20th century. As we all disembarked the bus, we immediately began slipping + sliding across the ice. I finally reached a patch of land that was more snow than ice, but then as I continued forward, my leg sank right through to the earth + the snow line reached my thigh! After several minutes of travelers struggling to journey up the hill through slippery ice, thigh-deep snow, sleet + the driver maneuvering the large bus around a narrow non-icy stretch to turn around, the majority opinion came to a consensus that the weather had won this round + we would continue on to the next stop. The Golden Circle then surprised its visitors with hot springs studded across the hilled landscape + spewing geothermal geysers that luckily were not as foul-smelling as I have experienced in Yellowstone National Park. Next, we headed to Gullfoss (The Golden Waterfall) where the river Hvítá descends over 30 meters (98 feet) into two-tiers of broad falls — partially frozen over due to the winter climate. We concluded the evening with a stop by Skalholt which was Iceland’s capital during the Middle Ages. As I made my way up to the old church + turf-covered farm house, I was blown across the field — nearly off the side of the mountain! Upon return back down the hill, I was informed that the wind gusts were estimated around 25-27 meters/second (56 mph)!!
Day 3: Chasing Waterfalls + Northern Lights
We greeted the morning with “Góðan Daginn!” then made a visit to LAVA Earthquake + Volcano Exhibition. After a short film showcasing vivid eruption footage, we perused a fascinating + fully interactive museum teaching the geological wonders that make up Iceland including the earthquakes + volcanoes that still continue today. Although all credit was given to Mother Nature + evolution from the museum’s perspective, I was quick to correct the mistake + point the glory back to the exceptional Creator that orchestrated each + every event to happen on this earth. Verses such as Psalm 8:3, 19:1-2, 33:6-7 were encircling my thoughts + mind, begging to be understood + accepted by those around me. Afterwards, we visited Seljaslandsfoss + Skogafoss which were monumental + bustling with fresh water. I hiked up to the top of Skogafoss where I had views of the rushing river above that fed into the falls + the extensive, lush farmland below. Continuing on a coastal drive along the south shore, we passed some volcanic sites + ferocious waves crashing in the ocean. A stop at Dyrhólaey was one of my absolute favorites as it provided phenomenal views of steep sea cliffs, stormy waves, unique rock formations, black sand beaches, a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains above teal waters — how does such beauty all exist in one place?? We drove a bit further down + I took a walk along Reynisfjara black sand beach which derives its distinctive hue from pulverized volcanic basalt rock. The dark land paired with more insanely intense waves + rock formations that were cut in neat designs + shapes. Our drive then shifted through various terrain, including lava fields formed from the 1783 eruption that lasted 6-8 months + took out 50-80% of the livestock. It consisted of about 220 square miles of land where hot magma had flowed, cooled, + now is covered in thick, soft, fragile moss. Our hotel for the evening was in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, meaning “Church Farm Covenant” because of the monk + nun community that resided here around 1000-1500 AD. Right outside of our hotel, we confronted another notable waterfall — named Sisters Waterfall, keeping in tune with the theme of the town. Dinner that evening was the local Lindarfiskur Arctic Char (similar to salmon) raised in the frigid spring water running naturally out of the lava fields of Skaftáreldahraun — yum! As the sun set + the sky blanketed itself in darkness, we set out on a Northern Lights hunt complete with blankets, camera, + deliciously rich hot chocolate. It was the perfect clear night for Aurora viewing — not a single cloud in sight + millions of speckled stars twinkling above. After much waiting with no sign of the waves of color, we retreated back to bed + anticipated an “aurora wake up call” if any activity occurred while we were away — unfortunately, it was just not the night.
Day 4: Iceland’s Icebergs + Glaciers
It was a cool + crisp morning setting us up for the adventure planned ahead as we made our first stop at a secluded waterfall called Foss á Siðu. The day was spent in Vatnajökull National Park — the largest national park in Western Europe, dominated by Vatnajökull which is the largest glacier in Europe + Hcannadalshnijúkur which is the highest peak in Iceland at 2110 meters (6900 feet). This place was utterly striking + stunning; a land of distinct contrasts — panoramic views of colossal white mountains wedged with light blue glaciers, accentuating dark lava fields + black sand beneath. Our arrival was perfectly planned by God as the radiant dawning sun was just peeking past the peripheral of the mountains + highlighting the details of the landscape. We continued a bit further to Scvinafellsjökull — one of many glacial outlets emerging from Vatnajökull. Along the road, huge glacial mountains sat to my left + crashing coastal waves lie on the right. Next up: Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a 180 meter (591 feet) deep containing the most breathtakingly bright blue icebergs afloat the water. I ventured over to the opposite side of the road where more chunks of icebergs were washed up along the black sand beach imitating the look of newly cut crystals scattered along a sheet of black velvet. It’s no wonder why the people here began referring to this as “Diamond Beach.” It’s quite difficult to ponder this kind of scenery — ocean meets mountain, lava rock meets iceberg; all in one place. Lastly, we ended with a tranquil trail walk down to Skaftafellsjökull glacier (about 1.8 km) to get an up-close experience in the valley between. On the return back to the hotel, we passed some waterfalls that were trying their best to fulfill their sole purpose in descending water, yet would be more properly referred to as “waterflies” because the gusts of wind were opposing the flow in an upwards direction! The Aurora wake up call was once again on radar but still to no avail.
Day 5: Coastal Churches + A Dip In The Blue Lagoon
Most of the day was spent driving back Westward toward Reykjavik. Along the way, we passed through several villages including Hveragerdi which is one of few places in the world that lies directly atop a geothermal area. The hot springs heat the land + greenhouses which provide many plants + produce for the town, giving the location the name “flower village.” Grindavík was another village, specifically a fishing town bringing in much of the country’s income. We continued along making a stop at Strandarkirkja — a church built along the coast. As the story goes, some men were caught in a sea storm + prayed for God to come to their aid, promising that they would build a church when they reached shore if He did. As they were praying, a bright light appeared — believed to be an angel — which led them to land. The area is now known as Angel’s Cove + the structure they built is the “Miracle Church.” Finally, the afternoon brought us to the main attraction for the day — The Blue Lagoon. It is one of the 25 wonders of the world as it is a mineral-rich (silica, algae, sulfur) geothermal pool of aesthetically appealing aquamarine water in the middle of a black lava field. It was incredibly frigid outside as I scurried across in a bathing suit to secure some solace in the warm (well, up to 38°C/100°F!) waters surrounding me. I was provided with a rejuvenating silica mud mask to make my skin soft + a refreshing fruit smoothie to sip on as I floated around my blue bath. The one hour return back to Reykjavik was considerably calming considering the period of relaxation I had just experienced. After cleaning up, I concluded my last evening in the land of fire + ice with a grand buffet dinner full of traditional Icelandic dishes + desserts. My favorite was the vast variety of fresh seafood, including the herring in a dijon-mustard sauce which I became completely obsessed with + took advantage of while on this trip!
Day 6: Departure to Dublin
My departing flight was already quite early but had been moved up an hour earlier due to some nasty weather brewing in the area. Considering that I needed to arrive at the airport two hours prior to my departure + the airport was at least an hours drive from Reykjavik, I had to catch the shuttle bus to the airport at 2:30am — yep, after my late evening I just went ahead + pulled an all-nighter. I boarded around 5:30am, slept during the flight, then arrived back in Dublin around 8:40am. I spent the day unloading + unpacking my bags, camera film, memories + prepared for a full day of interning to follow.
I was astounded at the unbelievable beauty of Iceland that challenged my stereotypical expectations of climate with its diverse + varied terrain. I saw much of the world + delved deep into history within a single speck on this earth — it’s mind-boggling to think what more there is to be discovered across the entire planet! Although I was unable to check off my #1 bucket list item to see The Northern Lights, this trip to Iceland was beyond anything I ever planned for or imagined it to be + I am most confident that God has a superior adventure in store for my first viewing of His extraordinary, cosmic creations.
Until next time!