Incredible Iceland— Reykjavik-Day 1

Birkir
Birkir, Reykjavik’s best tour guide

After our Titanic foray into Belfast, we spent the next day and a little more at sea heading to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. After a cool sail in (see the photos—we passed a huge iceberg), we arrived around 1:00 pm and after a quick lunch we set off on an 8 hour tour with our guide from Tours by Locals, Birkir. Now normally we would never start an 8-10 hour tour at 1:30 pm because within few hours all we would be able to see is darkness. But this was Iceland and we were within 2 weeks of the longest day of the year so we could tour until midnight and it would never be totally dark. That meant we could see what the tour books refer to as the southern Iceland Golden Circle. 

It included the edge of continents, incredible waterfalls, exploding geysers, volcanic craters, Icelandic horses and some of the most amazing natural beauty we have seen. Our first stop was the Þingvellir Icelandic National Park which has significance for two reasons. It is a historical site where the Icelandic parliament first met in 930 AD. And it is the intersection of two continents. Seriously. The plates that form the North American continent end in Iceland and run directly into the plates that form the European continent. In a way we were walking between North America and Europe the entire time we were in Iceland. In fact, two days later just outside Akureyri in the north, I was able to stand with my right foot in North America and my left foot in Europe. Pretty cool. 

After our visit to this beautiful (in its own way) national park, we drove onward to ice cream. Yes, ice cream. It seems that there is a world-famous dairy and ice cream factory in almost the middle of nowhere. We had some amazing ice cream and even got to meet the cows that had done the original work on it. It was a fun and delicious experience. 

Next up was Kathleen’s favorite part of the tour, a visit to feed some very cool Icelandic horses. As you drive through the wilds of Iceland, you see thousands of these Icelandic horses (never call them ponies). They are everywhere. Of course they are owned by someone but you do see some wild ones as well. Birkir knew of a place where a farmer allowed his horses to be petted and fed (he even provided “horse candy” you could buy) and so we stopped and everyone who wanted to got to feed the horses while the rest of us took photos. See mine to see how incredibly beautiful these animals are. That said, it is sad to say that Icelanders eat horse on a regular basis. It is a staple of their diet. Birkir offered to find us a restaurant that served horse but we said we were content to pet and feed them. 

After that it was on to the absolute, drop-dead highlight of the day—the Gullfoss waterfall. We have been to Niagara Falls but I have to tell you, this was so much better. In my opinion the reason for that was that these falls are still in a very natural setting and incredibly cool. Also, the water is totally unpolluted and blue. When you see the photos, just realize that I didn’t do anything to those pics at all—the water really is that blue. Seriously. The pictures tell the story. 

We thought we had seen it all but now it was on to geysers. Compared to Old Faithful that goes off once an hour, Iceland’s southern geysers go off every five minutes or so. They smell of sulfur but they also are very cool. Check out the photos below. 

After our geyser experience and a brief stop at a volcanic crater (sorry, this one didn’t come close to Crater Lake and just not impressive enough for pics), we made a brief stop for dinner (by this time it was around 8:30 but outside it looked like the middle of the day) and then it was on to our last stop of the day, The Blue Lagoon. 

If you have ever been to Iceland you have heard of the Blue Lagoon. It is so popular that people flying from the US to Europe will do a five hour stopover just to hit the Blue Lagoon (which is located between Reykjavik and the airport). If you have never heard of it or seen photos, just imagine a giant, blue hot tub with hundreds of people (maybe more) swimming around, drinking and rubbing mud on their faces. And the strangest thing was that we arrived at the lagoon just before it closes at 10:55 or so. But you would never know it. The sun was up and there were (see the pics) hundreds of people still in the lagoon. Birkir told us they stop letting people in at 11:00 pm in the summer but they don’t start kicking people out until midnight.

I should add that sunset that day was at 11:58 and sunrise the next morning was at 2:15 am. It never really got dark and when we finally got back to the ship at almost midnight, we were very thankful for the blackout curtains in our staterooms. 

Our first day in Iceland was INCREDIBLE! Birkir was an amazing guide and got us everywhere in a fun and beauty filled day. It was just outstanding.

We walked and walked and ate and ate

IMG_1781
My walking day
IMG_3861
Kathleen’s walking day

Don’t you love trying to get back on schedule after you change a bunch of time zones. I do…NOT! Awake this morning at 1:00 am, laid in bed until 2:00 and then gave up and came in the living room (I love AirBnBs for this very reason…we have a living room) and posted and did some other stuff before noticing the sun was going to come up at 4:44. So I was dressed and out walking at 4:30. I love taking early morning golden light photos and I was thrilled to get some great ones. Walked a little over five miles all over Edinburgh’s new and old towns. And as you can see, by the end of the day, I had walked even further.

I want to take a moment here to brag about Kathleen and her walking yesterday. She did more than 7.3 miles and more than 16,688 steps. WOW! I walk miles and miles each week but this is really something for her. Those are our respective walking tallies for yesterday above. Hopefully we wore off some of the food we ate.

I have to admit to you faithful readers that I started this post last night at 9:00 pm or so when we came back from our food tour. Between the long day and the great food and drink, I fell asleep right at the end of the first paragraph. It’s now almost 7:00 am on Thursday and I have already climbed Arthur’s Seat (more about that tomorrow) and I am working on this before I go get breakfast.

After my early morning walk, we had planned to go down and tour Holyrood Palace. On both our previous trips we had skipped the Palace for some reason. But when I had walked there on my pre-dawn photowalk, I discovered the the Lord High Commissioner of some such was in residence until Sunday and that the Palace was closed to tours. Damn! Guess we will just have to come back to Edinburgh again.

So after a quick breakfast, we walked up the Royal Mile and grabbed our Saturday rail tickets at Waverly Station and did a quick “Rick Steve’s Wee Tour of New Town.” It’s a tour from his Edinburgh Highlights book. We could have skipped where we ended up going on the “Wee Tour” as we wound up walking much of the same route on the food tour later but we had a nice morning. Made it back to the Canonsgate area in time to grab lunch at the Tollbooth Tavern where we had eaten three years ago. Still great food and great beers. It ought to be for a place founded in 1820. You would think they would have their act together by now. 😜

Then it was back to home for a short nap before our 5:00 pm food tour. We had booked this through a company called Eat Walk Tours and we met our guide Anastaziya (Scottish of Russian heritage) at our first restaurant at the base of the castle in the Grassmarket area. Anastaziya was AWESOME! It was her first tour (she had been on a bunch but this was her first one as a guide) and aside from having to check her notes from time to time, she was wonderful. Our tour was called the Old/New Town Tour and it did just that. Took us through the Old Town, around the Royal Mile and then over to Princes Street and the New Town. Along the way we stopped for five bites and three drinks and had a lot of splendid conversation. We were amazed that we were the only people on the tour, which I guess is a big benefit of booking on a weekday, so we got very special treatment.

The food and drink started with smoked salmon (farm-raised Atlantic, no further comment needed) and our next tastes included mash potatoes with some braised beef and blood sausage (good) that was accompanied by some outstanding raspberry gin and Prosecco (great). Then on to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society where we sampled a private label Scotch along with the haggis we had been expecting all day long, served with neeps and tatties. It was surprisingly good. Then on to what looked like from the outside to be a faux-Tudor cheesy, bar. Once inside it became a gorgeous and classy wine bar and quickly became my favorite stop of the day. The food included a plate of cheese, cured meats, carmelized onions accompanied by oatcakes and some wonderful bread. All that washed down with a super good Scottish lager. We finished at a very stylish place for dessert where we enjoyed an upscale version of a traditional Scottish desert—Cranachan. It’s raspberries, whipped cream and chocolate. Wonderful.

That’s our first full day and it was full. Weather was outstanding as it looks to be today. More tomorrow. Here’s some pics but there will be a lot more on my Flickr account linked at right. And just in case you didn’t realize it, you can click any individual picture in the collage and it becomes a slide show.

Eating good food is my favourite thing in the whole world. Nothing is more blissful. —Justine Larbalestier