Iceland is an egalitarian culture with a population of 325,000.
They have almost no crime- violent or otherwise- with no military, and in fact, refuse to build one. Their borders are guarded by a very small Coast Guard and an unarmed police force (however, they do have what's called the 'Viking Squad,' which is an elite group of 50 police officers trained in both armed & unarmed combat techniques).
Their Police Commissioners are required to have a law degree.
Hot dogs are the national food, orrrr fermented shark, depending on who you ask.
There is very little difference between low, middle, & upper class, and actually, most citizens couldn't tell you which class they fall into.
English is their second most spoken language, Danish their third.
They have a universal literacy rate.
Iceland is a modern country and one of the greenest and safest in the world.
There are no tuition fees for attending Universities.
The island is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean and has caves, geothermal heating, waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, geyser's, beaches, and volcanoes.
Basically, Iceland has it all.
We arrived in Heaven on Earth late afternoon the day before Christmas Eve and immediately headed out the door to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur- the place to get an Icelandic hot dog!
The only real way to order a Icelandic hot dog is "with everything" (ketchup, sweet brown mustard, remoulade, raw onion, & crispy fried onions), but if you know you only want it a certain way when you approach the counter, then you can order it how ever you want, but if you take too long to decide, you are given one with everything and pushed out of line- think "soup nazi."
Isabelle ordered hers with just ketchup, Eric and I ordered ours with everything, and I promise you, these were the most amazing hot dogs we have ever eaten! And no, it's not because my little family eats clean food and haven't had a hot dog in more than two years- Icelandic hot dogs are beyond description!
Bill Clinton ordered a hot dog with only mustard from this exact place in 2004!
With tummy's full of the world's best fast food, we set out to explore Iceland!
During wintertime, Iceland only has 5 precious hours of daylight, from 11:30 a.m until 3:30 p.m. This is likely the first thing you'll come across when researching for your trip, so we were not surprised in the least that we were eating hot dogs in total darkness at 4:00 in the afternoon.
The mornings, though, they were a struggle. My poor brain refused to believe what the numbers on the clock said, and it was almost like extra coffee had the opposite effect that it does at home, I couldn't get a move on to save my life! I just had to suck it up and push through.
Or so Eric kept saying.
But whether my eyelids stayed open or not, we were in Iceland and I wasn't going to miss a single thing! So for our first full day we set out to explore the city of Reykjavik (rake-a-vik), the capital of Iceland and the northern most capital in the world.
These pictures were taken at 9:30 in the morning....
The house where President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the Reykjavik Summit in 1986.
I have no idea what this sign says but I got a kick out their letters, so I took a picture.
For all you breastfeeding mama's out there.
Oh, you know, just some lava rocks on the side of the road.
For all you breastfeeding mama's out there.
Oh, you know, just some lava rocks on the side of the road.
I'm sure you're thinking that as far north as Iceland is that their climate would be a tundra, I mean, it is named Iceland, but you would be wrong. I'm from South Dakota, and I know that the majority of you reading this are too, and you all know that we are used to sub-zero temperatures with feet upon feet of snow for months on end. But South Dakota cold does not exist in Iceland! It was definitely cold- around 20°- but not sub-zero cold. And maybe it's because South Dakota is in my bones, and us South Dakotan's are bred to handle the ridiculously horrible Midwest weather, but personally, I thought Icelandic winter weather was perfect!
This is me, disappointed that this was the only whale I was going to get to see in Iceland.
Since it was Christmas Eve and our whale watching had been cancelled, we had no other choice but to veg in our hotel room with big down comforters, English television, and gorgeous views of the harbor right outside our window. We ate an amazing Christmas Eve meal on the roof of our hotel, and afterwards, lugged our full bellies to bed. I couldn't have imagined a better Christmas Eve if I tried. No hard feelings, Santa.
We woke up early on Christmas Day and headed out to explore Iceland's Golden Circle. Reykjavik is pretty neat, but the best parts of Iceland lie outside the capital city. Because, guys, they have waterfalls!
The most badass buses I've ever seen in a parking lot.
The Gullfoss waterfall is created by the Hvítá river, plunging a little more than 100ft into a crevice. The water was the prettiest crystal light blue color, and the waterfall was spectacular! If you didn't feel like you were in Iceland before, you definitely felt like it now!
Strokkur geyser is next to the Hvítá river and is one of the most famous geysers in the world because it is one of a very few geysers that has erupted reliably for more than 50 years- erupting every 10-15 minutes, shooting up to 30 meters high.
And I got a picture of it!!
Þingvellir National Park is located in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and is at the northern end of Þingvallavatn- Iceland's largest natural lake- where if you wanted to, you could go swimming and would literally be swimming between two continents (but at 20° I would maybe wait until summertime to do that). The park is a UNESCO world heritage site, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland, and is also where the Icelandic Parliament was established in 930- the world's first Parliament.
We spent the rest of our afternoon at Þingvellir National Park straddling the European and American tetonic plates at one point in our day, and then hiking in the rift valley for the rest.
We had covered about 300km of central Iceland, starting and ending in Reykjavik, and the scenery was just magnificent. It was difficult to capture the height of the mountains and ridges in my pictures, but I sure tried! Guys, we saw waterfalls!
The day after Christmas we set out along the south coast. Iceland is an outdoorsy hikers dream, and there was no way to enjoy true Iceland by staying in or near Reykjavik, but since we didn't have all of the time needed to explore the entire island, we just cruised along the south shore.... because that's what my bucket list wanted.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall- a waterfall fed from a glacier-capped volcano!
LeAnn, Eric, Isabelle, & Warren
I wanted to live in this house for forever.
I was giddy at seeing so many waterfalls, but anxious to see the black sand beaches..... that is until we stopped at a GLACIER! And then I was all, "oh, black sand beaches can wait! That is a glacier!! That is totally a glacier!" I was completely unprepared to hike on a frickin' glacier! I mean, it makes sense, I was in Iceland, it's just that it never crossed my mind that I would get to go hiking on a glacier!
I could barely contain my excitement, and I was in awe for about an hour.
That person in the lower right part of my picture should give you an idea of what we were surrounded by.... so so beautiful!
That's what's so great about a bucket list, you can add to it whatever you like, realistic or not.... and sometimes, God reads it. And when God reads it, anything is possible!
Black sand beaches!! I made it!!!
It really truly was black!
My girl was having the time of her life!
The only thing that could top hiking on a running glacier, or making black sand castles, was the Northern Lights! For a "faux-tographer" this was the most intimidating things to take a picture of!
I had gotten some great tips on how to take pictures of the Northern Lights earlier in the week by a photographer at the Aurora Center in Reykjavik. He told me to put my camera into manual mode (already done), set my ISO at 800, white balance on 'incandescent,' aperture at 3.5 or lower, manual focus, shutter speed at 20-30 seconds, and never ever use a flash when taking pictures of the Northern Lights.
Seemed easy enough....
So with my camera all set, on our very last night in Iceland, and just a few short hours until we had to leave for the airport, we boarded a boat in search of the Northern Lights.
And we actually got pictures of them!! **SQUEAL!!**
But blurry pictures.... Eric and I got blurry pictures of the Northern Lights.
Let me explain first. Eric was a huge help with taking pictures on our last night in Iceland and these are the problems we ran into, and why I think the pictures are blurry: 1) We were on a boat. Boats move. Your camera can not move with a long shutter speed. A tripod is handy, and I sure do love mine, but tripods move when the boat moves, 2) We were elbow-to-elbow with a lot of people, all of us looking straight up at the sky. Add tripods and expensive cameras while surrounded by a frigid ocean to the mix, and well, you're basically in a tripod prison. And tripod prisons on a boat makes for accidental bumps- moving a camera that isn't supposed to move for 20-30 seconds, 3) People using their flash! OH. MY. GOSH! I wanted to scream! You can't use a flash and capture a picture of the Northern Lights when they are 60 miles above the earth! Now, I might not know much about flash photography, but I know that an on-camera flash, and even a speedlight can NOT reach 60 miles above the earth. One flash can ruin everyone else's picture! There were even signs posted all over the boat telling us not to use a flash, and the captain even explained why not to over the loudspeaker! Ugh! Deep breaths... deep breaths.... 4) I had tripled checked all of my camera settings down below in a fully lit and warm waiting area before heading out to the viewing deck, but I wish that I would have put my camera into focus first before going out into total darkness surrounded by a black ocean. I didn't realize it until the pictures came out blurry, and by then, we were in a tripod prison and couldn't see a single thing to change the focus. I was afraid that if I changed anything, I'd mess everything up, and ruin my chances of capturing anything. Blurry or not, I was getting pictures of the Northern Lights, and I was quite certain I will never see them again, so I wasn't willing to take any chances.
I will always be awed by, thankful for, and deeply humbled for all of the times that God put my feet in places I could never have imagined.