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by Brigita Potocki

  • Brigita Potocki

Five incredible days in the land of fire and ice



When my husband suggested Iceland for our first post-covid trip I was like: No way, I’m not going there, it’s too cold. Well, that would be a big mistake! Iceland is one of the most incredible countries I have visited so far. And it was not even that cold!


DAY 1

On the first day when we arrived (it was officially the first day of Summer there, 21st of April) we stopped in a small fisherman’s village Hafnir with only 109 inhabitants. This is where the American ghost ship full of timber wood and no one aboard docked in 1881. The people there used that wood to build houses and trade with it because there are literally no trees (and therefore no wood) on Iceland. The trees were cut down by the first people that arrived on the island (presumably Vikings) and they never grew back despite the constant afforestation because of the rough climate. The original anchor from that ship is still in the village, as a monument.


First view of the Icelandic landscape - different but so incredibly amazing


Our next stop on Reykjanes Peninsula was Miðlina. It is the only place where this longest mountain ridge on the planet that stretches from the Arctic to Antarctica is not under the sea level. And here you can walk between the two tectonic plates on a bridge where North America and Europe drift apart, which is absolutely stunning!



Another place we visited on our first day was the breathtaking Valahnúkamöl where we witnessed the raging sea and the cliffs and hills left behind after volcano eruptions. You can climb up one of those hills and admire the spectacular view over the Atlantic ocean. This is also the place where Iceland's oldest lighthouse is located. Here you can also find the sculpture of the Great Auk, the largest now extinct bird of the island. The last pair of these huge birds was killed right here in 1844. And one more curiosity: In the middle of the cliff there is a keyboard used in a movie The Story of Fire Saga with Will Ferrell.



Our next and last stop on the first day was Krysuvik with its remarkable solfatara fields. Here we admired steaming volcanic vents, fumaroles, boiling hot springs, bubbling mud pots and cold water springs. And even though it looks spectacular in pictures, don’t be fooled: the smell here resembles the odor of rotten eggs or sewage because of the sulfur. Because of the really hot, literally boiling water, it is dangerous to walk anywhere else but on the designated path.



After settling in the city hotel Klettur we went for a walk in the Reykjavik centre. There is only one main street there, called Laugavegur, where you can find small souvenir shops, a lot of second hand and vintage stores, food corners and some concept stores with different local and foreign (mainly Scandinavian) designers. Their leading clothes brand is Ice Wear and you can literally find one of their stores every few metres. They offer sports clothes, like parkas, anorak’s, trekking shoes, (real!) fur clothes and accessories, gloves, hats and shawls. So if you’re planning to go to Iceland and you don’t own any of these clothes, I suggest buying them there because you’ll get the best and appropriate for the weather and terrain conditions in Iceland.


Sometimes I just wanted to sit, relax and observe the people - Iceland is in every sense so different from other European places I have been

Laugavegur is one of the oldest streets in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. Its name roughly translates to ‘the Water Road’, as it was up and down this area where women used to bring their laundry to be washed in the hot pools. It was properly constructed in 1885. The road begins in the east at Kringlumýrbraut, near the mall Kringlan and the town’s largest park Laugardalur, and runs west to Bankastræti, which leads into the downtown area. It is about two kilometres long.


At the far end of a 2 km Laugavegur street

**Layers are essential for Iceland weather so for travelling and on our 1st day I was wearing: STRADIVARIUS boots and faux fur vest (put an anorak over it when needed)/ INTREND wool cardigan with ZARA (green) and later MANGO (orange) wool turtleneck under/ ZARA jeans/ COACH bag/ LV scarf (because all my wool hats were in the luggage and I couldn't get to them, but scarf was perfectly OK and I wore it on other days as well)/ MAX MARA sunglasess


DAY 2

We continued to explore the city center on our 2nd day because the main trips around the island were planned for our 3rd and 4th day. We explored Laugavegur street and its surroundings. Laugavegur is a shopping street that goes straight through the center with the views over the Atlantic ocean on one site. Here you can find many small local gift and clothes stores, cafes, restaurants, art galleries, book stores, and more. There are many second hand and red cross shops that offer clothes for reasonable prices but still in comparison to other similar shops in Europe quite pricey. If you’re looking to buy their typical wool sweater, called lopapeysa, I suggest buying it in one of the second hand shops because you’ll get it cheaper (for around 70 eur), otherwise they can cost two or even three times as much.



Because Laugavegur street is not really long we had a lot of time to enter almost every store there. That’s how I met the Icelandic fashion designer Halldóra, the owner of the brand Sif Benedicta. She just recently opened a store called Apotek Atelier on Laugavegur together with two other designers, and I was impressed by her new collection of diamond silk dresses, leather jackets, scarves, bags and other accessories. Simply amazing work! I bought a silk scarf to remind me of the trip (instead of lopapeysa because I knew I would never wear it at home as it rarely gets so cold) even though I fell in love with the plexiglass pink box bag that is now on my wishlist. You can find her on Instagram or visit her web page HERE .



She also recommended that we visit the Einar Jónsson Museum, located by the famous protestant church Hallgrimskírkja. The rainbow road leading up the hill straight to the church was a treat itself. We were also lucky to see a couple just getting married there! The church itself is very different from the catholic churches. There is no gold, no Mary and Jesus statues, no altar - it’s very minimalistic and cold, but that’s how it should be, not flamboyant and rich. The elevator took us on the top of it, right below the bell, and the view from up there was spectacular.


The rainbow road leading to the Hallgrimskírkja seen at the end



The view from atop of the Hallgrimskírkja is spectacular


We visited the aforementioned museum of the first Icelandic sculptor after. The museum that he designed and was also his home is actually his largest sculpture. It was built by the people of Iceland and it contains all of his incredible work. Some of them looked like the characters from the Netflix series Raised by Wolves, namely the necromancer called Grandmother, which was clearly taken from his sculpture (1935) dedicated to the family Eisert from Lodz in Poland. Yet, I couldn’t find any connection or mention of it by the production team of Raised by Wolves or the director Ridley Scott. Also, the work itself is hardly mentioned anywhere but I found that it was actually meant for the tomb of Karol Eisert’s wife and it represents the angel of death. The original was lost during the second world war. Anyway, the museum is absolutely worth the visit, not only for the art, which is captivating, but also because it sits on top of the hill and the artist’s apartment offers a great view of the city and the church.



The toilet was obviously not part of the exhibition but it reminded me of the Yellow Submarine and I had to take a pic

During our stroll through the city, going up and down a few times, we indulged in their local food. I particularly liked the lobster soup which we already tried in the marina on our first day when we arrived, and it was so delicious I could eat it everyday and not try anything else!


The former public toilet in Laugavegur became the home of Icelandic punk museum


The houses in Reykjavik (except large buildings like hotels, museums, malls) are mostly made of corrugated sheet metal and painted so colorfully that you actually don't realize that, unles you really pay attention and look close. The streets are very clean and there are no strange smells. Also, a lot of pavements and some streets are heated in the winter so that they are not slippery (and that's indeed true, because we've seen some road works and there were heating pipes laid in the ditch!). Most of the cars had tyre studs on to be able to drive in slippery terrains and ice, and they made this charactheristic sound that you don't hear anywhere else (and kinda goes on your nerves if you're not used to it). People there are using e-scooters and bicycles as a form of transportation, so you have to be careful not to get hit by one.

We stumbled upon this guy while exploring the city of Reykjavik. You can find him on Instagram and TikTok @yngvi_lothbrok


On day 2 for exploring Reykjavik centre I was wearing: STRADIVARIUS faux fur vest/ INTREND wool cardigan and Zara wool turtleneck under/ NAPAPIJRI stirup leggings / Hand made wool hat / LE SPECS sunglasses / vintage EL CAMPERO leather backpack and SAN FASHION mobile bag (perfect for easy access to my phone and credit card) LV scarf

The view from the city shore across the Atlantic ocean

I bought this anorak a year ago in goodwill store and it was the last thing I packed. Because it's foldable I just threw it in the backpack before leaving. But it was the most useful piece of clothing I had with me! It protected me from the winds (that can be very harsh, especially by the Ocean) and from the water by the waterfalls we have visited


DAY 3

On our 3rd day is when the adventure began. We started early because the plan was to visit all the sights along the golden triangle. And we did! We started at the Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park where you walk between two continents. This is an amazing and fascinating place where the history of the nation truly began and where almost all its major historical turns were made. Here is where Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland's parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries was located. Also there is the Þingvellir Church, the ruins of old stone shelters and the Öxarárfoss waterfall. This place is extremely cold during the winter, but as I mentioned before, we had extremely beautiful weather during our stay there so we could really enjoy every single minute of it. The nature and the views there are breathtaking, so you wouldn’t wanna miss it if you visit Iceland.


The view from Thingvellir National Park - beautiful weather we were having was not typical

Everything around us was breathtaking, including the naked rocks

There are not many trees on Iceland, the ones that grow are mainly conifers and birch



You probably heard the word ‘’geysir’’. Well, it’s an Icelandic word describing the first geyser mentioned in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The Great Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south. The Stokkur geysir is still active and erupts approximately every 5 minutes up to 30 metres in the sky (pictured below left). Of course we waited for the eruption with our camera ready and as you can see we managed to catch it on the pic.



We moved on to the Gullfoss waterfall which is probably the largest in Iceland. The proprietors wanted to sell it to foreign investors in the middle of the 20th century to build a power plant. But this luckily didn’t happen; some say that because of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, one of the previous owners, who threatened to throw herself in the water. A stone memorial in her memory is located on the site and the waterfall was later sold to the country of Iceland and is now protected. Here I could actually feel the enormous power of nature. There is literally no greater power than the raging waters of the river falling down 32 metres and creating the spectacular waterfall. Also, here is where I saw more rainbows than in my entire life so far.


Here I could actually feel the enormous power of nature

There is no greater power than the raging waters of the river falling down 32 metres and creating the spectacular waterfall

The view was breathtaking

Rainbows everywhere

On 3rd day I'm wearing: thrifted anorak/ Royal Robbins fleece jacket/ Rotate sweatpants/ Sorel boots/ Le Specs sunglasses/ vintage El Campero leather backpack/ San Fashion mobile purse
A stone memorial to Sigríður Tómasdóttir

The three of us

After these two of the biggest tourist attractions in the golden circle our next shortstop was Skálholt. This small village was one of the most important places in Iceland through eight centuries. Skálholt was the center of ecclesiastic power in Iceland for almost 700 years. The first bishopric was founded here in 1056, with the first bishop, Ísleifur, taking the seat. From then on it became the center of learning, culture, and worldly power in Iceland. Iceland's first official school was also founded here in 1056 to educate clergy. Thirty-two Catholic bishops sat here until the Reformation to Lutheranism at Skálholt in 1540. We visited the cathedral which was an important one in this region - all the bishops are buried on these grounds. The church itself is pretty large compared to others, 30 metres long, and there are some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. They were donated to the church by Danish merchants and they show the story of the Salvation. When the sun shines directly through the stained glass windows the interiors of the cathedral turn into a magical multi-coloured wonderland.


Here are some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen and the mosaic altarpiece of Jesus at the end, reflecting the colors of the windows

The stained glass windows were donated to the church by Danish merchants

All the bishops from the cathedral are buried on these grounds

The famous icelandic house with turf roof that served as an isolation


We left this historic village and moved along to Kerid crater which is a 3000 years old lake in the volcanic crater. It is a very scenic view from the top, but you can also go down to the bottom and touch the deep green water if you feel like it. I didn’t go but my son did - a few hundred steps were a piece of cake for him!



My son (in red pants) heading down to the volcano lake

Upon returning to the hotel we showered, rested and then went out. We decided to try local food in a local restaurant. My son found a perfect place - Þrír frakkar or Three coats, the Icelandic restaurant offering foods like hákarl, smoked puffin, whale steak, seabird breasts, lamb and different fish. This is the place you must visit if you want to eat really good icelandic dishes! I tried the whale that my son ordered and it tasted similar to beef liver, a specialty of my country. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and even though it was almost 11 PM it was still not quite dark, because, as I said, days are longer here in the Summer.



Hallgrimskírkja by night

***


On the third day I was wearing comfortable clothes because it was a long day. For the trip to the golden circle: ROTATE sweatpants/ MOHITO puffer/ ROYAL ROBBINS fleece jacket/ SOREL boots/ MANGO wool turtleneck/ vintage EL CAMPERO leather backpack and SAN FASHION mobile bag/ LE SPECS sunglasses.
I was adding and removing layers depending on the temperatures, the highest being that day around 18 degrees.


DAY 4


The fourth day was reserved for our southern adventure. We stopped at the location of the volcano eruptions 12 years ago - the Eyjafjallajökull. Because of this volcanic eruption and its ash cloud around 20 countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic which affected approximately 10 million travellers. We continued our ride alongside the Atlantic Ocean with the panoramic view of the land with no trees, no grass, no animals, except a few sheep and goats, some cats and chickens. It was the beginning of Summer so the land was still empty and brown, I guess in the middle of summer it gets greener. There are also no plants of any kind, so I’m not sure how they get vegetables and fruits, probably need to import them.



There are plenty of waterfalls in south Iceland. We passed many small ones and the largest one which we visited on our way back and I'll tell you more about it below. So the first one was Skógafoss Waterfall where you can see so many rainbows you can’t even believe it’s possible. There are around 500 steps leading on the observation platform at the top of the waterfall. My son climbed up there but assured us that it wasn’t worth it, because the view from the bottom of the waterfall is much more impressive, besides you’re standing in the middle of a dozen or more rainbows!






There are no words that can describe the different, but amazingly beautiful nature you are witnessing along the way in Iceland. We moved forward by the Atlantic and passed the beach with the airplane wreck made famous by Justine Bieber and his video for the song I’ll show you We actually visited all the places seen in this video, except that plane wreck, the reason being that the place is pretty remote and you have to go there with a special vehicle. Many people tried to get there by rented cars and they got stuck in the sand and they had to be rescued. If you try to get there by foot you are doomed because it’s a long way and the weather there can change in a minute. If the storm gets you, you can be in a pretty dangerous situation. So, instead we visited the black sand beach in Vik town, the famous Reynisfjara, which is almost exactly the same minus the plane wreck.



And, yes, the sand there is literally black because it’s made of lava rocks. The beach is a few kilometers long. There is a cave on the far end of the beach with no particular story, but the dramatic basalt cliffs (officially called Reynisdrangar) are something else. The legend says that these are trolls turned into stones. The whole beach is absolutely amazing but also dangerous. Our guide warned us (and the warning signs confirmed it) that we must stay away from the sea for at least 30 meters, never turn our backs to it (to take a picture, for example) and most importantly, we mustn’t go in no matter what. Why? Several people were taken by the waves here while standing on the beach. The thing is that there’s literally nothing in between this part of Iceland’s southern coast and Antarctica, so the waves coming over the course of thousands of miles are extremely strong. And if they grab you there is no way you can escape them. You are forever lost in the sea. So, yes, I stayed away and panicked every time I thought my son and my husband stood too close!



The legend says that these are trolls turned into stones


The black sand beach is spectacularly beautiful but very dangerous: several people were taken by the waves here while trying to take a photo

From the beach we headed straight to the glacier, the Sólheimajökull, located between the volcanoes Katla and Eyjafjallajökull. This glacier is the easiest to reach and therefore very popular with tourists. You can also go climbing on it with proper equipment, of course. We met a few groups in full climbing gear with the intention of climbing up. It is truly an amazing experience being so close to the glacier! If we would’ve visited it ten years ago it would've been even closer. Up to where the lake is now, it used to be the glacier - the warning boards are still standing at the place where the bottom of the glacier used to be, which is approximately one kilometer from where it is now. Which is the proof of glaciers melting rapidly because of climate changes.


Many movies were shot in Iceland, scenes in Blindspot and Star Trek. Discovery were shot on this exact glacier

My son returning from the edge of the glacier - he wanted to see it and touch it

This lake used to be glacier, there are still small rocks of it in the water

Because of the rough and rocky landscape you have the feeling of being on another planet

Our last and final stop of this whole trip was the aforementioned Seljalandsfoss. I didn’t take many photos there because I wanted to climb it, the reason being that you can go behind the fall where there is a small cave. And so I climbed all the way to the cave, made a few videos behind the fall (you can find them on my IG story highlights) and climbed all the way up top. It was quite wet and slippery, but I made it. And it was definitely worth it!