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Thrilled, not chilled, by Iceland

When one thinks of Iceland they often think snow, Vikings, sagas, hot springs, and definitely the northern lights.

Seven years ago I decided to take the plunge, listen to my heart and travel to Iceland. I had been wanting to go for so long, it seemed unbelievable that I was actually about to go! I had no idea what I was in store for, but I was certain it would be beautiful, and was I ever right!

At the airport in Toronto, the man at the check-in desk asked me excitedly if I was going to visit the thermal hot springs, namely the most famous of all called Blue Lagoon. Hot springs? I had not only never heard of any thermal baths, I had also not packed a bathing suit! It was going to be an interesting learning curve.

Iceland is a very tiny Island. It has a tiny population of 316,960.

Up until about 2 years ago, right before the current state of economic uncertainty hit, it had a very strong economy.

I wanted to just be with the mountains in a tiny village and lo, I found exactly what I was looking for in Grundarfjordur, which is a fishing village near the west fjords, with a population of 925.

In Grundarfjordur I stayed in a very modern and cozy house-turned hostel. Grundarfjordur is surrounded by the most breath-taking mountains I’ve seen, or, at least, the most dramatically named, Helgrindur, meaning Gates of Hell. Hel is a Norse goddess of the dead.

I was so lucky to be able to witness the beauty of the Northern Lights, not once but twice, which, I learned later from a website are caused by 3 different things that come together to create an incredible light display. Each time the sky turned an ominous black and all hints of the sky faded and after only moments it would start to slowly lighten up and suddenly there were torrents of colour dancing through the sky, lighting it up like a fantastical fire works display.

During my time at the hostel, I made friends with a woman from St. Petersburg, Russia, who had gone to Iceland to teach music. She and I went off in search of the elusive Aurora Borealis, also known as the northern lights. We were completely awed into silence by their beauty. The first time we saw them was on a night walk we ventured on, just the two of us. We sat down on a bench, and listened to the water lap against the shore, and realized the sky was getting darker and darker, and all of a sudden an incredible luminescence of blues lit up the sky! The second time, we were at our hostel. We both nipped out for a smoke, during a party that the hostel owner was throwing. As we were standing outside, trying to smoke as fast as we could, because it was so cold, we suddenly noticed the sky grow incredibly black. Then, just as suddenly, it was filled with the most incredible hue of pinks I had ever seen. When we went back in, we excitedly told everyone what we had just seen. Everyone was both jealous and excited that we had had the chance to see them!

After 5 days in Grundarfjordur, I decided I was ready to see the capital, if only briefly, before heading home. I was able to hitch a ride down to Reykjavik, with the woman who owned the hostel I had been staying in. On our trip down, she told me some of the sagas as we drove along roads where some of the sagas took place!

I stayed 2 nights in a very clean, well-run hostel in Reykjavik. It was, by far the cleanest and best-equipped hostel I had or have come across to date.

While staying in the city, I decided to book myself into a small tour group, which would travel around the southwest coast of the country, doing a route dubbed the “Golden Circle”, owning to the name of one of the big attractions. I got a chance to see Gullfoss waterfall, meaning Golden Falls, in Icelandic, on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Next on the tour was an up close encounter with the second largest geyser in Iceland called Strokkur, which erupts about every 8 minutes. The largest is called Geysir, which has more or less been retired.

The moment I stepped out of the tiny tour bus to go walk up the path leading to the geyser, it started to pour, torrentially, and the bus had driven down the road and would return an hour or so later. Meanwhile, my umbrella was in it, but I was already soaked. It was an amazing sight and sound, as the boiling water came shooting straight though the earth and high into the air, letting out a deep rumble, to signify the beginning of the blast and then a pop, as the water shot up, high into the air.

After that excitement, I figured I’d head out of the rain, and join everyone else in the warmth of a café nearby. And what luck, I looked down, and there in the pouring rain was money, about 10 dollars Canadian, enough for the smallest cup of hot chocolate I’ve ever seen!

Since I had had no idea about what to expect from the beginning, I was not disappointed. It’s an amazing country. Iceland could easily be renamed the land of giants. With its giant-sized Viking sagas, geysers, hot springs and northern lights, it is the most incredible land I’ve ever visited.

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