A fiery plume rises from the earth’s mantle, deep beneath the sea, where two tectonic plates come together to form the world’s largest underwater mountain range. This plume pushes the land above water, just below the Arctic circle, to create an island made of fire below and ice above.
Vikings settled this island, fighting clan against clan, until they banded together to form the Icelandic nation. When they weren’t fighting, they told stories and, eventually, penned Sagas. The stories of the Norse gods, of Oden and Thor, were preserved in the Icelandic Sagas. The Volsung Saga was the inspiration for Wagner’s trilogy of Ring operas and, later, for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Old Icelandic was Tolkien’s focus at university, and he visited the country before writing his trilogy. In fact, the Lord of the Rings follows the Icelandic sagas right down to the names of the individual dwarf characters. The fire that bubbles up from beneath the frozen island’s tundra was believed to be Tolkien’s inspiration for Mordor.
It is an incredible landscape. Mountains covered in snow, icy waterfalls that rumble with power, and massive glaciers form the frozen surface, while volcanos, hot springs, and entire fields of geysers bubble up from the fire below. “Geyser” is one of the only Icelandic words to be used internationally, and comes from a specific and very famous geyser named Geysir. (Say Gay-sseer, and try to sound a Viking.) “Saga” is the other Icelandic word that is used internationally.
Iceland offers tours for whale-watching, puffin-viewing, and, of course, spotting the Northern Lights. Horseback riding into the wilderness is popular, as is hang gliding over the rocks. But the tour one must take in Iceland (and the only one I had time for) is the Golden Circle tour. Here’s what you’ll see on that tour.
First, a quick video clip of the geyser erupting:
Click on the first photo to open up the gallery. Use your escape button or click outside the gallery area to come back to the blog post for travel tips. (gallery doesn’t always work if you’re browsing on your cel phone, sorry!)
I can’t recommend a visit to Iceland highly enough, especially if you’re headed to Europe anyway. Icelandair offers a stay of up to seven days at no additional flight charge when you’re flying over the Atlantic, and the airport is small and friendly (there are only about 300,000 people in the entire country, it’s like a small friendly city). I’ve never moved through immigration and customs so quickly!
You don’t need to change currency, they take credit/debit cards here for even the smallest purchases. Even taxis and hot dog stands!
I stayed at Hlemmer Square, a very nice hotel that also offers hostel rooms, so budget travellers share the front desk with the luxury hotel. I highly recommend it, they did a terrific job arranging my transport from the airport and my tours, answered all my questions, and treated me beautifully. The hostel has a nice kitchen, and there’s a Bonus store three blocks down the road with good prices on groceries (don’t shop across the street, that place is outrageous!) It’s just a few blocks from Hlemmer Square to the waterfront. Delightful!