Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Iceland! (Part 1)

As some of you may know, I took a trip to Iceland back in October. Why Iceland? I keep getting asked. I'm almost not sure myself, other than it's been on my bucket list for quite some time. I flew Icelandair to Holland seven years ago for a wedding and I stopped in Iceland for a layover. I remember being glued to the window as we landed, thinking it looked like the most surreal place I've ever seen. I think the little advertisements for Iceland they show you on the plane probably did their job too. For example, did you know the Prime Minister is listed in the phone book? Or that any Icelander can trace their lineage back to the first Viking settlers? Anyway, my friend Dani and I had been talking about taking a little vacation, and I suggested Iceland and she (without a second of hesitation) was on board. This is what I love about Dani - she's basically me. Without the slightly-obsessive germophobia. Although she did inform me that I should be changing out my contact lens case every month or so. Ahhh! Now I can't stop thinking about dirt on my eyeballs.

So, seven years after my first introduction to Iceland, I got to check it off my bucket list! It did not disappoint. Iceland is probably the most unique place I've ever been, and the perfect place to visit as a photographer traveling with a fellow photographer. We were intrigued for hours (no exaggeration here) by some of the things we saw (namely, floating icebergs that I'll talk more about later) and I can't imagine either one of our husbands being quite so patient with our incessant picture taking. Or Boggle-playing, for that matter. We knocked back some serious games of Boggle.

Iceland is an extremely easy country to travel in, mostly because everyone speaks English, and speaks it well. Let's be honest, they speak it better than probably most Americans. Menus are in Icelandic and English, as are most signs. This was good, because I learned NO Icelandic while there. Talk about a confusing language. Nothing was quite pronounced like it was spelled and I'm pretty sure I couldn't have pronounced it anyway without hocking up a loogie. Oh wait, I take it back. I did learn how to say "cheers!" Skál! (Said with lots of phlegm.)

I went in assuming that the Icelandic people would be super friendly and welcoming. Not sure why, maybe I'd heard it somewhere. Not so much the case. They were very polite, but it did not extend too much beyond that. They seemed to tolerate the tourists as opposed to engage them. Then again, most of the people we encountered were tourists and not actually Icelanders. Lots of Germans and Brits, and we had fun making friends with people who think we all have guns and run around shooting each other. Of course, in light of recent events, it would seem they weren't so wrong. :( Honestly though, they had some of the weirdest misconceptions about America that we (hopefully) dispelled. Also, I thought this would be a good escape from the election, but everyone still wanted to talk about it, much to our frustration. Ha!

Anyway, let's go see some photos. I'll insert more dialogue in between.

Day 1: Since we arrived at 7:00 a.m. Iceland time after flying in on a red-eye, we spent a good part of the day napping, walking around town, and picking up a few essentials at the grocery store. Not even sure where I shot these first photos... somewhere on the outskirts of Reykjavik. We drove around the coastline for a bit after stopping in at the Dive Center, where we signed up for a tour and Hanna made us fabulous hot chocolate.

Dani is so excited to be in Iceland! :) 

Day 2: Our epic snorkeling and lava-tube caving adventure! Yes, that's no typo. We snorkeled in 38 degree water between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America. How crazy awesome is my life??

I had heard from a friend about snorkeling, and I love snorkeling so I was interested to try it. However, the more I thought about it, the more I started freaking out. I mean, it's Iceland, and it's cold...  I did some reading online, and was reassured to find out we would be wearing dry suits. But after talking to our new friend Hanna at the Dive Center I wasn't exactly convinced I would be at all comfortable (tempertature-wise) during this experience. After all, a dry suit wouldn't cover my face, right? Hanna informed me that the helmet we'd wear was a semi-dry helmet, and our faces would go numb in the first few seconds and we wouldn't feel them anyway. Ahhhhh.... Not gonna lie, I was more than a little apprehensive but I signed up anyway. (Thanks to Dani for talking me off the ledge.)

This is the crack in the earth we snorkeled through. (Silfra fissure in Thingvellir National Park.)

Here you can see a scuba diver entering at the same place we did. That is not a reflection in the water - it's the actual terrain underneath! The water was suuuuper clear... our guide said it was more pure than  bottled Evian water.

Let's just say putting on the dry suit was an ordeal in and of itself. We had to strip to our long-sleeve shirts (I wore three) and long johns (two pairs of tights underneath the long johns for me). I also wore two pairs of socks and snuck some hand warmers in the outer layer. I wasn't taking any chances. Next layer was a thermal "onesie" (for lack of a better word.) Final layer was the dry suit that sealed around our wrists and neck. Then the helmet, gloves, goggles and air tube. Whew. We were with a group of about eight people and it took nearly an hour for all of us to suit up. Pretty intense. 

After all that work suiting up, I was hot. Go figure.

Once we got in the water, it was AWESOME!! (And not too cold, believe it or not.) I loved every minute of it. It was the best underwater visibility I've ever seen... soooo clear!

No fish at that cold temp, but the tectonic plates kinda made up for it. Although this was my view most of the time. Haha. 

Waiting for our group to get changed and warmed up, we shot a few photos around the snorkel site. It started snowing!!

After conquering the snorkel world, it was time for some caving. Apparently the cave the guides would normally visit was getting a bit icy and dangerous, so we headed back through town and all of a sudden we were driving through crazy moss fields. Lava rock overgrown with moss! It looked insane. I've never seen anything like it. Right in the middle of the endless moss, we pull over, park the cars and walk a short distance back to a big hole in the ground. Our lava tube! 

Our guide, David, pointing out some of the formations in the tube. It was pitch dark. The only light was from our head lamps. Can we say THANK GOD for our helmets. I bumped my head at least fifteen times. It got a little cramped in there. 

Here's a long exposure I did near the entrance of the cave. I had a little help from some natural light and moving our headlamps around to light up the walls during the 30 second exposure. It's hard to tell from this photo, but the walls were actually quite colorful.

See? Just a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere. Pretty sure this would not happen in America. 

We said goodbye to our group and stayed a little longer to photograph the awesome moss.

That's a volcano behind us. No big deal.  

Since we survived snorkeling and caving so well, we decided to continue the adventure and eat a traditional Icelandic meal for dinner. If you know me at all, you know that I love trying new food. I'll eat pretty much anything but beets or salmon (ick)... and now I can add whale to this list. We had an interesting five or six course meal, the highlight being that I can now say I ate puffin and whale. The puffin was... interesting. I ate it all, but it was messing with my head. There are delightful little stuffed animal puffins EVERYWHERE in Iceland, so I was having trouble separating that mental bundle of cuteness from what was on my plate. The meat itself was really dark, almost purply in color. And chewy. Sorta like beef jerky in flavor, but texturally like a rare steak. Weird, right? The whale... I took two (maybe even three) bites and couldn't do it. Just couldn't do it. It was unlike anything I've ever tasted and I can't even exactly begin to describe it, except to say if I could have spit it out politely I would have. Ughhhh not my favorite. 

You can read more about our trip on Dani's blog. Stay tuned! Parts Two and Three up next. 


Dani said...

Dude! We are so cool!! And you really should blog more, I can totally hear you saying everything in this blog. Beautiful photos! Awesome words! Let's plan our next trip!

Brea said...

Your trip looks like it was SO amazing!! I need to add Iceland to my list of places to see!

And I haven't changed out my contact lens case in... years. YUCK!

tPoz said...

looks like an amazing trip! I consider myself an adventurous eater too, but whale sounds like it just wouldn't go down right....

Louise Chamberlin, MS, CCC-SLP said...

I am unspeakably jealous of this entire adventure - especially now that I'm reading Part 2 with the geyser and know that there's ice bergs coming (bucket list!!) Also, though this is also more related to part 2, I snorted out loud at the "shear" joke, because I'm a dork and I get you. Looking forward to the end of the trilogy!

PS We should go somewhere equally amazing for our Feb trip. My travel bones are getting all itchy.

Unknown said...

Did you have any horse or rotten shark in your traditional Icelandic meal? I had some horse when I was there! It tasted just like...horse.

Emily said...

No horse or shark for me! We kept hearing about this famed fermented shark, but never actually saw it anywhere. Pretty sure I wouldn't have enjoy that either! Haha!

Marcella Treybig Photography said...

SO FREAKING BEAUTIFUL!! I am so jealous and inspired to go on an awesome vacation soon-ish :)