On the move with Betsy and Greg: For an otherworldly experience, visit Iceland.
By GREG BALL
Last January, on our way back to Europe from the States, we flew Icelandair, and took advantage of their Stopover program.
Briefly, it means you can stay in Iceland for two hours or several days at no additional cost. The program encourages tourism to the island nation for people who are en route to or from Europe.
Round trip tickets to Iceland can also be ridiculously cheap, as Icelandair often runs promotions.
Considering we were there in winter and only got about 5 hours of daylight each day, we packed in a lot over a five-day period. We concentrated on the southern coast and had a spectacular experience!
Landing in Reykjavik, we spent a day in the capital city taking in the amazing architecture, scoping out the street art and trying Icelandic cuisine. The city is easily walkable and definitely worth exploring.
But the most thrilling part of Iceland is its landscapes. Waterfalls, geysers, mountains, glaciers, icebergs, and more: it’s all like nothing you’ve seen before.
At Thingvellir National Park you can see where the North American and European tectonic plates meet. It is also the location where ancient tribes met for commerce and rituals and the hiking trails are beautiful.
The park lies in the popular Golden Circle, which is also home to Geysir Hot Spring Area and the remarkable Gullfoss. We had a bit of a rainy, foggy day and it was all still spectacular.
Back along the coast there is a section of the highway where amazing waterfalls abound. You can walk behind Seljialandfoss, and from Skogafoss ,a hiking trail leads up the gorge the whole way to the glacier from which the river flows.
These are two of the more famous sites, but with a little bit of effort you can find some hidden gems that are off the beaten path.
Our favorite was Kvernufoss. The path leading us back to this marvelous fall led us past Icelandic ponies and up a beautiful valley. We only met one small group of photographers who were filming with a drone.
The coastline is also stunning, and an explore down the Dyrholaey Peninsula is highly recommended. The rock formations with waves crashing onto black volcanic beaches are unforgettable.
At the farthest point east of our adventure lies Vatnajokull. At the bottom of this glacier chunks of ice are birthed and fall into a lagoon to become icebergs.
These slowly float out to the sea where many are caught and washed up onto a black volcanic beach. Known as Diamond Beach for the sparkling chunks of ice strewn across the black sand, a visit at sunrise or sunset is a truly remarkable experience.
On our final day in Iceland we joined a group with Local Guide of Vatnajokull and went on an ice cave tour.
We rode up the glacier on enormous four-wheel drive trucks, wore crampons on our boots, and walked across the glacier to explore several naturally formed ice caves.
The blue color of the ice is unbelievable and our guide Siggi explained how they are formed and change throughout the year. It was a most fitting finale to our five days in Iceland.
For more details on where we stayed, what we ate, and the experience of renting a car, see our blog Winter Stopover in Iceland.
Greg Ball is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.