The world is getting smaller and travellers are continually on the hunt for the new and unfamiliar. Introducing Iceland, the Nordic island nation and one of CNN’s top up-and-coming travel destinations for 2016.
Despite the latest buzz, trips to Iceland have been on AMA Travel’s radar for quite some time. And thanks to Icelandair’s direct flights from Edmonton to Reykjavik (starting in 2014), it’s gotten much easier for Albertans to reach “The Land of Ice and Fire.”
I could tell you about Iceland’s dramatic geography, fermented shark meat delicacies, and mastery of handball (D2: The Mighty Ducks wasn’t entirely accurate, folks…), but I think you’d prefer to hear it from a member.
John Kramers, along with 24 other travellers, took AMA’s inaugural 10-day trip to Iceland. He was kind enough to share his thoughts about the adventure.
Stopping off in Iceland for a few days on your way to (or from) Europe? Check out our Guide to Having the Coolest Iceland Stopover.
One of the reasons John signed up for the trip to Iceland was to observe geological features he couldn’t see back home in Canada. He is a geologist, after all.
Iceland is an incredible country situated on the mid-Atlantic Ridge about halfway between North America and Europe. It is part of both the North American Continental Plate and the European Continental Plate. In fact, when you’re in Thingvellir National Park you can almost touch both these huge pieces of the earth’s crust at the same time. North America is on the left and Europe on the right of the path shown below.
Roland VanMeurs, the AMA escort whose duty it was to make sure that everything went smoothly welcomed every one of us as we arrived at the departure gate. The six-hour flight was smooth and the Icelandair crew made all of us comfortable and relaxed as we made our way to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city where about 75% of citizens reside.
When we boarded the bus to take us to Reykjavik we were met by Barry Kublin, the Collette Travel guide who with Roland would guide us and make sure everything went great. They certainly did their job and were fantastic.
The next day our tour took us around the Golden Circle, where we stopped at Thingvellir National Park to see the centre of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where we could just take a few steps from North America to Europe.
Later, we went to see the magnificent Gullfoss Waterfall, where at the bottom of the main waterfall the river makes a ninety-degree turn and has cut a path down one of the many faults that crisscross Iceland.
Just before we arrived in Grundarfjörður we stopped to sample some shark meat. Believe it or not, a fishing family ferments the shark meat, hákarl, so it becomes edible and sells the meat all over Iceland at significant prices. Shark meat is an Icelandic delicacy; it is eaten by Icelanders on special occasions or during traditional festivals. The sharks that are caught by Icelandic fishermen don’t have livers so the shark meat is poisonous unless it is properly prepared and cured. It tastes good with a piece of rye bread.
EDITOR’S NOTE: John must have an iron stomach (or be part Icelandic), because I’ve tried hákarl and it was easily the most revolting thing I’ve ever eaten. No regrets, though!
The following day we made our way to the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri, which is also the most northerly settlement in Iceland. There some of us enjoyed sitting in the natural steam baths outside the city, instead of going golfing because of the weather, and others enjoyed horseback riding.
Then back to Reykjavik by plane the next day on a Canadian-built Dash 8. After getting back to the hotel, we all got on the bus and went down the Reykjanes Peninsula to the famous geothermal Blue Lagoon where almost every tourist to Icland stops to relax in the warm, naturally heated waters—a busy place with a geothermal power plant in the background.
On the last day we had a choice of going on a deep sea fishing trip or on a volcanic cave hike. An easy choice for me. The cave hike in a large lava field was fantastic. Here is the cave entrance.
Our guide for the Cave Walk was a student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., where she is studying to specialize in wilderness tours. Really a small world. Inside the cave were many geologic features, including stalactites and stalagmites. Here she is explaining a stalagmite that arises from the floor of the cave as mineral-laden water drips down from the ceiling.
In his review, John noted down curious details you probably haven’t heard about Iceland: