Long nights and lava fields

≫ this is a sponsored post in collaboration with Icelandair ≪

As I head out the door with a backpack on my back, containing all that I need: Clothes, toiletry items, laptop, journal and my photo gear – that feeling hits me at once. The feeling of anticipation of being on the road again, on my way to a new adventure. 

I am blessed enough to get to experience a different country and dive deep into their culture, language, food and drinks. When I get back home I will not be the same person I was when I left. This is why I travel.

Traveling changes you and gives you new perspectives. Getting exposed to new parts of the world, and meeting new people – that’s what makes us grow and understand both our world and ourselves a little bit better.

This time I’m finally going to Iceland, a dream come true.

Clouds pass by outside the window of the plane and the snowy mountains of Norway fade into view I sip on my Snaebjört, and Atlantic APA. The screen on the seat infront of me is showing me barren, volcanic landscapes, mountains and northern lights. Yes – even the safety video on board takes place in the dramatic nature of Iceland.

In the inflight magazine I read all about Iceland: from it’s wonderful nature, ever changing weather, knitted sweaters and city life of Reykjavik. I read about a language that I realise fascinates me more than I thought it would.

At a first glance it looks so strange, but as I slow down and take the letters in I realise that I understand some of it. They have their own characters and a very special sound to their language, but the connection to Swedish is definitely there.

We do not have 50 words for snow though. But they do. It’s a beautiful language and I want to learn more, and I am excited to be immersed in it for a few days.

Yesterday the Food and Fun Festival in Reykjavik begun, it’s a weekend where famous chefs from all over the world come to Iceland to cook with the local produce and ingredients of the land.

“The origins of the Festival can be traced back to the fact that the late winter months of February and March are off-season months in the Icelandic tourism industry. There was a severe decrease in seasonal tourism during this period and it was clear that something had to be done.

An idea was born to hold a competition between Icelandic and foreign culinary professionals, and thus with the support of Icelandair, the Icelandic Hotel and Gastronomy School and the City of Reykjavik, the first Festival was held in February 2002.

The festival has since then gained worldwide recognition and become an annual event, held in Reykjavík in February or March.  

Chefs from the USA and Europe are invited to Iceland and team up with local restaurants to create gourmet menus at affordable prices, for the one-week competition. From the very beginning, foreign chefs have shown the project great interest and fewer have been able to participate than wanted. This has thus become an internationally renowned gastronomical festival that attracts chefs and guests from all over the world to Reykjavik to join up with the local restaurant scene and participate in a cooking event.”

I am excited to spend a few days here exploring the nature, partake in the festival and enjoy the local cuisine of the island. And a weekend here is definitely enough to do both, and a stopover on the way to a far off destination is a great way to explore Iceland, a place some might not otherwise go to.

When you book flights with Icelandair between Europe and North America, you have the opportunity to add a stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare. So why not spend a weekend in Reykjavik, or stay for up to seven nights so that you have time explore the nature and the thermal pools before you continue to your destination? 

I do believe we need to start being more aware of how we travel: Take longer trips and try to see more while you are away!

Mountains in Iceland
Hot spring bath on Iceland
Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is on the way from the airport to Reykjavik, however only a certain number of people are allowed inside at once so make sure to book your visit well in advance. Or do like this girl we met and find a smaller hot spring on the island!

The Golden Circle

I can highly recommend exploring Iceland by driving along the Golden Circle. It’s is a tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 300 kilometres looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is the area that contains most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland.

You can rent a car and drive yourself, or join a guided bus tour to have someone tell you stories and facts about what you see. We got picked up by a guide from Reykjavik Excursions in the morning and he drove us to a few of the spots along the way and oh my gosh, just seeing the Icelandic landscape pass by outside the window was such an experience!

Driving along the Golden Circle of Iceland
Mountains in Iceland
Woman with backpack on Iceland

It is often very windy on Iceland so be sure to dress appropriately, and hold your car door when you open it. Doors have been known to fly off…

Waterfall on Iceland


Gullfoss

Iceland is famous for its many waterfalls, and you’ll find a few of them while driving along The Golden Circle. One of the biggest ones is Gullfoss which also has a nice little café and shop where you can buy the classical touristy stuff but also local crafts, art and edibles.

I picked up some smaller prints here since I like collecting art when I’m travelling. I also bought a patch to my collection, I need to start sewing them onto my backpack soon!

Portrait by Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland
Gullfoss Panorama Restaurant and shop
Gullfoss Tourist Center, Iceland


Geysir

Another thing that this island is famous for is its thermal heat. The ground here is very active and watching geysers is a popular attraction. But it’s not just a cool thing for tourists to watch, Iceland has actually made great use of this resource.

The warmth is used to heat cold water which is then piped towards Reykjavik. In Iceland, several major geothermal power plants produce around 30% of the country’s electricity. In addition, geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of around 87% of the nations housing.

This is actually how Reykjavik got its name. “reyk” or “reykja” means “smoke” and when the vikings arrived to the island they thought what they saw was smoke in bay (“vik”), hence the name which translates to “Smoky Bay”.

“Strókur – a column of steam rising from a natural hot spring”

Geyser on Iceland

I really need to come back here and rent an adventure car so that I can drive around on the island and see all the amazing nature I did not have time to see now!

Geyser on Iceland
Geyser on Iceland

Efstidalur Farm Hotel

If you’re looking for a more genuine, cozy lunch experience I can highly recommend this family owned farm situated in the middle of The Golden Circle.

Efstidalur II is run by four siblings and their families. They recently took over the business from their parents that started and developed the concept with them as it is today. The siblings are the 7th generation living on the property but their family has been living on Efstidalur II since around 1750. 

They are dairy farmers first and foremost, but since 2002 the business has developed with increased tourism in the area. In 2013 they opened the restaurant and café and began to make their own products from their milk, such as feta cheese, skyr and ice cream! The restaurant also offers beef from the farm and other local food.

I am really happy when I come across places like this. It’s so important to remember sustainability when traveling, and to support the locals whenever you can!

Efstidalur II Farm Hotel
Efstidalur II Farm Hotel
Efstidalur II Farm Hotel
Efstidalur II Farm Hotel

Þingvellir – Walk between two continents

This place (pronounced Thingvellir) is a historic site and national park in Iceland, east of Reykjavík. The park was founded in 1930 and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004. The landscape here is very interesting with a lot of rocky cliffs and fissures.

This is due to the park being located in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. We actually drove with the bus from one plate to the other, how cool is that?!

I really want to come back to this park and hike some more, the nature is so different from anything I’ve ever seen before. Our earth is truly amazing and I am grateful for all the wonderful places I’ve had the opportunity to experience so far.

Þingvellir National Park Iceland
Þingvellir National Park Iceland
Þingvellir National Park Iceland
Þingvellir National Park Iceland

I have a new jacket by the way, it’s made from a German brand called ThokkThokk and instead of down the filling is made from Kapok, so the filling is plant based, the rest of the materials are recycled and it’s both really warm and water repellant. I am truly impressed by the technology!

Also huge thank you to Veera for helping me with these photos. Because of all that wind and a lot of tourists it was so much easier than to start putting my tripod up ♥︎

Þingvellir National Park Iceland
Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Laxnes Horse Farm

No trip to Iceland is complete without saying hi to some Icelandic Horses, or going for a ride on one. We sadly did not have the time after such a long day, but you can book different types of tours and go for a ride in the Icelandic landscape which I would have loved to do!

But it was nice to just meet them, some of them have even been in Game of Thrones!

Laxnes Horse Farm Iceland
Laxnes Horse Farm Iceland
Laxnes Horse Farm Iceland

This is Glói which means “glow” and I can definitely see where the name comes from. He really does glow, especially in contrast to the mountains and blue, stormy skies.

Night life in Reykjavik

Reykjavik seems very hip and trendy (and it’s very expensive). I spent most of my time out in the mesmerising nature of Iceland, but I managed to get a glimpse of the city life to and I like it! A lot of cool street art covered the buildings and a lot of small, local stores and restaurants peaked my interest. I definitely need to take more time to explore the city when I go back.

Even though I mostly roamed out in the open I had the opportunity to enjoy some amazing food and local craft beer, which is probably my next favourite thing in the world after being outdoors.

“The guest chefs are required to use only Icelandic material for the centrepieces of their dishes. All are grown sustainably in the clean surroundings of the unspoiled nature of Iceland”

During the Food & Fun Festival chefs from all over the world came to Iceland to implement their styles and ideas to the Icelandic kitchens. We had dinner at Geiri Smart and Sasu Laukkonen, a chef from Finland and a passionate pioneer of ‘zero waste cooking’ cooked for us that evening.

We had cod and lamb and it was all very delicious! I don’t fine dine very often so it was quite the experience and I tried to be very aware of the flavours and textures. Geiri Smart was such a cool restaurant too, I loved the atmosphere and we had a lovely evening there.

Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik
Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik
Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik
Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik
Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik
Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik

Finnish chef Sasu Laukkonen and my friend Kathrin

Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik
Geiri Smart restaurant Reykjavik

Later we had some free time and some of us headed out hoping to see the Northern Lights. Me and Anikó (who works with beer ) went to check out the local beer scene. The same weekend we’re here Icelanders celebrate that it was 30 years ago that the ban on beer was lifted. In the early 20th century, Icelanders perceived the act of drinking beer to be unpatriotic – because beer was the national drink of Denmark, from whom Iceland was trying to gain independence and so it was banned until 1989.

As I also recently turned 30 and happen to enjoy craft beer a lot I was glad to head out, have some local beer and drink to that! Remember that if you want to follow along on my beer adventures, make sure to add me on Untappd where I log what I drink and where.

We walked through Reykjavik and found our way to Skúli Craft Bar, a place with around 14 craft beers on tap, the majority of which are normally Icelandic. I enjoyed a Sæmundur Nr.49 from Borg and Aniko had a sour from Malbygg.

Here we meet a young girl from the states. She wanted to move somewhere more slow, and now she lives in Iceland working both as a bartender at Skúli and as a brewer for Borg Brewery. We sat at the bar drinking our beer and talked with her about brewing, the industry and the challenges of making beer on Iceland. It’s difficult to grow hops here and the beer industry on the island is still quite new. But Icelanders have travelled a lot and come back wanting beer they’ve tasted abroad so it’s growing rapidly.

When I get back to my hotel room it’s well past midnight. I quickly pack my bag before going to bed. I am excited to get back home, but I don’t feel ready to leave. I’ve spent a weekend on this island and I’ve experienced nature unlike anything I have ever seen before, I have met some amazing people, heard a lot of stories, taken som Icelandic words to heart and I have enjoyed amazing food and beer.

I want to rent a camper van and explore more of what this place has to offer. I want to see more waterfalls and mountains, bathe in geothermal pools again and I want to hike across the barren land, dig my feet into the black sand.

If you can, a stopover here amongst long nights and lava fields is something I can truly recommend, I doubt you’ll be disappointed, and just like me, you’ll probably want to come back.

// Live slow, stay wild! – Rania

Skúli Craft Bar Reykjavik
Skúli Craft Bar Reykjavik
Bartender at Skúli Craft Bar Reykjavik
Skúli Craft Bar Reykjavik

≫ this post was brought to you in collaboration with Icelandair ≪

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2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Doreen

    16 March, 2019

    I enjoyed reading your travelogue and your pictures are beautiful. Speak to Dan’s cousin Megan when you come to Canada. She and her boyfriend rented a small camper and drove Iceland, they also snorkelled between the plates.

    • Reply

      Northbound Journeys

      16 March, 2019

      Thank you Doreen, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I can highly recommend visiting Iceland if you ever get the chance. Oh wow we’ll definitely have to do that – it sounds like they had quite the adventure!

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