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Iceland Journal

This summer I visited Iceland with 8 of my college friends and their spouses. Forty five years ago we studied Swedish together at the University of Washington and last year, by chance, we had an impromptu afternoon reunion in Seattle. One person in our group is Icelandic who happened to be visiting Seattle at that time, and she suggested we meet again in Iceland in July, 2015. Within 2 weeks, we had all signed on to reunite in Reykjavik and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. The fourteen of us spent 4 days together touring the countryside, with L.S., our Icelandic friend and newly appointed guide, showing us the best that Iceland had to offer. We heard stories and sagas and visited places dear to every Icelander's heart. Each of us then went on with separate itineraries to discover more of Iceland on our own or continue to European destinations.

For almost a year I planned my trip, and as I read about Iceland, I was inspired to create our recently introduced Nordic Collection. Its colors reflected the primary hues I knew I would find in Reykjavik's vernacular architecture. I also wanted to see Iceland's unique and dramatic landscape and chose to visit Landmannalaugar (The Highlands), the South Coast and the Glacier Lagoon. After only 7 days in this amazing country, I find myself wanting to return to explore even more of Iceland's indescribable landscape.

Iceland's Lupine Meadows - Throughout the week, I saw meadows of wild blue lupines, which bloom from mid-June to early July. The flower is not native to Iceland, but was imported from Alaska to help with erosion. It obviously loves Iceland's similar climate, as the countryside is now covered with fields of the blue flowers that serve to nourish the country's poor soil.

Reykjavik From Hallgrimskirkja - The best view of Reykjavik is from the tower of Hallgrimskirkja, where you can see the harbor, the nearby Snaefellsnes peninsula and of course, the city's colorful houses.

The Golden Circle - Close to Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a loop one can easily drive in a day to see three of Iceland's most iconic sights: Thingvellir, the location of Iceland's first assembly, in 930 AD; Geysir, the namesake for all geysers; and Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, a monumental double falls with extraordinary power. Almost every tourist visits the Golden Circle, and its easy to get there by car or tour bus. This is the road approaching Thingvellir.

Landmannalaugar - Landmannalaugar is a very popular area to take single day or extended hikes to view the extraordinary landscape We took a 4x4 jeep tour to visit this unique area, and wanted to short hike a bit to get closer to the magnificent rhyolite mountains. I only have hiked on the sidewalks of New York and the first cliff we had to scale from the grassy meadow was daunting, but we forged ahead. The trek was well worth it. Within half an hour I came upon a hill, and looking down could see a clearing, with the most spectacular mountains I have ever seen. I could see tiny specs in the distance. These were hikers on the mountain ridge or at the base. Imagine being on a 6 day hike though this landscape!

The snow on the mountains was a reminder that Iceland had a very cold winter in 2014-15. I was monitoring the blogs in June and read that there was still 6-10 feet of snow at the huts and the camp sites would open late. By our arrival a month later, the meadows were green, the flowers were in bloom and it was perfect weather for a hike.

The View From Skogafoss - I took a two day trip along Iceland's beautiful South Coast to see some of Iceland's best known waterfalls, including the stunning Skogafoss. The South Coast is much more fertile than Snaefellsnes peninsula, and the farmlands were lush. Had we been here only 2 month earlier, it would have looked like a barren winter landscape. The growing season is very short, as is the summer tourist season.

You can climb to the top of Skogafoss and are rewarded with a view to the farmlands and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

The Black Sand Beach at Jokulsarlon - The beach at Jokulsarlon is a study in black and white. The icebergs float the short distance from the lagoon through the narrow passageway to the Atlantic Ocean. As they melt, they break up in the pounding surf and wash up on the black sand beach. They look like giant precious stones placed on black velvet.

Arnarstapi - One day we drove west of Reykjavik towards the Snaefellsness Peninsula. During the year of planning we all called it 'Sniffles' because we could never figure out its pronunciation and spelling. L.S. explained its meaning, however, and it was all clear: Snae = snow, fells= mountain and nes = peninsula. Snaefellnes. Then she explained how most names in Icelandic are actually true descriptions of what the location is. Vik means 'bay', so Reykjavik means 'smokey bay', undoubtedly named by its early Viking settlers for the geysers and hot steam coming out of the earth in the surrounding landscape.

Snaefellsnes is only a couple of hours away from the capital, and is known as "Iceland in a Nutshell". It has the dramatic cliffs, glaciers, black sand beaches, birds and coastal waterways found throughout the rest of the country, yet it is within easy access of the capital. We visited the westernmost end of Snaefellsnes peninsula. Arnarstapi (Rock of Eagles) is a favorite hiking destination for tourists and locals alike. The cliffs serve as safe nesting areas for all kinds of birds. The sea has cut into the rocks, creating unique formations that add to the beauty of the area.

In the Wild West of Iceland - On our drive back to Reykjavik from Stykkisholmur, we passed a herd of Iceland's famous horses. They are an ancient and sturdy breed, slightly smaller than horses in the rest of the world, and are seen in pastures and along the roads throughout the country. This herd was part of a riding tour and some lucky tourists were being shown the "Wild West" side of Iceland. Our IPhones videoed the galloping herd.

Snaefellsnes: A Mountain, a Church, a Bird, a Lupine Meadow - We drove west of Reykjavik towards the Snaefellsness Peninsula. During the year of planning we all called it 'Sniffles' because we could never figure out its pronunciation and spelling. L.S explained its meaning, however, and it was all clear: Snae = snow, fells= mountain and nes = peninsula. Snaefellnes. Then she explained how most names in Icelandic are actually true descriptions of what the location is. Vik means 'bay', so Reykjavik means 'smokey bay', undoubtedly named by its early Viking settlers for the geysers and hot steam coming out of the earth in the surrounding landscape.

Snaefellsnes is only a couple of hours away from the capital, and is known as "Iceland in a Nutshell". It has the dramatic cliffs, glaciers, black sand beaches, birds and coastal waterways found throughout the rest of the country, yet it is within easy access of the capital.

Throughout our day, we saw meadows of blue lupines, which bloom from mid-June to early July. The flower is not native to Iceland, but was imported from Alaska to help with erosion. It obviously loves Iceland's similar climate, as the countryside is now covered with meadows of the blue flowers that serve to nourish the country's poor soil.

Hallgrimskirkja - All roads seem to lead to Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland's largest church, built in 1930's. Its unusual facade is inspired by the basalt cliffs found on the South Coast. The church is located on a slight hill, and when you climb its tower you have an iconic view of the capital city, complete with the colorful houses I was eager to see. In front of the church is a statue of Leiffur Ericsson, given to the Icelandic people by the American people in 1930 in honor of the anniversary of the founding of Iceland's first government a thousand years ago. (Leiffur? They say that to speak Icelandic, just add an UR to any word.)

You Can Take a Taxi to Hekla Volcano - One day, three of us from the group went on a day trip of a lifetime. We wanted to see Iceland's Highlands, and included in the tour was a stop at Helka volcano. Hekla last erupted in 2000 and left huge lava fields that appear quickly after driving through the verdant landscape. Flosi, our guide, picked us up in his 4x4 super jeep, and we soon saw why this is the best way to travel to the remote areas. There are various ways to drive to the Highlands, including easier paved roads, but we took an "F" road, which is restricted to our kind of vehicle. This route gave us unforgettable scenery.

The road took us toward Hekla's summit, and the black and white landscape was more than stunning. Flosi told us that Hekla is normally covered in a cloud layer, so the blue skies were an extra special treat. We got as far as we could drive, and found half a dozen cars parked near the summit, as hikers could then walk further up the mountain. What? A taxi at the summit? Reykjavik is only a couple of hours away, so as long as it is a 4x4 vehicle, the driver can get his passengers to the mountain.

Harpa in the Midnight Sun - Harpa is Reykjavik's stunning new concert hall. Built on the harbor, its facade has a reflective surface that changes with the time of day. One night I walked along the harbor. It was past midnight, and Harpa's glass walls looked like metal in the Midnight Sun.

The Hot Dog Stand - On the harbor you can find "The Hot Dog Stand", which many describe as having THE best hot dog they've ever had. Bill Clinton ate here, on his visit to Reykjavik sometime ago. I'll admit it, I had one too.

Blue Lagoon - The number one tourist attraction in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. Located between KEF airport and Reykjavik in a desolate, moon-like landscape, it is a huge man-made lava hot tub created by the geothermal plant that supplies the capital with power and hot water. Open all year long, it offers mineral-rich, heated milky blue water that is revitalizing after a long flight.

Puffins - One day we took a "Viking Sushi" boat ride to the western islands to see the native wildlife and view Snaefellsjokull from a different perspective. In particular, we were looking for puffins, the colorful birds that are a tourist favorite. The boat also trolled for scallops and sea urchin and when they pulled up their catch we were served the freshest sushi I've ever had. The views were glorious. One island, we learned, was the hiding place for the Viking, Eric the Red. His son, Leif Ericsson left from these islands and headed to America a thousand years ago. We also heard the stories (sagas) of a woman who married one of the early Viking explorers, sailed to Greenland, then back to Iceland, and then to America, where she gave birth to the first European child in the New World. Oh, and she then sailed back to Iceland. It's hard to understand how one could do that in a single lifetime 1,000 years ago, but clearly, the early Icelanders were experienced travelers.

The Black Church at Budir - One day we drove west of Reykjavik towards the Snaefellsness Peninsula. During the year of planning we all called it 'Sniffles' because we could never figure out its pronunciation and spelling. L.S. explained its meaning, however, and it was all clear: Snae = snow, fells= mountain and nes = peninsula. Snaefellnes. Then she explained how most names in Icelandic are actually true descriptions of what the location is. Vik means 'bay', so Reykjavik means 'smokey bay', undoubtedly named by its early Viking settlers for the geysers and hot steam coming out of the earth in the surrounding landscape.

Snaefellsnes is only a couple of hours away from the capital, and is known as "Iceland in a Nutshell". It has the dramatic cliffs, glaciers, black sand beaches, birds and coastal waterways found throughout the rest of the country, yet it is within easy access of the capital. And it has the Black Church at Budir. Isolated on a promontory, it has the typical simple architecture of Iceland's churches, but this one is stained black, making it even more dramatic. We were lucky to see the normally closed off interior. The cemetery, with some simple crosses marking the graves for deceased children, was poignant.

Stykkisholmur and the Midnight Sun - Snaefellsnes is only a couple of hours away from the capital, and is known as "Iceland in a Nutshell". It has the dramatic cliffs, glaciers, black sand beaches, birds and coastal waterways found throughout the rest of the country, yet it is within easy access of the capital. And it has the very picturesque town of Stykkisholmur, where we would spend the night.

After dinner there I walked around until past midnight, enjoying the golden light of the Midnight Sun. Within an hour or two, it would be full daylight again.

A Glacier Hike - I took a two-day tour to the South Coast and, as if the black beaches and Jokulsarlon weren't enough scenic beauty, the tour also included a 2 hour walk on Svinafellsjokull Glacier. It is part of the Skaftafell National Park and is easily accessible, just a short drive from the highway Route 1. I've never been close to a glacier before this trip, and I visualized I would be on a mass of pure white ice and snow. Iceland is the land of volcanos, and for millions of years, even up to 5 years ago, has been the scene for volcanic eruptions which deposit ash on the glaciers. Global warming, our guide told us, has speeded up the melting of the glaciers so the exposed ash in the ice that we were walking on was more than 2,000 years old. The yearly snowfall can't keep up with the current warmer temperatures. He pointed out an area where 6 weeks ago there was a ridge 15 feet higher, and now it's gone. At the current rate of global warming, Iceland's glaciers will disappear in 500 years.

I had always heard the term 'glacial till", but never seen it being made. The force of the glacier pushes masses of stones along and deposits in them high ridges and deep ravines. It looked like a bulldozer had moved the earth. Underneath the till the ice is still evident.

Reynisdrangar - The South Coast has a variety of dramatic landscapes. Leaving Skogafoss we drove through verdant hills as we made our way to Reynisdrangar, our first black sand beach. The sand, of course, comes from the volcano lava flows, and in most cases, is made up of small particles, but there were larger lichen covered stones as well, creating a unique landscape in the harsh environment. The beaches are expansive and have a profound beauty. We were warned to stay well away from the water, as the waves have literally swept unwary people out to the North Atlantic Ocean. The large rock formations are home to arctic terns.

Reykjavik's Colorful Houses - This is what I came to see. We wandered through historic and ordinary neighborhoods, discovering the colorful corrugated-clad houses. L.S. explained the material is commonly used because it keeps the harsh, inclement weather from harming the wood siding. Icelanders are not afraid of using color and while most houses are painted red, blue or gold, other hues are also used.

Gulfoss - Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) was our third stop on the Golden Circle Tour. Iceland has some of Europe's most beautiful falls, and this is one of the largest. In the 1920's the river was scheduled to be dammed to create electricity for the country, but a nearby farmer's wife railed against the plan, threatening to hurl herself over the falls. The plan was cancelled, the area was turned into a National Park and Gullfoss was saved to become one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations. The roar of the water is deafening, and tourists can get an up close view of the powerful flow. Really close. There is a small thin rope on the cliff that supposedly keeps you from falling in, but the slippery surface and tight quarters keeps you cautious. But the experience is worth it...

Landmannalaugar - I took a day tour to Landmannalaugar, Iceland's Highlands and home to rhyolite mountains. I had time to take a short hike into the mountains to experience their beauty up close. Most visitors to the area are experienced hikers, which is a good thing, since the weather can change in an instant and even in summer, fog can roll in so fast it's easy to get lost. The trail is marked by wooden sticks, and there were a few hikers coming and going, so I felt quite safe. And the sun continued to shine. The views were absolutely breathtaking. Some of the nearby mountains were smooth, while others were sharp and angular. The lava we were walking on was formed by an eruption in the late 1400's, reminding us that Iceland is still a young continent still being formed.

The Highlands are closed to hikers except mid-late June to Mid September. Jeep tours are available in winter as the land is frozen enough to be protected from traffic (even on the roads). This would be a great place to see the Northern Lights.

The Harbor at Stykkisholmur - Stykkisholmur is a small town sandwiched between Snaefellsjokull and the sea. Its picturesque harbor is the departure point for the West Fjords, as well as island tours.

Snaefellsjokull - One day we took a "Viking Sushi" boat ride to the nearby islands to see the native wildlife and view the landscape from a different perspective. We could easily see Snaefellsjokull, the beloved mountain of Snaefellsnes. The boat trolled for scallops and sea urchin and when they pulled up their catch we were served the freshest sushi I've ever had. One island, we learned, was the hiding place for the Viking, Eric the Red. His son, Leif Ericsson left from these islands and headed to America a thousand years ago. We also heard the stories (sagas) of a woman who married one of the early Viking explorers, sailed to Greenland, then back to Iceland, and then to America, where she gave birth to the first European child in the New World. Oh, and she then sailed back to Iceland. It's hard to understand how one could do that in a single lifetime 1,000 years ago, but clearly, the early Icelanders were experienced travelers.

Harpa - Reykjavik is an easy city to explore. On a late afternoon tour we found ourselves at the harbor. We walked along the promenade toward Harpa, the new concert Hall. Its stunning glass facade mimics the basalt cliffs in a different way than the Hallgrimskirkja church's interpretation, and in different lighting conditions appears to be translucent or look like solid metal.

Skyr - Iceland is a 5 hour flight from New York, but it feels like no other place on earth. An island the size of Ohio, Iceland has only 320,000 inhabitants, 2/3 of which live in its capital city, Reykjavik. Once you leave the city, the country seems to have more sheep and horses than people. Houses are dwarfed by the dramatic mountains that slope directly toward the sea. Iceland is warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, so even though it is on the Arctic Circle, it is actually quite temperate. But because of wind and rain storms, it can also feel bitterly cold. In winter, it's not unusual for people to be stranded on the roads and needing assistance because of fast moving storms. In the summer, it is daylight for 23 hours but in the winter it flips to long, long nights, and if you're lucky, sightings of the Northern Lights. We were exceptionally fortunate to have had mostly sunny days, with temperatures in the high forties to low sixties.

I arrived at 8:30 AM at Keflavik airport (KEF) which is 45 minutes from Reykjavik. My first stop was at the KEF snack shop for a bite, and I discovered Skyr, Iceland's unique yogurt product. It is unlike any yogurt I've tasted, as it is made with a different kind of bacteria than yogurt in other countries, and uses whole milk from Iceland's happy cows. Absolutely delicious.

Sun Voyager and the Midnight Sun - Reykjavik is located on the water, and has a beautiful harbor. I visited the the Sun Voyager sculpture, which is a popular photography subject for tourists and Icelanders alike. This photo was taken at midnight in early July. In a few hours it will be bright daylight.

Landmannalaugar - Landmannalaugar. The name means Land-People-Warm springs. Once again, entirely descriptive. This is a very popular area to take single day or extended hikes, and the campground huts provide showers, toilet facilities and a place to meet other hikers. The famous natural hot spring provides a perfect outdoor bathing experience. We only had a couple of hours to explore the area, so instead of joining the bathers, we decided on a short hike into the mountains. I only have hiked on the sidewalks of New York and the first cliff we had to scale from the grassy meadow was daunting, but we forged ahead. The trek was well worth it.

Hallgrimskirkja - All roads seem to lead to Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland's largest church, built in 1930's. Its unusual facade is inspired by the basalt cliffs found on the South Coast. The church is located on a slight hill, and when you climb its tower you have an iconic view of the capital city, complete with the colorful houses I was eager to see. In front of the church is a statue of Leiffur Ericsson, given to the Icelandic people by the American people in 1930 in honor of the anniversary of the founding of Iceland's first government a thousand years ago. (Leiffur? They say that to speak Icelandic, just add an UR to any word.)

Earthquake Warnings on Hekla Volcano - The next day, three of us from the group went on a day trip of a lifetime. We wanted to see Iceland's Highlands, and included in the tour was a stop at Helka volcano. Flosi, our guide, picked us up in his 4x4 super jeep, and we soon saw why this is the best way to travel to the remote areas. There are various ways to drive to Landmannalaugar, the Highlands' camp site, including easier paved roads, but we took an "F" road, which is restricted to our kind of vehicle. This route gave us unforgettable scenery.

Hekla last erupted in 2000 and left huge lava fields that appear quickly after driving through the verdant landscape. It has a history of erupting every 10 to 15 years, so as we got close to the summit, Flosi checked the latest earthquake report, which would help warn us of a pending explosion. He told us we would have 20 minutes to escape an eruption, so be prepared. Fortunately, Hekla stayed calm while we were there but all those dots on the weather report meant earthquakes had occurred in the past 24 hours.

The Road to Landmannalaugar - It was about an hour drive through some of the most strikingly beautiful landscape I've ever seen. We drove mostly on one lane roads, and drivers need to be polite and allow one another to pass. At times, the tundra-like plains look like a desert. Were we in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco? The black and white scenery returned as we drove further into the Highlands, and we easily crossed river after river in the safety of our 4x4. But soon there was a subtle change in the mountains' shapes and colors as they seemed to soften. We were beginning to see the unique hues created by rhyolite and other minerals that is unique to Iceland's Highlands.

Snaefellsnes - One day we drove west of Reykjavik towards the Snaefellsness Peninsula. During the year of planning we all called it 'Sniffles' because we could never figure out its pronunciation and spelling. Laufey explained its meaning, however, and it was all clear: Snae = snow, fells= mountain and nes = peninsula. Snaefellnes. Then she explained how most names in Icelandic are actually true descriptions of what the location is. Vik means 'bay', so Reykjavik means 'smokey bay', undoubtedly named by its early Viking settlers for the geysers and hot steam coming out of the earth in the surrounding landscape. The mountains rise sharply from the lowlands offering dramatic vistas.

Snaefellsnes is only a couple of hours away from the capital, and is known as "Iceland in a Nutshell". It has the dramatic cliffs, glaciers, black sand beaches, birds and coastal waterways found throughout the rest of the country, yet it is within easy access of the capital. And it has the very picturesque town of Stykkisholmur, where we would spend the night.

Reykjavik's New Architecture - While in Reykjavik, I walked to the waterfront to check out the new residential architecture being built. There's been some urban sprawl around Reykjavik, so in order to provide more housing close in, new apartments are being built with spectacular views overlooking the harbor. My Icelandic friend, L.S., was not happy how these skyscrapers were stealing the view from older traditional houses nearby.

Geysir - Close to Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a loop one can easily drive in a day to see three of Iceland's most iconic sights: Thingvellir, the location of Iceland's first assembly, in 930 AD; Geysir, the namesake for all geysers; and Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, a monumental double falls with extraordinary power. Almost every tourist visits the Golden Circle, and its easy to get there by car or tour bus.

The original Geysir is dormant, but Strokur, its smaller brother, performs reliably every few minutes. We were warned to stand away from the exploding steam and water, as it is extremely hot and dangerous. Throughout Iceland there are many natural hot pots, as Iceland is created from volcanos and has significant geothermal activity. There are some natural hot pools that make for a unique bathing experience, but other hot pots are exceedingly dangerous. Iceland law states that each person is responsible for their own well being, so if one falls off an unmarked cliff or is scalded by a hot pot, the government cannot be sued for failure to warn. There are stories and videos of tourists who do not heed common sense and find themselves in trouble, but hopefully saved by the emergency service teams.

The Harbor at Reykjavik - Reykjavik has a picturesque harbor with views of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in the distance. Iceland is warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, so even though it is on the Arctic Circle, it is actually quite temperate.

Gullfoss - Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is another stop on the Golden Circle Tour. Iceland has some of Europe's most beautiful falls, and this is one of the largest. In the 1920's the river was scheduled to be dammed to create electricity for the country, but a nearby farmer's wife railed against the plan, threatening to hurl herself over the falls. The plan was cancelled, the area was turned into a National Park and Gullfoss was saved to become one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations. The roar of the water is deafening, and tourists can get an up close view of the powerful flow. Really close. There is a small thin rope on the cliff that supposedly keeps you from falling in, but the slippery surface and tight quarters keeps you cautious. But the experience is worth it...

Thingvellir - Thingvellir is an area sacred to Icelanders, as it is home to the government gatherings 1,000 years ago. Imagine, when Europeans were struggling to live in rather primitive communities, Icelanders established a government and methods for communicating their laws and history. Once a year the people would attend a 'meeting' where the leader would stand on the promontory and shout out the laws and sagas for all to hear. Thingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its historical significance, but also because it is where Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are splitting apart. While moving only a few centimeters a year, the rift is visible and one can actually scuba dive in the part of it covered by the lake.

The Ugly Puddle - We left Landmannalaugar and Flosi said we would next see the Ugly Puddle. Did he mean the deep ruts in the road out of the camp site? No, it would be another awe-inspiring sight we would never forget. But as we, in our sturdy 4x4 super jeep drove through the so-called road, to our right we spotted a tourist driving "off road"! The tundra is extremely fragile and driving off road, to get around deep ruts in the F roads, is absolutely forbidden. The damage done by one vehicle can take decades to repair, and other cars then follow the tracks and cause even more damage. So Flosi alerted the tourist of his error, and we drove up to Ljotipollur, an extinct crater with unbelievable colors. We looked out on the horizon and felt that once again, we were on viewing of one of the most spectacular places in the world.

The Camp at Landmannalaugar - Landmannalaugar. The name means Land-People-Warm springs. Once again, entirely descriptive. This is a very popular area to take single day or extended hikes, and the campground huts provide showers, toilet facilities and a place to meet other hikers. Colorful tents dot the gravel site. The famous natural hot spring provides a perfect outdoor bathing experience. We only had a couple of hours to explore the area, so instead of joining the bathers, we decided on a short hike into the mountains. I only have hiked on the sidewalks of New York and the first cliff we had to scale from the grassy meadow was daunting, but we forged ahead. The trek was well worth it.

Snaefellsjokull - The beloved mountain on Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Reykjavik's Colorful Architecture - This is what I came to see. We wandered through historic and ordinary neighborhoods, discovering the colorful corrugated-clad structures. L.S. explained the material is commonly used because it keeps the harsh, inclement weather from harming the wood siding. Icelanders are not afraid of using color and while most houses are painted red, blue or gold, other hues are also used.

Midnight Sun at Stykkisholmur - We ended our day in the small, picturesque fishing town of Stykkisholmur. After dinner I walked around until past midnight, enjoying the golden light of the Midnight Sun. Within an hour or two, it would be full daylight again. The town is sandwiched between the Snaefellsjokull mountain and Iceland's westernmost coastline.

On the Road to Landmannalaugar - It was about an hour drive through some of the most strikingly beautiful landscape I've ever seen. We drove mostly on one lane roads, and drivers need to be polite and allow one another to pass. At times, the tundra-like plains look like a desert. Were we in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco? The black and white scenery returned as we drove further into the Highlands, and we easily crossed river after river in the safety of our 4x4. But soon there was a subtle change in the mountains' shapes and colors as they seemed to soften. We were beginning to see the unique hues created by rhyolite and other minerals that is unique to Iceland's Highland.

A Walk in the Waterfall: Seljalandsfoss - The next day I took a two day trip along Iceland's beautiful South Coast. We were off to see some of Iceland's best known waterfalls and then would travel on to the black sand beach and finally, visit the Glacier Lagoon. At first, after leaving Reykjavik, we drove through rugged terrain and in the distance saw clouds of steam from geothermal utility plants. Within a short time we came to two waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that you can walk behind, and another smaller one nearby that is hidden in a cave. In order to enjoy them, one needs appropriate clothing. That means waterproof rain pants, jacket and hiking boots, as the rocks surrounding the powerful waterfalls are slippery. Since I was well prepared, I was able to see the best of each. The immediate areas were green and mossy as was the surrounding landscape.

Lake Thingvallavatn - Close to Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a loop one can easily drive in a day to see three of Iceland's most iconic sights: Thingvellir, the location of Iceland's first assembly, in 930 AD; Geysir, the namesake for all geysers; and Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, a monumental double falls with extraordinary power. Almost every tourist visits the Golden Circle, and its easy to get there by car or tour bus.

But onward to Thingvellir. This is an area sacred to Icelanders, as it is home to the government gatherings 1,000 years ago. Imagine, when Europeans were struggling to live in rather primitive communities, Icelanders established a government and methods for communicating their laws and history. Once a year the people would attend a 'meeting' where the leader would stand on the promontory and shout out the laws and sagas for all to hear. Thingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its historical significance, but also because it is where Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are splitting apart. While moving only a few centimeters a year, the rift is visible and one can actually scuba dive in the part of it covered by its lake, Thingvallavatn.

Reykjavik's Colorful Houses - This is what I came to see. We wandered through historic and ordinary neighborhoods, discovering the colorful corrugated-clad houses. L.S. explained the material is commonly used because it keeps the harsh, inclement weather from harming the wood siding. Icelanders are not afraid of using color and while most houses are painted red, blue or gold, other hues are also used.

The Hot Pots at Geysir - Close to Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, a loop one can easily drive in a day to see three of Iceland's most iconic sights: Thingvellir, the location of Iceland's first assembly, in 930 AD; Geysir, the namesake for all geysers; and Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, a monumental double falls with extraordinary power. Almost every tourist visits the Golden Circle, and its easy to get there by car or tour bus.

We then proceeded to Geysir. The original Geysir is dormant, but Strokur, its smaller brother, performs reliably every few minutes. We were warned to stand away from the exploding steam and water, as it is extremely hot and dangerous. Throughout Iceland there are many natural hot pots, as Iceland is created from volcanos and has significant geothermal activity. There are some natural hot pools that make for a unique bathing experience, but other hot pots are exceedingly dangerous. Iceland law states that each person is responsible for their own well being, so if one falls off an unmarked cliff or is scalded by a hot pot, the government cannot be sued for failure to warn. There are stories and videos of tourists who do not heed common sense and find themselves in trouble, but hopefully saved by the emergency service teams.

On the Road to Hekla Volcano - Three of us from the group went on a day trip on our own. We wanted to see Iceland's Highlands, and included in the tour was a stop at Helka volcano. Flosi, our guide, picked us up in his 4x4 super jeep, and we soon saw why this is the best way to travel to the remote areas. There are various ways to drive to Landmannalaugar, the Highlands' camp site, including easier paved roads, but we took an "F" road, which is restricted to our kind of vehicle. This route gave us unforgettable scenery.

Hekla last erupted in 2000 and left huge lava fields that appear quickly after driving through the verdant landscape. It has a history of erupting every 10 to 15 years, so as we got close to the summit, Flosi checked the latest earthquake report, which would help warn us of a pending explosion. He told us we would have 20 minutes to escape an eruption, so be prepared. Fortunately, Hekla stayed calm while we were there. He stopped to deflate the tires so the ride would be more comfortable and not damage the jeep. And then we saw someone had left two water bottles in this pristine landscape! Icelanders are extremely proud of their beautiful country, and would never leave litter. It must have been some tourists. Because most areas are extremely remote and it is difficult to empty trash cans on a regular basis, people know to take litter and garbage home to dispose of it properly. So we picked up the bottles and continued on our way to the summit. The area soon took on a lunar-landscape quality with chunks of lava covering the plains.

The road took us toward Hekla's summit, and the black and white landscape was more than stunning. Flosi told us that Hekla is normally covered in a cloud layer, so the blue skies were an extra special treat. Reykjavik is only a couple of hours away, so as long as it is a 4x4 vehicle, the driver can get his passengers to the mountain. After leaving Hekla, we drove through areas covered with large chunks of lava or smooth sand-like lava beds. The black mountains were partially covered with melting snow fields, giving us extraordinary views.

Jokulsarlon - I visited Jokulsarlon on a cloudy day, but the clouds had lifted enough so we could see the nearby mountains and glacier that feeds the lake. What an extraordinary landscape! In some places, the icebergs were densely packed as they made their way to the ocean and they drifted past us on the quiet surface. Some of the icebergs were a deep turquoise color, created by the glacier's extreme pressure and age. The black streaks were from recent and long ago volcano eruptions. At other times, the dark, cold lake and mountains filled the view.

Jokulsarlon is one of Iceland's major tourist attractions, and I feared it would be overrun with the multitudes. But it is also a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik (if you don't stop at any of the scenic areas in between) so most of the people there were on the famous ring road car trip around Iceland, or on two-day tours like me, so the area had room for all of us. Amphibian and Zodiac boats provide tours into the lake so we can get a closer look at the dramatic ice formations. We put on our life preservers and a small boat followed us at a close distance to save us in case anyone fell in.

Ejyafjallajokull - I took a 2 day tour of the South Coast and we drove down the road toward Skogafoss, one of Iceland's most stunning waterfalls. Along the way we passed green pastures and in the background was Eyjafjallajokull. Remember the eruption a few years ago that canceled European flights over many days? The clouds of ash came from from this beautiful mountain. The South Coast is much more fertile than Snaefellsnes peninsula, and the farmlands were lush. Had we been here only 2 month earlier, it would have looked like a barren winter landscape. The growing season is very short, as is the summer tourist season.

Reynisdrangar - The South Coast has a variety of dramatic landscapes. Leaving Skogafoss we drove through verdant hills as we made our way to Reynisdrangar, our first black sand beach. The sand, of course, comes from the volcano lava flows, and in most cases, is made up of small particles, but there were larger lichen covered stones as well, creating a unique landscape in the harsh environment. The beaches are expansive and have a profound beauty. We were warned to stay well away from the water, as the waves have literally swept unwary people out to the North Atlantic Ocean.