A Wintery Week in Iceland: Land of Fire

Iceland is a land constantly shaped by powerful forces – the land of fire and ice. During my trip, I was able to see this first hand. I relaxed in geothermal springs, I hiked on a glacier, I saw geysers erupt and now dormant volcanoes, I walked through ice and snow. All of it was beautiful and powerful.

The heat in Iceland can be both violent and wonderful. In the wonderful category are the geothermal waters that are used to create thermal baths. One such location that I enjoyed while on my trip was the Fontana Geothermal Baths.

IMG_9496

IMG_9498

Located on the banks of Laugarvatn Lake, the multilevel baths offer multiple temperatures, as well as the opportunity to dip in the chilly lake if you’re overheated. Or crazy.

IMG_9488

IMG_9490

IMG_9503

There was also a sauna available.

IMG_9504

IMG_9506

It was a lovely and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. With one exception. There is a certain set of bath etiquette in Iceland that can be somewhat, ummm, uncomfortable for certain (prudish) Americans. That would be the expectation that one showers unclothed in a group shower prior to putting on a swimsuit and entering the baths. I kept reminding myself that I would never see any of these people again. It was certainly worth the temporary discomfort in order to spend a leisurely hour soaking in the warm baths. The spring at the site of the Fontana Baths is one of three in the area. The coolest, Vígðalaug, is where the pagan Parliament of Iceland was reportedly baptized into Christianity in the year 1000. The warmest, Bláskógabyggð, is used for geothermal heating.

The other bath I visited is the not-to-be-missed Blue Lagoon. The water in the lagoon is the result of a byproduct of the nearby geothermal factory. Built into the lava bed, the lagoon waters combine fresh and seawater, as well as beneficial minerals, silica, and algae.

DSC03725

DSC03726

The lagoon has been moved and expanded over the years to accommodate the factory and growing crowds that flock to the lagoon. There are multiple price options for enjoying the Blue Lagoon. My group got the Premium package. This included a towel and bathrobe, a drink from the swim-up bar, and the ability to use an algae mask in addition to the silica mask available to everyone.

IMG_9629

IMG_9646

IMG_9637

IMG_9633

IMG_9632

IMG_9649

DSC03735

Upon check-in, you are given a band that corresponds with your package. It gives you access to the spa treatments and can be used to purchase additional services and drinks. Anything charged to the band is paid upon leaving.

IMG_9661

IMG_9652

Also, there is wifi. Which allowed me to have the coolest FaceTime conversation ever. Sidetone, it is amazing that technology lets you share cool experiences with someone thousands of miles away.

IMG_9657

There are springs both large and small located throughout the country. I think that for a first time visitor to Iceland, visiting the Blue Lagoon is a must. It is a completely unique place and popular for a reason. Because of this, however, it was quite commercialized and crowded. Although the lagoon was large enough to accommodate the crowd without feeling packed, the number of people were quite evident in the dressing rooms. My preference was the smaller, more intimate Fontana. On a return trip to Iceland, I would probably forego the Blue Lagoon (although again, I think you should go at least once) for one of the many other geothermal springs. Regardless of where you decide to go in Iceland, definitely bring a swimsuit and find some warm water.

Although the water in Iceland can be pleasantly warm, it can also be destructively hot. Approximately 90% of the energy in Iceland comes from geothermal energy, heat harnessed for productivity. The evidence of it is visible in steam and in geysers. In water much too hot to bathe in. In water hot enough to boil water and cook food.

DSC03131

One such geyser – Strokkur

DSC03132

DSC03133

DSC03135

The water can even be hot enough to destroy roads when the activity below the surface unexpectedly shifts and makes its presence known above ground.

DSC03696

DSC03724

DSC03712

DSC03699

One afternoon, I had the opportunity to take a tour with the family-owned Iceland Activities. What I loved about this tour was that it is a family who takes small groups of people to do the things that they love to do in and around their home town of Hveragerdi.

DSC03183

DSC03185

DSC03190

Located in a volcanic zone, the town of Hveragerdi lives with the constant threat of a changing landscape. They average a major earthquake every 10 years, not to mention the frequent minor earthquakes. Case in point, the hot springs on the hillside that we hiked up with our guide opened up literally overnight due to an earthquake in 2008.

DSC03187

DSC03199

At the top of the hillside, we had the opportunity to sit on the quite warm ground as we learned more about the springs, ate bread and eggs cooked in the springs, and sipped hot chocolate.

DSC03205

DSC03213

DSC03231

DSC03224

DSC03220

DSC03230

It's all fun until you get sulphur steam in your face...

It’s all fun until you get sulphur steam in your face…

With a return trip to Iceland, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Iceland Activities to explore more of the area.

Iceland is clearly a country shaped by “fire,” although at times it can look deceptively like ice. Take for instance the now dormant Eyjafjallajökull (don’t ask me how to pronounce it – I’m still working on “godan daginn” – good morning).

DSC03373

The volcano erupted violently a mere six years ago, the eruption bringing attention to Iceland as flights throughout the world were disrupted by the ash from the eruption.

Then there is the line between tectonic plates that runs the entirety of Iceland. Now visibly cooled, the space between the plates as they move apart continues to be filled with magma far below the surface.

DSC03644

DSC03657

DSC03646

DSC03645

This evidence of how the world has been shaped and built is rarely seen above ground, most plates meeting below sea level. Throughout Iceland, this divide between the North American and Eurasian plates is easy to observe and provides a fascinating glimpse into the forces at work in and on the earth.

This is a land in which the forces of nature are readily apparent, visible, and a part of daily life. As much as heat has shaped the landscape, so has ice. In my next post I will share more about the other forces at work to create the magnificence that is Iceland.

2 thoughts on “A Wintery Week in Iceland: Land of Fire

  1. Again, the world is transformed for me by your post. Well done! Next adventure please!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: