EDITOR’S NOTE: Burien resident Fred Feiertag’s column for The B-Town Blog will help you start your week every Monday. He will be sharing his observations, travel stories and more…
By Fred Feiertag
There I was, wandering through the streets of the old city of Reykjavik, Iceland. Having a swell time filling my senses with new sights, flavors, and and people. Now it was time to widen my view and go for a little trip.
Tourism has become a major industry for little Iceland. Excuse me, I sometimes give misleading information. Iceland isn’t really little. Compared to my home state of Washington it is similar. Well, in area it is a little more than half the size of Washington. It has a very complex shoreline with many peninsulas and fjords that make a shape comparison more difficult. I would offer that the island country of Iceland would pretty much fit within the borders of Washington state. This matters when I go on about day trips and such.
There are lots of day trip tours available out of Reykjavik. Since my stay was to be short and I had no desire to tackle the challenges of car rentals and driving, I was willing to try out a tour. Probably the most popular tour is called the Golden Circle. It is a full day’s excursion out of Reykjavik that takes a loop to the east and stops at some remarkable and beautiful places. I found that there were several tour companies vying for the chance to haul me around and entertain me. They present choices from a private tour, up to a massive tour bus with 80 or more of your dearest friends whom you have yet to meet. I decided to spend a little more and go in a small group tour of around a dozen. The hotels are masters at helping tourists and they painlessly set me up for a small group Golden Circle tour the next day.
I didn’t mention that I was in Iceland during the last week of October. I was to meet the bus the next morning at 8 a.m. at the city hall a block from the hotel. Late October at 8 a.m. is not daytime. Oh there was the promise of a dawn to the west but it seemed in no hurry to deliver. Right on time the spanking clean minibus showed up and a small collection of folks gathered to be greeted by the driver/tour guide. This turned out to be a big affable fellow of early middle age. He told us in slightly accented English that his name was Snori Albertsson. A good Icelandic name or Viking name for that matter.
After boarding we relaxed in the predawn as Snori drove us out of the city and quickly we were in very rural countryside. The transition was very quick almost like crossing a road with recognizable modern suburbs into very thinly settled farm country. Now we went down a two lane blacktop with snow capped hills on ether side and scarcely a tree in sight. The road climbed steadily into hills covered in very low growing plants and small groups of grazing sheep in areas where the sun had melted the early season snow. We saw farmsteads with very trim while buildings usually with bright red roofs.
Our guide was very generous with his stories. Evidently he grew up in the Valley we were traversing. He told us of many of the families who lived multiple generations in the farms we passed. Soon a very large lake came into view. On the far side there could be seen dozens of steam clouds rising from the land just above the lake shore. We learned that this is one of the largest geothermal energy zones on the Island. Iceland is known for using their geothermal power extensively. We soon stopped at what appeared to be lakeside resort with a lodge, cabins, and a dock with boats. It also had steam rising from the narrow beach and the roped off swimming area in the lake. We stopped to sample the bread being baked in the geothermal heated sand adjacent to the lake. For centuries the Icelandic residents have baked raudbraud in the hot sand. The bread dough is placed is a simple box, often a milk carton, wrapped in cheese cloth and buried for about 12 hours. The very dark rye bread is moist, sweet and delicious.
Sampling the bread still steaming from the sand of the beach was a unique experience. Quite an introduction to how the Icelandic people have adapted to a harsh environment in a way both practical and stylish. This seemed like a promising beginning to this tour. Little did I know the incredible sights we would see in the coming miles…