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Iceland Love Affair

Volcanos, Geothermal Baths, and an Oscar-Nominated Song

I fell in love with Iceland thanks to Ben Stiller. The actor and comedian may not know it, but he basically played matchmaker almost 10 years ago, when a last-minute The Secret Life of Walter Mitty set visit brought me to the "Land of Fire and Ice" for three days. In 72 hours, I ended up on a glacier, at a red carpet premiere headlined by Icelandic folk/rock band Of Monsters and Men, and in the famed Blue Lagoon, my face covered in silica mud.

I was smitten.

The courtship continued a few years later on a family trip when we hit the Ring Road with our kids to explore the country’s waterfalls, black beaches, and geysers.

Two summers ago, I even bumped into Iceland’s president and his young son Duncan on a hike in Siglufjordur. He had attended the town’s storied folk festival and stayed an extra day for some father-son time. I’m sure he loved it when a blond TV journalist from the Grand Canyon state bombarded him with questions like, “Ever been to Arizona?”

“Not yet,” he said, smiling.

I told him how much I loved his country.

So, when I heard Iceland was re-opening to vaccinated U.S tourists, I scheduled my Johnson & Johnson shot, googled “What does Iceland require for travel during Covid,” grabbed my winter jacket, and bought a round-trip ticket from Boston to Reykjavik.

Imagine my surprise when, two days later, a volcano erupted on the island. My trip couldn’t come soon enough.

“How many times have you hiked to the volcano?” I asked the gal behind the counter at Grindavik’s hip eatery Hja Hollu.

She handed me my avocado smoothie.

“Three times,” she answered proudly.

Icelanders do NOT take their geography for granted, so when nature decides to interrupt life with a great lava show (in this case, the first eruption of its kind in 800 years), residents are more than happy to take some time off and head to the concert venue. However, on this day, a combination of sleet, 35 mph winds, and rain (with small breaks) kept most people away. I did manage to catch up with two tourists from Amsterdam, Marko and Stef.

Unlike me, they had mapped out the volcano route on their GPS and were kind enough to let me tag along.

An hour and a half later, we arrived to see four volcanic fissures (the volcano constantly changing) erupting like band members who didn’t have any rehearsal time together and decided to just freestyle on their own. It was incredible.

Most tourists visit Iceland and head to the Golden Circle, the route linking the country’s most popular attractions. On this trip, I decided to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, stopping first at Djupalonssandur, where the only thing more dramatic than the rock formations leading you to the water are the pieces of rusted metal from a British trawler washed ashore in 1948 that remain scattered on the black pebble beach. 

Next up, the “street art capital of Iceland,” Hellissandur, followed by Kirkjufell, or the “mountain shaped like an arrowhead” if you’re a fan of Jon Snow and all things Game of Thrones.

But the rainy weather in the southwest prompted a detour north, to Husavik, a small fishing village (pop. 2,300) in Northern Iceland known for its whale watching, and more recently, the Oscar-nominated song “Husavik, My Hometown” from Will Ferrell’s Netflix comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

My great travel timing continued when I arrived to find that Swedish singer Molly Sanden had flown in to record her Oscar-night performance with an Icelandic children’s choir in front of Husavik’s idyllic fishing wharf. In a typical display of Icelandic hospitality, town Mayor Kristjan Thor Magnusson (of course Thor is in his name!) invited me to watch her rehearse inside their landmark 1907 Swiss-chalet-inspired wooden church.

It’s not the smartest thing to start a keto diet before heading to Iceland.

“Oooh, that’s bad,” Chef Ingolfur Piffl said, laughing, as he handed me his homemade focaccia bread. Hitting ketosis became an afterthought as I ate my way through the Hotel Husafell’s menu. I DID attempt to work it off on a short hike down to the Husafell Canyon Baths the next day, but I’m not convinced you can burn calories during a geothermal outdoor soak.

I closed out my trip to Iceland with another dip in the Blue Lagoon at the Silica Hotel, hours before boarding my flight back to the U.S. As I surgically removed pieces of dried silica mud from my hair, I caught one final glance of the volcano after takeoff, and realized my relationship with Iceland will never end. I’ll be back.

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