January In Iceland, Part II, Snorkeling the Silfra Fissure

On our second day in Iceland, we dove right in (pardon the pun!) and took the trip out to Thingvellir National Park to go snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, a crack in the earth where two tectonic plates – North America and Eurasia are ripping apart at a rate of 2 cm a year.

When you think of snorkeling, it is probably an image of some place in the Bahamas. Warm, tropical, and bathing suit clad. We were in long underwear (mine were pink! They were on sale…) and wrangled into an under layer with a thick dry suit over layer that had latex fittings around the wrists and head. Pushing through that latex smashed my nose flat, and I was completely out of my comfort zone as the gear went on. The latex gripped around your neck so tightly, as to not let in any water. They call it a dry suit for a reason! I have no fear of water, so the physical part of snorkeling was going to be fine. Mike is more comfortable on top of an icy mountain than in the water, so this was his first time, and it turned out that he was an immediate natural!

2017-01-16_21-32-10_000

 

We suited up in the bitter cold, my hands in so much pain from the wind chill, and waddled out to the entry area, lined up with other groups, awaiting our turn to get on the platform. We moved slowly down the platform stairs and put on the flippers, had some instruction from our guides, and were all amused when we had to spit in our masks to get out the fog.

2017-01-16_21-31-42_000

It was go time. Heel walking down the steps, we submerged. The first few seconds were an adjustment. The water was someplace in the mid 30 degrees F. The suit felt bulky, and my forehead, exposed, felt like an “ice cream brain freeze” but just then, at that moment…. I relaxed and looked down, and focused on the beauty that surrounded me. In that second, all of the previous awkwardness slipped away and the pure rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins!

djxgyh4qex3d-movt2fsv79bwci0jijmjbfijsl-fkipx92ib-2

We slowly moved along in our group, through the shallows, looking at beautiful rock formations and layers of color, so very different from those Caribbean waters, but just as spectacular. Knowing that we were looking at this special and unique place on Earth was so exciting, and its significance was not lost on us. Glacier waters, filtered by lava and so pristine that you could drink the water while swimming. I didn’t drink intentionally, but got water in the snorkel when I was being overconfident, and doing some fancy moves in the water 🙂

Moving on, the shallows opened up to an area called the “Silfra cathedral” and the bottom dropped out from underneath us, vast and beautiful. The visibility is 100 metres. There are no fish swimming in the fissure – they stay in the big Thingvellir Lake, where the fissure feeds. We did not snorkel out there, therefore saw no fish, just the ancient rock formations and limited growth of algae and “troll hair” (I love that description!) By turning your head in the water, you could observe vibrant layers of color. I popped my head up a few times for photo ops, I stole a few moments to look around and really soak in where I was. If ever I “lived in the moment,” it was right then. Check out the video:

Silfra Fissure Snorkeling in January

After about 35 minutes, we exited the water with help, as our limbs were pretty chilled, and walked back to the staging area, cold and wet. Our tour company was wonderful and obviously prepared, with a warm trailer to change in, and provided us with hot chocolate and cookies, which were sweet and delicious. I felt like a little kid coming in from the winter snow, enjoying that small pleasure. Getting the chill out took a while, and I fought the shivers for a bit, but getting out of your comfort zone is what it is all about! On a funny note, the Aussie woman that was part of our group, turned and looked at me with a wild-eyed look and exclaimed “What the F&%# were we thinking!!??” (Say that with an Australian accent.) Priceless! I laughed so hard at that one! Our guides were Icelandic transplants from Milan, Italy and Namibia. Stefano (Stefanino…little Stefano and Luis.) Two places that seem so foreign from both Iceland and scuba diving, but here they were, and certainly the real deal, as they were effortless pros! They told historical tales on the drive out, and were jovial and quite patient with our equipment fumbling.
We’d worked up an appetite and asked our guides where we could get an Icelandic lunch and a hearty soup…authentic stuff! They’d dropped us off at Kaffi Loki right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja and we took a second floor table to get a great glimpse of the church during lunch.

2017-01-16_15-01-22_940

I had mashed fish, herring, and rye bread ice cream (yum!.)  Mike had a meaty, stick to your ribs soup and we shared a Viking beer.  We took the plunge and ordered the fermented shark, and our sweet server strongly recommended chasing it down with a shot of Brennivín – A rye/licorice tasting (found out that it’s actually flavored with caraway… which now makes sense!) Icelandic schnapps. Ok… the shark. Tasted/smelled like solid nail polish remover and was horrible! HA! We had a lot of fun with that. We started noticing the lanterns everywhere… on the steps, windows. So cozy and romantic…every corner filled with light.

2017-01-16_15-23-02_190

Out of the Kaffi and back to take some photo’s of Hallgrímskirkja in the light, and a hand in hand walk back through town. We ate like Vikings!, we exclaimed, and kept shouting out “Valhalla!” during the rest of our trip. It was our battle cry!

deb-mike-hals

We felt so incredibly present. A perfect day in Iceland.

——————————————————————–

Recommendations:

https://www.dive.is/ Book with Dive Iceland. Tell them Travel Debutante sent you. I will definitely go back and do it again. They were well organized and the guides were great. The entire team was helpful and upbeat.

http://loki.is/    Kaffi Loki   28, Lokastígur, Reykjavík, right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja.

Little things:

  • Eat a decent breakfast. Our guide told us he only gets cold when he doesn’t eat. Fuel the furnace!
  • Don’t skimp on the under layers. Get good long-underwear. I skimped, but got lucky. Don’t be me!
  • Wear two pairs of wool socks. Saved me!
  • Bring dry clothes just in case
  • Go-Pro… A must! Look at Mike’s footage! You’ll never get the shots underwater without it.
  • Hand-warmers. Didn’t have them that day. Would have helped
  • Gloves: Keep them on as long as you can. It is the wind whipping exposure that makes it painful. The temperatures weren’t that extreme.
  • Don’t wear earrings or jewelry.
  • Be patient while getting on the gear.
  • Order the fermented shark. You have to! Make sure to video your reactions

 

January in Iceland, Part I, Reykjavik

I’ve only known this feeling a few times in my life. A dream coming true, and living it. While my actual dream was horribly short-sighted…I’d wanted to “go to Iceland, sit in a hot spring, sipping prosecco or ice cold vodka shots and gaze at the aurora borealis.”  Little thumbnails born from too many Pinterest sessions. What I’d encountered instead, was a trip of a lifetime, a larger than life shot of adrenaline which woke up all of my senses. I’m glad I held out in booking that short trip a few years ago. Mike was coming with me now, and it was “our” adventure, which went from black and white to Technicolor.
cat-blog-post

We’d arrived in Reykjavik on a very early Sunday morning, with low to no visibility and a windy, blustery, unyielding rain, but that didn’t stop the excitement. I had no idea what to expect and no preconceived expectations. We’d switched from bus to cab, too early to check into our Airbnb, and set off for the city, which was still waking up. Like a bright beacon, was the bakery/café, Sandholt on Laugavegur, in Reykjavik. As we’d jumped out of the cab, we were greeted by a sweet orange tabby cat. It instantly put me in a happy mood. We sat down for our first breakfast in this clean, bright, energetic Icelandic bakery, and feasted on bread and delicious coffee and listened to an interesting mix of US classic rock. Beyond the glass wall, we were able to spy the bakery staff making bread, and treats, and a huge vat of chocolate spinning around. The woman were all lovely, light haired, fair, and unadorned of make up and bling. It stood out to me for some reason. My first glimpse into local life. In the darkness was so much light.

2017-01-18_16-28-28_700-1

2017-01-15_08-47-50_963

We emerged  back out into the mix of “oceanic atmosphere” and walked around town, getting a feel for the streets and conquered Hallgrímskirkja. A Lutheran parish and a massive landmark in the city, which can be seen from ‘everywhere’…the unique and soaring architecture, dramatic, yet unadorned and simple on the inside with white, towering arches. We paid for the tour and rode the tiny elevator all the way up into the clock tower, almost to the top of it’s 244 feet,  where the wind was whipping and fierce. This was the perfect place to begin our journey. Twinkly lights lighting up Reykjavik and views of the cozy city from all angles. We descended and briskly walked past the Leif Erickson statue, in the bluster.

2017-01-15_17-21-43_000

2017-01-15_10-05-03_298

Mike, my adventurer, as I lovingly call him, was our fearless leader in our gang of two. He did the diligent research of how to maximize our time. He’s the brains of the operations, I’m the bull in the china shop. It’s a good combination! We took recommendations from other travelers and blogs and enjoyed every moment of our travel day. Another pit stop at a Kaffe to warm up and we ran down our luggage at the bus depot lockers and checked into our apartment and Reykjavik home.

Our hosts Valdimar and Helga were warm and welcoming, and showed us around the apartment, and left quickly. We were here! We excitedly unpacked and settled into our clean and modern flat, which looked like an Ikea catalog showroom. We chose an apartment on a busy street. Busy, meaning lively, but not overbearing. We enjoyed the bustle. From our vantage point was the marina, with festive restaurants and ships in dock being repaired (we could see the welding sparks now and again!)  and a mix of tourist stands for tours and information. A perfect launch pad for us, figuratively and literally. I would highly recommend our area to stay. We could walk everywhere and we did!

2017-01-15_16-06-33_573

After a well deserved nap, we dragged ourselves out of bed and walked to the market and bought food and snacks for our apartment… Icelandic Skyr style yogurt, and cheese and treats. Going food shopping in another country is fun… just exploring what’s the same and what’s different. In the background, the Bee Gee’s greatest hits was playing and it was surreal and joyful to bop along while navigating the aisles.

2017-01-15_17-46-14_882

2017-01-15_18-24-11_867

On the walk back, Mike was mistaken for a local by a tourist looking for direction to a museum. We felt happy about that.  We immersed quickly. Our mission was a success, but we  craved bread from our first stop.  Icelandic bread is the fruit of the Norse gods, and  I must sing its praises. We walked back across town to “our” bakery, Sandholt for our second visit in one day and purchased our crusty sourdough round, and not a morsel went to waste!

2017-01-15_20-39-07_000

Back through town with a quick peek at the big ships and the marina at night, we were welcomed back to our warm and bright apartment for wine and snacks and discussions about our trip the next morning to snorkel the Silfra Fissure! Of course, lots of snuggles because, baby, it was cold outside!  The adventure was afoot!

Next post…. Part 2, Snorkeling in 32 degrees…

Recommendations:

Sandholt Bakery: Make this your first stop if you have an early morning arrival! Eat anything and everything and fuel up for a walk to Hallgrímskirkja (won’t be your last!)
It’s right in the heart of things… lots of shops. A good way to delve in your first morning while the city is still waking up. Please buy bread… trust me. I’m dreaming of this little sweet place.

Website: sandholt.is/en

Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4155087 This was our cozy place, but there are tons to choose from. I had a hard time leaving our home away from home.

Little things: Get money from the ATM at the airport so you have cash in hand, research your choice of airport transfers, pack lightly if you have a washer and dryer in your lodging. I think I packed just a bit too much in worry that I had what I’d need.

Clothing: Eddie Bauer. Mike is their unofficial spokesperson 🙂 http://www.eddiebauer.com/