Icelandic Nature: Northern Wonders

If you’ve seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, then you’ve seen Stykkisholmur, the destination of our most recent excursion. A variety of Icelandic cities were featured in the 2013 Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig film, and we saw a good amount of filming sites on our weekend trip around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We ate breakfast at the café that was disguised as a Papa Johns pizzeria in the film, then went on our way to roam and explore.

The peninsula is full of fishing ports, Icelandic ponies and lava fields, especially in the Snæfellsjokull National Park. Some of the sights seemed other-worldly, like the Gerduberg basalt columns, the red volcanic rocks and the moss-covered rocky plains. We saw the famous Kirkjufell peak, which has become a symbol of Icelandic tourism due to its picturesque prominence.

One thing that I learned from this trip is that all fish parts are NOT the same. I ordered Icelandic cod at a small-town restaurant, not realizing that it was listed as “cod chin,” which is vastly different and much less desirable, to spare the details.

Last weekend, Iceland received a record amount of snow: 20 inches overnight, the most the island has seen at once since 1937. It made the city feel like home: Trudging through unplowed streets and throwing snowballs at friends are fond memories of a Midwestern childhood. The mountains are still snow-capped in the most majestic way, as it takes awhile for such large amounts of snow to melt away completely.

Perhaps the most enchanting experience I’ve had was just a few days ago when the northern lights put on a spectacular show. A few friends and I checked the forecast meticulously for cloud cover and aurora strength and ended up renting a car for a few nights to drive farther from Reykjavik’s city lights. The glowing green bands of the northern lights turned to purple at one point, and they even danced and oscillated just as I had heard. It was a surreal experience and well worth the two months of overcast gray skies and chilling rain.