Student Voice: Melanie Perez on Iceland

Iceland selfie

Iceland selfie! Global Scholars from the Metropolitan Campus traveled to Iceland over winter break 2017. (Photos courtesy of Melanie Perez)

Day 1 – Travel Day: The trip kicked off with an overnight flight from Newark to Reykjavik. Flights are typically nothing remarkable, but this one was memorable for its Aurora Borealis simulation and interesting “explore Iceland” tourism video.

HallgrímskirkjaSun VoyagerDay 2 – Reykjavík Tour Day: The first two days of the trip were joined — to help us avoid jet lag. Upon landing, we had a relatively short drive to Reykjavík, where we took a combined driving and walking tour of the city. We toured Hallgrímskirkja (a Lutheran church); saw a four-ton section of the Berlin Wall (gifted from the New West Berlin art gallery in Germany to commemorate the 25th anniversary of German reunification in 2015); saw Sólfarið, the “Sun Voyager,” a metal sculpture of a ship; and visited tourist shops before heading to Hotel Cabin, our lodging for the first and last nights of the trip.

Right: Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church at sunset (above) and the Sólfarið ship sculpture (below) in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Day 3 – Hvolsvollur Day and “The Golden Circle”: “The Golden Circle” is the most popular tourist area in Iceland, complete with waterfalls (called “foss” in Iceland), geysers, dormant volcanoes, and shores made of volcanic ash. The day began with a trip to Thingvellir National Park where we toured Iceland’s largest natural lake, Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), and took a tour of the rift created by the shifting of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

At Geysir we watched gurgling pools of water shoot hundreds of feet into the air. The air smelled of sulfur so we tried our best to steer clear of the visible steam. The day ended with a trip to Friðheimar, the largest greenhouse in Iceland. Since Iceland is an island, they have to import most of their food, but they do have greenhouses scattered around the country where they grow tomatoes and cucumbers all year round.

Iceland Geysir

While at Friðheimar, we saw their stable full of Icelandic horses (noted for their ability to do all five horse gaits), pet them, and watched a demonstration of each gait  — very cool! Days three and four had the cutest lodging of the trip — private cabins (six to a cabin), fireworks, hot tubs, and communal dining. This would have been the evening to watch the Northern Lights, but unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see them. I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Right: Geysir, Iceland's most famous geyser, erupts and sends boiling water 60 feet in the air.

Day 4 – Hiking Day and “The Golden Circle”: The highlight of the trip was the tour of Sólheimajökull Glacier, where we went on a guided tour of what has been deemed Iceland’s “most extreme” glacier because of how rapidly it’s receding from global warming.

We also visited Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, two of the most famous waterfalls in southern Iceland. This was a day of heavy walking – two hours on the glacier, a twenty-minute round-trip walk up Seljalandsfoss, and an eight-minute walk in the dark in a cave behind Skógafoss. Around the corner from Skógafoss was the Skógafoss Folk Museum — an indoor-outdoor museum showing what pre-modern Iceland was like.

Iceland glacier group

Right: Group photo on Sólheimajökull Glacier! Students and chaperones took a guided tour and hiked the glacier.

Day 5 – Reykjavík Round Two: After an hour drive back to Reykjavík, we enjoyed a morning hike as the sun started peeking out from behind the mountaintops. This hike was definitely an interesting one. The climb was steep (and we were all still sore from the hiking from the day before), but the morning rain had iced over; once we made it up, we literally slid down the path. We did more sliding that morning than we did on the glacier! We also visited a geothermal plant where we got a comprehensive history of the use of geothermal energy in Iceland.

Day 6 – Blue Lagoon Day: This was the activity we had all been waiting for since the beginning of the trip. We had heard stories about the lagoon since it’s the one place most people think about when they hear “Iceland” and “tourism.” We put on our bathing suits and braved the cold to enter “hotter-than-hot-tub” water. It was GLORIOUS. We all put on silica mud masks while we enjoyed our hot lower bodies and our cold upper bodies — a nice combination to prevent being either too much of either. Then it was off to the airport for our evening flight back home.

Postscript: Prior to this trip, I had been to eight other countries, but this trip was definitely my favorite. I’d go back a hundred times to see the same falls, glaciers, plants, and museums. I was truly sad to go home. If it weren’t for the minimal hours of sunlight in the winter (just six per day!), I’d consider moving there. Their culture is religious yet liberal, overwhelmingly eco-conscious, and truly friendly — something we all could use a little more of.