Spring Break 2017 Style

The incredible Gulfoss waterfall, was yet another stunning example of Iceland’s beauty.
The incredible Gulfoss waterfall, was yet another stunning example of Iceland’s beauty.
The 1986 Reykjavik Summit meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev took place in the Hofdi House.
The 1986 Reykjavik Summit meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev took place in the Hofdi House.
We had surprisingly tasty cheeseburgers at Grillhusio restaurant in the capital city of Reykjavik.
We had surprisingly tasty cheeseburgers at Grillhusio restaurant in the capital city of Reykjavik.
We soaked our jetlagged bodies in the mineral-rich and milky blue geothermal water until we were pruned.
We soaked our jetlagged bodies in the mineral-rich and milky blue geothermal water until we were pruned.
Leif Erikson monument was presented to the Icelandic people by the United States in 1930.
Leif Erikson monument was presented to the Icelandic people by the United States in 1930.
Walking on a glacier was perhaps the most unique activity of the week.
Walking on a glacier was perhaps the most unique activity of the week.
Chaperone and Marine Biology teacher at Whitman, John Karavias is in his element.
Chaperone and Marine Biology teacher at Whitman, John Karavias is in his element.
Thank you Mr. Kindelmann for sharing the groups Icelandic experiences with the South Huntington community.
Thank you Mr. Kindelmann for sharing the groups Icelandic experiences with the South Huntington community.
Whitman teacher Mrs. Diane Zamow, who organized fundraising for Iceland, grabs a snack before another one the many adventures.
Whitman teacher Mrs. Diane Zamow, who organized fundraising for Iceland, grabs a snack before another one the many adventures.

Iceland seems to be the ‘in’ place to go these days and with amazing history and geography to explore our group of Walt Whitman students wasted no time getting into what makes this country so unique. A huge thank you to Whitman teachers Matthew Kindelmann, John Karavias, and Diane Zamow who were official chaperones.  Mr. Kindelmann offers us the following abbreviated journal of this wonderful learning experience.

Day One:

When we landed we were met by the 6’1” and long-silver-haired Gudny, a proud and extremely knowledgeable Icelandic woman who served as our guide for the next five days. We all quickly took to her and the trip would not have been the same without her.

After coffee and pastries at a cozy bakery, Gudny showed us the Hofdi House, which was the location of the 1986 Reykjavik Summit meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and a major step in the thawing of the Cold War. We then walked along the coast for some bird watching, but wound up seeing only our breaths. The puffins had yet to arrive, but the rugged beauty of coastline and the majestic grumbling of the north Atlantic made up for the absence of birds. We drove through Reykjavik’s colorful and cold streets, visited the Old Harbor, and had surprisingly tasty cheeseburgers at Grillhusio restaurant. The city was calm and lacked the bustle of other major European metropolises, but it was full of charm and character. We hit the halls of the National Museum after lunch and learned about Icelandic culture through the insightful displays. We saw Hallgrimskirka, the city’s gargantuan concrete church, and Karavais sang with a busker on the cold stone steps leading up to the Leif Erikson monument in front of it. The highlight of the day for me was walking through the lava field near the tectonical plates, which was like stepping back in time a few thousand years. We checked into our hotel in the town of Selfoss, which was adjacent to a raging river and a beautiful mountainous backdrop, and slept like newborns after our long day.

 

Day Two:

We began our second day by driving through a black lava field forty miles outside of Reykjavik to get to the Blue Lagoon. The view on the ride there looked like Mars and the Blue Lagoon was otherworldly as well, but in different way. We soaked our jetlagged bodies in the mineral-rich and milky blue geothermal water until we were pruned. Next we visited the magnificent Harpa Concert Hall, a structure that was inspired by Iceland’s extraordinary landscape, and features a steel framework embellished with a honeycomb pattern of colored glass panels.

We split up for lunch back in Reykjavik to allow the students to see the city a little on their own, but I kept bumping into members of our group in the city’s shops. Reykjavik, the northernmost capital in the world, is as cozy as Huntington Village, also the most expensive city I have ever visited. To give you a sense, my lunch of a hot dog and a small soda ran me the equivalent of ten American dollars.  (The lamb hot dog smothered in sweet yellow mustard was tasty though…) We visited the glass-domed Pearl vantage point that offers stunning views of Reykjavik, and then we learned about geothermal energy at the Hellisheioi Power Plant, which is located on an active volcanic ridge. We capped the day with a stop at Hverageroi Geothermal Park where students boiled eggs and baked bread in the hot earth. A cod dinner and hazy, but a brilliant sighting of the Northern lights concluded our second day.

 

Day Three:

We drove out to the Western Volcanic Zone and explored the 3000-year-old Kerio Crater Lake. The crater is 180 feet deep with steep red walls that are blanketed with a deep moss and is filled with stunningly vibrant aquamarine water because of the minerals from the soil. Many students walked around the crater and marveled at its beauty. We next visited a family owned greenhouse and Icelandic horse farm, where we tasted tomatoes grown on the premises using natural hot water and watched a horse demonstration.  To show how steady the horse’s running gait was, the rider held a stein of beer as she and the horse made their way around the track. Nary a drop was spilled and the lucky horse was rewarded with the drink. Next up was the incredible Gulfoss waterfall, which was yet another stunning example of Iceland’s beauty. We watched the pristine icy blue water cascade into a canyon 250 feet deep and wondered why Long Island didn’t look like that. After a lunch of lamb stew, we headed over to see Strokkur, a huge geyser in a geothermal park and watched it erupt up to 30 meters high in ten-minute intervals. We all had itchy trigger fingers as we held our cameras and waited for her to blow. We then visited Thingvellir National Park, the very first national park in Iceland, and hiked down the rift valley. The sight of our group moving in a single file through such gorgeous countryside conjured up images from Lord of the Rings. Pasta with turkey for dinner, combined with tired legs and lingering jet lag made for a deep sleep that night.

 

Day Four:

Morning began with a visit to the Thorvaldeyri Farm located at the foot of the famous Eyjafjallajokull Volcano that erupted in April 2010, followed by a stop at Skogafoss, another gorgeous waterfall. My heartbeat like a rabbit’s as we climbed the hundreds of steps up to get a top view of the falls. The view was worth the sweat.

Black Sand Beach was up next and as the name suggests, is made up of black pebbles and features an amazing cliff of basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid. The cliffs are home to many seabirds and we spotted many of them nestled into the nooks of the rock. The place possessed a grotesque beauty. According to folklore, the spectacularly shaped basalt sea stacks that arose from the tempestuous sea are former trolls who tried to drag their boats out to sea, but were caught by the rising dawn. Walking on a glacier was perhaps the most unique activity of the week. After bundling up and donning spikes, harnesses, and helmets, we hiked up the frozen monster in single file. The moment was a bucket list check off for many of us and I felt like an Arctic explorer as I trudged my way upward.

 

Day Five:

We hit a few more waterfalls, rock formations, and bubbling geothermal pools on our way to the airport on our final day and everyone was a little red-eyed when we hugged Gudny goodbye. The flight home gave my sore legs time to heal and also time for me to reflect on our week in Iceland. We could not have asked for a better and more varied schedule, and the weather, though raw, cooperated. The best part of the trip, however, was bonding with the students and making travel memories that everyone involved will remember and cherish for years to come. As a seasoned traveler, I was glad to have experienced Iceland, but even happier to have done it with students and colleagues.