I went on holiday to ride the special breed of Icelandic horse and somehow ended up eating one.
I have eaten horse meat in the past but gave it up when I started riding again. I’m an animal lover and don’t want to eat creatures with which I have a relationship. However, Icelanders are like Europeans in that they both love and ride horses but also raise them for meat. The Icelanders I rode with swore to me they don’t eat their riding horses.
I knew I’d be offered horse meat during my trip but had already decided not to eat it (nor cute puffins). However, I elected to have the “surprise” tapas menu at Forrettabarinn in Reykjavik. I had a series of delicious taps of pork, mussels, cheese… then the best tasting seared beef I’ve had in ages. I actually managed to convince myself I was eating beef and not horse. It was purely self-delusion as I knew that taste, and finally acknowledged to myself what I’d done after my plate was empty. I told the bartender I felt guilty and he kindly assured me that the horse had a happy life. Icelandic people are calm and kind people. I recommend Forretabarrin.
I took the special horse round-up tour booked through In The Saddle and led by Ishestar. Our group headed north from Reykjavik to near the northern coast. We met our horses at our hosts’ farm and rode for 5 1/2 hours to the round-up area. Apparently, this trip is timed for 7 hours but we had good riders and fast horses.
In late spring, the local farmers take their herds up to the mountain pastures to free range. They bring them back down in the Fall and we were there to watch the spectacle of about 800 horses charging down into the valley and then being sorted in the public corral. I was especially delighted to learn that the mares had foals in the spring so there was cuteness overload with all the babies.
The riding style is unique. We each took an extra horse with us and changed horses a couple of times during the ride, to give them a break. The large, Viking-like guides would change even more frequently. The Icelandic horses are very calm and well-mannered. They’re used to travelling in herds and don’t act up. They are also intrepid – tolting rapidly over lava fields and through rivers flowing up to their saddles.
The apres-riding is also rather unique. Ishestar had musicians come in a couple of nights, including the Icelandic king of rock. We had sing-alongs and dancing. Then on the final night of the round-up, we went to the local dance at the community hall.
I hung out in Reykjavik for a day by myself and enjoyed the Reykjavik Film Festival (lucky timing) and the Reykjavik Art Museum (harbour location). There are quite a few good choices to eat. I enjoyed Mokka Kaffi in the shopping district for waffles and coffee. For reasonably priced food, The Laundromat Cafe near the main square has a fantastic cured fish sandwich.
After the ride, some of us went to the Blue Lagoon to relax. We thought it would be touristy and gimmicky but it wasn’t. The building is nicely done and the pool includes a bar and a lava and mud facials. We were surprised when some locals said ‘hi’. Apparently, Icelanders frequent Blue Lagoon.
Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik’s cathedral is most stunning close-up.
Then I rented a car and took 2 days to drive the Golden Circle. Most people take a one day bus trip but I don’t get it – I didn’t even make all the stops I wanted over the two days! The highlights:
Thingvellir National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
This is the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia are visible and earthquakes change the landscape every decade. Simply walking around the main visitor area and seeing the lava cliff face, fissures in the earth and pools of water is terrific.
The biggest highlight for me was snorkeling at Silfra. Arctic Adventures kitted me out in a snowsuit topped by a dry diving suit which kept me surprisingly warm. We stepped into a crack in the earth only a few feet wide and gently drifted through this miniature ‘canyon’ and ended up in the blue lagoon. The experience was almost meditative as I could only hear my own breathing through the snorkel and see beautiful shades of glue, green and red under the water. At one point, I put my head out of the water to clear out my snorkel and was looking at a view of a snow capped mountain. It was a shocking moment.
Stunning landscape of boils and bubbles.
Strokkur erupts every 5-8 minutes and I was shocked the first time by the immensity.
It’s impressive. Half Niagara Falls and half Victoria Falls.
Geothermal power plant
It had been cloudy and rainy for 3 days but the sun came out to reveal the modern beauty of the plant against the landscape.