Land of the Giants

Lessons Learned

This shot is from my second trip to Iceland in February 2019.  My first trip to Iceland was in the summer, about eight months before. I actually planned and boded this trip before the other one.  This trip was going to be in the winter and I'd never been to Iceland.  So, after I thought about that for a while, I decided to take a "practice trip" when the weather would be warmer.  Looking back, I'm glad I did.  Getting around in Iceland, or at least from the airport in Keflavík to Reykjavík, turned out to be easy enough.  Not knowing that at the time, though, I thought it would be better to figure that out when I wasn't freezing!

I learned my lesson on my first trip regarding taking the bus from the airport to Reykjavík.  So, this time I went ahead and paid for a cab.  It was more expensive than a bus ticket, but it was way less crowded and way more comfortable.  I had just about a full day to walk around Reykjavík and took advantage of that.

Icelandic Flavor

I fell in love with Reykjavík the first time I was there.  The food in Iceland is amazing!  In fact, I remembered and went back to some of the same places I'd been before.  Maybe it would have been better to try out some new places, but I went with what I knew.

One place, in particular, the is worth trying is Café Loki.  You should definitely give the Icelandic Plate Baldur a try.  It's two slices of rye bread, one topped with mashed fish (sort of like tuna salad, only WAY better) and one topped with hard-boiled egg and pickled herring.  It's pretty much two open faced sandwiches.  After that they bring you a scoop of their rye bread ice cream.

I know, I know, "rye bread ice cream?"  I though the same thing when I first heard of it.  Trust me, it's one of the best things I've ever eaten.  Day old, caramelized rye bread crumbs swirled into vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream and rhubarb syrup!  It's so crazy good.


Café Loki is easy to find, it's right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja, the famous church in the center of Reykjavík.  At 244 feet tall, it's the largest church in Iceland and one of the largest buildings in all of Iceland.  The church is one of Reykjavík's best-known landmarks and can be seen from throughout the city.  Its design is meant to resemble the trap rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland's landscape.

Hallgrímskirkja is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674).  Pétersson is the author of the Passíusálmar (Passion Hymns), a collection of 50 poetic texts.  The work explores the passion narrative from the point where Christ enters the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial.

In front of the church is a statue of the Viking explorer Leif Erikson (circa 970-circa 1020).  The statue actually predates the construction of the church and was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Althing Millennial Festival.  The Althing is the national parliament of Iceland and the oldest surviving parliament in the world.  It was founded in 930 AD at a location about 28 miles east of what would eventually become the country's capital.

Land of Ice and Fire

The next day, I left Reykjavík for the south coast of Iceland.  If you've ever been to Iceland, you already know that any direction you drive and any direction you look, amazing landscapes abound.  On my first trip, in the summer, I was constantly amazed by every sight, each seemingly, and impossibly, more beautiful than the last.  Having not been there in the winter, though, I had no idea just how beautiful the winter would be. 

Eventually, making my way past some of the most famous sights in Iceland, I arrived at Vatnajökull.  Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland, and the second largest (by area) in all of Europe.  With an area of 3,050 square miles (7,900 km2), it covers eight per cent of Iceland's land mass.  The average thickness of the ice is 1,250 feet (381 meters), with a maximum thickness of 3,120 feet (951 meters).

Several volcanoes remain active under the Vatnajökull ice cap.  Eruptions of these volcanoes have led to the formation of large pockets of water beneath the ice.  When these volcanic glacial lakes rupture the weakened ice, the result can be a jökulhlaup (glacial lake outburst flood).  In 1996, the volcanic lake Grímsvötn was the source of a large jökulhlaup, washing away a section of Hringvegur (the Icelandic ring road).

However, at the time, I didn't know any of this.  Blissfully ignorant, I hiked up onto the glacier.  I was stunned when I reached a point where I could see ice that seemed to  extend to the horizon.  The sheer vastness and harsh beauty of the ice cap was mesmerizing.  It was also incredibly humbling.  As I hiked among the ice, I came across dazzling ice overhangs and small caves.  At one point, I saw a much larger ice cave and was working on making my way down to it.

Into the Nine Worlds

As I walked along a ridge line above the cave, I looked up and saw the sight I captured in this shot.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Once again, the magic and mythology of this places gripped me.  What I saw, and what I hope I captured, was a massive skull and skeleton.  The skull and skeleton of a giant.  

In Norse mythology, all of creation is divided into the nine worlds which are held in the branches of the world-tree Yggdrasil. Niflheim and Muspelheim are the primordial worlds of ice and fire.  Midgard is the world of man.  Asgard and Vanaheim are the homes of the Aesir and Vanir tribes of gods and goddesses.  Álfheim is the world of the elves and Svartalfheim, the world of the dwarves.  Hel is the home of the eponymous goddess Hel and many of the dead.

Finally, Jötunheimr (Anglicized as Jötunheim) is the home of the giants.  The dwelling places of giants are two-fold.  Some live in deep, dark forests.  Others, however, live in and on mountain peaks where winter never eases its grip.

Had I somehow wandered from our home in Midgard and crossed into the snowy, ice covered world of Jötunheimr?  Was I looking at the skull of one of the giants slain by the might Thor and his fearsome Mjölnir?  In that moment, I feel that I surely had.  If you as me now, with the advantage of hindsight and surrounded by all the trappings of the modern world?

Yes.  I'm sure of it.  I was in the land of the giants.