“We like out-of-the-way places,” Gene Biermann, Washington, said of his family’s vacation preferences.
That’s an understatement regarding their most recent trip — a three-week tour of Iceland.
The last time you may have thought about Iceland was 2010 when it made global headlines with the eruption of Eyjafjallajokul, one of the country’s more than 100 volcanic mountains.
The Biermanns — Gene, his wife, Doris, and their adult son, Scott — actually had been thinking about making a trip to Iceland that year until the eruption halted their plans.
The Biermanns are seasoned travelers, having made trips all throughout the States, as well as Europe and Canada. They find the experiences as educational as they are fun.
“We saw a philosphical saying somewhere once that we agree with — it said, ‘Invest in experiences, not material things . . . the memories will last forever,’ ” recalled Gene Biermann, a retired science teacher who spent 30 years at Washington High School.
“We started early on taking car trips with our son . . . we did that for many years.”
Now that their son and only child is grown, working as a computer specialist, the family continues to travel together. In fact, it’s often Scott who plans the trips, said Gene, including the tour of Iceland.
The Biermanns flew into Keflavik, where the country’s international airport is located. The capital, Reykjavic, where the country’s only other airport is located, is about 30 miles away.
They rented a 2004 Subaru Legacy SUV for about $100 a day with unlimited mileage.
“We decided to take an all-driving comprehensive circular tour of the island with Scott doing all of the driving,” Gene Biermann noted in a summary of the trip he wrote for The Missourian.
“In advance he had meticulously determined all of the attractions that we wanted to see along with the mileage to be driven each day in order to reach our overnight place to stay . . . Everything unfolded like clockwork.”
The family stayed in different locations each night of the trip, save five nights. They stayed in a variety of places — B&Bs, guesthouses, hotels, farmhouses, cabins and apartments.
Breakfasts, which was often included in the overnight price, were always “very ample buffets, with a wide variety of meats, smoked salmon, eggs, skyr (a thick, delicious-flavored skim milk yogurt), homemade breads, jellies, jams, assorted fruits, coffee and tea,” Biermann wrote.
The family usually ate lunch in small cafes they found in the picturesque villages that hugged the shore.
“Just in case, we also kept a cooler in the car well-stocked with cheeses, multigrain crackers, milk, fruit juices, healthy snacks and our favorite drink, carbonated pear cider,” Biermann wrote.
Food prices were higher in Iceland, the family found. However, there is no tipping throughout Iceland, so that saved some money.
“We ate a great deal of lamb and seafood for evening meals, as both of these are connected to huge industries there,” Biermann noted.
“Lobster soup and fish soups were favorites. Sometimes we shopped for supper foods, which we prepared, such as mouth-watering grilled lamb chops one night.
“At a buffet supper one night, Scott tried whale meat and horse meat,” Biermann wrote. “Doris and I passed on both of those. He reported that the whale meat was black in color and did not taste very good. However, he said the horse meat was very good.
“At a buffet lunch one day, a chalkboard announced that the special of the day was grilled horse steak for $35.”
The family also ate at an all-you-can-eat fish buffet one evening. It included skillets of various fried fishes with side dishes for $40.
Gene and Doris Biermann said one of their favorite parts of the trip was enjoying Iceland’s ice cream cones, which are served as large as 12 inches tall.
“It’s really delicious,” Biermann remarked.
Sheep Roam Free
Something many Americans would likely find unusual is that in Iceland, the sheep roam free.
“Sheep roam freely throughout the island wherever there is green grass for forage,” Biermann wrote. “Overall, there are few fences in Iceland.
“In the spring, the farmers all turn their sheep loose to roam and eat at will until fall, by which time they will have fattened up, had their young and so forth.
“There are no predators to speak of. In the fall, the sheep are all rounded up into corrals and returned to their owners.
“The sheepdogs are an unusually gentle pure breed with one very distinguishing physical feature: Their hind feet each have an extra toe,” Biermann continued.
“The horses of Iceland are also a pure breed with a proud, fancy gait,” he wrote, noting if any of the horses are ever taken out of the country, they are not allowed to return, as a way to keep the breed pure.
“Scott left the car one time in order to pet some horses in a small group along the road. In return, they nuzzled his wool sweater and all followed him back to the car, where they surrounded it and pressed their noses onto the glass.”
Scenery and Sights
Iceland is about the size of Kentucky and has a population of about 320,000 — the majority of which (200,000) live in the capital city.
The Biermanns visited in July, the warmest month of the year there, with an average high of 55 degrees Farenheit.
“The Gulf Stream currents keep the country relatively mild year-round despite its northerly latitude,” Biermann wrote.
“The scenery and terrain are spectacularly awesome and varied,” said Biermann. “Beautiful wildflowers grow along many highways. There are over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland, mostly in the south, where there are also several glaciers and many prosperous farms.”
There also is a world-famous geyser in the aptly named town of Geysir. It ejects a display of steam and hot water recurrin every eight to nine minutes, Biermann wrote.
Two local activities that the family enjoyed were jet boating and whale watching.
“Jet boating involved a high-speed craft and a number of fast 360-degree turns and boat-thumping riding of the rapids of a river,” Biermann noted.
“The whale watching took our party of about 15 out on a speedboat for 2 1/2 hours. We saw a dozen individual whales . . .
“We had all been issued supposedly waterproof, heavy, hooded coveralls to protect us from the water and cold, but showers of salty spray were constantly splashing our faces, around which considerable water came in and wetted our bodies from the neck down.”
“One sight that particularly surprised and delighted us was seeing periodic large flocks of gorgeous snow-white swans along the ocean waters as we drove along,” Biermann wrote.
GPS Was Helpful
“Islandic roads range from very good, paved roads in the main areas to car-and-bone-shaking ‘washboard’ gravel roads in the northern outback,” Biermann noted.
“Often highway information appears only at the beginning, end or intersection of a highway.
“We found GPS to be extremely helpful and used it as much as necessary to make sure we were where we wanted to be and going right.
“There are numerous small, one-lane bridges throughout Iceland and a number of three- to five-mile tunnels through mountains, some of which are one-way with turn-ins where one can pull in and wait for oncoming traffic to safely pass.
“During our entire visit, we never once saw a single police car on the highway. Traffic lights occur only in large towns and cities. In small towns, there were typically a small police station and one police car.”
The family’s only “misadventure” on the trip was a badly punctured tire, which cost $216 to replace.
“Fishing, along with geothermal energy, is huge in Iceland. Large fishing crews go out to sea for 45 days in big ships. If they return with a good harvest of fish, the whole town has a big fish celebration.”
The Biermanns visited the geothermal power plant and paid to tour the facility.
Although Icelandic is the national language, the children there all learn and study English in school, so the Biermanns had no trouble communicating in English anywhere on the island.
Also, because Iceland is so far north and the Biermanns were visiting in the summertime, there wasn’t much darkness anytime during their trip.
The family found it interesting to learn that Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where two tectonic plates — the Eurasian and the North American — are pulling apart leaving a huge fissure. There is a bridge on the island that connects them.
Looking back over their trip, the Biermanns said some of their favorite moments were seeing the beautiful waterfalls and the animals (horses, dogs and sheep).
“It was a constantly changing panorama,” Gene Biermann remarked.
Now with Iceland crossed off of their vacation planner, the family is already thinking ahead to another trip.
St. Martin’s is at the top of the list.