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Iceland Unveiled: Exploring Nature and Culture 

Iceland Unveiled: Exploring Nature and Culture 

During the October Travel Week trip to Iceland, 60 TASIS England tenth graders explored awe-inspiring landscapes and immersed themselves in the unique culture of this Nordic country. It proved to be an educational experience they will never forget. 

Tectonic Thrills and Crossing Continents
The first day started seamlessly as the tour guides, Nick and Susanne, efficiently orchestrated the journey from Stansted to Reykjavik. 

The first stop on their adventure was at the "Bridge Between Continents" atop the North American tectonic plate—the Earth's second-largest continental tectonic plate. As the group traversed the footbridge and stepped onto the Eurasian plate, the experience became more than a geological spectacle. Some daring students even ventured below, walking on the rift itself. One student's comparison to crossing the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey, which connects Europe and Asia, sparked an engaging discussion about continental divides.

Downtown Reykjavik welcomed them next, where a short city tour commenced at the church in the main square and a group photo at the statue of Norse explorer "Leif the Lucky" Erikson. A picturesque walk down Rainbow Street led them to the stunning Harpa Concert Hall, with its facade adorned with hundreds of panes of glass facing the city and a backdrop of snow-capped hills.

As the day wound down, they had dinner and settled into their Reykjavik hotel, ready for more adventures yet to come. 

Water, Water, Everywhere
Next, the group encountered water in all its forms – steam, gas, snowballs, rain (horizontal and vertical), waterfalls, rivers, glaciers, and the Atlantic Ocean – on a day packed with lessons, from the inner workings of a geothermal powerhouse to the raw force of waterfalls and glaciers. 

They started at the Hellisheidarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant, where a speaker from the Jardihita Syning Geothermal Exhibition treated them to an enlightening talk on the marvels of geothermal energy. The power plant is carbon neutral and, with all six power plants, creates enough renewable energy to power the entire country. Quite a few students were keen to learn more about how geothermal energy creates steam and pushes the turbines to create renewable energy. Others went outside for an early morning snowball fight.

Students on black sand beach

Leaving the warmth of the power plant, they ventured along Iceland's south coast, exploring its magnificent waterfalls cascading from cliffs and rivers meandering through the rugged terrain, before arriving at the Atlantic coast.  There, they saw the famous Black Beach. This iconic volcanic landscape, with its basalt rock formations and sparkling black sand slipping away to the sea, is known to Star Wars enthusiasts as a film location for Rogue One. The group was warned to stay away from the ocean due to the occasional, but very dangerous, “sneaker wave.”  

They next visited Solheimajokull Glacier. The wind and rain made their short walk feel like a trek, but the students were rewarded with fantastic views of the glacier and its lagoon. 

Last but not least, the students walked the trail behind the curtain of water created by Seljalandsfoss Falls. Everyone was soaked by the thick mist and rain, but they reveled in the experience, embracing all the elements. 

The day ended at their hotel, where a delicious dinner and the warmth of camaraderie awaited. Clothing was quickly dried and everyone was looking forward to the next day’s excursion to the Westman Islands, promising new landscapes and discoveries.

Island Chronicles: Wind, Waves, and Resilience
Monday marked another thrilling chapter in their island-hopping escapade. The mode of transport for the day was a ferry! After a short forty-minute ride that had most of the students enjoying the wind out on the deck, they found themselves on the amazing Westman Island, off the southwest coast of Iceland. 

Westman Island experienced a massive and unexpected volcanic eruption in 1973. The group’s first stop was a museum built over a house that was dug out from beneath 15 meters of volcanic ash and rock. With headsets on, students heard the gripping account of how more than 5,000 residents escaped in fishing boats in the middle of the night. The experience left them in awe of the islanders’ spirit.

After soaking up the island's history, they hiked to a coastal lookout. It was windy and cold but not rainy, and the dramatic views of other little islands dotted around made the trek worth it. 

Post-hike, the students had some downtime to roam the streets of the little town before they boarded the ferry again for the return journey to the mainland. A short bus ride brought them back to the hotel where they feasted on lasagna. 

Exploring Iceland's Natural Wonders
Day four started with another wet and windy morning. The group’s first stop was Gullfoss, with 103 cubic meters of water per second thundering down the falls, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. As they approached the viewing area, the weather added a wild edge and the students pressed into the wind or let it hold them up as they stood with arms outstretched. 

They next drove to the town of Geysir with its series of natural geysers. This is why other hot springs around the world that discharge jets of water and steam into the air are called geysers.  The thermal springs erupted as if on cue, and the students' screams and cheers showed their surprise and appreciation of nature's forces. 

Everyone was refueled and warmed by an all-you-can-eat pizza lunch. They devoured slices topped with pepperoni, sausage, blue cheese, and raspberry coulis – a surprising but delightful combination that was a hot favorite. 

Students at tomato farm

Next, they explored a colossal greenhouse tomato farm. The students learned about the hybrid-hydroponic system used to grow 40% of Iceland's tomatoes year-round. Hundreds of tomato plants are supported by strings from the ceiling with water circulating below. A brief talk, a boxful of bees, and a tour gave the students lots to talk about – especially answering the question, “How does Iceland get all of its food?”

The day finished with a short walk through Thingvellir National Park that led them to see a part of the Atlantic Ocean Ridge – a rift valley that is the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and the historic site of Iceland's Parliament. 

The Last Adventure in Iceland
Their final day began with a visit to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal oasis nestled in the middle of a lava field and, for many, the highlight of the trip. As some of the first visitors for the day, they were fortunate to experience the beauty of this natural wonder in near solitude. The students frolicked and relaxed in the warm, soothing waters, surrounded by the Icelandic landscape.

After lunch, they headed into downtown Reykjavik to Perlan – a nature exploratorium. The two-hour visit to this interactive museum offered a fascinating journey through an indoor ice cave, providing a glimpse into the frozen wonders of Iceland. The students were captivated by the life-size model of a bird cliff, home to puffins and other wildlife, and the panoramic views of the city from the (inevitably windy) outdoor viewing platform. Lastly, they sat in the planetarium dome theater where the northern lights virtually danced all around them, creating a canvas that left everyone in awe.

Given two hours of free time to explore downtown Reykjavik, some of the students seized the opportunity to try authentic Icelandic fish at a local restaurant, while others embarked on a shopping spree, picking up souvenirs to bring back home. 

As the day drew to a close, everyone gathered for an evening of pizza and bowling. Laughter echoed through the bowling alley as the students showcased their competitive spirit and cheered each other on. 

Iceland, a land of fire and ice, proved to be an unforgettable destination that provided a perfect blend of natural wonders, cultural immersion, and shared experiences. Glaciers and geysers, waterfalls, and the Blue Lagoon, Perlan, and downtown Reykjavik – each location left its mark on the students, creating long-lasting memories.

See more photos in our Flickr album