My name is Jenny Burkholder and I’m a Tour Coordinator at Fellowship Travel International (FTI). This January, I had the honor of hosting an amazing group of faculty and staff on an exploratory trip to Iceland. The group represented 13 colleges and universities across the country that were interested in developing a short-term program in Iceland. Together, we toured Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and beyond to get a taste of what Iceland has to offer for faculty-led trips.

Crampons are a must to trek across Iceland's terrain!
Crampons are a must to trek across Iceland’s terrain!

I worked with our partners to design an itinerary of activities related to each participant’s field of study. This included: Biology, Geology, Environment, Geography, Social Sciences, Hospitality, International Business, Economics, English, Communications, and Study Abroad. One of my favorite things about these trips is connecting professors from different institutions, across multiple disciplines. It’s a great opportunity to bounce program ideas off one-another. I can also brainstorm unique activities to integrate into the custom, faculty-led tours.

Below, is a brief recap of our amazing journey. What started as a group of strangers ended with new friendships.

The Blue Lagoon and Icelandic Culture

Everyone met at Dulles Airport so we could all get a chance to meet before the flight. Once we arrived in Reykjavik, we hit the ground running. We stopped briefly for breakfast before setting off for Grindavik. We enjoyed views of a lava field, hot springs and the coast along the way. The Blue Lagoon was the perfect spot to relax and soak in the mineral-rich geothermal spa after a day of travelling.

Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon.

After our “spa” experience, we toured Reykjavik. We saw highlights of this cosmopolitan city and learned about its Scandinavian and Celtic influences on present-day culture. The day ended at the iconic Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, where we enjoyed an Icelandic hot dog! Interestingly, 70% of the country’s residents, as well as famous visitors like Bill Clinton and Metallica band members, have eaten here! Visit cntraveler.com to learn more.

South Iceland and its Geothermal Energy

The next morning, we headed to Hengill Volcano in the South of Iceland to visit the Hellisheidar Power Plant, the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Here, we learned how geothermal energy is used as a sustainable energy source in Iceland. It produces the cleanest energy in the world and heats the entire country!

Geothermal powerplant in South Iceland.
Geothermal powerplant in South Iceland.

Next, we began the renowned Golden Circle tour, starting with Thingvellir National Park to see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – the point where North America’s and Europe’s tectonic plates meet. Interestingly, the ridge is a volcanic seam thousands of miles long, where magma bubbles up and pushes the tectonic plates apart. It moves at a rate of about 1 inch per year.

After, we made a quick stop at Gullfoss waterfall for a photo opportunity before visiting Strokkur, one of Iceland’s most famous geysers. It sprays 25-30 meters in the air every 6-10 minutes.

To get a better understanding of how Icelanders use geothermal energy, we visited Fontana Geo Bakery that bakes homemade bread – in the ground. The process takes about 24 hours. Before leaving, we watched the bakers dig out a fresh pot of bread from the ground and had the opportunity to taste it with some butter – YUM!

Fresh bread and butter at the geothermal bakery.
Fresh bread and butter at the geothermal bakery.

We also visited Frodheimar Greenhouse to learn a little about the processes of greenhouse horticulture. At Frodheimar, they produce about 300 tons of organic vegetables annually with the help of geothermic energy. In the afternoon, we went to Fákasel Horse Park where we watched a multimedia presentation on the Northern Lights. And, to round out the day, we visited an Icelandic horse trainer who taught us the breed of horses unique to Iceland. We ended our evening with dinner at Fakasel before heading back to the city.

Here we are at a greenhouse learning about the organic tomatoes they grow here and the bees that they bring in to pollinate the plants.
Here we are at a greenhouse learning about the organic tomatoes they grow here and the bees that they bring in to pollinate the plants.

Iceland’s Magnificent Waterfalls

On Sunday, we headed to the South Shore for striking views of waterfalls and glaciers. Along the way, we were amazed by the magnificent Seljalandsfoss waterfall. At some times of the year, you can walk behind the waterfall. This is not recommended during the winter months because the path is very icy.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.

Then, we drove by Skogafoss’ 60-meter waterfall and stopped at the Skogar folk museum where we learned how Icelanders lived in centuries past. Once we arrived at the South Shore’s sandy, black coastline, we were able to see the Myrdalsjokull glacier and Reynisdrangar rock formations. These basalt sea columns are the result lava quickly cooling into hexagonal forms along the coast.

The last day was spent trekking through the Langjokull Ice Tunnel, the world’s first man-made Ice Cap Glacier tunnel. Our group boarded a monster 8-wheel glacier truck that took us to the entrance of the ice cave. We then ventured into the tunnel by foot. The deeper we went, the more vibrant the ice became – creating multiple hues of blue.

Group members inside the glacier.
Group members inside the glacier.

On the way back to Reykjavik, we saw the Hraunfossar, Barnafoss and Deildartunguhver waterfalls, formed by rivulets streaming from a lava field about 900 meters away. After dinner, we went out to hunt for the Northern Lights. This process can take all night, but it’s well worth it to witness this amazing phenomenon.

Northern Lights
The Northern Lights.

Begin as Strangers, Leave as Friends

On Tuesday, we checked out of the hotel and transferred to the airport – the new group of friends wishing warm farewells as we each made our way back home.

Jenny with her wonderful guide.
Jenny with her wonderful guide.

If you’d like to take a look at some of our photos from the trip, please visit our Facebook page. We are running a photo contest for our trip participants, so we encourage you to “like” your favorite photos to help two of them to win a gift card!

For more information about Iceland, you can check-out our blog post about why Iceland is perfect for faculty-led trips.

Thanks, and safe travels!

Jenny Burkholder
Tour Coordinator

Visit our Facebook page to see more photos from the trip!

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My name is Jenny Burkholder and I’m a Tour Coordinator at Fellowship Travel International (FTI). I’ve worked with FTI for almost 20 years and love what I do! Professionally, I have partnered with hundreds of clients, designing custom tour itineraries that meet the needs of their organizations. I have also had the privilege of visiting more than 40 countries. Sometimes, I even get to mix business with pleasure when I lead a group trip to one of our featured destinations. Did I mention that I LOVE what I do?

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