Frankie and I just returned from an unforgettable four-day trip to Iceland. It had been on my ‘places to visit’ list for a while so was chuffed to bits when Alan surprised me with a jam packed break as an anniversary present. I know, I am spoilt.
We went in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights and the other natural phenomenons Iceland has to offer. Being a small island and having no real connection to any other country, I didn’t really know what to expect.
What we later discovered was an island with incredibly friendly people and an astonishing landscape on their very doorstep.
Our hotel was right in the centre of Reykjavik, just across the street from the Hallgrimskirkja Church. It was basic but clean and all we needed as a base. In fact we didn’t use it all that much as our daily tours took up most the day and night… but more on that later. The buffet breakfast was nice too – apart from the not very appetising fish that was also on offer.
Once we had checked into our hotel room, we went on a hunt to find a restaurant in the City Centre. Most of the menus were relatively normal, there was obviously a lot of fish and many offered Minke Whale. Everything in Iceland is pretty expensive, I’m not sure if it has always been like this or just since their currency crash a few years ago. We managed to find a nice place with a pretty good burger for only 1990 kronas (approx. £11).
Alan had booked Northern Lights tours for two nights out of the three we were there and if they don’t show you get to keep going back until they do. In the end we ended up going out for all three nights searching for the lights. Although this is a main attraction in Iceland, I wouldn’t let yourself get too disappointed if you don’t see them – they are so unpredictable, and as we learnt, can appear for only a sort amount of time before they disappear again. All three nights we had clear skies, with amazing views of the Milky Way and The Big Dipper but it wasn’t until the third night we caught our glimmer of the Aurora Borealis.
As you can see it really was a glimmer, but we were so happy that on our last night we were able to say we had seen them. After three nights of standing in freezing cold temperatures and not getting back to our hotel until 2am, we took this as a victory.
The following day we went out on the Golden Circle tour, which included the Geysers, Gullfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park and quite randomly, a family run company that produces tomatoes in their greenhouses. We learnt a lot on this tour about how self-sufficient Iceland is. They don’t use coal, gas or oil to power anything – all over the country there are power stations using the boiling water from the Geysers deep down beneath the Earth’s surface to provide power, electricity, lighting etc to their homes. We also witnessed on the journey how vast the landscape is, the roads are pretty much empty and there are volcanoes and mountains dotted around everywhere. On one of our Northern Lights tours the guide told us as we drove in the darkness how we were passing a volcano that was due to erupt any day now.. There are only a little over 330,000 people living in Iceland and around 220,000 of those inhabit Reykjavik.
Our first stop was the Tomato Greenhouses, it was only a quick stop but it was to show how the hot water beneath the surface was able to power these huge greenhouses, allowing Iceland to be self sufficient in growing their own fruit and veg. We also got to sample the home made tomato soup, which went down a treat!
The Gulfoss waterfall we visited was huge and incredibly powerful. The falling water could apparently fill over 20, one tonne containers with water in just seconds.
The Geysers were only a sort distance from the waterfall and made up of different shapes and sizes. Whilst all of them were bubbling, there was only one that was shooting up into the air. This only happens every 8-10 minutes, so there are a lot of people standing around with cameras glued to their faces. Myself included! We saw several eruptions but only caught a couple on my camera.
Here we also stopped for lunch where we were told to try an Icelandic delicacy, kjotsupa soup. I wasn’t sure when I first saw it but it was actually really nice, resembling a Lamb hot pot replacing the potatoes with grains. It went perfectly with the chilly weather.
Our final leg of the tour was the Thingvellir National Park, the original site of the oldest existing parliament in the world. It is also where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasian have divided. It’s both fascinating and a little scary as you pass this huge crack in the Earths surface that is slowly pulling Iceland apart. Along the same road, we crossed one of Iceland’s clearest rivers. The water takes around 30 years to reach this area and so by this time it has been cleaned of all it’s impurities and drained of all it’s minerals. The Icelandic’s are known to go ice skating on it in the winter and able to see right to the bottom of the river.
The following day we were due to go Whale Watching. Before I’d left home, the idea had really excited me – especially from the clips we had caught on YouTube. However, in the morning I started to work myself up about the sea sickness I heard others had suffered on the trips. Plus I was barely coping with the cold weather on land, let alone in the middle of the ocean! So I let Alan go alone. He went to visit the whales and I went off exploring more of Reykjavik. I had a great day, went up the Hallgrimskirkja Church, visited a Northern Lights museum, did a bit of shopping and treated myself to a panini and a green tea. By 5 o’clock I was waiting for Alan to tell me all about his day at sea. He greeted me with a greener face than normal, stone cold hands and not a lot of photos. Apparently I had made the right decision as the boat was very choppy, several people below deck were chucking up, it was freezing cold and to top it all off – not a whale in sight. Poor Frankie.
As it was our last night in Reykjavik and Alan hadn’t eaten since the morning, we decided to go somewhere a little fancy. We found this lovely restaurant named after the Geysers near to the harbour. We had a starter of vegetable soup and a bread basket to share, and then both went for fish and chips for the main. The fish was amazing. The best I’ve ever had. Beautiful flavour, incredibly soft – it literally melted in my mouth.
It was our last day in Iceland and Alan had arranged for us to spend most of it at the Blue Lagoon. It’s right in the middle of Reykjavik and the airport so it’s the perfect treat before heading home. Iceland has many outdoor pools, one of our tour guides said it is their equivalent of the English pub, where you go to gossip about your neighbours or talk about the latest football scores. It feels a little strange to strip down to your bikini and step out into the freezing cold, when you’ve only been going outside with at least four layers. Nevertheless, once you step into that blue water you forget what it feels like to be cold. We stayed in their for several hours, slapping on the facial masks that are dotted around and dipping into the sauna and steam rooms to make the most of our visit. They even have a bar in the water, where you can grab a drink whilst you’re sitting in the water. The Icelandic’s know how to live.
I can’t recommend Iceland enough. It has so much to offer, the scenery is so beautiful and the people are incredibly friendly. You get the sense it’s a great way of life there and you absorb their laid back attitude. If you ever visit in October, I’d recommend wrapping up warm, it’s colder than you think and don’t worry about learning the language, or taking a phrase book – everyone we met spoke perfect English.