Iceland 2016: On Another Planet

iceland
Our journey.

Our summer holiday is now in full flow after 8 days in the most astonishing country imaginable. Nicki and I had spent the last few weeks counting down the days towards our return to the UK, and had given very little thought to the Icelandic adventure that lay imminently ahead of us.

After a few days visiting our own families in different parts of England, we met again at Gatwick airport for our 3 hour flight to Reykjavik with WOW Air.  We then got a very helpful bus from their airport, dropping us directly to our hostel.

It became apparent very quickly that Iceland was not going to be a cheap place to travel and we immediately started thinking of ways to limit our outgoings. This lead us to eating supermarket sandwiches for dinner on our first night.

We walked through Reykjavik during the afternoon. It represents the World’s northernmost capital city, but at with only 200,000 it is a village in comparison to the smallest of Chinese cities. Our first evening was our first introduction to the endless sunlight of the Icelandic summer. We were fortunate to arrive on the day of the final of the European championships. Iceland’s success in the tournament, not least their victory of England, made for added excitement around the game. We watched it on the big screen in the middle of the capital surrounded by a large percentage of the countries population, and a surprising amount of French people. The French spirits remained high until the final whistle.

Our original plan was to hitchhike our way around the island. However, when given time to consider the implications this might have on our independence and enjoyment we decided to hire our own car, under the condition that we pick up hitch hikers on the way.

We retired to our hostel bunk beds for the night and picked up our car the next morning. The car ran well but it was well beaten-up and didn’t look road worthy. We didn’t see an uglier car on our whole trip. Before setting off we had some breakfast, featuring SkyR yoghurts, which became Nicki’s go-to snack for the rest of the trip.

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We had designated the famous ‘Golden Circle’ to our first leg of our journey around Iceland. The journey took us inland from Reykjavik to our first stop at Þingvellir National Park. It is at this point that 2 continents meet, as the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia are both present, hence the abundance of volcanoes in Iceland. It is incredibly unique as you are able to stand between the two techtonic places, geologically in neither continent. Þingvellir also had a huge historical influence in Iceland, since it was where parliament was first form after the settlement. It was only that start of an interesting day.

Before our next stop we pulled over for some lunch in a lay-by. The cheapest and rediliy available snacks in Iceland are hot-dogs.  Once we ordered ours we noticed that the man in the restaurant had been left alone to take orders, money and make the food. We asked if he needed help and he was very pleased to have 2 extra pairs of hands. So we set to work making hot dogs behind the bar for the lunchtime tourists who didn’t complain about my shoddy presentation (although Nicki made a real effort to make her hot-dogs pleasing on the eye).

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We were not far from our next stop, and perhaps the most famous attraction in the whole of Iceland; the Geysir. Here the ground reaches staggering heats and the water that reaches the surface of erupts every 5 minutes in a huge spectacle of boiling water. We had to see it a few times to completely comprehend it.

The final point on the golden circle was the famous Gullfoss waterfall. Waterfalls always amaze me and this one was no different. The true natural prowess of Iceland was already becoming almost overwhelming. We approached close enough to the waterfall to feel the cool splash of the water on our faces. Everything in Iceland is fresh and cool. From the air to the water. It appeared to be our antidote to a year of pollution in China.

We worked our way south on as we headed to the town of Vik on the South Coast. The map indicated that it was a major town but it probably didn’t house more than a few hundred people. We got slightly lost on our way down but it is hard to stay lost in Iceland since there are so few roads. Nicki had suggested that we pick up the first hitch hikers we see and so we drove into the town with an Israeli couple who had been hiking in the highlands for the last 10 days.

This was the start if our first night in the tiny tent that we had fit into our hand luggage. We could both just about fit in it, and I initially thought it was a useful size for 2 bodies to heat during the cold Icelandic nights. I was wrong, it was still freezing.

During our whole stay in Iceland we did not see natural darkness. Supposedly sunlight lasts 22 hours at this time in the summer, but I struggle to believe that it ever gets dark at all. This meant that we were able to cook our burgers on the BBQ in the late evening with the sun on our backs whilst enjoying a nice Icelandic beer. It turned out that we timed this perfectly as it started raining as soon as we finished and didn’t stop all night.

Nicki woke up early from a restless night and continued her sleep in the warmer climate of the car. Because I didn’t sleep very well after the tent started leaking, we were back on the road before we intended to be. I soon had to pull over though to have a nap in front of the beautiful roadside mountains. I did feel slightly responsible as I had suggested the camping element, but Nicki is always up for a new challenge and she remained in high spirits, to my relief.

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Half way through our morning drive we stumbled across our attraction for the day, almost by accident. We were at the most fabulous glacier of Jokulsarlon. I couldn’t believe how diverse my drive had been up until this point and it was only going to get better. We had driven from a city into a huge rocky national park, past the snow topped volcano of Eyjafjallajökul, the greenery of the lowlands and their awesome cliff faces, more powerful mountains, and now into the icy glaciers. I kept thinking about how much Dad would enjoy driving on the roads, especially when we passed groups of motorcyclists. This was a truly breathtaking sight and one we admired for longer than the others. We really did feel close to the Arctic here.

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We then headed to another major port town on the map, which also turned out to be small. This one was called Hofn. We stopped in Hofn for some homemade soup (because everything else was very expensive) before deciding it was too early to stop for the evening and we could continue our journey and limit the driving for the next day.

We drove another 100km before following a car, rather murderer-like, down a gravel path because we saw a hostel sign. We were glad we did as we then came to a very quaint little house where a family lived. Outside the house stood a small church and cemetery which made us believe the family had owned the property for centuries. It really was a beautiful lake side setting to end our evening and made us thankful that we had moved on from Hofn.

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The owners son offered us a room in the house but we decided that we would rather pay for a good dinner than a soft bed, and agreed that it would be our last night of camping if it went the same way as the night before. The owner told us that there was only one option for dinner: cod. we were happy with this as we understood that it would have been fresh from the day’s catch. It tasted as good as it looked and we stayed indoors long enough for our tent and sleeping bags to dry up. We were able to shower and settled down into our tent with a more sun-kissed backdrop than the previous night.

Despite the better weather, the night was still cold and we both ended up back in the car for a more comfortable sleep in the early hours of the morning. Lesson learnt, but an experience none-the-less.

Our next journey took us North towards the Fjords. We once again travelled fantastic roads and Nicki had a little drive. I must admit that I was a terrible passenger and probably the reason why she decided to swap back after a few kilometres. The roads became a little more scary during the day and several one-lane bridges appeared over rivers. This made me think of dad even more. I genuinely think his bike crew should find a way to Iceland.

The diversity of colour increased as we drove around mountains and cliff faces, and we pulled over regularly as something new astonished us. We hope that all of these fabulous natural creations remain free to the public as Iceland becomes an even more dominate tourist destination.

Eventually we reached some volcanic mud pools close to Lake Myvatn. Here the ground we walked on was warmed by the aggressive activity below it’s surface. We were told that the head in the pools was hot enough to kill us instantly, but that didn’t stop everyone wanting a closer look. Beside the pools were a few gassy taps that appeared to be letting gass escape from deep within the Earth. It was all so natural but seemed like we were in a Sci-Fi movie. However, one thing we could not escape was the smell of rotten eggs, which we could smell wherever we walked and took a while to acclimatise to.

We then reluctantly left this exceptional sight and headed 7km towards a massive volcano crater. Within the crater is a pool of beautiful blue water, which makes for an incredible sight as you walk around it. It was hard to grasp its vastness but it seemed that Iceland has almost too much to offer. We were both loving it.

Our next stop was the Lake itself, where we wandered some extensive lava fields. Nicki was quite good with her summary when she said that the lava fields were so peaceful but must have been formed with such destruction.

We then headed to some craters surrounding the lake, but our enjoyment there was restricted due to the abundance of flies that swarmed around us. People rightly recommended head nets for the volcanic craters here.

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Before ending our busy day back in the North of Iceland we had a dinner stop in Akureyri. One of Nicki’s favourite dinners is fish and chips and we were lucky enough to dine in a local fish and chip restaurant here, with another batch of very fresh fish. Yum.

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We then drove our final leg of the day to a fishing village called Dalvik. We rewarded ourselves with a nice bunk bed in a hostel and a very warm shower. Everyone in Iceland seems to be linked, and our host revealed that he once trained footballer Heiðar Helguson in his younger years.

It’s easy to imagine that our sleep was a good one and we were in no rush to get going the next day as we treated ourselves to another shower. There were, however, nice views of Arctic fishing trawlers as we woke up.

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We had a decision to make about that to do on our way back towards the South West. In the end we decided it was worth the extra half an hour to tour a Fjord (one of several inlets at the North of Iceland). As we reached the northern point on the Fjord we got out to lookout over the Greenland Sea and consider if we will ever be closer to the North Pole.

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We travelled through 4 lengthy tunnels which helped us cut out mountains as we travelled through the Fjord until we reached the town of Hofsos. It is famed for its outdoor swimming poor, where you have a back drop of snow capped mountains. However, the children in the pool and our desire to move on restricted us to just eating a hot dog at that point.

We then made our lengthy drive towards Akranes. Nicki had specifically downloaded Bjork and Sigur Ros for this leg of our journey, which gave an Icelandic twist to driving. Although, we did discover that Bjork only really has one decent song. Shhhh.

Our long journey was probably through the least spectacular part of the drive, but we may have just become desensitised to fantastic things. We managed to find a licensed liquor store which sold nice local beers. We enjoyed those in our peaceful hostel and ate at a cheap restaurant not far away. We found that the towns and villages were nothing more than stop overs for us, and the true attractions of Iceland are where you will find no permanent dwellers.

I had made an effort to avoid reminding Nicki of my birthday but it appeared that she had been thinking of it throughout our week, as she had a few hidden surprises in her bag from the very beginning. One of which was a very nice card she gave to me as we woke up in the morning. She was completely focused on treating me to a nice day and it was a very nice surprise.  Our first stop was the famous Blue Lagoon just out side of Reykjavik, which meant driving past the starting point of our journey and completing our full circuit of the country.

Unfortunately, the Blue Lagoon was full and not able to take us. However, we found another location in the city which offers a geothermally heated pool, just like the Blue Lagoon. Yet, this one was far cheaper so we felt like winners.

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We then spent the evening back in the city of Reykjavik, where we tried local beers recommended by friends who had previously visited and ate at a local burger shop. As our burgers where delivered, Nicki produced a candle and stuck it in the middle. It was a lovely surprise and I couldn’t believe she had carried a candle all around Iceland specifically for that moment. I was chuffed. I’ve really hit the jackpot with Nicki!

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We then walked back to an apartment that we had booked close to the centre, where Nicki produced a cake with candles in it. It had become a very memorable birthday in a magical country.

Our final couple of days were far more relaxing but no less enjoyable than the others. We had the pleasure of sharing our dorm in the hostel with about 10 Chinese tourists, who could not speak English so must have found it hard in Iceland. Many of the others in the hostel did not warm to the Chinese early starts and loud voices, including Nicki. Unforgivably, I slept through much of the drama.

The highlight of the final couple of days was our visit to the penis museum, featuring penises of hundreds of different animals. The centre piece in the museum was the casts of erect silver penises provided by the Icelandic Handball team to commemorate their silver success at the 2008 Olympics.20160716_164435

We were up very early on the Monday morning for our flight back to the UK, where Nicki was finally meeting the mother (and gave a great first impression). Iceland offered us sights, sounds and smells like no other and I would recommend it to anyone. We loved everything about Iceland (except the prices) and I don’t think there is anywhere else like it in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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