Adventures in Iceland

One of my many dreams is to see as much of the world as possible. I want to travel round to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy, New Zealand… I could go on. So last week my boyfriend and I went to Iceland, mostly in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, but also to see what else Iceland has to offer.

We got up at half five in the morning the Monday before last so as to get a taxi to get a train to get another train to get another, smaller train, to get a bus to get a plane to get a coach, all of which resulted in us reaching our hotel in Reykjavik at around 5PM. We decided it was too late to do anything but get settled in and find somewhere to eat then get some well-earned sleep.

So our story really starts on the Tuesday, when we set out on the Golden Circle tour. It lasted all day and included various landmarks in the vicinity of Reykjavik in the south west of Iceland.

Our first stop was the valley of Haukadalur, which is very geothermally active and is the home of the geysers Geysir and Strokkur as well as numerous hot springs.

The hot springs

 

The geyser Strokkur

 

 

A pair of hot springs were bright blue and green

The next stop was Gullfoss, which literally translates to “golden waterfall”. On the coach on our way there, out tour guide told us a story from the early 1900s about a 14 year old girl who walked to Reykjavik on her own to find powerful people to stop plans to build a hydro-electric plant here, which would have ruined the waterfall she so loved. Personally, I’m glad she succeeded: Gullfoss is a beautiful sight to behold.

 

 

 

 

My favourite stop on the tour, though, was the Thingvellir National Park. This is not only where the European and American tectonic plates meet but also where Icelandic chiefs held parliament for several hundred years, hence its name: “thing” translates to “parliament” and “vellir” translates to “fields” (according to our tour guide and assuming I’ve remembered correctly). The views here were absolutely spectacular and there were some really pretty rocks too.

 

Walking up the ridge between the plates

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a long day, but I’m really glad we got out of Reykjavik to see Iceland’s landscape and some of its natural landmarks. We were meant to be going on a Northern Lights hunt later that evening, but on the way back to Reykjavik from the Golden Circle tour we were informed that the trip was cancelled due to the weather conditions, which was fair enough; we hadn’t seen a single inch of blue sky since arriving in Iceland.

We spent our second (and last) full day in Iceland wandering round Reykjavik, starting with the impressive Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, which took 41 years to build.

 

Outside Hallgrimskirkja

 

Views of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrimskirkja

 

Inside Hallgrimskirkja

 

The organ in Hallgrimskirkja

From there, we went to one of Reykjavik’s numerous geothermal bathing pools. We chose the nearest one to our hotel, which resulted in choosing a considerably less “touristy” pool, which may have been why it was mostly just like any average swimming pool you’d find in England, except with a slightly sulfuric smell and some rather strict showering etiquette which was only displayed on a small paper sign by the entrance to the changing rooms. I only noticed this on my way out, so even though we’d read about the rules for showering at geothermal pools online, it still made for a rather confusing experience. The jacuzzi-like hot pools that we had expected were actually on a balcony outside, but were more than hot enough to make up for the shockingly cold run from the door to the hot pool, and were relaxing enough to make up for the confusion of the changing room rules.

Then, we headed for the Saga viking museum. It was smaller than we expected, taking only 35 minutes to go through the entire exhibition, starting with the formation of Iceland and going through its settlement and history, but not right up to modern times. We were given an audio tour which expanded upon the information provided on the signs by each exhibit. I personally felt that the history was a little too condensed; it felt very much like we were seeing only snippets of Iceland’s history rather than the whole story, but it was still fun and educational. The best bit about the Saga museum, though, is definitely the Viking-style clothing they have for visitors to try on; we must’ve spent at least half an hour trying on chain mail and trying out various helmets, shields, swords, spears and axes. If you think dressing up is just for kids, just remember: all the Viking clothing in the Saga museum is adult-sized.

Upon (eventually) leaving the Saga museum, we discovered that blue skies do, in fact, exist in Iceland! So we took a walk along the shoreline to enjoy the weather and to see Sólfar, the Sun Voyager sculpture.

Blue skies over the harbour and the mountains after we left the museum

 

Since the previous nights’ Northern Lights trip had been cancelled, we had booked to try again that night, and this time the trip went ahead. The minibus set off from the hotel at half past nine and our coach reached a (mostly cloudy) field in the middle of nowhere, where we had a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights, at around eleven. After forty-five minutes of standing round in the cold with no luck, we decided to get back on the coach, and after another forty-five minutes, our tour guide gathered anyone who hadn’t already given up in search of relative warmth and we declared our hunt unsuccessful and headed back to Reykjavik. We reached our hotel at about 2AM and packed our things, which gave us barely two and a half hours before we had to get up again to go back to the airport.

It might be cold, expensive and have water that stinks of sulfur when you turn the temperature up, but I highly recommend visiting Iceland to anyone considering going (and anyone not). And if none of what we did during our three-night trip floats your boat, don’t worry: this is only the tip of the iceberg for what you can do here. Think glacier hikes, ice caves, volcanoes, whales, snow mobiles, Icelandic horses, the Blue Lagoon, and the many other museums that Reykjavik has to offer, plus much more. I know that we will definitely go again in the future, and finally getting to see the Northern Lights will only be an excuse to revisit a breathtakingly beautiful island nation.

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