Exactly a year ago yesterday Cémanthe and I landed in Iceland!!! 🙂 In fact at precisely this time last year we were haring around in the dark trying to spot the Northern Lights!!
prelogue (is there such a thing?)…this article was started on the 14th January 2014….but I never got round to finishing it…..so here it is…..
It all started a few months before in 2013….seems longer somehow, when CJ phoned and suggested we plan a trip to Iceland!!! Would I like to go to Iceland to see the northern lights and go whale-watching?….uhmmm…hell yes!!! Iceland has been on my dream list for years!! and before I go any further, may I say OMG!!! Wow, what a country!!!
Although I initially uhmmed and ahhhed, dying to say yes but eventually said no (finances), but after much discussion (and I really was very keen to go) she persuaded me to be sensible and so we set the wheels in motion. Unfortunately visas and red-tape and money got in the way and had to be shifted, causing more than just a little bit of stress… Now what should be a simple process of booking the flights, hotels, excursions etc and just going….is not that simple on a South African passport. I have to apply for a visa every time I leave the UK to visit another country…..and that is a ruddy mission… So I won’t go into all the boring details…suffice it to say it was stressful in the extreme and we almost quit along the way…it’s also very expensive and bureaucratic!! Imagine!! But we persevered and survived and traveled to what is now my 2nd favourite country in the world….sorry Ireland and Italy…I still love you….but….have you been to Iceland?
The first thing I can say about the country…is that it is well named!! 🙂 It is icy! However, we can forgive that, as it was after all, the middle (almost) of winter!
Other than that….I can’t think of sufficient descriptive words to describe just how amazing the country is…but let me try…amazing, delightful, wonderous, awesome, spectacular, magnificent, incredible, beautiful, surprising, freezing, pretty damn exciting, welcoming, exquisite, extreme, visceral, wild, steamy, stunning, quirky, fantastic……you get the idea!!! I was totally bowled over and if it wasn’t for the fact that I adore London, I would move to Iceland 🙂 Iceland is beyond extraordinary. It is the quirkiest, coldest, most visceral, wild and now the most northerly place I have ever visited.
So on the late afternoon of the 8th January, leaving from Victoria Bus Station, we made our way to Travelodge at Gatwick and checked into our room….cozy cozy….It was basic but awesome…the excitement was mounting and being so close to the airport was well amazing.
CJ to her credit had decided to check us into a hotel near the airport for the night since our flight left really early the next day, and it was better than trying to not only get up at sparrow-fart, but also to negotiate the travails of the London transport system and subsequent railway journey on the day…wayyyyyy too stressful. All sorts of things could go wrong and more often than not, do….especially when you HAVE to be somewhere at a certain time…like an airport where no plane waits for no wo/man!!…no cry!!
I love to be surprised and astounded when I visit a country and Iceland did both…in buckets full. My first sight of the island was out the window (yes hooray we had a window seat); my heart thrilled at the sight. It is one of my dreams/goals to visit 100 islands and now I was just about to land onto the next! whoo hoo!! By the time we did land I already had about 20 photos mostly of the clouds and the ocean and the sun shining onto the wing of the plane…we left really early in the morning and raced the sunrise…getting there just ahead of the sun getting to its zenith for 66 degrees north in winter! Not very high I can tell you!
What a fabulous 3 days we had….
Day 1 we were up really early after spending a night of almost sleepless excitement!! We arrived with plenty of time to spare after a really easy hop to the airport by cab…better than walking in the rain…yup, it was raining; to be expected really as how it was winter and this is the UK…..which you wouldn’t think this year (2015) it’s been so unseasonably warm. But back to 2014….and then onto the plane for #3DaysInIceland. To our delight we had a window seat! I love the window seat! The plane, if I recall, took off on time and we were on our way whoo hooo!!
Lots of photos of the sunrise, clouds and the UK disappearing beneath us, then a hop, skip and bumpy ride across the top of Scotland.
The flight was quick, soon enough we were flying over that tiny little island in the vast blue ocean as we craned our necks to get the best view ever and whoaaaaa…. suddenly we could see land!!!!….Iceland was beneath us. We peered out the window with much excitement pointing out volcanoes and glaciers and lots and lots of snow-covered mountains.
OMG just writing about it now….albeit a year later I am almost in tears just remembering how thrilling it was to see Iceland for the first time. I was also <bizarrely> hoping to see the volcano exploding. Yeah, I know…go figure right!! But it didn’t and we landed safely into what has to be the most mind-blowing travel experience ever!!!
Once off the plane and through customs without any hassle (whew!) we left the customs area and tried to find our way out the airport…. oh my gosh, how do they pronounce those words. First of all I don’t read Icelandic <a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse > and after much miming and gesticulating I ended up in a queue while CJ went to the loo. So while I was standing in the queue some woman kept asking me if I wanted a baggage label…uhhmm no I just got off the plane for goodness sake, why do I need a baggage ticket to leave the airport?! All the time I’m thinking “weird considering we only had hand-luggage!” …hmmmm, LOL and hahahaha, as it turns out it was the queue to get BACK onto a plane; going where? Who the heck knows.
Fortunately Cémanthe came back from the loo before I boarded (LOL) and rescued me with much hilarity!! Then it was negotiating a foreign language again to figure out where to go for our bus to Reykjavik. (btw, never ever when taking a coach to your hotel in a foreign country, decide to wait till you get to the hotel before you go for a pee!!! – If you need to go….go before you leave the airport!!) LOL…enough said on that subject!!
Do you know, that after a whole year, I still can’t quite believe that I have been to Iceland!!! Extraordinary!!
Finally we found the right bus and clambered on board and off we went and even though it was still early in the day, it was already getting dark…the days are like about 3 hours long!!! What a landscape!! Oh my word. It’s wild, visceral, primeval…it grabs you by the guts and shakes you right out of any complacency whatsoever. I have never seen such landscapes before….towering mountains covered with brilliantly white snow, vast plains covered with brilliantly white snow, rivers frozen over, treacherously icy roads <I could barely look out the front window watching the driver>….shivers up the spine!!
We stopped off at a number of hotels to drop passengers off and finally reached our own. When we did finally arrive at our hotel, it was to discover under-floor heating, comfy beds and lovely hot water straight from the underground thermal springs! Loverly juberley. Climbing off the bus you are immediately frozen to the spot!!! Jeezuz, I have never known such cold. Grabbing our bags we ran helter-skelter into the warm, welcoming embrace of a heated hotel. Whew!!
Our room was comfortable albeit very basic, but it was WARM!!! and luxury of luxuries it had underfloor heating. Marvellous. I had died and gone to heaven!
But, first things first….With no time to rest, we dropped off our bags, we donned as much clothing as we could reasonably get on, wrapped up warm with leggings, thick socks, stocking, trousers, vests, tops, jumpers, scarves, jackets, the new faux-fur lined gloves and hats I bought at Christmas time and headed straight out to explore. Reykjavik is fantastic!!! Quirky houses, old architecture, fantastical sculptures, stunning modern architecture and a fabulous cathedral that sits atop the hill dominating the skyline…..demanding that you look “here I am!!!”
Did you know that the sidewalks in Iceland have under’floor’ heating? I kid you not. They are heated. How fab is that! Of course the heat is provided free by mother nature and all the Icelanders do is pipe it off and utilise it all. Perhaps we should arrange to have a volcano under our island then we can give the finger to the energy suppliers that overcharge so heavily. Insert <With the widespread availability of geo-thermal power, and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity>. hmmmm.
….with much looking back over our shoulders to note landmarks for getting back to the hotel! We walked along icy streets and once again my poor brain had to cope with looking out for traffic coming at me from the wrong side of the road…I cannot understand why it is that people feel the need to drive on the right side of the road….that just seems wrong somehow 😉
Iceland….wow! what a stunningly beautiful country. Breathtaking in the extreme; never mind that we had scant breath for it to take due to the biting cold that snaked it’s way into everything and into our bones. Sæbraut, the sea in the centre of Reykjavík was just stunning….. just exquisite. I can’t explain to you how absolutely extraordinary the landscape really is. By now the sun was beginning to set and the snow-covered mountains were tinged with pink and lilac and creamy yellow…..never in my life have I seen such beauty….words do not pay adequate homage.
We slipped and slid along the promenade, along icy roads to the edge of the bay making our way gingerly to town, or as best we could anyway. The snow-laden landscape leading down to the sea; delicious shades of blue, pink, lilac vie for attention….I have never seen so many shades of blue – frozen to the bone we stood and stared.
Quite frankly I can’t imagine anywhere more beautiful – the colours, the snow-covered buildings….for someone who loves snow, I was in paradise…pure and simple. We took hundreds of photos. The snow was almost knee deep in some places and treacherously slippery but we staggered along looking for all the world like two drunks fresh from the pub!!! I would so have loved to explore further afield but trying to stay upright on that ice was exhausting and we only made it as far as the opera house which was, thanks to the underground heated pipes, blessedly free from ice.
What a sensible idea. From there we staggered into ‘town’ and took a stroll along the main street that runs through Reyjavik. Finally we made out way into the centre of Reykjavik, which although not very large and could fit into London’s left pocket, is charming!
A delight of quirky stores stocking some of the most bizarre items you could imagine. There was a huge polar bear (stuffed of course) stood outside one of the stores.
The clothing is marvellous….I would so have loved to buy some but it would have been just to warm for our climate <bizarre I know, but it is real cold-weather clothing>.
Oh my gosh, the shops are a delight with goodies to buy, some of which challenge the imagination….I have never seen such amazing things in my life. Then went for supper at ……wait for it……and Italian restaurant. I know right? WTF…we’re in Iceland and we go for Italian LOL….but…let me tell you, I did not know what the menus said since they’re mostly written in Icelandic, I couldn’t understand the accent and I wasn’t prepared to order something that turned out to be roast polar bear, or stewed seal, or pickled porpoise….no way hosé I wasn’t eating local this time around, so stuck with what I know….boring right…typical bloody tourist LOL!! (yeah, okay, I know….eat local!!) but we were in sore need of something hot and frankly it was less scary to order Italian than trying to figure out what the Icelandic menu was offering.
Bellies full we went shopping for breakfast goodies and stuff to eat during the days ahead. Loved their little supermarkets and milk is milk and bread is easily identifiable, as are vegetables <not that we had many of those>, and cheese is cheese no matter what country you’re in. It’s good fun shopping in foreign supermarkets, they are so completely different to the UK (or SA), and yet quite similar. The brand names are not anything at all that we are familiar with so trying to decided what to buy is quite a challenge…..but chocolates, crisps and sweets look the same in any language 😉 Although we did buy fruit too!!
Then it was back to the hotel for an earlyish night…we were way too excited to sleep immediately. And we still had a midnight excursion to go on…..yes we were heading out to see the Northern lights!!!
Cémanthe had booked us on an excursion the next day to the totally unpronouncable – Þingvellir Nature reserve; <insert : a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland>, then the Gullfoss waterfalls and the North American and Eurasian rift. OMG!!!!! Seriously!!!
day two to follow……