The Land of Fire and Ice

Iceland was the first stop on my second big excursion. Located almost on the direct route from the UK to Canada, and being somewhere I'd always wanted to visit, it would have seemed rude not to stop by. So, after a ridiculously early departure from Liverpool (aided by an extraordinarly helpful friend who drove me), the compulsory airport beer at 5am in Manchester, and a pain-free flight, I found myself in a cold and snowy Reykjavik. The hostel I'd booked was clean and tidy (Hlemmur Square), and no sooner had I checked in the weather had changed and the sun was shining. This was to become the default pattern of weather throughout my stay in Iceland - thirty minute snow flurries followed almost immediately by dazzling sunshine. Rinse and repeat every two hours or so.
Colourful houses

Colourful houses

Reykjavik Cathedral

Reykjavik Cathedral

Reykjavik is fairly small for a capital city - about 120k people live there - though saying that, it is one third of the entire Icelandic population. I spent a couple of days lazily wandering around the streets looking at the brightly painted houses and interesting graffiti, wincing at the extraordinarily high prices, and generally having a good old mooch. The cathedral was a stunning piece of architecture, and the views across the city from the top of the tower were fantastic. Another highlight was the Bio Paradis cinema - not the place to go and see blockbusters, but an indie delight which not only has really chill-out common spaces, but also let you take bottled beer into the screens! I'll be honest, two days in the city is more than enough, but it suited my gentle ambling style of city visits. Something that might disappoint some is that I don't have any reports to make of Icelandic food. Being a budget-style traveler, the high prices were pretty off-putting, and also the selection of Icelandic delicacies weren't really to my taste (oral and ethical). Minke Whale and Puffin seemed to be common options, which I had ethical problems with, while Svid (whole charred sheep's head, minus the brain but including the eyes) and Hakarl (fermented shark) just sounded a bit rank.
The central pond

The central pond

The Icelandic people love brightly coloured corrugated iron

The Icelandic people love brightly coloured corrugated iron

Yes, it's a penis museum

Yes, it's a penis museum

The graffiti in the city was a cut above

The graffiti in the city was a cut above

I took three organised trips outside of Reykjavik - the classic Golden Circle tour, a trip to Southern Iceland, and a short whale-watching excursion. The first two tours were pretty similar, driving out of Reykjavik across lava fields to see waterfalls and geysers, walk on a glacier, basalt rock formations at black sand beaches, and even an unscheduled stop to chat with the local Icelandic horses. One thing that both trips had in common was the incredibly expensive lunch stops - a bowl of lamb soup near Gulfoss (one of the waterfalls visited on the Golden Circle tour) cost £10! The sights made up for it though, being able to walk behind one of the waterfalls was a particular fun bit, despite getting pretty wet.
Sellfoss waterfall

Sellfoss waterfall

Spring is arriving

Spring is arriving

I walked around the back of this waterfall

I walked around the back of this waterfall

The church in Vik

The church in Vik

The drivers of the tour buses were full of random facts: Iceland has the highest rate of mobile phone usage, internet access, tablet computer ownership in the world. Per capita, that is, which is cheating a little in my view 😉 With a single Nobel Laureate, Iceland can claim the highest per-capita number of Nobel prizes too! Eighty per cent of the houses in Iceland are heated by geothermal-based water, pumped into Reykjavik and other towns from several geothermal stations across the country. Iceland is also the largest producer of bananas in Europe - thanks to massive greenhouses, also heated from geothermal sources.
Strokkur geyser

Strokkur geyser

This horse had just tried to lick my camera

This horse had just tried to lick my camera

A volcanic crater at Kerio

A volcanic crater at Kerio

Whale watching on my final day was excellent - taking a boat out only a few miles from Keflavik harbour into the sea brought us to a pair of humpback whales, who dived for five or six minutes at a time before resurfacing, blowing off steam, then heading back beneath the waves with a flick of their tails in the air. It was hard to catch a decent glimpse of much more than the humps and tails, but each time the spotter called out a direction to look, there was a rush of excitement as to how well we'd be able to see these huge creatures. It was a sobering thought during this trip that Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that is still actively involved in commercial whaling - hopefully the tourists will stop eating the Minke Whale meat, and the practice will stop.
The tail of a humpback whale

The tail of a humpback whale

Iceland's flag

Iceland's flag

The verdict after five days in Iceland? It's a lovely place, with friendly (although occasionally a little brusque) people. If you like desolate volcanic landscapes, varied Arctic wildlife, and can afford it, make time for a visit. Timed right, Easyjet flights from the UK are cheap as chips, so getting there shouldn't be a problem - just save up for the beer and food!
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2 Responses to The Land of Fire and Ice

  1. Suzy says:

    Sounds like a wonderful, if expensive trip to Iceland. We enjoyed your visit so much (hopefully fodder for another post) and can’t wait to see you again, hopefully around July 4th. Looking forward to seeing how you enjoy your foray into the US. Suzy

  2. Rafiq Hussain says:

    Hope you’re having fun on your wonderful travels Mr Dean… This looks like such a beautiful place. 🙂

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