I often like to share my travel tales with others - what better place to do it than my blog. In January I went to Iceland for a few days with my other half, Damon. As both of us work freelance we hadn't been on holiday in a really long time. With work commitments, the only time we could go was during the coldest month of the year with a guarantee of snow so made sure to stock up thermals (brrrrr).
World famous for its geothermal landscape, one of the greatest things about visiting here is its uniqueness, I can tell you there is no landscape quite like it. I would love to shoot a wedding in Iceland. I can certainly see why it is a popular elopement destination! I decided to take my 'proper' camera. I love to document my travels. It’s always a new challenge to photograph in a totally different landscape and environment. I was also eager to test out a new lens purchase.
We flew from Manchester and arrived in total darkness, then it was a short coach trip to our destination, Hafnarfjörður, a little port town just south of Reykjavík. The snow was falling steadily. After checking in, we went across the road to a small restaurant where we tucked in to some traditional Icelandic cuisine (or so we were told). This consisted of creamy fish soup, dried shark fin and a black death shot, it was. . . interesting. After a bit of snowball throwing, we tucked in for the night.
At 8am it was still pitch black outside. For breakfast there was standard continental fare, ham, cheese & crackers. It still felt like it was the middle of the night to us. We donned our thermals and went to walk along the harbour. The bitter cold I expected but what I didn't anticipate was the lack of light. It never seemed to get 'light' as such, just dull blue/white hues in the sky, the sun barely rising. It only brightened a little in the late morning (around 11am).
Hafnarfjörður is a lovely little town to wander around but felt deserted - most people (sensibly) choosing to drive rather than walk in the snow. At the local supermarket we bought some bread and hams for lunch, plus a lemon and some tonic for the gin we picked up at the airport. Always advisable, as the alcohol and food there is pricey - and who doesn't enjoy an afternoon g+t on holiday?
After an hour of relaxing and warming up back at the hotel we hopped on a bus to Reykjavík. It was a short journey of about 20 minutes, when we got off it was already getting dark. I say dark when what I mean is more blue and hazy. It was also getting chilly, so thankful for my thermals at this point.
What I really loved about Reykjavík was the colours of the buildings, some so bright they really stood out and there was lots of cool murals (plus everything seemed really clean) Perhaps it's less pollution in the air, but the buildings all looked freshly painted, even though I doubt that. The bright colours against the white sky and snow was lovely. At the top of the hill we came to Reykjavík's main landmark, Hallgrímskirkja church. At 73 metres it is one of the tallest structures in Iceland (thanks Google).
We had a little wander about, before ducking into a bar. Yes, it does cost nearly £6.00 for a pint, but it was tasty so we didn't mind too much. Well Damon did, he couldn’t stop moaning about the price, it was more than a hot dog at Villa Park. Back at our hotel there was a small geothermal hot tub outside, hidden away at the back of the building. We had it to ourselves, sitting outdoors in the relaxing sulphur waters with snow all around us. The perfect way to end the day.
On day two we were booked on the Golden Circle Tour, an hour of driving through a complete whiteness of ice and snow. I'd never seen anything like it. The landscape was totally alien to me. The first stop was Þingvellir national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site as it was the founding home of the Parliament of Iceland in 930AD. It’s also an area which is part of a fissure zone situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It was snowing heavily. As went along we realised we were actually walking through the huge fissures in the earths crust. It was like the ground had just torn apart. It was surreal walking through these gigantic cracks in the earth’s surface. I could imagine it suddenly opening up like in a disaster movie, the crater swallowing up everything on the surface never to be seen again. Though, of course, in reality these fissures formed over time, it’s a place where your imagination runs wild.
The next spot the coach took us to was the Geysers. Arriving you can really smell the sulphur in the air (as we could in our hotel shower). There are multiple hot pools dotted around the landscape, and smaller steamy streams trickling along. Considering the heat of the water in the area I was still amazed to see so much snow covering the ground. In the distance there was a crowd of people surrounding the Strokkur Geyser, a fountain geyser, famous for it's frequent eruptions. The crowd weren't disappointed. As we headed in that direction, a huge jet of water shot upwards spraying well above our heads to the sound of gasps and clicks of cameras all around. We sat to on a nearby bench and ate our sandwiches, an excellent vantage point to watch people getthing their selfies ready for the next eruption. Closer up, it was pretty spectacular. Before erupting the pools of water bubble and churn around then - POOOF - another big jet spews into the air - cue more claps and gasps from the group.
Next stop, the Gulfoss Waterfall. I thought I'd seen all the spectacular things there was to see but the best was yet to come. My photographs don't do it justice. It is the singular most amazing thing I have ever seen. The view was so powerful (as no doubt were the waters). I'll let the photos do the talking. . . check out the tiny ant people for scale.
As the trip went on it was getting colder and colder. The snow barely stopped all day. The terrain itself was rough going. At another time of year, I would hire a car - as en route there were so many things I would have like to have seen up close, like the Icelandic horses and tiny villages way out in nowhere land. The landscape was just so breathtaking I would have loved to just pause and take it all in, which you don’t have opportunity to do on an organised excursion. Yes, you learn lots from the excellent tour guides, but you arrive at the same time with several coach loads of people. For me that sort of took the magic away. But in the winter months I wouldn't recommend it unless you can deal with those sorts of extreme road conditions.
That evening we had a fantastic meal in local restaurant Tilveran which serves mostly fish - the three course prix-fixe menu, which was good value for Iceland. First the soup, full of lobster meat and deliciously creamy. Next up the chef special, consisting of three portions of fresh fish, each one large enough to be considered as a main meal in its own right which came with a tasty sauce and root veg. So filling even I struggled. I couldn't manage pudding and instead went for the Irish coffee option (true to my roots) and Damon had a lovely looking chocolate tart, which he polished off in no time being a greedy bugger. The food was excellent and the service was really friendly (so we went back the next night for more lobster soup).
Our final day was spent at the very famous Blue Lagoon, a man made area of geothermal waters. While there are many natural hot springs in Iceland this isn't one of them, the land is natural but the springs are not. It's actually to do with the geothermal power plant next door. The water temperature here ranges between 37°C and 40°C, especially good for those with aches and pains. I'm always cold, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't find it warm enough, especially since the temperature was 1°C outside! But I was ok for the most part, according to the electronic map displaying the temperatures of different sections of the waters there was a warmer spot at the back so I headed for that and was at a very happy temperature. Damon said it was really hot everywhere. There is a swim up bar and you can handily pay for your drinks using the wrist band you are given on entry and that also opens and locks your locker. Prosecco, in hand, silica mask on, time to relax.
Although it’s busy with tourists, you can float off to different bits and it feels more secluded, though it still struck me it didn't seem as big as the photographs I'd seen. (Perhaps some of the site was closed off due to the building works). There’s also a steam room and sauna and you can book an in water massage. I felt there should be some more seating indoors for when you need a break but other than that it was perfect. We ate in the Lava restaurant as a bit of a treat and I had the most delicious mussels!
Thus ended our short Icelandic adventure. I enjoyed the winter snow but I would like to visit for a longer period of time and do a fly and drive in slightly better weather conditions. You are probably thinking, ‘What about the Northern Lights?’ We were wondering that too. Sadly it was actually too overcast to see anything; each night the excursion was cancelled - so there is another reason I'd like to go back. I think having a car would give my ever curious mind much more freedom to explore and take my time at each spot and I'd stay in different towns to discover somewhere new. I didn't take many photographs as my hands were so cold most of the time so that's another thing, I love to explore with my camera. Can’t wait for the next adventure!