Monday, 18 November 2013

iceland: land of fire and ice...and liquorice

I guess because New Zealand is always considered a fairly small country with 4 million people I thought Iceland would have around the same population, maybe a bit less. Wrong. Iceland only has 300,000 people! Less than some cities I have lived in.


Iceland was not exactly at the forefront of my mind when I was thinking about places I would go while I was in Europe. I think everyone has the same thoughts of places like France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Then in April I met two Icelandic girls in Thailand and we spent 3 days together on Phi Phi Island. I’m always checking for cheap flights through Skyscanner using “Edinburgh to Everywhere”, and when Iceland came up I thought why not? So I booked the flight and told the girls when I would be coming thinking we may be able to catch up or something. Instead I ended up staying at Inga’s house and both girls took the days I was there off so they could show me around. It was more than I ever would have asked for, and I am so grateful because it really made my experience! Iceland has to be one of the most fascinating places I have ever been. The people, the land and the history are just so interesting.

The morning view from Inga's kitchen

I arrived on Thursday night and Elsa and Inga picked me up from the airport. It was already dark so it was strange driving and not knowing what the landscape looked like. We went to Inga’s house and dumped my stuff before heading out to The English pub for some drinks. I really enjoyed the atmosphere out in Reykjavik straight away. It has an awesome vibe that reminded me of Wellington.

The next day was spent looking around Reykjavik, a city of 100,000. It was a lot different than I thought it would be. In my mind I imagined it would be very old looking, but it is actually quite modern. The older houses there are fairly normal looking houses but with what looks like corrugated iron on the outside which reminded me of an old fishing or mountain village. We walked through the shopping area and up to the church on the hill.
A landmark in Reykjavik

Old style building

Nom nom nom...with everything!

For lunch I had a taste of an Icelandic favourite, the hotdog, from the famous hot dog stand that has been around for about 30 years. It was so good I went back for a second straight away and even managed to order in Icelandic (I think....). After that it was down to the Harp, a newly built arts centre on the waterfront, before we took a drive and made our way up to the Pearl to see the views over the city.

Inside the Harp, glass panels everywhere!

Us inside the Harp

Ow, my eyes.

Teeny thermal pool on the shore 

Hanging out in one of the most photographed spots

Playing tourist...oh wait. I am one!

The view over Reykjavik
Friday night we planned to go out since we would need to be in early on Saturday for our epic adventure Sunday. I loved going out in Reykjavik because it reminded me once again of home. Everyone pre-drinks and goes out late and the bars just seemed similar somehow. We went to a couple of good places before getting the obligatory food and heading home around 5am.

Icelandic RTD's
5am sandwich...the best kind
Saturday was a much needed lazy day before we made a start of the Golden Circle, which encompasses three main tourist attractions you can see on a loop from Reykjavik. We started off with ├×ingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir). This area is a main tourist attraction for a number of reasons. It is an area where you can see the drift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates as there are large cracks in the land and the site of the largest natural lake in Iceland. It is also the spot where general assembly’s were held in what is said to be the beginning of the Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD.

Inga and I in front of the lake

Evidence of the volcanic land. Old lava.

Tossing a coin into the crack

One of the visible cracks in the land

Amazing scenery

Near the site of the first Parliament

The crack, where people would build houses and camp for the parliament.

Beautiful sunset

We headed on the thermoactive area of Haukadalur, the next stop on the Golden Circle, even though it was getting a bit dark. This is where the original Geysir is, the namesake of all geysers.  Although that one no longer erupts there is another large one right nearby. We walked up the path in near pitch black darkness and got a huge fight when the biggest geyser went off. You could hear it bubbling away before it erupted and it was pretty creepy in the dark!

For dinner we decided to go somewhere nice so headed to a tapas restaurant aptly named The Tapas House. It had a huge selection but picked the Icelandic things on the menu and had smoked lamb, whale (I know, I know) and a pink fish similar to salmon. The whale was actually the best and so delicious, I am surprised to say!

Sunday we woke up early and started our 6 hour each way road trip across the bottom of Iceland towards the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajokull.  

All wrapped up for the trip

Good morning Iceland!

On the road again

Amazing scenery

On the way we stopped at a big waterfall and went past the glacier where the volcano no one can pronounce erupted in 2010, Eyjafjallajokull

Behind a huge waterfall

Entry to a small more secret waterfall

Black sand on the Iceland coast

The scenery in Iceland is stunning in a very barren way. There are a lot of flat areas by the sea that then rise to huge mountains covered in snow. Much of it is just huge plains of rocks covered in a layer of green moss. 

Plains of moss covered rock

Mountains rising up from the plains

First glimpses of the mountains where the glacier is and the lava plains

Elsa on top of the ruins of a bridge taken out by a lahar

When we reached the glacier lake I couldn’t get over how close to the ocean it was, as the huge chunks in the glacial lake floated out to sea. Words and even the pictures I have definitely don’t do it justice!

The glacier lake

Icebergs from the biggest glacier in Europe


Me at the lake

The sun was setting while we were there and it made the light amazing

Tossing rocks onto the ice 

Elsa being crazy

The sun setting

Where the icebergs float out to sea
After that we found out that Elsa’s car is some kind of miracle machine that can run 120km on no petrol, so that was a bit of added excitement where we turned off the radio, air conditioning and sat silently hoping to make it to the next petrol station! As we headed back to Reykjavik it was pretty dark so when we got close we stopped and managed to see the Northern Lights! Just a little and not as spectacular as they can be but I was so happy to see it! I definitely want to go back and try and see them again.

Petrol station! Hoorah!

Sunset as we drove back

On Monday we finished the Golden Circle by going to the waterfall Gullfoss, and back to Geysir to see it in the daytime.

Another Icelandic food I tried. Kind of like yoghurt but sort of dry!

The biggest geyser that still erupts

Hot water and the geyser erupting

Gullfoss waterfall

Elsa, Inga and I


The landscape just outside Reykjavik

More landscape outside Reykjavik

After that is was off to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. Unfortunately I don’t really have pictures of this but it was awesome. It is naturally warm water that filters from the sea through rocks to an area inland. It’s a cloudy pastel blue colour and contains a lot of salt. You swim in it and can use some of this mud stuff that builds up in it to put on your skin. It was really fun and we had a couple of beers, kind of odd in a place that promotes health but I’m definitely not complaining!

What the water in the Blue Lagoon looks like

Outside Blue Lagoon

It turns out my flight was delayed due to severe weather in some other parts of Europe, so we went and had Thai food for dinner. This seemed really fitting since it was in Thailand that I met Inga and Elsa!

I have to give the biggest thanks ever to Inga and Elsa for everything they did for me on my trip. It would seriously have been NOTHING like that without them and I don’t think I would have learned so much and seen so much without them. I got to see what living in Iceland is really like and try all sorts of different foods and learnt a lot about a place and culture I knew nothing about before. I love how you can meet people for just a few days and then if you are really open enough stay in contact later and meet again. It was an unforgettable trip and I really really want to go back!!

Me and the girls!


1 comment:

  1. awesome photos and scenery, what a great time you had there :) very lucky to have the girls to show you around!