72 hours that will change your life forever.
Before going to Iceland, I had never been on a ‘cold’ holiday (apart from the obligatory ski trip with school, many decades ago), and really I didn’t know what to expect.
Being a mature university student, I had been studying plate tectonics and the processes the earths crust was undergoing, so a trip to Iceland seemed a perfect opportunity to expand my lectures with some real-world examples. Internet research painted a picture of a land almost from Norse fiction, too powerful, vibrant, and dramatic to be real. So, with the assumption that some serious photoshopping and exaggeration had coloured the travel writer’s gushing’s, we made our plans.
This was always going to be a trip on a shoestring, and when travelling to a remote location such as Iceland, that is almost an impossibility. Flying with EasyJet, and staying in a small apartment on the outskirts of Reykjavik seemed our most economical option.
We hired a car for the three days, and with this we didn’t skimp but instead went for a four-wheel drive vehicle in order to ensure we could travel to more places. I’ve listed a breakdown of our costs at the end of this series, because even doing this trip on the cheap….. isn’t cheap.
We left Gatwick airport mid afternoon on a clear March morning, and headed off with a rucksack (cabin luggage) each. The flight is a little over three hours, and as we approached Iceland the cloud cover cleared spectacularly. Approaching along the Southern coast, we had magnificent views of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 pushing thousands of tonnes of ash into the atmosphere and grounding flights across Europe.
Still excited about our first glimpse of this amazing island, we slowly descended and swung around over the sea to approach the airport. It was then as we glanced down at the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic that we saw a pod of whales breaching during their migration. That was when we both realised we would be saying “wow” quite a lot over the next few days.
Upon landing and exiting the plane, the first thing that hits you is the smell. During the three days, the intensity waxed and waned, but was ever present. The sulphurous smell, ‘eggy doesn’t do it justice’, is always with you, even the tap water tastes of it.
A quick and efficient transit through the airport and car hire rep, and we were on the road to Reykjavik. (Iceland drives on the right! A fact I soon realised, as oncoming cars pointed it out to me insistently.) Having never been to a volcanic island, or landscape before, I wasn’t prepared for the alien appearance we saw as we drove along the deserted highway. Black volcanic rocks, snow and lichen stretched in every direction, and the grey brooding sky seemed to merge with the horizon seamlessly.
Navigation in Iceland is relatively straightforward, with signposts clearly marking your way, and a distinct lack of roads making it relatively easy to head in the right direction. And so it was that we found the district where our apartment was located. A quick call to the owner, and the usual Icelandic approach to security, i.e. “just let yourself in, it’s all unlocked and waiting for you”, and we were settled in.
We had just enough time to drop off our bags and we were heading out again to the Blue Lagoon. An Icelandic tourist attraction that everyone needs to visit once in their life, even with the high entry costs. We arrived at 9pm and the place was virtually empty, with clouds of steam billowing in to the clear night sky. Like most things in Iceland, items you forget to pack can be very expensive to buy locally, so the swimming shorts that I forgot to bring with me would of cost £40 to buy in the onsite shop. Fortunately for me, I saw no difference between boxer shorts and swimming trunks (and it was quite dark thankfully!)
Blue Lagoon resort, Iceland, at night.
Image courtesy of wallpaperbetter.com
Beginning life as a geothermal plant, utilising the power of the hot volcanic water bubbling up to the surface from deep underground, the cooling ponds from the plant became a place for locals to enjoy an outdoor dip. Not wanting to miss a commercial opportunity, the recreation was formalised and made easier to access in the 80’s, and now you can relax in very warm waters under the stars.
Lying in an outdoor pool, with the mist lazily drifting up into the night sky was possibly the most surreal experience I have had in a long while. With the place almost empty and the air temperature well below zero, seeing the moon casting an eerie ethereal glow to the lagoon was breath-taking.
With the high mineral content of the water, and the complimentary facial scrub from the local mud, we left the lagoon feeling relaxed and at the same time stunned at the otherworldly beauty of the place.
Stopping at a supermarket on the way to the apartment, we stocked up on a few supplies (enough to get us through breakfast, and a light lunch for on the road the next day). With a small basket of provisions purchased, and the travel wallet the equivalent of £50 lighter, we headed back to the apartment.
To say that my first impressions of Iceland were amazing would be such an understatement, but the trip had hardly begun. Exhausted, amazed, and with extremely well exfoliated skin, we arrived back to the apartment with huge smiles on our faces.
Route 1 around Iceland circumvents the Island and is the main (and only) means of transport for many on Iceland. Image source – S Hall ©
The rest of the trip will be posted soon.
S Hall ©
The rest of the trip will be posted soon.