From the whiff of sulphur when you turn on the hot tap to the snow covered mountains surrounding Reykjavik Iceland is a destination when nature’s raw power constantly impresses with sights and sensations.
I left the airport (possibly the most unattractive sight in the country) and was soon travelling through a vast expanse of moss covered lava rock, mountains rising up in the distance. The prospective crew members for the mission to Mars should just go to Iceland instead. The air’s fresher, the landscape’s just as alien and it’s easier to get back home.
My first stop was at one of Iceland’s most touted attractions the Blue Lagoon. The vast thermal baths with sky blue waters were a great place to relax after an early morning flight. I was afraid I would have to dash through sub-zero temperatures before being scaled in boiling hot water but an indoor section of the bath leading outside eliminated this and the air and water temperatures mostly balanced each other out though from time to time a blast of arctic wind would freeze your face or a wave of extra hot water would make your skin start to sizzle.
Sitting in the warm water sipping a beer bought from the poolside bar (your wristband acts as a digital wallet) it was hard to believe less than 12 hours earlier I had been sat at a bus stop in Newport at 3:30am with a girl in short sleeves patting her skimpily clad friend on the back who had taken a bad turn at the end of a heavy night out. I hadn’t even got to the hotel yet and Iceland was looking and feeling awesome.
A few flakes of snow fell while I was at the lagoon which turned into blizzards that night and the following day. I found Reykjavik a pleasant city to stroll around in-between heavy blasts of snow which teams of snow ploughs calmly dealt with meaning none of the panic that such conditions would cause in the UK. It does not feel like a capital city – more like a large, cosmopolitan village which isn’t surprising considering the entire population of the country is less than 330,000.
I glimpsed snowy mountains across a stretch of water down one side street and nipped down to take a closer look. It took a bit more nipping than I had anticipated. One street led to another which ended with a steep slope leading into a housing estate. I walked round via another street, was blocked by an embankment, found my way round, crossed a busy road and waited for another group of tourists to move before I got a clear view, but it was worth it.
The following day when I took a tour of the golden circle – a popular group of attractions near Reykjavik, though it was more of a white circle as the snow continued. The incredible views of the rift valley were an early highlight. There was a beautiful ice encrusted waterfall though it was only a snow globe version of the mighty Gullfoss we encountered later.
Geyser was also rewarding with the one regularly active geyser doing its stuff. Having taken a few photos I watched the spectacle without the distractions of a camera. It had gone off twice in five minutes but the third blast took it’s time with the water sloshing about occasionally to tease the gathered crowd. Then without warning the water gathered into a huge blue ball which exploded in a 15 foot jet of steam. We returned to Reykjavik in a heavy blizzard, white clouds slowly erasing the world outside.
The following day I ventured further afield on a road trip to Hofn near Skaftafell National Park in the South East. A network of airports makes plane a good way to get around the country with flights sometimes being both quicker and cheaper than the bus. But if you have time to drive the scenery is worth it.
Green hills, snowy mountains, waterfalls dashing down sheer rock faces, volcanos, vast monochrome plains of lava, rugged coastline beaten by rough seas. We saw them all in an ever-changing landscape as the weather varied between sun, heavy rain and thick blizzards.
After four hours of jaw dropping scenery we were still blown away when we passed Jökulsárlón, a lagoon full of blue icebergs from a nearby glacier.
We visited the glacier the following day for a tour of an ice cave. Entering this temporary vault was like going inside a huge diamond illuminated by incredible blue light. We passed through the cave to be surrounded by huge cliffs and rising plains of solid blue and grey ice – the grey caused by volcanic ash. The glacier moves and changes at a visible rate. Even in a couple of years the area we visited will be unrecognisable and vast though it seemed it was just one tiny corner of this amazing structure.
On my return to Reykjavik I had hoped to go on a tour to see the northern lights but it was cancelled for the third time that week. Instead I finished the trip as I’d started with a bath - this time at the public baths in Reykjavik. The old baths are not as glamorous as the Blue Lagoon but at 650 krona they are excellent value and offer both a conventional indoor pool at a comfortable temperature and open air hot tubs.
Iceland delivered a tremendous five days of new and unforgettable experiences and offered a whole lot more. It’s a country I thoroughly recommend visiting. If you’d like to know more then get in touch.