West wind cutting sharper than our blades;
smiling forever into an endless sunrise,
we're flying on the waves.
After our quiet night in at the hotel in Reykjavik, we had a good wholesome Icelandic breakfast - fairly continental in style - and got ready to join our fellow travellers on a three-day tour of the east coast and southern areas of this stark land.
Anybody having recently seen the Rick Stein series Long Weekends will be aware of the tour we had chosen. We pretty much followed that but without a BBC camera crew to take us into people's homes to eat their roast lamb and fermented shark. We'd chosen the tour because I had no inclination to drive around Iceland myself at this time of year (the weather was occasionally awful). Maybe in the summer months.
The first day took in the iconic geysers and Thingvellir National Park where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly pulling away from each other. We also went to Gullfoss waterfalls which were very impressive. Tours like this always leave me a bit overwhelmed with how much they can pack in to each day, but with some sights, how long do you really need to stay there. The geysers, compared to some other parts of the tour, were not quite as thrilling as I thought they'd be. Still, the waterfalls were huge and the sense of scale of the landscape was quite stunning. That afternoon we were taken to the Secret Lagoon. As everyone seems to go there, it doesn't really seem so secret but it was Iceland's first public swimming pool which has only been re-opened for a few years.
I was feeling that it seemed a bit foolhardy to take my clothes off and wander around in the freezing cold - I'm not a natural lover of swimming, truth be told. However, one doesn't hang around but get straight into the hot spring. The experience was wonderful. Certainly one of the highlights of the week. To be floating about in 38 - 40 degree water with the ice cold air around was thrilling. Iceland, of course, has cheap geothermal heating all year round which they even heat the pavements with! We then showered and grabbed a refreshing beer before heading off to the hotel we were going to be using for a couple of nights. The lava fields were vast and the moss that grows on them can take a hundred years to grow. Once again one tends to wonder why they plunder such a delicate resource to sell across the World but Iceland needs an income. They can't survive on Skyr alone.
The hotel was eye-wateringly expensive for food and quite disappointing too. When you paying in the region of £30 - £50 for a meal that you feel you could cook better yourself it can deflate you a bit. But we were a captive audience. It was a long walk to another restaurant although a young couple did try the following night and got caught in a blizzard for their sins. After the dissapointing meal (smoked lamb if you're interested) we headed out to search for the Northern Lights. Now, it seems that this is what most people go to Iceland for. However, most people don't see them due to poor weather and heavy cloud cover. It was a bright fairly clear night with a full moon. We weren't expecting to actually see anything as we haven't met many people who have seen them in Iceland. There's a big industry growing around people's determination to see them nowadays.
The following day was a shorter one and the weather report suggested that the evening sky would be cloudy with poor visibility, so we had been out the right night. We travelled to Jörulsarlon where various blockbuster movies had been filmed (late-period Bond films and the suchlike). This was probably my very favourite part of the trip. It's a massive glacier lagoon where huge parts of icebergs float down the river towards the sea. Some of them collect onto the beach. It genuinely was awe-inspiring. The beautiful colours and the feel of the power of Nature took hold here. Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull is here. The vastness of these humbles you.
On the third day as we started our return to Reykjavik, we went to a black sand beach with massive
The Secret Lagoon was much more natural and relaxing, whereas at the Blue Lagoon they've worked out how to fleece as much money as possible out of everyone. The landscape around it certainly wasn't very picturesque as it was a working geothermal site full of diggers and overground pipeworks. A more industrial and functional side to the country than we'd experienced in the National Park. Still, refreshed and relaxed, we headed off to the last leg of the trip.
Returning to the Reykjavik Lights hotel tired and hungry, we decided not to bother doing much other than nipping to a next door restaurant for a very pleasant meal. it was Icelandic in style. I chose halibut and Mrs Dave went for the lamb shank. An early night finishing off the cheap Luton plonk and we were having to face up to coming home the next day.
After breakfast we used the (very) expensive bus service as we weren't going to get ourselves into the same situation we'd had on Monday. Whilst I would have liked to get into some of the museums, the day was so sunny and pleasant (still cold though) so instead we explored the city on foot. If you're ever there and feel hungry, go down to the Old Harbour and find the Icelandic Fish and Chip restaurant. I kid you not, it was our favourite meal whilst we were there. We had the catch of the day, which was Ling. Not a fish I'd knowingly eaten before but I would certainly have it again. The shops are too expensive to contemplate and one we did go into was playing
A short visit to a country I'd wanted to visit for some forty years over and we have plenty of memories to keep us enthralled for many years to come. In all truth, we would love to go back there, perhaps in the summer months and then we could drive around. When you only go on a short break to a very unfamiliar country it seems sensible to me to see and experience as much as you can in the time you have. We wouldn't have seen anywhere near as much as we did. And, as we were visiting outside of school holidays, it meant it didn't cost anywhere near as much as the trip we planned but abandoned last year for our sixtieths.
* The XPTs are the Parachute era Pretty Things without Phil May and they re-recorded a modern take on the album. Still one of my all-time favourites for some unfathomable reason.