Iceland, November 2018

Iceland is my new spiritual home. I loved everything about Iceland and its perfect way of life. Almost as unforgettable as the breath-taking landscape, must-do lagoons, boat trips, caves and the jam-packed 4-day music festival is the standard of indoor heating. The holiday was back to back memorable moments, from the cosy little apartment I now call ‘our home’, to the trips, the scenery, the food, the city and most importantly the music. It’s been 2 months since we arrived back from Iceland, and whilst it’s been a two-month period of recovery that I am only just emerging from, I’ve finally sat down to write it up (grab a brew!).

Accommodation

After booking tickets to our bucket list festival, our next pay out was for accommodation. We did a little research on what was on offer and the best places to stay – from hotels, to hostels, to Airbnbs. The hotels were expensive as was anything right in the city centre, but we didn’t want to be too far out as we knew we’d be spending a lot of time (and late nights) in Reykjavik at the festival.

We found a reasonably priced and extremely cosy Nordic looking Airbnb studio advertised as a 15-minute walk from the city centre. The walk turned out to be a little longer once we got there but otherwise, it was just what we were looking for. Our host was friendly, answered our queries quickly and gave us all the information we needed for our arrival. The apartment was small and cosy but with everything we needed.

I absolutely loved spending time curled up under blankets on the sofa watching Netflix (a ridiculous amount of Peep Show considering how busy we were) and Kexp Radio shows of the bands we were seeing.

I was glad to have our own kitchen, not knowing how I’d get on with food or if I would be able to eat out, as well as the fact that we’d heard Icelandic dining was expensive. The kitchen had an oven, a hob, microwave, fridge freezer, toaster and kettle meaning that I was able to do a little bit of cooking whilst we were there (a curry and late night curly fries) and we could lie in and make breakfast before heading out. The apartment was warm, cosy and absolutely perfect.

The only downside of our accommodation was that it was more like a 40-minute walk to Reykjavik, meaning that we only did it once. Fortunately, there was a bus stop really close to our apartment (all busses in Reykjavik are accessible!). The busses were regular, circular and ran until gone midnight which was convenient. We used an app for our tickets and happily shuttled back and forth between Reykjavik and rest breaks.

If we went back to Reykjavik (and we will!) we would definitely stay in ‘our’ apartment again. It was a perfect, cosy home from home.

[View it here]

Reykjavik

We walked into Reykjavik soon after we arrived at our apartment at about 5pm. From where we were staying it was downhill to the city centre but a long trudge back up. Reykjavik’s aesthetic is truly picturesque and warmly welcoming on a chilly day; washed out pastel buildings with bright roof tops, modern glass venues sharing space with man-made lakes and rustic hostels and of course Reykjavik’s main landmark, the grand futuristic Hallgrímskirkja cathedral (which looks beautiful at night).

You may have heard that Iceland is expensive – it is. We paid £35 for half a loaf of bread, a small packet of tea bags and 6 bottles of water. But not all the rumours are true. We didn’t find eating out too expensive compared with eating in. The Icelandic cuisine is not as wacky and primitive as you’re led to believe and they don’t actually like eating whale. Eating whale is a tourist tradition and most restaurants in Reykjavik take a stand against whaling by advertising the ‘Meet us don’t eat us’ sticker in their windows.

There is, however, plenty of fish to be had. As a vegetarian this wasn’t for me, but Jonny sampled several different plates and recommends Reykjavik Fish Restaurant as his favourite. He also sampled some of Reykjavik’s famous hot dog stands which were widely recommended to us. He reviews them as ‘excellent, better than Ikea’.

I’d heard that I’d struggle as a vegetarian but that wasn’t the case. Not only do most restaurants in Reykjavik have vegetarian and vegan options but I found them to be absolutely delicious. Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend trying some Icelandic falafel which is the best I’ve ever tasted. The bar has been set far too high to buy it back home. The falafel in Frederiksen Ale House (extremely warm, comfy and cosy with cheap drinks at happy hour) was my favourite, and after trying it on the first night, I was desperate to go back a second time – so we did. Having got a taste for it straight away, I almost exclusively ate falafel for the duration of our trip.

We spent Saturday browsing the high street and back alleys of the city centre hopping from art shops to second hand shops jam packed with the largest selection of vintage Nordic knitwear I have ever laid eyes on. Our chief concern was music pick-ups because the Reykjavik record shops are a goldmine to get lost in. I was thrilled to pick up both of Mammut’s albums, the day after we’d seen them live, especially after struggling to get my hands on them back home. Jonny picked up some classic Bjork as well as some Fufanu, an Icelandic alt-techno band that we’d discovered at the festival.

Between every side street that separates the city from the sea front, you’ll find a view like this:

Like us, you might find yourself ‘just nipping down’ to have a look and spending an hour enduring a face full of wind whilst attempting to take in the beautiful scenery.

 

Blue Lagoon (day 3)

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If you’re heading to Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is an absolute must do. With the exception of the Northern Lights, it might be Iceland’s busiest tourist attraction. We didn’t want to book too much with having the festival to keep us busy, but this was high up on my list. I absolutely love spas and the Blue Lagoon is as good as it gets. It was the first attraction we visited.

We booked our tickets online in advance and we were able pick from two packages – comfort and premium. We picked the comfort package which offered 4 hours in the lagoon, a towel, a free drink in the pool and a silica mask. We paid 6990ISK each which works out just short of £50. For an extra £20, the premium package offers a bath robe (as well as towel), slippers, a free drink in the pool, a table reservation in their restaurant and free sparkling wine when dining. As we weren’t too bothered about dining, the comfort package was enough. Whilst you do get a free towel, I highly recommend taking your own too and leaving it in the changing room. The towels are quite small, and after you’ve hung it up outside (with fifty-odd other towels) and the wind has blown it half way across the lagoon, you’re going to end up going back into the changing room with someone else’s. I was so glad I took my own towel as it would have been a huge infection risk for my tube site.

The day we visited was probably the coldest and windiest day that we were in Iceland. This made for a brave dash from the changing rooms into the pool. However, once you hit the water, the warmth is an instant hit and I was so toasty and relaxed. The lagoon is quite large with seated areas throughout and a lovely little circuit to drift round. Towards the back of the lagoon, there’s a bar and with either package you can have one free drink. We got given bands when we arrived which could be used for our lockers and scanned for our drinks. Despite being in chilly Iceland, we both had a nice cold blue slush which went down well in the heat of the lagoon.

Throughout the pool, there are several generators covered in rock and the closer you get to the generators, the hotter it gets. I’m the sort of person that likes to boil myself like a potato in the bath so I couldn’t help drift towards the seats around the generator, but it was too hot for Jonny. Further towards the front of the lagoon (at the end of our circuit), there’s a hut where we could grab a handful of silica face mask. We were told to leave the mask on for 15 minutes and then rinse it off in the lagoon. My face was so soft afterwards. There’s also a waterfall close to the mask hut which is great for anyone who enjoys a heavy massage, but lovely and relaxing to sit by and listen to.

Whilst we were allowed to stay in the pool for 4 hours, we couldn’t stay in very long as I needed to get back to my feed. However, for me, it was totally worth the money. We really enjoyed our time in the lagoon and it was such a perfect experience. I want to feel so good all over again.

Accessibility information was really difficult to find for the Blue Lagoon. It’s on their web page, but I had to email them to find out. Even after clicking through all the pages and searching the terms ‘accessibility’, ‘disabled’ etc, I still couldn’t find anything. It turns out, provisions are very good and you can find all they have to offer here.

The entrance to the pool is via a wide ramp so easy to get into. As the water is concentrated with silica, it’s very thick and dense so I found it quite difficult to move through. The silica will also leave your hair feeling really thick and stiff afterwards. This is fine (and good!) if you have thin, limp hair like me (I use silica powder on my hair anyway) but might be a nightmare for people with thick or frizzy hair. In the changing room, they have their own special shampoo and conditioner which works an absolute treat for getting it out. It makes your hair feel so nice. I looked at it in the gift shop afterward, but it was a bit too expensive to justify.

Lava Tunnel (day 4)

Whilst I was well aware that Iceland is famous for its volcanoes, the Lava Tunnel was not something I’d heard of. Jonny found this lesser known gem whilst doing a bit of research and we were intrigued so decided to book. Firstly, I should state that this is quite an inaccessible attraction. The tunnel itself is not long and has plenty of opportunities to sit down. The tour guide stops every couple of minutes to give a talk and this is the perfect opportunity to sit down on a rock and catch your breath.

For the first part of the tour, there’s no clear path and it’s almost a rock-climbing expedition. The floor is uneven, and it can be a little slippery in places. Once you’re over the initial mound of rocks, you enter onto a grated platform bridge and the rest is flat and easy to walk on (with the exception of a few steps).

The Lava Tunnel, by nature was a very cold attraction. Before we started the tour we met in the reception hut and we were given a hard hat and head torch to wear and our tour guide ran through some health and safety rules.

The first part of the tunnel was full of rocks and we were given some really interesting talks – if you’re into geology, it’ll be so far up your street. We were told about the different rock in the tunnel and how it was formed by a stream of lava.  This most likely happened around the time of the earth’s creation! The walls in the cave are formed of different colours and textures all as a result of how the lava interacted with the earth and then corroded over the years.

There were holes in the roof of the tunnel to begin with, but as we got further in the tunnel got smaller and we were lit by artificial lights. Near to the end of the tunnel, we reached a viewing platform and we were all asked to take a seat. What happened next was the coolest part of the tour. We were first asked if there was anyone on the tour who didn’t like the dark and after there were no objections, we were told to turn off our head torches and close our eyes. Seconds later, we were asked to open them again and it was pitch black – complete darkness. There was complete silence and our tour guide let us sit for a minute in darkness, listening to the sounds and feeling the atmosphere of the cave. It was amazing. We only walked a little further after this before we reached the end of the tunnel. Our tour guide took pictures of us all at this point and then we were allowed to make our own way back, exploring, touching and taking in the natural aura of the cave.

Whale Watch (day 6)

The whale watch was the last attraction we booked. Going on a whale watch has been so close to the top of my to do list for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a fascination with sea life and the ocean since I was younger (my first experience of campaigning was with Shark Trust when I was 13). I used to fantasise about seeing whales in the wild (in my head, I was always somewhere more exotic). That said, I was reluctant to book because I have terrible sea sickness and I know that Iceland is notorious for windy, choppy waters. However, I would have kicked myself if I’d have gone all the way to Iceland and not done it, so we bit the bullet and I’m so glad we did.

It could have gone either way. A few days prior, someone we met at the festival told us that some trips had been cancelled due to rough waters (this did nothing to easy my concerns).

We were incredibly lucky on our whale watch. Day 6 was the calmest day that we were in Iceland and the waters were so still. I could hardly tell I was on a boat. Not only was the weather kind to us, but so were the whales. We were told that we had about a 60% of seeing ‘something’. This didn’t necessarily mean a whale. It could mean dolphins or puffins or other sea life. On our way back, our tour guide declared that he’d remember our watch for a long time and that it was the most successful one he’d been on. We ended up staying out in the waters for an extra hour, following an enormous pod of dolphins. There were some tourists on our boat that even missed their flight for it!

The boat that we chose to book on (named Andrea) had three decks – two indoor decks (with the middle deck having an onboard café) and a top deck. It was lovely and warm on the middle and lower decks – a nice cosy spot to come inside and warm up with a cup of tea in between lookouts. The top deck was extremely chilly, but also where all the action happened. The guide stood up top and spoke to us through a PA system and we were told to treat the boat like a clock and spread out. If we saw something, we called out the direction on the clock and the guide would announce it so all decks could hear. And we saw a lot. We saw a few puffins, two pods of porpoise, a Minke whale and lastly that huge pod of dolphins. Seeing animals in the wild is incredible and such a different experience to seeing them in an aquarium. After initials gasps of awe and excitement it was so quiet whenever we had a spot. We were absolutely captivated.

The tour lasted approximately five and a half hours and took well over an hour to get back. On our way back to the dock, we gathered in the café and our tour guide gave us some talks about whales, including sharing round some whale parts like jawbones and filter teeth.

We paid approximately £50 each for our whale watch tickets and it was worth every penny. I’m so pleased that I got to do a whale watch and so lucky that we saw so much. Mostly, I’m thankful that I can tick it off my list and that it is memorable for the sea life and not because I spent 6 hours vomiting.

Golden Circle (day 7)

The Golden Circle was Jonny’s choice and was a 6 hour round car journey (including stops) filled with breath-taking natural beauty. By this point of the holiday, I was fully intending on sitting in the car and napping whilst Jonny chauffeured me round like a diva, but the stop-offs were too good to miss. Making the decision to hire a car from the airport when we arrived was worth it for this trip alone. We hired an enormous Dacia Duster that we both had a go at driving throughout our holiday. Jonny offered to do the driving (/hogged the steering wheel) for most of the trip but I’m not complaining. I didn’t envy him the 6-hour Golden Circle journey but apparently, he really enjoyed it!

We only got out the car on 3 of the stops, but drove round the entire circuit. The drive alone is filled with absolutely beautiful scenery. Like most of Iceland, you can barely open your eyes without being hit by an incredible view.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir (pronounced ‘Thing-vil-er in English) is a stunning national park that sits on a valley separated by two tectonic plates. You can access the viewing platforms fairly easily where you can look out over the valley of rocks. From there, you can see the old Þingvellir church – a quaint white monument amongst the golden landscape. If you have a bit more time to spare you can go on a hike through the valley, a history tour or even diving in one of the (beautifully clear) bodies of water. If you can make time and energy for a hike, you can cross the continental divide between Europe and North America.

Gulfoss

Gulfoss was loud, wet, windy, noisy and the coldest temperature I have ever experienced. So cold and wet, it can feel hard to breathe. The size of the waterfall is astounding. From the top, there are three large steps. It is 32metres in height with the largest (final) drop making up 21metres of waterfall. Whilst the waterfall itself is difficult to turn away from, the conditions made it difficult to hang around.

Geysir

It is as cool as the pictures you’ve seen. Geysir is the name of the main eruption site (Great Geysir) and geysers all over the world get their name from it. The Great Geysir erupts sporadically and often stops completely. Strokkur is the name of the geyser that we saw erupt – this erupts every few minutes to a height of about 30 metres, just less than half of the current height of the Great Geysir. We hung about to watch it go off a couple of times and Jonny managed to get this awesome video. His phone added this appropriate music which cannot be removed (but why would we want to?).

 

Well done if you made it to the end! The main reason we went to Iceland was for Iceland Airwaves music festival so I have another blog post on that still to come. Stay tuned for my festival review, which will be posted later this week…

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