I am 50. Get the jokes over with while we're here at the start... ok, anyway, we decided to celebrate my half century on this planet with a wee holiday to a place I've wanted to visit for a while - Iceland. We thought it would be good to try to see the northern lights so that meant a winter break. I was too lazy to book up the Christmas holidays, so we ended up going during Cate's mid-term break in February.
We booked up the flights, and four nights in the Kerno apartments, right in the middle of Reykjavik, then a hire car to take us here, there and everywhere. The flight was so short that I didn't have time to watch any of the films I fancied on the in-flight entertainment system, so ended up watching Smallfoot. Still, it wasn't too bad and even made James Corden bearable. When we got there we picked up our slightly battered Qashqai and trusted the sat-nav (the autocorrect just kicked in and changed that to sat-nag - very appropriate) to get us to the apartment, while I just kept repeating "drive on the right, drive on the right" over and over to myself.
Anyway, we got there, settled in to a cosy wee room with kitchen, got some supplies from the local store, and drove to the end of the peninsula to see if the lights were on. It was blowing a gale and freezing cold, but there was a dim green rainbow across the sky. We watched as it gradually changed shape, split in two and dimmed, and I tried to get a picture on my camera. I got something, not nearly as impressive as the pictures you see in the adverts, but it was likely to be our one clear night so we were glad to see something.
We'd planned to do the golden circle sights on the 2nd full day, but the weather predictions were pretty bad except for this first one, so we thought we'd better do the scenic things first.
First off was Thingvellir national park. The guides talk about a parliament and so on but the main attraction is a small rift that runs along for a few miles, between two cliffs. Apparently this is the plate separation between the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates. It's growing wider every year, but for the moment you can walk from North America to Europe in about ten strides. There's a good path along the rift, though a bit slippy when covered in snow, and we followed it up for a few hundred metres. The best sight here was a waterfall, which had frozen over in the -8 degree chill, but we could still see flowing water underneath the ice.
Next stop was another hour along the road, and is in the village of Geysir. It is the site of some hot springs, a few of them bubbling or smoking away, and one main geyser (this village is why they're called that) which shoots up water and steam every 10 minutes. We all stood around it with cameras and phones at the ready, waiting for the big moment. It happened and shutters clicked, while a few muttered that they'd missed it and now had to wait another 10 minutes. Anyway, we only stopped for about 10 minutes and then were on our way again, leaving the eggy sulphur smell behind us.
The end of the road, unless you have a giant-tyred 4x4, was just 10 minutes further up. Gulfoss is a big waterfall, in width rather than height. Again because of the winter weather large sections were frozen, but there was still plenty of water flowing down two drops of about 10m each. We walked out along a path from the cafe/shop to a viewing platform, and down some stairs to another one. And that was us, we'd seen the big three attractions and could head back to base, excitement over.
Or it would have been except for my stupidity. On the drive home I decided to stop at a wee car park, to get a breath of air and a stretch. There was a car parked across the proper entrance so I thought I'd just park at the edge. Unfortunately the snow was deeper than expected and the car sunk into it. After much wheel spinning and snow digging I called the hire car people who sent out a man to pull us out. We were stuck there for a couple of hours and it was the most undramatic stranding ever, just a couple of feet off the road.
Day 2 was overcast and the snow had started to fall, so we were happy we'd done the main sights the day before. We had booked the Secret Lagoon and Lava Tunnel for the day, so headed out early.
I nearly turned back a few times. We were driving in blizzard conditions, the snow was sweeping across the road, and a few times the visibility was only about 20 metres. The only thing that kept me going were the Icelanders who were overtaking us, seemingly unconcerned. This was on the big main "1" road, and I was worried it would be even worse when we turned up the "35".
Amazingly though, the 35 was clear and the snow stopped as we turned north. We reached Fludir without any problems and checked in to the pool. It was about the same size as your average swimming pool, but with stone sides and a pebble bottom, it was outdoors and was about the temperature of a hot bath. It is fed from hot springs, which constantly bubble up from the depths, and there is a geyser, known as Litli Geysir, which spouts up every five minutes. A lovely place for a relaxing dip after a traumatic drive.
We were hungry now, but the chip shop at the lagoon was shut and other restaurants nearby only open in the evening. The only place we could find was at a farm, the only mushroom farm in Iceland apparently. They did a buffet, which consisted of mushroom soup, three types of bread with various butters (including mushroom), a mushroom and pepper tapenade or mushrooms as topping and mushroom ice cream for dessert. I'm not a fan of mushrooms so it wasn't ideal for me, but Claire and Cate enjoyed it, and the breads were good.
Onwards and backwards, our next stop was on the way back to Reykjavik. The Lava Tunnel is a section of a big tunnel formed by a lava flow long ago. We had a guided tour down into the tunnel and along a path and platforms. The roof was collapsed in several places, letting the snow in to gather in big piles, and dripping water had formed ice nodules and icicles all over the place.
We climbed up and over a hump in the tunnel and the ice stopped as the temperature in this part of the tunnel is always about four degrees. The guide switched off the lights to show us how dark it is with no outside light filtering in.
After our tour in the tunnel it was back to base to try out the big sausages we'd bought the night before. I looked them up to find that they traditionally contain pork and horse meat, so we had fond memories of the lasagne scandal from a few years ago.
Our third day was a bit wet, and we stayed in Reykjavik to explore a bit. It was just a short walk into the town, which didn't have that many shops, mostly consisting of bars and restaurants. We walked through some of the streets named after the Norse gods (Odinsgata, etc) and passed by the big cathedral building, visible from most places in the city.
After lunch Cate and I went to the Perlan museum. They had an ice cavern to explore, a cliff side complete with birds, and a planetarium showing films about the island and the auroras. I only missed a small part of the aurora film, I'm sure!
We had dinner out for our last evening, at the Dirty Burger and Ribs place. It was decent, but with slightly grumpy-seeming staff. And expensive of course, as all food on Iceland is.
We had to get up early for the flight home, and still didn't have a long-enough flight to watch a full movie, but got home safe and sound, back to driving on the left, cheap food, slightly warmer weather and not so many eggy smells.
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