I’ve been to quite a few cities across Europe, but my ultimate favourite has to be Reykjavik in Iceland.
Early on Friday the 13th of November, we set off to the airport and before we knew it, we were walking across frosty paths outside our hotel in the capital city of Iceland. It’s a meagre two hour flight away from the UK and, if you book your trips right, you can waltz right out of the airport onto a bus and you’re away to your hotel in the centre of Reykjavik in less than an hour. We made sure to book everything before we actually went, which made everything dead easy and for the three days that we were there, we hardly lifted a finger, considering how much we did over there.
We arrived at the hotel about two hours before we could actually check in, so we left our luggage with them and went for a wander around Reykjavik. The hotel, CenterHotel Midgardur is located at Laugavegi, just a couple of minutes’ walk from Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street. We chose the hotel because of it’s perfect location – we wanted everything worth doing in the city to be within walking distance and we couldn’t have been in a better place! The hotel itself, apparently the newest addition to the CenterHotel chain and is very modern, shiny and comfortable. The receptionists were all lovely and the breakfast was something to look forward to each morning. The room that we had, 40five, was stunning, if not with a slight Premier Inn feel to it. We had the most beautiful view of the sea and mountains and could see the donut van across the road which we visited every night.
Before we checked in, though, we wandered down Laugavegur and went into Dunkin’ Donuts for the biggest and cheapest egg & bacon bagel I’ve ever eaten. We popped into a few shops, scoping out the souvenirs and then headed back to check in. Because we were so tired, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon napping in the room before we set off for the Northern Lights Mystery tour with Gray Line. Waiting for the tour bus, we got chatting to a Scottish couple and two ladies who were also going to chase the lights – which to me, making friends with people on holiday is the sign that we have officially grown up.
Northern Lights Mystery Tour
On the tour, we got to the first location and waited for nearly an hour to see the lights. The idea is that they take you to a few locations if at first you don’t see the lights. They also advertise the tour as lasting between 3 and 5 hours, because the lights are so unpredictable. Our tour lasted around 4 hours but we did see the lights at the first location eventually! It’s got to be one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen, and I can’t liken it to anything else that I’ve seen. It wasn’t what I expected,
though. I suppose cameras change the way they look, but it really all depends on how bright they are. What I saw was a yellow-y kind of colour although Sam said he thought it was green and I heard other people saying white. It moved and danced over the sky – it’s no wonder why people believe there is a higher being somewhere up there, when there are spectacular sights like this.
I feel so privileged that we got to see the lights and would have been so disappointed if they hadn’t shown, but they did and I am incredibly happy with that. Before we got off the bus, the tour guide was explaining how to alter the settings of your camera to get the best shot. My camera can’t necessarily be changed that easily, so if yours is as automatic and simple as mine, put it in your pocket and just watch with your eyes. It gave me a much better experience than spending time faffing around with the camera.
When we got back to the hotel at about 1am we absolutely collapsed into bed, but we were incredibly happy and excited for the next day ahead.
We planned our fullest day for the Saturday with the idea that we would be raring to go and have the most energy. (I also didn’t really fancy going through snow and ice on my birthday on the Sunday).
Our tour guide, Mitsu was lovely and we learnt so much from her as she took us first to the Þingvellir National Park where we walked through a lovely winter wonderland. We saw things like the first parliament and fissures in the ground where the tectonic plates some together. Snowing and cold, we huddled up together (so that we didn’t slip on the ice as well) and walked through the park. I have never experienced anything so peaceful – other than the odd “ooh!” as people slipped every so often.
One of the other places that we got to visit was the Gullfoss Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Europe. It was certainly a sight to behold and the snow covered rocks made it look so majestic and pure. At the Gullfoss site, we got to go in the cafe for lunch. We’d read a lot about how expensive the cafe is, so opted for the refillable meat soup that so many people talked about. It was one of the best things I’ve ever had, followed by a huge piece of red velvet cake. Ordering proved to be a little difficult as the poor Icelandic lady couldn’t understand my Yorkshire accent when I asked for cake and a coke, and looked at me like I’d blown a raspberry in her face. Sam, rather than stepping in and helping, laughed behind me very helpfully.
What blew my mind, really about the waterfall was that all the photos that I had seen before, and that I have seen after have not been snow scenes. It looks like an entirely different location in the snow. The photos that we took with the white sky and the white land make the waterfall stand out and look bigger than ever.
The visit that I will always remember from this tour is to the geothermal area of Iceland that plays host to the Geyser called Strokkur which erupts with boiling hot water every 5-8 minutes. It’s so fascinating to watch and it made me jump every time it came exploding out of the ground. No warning, no rumbling, or anything, just a WHOOSH of water that flew something like 30 metres into the air. With all the snow around, it was strange to visit the geothermal area as you could see all the rings of hot ground around the little geysers and hot springs. It looked incredibly boggy and reminded me of a couple of scenes in The Lord of the Rings involving hobbits, Gollum and marshes. We walked around there for a while, just taking it all in and laughing at everyone who screamed when the geyser erupted.
We saw a lot of other things throughout the day, including the site of the first archbishop’s house and a horse farm. Seeing the natural side of Iceland is fascinating and it’s such a crazy little country in how it works. It has a lot of wonders in such a small area, things that you just wouldn’t expect to exist and that they haven’t really been able to explain until recently.
Reykjavik City Centre
The Sunday was my 23rd birthday, which is why we were in Iceland in the first place and we booked ourselves onto a city sightseeing tour, which lasted two hours. We got to visit the Hallgrimskirkja, which is the huge church in the centre of Reykjavik and the Perlan, which serves as a sightseeing platform atop the city’s hot water storage tanks. I just found out that Perlan is English for pearl which is lovely, as it’s a huge glass dome and looks incredible. We could see for miles from the top, although it was bloody freezing up there, so we spent the rest of the time in their gift shop.
As it happened we had Mitsu guiding us again – I think she remembered us.. We also got to visit the President’s house, although there is a distinct green mound which you can’t go past, to allow them their privacy. There is a considerable lack of security around his house and you are able to just approach it as you wish. Very nice house, though.
After the tour, which we were grateful for because I don’t think we would have gone out of our way to visit those places otherwise, we took a shopping trip down Laugavegur, looking for gifts and an Icelandic jumper for me. The shops down that street are lovely and there are an awful lot of tourist gift shops. A lot of them sell the same things, but you get that wherever you go in the world. I ended up with a beautiful grey and pink Icelandic jumper which is the warmest thing I’ve ever put on (although it is ridiculously itchy so I can’t wear it for very long each time without getting irritated. It’s the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.
For lunch, we went to The Lebowski Bar which looked a lot quieter than all the other places we glanced in, but it was wonderful. They were playing episodes of The Pink Panther and served a variety of burgers all named after The Big Lebowski characters. I had the Lebowski which was a simple cheeseburger but it was one of the single greatest burgers I have ever had. Ever.
All of the food that we had in Iceland was super fresh and tasted amazing. On Sunday night, we got a pizza from the takeaway across from the hotel, which had virtually no grease on it and wasn’t a bad price. Iceland is of course notorious for being quite expensive but we didn’t feel like we’d spent too much. We also weren’t there for the food, really so everything that we had wasn’t fancy and generally consisted of street food, which we were very happy with. Some of the restaurants can charge around £17 for a main course, but we were happy with noodle soup and pizza for our dinners.
I have never been anywhere like Iceland before in my life. It’s not like other European countries and didn’t really remind me of anywhere in Germany, France or the Czech Republic. Because it’s an island, they’ve got their own way of life and it’s wonderful. Everyone over there was so friendly and luckily a lot of them spoke excellent English because there is no way I could have a go at Icelandic…
I would recommend that if you like mysterious places and want to go somewhere different for a change, go to Iceland – just make sure you have a good pair of walking boots and a good coat!