Iceland conjures up many images, mutant volcanoes disrupting air traffic, banks that fail and a wailing Bjork – were these true? This was a chance to make up my own mind by circumnavigating the island in 10 days.
First impressions count and they were not brilliant.. rain stormed and the airport was full of transit passengers queuing in the corridors and hanging around the limited shops displaying general dross such as a puffin claw bottle opener and a pile of glued together stones (really). We dashed out to the rental car and were on our way on route 1, the 1,340 km “mostly paved” orbital ring road that was to be our mainstay for the next 10 days – at a sedate 90 km/h, the top speed allowed.
This was the first time I had put all the bookings in the hands of a travel agent, and boy did they come through. Some of the hotels may have been a teeny bit out of the way, but the agent did a superb job of balancing cost, time and location – as we found out at our first port of call.
This delightful residence introduced us to the “hot pots” (outdoor Jacuzzis fed by the geo-thermals in the area) and was perfectly located in the middle of the “Golden Circle” encompassing the three main sights that Iceland has to offer. The next day we visited these attractions – the original geyser (erupts conveniently and photogenically every 6 minutes), the Gullfoss (massive waterfall, first of many) and the Þingvellir national park (where in 930AD the first parliament was inaugurated). We spent a day snuffling around and spent the evening feeling like lobsters in the hot pot.
This first day marked a remarkable change in the weather we did not see any more rain clouds until day 8. OK, it was cold, and in some places very windy but most of the time the sun shone and shone. This made for some remarkable rainbows at the various locations, but encouraged swarms of flies at others. Our trip to the remarkable Myvatn Lake was slightly marred by consuming copious numbers of the little buggers as they kamikazied toward the carbon dioxide in your breath. Some had a bad sense of smell and went for the ears too.
From there, the next 6 days were next spent on and around route 1 – visiting some of what must be some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. The relative youth of the country made for some amazing sights:
- The “smaller” blue lagoon in the north of the country – soothing geothermal pool
- The dumbfounding sight of a glacier breaking up in to icebergs as it enters the sea
- Mud pots gently bubbling, issuing clouds of steam and sulfurous gas
- Getting back to my Enid Bylton days, by discovering the pleasures of the caves behind a waterfall and the rainbows!
- Surreal landscapes that seemed to go on forever (at 90 km/h they did)
On the 8th day we arrived back to civilization in the form of Akureyri, Iceland’s 2nd largest town and currently embroiled in controversy – the 18,000 residents want the place upgraded from a ‘town’ to ‘city’ -personally I think ‘village’ more than covers it. Our trip luckily(?) coincided with the culmination of the 150th Akureyri Arts Festival – a massive stage had been erected for the evenings disco and there was the promise of the annual “haunted fright night”. Both did not quite live up to expectations, the stage never had more than about 40 people in front of it (5 of which were the bouncers) and fright night was a collection of locals in 1890 wee-willie-winkie night gowns pretending to be zombies. Most of the town turned out for the “big” night and, with all the street lights extinguished, people just ended up scaring each other in the darkness. The event was, however, enlivened by an occasional horseman of the apocalypse trotting by.
Reykjavik was our final port of call and gave us an excellent opportunity to soak up more quirkiness of Iceland. This started with a taste of hákarl, possibly the most revolting thing I have ever had in my mouth. Literally ‘putrid shark meat’ its rubbery texture and nauseating smell meant I could chew it, but could not bring myself to swallow. Luckily I followed the advice of my guide book, which stated that if you try it, you should strategically place yourself near a convenient bin.
There is not that much else to do there. We visited the most famous landmark the Hallgrímskirkja church, which is incredibly plain, but offers great views over the city from the steeple, and then moved on to the Perlan museum, which is most noticeable because it looks like half a giant bra, discarded on a hill. It did house an excellent museum chronicling the history of Iceland from the first settlers, with no-holds barred on the violence, gruesomeness or associated ghost stories from the Egil’s saga. An epic I could probably stomach a tad better than hákarl.
We had a wonderful time, but I have 3 gripes with this country:
- The northern lights were off again – this is the 3rd time I have been in the arctic circles, and lights were nowhere to be seen. I am beginning to believe it is a huge conspiracy.
- The Icelandic language – Icelandic has 12 vowels and how are you supposed to look up any word starting with “Þ” or “Đ” – our navigation system had some serious issues and trying to read anything was a nightmare.
- The money. The Icelanders certainly got their own back on the financial front loading you with inconveniently large and bulky coinage, most common 1 kroner coin is worth €0.006. We got our own back in the airport though, dumping tons of them for our final coffees.
I would certainly go back again and if you are looking for someone to suggest a brilliant itinerary, check out http://www.islandprotravel.de.