Dramatic yet baron scenery all rolled into 1, with volcanoes, glaciers and powerful geysers erupting far into the sky, this is a destination not to be missed, this is Iceland!
Iceland - There’s no doubt that it has some wonderful spectacles to be seen but overall it is totally barren, a bit like the moon on steroids.
You arrive at a pleasant enough airport at Keflavík. It is 20 miles from the nearest town, the capital Reykjavík. Enroute is The Blue Lagoon. It’s one of two places in Iceland where you have to pay to get in, it’s £30. Hot underground geysers result in a beautiful and very large hot outdoor swimming pool surrounded by spectacular volcanic rocks. The facilities are very good and you get a very warm dressing gown which you need when walking from the ‘clubhouse’ to the outdoor pool which can be minus 20°Celsius on a cold day! It’s a weird and spectacular experience.
Moving onto Reykjavík, earthquakes have taken their toll on the older buildings and they have of necessity been replaced by concrete quake-proof slabs. There is an enormous church, Hallgrimskirkja, with a huge spire, the highest point in town, with a lift to the top which provides wonderful panoramic views of the town and by the harbour there is a spectacular brand new opera house. One of the highlights is a small, colourful shack down by the harbour which sells hot dogs. Bill Clinton and Madonna have both been there. It has no seats except a bench in the car park next door. It’s called Bæjarins beztu pylsur (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈpaːijarɪns ˈpɛstʏ ˈpʰɪlsʏr̥], or The Best Hot Dog in Town. The British Guardian newspaper described it as the best hot dog in Europe. If you visit Iceland, do not be put off by first impressions.
We stayed in the Fosshotel Baron, a concrete slab in an unprepossessing neighbourhood but within a short walk to the main shopping centre, most restaurants and the harbour. There’s also a 24-hour supermarket next door. Our room was simple but with comfortable beds and an excellent heating system. The service at Reception was superb, the dining room cosy and breakfast was excellent.
Our first full day there we went on The Golden Circle. It is a must and one of those things you should do before you die. We went clockwise which means starting in America and ending up in Europe. The highlight of the tour is þinvellir [Thingvellir] which is where the American and the Euro-Asian tectonic plates meet. The two continents are moving apart by about two inches a year and it is the same fault line that caused the devastation of San Francisco. So we stood on this dramatically rocky cliff and looked across the valley at Europe. Huge chunks of land had fallen down crevasses. There is a flagpole marking the place where the Alþingi, Iceland’s first parliament, was founded in the year A.D.930. Beyond is a beautiful house which is the Prime Minister’s summer residence. By the way, the Prime Minister is in the ‘phone book’ so anyone can ring her at any time. Gullfoss is the waterfall to end all waterfalls. Imagine the Victoria Falls. Well Victoria and Gullfoss are very similar, but Gullfoss starts at ground level and plunges into the earth. You can see it, all the way down. I’ve never seen anything like it and ‘spectacular’ hardly does it justice. Even the photographs can’t even start to give you an impression of the grandeur of such a spectacle. There’s a fascinating walk around the top of the falls which lets you see them from all angles. Astonishingly, all over Iceland there are areas where boiling hot water erupts into the air as much as 100 feet. Perhaps the most interesting is Geysir, from which the whole world gets the name and uses it in just about every language. You walk along a path and a nearby pool starts to form. It then starts to bubble for five to ten minutes. Then suddenly, without warning, the pool rises like the top of a huge mushroom then, Kapow! The jet of superheated steam flies into the sky. If you are lucky you’ll get a big one at over 200 feet but most are about 100 feet. That evening we went to a restaurant where the food was something to die for Laekjarbrekka. In fact, nearly every one of Reykjavík’s many restaurants would probably get two Michelin stars.
The following day saw us go to the south of the island. There was the waterfall at Skögafoss. A huge vertical drop of about 1,000feet. So what? There’s plenty like that in Austria and Switzerland. But this one’s different. You can walk underneath it near the bottom. It was thrilling and frightening at the same time. The path isn’t easy with huge rocks to climb over, but with a little patience even a novice can manage it. Also worth a detour is the rough track to the Sólheimajökull glacier outlet. It may be a track across black volcanic ash but coaches manage to make it to the car park so it presents little in the way of problems. Heading further east the landscape becomes an astonishing black volcanic wilderness which indicates the proximity of Eyjafjallajökull. In 2010 it erupted violently and brought all the aircraft to a halt for six says. We then went on to the town of Vik for our lamb stew. This is an Icelandic tradition. Most cafe/restaurants serve a very chunky lamb stew at lunchtime. Normally you buy it at the counter. We then went to a dramatic piece of coast. All black. In fact you pass through many miles where the ground is black from horizon to horizon. Pure volcanic ash which creates the most gorgeous beaches with gargantuan volcanic outcrops in all manner of huge sculptured formations as well as miles of smooth black sand.
Then back home to Reykavik for dinner at ‘The Fish Market’. We had a nine course sharing meal with an emphasis on fish. Delicious! On our last morning we caught a boat out into the wilds of the Atlantic. We saw Minke and humpback whales.
It really is worth a short visit. It is one of the most overlooked places on the tourist map. As I found out, it is no use to people who want sunshine and beaches, but for a place that is totally mind blowing, it take a lot of beating.