We arrived in Iceland late at night in the middle of a snow storm. We picked up our hire car (a Renault Clio!!!) and the guy serving us announced that spring definitely had not arrived. We nervously drove in the dark very slowly towards Reykjavik, hardly able to see a thing, other than the odd car that had come off the road! We finally arrived at about 1 in the morning, dragged our bags through the snow and checked into our guesthouse. Neither of us had ever been anywhere like this. There was so much snow and it was flipping freezing! That was the start of our four incredible days in Iceland... one of the most beautiful, interesting countries either of us have been to!
We'd been told Iceland was very expensive, especially eating out, so we were really prepared for that and decided not to go out for any fancy meals. We were only in Reykjavik for one day, before heading South to stay in a cabin for 3 nights. We found a little cafe called Loki right opposite the huge Hallgrímskirkja church. Cafe Loki was so reasonable and in such a great location. We had some really tasty traditional food including lamb pate, and eggs & herring both on rye bread, meat soup and some Loki tea (Icelandic moss, birch and thyme). We spent the day walking around Reykjavik... we visited Hallgrímskirkja church, walked along the sea front, shopped at Kolaportid flea market, and did a quick supermarket shop for food for the next few days.
In the late afternoon we started the one hour journey south to Hvolsvöllurwhich took about two hours with patches of heavy snow, closed roads, moments when we couldn't see the road, about five cars that had come off the road and sunny skies! The scenery was just so dramatic and stunning. With the melting snow, views of the sea, flying geese and Icelandic ponies... it was like nothing I've ever seen before! We arrived and checked into our cabin which was incredible... made of wood, but in -7 degrees calcium it was super warm. There were a few other cabins there but only one was occupied so over the next few days we hardly saw anyone! Other than the sound of geese all around us was silence! We had a quiet evening planning the next few days, drinking wine and had an early night.
We thought about booking a tour to see the Northern lights and planned to look into it the next day. I was totally unprepared for taking photos of this phenomenon and had been told that the service stations had the camera settings that you needed stuck up on the wall, so I was going to check that out too. When we went to bed, after a few moments we realised our room was really, really dark... it had these black-out curtains that meant you couldn't see anything at all!! I laughed and opened the curtains to look outside and right in front of us were the Northern lights. We couldn't believe it. I knew I wouldn't get any good photos so didn't even try. We just spent about half an hour sitting in bed staring at it... and eventually fell asleep with the curtains still open. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life!
We woke up early, made breakfast and a packed lunch and set out exploring. Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. We were the first people there. You can walk behind the waterfall but it was so flipping freezing when we got close to it and the ground was all frozen, we didn't even try. It was a lovely sunny day, so we could clearly see Westman Islands. The Westman Islands are made up of 15 islands and 70-80 volcanoes above and below sea. The islands were all formed from volcano eruptions.
We stopped at Eyjafjallajokull visitor centre. Eyjafjallajokull was the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused a lot of flight disruptions in the UK. The visitor centre was closed but we saw the farm house in front of the volcano. Our next stop was Skogarfoss Waterfall (there is a legend that there is treasure buried behind the waterfall!). It is really tall with with loads of birds flying above it. It was so cold, the waterfall was falling onto ice!
After Skogarfoss we drove down a 4km gravel road to Solheimajokull Glacier. You can imagine the panic being in a hire car and driving down a gravel road. We've been caught out and charged before, but luckily we got away with it. The glacier was impressive. We thought we'd pay to join a group to walk across it, until I got there and remembered my panic of slipping over and how that would be a really bad idea! Maybe one day!
We drove to Dyrholaey - a beach with a rock arch similar to Durdle door! The sand and pebbles were totally black. We also drove to the next beach, Reynisfjava, which had these tall basalt columns in the sea water, and a cave and cliff with geometric shaped stones that looked like the Giant's Causeway. We walked along the beach until l got pooped on by a bird. It was literally everywhere... in my hair, my hood, on my hand and my jacket! We left so I could clean up in the cafe bathroom.
We took a drive through the nearby town of Vik and then back to Skogar for tea and cake. By now the weather had dramatically changed to rain and snow so we headed back to Hvolsvöllur to visit the Saga museum. Iceland has lots of historic sagas, or stories, and this museum was all about the Ngal saga, which happened all around this area. The weather was rubbish, so there was no chance of the Northern lights that night, so following a pizza in a little local place we had an early night.
We woke up to horrendous weather... pouring rain and strong winds, but headed out anyway to see Thingvellir. Thingvellir is a national park where the Althing, an open air assembly representing all of Iceland, met to set laws (seen as a covenant between free men) and settled disputes. There is a small pool there where they used to drown adulterers! Thingvellir is also the only place where you can see and walk in-between the earths tectonic plates.
We left the pouring rain in Thingvellir and drove to Gulfoss waterfall, which is a huge double falls. It is beautiful. Next was Geysir, where hot water is coming out of the ground all over the place. You can just see the steam rising off the ground all around you. It is magical. There is a constant smell of eggs too which is interesting. There are multiple little geysirs shooting out boiling hot water and the mighty Stokkur which erupts and shoots its water metres high.
It was still pouring with rain, but I desparately wanted to get a photo of it happening. It shoots up so quickly you can easily miss it if you're not ready. It took me several minutes and multiple attempts before a got one! We went to the cafe across the road for a hot chocolate and a chance to thaw out and when I went to check my photos my camera would not switch on. In my attempt to get a photo of the geysirs I had broken it. After Iceland we were heading straight to New York so I was distraught! I am totally lost without my camera! I managed to sort out a hire camera, and got mine fixed once we got home, and luckily didn't lose a single photo... but Chris had to put up with a very sad me for at least a day of our holiday!
On our way back we stopped to see Skalholt church - the site where the original church built in the 1700's foundations can be seen. It was the centre for religion at the time. We also stopped to see Solheimar, a sustainable self-sufficient community for disabled and elderly people. It is an incredible arts and crafts centre where they make and sell all sorts as well as growing and selling fruit and veg in their shop and restaurant. We bought some food for dinner and headed back to our cosy cabin to finally dry off!
On our last morning we drove through the coastal villages of Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri on our way to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is really close to the airport so is a great option to do on the way to or from the airport. We spent an hour bathing, moving around to hot spots, covering our faces in mud masks and drinking skyr smoothies. It was fab and I felt amazing afterwards and totally ready to take on New York!