I think I may have had an idealistic view of what Iceland would be like. Sure I know it is called the land of ‘ice and fire’ for a reason, but I’d been diligently checking the weather forecasts for the week or so before we left and the forecast was miserable and cold, but really no more miserable and cold that England and we’d survived here ok so far hadn’t we?
In hindsight, we could have used some tips for travelling in Iceland before we left.
WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND IF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS DON’T SHOW
Arriving into Iceland, and a blizzard
We boarded our WOW air flight from Gatwick with excitement and set off on our 3 hour flight. The flight was fairly uneventful until we began our descent. The sky was thick with clouds and we were informed that we would be landing into a blizzard. (Where was this on the forecast weather.com!) The snow was falling thick and fast and was visible in the glow of the wing lights.
Upon arrival we were met by our hire car company rep in the arrivals hall and driven across the carpark to the rental office.
It was so cold they had to change our first car over because the door lock froze over and the back door wouldn’t shut.
‘Have you ever driven in a blizzard before?’ asked the attendant. ‘Uhh no, and not on the left ever either,’ Pete replied. To this we were advised not to drive to town tonight as visibility was awful and we didn’t really want to end up in a ditch.
Luckily there was a hotel a stone’s throw away and they had a room available for us. Driving that 50 metres was slippery and scary, so we knew that we’d made the right choice!
Unfortunately due to the blizzard conditions our northern lights tour was cancelled (annoyingly they’d do this at about 6pm so the rest of your day was a bit wrecked not heading too far out of town to be ready for your evening tour). We were rebooked for Thursday, but alas that was cancelled as well.
We made the best of what we could do and instead of heading off on our tour on Tuesday night we took a tentative and slippery car ride around the corner to Laugardalur – the local swimming pool. Icelandic people love swimming and with all of that geothermal heat their pools are super warm.
A 27 degree pool in the snow was a bit cold for us, so we opted for the ‘hot pots’ – which are heated spa pools dotted around the outside of the pool. They ranged from around 36 degrees to 42 degrees in heat and involved a walk through snow covered paths to move between them.
There was a definite art to moving fast enough you didn’t lose all of the heat from being in the pool, to not walking so fast that you’d slip over!
Swimming at the Blue Lagoon
There are so many sites you can’t miss in Iceland and the Blue Lagoon is one of them. The next day we decided to brave the roads in search of a relaxing geothermal spa. It was rather hard to find, but well worth it when we got there.
The pool is an actual thermal pool, so the floor is volcanic ash and the perimeter is volcanic rock.
Pete had a Gull (beer) and I had a strawberry champagne and we found ourselves a little ledge to rest on near a vent and had a relax.
Part of our package included an algae face mask, and you could also smear yourself in silica from containers located on the side of the pool. It is a must see attraction on your Iceland itinerary.
When we were getting pruny, we got ready and headed out to the town of Geysir which is the place that geysers get their name from. The contrast in landscape heading out into the wilderness was quite confronting. The landscape was bare for miles and covered deeply in snow. Frozen lakes and rivers were visible and snowed over roads only open in the summer hinted at the fate of the only road in and out of Geysir if the snow plow didn’t come along regularly.
Geysir is the place that all geysers are named after. The old boy is quite dormant these days, but Strokkur its cousin is active every 4-5 minutes and we werent disappointed as boiling hot water was spurted into the sky. The temperatue was -3degrees, so the steam of the thermal pools was a warm relief to the biting cold and snow.
Not far down the road is the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall. A multitude of cascading falls, make for a loud raw as the water rushes across the rocks. Even in the midst of winter this waterfall is extremely powerful and it is only for a lack of financial backing that it didn’t get harvested for electricity. It now belongs to the state is protected.
Things we learnt and you need to know before visiting Iceland
1. The weather is really unpredictable and cold. When they say its going to snow, don’t expect to be able to see the road or the footpath.
2. The northern lights are fickle creatures. I am resigned to chase them in a new country on another journey.
3. Icelandic ATMs are also fickle creatures. Luckily 99.9%of places take card.
4. The bus doesn’t – expect to pay about $15 AUD by the time you make a minimum withdrawal to pay for a $3.50 bus fare.
5. Thermal pools are amazing – nude communal showering before you’re allowed in them not so much.
6. Ice is slippery – be vigilant at all times or else you may find yourself splayed out on the bitumen crying in pain in a car park hoping not to get run over.
7. Icelandic hot dogs are not all that great – that’s code for indigestion.
8. If you dress for the weather nice restaurants will probably tell you they’re expecting ‘a large group’ in 30 minutes. Its either be cold or eat nice food apparently.
9. Its either northern lights or fun tours (incl pufins and whales) – when one stops the other starts. At least puffins would have had a better chance of being seen!
10. All of the beds we slept in were queen size but had 2 doonas. Iceandic people are on to something here. Perfectly warm and comfy without any doona wars!
11. It is quite expensive to eat out in Iceland, so we recommend you don’t go out to eat. Instead find a supermarket and cook a simple dinner at your Air BnB.
Although it wasn’t exactly what we expected, we had a great time in Iceland and would recommend it to anyone who likes anything geothermal or wants to take a punt on seeing the northern lights.
ICELAND IN A NUTSHELL
This trip we: Explored Reykjavik town, drove on scary ice covered roads, had an unexpected overnight stay at the Smaro airport hotel, did the thermal pool shuffle at Laugardaslaug pool, got angry trying to find the Blue Lagoon, swam in the Blue Lagoon, saw a geysir explode & an active geothermal field, saw Gullfoss falls, ate Icelandic hotdogs from a punky girl singing along to Outkast, drank funky Icelandic schnapps, searched out Vinbudin to find some tastier beverages, agreed we are not enlightened enough for ‘modern art’, explored a decomissioned Coastguard boat & the the Maritime Museum, learned about Iceland’s history at the Icelandic Museum of History, saw some ‘animals’ at the zoo, tried to see the northern lights by parking at the lighthouse, but failed, came a cropper in the BSI bus terminal after slipping on ice, learned that þ means ‘th’ and is not someone poking out their tongue or a p.