“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”
Day 0 (Friday):
I slept round Vic’s house. Her dog, Jake managed to barge his way through our suitcase barricade against the door so there was three in the bed by the end of the night. Following 6 hours of sleep, we woke, had breakfast and Vic’s dad gave us a lift to the airport. The journey was filled with his stories of his time snorkelling in the Maldives. Another place to add to the bucket list!
After entering the postcode for the airport into the SatNav and it taking us to the enterprise and cargo entrance, we tried asking a lady for help on our third lap but she was just as lost as us. But, we found our way eventually.
I guess Vic being slightly intoxicated by her 4th glass of white wine and me tired and ill at 1am, wasn’t the best recipe for booking our transfer from the airport to our hotel. We managed to put in the wrong flight number code for our transfer and have only just realised upon arriving at Stansted and looking at our boarding passes. Two girls with no sense of direction and about as much common sense as a lemon; this should be a great holiday!
Mistake number two; Vic: yeah we’ve got our main luggage (we shared) and then a cabin bag (mini suitcase) and a hand luggage (backpack). We assumed we could also check in the cabin bags since we were only allowed one hand luggage with easy jet. We get to bag check in and the ladies like “Nope, you’ll have to fit your backpacks into your cabin bags”. This proved to be a slight dilemma as both bags were very much full to the brim, but after some serious faffing about she let us off and checked them in too.
Since I’m a vegetarian, I decided to go the next step and go vegan for lent. I managed to get a tasty meal at giraffe for lunch before our flight! Following lunch, we went on a hunt to find Vic a book to read for the flight. After losing faith in the non-fiction section I comically spotted the children’s book section and actually found Cassandra Clare’s newest book! Despite it being quite a hefty book, I managed to persuade Vic to buy it, luckily for me I was borrowing a friend’s book, so I was all set.
Last minute updating of bank cards for abroad use led to a panic connecting with the airport WiFi. I personally didn’t change up any money as I did some research and you can basically pay everywhere by card, with the exception of taxi’s. Saying that, it’s always worth having a little cash, since card transaction abroad always have fees, better safe than sorry! (And I always find it nice to have a note or coin as a souvenir to take home with me).
Just as we finished our meal I get an email saying our northern light tours has been cancelled due to poor weather conditions. Not to mention we forgot to book our Game of Thrones tour at the time when we booked all our others and unfortunately can’t do any of the days available, moreover the price had increased (£40.50 to around £55/70).
Mistake number 3; We queued in line for gate 13 for a solid 10 minutes before realising our flight was gate 14. But it’s fine, we soon realised and swapped over. Thankfully, we landed smoothly and in the right country! We also managed not to ship our baggage to some other foreign country either! We quickly found our transfer to the hotel, with just a mild 45-minute drive.
Since we’re staying in a Guest house, they have no reception area so we had to call up. We initially thought the restaurant opposite was our Guest house at first and after an awkward moment of confusion I managed to spot the subtle sign reading ‘Skolabru Guest House’ across the road. A lady came 5 minutes later and gave us the keys to the main house and our room. Our room was spacious with comfortable, if skinny beds, the place is warm, towels are provided, and an extra little blanket is provided on the end of the bed if you feel the cold easily like we do. The toilet and kitchen are communal, all very clean and well maintained on a daily basis. And basically, unless labelled otherwise the food in the kitchen is all free!
Upon settling in and changing shoes, we popped over to the restaurant opposite for dinner. It was rather posh there with everyone being about middle aged and older, well dressed, with their wine glasses and multiple types of cutlery. I felt like the girl from Pretty Woman when she isn’t sure which cutlery to use! I had the vegetarian meal of baked aubergine with vegetables and a grape and walnut salad (unfortunately not vegan, I did ask for no goat cheese in the salad which they happily did but there was still a little bit of cheese sprinkled on top of my aubergine. I didn’t think but I should have done some research of places to eat. Hence why I decided to end up postponing my lent until I’m home and extend it). I paid by card which is as I said, the preferred payment in Iceland. Vic paid cash but as they generally don’t use much cash here, they didn’t have a small enough note to give her change and ended up giving her more money back in the end.
We had planned to go for a walk about Reykjavik town after dinner but I have been ill with a flu bug the past couple days and didn’t feel to good so we headed back to the house and grabbed a stash of various tour leaflets and maps from outside our room and headed to our room to decide what to do with our free Sunday and Monday.
Day 1 (Sunday):
I had a terrible night sleep. Not because of the bed or our room, but my stomach really hurt all night which was a nightmare. On the bright side, I found out that Vic is a hilarious and frequent sleep talker! We woke up at our alarm at 9:30, showered, and scavenged up a (free!) breakfast.
We started our day with a wonder about Reykjavik town. Upon finding a tourist centre we initially planned to swap our Golden Circle and Snorkelling tour over so that we could do the Game of Thrones tour. However, after talking with the lady at the desk, she told us the Golden Circle and GOT tour are both at the same place at the Þingvellir National Park. So we thought, when in Iceland! And so we booked a lava cave tour and Icelandic horses tour, which together came to £132.
Tip: Its best to pre-book all of your tours prior to your trip. The earlier you book them, the better the price and you have a better chance they won’t sell out. We then walked around town; finding our way into numerous souvenir shops which were full to the brim with puffins, trolls, Icelandic puns, traditional Icelandic jumpers and Viking runes. We then made our way to the church, which cost 900 Icelandic króna (ISK) (about £4.50) entry to the top. It provided us with a stunning bird eye view of the city, with its brightly coloured houses and mountains view.
We then had lunch in café Babalú which we spotted earlier on our exploration around town. It’s a super quirky place with an uber friendly service. I got the hearty home-made tomato soup and smoothie and Vic got a cheese toasty and Americano. Iceland’s food is all amazing, their coffee… well maybe not quite so much. Sadly, I felt really ill, too ill to stomach or appreciate my meal to its full extent. I decided to take two pills and waited for them to kick in. As we waited, we were joined on our table by a lovely old Norwegian couple. What a lovely chat we had! They had spent the evening at the opera house by the harbour for the ladies 65th birthday, and her husband who played the trombone, has travelled all over the world with his American band, having played in New Orleans over twenty times! That one’s of the big one on my bucket list.
After our meal, we continued our exploration of town, and took advantage of a few trolls and a polar bear in the store fronts. One store was a gift shop/book store/coffee shop, where we spent a good ten minutes giggling over a cartoon sketch book with a weird sense of humour. We found a children’s park, and of course headed straight for the swings. We also attempted a go on the see-saw, but since we were miles too big for it we ended up weighing it down on either end, which made it a hilarious nightmare to try to get off of. We then went down to the dock yard and took some photos of the lovely view.
Today was colder then yesterday but by the docks it was even more so especially when the icy wind blew! I’m happy to report we managed to find our way back successfully.
On our way back, we bought the souvenirs we had eyed up, squeezed in a quick nap, and headed out to find somewhere to eat dinner. We ate at what I would describe as a quirky Icelandic spin on Café Rouge. I had a lovely pear and orange salad with roasted cashews and a blueberry vinaigrette, with a green apple and ginger smoothie. Vic opted for the avocado and cheese toasty with chips and a Peroni. They had an assortment of waters; normal, lemon infused or raspberry infused, and all totally delicious and totally free! With indie music playing in the background, maps covering one wall, another covered in framed photos of laundrettes and a bookcase making up the bar, it had a pretty chill vibe. Except for the extremely random laundrette service it had next to the toilets, I guess that why it’s called the Laundromat Café. We then went to a bar for cocktails, were I gave a whisky sour a crack since I’d never had whiskey before and Vic had a White Russian. It’s safe to say, I’m not a massive whiskey fan.
Day 2 (Monday):
Up early and left the house for 8:45, and headed over to the hotel Borg (a more well-known and rather nice hotel, which made it easier for transfers). They let us wait in their lobby until our tour guide picked us up at 9am. We shared a car with a couple from Burgundy France and San Francisco, so there were 6 of us all together. We booked with Iceland Expeditions, ever so slightly pricier but much more rewarding as you go with just a small group, making the experience more intimate and you also get to venture to certain part of the cave system that large groups just can’t access. We were headed to Blue Mountains for our ice cave tour. During our drive Vic asked, “Are there any volcanoes that are likely to erupt?”, to which our tour guide replied, “Yes, these volcanoes erupt every 500-800 years. The one we’re headed towards last erupted 850 years ago, so we’re 50 years overdue”. To get to the cave we had to drive through the Valley of death, to a 2000-year-old cave called the End of the Road. For the adventurers out there, lava caving is a MUST. We got out the car and were surrounded by lava fields, the road, mountains and little else. Except for the most stunning and complete end-to-end double rainbow against the seemingly never ending great expanse of the lava fields. A short walk saw us into the lava fields and we shortly came upon a big snow bank. Our tour guide then pointed at a small slit in the ground and told us “Get in”. At which point the French lady screamed and shouted that she didn’t want to die. When the cave was at its shallowest and narrowest, we were on our hands and toes, flat out against the rock, basically side stepping in a push up formation through the smallest parts and walking through ‘the whales mouth’ in the largest. With tales of the Nord Gods and Loci’s punishment being the reason for earthquakes as he tried to wriggle free every time the poison snake hanging above him dripped poison into his eyes. And tales of the elves in a war against trolls, leaving a troll skull as a warning and bathing the cave walls in the deep red of troll blood. Finally clawing our way out the steep snowy exit, we made our way back to the car and topped off the adventure with a delicious cup of hot chocolate in the car. At which point Vic said “Oh, you weren’t joking about the hot chocolate”. Our tour guide very calmly but very purposefully replied, “we never joke about hot chocolate”.
It’s was a truly amazing experience. Our guide dropped us off at Íslenski Hesturinn Icelandic horse Centre, arriving at 11:30 and our tour not starting until 2, the lady was lovely enough to offer us lunch which is usually only for staff or those who’ve booked it through their tour. It was a small buffet of vegetable soup, hearty bread, pasta, salad, fish and rice. With a selection of teas and coffee on the house too! After filling out a short form, the lady said we were welcome to visit the horses in the back. Unfortunately, they had just been put away in their stable but we could still see them from just outside. Whilst admiring a particularly pretty horse that had a half blue eye, a little 3-month old black lab puppy came barrelling towards us down the stable corridor. A bundle of energy and kisses, little Ozzy was too cute not to cuddle!
All kitted out, we mounted up and headed out. I enjoyed it, but having started the day inside a lava cave, the view of the lava fields didn’t have the same impact. The horse riding itself lasted around an hour and was good fun, despite my sore bum and blistered fingers from rubbing on the reigns. We did the lava ride tour, but I would have loved to have done the advanced Viking tour which sees you cantering through rivers and around the national park.
We befriended a couple sharing our Guest house who got here today all the way from Arkansas, USA. They told us about the Laugardalslaug public pools. After a 5-minute taxi ride, and a setback of 900 for entry, not to mention a further set back after we clumsily forgot to bring towels …to a pool, so 560 ISK went towards towel rental. Showering naked in the changing rooms is the norm here and is compulsory. After Vic’s mild freak out, the lady noticed and pointed out the private shower cubicles in the corner. She asked where we were from and when we replied England she exclaimed “Why are British girls so shy!”. Despite the no cameras signs dotted all over the changing room to which we somehow managed to miss, we almost got into a lot of trouble for trying to take my Go Pro through, but after a quick chat and her holding onto it until we returned, all was well.
With a hasty dash from the changing rooms to the main disappointingly luke-warm pool we got in. The main pool had lanes at one end and a couple slides, basketball hoop and money bar type thing where you have to try not to fall off of these floats as you walked them. We alternated between the big pool and the hot tubs which were at either 38, 40, 42 and 44. As you can imagine, they were very hot! Could only stay 5 minutes before taking a grateful reprieve in the cooler main pool. The pools themselves were fairly busy despite it being 10pm and 0 degree out!
We grabbed a cab back, stopping off by 24/7 supermarket and grabbed a cut up melon and a mango for about 700 (£3.50). Once home, we munched on the mango, hit the shower and then hit the hay.
Day 3 (Tuesday):
Up early for our Golden Circle and Snorkelling tour. Thankfully we prebooked this as our tour guide Gilly, told us they are fully booked, which is new. Tourism is booming and there is no longer an off season in Iceland. This time (March) a few years ago it would have been very quiet.
We had a 1-and-a-half-hour drive until out first stop, and after that all the stops were very short. First on the agenda; Gullfoss waterfall which means golden falls. Gilly gave us a great history of Iceland at the start of the journey, and the incredible tales behind the waterfall as we neared, (allowing us time for a cheeky snooze in the middle). Gullfoss is situated in Thingvellir, one of Iceland’s three National parks. It was an amazing view, although beware of the freezing and strong winds! With an hour and a half here, we took some snaps and headed up the hill to grab some lunch. I got the mozzarella, tomato and basil toasty and Vic got the traditional lamb soup as recommended by Gilly. We topped it off with a Swiss mocha for me and a latte for Vic, splitting a pecan pie and an apple pie between us. After that we hopped back in the car and began driving along the cliffs of Northern American tectonic plate. This plate and the Eurasia plate move apart at a rate of 2cm each year, creating a fissure. Glacial water, filtered for 25 years in the lava fields, makes its way into the fissure forming a crystal clear lake. And this is where we were going to snorkel.
But before that, we were headed for a 5-minute drive to see the geysirs. There are 3 in total, with Geysir being the first geysir ever discovered and to which all are now named after. But unfortunately it is now dormant, only going off with the occasional earthquake. They used to add baking soda to it to reduce it boiling point but have stopped as it is unnatural. The next geysir is still very much active and goes off anywhere between 10 seconds and 10 minutes. And then they have the little geysir, which is no bigger than a sofa cushion and continually bubbling away. But unlike most, we pretty much bypassed all of these and trekked straight up through inches of mud and past a broken fence up, some mini mountains for a killer view. With an hour to burn, we took some snaps, trying to encompass the vastness of the view and headed back down. We headed over to see if we could capture the active geysir going off on camera. And us being us, headed to wear there were hardly any people standing, thinking this must have a great view! As we did so, POOF, off it went. So many gallons of boiled water up in the air, and down it came, onto us. Don’t worry, it quickly cools to a comfortably warm temperature as it hits you but safe to say we got pretty soaked. Wet, buzzed and slowly yet increasingly getting colder, there was only one place left on the list. Snorkelling.
“At first you’re shocked by the cold, the tiny bit of your cheeks which is the only part of you exposed will be freezing then it goes numb and then your whole face goes numb and your fine”. – Gilly.
Gilly gave us a full run down of what was to happen and what to do. Apparently there are only a select few you fancy snorkelling between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plate in 2-degree glacial water, and apparently those people are us!
In short, you wear your thermal layer underneath, then are fitted with a VERY thick thermal jumpsuit which keeps you very warm and was kind of stylish if I do say so myself. Your also provided with woollen socks, (which brought me and Vic to 4 pairs of socks we were wearing), a dry suit which involved talcum powder, an outlandish northern man and a lot of shoving to get on. Neoprene gloves and a Neoprene head mask are also given to you, and then of course the masks, snorkel and flippers. Neoprene is wetsuit material, so works by trapping a layer of water in between to which your body warms up. If you are planning to take photos, prepare for your fingers to get frozen. This is because the action of moving them about pushes the warm water out and the glacial water in. So what they advise you is to keep your hands held behind you and on your back. If you are taking photos, bring a lanyard to tie around your camera because the gloves are a little bulky and your fingers will go stiff. We heard numerous tales of all the Go Pro’s that lost their lives to those icy dark depths, not to mention an iPhone 6 too! Thankfully, I held onto mine and it lived to see another day. The dry suits are extremely buoyant so have no fear, its physically impossible for you to sink. This made some peoples attempts to “dive down” very comical.
The sea usually has 5-15m of visibility, a clear lake 30-40, but a lake that has had its water filtered through volcanic rock for 25 years? Over 100m of visibility. The water is literally crystal clear. The lake has a lazy current which gently pushes you, and since the dry suits are super super buoyant, you just float along. We were also told, if you get water in your snorkel just drink it, it’s the purest it can get.
After 45 minutes in the water, we got out, de-kitted. I tried to slowly warm my painfully frozen fingers and then we hopped in the car for a close up beside the North American tectonic place, were we walked a trail and saw their old parliament pole.
On the ride home Gilly recommend some places to eat. One of the places was called Glo, a vegetarian and vegan café, which we had dinner at. Had I known there was so many places I would have carried on my lent! I had the vegan wrap with three types of salads; quinoa, sweet potato and fruit, which was delicious! Vic had the raw pizza and three salads too. We both tried the green juice. Now, I like to think of myself as a healthy food person so I like the taste of a lot of these super-foods, but man, that green juice was all kinds of gross! We managed to save our taste buds with a yummy raw blueberry pie too, to which we followed with a walked about town snapping last minute pics of the awesome graffiti street art that riddles the buildings of down town Reykjavik.
Once home, we showered, packed up all our stuff and dropped off to sleep.
Day 4 (Wednesday)
We had to find our way to Reykjavik Centrum hotel since our Guest house wasn’t on the known transfers list. We hurried out the house, short on time for 9 am. After waiting 10 mins we go picked up by a Flybus driver and dropped at the bus station were after waiting for the 10 O’clock bus to the blue lagoon. Only after we waited did the man tell us we had to exchange our coupons for a different ticket which counted as our bus transfer to the blue lagoon, our ticket into the blue lagoon and then our transfer to the airport. At this point a queue had formed but we made it on. After a 40-minute trip and a munch on some delicious pineapple we bought last night from the supermarket we arrived.
The queues were quite large so it was 25ish mins before we got in, our standard ticket got us entry and a mineral mad mask that you grab from a pot whilst in the blue lagoon at a bar. Other more expensive packages come with algae masks, massages, towels, dressing gowns, drinks and meals. Being us, and so clumsy, we left our Guest house in such a hurry, we didn’t have time for a proper look over of the room and Vic forgot her towel so she had to pay about £5 for renting one. We also didn’t realise that per luggage you store you have to pay €4 and we had 3 *sigh*. At this point as we were leaving the luggage storage place, Vic didn’t look were to go and instead of walking through the exit, she ended up going backstage where they store it all. But a quick “eh-excuse me!” From the man and “Vic! Wrong way!!” From me set us on the right tracks.
You had to shower naked before getting in but because it’s touristy so there are cubicles, (unlike the public pools) we were told to wet and leave conditioner in our hair whilst in the blue lagoon as it dried your hair out. So conditioner and body wash are provided in the showers, but no shampoo though. Unlike the glacial water during snorkelling that you could drink, this is definitely not drinkable, very sulfury and kind of salty just from the taste on my lips. Anyway we washed quickly since we had to get the transfer to the airport for 1 as our flight was at 4. After hanging up our towels outside the pools we made a very cold and thankfully short walk into the blue lagoon. The water is just the right temperature; not too hot that you feel lethargic but the perfect temperature for those 6 degree surroundings. We swam over to the bar for our masks which are made from the clay naturally found in the pools so you grab a spatula of it on your hands, dampen it a little and spread it on for a deep cleanse. You leave it for about 10 mins to dry and then just wash it right back into the water from where it came. In some places you can feel in collect at the bottom and it’s all squishy kind of like a jelly/marshmallow hybrid. We had an hour to enjoy, relax, and snap a few mysterious pics in the mist.
Then we were off, grabbed our luggage and got on the transfer, a short 15 mins to the airport and we were preparing to jet off back to the UK. I was feeling so relaxed from the pools that despite my espresso during lunch I slept for almost the whole flight, even though I was intending to read!
Back home now and boy does everything feel a lot warmer! The temperature difference isn’t even that different big but Iceland has the most bipolar weather ever, and I thought England was bad! Literally wearing sunglasses one minute and getting lightly but thoroughly soaked the next. It was pretty much cloudy, rained and bitterly windy for the majority of our time there, although the last day it broke and we had some sun in time for blue lagoon. It’s a shame we didn’t have one more night as we probably could have seen the northern lights that night. Ah well, there’s always Norway…