So, a few months ago I was thinking: what can one do when the weather is cold, dark and miserable- of course, go to a place that is even more cold, darker but definitely not miserable. I had always wanted to go to Iceland and February, March is the ideal time to go to see the Northern lights so we booked to go for a long weekend hoping to see them.
Iceland is a magical place; a land of fire and ice that is not as cold as I thought it would be (which I later learned was) due to the effects of the Irminger current. Tourism is a real big thing in Iceland and everything was geared up to make our stay as enjoyable as possible. The tour operators do an excellent job of promoting the bus tours available, and it was especially convenient to be picked up and dropped off at our hotel.
The first tour we booked was for the Golden Circle which was an 8 hour coach journey that takes in Strokkur geyser that spits boiling water 30 meters in the air and the Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation centre which uses geothermal energy to power the hot houses.
Next was the magnificent Gullfoss wateralls, that thundered away.
There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a long day, but stops are frequent to keep it interesting and of course there’s lots of shopping to be done.
The last stop on this journey was to the flat tundra that was the ancient meeting place for the first Icelandic Parliament; Thingvellir National Park. This is quite a magical place and seems (if seen in the right light) to be sprinkled with fairy dust. It is very beautiful in a stark, bleak sense and one can well imagine ancient Icelanders meeting there for the annual festivals. Iceland embraces its esoteric past and this area is fabled to contain fairies and troll like figures, which appear so abundantly in the souvenir shops. This is also the place that the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year and in summer you can dive into the lake and touch each continent. I gave this a miss in February.
The other must do is the Blue lagoon which is a wonderful grotto sunken into the black volcanic rock where a mix a of fresh and sea water (which btw is changed every 48 hours) steams away at a balmy 38 degrees.
It was very atmospheric and other worldly with people milling around covered in silica in the milky steaming teal colored water. I decided to treat myself to a floating massage and was ushered into a quiet area of the spa reserved specifically for treatments. I lay back on a foam mat and looked up at a bright blue sky punctuated with the occasional fluffy cloud and the steam rising from the powerplant towers. A large towel was draped over me and regularly dipped in the hot water to keep me warm while I was massaged to a blissed out state. I love my massages and like to think of myself as a bit of an expert and I would definitely recommend this. The combination of the ethereal setting, the effects of the detoxifying water, silica treatments as well as the massage itself was sheer heaven.
Finally no trip to Iceland would be complete without at least trying to see the aurora borealis. My top tip would be to book this excursion in advance, to take place the first night so that if the Icelandic Gods are not smiling, your excursion can be rebooked for the following night. It took us 3 nights before we saw them but it was worth waiting for; amazing through the camera lens, like mist with the naked eye. The tour guide gave useful tips on how to get the best pictures and we had all but called it a day with a mediocre showing of the northern lights, the other coaches had already left when all of a sudden we had a magnificent show which made standing out in – 6 degree winds for a couple of hours well worth it.
A couple of points of caution; if you, like us, want to do some more unusual trips like husky sledging you need to book well in advance as this was booked out for the following 4 months. Also Iceland is not cheap so you will be paying top dollar for the privilege. It is a fabulous place, but at times some of the magic wore off a little when we were surrounded by coachloads of fellow tourists being processed through the sites.
Overall, I loved the whole experience, the otherworldliness of this land of volcanoes and glaciers. The cheerful pragmatism of the inhabitants, the spectacular sky shows, the mountains next to the oceans and beautiful stark landscapes. Hmm, I wonder what it will be like in summer…