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Day 7 – Reykjavík

Our last day in Iceland. There’s one more thing I want to check out before we leave, which is the Perlan, or Pearl. Perlan is a water storage facility which supplies Reykjavík hot water. No cisterns or boilers required. Piped straight from a geothermal source, the trade off is that the water smells of eggs, which I guess is from the sulphur.

We caught the 18 bus from Hlemmur bus station. It’s only 3km out, if that. But it’s uphill and thought it was an excuse to use the public transport. It’s an ace building, which includes a panoramic viewing platform which offers views all around Reykjavík.

We walked back, past the pond and the Althing. We found a fish and chips restaurant right at the edge of town by the harbour. Pretty good! The chips were more like wedges, the fish in a spelt wheat batter. The onion rings were phenomenal! Most of the sauces were Skyr-based.

As we ate a lot, quite late, and were tired, we concluded our visit by staying in and eating Icelandic junk – cheese puffs, chocolate, massive cinnamon swirls and 500ml cans of Pepsi. Don’t want to eat sugar again!

Day 6 – Reykjavík

We woke up to a snow-covered Reykjavík, probably an inch thick. We took a good look around the city today.

The sight for me was Hallgrímskirkja, a church built over a long period of time, starting in the late 1930s with decades of building thereafter. It’s a mix of Scandinavian and neo-Gothic. A simple, bleak take on Gothic, resulting in a spooky-looking church. Inside was stunning. Gothic arches, an impressive organ. Blue windows at the alter, which, with the light shining in, gives a hue of cold and bleak fitting in nicely in the Reykjavík landscape. Outside in the shadow of Hallgrímskirkja stood Leif Eriksson, discoverer of North America. In the distance is another church, Háteigskirkja. Alpine-inspired with long spires, black on white masonry work. It stood beautifully and modestly in a complimenting snowy scene.

We walked back down Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s high street. At the end towards Háteigskirkja, it’s not the prettiest of places. As you progress towards the centre it gets prettier. We went to the Parliament (Althing), which is a very inconspicuous building. It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago outside this building, a large gathering took place and brought about a ‘revolution’. This side of town is lovely.

For lunch we went to Akku Taktu, a bit like McDonalds meets Little Chef. I had a hot dog and some really nice chips, which had a similar coating to ‘chip spice’ which you find in the north of England. For dinner we went to Le Bistro, a French restaurant. Cute and cuddly in side, barely any light. I had a Lamb shank, French style, and some Viking ale. The cost of this meal, comparable to something in the UK, was twice the price.

Day 5 – Golden Circle and on to Reykjavík

We considered using a tour  company for a tour around the Golden Circle. They didn’t get back to us so we decided to set off early and do our own whistlestop tour of the Golden Circle en route to Reykjavík. Time was very tight – the car was being picked up at 3pm. We set off just after 7am, but it had snowed even more overnight (only a centimetre, but on Icelandic roads it’s never clever to go speeding).

We set off, went steady and found that these snow tyres are unstoppable. We picked up the pace, slowing down when we drove past every farmhouse for possible dogs.

We filled at the N1 in Blönduós, and carried on and found a bigger N1 with a café. I bought a (black) tea, hot dog wrapped in bacon and some Skyr yoghurt. Mine was vanilla, a bit sour – Chloe’s strawberry yoghurt was rather nice! Skyr’s basically a natural yoghurt but thicker.

We eventually reached Thingvellir National Park. This was to be a quick stop so we spent no more than an hour at our stop offs throughout Thingvellir. It’s Iceland’s first national park, not too far from the capital. What I wanted to see most was the continental rifts and the original Althing – the world’s first parliament.

The Lögberg, the rock where speakers stood to address the citizen representatives, is overshadowed by the big rift, the Almannagjá. The Almannagjá is a number of storeys high, and quite a distance apart. The plates of North America and Europe are moving up to 2cm apart per year, slowly tearing Iceland apart. It’s quite a spectacle. There’s many other tears around the area; smaller but no less showing of the sheer power.

At this point I rang our car rental place, and asked for an extension which they kindly allowed. We drove another 30km to Geysir, through more jaw-dropping scenery. We got there, after following the steam plumes. The air had a faint eggy smell to it, with sulphur belched from the depths. The boiling water just streamed down the roadside, it was actually near-boiling (I touched it like an idiot, and pulled away quickly!). There’s a number of geysers – the original Geysir is not as strong as it once was, and erupts only every ten years, so the chances of seeing Geysir erupt was slim. However we did see Strokkur, the pin-up geyser you see on every postcard, often mistaken for Geysir. It erupted many times when we were there, every five minutes, and shoots up to 30m high! Unreal!

With very little time left, we sped up to Gullfoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. We had little time and spent no more than five minutes there taking photos. Such a pity as it’s beautiful and highly regret not being able to spend any more time there.

We set off to Mosfellsbær, an area just outside Reykjavík. The shop, Alafoss, is known for Icelandic Lopapeysa, the handknitted sweater associated with Iceland. I picked up one for 15000kr, £80, which is a lot more cheaper than the 20000-25000kr seen in shops around Akureyri.

Time was running out, so we took the car (now covered in filth, the wheel arches caked in volcanic rock and mud) . I washed what I could away, and then sat in traffic because of roadworks. We made it 15 minutes later than arranged.

First impressions of Reykjavík were mixed – graffiti everywhere and a lot of untidy looking places. However there was no litter. We were so tired we had a quick walk around and finished at Dominos. Sleep was tough – our single beds which were pushed together over looked roadworks and a live music bar (I like live music but not when I’m trying to sleep after driving for hours!).

Day 1 – To Iceland!

Our flight from Manchester was at 7 o’clock, meaning we left the house at around 4am. I had around two hours sleep mainly down to trying to take control and tame an overweight suitcase. All those warm clothes take a lot of space up! Bearing in mind I had started to pack a week ago.

The flight was pretty smooth, and being in the morning we could watch our approach to this mysterious island of vast lifeless plains, pitted by mountains and volcanoes.

Keflavík airport looked like your typical stark building you’d expect in harsh conditions – though the inside was astonishing. Great use of volcanic rock and glass, and the arrival and departure areas seemed as one – simple poles and strap fencing to mark the boundary between arrival and departures.

I booked the car pickup for 10am, thinking all along that the Easyjet arrival time was incorrect (8:30 am). Iceland, I kept saying to people, is GMT. Correct, but they don’t follow daylight savings time. At this time of the year, the UK is just about in DST. Anyway, I thought we’d arrive 9:30 am local time, with half an hour for delays and baggage pick up. So in Iceland it was actually 8:30 am. Thankfully, the guy from Blue Car Rental had been tracking our flight, and was there with my name on a board (like in the movies!).

We picked up our car after being talked into the Sand & Ash protection (SAAP) product that, until the recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, was probably nearly always declined. Horror stories of the guy who said ‘no’ to SAAP, who subsequently got caught up in the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, had his hire car stripped of paint… thousands of krónur of damage… etc. Anyway, we sat in the car for quite some time trying to figure out how to start this bloody Kia Cee’d. After a while I tried a few combinations, turns out you need your foot on the clutch, and turn the key. So what about retrieving the key from the ignition? Another five minutes passed… push the key in and then turn. Really intuitive design.

I insisted that we travel by map, rather than sat-nav. Our first destination was the Blue Lagoon, which is very close to the airport. We set off on our way, but after wasting at least half an hour driving around what I think was Reykjanesbær, completely lost – I headed back to the car rental place with my arse in my hands.

We eventually got to the Blue Lagoon, after the sat-nav tried to direct us down a thin path running parallel to a power station. The Blue Lagoon is a great tourist destination and should definitely be visited – but probably only once. The architecture is fab. Same sort of feel as the airport, with slabs of thin volcanic brick, thin windows which accentuated the height of the building. I name this style ‘bleak chic’.

Entrance to the Blue Lagoon is a cool 11,500 Kr for two people. About £60! This clearly paid for the space age lockers that were in the changing rooms, which I wanted to take a photo of, but, as you have to shower naked (it’s the rules), there were too many middle-aged Germanics with their little cocks flopping about for me to warrant taking a photo in there. It was an interesting situation to find myself in. Typically British person who’d find the situation of walking around with my knob out rather embarrassing, but the stiff upper lip of ‘get on with it’ overcame the embarrassment. Before I knew it, walking from the changing room to the shower with all these naked knobbly men was a walk in the park (actually no, you’d get arrested for that sort of walk in the park but you get me right?).

The lagoon is ace, there’s no doubt about it. The temperature varies depending on where you are, but it typically averages 40°C. Which, believe me, is hot. Sometimes even uncomfortable. Even though it’s hovering around freezing outside. The water is actually blue, I kid you not. I’m guessing that’s to do with the amount of silica .

Peculiarly, the lagoon is a by-product of a power station. It’s just run off for the geo thermal power plant next door. But it’s clean, and good for you, and bloody warm! I’d definitely recommend it, but as I’ve said, it’s very, very expensive and took a big chunk out of our small budget.

After finishing up at the Blue Lagoon, we took our rock-hard, matted hair and refreshed bodies on to the Route 1 ring road, toward our destination. Not so far form Reykjavík, we stopped off at a 1011 supermarket. We bought the bare essentials like bread, pizza, cakes (huge cinnamon swirl covered in a caramel slop), Mountain Dew… yes! Iceland has the real-deal Mountain Dew (unlike our shitty energy drink). So a market of 300,000 people in comparison to the UK’s 60 million is clearly more important! The total bill? A massive 7,500 Kr (about £40) – for two bags of shopping!

We filled up at the nearest town to our destination, which was called Blönduós. At this point Chloe was behind the wheel, and very carefully exited the roundabout to the Olís petrol station, on the wrong side of the road with a car approaching.

We got to Skagaströnd, which is where we were staying. A small town of 300 people, a crazy-looking church and a weird mural of a fisherman’s wind-battered face. The log cabin was pleasant enough – small, warm. Just a microwave and hob though. So we grilled that expensive pizza and garlic bread, the latter of which became solid and inedible. Went to bed at 10pm!

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