The land of Fire and Ice
I’d always wanted to go to Iceland.
I was kicking myself at missing out on a press trip a few years ago and vowed to go myself.
Back in March I just had a look and checked out the prices for flights and if I booked for mid-June the price for taking a bag was half of what it was for taking me!
I booked it anyway not knowing if I would have the time off or availability to actually go. With those sort of prices I could afford to take the risk.
10 days before I was due to fly I knew I was completely free during those dates and had a look at making out a travel plan, booking hire car, hotels etc.
The car hire, extra insurances and airport car parking was easy, finding accommodation in Iceland during the start of the tourist season was a bit more difficult than I thought. That’s a bit of an understatement, up until 3 days before I went I thought Id be sleeping in the car one of the nights or bringing a tent with me. Its the first time Ive packed a sleeping bag in my carry on luggage!
In one of the locations I’d chosen to overnight in both my outward and inward legs of the travel along the south coast I couldn’t get any accommodation for love nor money, not even the worst rated hotel on tripadvisor which cost over 100 quid a night for a single room was fully booked!
One guesthouse got back to me a couple of days before I left to confirm they had availability one of the night and I got another guesthouse about 2/3 the way back on my last leg increasing my 3rd day out driving time but better than sleeping in the car by the side of the road.
The rest of the trip was in hostels, no other choice really, in retrospect talking to one guesthouse owner she said that my booking was the last free night she had until September!
I had hired a car so I could go for the hostels which were either too far to walk to town or out remote and needing a car to get there.
The plan was then set, the first 3 nights were in Reykavik with two of the days exploring Reykavik, one doing the ‘Golden Circle’ and one starting the drive East. It was a two day drive out as far as Hofn with all the sites in between then a 2 day back towards the airport at Keflavik before spending the night there which meant an easy journey to the airport in the morning.
I left Belfast in clear blue sky and warm sunshine and arrived in dull grey cold Iceland. The car hire guy was waiting for me at arrivals and waited further still whilst I got some cash changed.
Id booked the smallest car possible, as I was only doing the main roads, it was summer and there was only me but they upgraded me anyway to a small 4×4 which really only did take my two bags, cameras on the front seat etc. Id have hated to see the smaller one and to be fair I probably could have slept in this one, maybe.
The car was pretty much brand new with only 1100 kilometres on the clock, not a scratch on it.. good job Id taken the extra insurances out.
icelandic fish and chips restaurant fried wolffish with crispy potatoes and salad Reykjavik iceland
Back at the hostel I checked the weather forecast and saw that it was going to be grey and overcast for the golden circle tomorrow but clear from about lunchtime in Reykavik until about teatime.
No early start for me then so I went out to get some milk and other things for breakfast to complement the range of small packets of cereal that were 2 years out of date Id cleared out of the campervan into my bag before I left.
I did ok this time, I knew bananas are expensive here and when people quote you hundreds for things like pot noodles it does throw you. I never buy cupasoups so I’m assuming 5 quid for a packet of three is expensive? No tip involved this time, it was dear enough.
I didnt even have to use the sat nav and was quite proud of myself driving up to the main road junction outside the supermarket. I got to the line and noticed that every car in the four way stop had stopped and was looking at me. I know in the US and Canada they have this first to arrive rule so wondered if it was the same here. A few people pointed at me so I thought it must be the same here….
..no its just the ‘You are sitting on the wrong side of the road rule and no-one knows where to go or what you are going to do next rule’. And things had been going so well. Still not as bad as one trip in Norway we were out in the wilds and had been driving for almost 2 hours before we realised we were on the wrong side of the road the whole time.
Back at the hostel I fully realised why I don’t buy pot noodles and cup a soups, life really is too short.
I sat for a while chatting to the Canadian girls before realising it was 1am and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. So much for bringing the tripod and all that gear to take night shots and star trail photos. Theoretically this should be one of the best places in the world to take clear night sky pictures the only problem was that it wasn’t due to be fully night again until sometime in August!
wandered around Reykavik for the next 7 hours and managed to retake all the photos Id taken yesterday minus the miserable ‘these will never be bought by anyone’ dull grey sheen and sky.
I even managed to find the famous hot dog stand that Id missed the day before. The hot dogs were good though and along with visiting the best coffee house in town earlier in the day things were going well on the food front. It might be true or it might just be my imagination that the water here has a volcanic element but if you have never been, believe me it has. I have no idea what a volcanic element tastes like though and if you’d wanted real travel or scientific advice you’ve come to the wrong place.
Another spot mentioned in various internet forums and travel guides is the donut stand way out on the edge of touristy Reykavik. Nursing my ever growing blister (which I didn’t think possible with my now famous anti-blister socks – well in hindsight accidentally putting on the same pair two days running didn’t help) I trudged all the way out to find out they were nothing more than dinky donuts, the type of mini donuts you find everywhere. Of course there was the ‘special sauce’ and the ‘special mix’ which did add to the occasion but I settled for sitting on a park bench and having them with some milk.
Yellow or blue milk? Whats the difference? Blue is real milk, yellow is watered down. Semi skimmed? Yes that’s the right term for it. No mate I think you had it right the first time.
I wandered back along the shoreline on a seemingly beautiful but bitingly cold day and into the new concert hall for a heat. Its all glass windows and some heat it is too. I went outside to get a photo but as usual just as I got into position a fecking white tour bus parked outside the front door. Id earlier booked the fishing trip so had an hour or so left of the good weather and headed up the hill to the cathedral and got a ticket to go up to the tower viewpoint. Id been around yesterday and the queue was out the door so Id asked when the best time was and it was about now so straight in and up for a look around. Impressive view but windy and cold and not the place to hang around for any length of time.
Just enough time left to limp back to the harbour to get something to eat before getting on the fishing boat. I wandered down via the old part of town and there were one of the seemingly daily protests here in Iceland which is going through a series of general strikes. This time it was about university education. A couple of hundred protestors with placards, some TV two press photographers and 2 policemen standing in the corner of the square looking bored. Obviously protests here are a little more civilised than back home.
A half hour later I was tucking into another one of the internets marvels of Reykavik, lobster soup from one of the harbour restaurants. The restaurant was on my shotlist but it was one of the restaurants that served whale meat. I had a real dilemma over this after being in Antarctica last year following the whales. Even more so when I read that 40% of the whale consumed (or more) is by tourists and not even a regular staple here in Iceland with few of the population even having tasted it. I placed my order anyway and turned round to see Minke whale steak being offered.
I don’t know if that’s clouded my judgement on the lobster soup but in all honesty it tasted a lot like my own lentil, coconut and chilli soup but replacing chilli with lobster. I wouldn’t exactly put it on my list of must eats whilst here. I know tripadvisor et al has to be taken with a pinch of salt and I know that sometimes the people reviewing are mainly from a country fed solely on corn oil and its derivatives and wouldn’t know fresh food if it jumped up bit them.
At least the sea fishing company promised we could bbq whatever we caught for dinner.
The fishing was one of the best trips I had ever taken, first drop I got one of the biggest Cod Id ever caught, about an hour in Id caught the biggest Cod Id ever caught. The cold wind was whistling round but it was just fish after fish. There were only 4 of us on board, pretty quiet by their usual standards so after returning a lot of the fish Id kept a few and stopped fishing. I thought Id be feeding the hostel with cod for weeks at that rate.
We all had caught or fill so we headed back to the harbour early to cook them up. Only one of the guys was local so he headed off with a large bag of the fish and the captain gutted three of the remaining fish for us. Now we all looked at each other and then realised that’s why we’d been given strange looks when we stopped fishing. We’d missed the bit where we would have _some_ of the fish cooked for us, the rest were going to an as yet unnamed destination, probably the same restaurants 10 feet from the boat who were charging 50 quid for half of each of the remaining Cod. As we pointed out, we had all paid handsomely for the trip but as the skipper was cooking our food none of us was brave enough to voice concerns particularly when he got involved in a full blown argument back at the office. Not the Italian or Spanish full blown pass the salt argument but a proper barney with two guys who met us tying up.
Still the cod was delicious and it was enough for us and enough to take some back to the guys traveling companions.
I trudged all the way back to the hostel to find an empty room with just me in it. I got my head down about midnight and made plans to be up around 8 to be on the road for 10 as the weather should clear about lunchtime on the Golden Circle.