Iceland – October 2016

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Day 1 – To Reykjavik & Staður:

By some bizarre coincidence, Orla’s second cousin (twice removed) Tyler is on our flight to Reykjavik en route back to the USA. So amazingly, we get to hang out with him for the day in Iceland. It works out pretty well for Tyler too as he has not booked anywhere to sleep in Reykjavik. A rental car does not make a good bed.

Our check-in desk for the flight is, literally, in the basement I never knew existed at Dublin airport. When the lift doors open there is a sea of people, thankfully it’s for Germanwings and not our WOW Air flight. WOW Air are sticklers for the bag size. There are some very angry passengers battling the big metal bag checker. It takes three of us to help a lady drag her bag out of the frame having wedged it in. She still has to pay extra. On board, the stewardess asks that if anyone has a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, to not use it, charge it or even switch it on while on this flight. How did they get that product that wrong? Thankfully my trusty HTC is perfectly permitted and I know two Icelandic bands, so I’ll be mostly listening to some Sigur Rós to settle the nerves on route to Reykjavik. Of Monsters and Men will have to wait for the return flight.

We’re staying at the Arctic Comfort Hotel, which isn’t much but it’s enough. After throwing all our bags into the room we wander out the town for a bit. Directions are going well in Reykjavik. We find ourselves, basically shouting ‘move idiot’ at a parked car. A real Dumb and Dumber moment. We get back onto The road soon after with Tyler driving, mostly safely. There is, by all apparent information, one road in Iceland that goes all the way around. We drive for two and a half hours seeing very little life. Iceland is quite sparsely populated. For more than an hour we see nothing but mountains, rivers and the road we’re on. We finally arrive at a petrol station to resupply so we can hunt for the northern lights.

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Having spotted a sort of lay-by off the road in the hills near Staður earlier we head back out to the middle of nowhere to park up and hunt the Aurora nearly missing it in the dark but for some screeching brakes and an impressively speedy reversal by Tyler. Settling into some Taylor Swift with Tyler protesting that he just downloaded the album to compare it to Ryan Adams’ 1989 when Orla shouts ‘lads, there’s something brewing behind us’. I burst into action, setting off the alarm in the car somehow. There it is. The Northern Lights. Amazing dancing, green lights in waves across the night sky. Incredible stuff. I can’t believe we saw the phenomenon. We spend a few moments in glory. To high-five and hug it out before just standing in amazement in the cold and dark. Unfortunately, neither my phone nor my Sony compact camera are capable of capturing the lights. We experience less of a buzz when we spot another formation a little further down the road, the spectacle being not so vivid and, of course, our second time around. We convince ourselves near Reykjavik that we can see a red incarnation of the lights only to confirm ourselves as dopes and these lights as a football stadium reflecting in the clouds! The drive home brings a few near death experiences but ultimately we make it. It was just a 6 hour round trip. Definitely worth it to see the Aurora Borealis.

 

Day 2 – Reykjavik:

Hallgrímskirkja Church, with a statue of Leif Erikson (an Icelandic explorer) outside for some reason?!? Definitely worthy of a statue having sailed to North America before the year 1020, but don’t saints usually get statues outside churches? Across the road is Café Loki where I try out something Icelandic with pancakes and Skyr (an Icelandic yogurt). We’re treated to some great service. The waitress asks Tyler ‘where are you’ having just seated us. Next up is the Harpa Opera House, some unusual modern style architecture with a man whittling a massive tree trunk outside. Inside there is some sort of international conference going on so we’re denied access at every turn. Despite our attempt to circumvent security.

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At this point it is time to say goodbye to Tyler, so Orla and I pop into a flea market where there are boots on sale for €80, fake designer sunglasses for €30. You know, standard market prices! Orla and I then walk to the western tip of Reykjavik, find a church with some classical music happening, and then stroll back. We obviously didn’t realise the wind on the way out and battle our way back into town against a great force.

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We stumble upon Bryggjan Brugghús and partake in a much deserved Icelandic Ale. The bar man tasting the beer, using his own glass, as he pours. Making sure it meets the standard. It makes for a lot of wastage. The beer is real strong but very good.

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On the way home we treat ourselves in Lobster & Stuff. We order the taste of Lobster which comprises of lobster, mozzarella and tomato crisp breads. A lobster burger, tempura lobster and lobster spring rolls. You know, come to a very expensive place and eat a load of lobster of all things. We’re on a budget you know. All washed down with a Gull Lager, which I later discover is 2.5%. Curious.

Later the heavens open and our hotel is battered by rain so we don’t venture far for dinner; I consume a lasagne the traditional Icelandic way, with a spoon, and enjoy an Einstök Arctic Pale Ale in basically the only place we can find open near our hotel. I cannot remember the name, or more accurately, cannot pronounce it. Despite plenty of trying, to much our own amusement.

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Day 3 – Blue Lagoon:

It’s really coming down again outside so, in advance of our pick up for the Blue Lagoon, we grab a quick bite in the hotel for breakfast. Not amazing, but certainly not terrible. Expensive at €20 each, but sure go on. I attempt to balance out the value by eating a lot.

Transfer to the Blue Lagoon is relatively comfortable with Reykjavik Excursions. There is a distinct lack of direction from any member of staff at the bus terminal though. An American couple who have only just arrived and come straight from the airport look lost. They attach themselves to us and eventually all four of us get through the process and we’re on the bus. 45 minutes later we arrive in the mist of the lagoon. The weather is shocking, but probably perfect for a thermal water dip. The water is blue. Very blue. It looks surreal, with the steam rising up and the volcanic rock in the background. It’s an incredible setting. The first toe enters the lagoon edge and you feel the dramatic temperature difference, it’s a cool 8℃ in the air with wind and rain but below the water it’s above 35℃ and beautiful. We spend nearly 4 hours wading around the silica infused pools, with a few breaks to try to minimise pruning. The whole experience is thoroughly relaxing. This is not a natural lake, pond or pool. It is manmade, with the water being waste from a nearby geothermal generator, but who cares! It is definitely beautiful, worth the entrance fee and to be fair, waste is a bit misleading. It is still clean, natural water. The smell of sulphur is interesting though.

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Back in Reykjavik, the streets are bustling. Iceland are hosting Turkey in a World Cup Qualifier so of course we head to Pho Vietnamese Restaurant for dinner. Keeping our meals very Icelandic!

Our flight tomorrow is real early so there isn’t much room for going on the tear tonight, not that you could at about €12 per bottle of beer, so after dinner we just make our way back to base to pack and get sorted. We’re confused as to the reason why the girl on the reception desk is being passive aggressive when we get back to the hotel and she asks ‘what’s your room number?’ We respond, ‘312’ and she snaps back ‘I know, you told me this morning.’ Right so, back away…..slowly.

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Day 4 – Trying to go home:

Pickup from the hotel at 2:30am. Getting to Keflavik Airport to be informed that our flight is delayed by more than 3 hours due to the late arrival of an incoming aircraft. It’s 4am, so just a five and a half hour wait. How can a plane be late by more than the duration of its flight time? It’s coming from America, that’s how. Suddenly we get an update. Confirmed for 10:50, a four and a half hour delay before another confirmation comes through for 8:30, then the same for 8:15…….that’s how time and confirmation works, right?!? Apparently you also have to be in the airport 3 hours and 40 minutes after your departure time to be given any food or refreshments. That doesn’t seem like it’s right but when I point that out the lady at the desk just laughs. Quality customer service. At no point did any member of staff apologise for the delay until the pilot sort of does but quickly follows it up by saying the flight time is ‘very short’ and we have enough time to enjoy ourselves. He subsequently tells us he’s not really sure what he’s trying to say to us. It was a comedy of misinformation and confusion, we were given more than one gate number and 5 different times for take-off with any question being differed with ‘I don’t know; we haven’t received that information yet’. They even managed to forget to scan one man’s boarding pass but let him on anyway. They then had to make a call to ask him to identify himself IF on board. Seriously?!? Eventually we get off the ground at 9am.

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