Last year, EasyJet had one of their flash sales and on the spur of the moment, I booked flights to Iceland for January 2019. It was a country that I’d always fancied visiting even though Brad was less enthusiastic. Luckily, the way to Brad’s heart is definitely through his stomach so I won him over by massively exaggerating Iceland’s gastronomic contribution to the world and by deliberately failing to mention the rather more traditional dishes of hákarl (fermented shark), hrútspungar (Sour rams testicles) or harðfiskur (dried fish jerky).
A few months later, on a rather chilly Monday night, we landed at a snow covered Keflavík Airport and due to some rather unclear signage, we almost found ourselves heading back to the UK before we’d even left the terminal building.
After getting off the plane, we stopped for me to have my customary post-flight wee; given the option of spending a penny in the sky or turbulence free airport toilets, I’ll take terra firma any day of the week. Call of nature answered, we followed a big bunch of people thinking that they were heading to passport control, only to find ourselves patiently waiting to board a flight to Belfast.
What can I tell you? We’re British. There was a queue. You do the maths.
Eventually we realised the error of our ways, found our way out of the airport and began our Icelandic adventure.
The main reason for going to Iceland was because I wanted to try to see the northern lights, a phenomenon that has always fascinated me, so an organised northern lights hunt was our first expedition.
Our guide drove for about an hour and a half to a top secret location* which was basically a scout hut in the middle of nowhere. We worked out which direction was north and then we waited. It was -12 degrees outside so we had to keep popping into the scout hut to stop our extremities from freezing and falling off (top tip if you’re going somewhere super cold – buy a balaclava, you might look like you’re about to commit armed robbery, but at least your face will be toasty warm).
*may not have actually been top secret, it could just be that I can’t exactly remember where we went.
Eventually, at nearly midnight, the door to the hut was flung open and the booming voice of our tour guide yelled “LIGHTS” excitedly. We dashed outside to wonder in awe at the elusive aurora dancing beautifully across the sky.
I recognise how fortunate we were to be able to witness this occurrence, not least when I returned to work and spoke to a colleague who works in our financial crime team. He told me, through gritted teeth with definite outrage in his voice that he’d visited Iceland twice, specifically to see the lights and hadn’t seen them at all.
I mean, I’m not casting aspersions on him yet, but if I end up in the middle of some unsubstantiated credit card fraud investigation scandal, just check to see if it was instigated by Mr Jealous from financial crime…
If anyone had told me before Iceland, that I’d be sitting in an outdoor pool in January, in my swimming cozzie, in minus temperatures whilst the wind pelted tiny frozen spikes of ice into my face, I’d have told them that they were mad, but then I’d never been to the blue lagoon before.
The blue lagoon is a geothermal spa where you can swim in mineral-rich hot water (between 37 and 39 degrees). It’s an incredibly surreal experience; like having a massive alfresco dip surrounded by scenery that wouldn’t look out of place in a snow globe.
As part of entry to the blue lagoon, you receive a drink from the pool bar. We went with the alcoholic option to try to distract ourselves from the fact that, fundamentally, we were sharing a giant bath with a bunch of strangers. Mind you, my skin felt so amazing after the experience and I was so relaxed that I could have been bathing with plague infested rats and it would have been worth it to achieve such a feeling of calm wrapped nicely in baby soft skin.
You are also given a silica mud mask as part of your entry price. Everyone around us was applying their mask so I encouraged Brad to do the same, telling him that it would make his skin glow. Alas, this not go to plan.
The problem was that instead of paying attention to how I put my mask on, my beloved husband applied his mud in the same way that you might wash your face with soap (a blob of mud in each hand, hands rubbed together and then mud spread vigorously and indiscriminately all over the face). The mud ended up in his eyes, it went up his nose, it was in his mouth. It prompted this conversation:
Me: “What are you doing? You’re supposed to avoid all the sensitive bits.”
Brad: ”It stings!”
Me: “I’m not surprised! Why did you just shove mud in your eyes?”
Brad: “I’ve never put a face mask on before”
Me: “But surely you’ve seen pictures of women with face masks on?”
Brad: “My eyes are sore”
Me: “That’s because it’s not supposed to go IN YOUR BLOODY EYEBALLS”
Brad: “It tastes funny”
Me: “What the? Jeez dude, close your mouth!”
Cue frantic face washing and water drinking to remove the sting and taste of mud mask, fortunately he survived without any after effects but safe to say, I won’t be arranging a spa day for him any time soon.
Eating and drinking in Iceland is as expensive as the travel guides tell you. I found the best way to manage this was to eat lots of hotel breakfast so you don’t need lunch and then to NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES convert the Icelandic krona that you’ve just spent into sterling. No one needs to know that one meal has cost more than a usual weekly shop. Ignorance is most definitely the best approach. That said, we did have the most divine lamb dish on our first night which potentially cost more than an entire flock of alive sheep back in the UK and I don’t even care. I still dream about that meal.
Iceland is beautiful and such an incredibly interesting country that it made me regret not paying more attention in Geography classes at school. We went to Thingvellir national park which is in a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates (turns out these aren’t something you eat your dinner off) and witnessed the eruption of Strokkur, a very active geyser which loudly expels boiling water and steam up in the air every few minutes like an angry kettle.
We also saw Gullfoss waterfall, which was impressive, but when you’ve seen Niagara Falls, unfortunately nothing else is going to compare. Poor Gullfoss is almost half the size of Niagara and Gullfoss’s average water flow rate is 140 cubic metres per second. Niagara’s water flows at 2,400 cubic metres per second. So it was a bit David and Goliath for me. Not to mention the fact that at Gullfoss, it was -16 degrees and I had stopped being able to feel any part of my body properly, whereas on my last visit to Niagara Falls, it was closer to 30 degrees, I was wearing a strappy summer dress and eating an ice cream rather than wearing thermal undies and becoming a human ice pole, so poor old Gullfoss never really stood a chance.
However, even if you ingest a face pack in a giant communal bath, visit only the second best waterfall you’ve ever seen or return home teetering on the edge of your overdraft because you dared to order starters, a trip to Iceland is still an absolutely incredible experience that will without a doubt, take your breath away.