Iceland- ‘but why??’ A few people have asked me, before and since our trip.
Firstly- I have never been drawn to the chavtastic boozy beachy holidays that you see on televisual delights such as ‘what happens in kavos’. (A cheesy night out with too many shots and cheap alcopops until the small hours is enough for me, thanks). I prefer something more obscure.
Secondly-I’ve long been intrigued by the place and thought of Iceland as a friendly neighbour (I even once had to explain to a date that ‘no, I am not from ICEland, I’m from IREland’) and my sister has always wanted to go. So when we originally discussed a ‘girlie weekend’ it wasn’t a far leap from an idea that started as a spa in Ireland to ‘sure why not a spa in Iceland, it’s bath night anyway!’
Only of course much more exciting..
Day 1- smoky bay (reijkavik)
I read somewhere that Iceland is like landing on the moon. I can say that that is not untrue- apart from one main road it has very little habitable land and as you depart the airport and travel along the isolated road, the only infrastructure that breaks up the lava fields, which to me looked like giant heads of broccoli or larger than life mouldy spores.
We joked upon landing that it was like ‘big Clare island’ (a rather remote west of Ireland island our parents have taken as a second home) due to it’s flatness and barren unforgiving treeless landscape.
It was the first holiday my sister and I have been on together and having travelled a fair bit alone, I wasn’t sure what to expect. (It worked out brilliantly as it happened- she and I both love to travel, are click-happy, fond of stupid humour, history & culture, drink and shops. Where she is more planned and organised, I’m happy to go with the flow and leave a little room for adventure and surprise – we complemented each other well).
When she suggested stopping off at the Blue Lagoon (a spa created out of a natural hot spring) on the way from the airport, I was excited. I had read and heard conflicting things about it, from ‘over priced tourist trap’ to ‘not to be missed’. A friend had already briefed me on the ‘mad dash’ from the changing rooms through the cold and into the water, made worthwhile by it’s warmth and of course, the bar.
The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane was that although it was cold outside, it wasn’t as icy as we had anticipated.
The second thing was how high-tech the place was. I have a weird habit of taking pictures of different toilets / bathroom facilities in other countries and the airport with it’s wash-basins boasting taps with built-in dyson dryers didn’t disappoint.
The facilities at the spa were also quite high-tech. We were each given an electronic bracelet (think of those in swimming pool lockers but with a built in chip) that could open barriers, close lockers and keep a tab!
Clare Island is not so technologically advanced!
Like ‘the island’ though, the place was full of Irish.
We were told before we entered the spa to lather up on conditioner and wear swim caps if we had them, to protect our hair from the salt water and were encouraged to utilise the silica mud, held in massive vats at the side of the lagoon, not unlike gruel, as it apparently worked wonders on the skin.
(My sister and I had a private snigger later, saying that as we were tourists they could be telling us to put sh1te on our skin and we’d believe that it was some magic stuff!)
It certainly looked as though some people took the advice too far…
It wasn’t long before we encountered our first fellow country’s folk, a Dublin woman laughing about using the mud to ‘make the wrinkles disappear’ then rolling her eyes in the direction of ‘gobshite of the year over there’, her husband, who caked in the stuff, daubing it on like plaster on a wall- blinking ferociously as he waded haplessly around the spring, no doubt confused at why this wasn’t a pub. He wasn’t the only Irish hubbie we’d seen flailing about and wondered if he even had a twin.
God love them,they’d probably never even set eyes on moisturiser before, let alone a mud mask! At least they were manly. We were nearly sick laughing.
It was the perfect place for people watching and I thought of how much my Bristolian friend would love to ‘have a nose’. From bodies to rival Greek gods and goddesses to human ‘big-foots’, red budgie-smuggler speedos to big ass trunks and everything in between. We even saw some kissing ‘gcwoks’ (gay couples without kids- both male & female) what with the open nakedness in the locker rooms, this was not a place for inhibitions. Mercifully peaceful though, no doubt due to the three-drink alcohol limit.
We chatted and laughed and waded around in the warm waters,with our strawberry sparkling wine feeling like we were living the highlife. We decided to avoid the slushies which bore the dubious name ‘krap’.
After some hours spent blissfully floating or half-sprinting half-waddling like penguins in & out of the various sauna and steam rooms, sufficiently chilled out, we headed for the city.
On the bus back, we entertained ourselves by skimming the travel brochures, discovering gems of Icelandic wit, such as that they had ‘stolen all the good looking women from England which is why they are left with what they have now’ and that they speak English, ‘even some hard words’.
We also learnt that the crime rate was extremely low- about 2%. (Another witticism about any items dropped / left behind which would, allegedly, either be returned to you or still be in the same place the next day)
We saw evidence of this later in the bikes which were just abandoned haphazardly outside flats and on streets with a half-arsed lock around the wheel- maybe. Never attached to anything secure like a bike-stand though.
Our shuttle bus dropped us off in the centre of the city, near our small but functional apartment. Upon arrival we discovered another obscurity- we had to call a number taped to the external door to obtain an entry code and combination for a miniature locker containing our door key. The reception area inside was eerily un-manned.
Having deposited out bags, we wandered around the city, a land of quirky design, little pockets of street art punctuated by large fat often colourful buildings with equally bright roofs of corrgated iron and big bright windows. with it’s independent spirit and unique / weird and wonderful fashion (grannies in multi-patterned leggings). It’s easy to see that this is the place that spawned Björk.
In honour of my sister’s hubbie, who has a thing for conquering the highest point of every place he/they visit, we climbed to the highest point in reijkavik, the top of hallgrimskirkja church, perched on a hill, guarded by a majestic-looking Viking statue, the city’s main landmark looks like a giant church organ, with lettering above the doorway that looked not dis-similar to that of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Afterwards, we decamped to our digs to change and consume some duty free vodka (drink in Iceland is expensive- no wonder as there was a prohibition on alcohol for a long time in the past), before heading out into the city centre (more of a town).
I felt right at home in the quirky indie bar with a ‘happy hour’ sign displayed out front. We had seen a lot of beardy ginger haired men and when the guy at the bar next to us gave us a tip on happy hour, I naturally assumed he was a local. ‘I’m from Newcastle!’ He exclaimed. Oops.
They love puffins in Iceland, even to eat. We couldn’t see any on the menu and also turned down the delicious traditional fare of putrified fish, sheep’s head & brain cheese, in favour of Italian.
After our meal, we headed back in light as bright as mid-day (it was after 10pm) to rest up for the second day of our adventure.