Iceland 2016

Featured on Suitcase Magazine

Iceland is a small island between the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. A place defined by dramatic landscapes and vast areas of wilderness where active volcanoes, geysers and monumental glaciers might convince you you’d stepped off the plane and onto another planet. Most of the country’s 300,000 population lives in the capital, Reykjavik. This becomes clear when you start to travel around the island; vast areas of wilderness void of people and monumental glaciers make you feel as if you’re on another planet.

We arrived at eight o’clock in the evening and picked up a motorhome to help us discover this stunning island at our own pace. Summer time here means long hours of daylight with no real darkness, so we still had time to find some spectacular ice glaciers jutting out of the dark blue ocean. Contrasts are everywhere, like the black sand slammed by the clear white froth of a booming shore break.

 

Taking a less travelled path, we followed a river which turned into a roaring waterfall cascading between lush green hills in a scene which was more akin to my native Austria. But wait a minute, these hills were on fire! Or so it seemed to my untrained eye. The scientific explanation tells us this natural phenomenon is caused by geothermal activity, where steam escapes from the many cracks and crevices of the mountain.We decided to park our ‘home on wheels’ by a little river at Hella, a tiny town on the way to Vik. A good choice, the rivers’ pleasant meandering pitter patter and ripples gave a very restful sleep. We awoke reinvigorated and stopped off at the first public pool the next morning, which opened at six o’clock. After a long shower and swim, we made the four hour drive east towards the town of Höfn.

We planned to go at our own pace and not rush around the whole island trying to catch a quick glimpse of everything. Photography always takes time. My long suffering husband will testify to this. About an hour from Höfn, we received a text from the motorhome company with a weather warning. “Very high winds and a storm forecasted.” Well, that explained the three mile high black wall slowly moving towards us. At first we laughed, “how bad can the wind really be?” The answer is very bad. We continued until we literally couldn’t drive in a straight line. Now I realised how my husband felt when I was behind the wheel. The text advised we should park the motorhome with the front facing into the wind to stop it from blowing over. Again I found that rather funny and thought it was all said so that we wouldn’t risk any damage to the big expensive vehicle. At the next stop I opened my door and almost cost us the excess waiver. The wind seemed to grab my door and fling it open with such force I thought it would pop from its hinges. Luckily I hadn’t let go, though I’d almost been dragged out of the motor home. I couldn’t physically close the door myself, so hubby had to help me while I got back inside our ‘house on wheels’ feeling like a rabbit who’s made it back to its burrow after a chase with a fox. Phew! Following this experience, I searched online and found a video of a caravan being blown down a road in Iceland. This was when we decided to turn around…

I wanted to visit the more popular sights early in the morning or late at night when the tour buses would be elsewhere. My philosophy of “Let’s see what’s down here!” took us west, in the direction of Vik, and much of the next day was spent exploring waterfalls and fields of black lava rock covered in green lichen which would drive any naturalist wild with excitement. Passing through vast panoramic landscapes untouched by humans, we eventually bumped and cursed down a steep gravel road which clearly wasn’t meant for motor homes or any vehicles without 4WD. I was thinking that maybe we’d made a big mistake when all at once we found ourselves in the majestic Fjaorargljufur Canyon. It was around 7pm and not a tour bus to be seen. This truly was a magical place and definitely one of the highlights of the trip for both of us.

 

There is so much to discover here that isn’t necessarily within the confines of the normal tourist attractions or brochures. Many of our little detours seemed more rewarding to us because they uncovered hidden gems we didn’t expect.

The famous Blue Lagoon allowed us to bathe and relax in an otherworldly moon-scape of cream silicon mud and icy-blue geothermal seawater. Set amid ancient, black lava rock and rising steam quelled by pure Icelandic air, this tranquil haven was inherently different to anything I’ve ever seen, and the perfect environment to end a most enlightening trip.

Wanting to see a little bit more of the Icelandic culture, we reserved one day for Reykjavik. I am not sure what we were expecting but it definitely wasn’t the colourful cityscape that greeted us. This sprawling town is full of funky, quirky restaurants and shops. From the beautiful street art, to the very modern and minimalistic architecture, this place is full of surprises. Walking through the streets you can’t help feeling you are walking through a film set. Some houses are clad in corrugated iron while others have very modern designs. The people paint their houses in very bright and vibrant colours ensuring even in bad weather there will be some bright and sunny outlook. It is somehow a reflection of the admirable disposition of the Icelandic people. No matter the weather, their mood always seems to be sunny and happy, with a tinge of that lovely dry humour, not taking the weather, life or themselves too seriously.

Thank you to the very talented people at Ethos Writing | www.ethoswriting.com who have put edited and directed this little blog post. Your content and writing is amazing guys and it felt like you were with us on the trip!

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