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Caitie's Travels

Iceland by name... Iceland by nature!

ICELAND | Wednesday, 9 March 2011 | Views [814]

Saturday

I arrived into Iceland to strong winds and rain blowing horizontally into my face… not exactly the sun and blue skies I had been hoping for! Nevertheless, I stuck to my plan and headed from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, and outdoor thermal pool renowned across Iceland. It had its nice and toasty spots, which you could easily see by the people clustered around! There were probably only 30 people there at the time, not many were brave enough to come out in this weather. The water was very therapeutic, and the mud masks and minerals in the water certainly made my skin feel very nice and smooth (a trip along the skincare shelf in the gift shop helped too…). My hair did not fare as well as my skin though, and felt like straw for the next couple of days whilst I desperately tried to get conditioner to soak in. After relaxing at the lagoon I headed to Reykjavik to settle into my hotel and find some dinner (the local subway served this purpose well!). I had to do battle with my room key for 5 minutes before I found someone to help me, the system was rather challenging to get working… you had to put the key card and tweak the knob JUST right to get it to work. (By the end of the four days I managed to get the system down pat J)

 

Sunday

Today I headed off on a Golden Circle tour into the country. We started off with a drive through the countryside, and witnessed many drastic changes in weather. A quote from the tour guide was, “Don’t like the weather? Wait 10 minutes…” We saw snow blowing around us furiously, we saw sunshine and blue skies, and in the distance we could see a black snowstorm moving across the horizon. We drove through rift valley, where the country is being slowly pulled apart by tectonic plates, and saw geographical evidence of this. We stopped at a small waterfall which was quite pretty, before continuing on the first main attraction of our tour – Guilfoss (Golden Waterfall… yes, there were sniggers and pee jokes!) We jumped off the bus to stretch our legs and take many photos. I quickly lost feeling to my fingers due to the wind ripping straight through my polar fleece gloves! I soon limited my photo taking to a couple of quick bursts, followed by digging my hands deep into my jacket pockets to try and get the blood flowing again. The canyon that the waterfall drops down into varies between 60-80m from the top to bottom. As we looked down the valley filled with the river we could see basalt columns rising up its walls, which we learnt was the inspiration for the design of the large church in town. After enjoying the sights of Guilfoss, we drove back down the road to Geysir, and saw the geyser blow around 10-15m into the air, about once every 5 minutes. It was quite a funny sight to see all the tourists (including me!) lined up with cameras posed and ready to try and snap the water shooting up into the air. I managed to get a couple of good action shots in! We had lunch here and enjoyed a multimedia show about the local area, the history of the Geysir, and the role of volcanoes and earthquakes in the geographical nature of Iceland. Onwards we drove, passing many a golf course (it seems to be a popular pastime in Iceland!) and we continued onto Pingvellir National Park, which is famous for being the site of the first parliament held in Iceland (held in the rift between two tectonic plates no less!). We saw the side of the North American continental wall (I think that was what it was called), which is the only place in the world that it rises above the ocean. We stopped again at the parliamentary site for some more photos and exploring, and we could actually walk the same rift that housed the parliament. I bet they were cold in their scant traditional clothes! After we had finished exploring we loaded back onto the bus and began the drive back to Reykjavik. Our guide for the day was quite amusing, providing his own personal commentary on the people and places of Iceland, pointing out many small things we would have otherwise missed. He also told us that this weekend was the most snow Iceland had seen in 4 years, prior to this they had had so little that most of their sky fields were closed and the ski lifts taken down or rusted away! Lucky us…

 

Unfortunately the northern lights tour that I was hoping to go on that night was cancelled due to the weather. The snow had stopped for a while but there was still a bit of cloud cover. I was sad but hopeful that I would get another chance the following night. Instead of the tour I went for a walk along the waterfront into the city centre of Reykjavik, taking photos and exploring along the way.

Monday

This morning I was going to do some further exploration of the city centre, but I didn’t get far down the road before a snowstorm hit. It was like having little ice pellets blown into your face! I hastily retreated into the hotel lobby, where I chatted to some other people waiting for the weather to clear. After a little while the sun came out again, so I ventured out once more keen for some exploring. I got a little further down the road this time and was taking some photos of the snow covered waterfront and the sunny view of one of the islands, when I could see yet another snowstorm brewing behind the city, on its way for me. On one side I had a beautiful sunny day, and on the other were black skies and cold winds! Again I retreated back to the hotel, just in time to enjoy a second breakfast/morning tea of jam toast and tea (very English of me!). I watched the impressive snow storm from the warmth and safety of indoors, and then got ready to head off on my riding excursion.

 

For the afternoon I had booked a ‘lava tour’, which was a horseback ride through some of the many ancient lava fields that fill the countryside. In summertime they are green and mossy, with square-like lava rocks poking up every which way. In winter they are still the same shapes, but a little softer and white from the snow. We rode the only type of horse that they have in Iceland, Icelandic Horses, which are a pure breed and have been around since the Vikings. They are smaller than a standard horse, basically a large pony, and have very soft hair. They also have a very gently and reliable nature, which made them an ideal horse for me to go riding on! My horse for the afternoon was named Eldur, which is Icelandic for Fire. He was a reddish-brown coloured horse who faithfully plodded along behind the horse in front… The only reason I had the reins really was to stop me from falling off! We rode for around 2 hours, again witnessing the dramatic changes in weather. It was quite chilly riding through a snowstorm! But the horses kept plodding on, and we put our heads down, pulled our scarves up and trusted their instincts. As long as my frozen hands could keep hold of the reins I was fine! When the sun came out we witnessed absolutely beautiful scenery that stretched for kilometers to the horizon of snow covered mountains.
 
Again, there were no northern lights tours tonight because of the cloud cover and snow storms. This was disappointing, as it had been the original enticement to visit Iceland, but I had seen so many amazing sights and wonders of nature that I was still happy with my decision to visit. I will just have to come back another time, or maybe try and head north to Alaska later in the year from Canada? I would also love to visit Iceland in the summertime and see it green and clear… maybe on my way over to Canada?

 

Tuesday

Had an early start this morning as the bus ride to the airport is about an hour long. A mini bus picked us up from the hotel, with the intention of taking us to the bus terminal to join the larger bus to the airport… but all was not to go to plan! Overnight there had been around 30cm of snow… and it was so early that the snowplows hadn’t made it to our street yet. So our mini bus got bogged at the traffic lights, approximately 15m from our hotel. It took ten minutes for the driver to work us free, going forwards and backwards and sideways, until we made it onto the plowed haven of the main street. We made it a couple of minutes down the road before we pulled over and waited for the larger bus to come to us! We were assured that planes still took off in worse conditions than this… although if we had to fly through those strong winds it could be a bumpy ride! In the end it was a very smooth flight and we had clear skies for takeoff. As we landed in London the sun was out and it was a lovely warm start to Spring, 11 degrees! I put on shorts when I got back to my house and enjoyed the relative warmth and lack of snow. Goodbye Iceland, I hope to visit again someday! (Although maybe when the weather is nicer…)

Tags: golden circle, iceland, iceland horse, northern lights

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