Sunday, July 6, 2014

Iceland

We arrived in freezing Reykjavik at 7am after a sleepless night on the plane from NYC and headed to the AirBnB room we'd booked downtown. Our host, Daniel greeted us with his two adorable Chihuahuas who became excellent companions. After some tea and coffee we had bundled up into the car, along with the dogs who sat on my lap, and were off to the nearest 'beach' so that the boys could experience sea swimming.

Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach was created in the city using imported sand, and uses geothermal heat from underground to heat the inlet - making swimming there more bearable than the rest of the channel. I tested this 'warmer' water with my hand, and can report that it was bloody cold and definitely not acceptable for swimming in. 

Daniel (our host) is quite the sea swimming enthusiast, as are a lot of Icelandic men. Him and his friends swim in this channel even in the winter - when the average sea temperature is approximately 3 degrees! He had one friend who made some sort of silly proclamation that he would swim once a day for an entire year, and reportedly used an axe to break up the ice in front of him during the middle of winter - absolutely crazy!

Once the obligatory lap of the lagoon was complete the boys made the usual progression up the beach, into warmer and warmer pools until reaching the natural jacuzzi at the top where I decided to join them. After a flight this was such a refreshing way to start the day, and this facility is open every day to the public - all free. Alex said he had never experienced the feeling of being that cold before, but almost considered going swimming again the next day too - loco!

The Icelandic people are a hardy lot. Daniel told us that whenever he thinks his life is getting tough he thinks back to his Grandmother who gave birth to triplets in Iceland's coldest winter on record, in a remote village that was often frequented by Polar Bears. During the birth in the freezing hut/igloo/house (can't remember!) the Grandfather stood guard with an axe in case one came looking. That winter they had 26 Polar Bears enter the village. 

Freezing cold + giving birth to triplets + polar bear threat = YOUR LIFE IS NOT HARD!




Bright red and freezing their asses off!




The duvet in our room at Daniel's house was one of the best duvets we have both ever experienced - heavy whilst being fluffy, scrunchy - but not too loud, and large enough to wrap around yourself without too many disagreements over who had more than the other. We managed to sleep for most of our first day in Reykjavik, luckily this is not too much of a concern when you're on holiday in Iceland in summer though - because it is daylight 24hrs a day. 

We spent the evening exploring downtown Reykjavik where I purchased an Icelandic beanie as I was unable to bear the cold, and watched a football game in one of the pubs. Whilst we came prepared with a big jacket each, I was unable to stop myself from browsing through the countless Icelandic Wool shops selling everything to get you through an Icelandic Winter comfortably. For a wool jumper, nice but not outstanding - you can expect to pay NZD$300 and up. I have no idea how the locals afford to clothe themselves, we didn't see any one item of clothing for under NZD $100 while we were there. A mango in Reykjavik was a whopping NZD $11, and strawberries $9 a punnet!

Iceland has their own version of yoghurt called 'Skyr'. It's super thick like a greek yoghurt, but very high in protein with virtually no fat. Quite delicious and we sampled quite a few different flavours during our time there. No idea why this healthy version of yoghurt hasn't reached distant shores as yet!




1.30am in Reykjavik


Day two of our stay coincided with the annual Viking Festival in a nearby town so we caught the bus there the next day to check it out. I would say approximately 75% of attendees were dressed in traditional viking attire (how do they all have this gear!?!) - and if you needed to suit up for the occasion there were a plethora of authentic Viking retailers showing the wares.

The 'Battlefield' hosted professional battles of about 30 or so adult vikings at a time, acting of course - but all real swords and weapons. And as soon as the adults were done the children would sprint out to begin their own battle. Their weapons were thankfully made on site at the workshop using only light MDF, but the children took these fights very seriously all the same. It is like fighting in a historically accurate way is a core part of the Icelandic upbringing, these kids had the moves - and when one 'died' they collapsed to the ground in a dramatic fall and lay motionless for about 5 seconds before rising and entering the battle once again.




Start them when they start walking
Excellent death

Viking Band in action

Enjoying his delicious Viking Wrap

Interesting: There are a lot of beautiful women in Iceland (they have won the Miss World competition 3 times), and according to a local magazine I read, this is potentially due to viking men stealing the world's most beautiful women taking them back to Iceland. 

The town hosting the Viking Festival is also home to a famous park where Elves and 'Hidden People' reside. As a lot of you will have noted from my Facebook post, over 50% of Icelanders believe in elves. We were lucky enough to stumble upon the resident elf expert when we arrived at the park and tried to eavesdrop on her guided tour. What we heard come out of her mouth was beyond bizarre. She said that the below photograph was the entrance to the elf church, and it is guarded by a dragon and his pet dog who is a friend to the elves. Of course she knows this because she met the dragon one day. Further lurking revealed that on other encounters with the elves, they had asked her to become their spokesperson - hence her guiding the tours of the park in a 'respectful' manner and printing books available in her elf shop with such titles as 'How to find an Elf'.

Sacred Elf Church entrance

Where are they?!







Appropriate tagging at the Elf Cafe

We hired a car for the next two days to explore the famous 'Golden Circle' - so trekked out to the rental office, aptly named 'Sad Cars' to pick up our beaten up Toyota Vitz and start exploring. Of course being on a budget meant that I wasn't allowed to add the GPS system to our package, and I was lumbered with a gigantic road map and many map-related disagreements ensued over those two days.

The weather really didn't put it on for us, it was pretty misty and cold during these two days unfortunately, but hiring a car was a great way to do it. The bus tours seem exorbitantly expensive (as is a lot of things in Iceland), and this way we could stop off wherever we wanted and take some of the less-travelled roads.


Stopped here as heaps of other cars had too, just some weird rock formations...

After being told off for driving down a walking only road feeling smug towards everyone who was walking in the rain
Very Game of Thrones like I thought

Standing in thick smelly sulfur mist


Geysir - 10 m or so high and blows every 10-15 minutes. The word Geysir (Geyser) is Icelandic did you know!? NZ got a mention on the info board here for having a wee geysir in Rotorua.

This is a picture of a photograph which captures Ć¾ingvellir National Park (crack right through middle of the land). This is where the first two photographs were taken. The park lies between the tectonic plates of Europe and America, hence the huge rift.

Gullfoss - huge waterfall. Suprisingly Gullfoss means Golden Waterfall - think this may be an accurate name on a nice day, but it was a big Greyfoss the day we visited.

One of the stops on the official 'Golden Circle' tour is to a town that is home to a huge amount of greenhouses, where the majority of Iceland's fruit & vegetables are grown. These indoor methods are really the only way the country can produce fruit & veges throughout winter when there is scarcely any light. This may explain the exorbitant prices for all delicious fruit... 

The greenhouses are heated and lit with Iceland's geothermal energy, which is responsible for producing the heating and hot water requirements for approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland. The hot shower does smell a little sulfur like, but their houses are super warm - and according to Daniel, the hot water/heat bills very small.

We're now in London and accidentally went into a Supermarket called 'Iceland' here (the Sainsbury's was right next door and we got the door wrong), and ironically here it is a brand renowned for it's super cheap prices on absolutely everything. Fittingly though there is a vast range of frozen goods on offer.

We spent our last day in Iceland at The Blue Lagoon - Iceland's most iconic tourist destination. Entry was 35 euros per person, so definitely on the pricey side of pool entry fees but after seeing so many amazing photographs of this place online I managed to convince Alex that it was well worth a visit from us.




Beautifying my face with the silica mud mask
Copy off Blue Lagoon Website: The Blue Lagoon was formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis noticed an incredible improvement in their condition. Over the years, Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, Blue Lagoon is recognised as one of the wonders of the world.


We finished our driving tour off with some gravel road detours around the coast, beautiful black sand beaches and rugged coastlines.

We were off to London at 7am the next morning, and enjoyed a delicious free ice cream on board Iceland Air for breakfast to celebrate their 70th Birthday of Independence from Denmark.

xx




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