Words: Simeon Smith
Pictures: Simeon & Elizabeth Smith
They are from England and visited Iceland in March 2015.
“Iceland is definitely the manliest country ever” I joked to my wife as we rounded a corner to be faced with yet another breathtaking view of vast mountains rising up in snowy majesty , overlooking sweeping valleys of lava rocks and frozen lakes.
“What do you mean?” This said with a slight eye roll, knowing, as she did my silly nature.
“Think about it. There are loads of statues of men with axes; everyone has a beard; the attitude of the people here is ‘Well, we’re living on a bunch of super-volcanoes that could erupt any minute but what are you going to do about it?’ and even the scenery is rugged, chiselled and unyielding!”
While this was a joke, there is an element of truth to it. The scenery truly is awe-inspiring and vast in it’s scope; there does seem to be a disproportionate number of statues around the place (and yes many of them are carrying axes) and the people of Iceland, far from being remote and indescribable like the mountains that tower over the whole country, have an easy going, friendly and immediately likeable feel about them. The number of beards did also seem to be quite high.
“No Axe Here…”
As you may already be able to tell, I loved Iceland. Every last second of it. From the moment I stepped off the plane in rain lashed Keflavik to the moment I stepped back on it again, in snow lashed Keflavik, I had the holiday of a lifetime.
Seen as I have mentioned weather a couple of times already, let me elaborate. It changes, constantly. In one day, we went from sun to snow to hail to extreme winds, back to snowstorm, back to sun, and again with the snow. Far from putting me off, this aided in the constant flux that one feels whilst being in Iceland. Due to the unpredictability of the nature of Iceland – the aforementioned volcanos everywhere and being perfectly placed on 2 continental tectonic plates, increasing the probability of earthquakes – the whole place has a mystical, almost otherworldly feel to it. And for us adventurous souls, there is nothing quite like it!
Five minutes later it was sunny!
There is almost too much to do in Iceland. We stayed a week and could easily have found enough to keep us happy for another week without trying too hard. For those with deep pockets, the possibilities are endless. Two notable trips out we took are Moonwalker and Nordurflug Helicopter trips. I cannot praise them both enough.
Moonwalker is a fairly new company and the owner and driver/guide, Bessi, clearly loves his country and loves showing people around it. You set off in the morning in his big Land Rover and head off into tracks you would never dare go down in your hired car. We took the Reykjanes Peninsular tour, seeing both mountains and clifftops, beaches and lava fields. We even got a visit to the Blue Lagoon in there! Bessi kept us happy and entertained whilst teaching and informing. It was a very unique way of seeing Iceland and one that took us on many paths away from the crowds into vast untamed wilderness. Also, as the tour took approximately 9 hours all told, we definitely got our money’s worth!
Just out of shot: a distinct lack of crowds
As if that wasn’t unique enough, the Nordurflug helicopter tours are a must! On the Geothermal Tour we headed right into the mountains East of Reykjavik, with our pilot skilfully manoeuvring around several blizzards that were heading in our direction. We passed geothermal power stations, inactive volcano craters and epic snow-covered lava fields before landing on a mountain, away from tracks and cars and overpriced gift shops. This was unlike anything either of us had done before and the fact that where we landed was fairly inaccessible to anyone else made it special and very rewarding. We then flew a different route back to Reykjavik, affording us excellent views of the city before landing. Again, it was expensive but we felt that it was definitely worth it!
Us, our humble ride, on the side of “our” mountain…
There are so many more things I could write in great depth about: The Golden Circle and its huge array of stunning photo opportunities, including Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur the active geyser and Gullfoss the massive waterfall; I could talk about the many places in Reykjavik that are definitely worth a visit such as Perlan and Hallgrímskirkja (as well as a multitude of amazing café’s, restaurants and bars in downtown – I recommend Slippbarinn for the fish soup!); I could go on for ages about the various other places we went to (plus the fact that we saw the Northern Lights! Yes, they truly are an out of this world experience), bore you for hours with the pictures we took and drive you all crazy going on about how much I love the country, it’s history and it’s beauty but I won’t.
Strokkur: Icelandic for “Leaky,” probably…
I will, however, briefly mention the one downside we, as citizens of the Northwest of England, found about the place. It’s a little pricy. Now, my fellow Englishmen who live in London or indeed most of the South will no doubt find that actually not that bad. And in fairness I felt that everything was of high quality and almost always worth what we were paying for it. I just want people to be realistic – it’s not a cheap country. But if you plan well and budget properly there is no reason you cannot have the holiday of a lifetime. Plus the coins have fish on them!
So, fellow traveller. Go. Visit this country of wonders, of alien landscapes, of fire and ice. Speak to the people, immerse yourself in the culture, the history and the wonderful people. Take a photo next to a random statue, drive into the ever-shifting countryside, stand out in the freezing night sky and experience the utterly mind blowing Northern Lights. I promise you, there isn’t another place like it on this earth.