It was 2015 and around the half term, and going to Iceland wasn’t my idea. My wife and I were trying to book somewhere last minute, but going on holiday in the winter can be a bit rubbish. I was pressing for us to return to a village in Austria called Mayrhofen because we’d been there a few times and enjoyed it, but my wife shook her head and showed me a beautiful image of an arctic wilderness painted over with a green shimmering hue.
“I want to go to Iceland to see the northern lights”
I didn’t care about the northern lights. They look amazing, but it doesn’t seem like something I would travel to the middle of the ocean to see first hand. Flying over the fishing grounds of Malin, Hebrides and Bailey to get to a massive rock of cooled lava didn’t actually appeal to me at the time.
But my wife wanted to go, so we went. We went online and got a good deal for flights with WOW Air and accommodation at the Hilton, Reykjavik.
Transfer from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík
We booked with a company called Flybus to take us from the airport to our hotel, it turned out to be incredibly easy to find the bus stop – you just exit the airport and turn left. However, if you go when the temperature is -10°c and the snow is coming in sideways, it’s more difficult.
I would definitely recommend hiring a car when you’re in Iceland (I’ll post about that soon), mainly because of the experiences we had on this first trip where we relied on the bus companies.
It took ages. We went in October when the season is supposedly slowing down a bit, but I didn’t see that at all. There were a dozen stops before we arrived, and lots of people piling out. It took about 90 minutes to get to the hotel. In a car it takes 40, so I’d recommend a car.
So far it was the same as every other holiday.
If you hire a car, this is a popular route to Reykjavik. (Detour slightly and go to the Blue Lagoon first)
Hilton Reykjavik Nordica
This place is beautiful. Our room was spacious and had an amazing view of Mount Esja in the distance.
I remember the first night there I was waiting for my wife to be ready to go out, looking out off the window. There were dark clouds on the horizon and they were just hitting the mountain. I stood for a while watching them roll in, sipping a coffee. What struck me was the bleakness of the scene. There were lights to the left and right on the street, but immediately in front of me was the ocean, and then the mountain on the other side. It was black, with pinpricks of light reflected on the surface. It was a bit haunting, and fitted perfectly with the book I was reading at the time – ‘The Fifty Year Sword” by Mark Z. Danielewski. I read the spooky poetry, looked at the landscape and drank my black coffee.
As we were leaving we asked reception about transport and they gave us free bus passes to use to get into town and back. Which was nice.
“What the lava field takes, it doesn’t give back” or, “how I learned to stop worrying and love the lava bubble”
On our first full day we walked down to the coach terminal for one of the major tour companies to go and see the ‘golden circle’. I can’t remember whether we used Grayline or Reykjavik Excursions, but it was expensive and crowded. That being said, we did get to see everything we wanted to, and it was a fairly simple process to buy tickets.
Now, I have to be honest here. Most blogs about Iceland seem to follow the line – Amazing!,OMG, [heart emoji], #instatravel – but I’m not great at that. I’ve just realised while I’ve been writing this that I don’t seem to have any photos at all from this trip. I know I took a couple, but I don’t know where they are. So if you want to google the stops we made, they were: Pingvellir, Geysir, Seljalandsfoss, and Gulfoss.
Instead of pictures of me smiling and doing a heart thing with my hands, heres a couple of pictures of waterfalls that I actually took on later trips.
Seljalandsfoss – it’s great, you can walk round the back of it.
Skogafoss – you can walk right into it, and no-one seems to care. You can also walk up a million stairs and look at it from the top, again, with minimal health and safety in place.
The trip was nice, but we felt shuttled around, and there were so many people on the coaches that the next day we decided to do something different.
We joined a small tour of something called a ‘lava tube’ out in the middle of a lava field. There were only six of us and a guide, and it was something a bit special. A lava tube is where the lava flows out of a volcano when the surface has cooled and solidified. When the flow stops, the tube is left behind and forms a very long cave.
It was bizarre. After stopping seemingly in the middle of nowhere the tour guide showed us down a small entrance in the lava field and we stepped into the cave. Using torches we walked for around a kilometre underground, past all rocks of various sizes protruding from every angle. Like any other cave I guess. But this one was seemingly made of glass in some parts.
The floor, ceiling and walls of long sections of the cave shimmered and shined under the torchlight like onyx. It seemed perfectly smooth and carved for something formed by such a violent geological event, and the juxtaposition was interesting.
The cave was dark.
When we finally came out the guide gave us some hot coffee, biscuits, and calmly chatted about times when people had gone wandering in the lava fields and completely disappeared. We must have looked a bit taken aback, which she completely misconstrued as us wanting to hear more, so she explained how a person could disappear and never be found. Usually it was a sheep, but sometimes it was a person.
When the lava flowed and cooled, it created the black rocky fields that Iceland is famous for, but during this cooling a unique feature could emerge. If it happened at just the right time, the lava could create a bubble that then solidifies with an incredibly thin layer, with a concave shape below. When a person (or sheep) walks onto the top of the bubble (which you can’t see because it looks the same as the rest of the field) they will break the outer layer and fall in. If you are at the bottom of a lava bubble on your own, you’re as good as dead, she said. Apparently the inside of the concave shell is perfectly smooth like a polished glass bowl, so you can’t climb it. It’s not uncommon, she continued, to find the emaciated remains of livestock at the bottom of these features.
She finished her coffee and said “when the lava fields take, they don’t give back”.
Needless to say after this pep talk we needed a drink, so we decided to go into town with some new friends we made.
A great day, a great night
Ps. We didn’t get to see the northern lights.