The quirky and magical world of Iceland

Bewilderingly, it’s been a whole six months since my last post. Since then, winter has morphed into summer (yeah, spot the difference!), the UK has turned its back on Europe and unleashed a storm of political infighting and general WTF-do-we-do-now anxiety and, on a lighter note, I’ve discovered and fallen in love with the world of swing dancing. However…

Last month I embarked on my first trip of the year (woo hoo!) to the geographically unique and slightly eccentric country of Iceland. May seemed like a good time of year to visit this frosty nordic destination – warm enough for outdoor activities yet slightly out of the peak summer season when the crowds are larger and prices are (even) higher. Solo travellers should note that you’ll struggle to do this destination on a budget. I went with a schoolfriend and even sharing a basic room in a hostel cost us approx £60 a night each. Expect to pay a lot for excursions too – Iceland is all about excursions – volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, lagoons, hikes, glaciers, horse riding, black-sand beaches, tectonic plates – you couldn’t possibly run out of things to do before you ran out of money first! We based ourselves in Reykjavik for the full stay, which was perfectly apt for a first-time introductory trip as there are plenty of fanastic natural attractions in close enough proximity to the city. On a second visit though, I would definitely do the whole hire a car and tour the island road trip.

First impressions of Iceland? Cold, grey, bleak, drizzly, a bit like going on holiday to a volcanic version of Scotland. Takes no time at all, however, for you to warm (figuratively, obviously) to its dramatic volcanic and occasionally martian-like landscapes, impressive cuisine and friendly, unpretentious locals. With a population of under 400,000 people, Iceland has some pretty impressive feats which the natives are incredibly proud of and will reel off at any available opportunity – the first country in the world to have a democratically elected female president, a self proclaimed nation of feminists with one of the most equal gender salary rates in the world, three times Miss World winner (you can see why, people just look so healthy and athletic here), and, of course, Iceland now seem to have inadvertently bred a football super race kicking (England’s) ass in the Euro 2016 tournament! Even more impressive is the fact that the country relies on 90% renewable energy, mostly in the form of geothermal sources, to support its population. AND politically, anything seems possible in Iceland. Not only did they manage to oust their Prime Minister earlier this year when 10% of the country protested about the PM’s links to tax evasion following the Panama leak scandal, but back in 2010, the Icelandic people elected an anarchist comedian as the Mayor of Reykjavik who initially stood as a protest against mainstream politics following the financial crisis. The mayor went on to serve the city for several years and even opened the city’s 2010 gay pride festival dressed as a drag queen. Blimey – takes political liberalism to a whole new level!

Before I rattle on further, here are some shots from the trip. This first post has some pics from the Golden Circle trip and some typical Icelandic sights. I will do a subsequent one with images from our Rejkyanes Peninsula tour.

Golden Circle

This is the Gullfoss waterfall, which is on the Golden Circle tour – weather was rubbish (on approach we were literally engulfed in vapour and drizzle) but it took away none of the magic of this impressive natural wonder.

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This shot was taken at Pingvillir National Park – a national shrine in Iceland and UNESCO World Heritage site. Here was founded the oldest existing parliament in the world in 930 AD. It is also a protected area due to its unique geology and natural features –  you can take a walk through the Almannagjá canyon which is formed between two tectonic plates, visual evidence of continental drift taking place.The site also has a dark past, with many executions by drowning taking place in the infamous Drekkingarhlur (Drowning Pool) – women were drowned for infanticide amongst other lesser crimes.

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 Little Geysir

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Life on Mars!

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Geysir hot springs – the geysir is one of the most famous natural attractions in Iceland. It erupts a column of boiling water every few minutes or so to a height of up to 30m.

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Typical Icelandic sights

Iceland is covered in lava fields (below). There are no trees in Iceland (other than the ones planted here in recent years) and it is one of the youngest countries on earth. Although the scene below looks pretty bleak, there is a real beauty and simplicity in its bleakness. 20160528_142931 cn.jpg

Grass-covered houses – reminiscent of a fantasy novel.

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Aluminium houses – this is a particularly lovely pastel-coloured tin house in the old town of Rejkyavik. Although most people live in apartments, there are lots of colourful houses made of aluminium in Iceland.

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Brought to Iceland by the original Vikings settlers, the Icelandic horse is a pure breed. If such a horse leaves Iceland, it is never allowed to return. There are thousands of these beauties throughout Iceland and many riding schools. We took a hike at Ishestar school – despite never having been so cold on a horse (heaven knows how people do this in winter!), I would definitely recommend the experience.

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Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrímskirkja church is huge! The landmark is terribly handy when it comes to orienting oneself round the city and it really is a sight to behold. Standing an imposing 74.5m tall, the design was inspired by  the shapes and forms created when lava cools into rock. There is a lift you can take to the top with panoramic views of the city below.

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Icelandic cat – extra fur required for felines here

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