Sunday, September 17, 2006


just back from Holiday in Iceland. We took a bit of punt, it sounded like an interesting destination and we were able to get some cheap flights. As it turned out that was about the only cheap bit about our visit. Iceland has a reputation as having expensive alcoholic drinks, but everything else was expensive too. Fast food is popular, particularly hotdogs, and I presume it's because of the price of regular food. We ate burgers on a couple of occasions at the American diner type places that seem to be popular - and ate no vegetables during our entire visit! We stayed at Guesthouse Number 1 in Reykjavik , which was a pretty bizarre place, a converted office, with the rooms divided up with thin walls. It was chosen purely because of it's price (cheapest in the city), but was still expensive.

Aside from the prices of things we quickly discovered that there's not an awful lot to do there. We mostly stuck to around Reykjavik which is the main populated area (much of the country is completely barren and unpopulated), but saw the main attractions - the geysers, and thermal baths and whale watching. The only thing we didn't see were the glaciers. We have already been to New Zealand, which has incredible landscapes, geothermal activity, glaciers and whale watching opportunities, and Iceland just seems like a wetter, more expensive, less interesting version. Much of our time there was spent snoozing as we struggled to find things to do, and the idea of spending more money out in the drizzle was pretty depressing.

Our visit was during the trail end of Iceland's summer - the temperature was in the 12c or so region (compared with the UK still in the 20s) and the day light hours were still long-ish. The main downer was that it was either raining, drizzly, windy a combination of all of the above. When the sun did peak out, we would spot (often quite vivid) rainbows, as it was bound to be raining somewhere close by. In fact, we spotted a double rainbow at one point.

On arriving in Reykjavik we checked out the Flea market (anywhere else and it wouldn't merit a mention, but in Reykjavik it is a major attraction), we had a hotdog at a stand which displays photos of president Clinton eating there (again, a hotdog stand as a major attraction?), and visit Hallgrimskirjka Church which has an elevator up to the bell tower offering views of the City. We also visit "the Pearl", which is a giant half disco ball with a revolving restaurant on the top. After walking out to the Pearl, Jo wants to get a taxi back into town, the very brief journey costs about £7, the meter literally going up 10p every few seconds. We stopped at traffic light, which cost us about a pound - in the end we just said "ok here will do - let us out!".

We have a day trip - "Golden Circle tour", the highlights of which are a trip to Gulfoss waterfall which is pretty impressive, to Geysir which has a big geyser & Pingvellir national park where the European and Atlantic plate lines meet.

One evening we eat at an Indian restaurant. In the Lonely Planet review it mentions that the UN ambassador to Iceland described it as the best Indian restaurant in Europe. So of course - on the door a sign says " 'the best Indian restaurant in Europe' - Lonely Planet". I love it when quotes are taken out of context. It was a nice enough restaurant, but if eating in the UK I would have expected a lot more for my £55.

We spent a couple of days in Keflavik which was a bit of a mistake as there is even less to do there apart from walk about in the drizzle. We stopped there so that we could use it as a base for a visit to the Blue Lagoon spa and to go whale watching. As it turns out we could have done that from Reykjavik.

We went to Blue lagoon natural geothermal spa en route from Reykjavik. It was quite a nice, if slightly surreal experience, out in the open air spa, relaxing in the hot geothermal waters, as the mists of evaporating water float above the surface. There is a geothermal powerstation just nearby, though a wall has been put up to block out the view. I thought to myself, "a bit odd, putting a natural spa right next to a power plant", but as it turns out, it's not such a coincidence. The spa is actually a by-product of the powerplant - the hot natural geothermal waters generate the power in the plant, and then the runoff is the water that is used in the manmade spa. Funnily enough, this isn't mentioned in the promotional literature!

Our other trip was whale watching with Moby Dick . The trip mostly involved watching, and not much in the way of whales. We did see some dolphins, and a strange smell in the air at one point was apparently a Minky Whale, and that was it. It was raining for most of the journey with strong winds too, though fortunately they provided waterproofs. There was a bunch of annoying Americans on board ("what's a dinky whale?"), who started off the journey all gung-ho out on deck, but who gradually went inside the cabin wet, sea-sick and miserable, and remained there even when the sun came out.

A day later, as I'm returning to England both Jo & I get a cold.

Moral of the story: Iceland gives you colds.

Slideshow of pictures here.