It’s 8am in Iceland; not quite pitch black but still three hours before the sun will rise. With two days of Icelandic storms behind us, and every pre-booked excursion cancelled so far, Loz and I are standing outside city hall, hoping that the old “third-time-lucky” adage will ring true for us.
And it does! After a few disappointing emails saying the storms have been too rough for our planned adventures (now there’s an oxymoron…), we’re delighted to board our Golden Circle tour bus with just a handful of other tourists. Considering that Iceland has been the destination du jour for many years now, I had expected to be part of a huge crowd; but then again, perhaps most of the 2-million-a-year tourists don’t choose to go in the thick of January…
When Iceland’s central role in the bank crisis of 2008 caused the value of its currency to plummet, it suddenly became a much more accessible place to visit. The world got a taste for Iceland and despite the fact that its economy has since recovered, it now brings in 6 or 7 tourists for every resident every year. That’s right: the island might be around the same size as England, but its population is about that of Coventry.
Watching the landscape unfold outside our bus window, cinematic comparisons keep popping into my mind. Game of Thrones. Lord of the Rings. Frozen*. And now, Black Mirror.
*Yes, we sing the song. Badly and frequently.
Our first stop is Thingvellir National Park, where Game of Thrones actually was shot. As cold as January may be – it’ll drop to -6 later that night – being able to see the sun rise over a snowy, almost desolate landscape at a comfortable hour with (relatively) few fellow tourists is more than enough consolation.
We’ve only got a day, so we’re hitting the big names of Icelandic scenery: Thingvellir National Park (above), Gulfoss waterfall, and Stokkur, Iceland’s best-known geysir (both below). I quietly wonder whether I’d be able to do the drive myself under slightly better weather conditions. Route 1 stretches around Iceland. Really, how hard can it be to drive along a flat main road? It’s at this point that I see a small car tipped over into the snow at the side of the road. I readjust my belt.
That’s the thing about hazards in Iceland: they’re all natural. You won’t have any trouble with criminal activity. Every Icelander we met was laid back, friendly, and damn funny. And why not? They’ve got world-class scenery; an egalitarian society and a well-educated population. There are 7 universities in little Reykjavik (some, if not all, are free to attend), and 10% of Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.
Later that night, we’re back in Reykjavik, rushing around the docklands to find our boat. We’re on a northern lights cruise, which turns out to be not quite as cheesy as it sounds. We sail away from the city, escaping its orange glow. Bobbing out in the ocean, we spend a good half an hour trying to see what our tour guide insists is there. To be honest, all I see is a streak of grey cloud. We turn back, somewhat disheartened.
And then it happens. Suddenly, the sky looks celestial. It’s hardly painted by Pullman (I’ll quote him below), but green streaks of light feed each other and after a while, seem to shoot up into another level of the sky, one we cannot see. We sail back to the city, satisfied, though perhaps not as euphoric as I’d imagined.
“The sight filled the northern sky; the immensity of it was scarcely conceivable. As if from Heaven itself, great curtains of delicate light hung and trembled. Pale green and rose-pink, and as transparent as the most fragile fabric, and at the bottom edge a profound and fiery crimson like the fires of Hell, they swung and shimmered loosely with more grace than the most skillful dancer. Lyra thought she could even hear them: a vast distant whispering swish.”
Iceland is popular for a reason. It’s an isolated dreamworld; one I want to explore in the summertime, too. I’m already working on an itinerary.
I’ll leave this on some visuals, with some of my favourite parts of the beautiful city of Reykjavik. Next up: busting my own misconceptions about Icelandic life.
It’s been a hella long time since my last post. Hopefully there was some poetic narrative in the fact that, post to post, the story slipped from the land of midnight sun (Helsinki in July) to a place of fewer-than-four-hours-daylight (Reykjavik in January); but of course, that’s just happy coincidence.
Shortly before my trip to Helsinki, I made the decision to up sticks and leave London. I’ll expand in a later post but (very) long story short, I’m moving to Bristol! …Just as soon as my new digs are built.
The past 6 months have been all paperwork, dead ends, restrategising, paperwork, and now, a glimmer of hope in the form of a grade II listed Georgian converted house in the city centre. Yes, I’m gentrification on legs; but hopefully the Bristolians will live up to the reputation that precedes them and welcome me with open arms. More on this when I move.