OK stop. Before you read this article, please go onto Spotify and find Olafur Arnaulds.
He has an album, This is Winter. Press play and continue.
The perfect soundtrack to picture magical Iceland. Elves stories aside, the wonder of this island is undeniable.
Before going I had pictures of snowy mountains and rugged up Icelanders. All dancing to Sigur Ros and Bjork. Arriving late September, it was a little different.
My fiancée and I had a whistle stop 72 hour tour on our way to California. Here is my advice:
- Tours are expensive. Food is expensive. Alcohol is expensive. So book what you absolutely want to see, bring a lunch and make use of the freshest tap water in the world. Honestly so clean.
- Prepare your senses. If you haven't had the pleasure of smelling sulphur before, you may be in for a shock. But don't be put off. Your first instinct will be to hold your breath. Rotten eggs can't quite describe it. And try not to get it in your mouth, it lasts. If you want hot water, and you will after feeling the cold, it's a necessary evil. But after a few days you'll acclimatise. I even found myself longing for it. Says more about me I suspect.
- Speaking of smells, the Blue Lagoon. One of the top 25 wonders of the world. Not quite as catchy as seven but...
It's still very nice. We did have to wait 45 minutes in line, and coupled with the fact we were heading to the airport straight after, meant our time was not relaxed. Lots of people. Not enough lockers. But once you're in it's lovely. Rejuvenating mud/algae masks. Cue photo. Head out to the section furthest from the entrance for a closer connection with nature. Again it's not cheap but worth doing. Bring a waterproof camera. Or phone. Or be prepared to pay £20+ for a waterproof wallet.
- A lot of Iceland is focused on tourism. Understandable. Mostly enjoyable. But occasionally you feel like you're in one big Duty Free. Being sold to with each step as you search for the exit. But what a beautiful shop to walk through!
- If you do the Golden Circle tour, try a Bloody Mary at Friðheimar greenhouse. Organic tomatoes providing the foundation for a stellar cocktail. Lacking a little Guinness but again my tastes are particular.
- Northern Lights. OK so now we come to the reason why I and most people visit Iceland. Stunning crisp landscapes deserve the quilting of a night-time light show. They come. They go. Lasting for anywhere from a couple of minutes through to hours. And across the full spectrum too starting as a dull green glow, radiating to whites/purples/yellows/reds dancing in the sky. Locals describe it as 'hunting' the Aurora Borealis.
But brace yourself to come back empty handed. Tours are run at set times and locations. The natural phenomena is exactly that. Unpredictable. But if you're lucky and manage to catch them, please have read how to capture them on camera. So you too don't have to ask a fellow Japanese tourist to email you his pictures!
- Iceland is 20% lava. That was according to our guide. Hardened jagged rock covered in moss for six or seven months of the year. A furry green carpet for the volcanic innards. But the land is full of contrasts. As we were consistently reminded. Cold rocks. Geo-thermal springs. Fresh flat grass you could play cricket on, beside barren rubble. All framed on the horizon by mountains. In Autumn, it's an artist's dream.
- Whatever you do and however you get there, go to Gullfoss. The most beautifully odd waterfall. My highlight for sure. Glistening finger-like rock formations thrust down under the weight of rushing water. The stream spurts down a few similar levels, before dropping off a V-shaped crack. Immediately left and down into the hidden valley below. The scene is picked back up as it flows gently downstream flanked by the dark and cutting cliffs. An aesthetic home for rainbows to die happy.
There is so much we didn't see. Inside glaciers. Mountains up close. Volcanoes. Snowmobiles.
Game of Thrones has provided a few more fans for the country. And a few more tours in the north no doubt.
I'd recommend making Iceland a destination on your list. Just bring appropriate clothing, book in advance and stick to a budget.