And so we reach Part 4 of our journey across the land of Fire and Ice. Our last day in Iceland was an eventful one but if you’re joining the party late and would like to start the story from the beginning, you can find Part 1 here.
Our final day started early. We had a lot of ground to cover and a whole city to see, so once an obscenely large bucket of Skyr had been consumed, we were out the door and on our way.
So far we had, to a large degree, ignored Reykjavik itself. There’s so much around it that it had become little more than a staging post for our expeditions out into the wild, but now it was time to see what it had to offer. The hotel was just a mile or so from the city centre so we set off to walk into town on a winding path through residential streets and a small graveyard where we spent far too long examining the ancient headstones. Once we were sure that we had discovered the oldest grave, the silliest name and the most ornate memorial we made our way out and into the city proper.
Calling Reykjavik a city feels odd. It has a tiny population, only 125,000 (about the same as Slough) and it doesn’t possess a single skyscraper. You’re able to walk around all of the major sights in a morning and the people are friendly and welcoming.
As you walk the quaint streets of the Icelandic capital, you are met with all manner of street art. Sculptures are found on every street corner and even humble pieces of street furniture are converted into artworks that are as aesthetic as they are functional. Graffiti too, adorns the walls of many of the buildings. Not your run of the mill ‘tags’ or crudely scribbled notes reminding us of the location of the alley where Olaf fingered Flora, but real, impressive art.
The first main landmark that we encountered, having passed through the city toward the coast was another of these sculptures – Sólfar, The Sun Voyager.
This metallic, ship-like artwork is relatively small and although it is beautiful, does not really stand out from the rest of the many statues that are positioned throughout the city. Seeing as we had made the effort to see it we thought a photo would be in order but, despite the general lack of tourists in the area, we were initially denied this possibility by a couple who had claimed the ship and now seemed to be using it as a sort of sex-swing.
They had decided that the best thing to do with public art was to drape themselves over it and take selfies while they mounted each other from various angles. Seemingly unaware that other people exist, they must have taken a hundred photos over the course of 15 long and awkward minutes. When I compared this to the pathetic way that I throw myself to the ground in order to avoid getting in the way of others views or photographs, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of their complete lack of regard for everyone else. Mostly though, I felt that they were selfish morons whom I would quite happily catapult into the sea if it meant they were no longer in my eye-line. Thankfully, my catapult was not necessary as they eventually left, hopefully due in some part to the exaggerated way that I shook my head at them for the entire time we were there.
Next up was probably the most famous sight in Reykjavik, the Hallgrímskirkja. A grand and imposing Lutheran church which stands looking down upon the capital from its position on the edge of town. The church is visible from everywhere in Reykjavik and serves as a useful signpost for tourists as they amble about town. It is an absolutely stunning structure to see, looking as though it’s constructed of columns of white stone getting taller as you reach the centre, it looks like no other church in the world. The clock-tower, standing at 244 feet, is accessible to the public and provides superb views of Reykjavik and the surrounding area. There is a small fee to get yourself into the even smaller lift but it’s well worth it and we spent a good half hour peering out of the small, open windows that are dotted around each of its four walls.
As you move about Reykjavik, you realise that you aren’t doing the usual tourist thing of running from landmark to landmark to see individual sights so much as you are just enjoying being in the city. The ambience and relaxed feeling of the place is unlike any other capital city that we’ve ever been to.
We ambled round the city for a few hours and grabbed some lunch before heading back to the hotel to be picked up for our second activity of the day.
After a short wait in the reception of the hotel, a large, bearded and extremely happy man bounded in through the doorway and approached us with a booming “So, are you ready to go horse-riding?”. We were… sort of.
Horse-riding is not something that we’re particularly used to. Neither of us ride to any meaningful degree although Cath had lessons when she was younger. My experience on the other hand was limited to one harrowing event while in Australia about 18 years ago.
But here we were, pulling into the Laxnes Horse Farm just outside of Reykjavik for a trek out into the wilderness. The pretty, little farm is nestled among rolling hills and is an idyllic location to prepare for a violent death at the hoofs of a large animal.
Once we had been kitted out with helmets and waterproofs we were sent out into the yard to meet our horses.
The Icelandic horse is unlike any other in the world. Slightly shorter than the usual horse and with a very sturdy build, its main distinguishing factor is that it has 2 more gaits than other horses. This means that while your average horse is engaged in a boring old trot, the icelandic is giving it large with a confident and charismatic tölt. Horses that walk like this have an 85% chance of stealing your girl.
I would love to claim that we were thinking about these differences as we swaggered up to our chosen animals. The first and most pressing issue, however was exactly how to go from standing on the ground to sitting on the horse without either ripping our trousers or tumbling backwards into the towering pile of manure that had recently been fired out onto the muddy turf below.
After much horse-worrying and hamstring lengthening, we made it up without incident and were soon on our way.
With a swift flick of the reins, Cath and I set off down the gravel track leading out into the surrounding hills. Soon after exiting the farm, my horse realised that it was going to have to cover a long and mountainous route with a clumsy lummox on its back and so turned and headed back to the farm. Try as I might to steer him round, he was having none of my nonsense and the pair of us eventually had to be corralled by the trek leaders to bring us back on track. An inauspicious start to my riding experience.
Sadly, it was only to get worse. Cath, at one with her new friend, was now far ahead of me and having no problems whatsoever in exerting her authority. As I looked up ahead to see how the pros do it, I noticed that the world was at a strange tilt. Shortly after, it hit me that it was me and not the world that had fallen askew. My saddle was slipping to the right and I was slowly rotating around the horse, every bump bringing me further from my intended position and closer to the ground. Initially I attempted to straighten myself up and then, when that didn’t work, to hold on tight with my legs to prevent the situation worsening. Neither of these things did anything to help and I continued to slip.
I was now at the 2 o’clock position and accelerating.
I had no option but to try to dismount my wonky seat in the least embarrassing way that I could. I brought my right foot out of the stirrups and moved it down towards the ground but my left foot was now caught at the peak of the horses back. This left me performing an uncomfortable splits as I frantically hopped along next to my noble companion. Quite what the trek leader thought when she turned around to be presented with this impromptu piece of gymnastics, I don’t know but the look on her face suggested that this did not happen regularly. Once my horse had been stopped and I was able to free my foot, the saddle was re-attached and I was assured that none of this was my fault. We soon caught up to the group and I was more than relieved to hear that Cath had been so far ahead that she had missed the whole sorry performance.
The rest of our ride went by in a relatively undramatic fashion which gave us time to take in the amazing views. As we weaved our way through valleys and up gentle rises, we encountered only a single isolated farmhouse. It felt like we were hundreds of miles from modern civilisation, exploring an untouched landscape on the back of a creature which had evolved for just that purpose.
After ninety minutes or so we reached our destination on top of a hill looking down upon a small waterfall. The scene was framed by another of the pesky rainbows that follow you everywhere in Iceland. It was perfect.
We stopped there a short while before taking a quicker route back to the farm to rest our aching buttocks and enjoy a drink before re-entering the minibus and returning to the hotel.
That evening, our last in Iceland, we would be in for something very special. A few hours before sunset, we collected up our swim suits and headed off towards Grindavik to go to the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous attractions in the country and rightly so. Situated in the almost Martian landscape of a lava field, sits a large pool of steaming water, the vivid blue in stark contrast to the black surrounding rocks. The water is actually sea water that has been pulled down into the earth, heated by lava flows and then bubbled up via a vent nearby. It is extremely mineral rich thanks to its journey to the centre of the earth and is said to have healing properties.
We were more than excited to be taking our first steps into the balmy waters so we rushed our way through the reception area and changing rooms and emerged out onto the iconic scene that is the lagoon itself.
As you touch the water for the first time, it’s like dipping your toe into a very hot bath. Pressing on, you submerge yourself further and worry you might cook but soon get used to the heat, and before long, the waters work their magic leaving you relaxed and calm. The main pool is well appointed, with a swim-up bar and face-mask area. There are multiple water features and saunas dotted around to keep you entertained as well.
We wallowed in the water for a long time, and ventured into every nook and cranny of the lagoon to try to find a quiet spot. We had timed our booking to coincide with the setting of the sun and sat sipping our drinks as the sky turned a golden orange overhead. Your time in the water here is never quite enough and before you know it, your two hour session is over and it’s time to go.
It was now getting late and we were yet to eat. Fortunately, the Blue Lagoon has an amazing restaurant on site and so we ate an excellent meal while looking out across the artistically lit waters. It was the perfect way to end what was a truly spectacular holiday.
And that was it. Our trip to Iceland was over and we had enjoyed the most amazing time. You may have noticed that (despite the exhaustive nature of the account) there has been no mention of the northern lights.
This isn’t a mistake. Despite it being one of our original reasons for venturing to this part of the globe, the fickle Icelandic weather prevented us from seeing that particular spectacle. If you’d have told us before we went that we’d be unable to see it, we’d have been disappointed. Now however it presents us with the best of all possible gifts – a reason to go back.