Sunday, 16 August 2015

Our Summer Travels: Iceland

We're back! After an epic 20 hour journey on Thursday and Friday, we've spent the weekend recuperating and doing all the boring stuff (shopping, gardening, endless loads of washing) that needs to be done when you've been away for a few weeks.

We had an amazing time and I have tons of photographs to share with you from Canada, but I thought I'd start at the beginning: in Iceland.

Because we flew with Icelandair, we were able to incorporate a three day stopover into our travels. I'd arranged an Airbnb apartment in the centre of Reykjavik, which enabled us to spend much of our time wandering the streets of the city in which the majority of Iceland's tiny 300,000 population live (to give some context, that's fewer people than live in Leicester, my home town).

Reykjavik is a beautiful place full of brightly coloured houses, influenced by the long-time Danish occupation of the country. The main street, Laugavegur, was busy at all hours due to the constant daylight (this close to the Arctic Circle, the sun barely sets even into August) and we found amazing vegan food at Glo (who also, randomly, serve chicken on their otherwise all-vegan menu) which was so good, we ate there two nights in a row.

Cheap alcohol isn't easily found in Iceland, but I'd read about the rooftop bar at Loft Hostel and it turned out to be a Scandi chic space full of locals as well as travellers, and most importantly, a source of cheap beer and cider. And with Mount Esja looming over the city from across the bay, and the incredible mid-century concrete architecture of Hallgrímskirkja on the hill inland, Reykjavik is not short on breathtaking views to admire from the roof terrace.

However, no one goes to Iceland for a city break and getting out of Reykjavik into the countryside is a must. I visited Iceland in October 2011 but Thomas had never been before, so we took a Golden Circle tour with Iceland Horizon, as it's the best way to see the key sights in one day. From rushing waterfalls to gleaming glaciers; sulfurous springs and geysirs to mile upon mile of black volcanic lava fields, Iceland is like nowhere else on earth. Having previously been there at the start of winter, I found it interesting to see the country in warmer weather, when the grass and moss covers the lava and flowers bloom (although be warned - 'warm' in Iceland is always a relative term, with a biting wind that cut through any heat the sun could provide).

My favourite site, as on my previous trip, was the awe-inspiring landscape of Þingvellir National Park, in which you can see the edges of two tectonic plates - the North American and the Eurasian - exposed to the air as they move away from each other at a rate of about an inch a year. The cliff to the left of the photograph below is the edge of the North American ridge: pretty incredible, right?

Þingvellir is also where Icelanders established one of the earliest democratic parliaments in 930, and it's amazing to think of the Viking inhabitants travelling on foot and horseback to this seemingly desolate and empty landscape to meet together.

Iceland has dramatically increased in popularity as a tourist destination since I was there last, and although very little could ruin its spectacular beauty I would recommend that, if you've wanted to go, now is the time to do so before it becomes even more overrun with visitors.