Iceland: Reykjavik, Þingvellir & Gullfoss

Whilst start-ups may satisfy the adventurous feelings of most people, and by Jove is there a lot of uncertainty and compromise, for me, there’s no greater than adventure than the open road, and so May saw my return to the Tarmac, taking a road trip around Iceland.

Day 1: Blink and You’ll Miss It

Landing bleary eyed, I had fallen asleep before our Easyjet flight had even taken off! Immigration lines short, we were through the gates by 9am. Turns out Procar don’t operate at the airport, so off began the hunt to find the man with the card. A short minivan ride later and we were picking up our Hyundai i30 – as it would transpire, the £10 upgrade from the i20 would pay for itself in ample boot space and ergo more sleep space!

We’re on the Road!

Well almost. Having not driven a manual in 3 years, turns out i forgot a lot… Like you have to drop the clutch to start the engine!

Couple that with a hill start and we must have been sat for a good 20 minutes trying to leave the car park…

Did I mention they drive on the left side of the road? Another new challenge, which wasn’t too much of an issue, except for the combination of inverted roundabouts and struggling to get the car moving in first.

Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, just a short drive from the airport.

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It’s a premium ‘spa’ resort, home to a large, blue pool of warm water. It was like a modern onsen! And much like some onsen, I’m 99% sure the ‘lagoon’ is artificial, with water pumped in from some source near by.

However, you can’t complain because where else are you going to find people in their swimsuits in Iceland?

As it transpires, many, but none of them are the beach!

With the day well past middle age, Reykjavik was calling, and as the roads widened into lanes, the volume of cars increasing, I was thankful for our sat nav, as well as the O2 data huddle my travel partner had purchased that allowed us to google cheap parking!

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Hallgrimskirkja is one of the tallest buildings in an otherwise modestly flat capital city. Home to three quarters of Iceland’s population, it was a very minimal city, strikingly modern, noteworthy for its lack of traditional or old buildings, with most consisting of metal or plastic corrugated sheeting – perhaps the stonework and brick of Europe doesn’t hold the heat so well?

The church itself draws heavily on basalt formations, much the same as the Giant’s’ Causeway in Ireland and Scotland, taking the hexagonal pillars to create the churches towering facade.

Inside, the lack of stain glass windows was a subtle ‘missing’ element, the blue skies outside giving the Windows a surrealist, almost unnatural light that set the scene more like a painting than real life.

Exploring the town, we headed down the main streets, through the shopping district, no sign of  a mall in the city, which struck me as peculiar, given the frequent snowfall, that all the shops should be on regular or door streets.

A speedy look around a tourist information centre highlighted key things we needed to do in Reykjavik;

– Penis museum

– Sagas Museum

– Settlement museum

– The Chuck Norris Restaurant

– Eat some hot dogs

Better get a shift on as the clock ticks in 5pm! Trekking through town, the saga museum was towards the western fringes of the town, offering a tour of the American and British bars on what was probably the party street, lacking the party vibe most probably due to the Monday evening reality.

After circling the museum building, turns out the entrance is through the restaurant! Owing to our late hour, the wonderful ticket lady allowed us to enter the exhibit unburdened by the weight of tickets, as we were having to cram a 45 minute tour into 25 minutes.

Ten minutes later we were finished!

Our native fluency in English allowing us to navigate the display boards at top speed! But it was interesting to learn of the Celtic history of the island, the lady who scared some people by holding her sword to her break and best of all was trying on the various armours and taking in a polar bear.

Fortuitously, the settlement museum was open until 8, so we set off, and after some minor detours found an unimposing building on a corner.

Heading down the stairs, the museum actually houses the remains of an ancient ‘mansion’ recently discovered and preserved, with exhibit detailing how various parts of the house functioned, with housing for animals, and for space. It was amazing what they could conclude from the mixture of clues that remained. It also offered long history of Nordic and Celtic migration and how that tied into Iceland’s history.

Those crazy people sailing out to see, hoping to find new lands!?!!

Part two of the museum was a small exhibition housing super old texts, including a 17th century copy of the Icelandic Saga, chronicling the origins of Iceland from 970AD, starting with xxxx throwing the arms of his high seat into the sea, their landing spot to be the point of settlement and today’s Reykjavik.

Though it felt like 4pm, the hour was now pushing past 1930, and so was time to head out from the city and onwards into the countryside to sleep!

Þingvellir was our starting point the next day, so we headed north east, and, in no time at all, we truly in Iceland, winding roads meandering through scrubby brown heathland, imposing mountains made tiny by the vastness of the expanse of land before them, their tops kissed by snow despite the season moving from spring to Summer and the 18+ hours of daylight.

We settle upon a lay by, say upon a hill that offered sweeping views of the lake xxxx.

As it turns out, lay-bys aren’t all that common, as we’d find out over the next few days.

By now the hour was turning cold, and first task was changing into practically every piece of clothing we owned as the wind searched for a means to chill out bodies.

Despite all this, the setting sun in a remote and barren, foreign land, coupled with the excitement for a warm meal made this moment awesome!

And was positively crushed as we attached the gas stove to the gas and heard nothing.

Not a single hiss. No matter what we tried.

We cried ourselves to sleep over peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a sense of deja vu from lunch…

Na, it was kind of funny, and we kept light hearted as we settled down on a lilos and into our sleeping bags.

Soon the car was filled with gentle snores, and condensation.

Day 2: Jesus Christ. It was cold.

As I got ready to go out for a piss, movement caught my eye.

Was it polar bear? A wolf? Or a bus load of tourists taking photos?

Turning out to be the latter, I had to hold on for what felt like a month of Sunday’s before releasing the torrent.

Our gas-related disappointment in our minds, we set of to a campsite and for some pro advice.

Ailing in our mission we were soon drinking expensive coffees in a tourist centre in what could have been by rights a Game of Thrones theme park, but was instead the home of the early days parliament of Iceland, Þingvellir.

In days past the lake and area acted as the base camp for the yearly law making and justice, providing ‘easy’ trails between mountains from all over the island. Here they would set up camp and build temporary structures.

It’s a stunning area, vast, stream filmed, lined with rough volcanic rocks, set the to undertones of giant, snow peaked mountain surrounds. The bleaker weather of the day taking inspiration from Heathcliffe’s moors, the air thick with murder and Vikings!

Walking along the foot paths, the trail could scarcely be called hiking, but we did get to climb up an icey slope, and run through a small wood with the springiest woodland floor.

Carrying some hot water with our icey slabs of hands back to the car, we could finally indulge in some warm food, the first in a day and a half – a fake chicken pot noodle.

My Lord, the paragraphs I could write about it’s salty, brothy taste, the gentle juxtaposition of spring onion and noodle, the nourishing warmth that radiated outwards from the centre to edges of my being.

But let’s get real, it was a freeze dried noodles.

Back on the road, it was rainbow puking time!

Taking inspiration from the Golden Circle tours, we took the meander roads  around Þingvellir to xxx the only frequently erupting xxx in Iceland.

I’ve saved you the hassle of seeing it, here;

Topping up our water, partaking in some ice cream, we were en route to detonation rainbow puking; Gullfoss!

Arriving in the air of a dogging site on the outskirts of some Northern village.

Venturing through the car park, around the building works and beyond lead to a seen only comparable with the Gates of Argonath of LOTR!

A powerful, gushing, expansive river, shook up by giant boulders, suddenly drops into a deep gash in the land, cascading a hundred metres before crashing and continuing at 90′ to its original direction. A reminder of how even the land is subject to forces more powerful than itself.

Having still not resolved our gas issue, so began our next adventure.

From the falls, we swung via numerous campsites and hotels, nearly all of which were shut. The started to hang lower in the sky, imitating the sun of a autumn’s eve.

This place’s a ability to transition through the feelings of the seasons in a single day, was bizarre and confusing, moving from a fine summer day to the melancholy of an approaching winter in the space of a few hours.

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J.Molkenthin

James Molkenthin is an enthusiastic and energetic British Designer, with a background in Graphics, Website and Product Design.