Iceland

This blog was primarily set up for footwear related business, but as with footwear, and the photography that comes with it, I’m always trying to find the best places to shoot, and this usually leads to a lot of exploring and discovering new places. As you might have seen in some of the WOMFT posts over the last year or so, they’ve started to feature some other landscape photography, or similar, so I wanted to expand my blog a bit and incorporate some travel (whenever I can afford to do it!)

Everyone wants to travel the world, right? I know I definitely do! Towards the end of last year, I think my girlfriend must have spent every one of her working days emailing me pictures of Iceland, so we decided to swap out doing anything big around Christmas time, and instead save up some cash and go to Iceland in March.

We done very little planning for the trip as it was our first time over there, but we knew it would be mainly focussed in and around Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city. The lack of planning wasn’t a big problem for this as there are a number of tour operators, such as Gray Line, who have endless amounts of things to do, and all you have to do is pre-book the night before, or earlier in the day, depending on which activity. We plan to revisit the island in a couple of years (most rental companies have a minimum age of 25 to rent a 4×4) and see all the other amazing places Iceland has to offer, so that’s something we’ll actually have to plan!

Anyway, we headed off with Icelandair from Glasgow International Airport, flying into Keflavik, which is Iceland’s main airport in the South West of the island. The flight was around 2h 20min, so relatively short, and you might even get to fly on Icelandair’s Hekla Aurora Boeing 757-256.

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Arriving in Keflavik, we grabbed our bags and navigated our way (after asking a number of people) to the bus that would take us to our accomodation in Reykjavik city. The cabin crew on the flight were giving people the opportunity to purchase tickets for a bus into Reykjavik also, but as you can imagine, they were doing this on every flight, and as we stepped out of the airport, it literally turned into a snow storm, and we were a 2 minute wait until we were sat nice and warm on our bus, while 70+ other people were queuing outside waiting for a bus to arrive. I’d recommend booking this in advance, just so you’re not in the same situation!

A little under an hour later, we arrived in Reykjavik at our accomodation, Kex Hostel, a hostel which we had been recommended by a friend, and although when you think of hostels, dorms come to mind, we had our own private room and the toilet was just across the hall. Perfect for us, and a lot cheaper than many of the other hotels in Reykjavik. They also had a bar/restaurant/social area downstairs which was busy basically 24/7, and served the most amazing pancakes and blueberries! It was also right on the waterfront with crazy views of the sea, a Dominos Pizza next door, and Aktu-Taktu (Iceland’s answer to McDonalds) across the road.

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View from Reykjavik Sea Front

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Kex Hostel

The first day basically consisted of going for a wander about, which we pretty much do wherever we go, then grab a quick bite to eat and then go hunt the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), since Emma is completely and utterly obsessed with them.

We walked for a little while along the sea front, which has numerous different sculptures, such as Sólfar, meaning ‘Sun Voyager’ – a huge 1990 stainless-steel sculpture of a boat by Jón Gunnar Árnason, set on granite.

That evening we headed out on one of the many Northern Lights Tours by Gray Line in hope of seeing the famous light show. We figured that the best plan of action would be to go out every night when possible until we seen them (if we seen them…). The problem with hunting the Northern Lights is that it is weather dependent, and Iceland has probably the most unpredictable weather ever. One minute it may be clear as day with the sun shining, and within 5 minutes you can’t even see your hand in front of your face because of a snow storm.

I think we spent around 5+ hours that night out searching for the Northern Lights at various spots around the South West of the island but sadly, there was nothing to be seen. Much to Emma’s disappointment, that would be the only time we’d make it out to try and see the Northern Lights as the weather for the rest of our trip just got worse and worse, with the next three straight evening tours being cancelled.

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Reykjavik Sea Front

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Selfie or panoramic?

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Sólfar – ‘sun voyager’

Day 2, and Emma still gutted about the Northern Lights, or lack of, add to that some torrential rain, and we’re set for a great day of exploring Reykjavik City Centre. We were recommended a free walking tour called City Walk Reykjavik, a completely free two hour tour around the heart of the city. If you are can spare a few hours one day, make sure you do this, Marteinn and Eric are two of the nicest guys you’ll meet, as well as being extremely informative and funny, and if you don’t believe me, check out the reviews on Trip Advisor!

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Alþingi – House of Parliament

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Statue in Austurvöllur

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Too cold to sit outside – Austurvöllur

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Still bewilders me that the houses are made from steel, but at least they’re nice colours, right?

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An elf stone – many people in Iceland believe in elves

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After the tour, we paid a visit to the Hallgrimskirkja, which is a Lutheran parish church, and the largest church in Iceland. The best way to get to Hallgrimskirkja is to walk up Skólavörðustígur which is a long uphill street leading straight up the the church.

The design of the church was commissioned in 1937, and is said to have been designed to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It took 38 years to build the church with construction beginning in 1945.

The church itself is pretty amazing, and is free to enter, but it’s well worth paying the small fee to take the lift to the top and take in some spectacular views across Reykjavik.

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View from the top of Hallgrimskirkja looking down Skólavörðustígur

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View from the top of Hallgrimskirkja with Reykjavik Airport in the distance

There’s always time for a spot of shopping, so we headed to Hurra Reykjavik at Hverfisgata 50-101, as Apple Maps was telling us that this was quite close to the Hallgrimskirkja. Hurry carries all the usual brands that you’d expect from big UK or EU retailers, such as New Balance, Nike, Norse Projects and so on.

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Iceland is known for it’s many hot springs, with Blue Lagoon being it’s most popular and probably one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland.

There’s something quite surreal and probably a little strange about being in your swimming trunks with a beer, bathing in roasting hot water in the middle of a hail storm, but it really is a must, no matter the weather!

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Day 3, and the Golden Circle tour, which included a super early start for a bus journey on the way to the first destination; Þingvellir National Park, probably the most important site in Iceland when it comes to history, culture, and geology. We were fighting the weather the whole morning but thankfully when we arrived, it had cleared up a little and provided some stunning views across the National Park.

Þingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site, which includes Iceland’s largest natural lake, the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and drift apart, along with being the birth place of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth and the Alþingi assembly.

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The steps where the Alþingi assembly met

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After taking a stroll through Þingvellir, it’s back on to the bus to see how many Icelandic horses you can spot on the way to Gullfoss waterfall. It’s a bit weird when you arrive at Gullfoss, because you can’t see the waterfall, but you know it’s there and can hear it, and are extremely eager to see it. A short walk down a path and then you catch your first sight of this amazing waterfall, breathtaking.

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Thanks for the lady who wanted me to take a million pictures of her doing all sorts of poses in front of the waterfall for returning the favour and taking this one shot!

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A spot of lunch in the cafe and then it’s off to the Geysir hot springs area, to have a look at what Iceland’s geothermal qualities offer in the form some hydrothermal features; such as bubbling mud pools, steam vents, algae deposits, and of course, geysers.

This area is home to The Geysir, the geyser in which all are named after, but the biggest attraction is Strokkur, a geyser which erupts every 4 to 8 minutes, blasting out roasting hot water up to 20 metres in the air.

If you like the smell of rotten eggs (sulphur), then you’ll certainly like it here, and you’ll like it even more at the last stop on the Golden Circle tour.

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From Geysir hot spring he tour moves on past lakes Laugarvatn and Apavatn and on to Skálholt church that for 800 years was the seat of religious and political power in Iceland. The churches of Iceland are pretty great to look at, I wish we could have explored more on the island, shame a lot of people stayed on the bus when we got here.

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Last but not least, the final stop before turning to Reykjavik, we headed to Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power plant at the foot of Mt. Hengill volcano where you can take a guided tour of the impressive facilities and learn about the science of geothermal energy. As I mentioned before, if you like the smell of rotten eggs, then this place is for you, had to hold my nose and cover my mouth from the bus to the entrance, and when we got out onto the observation deck in the plant, the smell was unbearable.

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Arriving back in Reykjavik, we had planned to go Northern Lights hunting again, but the weather didn’t allow it and the tours were cancelled, so instead, we went a wander round the sea front again and checked out the Reykjavik Concert Hall named Harpa.

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Day 4, our last day in Reykjavik, and as well as the Northern Lights, Emma also has an obsession with whales, although I don’t think she has ever seen one in the wild before. Anyway, we had been trying to get a whale watching trip from Reykjavik Harbour sorted, but as usual, the weather just wouldn’t allow it, so whale watching trip cancelled!

Instead, we decided to take in some of the museums and other exhibitions that Reykjavik has to offer, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the Penis Museum, seriously?

We headed to The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavík 871±2, which as the name suggests, is all about the settlement of Reykjavik, and the exhibition itself is focussed around a hall inhabited during the years 930-1000, and remnants of the wall are dated back to 871.

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From the settlement exhibition in the city centre, we took a wander down to the old harbour area, because if Emma wasn’t getting to see whales in the wild, then she was at least going to see some life size models in some warehouse type building.

I mean, this place is cool if you enjoy being knocked off your feet by lots of screaming excited kids.

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Typically, in Icelandic fashion, we got caught in a snow storm when leaving, and made a run for it up to the start of the old harbour, where we stumbled across Aurora Reykjavik, a Northern Lights Centre, and with Emma desperate to fill that void one way or another, in we went.

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Like every holiday, you’ve got to get some souvenirs, so the rest of our day was just spent goofing around the centre of Reykjavik checking out some of the local shops. And of course, grabbing an on-foot shot of my Iceland footwear, before grabbing food, and heading back since the only flight to Glasgow on a Monday is at some ridiculous time in the morning meaning a 4am pick-up.

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The bad weather through the trip has it’s positive points, as it means we have an excuse to go back sometime, and do the things we couldn’t as well as experience new things, but with somewhere like Iceland, you run the risk of encountering unexpected bad weather, and you just have to make the most of it!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed looking at something different than just footwear pictures, even though there was one in here, and reading about my time in and around Reykjavik, Iceland.

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