Kay and Andy’s Excellent AdVANture
Iceland – land of fire and ice: spectacular scenery and midnight sun. All true, and this indeed was what I’d experienced in 2016 on my first drive around Ring road #1 when a friend and I hired a car and stayed in AirBnB guest houses. But that was then. Now, in 2017 I had hit on the perfect excuse for a return trip. My other half is a keen diver and had read about the chance to dive between the tectonic plates separating Europe and America, which can only be experienced one place in the whole world. So, Andy bit the bullet, endured dry-suit training in freezing conditions (that flooded quarry near Stevenage definitely lacked romance) and finally booked his place on a diving trip. So, we were off on our first adVANture! Hiring this cute Nissan camper van meant we could experience all the beauty and thrills Iceland has to offer whilst saving massively on accommodation – a not inconsiderable factor as we Brits struggle to come to terms with our currency being in free fall following last year’s nightmare Brexit referendum!
Other tips similarly cash-strapped travellers might like to consider include purchasing Iceland’s Camping Card. This meant our accommodation was paid for in advance and ensured a saving in campsite fees over the two weeks, more if you are hardy enough to camp for 28 days. We also opted to devote one of our precious baggage allowances to bringing food in to the country (as I said, I was here last year so had experienced firsthand Iceland’s eye-watering food costs). Who needs clean clothes when you’re travelling, we reasoned? We were also hugely pleased of a night, once the driving was done and we were cooking up a meal on our camping stove that we had planned ahead to max out our duty-free allowance. Bringing in six bottles of wine from London was a no-brainer when you compare the £8 a bottle at Heathrow compared to a glass of wine at £9.50 in Reykjavik. With the admittedly delicious breads costing more than a tenner, we made full use of those layby stops for lunches too!
My mission to introduce my Englishman to the delights of all things Icelandic started in the capital at Laugardalur, an outside pool with rather magical hot pots – beginning at a gently steaming 37ºC, the heat gradually increases all the way up to a rather alarming 44ºC! In Iceland, it seems every town has a public pool (or three) and whole families take the opportunity to unwind outside despite summer temperatures of 12ºC whilst we were there. Was this the secret of their legendary laidbackness we mused?
Well, of course, there is relaxing and sheer weirdness. Happily we only encountered this chap in the Museum of Photography, but another strapping Reykvíkingur (local) gave us cause to stare as he maneuvered his hairy Viking physique out of the hot pot we were sharing to reveal a pair of the tiniest shiny gold Speedos imaginable: even Kyle Minogue would blush!
Mývatn Nature Baths in the north was also a joy and, we decided worth the £30 entry fee (just about).
My own special favorite though was a secret pool near campsite in the north, which I had all to myself whilst my Other Half made like a tennis ball in a washing machine (otherwise known as white water rafting).
Crazy people doing frankly alarming things came to seem normal in Iceland as we trundled around the highway, clocking up 2,626 km or a post-Brexit 1,640 miles. Reaching the Eastern fjords was a dream as the evening sun shone and we stopped to look at a waterfall, only to see a tourist in flip-flops jumping over slippery crevices in search of the perfect selfie. Come to thing of it, we never saw him emerge from between the fissures…. Oh well!
Another must for us Londoners even on holiday was, of course, Menning (Culture). We’d started well on our first evening in Reykjavik when on a trip to the architectural gem that is the Harpa, we thought we overheard a familiar voice belting out ‘If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?’ Yes, Dr Hook were gigging – we hadn’t even realized they were still going (or indeed, alive) but the familiar strains took us straight back to a simpler time in the 1970’s when Britain was going into, not leaving our European neighbors.
Thankful to miss Engelbert Humperdinck (yes, really, he was on the next night), we vowed to enjoy some Icelandic music. This we managed in majestic Seyðisfjörður in the beautiful setting of the perfect Icelandic church. The trio played clarinet, grand piano and violin to perfection, an enjoyable program that included jazz, Klezmer and classical. It was a little sad though that a mere 20 people were in the audience to experience it. Perhaps the £30 entrance fee deterred them or perhaps it was because Seyðisfjörður’s population (minus campers) comes in at only 700.
Another unmissable bit of local culture we’d driven out of our way to see was the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery in Hólmavik in the Western fjords. The exhibits there have to be seen to be believed – ‘necropants’ and ‘worms’ that feed on a lady’s thigh are now seared in our brains. Here’s a taster but be thankful you’re spared the gory details.
Our final culture spot to recommend is in Húsavik where space-geek Andy bonded with the owner of the Museum of Exploration to talk all things moon landings. Apollo astronauts came here in the 1960’s to brush up on their geological skills (Iceland really IS the closest thing on earth to the moon!). I too could appreciate their varied and compact displays, ranging from early Viking explorers to more modern-day adventurers such as Vilborg Arna, the first Icelandic woman to conquer Everest. Having paid what we felt the museum was worth on exit (a policy I wish the pricey museums elsewhere could get behind), I left Andy to his moon stuff and crossed the road to the trusty N1. Coffee here is ‘only’ £3.50 and you get as many refills as your addled brain can take. Highly recommended, these service stations sell pretty much everything the traveler needs, from snacks to puffin keys rings (and who can have enough of those?)
Which brings us to kitsch. Despite all the tasteful Skandi minimalism that we see in the expensive tourist shops (a local told us no self-respecting Icelander would ever pay those prices: “If I see a jumper I like, I just take a photo and ask a relative to knit one like it for me”), it seems painted stones representing little people and filling your home with fairies, dodgy sculpture and other shiny china knick knacks my granny would have bought at a jumble sale are quite the thing. We even found this cute couple welcoming visitors to the hospital at Vik! Thankfully we were hiking so that Andy could take the perfect black beach shot, not seeking A&E services after the rafting!
Iceland truly is another country. The landscape, the small population, the weather that changes by the minute and the sun or lack of it impacts on everything. Personally, even in our extremely cozy van, I had difficulty getting off to sleep with no darkness at all to lull me. Like an unruly child, the sun in Iceland is so welcome in the day and makes you happy but you really really really wish it would just go to sleep sometimes! We slept well though, snug in our comfy bed, and appreciated the camper van all the more, arriving at campsites in a downpour and parking up near to brave campers pitching tents! Toasty warm in our sleeping bags – or was that something to do with the Farting Spell we’d encountered at the Witchcraft Museum…? Talking of wind, there was a scary moment when I had to heed the call of nature and all that was available was a portaloo in a handy parking spot overlooking a gorge. The weights gave me pause for thought but sometimes a girl’s just gotta go…
We ate well, walked lots, passed through so much spectacular scenery and added to our memory bank of holiday experiences that we’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Thanks Iceland. Thanks, Rent.is
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