This is a really long blog post, so settle down with a cup of tea. I realise that Iceland is the destination du jour. Everyone’s going, everyone’s loving it. I hate to be some kind of travel clich but frankly, I don’t care. Iceland was and is amazing and all four of us fell totally in love with it. It helped enormously that we had the most wonderful weather. Out of the four days we had there, we had three days of blue skies and bright sunshine and one day which was slightly overcast and cooler. But we had no lashing rain, stormy skies or powerful winds which could really ruin a trip. We struck gold.
I talked in the last post about arriving in Iceland, running the Reykjavik 10k and then piling into our Airbnb’s beds to sleep off the jet-lag and exhaustion. We ended up sleeping until about 6pm and didn’t get outside until 7pm. But we stepped outside into the biggest cultural event in Reykjavik’s calendar, Menningarnott, or Culture Night. This big day starts off with the Marathon and its various events and then the museums, churches, galleries and concert halls around Reykjavik open up their doors to the public for wonderful free events. The streets are filled with activity and the whole thing finishes with a firework display when it finally gets dark at 11pm. In the evening, we wandered the streets, visiting the beautiful Sun Voyager sculpture and the wonderful Hallgrimskirkja church, where we watched the sun setting over Reykjavik. The streets were packed with locals and tourists alike. The local looked like they’d been partying all day, they were very ‘jolly’.
The highlight came at 11pm with the fireworks. We positioned ourselves next to the harbour where the firework-laden boats were floating. The fireworks were some of the very best we’ve ever seen. America tends to ensure its firework displays last half an hour, which entails setting off one after another, which can get a little dull. Iceland’s approach can only be summed up by Trump’s unfortunate phrase ‘Fire and Fury’. They launched all the fireworks pretty much all at the same time, giving us ten minutes of almost scary pyrotechnics. It was incredible, finishing up with fireworks launched on the roof of the building behind us, so we were pretty much surrounded 360 degrees with explosives. Everyone erupted in applause and the fireworks left us a little shaky on adrenaline. We didn’t go to sleep until gone 1am.
The next day, another beautiful day, saw us climb up Mt Esja, the mountain opposite Reykjavik. A few years ago, I interviewed the lovely Halla about running in Iceland (her website Running in Iceland is wonderful and should be any runner’s first port of call when heading to the frozen north) and she mentioned Mt Esja as a great place for an easy local hike or trail run. We were therefore totally unprepared for the brutal steepness of the climb and descent which had our post-race legs aching from the very first step. However the views at the top were wonderful and made it all worthwhile. At the bottom of the mountain, the cafe sold soup, one of my favourite things foods. However a bowl of soup cost approx $18/14GBP. I went soupless.
We then headed back into Reykjavik to their tiny ‘zoo’ basically to see the Arctic Fox which the Dude had been obsessed with seeing. Jarl the fox was adorable. We all fell in love.
And then we got to meet Halla and her partner for coffee and cake in a lovely little cafe, Kaffi Flora. It was so good to meet her in real life and ask all our tourist Iceland questions.
The next day, we went out for a final family run as part of Operation Garmin. A month ago, I’d challenged the boys to run 2 miles every other day for a month, and they’d earn a Garmin. It is a little decadent, I know, but we wanted to help establish good habits for when we get back to the UK. The boys have been amazing; their emotions have gone from enthusiastic to horrified moaning to dramatic moaning to resignation to slight enthusiasm to actual enthusiasm again. It’s been so lovely for the Husband and I. So today we presented them with their hard-earned Garmins and went out for the last, celebratory run.
After that we headed out of Reykjavik to explore. I hadn’t realised how enormous Iceland is -it’s 8 hours to drive across it to the east coast. We had two days so I settled on the fairly basic tourist route called the Golden Circle. It was the right decision as we saw some incredible sights! We headed out to the black sand beach of Reynisdrangar…
…I saw my first ever glacier, which was wonderful…
…we saw the beautiful waterfall of Skogafoss…
…and I finally saw Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that caused so much hassle in 2010. I’ve spent the last 7 years practising its name. I was thrilled to see it at last, and its beautiful waterfall…
…and spent the night on an Icelandic Pony farm. These tough little ponies are everywhere in Iceland but they also get ‘farmed’. It took me a while to work out why…(dinner). We stayed on a lovely tiny little cabin which was pretty much perfect.
The next day saw us at Gullfoss, which was seriously incredible and easily as remarkable as Niagara Falls….
….and then we headed back into Reykjavik, passing little villages with interesting churches on the way.
Our last Airnb was at Keflavik, near the airport. We checked in and went for one final family run along the waterfront…
…before the grand finale of the trip, the Blue Lagoon. I’d heard that the Blue Lagoon was overcrowded these days (and you definitely need to pre-book) but we had plenty of space. It was indeed full of tourists but seriously…prancing around in that turquoise milky-blue hot tub was pretty special.
We flew out of Iceland, back to the UK, the next morning. Before we’d come here, I was ready to go back to the UK, I was a little tired of travelling and I was ready to settle back down. But Iceland was different – it was a new, strange land of new languages, new styles, new architecture, new literature, new sights and it got me incredibly excited to travel again in Europe as soon as we can afford it 😉
Before I finish, (if you’re still reading) there were a few observations about Iceland I wanted to make, mainly so I don’t forget them myself.
Iceland is indeed as expensive as I expected. Soup at $18 a bowl, coffee at $6 per cup and a block of unimpressive supermarket cheese at $20! A KFC burger was $15. (DON’T ASK, IT WAS NOT MY IDEA). We ate nearly all our meals either in our lodgings (which all had kitchens) or as home-made sandwiches. Most tourists seemed to be doing the same. On our last day we found the supermarket Bonus (it had a pig in its logo so maybe it’s called Pig Bonus?). It was by far the cheapest place to buy food.
Iceland tourist shops (I call them tat shops) were AMAZING. We’d been most unimpressed with Montreal tat shops (all I wanted was a postcard of Trudeau, people) but I could have bought up the entire inventory of Iceland tat shops…except that they were easily twice the price I was prepared to pay for them. Darn!
The Icelandic people were friendly and most spoke excellent English, for which I was incredibly grateful. Their English has the most wonderful accent – it’s like elves speaking.
Icelandic people smoke loads! I was so surprised. After seven years in California where no-one smokes, this really struck me.
All the European tourists we saw wore Salomon shoes. Yeah there are Salomons in California but they’re not the leading brand out there. It was kind of lovely to be back amongst my Salomon people with their brightly coloured shoes 🙂
Iceland is very clean and felt very safe!
Icelanders seem to love art and beauty. There is sculpture everywhere, often dramatic stone carvings on the horizon. Reykjavik was full of shops selling beautifully made art and jewellery and clothing and household goods. I could have spent a fortune, and not just on soup.
Double beds in Iceland are interesting. Single beds, linked by a sheet but with two separate single duvets folded on top. The best of both worlds…snuggling up with your loved one but not having to share the duvet!
If you made it this far..congratulations.
Anyway. Our plane landed in the UK’s least attractive airport, Luton, where we walked through arrivals to meet up with my Dad and Big Brother’s Mum. It was wonderful to see them again! So lovely.
We got home and I was reunited with two of my very favourite people. My little mum…
…and my beloved Charlie, who flew out of California in April.
It’s been an amazing summer. Incredible. Thanks for following this blog over the summer as I talked less about running and more about travelling. I’m excited for the next few months as we move into our new house in a month or so, as we settle into our new lives and I pick a goal race and start training properly again. But for now it’s nice to stop, breathe, unpack and snuggle my ginger.